On Ash Wednesday, as the Jesuit community celebrated Mass with Archbishop John Vlazny, evil again struck at the heart of an American high school in Parkland, Florida.
And Jesus wept.
But do we still weep? Or have our hearts been irreparably hardened since that horrible day in 1998 in Springfield's Thurston High? We felt shock again a year later as we watched terror unfold in Columbine. Surely, the videotape of two teenagers callously executing their classmates would change hearts and minds.
Surely, we would pass sane laws to keep semi-automatic weapons out of the hands of teenagers. We regulate the safety of cars and toys and fertilizers and food; surely we could have common-sense regulations on assault weapons, whose purpose is to kill human beings in combat.
But no. The staccato beat of school shootings continues: Virginia Tech... Red Lake, MN...Closer to home in Marysville, WA, and Roseburg, OR, and Reynolds High. Most horrifically of all, of course, the massacre of little children, whom Jesus and their parents and teachers loved so deeply, at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT.
As Jesuit's principal, I have learned a lot about school security. But when I got the news from Florida on Wednesday, I was again just another witness to another American tragedy. Along with Jesus, back in my office as Don Clarke led our community in prayer for 14 teenagers and three teachers murdered in cold blood, I also wept.
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I firmly believe in the endurance of hope, even in the face of despair. But I gotta tell you, people, right now I am a swirling maelstrom of emotions, and Hope has not yet popped out her lovely hand to rescue me.
I am frustrated, because I would rather be telling you of all the amazing stuff happening at Jesuit High as we head into President's Day weekend. To let you know about our Ethics Bowl team's stellar run to the state title. To share with you the incredible gift of having the Tony Award-winning director of the Broadway version of Newsies sharing his brilliance with our cast all week. To urge you to honor the amazing Amyr Lowe '18 at Senior Night tonight in the Knight Center, and to do the same for the senior hoopsters next Tuesday.
That our swim team will again face the magnificent Apollos of Sunset at the state meet at Mt Hood CC today and tomorrow morning. How deeply grateful we are for the students of Jesuit, who again stepped up for one another and for their school in the Student Fundraiser—an astounding 94% of the student body participated. (Yes, they get Easter Monday off!)
But instead, I am writing about fences and gates and security cameras and gun laws and protecting the precious souls who enter and exit our campus each day. We want to surround them with love, not with iron and steel. But here we are.
But ... through my tears, as last I spy my old friend Hope. Hope glimmers through the ashes of Lent, on the far side of that frightening Friday at the Cross, when Jesus's friends succumbed to despair and betrayal. In order to keep going, we have to believe in an Easter Rising.
Our freshmen got to know Hope and her friends Faith and Love on their recent Overnight Retreat. The sophomores' Overnight comes this weekend. Our juniors and seniors have their Encounters and the Pilgrimage and find Hope lives in one another.
On Tuesday, February 20, our faculty and staff will head out to work with people on the margins of our city, then come home to complete our own retreat.
In these celebrations, on retreats and in Christian service and at Masses, we get reacquainted with Hope. In the relationships we develop through sacred experiences, we learn to care deeply enough for one another that we will reach out when a friend is in trouble.
The best security a school can have is when a student walks into a teacher's or counselor's room and says, "You know, I am really worried about Sally. She posted something really scary last night. Can you help me to help her?"
Jesus wept, even though He knew that his friend Lazarus would soon rise from the dead. He wept in compassion for Lazarus's sister and friends. Jesus wept, knowing that He Himself would be resurrected, because he felt so deeply the sorrow of a young life taken too early.
So, today, let us weep for 17 beautiful souls taken too early in the hallways of a high school in Florida. Let us weep for the evil that can lurk in human nature, and the folly of leaders who prance and pontificate while children die. Let us pray fervently that our precious children will be safe. Let us work together to keep our schools and our nation safe. And let us end, as always, in gratitude, for this remarkable community of trust and for the gift of Hope that Easter will come.
And, for God's sake and the sake of each of our precious children, let us remember that if we see something amiss, to say something—and soon.
Paul J. Hogan