Reflections on Flags at Half-Mast

In proportion to God’s need of nothing is man’s need for communion with God.”  Saint Irenaeus

On Sunday, driving up and back from Saint Joseph, I was struck by all the flags flying at half-mast, a sign of national mourning for the seventeen innocent people (mostly teenagers) killed by a nineteen year old shooter at a high school in Florida.  The flags were more noticeable because of the stiff breeze that swept through our diocese over the weekend.  The brutal killing of these students and school personnel is a heartrending tragedy that defies explanation and spurs us to prayer for the victims and compassionate solicitude for their families and friends.

As with similar acts of senseless violence which take innocent life, many in the nation are seeking answers and speculating about how to prevent such tragedies from occurring again.  Important discussions and debates are focusing on the different factors that figure in to these terrible events.  Some point to gun control and/or more prudent law governing ownership of certain types of weapons; others will focus on mental health issues or better law enforcement follow up.

While these pieces are important, there is another, more fundamental element that deserves attention; namely, what does a culture without God look like?  When all reference points to moral truth are removed from the shared public culture, anarchy is the result.  The troubled young man who murdered his former classmates could serve as a symbol of that anarchy personified.

Just last month, Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdo delivered the Bampton Lecture to students and faculty at Columbia University.  In it, he warned that the dangers of moral relativism—the inability to declare something as objectively right or wrong—present a “grave crisis” to modern secular states and to the foundations of democracy.  He pointed out that free societies are dependent on the wisdom of religion to address the moral and societal problems of the modern world.

This Lent, we Catholics personally and collectively acknowledge our need for God, for his mercy, and for a Savior, His Son, the Christ.  We also read about Jesus confronting evil and naming it.  Most of us intuitively know that without God and his grace and truth in our lives, we are all capable of some pretty serious evils.

May Lent be a time of personal conversion.  May it also be an occasion whereby we realize that our public life as Christians is not simply a duty to be borne, but a responsibility to others, and what, in the end, makes the common good truly good.

+ Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr.

Catholic Key, February 23, 2018 issue

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