Monthly letters to help put the work of the catechist of the Good Shepherd into the context of the larger world · from the archives

March 2018

by Catherine Maresca

Shema Yisrael! Hear O Israel!

These words begin the most important prayer in Judaism, and establish the Jewish people as one called to listen to God. Grounded in that tradition, Christians follow Jesus as one who hears God and helps us to do so as well.

As catechists, we have a related call: to listen to children. We have found in them a pure voice, uninhibited by concerns of privacy, politics, and society’s conventions. They echo back to us the Word of God without diminishment or compromise, and without an overlay of duty or guilt that can color even the most joyful proclamation. We are privileged to listen to God through children. 

At this moment we hear another voice among us: the voice of teens full of pain and outrage after their peers have been shot dead. They articulate well the folly of trying to end gun violence with more guns, and the disillusionment with adults in society and government who fail again and again to respond with clarity and honor to protect innocent children and adults. They add their voice to Black Lives Matter, telling us again us that our lack of response to murderous shootings is a bitter disappointment, and a moral failure. 

Five years after the shooting at Columbine High School I gave a course to catechists in Denver. The participants were from every part of the Denver area, and spoke daily of the trauma of Columbine on them, their children, and the children they taught. I visited a family with two children who lived near Columbine. Their next-door neighbor had been shot. Teens fleeing the high school had hidden throughout the nearby homes and yards. Five years later, those kids, then in middle and high school, talked to me for two hours about the shootings and their aftermath. 

Multiply that trauma by the 25 fatal school shootings and hundreds of neighborhood shootings since then. There are whole communities grieving and long shadows cast over years of childhood. Can we listen to the teens as they strip our façade of care and expose the fear and greed underneath? Can we find the courage to march with them on March 24, and to demand of our state houses and Congress the changes that will begin to end gun violence? Can we stop speaking as if gun violence is inevitable and work towards the social change required to end it?

Yes. We. Can. 

Let’s listen to God: “Thou shalt not kill.” 

And to the echoes of God in the words of children and teens: “We will not be silenced. It has gone on long enough. Just because we are kids we are not allowed to understand, but trust me, I understand. I was in a closet, locked for four hours with people who I would consider almost family crying and weeping on me, begging for their lives. I understand what it’s like to text my parents, ‘Goodbye, I might never ever get to see you again. I love you.’ I understand what it’s like to fear for your life. And I don’t think we should ever be discredited because of that. I don’t think we should ever be silenced because we are just children” (Alfonso Calderon, 16).

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