"Big Four" Highlights


Hope and Healing

By Fred Ventresca

A year after the Connecticut school shooting, a father from Sandy Hook reflects on the community’s process of hope and healing. The author was one of the many Knights of Columbus who provided help in the days after the tragedy. His school-age children attend St. Rose of Lima School and were former classmates with some students who were in Sandy Hook Elementary School on the day of the shooting that took 26 lives, Dec. 14, 2012.

(Another Newtown dad looks back on the past year in "A Father Reflects" and Msgr. Robert Weiss, the pastor of the Newtown Catholic parish, writes in Columbia magazine, "God Is Ever Present.")

God has not abandoned us since last December. His Spirit, the great Comforter, has provided many revelations and inspirations for our family.

How did we tell our four children (ages 6, 5, 4, 2 at the time), that a killer had lived on our streets? That he hurt many innocent people, including friends, neighbors and former classmates?

As parents, we found ourselves not so much explaining a tragedy – the atrocities were beyond our young children’s comprehension – as explaining how our everyday actions and faith are designed to keep such things from occurring. It’s the absence of faith and visible good works that lets the darkness in. When tragedies do occur, they draw us closer to why we must fulfill our calling as God’s children.

“This is why we need God in our lives. This is why we fall down on our knees and pray to him as a family every night. This is why we go to church each week with our friends and neighbors. Where else could we turn for answers?”

These were our first words.

Since their birth they have heard us repeat the following truths: God loves us. He created us for a purpose and that purpose is good. He wants to be in our lives and wants us to invite him into our lives. But we have to choose to invite him.

While they had heard these messages many times before, they now took on more significance. We could see and feel them clinging to these words, with a renewed sense of importance. And a barrage of questions followed. This was becoming real for them, no longer merely words, now a deeper experience. As we recall, there were five faith lessons that seemed to emerge for our children along with their newly shattered innocence.

1. There are more good guys than bad guys. They witnessed the policemen, firemen, countless memorials, and acts of kindness. They noticed how many Knights of Columbus and others came to the aid of our parish to serve during the funerals. “This is how the good guys respond,” we told them. “We serve others in their time of need.”
2. God loves us and is within us. Nevertheless, we have to bring him out and share his good spirit everyday.
3. Make good choices. Always give people your best. People may let you down, but God will never let you down. Do your best by listening, smiling, waiting your turn, understanding others’ needs and doing your best to help them.
4. Mom and dad are accountable to God for teaching you about him. About how much he loves you and how to have a relationship with him. Still, you have to reach out to him as your own choice. Our job is to teach you how to choose, and your job is to choose.
5. No matter what you are facing – hurt, sorrow, anger, confusion, guilt, fear – you need to turn to God.

As adults, our journey has been in merging the surreal with the real. Just as we aspire to grasp in fullness the reality that God came to Earth to save us, we are grasping to understand how evil could come to our neighborhood and cause such harm.

Personally, looking back on the week of funerals and wakes, I gave my grief and suffering up to Christ on the cross. I asked him not to take the suffering away, but to bear most of it for me. I didn’t ask him to take all the pain away, as I knew that something in me had to change as a result of this experience. I did ask him to allow me to come back and visit it from time to time, if needed, since I sensed healing of this magnitude would be a process over time. I also promised to be open to and accept the transformation he would make in me through the Eucharist.

Here is how our family has been experiencing healing and hope:

1. Recognizing that God loves us so much that he came to live among us. He came to an ordinary town (just like ours), with ordinary fisherman, carpenters and tent-makers. He wore ordinary clothes and lived in an ordinary home.
2. Since he loved us so much, he wanted us to love him freely, so he gave us choices. When he sent his only Son, we witnessed that he was willing to suffer and die for us to show us how much our choices can and will affect us and others. He showed us how much his love for us was unfailing, even when we chose to hurt and kill him. He still came to save us. His heart is still on fire with love for souls. We can depend upon him, no matter what.
3. Realizing that this tragedy is an exclamation point, reminding us why we need God. We find value in making good choices and offering compassion when we witness suffering. This is why we serve others. And this is why we need to make his goodness known. Our humanity requires God’s love and mercy. God works through others, and we need to bring his spirit out of ourselves and others. Despite any faults we may see in ourselves and others, we must trust God.
4. Remembering that all choices matter. Little things matter. Ordinary people and ordinary choices can lead to severe consequences, good or evil. Be patient. Show mercy. Isn’t that why we pray for others every night, so they can feel close to God and make good choices? Aren’t we (as a society) depending on them to?

As we approach the one-year anniversary of this terrible tragedy, there is still plenty of evidence of destruction. There is still so much grief, and understandably so. Anguish, fear, hostility, depression and sorrow. Sometimes it seems that an entire town is still writhing in pain. We ask ourselves, “What do we hope in? Where will we find our healing?” Nothing can replace our losses. As we look to move on, as best we can, we find ourselves wrestling with our own humanity. How could someone do something like this? How did we let it happen? How can we protect ourselves from it occurring again? Sometimes, I’m sure folks even ask how they can make it through the day. The truth is that there are no easy answers to ease our pain or make the feelings go away.

Indeed, wrestling with our own humanity requires that we look beyond our own humanness and stare squarely at it too. Hope requires something to believe in, and healing takes time.

God is trusting us to bring his hope to the world. He loves us and knows what’s best for us. We need to serve him, search for him in ourselves and in others, and make his presence known. When love and compassion are absent or hidden, there is only darkness. In that darkness, we can find ourselves giving up hope. The miracle of redemption lies in the fact that those same everyday choices that took us so far from hope can illuminate our way back. One good choice at a time. It is by choice that we find hope and healing, that we are able to “choose love,” the words many in our town have adopted as a slogan. We have the power to choose love every day. Right here, in our ordinary town, with our ordinary people.

Fred Ventresca is a member of St. Virgilius Council 185 in Newtown, Conn., which received the Knights of Columbus Caritas Award for its service to the community in the aftermath of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.