“For the love of God.” This was my exasperated reaction as I read the news that, on February 27, seventeen-year-old T.J. Lane, armed with a twenty-two caliber handgun, walked into the cafeteria of Chardon High School in Ohio and shot five students, three of whom died. It is difficult to make sense out of such an evil act. How does one understand or account for the reality of innocent suffering? Why does God permit such evil and injustice? What drives a person to do such things?
A few days after the shooting, we heard this Gospel reading at Mass:
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened (Matthew 7:7–8).
This passage presupposes something that is often overlooked, namely, that we are knocking on the right door. If you take up your cross and seek me, says Jesus, happiness will be given to you.
What was T.J. Lane seeking in the days leading up to his violent outbreak? What door was he knocking on? Certainly, it was not the right one. He, like all of us at times, was looking in a place of darkness; he was knocking on a door of destruction. And yet, again like all of us, he was in some way looking for happiness and love, even if he didn’t realize it. So how and why does a search for happiness and love end in such violence and death?
Pondering this question, I reflected on my initial reaction to the shooting: “For the love of God.” It is the love of God that moves someone to seek love and happiness in the right place. God’s love for us is first; He seeks us in order that we may in turn seek Him. Our knowledge and recognition of God’s love, however, is often skewed. At times, we are unable to see God’s love clearly (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12), and we wander down perilous roads with tragic ends. In fact, these perilous roads are many and broad, making the message of the Gospel all the more urgent (cf. Matthew 5:13-14).
One of the most powerful ways in which God’s love finds us is through our relationships with one another. God, in His goodness, has created us with a goodness all our own, and he ordains us to be active players in his eternal narrative of love. By God’s grace, we have the ability to inspire and the obligation to love those who have yet to knock on the door of Christ. In so doing, we become living commentaries on the Gospel, each of us manifesting different aspects of God’s love to everyone he or she meets. In this way, God gives us the unbelievable privilege of communicating His love to others—of showing others the true road to happiness.
One thing T.J. Lane didn’t know was that God loves him. Imagine if he had.
Image: Door, Chester Cathedral