seemed the perfect place to send our second child to college. The
sleepy town of Blacksburg, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge
Mountains, exuded small town charm. The goofy giant turkey, the Hokie
Bird, is comfortingly, well, hokey. Above the rolling grassy
fields and grazing cows, looms the neo-gothic structure of the
university itself–resembling more a military academy or a medieval
fortress. I was particularly fascinated by the “hokie stone”—a variety
of limestone mined from the university’s own quarry and used in most of
the buildings on campus. Hokie stone looked strong and formidable.
was far cry from the palm trees and beaches of my own college years
during the early seventies. My husband and I went to school in
California, where we basked in liberation theology and performed cool
new liturgies involving costumes and dance. Then we attended grad
school at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where students
had infamously burned down a Bank of America office in 1970.
Tech was refreshingly sober, sane, and safe.
we joined the Hokie Nation. We proudly stuck the big turkey footprint
on our cars and honked when we saw fellow Hokies on the road. We
unashamedly wore the clashing orange and maroon school colors. When
people hear that our son is studying engineering at Tech, their heads
nod approvingly in unspoken affirmation of the excellent program (in
the nation’s top ten for public universities), and our hearts swell
But the day after Divine Mercy Sunday, our happy
bubble burst. Thirty-three people—mostly young students—died at the
hand of fellow student Seung-Hui Cho, in the deadliest shooting
incident in modern U.S. history. Cho was a disturbed young man who
rarely spoke, wrote frighteningly violent plays and poetry for his
creative writing class, and who stalked young coeds.
was safe in his dorm room when he received the email about the first
shootings. He did not go to class. We thank God for this great
blessing. And we realize the fragility of life. Our hearts ache for
those parents who did not receive the same comforting news. These are
parents who trusted the university to teach their children and keep
them safe for four years. These parents raise their hearts and minds to
God in unspeakable grief, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
The Problem of Evil
If God is all-good, how can He permit evil?
Father John Hardon said that evil is “not so much a problem, as a great marvel.” God permits evil, but it does not diminish His goodness.
respects the nature of things. He values our free will. If God made
everything perfect, he would essentially be imposing his own will. We
would then be nothing more than puppets or robots. Our freedom is a
greater good than having everything run flawlessly. God permits evil,
so that he may draw even greater good out of it.
happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a
Redeemer!” we proclaim on Easter morning. God’s mercy is possible,
because sin exists.
In our country, we value
freedom. We allow freedom of speech—though this will, at times, allow
some people to say things that are insulting, wrong, or harmful. And we
have the freedom to bear arms, which opens the possibility for the loss
of innocent lives.
The Face of Madness
the video Cho sent to NBC (mailed during the two hours after the first
shooting), he likened himself to Jesus and said that the horror he
unleashed could have been prevented. "You had a hundred billion chances and ways to have avoided today. But you decided to spill my blood,” he
intoned. We wonder: what happened in this young man’s life that led him
to do this horrific thing? Was he insane or evil? Did school officials
and police do everything they could have done? Could this evil have
been prevented? Why did it happen?
“I sought whence evil comes and there was no solution,” wrote Saint Augustine.
may not know whence it comes, but we do not need to fear it. “By his
providence God protects and governs all things which he has made.”
But how do we reconcile the existence of evil with a loving God who
protects us? The problem of evil is a mystery, but perhaps it is not
unsolvable. Theology intersects real life at this precise point.
exists, but God is greater than it. He loves each one of us and wants
each one of us to be saved. Had Cho received ongoing psychiatric
treatment, could this tragedy have been averted? At what point was the
man’s heart completely closed? Jesus engaged Pilate in dialogue up to a
point; he offered Pilate the chance to know him. But Pilate ends the
discussion with his nihilistic, “What is truth?” (Jn 18: 33-38). God
allowed it to happen; therefore, we must learn from the tragedy and
take steps to prevent another such incident.
week I heard so many people say, “There is nothing we could have done.
If a madman wants to kill someone, he’s going to do it.”
will he take 32 innocent lives in the worst shooting massacre in U.S.
History? Are we defenseless in the face of madness? Could we not have
alerted the students or caught the many red flags ahead of time?
They shrug their shoulders and quip: hindsight is twenty-twenty.
They say that it is pointless to try to retrace our steps or analyze
the mind of an insane killer. They don’t want us to blame the police
department or the university or the system that allowed a student who
had been declared an imminent threat to himself and others to purchase
a gun and live with innocent, unsuspecting students in a school dorm.
True, we do not wish to blame.
But we can learn and take steps to prevent. Perhaps another gunman will
be prevented from committing another, similar atrocity. We are a
resourceful, can-do country. We are a nation of heroes and fighters. In
the end, good conquers evil. We believe this, because it is true.
we catch a flight (post-September 11th), we trust that something has
been done to fight evil in this world. When we march in protest against
an unjust law, we hope that evil can be overturned. Evil crumbled, with
the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In this Easter
season, we need to remember that Christ has already defeated sin and
death. The battle has been won. We now need to act as though we believe
Christ tells us to be observant. “Learn a
lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts
leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see all
these things, know that he is near, at the gates” (Mt 24: 32-33). We
can learn from the psychiatrists and psychologists who study the psyche
and the behavior of the human person. From sociologists we can learn
how the individual interacts with his social system. We can learn from
FBI agents and police officers who understand patterns of criminal
behavior and the importance of profiling. We can learn from history. We
can learn from our mistakes.
sin exists, there is mercy. Where there is evil, there are heroes. We
learned about the elderly professor and Holocaust survivor who threw
himself in front of the gunman and saved many students’ lives. We
learned about the brave students who held their classroom door closed
even while the killer fired through the door. We saw thousands of
lighted candles glowing in the darkness while students sang Amazing Grace. “[W]here sin increased, grace overflowed all the more” (Rom 5:20).
am still a proud citizen of the Hokie Nation. I tied maroon and orange
ribbons to our car antenna. I believe that God has a plan to bring
goodness out of what was unspeakable horror. I trust that we will not
fear evil, but will fight against it. I believe that we will learn from