Tuesday, October 13 , 2015, 6:40 am | Fair 73º

Catholic Church of the Beatitudes: Coming to Grips with the Violence in Isla Vista

By Suzanne Dunn for Catholic Church of the Beatitudes |

Scripture suggests that the earliest followers of Jesus, who experienced firsthand the violence of his death, were shocked and bewildered in the weeks that followed. Judging from what I witnessed on May 27, when I joined the Day of Mourning and Reflection at UCSB, our communities of Santa Barbara and Isla Vista seem to have undergone a similar process of shock and grieving.

As I heard about the lives of these wonder-filled students, I imagined how deeply their families and friend must have been caught up in the same struggle that early Christians faced: How do we continue to live our lives without the physical presence of our sons or daughters, our siblings, our friends? How do we continue to live with the pain and suffering that surround our hearts?

In the memorial service for the six young people and the perpetrator, letters were read by some of their families. The words were very moving. Two of the letters were addressed to the young men killed. In both a hope was expressed by the parents and families that the life and death of their sons would somehow lead to much-needed changes in society. If that happened, they wrote, their lives and deaths would not be in vain. Then they asked for prayers for the murderer and his family. What a mature response to such a tragedy!

As I looked around and saw the thousands of students gathered and the loving respect they had for each speaker, I couldn’t help but sense the prophetic role that these young victims might be playing right at this moment in each of our lives. When a period of silence was requested, the stillness among the 20,000 people was breathtaking — some might say “deafening.” In that moment of quiet I felt a sense of unity and solidarity with everyone gathered. I sensed and felt real community! The pain was intense, tears were flowing, yet we were one — One Breath.

My sisters and brothers, this is how we get through the pain and sufferings of life. We cannot escape suffering; it is a part of life. But we can get through grief and pain and tragedy by being together, praying together, and holding one another in love and support.

The days of carrying one’s burdens alone, bottling them up inside, as Elliot Rodger must have done in his illness and depression, are over! Let’s redouble our efforts to “be one another’s keeper.”

The sense of hopelessness we feel when our so-called leaders refuse to take actions that could lead to positive change and a much saner society is likewise too much to bear alone. We need one another at times like this.

George Chen, Katherine Cooper, James Hong, Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez, David Wang and Veronika Weiss were indeed victims of a horrific crime. Alas, they were the latest victims of our gun-crazy society. Richard Martinez, father of Christopher, is not alone in wanting to change America’s gun culture. He implored the thousands of people gathered to chant together: Not one more! Not one more! (And they did!) Then he encouraged us to write to every politician we know and print these words on a postcard. (But the college kids reminded him that hashtags and texting are easier and quicker than postcards!)

In our communion rite we pray: “Do this in memory of me.” Perhaps Richard Martinez is inviting us to write to our politicians in memory of the six martyr-victims who died in our midst. “Don’t let their deaths be forgotten. Don’t let them die in vain. Do something. Take some action!” he begged.

Is this what the early Christian community was pondering in the Upper Room? They had witnessed the murder of their leader, then his mysterious resurrection and ascension. They were now hiding, and afraid. Would his death be in vain? And what would become of them?

It is in such liminal space that room can be created for the Spirit to arrive. That, of course, is precisely what many Christian denominations proclaim and celebrate with the feast of Pentecost — the arrival of the Holy Spirit, 40 days after Easter.

The liminal space is like a border between two lands — a physical or temporal space where waiting and watching and praying tend to occur. It is the place where it is imperative to be together, to support one another, to help one another heal.

In a recent gospel reading, Jesus is quoted as praying “that they may be one, even as we are one.” It is this “oneness,” this solidarity with suffering, that we are invited to enter into as a result of this tragedy.

Fortunately, we need not stand alone. In our communities, large or small, let us once again spend some moments in silence to honor the lives of George Chen, Katherine Cooper, James Hong, Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez, David Wang and Veronika Weiss. In the same breath let us remember all who were hit by bullets and suffered serious wounds.

And finally, let us not forget to pray for Elliot Rodger, who himself became the victim of a sick mind that knew no sane boundaries. May our silence and our prayers reach his parents, who are suffering unbearable pain as the result of their son’s behavior. May all those who have died rest in eternal peace. Amen!

Suzanne Dunn, RCWP, is the pastor and a member of the Catholic Church of the Beatitudes, which celebrates Mass at 5:30 p.m. Saturdays at First Congregational Church of Santa Barbara, 2101 State St. Click here for more information, or call 805.252.4105. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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