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The Stoneman Douglas Shootings And Divine Providence

March 17, 2018 Featured Today No Comments

By C.F. MONTESANO

(Editor’s Note: C.F. Montesano is vice president with a maritime trade association in Virginia. He serves as a lector at the Cathedral of St. Matthew in Washington, D.C. Last summer, he was selected by Signum University to be a presenter at its annual “Mythmoot” conference for enthusiasts of J.R.R. Tolkien.)

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The overwhelming response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School tragedy has been: What is to be done? How that question came to be asked, however, appears to be less important than it being asked. As the cameras roll, the spotlights shine, and social media crackles with opinions, nothing has changed the incontrovertible truth that 17 children were murdered — and that the families of the slain are beset, many inconsolably, by grief. Particularly lamentable is the fact that absent from the aftermath of the slaughter is a plea to mourn the dead.
While it was perhaps inevitable that the tragedy itself would be overtaken by politics, it is perplexing, and not a little dismaying, to see a handful of Stoneman Douglas students being portrayed as survivors-cum-activists. They are poised, tweet pithily, and speak eloquently as they appear in Tallahassee and Washington, and on CNN. They are pictured on a commercial flight, smiling happily with perfect teeth and coiffed hair, with the obligatory cellphones or earbuds, looking for all the world like they were travelling to an audition for a network talent show.
As it turns out, they may have agents: a recent news story revealed the students are being assisted by political organizing groups whose purpose, according to one spokesman, is “to operationalize” their activism “from logistics to programming.”
Most of us have never met these students, and we cannot see into their hearts. That they may feel the urge to do something after a horrible episode left them feeling powerless is innately understandable. But here is the problem: To outward appearances, the students are willing celebrity participants in a cynical attempt to exploit a tragedy for political points. Socrates described the danger this scenario posed to democracies in The Republic:
“The teacher fears and panders to his pupils, who in turn despise their teachers and attendants; and the young as a whole imitate their elders, argue with them and set themselves up against them, while their elders try to avoid the reputation of being disagreeable or strict by aping the young and mixing with them on terms of easy good fellowship.”
The rapid shift from the tragic to the political, in which the students play a starring role, might lead one to conclude that the dead of Stoneman Douglas have been forsaken in the ascendancy of Strelnikov over Solzhenitsyn. The activism, therefore, honors the dead less than it fuels a desire by the secular world to live up to an idyllic self-image.
“Mischief, thou are afoot,” says Mark Antony, upon turning Caesar’s mourners into an angry mob. “Take thou what course thou wilt.” The course of events in the aftermath of Stoneman Douglas has led the American public further afield from the basic truth that we occupy hostile territory.
Liberalism may have given us everything we could want, but it also deprived us of much that should have never been lost. This includes a desire to understand the role of divine Providence. The post-shooting activism can be viewed as a rite of the secular religion of despair, accompanied by a chorus singing John Lennon’s Imagine. By contrast, a prayerful contemplation of the good that might yet arise from the evil that befell the school on Ash Wednesday will not be instantly gratifying, but might bring us closer to understanding the essence of God.
In the Shorter Summa, St. Thomas Aquinas uses a simple example to illustrate divine Providence: “The brilliance of white is brought out more clearly when set off by the dinginess of black.” Humans stand apart from all other creatures on Earth because of our ability to discern good from evil. However, having this power also means we are subject to evil — not for its own sake, but for the promotion of the good. The role of divine Providence, then, is primarily “to see to it that the evil which arises is ordained to some good.” It would be easy to dismiss this Aquinian teaching as merely an abstraction until we consider what Christ endured when He entered the world of men.
Psalm 51, which was included in the Psalter for the morning of Ash Wednesday, read: “Give me again the joy of your help; with a spirit of fervor sustain me.” While we are usually not aware of its mysterious presence, and can often be frustrated by its seeming opaqueness, divine Providence is uniquely woven into human nature. It can, however, enable us to set aside the evil by extracting the good and, in doing so, to perform acts of love — even in the name of the dead. But if we have traded a fervent life of the spirit for a despairing secular politics, thereby choosing to wallow in the enemy’s mud pit, one is left to wonder about the ways that Providence will work.
“For Carthage fell because she was faithful to her own philosophy,” wrote G.K. Chesterton, “and had followed out to its logical conclusion her own vision of the universe.”
Thus, mourn the dead. Pray for the peaceful repose of their souls. Mourn them not simply because they are dead, but in the hope they will be received into life everlasting; and that, in so hoping, we might better discern how our freedom can fulfill the salvific agency of divine Providence. Mourn the dead. In spite of our Christ-forgetting, Christ-haunted, death-dealing Western world of Walker Percy’s description. Mourn the dead.
(©2018 C.F. Montesano)

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