And the violent take it by force

“The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence,
and the violent are taking it by force.”

Matthew 11:12

At the beginning of the documentary The Letter, Pope Francis, speaking about the daily reports of migrants drowning in the Mediterranean, points to the greater issue, that is, the growing indifference to people dying in such horrible circumstances:

“We see what is happening, and the worst thing is that we are becoming used to it. ‘Oh yes today another boat capsized. So many lives were lost.’ This “becoming used to it” is a terrible illness.”

I can’t help but observe, after another school shooting in America, how we’ve become “used to” it: used to pictures of dead school children, used to the brief outcry that follows, used to the disagreements on social media about the causes, used to the inevitable rejection of any action by our elected officials, used to the grief and the “thoughts and prayers,” until another school shooting occurs again, in the only developed country in the world where this regularly happens. Ever since Sandy Hook, we’ve been caught in the vicious, nihilistic, soul-crushing cycle: guns are killing our kids, but we care more about our guns than our kids. What a terrible illness indeed.

Where Columbine once caused an outcry, a long period of dazed mourning and national introspection, the latest tragedy, the gunning down of three children and three staff at the Covenant School in Nashville, is just another human speed bump in the never ending American nightmare.

Prominent “Pro-Life” Catholic leaders are, so far, silent in the face of this. You probably won’t hear a sermon or homily on gun violence this weekend. You’ll be lucky to hear it mentioned in the petitions. In spite of the Vatican Pontifical Academy for Life asking Americans to make access to guns “as complicated and rare as possible,” we continue to persist in our national delusion that more guns equals a more safe and just society. The data indicates the exact opposite: more guns equals more gun deaths. There’s nothing pro-life about that.

The temptation to indifference, and despair, is very real. I’m reminded of the fate of the indifferent in Dante’s Inferno: they are refused access to both heaven and hell, and remain in a perpetual state of stung conscience and exhaustion, following an empty flag in circles for eternity. A fitting image for the American national conscience, or what remains of it.

There are, of course, greater sins, of murder and bloodlust. But the greatest sin of all, in Dante’s moral geography, is the sin of betrayal, a form of fraud that leverages the greatest thing in the world, that is, love, to accomplish evil. It is the use of someone’s love for you, a love they offer without hesitation, for personal or political gain. These sinners sit forever in a lake of ice next to Satan, their souls as cold and frozen as their hearts.

One of these sinners is Count Ugolino, who, after betraying his city, is locked in a tower to starve to death. His sons are locked inside with him. Eventually, his hunger wins out, and, the text suggests, he cannibalizes them to survive, before eventually succumbing to starvation himself. Another haunting image for our national disgrace.

Our children trust us to take care of them and keep them safe. We place our trust in our elected officials to do the same. We fail and our officials fail, over and over again.

Jesus reminds us that our care for the “little ones” is indicative our care for Him. He also acknowledges that the Kingdom of God, the reign of Goodness, Beauty, and Truth that he initiated in his healing, teaching, and table fellowship with sinners, is under siege: “The violent take it by force.”

Another school shooting, another betrayal of trust, and another sign of the rot at the core of our culture. We are three months into 2023, and there have already been 13 school shootings.

Don’t get used to it.

Ugolino and His Sons

By Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux – This file was donated to Wikimedia Commons as part of a project by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. See the Image and Data Resources Open Access Policy, CC0,

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Pat Rush says:

    Thank you for this Michael. Thank you for pointing out how this is an illness in our national soul. Really, the Passion of Palm Sunday (and Good Friday) would appropriately lend itself to at least a mention in homilies. Pat

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely! I agree and hope that is the case.


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