PEP Newsletter

Ideas For Your Parish

______________________________________________________________________                                                                                                                                August, 2022

What Can Be Done?

              The Country is reeling from a spat of mass shootings in which a young male armed with a high powered rifle mows down a group of helpless children and adults for no apparent reason.  What makes them do it, why are they so obsessed with killing people?  An article by David Brooks that appeared in the July 8, 2022 of the New York Times offers some insights.  He notes, “They are not necessarily loners; they are failed joiners. . . .  The ones who become mass shooters decide they are Superman and it is the world that is full of ants.  They decide to commit suicide in a way that will selfishly give them what they crave most; to be known, to be recognized, to be famous.  They craft a narrative in which they are the hero. . . .  For people who have felt impotent all their lives, the guns seem to provide an almost narcotic sense of power.”  Quoting a young man who was caught before he went on a shooting rampage, “I wanted attention. If someone would have come up to me and said, ‘You don’t have to do this, you don’t have to have this strange strength, we accept you,’ I would have broken down and given up” 

Fostering Relationships

              A common thread running through those who perpetrate indiscriminant shootings is their lack of social skills that would help them to initiate and maintain meaningful relationships.  Spending long periods on one’s cell phone can often hide the loneliness and isolation a person is experiencing.  Kerry Jarvi, a Mental Health Counselor in Seattle, works with young people suffering from social anxiety.  He states, “One of the important parts of fostering a relationship is just starting a conversation and finding out what are the person’s interests, what are they passionate about.  Even if their interests don’t match your own, it is valuable to connect with them any way you are able.  It may seem small, but the act of reaching out to someone to ask about how they are or showing an interest in their life is powerful because it creates the feeling in them of ‘I matter to someone.’”  Granted that a certain level of self-confidence and social skills are needed to show interest in a person who is aloof and unresponsive, even a small amount of attention and focused listening can bring people out of their shell and initiate a response from them. 

Enlisting Help

            Because those who are withdrawn and uncommunicative are often unknown to the pastor and staff, it will take the involvement of others to reach out and connect with those who are withdrawn and alone.  The first step might be raising the topic among staff members.  Have they come across anyone in their ministry that fits this description?  What have they done about it; if anything, and what happened?  The staff members might then bring this topic up among co-ministers and lay leaders to see whether they had experiences in their families or with co-workers and acquaintences that could shed light on the topic.

            Those preaching at the weekend Masses could offer a homily on reaching out to the loners or those on the fringes of social groupings.  It is part of being a follower of Christ to seek out the lost, lonely and forsaken.  Rarely is this mentioned in the course of a reflection on Scripture, whether in church or elsewhere.  Mass-goers might also be invited during the Petitions to turn to the person next to them and ask that person to pray for someone who is lonely or without companionship, whether young or elderly.  Such an request could have implications far beyond a simple interchange during a liturgy.  It might save a life of someone contemplating suicide or perhaps more than one life if someone is considering a mass shooting.  As David Brooks wrote, “If someone would have said, ‘You don’t have to do this,’ . . . I would have . . . given up.’”