There are two lead stories in the national news today. The first is the horrific shooting rampage at the theater in Aurora, Colorado, leaving many dead, many wounded, and many traumatized. The second story is the penalty against the Penn State football program. Each story is significant. Each story evokes strong emotions. Each story tells an important tale about our collective journey through life. These events show us the importance of following good desires, and avoiding bad desires. They are a mirror for us to examine our own choices.
From all accounts, the movie theater shooter was a bright young man with potential for the future. He was a nueroscience doctoral candidate. He could have chosen to use his significant talents for significant good. Instead, he used his exceptional knowledge to premeditate a massacre of totally innocent people in a movie theater, and to booby-trap his apartment with bombs, in the hopes of killing more people. His choice has ended the lives of many young people prematurely, and altered the lives of the other victims forever. He has indeed wounded the heart of all of America by his actions. This kid’s choice led him down the darkest of paths.
We know that the situation at Penn State is less cut and dry. Individuals who did much good over the course of many years have, by all investigative efforts thus far, turned a blind eye to the sexual abuse of young children. Reflecting on our own experience in the Catholic Church, this is completely and totally unacceptable. Harsh penalties and legacy-altering decisions are to be expected, in light of these findings. Again, reflecting on the Church’s experience, I am sure that it is hard for Penn State students and employees to reconcile their experience of an overwhelmingly good campus culture with these revelations. The instinct is to try to hold on to the good that existed before the revelations, and resist the changes coming. But this is impossible, for the changes are inevitable.
This entire tragedy might have been avoided had the abuser not abused (obviously). But consider how many levels of basic human dignity one has to break through to become a child sex abuser! Very many (as it does to shoot at innocent people in a movie theater). Again, an individual decided to follow the darkest path of human choice to a tragic conclusion. Young lives are deeply scarred. Many others, innocent of blame for this matter, suffer.
The perpetrators of each of these heinous crimes could have chosen a different route. They could have taken the good road. But they didn’t. Behold the consequences. While these choices are much more extreme than the ones that you and I make each day, nevertheless our choices are tremendously significant as well. We can make choices for good, for great good! This can give us hope, that we can move against these sad tragedies by choosing the good path in life. Our choices may not seem to make much of a difference in the face of horrible evil, but they certainly do!
These two crimes are a result of perverted desire. Their desire was turned around and pointed 180 degrees away from good, and away from God. Which direction do our desires face? When we begin to turn away from God in our hearts, we are always called back in the right direction by God. Whose voice will we follow: the voice of God, as heard through the Church, the Scriptures, and the Sacraments, or own our twisted, selfish impulses? We all have the potential to do evil things (because of original sin) but we have even greater potential to do great things (because of Christ).
Even when you choose to visit the nursing home, or your parents, or be kind to that kid that no one seems to like, you are choosing to move humanity in the right direction. You are choosing good. And if you are spending every day of your life choosing good, then what a beautiful legacy you will leave behind!