A woman reacts after a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, Aug. 3, 2019. (CNS photo/Carlos Sanchez, Reuters)

'When will Rachel cease to have cause to weep?'

Originally Appeared in : 9917-8/15/19

When Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 b.c., the Judean captives gathered in Ramah before being driven to exile in Babylon (Jeremiah 40:1). Inspired by God, the prophet Jeremiah wrote about this gathering: 


“A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”—Jeremiah 31:15


Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel, was the mother of three of the “Children of Israel” (Jacob): Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin. In the verse cited above from Jeremiah, Rachel is portrayed as weeping over of the loss of their descendants killed or taken into captivity in Babylon. In the New Testament, the Gospel according to Matthew (2:18) reveals that Jeremiah’s prophecy about Rachel weeping in Benjaminite Ramah received “a second accomplishment” in the slaughter of all the innocent boys born in Bethlehem at the time of Jesus, by order of the Roman puppet King Herod “the Great”:


Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:


“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”


Less than two weeks ago, this prophecy seemed to receive a “third accomplishment” in El Paso, Texas, and in my own hometown of Dayton, Ohio, where mothers like Rachel and fathers like Jacob, as well as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, are weeping for their children, for they are no more, slaughtered innocents once again.


In the morning of Aug. 3, 2019, Patrick Wood Crusius, age 21, opened fire at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, killing 22 people and wounding 24 others before he was apprehended. “Police believe that the suspect published a white nationalist, anti–immigrant manifesto on social media immediately before the attack. The post cites inspiration from the Christchurch mosque shootings and refers to the white genocide conspiracy theory.” 


The next evening, Aug. 4, another gunman, identified as Connor Betts, 24, opened fire in the trendy Oregon District in my hometown of Dayton, Ohio, killing 9—including his own sister—and wounding 27 others, before being killed by police. Betts “had posted hit lists for years, resulting in his being thrown off school buses and threatened with expulsions over the years. A consistent target was his only sister, who was one of the first killed by his 30–second barrage.” He was a self–professed leftist who had announced his support of Senator Elizabeth Warren’s campaign for the presidency of the United States in 2020.


It goes without saying that it would be absurd to blame Senator Warren for the deluded actions of one of her supporters. But in all fairness, why are so many voices blaming President Donald Trump for the actions of one of his followers, one who had expressly written, “Don’t blame this on President Trump”?


In the wake of these recent massacres, George F. Will has suggested three topics that are worthy to be debated rationally: “One is whether gun control measures can be both constitutional and effective in making mass shootings less likely. A second debate concerns the ability and propriety of law enforcement (in which private citizens properly have a collaborative role) attempts to identify individuals, usually young males, who might violently act out their inner turmoil. The third question, which is braided with the second, acquires special urgency because of the nature of today’s most prominent American: Can we locate causes of violence in promptings from the social atmosphere?”


To the first question, Will suggests that “part of the answer is that a reasonable reading of the Supreme Court’s 2008 Heller decision, which affirmed that the Second Amendment guarantees the individual a right to bear arms, permits many measures regulating certain kinds of weapons” including hydrogen bombs—"and ammunition magazines. The second question, which must be discussed scientifically and juridically concerns identifying (“red–flagging”) individuals most likely to commit atrocities, making sure that their records are accessible to the authorities, and providing them with more ample mental health care, much of which is not currently covered by insurance. The third question has to do with increasing incitements to violence “from the political atmosphere,” which now “go viral” over social media in nanoseconds.


Even good substances and good policies, when taken to extremes, can become toxic. A certain level of potassium is necessary for coronary health, but elevated levels can kill. The First Amendment to the Constitution provides freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly and of religion. It is a very good, even excellent, article of our Constitution, but must be interpreted wisely, as the Supreme Court did in ruling that freedom of speech does not include the right to shout “fire” in a crowded theater. It would be reasonable to debate whether screeds posted in the “blogosphere” are doing just that. The Second Amendment was intended to form a well–regulated militia to protect the citizens from a tyrannical government, a good aim. But does it really allow just anyone to own any type of weapon (see above) having the ability to wreak havoc on the very citizenry the Second Amendment was written to protect?


In the atmosphere of a Europe shattered by the First World War, the Irish poet William Butler Yeats composed his famous poem, “The Second Coming” which begins:


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the 
Things fall apart; the centre 
cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed 
upon the world,
The blood–dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
This poem came to my mind in the wake of El Paso and Dayton. I am particularly haunted by its ending:
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem 
to be born?
When will Rachel cease to have cause to weep?


Father Douglas K. Clark is the retired pastor of Saint Matthew Church, Statesboro.

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