Debate about gun violence rages on, and necessarily so, but students in the Diocese of Davenport are finding common ground. We should consider following their example.
The Student Council at St. Joseph Catholic School in DeWitt led a 20-minute prayer service April 20 focused on taking personal responsibility to curb and eliminate violence and foster peace and friendship. Their peers in schools nationwide chose that date, the 19th anniversary of the shooting massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, to protest the failure of local, state and congressional representatives to take action to prevent gun violence.
Yes, the national student-led movement should be commended for getting our attention. But the movement hasn’t convinced us, the adults, to sit down at the table to identify solutions to the devastating impact of gun violence.
Yes, we must respond to the violence. Our response, however, should coincide with a proactive exploration of the roots of violence which we spread, sometimes in subtle ways, toward others we encounter.
St. Joseph’s student body gets it. Kindergarteners to eighth-graders reflected on and prayed about peer pressure, serving their neighbors, and standing up to bullies, reaching out to classmates having a tough time, and avoiding the desire to judge, among other things. Inspiration for the prayer service came from a diocesan principals meeting, but St. Joseph Student Council and school staff made it their own.
Other schools in our diocese deserve kudos for prayer services they held after the Valentine’s Day school massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Those schools include Assumption High School, Davenport; Prince of Peace Catholic School, Clinton; Holy Trinity Catholic School, Fort Madison; and Notre Dame Catholic School, Burlington.
Father Jake Greiner pointed out during the March 14 prayer service at Assumption High School that “Prayer and thought, and our faith, have to transform our actions. We don’t stop (there), but we can prayerfully think about how we can respond. … By engaging in this problem, and any other problems, through faith, you can transform the world.”
That’s precisely what St. Joseph School’s prayer service did. At each of more than a dozen stations around the school and church, students and their teachers reflected on a scriptural passage followed by a question related to it. The questions were tailored toward students but could be adapted for persons of all ages, gathered in parishes, committees, youth groups or other organizations.
Scripture: “You shall not follow the crowd in doing wrong” (Exodus 23:2).
Question: When I have a classmate (co-worker, neighbor, relative) who is obnoxious or irritating, am I able to see Christ in her/him?
Scripture: “The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11-12).
Question: When I see someone who needs my help in a job that is not really fun, how do I respond? Do I put my feelings aside and volunteer to help or do I pretend I’m busy with something else?
Scripture: “Blessed are the merciful, they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7).
Question: When someone hurts me with unkind words, do I forgive him by not saying anything or not lashing back?
Scripture: “They are to slander no one, to be peaceable, considerate, exercising all graciousness toward everyone” (Titus 3:2).
Question: When my friend has fantastic news, am I truly happy for him or am I jealous of his good fortune?
Scripture: “If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing” (1 John 1:9).
Question: When I make a mistake, do I try to cover it up, blame someone else, or lie about it?
The prayer service culminated inside St. Joseph Catholic Church where students prayed for all who have died in school shootings; those who feel left out, put down or bullied; those who love, care for and keep them safe every day; and those who walk with and for others.
Ask Principal Sharon Roling for an electronic copy of St. Joseph Catholic School’s prayer service (Sharon.email@example.com). The debate about gun violence needs to move toward concrete action. Let’s advocate for laws that deter the violence, while praying and reflecting on how to make change in our own hearts.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor