Something We Can Learn About Ourselves After the Las Vegas Shootings

The recent shootings in Las Vegas have caused agony to many. May the dead rest in peace, the injured be healed, and families be consoled in their losses! Another lesser, but clearly expressed “agony” is apparent in the questions it raises: Why did he do it? Why did the shooter (I intentionally do not mention his name), who seemed to give no warning, do such a heinous thing? There is almost a desperation to figure out why. So deep is this longing to know that many will latch onto any explanation, no matter how weak, to satisfy this need.

I cannot add to our knowledge of the facts of this shooting or speak more eloquently of the sufferings than others have, so allow me to explore our deep need to know. Yes, there is something to learn about ourselves in this urgent desire to know and to explain.

The most fundamental origin of our yearning to know why the shooting occurred is rooted in a deeper and broader longing for all that this true. There exists, in every human person, a strong inclination toward the truth and a profound desire to know it. Each of us comes hard-wired with a longing that seems almost wholly absent in animals. It is expressed by the insistent questions we have, ones that are not easily satisfied:

  1. Why? Why do I exist? Why does anything exist? Why is there something rather than nothing? Why are things the way they are?
  2. What? What is my life ultimately all about? What is the meaning of things and events? What is the purpose of this or that? What is it like on the moon, on Mars, or out in space? What is over the next hill? What will bring me happiness?
  3. How? How does this work? How does this relate to other things? How can I get answers? How is this distinct from that? How can I find happiness and completion?

Yes, we are insatiably hungry for truth, for answers, for meaning, and will not be satisfied with pat answers or subterfuge. Indeed, we often feel indignant or even betrayed if we suspect or discover that someone is withholding the truth from us, “spinning it” somehow, or treating our legitimate quest for real answers as less than deserving of full investigation and solid responses.

So, it is self-evident that we are wired for truth. We seek it even at great personal cost. We want to know, to discover, to uncover what is new or mysterious. We love to explore and delight in learning new things. Throughout history people have embarked on dangerous journeys to far off lands — even into outer space — to seek what is true. Others venture into dangerous settings in order to find and report upon facts. Still others undertake risky experiments or devote their lives to tedious studies so as to discover, explain, and understand. A more unruly aspect of this longing of ours is that we can engage in sinful curiosity, straying into the personal lives of others and insisting on knowing things that we have no right to know.

As human history shows, this longing for true answers is never fully satisfied. We have never reached the point at which we have even considered saying, “Well, that’s all there is to know; no need to look around anymore or ask any more questions. We now know everything.” Indeed, such a scenario is inconceivable. We want to know. Each answer generates more questions and brings a deeper desire for truth, meaning, and more answers. And so we keep looking — deeper, wider, and longer.

The human psyche shouts, “I want to know! I want the complete truth!” While we might placate ourselves for a while with “technical” truths rooted in the physical sciences (e.g., how photosynthesis works), ultimately these will not satisfy us. Physical sciences are reasonably good at explaining how things work, but not why. We want deeper answers and truths that speak to the why of things.

“Why is there something instead of nothing? Why is there anything at all?” While an atheist may not accept that God is the answer, he cannot escape the validity of the questions because he has them as well. Neither can he escape the gnawing realization that the physical sciences cannot answer metaphysical questions or even pose them.

Yes, we are wired for the truth and will not be satisfied until we have found it. Restlessly, we seek it. Even if we want to resist its demands, we cannot resist it.

We may never know why the Las Vegas shooter did what he did and this will frustrate us. We may not learn about him but we can learn about ourselves, about our deep longing to know, explain, and establish the truth. We are so different from the animals in this, even from the highest primates. We were made to know the truth. Ultimately, Jesus alone can fulfill our longing, for He said, “I am the truth.”

A Caring Church

The Archdiocese of Washington has a well-established history of welcoming the newcomer in our midst and working to provide our new neighbors with the pastoral, material, and even legal support, that they may require.

The plight of migrants and refugees is also a world-wide crisis. This week, Pope Francis launched the two-year “Share the Journey” global campaign to promote a culture of encounter and to find ways to bring people together. To learn more, please go to sharejourney.org.

In the meantime, as I discussed in a recent letter to priests, this local Church will continue to support our sisters and brothers who come from other lands, as we do with anyone else in need. Parish communities should accompany our immigrant families also with prayer, which can bring comfort and unity. Members of the immigrant community are a vibrant part of our Church in Washington and are woven into our society.

Today, more than 72 unique Hispanic cultures thrive in the Washington, D.C. area, and for 50 years, the Spanish Catholic Center, operated by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, has been offering medical and dental clinics, job training programs, English classes, a food pantry and case management services to meet the needs of our newcomers and neighbors. Over the next few days, the archdiocese will be sharing the Spanish Catholic Center’s story and how all of us can accompany our neighbors.