This week, as every week, people have died needlessly and violently. Some of their deaths reach our ears more readily than others, partly because of an understandable media bias towards people who are more like us rather than those who are less so. There is of course an added shock when not just the victims but the perpetrator also seem so familiar. Young Elliot Rodger, "British-born," as the American papers are keen to point out, could be the boy next door; quite different from, say, an Arab terrorist, he appears very plausibly to be one of us.
You have no doubt read the various analyses about why he did what he did and will have formed your own opinions. Various factors are speculated to have contributed to Rodger's mindset and actions, such as lax gun control, poor psychiatric care, pornography-fuelled notions of masculinity and the chaos of modern young people's sexual expectations, to name but a few. Each of us will place a different weight on certain of these factors and may add others to boot. Yet I suspect we will all conclude that Rodger's actions were the fruits of a man-made problem; that they were at least influenced by the world that we humans not only inhabit, but collude with and contrive.
Pentecost this Sunday marks the end of the fifty days of Easter. Although ten days longer than Lent, to me it has felt rather shorter, perhaps because of its more joyous character: time flies when you're having fun. Yet, as we celebrate the sending of the Holy Spirit on the Church, we are called back to the terrible price of suffering which bought so rare a gift. The Cross is the price of the gift of absolutely self-giving love.
Where was God in Santa Barbara last week? He was hanging on the cross with the victims. He was, and is, waiting at the door of the hearts of those who grieve. He was also in the heart of Elliot Rodger, trying to dissuade him from doing what, deep within, he must have known was utterly wrong. Alas, the Devil's overtures were more seductive.
What strikes me about Rodger, and about so many others like him, is his loneliness. There is no sense that he was part of any community of love. This kind of isolation is a modern malady that I fear is accelerated, not mollified, by the advent of social media. You can choose your "friends" and influences far more narrowly from an iPad in your bedroom than if you get outside and join the world.
The Church is a community for all people, not just for people like us. It is so because it reflects the distinctively Christian nature of God, who is not just an isolated Father, staring down from His throne above, nor even just Father and Son, perpetually gazing at one another in adoration. God is also Holy Spirit, the love that binds the Father to the Son and which overflows into creation, offering itself freely to us. The Spirit which the Risen Christ breathed into His disciples and continues to breathe today is the vehicle by which we are drawn into His Resurrection and Ascension to the loving Father. Yet, in the world we have made, we can share in this glory only by sharing in Jesus' suffering and death on the Cross.
We share the gift of the Spirit in baptism; we hear it speak in the Scriptures; we know it in the love we are called to have for each other, near and far, however similar or different we may be; and we receive it most acutely in the flesh and blood of Christ at the altar. We join in Christ's sacrifice this and every Sunday for the whole world, in all its suffering but also in all its potential to be the kingdom of love for which He yearns.