Saturday, March 3, 2012

Chardon High School Shooting, Abraham and Isaac, and the Transfiguration

Last week we celebrated my oldest niece Kelsey’s birthday. Her mother, my oldest sister, was in a dilemma. She gave up sweets for Christmas and Kelsey would be disappointed if she didn’t have a piece of her birthday cake? What should she do…? These are dilemmas only a mother has to worry about. I laughed and just said… tell her you love her, but you love Jesus more and don’t eat the cake. It was a funny moment, but it kind of demonstrates the tensions that can come up with loving God and loving your children.

God put Abraham to the test.
He called to him, "Abraham!"
"Here I am!" he replied.
Then God said:
"Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love,
and go to the land of Moriah.
There you shall offer him up as a holocaust
on a height that I will point out to you."

Now if you think about it… this seems crazy on many levels! If you are disturbed you should be. First of all Isaac was the promised son. Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born and Sarah was well beyond child bearing age. For years had hoped for a son and finally they had him. You can hear God say “Take your son Isaac”, reminding him “your only one” and deeper “whom you love.” This child was a miracle, a promise, and a gift God had given to them and now he was asking for Abraham to give him back.

In the end thankfully this turns out to be a beautiful moment for God and for Abraham, because of Abraham's unwavering obedience, God spares Isaac and Abraham proves his faith. The bottom line of the parable is this. We must love God above all else, without question, or doubt. We need to be very clear that God is to always be loved first, even more so than you may love anyone on this earth, even if it your only son.

This dilemma can seem very distant, but it is very real when God takes a child back.

It happened just happened this past week in Ohio at Chardon High school. Three children’s lives were taken and their parents had to give them back to God.

At 7:27 would drop her son off at school and see him alive for the last time. She went to St. Mary Church afterwards and at 3 minutes to 8 she got a call from her daughter that her Demetrius was shot… moments later she heard about the shooting from her pastor Fr. Dan Redmond.

Demetrius’ Mother said very strongly to news reporters. “My son did not die in vain… Most of all I’m going to miss his hugs and kisses. This is one thing we all should do for our children, every day. No matter if they are ornery, whatever they going through. You grab your child, even if they mad at you, they’ll get over it, life goes on… You grab your children you hug em and you kiss em and you tell em if you love em, and if you can’t tell em you show em…. You tell em you love em… do this to the person next you… you pick em up and you love em… everybody.” March 8th, Thursday, light a candle for my son who would be 17 years old.
Despite all her pain and suffering, Demetrius Hewlin’s mother says she is prepared to forgive her son’s killer.
“You have to forgive because if you don’t forgive you hold that in your heart, it’s still in your memory of your child. You got that hatred in your heart,” said Phyllis Ferguson.
She is holding on to them good memories of her son and letting go of all the evil.
I want you to notice that before they were there was a beautiful moment that did happen during this tragedy.

Here’s the news story:

An assistant football coach credited with chasing a teenage gunman from an Ohio school said Thursday that he wanted families of the three children slain in a shooting spree to know that he comforted the teens as they lay dying after the attack.
"I want you to know I was with them. I prayed with them. I wiped their tears and I know God was with them," an emotional Frank Hall said during a news conference shortly after the 17-year-old suspect was charged in the rampage.
Hall, who has been credited by students, faculty and police with chasing the gunman from the school building and perhaps saving more people, brushed aside the accolades.
"I don't know why this happened. I only wish I could have done more. I'm not a hero.” Just a football coach and a study hall teacher," said Hall, a tall, barrel-chested man with a boyish face who paused to compose himself at one point and read from notes as he spoke near to the school's football field. (Associated Press )

This coach, not only wiped their tears, but prayed with them and carried them to the gates of heaven.  

I believe that God gives us these beautiful moments to hold in our memory. Notice that in the first reading today it was on the mountain of Horeb that Abraham took Isaac, and in the Gospel: “Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them.” It is also on a mountain, Golgotha that the Father allowed his only Son to die on a cross for our salvation. The apostles could probably see and remember Jesus’ transfiguration vividly in their minds and could hold on to that image for comfort when they saw the horrifying image of Christ crucified.

I think the same is true for us. God gives us Transfigured images of the ones we love, to hold on to… beautiful, clean, white, spotless images that help ease any of the horrible images we may have.

I hope that the parents of these children may take some comfort in realizing that their children were held by this big strong and gentle coach who has even a bigger, stronger and gentler heart. He was there with them, loving them, as the Good Shepherd, wiping their tears.

I’ve been with people dying and I know those moments are not always serene. Sometimes we are blessed by beautiful deaths, but we can be haunted at times by deaths as well, especially if they are tragic, painful, and unexpected.

Remember them in their goodness. Remember the times where they were Transfigured before you, when you could see their beauty, when you could see God revealed in them.

I believe God does give us these images to hold on to just as he did with the Apostles in the Transfiguration.

When we trust in God, humbly obedient to his will, even when we must return our children back to him, He will bless us, and just in the story of Abraham and Isaac, in the end all will be redeemed, just as His son died on the Cross for us, we soon will experience the Resurrection. So hold on to the Transfiguration, hold on to the beautiful images of the ones you love, and allow that memory to get you through any times of pain, suffering, loss, confusion, and horror.

If we follow the way of Jesus, the way of absolute obedience, forgiveness, and humility… these words will echo in our hearts: "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him."


  1. Beautiful homily. My two kids always ask me who I love more....I always reply only God....and they always look at me stunned. I let them know that God gave them to me, so I will always love him more. I feel blessed every day I have them.

  2. Fr. Mike:
    As a father of four beautiful children it is easy to forget that they do not belong to me but they are God's children on loan to my wife and me. Monday's tradegy and the one mother's words remind us of that fact. God bless all the family's affected by the incident in Chardon. I wish I could have heard your homily in person instead of reading it. However, great homily!

  3. Fr. Mike
    This is why we miss you so much. Thanks you for reminding me how special my four children are to me and my husband!!! God bless you always:)

  4. Dear FR. Mike. My problems are so small in comparison, I admire the way you minister the Heart of Christ,and His compassion. thank you for the great example. Muchly in Him,Fr. bruce....


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