Guest Post by a Priest of the Diocese of Sacramento: Reflections on the Rancho Tehama Shooting

Some might not be aware that on November 13-14, five people were killed and 18 others were injured by a single shooter at eight different locations (including an elementary school) in a small unincorporated community in Northern California. This submission is by the Very Reverend Avram Brown, a priest of the Diocese of Sacramento. /QMB

I went for a long drive Wednesday night.  You’ve probably been on longer drives, of six, ten or twelve hours.  I drove for just two hours, but in the pouring rain, in the darkness, it felt like a long time.  You’ve had that experience, where the wipers are swiping through the streaking drops, and the headlights reaching through the rain into the black.

I was going to a place I’d never been before, so I had the small glowing light of my GPS directing me to turn left here, bank right there.  Here in the California valley the land is completely flat, so flat you can flood fields for rice seedlings, but we’re surrounded by the foothills that lead into the mountains.  My route led me into those foothills, so I went from the ruler-straight valley roads to the winding rolling country highways where the autumn oaks stretched their bare branches over the road like skeleton hands.

I arrived at my destination at a tiny community center in a tiny town, a public building like you’ve been in before, which is just walls and a roof, and this one with its “Maximum Capacity 90” sign inside.  When I arrived the space was already crowded and continued to fill so we were far exceeding the sign’s instruction.  I found there four other priests, and about that many Protestant pastors, amidst the families, adults and children: some holding the tiny candles that today are powered by batteries.

We were gathered there for the familiar purpose of Catholics in the month of November, to pray for the dead. We were also there to remember those who were hurt, who were wounded in the violence of the day before. One of the pastors had a wireless microphone, which we passed around to the different members of the gathering, so they could share their story.

What stood out the most was gratitude.  Parents described their gratitude for the teachers whose quick response had saved the lives of their children.  Teachers shared their thankfulness for the children who been so brave, and that they had lived.  We had a lot of tears, and still some fear and anger.

When I was handed the microphone, I reflected on the moment when Jesus encounters his friends Martha and Mary, and they lead him to where their brother is dead.  That’s the one place, I pondered, where we find Jesus weeping in the Gospels.

I described how close Jesus is to us when we weep for the departed, and reflecting on how the disciples saw how close Jesus was to his Father, I invited the gathering to pray the prayer that Jesus taught them.

For us who believe, we don’t know what fear, what violence, we will have to face in our lives.  But we do know the one who has conquered death, whose light shines through every darkness.

A lot of things in life can offer us happiness, comfort, or soothing.  But we have to ask each of them how they handle death.  And if they don’t have an answer like our God can give, that’s our cue to leave them behind and embrace the one whose death gives us life.

I’ll always remember the dark road I drove and the candlelit gathering I found at the end.  And I hope when I arrive at my last day, I’ll embrace the one who has the answer for every death.  And I hope I’ll find you there.