A little over a week ago our dual community of Sacred Heart and the Newman Center took a tremendous blow. Sometime during the night of July 7th Meagan Smith, a Senior at WWU, was shot and killed while house-sitting for a friend down in the Seattle area. Many of you would probably recognize Meagan, as she was one of the more active Newman students and also a member of the core team for our middle school youth. Details about Meagan’s passing can be found online, but it is not the circumstances surrounding her death that I would like to relate to you this week. I would rather give a personal reflection on her passing.
In my five years as a priest, I have had to do many hard things, but this was by far the hardest. Death is always a difficult occasion but I have found the deep hope found in our faith to be a soothing balm for the hurt that goes on. In my time I have done funerals for infants and accident victims and other tragic circumstances, but that deep light of hope was always enough to allow me to almost find joy in the midst of sorrow. This was somehow different.
Both at the masses we celebrated for her and her family, and at the impromptu memorial service held in her honor on the 9th at Sacred Heart for those who needed a chance to mourn, a certain pallor hung over the whole occasion. A joyless grief that was new to me. The violent circumstances surrounding her death somehow prohibited the peace and love of Christ to shine completely through. Don’t get me wrong, I totally believe that she has gone to a better place and that God can bring some good out of all of this, but as I told those gathered at her memorial “Our God is not one who wills that such things should happen. He is rather the God who takes such circumstances and makes something glorious out of them. This should not have happened! God would not will such a thing.”
I tell you all this because I don’t have an answer as to why this happened. I don’t have an answer as to where God was in all of this. I don’t have an answer for a lot of things but I’m still searching—and that’s OK. Sometimes I think we can fall into the trap of feeling like we aren’t good Christians unless we feel close to God and see Him working in our lives and it’s simply not true! Life can be hard, God can feel absent, and there are a lot of things that go unexplained and without understanding, but that’s why we need FAITH. Right now I have to rest in the fact that God is walking with me and lessening my burden day by day. All of us carry a burden of some sort. It is for this that I ask you to pray that God might give the people of this community hope in suffering and deepened faith in times when there is no answer.
Fr Joseph Altenhofen