Some observations about the “memorial” service in Tucson

I watched some of the “memorial service” in Tucson last night.

Here are some observations.

First, we feel pain  and concern for the the people affected. What happened in Tucson was gruesome, maddening, sad, demoralizing, disastrous, and revolting. It was, however, not a tragedy.  “Tragedy” is over-used and usually misapplied. In know that in this age of lowered expectations and falling educational standards words in common parlance don’t mean what they used to, but we need reminders from time to time that words are important. Tragedy concerns the results of a person’s character and decisions. The people who suffered in this attack are victims of a crime committed by someone who is not in his right mind. The main stream media, with its penchant for amping-up stories for the sake of viewership, has dumbed-down our discourse.  The incessant application of the label “tragedy” makes us all a little stupider.

Something about the atmosphere.  It wasn’t much of a “memorial” service in my opinion.  Perhaps this was because there were so many university students.  The intellectual and cultural level of young people in the USA has fallen to the point that they seem not to be able to recognize the moment.  They know little of decorum.  I will concede that there were some moments for applause, but the interrupting and hooting was shameful.  At the same time, did it occur to the organizers that the distribution of t-shirts might set the wrong tone from the onset?  As the “service” went on, I had to remind myself of why someone was reading Scripture even as some dimwits were hollering their no-doubt important opinions.

Next, the president’s speech was a good speech.  I don’t think it was great.  I am not impressed with Pres. Obama as a speaker.  He is not a great orator, though I admit he speaks better than 80% of politicians these days. That’s a pretty low bar, I’m afraid.  Standing ovations are common now as well, even for mediocre performances.  Our standards are falling.  Moreover, when it comes to the content of his speeches, I am inclined to doubt every word he utters, even (pace Mary McCarthy) “and” and “the”.

Last night, however, President Obama was faced with a real problem as a speaker. It struck me that he had prepared for what reasonable people expected: a memorial service.  Instead, he was required to wrest control of the moment from the uluating rubes in the student body.  Once he penetrated through their thick skulls, Pres. Obama was effective.  That is, he was able to give the speech he wanted to give.  I give him high marks for that even though he was driven a couple times back to his comfort zone of a campaign-style speech.  Hard to avoid it, given the house.

Perhaps having to give such a speech in front of that audience was emblematic of the larger issue he tried to address.  The president first had to reach beyond the indecorous numskulls in the auditorium in order to underscore one of the major points he wanted to make: we need a more reasoned public discourse. This is not to say that we can’t have tough discourse, or that we have to leave many of the tools of debate untouched in the toolbox.

Over the last few days we have read and heard insinuations and outright accusations from the extreme left that conservative figures in talk radio or politics were somehow responsible for the shootings in Tucson.  Decent people have recoiled from that and have responded that we need greater civility.

Is civility what we need?  Is that another misapplication of a word?  After all, words don’t seem to mean what they used to.  When people say “what a tragedy”, we understand that they mean that what happened was awful and it has made them sad.  Not everyone has to know the Greek roots of “tragedy” to be able to have a conversation over their Mystic Monk Coffee.

In asking for more “civility” I wonder if we aren’t longing for discourse in which people first think about what they want to say and then don’t purposely lie, or, if they have nothing intelligent to say, then they should just keep their mouths shut.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. MargaretC says:

    I think part of the trouble is caused by an erosion of the distinction between public and private space…the idea that, because you can behave in a certain way at home (or in the frat or sorority house), that same behavior is appropriate in public.

    As for President Obama…I have very mixed feelings about the man. His political amateurism has mucked up any chance for meaningful health care reform in this country for decades. But I have to feel some sympathy for an introvert trying to do an extrovert’s job.

    And one of my New Year’s resolutions is to pray for him.

  2. basilorat says:

    Brilliant observation, Father.

  3. Geremia says:

    Obama being politician can say whatever he wants, but his actions—e.g., overturning the Mexico City Policy within the first few days of his presidency—speak much louder. We know what side of the fence he is on, whether through ignorance or intention, and no amount of his rhetoric can change that. Indeed, pray for him.

  4. Ralph says:

    Tucson is my community. The University of Arizona is my alma mater. I am embaressed.

    I wish someone would have explained to the audience that this was a memorial, not a pep rally.

    Do you think that part of the problem here is that so few people attend church anymore that they only see public gatherings in the context of an athletic event? Are we losing our ability for public worship or even public decorum?

  5. Ernesto Gonzalez says:

    Thank you, Father, for your clear appraisal. Most especially for your reminder that words have meanings. If we are to have a more “civil” public discourse, then we must use the correct vocabulary. Calamity, disaster, or catastrophe are much better words to describe the events invariably called tragic by the mainstream media and politicians.

    The overuse of the word tragedy always implies some fault or even guilt in the victims, and even if this implication is unintended, it is nonetheless unconsciously present. When the whole of a society is seen as the victim of a “tragedy,” then the whole of a society is seen to be somewhat responsible. This leads to immediate calls for supposed reforms and measures, and as the maxim goes: Hard cases make bad law.

  6. TNCath says:

    The cult of the individual is destroying our society. Everyone thinks he needs to express himself at these events, no matter how solemn the occasion. The crowd was cheering Obama’s remarks as if we were responding to 9/11. “We can be better” was quoted on the news. This is not a crisis of democracy that has to be overcome, it’s one deranged mentally ill schizophrenic on a rampage. I think this country so desperately wants and needs something to cheer about that even this event looks positive to general public.

  7. rakesvines says:

    Never let a crisis go to waste as the brazen opportunists say. This event used the coffins of the slain as a platform for a politician.

    Ever since the Democrats have been clobbered by the people’s wrath, they started to repackage themselves and chant another mantra. Gone are the days of bulldozing the people’s will and sentiments. So, they put forth a charm offensive using muppets and melodrama.

    I say they should have more respect for the dead and their relatives and not leveraged a tragedy for profile and profit.

    And they know how to pray when they want to. You have seen them go to mosques and behave appropriately – and had their minions do the same.

  8. PerIpsum says:

    You hit the nail right on the head Father Z: No decorum whatsoever. I have a feeling that the above responders are right as well…more and more people do not think and reflect on what they are going to say. Instead of using proper discourse and reason, we just “get it out there.” If I were a university professor, I would be weeping right now.

  9. EXCHIEF says:

    Obama tried to focus on minimizing the devisive rhetoric that exists in our society today. Obviously he does not realize that he, his agenda, and his decision making has contributed in a substantial way to that devisiveness. By imposing on the American public, time after time, legislation that the majority of Americans do not want he has contributed to the problem. By his deceitfullness he has forced people who feel they are powerless to stop Obama’s march towards socialism to become more and more outspoken and publicly critical of him.
    The open and “heated” criticism of Obama and his leftist cohorts will not stop unless and until his pursuit of the culture of death (in the many senses of that term) stops. It will not stop until he and his cohorts show more respect for the Constitution, the principles upon which the nation was founded, and the will of the majority.
    So, in reality, Obama should be speaking to himself on these matters rather than lecturing the American public as though he were still a lecturer at some law school.

  10. There is a loss of reverence, even in church, so that even if these kids are going to church, they’re not profiting by it. There is a loss of a sense that there is anything in the world more important than our precious selves. Even the best in society are increasingly desensitized and coarsened by a constsant onslaught of nudity, vulgarity, profanity in all kinds of settings.

    On an unrelated note, I am impressed by the expression “ululating rubes” and will be stealing it at the next available opportunity.

  11. chcrix says:

    “I wonder if we aren’t longing for discourse in which people first think about what they want to say and then don’t purposely lie, or, if they have nothing intelligent to say, then they should just keep their mouths shut. ”

    We – or at least many of us – would settle for this. Actually in reference to the discussion about standards, and in defense of both liberal and conservative dunderheads, I would suggest that many people can’t distinguish between reasoned comment and empty polemic.

    But, as has been pointed out by many others, the regulation calls for ‘civility’ ‘lack of extremism’ etc. are simply stock phrases that translate to “don’t criticize the establishment”.

    Mr. Obama is more telegenic and superficially more articulate than Mr. Bush. I wonder how long it will take most of his supporters to realize that he is just as much an empty suit?

  12. And by the way, according to the New York Daily News, there is evidence this guy was into the occult.

  13. Eoin Suibhne says:

    In asking for more “civility” I wonder if we aren’t longing for discourse in which people first think about what they want to say and then don’t purposely lie, or, if they have nothing intelligent to say, then they should just keep their mouths shut.

    Perhaps they are, Father. Perhaps there is something inside them telling them that there must be a better way to communicate with each other. But as you know the U.S. abandoned liberal education long ago, so most Americans never have developed the habits of critical thinking and lucid expression; they literally cannot think and thus cannot express themselves clearly. These young students only know how to emote and express their opinions, all the while thinking it akin to actual discourse.

  14. irishgirl says:

    I heard some of the speech on the radio last night-I have no TV-and I thought that the cheering and hollering by ‘some’ members of the audience was way out of line. It sounded more like a campaign rally than a memorial service.
    I don’t like Obama-never have, and never will. I pray every day for his conversion.
    And BTW-spot on analysis, Father Z! ‘Ululating rubes’-good description!

  15. Robert of Rome says:

    Great post, Fr Z. I agree with every word you wrote here, including “and” and “the”. I also wish to second the astute comments here of Eoin Suibhne.

  16. bernadette says:

    Unfortunately I have heard hooting, whistling, and cheering in our own cathedral where the tabernacle is front and center and nary a word from the priest. So why would people behave any differently at a memorial service in an auditorium? I am afraid that reverence and decorum are a thing of the past.

  17. randomcatholic says:

    This is a spot on analysis. I rarely agree with everything in a given column or post, but this is one of those rare moments when a public figure (Fr. Z) has said what I was thinking better than I could myself. What troubled me most about yesterday wasn’t the speech. I thought it a good speech, and the President set the right tone and communicated the correct message. What really bothered me were the University students having no idea of decorum. What is going on? How is it these kids have no sense of decorum or appropriate behavior? It would seem Father is correct when he observes: “The intellectual and cultural level of young people in the USA has fallen to the point that they seem not to be able to recognize the moment.” But why is this?

    Recently I went back to undergraduate school to pick up some additional undergraduate credits for work. I already have degrees etc., but needed some additional courses. I have to say that I was disheartened by the lack of intellectual curiosity and maturity level of the students. Were we like this when we were their age? Or is something changing?

  18. randomcatholic says:

    I think Eoin Suibhne puts it best. It is the lack of a liberal education that is killing us.

  19. Banjo pickin girl says:

    This inappropriate public behavior has been going on for a long time. I remember being embarassed at my college graduation by the rebel yells of the students. It was 1990. I was a returning student and observed slightly more decorum.

    As for the proper definition of the word “tragedy,” I don’t think it is being used to assign blame. I think most people think the word means “something really really bad.”

  20. Teresa-1962 says:

    Best descriptive comment in any post today: “…uluating rubes in the student body. ” I love how one phrase paints the entire picture. Wish I had said that.

  21. TNCath says:

    randomcatholic wrote, “It would seem Father is correct when he observes: ‘The intellectual and cultural level of young people in the USA has fallen to the point that they seem not to be able to recognize the moment.’ But why is this? ”

    Because we live in a society where everything is made informal or done as a “short cut.” In this age of Twitter, Facebook, text messaging, and the Internet, an infinite amount of information is available at our fingertips, but retained knowledge is seemingly unimportant. As for culture, I think there is a direct correlation between what happened in the 1960’s with the de-sacralizing of the liturgy and the erosion of decorum in society. If going to church can be an informal event, why can’t a memorial service or any other secular ceremony such as a graduation or similar event?

  22. LaxMom25 says:

    The “memorial” is a indicative of many things wrong: liberal education, sense of decorum, personal disconnect with and desensitization to death itself, no acknowledgement of the importance of death. Father Z or one of the more erudite posters here could likely write a book on this. I did not see the “memorial,” but was briefly listening to discussion of it on talk radio this morning. I am troubled by the “fuzziness” of the “service.” It sounds as if pagan/Native American symbolism was used. Why? Religious relativism and the employment of what is wrongly considered by most to be religously “neutral” and safe was the default. The President can safely attend this event, with its (pagan) religious over and undertones without really taking a faithful stand of any kind. He again dismisses the Judeo-Christian establishment of our country (yes, the Indians were here before us with their pagan faith, but it really is not part of our established principles). The event should have been held elsewhere, which would have prevented the thousands of cheering students to attend, but it would have hopefully changed the tone. Our nation continues to try to eliminate Christ from the public sphere; ironically, He is what we need right now.

  23. Frank H says:

    Why was a “memorial service” held at the University at all, let alone in an athletic arena?

  24. benedetta says:

    Years ago my area of the world boasted the largest number of independently-published daily local newspapers per capita. Now we are down to just a couple and they are owned by large conglomerates and independent reporting and news analysis confined to just the most local of issues. This narrowing and exclusion of diversity of opinion is evident in the world of the mainstream national media as well which seems to by and large parrot and repeat one another in very small chunks of sentiment or theme. This week, after what happened in AZ and the aftermath of the media witch hunt, I glanced at my local paper’s online version to notice the restaurant reviewer’s column in which he scolds people to “Shut the hell up” about meat eaters debating non-meat eaters whose eating habits are nobody’s business anyway. But he did write, “Shut the hell up”. Also recently I borrowed a book from the local library in the children’s section, a book about a historical period, written for maybe 4th through 6th grade, and published in the mid-1960s. I was astounded to note the very number of “vocabulary words”, words I didn’t even know, let alone a child, just in the first ten pages alone. This book had hand-drawn and rendered pictures, not a huge number but sparingly interspersed in the book. Anyone working in education can tell you that what is published for curricula has a very “busy” look to it, with flashy photography and cartoonish color pictures all over with explication kept to the minimum.
    And young people are not honing their persuasive writing, critical reading, or debate skills as a general matter. We know all too well what young people are doing with their free time, lots of text messages or video game or in front of tv. Even in the car. At the dinner table. Apparently even in church. Not writing poetry, painting or playing music. Not woodworking or sewing. Not performing plays. (Except I guess if you are a homeschooler…I’ve heard tell that all these still go on in some places).
    The hooting and hollering at a memorial service is indeed a reflection of lack of decorum and reverence generally and also think it is a demonstration of a very limited range of emotional range and expression, an inability to “feel” one’s feelings appropriately for the moment. A type of generational sort of coarsening and lack of genuine emotional response which is unhealthy. We cheer and scream though we are grieving. We jump to our feet and applaud when we might be reflecting….Reminds me of Fr. Z’s allusion to what was it…”Are you sad or glad today?”
    But all told, I am for whatever this initiative toward greater civility in our discourse turns out to be. I would think that elected leaders will be able to do this without a big problem. I wonder though how the President will get buy-in for this from the mainstream media? What will it take? For elected leaders, voters can hold them accountable for the words they employ in debate. But the mainstream media does not answer to anyone but the dollar and the incentive to always maximize that profit and the advertising. So that would leave us as consumers to shoulder the burden of asking the media to change its ways. Many have already unplugged the tv. Perhaps next we look to the advertisers? Hope that the President has a plan for overall civility in discourse which includes the media.

  25. Katharine B. says:

    What strikes me is that these undecorous and irreverant University students are about the same age as the poor insane soul who caused the need for the memorial.
    LaxMom25 said above, “The “memorial” is indicative of many things wrong: liberal education, no sense of decorum, personal disconnect with and desensitization to death itself, no acknowledgement of the importance of death.”
    The sane products of this culture are appalling enough, stir in a little insanity and you get Jared.

  26. Jayna says:

    @Frank – Maybe it was just logistics?

    Honestly, I think Jon Stewart has made the best remarks thus far on the whole situation. And he’s been saying that the discourse has gone off track for years now (that’s what his whole rally was about). It’s a shame something like this had to happen to make everyone else realize it too.

    As a young…ish adult in this country, I must say that those of us who do have our wits about us are rather sorely underrepresented because we are mostly invisible. We go into academia and get lost in it. No one reads our books and the dunderheads we’re forced to teach at the university level have already had their brains atrophied from the deplorable state of high school education. It’s hard to reverse that and the only ones it works on are those who end up with useless PhD’s in an overcrowded discipline. Trust me, I’ll be one of them in a few years.

  27. Leonius says:

    Its not going to help asking for civility, civility is not a cause of better public behavior it is an effect of humility, what is needed is a cure for the egotism that is running rampant in our society as a result of secularism with its promotion of ideas such as that every man is own God and that we are all free to do as we please as there is no objectively right or wrong way to act.

  28. Martial Artist says:

    Fr. Z,

    You wrote:

    when it comes to the content of his speeches, I am inclined to doubt every word he utters, even (pace Mary McCarthy) “and” and “the”.

    My personal inclination with respect to the current President’s rhetoric (if using that word with regard to Mr. Obama’s speaking is not to demean its denotation) is to apply the formulation I learned during my years in Naval service, to wit:

    I don’t believe anything he says, nor half of what I personally see him do.” Perhaps that is a little harsh, but better safe than sorry.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer, LCDR, USN [ret]

  29. cweaver says:

    I watched the memorial, but I didn’t catch the “pagan” overtones. I thought Mr. Obama (who is a Christian) gave a very moving speech, with relevant quotations from Scripture. Napolitano and Holder also quoted Scripture. He ended with a passing reference to our own beloved requiem prayers.

    I don’t agree with him about everything (how could any Catholic?), but can we leave aside the false insinuation that he is muslim or pagan?

    I don’t think anyone was trying to gain politically from last night. There was some indecorous behavior from the crowd in attendance, but the president and other speakers all behaved the way they should have. When a federal judge is killed as part of a mass shooting, the president of the US speaking at the memorial is not spin, or politicking; he’s fulfilling one of the duties of his office.

  30. Fr. Basil says:

    Shame on you, Fr. Z!

    ANYTHING that involves innocent bystanders being senselessly killed, and especially little girls, is by definition a tragedy. [“Senseless”.. right. And therefore, by definition, not a tragedy. Tragedies, by definition, make sense. They result from the character and decisions, generally flaws in character and bad decisions, of the one to whom the bad consequences happen. But a man of your education knows this, I am sure, and were just being facetious. We do need to explain this, however, to those who may have forgotten. To those reading along: by labeling their shooting deaths or wounds a “tragedy” there is an implicit suggestion that they brought the shooting upon themselves because of some character flaw or bad decision of their own. That is what the real meaning of “tragedy” implies. I don’t want to blame the shooting on the victims. And, as I clearly wrote in the entry above, I acknowledge that there is a common parlance to which we can lower our discourse.]

  31. benedetta says:

    cweaver: I think you are generally about right however I don’t recall that at Fort Hood the President interspersed the memorial reflection on the dead and wounded with a call to counter Islamic extremists. I don’t take issue with the President’s behavior but at the same time it’s probably accurate to say that he seems to presume that this was a politically-motivated attack and about his party’s agenda and that instead of defending that agenda he has calculated that he will raise the notion of civil discourse. So it was a memorial service but the President did not confine himself to speaking of the victims solely but also spoke of this idea of raising the level of civil discourse. Also just would note that as I understand it the federal judge was not there at the Congresswoman’s constituent event in his official capacity in any sense but happened to run an errand and stopped along to say hello. The man apparently had it in for the Congresswoman, sort of like Hinkley or Chapman, not so much because he cares about health care or the Democratic (or tea party’s ) agenda but because he had a personal vendetta and in a sick way wanted the attention. He did not target a federal judge in the line of duty. On the other hand, the Fort Hood killer did seek to eliminate our active military in their official duties and his writings and comments reflect that he harbored an ideological animus. So I don’t know where all that gets us. But I don’t think it is totally unreasonable to note that the President is making some political points and is comfortable with the focus on himself at this time. I don’t know that people will oppose the notion of greater civility in discourse a great deal, actually. How could that be anything but a good thing for our country’s future?

  32. Andrew says:

    I watched some of it on television and I found it distasteful: a self-congratulatory exhibition of “look how sensitive we can be”. Mobs applauding, snapping pictures of each other with pocket cameras to “capture the moment” and the Pres wooing the crowd like a stage performer with “what can we learn from this”.
    The whole thing was politically calculated. The bottom line is: one miserably deranged soul commits a senseless crime.

  33. LaxMom25 says:

    CWeaver, I apologize and accept your criticism. I should probably *watched* the whole event; but I don’t have time as I am trying to provide my own children with a true liberal education.

    You are right; but I did not ever mean to insinuate he is pagan or muslim. I had heard (I know – did not see the event and only listened to commentary and parts of it on the radio) that there was a ceremonial pagan/native “blessing” done. I do think this religious ritual was an intentional tool used to create a tone and further the idea of religious relativism. Imagine the outcry if there had been an altar boy with a thurifer – there would be outrage from all sides!

    Also, the snippets of the speech I heard were not objectionable and were quite moving. I don’t believe this murder is the result of a lack of civility, but it is good for the POTUS to guide the course to being more civil. I believe that the choice of venue (the gym at a university) was very calculated, and did not create the appropriate atmosphere.

    I agree, the President was fulfilling the duties of his office and spoke well. He probably knows that the setting and audience were a bad decision. I continue to keep him in my prayers.

  34. Stvsmith2009 says:

    I am not going to hold my breath until there is “civility” in politics. Right, left, or center, civility has historically been non-existent in American politics, and that has been true with and without the presence of talk radio.

    As for the decorum during the “memorial service” I was unable to watch as I don’t have television here. I was on twitter during that time and I saw varied reactions from different people I follow on twitter. Overall, the consensus was the POTUS speech was adequate, yet all felt the applause and the “hooting” were definitely out of place. I would really like to know what idiot thought t-shirts appropriate for such an event.

  35. ckdexterhaven says:

    How many of the attendees have ever been to a funeral? Maybe they’ve been to a “celebration of life.” Look at the numbers of our fellow citizens who are on Prozac or some other mind altering drug. To be sad is to be avoided at all cost.

    As for the Native American shaman, that’s pure Tucson. Tucson and the University of Arizona probably wanted to showcase their diversity, and unfortunately showcased a guy who’s no more Indian than the guy who helped Bobby and Cindy Brady at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

  36. Leonius says:

    Fr. Basil: “ANYTHING that involves innocent bystanders being senselessly killed, and especially little girls, is by definition a tragedy.”

    Not according to Aristotle’s definition father.

  37. Nathan says:

    How many of the students who failed to display decorum have ever been to an actual funeral, as opposed to a “life celebration” of relatives or friends? I wonder if, in our seeming societal desire not to acknowledge death, they (along with a number of us) have been essentially forced to not mourn?

    Even as Catholics, one could argue that we have forgotten how to mourn our dead. I recently looked through the entire GIA Worship and a good portion of the OCP music accompaniment books–other than the “Come to her aid, you Saints of God” and a translation of the “In Paradisum,” I found no more than a handful of references in the available music to many parishes to praying for the eternal rest for the one who died.

    I agree that the students at this service acted without decorum. I’d also note that they’ve been trained since birth to deny the reality of death, much less respond in charity and pray for the deceased.

    In Christ,

  38. Nathan says:

    ckdexterhaven: I didn’t mean to parrot your point, we were typing at the same time. My mother would always say, “great minds think alike.”

    In Christ,

  39. cweaver says:


    Point taken; and I apparently tuned in after the “blessing.” I guess that’s a part of Southwest-style ecumenicalism. What I saw (particularly the president’s speech) was decidedly Christian.

    Especially his message about living up to our kids’ innocent vision resonated with me as a parent.

    Perhaps he does score some political points for this, but I sincerely believe he was speaking in his role of mourner-in-chief, and not as a politician. I know Fr. Zuhlsdorf is disinclined to believe anything he said, but it seemed to me that he spoke with true emotion, especially about the death of the little girl. He does have two of his own after all.

    Let us all pray the he will strive to live up to the lofty rhetoric he exhibited last night.

  40. Unfortunately I have heard hooting, whistling, and cheering in our own cathedral where the tabernacle is front and center and nary a word from the priest. So why would people behave any differently at a memorial service in an auditorium? I am afraid that reverence and decorum are a thing of the past.

    It certainly seems that way. There was hooting, whistling and cheering at priestly ordinations last year in my cathedral parish. In a world where that is possible, this “memorial service” comes as no surprise.

  41. DisturbedMary says:

    Never, never have we been served up a pagan festival as a national memorial. If I were a family member, I would have been deeply wounded. I don’t even know any of the victims, and I feel like throwing up. An American Indian tribal dance, a self-promoting university president and a cheering audience of uneducated morons makes me want to run to my Old Testament to see what’s next. From the stupidity we embrace at every turn, spare us O Lord.

  42. Katherine says:

    I thought Governor Brewer also spoke very well.

  43. Sid says:

    Ernesto is correct; calamity is the better word.

    To build on Fr. Z’s fisk of Fr. Basil: Tragedy is when someone noble knows better yet does worse. The response is not one of outrage but of pity. To go further: Greek Tragedy says, “Isn’t it pitiful that it had to be that way.” Oedipus the King is the usual example. Christian Tragedy says, “Isn’t it pitiful that is was that way, yet it didn’t have to be.” King Lear, for starters.

    I’ve read no better recent tragedy than Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air.

    The issue of the tragic hero’s fatal flaw is complex. So enough.

  44. Katherine: I don’t believe Gov. Brewer will be reelected because of her oratorical skills, but the content was fine. She was also in a somewhat hostile environment. It is too bad that some few nitwits had to impose themselves on the affair, as they also did with former Gov. Napolitano spoke and when the President spoke.

  45. frjim4321 says:

    Anderson Cooper commented on the very unusual tone that came across during the television broadcast. He mentioned getting many comments on Twitter during the presentation. The on-the-scene reporter mentioned that the one-hour televised event should be taken in the larger context of what has been the reaction there over the past several days. I think the president hit the right notes, and did about as well as anyone could have done in that context.

  46. Peggy R says:

    Excellent analysis Fr Z as per usual–and from commenters as well. I’ve been restraining my thoughts so far.

    1. Since a Congresswoman was the target of a mad assassin and a federal judge and congressional employee were killed, it makes sense for the President of the United States to say something.
    2. The content of O’s speech, as well as the other officials’ speeches were fine. But I am afraid I don’t believe O for a minute since he has not repudiated his own violent and vitriolic language toward average citizens who oppose his agenda.
    3. I have no idea why any one would think that a crowd of 10,000+ was necessary to be present to hear the president and other officials speak.
    4. The idea that college students, the peers of the killer as one person here noted, were a desirable “audience” for the memorial of 3 senior citizens, a federal judge, a federal employee and a little girl, is just strange. And the inappropriateness showed. These young adults’ lack of sensibility and decorum was painfully clear.
    5. Was this all grandstanding planned by the university officials? O’s people should have thought a bit more about this, needless to say.
    6. The dead, the injured and their suffering families were exploited by this circus atmosphere.
    7. Bp. Kicanas held a mass the night before which about 400 attended, including the Green family, according to reports. That sounds like the right way to memorialize and seek healing in the community. Appropriately intimate too. The Green family apparently skipped the spectacle of last night, wisely.

  47. benedetta says:

    DisturbedMary: I guess when you consider that the little girl was a Catholic and that the federal judge was a Catholic and a daily communicant, it is hard to understand the meaning behind the gesture of the Native American shaman as a memorial.

    One thing I did see which I thought was pretty strange were the photos of the skull and novena candles in the deranged man’s hangout in his backyard. Combined with the really frighteningly violent music video with the heavy piercings and screaming etc. I wonder about what sort of things this young man was into. Witnesses say he always had his headphones on. About the skull/novena candles and altar arrangement, a wiccan priestess or occult expert refused for the occult movement to be linked to this man’s motives, although the elements are commonly found in satanic type rituals. Very eerie. Don’t see any reason why this kind of stuff in our youth culture couldn’t also be addressed by our President with the same type of exhortation that “We can do better”. It’s not like supporters of the occult and ultra-violent music video are big constituencies, right? Why not just say, this isn’t so great for our young people and help people along? Like obesity I see it as a children’s health issue generally. It is timely and worthy of us to try and do better by our children in this regard.

  48. Gail F says:

    I only saw the last few minutes of the President’s speech and was mystified by it, so thanks, Fr. Z, for elucidating a bit. I could not figure out why people were applauding every few minutes as if they were a a campaign rally. I am glad to find out that this was not the President’s intent. What I heard of his speech was very odd if it were really meant for a memorial for the victims and their families, although it made sense for an address to the nation (not that I agreed, especially with his “of course the shooter was crazy and PROBABLY not influenced by incivility in public discourse… nevertheless I’m going to go on and on about incivility in public discourse, by which I mean anyone criticizing me). But it at least made sense.

    I agree with the whole idea of not calling this a tragedy. An outrage, a horrific crime, a terrible murder spree — but it’s not a tragedy.

  49. Girgadis says:

    I do not fault the president or the officials in Arizona for the inappropriate behavior of the students. Anyone who’s been to an auditorium full of public high school students has seen that kind of thing and worse. I don’t get the t-shirts either except again; it seems to be something the young do at funerals and memorials.

    Civilized people, meaning people who are not barbarians and had have some level of education, ought to be able to discuss their disagreements with each other without denigrating one another. The political climate has come to resemble an NFL stadium where just about anything goes. Parroting talking points from the left or the right is not discussion; it’s thoughtless regurgitation that some folks have mistaken for debate. People can always point to things being worse decades or even centuries ago, but people didn’t have the internet to capture and distort every word back then, so the problem is magnified today.

    And if a person has a desire to step on the third rail, they should bring up the topic of guns and watch what happens. All of the Democrats who climbed over each other to blame Saturday’s shootings on a media gadfly have been sickeningly silent on the subject except for one, and that’s because she knows first-hand what happens when the mentally ill get their hands on guns. We ought to be able to talk about this but we can’t. Our politicians are either too gutless to want to talk about it or they think there is absolutely nothing that needs to be discussed. Meanwhile, our approach to mass killings like the one in Tuscon resembles Einstein’s definition of insanity. How regrettable.

  50. Girgadis says:

    Sorry for the typos – I need a proof-reader whose eyesight is better than mine.

  51. Supertradmum says:

    We are in the age of the Neo-Barbarians. I saw it when I came back from Europe, after having been away from teaching college for 10 years. The students were completely different. The reasons are manifold, but firstly, the lack of discipline in the home. Children are no longer made to be quiet or sit down with adults in a decorous fashion. American culture in the family includes “grazing” instead of eating together, and letting the children run wild when company is over. Children are boorish and loud, as if they have to be by definition. Secondly, the lack of discipline in the schools. Teachers are rarely allowed the freedom to discipline without parents “in their faces”, even at Catholic schools. Many years ago, at a Catholic high school, I had a parent at my classroom door, in my face, about his young man of 16 being corrected by me in class.for rude behavior. This was a private school and the parents were wealthy, not pwt. Thankfully, the principal backed me up. I left high school teaching, even in Catholic schools, even private ones, because schools refused to allow us the freedom to discipline bad behavior and bad manners, as well as bad speech. Thirdly, the lack of discipline among peers themselves. I can recall the days when we warned each other of bad behavior and helped those among us in college who had no common sense about things-like binge drinking, or drugs,public rowdiness, or other bad behavior. Peers now either encourage bad behavior, or ignore it. It is politically incorrect for students to correct each other, even if they want to do so secretly.

    I no longer shop at malls as parents let their children run up and down the aisles and in the walking areas, as it these spaces were parks. The same is now happening in grocery stores. Blame the parents for the Neo-Barbarians. We have two generations of no moral framework and no manners. In fact, aggressiveness training pushed out manners. Sadly, I see some of this behavior even in the Latin Mass community in after Mass suppers,where children are allowed to run around it the common lounge, where we would have our children sit quietly and wait. Children are capable of manners and appropriate behavior, but parents do not want to teach these life-long skills. One learns these skills very early on. Manners are part not only of good,Christian deference, but a sign of humility.

  52. Fr Z is totally correct. The memorial service in Tuscon which to many resembled a pep-rally seemed quite normal to many who were there and to those who watched it on TV. One participant said, “this was not a pep rally, but a celebration of life.” I do not doubt the good intentions of everyone who planned, participated, or attended this service. What bothers me is what happens at many Catholic funerals these days. Although violet and black vestments are legitimate liturgical options, many priests would never wear any other color than white for a funeral. The DIES IRAE is only sung at the Extraordinary Form but not in the Ordinary Form. Funeral homilies never mention Purgatory but 99% of the time sound like canonizations of the deceased.

    There is wisdom in the traditional practices of PUBLIC MOURNING. Wearing black or dark colors for a period of time allowed people to grieve at their own pace. Nowadays, the widow(er) is supposed to wear normal clothing the day after burial. Sermons used to remind us of the reality that sin brought death into the world and only divine grace brought the hope of salvation.

    When my brother was killed by an underage drunk driver, it was one of the saddest days of my life. I chose the Gospel of John where Jesus WEPT over the tomb of His friend Lazarus. The BVM wore black from Good Friday onward. Neither one denied the Resurrection nor the immortality of the soul. While we staunchly affirm the doctrine of life after death and the dogma of the resurrection of the body on the last day, as human beings, we also NEED to express our sorrow. We need to CRY as did our Divine Lord. We need reverential silence and decorum. While I remember the typical Italian lady throwing herself onto the casket at the funeral parlor, I also remember that since I was ordained in 1988, I have seen more of the opposite. More often than not, in funeral parlors, I have seen people carrying on as if they were in a public mall. Laughing, joking, swearing, smoking, eating, arguing, fighting, etc. When I was a child and adolescent, funeral parlors were like churches. You behaved. You kept a low voice and dressed appropriately. Even if you did not wear black, you would never come in blue jeans, tee shirts and sneakers.

    Problem is that emotionally, we suppress our grief because it makes people uncomfortable to see adults cry. In the past, you were expected to shed some tears if not out of love, then out of respect. You were sad but not depressed. You also PRAYED for the deceased in case they were in Purgatory and needed some spiritual assistance. Now, fewer and fewer even bother getting Mass cards and intentions. If everyone goes right to heaven, why do they need a Mass, many ask themselves.

    Human beings NEED to mourn and to MOURN PUBLICLY. We need to PRAY for the dead and to honor them with reverent funerals and burials. In time, the pain of loss gradually decreases but never leaves. People learn to adjust day by day. My mom buried three of her five children and then her husband of 39 years. Every funeral was painful as it should have been. She has never completely gotten over the loss of two sons and one daughter, nor should she. But she has coped and survived by the grace of God and the support of family and friends.

    When my brother Joe died, he was only 33. My brother Mike was only 26 when he died. In both cases, we hade a two day wake (afternoon and evening) in the funeral parlor. Both funerals, including my Dad’s, were very sad but we also embraced the Christian hope of eternal rest. There were tears and later on we also laughed about former good times when our loved ones did funny things. But each phase was done at the proper time and place.

    Suppressing sadness and averting mourning is not healthy. Repression only results in problems later, from emotional to physiological. Acknowledging the imperfections and praying for divine mercy on the soul of our beloved dead is no insult by any means. It is REALISTIC. The Church first adopted black vestments to affirm that Holy Mother Church mourns the death of one of her children. By baptism we become a child of God and a son or daughter of the Church. When we die, our Mother mourns our death while not denying our future resurrection.

  53. Supertradmum says:

    Dear Father black.beretta,

    Give a sermon on this. Thanks for the great comments. The laity need to be taught lost social skills.

  54. Rachel Pineda says:

    Leonius said “Its not going to help asking for civility, civility is not a cause of better public behavior it is an effect of humility, what is needed is a cure for the egotism that is running rampant in our society as a result of secularism with its promotion of ideas such as that every man is own God and that we are all free to do as we please as there is no objectively right or wrong way to act.”

    Good point, way to cut to the chase.
    In other words, sin makes you stupid.

  55. Supertradmum says:


    Wicca, Voodoo, and some other occult practices are legal “religions” in the United States and Canada. We have only ourselves to blame for allowing relativistic politicians vote this stuff in. We Christians are hardly allowed to call these evil cults what they really are in essence-satanic worship. Even at the Naval Academy, land had to be designated for the witches to use in their “religious” observances.

    Was anyone else disturbed at the matching tee-shirts?

    Tee-shirts are not appropriate and here, these were being handed out free? Why? Whose nutsy idea was this, or were the University Administrators worried about worse slogans?

  56. Nathan says:

    Father Black.Beretta: You have expressed eloquently what I’ve worried over a long time. Is there any way you could do a “mind meld” with all your brother priests and get these out to the Faithful, so many of whom do not know better than what we saw a the “service” in Arizona? It’s ok to wish, though?

    In Christ,

  57. Fr. Basil says:

    Leonius, you, Aristotle, and Fr. Z may disagree with me about my use of “tragedy,” but my on-line dictionary gives this as the first definition:

    “an event causing great suffering, destruction, and distress, such as a serious accident, crime, or natural disaster.”

  58. Teresa-1962 says:


    I have no idea why any one would think that a crowd of 10,000+ was necessary to be present to hear the president and other officials speak.

    Because President Obama is running for re-election.

  59. irishgirl says:

    Amen to what you said, Supertradmum @ 3:11! Even though I never was a teacher, I can understand your disgust at the ‘Neo-Barbarians’ that pass for children these days. Good one! I’m in 1000% total agreement!
    Father black biretta (I know your ‘real name’, but I won’t tell), you also hit it on the head, too! You always do!

  60. New Sister says:

    Supertradmum, I share your observations about neo-barbarism, especially as it is manifest in children today. I become ever more disturbed by this as I grow in my Catholic identity (since Confirmation 7 years ago) – increasingly conflicted about how to interact with friends and family whose kids are undisciplined. I fear being complicit in the children’s sin if I do not express disapproval, yet am always unsure of where my boundaries are. I find it impossible to be socially pleasant around the rampant child (and animal!) worship that has become the norm, yet at the same time, I know I’m called to – impelled to – evangelize. Thus discerning when to be present in the midst of boorishness; when to speak out against it; or when to avoid the situation is a constant source of confusion for me. (Have you read any Thérèse Delpech on our return to barbarism?)
    … any long ruminations on this (thanks much to this blog) bring me back to Liturgy and the loss of solemnity. Some people have never been inside a quiet church – I wish so badly that priests would enforce silence in our sanctuaries, especially after receiving Holy Communion.

  61. New Sister says:

    @ Anita Moore OPL – as soon as I saw this man’s face I thought he was demonically possessed, and he shows the signs that Fulton J Sheen ascribes to the demonic: violence; split personality/no inner peace; nudity (haven’t heard on that one); and Hatred of the Cross. He has shown all of these signs, as well as practices that invite infestation, such as psychedelic drugs, the occult … probably porn. This is off topic a bit, but does tie to the misuse of language – we wrongly call this slaughter a “tragedy” instead of what it is: sheer evil.

  62. FredM says:

    Why didn’t the president or chancellor of the university stand up and tell the kids what kind of behavior was appropriate? Could UofAz be a catholic school? How would one know? You can’t look for a crucifix when O is around.


  63. New Sister says:

    @ Peggy R – “3. I have no idea why any one would think that a crowd of 10,000+ was necessary to be present to hear the president and other officials speak.”
    I am sorry for thinking this – but I have wondered how many were there to grieve … :-( (I’m also concerned about how many people seem to be in the congresswoman’s hospital room)

  64. Peggy R says:

    New Sister, Teresa-1962 is quite right about the motives of many, I suspect.

  65. Kerry says:

    I Second Father Z’s “pace Mary McCarthy” and LCDR Töpfer’s naval experience. Why, exactly, did the POTUS go to AZ four days after he could have made a brief, three or four thousand word, 20 or forty minute statement from the White House? Could he just maybe, maybe have wanted a wee bit of TV time in front of thousands of adoring “ululating rubes” , and another vacation? When at the close of his radio show Bill Bennett said “On tomorrow’s show we’ll take your reactions to the President’s speech”, my wife chuckled and I said aloud, “I can give you my reaction now Bill”. And two seconds into Eric Holder’s speaking the word “Corinthians” we changed the channel. We sneaked some muted looks at the POTUS as he did his “Curly Howard of the Three Stooges does his Il Duce” chin jut posturing, that plus the fingers and thumbs stuck together vibratory oomph. The man is no orator whatsoever, and muted, the phoniness of the gestures and head swiveling stand out like a black cat on snow. (I have no rancor for the man; do not misunderstand. But he is an imposter thriving on adulation and power.) Suppose relatives of the dead would previously requested he stay home; would he respect that civil request? Or say, “If they bring a knife, we bring a gun”? And yes, it was a pep rally. (My wife even said she thinks his gray hair comes from a bottle.) God help us.

  66. Geremia says:

    Apparently the t-shirts were blue…

    Also, his U. of Arizona speech was very similar to his Notre Dame speech, viz.: let us just hold hands and sing Kumbaya. Truly a Masonic distraction. Meanwhile, a million unborn Americans are dismembered in their mothers’ wombs every year, and we’re nitpicking about “civility?”

  67. PerIpsum says:

    Fr. Basil,

    Since when do online dictionaries rule the day? While “tragedy” may be suitable in common parlance, my Encarta says “Very sad event that evokes feelings of sorrow and grief. Judging by the vibes at the rally, they were not reacting to a sad event, but some sophomoric scuffle.

  68. Geremia says:

    Also, here is how the University reported the event:

  69. benedetta says:

    Supertradmum, Hadn’t seen the photo of the t-shirts. What would wearing such a garment mean? I was there, presidential memorial service ’11? Strange to ‘get’ any sort of favors or stuff for attendance.

    I really appreciate the beautiful post of Fr. black.biretta.

  70. bookworm says:

    “What bothers me is what happens at many Catholic funerals these days. Although violet and black vestments are legitimate liturgical options, many priests would never wear any other color than white for a funeral. … Funeral homilies never mention Purgatory but 99% of the time sound like canonizations of the deceased.”

    Fr. black.biretta — you said it very well. I know the problems you lament are common. However, you might be interested in these two stories which in my opinion, demonstrate the right way to conduct a Catholic funeral under very public, delicate, and (I think the word may be appropriate here) tragic circumstances:

    If you read both stories, you will notice the following things: 1) the celebrants wore violet vestments specifically to symbolize repentance and mourning; 2) the homily made explicit mention of the need to pray for the deceased (“pray him in”); 3) the pastor/homilist did not hesitate to confront the pain and even anger caused by the circumstances of the mayor’s death (suicide); 4) only one “eulogy” was given, at the end of Mass, in line with the Order of Christian Funerals; and 5) the bishop explained the purpose of the rites in order to forestall any possible confusion or scandal. Also, at the request of the family, no cameras were allowed inside the church, thereby thwarting any temptation to turn the funeral into a media or political event, a la the Ted Kennedy funeral or the service in Tucson last night. So these things can still be done right if the clergy (pastors and bishops) and the laity (families) insist upon it.

    Back to the topic of this thread… as for the President’s speech, which I didn’t watch but have read, it said what needed to be said and I can find little if any fault with it. Of course the behavior of the audience is another matter. Hopefully the endless politicizing of this massacre (I think that’s a proper word to use as well) will subside soon and those most affected can grieve, or recover, in peace.

  71. JMody says:

    As a native Tucsonan, please accept my profound apologies for the actions of my neighbors. I lay most of the blame for that fiasco at the feet of our University President.
    + Bear in mind that the event WAS described as a memorial for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. The school had time to come up with a logo and print T-shirts, but didn’t have time to print a little hand-bill that said “This is a memorial for six murder victims – please refrain from cheers, hooting, whooping, and otherwise carrying on like a band of drunken pagan Norsemen” or similar guidelines, but he didn’t.
    + He could have had a chaplain there, but none were visible, and instead we got Prof. Gonzalez’s pagan ramblings to a feminine spirit and to “the Creator” — hasn’t the U of A, a state organization, just imposed a religion on me? Where is the ACLU, the Freedom from Reason, er, Religion crowd? I am scandanavi-lized. Even the military and veteran’s groups offer a final benediction at the end of a gathering like that. The choir was wonderful, but that’s all we got.
    + A federal judge, alum of the same high school I went to, one-time lector in my parish, was murdered. That abominable event was almost thirty minutes old before he was mentioned, either by name or profession. At least we can have a reasonable hope that a man who was less than two hours from Mass was well-prepared for an untimely end — ready for the thief in the night.
    + And tragedy tragedy tragedy — it is a TRAGEDY that the more a young man tries to make sense of the world, the deeper he sinks into despair, because he turns to drugs and the occult. It is a TRAGEDY that people die from causes which may have been preventable – witness our sheriff confronted with this on his watch, killing one friend of his and severely injuring a second, and him spinning into political diatribe about the ill effects of political diatribe, and trampling whatever reputation he may have had as a lawman now that it seems there were several opportunities for law enforcement to derail this chain of events, all missed. But the event itself is an ATROCITY, a MASSACRE, an ABOMINATION — it is not a tragedy.
    + And this brings me to the whole idea of death and memorial and civility. The demeanor of Pres. Shelton was in keeping with the behavior of the crowd. The DOCTRINES described above – that we mourn our dead because death is a part of the penalty of Original Sin, just as Christ mourned for Lazarus – are clearly forgotten. The basic civility for the dead, that even pagan Norsemen had, is not to be found at the U of A. It has sunk into barbarism and incivility. And as far as memorials go, the VIP’s, the program of events, were actually suited to the occasion — our university and our citizens spoiled it, and for that I am deeply ashamed.

  72. Tony Layne says:

    Civility—rooted in the Latin word for “city”, a shorthand word for “civic virtue” … the art of virtuous living within the context of a community. If we’re no longer a civil people, it’s because we’re driven by economics and ideology to see ourselves and behave as isolates, whose actions have no reference other than to our own desires and fears; we’re usually defined as “communities” only by physical proximity, not by any sense of shared goals, values or histories.

    The behavior was appropriate to the kind of event it was; the event itself wasn’t appropriate to the circumstances. It was by no means a gathering of a community to share grief, but rather, as rakesvines so deftly put it, a political rally with the platform propped up on the coffins of the victims. If it was impractical for Pres. Obama to attend any of the funerals (strictly as a guest), then he should have confined himself to making his remarks from the Oval Office.

    By the way, Fr. Z, your quote from Mary McCarthy reminded me of one of the best lines ever written, about a conversation with a literary agent: “‘Hello,’ he lied.”

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