As various troubling events have dominated the news cycle recently, I have pondered the impact that individuals can have on this strange world.
First, there was the Sept. 27 death of Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy who helped usher in an era of sexual “liberation” that led to the erosion and destruction of countless lives. In a brilliant anti-tribute in The New York Times on Sept. 30, columnist Ross Douthat called “Hef” “a pornographer and chauvinist who got rich on masturbation, consumerism and the exploitation of women.”
We see a small piece of this legacy countered this week in an interview with a man who is battling his own pornography addiction with the help of faith, prayer and community support (see Page 8). This gentleman’s brave witness will give strength and inspiration to others fighting the same battle — proving that just as one individual can tear down, another can build up.
Then we have Stephen Paddock, the gunman whose name will now go down in infamy as the man behind the worst mass shooting in America. Paddock took the lives of nearly 60 individuals at a country music concert in Las Vegas, and wounded more than 500 more. This madman’s impact on the injured, the families of the deceased, the traumatized, and, indeed, the country as a whole, will be long-lasting and cruel.
That reality is countered, however, with countless stories of bravery and heroism that came out of the horrific event. One of those is of Jonathan Smith, a 30-year-old who, after escaping the gunman’s range, ran back into the line of fire where he was able to bring approximately 30 people to safety before being shot himself. Smith ended up with a fractured collarbone, a cracked rib and a bruised lung — and a bullet lodged into his neck, maybe forever.
And then we have the reminder that, as much as an impact that individuals can have, a group of individuals working together is always stronger. Steve Sisolak, the chair of the Clark County Commission in Las Vegas, found that out when he started a GoFundMe page for victims of the shooting with a personal donation of $10,000 and, in two days, had collected more than $3.2 million.
The Church, of course, affirms the impact of the individual every time it recognizes the holiness of those up for beatification and canonization. Look at Blessed Stanley Rother, who gave his life in defense of his people and his faith, and soon-to-be-Blessed Solanus Casey, who touched tens of thousands of lives through his devotion to prayer, healing and the Church. Those individuals are now part of what Scripture calls a great “cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1).
St. Catherine of Siena famously said: “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” It’s a statement full of hope, possibility and potential — one that affirms the power each of us has to do good. And that’s something we need to hear today.