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In Lebanon Church Service, A Sermon Bewailing the ‘New Normal’

  • Chloe Brown, 7, of Lebanon, hugs her mother Christina during Mass yesterday at Sacred Heart Church in Lebanon. Brown, along with her two sisters and her parents, was invited to light the church’s Advent candles in remembrance of the 20 children and seven adults who were killed Friday in Newtown, Conn. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

    Chloe Brown, 7, of Lebanon, hugs her mother Christina during Mass yesterday at Sacred Heart Church in Lebanon. Brown, along with her two sisters and her parents, was invited to light the church’s Advent candles in remembrance of the 20 children and seven adults who were killed Friday in Newtown, Conn. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Muriel Kaiser, right, of West Lebanon, and Linda Paulsen, of Canaan, take a moment to pray yesterday at Sacred Heart Church in Lebanon. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

    Muriel Kaiser, right, of West Lebanon, and Linda Paulsen, of Canaan, take a moment to pray yesterday at Sacred Heart Church in Lebanon. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Chloe Brown, 7, of Lebanon, hugs her mother Christina during Mass yesterday at Sacred Heart Church in Lebanon. Brown, along with her two sisters and her parents, was invited to light the church’s Advent candles in remembrance of the 20 children and seven adults who were killed Friday in Newtown, Conn. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)
  • Muriel Kaiser, right, of West Lebanon, and Linda Paulsen, of Canaan, take a moment to pray yesterday at Sacred Heart Church in Lebanon. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

— Flakes of snow were just beginning to fall from a gray sky yesterday morning as Sacred Heart Church held a Mass that reflected the somber mood of a nation still horrified by one of the worst mass shootings in American history.

In his sermon yesterday, the Rev. Dr. William V. Kaliyadan mourned the loss of the 20 children and six adults who were killed by a gunman at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., addressing the tragedy that was the subject of prayers at countless houses of worship throughout the Upper Valley and the country. But Kaliyadan also expressed frustration with a society he said has grown increasingly fragmented and prone to violence.

The Lebanon priest said that many will struggle in the coming weeks with what he called the “mystery of evil,” the age-old theological question of why God would allow tragedies to occur.

“There is no satisfactory or adequate answer to that question,” he said. “But we can recognize the evil that is brutally expressed in violence.”

He continued, “Somewhere along the line, violence has become the ‘new normal.’ We are an angry people — I confess, I am angry today.”

According to Kaliyadan, “The problem in our world is that we thrive on peace-taking and not peace-making.”

“We will make our own peace, even if we have to steal that peace from someone else,” he said. “We thrive on hate rather than love. We’d rather protest than concede. We’d rather sue than forgive. We’d rather dominate than reconcile, and this has got to change. We need to drop the ‘new normal.’”

The pastor told his churchgoers that “peace on Earth begins with peace with yourself and those around you, and it begins with your choice to be a peace-maker, and not a peace-taker.”

For Patrick Flanagan, the sermon “put things in perspective.”

“As far as the holiday season being very busy, and everyone running around, it really helped to focus on what it’s all about,” he said. “It’s really tragic that it has to be something like this to bring it to our attention. Because society is the way it is, people only react to the most extreme things.”

Stacey and Michael Aldrich, friends of the Flanagans, joined in conversation with the family after Mass. They said they send their 5 year-old daughter and 7 year-old son to Hanover Street School in Lebanon, and that they first discussed the shooting with their son, Zachary, yesterday morning.

Stacey Aldrich said Zachary told her he was too scared to return to school, but she reassured her son. “No, you’re safe. These things are very rare, we just wanted you to be aware.”

The balance, said Aldrich, is trying to educate your kids about the potential dangers out there without “scaring the life out of them.”

Aldrich said she is also planning to ask the principal and her children’s teachers at the Hanover Street School what training procedures are in place to prepare school officials for outbreaks of violence.

During the conversation, Christine Flanagan said, “The reality is that no place is safe anywhere.”

Aldrich agreed. “That’s the sad thing.”

Christine Flanagan said that change in society, the “new normal,” could be combatted by people engaging in their communities like old times, and speaking to their “neighbors, your family and friends, where there are connections, where people really stop and listen.”

According to Christine Flanagan, the “golden rule is to try and connect with people more.”

“Really, you have to bring it back to human kindness,” she said.

Stacey Aldrich said that an observation made by Kaliyadan in his sermon, that many children no longer play outside but remain indoors playing violent video games instead, resonated with her.

“You don’t really know your neighbors anymore,” she said. “Everybody stays inside, nobody is playing outside like they used to. And you’re afraid to leave your children outside, because God for bid somebody comes by to steal your children.”

Patrick Flanagan said that more sermons like the one heard in Sacred Heart Church yesterday might be able to spread awareness about the need for community, and possibly even prevent such tragedies at the one seen in Newtown, Ct., from happening in the future.

“There’s so much negativity out there, and this wasn’t a ‘ra-ra’ way of approaching the problem,” said Flanagan. “It was deep seated.”

Ben Conarck can be reached at bconarck@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.