What does it mean to be a Christian?
Julie Lai | Contributor and
Gianna Caravetta | Opinion Editor | The USD Vista | @giannacara
“Are you a Christian?”
This is the question a shooter reportedly asked to a classroom of college students at Umpqua Community College (UCC) in Roseburg, Ore.
They were college students, just like the students here at the University of San Diego. This was in America, a place where we consider ourselves proud and honored to have our freedom fought for and protected daily. These aren’t the saints that lived hundreds of years ago. These students aren’t the martyrs we seem to have forgotten about that were thousands of miles away from us in the Middle East, killed because they were professing faith in God. They were college students.
One student who was shot in the back during the UCC shooting, described to her parents what had happened in the classroom that day. According to her eyewitness testimony, relayed by her father to the media, the shooter asked each of the students to stand up if they were Christian. He said that if they were a Christian, then they would see God in about a second. He then proceeded to shoot and kill each student who stood up, one by one.
An unnamed student inside the classroom sent a text message explaining the situation to a publisher of the Roseburg Beacon News.
“The shooter was lining people up and asking if they were Christians,” the message said. “If they said ‘yes,’ then they were shot in the head. If they said ‘no’ or didn’t answer, they were shot in the leg.”
According to the Douglas County sheriff’s office, 10 people were killed and seven others were wounded in the shooting.
Immediately after this horrific event occurred, the hashtag #YesImAChristian swarmed all over social media. Christians, inspired by the heroism of these students, took to their social media pages and proclaimed that they too would have said yes to the shooter. Current 2016 presidential candidate, Ben Carson, posted a picture of himself and the hashtag. Actress and newest co-host of The View, Candace Cameron Bure, shared the hashtag and changed her profile picture both to show support for the lives taken too soon and to boldly profess her faith.
It seems as though, in this world of seeming religious intolerance, many of us may very well find ourselves in situations where we have to boldly defend our faith with possibly violent consequences. Yet many, including those who posted the hashtag, still seem unsure about answering that question.
Being a Christian in this broken, tumultuous world is not a walk in the park. It is countercultural and fearless, as these students were. It often means being comfortable with the uncomfortable, grueling, and messy parts of our lives. Being a martyr is not a one time choice. It is a series of daily choices to trust in God. It is a practice to grow in confidence, as these students did.
For those of us Christians, if that time ever comes in any of our lives, I pray we would be just as courageous and as holy as the students from UCC. I pray that we live lives mastering what it means to be a martyr. Because those students, if they were willing to stand up in that situation, must have lived a life practicing what it means to die to themselves.
In our own lives at USD, it seems that many of us wrestle with questions about how to live virtuous lives, lives that point back to our faith in God. Knowing that we live in a country where we are supposedly free to practice our own religions without fear of violence or death, it isn’t always easy for us to accept these threats to our religious freedoms.
USD sophomore Carlo Degrassi stated that he believes the key to living in this way of virtue comes from having profound joy within.
“Stomaching these actions doesn’t mean to not be frustrated,” Degrassi said. “To really stomach something you need joy. It’s greater than happiness, it’s seeing God. Though it’s hard, we see God in the perseverance. We see Him in the Eucharist, in those around us. It’s easy to look at the bad, but it’s better to look at the good. It’s important to recognize that things need to be changed. It’s okay that things [like this campus shooting] bother us, but we must allow it to lead our actions.”
Similar to Degrassi, I find myself contemplating the preciousness of life. I wonder how I might contribute to actively living joy out and making a difference in this world.
These thoughts kept me up until 3 a.m. the night of the shooting. I was forced to reflect on the fact that there are people my age who are willing to literally die for their faith, yet I’m here, in the safety of my comfortability, living a seemingly mediocre faith life. We so often fall into this trap of comparing ourselves to others around us instead of comparing ourselves to the saints, the martyrs, and now these students.
As human beings living our lives to their fullest potentials, we are all called to be bold, to be daring. Never tremble in standing for what you believe in, even if it means losing your life. As the prayer that religious leaders used before every meeting of the Second Vatican Council reminds us, live a life that tempers justice with love.
As a community, let us all pray and reflect deeply on the lives that were taken. Pray for their families, friends, and the Umpqua community. Pray for all those injured and those who had to witness such horrific acts of murder. Pray for the shooter and all those who feel as angry or unloved as he did.
And for us believers of the Christian faith, let us pray for a boldness of faith like those students who answered the question by saying, ‘yes.’