HoH_Listecki3-ColorEditor’s note: The following column by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki, was distributed as the archbishop’s weekly “Love One Another” communiqué on Tuesday, Dec. 18.

This year, there were 26 unopened Christmas gifts in Newtown, Conn.

Christmas gifts are meant to bring smiles and represent how special family and friends are in our lives. Many give a great deal of thought to a gift as they try to fulfill some personal desire. Often parents of young children start collecting gifts early and cleverly hide those wrapped Christmas gifts, so that “Santa” will have them ready to place under the Christmas tree. It’s a wonder to watch the excitement on a Christmas morning as wrappings and boxes are torn asunder to shouts of glee.

So, it is sad to see a gift not opened. Its potential for joy remains locked within the unopened package.

Twenty-six lives that were God’s gifts to the world will never be opened to their full human potential. Family, friends and society have been denied the enjoyment of what those lives had to offer and would have continued to offer as the gift of their lives opened. These lives have been taken from us by a senseless act of violence, inflicted upon the most innocent among us. Our hearts ache for the parents, the friends and the community.

In the age in which we live, we are often defined by our differences and polarized by our politics. However, a tragedy such as this paradoxically brings us together, brings us closer, for our hearts acknowledge that these victims are our children, our teachers and our friends. In solidarity, we realize we are members of one human community.

Many will attempt to understand the motivation that drove the perpetrator to act. We certainly need to explore the various factors that may have contributed to this horrendous act, this culture of violence that seems so easily chosen by some. Yet, at the same time, we need to recognize the humanity that unites us and offers us hope in the midst of our struggles.

In Catholic theology, the term “imago dei” is used to emphasize that we are made in the image and likeness of God. We maximize the best in us when we recognize God’s dignity in ourselves and in our brothers and sisters. Evil cannot destroy the spirit, for ultimately we belong to God.

The sacrifice of his Son has demonstrated that God’s love is unconditional and that his love is there for us, especially at the most terrible of times. In our empathy and prayers, we witness how we love one another.

Hope starts here.