Columbine, Virginia Tech, Ft. Hood, Tucson, Aurora…and shooting sprees outside the US just as stunningly random and horrible and evil…each and all leave us speechless.

Not that there hasn’t been plenty of running commentary on these massacres from the moment they erupted, much of it irresponsible and politically motivated. Disregard that, it’s worthless. These massacres assault human sensibilities and draw us together and force us – again – to dig deep and go inside to a place usually left unchecked, badly shaken and afraid and in search of comfort and safety and meaning.

How do we process and cope with this horror? Each time it happens, communities and nations and disparate groups of people not usually in contact much less sympathy, draw in and band together somehow. But what is the bond? How is it expressed? It must be expressed.

At a time like this, when words like ‘horrific’ even seem inadequate for something inexpressible, we need pause…

President Obama cancelled his campaign events Friday, telling supporters “there will be other days for politics…This will be a day for prayer and reflection.”

“While we will never know fully what causes somebody to take the life of another, we do know what makes life worth living,” the president said. “The people lost in Aurora loved and they were loved. They were mothers and fathers, they were husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, friends and neighbors. They had hopes for the future and they had dreams that were not yet fulfilled.”

Obama said if there is anything to take away from the tragedy, it is the importance of how people treat and love one another.

All true. We have a deep and instinctive need for prayer and reflection. We have to consider what causes a person to take the life of another. The people whose lives were taken were sisters and brothers, sons and daughters. They had a future and potential that will not be realized and never fulfilled. We must learn from this how people treat and love other human beings.

On my radio show that day, I reflected on all this. Respectfully, I wondered aloud how these sincere sentiments square with an ideology that affirms the right to willfully end the life of human beings in their youngest, most vulnerable times of growth. It was brief, this little soliloquy, but sincere also.

One of my guests was National Review Online editor Kathryn Jean Lopez, who made the good point that some politicians call on us to integrate faith at times they deem appropriate. But faith’s full integration is always appropriate, she said. We’re called to prayer as a nation by the president, but at the same time we’re in a national battle for the right to express morally informed voices in the public square, or live public life as fully integrated religious actors in the arena of exchange and ideas.

“We no longer have a common language,” she said, and she’s right. “The lack of understanding of our first freedom makes it impossible to have a coherent conversation.”

Frankly speaking, our first, most cherished liberty is the right of conscience. Media people and regular citizens wondered aloud, a lot, how someone could do what the shooter did last week in Colorado, as if there were no conscience.

Meanwhile, we’re in a national battle over the right to live according to conscience. We have to get this right.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....