The weeks before Easter are rich with ancient images of suffering, sacrifice, death and hard choices.
One of the biblical texts focused on martyrdom, during a Mass two years ago at Saint Frances Cabrini Catholic Church in Littleton, Colo. The visiting preacher tried to make this concept come alive.
Imagine that a spiritual war is raging, said Bishop Sam Jacobs of Alexandria, La., as he paced among the pews. What if someone burst into the church with a gun? What if he pointed it at people's heads and asked if they believed in God? Who would bravely say "yes"?
Youth minister Jim Beckman said the bishop asked the young people: "What if someone came into your school with a gun and did that?"
The words didn't register at the time. But that flock included many of the parish's 300-plus teens from Columbine High School. They remembered the sermon a few weeks later -- after April 20th.
"I don't understand how anyone can deny the spiritual dimension of what happened at Columbine," said Beckman. "The repercussions of the shootings have continued to dominate our ministry here in so many ways. ... Yes, we survived and, yes, we will prevail and, yes, we have hope to carry on, in the name of Jesus Christ. But this tragedy raised spiritual issues that are not going to go away in a few months or even years."
Many state officials insist that the massacre wasn't "a God thing." They can chant this mantra, but the facts cry out that there was more to Columbine than familiar questions about school discipline, mass media and gun control.
The killers wanted to make a statement about good and evil, about morality and anarchy, and they succeeded. The first combatants to march into the church-state minefield at Columbine were Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.
"Eric and Dylan told us why they did what they did," said Wendy Murray Zoba, senior writer at Christianity Today. "They were acting on the laws they had been taught by their culture. There is no God. You are your own god. There is no eternal law. You make your own law. The material world is all there is. Power is what matters. You just do it."
Thus, Harris wrote on his Web site: "My belief is that if I say something, it goes. I am the law, if you don't like it, you die. If I don't like ... what you want me to do, you die." In the pre-rampage videos, Harris vowed to shoot Christians in the head. He was furious at Christians who shared their faith with others. Witnesses said he went out of his way to shoot students who were praying out loud. He asked several if they believed in God.
Clearly, said Zoba, "Eric Harris had a God problem." And as their "judgment day" approached, Klebold looked into a camera lens and said: "We're going to have followers because we're so ... god-like." He added: "We're not exactly human. ... We have bodies, but we've evolved ... one step above you."
In her book "Day of Reckoning," Zoba writes: "There is no other way to explain what overtook these boys than to call it raw evil -- not the Hollywood version but the religious kind." Thus, "Columbine rests uneasily in so many hearts. ... If hell, as it were, opened up and temporarily held sway in those hallways that day, such an occurrence would mean the existence of a spiritual world, and worse, a spiritual battle. And that, to many ... is irrational and creepy."
If there is spiritual evil, then that also implies that there is spiritual good and that's a hard equation to discuss on the evening news, in political debates and in classrooms.
"Something has gone terribly wrong in this culture," stressed Zoba. "I still think America hasn't faced the issues that were raised at Columbine, in part because there is always the next shooting, the next controversy, the next something to distract us. ...
"But there were big spiritual questions raised at Columbine and they will not go away on their own. If the church tries to just move on and get past this, then where will those spiritual questions be answered?"