The word motive has been used frequently during the past several weeks as law enforcement personnel, mental health professionals, politicians, and grieving communities have attempted to understand what has prompted the waves of violence that have so broken the heart of our nation. There has been no shortage of opinions expressed about what might have been the reasons behind the horrific mass shootings that these days follow too quickly one upon the other.

Throughout human history, people have struggled to comprehend why violence and hatred have so often undermined the harmony that God desires for us.  The author of the Book of Genesis cites jealousy as the reason Cain killed his brother Abel (Genesis 4:2-8). What are the reasons today that this wondrous nation of ours seems so helpless in the face of the bloodshed that saddens and sickens us with such stark regularity?  

As the professionals seek answers through forensic evidence, psychological analysis, and methodical searches electronically of the social media of the perpetrators and physically of the unholy rooms in which these insidious acts were contemplated and conceived, as people of faith we must not too quickly dismiss another pervasive instigator.

If those who perpetrate these atrocities do so out of hatred for a particular people because of race, religion, sexual orientation, or some other human characteristic, they may well have been driven to do so by a proliferation of provocative content they either sought out or which slowly infected their online feed. Social media platforms and gaming sites often display cruel, violent and vicious imagery – all under the guise of entertainment!

Some people would argue that assault weapons are not the source of the problem, nor is their ready availability.  Yet, it is certainly true that the military munitions often deployed in these acts multiply both the number of victims and the pace with which the unsuspecting are wounded or worse.

Some might suggest that society targets and demonizes people who struggle with issues related to mental health. Others might even argue that we have plenty of perfectly good laws on our books, but that we do not apply them in the aggressive spirit their framers intended. Each of these opinions dodge the fundamental question of why we continue to experience so many violent acts in our land at all.

As we grapple with how to stop these rarely random acts of sheer senselessness, we need to examine all of the potential causes – mental health challenges, the too easy availability of military-style weapons, the influence of social and mass media that provoke and inspire violence, and insufficient laws that fall short of offering real protection for our citizens.

While some may focus on but one of these factors, as followers of Christ we must address all of them if we hope one day to eliminate these terrible events from our country and our culture.  This is not a moment to attempt to isolate one cause to the exclusion of the rest.   There are manifestations of each in every such act of evil, but it takes something more for them to coalesce into actions that sacrifice our brothers and sisters and leave the rest of us grieving, frustrated and angry.

As people of faith, we cannot avoid the simple, harsh reality of sin in our world. Perhaps it is sin itself that so confuses and polarizes our conversations on these matters, that simply does not want us to determine solutions to our problems, and so we find ourselves arguing over what should be done or what should be done first. Even some religious leaders engage in divisive language that confuses the question of how we can stop the slaughter of these holy innocents with weapons intended for war, which already claim too many of the blameless on their own.

There are many motives for the people who perpetrate these heinous acts, but it is sin that acts as the catalyst, that fuels the hatred that targets people for no reason other than their race, their religion, their language, their sexuality or their legal status. Sin is the one ingredient – the accelerant – that must not be overlooked as we struggle to understand why we continue to shed tears week after week over the violence that has pierced the soul of our nation.

(Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, writes his “What I Have Seen and Heard” column for the Catholic Standard and Spanish-language El Pregonero newspapers and websites of The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington.)