“Almighty Father, we commend the victims of this shocking tragedy to Your eternal love. We implore Your comfort upon the injured, the families and friends involved, and all who are doing their utmost to rescue survivors and help those affected. We ask You, Father, to grant the American people the strength and courage they need at this time of sorrow and trial.”
So did Pope John Paul II pray during his visit to the 911 memorial in New York. So many feelings on this day after the bombings at the Boston Marathon harken back to 911.
I was working at the USCCB on that cool fall day when we watched the towers fall on TV. The smoke from the Pentagon rose beyond the glass of my office window, and fear began to show on the faces of my colleagues for weeks to come.
Such moments of unexpected violence come often, even when on a smaller scale, in the life of a parish priest. The fire that devastates the lives of three families down the street, the suicide of a teenager from the youth group, the domestic abuse that lands the lector from the ten o‘clock Mass in court and in the paper...all are unexpected and all have the same destabilizing effect on our lives.
As the hours following such traumatic events pass, everyone begins to think the same thing: There but for the grace of God go I. And it’s true. If Michael crossed the finish line ten minutes earlier, if Callan was still watching from the sidewalk, if they had dropped a backpack bomb across from BC....There but for the grace of God go I.
I recall a spate of teenage suicides when I was pastor in Spencer. First one, then two, then three kids took their own lives, most frequently with a shotgun. Each parent had the same thought: There but for the grace of God go I.
And what could I, as the Pastor of Spencer, offer to their paralyzing fear? Certainly not lies. It will be alright. It probably won’t be. God will protect you. Why didn’t God protect my neighbor? This is all part of God’s plan. Really hard to believe that.
What can a Pastor do at a time like this? He can tell the truth. The truth that there is a real and present danger, but it is not all present. We will probably be a bit safer as public safety folks are hyper-vigilant over the weeks and months to come. But then we will forget, and someone just crazy enough or angry enough will strike again.
The truth is that none of us are immune. From violence, or from cancer, or from accidental death.
But the point of life is not staying alive and happy and healthy. The point of life is to do the will of God.
And that often involves the Cross, the Cross which gives meaning even to senseless and random violence. God writes straight with crooked lines. Even from darkness and pain and senseless suffering he can bring forth his light, and his truth, and true hope.
For Christ walks into the dark upper rooms of our lives and says “Be not afraid.” Not because there is no such thing as suffering and death (he shows us his wounds and invites us to touch them). He tells us not to be afraid because he is ever present and in our suffering we are drawn closer to his Cross, the Cross by which he has defeated Death and Darkness and Sin. We have nothing to fear, ever again, as he whispers in our hearts: “Peace be with you!”
So what does the Pastor have to offer on dark days like these? The same thing he offers each day...the same one he offers each day...Christ, and his cross and life in Him.
Lord Jesus, Gentle Shepherd.....have mercy on us!