A Shepherd’s Message

April 30, 2013

This past week our country was marked by two tragedies. In Boston, the yearly marathon was plunged into tragedy and sorrow by bombs that exploded at the finish line. In West, Texas, there was an explosion at a fertilizer plant which leveled an entire section of this small town.

In both cases people were killed and injured; their families are marked by terrible trauma and immense sufferings.

In Boston, terrorists planted the explosives, and the face of evil there causes us all to shudder and be angry. In West, an accident shocks us with the virulence of the destruction that ensued. In both situations there were also heroes, heroic acts of generosity and self-sacrifice, and a shared determination to recover and heal.

The human condition is often marked by acts of malevolence and sin. The initial response to this is the desire for justice, a desire that can also lead to vendetta and revenge.

In the case of Boston, it is the role of our government and our justice system to examine and respond, with clarity, to acts of terrorism, as well as bring fitting assistance to those injured by such violence.

But we also have to respond and we do so as people of faith. Whatever our initial revulsion, we first need to bring our own prayers and, where necessary, our own generosity towards those who have been harmed. Against acts that try to tear apart, we need to respond with acts of solidarity.

It is a genuine dimension of our Christian faith to be quick in response to calls for help, and measured in our civil obligations to work for justice and for protection of our country’s innocent people.

In the Boston bombings, where even innocent children were not spared, the road to physical and spiritual healing will be very long and will require extensive and indefinite support for the injured and their grieving families.

Along with material resources, the immaterial and spiritual ones will prove to be the most significant, will require the most patience, plus a very deep sense of Christian hope. At the very heart of the Easter message of Christ Risen is the recognition of His participation in everything that is ours save sin; in His risen appearances, Christ Jesus shows the wounds of His Passion.

In the New Testament, the inspired authors do not diminish what evil, sin and hostility to the genuine human good can bring about. They state the fact straightforwardly. What they do keep proclaiming, however, is that Christ Jesus has upended the finality of death and suffering, has changed the action/reaction of evil and the ensuing revenge against perpetrators into the principle of reconciliation and the gradual, but definite, victory of the Father’s love in His Son.

Christian faith and Christian hope are not abstractions: They are the gift of friendship given us in Baptism, matured in Confirmation, nourished in the Holy Eucharist, and restored after our failure and sin in the Sacramental Confession. These Gifts are especially timely now when we have experienced such awful things these past days.

The human condition is also marked by “things that happen” – accidents and tragedies that mar our very sense of well-being and everyday-ness. Such was the case this past week in the small town of West.

These matters also call for a response from our civil society. Perhaps some blame will eventually be assigned. But for us as people of Faith, our immediate and long-term response is help, assistance, encouragement and prayers for rebuilding.

That little town has a very large Czech population and a large Catholic community. They are part of the Diocese of Austin, and Bishop Joe Vásquez has already told me of their strong Faith amidst the trauma and sheer sorrow they now face.

It is my hope that we will, as a Catholic community here, do our part to help in the recovery and healing, a healing that, in the long run, may need to be more spiritual than just monetary assistance. For the moment, Catholic Charities in Austin and the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Austin have become the basis for the response of the Catholic Church to this tragedy, and these two representative groups would welcome our assistance.

I ask that our prayers and help continue for those affected by these sorrows especially when they are no longer on front pages of newspapers and websites, and when the media focus their attention elsewhere.

May the Lord grant us an Easter attentiveness to all people in sorrow for the long run. This is the very heart of our Hope in the Risen Lord. †