Monday, June 13, 2016

"In Our Pain, We Are Not Alone" – In Orlando, "Love Never Comes To An End"

While the US and much of the wider world continues to reel from early yesterday's "lone wolf" terror attack on an Orlando nightclub, tonight in the stricken city's St James Cathedral, Bishop John Noonan led an interfaith prayer "to dry the tears" of the community; below is video of the core of the 40-minute rite....

To be sure, the title of the service was no accident – it was lifted from that of another vigil held last month in St Peter's, at which all "those in need of consolation" were invited to participate, with the Pope presiding.

As Francis' homily then seems to fit a good deal of this moment for many, here's its key in reprise:
At times of sadness, suffering and sickness, amid the anguish of persecution and grief, everyone looks for a word of consolation. We sense a powerful need for someone to be close and feel compassion for us. We experience what it means to be disoriented, confused, more heartsick than we ever thought possible. We look around us with uncertainty, trying to see if we can find someone who really understands our pain. Our mind is full of questions but answers do not come. Reason by itself is not capable of making sense of our deepest feelings, appreciating the grief we experience and providing the answers we are looking for. At times like these, more than ever do we need the reasons of the heart, which alone can help us understand the mystery which embraces our loneliness.

How much sadness we see in so many faces all around us! How many tears are shed every second in our world; each is different but together they form, as it were, an ocean of desolation that cries out for mercy, compassion and consolation. The bitterest tears are those caused by human evil: the tears of those who have seen a loved one violently torn from them; the tears of grandparents, mothers and fathers, children; eyes that keep staring at the sunset and find it hard to see the dawn of a new day. We need the mercy, the consolation that comes from the Lord. All of us need it. This is our poverty but also our grandeur: to plead for the consolation of God, who in his tenderness comes to wipe the tears from our eyes (cf. Is 25:8; Rev 7:17; 21:4).

In our pain, we are not alone. Jesus, too, knows what it means to weep for the loss of a loved one. In one of the most moving pages of the Gospel, Jesus sees Mary weeping for the death of her brother Lazarus. Nor can he hold back tears. He was deeply moved and began to weep (cf. Jn 11:33-35). The evangelist John, in describing this, wanted to show how much Jesus shared in the sadness and grief of his friends. Jesus’ tears have unsettled many theologians over the centuries, but even more they have bathed so many souls and been a balm to so much hurt. Jesus also experienced in his own person the fear of suffering and death, disappointment and discouragement at the betrayal of Judas and Peter, and grief at the death of his friend Lazarus. Jesus “does not abandon those whom he loves” (Augustine, In Joh., 49, 5). If God could weep, then I too can weep, in the knowledge that he understands me. The tears of Jesus serve as an antidote to my indifference before the suffering of my brothers and sisters. His tears teach me to make my own the pain of others, to share in the discouragement and sufferings of those experiencing painful situations. They make me realize the sadness and desperation of those who have even seen the body of a dear one taken from them, and who no longer have a place in which to find consolation. Jesus’ tears cannot go without a response on the part of those who believe in him. As he consoles, so we too are called to console.

In the moment of confusion, dismay and tears, Christ’s heart turned in prayer to the Father. Prayer is the true medicine for our suffering. In prayer, we too can feel God’s presence. The tenderness of his gaze comforts us; the power of his word supports us and gives us hope. Jesus, standing before the tomb of Lazarus, prayed, saying: “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me” (Jn 11:41-42). We too need the certainty that the Father hears us and comes to our aid. The love of God, poured into our hearts, allows us to say that when we love, nothing and no one will ever be able to separate us from those we have loved. The apostle Paul tells us this with words of great comfort: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness or the sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:35, 37-39). The power of love turns suffering into the certainty of Christ’s victory, and our own victory in union with him, and into the hope that one day we will once more be together and will forever contemplate the face of the Trinity Blessed, the eternal wellspring of life and love.

At the foot of every cross, the Mother of Jesus is always there. With her mantle, she wipes away our tears. With her outstretched hand, she helps us to rise up and she accompanies us along the path of hope.
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While the reactions of the nation's bishops to Sunday's atrocity have spanned the usual range of the Stateside bench – and a good few can be found in these pages' side-feed – a particularly notable one emerged only as tonight's Orlando prayer ended: a long, intense statement from the Pope's lead North American adviser, Cardinal Seán O'Malley OFM Cap., himself an honorary Floridian as his family now lives in Miami, not to mention his own experience of having "wintered in Palm Beach," sent to clean up after the diocese's prior two bishops were found to have respectively abused altar boys and seminarians, before the call came his way to tackle the scandals' flagship in Boston, where terror would again erupt with the bombing of the 2013 Marathon.

Even as O'Malley joined the bulk of the bench in avoiding any explicit reference to the LGBT community – which, as even the Canadian primate Cardinal Gerald Lacroix saw fit to note, was "specifically targeted" in yesterday's attack – the Capuchin "super-cardinal" nonetheless put other action-items on the table in ways none other among his confreres could....
As our society faces the massive and violent assault on human life in Orlando on Sunday, the Archdiocese of Boston offers and encourages prayers on behalf of those who were killed in the attack, those who were injured, and all their families and friends. At this time our prayers are also with Bishop Noonan and the Diocese of Orlando, with the wider community of Orlando, and for our country, once again confronted by the face of hatred expressed through gun violence.

Yet another lament about the prevalence of guns throughout our society seems a pale response to the horror of the crimes in Orlando. With each repeated occurrence of mass shootings in schools, theaters, churches and social settings it appears increasingly clear that any hope for thwarting these tragedies must begin with more effective legislation and enforcement of who has access to guns and under what conditions. However, legislation alone will not be sufficient as there are wider and deeper forces at work in these attacks.

The United States proudly upholds its long-standing tradition of being open and welcoming to those in need of a safe haven. Our country greatly benefits from human creativity and achievement cultivated without distinction of race, ethnicity, religion, nationality or any other differentiating characteristic. From a multitude of differences we have sought unity. We must meet the challenges of combining freedom, pluralism and unity in our increasingly diverse society if the United States is to continue to be a beacon of hope to the world.

Achieving the unity which promotes peaceful coexistence means addressing those deeper forces which threaten our well-being. In all aspects of our lives, including our government, the private sector, our faith communities and our schools, we must be aware of and reflect on how we think and speak about those who are different from us. And we cannot allow ourselves to be defeated by the worst instincts in human nature, by efforts to divide us based on our differences or by an immobilizing fear.

Defeat in the face of the tragedies that we have seen in Florida, Texas, Colorado, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Arizona is not conceivable. Resistance is necessary; resolution is imperative. The resources to resist and the courage of resolve are on display each day in our society. Those who risked their lives in the midst of the assault on Sunday, the first responders and the friends at each other’s side in the midst of the terror, symbolize the kind of generosity of spirit which makes our country great. Together let us go forward with the commitment to work for the meaningful change that will help our country and all her people to live in safety and peace.