We are all deeply affected by the unspeakable tragedy that occurred Friday in Newtown. A lovely sun-lit late Fall day turned suddenly cold and bitter. President Obama’s silence and tears that evening spoke more movingly than any words could…..or can.
Believing Christians have been given the great gift of the rhythms of the liturgical year to provide some guidance and orientation for our questioning minds and troubled hearts. These rhythms help us to face and endure the hopes and joys, the sorrows and sufferings of our common humanity. In Advent we look forward with joy to the celebration of the Lord’s birth. But we well know that violence is not a stranger to that birth. The very day after Christmas the Church celebrates St Stephen, the first martyr; and, two days later, on 28 December, we remember the Holy Innocents — whether in Bethlehem or sadly this year in Newtown. As the liturgy laments: Rachel is mourning for her children for they are no more.
The figure of John the Baptist looms over our liturgy this morning: the precursor of Christ, both in life and in death. Two thousand years ago John the Baptist is the voice crying in the wilderness: “be converted — God’s rule is at hand!”. He repeats that cry today.
The Gospel of life always contends with the forces of death and of evil. Pope John Paul II often warned us of an encroaching “culture of death” in our society. He himself experienced both physical and verbal violence. Some in the Church thought him too excessive, too extreme in his rhetoric. By what else are we to call what we have experienced this week — this year — in our country?
The Saturday after Thanksgiving I heard a radio announcer greet his audience with these words: “I hope your Black Friday shopping was a good Friday”. And I thought: No! rampant, frantic consumerism, desiring and even fighting for some material item, is not Good Friday. Catering to the lust for consumption and possession is not good. Keeping vigil from midnight for perishable things is not soul-enhancing. Christmas does not begin the day after Thanksgiving. It only begins when all the Advent candles have been lit spiritually and the way of the Lord prepared in justice and in truth.
This past Friday was the true black Friday. We pray that those whose lives have been forever changed by it may, with God’s grace, come, in time, through its terrible devastation to a renewal of life. Both the President and the Governor of Connecticut asked Friday for the support of our prayer. May that prayer not be just a fleeting “Hail Mary”. We are all members of Christ’s body: the suffering of one is the suffering of all. And we can strengthen one another spiritually even at a physical distance. Let us allow the sorrow and suffering of the people of Newtown to penetrate our prayer at this Eucharist — in the faith and hope that the light of Christ, Christ’s Mass, may shine again in the darkness. And that the darkness not overwhelm it.
Let us pray too that the secular earth-bound calendar — wedded to death — may not prevail in our lives. But that Advent may raise our hearts to spiritual realities: generosity and praise, compassion and peace.