Fr. Roger J. Landry
Putting Out Into The Deep
April 26, 2013
In the 11 days since the Patriots’ Day marathon bombings, the motto “Boston Strong” has become more than words put on professional sports jerseys and blue and yellow ribbons but an apt description of the tenacity, character and courage of the people, police, physicians, press and even politicians of the greater Hub.
But even in the midst of so much inspiring valor, Boston was never stronger than on Thursday morning when we showed the world that the source of our strength doesn’t come from eating Boston-baked beans, drinking magic water from the Quabbin Reservoir, breathing the hard air of the Southeast Expressway, taking specialized phonetics lessons in kindergarten or singing “Sweet Caroline.”
We gave a universal witness that our greatest strength doesn’t come from within but comes from God. That’s why Governor Patrick called Cardinal Sean O’Malley when he was still in the Holy Land and asked the Catholic Church to host an interfaith prayer service at the South End Cathedral dedicated to a cross we call holy, to an instrument of torture we treat as sacred. Christians know that from that worst evil in human history, the murder of Innocence Incarnate on a gibbet, God brought about the greatest good of all.
And so there the President of the United States, the Governor of the Commonwealth, the Mayor of Boston, so many police officers, marathon runners and ordinary citizens convened to ask God to bring good out of the terrorist atrocities.
It’s important to grasp what happened on Thursday and why. We’re living at a time when many of our political, educational and cultural leaders are trying to eliminate God from our public life, such as removing prayer from schools, statues of the Holy Family from public greens at Christmas, “In God we Trust” from our currency and other such evictions.
After the horror, pain and grief that began last Monday at 2:50 p.m., however, we didn’t book Dr. Phil and a thousand counselors for group therapy sessions at the TD North Garden. We didn’t ask the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders to regale us with some sexy, upbeat chants on Boston Common. We didn’t ask Jose Cuervo and Jack Daniels to come to the rescue and drown our sorrows. We didn’t bring in a bunch of clowns and comedians to make us howl and distract us from the pain.
We all knew that we needed something more. We knew that we needed Someone more. And so we turned as a nation to God. And we’re never stronger than when we do.
As St. Paul once said, it’s when we’re weak that we’re strongest, because when we recognize we need God and turn to Him in prayer for help, He strengthens us more than any human means could.
The prayer service was moving, emboldening, and inspiring.
The President of the United States strengthened us all by reminding us that God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear and timidity but of power, love and self-control, the Spirit will give us the strength to run with endurance the race that is set before us, even in the midst of bombs and other struggles, to push on, to persevere, not to grow weary, not to get faint, even when it hurts, even when our heart aches.
He was incredibly eloquent, but his eloquence in the pulpit came not from rhetorical dynamics but from the power of the Word of God. It was eloquent because it was true.
The president also gave one of the most moving descriptions of the true greatness of Boston I had ever heard: “Boston opens its heart to the world,” to immigrants, students, artists, scientists, marathon runners and more, which is one of the reasons why Boston isn’t claimed only by those born in its boroughs, who cheer for its sports teams, or who declare it as their native place when they travel abroad.
“Whether folks come here to Boston for just a day, or they stay here for years,” the president said, “they leave with a piece of this town tucked firmly into their hearts. So Boston is your hometown, but we claim it a little bit, too.” That was eloquent, because it, too, was true.
The governor began his remarks as boldly as anyone ever could, by reminding us of St. Paul’s imperative to the Thessalonians, “In everything, give thanks.” I would encourage you not to use those words to greet a grieving widow or mother in the receiving line at a wake, because they so easily risk being misunderstood.
But with remarkable poise and confidence, the leader of the Commonwealth reminded us that we’re called even in times of disaster to thank God because God always seeks to bring good out of evil, as we saw in the various ways the governor indicated: for the firefighters, state and local police officers, EMTs, medical professionals, hospital workers, FBI and ATF agents, blood donors, contributors to the charitable organizations, and people praying, consoling and sending messages from across the world.
Cardinal O’Malley in his reflection focused on one of those goods for which we need to thank God. He said that the tragedy had “brought us together as a community like nothing else ever could,” shaking us out of our “complacency and indifference … to focus on the task of building a civilization based on love, justice, truth and service.”
Either we build a civilization of love, he stressed, or eventually there will be no civilization at all.
That’s going to require all of us to overcome the temptation to remain a “crowd … of self-absorbed individuals, each one focused on his or her own interests in competition with the conflicting projects of others,” because we cannot “repair our broken world … as a collection of individuals; we can only do it together, as a community, as a family.”
Just like the first patriots on Patriots’ Day in 1775 were willing to lay down their lives for the common good, so, he challenged, all of us are called to lay down our lives to promote a “culture of life, a profound respect for each and every human being made in the image and likeness of God.”
This was far more than a reminder to a pro-abortion president and governor about the root cause of so much of the violence in our world, that when we say certain human beings should have the right to determine whether other innocent human beings should live or die, eventually we can get some disturbed individuals like the Tsarnaev brothers acting on that principle to murder and maim innocents at a marathon finish line.
It was a reminder to everyone that our goal as a civilization cannot be simply to have more Homeland Security Agents checking every barrel and backpack in the country and security cameras on every corner and at every event to spot the bad guys before they do harm.
The goal has got to be to have a culture that can prevent young and old from becoming bad guys in the first place.
For that nearly impossible task, we need God. We need not only God’s help, but we need God in people’s lives.
We need a God Who will help make us all — in the words of St. Francis of Assisi with which Cardinal O’Malley finished his reflection — instruments of His peace, strengthening us to sow love instead of the hatred of terrorism and vengeance, forgiveness instead of injury, hope rather than despair, joy instead of sadness, and faith instead of doubt.
Boston was strongest last week when we came together to pray.
We will become stronger still, if we, with typical Boston hospitality, welcome God into our lives, keep praying, and become those instruments of peace.