The life of a twenty-one year old Lorcan was celebrated at St. Augustine and John’s Church on Thomas Street. Every seat was taken by mourners and the aisles were filled. Bemused gazes everywhere asked the same question: Why? On Hallowe’en night a dispute close to his home in Oliver Bond became violent. Lorcan intervened to make peace and was cruelly stabbed to death. His cousin spoke with me after the burial at Mt. Jerome cemetery, and he told me two things – one he told me with his words and the other with his eyes. His words were angry and his eyes were a well of deep sadness and confusion.
One family I know are facing the prospect of a weary Christmas of tears, and it was with them in mind, and others who are grieving, that I began to think of this Sunday’s Gospel. What words that would come from my feelings were beginning to emerge when the news came of shootings and explosions in Paris. As the scale of the terror attack became clear I set about finding out if family and friends in Paris were safe. I was, like a great many people, in a panic. Thankfully everyone I knew was well, but as the horrors of the night unfolded it was clear that not everyone was safe.
Watching the scenes of chaos on the television and seeing faces stunned with that distressingly familiar look of fear and pain I was brought back in my heart to Lorcan, his family and friends, and the Gospel:
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘In those days, after the time of distress, the sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its brightness, the stars will come falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.’
The Gospel of Saint Mark 13: 24-25
Violence is a darkness we struggle to comprehend. In that moment when we are confronted with its heartlessness and brutality our trust in the goodness of things loses its brightness, the whole world seems to cave in around us, and we are shaken. Acts of violence shock us into another reality of insecurity and uncertainty; leaving us emotionally and mentally exposed. Our awareness that it was another person or other people – someone like us – who did this is traumatic.
It seems at the moment as though violence and hatred are everywhere. Paris was not the only place to suffer terrorism recently. Baghdad, Beirut, and Aleppo have also suffered great violence. We are not alone. We have never been alone in our suffering, and knowing this must help us to come together. All of the technology that carried the news of bombings in the Middle East and Paris to us can be used to bring people together rather than being another theatre hate speech.
Last night as I read over lots of racist responses to the terrorist attacks on the internet I was reminded of the young man at the funeral. I was reminded of many similar conversations and people and faces. “We should kill them all,” as disturbing and spiteful as such words are, are all too frequently the expressions of people – like us – who are bewildered and frightened by the sense of powerlessness we have all been made feel. Vengeance is not the solution to violence. Isn’t vengeance only a word that attempts to justify yet more violence? I don’t have the answer to violence, and time and again we are learning that the powerful are often powerless to protect themselves from those who wish to do them harm.
I am deeply saddened by the terrorist attacks in Paris. Please join me in prayer for the victims and their families. #PrayersForParis—
Pope Francis (@Pontifex) November 14, 2015
We don’t have the answer right now, but what we do have is a place from where to begin that journey towards a solution. We can start from right where we are – in this sense of fear and powerlessness. All around us there is a balm; there are others just like us who are feeling the same way. On the other side of the world there are people just like us who are also feeling the same dread. Our security and peace are not always within ourselves, and it is the realisation that makes us most afraid. Right now is a time to reach out and take hold of others. This is where we must begin.
Almighty and ever-living God, comfort us, we beg you, at this time of deep darkness. Lovingly accept to yourself those who have been taken from us, and hold close those who are heartbroken in grief. Give us the strength to face the future with hope and courage, and show mercy to all those who hate us. Show us how we can love them. Amen