Easily a thousand people packed a church too small for such a crowd. And another thousand massed outside.
Father John Peter Cameron, O.P., describes the scene as he arrived at St. Rose of Lima, the Catholic Church in Newtown, Conn., nearest to Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Although they could not get inside the church, people did not opt to leave, Father Cameron writes
in the monthly devotional magazine Magnificat
, where he is editor-in-chief. “They stayed because they had to be there,” he recalls. “The atrocity had incited an instant Advent: the urgent need for God amidst the pain of human powerlessness. Together, we had become expectation.”
“When I close my eyes I see Catherine cradled in the palm of His hand,” said Jenny Hubbard, mother of Catherine Violet Hubbard, a beautiful red-headed six-year-old who was killed a year ago this weekend. “I see her softly giggling. She is opening her arms to all the animals. She is sending us comfort in ways that only God’s angels could know how. She is with God, she is at peace.”
Jenny shared this as a way of ministering to others in the community. Here she had just lost her daughter, and yet she had somehow found peace.
When I could not find her, I felt a calm fill my heart and I knew in that moment she was with God. I knew that she was safe, safer than I could ever make her. I miss her. There will be a hole in my heart that widens each time I remember something so simple that was so Catherine. Each time I feel that my tears will not stop, I am pulled back to a place of peace and find comfort that Catherine was called to a job much bigger than I can even fathom. I know that God has a specific purpose for us, and,while I may not understand right now how I will muster the strength to fulfill His purpose, I must remain centered on His face. He will provide what I need to move forward. He will provide the soft nudges to help me feel confident that I am doing what He intended.
Not a month after Catherine died, she spoke to other parents, helping walk them through the grief that seemed now to be synonymous with Newtown. When Father Cameron asked her “where she found the strength to do what most people would consider impossible,” she told him simply: “There is a Presence that is so much better than ourselves, and we have to acknowledge it.”
Now that’s not simple. Not when you’ve lost your child and there are grieving parents all around you.
Jenny Hubbard reminds us that those who bear the heaviest crosses can help save us from spiritual poverty.
Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” talks a lot about weeping. Pope Francis urges it, in fact — not as a self-indulgence, not to make a scene, but to be who we really are: people living in communion (solidarity is a word he uses a lot), born of the same Creator, with responsibilities for the gifts we’ve been blessed with.
Since the Church is the Body of Christ, if one member is suffering, then we can’t help but reach out to those in pain if we are who we say we are.
But we don’t always know this, since so often we spend our time with friends and families, colleagues and new acquaintances, just staring at a screen instead of getting to know them better and encountering their current fears, anxieties, joys, and gratitude. This is why we find ourselves stopping when something unthinkable happens.
With each school or mall incident, we do stop. All too often, we immediately start a wailing (e.g.: pontificating, political rallies) that doesn’t get at the heart of the pain that makes such a thing happen. We don’t go first to grieve. We don’t go first to God.
Are there sensible laws that could help protect innocent civilians and our children? Of course. But in the face of evil, we don’t tend to debate. We tend to accuse and claim moral mandate on prudential matters.
And we treat men — and boys — suffering from mental illness, suffering from loneliness, feeling excluded from the world, as someone else’s problem. And while we participate in collective wailing about one slaughter of innocents, we pretend that death isn’t death if it’s deemed choice in other circumstances — when we think we somehow have them under our control, even as an inexhaustible pain eats away at the souls of women and men amidst a culture in denial and evasion.