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.
“It has constantly come back to me like a painful thorn in my heart,” Pope Francis explained while on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa this summer.
“Immigrants dying at sea, in boats which were vehicles of hope and became vehicles of death,” he began. “That is how the headlines put it.”
The island has become a refuge for refugees fleeing the “Arab Spring” the media world had somewhat recklessly cheered on, then lost interest in, as we so often do.
“I felt that I had to come here today, to pray and to offer a sign of my closeness, but also to challenge our consciences lest this tragedy be repeated,” he continued. “Please, let it not be repeated!”
He talked about indifference. We may think, as a matter of principle, that religious persecution is a terrible scourge. But do we actually really care? When you hear about Nigerians being killed for going to Sunday Mass, do you move to the next story, or do you weep for them? When you see threats against religious liberty in your own country, do you move to the next story, and even vote the guy back in? Do you care that others are trying to live lives according to their conscience? Do you feel inspired or challenged, or do you move on and get to Mass next Sunday again just in time to make it count for showing up, and leave once you get what you came for?
And then what about the neighbor who needs to talk or the stranger who inconveniences you? What about the woman you see crying? Do we stop? Or do we deem our time too economically precious and our lives too busy for one more burden. As you deprive them of the gift of your time, you may have just robbed yourself of your ladder out of poverty.
In Lampedusa, Pope Francis said:
How many of us, myself included, have lost our bearings; we are no longer attentive to the world in which we live; we don’t care; we don’t protect what God created for everyone, and we end up unable even to care for one another! And when humanity as a whole loses its bearings, it results in tragedies like the one we have witnessed.
“Where is your brother?” His blood cries out to me, says the Lord. This is not a question directed to others; it is a question directed to me, to you, to each of us. These brothers and sisters of ours were trying to escape difficult situations to find some serenity and peace; they were looking for a better place for themselves and their families, but instead they found death. How often do such people fail to find understanding, fail to find acceptance, fail to find solidarity. And their cry rises up to God! Once again I thank you, the people of Lampedusa, for your solidarity. I recently listened to one of these brothers of ours. Before arriving here, he and the others were at the mercy of traffickers, people who exploit the poverty of others, people who live off the misery of others. How much these people have suffered! Some of them never made it here.
“Where is your brother?” Who is responsible for this blood? . . . Who is responsible for the blood of these brothers and sisters of ours? Nobody! That is our answer: It isn’t me; I don’t have anything to do with it; it must be someone else, but certainly not me. Yet God is asking each of us: “Where is the blood of your brother which cries out to me?” Today no one in our world feels responsible; we have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters. We have fallen into the hypocrisy of the priest and the levite whom Jesus described in the parable of the Good Samaritan: we see our brother half dead on the side of the road, and perhaps we say to ourselves: “poor soul!”, and then go on our way. It’s not our responsibility, and with that we feel reassured, assuaged. The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial; they offer a fleeting and empty illusion which results in indifference to others; indeed, it even leads to the globalization of indifference. In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business!
When Pope Francis quotes St. John Chrysostom in his recent “The Gospel of Joy” — “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs” — this is the context. It’s not an economic plan he is proposing, but an awareness of a deeper eternal reality — we will be held accountable for our stewardship of our gifts and who we turned away from.
We hold our children a little tighter when Sandy Hook is in the news. But do we give thought to being kinder to that teenage boy next door? Or help make sure parents can get their adult children the professional help they sometimes desperately need? Or let our sisters or daughters or girlfriends finally mourn the choice we encouraged?
A little less than a half century ago, at the closing of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI explained that the Church proposes to the world the counter-cultural truth that
God is: He actually exists; He lives; He is a person; He is providential, endowed with infinite goodness, and He is not only good in himself, but especially good in regards to us; He is our creator, our truth, our happiness; so much so that when a man tries to fix his mind and heart on God through contemplation he elicits an act of his own spirit which is the most fine and perfect of all; thus even in the modern world, in all fields of human endeavor, we can and should aspire to this contemplative act so that all human activity is raised and perfected in its own order from within.
God does not promise us that evil and injustice won’t happen to us. Both happened to His Son. But we can bear it, if we have faith in Him.
“A love that desires to see God may not have reasonableness on its side, but it is the evidence of filial love.” That comes from a sermon from St. Peter Chrysologus that appeared in the Liturgy of the Hours, the prayer of the Church throughout the day that priests, religious, and many laypeople pray. He talks about “the flame of divine love” enkindling human hearts throughout salvation history, its “intoxication” overflowing “into men’s senses.”
He goes on:
Wounded by love, they longed to look upon God with their bodily eyes. Yet how could our narrow human vision apprehend God, whom the whole world cannot contain? But the law of love is not concerned with what will be, what ought to be, what can be. Love does not reflect; it is unreasonable and knows no moderation. Love refuses to be consoled when its goal proves impossible, despises all hindrances to the attainment of its object.
That love has been seen in Newtown, Conn., where Jenny Hubbard points to the source of her strength. By human standards, it is unreasonable. And that’s the counter-cultural nature of faith. It’s a reality that illuminates the clouds and debris here.
Jenny Hubbard gives us something that no legislation can ever provide: a blessed expectation. We can rise above torment. She has the consoling peace of one who has real faith. She isn’t a parent and wife and neighbor or friend only for her sake or even for the sake of the other, but because she desperately wants to see the face of God because she knows that’s what she was made for. In her witness, she helps the nominally faithful want what she has, desire what she desires, find the peace she has through a graceful union with her Catherine.
“Before Mass the Sunday after the shooting,” Father Cameron recalls, “someone suggested that Christmas should be canceled that year.” He writes: “But what but Christmas could save us from such crushing sorrow and rescue us from evil? Only the tender presence of the Son of God become flesh in the Incarnation.”
In the witness of her suffering and testimony to faith, Jenny Hubbard gives us the greatest gift.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a founding director of Catholic Voices USA.