In a moment, the whole thing was changed into a secular Good Friday. A bloody, savage assault on the life of the innocent, complete with nails going through flesh after the bombs exploded.
Once you’ve been a priest for a while, you start to build up files on different things. I have a file for wedding homilies, for funerals, for retreats and talks …
It’s good to have those files because, even though it’s always best to put together something fresh when you speak, sometimes you use some of the same ingredients that you’ve used before.
Well, there’s no file for this Sunday (following the Boston Marathon bombing).
There’s really no precedent for a week in which so many of us have gone from shock, to confusion, to numbness, to perhaps asking “why,” to fear, to feeling like a prisoner in your own home because you weren’t supposed to go outside, to relief, and finally to joy—though it’s a joy that’s tinged with sadness.
How amazing it is, brothers and sisters, that exactly one week ago, many of you probably attended Mass here in this chapel—you might even be sitting in the same seat. And none of this had happened yet.
My hope is that I can just give a theme that will help to pull all of this together, and help us to see it all in the light of our faith in Christ.
I’d like to suggest that the past week has been a sort of secular holy week—different from the Church’s Holy Week, but similar in many ways.
Monday, the day of the Marathon, was a little like Palm Sunday. It was a beautiful, joy-filled day. People from all over had come here, somewhat like the way people traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover. People were gathered together along the route, shouting for the runners, and cheering for them as they entered the city.
In a moment, the whole thing was changed into a secular Good Friday. A bloody, savage assault on the life of the innocent, complete with nails going through flesh after the bombs exploded. I saw a quote from one of the doctors at Children’s Hospital who worked on the victims. “One of the sickest things for me,” he said, “was just to see nails sticking out of a little girl’s body.” I think of Mary at the foot of the Cross—seeing the nails go through the flesh of her son, watching him bleed and finally die.
Then, there was a Holy Saturday experience—that “in-between” time—the time immediately after the death of the Lord, when people were trying to make sense of what had just happened. I think of the apostles hiding in the upper room out of fear. And literally, many of us were ordered to hide in our homes and not go out. There were so many people asking “Why?” and “What’s the meaning of all this?”
I’ve been thinking a lot of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They were walking along sad, questioning each other: Where is God in this? “We were hoping that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”
“We were hoping … ”
As you probably know, this chapel is staffed by the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, and many of us live at St. Clement Eucharistic Shrine—about four blocks west of here, on Boylston Street. After the blasts on Monday, many people headed up Boylston Street past our church. A couple of our priests set up tables on the sidewalk—to give people water and fruit, and directions, and to allow them to talk about what had just happened. One young man walked up to me. “Can I ask you a question?” he said. “Why do people still have faith? After Aurora, Newtown, and now this, I don’t even know why we’re still here.”
So much like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, who had reached the end of their hope.
“We were hoping … ”
“We were hoping just to get a glimpse of my friend as she crossed the finish line.”
The last “we were hoping” event happened on Friday night at about 6:00 P.M. There was a press conference, and you could see the disappointment of the law enforcement officials. They had done everything right. They were certain that the suspect was somewhere in Watertown, so they established a perimeter, secured it, told everyone to stay inside, and went door-to-door. And at the end of the day, they had come up empty.
“We were hoping we had him, but we couldn’t find him,” they said. “But we realize that we can’t keep people inside indefinitely—so we’re lifting the shelter-in-place order.”
Then, an ordinary Joe in Watertown goes outside to get some fresh air for the first time all day, and he notices that the tarpaulin covering his boat is flapping in the wind. He sticks his head under the tarp, and sees a pool of blood, and a man curled up into a ball.
So, in a matter of minutes—everything changes.
I went outside on Boylston Street on Friday night at about 10:00 P.M., and it actually felt like a neighborhood! I had never experienced that before in our section of Boston. People were cheering police cars as they went past. There was a little crowd of people down at the barricade—celebrating, thanking the police officers, at least one person on their knees praying.
And so today, it’s much easier to sing “Alleluia,” as we did a few minutes ago. It’s something of an Easter Sunday experience, at the end of a very long holy week.
Brothers and sisters, this is more than just an exercise in pointing out similarities between what happened 2,000 years ago, and what happened this past week. If we believe that Christ has suffered everything that we suffer, then, we should always feel the connection between his sufferings and ours.
And that also means that the Resurrection of Christ tells us something about what should happen next.
When the Risen Christ finally appeared to his disciples, and their eyes were opened, did he still have his wounds?
Yes, he did. John, Chapter 20 says: “Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.” He even told Thomas to put his fingers into the nail marks.
In other words, it’s not as though the whole thing never happened. Jesus still had the wounds. Even now, Jesus is there at the right hand of the Father, interceding for us, with his glorified body that ascended into heaven—but that glorified body still has the wounds.
For Mary, John, and the others who stood at foot of the cross, they still had the memories of the blood, of those long thorns digging into Jesus’ head—those memories didn’t just disappear.
And today, we still have some wounds, don’t we:
- Martin Richard, the eight year-old boy who was killed;
- Krystle Campbell;
- Lingzi Lu;
- The MIT police officer, Sean Collier …
They’re still gone.
And this street out here will never be the same. From now on, I’ll never feel the same whenever I write my own address.
But what Christ wants to do is glorify those wounds.
There was a preacher named Robert Schuler, who used to give a sermon about “turning your scars into stars.” Only Christ can do that. And he wants to do that with all the suffering in your life. He may not take it away from you, and he certainly won’t remove the memory of it, but he will transform it. You can see that transformation in people who have a very close union with Christ because they’ve suffered with him, and suffered well.
In fact, that’s a good description of Heaven. It’s a place where all of our scars are turned into stars. A place where that eight year-old boy will shine like the sun. A place where all of us who are saved by Christ will have the fullness of what “we were hoping” for.
And it starts here, in this life. As St. Teresa of Avila said, “To be on the way to heaven is heaven itself.”
And so today, we rejoice. Not because it’s just like it never happened, but because we look forward to a lasting city … where all of our sorrows will disappear in the light and the joy of Jesus Christ.