The Response To Tragic Loss
In his very moving homily for 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Father Hanly is responding to the killing of Hong Kong hostages in Manila in 2010, but this beautiful homily would help anyone trying to deal with any tragic loss.
Readings for Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
- First Reading: Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 68:4-5, 6-7, 10-11
- Second Reading: Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24
- Gospel: Luke 14:1, 7-14
I’ll be frank with you. It’s very hard for me to stand up and talk to you today, and I’m sure that all of you have the same feeling. The tragedy which took place might, in a time of war, seem rather not important. But, in a time of peace, when we get to see and experience and wonder and ask questions that we have no answer for, then it is a great tragedy.
And then it is that we have to say to ourselves, “How could God allow this to happen?” And we must answer it within ourselves, because everything that we believe in, everything that we hold true and good and honest, is part of the answer. How could a loving God allow such terrible pain and desolation to visit us at this time?
God does not explain Himself. He sends His son.
He leads us and we follow him. And he walks, at first, a lovely path of stories and miracles and happiness and joy. And then he walks a terrible path up the hill of Calvary and he dies in the most terrible, awful death that we could imagine — not only physically, but he’s lost everything: he has lost his right to be a human being, because it is written in the Bible, “cursed is a man who dies on a tree.”
God does not offer explanations for pain. God gives His Son to show them what it is to be truly human.
No matter what happens, we must hear the words of Jesus on the cross, looking down and saying to his Father, “Only forgiveness. We must forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”
And it is then Jesus becomes the Messiah, the one who truly leads the way through all of the human condition, the wonderment of family and friends and joys, and the great sorrows, and even through the impenetrable mystery of death itself.
And he tells us, “Even this is not the end, and out of this will come great good.” For God allows pain, but He has promised out of every man and woman’s pain He will bring forth great good.
I was standing outside the church this morning, just standing there looking at the people coming in, not knowing what to do or say. And one of the ladies came up to me and she looked very sad and I said, “Good morning.”
And she said, “Father, you know, this is going to sound maybe a little hard. But,” she says, “this incident, that has brought so much pain and sorrow to those immediately involved, and has touched all our hearts, has brought my family together.
“My children, my husband, myself, we realise how precious it is to have life itself and how precious it is and how much we need each other. We had gone, in our nice happy little way in Hong Kong, gone down many different streets and we’d moved further and further apart. But now we can sit around the table and thank God for the gift of each and every one of us.”
This is not an answer. The mystery of death is locked in the heart of God. But this is the response.
And the response is the one that Jesus tells us in the simple gospel story.
When you go to the banquet, you look to sit at top of the banquet at the table with the most honoured people.
I remember I was invited to… One of the bishops that I knew in a previous country was being invited by the Cardinal and the Diocese a few years back to a dinner in Caritas and I was invited. When I got there, the place was filled and there was no way I could be walked to my “rightful place” next to my friend the Bishop and all the important people.
And there was only one seat there and I sat on it. It was at the end of the table and people began to talk to each other and they smiled and they welcomed me and made me feel at home. And I’m mumbling and grumbling in my heart. And I’m waiting for the bishop to come down and take me by the hand and march me up to the seat so that I could sit down and let everybody know how important I was.
But nobody came. Nobody came and God was teaching me a very, very deep lesson.
When I saw that the upper seat was taken, I sat down in the lower seat and had the most joyful conversation with all the people there. All the simple people had come in to pay honour to the guest and to show the Cardinal and everybody else how welcome was this man.
But more than that, I began to realise I was sitting with my own kind, because I had no right to be up there. Why? Because (inaudible). And these people were telling me what it really is to be a Christian.
You don’t even notice this. In the parable, Jesus says maybe he’ll come down, bring you up and you’ll have honour before the people.
But then he turns to the host and he says, “When you give a banquet as God gives a banquet, you bring in the poor and the needy, the ones that other people will not have anything to do with. They are the centre of the banquet. They are the reason for the banquet and when you can sit with them, then you know what it is to be a Christian.
“For these people forgive and they love and they don’t look for honours. They know their need for God and they know their need for each other. And they are the richest even though we would judge them the poorest in the banquet of God.”
So today, I would just like to leave you with one simple thought. God does not make garbage. He only makes lovely, beautiful human beings. Whatever their colour, whatever their race, whatever their strengths, whatever their weaknesses, He makes them.
And He makes them so that anyone who looks upon them and judges just from the outside, is making a miserable mistake and making himself smaller, because he cannot see that the smallest, littlest one with life is so precious in God’s eyes, that were he the only one, Jesus would have died that he would have eternal life.
And so the question is, as we come together after such a terrible separation, as we come together, we come with humility. Humility means truth. You must look at yourself truthfully and then you will see the goodness in the people around you.
And so out of these terrible, agonising painful days, we too do not put a full stop to what happened last week, but we see another door opening, where we recommit ourselves to the goodness of God and the graciousness of Jesus and how to look at each other with the eyes of God and how to judge each other with the eyes of God and how to care for each other with the arms of God.
And as we enter into that mystery then the people who died and the suffering of their families, and indeed our suffering, are not in vain.
For out of this great darkness, just as Jesus on the cross, out of this great darkness, grows a new life, a new commitment, a new way to love as Jesus wants us to love.