3rd Sunday of Advent
I am sure all of you have watched the news the past couple of days regarding the shooting that took place in Connecticut on Friday. I am also sure that you were moved with compassion and sadness by the heart-wrenching images that you saw:
- children with their eyes closed – their hands upon the shoulders of the student in front of them – being led out of the school by their teacher
- the look of horror on the face of a relative
- an emotional President brushing away a tear
- the presence of so many police officers and state troopers
- a grieving Pastor, who stated that he had baptized some of the children who were killed; a few who were preparing for their First Communion
There were two other images that struck me:
- one was a scene of the local Methodist church where the church doors were open wide – inviting people to come inside to pray
- the other was the scene of the Catholic church – St. Rose of Lima – where hundreds of people gathered inside for a prayer vigil and hundreds more gathered outside because there wasn’t enough room inside.
In the face of such a tragedy, when individuals feel so utterly helpless, they still have a desire to do something, to do anything. And so, they go to a church to pray; they create shrines – placing flowers, lighting candles, bringing stuffed animals; they lower a flag to half staff; they make signs – Hug a teacher today, Our love, thoughts and prayers are with you.
My sisters and brothers, even though we do not live in Newtown, we feel the anguish of those residents. Our hearts ache for them, and with them! Our hearts may ache a little more compared to other shootings that have taken place in other schools in our country because this time we are mourning children – six and seven year olds – innocent children – 12 little girls and 8 boys, killed just days before we celebrate Christmas.
Today is the 3rd Sunday of Advent, traditionally called Gaudete Sunday – thus the reason for the rose colored candle in the Advent wreath and the rose vestments that I am wearing. Gaudete Sunday derives its name from St. Paul’s urging of the community “to rejoice always.” St. Paul would understand why our rejoicing is rather low-key today.
And yet, St. Paul would also remind us why we need to rejoice – even in the face of such grief; especially in the face of such grief.
The Lord is near. The God of peace is near.
My sisters and brothers, whenever such a horrific tragedy occurs, there are always some individuals who ask: “Where was God?” “If God is so near, how come God did not stop the shooter?” Some of you may be wondering the same thing. It’s a fair question.
Now isn’t the time to get into a theological discussion on “free will.” But let’s face it – we all value our freedom! We all value our right to choose; to make choices; to make decisions.
God will not force us to love Him. God will not force us to love others. God will not force us to keep His Ten Commandments. Those are choices we must make. Our free will allows us to make such choices. On Friday, the shooter in Newtown violated his free will and he did so in a most grievous way.
And so we may ask: “Where was God in Friday’s shooting?”
God was there – giving courage to those terrified teachers as they protected their students.
God was there – guiding those first responders on the scene who bravely rushed into a dangerous situation.
God was there – embracing each one of those children as He welcomed them into heaven.
God was there – and is there – for all those affected by the shooting.
My friends, this is our faith! This is what Christmas is all about: Jesus was born for us – for each and every one of us! Jesus, Emmanuel, a name which means: God is with us! This is our faith.
My sisters and brothers, what would we ever do without our faith? In times of tragedy, what would we do without our faith in Jesus Christ?
In times of sickness, in times of physical and emotional pain, our faith gives us strength to make it through one more day.
In times of weakness, in times of sinfulness, our faith assures us of God’s mercy.
In times of grief, our faith promises Resurrection; promises new life; promises eternal life.
In normal times, in busy times, in times of joy, in times of sadness, our faith remains a “constant” in our lives … Jesus, Emmanuel, remains with us always! Our refuge, our strength, our hope.
What would we ever do without the presence of Jesus Christ in our lives?
For the past two days, as people often do in the midst of tragedy, individuals in Connecticut and throughout our country (and even the world) turned to God. Turning to God in prayer is the most important thing that we can do! Prayer is really the only thing we can do in the face of such a senseless tragedy.
My friends, whether here in church or in the privacy of your homes, please take the time to pray that God will bring some good out of this horrific tragedy.
Photos courtesy of Catholic News Service.