Dublin´s Cardinal Connell Addresses Tragedy

«Wickedness Had Been Working its Way …»

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DUBLIN, Ireland, SEPT. 16, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Cardinal Desmond Connell, archbishop of Dublin, delivered the following homily at Mass today in the city´s cathedral.

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Irish people have lived with terrorism for more than 30 years. The field of operations has been North of the border, although Dublin had its days of terror as well. That is one reason why the people of Ireland have been so deeply moved by what happened in the United States on Tuesday. Our fellow-feeling with the American people is all the stronger on account of the family kinship that binds us together.

Terrorism is a great evil. It strikes without warning or discrimination, and without regard for the suffering and, often unbearable, torture it inflicts on innocent people, who have neither responsibility nor power in the conflict. Terrorism is cowardly, cynical and base. It must be disarmed, but the method employed should not be allowed to contract the infection of callous disregard for innocent life.

What happened on Tuesday was real. Beneath the calm security of everyday life, unbelievable wickedness had been working its way; and then it erupted. Order crumbled into chaos and a reality invaded our hearts with scenes of indescribable anguish and terror. It was all happening to people just like ourselves. Those on the plane were told that they might use their phones to say goodbye to their loved ones. Inhumanity played its game with the noblest of human attachments.

We watched the impact on families, one moment enjoying a fresh moment of life, but the next moment stunned by the cruel loss of a dear one or struggling with fear for a family member now missing, perhaps gone beyond hope, or trapped under masses of rubble. Not a few here in Ireland, too, are anxiously waiting for news of relations or friends of their own.

We try to comprehend the hardness of heart, the unrelenting cunning, that could plan, and foresee, such awful atrocity. Our eyes are unable to see into the depths of that darkness. It is the darkness from which God´s light is excluded, a kind of vision of hell.

How can we make sense of what happened? make sense of a world that feels strangely altered by the reality now before us?

Confronted with suffering and evil so great, we face a challenge to our basic beliefs. Are chaos and evil to triumph over goodness and love? Have we been left to our own devices in a world running out of control, a world deserted even by God?

In today´s Gospel reading, the parable of the prodigal son, we see the young man set out from home, losing himself in a distant country, squandering his family inheritance. When his money runs out and famine strikes, he falls into the depths of despair. In that desperate moment he remembers his father. He turns back towards home, hoping to be taken back as a servant, only to find that the heart of his father has never changed, never ceased to wait and to watch for his return. He has not been rejected or abandoned. His father has loved him always and receives him now as the son he had lost.

In that parable, Jesus tells us about God and how God keeps the world in his heart. We must hold fast to that vision at moments like this. Each one of us is the prodigal son. We may stray far from the home of God´s presence, claiming our inheritance to use as we please, insisting on our independence and freedom to go where we like and to do what we choose. We may lose ourselves in worldly pleasures or causes to the exclusion of everything else, especially the needs and the rights of others. We may even descend into the depths of hatred and violence, in single-minded pursuit of our goals, what we have witnessed on so horrifying a scale in the week that has just ended.

Like the prodigal son, we may forget the face of our Father and his claim on us, ceasing to trust in his mercy and unchanging love, ceasing even to believe that he is there at all. And, all the time, he is waiting for us, as the prodigal´s father waited for him, bringing us back to our senses while we are still a long way off, drawing us back to himself. We may be unfaithful, but he is always faithful, for he cannot disown his own self (2 Timothy 1:13). In the words of the Psalm, which the Church prayed in the Divine Office last Wednesday: «Though the earth and all who dwell in it may rock, it is I who uphold its pillars» (Psalm 74:3). In those words we hear the anguish of all who have suffered so terribly through Tuesday´s events, but we also hear the assurance that God continues to sustain the world on the pillars of his wisdom and love.

One of the questions about what has happened in the past few days, which troubles us most deeply, is how anyone could inflict such terrible sufferings on others.

We know that those who become obsessed with a cause, whatever that cause may be, bring themselves to treat others, whom they choose to regard as their enemies or tools, as somehow faceless, anonymous, without any personal identity. Only this can explain their utter heartlessness and cruelty towards innocent people and their reckless disregard for the sanctity of human life. The lives and sufferings of others become mere objects, instruments to serve the cause, means to achieve their ends.

It is possible to look at the face of a person without seeing it. Did the terrorists see the faces of those in the plane? If they did, their crime was the greater. For the face of a suffering brother or sister makes an ethical demand for respect and compassion. And we Christians must always be able to see in each such face the suffering face of Christ.

Above all, no human being is faceless or without a name or identity before God. «I have called you by name and you are mine» (Isaiah 42:1). Each life is absolutely sacred to him. «See, I have branded you on the palms of my hands» (Isaiah 49:167). Like the father of the prodigal, he hears our call, even when we seem lost and far away. On the hill of Calvary, he did not abandon his own Son and he will not abandon the innocent victims of last Tuesday´s terrible tragedy or any of us, whom he identifies with his Son. His goodness reaches out to each one to bring us safely home.

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