BOSTON — Cardinal Seán O’Malley delivered a strong message during a Mass April 21 for the victims of the Boston Marathon terrorist bombing and its aftermath.
Pointing to the resurrected Christ and addressing the pain of the past week, and calling on a civilization of love, the archbishop of Boston gave an impassioned plea on Good Shepherd Sunday to build and sustain a culture of life.
“As believers, one of our tasks is to build community, to value people more than money or things, to recognize in each person a child of God, made in the image and likeness of his Creator,” said Cardinal O’Malley.
The 11:30am Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross drew much less attention than Thursday’s interfaith service with faith and government leaders — including President Obama — but it allowed the cardinal more space to comfort, teach, admonish and, ultimately, to bring the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist to the faithful and a hurting city.
In the front of the sanctuary, offset toward the left, a poignant shrine was erected, with candles and pictures of the four victims: Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi and MIT police officer Sean Collier. Richard, Campbell and Collier were Catholic.
Those injured during the week and first responders were also remembered at the Mass, along with a special invitation to medical personnel.
Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis, a central figure in the law enforcement effort after Monday’s attack, was in attendance. He, along with two police officers, brought the bread and wine up at the Offertory.
During his approximately 15-minute homily, Cardinal O’Malley drew on the Resurrection account and referenced, among others, the words of Servant of God Dorothy Day and Blessed John Paul II to drive home his themes.
Cardinal O’Malley said that, though Catholics put a large emphasis on Lent, the Easter season is of far greater importance. He said Christ returned on Easter to gather the disciples who had been scattered, and he listed common sources of life’s pains. He then brought this theme to the incident of April 15.
“This week, we are all scattered in the pain and horror of the senseless violence perpetrated on Patriots Day,” said the cardinal.
He mentioned that the rector of the cathedral, Father Kevin O’Leary, had given a blessing to marathon participants a week prior and that some of those injured were in attendance.
“But everyone has been profoundly affected by this wanton violence and destruction inflicted upon our community by two young men unknown to all of us,” said the cardinal.
Never referring to Tamerlan and Dzhokar Tsarnaev by name, the cardinal remarked that nobody knew much about their lives. Later, he added that one of the brothers said he had no American friends, and the other’s ambitions were said to be focused on money and his career.
“It’s very difficult to understand what was going on in their heads, what demons were operative, what ideologies or politics or the perversion of their religion,” said Cardinal O’Malley.
He added, “It was amazing to witness, however, how much goodness and generosity were evidenced in our community as a result of this tragedy.”
He recalled Dorothy Day’s autobiography, where, as a young girl, she was “amazed and delighted” at the response of neighbors helping each other following an earthquake in California. However, she saw that, a couple weeks later, “people retreated into their former individualism and indifference.” He said that Day spent the rest of her life “looking to recapture that same spirit of community.”
The cardinal noted the response of civic awareness, sense of community and sometimes heroic response after the Boston Marathon bombings.
“Our challenge is to keep this spirit of community alive going forward. As people of faith, we must commit ourselves to the task of community building,” said Cardinal O’Malley.
He recalled Christ’s teachings in the Gospel to care for the most vulnerable.
“We must be a people of reconciliation, not revenge. The crimes of the two young men must not be justification for prejudice against Muslims or against immigrants,” said the cardinal.
He said the Gospel is the “antidote to the eye-for-an-eye-and-tooth-for-a-tooth mentality,” recalling the power of the Good Samaritan, whose action “cuts through centuries of antipathy.”
Loving Response to the Culture of Death
After calling on the need to build a community that values people over objects and recognizing everyone is a child of God made in his image, the cardinal listed some specific signs of the culture of death, which he said was “spawned” by “the individualism and alienation of our age.”
“Over a million abortions a year is just one indication of how human life has been devalued,” said Cardinal O’Malley.
“Entertainment, films and video games have coarsened us and made us more insensitive to the pain and suffering of others.”
He contrasted this with Blessed John Paul II’s words in 2003 at World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain, where the Pope had told young people, “Respond to the blind violence and inhuman hatred with the fascinating power of love.”
The cardinal said, “We all know that evil has its fascination and attraction, but too often we lose sight of the fact that love and goodness also have the power to attract and that virtue is winsome. Passing on the faith means helping people to lead a good life, a moral life, a just life.”
He referred to the letters of Holocaust survivor Haim Ginott, who highlighted that medical workers, scientists and soldiers had contributed to the carnage, “showing that knowledge is not virtue, and often science and technology have been put at the service of evil.”
“It is only a culture of life and an ethic of love that can rescue us from the senseless violence that inflicts so much suffering on our society,” said Cardinal O’Malley.
Toward the end of his remarks, the cardinal called the faithful to gather people into Christ’s community like the Good Shepherd himself, reminding those gathered that the Gospel provides answers to life’s questions, and in it “we find the challenging ideals that are part of discipleship: mercy, forgiveness, self-sacrifice, service, justice.”
Cardinal O’Malley mentioned that faith goes far beyond the optimism of John Lennon’s words, “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.’”
“We are going to live forever in the Resurrection [that] Christ won for us on the cross,” said the cardinal, and he then mentioned the four victims by name who died in the last week.
He called them “innocent” and said that they would live in eternity. He recalled the words of Martin Luther King, who said death is a comma rather than a period.
In closing, even though the culture of death “looms large,” Cardinal O’Malley said, “our Good Shepherd rose from the grave on Easter” and has returned.
“His light can expel the darkness and illuminate for us the path that leads to life, to a civilization of solidarity and love,” said the cardinal.
“I hope that the events of this past week have taught us all how high the stakes are. We must build a civilization of love or there will be no civilization at all.”
Register correspondent Justin Bell writes from the Boston area.