Paris Archbishop: When the Pain Is Too Great, We Cling to God

Cardinal André Vingt-Trois told mourners gathered in the Cathedral of Notre Dame that they have only two options: to resort to the ‘tranquilizers’ of this world or ‘the God of life.’

Memorial for Paris attacks at Bataclan Theater, Paris
Memorial for Paris attacks at Bataclan Theater, Paris (photo: Frederic Legrand-COMEO via

PARIS — In a Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral, the archbishop of Paris said that despite the uncertainty and grief surrounding the terrorist attacks in the city last week, God is the source of strength and hope.

“It’s an understatement to say that the savage killings of this black Friday have plunged entire families into deep distress,” Cardinal André Vingt-Trois reflected in his Nov. 15 homily. “And this anxiety is all the more profound when there aren’t any rational explanations that would justify the indiscriminate execution of dozens of people they didn’t even know.”

When the pain and confusion become too great to bear, the cardinal asked, “Who can we turn to in this trial?”

He proposed that there are ultimately only two options: the “tranquilizers” of this world or “the God of life.”

The Mass at Notre Dame was offered for the victims of the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris. At least 129 people were slain — and more than 300 more were injured — in a series of bombings and shootings throughout the city. The Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh, has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Cardinal Vingt-Trois reflected on how “the Christian faith can be of some help to us in the confusion that has fallen upon us.”

In addition to the pain and unanswered questions surrounding the attacks themselves, he said, the atrocity of Nov. 13 reminds all the mourning people of France and the whole world of the “inescapable reality” that “whether close or far off … our existence is marked by death. We can try to forget it, get around it, to want to soften and lighten it, but it’s there.”

“We don’t know the day or the hour of our own end, and not knowing this troubles a lot of people,” he said. “But we all see — and what happened this week reminds us cruelly — that death’s work never ends and sometimes strikes blindly.”

While it may not be possible to fully understand the evil that happens in this life, believers can hold on to hope and bear witness to it as they comfort the suffering, Cardinal Vingt-Trois said.

Strength in face of these trials, he explained, “comes from our confidence in God and our ability to rely on him.”

“So we can’t allow ourselves to be stopped by the misfortunes of life or the suffering that we’re enduring, as if this had no meaning. Through them, we can discover that God is knocking on our door and wants to call us again to life and open up to us the ways of life,” he said.

“This confidence in God is a light on the journey of life,” the cardinal said, encouraging those gathered in the Paris cathedral to “put our trust in God, who is the God of life.”

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