A day off to give thanks. A celebration of human excelling. A son bursting with love for his dad.
These days try ours souls, don’t they? It was Patriots’ Day in Boston, and we all had a rude awakening about just what marathon we’re running.
“Martin Richard, 8, loved playing with siblings, friends,” was one of those headlines that should not have had to be written. That boy’s beautiful smile, an iconic image, memorializes a gaze of love that stands in stark contrast to manhunt images that have since mesmerized us.
Martin Richard’s life was ended as he waited at the Boston Marathon finish line on a day off from school to celebrate the achievement of his dad, who was running the race, It started out as a family celebration. Instead, Martin is dead, and his family’s life is changed forever. A son and brother gone. His mother and sister were both severely injured in the attack were his. Martin’s father simply asks for prayers.
When I heard that Martin Richard had just received First Communion, I thought immediately of Christina Taylor Green. She’s the nine-year-old who was murdered in Tucson in January 2011, only months after her First Communion. She, too, had an unforgettable smile. It’s the look of innocent joy, an encounter with hope. She was prone to thanksgiving: “We are so blessed. We have the best life,” she would say to her family.
Christina’s name and now Martin’s become for us catalysts for meditation. Not necessarily to form a campaign for a specific piece of legislation or a political cause — the testimony of their lives cut so short runs much deeper than that, calls us deeper. The photo of Martin standing in a classroom and holding up a sign reading “No more hurting people. Peace.” has understandably gone viral. Peace, so powerful, is relatively unknown to us. Merely collectively “Liking” the sentiment on social media is too easy.
With the attack, Boston took on a Lenten veil, even in the third week of Easter, as we witnessed the deaths of innocents. Immediately I thought of the Lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah. In an ancient prayer service, Christians walk through them at Tenebrae, on the night before Holy Thursday — only a few weeks ago.
The tongue of the nursling cleaves to the roof of its mouth for thirst. The children beg for food, but no one gives to them.
Those who feasted on dainties perish in the streets; those who were brought up in purple lie on ash heaps.
These cries reflect the depth of the unsettling experience of evil of the sort that Boston has experienced. Jarring attacks on innocents cry out for us to do something — to build a culture of life, as Sean Cardinal O’Malley urged at the prayer service at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston three days after the marathon ended in death and destruction. “This Patriots’ Day shakes us out of our complacency and indifference and calls us to focus on the task of building a civilization that is based on love, justice, truth, and service,” he said in front of God and man, of the news media and the president. “We do not want to risk losing the legacy of those first patriots who were willing to lay down their lives for the common good. We must overcome the culture of death by promoting a culture of life, a profound respect for each and every human being made in the image and likeness of God, and we must cultivate a desire to give our lives in the service of others.”
We are reminded, too, of our common bond in our vulnerability. The nursling and he who was brought up in purple and dainties ultimately meet the same end. This should drive us together, to service and support, to friendship and love. Again, not as mere sentiments or tax write-offs. A mere donation to the Red Cross is not the true charity we’re called to.
But while at least one preacher shied away from answers, at that prayer service Reverend Roberto Miranda of Congregación León de Judá Baptist Church named the problem. “As we have confirmed so graphically this week, wickedness does exist in this world.” He explained to the interfaith gathering that “we come together in a time like this as people of faith — to go beyond the immediate dimension of terror, death, and loss, and to elevate our eyes to that sacred sphere, to place this terrible tragedy in a higher context, in a brighter light that can redeem it and infuse it with elements of hope, love, and unity.”
“We are people of faith,” he continued. “We believe in a benevolent God who holds a steady hand over history, who, even as He allows hatred and fanaticism to have its moment, has also declared time and time again, through the many voices of millennial faiths, that in the end goodness will always prevail — that, yes, ‘weeping may stay for the night, but joy comes in the morning’” (Psalms 30:5).
Perhaps Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC, during the lockdown and manhunt in Boston on Friday, had the most relevant fact of a news story that elicited more questions than answers: “People do crazy things.” Evil, no matter how much we might wish otherwise, can’t be outlawed.
And so what do we do with the uncertainty and insecurity that the knowledge of evil makes real? We really recommit to what is good. If we take the young boy’s construction-papered message to heart, it will change the way we treat one another. It won’t merely be a nice, unachievable sentiment. Was I impatient with my brother? Did I ignore my sister? Did I hurt him? Before he celebrated his First Communion, Martin would have gone to the sacrament of Reconciliation for the first time. He would have asked himself these types of questions. If we’re living the examined life, we will be leaders in a cultural renewal. Children help us understand that.
In the midst of mourning and fear, Boston and a nation gathered to give thanks. To come together and better understand freedom and evil and redemption, raising the kind of questions no manhunt will ever uncover — the kind of questions in answer to which we spend our lives, together. We seek the truth of the matter, a union with just that Truth. That’s not the work of legislation but a lifetime of sacrifice and service, borne out of and fueled by love.