Sunday, 20 July 2014
By Archbishop of Perth Timothy Costelloe SDB
As we gather in the Cathedral for Mass this morning, we are all deeply aware of and profoundly shocked by the terrible act of violence in Ukraine which has cost so many lives and horrified the world.
Families the world over are in mourning. We are no different here in Western Australia. The most recent information indicates that nine residents of our state have been killed, the youngest just eight years old.
Among the victims are members of our Catholic community, including one who is related to Tom and Angela Mahady, the wonderful couple who served as sacristans here in the Cathedral until their recent retirement. This lady, Mrs Edel Mahady, worked in the Good Shepherd primary school in Kelmscott.
The families in mourning here in Western Australia are united in grief with families all over our country and in many countries around the world. Two hundred and ninety-eight people have had their lives suddenly, cruelly and completely unjustifiably cut off.
Who knows what unique and precious contribution each of them may have made in the future to their families, to their friends and to the communities in which they lived? We are all diminished by their loss. I know you will all join with me in praying for each of these people that the Lord will receive them into his kingdom.
We pray too for their families and friends who in these days must endure the agony not only of their loss but of all the uncertainty that surrounds it. The God we believe in, the God who is at the heart of our lives, is a God of peace.
May all those who have lost loved ones in this terrible incident experience the presence of the Lord in the midst of their pain and their confusion, just as the disciples of Jesus experienced the presence of Christ in the midst of the storm which engulfed them on the lake of Galilee. He calmed the wind and waves and restored peace to them. May he do the same for those who are now in so much pain.
As I watched the reports about this atrocity in Ukraine on the TV news last night, it was immediately followed by reports of the ongoing and escalating violence between Israel and the Palestinians in what we call the Holy Land. There too people’s lives are being torn apart. It is no different in some other parts of the Middle East, especially in Syria, nor is it very different in other parts of the world, including some countries in Africa.
One hundred years after the beginning of World War One, the war to end all wars, we might despair as we ask ourselves if humanity has learnt anything from what has been perhaps the most violent and destructive century in human history.
For us who, as I said before, believe in a God of peace and in Jesus, the bringer of peace, it is hard to make sense of this violence, this hatred and this contempt for the sacredness of human life. How can God allow such things to happen? Why does God not intervene to prevent these tragedies?
This is the same question we find on the lips of Jesus himself who, as he was dying on the cross, the victim of the hatred of others, cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But of course it was not God who had forsaken Jesus. It was his fellow human beings who had forsaken him. And they had forsaken him because they had forsaken themselves.
They were the ones who, to use a biblical phrase which might seem quite bland but which in fact is a shocking thing to say, were gripped by a terrible hardness of heart. And it was this hardness of heart which enabled Jesus’ opponents to close their eyes to his humanity, to his goodness, indeed to his simple right to life.
He ceased being a human being to them and simply became a problem, an obstacle to their plans, an expendable and insignificant factor who could be sacrificed in pursuit of their own ends. But human beings, no matter who they are, are not simply means to an end. They are never inconvenient or unimportant factors to be set aside when it suits us.
Every single person has been called into life by God. Every single person is loved and cherished by God. Every single person is given the opportunity, through the gift of life, to make the world in which we live a better, more humane place.
None of this was in the minds of those who conspired to bring about the death of Jesus. None of this could possibly have been in the minds of those who callously fired on Malaysian Flight MH17, causing so much death, so much anguish, so much despair. There is a disease rampant in Ukraine, in the Holy Land, in the Middle East, in Africa, and in so many parts of the world.
It is the disease of hardness of heart. It is the disease of ignorance of and forgetfulness of the love of God who created all of us and who loves each of his children with a passionate love. It is the disease of a blindness which will not allow us to love as God loves, even though this is the very reason why God has given us the gift of life in the first place.
The sad truth is that it is a disease to which we too can so easily succumb, becoming ourselves bringers of pain, of anguish and of despair into the lives of others. It is our commitment to our own journey of faith, our own journey with God, that will enable us to resist falling into this dark place in our lives.
As we pray for all those who have lost their lives in the skies over Ukraine, and all those whose lives today are filled with anguish because of their loss, let us also pray with urgency and with faith, that the hard hearts of those responsible for this terrible event might somehow be touched by the wave of mourning and sorrow which has been unleashed.
Let us pray that a deep sense of humanity might prevail in all who must now try to lead us forward out of this tragedy. And let us pray for ourselves that in our own families, and among our own friends, and in our own communities, we too might not be overcome by that hardness of heart which closes us to the sufferings of others and allows us only to see our own selfish desires and plans.
For all the passengers and crew of Malaysian Flight MH17 we pray, “eternal rest give to them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen“.