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Posted in Archbishop Chaput's column, Weekly column from Archbishop Chaput, on April 19th, 2013

The Boston bombings and their aftermath

By Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M.Cap.

Violence and grief in the Boston area have rightly dominated our news media for the past week.  The latest terrorist bloodshed is not at all senseless.  It’s the work of calculated malice.  Innocent people, including children, have paid the price for other people’s hatred.  Our most important task right now is to pray for the victims and their families.

God exists, and God can heal even the worst suffering, despite every human attempt to ignore him and every terrible sin that seems to “disprove” his presence.  And yet it’s fair to ask:  How can a good God allow this kind of evil to happen?

The answer is both simple and hard.  There’s nothing soft-focus or saccharine about real Christianity.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is for the brave; not the complacent, and not cowards.  The world and its beauty give glory to God; but we live in it with divided hearts, and so the world is also a field of conflict.  God’s son died on a cross and rose from the dead to deliver us from our sins.  He didn’t take away our freedom to choose evil.  Until this world ends, some people will do vile and inhuman things to others.

The irony of human dignity is that it requires our freedom.  It depends on our free will.  We own our actions.  And free persons can freely choose to do wicked things.  Spend an hour browsing through Scripture:  It’s the story of a struggle between good and evil that cuts bloodily through every generation in history.  And the story is made bearable, and given meaning, only by the fidelity of God – the constancy of his justice, his mercy, his solace, his love.

Within hours of the Boston bombings, public officials were telling the nation that terrorists would not be allowed to destroy “our way of life.”  It’s the duty of leaders – an important duty – to reassure and strengthen their people in times of tragedy.  Our country has a vast reservoir of goodness built up by generations of good people.  America’s best ideals are well worth fighting for.  But we also need to remember that our way of life is as mortal as every other great power; and sooner or later, America will be a footnote in history.  Only God is forever.

In the coming weeks, in the wake of the Boston tragedy, we’d do well to ponder what “our way of life” is beginning to mean.  No one deserved to die in Boston.  Terrorism isn’t washed clean by claims of psychological instability or U.S. policy sins abroad.  And no one should be eager to see in the carnage of innocent spectators God’s judgment on a morally confused culture here at home.

And yet, something is wrong with our way of life, and millions of people can feel it; something selfish, cynical, empty and mean.  Something that acts like a magnet to the worst impulses of the human heart.  We’re no longer the nation of our founders, or even of our parents.  Some of their greatness has been lost.

The character of our way of life depends on the character of my way life, multiplied by the tens of millions.  We shouldn’t waste time being shocked or baffled by the evil in the world.  It has familiar roots.  It begins in the little crevices of each human heart – especially our own.

In the days ahead we need to pray for the dead and wounded in Boston, and their families.  And then, with the help of God, we need to begin to change ourselves.  That kind of conversion might seem like a small thing, an easy thing – until we try it.  Then we understand why history turns on the witness of individual lives.



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6 Responses

  1. These words express the love we are meant to have for our friends and family as well as our fellow Americans. But, they do not express any sentiment for our enemies. These young men, these children of God; were they not also formed in the image and likeness of God, as expressed in our Cathechism? As Christians, are we to be their judges and ignore their immortal souls as we pray for the victims?
    I am sickened by their acts of cowardice. But I am as deeply saddened for the perpetrators of this crime, and their families, their mother and father… and I pray for their eternal souls just as I have been asked by the church to have forgiveness for the priests that have sexually molested our children.
    As we are Christians, we should not exclude anyone from entering the fold of the Lamb of God. His mercy extends to everyone, as should ours.

    By: Barry Martin on April 19, 2013 at 3:50 pm

  2. Great article, addressing the root of the problem.

    We want peace, but take 10 commandments out of the schools and wander why there is violence in the schools. We want peace but fire teachers who say one sentence of prayer in the classroom.

    We think that by imposing more human laws and controls and throwing away God’s laws we can gain peace.

    Peace is in Jesus Christ, He said: “peace be with you”. By following Him we walk in peace. When a cashier in a store wished me Merry Christmas just a few months ago, we both felt like heroes who dared to say the forbidden greeting. How far have we ventured on this well traveled road of denial of God’s existence and of self reliance? What do we hope for on that wide and
    populous way? I pray that we will all turn to Jesus, the source of all peace and beg him for peace.

    May your and mine choice to take the less traveled road make all the difference in the world as Robert Frost explains in his poem way leads on to way:

    Robert Frost (1874–1963). Mountain Interval. 1920.

    1. The Road Not Taken

    TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
    And sorry I could not travel both
    And be one traveler, long I stood
    And looked down one as far as I could
    To where it bent in the undergrowth; 5

    Then took the other, as just as fair,
    And having perhaps the better claim,
    Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
    Though as for that the passing there
    Had worn them really about the same, 10

    And both that morning equally lay
    In leaves no step had trodden black.
    Oh, I kept the first for another day!
    Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
    I doubted if I should ever come back. 15

    I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.

    By: Eva on April 19, 2013 at 6:02 pm

  3. Thank you Archbishop Chaput for such an insightful article.

    This one great “Shining City on a Hill” is on its way to oblivion if we don’t turn back to the Judeo-Christian principles upon which it was founded.

    Remember – “If you find yourself going in the wrong direction, turn around – God allows U-Turns!”

    By: Barbara Yanchek on April 20, 2013 at 10:25 am

  4. The idea that Jesus died as a scapegoat for our sins is ridiculous. People should take responsibility for their own sins. The Church is still full of antiquated dogmas cobbled together in a day and age of superstition and ignorance.

    By: Edward on April 20, 2013 at 11:35 am

  5. Each week as I read the Archbishop’s words I am so grateful for his presence in our diocese and the goodness he has brought to us—his sheep.

    Thank you Archbishop Chaput for your guidance, words of wisdom and the love of God that you have in your heart.

    By: lucy Jorgensen on April 20, 2013 at 7:08 pm

  6. Archbishop Chaput: Thank you, and most of all for taking on the cross of Philadelphia so dear to the heart of Christ. By your fidelity to the wishes of the Holy Fathers, you have served the universal Church so well in your role as mediator in some very difficult situations. I am thinking here of Australia. May I request that the same fidelity which brought you to your present role in Philadelphia also bring you to Boston, if and when the leadership role here becomes vacant. Many of us here in Boston would love to have you as their Shepherd.

    By: Ruth Schiavone on April 24, 2013 at 1:04 pm

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