Grief

The grief of the people of Norway one year on from the Breivik massacre is compounded by what happened a couple of days ago in Aurora, Colorado. At the back of most people’s minds is the thought, ‘It could happen again.’ Where the technology exists (guns, grenades, etc), there will always be people mad enough or bad enough to use them for mass murder and there is practically nothing that can be done to prevent it. Does that mean we are both helpless and hopeless? I don’t think so.

Death is something we must all experience sooner or later. When it comes early, or to someone we love, or with pain and distress, we rebel against it. Everything in us cries out for life. It is for life that we were created, after all. But for a Christian, life is changed, not ended, by death. The trouble is, we don’t know what lies beyond this life. All the assurances in the world can do nothing to overcome our personal feelings of doubt or difficulty. We must cling, as Mary, Martha and Lazarus clung, to our friendship with the Lord and trust that he will not abandon us after death any more than he has abandoned us in this life.

Grief weighs us down, shuts out the light, makes everything seem empty and hollow. At such times, it is good to look at a crucifix, that strange and terrible symbol of God’s aching love for us.  When there are no more tears to be shed and all the words that could be said have been said; when there is only the numbing pain of loss and the bleakness of an empty tomorrow, then the crucifix reminds us that God is not apart from us, uninvolved or uncaring. The bowed head of the Christus reminds us that he is with us always. He shares our sorrow, but unlike any other comforter we may have, he can and does transform our sorrow into joy.

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Fanaticism

Yesterday’s events in Norway will have sickened everyone. We have become almost accustomed to bomb attacks, but the mass shooting of young people, that still has power to shock in a way that nothing else can. As we pray for those who died, those who survived and those who must cope with the aftermath, we naturally ask questions about the perpetrator. What kind of mind could conceive of such horrors, let alone carry them out? Our first thought is usually to say, he must be deranged or a fanatic. If he is mentally ill, unable to judge between right and wrong or unaware of the link between action and consequence, what can we do but grieve, for him as for the dead? But if he is a ‘fanatic’? What do we do then?

Fanaticism is zeal gone wrong. Indeed, the origins of the word, from the Latin fanaticus, meaning ‘of a temple, inspired by a god’, show very clearly both the energy and the essential unreasonableness of the fanatic. You cannot argue with someone who does not admit the constraints of being human, of living in society, who does not consider himself bound by the rules. The irony is that Norway has been, until now, one of the most open and tolerant societies in the world. Will it remain so?

Some will no doubt speak of a loss of innocence but there is something darker still: a loss of freedom, of confidence, of humanity itself. Global terrorism has made us suspicious of one another but it takes time to recognize the threat from within. ‘Security’ is now the watchword at our airports and public buildings. We must expect as much in Norway henceforth. Something else died yesterday in Oslo and Utoeya: trust in one another.

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