The mystery of evil has struck again. This time in a lovely elementary school where all good things are taken for granted – safety, the wonder of learning, play time, the laughter of innocent children with their classmates and teachers. Suddenly, the beauty of it all, shattered and mutilated within minutes.
Last Friday’s massacre in Newtown, Conn. leaves a grief-stricken nation to gasp in horror, to ponder its inscrutable savagery, and to fall on its knees in prayer. Through sobbing and loud lamentation, we plead for consolation for the families of those children and teachers as well as for ourselves and our nation.
Suffering, whether physical, mental, emotional or spiritual, does violence to the person, to groups of people, and now to a nation. Suffering comes from us and others, from places, events, and unfulfilled expectations.
Why are innocent people weighed down by tragedy? Who of us dares give facile answers to its universal and ubiquitous presence? To whom shall we go for answers?
Grave suffering, in the way it has just unfolded, re-arranges the whole of one’s life. As the nation grieves, the invitation comes to grow in compassion, wisdom, and love.
Questions about suffering inevitably lead to questions about God. Where is God in suffering? A powerful and all-loving God would not permit suffering to happen.
Therefore, God must be a sadist or an impotent entity. Such inescapable questions haunt persons of faith and those of no faith because they affect us at the very core of daily living. They struck us on Dec. 14, 2012. We all have free will to do good or evil. And God will not paralyze or remove our free will.
Yet, even in dark hours, we do sense a ray of light in the darkness that holds meaning for us. In the face of despair, Christian hope is possible only in the light of redemption, for when Jesus comes, he comes as absolute love that identifies itself with suffering and with the sufferers of the world. He is suffering in solidarity with us now.
The “O Antiphons”
Even while the end of the Advent preparation and Christmastide offer rich meditations for the season, the prayers given below are intensified with deeper meaning in the wake of the tragedy at Newtown. The exclamations beginning with “O” in the antiphon-prayers found below are grace-filled for all occasions. They express the longing of the human heart for all good things whether for us or our families. The “O” antiphons for each day from Dec. 17 to 24 read as follows:
Dec. 17: O Wisdom, You came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and reaching from beginning to end, You ordered all things mightily and sweetly. Come, and teach us the way of prudence!
Dec. 18: “O Adonai (God of the covenant) and Rule of the house of Israel, You appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush, and on Mount Sinai gave him Your Law: Come, and with an outstretched arm redeem us!”
Dec. 19: “O Root of Jesse, you stand for an ensign of mankind; before You kings shall keep silence, and to You all nations shall have recourse. Come, save us, and do not delay.”
Dec. 20: “O Key of David and Scepter of the house of Israel: You open and no man closes; You close and no man opens. Come, and deliver him from the chains of prison who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death.”
Dec. 21: ‘O Rising Dawn, Radiance of the Light eternal and Sun of Justice; come, and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.”
Dec. 22: “O King of the Gentiles and the Desired of all, You are the cornerstone that binds two (the Jews and Gentiles) into one: Come, and save poor man whom You fashioned out of clay.”
Dec. 23: “O Emmanuel (God with us), our King and Lawgiver, the expected of nations and their Savior: Come, and save us, O Lord our God!”
Dec. 24: Psalm 23: “Lift up your gates, ye princes, and open wide, ye eternal gates; the King of majesty will enter in.”
The Feast of the Holy Innocents during Christmas Week
The tragedy at Newton, so close to Christmas week, faintly resembles the Holy Innocents mentioned in St. Matthew’s gospel (2:13-18). On Dec. 28, the Church commemorates the feast of the Holy Innocents when King Herod arranged for the slaughter of baby boys below the age of two. It was his order to do away with the Messiah, his rival-king, and with the mass killing, he made certain that no male infant who could be the Messiah would survive. The hymn at Lauds on this day serves not only to recall the massacre of those holy innocents but also the slaughter of the children and their teachers at Newton:
“All hail! Ye infant martyr flowers
Cut off in life’s first dawning hours,
As rosebuds snaps in tempest strife
When Herod sought your Savior’s life.”
These are solemn days in our nation. As the Catholic liturgical calendar unfolds, our national mourning finds expression in the liturgical drama of the feast of the Holy Innocents.