My 8-year-old son will receive his First Holy Communion next month, so I was struck with an overflowing sense of empathy when I saw the online image of the 8-year-old boy in his First Communion suit who was killed in the Boston Marathon bombing. That could have been my boy in the picture, dressed in a white tie and jacket, smiling innocently while standing outside the church, holding an art project with symbols of the sacrament – chalice, bread, host – very similar to the First Communion banner of my Justin that hangs on our door at home.
How incredibly sad that Martin Richard, this child of God, this child who was such a gift to his parents, should die as a result of a cowardly act of terrorist violence, on a sunny day of celebration at the Boston Marathon. I showed the picture to my son, who simply whispered, “Oh,” when I explained what had happened. The look on his face indicated that the world outside had suddenly become a lot bigger and more inexplicable to him. Who would do such a thing? Why do bad things happen to good First Communion boys?
According to news reports, Little Martin’s mother and sister, also standing along the spectator route near the end of the marathon, suffered serious wounds. The father, Bill Richard, was able to walk away from the bloody crime scene. The family was active in the Dorchester community and their parish. As a fellow Catholic father, I feel a spiritual bond with Bill Richard, a man I have never met, and I pray each night, and at times throughout the day, for him and his family.
What can he be thinking, what must he be feeling, having lost his little boy and with his wife and daughter in the hospital? I know I would feel grief, coupled with anger at the attacker, and a good deal of emptiness and confusion. Yet this good man, no doubt supported by his faith, his family and his parish, released a statement the day after the bombing:
“My dear son Martin has died from injuries sustained in the attack on Boston. My wife and daughter are both recovering from serious injuries. We thank our family and friends, those we know and those we have never met, for their thoughts and prayers. I ask that you continue to pray for my family as we remember Martin.”
The goodness of this man’s soul shines through these words. There is a touch of the Holy Spirit about them, in what they say and in what they silently acknowledge can never be expressed. Through a delicate declaration of grief, facts, love and measured emotion, Bill Richard has shared an appropriate part of his loss with the world. Fathers, especially, should be inspired now to pray for him and his “dear son Martin.” Let not this sadness pass without it lifting us up to become better fathers and husbands, men of deeper prayer and more practical and charitable action at home, at work, in our parishes and in our communities.
We may never face the devastating grief that Bill Richard is facing, but we are tested in so many ways each day to rise above our weakness and bring strength, peace and love into our own lives and the lives of those who depend on us.
As a start, perhaps we could suggest in our parishes that every First Communion class next month remember little Martin Richard, who may serve as a modern model for those receiving the sacrament for the first time.