Early on Friday afternoon, I came down here to the chapel to make sure that I had left everything ready for today’s Mass before going home to Ireland.
Most of you know I went home on Friday for my niece’s baptism yesterday.
What struck me as I walked into the chapel, was the sheer stillness of the place, the warm glow of the sanctuary lamp and the folded white sheets in the basket of the November List of the Dead here in front of the altar.
And for some reason I was drawn to the basket. So I stopped here for a while and opened a few of the lists, and looked at the names, some in blue ink, some in black, some in pencil, all written with love, because they are the names of the people gone before us who walked part of the journey of life with us, who made us into the people we are, and that’s what makes those names so very important.
I didn’t recognise most of names. If you were to pick up those lists, you wouldn’t recognise many of the names either.
But what matters is that there is one list there, where the names are more than just a name, because its your list, with the names of your loved ones, names we believe are carved on the palm of God’s hand, and whose souls we pray, rest in God’s loving embrace…
A few hours after that on Friday evening, not long after arriving home in Kells, news started to trickle in about explosions at the Stade de France and gun attacks in central Paris.
Very quickly, the horror and devastation began to unfold and the number of those killed and injured began to soar.
And I think while none of us knew their names, or their ethnicity, or their religion, or their profession, we all felt the same heart wrenching, visceral feeling of loss for them. Because each and every person who lost their lives so tragically on Friday is our brother, our sister, our teacher, our doctor, our waiter, our musician, our flesh and blood.
And an attack on each one of them is an attack on each one of us too, because what happened on Friday is a brutal and savage attack on everything that France and all of us in the West stand for…
- the right to be treated with respect and equality, even when our opinions differ from others…
- the right to have the freedom to enjoy a meal or a football match or a concert with friends without ever having to worry about our security…In short, the right to life and the right to live life to the full.
But Friday’s wave of violence across the city proved that some don’t see things that way, that some believe it is justified to take the lives of others and to do so in the name of Allah, Adonai or Abba.
I think it was Aung San Suu Kyi who said that the man with a gun is a coward. He hides behind the gun because he is afraid of dialogue, he is closed to the other’s truth.
This great country has never been afraid of dialogue. Reason and reflection and dialogue are what this nation does best.
So cowards with guns will never succeed in quenching the French spirit, and its burning passion for the values of Fratérnité, Égalité and Libérté.
Our Christian response to those cowards with guns and explosives has to be one of defiance. Defiance of a different kind.
A defiance which refuses to ever give in to fear.
A defiant abhorrence of the evil of violence in all its forms.
But most of all a defiant hope, a hope that one day, the love of God will shine forth in triumph over the uncertainties, the fears and the evil of this present world…
As the names of those who have lost their lives begin to emerge, perhaps none of them will be recognised by any one us here this morning.
But let’s never forget one thing, the name of each and every one of these martyrs is very important, because they are the names of the loved ones whose heartbroken families grieve for them this morning all over France and beyond.
They are our sisters, our brothers, our fellow citizens, our flesh and blood whose names will be forever carved on the palm of God’s hand.
The words of the priest-poet R.S Thomas ring eerily prophetic this morning as France mourns yet again the tragic loss of its own :
“And sometimes, a strange light shines,
purer than the moon, casting no shadow,
that is the halo on the bones
of the pioneers, who died for truth”
Vive cette lumière! Vive notre espérance! Vive la libérté! Et Vive la France!
(Fr Dwayne Gavin, a priest of the Diocese of Meath, is a post-graduate student at the Institut Catholique and chaplain to the Irish community in Paris. This homily was delivered at the Chapelle St Patrick on Sunday 15 November 2015, following the terror attacks in the city that weekend)