A Prayer and Reflection for February 9, 2020,
5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
God of all people,
you ask us to make your name known and loved.
With loving care you are aware of our tears and laughter,
our sorrows and joys.
Help us to follow in the footsteps of your Son, Jesus.
May we bring the light of his gospel message to everyone.
May we do this joyfully.
Help us to bear witness
that life is meaningful and worth living.
May we be people who care for others.
May we become like a city of light on a hill-top,
bringing your message of love and justice
to the world.
I’ve read that someone called La Rochefoucauld said
An old man gives good advice
in order to console himself
for no longer being in condition
to set a bad example.
In today’s gospel Jesus tells his followers
You are the light of the world.
It’s another way of telling them, and us,
to be good examples.
I sometimes think that
the people who give a good example,
will very often not realise it.
I see it constantly in how parents and teachers
look after children,
especially when it is difficult to do so.
Another example that is very powerful
is given by people who cope and respond
to tragedy and sadness in their life.
who was the Anglican Archbishop of Armagh,
once spoke about someone who did this
after the events at Enniskillen in 1987.
The tragic and horrifying events
would never be forgotten by those of us who were there.
Like so many other such events,
the world learned of the details,
registered its shock,
and was prepared as so often,
to move on to other things.
And then quite suddenly,
someone changed that process.
His words, his attitude,
his sheer human goodness and faith
shone out like a beacon of hope in the darkness.
On Sunday, November 8, 1987,
Alf McCreary was driving from Belfast
to his mother’s home in the small village of Bessbrook,
set among the picturesque scenery of South Armagh,
near the Irish border.
It was a grey morning,
as befitting Remembrance Day,
which has a special meaning in Northern Ireland.
In towns and villages groups of people
were gathering around the Cenotaph
to remember the dead of two World Wars,
and of many conflicts since then,
and not least in Northern Ireland itself.
Remembrance Day had become to me a day of sadness
for the dead of all wars and conflicts,
and also a moment for a personal renewal of a commitment
to work where possible
for the elimination of hatred and misunderstanding.
In my mind’s eye I saw the usual group of people
around the Cenotaph in my home village.
Suddenly the background music on my car radio
was punctuated by a news flash.
As crowds gathered for the Remembrance Day services
at the Cenotaph in Enniskillen,
a bomb had gone off.
First reports indicated serious casualties.
Emergency and rescue services were rushing to the scene.
It was scarcely believable,
even to hardened veterans of hundreds of news flashes
about violence in Northern Ireland.
How could anyone place a bomb at a Cenotaph?
It was like somebody mowing down
a row of mourners at a funeral
just because they were there.
More news filtered through.
Pandemonium, people killed,
heavy casualties, serious injuries.
As we drove home, the reporters on the radio
pieced together the story.
Later, on television, the visual horror unfolded.
Television has the power and professionalism
to tell an horrific story extremely well.
I remember the scenes of devastation,
the rubble, the rescue workers,
and the anguished face of the Anglican Archbishop of Armagh,
Dr Robin Eames,
who had been due to preach
at the Enniskillen Remembrance Day Service,
as he tried to find Christian words of comfort
in front of the microphones and cameras,
and tried also to explain the inexplicable.
It was a Remembrance Day which no one would ever forget.
The next morning I listened to the radio, over breakfast.
In Northern Ireland BBC Radio News carried further details.
And then they broadcast an interview
with a man called Gordon Wilson,
who with his daughter, Marie,
had been caught directly in the blast.
He had been injured, she had been killed.
As he began talking I became absolutely frozen,
with a cup of tea half-way to my lips.
I could not move.
His words, and his tone of barely controlled anguish,
were burning deep into my very being.
This is what he said:
The wall collapsed, and we were thrown forward,
rubble and stones all around us and under us.
I remember thinking I’m not hurt,
but there’s a pain in my shoulder.
I shouted to Marie, Are you alright?
and she said, Yes.
She found my hand and said,
Is that your hand Dad?
I said, Are you alright dear?
But we were under six feet of rubble.
Three or four times I asked her,
she always said, Yes, I’m alright.
I asked her the fifth time, Are you alright, Marie?
She said, Daddy, I love you very much.
Those were the last words she spoke to me.
I kept shouting, Marie are you alright?
There was no reply.
I have lost my daughter,
but I know there has to be a plan.
If I didn’t think that, I would commit suicide.
It’s part of a greater plan,
and God is good, and we shall meet again.
Some years later Gordon wrote this:
I am sure that the majority of the people in Ireland
want and indeed long for peace,
and I am convinced that some day peace will come,
but don’t ask me how.
I just know in my heart that peace will come,
and that we must go on striving to find it.
Our Lord said,
“You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart,
and with all your soul,
and with all your mind.
This is the first and greatest commandment.
And the second is like it,
you shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
It’s as difficult and as all-powerful as that.
Maybe we are so familiar with the words
that only a tragedy as great as Enniskillen
can shake us to our roots
with the awfulness of what can happen if,
individually and collectively,
we cease to love our neighbour as ourselves.
Peace will come,
maybe not tomorrow but come it will,
because Good must triumph over Evil,
and Love will triumph over Hatred.
But my Peace is of another kind.
Perhaps it is really the same Peace, in the end,
or indeed a better one.
I enjoy the Peace of knowing beyond doubt
that Marie is in the presence of her Lord,
and that, with God’s will,
we shall again hold her hand.
We have come a long way on our journey.
The tragedy of Enniskillen
is not a road which I would have chosen.
If I had known in advance
I would have pleaded like our Lord in Gethsemane,
“Father if it be possible, let this cup pass from me;
nevertheless not as I will, but as you will.”
And I am sure that all who have been touched
by the tragedy of Northern Ireland,
would want to speak likewise.
But we cannot change what’s happened.
We have to go on living, as best we can,
with whatever strength we are given to do so.
If I have a message, it is this:
I believe very strongly in the words of our Lord
when he said,
“A new commandment I give you,
that you love one another.”
That’s basically it.
Those words about love were burned into me
by Marie’s experience.
Her last words were
“Daddy, I love you very much”.
She went out on words of love,
and I have to stay on that plane.
Hopefully and thankfully, with God’s Grace,
I will keep on trying to do that.
The first and last words in this whole story
are about love.
That’s what helps me to keep going,
to get through my days and to sleep at nights.
Love God and your neighbour.
In life and after death
there’s only one ultimate standard
by which we are judged.
Marie showed that, to us all,
as she lay under the rubble at the Cenotaph holding my hand,
with her life slipping away.
The bottom line is love.
There’s nothing more I can say.
May we pray that
our lives will shine with such a light.