Martin Richard’s life ended as he waited at the Boston Marathon finish line on a local holiday. He was there to celebrate his dad’s victory with his family. Instead, he is dead and his family’s life is changed forever.
When I heard that the 8-year-old victim of the marathon bombings had just received First Communion, I thought immediately of Christina-Taylor Green. She’s the 9-year-old who was murdered in Jared Loughner’s 2011 rampage in Tucson. She had recently undergone that rite, as well — she, too, had an unforgettable smile. It’s the look of innocent joy, an encounter with hope. She was prone to thanksgiving: “We are so blessed. We have the best life,” she would say to her family.
Christina-Taylor’s name and now Martin’s become for us a meditation. Not necessarily of a political nature — the testimony of their truncated lives calls us deeper. The photo of Martin in a classroom holding up a sign that says, “No more hurting people. Peace.” has understandably gone viral. But merely collectively “Liking” the sentiment lets us off easy.
Jarring attacks on innocents cry out for us to do something. To really and truly build a culture of life, as Boston Archbishop Sean O’Malley urged at the prayer service at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross three days after the marathon ended in death and destruction.
“This Patriots’ Day shakes us out of our complacency and indifference and calls us to focus on the task of building a civilization that is based on love, justice, truth and service,” he said.
“We do not want to risk losing the legacy of those first patriots who were willing to lay down their lives for the common good. We must overcome the culture of death by promoting a culture of life, a profound respect for each and every human being made in the image and likeness of God, and we must cultivate a desire to give our lives in the service of others,” he went on.
We are reminded, too, of our common bond: vulnerability. This should compel us to service and support, to friendship and love. And it’s not easy — a mere donation to the Red Cross is not the true charity that we’re called to.
While many scrambled to find a motive for the attacks, the Rev. Roberto Miranda of a Baptist church in nearby Roxbury named the problem: “As we have confirmed so graphically this week, wickedness does exist in this world,” he said at the Holy Cross prayer service.
“We are people of faith,” he continued. “We believe in a benevolent God who holds a steady hand over history; who even as He allows hatred and fanaticism to have its moment, has also declared time and time again, through the many voices of millennial faiths, that in the end, goodness will always prevail.”
Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC said it best during the Friday Boston manhunt that shut down a city and transfixed a nation: “People do crazy things.”
And so what do we do with the uncertainty and insecurity left in the wake of an encounter with evil? We recommit to what is good. If we take Martin’s poignant message to heart, it will change the way we treat one another. Was I impatient with my brother? Did I ignore my sister? Did I hurt him? Before he celebrated his First Communion, Martin would have taken part in the sacrament of Reconciliation for the first time. He would have asked himself similar questions.
In the midst of mourning and fear, Boston and a nation gathered to give thanks. To come together and better understand freedom and evil and redemption, raising the kind of questions that laws or manhunts alone can’t solve. That’s not the work of legislation, but a lifetime of sacrifice, service, born out of and fueled by love.