It has been a beautiful – and deeply moving – sight. Beginning locally, and then spreading across Canada and throughout the world (!!), people have been donning hockey jerseys, wearing green and yellow ribbons, and placing hockey sticks outside the doors of homes, schools, and offices. This movement is born of a strongly felt desire to manifest solidarity with the families and communities mourning the tragic death and injury that has befallen the Humboldt Broncos hockey team as a result of the terrible bus crash. The impact of the tragedy reverberates widely. At meeting after meeting, event after event, participants ask me to lead them in prayer for the deceased, the injured and their loved ones, as well as for the first responders, doctors, nurses, and medical personnel who tended to the victims. Even at great distances from the small community of Humboldt (as I write, an image is circulating in the news of a teenage child in Uganda donning a jersey), people everywhere want to draw near to the sufferers by both prayer and symbol.
I found it particularly moving to see this at play in the schools I visited last week. Students wore jerseys, we prayed at mass for everyone impacted by the tragedy, and of course, there were lots of questions when I visited the classrooms.
Not surprisingly, most of those questions were variations on WHY: why did God allow this to happen; why did young lives come to such an end; why do people have to suffer so much, and so on. To such questions, it must be openly and humbly admitted that no answer will fully satisfy. We try to make sense of what is senseless, and our efforts always fall short. We are left with the simple fact that, in life, tragedies happen that are inexplicable. This does not mean, however, that God leaves us alone to grapple with them. On the contrary, he draws very close to any who are broken-hearted to comfort, heal and show the way forward.
On Sunday, we heard the Gospel passage from Luke (24:35-48), which recounted one of the appearances of the Risen Lord Jesus to the apostles. He addressed them in their condition of fright and doubt, and asked for something to eat. They gave him a piece of broiled fish and watched as he ate it. In this, Jesus showed clearly that not only had he risen bodily from the dead, but also that he would remain with them, always near and actively participating in the events that mark ordinary everyday existence.
Into that everyday existence, tragedy will sometimes enter. There, too, especially, we will find Jesus present with us. In these days, he is demonstrating his presence and love not by a piece of fish but by jerseys, sticks and ribbons. We are not alone.