We can easily grow numb to the numbers. 17 people were killed a little over a week ago in terrorist attacks in France. 162 died in the Air Asia crash during Christmas week. A few weeks earlier 145 school children were killed in a massacre at a Pakistani school. There were 432 homicides in Chicago in 2014. About 180,000 people have been killed in the Iraq War since 2003, including 4,500 U. S. troops and 134,000 civilians. There have been 57 million legal abortions in our country since 1973. We could go on and on. Some may nitpick about the accuracy of all those numbers, but the numbers by anyone’s count would still be numbing. These numbers tend to stay just numbers to many of us until one of those deaths touches us or our family. And just about every one of those deaths touched somebody’s family. I remember being taught in high school back at the height of the Vietnam War that “life is cheap to them people over there.” But that is really just another way of numbing ourselves to tragedy. Just recently while I was sitting in seat 16C on a plane that was comfortably resting for an hour on the tarmac at O’Hare Airport, I pulled out a novel from my carry-on called The Hole We’re In. My usual pattern with books is to order a book (or download it) when someone recommends it or I encounter a glowing review for it, but then not actually get around to reading it until I have forgotten why I ordered it. So, I do not know what inspired me to buy The Hole We’re In, but fortunately it did make for a good read. It is a family story that turns on our penchant for overspending and a theme that all of us churchgoers have heard many times from non-churchgoers–the hypocrisy and narrow-mindedness of Christians. One character in the story, Patti, turns her back on her fundamentalist Christian family and Christianity when she is still a teenager. Years later her fifteen-year- old daughter Britt becomes pregnant. Patti helps her daughter secure an abortion. Leaving the clinic, Patti remarks, “This doesn’t mean anything to her yet. But one day Britt will think about what that baby might have been like and whether it could have been The One Who Changed Things For The World.” That is the thing about all those millions who die before they get a chance to be born and all the others who die much too young. We will just never know who they might have become and what they might have done. And that even bothers people like Patti who say they have no faith.
In Chicago we have seen countless marches against street violence. Last Sunday in the Loop there was a march in support of the victims of violence in France; and this Sunday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. the Annual March for Life begins at Federal Plaza. Marching is one way of acknowledging that something is very, very wrong. It is one way of refusing to grow numb to the killing. And there are certainly many other ways besides marching for us to become actively involved in making our world more “life friendly” (even if our efforts do not thereby establish us as The One Who Changed Things For The World). One of Jesus’ beatitudes may also be pertinent here: “Blessed are they who mourn.” I believe this blessing applies not just to those immediately touched by the loss of a loved one, but also to those who choose to grieve over the pain and suffering of others. Some things we do not have the power to change, but we can at least feel sorrow that they are happening. We can allow ourselves to feel the pain of others. We can grieve over what seems like pointless violence and pointless death. We can still stand for the principle that God made us human beings to be more compassionate, loving, generous and understanding than we often are. We can refuse to succumb to the numb. If we can at least do that, I think that we will not only be blessed, but also be a blessing to the world. – Fr Joe Chamblain, OSM