From my Alma Mater:
Homily for the Virginia Tech Memorial
The Catholic University of America
Caldwell Hall Chapel
April 16, 2007
All of us are shocked, stunned and deeply saddened by the horrific news from Blacksburg, Virginia, earlier today. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University has experienced an unspeakable and unimaginable tragedy in the senseless shootings and deaths that have occurred there this morning. Latest reports indicate that over 30 people have been killed and at least two dozen others injured in what is the worst incident of its kind ever to take place at an academic institution in this country.
Although a four hour drive separates the Virginia campus from our own here at Catholic University, no space or location or time separates us from the hearts of our sisters and brothers there. As Christians, we are as close to them as the person sitting on either side of us. And in the face of the utter human helplessness that we feel at tragic times like these, we run with them --- with the Virginia Tech community --- into the arms of our loving God for comfort and consolation, for we believe that nothing can separate us from Him.
We read in St. Paul's Letter to the Romans (8:38-39):
What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? As it is written: "For your sake we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Today bears witness to yet another sobering moment, a reality that has sadly become all too commonplace and familiar in our experience. Today bears testimony to the unpredictability of life in the modern world, to its fragility, to the speed with which it comes and goes. Today reminds us that death and tragedy are no respecters of persons --- they strike, young and old alike, they strike without discrimination, sometimes with lightning instancy, and most often those not expecting their visit. For I am quite sure that those who died today, woke up this morning without giving a thought to the routine that lay before them, a particular class or meeting or social event --- none of which they would ever see. Perhaps no one here today personally knew any of those who lost their lives on the Virginia Tech campus. But only the hardest of hearts can help but feel the pain of those they left behind.
It just does not seem fair or right in this Easter season, in this springtime --- when new life is all around us, when we are preparing for commencement and the celebrations connected with the end of another school year --- that such a tragedy would bring so much sadness to otherwise youthful, joyful hearts. There are many questions that remain unanswered at this moment in Blacksburg, Virginia, as police and members of the Virginia Tech University community sift through the pieces of this tragedy. Perhaps some answers we will never know, this side of heaven. But we cannot lose heart or hope. We cannot give in to fear. At times of tragedy like these, I think of the words of St. Paul in his Second Letter to the Corinthians (4: 8 – 10):
We hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
And so my dear friends, our lives continue even as we offer up in prayer the lives of those who were lost today in Virginia, as well as their families and friends. We meet to pray and to show support for our friends at Virginia Tech. But we "do not grieve as those who have no hope" because "we believe that Jesus dies and rises again and that God will bring to life all those who died believing in him (1 Thessalonians 4: 13-14)."
Today was a tragedy, like most tragedies, that we could never have anticipated. But the words of Robert F. Kennedy help put this day in perspective. He wrote: "Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live." For God's sake, let us live beyond the tragedies we experience. For humanity's sake let us learn from them.
Very Reverend David M. O'Connell, C.M. President The Catholic University of America