40th Anniversary of the Stardust Fire
Homily Notes of Most Rev. Dermot Farrell Archbishop of Dublin
6th Sunday 2021 St Joseph the Artisan Church, Bonnybrook, 14th February 2021.
In today’s gospel we have the story of a ‘leper’ who comes to Jesus. There are many such stories in the gospels, and indeed all throughout the Bible. In the ancient world, just as in ours, people asked, why: Why me? Why this? It was all too easy to blame. It was easy to link disease, or suffering, or some injustice to some cause in the person afflicted. But life is not so black and white. And Jesus constantly broke through such a mistaken and facile view of the world.
Today, in the gospel, we see Jesus “stretch out his hand and touch” the leper. His healing touch crosses the boundary imposed on this person.
Like the leper, we come before Christ bearing the wounds gathered in life: the let-downs, the insecurities, the emotional scars, the physical weaknesses, the senseless tragedies with all their attendant trauma, pain and suffering.
Mark tells us that Jesus was moved with pity, with compassion; he was moved by those who appealed for his healing touch. Time and time again Jesus was moved by compassion for all kinds of human infirmity. Today, we might say, my heart goes out to you.
Who could fail to be moved by the suffering, the weight of hurts and memories, festering for forty years now, of the families who lost 48 loved ones in the Stardust disaster, and of the more than 200 who were injured? So many families have endured enormous suffering, and today are re-living the horror of that night which is seared into the hearts and memories of a generation. A whole community was traumatised in the horror of that dreadful night. The lives of so many have been blighted by the loss of those young people, who were so full of hope and promise. That grievous loss has been compounded by their long quest for a full account of the tragedy that satisfies their need for truth.
But that is only one side of the coin. The other side: when touched, how did Jesus respond? When touched, he touched. He moved with compassion, he reached out. The Church in Dublin has accompanied this grieving community over these long years. This community of faith is here today as a sign of our continuing solidarity with them, as a sign of the healing presence of Jesus, who is close to all who suffer, who carry the scars of the legacy of that tragic event. As your bishop, I come here this morning to stand in solidarity with you in your inexpressible grief and sadness, to pray both for the victims of this awful tragedy and for healing for the families who suffered such loss. The loss of life is always tragic. But the loss of young and innocent life is beyond tragedy.
It is a custom for the Inauguration of the President of the United States, to ask a prominent American poet to compose a poem for the occasion, and to read it at the ceremony. Jill Biden, President Biden’s wife, suggested asking a young African American Poet—the twenty two-year old Amanda Gorman, who grew up in St Brigid’s parish in Los Angeles. This is what happened, and this young woman’s poem of hope, born out of the shock and dismay of the storming of the US Capitol on January 6th captured the imagination of the world. In her poem, “The Hill We Climb”, she proclaims, “When day comes, we ask ourselves where can we find light in this never-ending shade?”
In a real way this young woman captures what so many affected by the Stardust tragedy have been looking for these last 40 years: the events of that night 40 years ago have cast a long and deep shadow. To continue with Gorman, this is a “loss we carry, a sea we must wade.”
After such a long time, the temptation is to seek solace elsewhere. But that would be an illusion. It is into the shade that the light must shine. In the end, the journey to peace, is a journey we ourselves must make. Nobody can make that journey for us.
The First Reading from the Book of Leviticus and the Gospel seem very relevant to our world that right now trying to cope with a very infectious disease. It should be noted, however, that this section of Book of Leviticus is not concerned with what we know as Hansen’s Disease, but with various ailments of the skin. The Gospel reminds us to treat all people, especially the sick, with dignity, care and respect. Shaming or humiliating the afflicted is never acceptable. Furthermore, even if isolation or social distance is required to avoid the spread of COVID-19, our sisters and brothers, especially the elderly should not be forgotten. Jesus’s openness and compassionate touch are excellent examples for everyone, especially those who care for the sick, of how to interact with people in need of healing. To be a Christian is to compassionate. But that is one side of the coin: When I am moved with compassion, how do I respond?
There is always someone in the community who needs to be healed, who needs the kind of touch that brings healing and peace. The touch of Christ. To be effective it does not have to be a physical touch. That is not crucial; what is crucial it that you are reaching out. It is hearts that must touch, even when hands do not. Very often that involves listening with empathy to a problem we cannot solve. To reach out you only need the compassion God gave you when he made you.
What do we do? Lent starts on Wednesday next. With it the recurring Catholic question: What will I give up for Lent? The drink or sweets, binging on ‘Netflix’ or taking to social media to vent our grievances? The waistline penance, fast for the new swimwear, the Costa del Sol look. Not too bad, but not particularly Christian, hardly in the image of Christ. This Lent do not think just about giving up something; simply give. Not something; someone. Give yourself. Imitate the compassionate Christ. Be honest and humble before with one another. Listen when someone asks you for a few minutes of your time, for the compassion in your heart. If you hear that plea, try not to ignore it. It just might be Christ. ENDS