The Catholic University of America

Homily for The People of Haiti
Very Rev. David M. O'Connell, C.M.
The Catholic University of America
Caldwell Chapel
Jan. 14, 2010

When we encounter tragedy and death, it is usually personal and individual: the death, for example, of a parent, a sibling, a relative or a friend. An accident or tragedy, such as the one that, during the Christmas break, took the life of one of our seniors, David Myers. Although it is true that, at the same time, such events touch many of us at once, the sadness that grips us so deeply and on so many levels at these times is rooted in the passing of an individual with whom we are personally acquainted or associated. We feel grief individually and we also share that grief among those within our own circle.

On Tuesday of this week, an earthquake of proportions rarely experienced in our part of the planet, struck the island and the people of Haiti. Within hours of this incredible devastation, the entire world was shaken by this tragedy. Most of us have never been to Haiti. Most of us have never known someone from that country. And, yet, all of us have been moved deeply by this natural disaster — moved to the point of blinding tears, moved to the point of heartfelt prayers for a people unknown to us, thousands of miles away.

Haiti is a small republic in the Caribbean that shares its island home with the Dominican Republic. The Republic of Haiti spans only about 11,000 square miles with a population of roughly 10 million people. It is the poorest country in our hemisphere, one of the least developed in the world. Over 80% of the people of Haiti live on $2 a day, less than the price of a single cup of coffee at Starbucks. Their poverty makes this horrific disaster all the more tragic and incomprehensible, leveling buildings throughout the epicenter capital of Port-Au-Prince, eliminating every conceivable service and utility, killing thousands upon thousands upon thousands of citizens and residents.

Once again, our world sadly confronts the words of Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians: “we hold this treasure” — human life — “in earthen vessels” that are now shattered, that are no more. “Death is at work in us” these days and there is nothing that our minds alone can do to make sense of it. What brings us together today is death, the death of so many. What joins us together today, however, is life and faith. And so Paul’s words ring true and ring deep: 

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.

Our minds and our human experience tell us that death will one day claim us all. But our hearts and our faith tell us that death — no matter how sudden, how tragic, how massive and overwhelming in its scale — is not the end, is not the goal, is not the purpose of the life we lead and hold in these “earthen vessels.”

Jesus Christ died yet rose from the dead, offering that same path, that same passage to those who believe in him and in his Word. John’s Gospel urges us in the midst of the smoke and rubble and devastation of last Tuesday night,

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. … I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. … I am the way and the truth and the life.

Our belief in him, our faith is stronger than death because he is stronger than death, he has overcome death and he shows us the way when he reveals himself. Faith’s surpassing power comes from God not from us. Faith sees what the mind does not.  “In the day of my distress I sought the Lord” the psalmist prays and so do we because we believe in the Lord and his surpassing power. “I remember the deeds of the Lord, your wonders from of old.”

We could not possibly explain why or how in the providence of God things like the earthquake in Haiti happen — the loss of life, the catastrophic destruction and devastation that has occurred there — no one can.  But we can explain why and how we must respond. The motto of the Republic of Haiti is “l’union fait la force,” “strength through unity.” What gives us strength and therefore what unites us at times like these is our faith in God, that he sees what we do not see and simply asks us to stay with him. So, too, with the people of Haiti who must place in God’s loving hands so many of their number who have died. What gives us strength and therefore what unites us at times like these is our hope in God, that he will help those who remain behind to rebuild their lives. What gives us strength and therefore what unites us at times like these is God’s love and mercy that give rise to the same in us who believe.  “Whatever you do for the least of my sisters and brothers, you do for me.” We know what we need to do.

For the next nine days, we will hold the people of Haiti close to our hearts. Pray for them. And give what you can to them. The Catholic University of America has always been there for people in need. CUA cares.