Archbishop Hannan’s reflection on 1982 tragedy

    This column by Archbishop Philip Hannan was published in the Clarion Herald on July 15, 1982.
    The crash of Flight 759 brings up the nagging question: Why does God permit such tragedy?
    The answer and the consolation lie in the suffering of Christ. His suffering and death were the prelude to his resurrection on Easter. Without Calvary and Good Friday, there would not have been the glory of Easter and the pledge of our eternal life.
    St. Paul, who suffered constantly and enormously,  proclaimed also the answer to the mystery of suffering and death: “Are you not aware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were also baptized into his death? Through baptism into his death we were buried with him so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might have new life in him” (Rom. 6:3-4).
    The circumstances of death, no matter how untimely in our eyes, do not change their purpose – a prelude to our eternal life with God. Though death came suddenly in the crash, only a moment is enough to prepare oneself to meet Christ.
    Good Pope John XXIII used to say that any time is a good time to be born and any time is a good time to die. Many of those who died were on a mission of mercy, going to attend a funeral.
    We must see death and suffering through the mind of Christ. He decides when he beckons us to his home, “Make your home in me, as I make my home in you” (Jn 15:4).
    In this life we know and love each other according to our limited human faculties. In heaven, the deceased know and love us with the mind of Christ. They know and love us through Christ.
    To know and love through Christ is to know and love through his being. Our deceased, through the communion of saints, are more united with us than they were in this life.
    That fact explains why in the catacombs the early Christians had a very simple but significant inscription on their tombs. The inscription gave the day of death in this mortal life and then the simple phrase, “Date of his or her birthday in Christ.” July 9 was the birthday in Christ of the victims of the crash.
    Jesus used storms to create a sense of his unity, a sense of his presence, among his followers. A strong wind preceded the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Again, when Jesus was in a boat with his disciples and a violent storm broke out, he used the occasion to show his power and strengthen their faith.
    As Jesus used storms as a means of grace and to unify his followers, so this tragedy has caused this community to be more united than ever. The news of the tragedy unleashed an outpouring of charity that engulfed and united the whole community, especially Kenner.
    There were more supplies of food and donations of blood than could be used. This community, especially Kenner, should never be the same. It will be a more united, a more selfless and concerned community than ever.
    Let us not forget this tragedy. Let us never forget the warmth of love and concern that brought a new life into this community.
    By our prayers, we can make this tragedy, as Jesus made Good Friday, into an Easter of grace, “May the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep by the blood of the eternal covenant, Jesus our Lord, furnish you with all that is good, that you may do his will. Through Jesus Christ may he carry out in you all that is pleasing to him. To Christ be glory forever” (Heb 13:20-21).
    With complete hope in the mercy of Jesus, we extend to all the relatives and friends of those who died and suffered in the crash our heartfelt condolences, sympathy and the pledge of our prayers.

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