No man is an island, entire of itself...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
So wrote the 17th century poet and preacher John Donne in his Meditation XVII. His words capture the sense of loss that each of us feels when someone else dies. Even more painful is that sense of loss when someone dies tragically.
The cutting short of the life of Fr. Edward Hinds, the beloved pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Chatham
, has wounded the hearts of all who knew him. Already, many people have told me about the profound and lasting impact that he had made in their lives. They have expressed how the loss of his preaching and his priestly leadership will now leave an emptiness in their lives.
The brutal slaying of Fr. Hinds deeply saddens and troubles us. It leaves us questioning. Whatever the motive, whatever the cause of this tragedy, we find ourselves face to face with what St. Paul calls “mysterium iniquitatis” (2 Th 2:7). Evil exists. Evil is real. Evil hurts. Evil wipes out the goodness of human life.
We live in a world where anger, violence, hatred, and murder cast their dark shadows over our lives. We live in a world that has inherited the sad legacy of our first parents. Adam and Eve’s refusal to obey God exposed the root of sin in our world. From this refusal comes the division that separates man from his Creator, man from the earth, and one person from another. The very first sin after the disobedience of Adam and Eve was the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. The question put to Cain immediately afterward, “Where is your brother,” (Gen 4:9), reminds us that we are truly joined with each other in life and in death. The death of another diminishes us as well.
The murder of any individual makes us painfully aware of the presence of evil within the human heart. As the prophet Jeremiah once said, “More tortuous than all else is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it?”(Jer 17:9). But, as Christians, we do not lose hope in the face of evil. We look to the pierced heart of Jesus. Here we see both the evil of sin and the love of God revealed. Jesus, who never sinned and only did good, was beaten, bruised, and put to death. Yet, with his dying breath, he prayed, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). God’s love is stronger than our sin. That is why “Christ died for our sins and rose for our justification” (Rm 4: 25). He died for all sinners. He died for each of us.
It is this mystery of Christ Crucified that every priest gives his life to proclaim. A man like all others, beset with human weakness, but called and sustained by the grace of God, every priest is called to die each day to sin and rise to new life with the Risen Lord. A priest is called to lead others into the Paschal Mystery of Christ’s own death and resurrection that transforms the darkness of this world by the light of God’s love. Through his preaching, his works of charity to all, especially the needy, and through his celebration of the Sacraments, the priest draws others into the embrace of God’s love.
For 35 years, Fr. Hinds gave himself to this priestly ministry. He touched the lives of many, young and old, who now mourn our common loss. Fr. Hinds was privileged to offer the Eucharist, making present among us the very death of Christ. Each day he united himself spiritually to that sacrifice. In the end, he shared in Christ’s death in a most painful way.
A parish has been robbed of its pastor. Priests have been deprived of a brother. A bishop has lost a son. We mourn his passing, for we know that Fr. Hinds strove, within the limits of our common humanity, to open for others the way to the heart of Christ. And so we pray for Fr. Hinds with the words of the Rite of Final Commendation from the Liturgy that we pray each time we give back to God a member of our family: May the Lord grant him the forgiveness of whatever sins he may have committed through human weakness and grant him everlasting peace.