If your parish has catechumens preparing for Easter, you’ll hear the Gospel of the woman at the well. If not, then Jesus tells the story of people who were killed by a falling tower and by Pilate’s soldiers. I’m opting for the second Gospel. #1, because we don’t have catechumens in this retirement community, and 2)writing this letter is a way of preparing my homily for next weekend!
The Gospel has some folks saying that if bad things happen to people, that means they deserved it, that this is punishment for their sin. As it was in the time of Jesus so it is today. Westboro Baptist Church pickets funerals of fallen service people, saying their death was because of the country’s tolerance of gay people. Hurricane Katrina found the evangelist Pat Robertson saying that New Orleans deserved what happened because of the country’s tolerance of abortion. Similar comments followed after Superstorm Sandy. A similar line of thought though very well-meaning has folks saying “it was God’s will” when a young person dies, for example.
I do not believe that the God of love makes tragedies happen because they’re good for us, like a bitter pill that will clear the system. We are broken people living in a broken world. Suffering is a part of life, and comes into our lives through Nature, through others’ sin, and as the consequences of my own sinfulness. But directly from God no way. If suffering is a part of life, then bewilderment over it is a part of my faith. “Why, God, why?” is the question that so many folks ask.
They receive silence for an answer, and conclude that God doesn’t care. But look at it this way: could not the silence be because God is listening? Instead of answering the unanswerable question, God kneels at your side, holds your hand and cries with you. I truly believe God is grieved when those he loves are suffering. Why? Because Jesus grieved. No matter what happens, we can trust that God is good, because that is his nature.
When faced with unexpected, tragic death, most folks pause and think of the preciousness of life and how easily it can be taken away. Jesus makes that point too. Rather than questioning God or judging others, Jesus asks us to focus on what we can control and do: deepening or restoring our own relationship with God. Note that in order for the fruit tree to bear fruit, the gardener used manure to bring fruitfulness. So too can we use the crap in our lives to deepen our growth.
Love deeply, pray faithfully, laugh often!