Wenski: Bad things to good people? —Tragedy an opportunity for service not despair…
(CUSA) – Bad things happen yet God still loves us. Freedom and sin are unpredictable but we press on in service. The alternative is despair which is the rejection of God’s love, believing that He doesn’t care or that those suffering deserve it. Neither are true.
Living in love means continuing to follow Christ despite the wreckage of human failure and sin.
Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily at the opening Mass for the 2015 Catechetical Conference for those who teach religion in Catholic parishes and schools.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Today’s Gospel begs the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Theologians, philosophers and ordinary people — like you and me — have struggled with this question from the beginning of time. In the Old Testament, the Book of Job is devoted to this question.
Jesus speaks of the Galileans whom Pilate had executed. He speaks of those killed when the tower at Siloam collapsed. It is almost as if the Gospel today throws Jesus and his disciples in some sort of time warp and he is sitting here before us reading from this morning’s newspaper. Hundreds die in Syria from terrorist attack! New explosions kill dozens in Iraq! Humanitarian disaster threatens Haiti’s poor!
We can be tempted to ask ourselves: What did these people do to deserve this? Jesus warns us: Do not think those Galileans were the biggest sinners around. Don’t think that those who died in the tower were guiltier than anyone else. We cannot excuse the evil in this world by saying that those affected by it somehow deserved it, that the evil visited upon them is somehow a sign of God’s disfavor or punishment.
The tragedies that befall others are not to be seen as reasons to judge them; in the face of such tragedies we are called to service. That’s the fruit that Lord expects of us — like that farmer who expects the fig tree to give him figs. Such fruit is produced when we convert ourselves to the Lord. In other words, when instead of judging people we remember that a judgment faces us.
Yes, oftentimes, we suffer because of our bad choices — we punish ourselves. As scriptures teach us: The wages of sin is death. But Jesus does not allow ourselves to distance ourselves from other people’s tragedies by thinking that somehow they had it coming to them.
God does not stand aloof — distant from our pain and our tragedies, rather he draws near to us. In Christ, the Word became Flesh. God became man: Rather than distancing himself from people and their tragedies, he draws close to them, sharing their burdens and taking on their pain.
The power of evil, the power of death was unleashed into our world because of sin — beginning with that first sin of Adam and Eve. Jesus, while remaining truly God, shares in our human condition — in all things, but sin. And though sinless, he became as sin so as to deliver us from sin. This is the “good news” that fills us with joy so that as Church we can “go forth with an open heart.”
Today, the Church celebrates the feast day of St. Anthony Maria Claret. Along with the Venerable Antonia Paris, he founded in Cuba the Claretian Sisters — the first religious community founded in Cuba. Let’s give the Claretian Sisters and all religious sisters, brothers and priests a special “shout out” during this Year of Consecrated Life. Their commitment is about “waking up the world” to the good news.
St. Anthony Maria Claret was a tireless missionary. In many ways, he anticipated the renewed emphasis on evangelization that was a good fruit of the Second Vatican Council 50 years ago. Claret was the archbishop of Santiago de Cuba and for six years he traveled through Oriente preaching, evangelizing, educating and seeking to improve the lives of his people: a model disciple in faith and a stellar missionary of hope. His episcopal motto was: “Caritas Christi urget nos” — the love of Christ compels us.
The love of Christ still compels us today to be close to people today — people who are hurting, people who are suffering, people who might think that because of bad things that have happened to them God doesn’t love them. We must witness to the Joy of the Gospel so that through our service people may come to know that God does love them.
The mystery of evil is overcome in the mystery of the Cross. We may seek answers to the question about why bad things happen to good people. Jesus does not say that he will not answer us — but it would seem that in most cases he will not answer our specific questions this side of heaven.
One day, the day when we see God face to face, the day when he himself will dry our tears, on that day, we will know. We believe this because by faith we know that on the cross Christ has already overcome evil. Even though we continue to fight our own skirmishes with the devil, the war has been won. Christ is victorious.
Yes, Caritas Christi nos urget — the love of Christ compels us. I thank you for all that you do to bring the Gospel to your people in your parishes and schools. May this “labor of love” meet with great success so that, as you go forth “with an open heart,” the people you serve in your catechetical ministry will experience “healing grace, promise and joy.”