Fr. Bauer's Blog

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Openness and Attentiveness

A few weeks ago someone contacted me to arrange a time to meet with them. I suggested that we meet via Zoom. They thought this would be great and we agreed on a time and a date. They said they would send a link to the Zoom meeting. Now, since the pandemic began, I have somewhat reluctantly become very familiar with Zoom, so I automatically set up a Zoom meeting on my own. When the time for our meeting came, I dutifully started the Zoom meeting I had set up. After about 10 minutes, I received an email from the person informing me that they were at the meeting waiting for me. I immediately remembered they had said they would set up the meeting, and so I joined them at the Zoom meeting they had set up. I apologized for my tardiness and explained that I had mistakenly set up my own Zoom meeting and had been waiting for them. Fortunately they were able to see the humor in my gaffe and we had a good laugh over it. 

As I reflected on this experience, it occurred to me it was a good analogy for what sometimes happens in my prayer life. More times than I care to admit when I go to prayer, I am in one place waiting for God, and God is in another place waiting for me. Most often we eventually sync up, but other times we are like ships passing in the night. 

Of course, while I’d like God to shoulder some of the responsibility for the above, the reality is that it is entirely my fault. God does not operate on my schedule and God definitely isn’t at my beck and call. Having acknowledged this, however, it is also very important to note that God is always present and available to us, but it is on God’s terms, not ours. 

Given the above, the obvious question is: how do we become aware of God’s presence and availability to us? I believe the answer is found in two words: Openness and Attentiveness. God is always and everywhere present. We need to be open to that presence, whenever and however it occurs in our lives. One of the ways we can do this is by putting aside our expectations of how and where God should be present, and simply be open to the many and surprising ways God comes into our lives. Attentiveness helps us do that. Attentiveness is nothing more, but also nothing less, than simply putting aside our agenda, our preconceived ideas, and our sense of how things should be, and just resting and trusting in God’s presence, and opening ourselves to God’s grace.

Being open to God’s presence and availability is not easy. It requires patience and practice. And sometimes we end up in one place waiting for God and God is somewhere else waiting for us. When we get it right, though, we will find peace and hope in the tender embrace of our God’s love. 

 

Are you a practicing Catholic? That was the rather impertinent question a friend on mine was asked by another guest at a dinner party. They had been discussing “Church” issues and my friend had shared her opinion that married priests and women priests might not really be harbingers of the end of the world. The other guest responded to my friend’s declaration with the question: “Are you a practicing Catholic?” My friend, who is much quicker on her feet than I am, replied: “Yes, and I’m going to keep practicing until I get it right.” 
 
Now if the truth be told, I don’t think the person who asked my friend if she was a practicing Catholic was really interested in her answer. Rather I suspect she did so to suggest that somehow her ideas disqualified her from being a “real” Catholic.
 
Perhaps it is my imagination, but it seems to me that more and more often in our Church today people think it is okay, not just to question someone’s thinking, but also to question their faith in general, and more specifically their loyalty to the Catholic Church and their “bona fides” as a real Catholic. Frankly, this disturbs me. 
 
I am increasingly concerned by those who choose certain issues and make them a litmus test for whether one is a practicing Catholic, or even a Catholic at all. Personally, I don’t know anyone who is 100% in accord with the Catholic Church 100% of the time. Certainly even the most saintly among us had gotten angry, or made a judgment about someone, or had failed to share with those in need, or had a jealous thought, or ………… you name it. 
 
We are all flawed and imperfect human beings who try hard to live rightly and in accord with the beliefs and tenets of our faith. Often, though, for a variety of reasons, we fail in our efforts. Does that really mean, though, that we aren’t practicing Catholics? Well, I don’t know about anyone else, but I’d like to think that we are all practicing Catholic, and like my friend that we will keep practicing until we get it right.

Many years ago I used to give a talk to seminarians about taking responsibility for their spiritual growth after their ordination. One of the recommendations I offered them was that when they prepared their homilies each week they spend some time reflecting on the scriptures for the coming Sunday with some of their parishioners. 

My reasoning was that the scriptures—as the inspired word of God—speak to each person differently. I reminded them that as celibate males it can be helpful to hear how the scriptures speak to women, to those who are married, and those of different ages. I also told them that over the years, I have been continually and pleasantly surprised—and often humbled—by the insights and wisdom of parishioners as they shared how a particular scriptural passage spoke to them. I always closed by telling them that it was the height of foolishness and hubris for a priest, deacon, or bishop to think that in preparing a homily they can’t benefit from the insights of others. 

Now, I know most people reading this column aren’t preparing to become preachers. But you do participate in the homily each week, by listening to it and reflecting on how it affects or reflects your life. Given this, your insights are important and can provide a grounding in reality for the homilist. 

I would hope parishioners would feel confident and comfortable enough to let a preacher know when he has missed the mark and failed to tie the homily to your lived experience. A good preacher can learn from feedback from his parishioners. That doesn’t mean just telling a priest his homily was “good” or “bad.” Instead it may involve telling the priest about a specific point that resonated with you or raising a question about something you didn’t understand. 

Preaching is an art not a science. Preparing a homily takes time and effort, and an openness to God’s grace and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In my experience, however, priests often face three major pitfalls in regard to preaching. 1. Superficiality; 2. Splitting; and 3. Spilling. Let me say a word about each of these. 

Superficiality occurs when the preacher spouts glib bromides and tired maxims instead of taking the time to do background reading and research, prayerful reflection on the scriptures, and welcoming and listening to the insights of others. It may be easy to be sweet and sugary in preaching, but the people in the pews deserve better. 

Splitting occurs when the preacher tells people how they should live and act, but isn’t living and acting that way himself. In its worst form, this has occurred with abusive priests, but it also occurs when a preacher is telling people to be good, kind, forgiving, generous and loving, and isn’t doing this in his own life. People pick up on this almost immediately. It takes a certain amount of humility to be able to say: We need to do these things and I struggle with them in my own life. This is a vital aspect of preaching. 

Spilling in preaching is perhaps the worst offense for preachers. Spilling occurs when a preacher decides to talk about their personal issues, or uses the pulpit to express his own opinion on a political issue. For example, when I was growing up I remember hearing a homily on the evils of chlorinated water. I also have heard priests preach about how poorly they have been treated by people in their parish. 

To this day, I have no idea where these priests found these themes in the scriptures, but nonetheless they preached on them. These are good examples of spilling. At base, spilling is an abuse of the power of the pulpit. The person who is spilling may use the scriptures as a springboard, but in reality all they are doing is using the pulpit to promote their own ideas and agenda. It is always and everywhere, wrong. 

The power of preaching is not to deliver holy truth from on high, but to connect people’s everyday experience with the extraordinary experience and presence of God. Preparing and giving a homily should be an opportunity and an occasion for spiritual growth. Most priests I know take preaching very seriously and work hard at it. I suspect, though, that there have been times when we have all been guilty of superficiality, splitting, or spilling. And unfortunately, some do this on a regular basis. One of the best ways to prevent this is to take the time and make the effort to listen to what the scriptures are saying to others, to consider the lives of the people in the pews, and to connect God to their everyday live. That can help us hear more clearly and keenly what God has to say to us in the scriptures. 

 

It has always been a mystery to me why some priests and bishops seem to find it necessary to make public statements or make public appearances that align themselves with—or worse—seem to endorse a particular political party or a specific candidate. As leaders in the church our role is to advocate for Catholic values and principles, not to endorse particular parties or candidates. Unfortunately, when you listen to some clerics, it almost seems as if the Catholic Church is a wholly owned subsidiary of one major political party or the other.   
 
As a church we articulate and teach moral rights and principles. We then apply these moral principles to specific issues and situations. It is not an exact science, but it does help people to discern, and inform their consciences as they decide which candidate(s) to support. Unfortunately, because we apply our moral teachings to a wide array of issues, Catholics often face difficult choices about how to vote. How do we make these difficult choices? 
 
In their 2007 statement: “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship”, the bishops of the United States put it this way:  “A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism if the voters intent is to support that position. In such cases a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil.  At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity.” (Faithful Citizenship #34)
 
In a later version of Faithful Citizenship, the bishops highlight eleven acts that they say are intrinsically immoral: (1) abortion, (2) euthanasia, (3) human cloning, (4) embryonic stem cell research, (5) genocide, (6) torture, (7) wartime targeting of non-combatants, (8) racism, (9) treating workers as mere ends (e,g. subjecting them to subhuman living conditions), (10) treating the poor as disposable, and (11) same-sex marriage. Numerous voters’ guides put out by various Catholic groups tend to emphasize certain priorities from this list. In point of fact, though, “All the life issues are connected, for erosion of respect for the life of any individual or group in society necessarily diminishes respect for all life. The moral imperative to respond to the needs of our neighbor – basic needs such as food, shelter, health care, education, and meaningful work – is universally binding on our consciences and may be legitimately fulfilled by a variety of means.” (Faithful Citizenship #25)
 
Clearly neither of the major political parties or candidates supports all the moral positions of the Catholic Church in regard to a consistent ethic of life. There is no “perfect fit” for Catholics in regard to a political party or candidate. “There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position, even on policies promoting an intrinsically evil act, may reasonably decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons.” (Faithful Citizenship #35) 
 
So where does this leave us? Well I would suggest four things.  
 
First, everyone, and perhaps most especially Catholics in leadership positions, needs to tone down their rhetoric and turn up their Christian charity. If we are to convince people of the rightness of our beliefs, increasing the volume and invective of our words is not the answer. If our words and actions don’t come from a place of love and respect, it will soon be obvious that treating people, particularly those with whom we disagree, with dignity, decency and respect is not an essential part of our Christian beliefs. I think Jesus would weep at this.  
 
Second, everyone, and perhaps most especially Catholics in leadership positions, need to stop judging others.  In this regard, in a recent homily Cardinal Blasé Cupich of Chicago said: “There should never be a time or a moment in which we judge others and their faith journey and say that a person is not Christian enough or Catholic enough.” Jesus was clear about not judging others. I think we need to take his words seriously.  
 
Third, Catholics need to form their consciences. In regard to conscience The Second Vatican Council was clear: “Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, tells him inwardly at the right moment: do this, shun that.  For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. His dignity lies in observing this law, and by it he will be judged.”  (Pastoral Constitution on The Church in the Modern World #16) 
 
Our conscience, however, is more than just what one thinks or feels at a particular moment.  Our conscience must be formed.  In 2017, Pope Francis speaking in a video message to a conference organized by Italian bishops on his 2016 document on family life, “Amoris Laetitia” said “The contemporary world risks confusing the primacy of conscience, which must always be respected, with the exclusive autonomy of an individual with respect to his or her relations,” Pope Francis also said, though: “priests must inform Catholic consciences but not replace them.” 
 
How does one form a conscience? We do it through prayerful discernment, dialogue with others, study of our church’s teachings, spending time in reflection, and by being open to God’s grace and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. 
 
Fourth, and most importantly, everyone—and perhaps most especially Catholics in leadership positions—needs to pray—and pray long and hard.  I am fond of saying that in my own life I have found that prayer changes things, and the thing that it changes the most is me.  When we pray and are open to God’s grace, we can’t help but be kinder, more charitable, more accepting, more respectful, and especially more loving.  
 
When we inform our consciences, pray, and ask for the guidance of God’s Spirit—and if we are open to that Spirit—I believe we will make wise and good choices when we go to the polls. 
 
 
Sacred Heart of Jesus stained glass window

Our Sins Have Been Forgiven

“It shouldn't be that easy.”  Those are the very words an individual spoke several years just after I prayed the words of absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. “It shouldn't be that easy.”

On the one hand this person was right, of course. From our human perspective, the forgiveness of our sins shouldn't be that easy. We are used to working hard, paying our way, earning our keep. Given this, it only makes sense that we should “do” something to merit the forgiveness of our sins. As humans, we take it for granted that you don't get something for nothing. And isn’t this as it should be? After all, wasn't it St. Paul who said that “those who don't work shouldn't eat?” (2 Thessalonians chapter 3:10)  Shouldn't we have to do something in order for God to forgive our sins?

The answer, of course, is yes. But in order to understand what we have to do, we need to look at things from God's perspective, not from our human perspective. From God's perspective, the forgiveness of our sins is dependent on nothing more—but also nothing less—than our sorrow for our sins. If we are truly sorry for our sins, if it is our will and desire that we try to sin no more, then that is all God asks of us. In return, God offers us forgiveness and the grace we need to rise from our sins to try again to live as God's sons and daughters.

Does this mean that once our sins have been forgiven God expects us never to sin again. Of course it doesn’t.  God made us and God knows us—personally and intimately. As a result, God also knows that despite our best efforts we will continue to sin and fail. But—and this is the important part—there is no sin too great as to be beyond the power of God's grace. In fact the only barrier to the forgiveness of our sins is the hardness of our hearts, and/or our inability to accept the forgiveness that is offered to us.   

When we come to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and openly, honestly, and  trustingly confess our sins, our sins are really and truly forgiven. It shouldn't be that easy—but because of Jesus Christ, it is.  

 

Pastoring during a pandemic is a unique, one of kind, never to be forgotten experience. I’m sure that all of us could substitute our own word for “pastoring” and this statement would ring true for all of us. We are in uncharted waters and trying to find our way through them without GPS or even a compass to guide us. Certainly there was nothing in my seminary experience or in my years of ministry that I can look to or lean on for guidance. And yet, somehow we are finding our way through it—often in fits and starts—occasionally stumbling—but, at least in my case, always with a clear sense that I am not alone. I feel the support of family, friends, colleagues, and parishioners. Also, and as importantly, I also have a clear sense that God is with me—that God is with all of us—during this time. 

Now, I would like to tell you that the sense that God is with us during this time is always evident and enduring. Truth be told, however, there are times when I struggle to find and/or recognize God’s presence. Usually these times don’t last long, but they are real. Perhaps it is just me, but it is hard to look at the face of pain and suffering and death, and not wonder if and where God is in the midst of it. When I take these times with me to prayer, though, most often I find and feel God’s peaceful presence. And I realize anew that God is with us and for us, and has not and will not leave us alone. 

Certainly there are people who would argue that the current pandemic is proof positive that God either can’t or won’t do something to “fix” it and make it better. I suspect there is little that I can say to these people that would change their mind. For myself, though, there are many things that are signs of God’s presence and grace, and I can’t ignore them. An ongoing challenge, though, is that I need to look through the “eyes of faith” in order to recognize these signs. 

Now there is a need for clarity here. Seeing things through the eyes of faith does not mean wearing rose colored glasses and approaching things with a certain naiveté. Rather faith is the lens that helps all of us to see God’s hand at work in our lives and in our world, perhaps especially when that presence is not immediately obvious. As we read in Hebrews 11:1 “Faith is confident assurance of what we hope for; conviction about things we do not see.” Seeing with the eyes of faith, then, is nothing more, but certainly nothing less than believing that the God who loved us and our world into existence, will always hold us in love, and ultimately will bring us home to live with God forever. 

Faith isn’t always an easy proposition, but I have never found anything to take its place. From my perspective it’s the thing that helps me to make sense of this life and to believe that there is something more and better that awaits us. 

 

Peace sign web banner

A Powerful Reflection

A few weeks ago Fr. Tim Backous, OSB, who helped out on weekends at The Basilica several years ago, sent me a copy of a talk on racism that Abbot John Klassen gave at a conference of the monks of St. John’s Abby. I have been trying to write something on this topic for a while now with little success. I was so impressed with Abbot John’s talk, though, that I asked his permission to share a portion of it via this newsletter. He willingly gave permission, but with the caveat that I be clear that one of the sources for his talk was Fr. Bryan Massingale. I told him I would be pleased to do that. Below then is a portion of the talk Abbot John gave to the monks of St. John’s Abby on July 7, 2020. While this talk was given specifically to the monks, I believe it has meaning for all of us. 

Father Bryan Massingale, a distinguished black faculty member at Fordham University, has written a powerful reflection on the challenge that faces the white community at this time. He makes some concrete suggestions for moving forward which serves as a template for the following reflections. 

First, we need to understand the difference between being uncomfortable and being threatened. There is no way to tell the truth about race in this country without white people becoming uncomfortable. Because the plain truth is that if it were up to people of color, racism would have been resolved, over and done, a long time ago. The only reason for racism's persistence is that white people continue to benefit from it, and we benefit from it, whether we know it or not. This truth makes my head and heart hurt. 

What to do next? At first, nothing. Sit in the discomfort this hard truth brings. It needs to be agonizing. Let it move me to tears, to anger, to guilt, to frustration, to embarrassment. For what? For my ignorance. For my lack of understanding of the underlying issues that black and Latino people face every day. On any given day, at any given hour, their right to be on this good earth can be challenged. Because only when a critical mass of white people are outraged, grieved and pained over the status quo — only when white people become upset enough to declare, "This cannot and will not be!" — only then will real change begin to become a possibility. 

Second, we need to admit our ignorance and do something about it. We need to understand that there is a lot about our history and about life that we're going to have to unlearn. And learn over. We have all been taught an incomplete version of America that masks our terrible racial history. As white Americans we do not have an accurate sense of the long tail of damage that slavery did to our nation. The impact of the Jim Crow laws that neutralized black efforts to become active citizens in our democracy. We probably know very little of the terror of lynching. For a 30-year period from 1885-1915, on average every third day a black person was brutally and savagely and publicly murdered by white mobs. At present, black and brown people experience law enforcement as the latest version of this reign of terror. 

Third, are there creative things we can do as a community that allow for learning on a deep existential level? Are there ways to invite our whole campus into this powerful moment and see it as a graced time for conversion toward Gospel justice and the inclusiveness of the reign of God? As a community we are profoundly related to alums and friends, so many of whom have been deeply moved by the events of the past five weeks. They look to us not so much for answers as for moral leadership, for the affirmation that our country needs to deliver on its promise of freedom to all of its citizens and to those who come to our doors. 

Fourth, we need to be aware of the expression of racist attitudes in members of our community. When we encounter these expressions, we may not be silent. If there was ever a time and a place for fraternal correction, this is surely it. Sometimes we may be too patient, too tolerant and dismiss a comment as insensitive or ignorant when in fact, it is just racist, and is extremely harmful in a community where we are working every day to be inclusive. 

Finally, we need to pray the psalms in fresh and imaginative way. The psalms are filled with lament, with the voices of men and women who are being crushed every day, people who have nowhere to turn. True, racism is a political issue and a social divide. But at its deepest level, racism is a sickness of the soul. It is a profound warping of the human spirit that enables human beings to create communities of callous indifference toward their darker sisters and brothers. As historian Paul Wachtel succinctly declares in his book Race in the Mind of America, The real meaning of race comes down largely to this: Is this someone I should care about?" Our Catholic and Benedictine monastic tradition have powerful responses to these questions and strong spiritual resources to support reflection and action. They also have the ethical foundation on which to stand. Let there be no question: this is an urgent time, a decisive moment, and we may not let it slip away.” 

 

With the Coronavirus wreaking havoc in our lives and our world, and causing untold pain and suffering, I was reminded of an essay a friend of mine sent me a few months ago entitled: “The Purpose of Suffering.” Now since I find “suffering” to be among the great mysteries of faith, I was interested in what the author had to say. Frankly and bluntly, I found most of what the author wrote to be pious pablum, but I was stunned when I came upon the sentence: “You can rest assured that God has some greater purpose in mind for you, and that His plan can only be accomplished in the school of affliction and suffering.” This is simply and patently absurd. 

Now certainly good can come out of suffering. To suggest, however, that God causes suffering to create some good is simply wrong. We don’t know why suffering exists. It is a mystery of faith why some good and holy people experience pain and suffering in their lives. We can’t explain why innocent people sometimes suffer, or why people who do bad things sometimes don’t experience the consequences of their actions and at times even seem to live lives of ease and comfort. Given this, we need to be honest and admit that we just don’t know the reason suffering exists. 

What we do know, though, is important. In the midst of pain and suffering we know and believe that God is with us and that God is offering us God’s good grace. Grace is who God is, and grace can be found, perhaps most especially, in the depths of pain and suffering. If we pray and are open to God, we can discover grace arising from the worst kind of pain, and from the great depths of terrible suffering. God doesn't cause suffering and pain, but God is there with us in the midst of suffering and pain. 

In his book, Night, Eli Weisel told the story of witnessing the hanging of a young Dutch boy for collaborating with the Nazis. For more than an hour the child in the noose stayed there struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony. Weisel said; “And we had to look him full in the face. He was still alive when I passed in front of him. His tongue was red, his eyes not yet glazed. Behind me I heard a man asking ‘Where is God now?’ And I heard a voice within me answer him: ‘Where is He? Here He is—He is hanging here on this gallows….”

I think Weisel’s insight is important. While God does not cause and does not prevent our suffering, God is with us and for us in all of our pain and suffering. We need to remember this—most especially at this time—on this Easter day. Jesus’ resurrection reminds us that pain, suffering, trials, and even death, will not have the final word, God will. And God’s word is life—life in abundance. God abides with us always, wanting to share God’s life with us. And in our prayer—if we are open to it—we will find God gently enfolding us in God’s love and strengthening us with God’s grace. 

Certainly suffering can reveal to us a greater purpose or provide a deeper insight. To suggest, though, that God causes suffering so that an individual can come to understand some greater purpose demeans God and suggests that God is capricious, and at times down right mean. I can’t believe in this kind of God. If people want to continue to suggest that God causes suffering for some noble purpose, I’d suggest that God sue for defamation of character. 

 

Basilica Community,

 

 

Greetings once again from The Basilica of Saint Mary. I hope this message finds you and your family continuing to stay well during these challenging times.

We miss you at The Basilica. However, we do livestream our daily Mass at Noon and Sundays at 9:30am. We invite you to join us. These and other services are also recorded and they are available on our website

I would like to share three updates with you today:

1. We are putting together a summer “Church at Home” activities kit that we hope to email to all parishioners in May. Many people let us know they appreciated the “Holy Week at Home” kit that we sent out a few weeks ago. Our new kit will be similar and offer ideas for “doing” Church at home.

2. I also wanted to let you know that we are beginning to work on plans for a gradual re-opening of The Basilica. We will follow all State health and safety regulations, as well as directives from our Archdiocese. I wanted to mention it  to let you know we are beginning to think about it. No doubt, Church will be very different when we are able to gather again, but we need to begin to think now, about how we can “do” Church in the coming months in ways that will keep people safe and secure.

3. Wednesday we had our second Zoom Coffee and Conversation gathering. Wendy Caduff, our Director of Caring Ministries, and I talked about how we can care for each other and ourselves virtually. Please join us at 9:00am next Wednesday for our next Coffee and Conversation with The Basilica musicians. A link to the conversation can be found on our website.

Finally, thank you for your on-going financial support of The Basilica. Your support enables us to continue our many ministries, programs, and services.

However, if you find yourself needing financial support, we invite you to connect with our St. Vincent de Paul Ministry

 


O Mother of Divine Love and Mercy, 

you shine continuously on our journey as a sign of salvation and hope. 

In the certain hope that you will intercede, 

so that, as you did at Cana of Galilee,

joy and feasting might return after these moments of trial.

We seek refuge under your protection, 

O glorious and blessed Virgin. 

Do not despise our pleas, but deliver us from every danger.

And help us, O Mother of God 

to conform ourselves to the will of God

and to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, for he is the way,

the truth, and the life, in his name we pray.
Amen.

With the Coronavirus wreaking havoc in our lives and our world, and causing untold pain and suffering, I was reminded of an essay a friend of mine sent me a few months ago entitled: “The Purpose of Suffering.” Now since I find “suffering” to be among the great mysteries of faith, I was interested in what the author had to say. Frankly and bluntly, I found most of what the author wrote to be pious pablum, but I was stunned when I came upon the sentence: “You can rest assured that God has some greater purpose in mind for you, and that His plan can only be accomplished in the school of affliction and suffering.” This is simply and patently absurd. 

Now certainly good can come out of suffering. To suggest, however, that God causes suffering to create some good is simply wrong. We don’t know why suffering exists. It is a mystery of faith why some good and holy people experience pain and suffering in their lives. We can’t explain why innocent people sometimes suffer, or why people who do bad things sometimes don’t experience the consequences of their actions and at times even seem to live lives of ease and comfort. Given this, we need to be honest and admit that we just don’t know the reason suffering exists. 

What we do know, though, is important. In the midst of pain and suffering we know and believe that God is with us and that God is offering us God’s good grace. Grace is who God is, and grace can be found, perhaps most especially, in the depths of pain and suffering. If we pray and are open to God, we can discover grace arising from the worst kind of pain, and from the great depths of terrible suffering. God doesn't cause suffering and pain, but God is there with us in the midst of suffering and pain. 

In his book, Night, Eli Weisel told the story of witnessing the hanging of a young Dutch boy for collaborating with the Nazis. For more than an hour the child in the noose stayed there struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony. Weisel said; “And we had to look him full in the face. He was still alive when I passed in front of him. His tongue was red, his eyes not yet glazed. Behind me I heard a man asking ‘Where is God now?’ And I heard a voice within me answer him: ‘Where is He? Here He is—He is hanging here on this gallows….”

I think Weisel’s insight is important. While God does not cause and does not prevent our suffering, God is with us and for us in all of our pain and suffering. We need to remember this—most especially at this time—on this Easter day. Jesus’ resurrection reminds us that pain, suffering, trials, and even death, will not have the final word, God will. And God’s word is life—life in abundance. God abides with us always, wanting to share God’s life with us. And in our prayer—if we are open to it—we will find God gently enfolding us in God’s love and strengthening us with God’s grace. 

Certainly suffering can reveal to us a greater purpose or provide a deeper insight. To suggest, though, that God causes suffering so that an individual can come to understand some greater purpose demeans God and suggests that God is capricious, and at times down right mean. I can’t believe in this kind of God. If people want to continue to suggest that God causes suffering for some noble purpose, I’d suggest that God sue for defamation of character. 

 

 

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