The devastating earthquake in Haiti is on all our minds, in our hearts and prayers. We watch from afar, agonizing over the suffering of hundreds of thousands of innocent victims. Inevitably our students will ask us, “Why does a loving God allow something like this to happen?”
The answers are ultimately about the redemptive value of suffering and the brevity of our lives on earth. God calls us, through these disasters, to compassion. Those who have died or were injured are experiencing God’s mercy in mysterious ways. The injured have the opportunity to draw near to the crucified Christ in their pain and to know Him better. The dead will be cradled in the mercy of God in the next life. Those of us on the outside, looking in, are called to act in compassion toward the survivors and to pray for the dead. Our Church teaches us that when sin entered the world, so did all kinds of destructive power, including natural disasters. These disasters affect everyone, innocent and guilty alike.
I think it’s imperative to tell young people, who have a natural aversion to suffering and death, and even to the image of Christ crucified, that our sufferings have real value, that when they are offered up, they – like our prayers – increase the treasury of graces on earth for souls. We should point out that when mothers rise in the night, exhausted, to tend their babies, and fathers rise in the wee hours to go to work [and vice versa] that they die to themselves, mortify their flesh – suffer – out of love for others. Sacrificial love is powerful and benefits the family spiritually as well as corporeally. There are so many ways we can befriend suffering, like doing the tasks we least like first and offering our headaches and disappointments for those who need it most in the world.
God’s generosity is often questioned by children used to a materialistic, instant-gratification culture. How could God allow this? It doesn’t feel good! But put into perspective, God gives us complete freedom in this brief life, to have a true spiritual adventure and then, with His help, to enjoy all of eternity free of suffering. We have the opportunity to be heroic, to rebuild Haiti, to pray for souls, to appreciate our own blessings. This brief life, as Boston College’s Dr. Peter Kreeft once said, is “a spiritual gymnasium.” We suffer like weightlifters, tearing and rebuilding spiritual muscle and growing stronger. Suffering is something we should learn to value, even while we seek to alleviate it for others. Life is so short, eternity so long. No pain, no gain.
One of my favorite Catholic speakers and longtime educator, Barbara Falk, says that to build heroism in the young, we must allow them to suffer and teach them its value. That doesn’t mean we don’t support and show compassion, just that we teach them to shoulder their crosses willingly – i.e. doing their own schoolwork, helping around the house, visiting Grandma at the nursing home, telling the truth when it is hard, resisting temptation and negative peer pressure… Spiritual and emotional toughness in the face of suffering makes for good leaders. If we protect them from suffering, we do them a disservice. A soft character leads to a hard life.
Nick Wagner, Editor of Today’s Parish – https://blog.todaysparish.com/ – posted this list of great resources for further discernment and discussion about the situation in Haiti: https://bit.ly/6jpjwD Thanks, Nick! You’re an Amazing Catechist!
I invite you all to visit our Forums and enter into this discussion. How do you talk about this issue with your children and grandchildren, with your students, with anyone who is struggling with belief in a loving God?
Yours in Christ,