By Fr. Glenn Jones:
Wow … did you see the destruction from those tornadoes in Kentucky? Those poor people—so many lives lost and families devastated, and so much loss of livelihoods, homes, etc. Let’s consider how we might contribute to aid our brothers and sisters and their families. Prayer, too, is the unseen but a most effective salve for those in pain, difficulty and suffering hopelessness.
“Why does God allow such things to happen?”, is the recurrent question whenever tragedy occurs. No answer seems sufficient, especially if we ourselves are the ones suffering; the pain is simply too near, too immediately agonizing. And yet, we all suffer personal tragedy at times, especially the losses of loved ones. The loss of those whom we love—and who love us—is loss of our support in life’s travails … loss of our companions on the journey.
And again we see the wisdom of Jesus’ repeated teaching: “Watch; you know neither the day nor the hour”— either of our death or, we Christians believe, of Jesus’ return in ushering in the final manifestation of God’s kingdom. One of these is inevitable for each of us, each moment a moment closer to its realization. For example, we lost a retired priest recently—only 69 years old, and certainly an unexpected passing. Thus the wisdom of the saints who warn: “Live each day as if it were your last, because on some unknown day, it will be.”
But preparation for that inevitable end centers around how we spend our lives: for Christians, this entails we love God first and foremost, and our neighbor as ourselves. Sadly, we easily forget (or disregard) that loving our neighbor goes directly to loving God as well, because each person is a child of God, loved by God, and created for God and for His love. Why does God create us? Because it is the nature of love to want to share itself, and since God IS love, the billions of people who have, do, and will exist reflect the infinity of God’s love and of His desire to share Himself—not only for all, but for each and every one.
Of course, doing the right and the good in living well requires steadfastness and determination, because challenges—both internal and external—are inevitable. We must critically evaluate ourselves to discern if we are truly DOING the good. Actions which lead us to goodness and holiness (wholiness) should be cultivated; those which lead us away should be discarded.
I was thinking of challenges to a good life recently during a Catholic Mass Gospel reading in which Jesus, commenting on those who apparently rejected both His and John the Baptist’s call to conversion to righteousness: “To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children who sit in marketplaces and call to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance, we sang a dirge, but you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is vindicated by her works.’” (Matthew 11:16-19) In other words, no matter what or how, some hearers make any excuse to reject change, preferring the status quo of their own judgments and selfish desires.
But a very important comment is that “wisdom is vindicated by her works”, just as the Baptist warned adamantly “Bear fruit that befits repentance,” (Matthew 3:8) lest we fall. In short, don’t rest on our imaginary laurels, but rather actively do good and avoid evil, as Jesus would later echo: “You will know them by their fruits…every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.” (Matthew 7:16-18).
Certainly even all desire to be thought of well when they pass … to be eulogized glowingly, to be remembered fondly as tears of sadness flow when they are laid to rest. The Christian, too, desires these things, but even much more so to hear the words of God at his judgment: “Well done, good and faithful servant … enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:21) Yet the path to these final ends is the same for all: to do good and avoid evil … to love and aid our fellow men and women in their necessity.
Recognizing this obvious fact, why, then do we find it so difficult to abandon ourselves completely to following this good path. Ah, animal selfishness intervenes and presents us a lifelong battle; wealth, pride, desire for power and honors and pleasures blind us so easily to what is truly good … a universal and perpetual struggle for all persons. Even St. Paul agonized publicly about his own battle against innate selfishness and disregard of the good: “…I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do… For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:14-24)
Yet, we are not helpless in the face of the adversary of self; on the contrary, we have reason and will through which innumerable people have conquered—albeit imperfectly—the consuming selfishness within. Each defeat of selfishness is one step closer to the ultimate victory of attaining a good life … a holy life. As the saying goes: “He who conquers himself is strongest of all.”
We may not know in this life why God allows evil or misfortune. But, in the end, misfortune and evil DO present us with endless opportunities to practice charity and the good. Our lives are but a mere dot on the timeline of eternity, and yet during that very short time of human life—“a night in a bad inn”, as St. Teresa of Avila called it—does each write his legacy—and determine his condition—for all eternity.
Editor’s note: Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.