What is the meaning of all this? How do we make sense of all this suffering? I stopped watching the news several weeks ago because I was not handling it well. Factions in the government, a rampant rise in the virus, racism, division, money issues, etc. Life has changed on a dime. Why is this happening? As Americans, we have been suddenly plunged into an existential crisis, and it is uncomfortable for us. We are doers and this interruption in our life is making us ponder. All these things are forcing us to be reflective. The sense of meaningless that exists at the core of our society has been exacerbated since this pandemic. How do we make sense of it? Since we cannot rationalize our way out of this, we must examine our theology of suffering and deepen our understanding of God.
Our first question when all this occurred was: “How long before we get to any semblance of what we knew before?” It could be months or even years; we do not know. This is so challenging because the worse place is the ‘waiting place’. We are so used to being in control, yet now we do not know what is going to happen and we hate this time of uncertainty. Think about it. “Is it cancer or not?” Give me the answer so I know if I should begin treatment! The most difficult time is not when we are given the prognoses, it is the unknown waiting time which is more challenging. Uncertainties make us overwhelmed because we are not in control. Today, we are not just facing an economic and public health crisis, we are dealing with a Spiritual crisis! What is the purpose of life? Why is it I didn’t realize that things are so ephemeral? How do we cope with this and find meaning in the world?
Unless we see ourselves as spiritual beings, we will never truly advance in our understanding of all this. Even with our ingrained sense of control, we realize deep down that God is broader and deeper than what we can imagine. We know in the deep recesses of our heart that our faith should help give meaning to our lives. We are not just physical beings. We have a hunger to believe that we are attached to something greater than ourselves. The philosopher William James said that “The great use of life is to spend it on something that outlasts it.” To be fully developed human beings, we must think beyond ourselves. This is not a social or political decision; it is a spiritual decision. Even non-Christians would agree that Love is the spiritual basis on which we should live our lives.
When I was watching the news, I witnessed a lot of screaming of opinions. Everyone wants to be heard, but no one seems to want to listen. No one seems to listen, especially if the argument is offered by the other side. People only want to prove that their point of view is correct. Let’s listen to God. When we experience suffering or loss, we ask “Why me?” Ironically, when good things happen, we don’t ask “Why me?” In other words, we can take our blessings for granted. If we only look at it through a social or a political lens, then the divisions in our society are unbridgeable. But there is hope.
Why do we as Catholics love the Eucharist? The Eucharist makes us “one”, we are in “Communion.” Think about it, when we are celebrating at Mass, when we are our spiritual selves, cultural, political, racial divisions all melt away. When we bring God into it, this is where we are united. If we really believe that all humanity is made in the image and likeness of God, then every person is sacred and precious. If we took this seriously, that would help a great deal. The real human predicament is everywhere even with the people ‘on the other side.” Deep within each of them, like us, they share worry, suffering, loneliness and mortality. Faith is the ability to not let fear, loneliness or despair be the final word.
Let’ go back to the “Why me?” question. There is no answer adequate to this. Theologians have debated this for millennia. The real question isn’t “why have I experienced loss?”, but “what do I do with the loss?” “How do I make the loss meaningful?” In this kind of faith, we focus less on the dogma and more on the action and constructive steps the Lord gives us. It is about listening and action. Our God given task is to make the world as good and fair and beautiful as we can (with the blessings we have been given). We as Christ’s disciples should be about accomplishing the purpose for which we gave been sent. But we need to listen to understand this. We can’t simply demand that God do what we want him to do. Successful prayer is not pulling God to our wishes but is when we pull ourselves closer to God. Healthy prayer motivates us to do the things God wishes us to do. We have a choice to see the world as a puzzle or a mystery. The former demands an explanation to suffering, while mystery is the beyond our understanding. Therefore, the only thing to do is get to work and make things right and true and beautiful. We need to continue to listen and struggle.
There are so many things in the world we do not have control over. But we have control over our response. We do not have to face it alone. Jesus is with us. He is calling us. Let’s listen and act.