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griefGiven my participation in a recent 10K road race and my interest in what was the upcoming marathon in Boston, I was going to try to fill my overdue blog schedule with some clever, witty commentary on running, discipline, and faith.

Then Boston.

You really need to understand your relationship with God in order to hold onto your faith during recent events.

Many will ask how a God of love can allow random acts of violence to snuff out the light of life from the the young, the faithful, the innocent? How can God allow the visiting of such terror on His people? How can we teach that every life is precious, that every life deserves a chance for being, and accept that our God can allow this same life to be taken in an instant of blind indifference to its value?

There will certainly be some who refer to Old Testament passages that equate horrible happenings with a punishment that is designed to make us better ‘children’. But thinking, feeling people of faith know there is a difference between discipline and evil – and Boston, Newtown, Twin Towers and Oklahoma City were acts of evil.

To be sure, hundreds, maybe thousands of commentaries will be written that speak to God’s presence among the first responders. And these commentaries and testimonies will give some comfort.

But there are families whose lives have been lost, or whose futures will never be the same. Who can deny them from asking, ‘why does God let evil happen?’

The only way that I can come to understand the place of random violence in God’s world is to understand the difference between what I learned as a child, that God makes all things, to my current view of a God that makes all things possible.

As of this writing, we don’t know the reason two young men chose to spray shrapnel amidst hundreds of innocent people. But whatever reason is given, it won’t be good enough – the explanations, whatever they are,  never really allow most of us to comprehend the rationale for bombings, murder, rape, and other  senseless acts of violence.

But there is a common thread that connects these acts – somewhere in the hearts of these aggressors occurs a need to destroy, to tear apart communities in settings that to most persons, symbolize the normal pulse of life. The aggressors choose death and destruction. And yes, God does make it possible for men and women to choose to do that.

It is that freedom to choose that is at the heart of the Christian experience. Forcing love and obedience doesn’t work with God. As C.S. Lewis writes:

“If a thing is free to be good it’s also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.”

But while we may explain why God allows evil to exist, we still find ourselves confounded to explain how people can make the unthinkable choice to commit acts that are so obviously cruel.

The explanations will make themselves readily apparent after the fact – and maybe the root causes of evil have always been around and are unchanging – a feeling of being disenfranchised or wronged, or maybe  a warped view of self-importance as some instrument of political action. Some act of their own volition, some allow themselves to be used by others who will hide in the shadows once consequences come to light. And in many cases, the agents of evil carry a sense that their interests are more important than the dignity of their victims’ lives.

But if the nature of evil is unchanging, our modern information age makes possible the distribution of ideas and tools that make possible carnage of an unprecedented degree. I am not confident that we will be able to legislate or regulate a way to prevent such evil from always being a heartbeat away.

Then what is the Catholic to do?

Jesus knew evil. His human ministry was characterized not by efforts to prevent evil, but by acts to comfort its victims (“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”). He even allowed the prophecies to run their course and did not try to prevent the evil that delivered unimaginable personal suffering. His way was not to avoid evil, but to confront it with forgiveness. And when the dust settled, when all seemed lost, He returned to his frightened followers, young men and women who probably found themselves in the depths of despair, walked among them, and said “peace be with you.”

Maybe as Catholics, we just have to accept that despite our best efforts, there are those among us who will continue to make unthinkable choices. And as Catholics, our response cannot be limited to outrage and shock, but must turn to comforting, helping, and ministering to the victims of violence wherever we find them – from Boylston Street in Boston, to those suffering in our own cities, neighborhoods, and families.

God makes all things possible.

And that includes healing the deepest wounds.

Prayers to you, Boston.



C. S. Lewis, The Case for Christianity

Child Protection in Families Experiencing Domestic Violence (Chapter 3) US Department of Health and Human Services:

Matthew 5: 3-12