Ask a Franciscan

A Deep Wound

Person standing in front of a grave with flowers

How could God take my precious son at age 43 and yet allow rotten people who have stopped believing in God to keep on living? My son was a great Catholic and spent eight years in Catholic schools.

Please accept my condolences at the death of your son. I hope you have not given up on God. It sounds as though your son’s death has caused you to challenge all your previous ideas about God. None of us can change a past event (such as a death), but each of us has some freedom to decide how it will influence us moving forward. Great suffering produces a “new normal” for everyone who experiences it because such suffering always moves us in the direction of either greater compassion or greater bitterness. Life cannot be the same as it was before. Would your son want you to grieve in a way that denies belief in an all-loving God?

Even though we cannot reverse a past event, ultimately it has only the power that we give it. Prolonged anger with God is only one of many possible ways of dealing with a deep wound.

If your son could communicate with you about how you are grieving his death, what might he say? Would he encourage greater bitterness or compassion? Was your son especially involved in some work of mercy, for example, care of the sick, education, sheltering the homeless, supporting the digging of wells for people who lack access to clean water, or countless other ways of showing compassion with other suffering people? Are you honoring his memory if you allow his death to make you a bitter person, living in a progressively smaller world?

Those “rotten people who have stopped believing in God” may well have gotten that way because they have allowed their suffering or someone else’s to convince them that a loving God would never allow that suffering to happen.

Author Flannery O’Connor wrote to a friend about a mutual friend who had committed suicide, “His problem, I suppose, was that he didn’t know what to do with his suffering.”

No matter how we deal with suffering, we cannot erase it. We have only two basic choices: to make it the key to interpreting our whole life from that point on or to allow it to spur us toward greater compassion. Your example of greater compassion might help one of those “rotten people” to become more compassionate.

Ask a Franciscan in St. Anthony Messenger

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