God Will Never Abandon Us

03-22-2020Letter from the PastorFr. Don Kline, V.F.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Would God allow the COVID-19 virus to upend our lives? As I write this column on Tuesday morning, I should be hearing confessions and preparing to offer morning Mass which surely would be a good thing according to God, right? Instead I sit in my office trying to make sense of things.

It would be great if I could come up with a thoughtful response that would put things in perspective for people. But I have come to realize that the cross is not so easily and swiftly explained and managed. Jesus' walk to Calvary that we reflect upon during lent, was just that, a walk… a process… that was not understood until Easter Sunday.

I remember one of my first crosses in life. When I was a little boy, one of my grade school friends who lived a few houses down came to our door to tell us that they found his little brother in the pool and they were not sure how long he had been underwater. Tragically, he did not survive, and my friend and his entire family were devastated at the loss of their youngest brother. We prayed for my friend and his family for months and had Masses offered for the repose of his brother's soul.

I can still see the ambulance parked in front of their house with its lights flashing. I remember the family standing helplessly together crying and holding one another. I remember the funeral at Ss. Simon and Jude was solemn and seemed to offer consolation and hope. But in the end, life would never be the same. At such a tender age, he was the boy who left his family at a time and in a way no one expected. And in the process, the kids in my neighborhood posse lost a little bit of our innocence.

Describing that experience takes me back to that day when I realized for the first time that things can change in the blink of an eye—that in this life, we are vulnerable to all kinds of things which should make us long for the invulnerability of our heavenly homeland. Although life is filled with wonderful moments, the "sky has fallen" on me more than once in my 54 years, leaving me lost and weary, wondering what to do next—the death of my grandparents and relatives, along with events like 9/11 and other trials.

I'm not sure any one particular trial changed my world view forever, but I do believe they have helped me understand suffering in a new way. In that dark valley and in the context of suffering, I now ask different questions and receive far different answers about the meaning of life and my place in the world. C.S. Lewis put it this way: "We can ignore pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world."

Whenever I was suffering with past trials, I prayed for many miracles, bargaining with God for the answers that would "makes things right." At one level, I wanted God to answer my prayers my way. I would promise Him something in exchange if He answered my prayers as I requested Him to do. What amazing arrogance… to bargain in such a way with the God of the universe! I now realize that I was guilty of the sin of "putting God to the test." Despite my negotiations, God didn't take away my suffering. But He did transform it.

Jesus' willingness to embrace suffering out of love for us has given suffering meaning and power. Further, our acceptance of the cross is a benchmark of our faith when something like the coronavirus shakes our world leaving us uncertain, even frightened. These milestone moments have become a true test of faith for me when I have the opportunity, wearied though I am, to say yes to God more unconditionally than before. And He has gifted me with many graces, not the least of which is a greater understanding of His love, not only in the context of blessings but most especially in the valleys of life.

Writer Alice Camille put it this way, "When global conflict rears, when sickness cripples, when relationships veer off course, when money evaporates—these are the times when the underpinnings of our faith are revealed. The most important creed we'll ever profess is the one we demonstrate when the sky seems to be falling all around us."

One wonders what good will come of our current woes if we simply keep faith.