With all of you, I continue to watch the events unfolding in Japan with a heavy heart. Amid the ruin and suffering, we are reminded again how precious every life is and how fragile, and how we are all one family in God.
I join you in asking our tender God to grant the survivors grace to persevere and to discover his healing presence as they rebuild their lives. Many of our neighbors here in Los Angeles lost loved ones back home in Japan. Others feel helpless as relatives thousands of miles away struggle to carry on. We need to comfort and support our neighbors. We need to help them believe in the power of their prayers. We need to pray that they, too, can find God in this tragedy.
Let us pray especially for authorities and civil servants at every level. They are the quiet heroes in this tragedy, bringing relief to victims and working selflessly to avert a humanitarian disaster. In this life, we will never know why our loving God permits catastrophes that cause such pain and suffering to the innocent.
Over the centuries, this question has haunted our human imagination. Theologians call it the problem of "theodicy." The problem is this: How can we say that our God is good and that he cares for us, when there is so much evil and chaos in his creation? Some people never find an answer that satisfies them. It is sad, but in every age this problem leads some to abandon their belief in God altogether.
The truth is: There are no easy answers. Evil exists. We see it all around us in the world. We see moral evils committed by individuals. We see natural or physical evils, such as the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. There are no easy answers to why God lets these things happen. But that does not mean there are no answers. The answers are found in Jesus Christ and his cross.
Unfortunately, whenever there is a natural disaster, we hear loudly from some Christians who claim that God in his wrath is punishing the wicked. We need to pray for the people who say these things. They do not yet know the loving and tender mercies of the true God. God never causes evil. God does not punish those he has created in love. Jesus said that a sparrow does not fall from the sky that our heavenly Father does not know about and care about. He told us that every hair on our head is numbered in our Father's loving eyes. He said that each of us has a guardian angel.
We need to remember our Lord's promises always, but especially when hardships and sufferings come. Our Father holds this world, and each of our lives, in his loving hands. He is the Lord of history. Everything he does, he does from love, and for our salvation. We can cast all our anxieties upon him because he cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7). In giving up his life, Christ revealed how much God loves each of us.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux had a beautiful expression in Latin: Impassibilis est Deus, sed non incompassibilis. It means that while God cannot suffer himself, he desires to suffer with us. That is the message of the cross. That is the power of the cross. By rising from the dead, Christ showed that God can bring the greatest good from even the greatest evil. And because he conquered evil and death, human suffering now finds meaning and value in light of God's loving plan. What matters is how we respond to the sufferings in our lives and in the lives of others.
Our sufferings embraced in faith can purify and strengthen us. In the darkness of humiliations, sorrows and trials that seem unbearable, we know that Jesus will never abandon us. If we unite our sufferings to his, we will know his consolation.
People ask: "Where is God when the innocent cry out to him in their suffering?" The answer is that God is wherever we are. God calls us to suffer with others and for others in love. He calls us to be the instruments through which he shows his compassion and care to those who cry out to him.
As we enter this new week in Lent, let us remember that our Lord's suffering was the path to our redemption. Let us offer up our hardships this week, however small, for our brothers and sisters in Japan and for our neighbors who grieve.
As we pray for one another this week, I ask Our Lady of Guadalupe to help us open our hearts so that we will always show the face of God to those who suffer.
To contribute to the people of Japan, send your donation to: Catholic Relief Services P.O. Box 17090, Baltimore, MD 21203-7090. Or donate online: www.crs.org.