October 14, 2005


Natural disasters can’t help but test our faith

But why did God not create a world so perfect that no evil could exist in it? With infinite power God could always create something better. But with infinite wisdom and goodness God freely willed to create a world ‘in a state of journeying’ toward its ultimate perfection. In God’s plan this process of becoming involves the appearance of certain beings and the disappearance of others, the existence of the more perfect alongside the less perfect, both constructive and destructive forces of nature. With physical good there exists also physical evil as long as creation has not reached perfection” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #310).

Our recent experience with hurricanes and floods in the United States, and now a devastating earthquake in Asia, confirms the existence of physical evil. With our sisters and brothers the world over, we are sorely tempted to turn toward heaven and demand a better explanation. We are weary of the “state of journeying” that allows such pain and destruction. It’s bad enough that we human beings continue to wage war against one another without the destructive forces of nature making a bad situation even worse.

The Church does not pretend to give a satisfactory answer to the heart-wrenching question, “Why?” Physical evil is a part of the mystery of creation that we simply don’t understand. Our human reason fails to grasp the subtleties of God’s plan for our world’s ultimate perfection. We are required to accept certain things (like the existence of natural disasters) on faith. We are called to hope in a future that is far better than our memory of the past or our experience of the present moment. We are called to respond to physical evil with an outpouring of genuine love and charity that affirms—beyond all doubt—that this destructive force of nature is not willed by God!

The Church in central and southern Indiana is occasionally threatened by natural disasters, including tornados, floods, fires caused by lightning, and other forms of physical evil. But we have never experienced the kind of devastation experienced by our sister dioceses in the Gulf Coast areas of the United States in Alabama, Louisiana and Texas.

Imagine what it would be like if parishes, schools and Catholic Charities agencies in whole regions of our archdiocese (such as Terre Haute, Batesville, Richmond, Jeffersonville or the south side and inner city deaneries of Indianapolis) were totally destroyed. How would we respond? How would we continue to function as an archdiocese?

If the Archdiocese of New Orleans is any example, the archbishop of Indianapolis and a skeleton chancery staff might find themselves operating out of a parish in the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana. Like New Orleans, our archdiocese would quickly find itself deep in debt just trying to meet its most basic financial obligations—let alone rebuilding parishes, schools and other Catholic institutions destroyed by physical evil.

How would we carry on Christ’s work in the face of such a catastrophe? Would we be tempted to give up? Would we shake our fists at the sky and demand an answer? Or would we pick up the pieces and carry on—confident that the grace of Christ is with us no matter what hardships we must endure?

Our sisters and brothers in the Gulf Coast communities are confronted with these questions today. They need our prayers, our assistance and our financial support—to help them sustain their faith in a loving God who does not will the evils that they have endured.

As our faith tells us—now and always, “we firmly believe that God is master of the world and of its history. But the ways of his providence are often unknown to us. Only at the end, when our partial knowledge ceases, when we see God ‘face-to-face,’ will we fully know the ways by which—even through the dramas of evil and sin—God has guided his creation to that definitive Sabbath rest for which he created heaven and earth” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #314).

— Daniel Conway

(Daniel Conway is a member of the editorial committee of the board of directors of Criterion Press Inc.)


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