June 16, 2019
It was perhaps the most painful appointment I’ve ever experienced in my priesthood. An eight-year-old child from a family of the parish had died after a long struggle with a rare cancer. Of course, the parish community reached out to the family, offering them prayers, food, and other kinds of support. But after three weeks the mother of the child called me for an appointment.
When she sat down in my office she said, “I have questions for you.” “I’ll do my best,” I said. Then she began. “Father” she said, “we believe, do we not, that God loves us deeply?” “We do,” I said. “And we also believe that God is all powerful and can do whatever God wants? “We do,” I said. “So tell me, Father, why would an all-powerful God who loves me not save my son from dying. If I had God’s power I would do it in a heartbeat.” “I’m sure you would,” I said. “Tell me, why did God not save my son?” There was a pause. If ever I had wished to have an answer to a question, it would have been in that moment. But all I could say was, “I don’t know.” I could have made answers up. I could have said that everything happens for a reason or maybe this is a blessing in disguise or God could give you other children. But those answers would simply be insults to this woman. From the depths of her soul she posed a profound question, and all I could say to her was, “I don’t know.” “It’s not enough,” she said. “How can I pray to a God I do not understand? How can I can I worship a God who makes no sense to me? I’m sorry to say, Father, but you won’t see me in church anymore.” I did not for many months. Then one Sunday I saw her sitting in the back corner of the church. I knew that she was there because of the love of the community, not because she had found a better understanding of God. I believe to this day that she carries the questions in her heart for which there are no answers.
I share this incident with you on the Feast of The Most Holy Trinity because if there is one thing the Trinity makes clear, it is this: we will never fully understand God. We believe that God is three divine persons, Father, Son and Spirit. We also believe that God is one. How can God be one and three at the same time? Our only answer is, “I don’t know.” The Trinity reminds us that saying, “I don’t know,” is a part of faith. We believe in God not because we understand God, but because we have come to trust God.
So, the pattern of the Christian life is this: humility and praise. We need to praise God for all the blessings, for all the good things that come from God’s hand. But at the same time we have to humbly admit that we never fully understand God. We do not understand why God allows diseases to continue in our world or innocent children to die. We don’t understand how people we care for continue to make terrible decisions or fall into addiction. We don’t understand why despite our best efforts we cannot break habits of sin that still control us. But even as we admit we do not understand, we are called to praise God for the gifts in our life that are real: for the people who love us, for the ability to be creative and productive, for the promise of eternal life.
We will never fully understand God. That is a truth that we will have to humbly accept. But we must also praise God for the blessings we know flow from his love. And through God’s grace, the blessings we know will be able to outweigh the many things we do not understand.