In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, a debate is underway about the best way to rebuild. Many residents of coastal areas that were devastated by that terrible storm would not only like to have their homes restored but also to re-build them so as to withstand future storms. No one can realistically imagine that Sandy will be the last severe hurricane to strike the East Coast.
Perhaps something similar is going on in our lives of faith. For many, the senseless massacre of innocent children and dedicated educators in Newtown is a test of faith. “How could this happen?” many asked. “Where was God?” “How could a good and loving God permit such a thing?”
Many people in Newtown and far beyond flocked to churches and synagogues for answers and for comfort. Others, perhaps, were confirmed in their view that faith is useless and that life itself is ultimately meaningless except for whatever fleeting satisfaction we can derive from it. Like Sandy, the heart-wrenching events in Newtown were like a storm which assaulted us. It shook us to our foundations—all that we hold as good and decent, all that we cherish and hold as true and valuable. And just as coastal homeowners and business people need to rebuild, we may feel the need to shore up our lives of faith.
If so, what should our approach be? Should we try to rebuild our lives of faith just as they were? Or should we seek a sturdier faith and a more durable joy? Even as there will be future storms and natural disasters so too we will continue to find ourselves shaken by the human capacity to be inhumane.
You can probably guess where I am headed. In the wake of Newtown or any other sadness and tragedy in our lives, let us not seek to quickly return to business as usual. Yes, we want to recover our equilibrium and a healthy sense of predictability in our lives. Yet there needs to be a critical difference, and it’s this:
Faith in God is not just a trait for troubled times but rather a constant companion in our daily sojourn. Faith is the door to our relationship with God. It is the door which leads us to long for Him and to hope for our salvation. It is the door through which we pass in order to fall in love with God and to learn to love our neighbors with the same love with which He has loved us. Only then do we perceive the nearness of the God of love and glory amid the events of daily life, be they routine or momentous.
The Year of Faith is a graced opportunity for us to learn more about what the Church teaches and to understand its teaching more profoundly. We need to have a faith which seeks understanding and we need also the ability to express the Church’s faith accurately. Faith is not the enemy of reason but is its friend. So we should never neglect the intellectual side of what it means to be a person of Christ.
That same faith which enlightens reason also opens our hearts in hope and love. Like husbands and wives who grow in love because they believe and trust in one another, so too we fall more deeply in love with God as we grow in our belief and trust in all He taught and promised. This is how we find the Presence, the Will, and the Love of God, even amid the tragedies and sorrows of life.
So in the Year of Faith, let us respond to the unspeakable tragedy at Newtown not by trying to go back to the status quo as quickly as possible but by allowing the Holy Spirit to build up in our hearts a sturdier faith and a more durable joy which recognizes that sin and death are not the final word about human life and history. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, who died and rose to save us, is the final and only word.