“You can’t be Irish and not know that eventually life will break your heart.” I’ve always attributed that quote to Pierre Salinger, the press secretary for President John F. Kennedy, on the occasion of Kennedy’s assassination.
What all of us learn, however, is that you don’t have to be Irish to have your heart broken. Heartbreak is an equal-opportunity employer!
I’ve certainly experienced my own share of heartbreaks, as well as shared the heartbreaks of thousands of people throughout my years as a priest. Where is God? Why does God let this happen?
When I shared the story of my blood clot in my leg back in October (still taking lots of Coumadin for it), I was told countless stories of other people with blood clots. Almost all the stories ended tragically.
One of the saddest stories involved a young woman who tried all her married life to have a baby. Finally, at age 35, she gave birth to the baby of her dreams. Shortly after arriving home from the hospital after the birth, she felt a pain in her leg. She called her doctor, and while she was on the phone talking to him, she said to her husband: “I feel like I’m going to faint.” She did. The blood clot had moved to her heart. She died instantly.
I tell the story for a number of reasons. First, I would hope you would remember that woman in your prayers. Please remember her baby who will grow up without a mother. Pray for her husband and family who are profoundly saddened by the experience.
The second reason I tell the story is to quote the young woman who told the story to me. “Why did God do that?” she asked. “Why did God take her?”
I responded very simply: I don’t think God did that. I don’t think God took her.
God is not an assassin. God doesn’t take us from life into death. God, rather, takes us from death into life.
Only good comes from God. “I have come that you might have life, and life to the fullest.” “I will give you a joy that no one can take from you.” “I will give you a peace that the world cannot give.” “In the image and likeness of God he created them.”
So where does death come from? St. Paul said it succinctly: “With sin, death entered the world.” We were not created to die. We were born to live forever. With the fall of Adam and Eve, with the original sin, our immortal nature became mortal.
There are forces that oppose the goodness of God. There is a spirit of evil. There is free will. There are “events” that can end our lives: violence, accidents, illnesses, poor life choices, and on and on.
God did not create death. God is always on the side of life.
To counteract the power of evil, we have a triune God. We have a providential Father above us who can hold our immortal spirits, and can raise our mortal bodies as he raised the body of Jesus. This God can write straight with crooked lines, even bringing good out of apparent evil.
We have Jesus the Son of God who entered history precisely to defeat the power of evil. By being born again of water and the Spirit, we can share the life of our God that the grave, once a sign of ending and defeat, now holds a seed planted in hope.
Finally, we have the Holy Spirit, the indwelling life of God who helps us move through the tragedies and miseries of life, and emerge as triumphant survivors!
Evil is real. But God is more real! Evil is limited. Goodness is infinite. Death ends our mortal life. Love leads us to eternal life.
Life will indeed break all our hearts. But God will heal them.