This past week was the another week of seemingly innumerable natural and manmade disasters, hostage takings and the usual litanies of crimes against the human person, some reported in the media, some happening so deeply in the shadows we may never know the victims.
This past week was also the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, a time when, as a Rabbi once told me: “God was deaf!”
This past week Pope Benedict published the template encyclical of his Pontificate: GOD IS LOVE!
We speak of the approximately 20 to 50 million known dead in WWII, the six million Jews, including hundreds of thousands of children slaughtered in the holocaust.
We speak in the impersonal language of numbers or use utterly insane language such as ‘final solution’, which presumes an actual problem; ethnic-cleansing, which presumes dirt needing removal; of termination of a pregnancy, which presumes the beginning of life was our idea in the first place.
Be it Hitler, or any individual or group which has ever, is, or will target other human beings to be murdered, be they in the womb, living outside the womb in any condition, race, gender, age, religion, each and every victim of any form of violence, murder, torture, abuse, degradation, abandonment, discrimination, rejection, each and every one IS my brother, my sister.
Someone once, pouring out from their heart the detailed horror of their childhood and what was done to them and their siblings, in the end of the telling said:
“So tell me Father, how come the neighbours could hear our screams and God could not?”
For me Auschwitz, WWII, Hiroshima, Viet-Nam, 9/11, abortion, abuse, etc. are not historical realities or statistical data.
They are individual persons. In my life I have met and been honoured and formed by Veterans of WWII and other wars, survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, from Auschwitz, the killings fields of Asia and Africa, of 9/11 and countless other experiences of evil in all its dark and horrific forms.
I understand in the marrow of my bones, the depths of my heart and the core of my soul, both as priest-listener-servant , and personally, how often it can be that our experience of God IS that He is deaf.
Yet when our experience is that God IS deaf – and this is extremely hard for those in pain to believe, extremely hard for those who do not intimately know Christ to accept – is it not rather because of the DEAFNESS of other human beings, in particular of the Baptized to the cries of each of our brothers and sisters?
Perhaps too it is because in our own personal pain, our grief, depression, powerlessness is seemingly so absolute that we are so desperate to be heard by another human being WE have become deaf to God.
Chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis reveal Love creating life and beauty, Love creating the human person to be the beloved of Love, and without any hint of jealously but rather increased love, Love creates another person so the human might have one like himself with whom to share love.
Indeed it is constitutive – and this is the core of Pope Benedict’s encyclical reflecting upon the reality of God and us, the reality of the Gospel lived without compromise – of our response to God’s love for us that we love one another.
The great mystery of the ‘way’ God loves us in a world filled with sin and evil is right there in the beginning as well. God permitted Adam and Eve to be tempted and to fall; He did not interfere when Cain slew his brother Abel – God appears absent and deaf until AFTER both catastrophes.
Countless theologians, both in particular the great Jewish Scholars of the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christians commentators on the same texts and on the Gospels, as well as spiritual writers, saints, philosophers, even non-believers challenge how God can be truly Love and All-Loving when millions upon millions suffer individually, collectively, unceasingly in all manner imaginable from the child being aborted in the womb to those being led into the gas chambers to those blown to bits in Iraq, orphaned by AIDS, injured in a car accident, laid off from their auto-plant, broken by gossip, depressed or lonely.
For all my study, reading, struggling with the apparent deafness of God never before have I seen such a clear statement of where to look, to listen if you will, for the answer, than in Pope Benedict’s first encyclical.
The Holy Father teaches, speaking of the person-love-gift of Jesus and of Jesus’ sacrifice for us: This is love in its most radical form. By contemplating the pierced side of Christ..we can understand the starting-point of this Encyclical Letter: “God is love” [1 Jn. 4:8 ]. It is there that this truth can be contemplated. It is from there that our definition of love must begin. In this contemplation the Christian discovers the path along which his life must move. [ God Is Love, encyclical of Pope Benedict: www.vatican.va ]
God is NOT deaf to any pain, cry, plea, tear.
God our All-loving Father hears us so clearly His response is His Son who is with us in everything.
Yes – when evil appears the more powerful, when the silence of others to our cries is deafeningly dark in their absence from coming to us, when unceasingly prayer seems a waste of time and energy – that is when we most especially, no matter what our emotions may be doing, no matter what thoughts we may be thinking, that IS when we urgently need to contemplate the pierced side of Christ.
How else could St. Maximilian Kolbe have been the ears of God who is Love and heard the cry of the young father and been Love’s answer and walked into the starvation chamber?
Are we, am I, willing to love like that?