Saturday, March 7, 2015


I’ve seen some grieving people this week. 

Yesterday in class one of my sophomores in the course of a classroom discussion about parents shared with the whole class in a matter-of-fact tone “Yeah, my father used to care about me and do stuff with me when I was little. But he doesn’t give a s______ about me anymore.” (Could this explain why this kid keeps writing all over his forearm with a ballpoint pen? At least I know he’s involved in a support group here at school.) The sadness and grief in his voice were barely disguised.

In the past two days I’ve encountered two other people (one I spoke to personally, the other I know of by hearsay) who have been devastated by the death a loved one (a mother and a wife) in the past week. Both of them are having a terribly hard time, overwhelmed with the sense of loss.

At times like this people find their faith in God sorely tried. The existentialist
He pondered the problem in 341 B.C.
philosopher Albert Camus  saw in this kind of horrible grief a good reason to not believe in God. He spoke for millions of people when he asked how an all-powerful and all-loving God could allow such unspeakable suffering. Or worse, if such a God exists, Camus wants nothing to do with such a monster. There's a long list of thinkers who have pondered the problem, from classical Greek philosophers to St. Augustine to Leibniz to Elie Wiesel reflecting on the holocaust.

The ultimate brain teaser?

There’s even a branch of theology called “theodicy” whose purpose is to defend God’s goodness and omnipotence in the face of evil. If I may say it this way it tries to “make excuses for God” using intellectual reasoning.

I don’t know what your own response is to the question of God’s apparent cruelty in allowing evil to exist, but mine has always come down heavily on the idea that God knows best, so be quiet and deal with it. Sort of a call to heroism. Besides presenting a very grim and off-putting view of God, this stoical approach doesn't really help much and certainly doesn’t lead me very far down the road to holiness. 

But then coincidentally this week I came across the following passage by the French Catholic writer Charles Peguy. Let me divide it in half and offer the first part by itself:

There is at this moment, in the back of some forsaken church, or even ordinary house, or at the turning of a deserted path, a poor man who joins his hands and from the depth of his misery, without very well knowing what he is saying, or without saying anything, thanks the good Lord for having made him free, for having made him capable of loving.
There is somewhere else, I do not know where, a mother who hides her face for the last time in the hollow of a little breast which will beat no more, a mother next to her dead child who offers to God the groan of an exhausted resignation, as if the Voice which has thrown the suns into space as a hand throws grain, the Voice which makes the worlds tremble, had just murmured gently into her ear, “Pardon me. One day you will know, you will understand, you will thank me. But right now, what I am looking for from you is your pardon. Pardon.”

Have you ever thought of God that way? We’re acquainted with the Voice who is all powerful, who presides over all of creation and who supposedly loves us, even a God who washes our feet (cf. John Ch 13). But a God who apologizes? How amazing is that? No need to rack our brains trying to justify God’s actions through theodicy. 

Charles Peguy (1873-1914)
Sure, there’s still the option of shaking our fist at the Voice, or giving up believing in Camus’ God who allows for evil in the world. But what if we saw God as Someone who apologizes, who asks our pardon for the pain that we are going through and promises that one day we will understand and even thank Him for it? This asking of our pardon is more than divine politeness, it’s a pledge of ultimate victory. If you’re living Good Friday right now, it promises, then know that Easter Sunday must surely be coming.

The second half of the passage from Peguy offers a positive outlook on this whole question and gives it an ultimate meaning.

These -- this harassed woman, this poor man -- are at the heart of the mystery, at the heart of universal creation and in the very secret of God. What can I say of it? Language is at the service of intelligence. And what these people have understood, they have understood by a faculty superior to intelligence although not in the least in contradiction with it -- or rather, by a profound and irresistible movement of the soul which engaged all the faculties at once, which engaged to the depth their entire nature…
Yes, at the moment that this man, this woman, accepted their destiny, accepted themselves, humbly -- the mystery of creation was being accomplished in them.  While they were thus, without knowing it, running the entire risk of their human conduct, they were realizing themselves fully in the charity of Christ, becoming themselves, according to the words of St. Paul, other Christs. In short, they were saints.

As a person of faith I find myself captivated by the idea of a kind and gentle God who not only apologizes for the horrors of evil that are far beyond my poor powers of comprehension, but who then takes those very horrors and turns them into the means of my salvation. This is what we celebrate in the mystery of Christ on Calvary.

The Voice does not ask us to understand this arrangement let alone like it or (heaven forbid) enjoy it. Maybe the best we can do is to try to accept God’s sincere and infinitely loving apology for the fact that the human intellect is simply too small to grasp God's loving plan.

Meanwhile we can also do our best to stand beside people who are in the throes of deep grief so that they may eventually, through our little signs of love, be better able to hear the loving Voice gently whispering in their heart “Pardon me. One day you will know, you will understand, you will thank me. But right now, what I am looking for from you is your pardon. Pardon.”
Are there some things that are just too big for us to comprehend?



  1. Brother Albert -
    Our small parish Benedictine fellowship has been meeting for about six months now and we ares using your Lenten book for our seasonal reading. luckily we just found your blog! Thank you for your work and the beauty of your writing.

  2. Tom,
    Thanks for letting me know that you and your group are using my book. Let's pray for one another and for all the pilgrims on the road with us this Lent.
    Fr. Albert