Why do bad things happen to good people?

Denver Catholic Staff

Father Joe Krupp is a former comedy writer who is now a Catholic priest.  Twitter: @Joeinblack

DEAR FATHER JOE: So many good people I know have suffered horribly in the last month, and I’m really struggling to hold on to my faith. Why do good people suffer? How do I keep my faith in these times?

I’m sorry that things are so hard for you and your loved ones right now. As a priest, it’s not uncommon for me to experience first-hand the great suffering that many people, good and bad, go through. Struggling with our faith at times like these is not something we should shy away from.

I think too often we look at the sorrow and pain that we and others experience and we try to theologize about it. We get a bit defensive or angry with God and try to defuse our defensiveness or anger with ideas we think might help us cope. We attempt consolation with clichés: “God will never give me what I can’t handle,” “That which doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.”

In my experience, all of these attempts at consolation fail for a simple reason: they don’t address the core of the issue, which is, “I hurt and I don’t like hurting. If God loves us and is all powerful, why does he let us hurt?”

Dr. Peter Kreeft put it best in his article, God’s Answer to Suffering. In it, he points out that our problem is answered, “not so much by explanations as reassurances and that is what we get: the reassurance of the Father in the person of Jesus.”

Think of it this way: Is there really any answer that could be provided that would make us look at the horrors and pains of life and say “Oh! OK! That makes it all better!”

It seems that we hope there is some answer that will make the hurt stop. I invite you now to purge that concept from your hearts and minds. Even if, for a moment, the heavens were opened and we got a “because” to our “why,” would it mitigate the pain? Does knowing how you broke your leg make the leg stop hurting?

Your hurt, my hurt, their hurt — none of it is soothed by an explanation of why we were hurt, but what will help is knowing how we can carry that hurt.

God’s answer to our pain is, in the words of Dr. Kreeft, not a philosophy, but a person and that person is Jesus. His answer to our pain is his presence.

As humans, we tend to avoid other people’s pain. When I talk to families who’ve lost a loved one, they often tell me of feelings of abandonment by friends who wonder when they’ll “get over it.” People who were extremely supportive during the funeral and for a couple weeks afterward begin to slowly fade away and even avoid them. In his book, A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis wrote about this experience after his wife died:

“An odd by-product of my loss is that I’m aware of being an embarrassment to everyone I meet. At work, at the club, in the street, I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they’ll ‘say something about it’ or not. I hate it if they do, and if they don’t. Some funk it altogether … I like best the well brought-up young men, almost boys, who walk up to me as if I were a dentist, turn very red, get it over, and then edge away to the bar as quickly as they decently can. Perhaps the bereaved ought to be isolated in special settlements like lepers.”

That is the human response to pain: we avoid it. We avoid our pain, we avoid others’ pain. But this is not the divine response, not at all.

The response of God to the inevitable pain of we humans living in a fallen world was and is to immerse himself into it.

We are in the Easter season, when we celebrate Christ’s triumph over death, his resurrection. We remember too his passion and death — that he joined with humanity in the experience of fear, suffering and sorrow. He is with us now as we face our fears. There is no longer any human experience outside of sin that is not a divine experience as well, and this includes our tears. To continue to quote Dr. Kreeft, at Jesus’ birth, “human tears became divine tears.” Beyond the overt beauty of God himself joining in our sorrow, we recognize that he also offers to sanctify it – making our suffering not just about the pain of living in a fallen world, but about helping him save it.

When we recognize God’s presence with us in our sorrow, we can also say to God “I join my suffering to yours” and in that simple surrender, we join Jesus in his suffering and help him save the world.

Dear reader, we hurt and, so often, we hurt because we love. There is no love without suffering, and there is no suffering without love. The question for us is, will we take both realities? Our God did. He loves us, he hurts with us. His invitation to us in our pain is “If you love me, hurt with me.”

This is remarkable love. This is relentless love that hell itself cannot stop.

In the end, the battle cry of our God and his answer to our pain is not an explanation – it is an entrance. He lovingly, powerfully and gently enters into our wounds with us. He cries out, “You are not alone!” He takes our suffering and draws it into himself so that our tears and wounds are not just consequences of living in a broken and fallen world, but a divine experience.

Whatever pain, whatever sorrow, whatever loss we experience will be redeemed in heaven. There, when we see love face to face, all that has been separated or lost will be joined and reunited.

Weep and let God weep with you.

You are not alone.

COMING UP: Church and state partner to carry out corporal works of mercy during pandemic and beyond

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In times of great need and crisis, we find strength in unity and collaboration, and amid the coronavirus pandemic, this truth remains within the Archdiocese of Denver.

For many years, the Archdiocese of Denver and local Colorado government officials have found ways to work together toward common goals and better serve the people of Colorado, which often includes carrying out corporal works of mercy such as feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless. And through the COVID-19 pandemic, these partnerships continue to be a crucial part of Colorado’s and the Church’s response to those in need.

The City of Denver and the Archdiocese of Denver have a history of partnering to support people in need. During the pandemic, Mayor Michael B. Hancock and his administration have worked with the archdiocese to safeguard the homeless population and extend testing for COVID-19 to communities at higher risk of struggling with the virus.

“These types of true collaborative relationships really make the difference because you can call on your partners [and] you have established relationships that are built on trust and built on true engagement and true focus on a mutually agreed upon mission,” Mayor Hancock told the Denver Catholic. “Catholic Charities and the archdiocese have been just tremendous partners over the years with us.”

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver told the Denver Catholic that “the Catholic Church is motivated to care for the poor and needy by Christ’s commandment to love one another as he loved us.

“The coronavirus pandemic,” he added, “has highlighted this important work and underscored the essential role the Catholic Church plays in fostering a society that upholds the God-given dignity of every person.

“It has been a blessing to be able to work with the City of Denver over many years to serve these vulnerable populations.”

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and the Archdiocese of Denver have partnered with Mayor Michael Hancock and the City of Denver in the past to better serve people in need, and they’ve continued those collaborative efforts through the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Catholic Charities)

Recently, on July 10 and July 23, Mayor Hancock and the City of Denver hosted events in partnership with Ascension Catholic Parish in Montbello to provide testing for COVID-19 and a mobile food pantry to the local community.

“We have been looking for opportunities to be in the communities, to do the testing, to meet people where they are. And we recognize that Latinos and African-Americans in particular have been most vulnerable to this virus,” Mayor Hancock said. “We needed to really just make sure we took the opportunities for testing to those communities.”

Then, on Aug. 6, Ascension hosted another event in collaboration with the City of Denver where the mayor’s office gave away free backpacks with school supplies, healthy food baskets, baby products, feminine hygiene products and more.

“I am very thankful for Mayor Hancock’s collaboration to help the people of Montbello,” said Father Dan Norick, pastor of Ascension Parish. “I also thank God for the people in Montbello who are caring for each other in these difficult times. May Jesus be praised!”

Mayor Hancock said that hosting these events at Ascension Parish made sense because of the established relationship the City of Denver and the Archdiocese of Denver have developed over the years.

“When you’re looking for who you partner with during these opportunities, you turn to who’s most familiar with you and who you’ve had a trusting collaboration with,” he said. “And it just so happens the archdiocese and the parish there have been the ones that we’ve worked with over the years. So it was very natural. It’s a place where people are familiar and a place they trust.”

It’s not only during the pandemic that this partnership has been fruitful, though. A strong partnership between Samaritan House and the city has existed for quite some time, and this relationship has borne much fruit over the years. Samaritan House strives to be more than a just a homeless shelter, providing education, life skills classes and one-on-one support for its residents to empower them to break free from the cycle of poverty and support themselves independently.

In August 2017, the City of Denver and Catholic Charities of Denver cut the ribbon on the first all-women’s shelter in the city. Called Samaritan House Women’s Shelter, it follows Samaritan House’s established model of helping those experiencing hard times find a way out of poverty and ultimately, bring hope to their lives. Each night, it offers 225 beds for women who are in need of immediate shelter.

Back in April, Catholic Charities teamed up with the City of Denver and took the lead on an auxiliary women’s shelter set up at the Denver Coliseum. (Photo by Catholic Charities)

Back in April, in response to the pandemic and out of a need to maintain social distancing protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the City of Denver and Catholic Charities of Denver partnered to set up the Denver Coliseum as a 24/7 auxiliary emergency women’s shelter that’s that was able to accommodate up to 300 women. Catholic Charities staff took the lead at the shelter with full support from the City of Denver. The auxiliary shelter has since returned to the regular women’s shelter facility, but this collaboration between the city and Catholic Charities was crucial as cases of COVID-19 climbed in April.

“When the pandemic hit, Catholic Charities had to find a way to social distance the ladies in its Women’s Emergency Shelter,” said Mike Sinnett, Vice President of Shelters and Community Outreach. “We also had to provide them 24/7 care to honor the governor’s Stay-at-Home order and triage for the virus. Working with the City of Denver staff, we came together as a shelter community and obtained the use of the Denver Coliseum downtown. We were able to better provide social distancing, 24/7 shelter with three meals a day and other amenities, including showers and case management.

“We believe this effort with the city protected our most vulnerable community and helped prevent the spread of the virus. But more importantly, we made it safer for women experiencing homelessness during this pandemic.”

Featured image: Father Dan Norick hands out supplies during a community giveaway event hosted at Ascension Catholic Parish in Montbello in conjunction with the City of Denver. (Photo provided)