On mornings like this, only the tears flow easily. Thoughts and words grapple with the enormity of a tragedy so devastating. Three of the four horsemen of the apocalypse have made their grim way to Haiti – War is busy elsewhere – and yet, already, we discern a fifth horseman on the horizon, Chaos, and know that he may bring the most evil and be the most difficult to overcome.
We give our writer’s mite to CRS. We pray. We watch the images on television and weep.
My friend Christopher Hitchens says that the suffering of one child should force us to question the existence of God. And so it should. But, it is more than a little ironic that Hitchens’ robustly secular worldview does not require anything in the way of solidarity with the suffering of a child and the religious worldview he questions not only demands such solidarity, it already had people on the ground before the earthquake. The Church’s concern and care for the poor does not need a headline to become manifest, it is on-going, and has been from that day when the Master fed the hungry multitudes with five loaves and two fish until today. Still, Hitchens’ question cannot be dismissed by good works. Why is there this new, acute suffering in a land where suffering was already chronic?
There is no answer to the question of suffering. Rev. Pat Robertson thought he had a reason as he mouthed some gibberish about Haitians making a pact with the devil centuries ago. What is he talking about? Wait – don’t answer that Pat. This is the same Reverend who said Hurricane Katrina happened to cause the postponement of a gay pride parade.
My issue with Rev. Robertson is not, ultimately, his bigotry. My problem is with his view of the Christian faith. My problem is with all those evangelical and charismatic preachers who suggest that discerning God’s will for us is a simple thing, that finding the "purpose-driven life" the Lord intends for you is as easy as opening a checking account, and that suffering is always a punishment. Yes, Robertson is a bigot, but he is also a false prophet and that is a greater indictment in my book.
In the 1990s, at the beginning of the siege of Sarajevo, Slavisha Sokolovic was killed defending his city. He was a Serb who was loyal to the multi-ethnic culture of Sarajevo, a culture that produced the highest rate of ethnic inter-marriage anywhere in Europe in the years before the war. He died fighting for the mostly Muslim government. I did not know Slavisha but a few years later, his twin brother escaped that country and came to Washington: Zoran was the driver of Bosnia’s four man bobsled team at the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer in 1994 and, after the Games, he and his teammates came to the United States. We became friends. I could not imagine the suffering of this young man, to see his twin killed, to see his city destroyed, to find his life uprooted so that instead of making a fine living in Sarajevo he was dependent on charity in Washington.
On the anniversary of his brother’s death, Zoran asked me if we could have some kind of religious service. Theological College permitted us the use of their chapel. A group of waiters at the restaurant where I worked formed a little choir and provided the acolytes. Nine priests came to concelebrate. The homilist was Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete and he spoke about the mystery of suffering. He warned us not to try and seek answers to our suffering lest we become like Job’s friends. They, too, tried to explain to Job why he suffered and, at the end of the story, God upbraids them for this. He told us that only those who love suffer, that only a heart that is open is capable of breaking, and so the mystery is not suffering, the mystery is love. In the end, we are not called to understand suffering nor to explain it, but to embrace it as the price of love.
Today, let us embrace the suffering we feel in our hearts and the much greater suffering we see in the streets of Haiti. Let us turn our prayers to God, not in the manner of Job’s friends, but in the manner of the Mother of God, silently standing at the foot of the Cross. Let us dig yet deeper into our pockets to send some money to the Church’s relief agencies. In a word, let us not be crippled by the suffering we see but let us find ways to love these Haitian neighbors in this dreadful hour. The mystery is not suffering. The mystery is love.