My Facebook feed over the last couple days has been filled with frantic, plaintive requests for urgent prayer. A 12-year-old boy snow skiing two weeks ago with his family and today unresponsive in ICU with a bacterial infection swelling his brain. A 2nd grader who has been battling brain cancer and who had unsuccessful surgery two days ago and will be disconnected from the machines today because her organs are shutting down.
It has reminded me of one of Pope Francis’ most powerful addresses, from 2015, when he met with a group of gravely ill children and their families. His address is powerful not because the Holy Father solves the age-old mystery of the suffering of the innocent. But because he doesn’t. Because he acknowledges that he can’t.
But this is the consolation he does offer, which can’t take away the pain my friends on Facebook are feeling, but it is true, real consolation nonetheless. Read his insights here:
There is also a question, whose explanation one does not learn in a catechesis. It is a question I frequently ask myself and many of you, many people ask: “Why do children suffer?” And there are no answers. This too is a mystery. I just look to God and ask: “But why?” And looking at the Cross: “Why is your Son there? Why?” It is the mystery of the Cross.
I often think of Our Lady, when they handed down to her the dead body of her Son, covered with wounds, spat on, bloodied and soiled. And what did Our Lady do? “Did she carry him away?” No, she embraced him, she caressed him. Our Lady, too, did not understand. Because she, in that moment, remembered what the Angel had said to her: “He will be King, he will be great, he will be a prophet…”; and inside, surely, with that wounded body lying in her arms, that body that suffered so before dying, inside surely she wanted to say to the Angel: “Liar! I was deceived.” She, too, had no answers.
As children grow, there comes a certain age when they don’t quite understand what the world is like, when they are about two years old, more or less. And they begin to ask questions: “Papa, why? Mama, why? Why this?” When the father or mother begins to explain, they do not listen. They have another why this and why that? But they don’t really want to hear the explanation. With this “why?” they are only drawing the attention of their mom and dad. We can ask the Lord: “Lord, why? Why do children suffer? Why this child?” The Lord will not speak words to us, but we will feel his gaze upon us and this will give us strength.
Do not be afraid to ask, even to challenge, the Lord. “Why?” Maybe no explanation will follow, but his fatherly gaze will give you the strength to go on. And he will also give you that strange thing about which this brother [referring to a testimony that was given by the father of one of the sick children] spoke in his double experience: a different feeling, a strange feeling. And perhaps this feeling of tenderness toward your sick child will be the answer, because that is the gaze of the Father. Do not be afraid to ask God: “Why?” to challenge him: “Why?” May you always have your heart open to receiving his fatherly gaze. The only answer that he could give you will be: “My Son also suffered.” That is the answer. The most important thing is that gaze. And your strength is there: the loving gaze of the Father.Read more:What’s terribly wrong with “God needed him/her in Heaven” or “He only takes the best”
You might ask, “but you, a bishop,” you have “studied so much theology, and you have nothing more to tell us?” No. The Trinity, the Eucharist, the grace of God, the suffering of children are a mystery. And we can enter into the mystery only if the Father looks upon us with love. I honestly don’t know what to say to you because I have so much admiration for your strength, for you courage. You said that you were advised to abort. You said: “No, let him come, he has a right to live.” Never, never is a problem resolved by discarding a person. Never. This would be going by the Mafia rulebook: “There’s a problem, let’s just get rid of it …” Never.
I accompany you thus as I am, as I feel. And, in truth, the compassion I feel is not fleeting, it’s not. I accompany you in my heart on this path, which is a path of courage, which is the path of the cross, and yet a path that will help me — your example helps me. And I thank you for being so courageous. Many times in my life I have been a coward, and your example has been good for me, it is good for me. Why do children suffer? It’s a mystery. We need to call on God as a child calls his dad and says: “Why? Why?” to draw the gaze of God, which will tell us one thing: “Look at my Son, He too.”Read more:With his 7 last words, Jesus speaks to us all