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“Ask a Priest: How Can I Talk About the War With My Fallen-Away Son?”
Q: It breaks my heart that my 30-year-old son has fallen away from his Catholic faith. (I’ve got St. Monica on speed dial.) The other day I was sharing with him a wonderful experience that I had at church, and he made a comment under his breath about the tragedy of the war in Ukraine … you know where this is going. I tried to explain quickly (before I lost him) about a greater good, redemptive suffering, we may never know until the end what God was up to; about trust, original sin, and fallen humanity — but it all rang hollow. I hated that I did not have the 90-second elevator response which I’m not sure even exists for such a complex topic. Do you have a short book or article that addresses suffering on a large scale? I think individual suffering is easier to accept/understand (and hence, explain) then large-scale war where there is so much devastation, suffering and untimely death. Thank you for any help you can give me. – D.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: I’m sorry to hear about your son’s having fallen away from the Church. The Church still considers him a beloved son and prays for his return.
As for the phenomena of large-scale evils such as wars, there is no simple answer for why God allows them — at least an answer that will convince someone who is a bit alienated from the faith.
The problem of evil is something that has perplexed mankind for centuries. It was the big theme of the Book of Job.
You mention that the manifestation of evil might serve a “greater good, redemptive suffer” – and that is true.
Peter Kreeft in a post on suffering draws attention to suffering as an opportunity for Jesus to show his ongoing solidarity and closeness to us:
“But he came into life and death, and he still comes. He is still here. ‘As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me’ (Mt 25:40). He is here. He is in us and we are in him; we are his body. He is gassed in the ovens of Auschwitz. He is sneered at in Soweto. He is cut limb from limb in a thousand safe and legal death camps for the unborn strewn throughout our world, where he is too tiny for us to see or care about. He is the most forgotten soul in the world.”
Now, your son’s concern about the Ukraine war is certainly justified.
War really is not something that is aligned with God’s plan for man, and even a “just war” must be very carefully waged so as not to needlessly destroy society and individuals. For more reading see the Catechism’s section on safeguarding peace.
It is possible, however, that your son is wrestling with issues other than the war. The tragedy in Ukraine might have simply aggravated an underlying problem that he is dealing with.
I won’t try to guess what is bothering him. In any case it might be good to intensify your prayers and sacrifices for him and to try to keep open a dialogue.
For further reading you might look at Professor Kreeft’s Making Sense Out of Suffering.
In the meantime, keep St. Monica on speed dial.
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