“Ask a Priest: How Can I Talk About the War With My Fallen-Away Son?”

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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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  1. ANOTHER great response Father. There is no answer to man’s inhumanity to man. (abortion, contraception, the sin of ‘using’ one another under the ‘guise’ of love . . . called fornication, the destruction of intellect with abuse of illicit drugs, over abuse of alcohol. (understood some have addictive traits in their personal makeup)

    The only answer to man’s inhumanity to man is TRUST in God, which comes via His grace of FAITH. Faith
    which assists us in praying. Prayer is not just about words, but the ACTIONS of doing good for another.

    Perhaps, (perhaps I say) this concerned mom can get her son from mumbling about the horrors in the Ukraine by getting him to: wash her car for her, take a younger sibling to the park, clean the basement, change his mumbling and grumbling by changing the topic to a neighbor who complimented him about… and would he help her with (yard work, washing car, etc)

    Sometimes the best way to ‘counter evil in the hearts of some’ is JUST TO DO GOOD… in our little corner of the world. (leaving the big stuff to GOD) and to then gently make her son aware of the GOOD he feels and that feeling is GOD within.

  2. The gist of my words is that at this point her son is not ‘seeing’ her words that are words of faith. Sometimes, it is better not to speak of our good experiences in Mass… but just to keep going, as Father said. To set the example of our faith rather than speak of it, when another ‘is not at our level of understanding.’

    Nothing turns a person away than feeling someone knows more and that something is wrong with them.

    Someone who is not good with Math, doesn’t want to hear from classmate who ‘aces’ every test. The good math student ‘in Spirit’ will use his or her knowledge to help the classmate ‘get it.’

    The son is caught up in ‘the world’ of flesh… and needs to be brought to an understanding of what GOOD IS AND THAT GOOD does exist. That some things are beyond our capacity to do something ‘big scale’ but that in doing little things that are good, we make the world better and hopefully WITH THE PRAYERS this young man will begin to understand the mystery that is GOD.

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