In a heartbreaking incident on October 25, 2023, the tranquil city of Lewiston, Maine, witnessed a mass shooting that left dozens of people injured or deceased at a restaurant and a bowling alley.
On my drive to work this morning, the somber reality of last night’s tragedy continued to unfold as I witnessed at least five separate police cars, lights fervently blazing, rushing in the opposite direction, each seemingly carrying with it the heavy burden of urgency and the unyielding quest for justice amidst the lingering shadows of the malevolent act that befell our peaceful community. This unsettling scene unfurled for me a panorama of memories from a decade ago when I attended St. John’s Seminary in Boston, a witness to the eerie silence and palpable fear that gripped the city in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing.
The suspect, who fled the scene, prompted a massive manhunt, instigating a state of fear among the residents as hundreds of police officers scoured the city and its surrounding areas. As the community grapples with this tragedy, the narrative of blaming God or trying to make sense of the evil and senseless pain often emerges, reigniting age-old theological and philosophical debates I had with friends a decade ago as a grad student at St. John’s Seminary in Boston.
Catholicism, with its rich tradition of theology and philosophy, has long engaged with the philosophical problem of evil. The Church teaches that evil entered the world through human free will, which, though a gift from God, allows for the possibility of sin. In the intellectual realm, numerous Catholic thinkers have ventured into the depths of this enigma, each attempting to fathom the intertwining of free will, divine omniscience, and the existence of evil. St. Augustine’s delineation of evil as a privation of good, and St. Thomas Aquinas’ explication of the coexistence of divine providence with human free will, contribute to a robust intellectual tradition that seeks to grapple with the problem of evil without undermining the essence of faith.
The philosophical and theological dialogues within the Church offer a fertile ground for believers and skeptics alike to engage with the enduring question of why a loving God would permit such tragedies. They challenge individuals to transcend simplistic explanations and to delve into a profound exploration of faith in a world marred by senseless acts of violence.
The anguish and the questioning that follow such tragic incidents are a part of the human endeavor to make sense of the incomprehensible. It’s a journey that echoes the sentiments of the Book of Job, where amidst severe suffering, the quest for understanding the ‘why’ of evil and suffering becomes a profound theological engagement.
In the face of the apparent absurdity of evil acts like the Lewiston shooting, Catholics are called to hold onto faith, to hope against hope, and to find God even in the dark night of senselessness.
Moreover, the Catholic response to such tragic events often transcends mere intellectual engagement. It’s manifested in the acts of love, compassion, and solidarity that the community displays in the aftermath. The response is not just about making theological sense but about being the living embodiment of Christ’s love in a world that desperately needs it. The Church, with its emphasis on social justice and the preferential option for the poor, is called to respond to evil by promoting a culture of life, love, and hope.
Furthermore, the sacramental life of the Church provides a framework for processing grief, anger, and the cry for justice. The Eucharist, as a celebration of Christ’s self-giving love, invites Catholics to partake in the divine life, even amidst the stark reality of evil. It’s a call to transform the culture of death into a culture of life.
This narrative does not dismiss the struggle or the profound questioning that comes with witnessing evil. Instead, it invites a deeper engagement with the reality of evil and the hope that faith provides. In doing so, it calls for a nuanced understanding and response, not just from Catholics, but from all individuals and communities grappling with the existential reality of evil, senseless pain, and the quest for a more compassionate world.
The Catholic church provides not only a framework for grappling with the problem of evil but also a call to action. It’s a call to be bearers of hope in a world that often seems overshadowed by senseless acts of violence and the ensuing despair. Through faith, hope, and love, the response to evil transcends the momentary and points towards a horizon of hope, towards a deeper understanding of life, and ultimately towards a response that echoes the very heart of the Gospel message.