Be at Peace, Orlando

In the aftermath of the deadliest mass shooting in the history of the United States, it is difficult to know peace. The nation and the world stands in mute sorrow for the massacre in Orlando, Florida, perpetrated in the name of God, but whose heinous act is as far from the will of God as heaven is from hell. Even so, it is difficult to be at peace. How can there be peace of soul when confronted with the contradiction of a loving God and such hateful rampages? Be at peace. It is these moments, terrible as they are, that fortify the Christian soul with the mystery of peace.

Terrorism brought bloodshed to American soil last Sunday as it never has since 9/11. But the terror it inspires is a strange source of peace. Paradoxically, it is turmoil that offers Christians the chance and the grace to embrace the peace afforded by placing all things in the hands of God. Just as one cannot have hope without hesitation, or fortitude without fear, there can be no trust without some degree of terror. If there is no sense of human abandonment, there can be no Divine abandon. If there is no sense of powerlessness, then there is no point in Providence.

Though the pain and suffering in places like Orlando can be a deterrent and a discouragement from trusting blindly in God and His will, it is a challenge to accept that, even in permitting evil, God can and will bring about the good. Our God is a good God and will not leave His creatures to the devices and divisions of evil. To all whose minds and hearts are open, the universe clearly bespeaks the action of such a God—a God of love and of life. A benevolent Being Who is good and Whose goodness is reflected in the works of charity. This is the God of the Christian West and the Catholic Church.

It is not the god of radical Islamism. The fear that such murders and mindsets ignite are strong signs that they are not of God. They are not His will. The god of Islam is an isolated and isolating god who dwells apart on a lonely star. The God of Israel is an intimate Friend and Father Who reveals the secrets of His Inner-Life with His creations in acts of loving condescension and beautiful assimilation. It is never His will that terror be brought upon mankind. Though crimes such as the ones perpetrated in Orlando are meant to be terrifying while glorifying the Islamic fundamentalist conception of God, they actually serve to give Christians a greater cause to rejoice in the true God and find solace in His Nature which is life-giving and not death-dealing. This is the Catholic peace that can and should arise under the duress of Islamic terrorism.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux said that, though God does permit suffering, He does not permit suffering unnecessarily. These words of saintly and simple wisdom present the crux and the consolation in days of blood like these. When it comes to the scope of all things, the vision of man can barely be called a vision at all. It is weak and shortsighted. It is obscured and obstructed. In his blindness, man must cling with faith to God’s vision, which is the only vision that matters, for it is God Who directs the course of things and Who comprehends evil for what it is and for what it can effect. This trust, together with the trust that our loving Lord will not leave His children to face the things He permits alone, is the wellspring of peace in troubled times. All men and women, all Christians especially, have recourse to God’s presence and His peace. The pall that hangs over Orlando is dark indeed, but it invites a renewed belief that there is light and that, with God’s help, it will break through if the darkness is resisted.

God does permit suffering to occur, and so it behooves the faithful to gather their strength from God in facing it—and in this way, find fulfillment and peace when under attack from those who hate God. This is one of the greatest tests of Catholicism. It is the trial of the Cross. It is the call to find conviction that God is all-sufficient even when gripped in the teeth of evil, and, more importantly, that He can channel any suffering, any pain, any tragedy, any terror to good purpose. This is the faith, the trust, which grants peace when the world is at war. It is overcoming terror when terrorism strikes. It is the challenge that cries out to all when mindless murder breaks out, taking lives indiscriminately. But the ability to find peace in the cacophony leads on to the state of unshakable faith that thrives merely in the promise of resurrection without any certitude that human reason knows. Evil has been defeated already. All men need do is participate in the victory, in the peace which passeth understanding.

It is in times of calamity that the mystery of life becomes poignant and precious. One of those mysteries, one of the deepest, is the problem of evil. In times like these, the attempts to solve the problem of evil seem so futile and frustrating to hearts in pain—hearts seeking answers. When society has been lashed so sorely, it is hard to find assuagement in philosophy. That evil is a privation is no comfort to those who have been deprived. Dualism is a poor excuse for death. Even the theological truth that God does not directly cause evil does not stop people from finding fault with God. That He permits evil is often enough to exacerbate the excruciation.

In the end, however, like the very act of terror itself, such evils are beyond explanation—but this does not mean that there is no explanation. No matter how shattered and shaken Catholics might feel in the wake of such evil, human perplexity cannot overthrow the truth that God is a loving God Whose providence is guided by Divine love. This can never be gainsaid by the staggering horrors of evil, death, and sin. Though they may seem to argue against the providence of God, nothing can disprove the existence of the infinite Good, the infinite God. The sad fact that mankind cannot prevent or abolish all evils does not dismantle this tenet of faith. Though evils like those that brought carnage to the heart of Orlando abound, and ever threaten with a hatred that is inscrutable, equally inscrutable is the providence of God. It remains as constant as the sun in a sky of clouds. Its life and power is always there, even if it be obscured. It can never be diminished or destroyed. And in that presence is peace. Every act of terrorism seeks to wrest power by violence, but the power of Christian peace must never be surrendered.

As the nation reels in shock and horror at the murders in Orlando, all are drawn to embrace the contradiction of the poor senses and to proclaim that God is, in fact, a God of love. This is where faith must act and where peace must find its foothold in the soul. Man’s mind will never comprehend the mind of God. Man’s wisdom will never know God’s wisdom; why He chooses to act and to allow as He does. Man will never understand the problem of evil—and that inability to understand is a blessing, even if it is a blessing in disguise. Without this ignorance, how could man follow his Father with the pure trust of a child and allow God to work His wisdom freely in the lives of men? What confidence can there be when there is consciousness? What peace can man enjoy without the pain of pandemonium?

May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

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Sean Fitzpatrick is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and the Headmaster of Gregory the Great Academy. He lives in Scranton, PA with his wife and family of four.

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