Pope Francis with a Filipino girl who asked him why children suffer.
A few words of comfort from Pope Francis, both old and new, for people walking in the dark. From an old interview, “A Big Heart Open to God,” on seeking God in blindness and doubt:
…in this quest to seek and find God in all things there is still an area of uncertainty. There must be. If a person says that he met God with total certainty and is not touched by a margin of uncertainty, then this is not good….The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties….Often we seek as if we were blind, as one often reads in the Bible. And this is the experience of the great fathers of the faith, who are our models. We have to re-read the Letter to the Hebrews, Chapter 11. Abraham leaves his home without knowing where he was going, by faith. All of our ancestors in the faith died seeing the good that was promised, but from a distance….
I find this so consoling! When you are in a state of doubt and walking blindly, it’s very easy to feel that you are far away from God. I was surprised to see Pope Francis say that people in this situation are not only on the right track, but are actually closer to God for their uncertainty. If I understand him correctly, he’s saying that the uncertainty is a positive thing because it acknowledges the mystery of God’s plan. By seeking and following God even when we can’t see where he’s taking us, we are making that uncertainty a cause for trusting a providence that is far larger than our range of understanding, rather than a cause for mistrusting God. I was reminded of this passage a few days ago when I read a very recent interview, where the Pope talks about what it means to have stability in faith, even when you don’t feel God’s presence:
In some moments we are conscious of the presence of God, other times we forget about that….How to be consistent in the faith? If you do not deny feeling it, you are going to feel it very close to you, you are going to find it in your heart. Another day, it is possible that you do not feel anything. And nevertheless faith is present, right? It is necessary for one to get accustomed to the faith not being a feeling. Sometimes the Lord gives us the grace to feel it, but faith is something more. Faith is my relationship with Jesus Christ, I believe that he saved me. That is the sweet spot of the faith. Go and seek the moments of your life in which you have felt bad, where you were lost, where you did not hit the mark, and look how Christ saved you. Embrace it, that is the source of your faith. When you forget, when you feel nothing, embrace that, because that is the basis of your faith….At the end, faith is a gift, it is not a psychological attitude….
This is a good thing to remember when you’re in the lost, wandering state of uncertainty that he talks about in the first quote. Don’t let the feelings going through your head convince you that God is not there! “Though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I fear no evil, for you are at my side.”
Finally, here’s the Pope’s tender explanation of the gaze of Christ that consoles us in the face of incomprehensible suffering (from a 2013 interview):
One man who has been a life mentor for me is Dostoevskij and his explicit and implicit question “Why do children suffer?” has always gone round in my heart. There is no explanation. This image comes to mind: at a particular point of his or her life, a child “wakes up,” doesn’t understand much and feels threatened, he or she starts asking their mum or dad questions. This is the “why” age. But when the child asks a question, he or she doesn’t wait to hear the full answer, they immediately start bombarding you with more “whys.” What they are really looking for, more than an explanation, is a reassuring look on their parent’s face. When I come across a suffering child, the only prayer that comes to mind is the “why” prayer. Why Lord? He doesn’t explain anything to me. But I can feel Him looking at me. So I can say: You know why, I don’t and You won’t tell me, but You’re looking at me and I trust You, Lord, I trust your gaze.
I can imagine that a secular person might not find this consoling at all: even the POPE doesn’t understand suffering?! But for me it’s a relief. My peace of heart doesn’t have to depend on me figuring out everything by myself, because let’s face it, that’s never going to happen. Instead, I have the gaze of Christ and his Church to return to when I feel lost. My faith doesn’t have to be constantly defended against doubt or feelings of loneliness, because it all comes down to something unshakable.