My younger sister, Faimie-Rose, lives in California. She works there as a boarding school administrator. She’s never far from my mind whenever there’s breaking news from the Golden State. Last Sunday was no exception. Upon hearing of the sudden deaths of retired NBA player Kobe Bryant, his daughter, Gianna “Gigi” Maria, and seven others in a helicopter crash, I immediately reached out to her. My sister, a basketball aficionada, was devastated by the news. Faimie-Rose, like many others, posed to me the weighty, yet unanswerable question, “Why?”
All those who perished believed Sunday to be just another Sunday; the Bryant’s attended Mass that morning. They were headed to a travel basketball game. Presumably, all those aboard had plans for the rest of that day; until disaster struck. There are no religious platitudes or philosophical explanations that can sufficiently answer my sister’s question. A wise priest-professor once taught that when faced with horrible tragedies one should not say, “This was a part of God’s plan,” or worse, at the passing of children, “Heaven needed another angel.” As a matter of fact, the priest-professor contended, it’s best to say nothing at all. The aforementioned expressions, though well meaning, only sidestep the enormous horror. Moreover, they reveal a defect in our Christian faith. Why would an all good God demand the life of a child? Why would an all good God demand the life of my father? Why would an all good God demand the lives of eight helicopter passengers and their pilot? These pat answers do the survivors no good as they begin to bury their loved ones. Yes, sin and death plague creation, but a rigorous, reflective Christian faith would come to different conclusions. Augustine, Aquinas, and others, would argue that the presence of evil, in all its forms, is the price of freedom, God’s greatest gift to us. A mature faith would posit that a good God would not will such evil as it is contrary to His very nature. That is not to say that last Sunday’s helicopter crash, or any other tragedy, are bearable if we ‘intellectualize’ our way through. We recall the Bible’s shortest verse, in English, “Jesus wept.” (Jn. 11: 35)
Faith, I told my sister, reminds us that one Other has walked this way of testing and pain, joy and sadness, and His path as well as ours ends in the Resurrection. I will have some serious questions when I stand before the Throne of Grace. However, none of us know the day or time of that great meeting. Until then we are called to love one another as He has loved us (Jn. 13: 34-35). On that note, I leave you with a poem a brother priest introduced to me describing our earthly pilgrimage:
Life is short and death is sure
The hour of death remains obscure.
A soul you have, and only one,
If that be lost, all hope is gone.
Waste not time, while time shall last;
for after death ‘tis ever past.
All seeing God, your Judge will be,
And Heaven or Hell your destiny.
All earthly things will speed away,
Eternity, alone, will stay.
Fr. Daniel O. Kingsley