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By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

'God's Will'—A Complicated Idea


Was It God's Will?
Shouldn't Jews Be Catholics?
Putting My Prayers Into Action
What About Surrogate Parenting?

Was It God's Will?

Q: I think that I am like most Catholics in asking: Does God have a direct hand in a personís death? Or does randomness play into oneís death and only then does Godís judgment determine a personís fate?

If two people are involved in an accidentóplane crash, car crash, tornado, whateveróand one of them dies, does that mean the person who died was less important in Godís eyes?

A: In an extremely wide sense, whatever happens is Godís will because God created everything. The huge problem with saying that is that contradictory things appear to be Godís will. We know, however, that God has a clear preference between good and evil.

Adolph Hitlerís death camps killed approximately 6,000,000 Jews and 4,000,000 gentiles. Was that Godís will? No. The Allies defeated his war machine and closed the concentration camps. Was that Godís will? Yes.

We need to be very careful in using the expression ďGodís will.Ē Doesnít our experience show that people most often use this term to describe someone elseís suffering? They do this, of course, to restore some kind of order in a seemingly chaotic world.

In the Book of Job, three friends think that Jobís suffering reveals Godís will. At the bookís conclusion, God denies that explanation.

In the Gospel of John, Jesusí disciples assume that the man born blind was being punished for his sins or those of his parents. Jesus rejects both alternatives (9:3).

I once saw a three-panel cartoon. In the first panel, God is standing on a cloud, looking pensive. In the next panel, God goes to a wire container with numbered balls (like those used in bingo) and picks one out. In the final panel, a man walks down a street and the masonry from a balcony comes loose and is about to fall on him.

I do not think that tragedies happen that wayóand I doubt that cartoonist did either. Some human suffering is created by people (I smoke three packs of cigarettes a day and then develop emphysema or I drive too fast on a slippery, winding road and have an accident). Other suffering is created by forces of nature (people die in hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, etc.). Many more problems, however, are caused by the misuse of human freedom than by so-called ďacts of God.Ē

Godís will is that each person live as someone made in Godís image and likeness. Godís will is that we share eternal life with God. Must God do anything and everything to guarantee this? No, because that would render human freedom meaningless.

In the First Letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul writes, ďThis is the will of God, your holiness...Ē (4:3). Godís overall will for us is certain; how we respond is not so clear.

We dare not exalt human freedom to the detriment of God, who created it. We likewise should not use ďGodís willĒ as a way of undercutting human freedom and the importance of our daily decisions.

In Jesusí parable about the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46), we can easily imagine that those who were saved and those who were condemned had very different ideas about Godís willóespecially when it came to feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and the other works of mercy which Jesus lists.

If those types of suffering are Godís will, then why bother trying to alleviate them? Jesus, however, praises those who respond with compassion to the needs of their brothers and sisters. He condemns those who deny compassion to those in need.

Itís too easy to say that the suffering which happens to other people is Godís will. If that were true, then every work of compassion would oppose Godís will. The Scriptures deny that.

One personís death and anotherís survival in an accident have nothing to do with their respective importance in Godís eyes.

Ultimately, we have to admit that God and Godís way of dealing with people are great mysteries. Using reason enlightened by faith, we can rightly probe these mysteries, but eventually we must admit with Job that we cannot question God as equals.

Shouldn't Jews Be Catholics?

Q: My aunt and I were recently discussing and wondering: If Jesus was Jewish, why didnít all the Jews become Catholics? I feel that I should know the answer to this but I do not.

A: The biggest objection to Jesus by his Jewish contemporaries was his talk about God as Father, Son and Spirit. Living among people who worshiped many gods, Jewish people maintained their faith precisely because they insisted on worshiping only one God.

Most of Jesusí Jewish contemporaries feared that he did not share that belief. His followers, however, have always affirmed that they believe in one God in three persons.

When Pope John Paul II went to Romeís main synagogue in 1986, he affirmed that Godís covenant with the Jewish people has never been revoked. The pope has often repeated that conviction, quoting from Vatican IIís Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (1965).

Putting My Prayers Into Action

Q: I want to be a good Christian, but I am having a lot of trouble being humble and contrite. Even though I try to concentrate on the words when I pray, I feel as if I am missing something.

Why? An hour after praying I often feel upset with my husband for leaving his dirty clothes on the floor or his dirty dishes on the counter. I seem to lose all humility and end up speaking crossly.

I have tried many things to stop myself and I hate when I do this. Sometimes it seems as though I watch myself and think, ďShut your mouth and donít say it,Ē but I say the angry words anyway. I now try to remind myself every time I pick up his dirty clothes that instead of being upset about this I should be thankful that I can do this.

Sometimes, I just wish I could cut my tongue out so that I would be kinder to him. Do you have any suggestions?

A: Perhaps you could pray often, ďLord, help me to speak the truth in love todayóespecially to my husband.Ē You donít want, however, to stop speaking the truth to yourself and to others: Selfish behavior can and should be called selfish.

You do not want to use that truth like a cannon, blasting someone else to smithereens. Only a partial truth can be used that way. Your husband is more than this annoying habit and you are more than your frustrations. With Godís grace and human cooperation, a solution can be found.

What About Surrogate Parenting?

Q: In doing a research paper on surrogate parenting, I came across two articles: one by a Christian saying this is O.K. and another presenting the Catholic Churchís teaching that it is not allowed.

The first article cited the story of Abraham using Hagar to produce offspring because his wife, Sarah, was infertile (Genesis 16:1-16). This articleís author said that since God did not forbid this, it must be O.K. How do you respond as a Catholic?

A: Surrogate parenting introduces up to five people as possible parents: the couple raising the child, an egg donor, a sperm donor and a woman who carries the fertilized egg to term. Even if that number is reduced to three (only one spouse is infertile and the woman raising the child also bears him or her), you are still risking eventual confusion about the childís sense of identity.

We also know that courts have not always upheld agreements that infertile couples thought were binding.

Even though a married couple may desire a child, does that mean that any and all means to have one are morally good? Even if that includes destroying fertilized eggs not yet implanted?

Considering how things developed for Hagar and Ishmael, her son by Abraham, is that storyís conclusion (Genesis 21:9-21) really an argument in favor of surrogate motherhood? The Hagar story does not support surrogate parenting (or slavery) today.

Why is surrogate motherhood preferable to adopting a child who needs a loving family?

Just as there are limits regarding means used to preserve life, there are moral limits about procedures used to conceive children. Everything possible is not automatically morally good.

Please know that the Catholic Church accepts some medical procedures which can help conception to occur in the womanís body, using her egg and her husbandís sperm. For more information on this topic, read "Helping Childless Couples Conceive" from the April 1997 issue of St. Anthony Messenger.

If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.


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