Two international events that transpired over the last ten days have disturbed us deeply. When we get on a plane, we never imagine in a million years that the aircraft will be shot down by a missile. We cannot fathom the anguish that the families of the victims of Flight MH17 are enduring right now. Through all this horrific drama that is playing out before the eyes of the world, the perpetrators – namely the terrorist separatists and their champion, Vladimir Putin – seem totally unfazed by the tragedy. The power of international public opinion appears to have no impact on them.
In recent days we have also witnessed the horrible military action in Gaza. The Israeli government feels justified in bombarding the helpless Palestinians because the rockets fired by Hamas are threatening the peace of Israel. Many innocent civilians and even children have been killed and thousands have been injured. Hamas feels justified in retaliating because the Israelis have wreaked havoc on the lives of the Palestinians. Neither the Israeli government nor the Hamas is prepared to relent or stop the violence. Caught in the middle, ordinary people are paying the price with their lives and their neighborhoods.
Even in our own city, many innocent victims are murdered or injured every day. The violence that is on the rise in certain parts of our great metropolis should shock us and shake us up. Caught between gangs and other violent groups, innocent children and ordinary citizens are murdered or maimed by gunshots on a daily basis.
In all these situations, good people begin to wonder whether there is justice for the innocent and retribution for the wicked. Do the victims have anywhere to turn? Are the perpetrators accountable to no one? The Hebrew and Christian Scriptures wrestle with this idea of the innocent suffering and the wicked getting away with their crimes. All of us are puzzled by this apparent absence of divine justice.
The parables of Jesus that we are hearing in the Sunday gospels these days offer us a different narrative. There may not be justice in this world, but there will be judgment at the end of time. The wicked will not go scot free. The innocent will be rewarded for their patience and suffering. Both in the Book of Revelation and in the gospels we are told over and over again that everyone will be judged after their death. Dictators and despots will stand before the judgment seat of God and answer for their misdeeds. Terrorists and murderers will have to render an explanation for the suffering they caused others.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says (#678-679):
Following in the steps of the prophets and John the Baptist, Jesus announced the judgment of the Last Day in his preaching. Then will the conduct of each one and the secrets of hearts be brought to light. Then will the culpable unbelief that counted the offer of God’s grace as nothing be condemned… Christ is the Lord of eternal life. Full right to pass definitive judgment on the works and hearts of men belongs to him as redeemer of the world… Yet the Son did not come to judge, but to save and to give the life he has in himself.
This thought of the final judgment by God who probes the thoughts of people’s hearts should make the terrorists and the murderers shiver in their boots. Many of these perpetrators continue committing those awful crimes because they feel accountable to no one. If only they would be cognizant of the judgment seat of God, they would be less inclined to persist in their wicked ways.
Even for all of us, this thought of the divine reckoning should offer hope and at the same time make us fearful. Knowing that God will settle all scores at the end of time, we will not be discouraged by the seeming unfairness of life. At the same time, remembering God’s judgment we will be persuaded to overcome temptation. I would like to point out, however, that we should live holy lives not out of fear but out of love.
In this regard, let us heed the words of St Ignatius whose feast we celebrated last week (July 31):
Let us pray for our world that wallows in destruction and violence. May the people of our time learn the ways of peace and renounce hatred! Let us listen to the call of our Holy Father and pray for peace in the Middle East!
Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.
After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...