One of my favorite lines in Laudato Si is when Pope Francis writes, “How wonderful is the certainty that each human life is not adrift in the midst of hopeless chaos, in a world ruled by pure chance or endlessly recurring cycles!” Faith gives us the belief that creation and history are infused with real meaning, which is why our own lives have worth and purpose. Conversely, nihilism is the most logical worldview if one embraces the type of strict materialism that he describes above.
Of course, some things still seem senseless and challenge our trust in God. Francis recently addressed this when he talked about losing a family member to death. He does not dismiss how awful such an experience is:
The loss of a son or daughter is like time stopping altogether: it opens a chasm that swallows both past and future. Death, which takes away a little child or young person, is a blow to the promises, to the gifts and the sacrifices of love joyfully brought to the life we gave birth to….
The whole family is left paralyzed, speechless. And the child left alone by the loss of one or both parents suffers in a similar way. She asks: “Where is my daddy? Where is my mama? — Well, she is in heaven” — “Why can’t I see her?” This question covers the agony in the heart of a child left alone. The emptiness of abandonment that opens up in him is made all the more agonizing by the fact that he doesn’t have the life-experience to even “give a name” to what has happened. “When is daddy coming back?” When is mama coming?” What do you say when a child suffers? This is what death in the family is like.
It is here, where we would expect our faith to be its weakest and most ineffectual, that we often see the extraordinary power of faith and how faith “protects us from the nihilist vision of death, as well as from the false consolations of the world.” Francis explains:
In the People of God, by the grace of his compassion granted in Jesus, many families prove by their deeds that death does not have the last word: this is a true act of faith. Every time a family in mourning — even terrible mourning — finds the strength to guard the faith and love that unite us to those we love, it has already prevented death from taking everything. The darkness of death should be confronted with a more intense work of love. “My God, lighten my darkness!”, is the invocation of evening prayer. In the light of the Resurrection of the Lord, who abandons none of those whom the Father entrusted to him, we can take the “sting” out of death, as the Apostle Paul says (1 Cor 15:55); we can prevent it from poisoning life, from rendering vain our love, from pushing us into the darkest chasm.
In this faith, we can console one another, knowing that the Lord has conquered death once and for all. Our loved ones are not lost in the darkness of nothing: hope assures us that they are in the good and strong hands of God. Love is stronger than death.
Faith does not erase the pain. And many will still ask why God separates us from those we love, when our deepest desire is for communion. But faith gives us hope—a hope that can carry us through until the day that this communion becomes reality, the day that light conquers the darkness for good. We cannot always make sense of the world, but we know that love is stronger than death. By walking the way of love and trusting in the God of Love, we can live a life of meaning, even as we face life’s most difficult challenges.