Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!

Arturo de Matteis, RIP 

5 November A.D. 1938—12 January A.D. 2010


Burial Mass - Absolution


Readings on the Day of Burial
Mass on the Day of Burial

“My God, My God, look upon Me, why hast Thou forsaken me?”[1]

    The events of the past month—the earthquakes and the terrible loss of life in Haiti—have caused many people to ask why God would permit such a thing.  I am sure that Irene, and Arturo’s other relatives, have asked themselves this question, particularly those who were there on the spot in the midst of the devastation.  Their loss had to be heightened by the terrible events going on around them.  The question of evil in the midst of God’s good creation has been with us since before the time of Christ. 

    Saint Augustine dealt with it in his autobiography, The Confessions, for he had struggled with the wrong answer to the question during the early years before he became a Catholic.  The wrong answer, Augustine tells us, is the heresy known as “dualism,” or “Manicheaism”, which suggests that there are two equally powerful “gods” in the universe—a good “god” associated with spiritual things, and a bad “god” associated with material things.  In this false philosophy, evil is simply the struggle between these two.  But Augustine was smart enough (with the help of Saint Ambrose of Milan) to recognize that the good “god” could not really be God if he were merely equal in power to the bad “god.”  The true God cannot be lacking in any way—the true God is the one necessary, fully existent, and infinite being in the Universe—if He were lacking in any way—if His being were less than infinite, there would be the possibility of Him changing, of being less, and even of not being at all.  Were that the case, there would be no rational explanation of the universe itself.  In modern terms we would probably say, correctly, that a positive “god” and a negative “god” would just “cancel each other out”—again leaving us with nothing.

    Augustine, and others like him, came to understand that any and every being other than God exists imperfectly—some, closer to God, exist with a high degree of perfection—others, farther and farther from God, exist with less and less perfection.  When we speak of evil, we are not speaking of a positive thing, but rather a negative thing.  Evil is the partial lack of being.  There are degrees of evil, corresponding to how far away a thing is from the perfection of God.  We don’t speak of “evil” in the angels, but they are indeed less perfect than God.  Mankind is less perfect still, and we tend to think of men and women as being a mixture of good and evil.  The devil would seem to be at the most evil end of the spectrum, but even the devil can claim a certain good in that he exists at all, and was not simply annihilated when he rebelled against God.

    We usually distinguish between “moral evil” and “natural evil.”  Moral evil exists because God’s intelligent creatures have free will.  God made us that way because our good actions would have no merit if we performed them mechanically, out of compulsion rather than out of free choice.  If a person we love does something kind for us, we feel the emotion of gratitude—if a machine does the same thing for us, we have no emotion, no feeling of gratitude.  We appreciate the child or the spouse who does our laundry, but we have no particular gratitude toward the washing machine!  Likewise, God appreciates the good that we freely do in this life—it is our way of glorifying Him in this life so that we may share His glory in the next.  Yet, the ability to choose freely can also be used to do what insults God, what detracts from the glory we give Him, and what jeopardizes our chances of sharing His glory in eternity.

    But even this moral evil is not an absolute thing.  Moral evils occur because we are less than perfect.  The man who chooses to sin does so because he is mistaken in his choice.  In his moral confusion, he perceives the wrong things to be good for him.  He is attracted to the ways of the world, rather than to the ways of God.  But his pursuit of “wine, women, and song” follows from thinking that these things are better for him than the alternatives which he may know or not know.  No sane person intentionally pursues what he knows to be bad for him.

    There may have been elements of moral evil at work in the catastrophe of Port au Prince.  Certainly, those poor people would have been better prepared to deal with the aftermath of the quake had not decade after decade of political corruption and instability driven them deeply into poverty.  Greater material resources would have made recovery easier, and might even have kept some of the damage from happening.

    But what strikes most people in such a large scale disaster is the magnitude of the “natural evil,“ the sheer number of those hurt and killed.  Arturo’s family will miss him—his absence will create a sort “hole” in family life, that will never be quite filled, even with the passage of time.  But this particular catastrophe is not like one or two people being lost in an avalanche or a storm at sea—the numbers lost at Port au Prince are staggering, and will not be fully known for weeks, or even months.

    So the question again raises its head:  “Why would God allow such a thing?”

    Some people ask this question because they don’t want to believe in God and want company in their disbelief.  The obvious retort to the question asked in this manner is to demand to know why God has made so much good in the world.  If we hold Him responsible for the few bad things that happen now and again, then we should hold Him in high honor for all of the good things, most of which we take for granted.  Every breath we take, every heartbeat, every beautiful flower, every sunrise is something for which we should honor and praise our Lord, but many people just consider such things to be their due.

    Still, as Christians, we know that God is capable of miracles.  Why would the God who parted the Red Sea, who cast out devils and cleansed the lepers, who changed water into wine, not do something to calm the tremors of Port au Prince?  Surely, the God who could calm the wind and the sea could also calm the rocks of the earth—why did He not?

    It may help to realize that a miracle is the suspension of the physical laws which God built into the universe.  We know that God has been known to intervene, and suspend those natural physical laws—but we also know that he does so rarely—almost always as a means of making sure that His people are able to identify Him as God.  The miracles of the New Testament made people realize that Jesus was God the Son of God.  The miracles of Jesus lasted a little while in the early Church so that people could recognize it as the Church of God—but then they became very few and far between.

    Almost by definition, miracles have to be rare, indeed, very rare.  If God were to monitor the behavior of everyone on earth, intervening miraculously every time someone wanted or needed something, there would be chaos.  It takes little imagination to recognize that the wants and needs of a billion people or so must always overlap and be in some degree of conflict.  If God were to continuously adjust the behavior of nature, no one would know what to expect next.  Most of the things that are good in this world are good because they are reliable and predicable.  We trust God to allow night to follow day, to allow the sunshine to follow the rain.  We trust God not to tamper with the laws of nature, for we are dependant on their reliability.  Imagine the chaos if God began to tamper with even a few of those laws.  Imagine if things began to fall up instead of down!  Imagine if fire failed to boil the water but made ice instead!  Imagine if all the mechanical gadgets upon which we depend—gadgets that are designed according to the laws of nature—if all those gadgets acted unpredictably.  On some level, we trust God NOT to interfere.  Our prayers ought not to be so much for miracles on His part, but for good moral choices on our part.

    Finally, as Christians, we have an insight into a corollary question to “Why did God let that happen?”  The corollary question, of course, is “Why is there suffering in the world.”

    In the book of Genesis we note that Adam and Eve were created in a more comfortable world than ours.  They did not earn their bread through the sweat of their brows;  they did not bring forth their children in anguish and pain, at least not to begin with.  But then sin entered the world, and everything was changed.  With the advent of sin there came suffering and death.  As we have done no better than Adam and Eve, it is pointless for us to complain about inheriting these very same afflictions.

    But the Scriptures suggest that suffering is more than just a penalty.  It is as much a remedy for sin as it is a penalty.  In the Old Testament we have the example of Job, who had no idea why he was visited with terrible afflictions—but he did know that his “Redeemer lives, and that on the last day he would rise out of the earth.”[2]  In the New Testament we encounter God Himself—not in the palace of a king or an emperor, but born to humble people who lived in crude surroundings.  “The Son of Man had not a place to lay His head.”[3]  The Christ, the Anointed One, came into the world to suffer for the redemption of the children of Adam and Eve.  And suffer He did—the ignominious death of a criminal on a cross.  He laid down His life for us so that we might have eternal life.

    Now, the cynic might say that three hours on the Cross was not all that much considering the number of the redeemed.  Others would differ.  The philosopher-mathematician, Blaise Pascal, argued that, in light of mankind’s proclivity for sin, “Our Lord Jesus Christ will be in agony until the end of time.”

    Others suggest that man himself has a part in this ongoing work of redemption.  And this helps to put the awful fate of Arturo and his countrymen into perspective.  Msgr. Ronald Knox wrote that:  “suffering, no less than action, is meritorious; that he who accepts suffering form the hand of God, no less than he who takes it upon himself, is helping, voluntarily, to make reparation for human sin, is filling up in his own flesh ‘that which is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.’”[4]

    Bishop Fulton  J. Sheen, perhaps the greatest preacher this nation will ever know, went so far as to suggest that the sufferings of the people of the “third world” constituted their “baptism of blood,” even among those who did not know Christ—that the humble acceptance of their difficulties was the way to their salvation.

    Arturo, of course, was a Catholic, and Haiti is a Catholic Country, where people are baptized in the normal manner—but it would not be stretching Bishop Sheen’s metaphor to suggest that their suffering is penance for their own sins and for the sins of others.  There is great consolation for Arturo’s family, and for all of us in that.  We have good reason to hope that God accepted Arturo’s sufferings for any of the sins that he might have committed in this life—and likewise the thousands who died with him when the earth quaked—and that God accepted their lives in solidarity with His Only-begotten Son for the sins of the world.  “Filling up in their own flesh that which is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.”[5]  “As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so also by Christ does our comfort abound.”[6]

    “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”  Many people, hearing those words, mistakenly believe that our Lord was abandoned by His heavenly Father as He suffered on the Cross.  In actuality, He was reciting one of the Psalms, the religious poetry of the Jewish people (Psalm twenty-one).  The Psalm starts out as the words of a man who appears to be totally abandoned, but near the very end we are assured that God does no such thing:  “Neither hath He turned His face from me: when I cried to Him He heard me…. To Him my soul shall live.”[7]

    We know, as the biblical Job knew, that our “Redeemer lives, and on the last day we shall rise out of the earth … and in our flesh … our eyes will behold … and we shall see our God.”[8]

    Our God has not abandoned Arturo, nor has He abandoned Arturo’s countrymen.  On the last day they too shall rise and see our God.  And they will present God with the sufferings that will help to fill up “that which is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.”

    Yet, still, it remains for us to reflect on those words we read from the Old Testament in some of the Masses for the dead:  “It is therefore a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from their sins.”[9]  While sins and the punishment due to sin may be forgiven during this life, our Lord speaks of sins forgiven “in the world to come.”[10]

    We pray for the dead that God will swiftly cleanse them of those small sins and imperfections that might keep them temporarily from enjoying the glory of heaven.  That, by His mercy, He might quickly forgive the punishment that is due to their sins in Justice.

    But, we also pray for the dead, that we might receive something for ourselves;  that by reflecting on the realities of life and death, of heaven and hell, we might be more motivated to keep His Commandments and receive His Sacraments in order to ensure our own eternal salvation.  These are things not just to talk about, for they are realities;  we might even say the only realities, for nothing else matters if we lose our souls.

    Finally, we pray for the dead, so that they will pray for us.  The souls in Purgatory need our prayers, for which they are eternally grateful.  Remember that they are God's saints, soon to share the glory of heaven with Him;  powerful intercessors on our behalf.  Let us not forget those who have gone before us, lest they forget to pray for us.

Our Lady of the Rosary Old Roman Catholic Church
The Reverend Father Charles T. Brusca
Our Lady of the Rosary Old Roman Catholic Church
144 North Federal Highway, Deerfield Beach, FL


[1]   Psalm xxi: 2

[2]   Job xix: 25.

[3]   Matthew viii: 20.

[4]   Ronald Knox, The Belief of Catholics, p. 177.  Knox quotes Colossians i: 24.

[5]   Colossians i: 24.

[6]   2 Corinthians i: 5

[7]   Psalm xxi: 25, 31

[8]   Job xix: 25-27.

[9]   2 Machabees xii: 43-36.

[10]   Matthew xii: 32.





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