A Jesuit, a Franciscan, and a Dominican walk into a auditorium...
No really. All joking aside, this evening Avery Cardinal Dulles presented the keynote address at the Divine Immpassability Conference which is being held, this weekend, at Providence College.
Following an introduction to the address by Fr. Brian Shanley, O.P., the president of Providence College, and an introduction by Dr. Gary Culpepper, the Director of the Graduate Studies Program at Providence College and a former student of Cardinal Dulles, Cardinal Dulles himself took the podium.
Avery Cardinal Dulles
At 88 years old, Cardinal Dulles delivered his keynote address entitled, Divine Providence and the Mystery of Human Suffering to a packed hall. It was literally standing room
The respondent to Cardinal Dulles' speech was Fr. Thomas Weinandy, OFM, Cap., the executive director of the Secretariat for Doctrine and Pastoral Practices of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Because of parish responsibilities I am unable to attend the other lectures. They all sound to be very interesting and I regret that I will be absent. Only a group of academics would schedule a major conference on the weekend of Palm Sunday.
While I enjoyed the lecture, I did not really learn anything new.
Cardinal Dulles then talked about how the view of suffering developed in Scripture. Particularly in the books of Habakkuk, Jeremiah and Job.
Habakkuk - Suffering is punishment for the sins of the nation.
Jeremiah - Suffering is only punishment for personal sin.
Job - Suffering is not necessarily the result of sin. (God permitted Job to suffer in order for Job to demonstrate his fidelity and grow in faith) When God permits adversity he does so for good reason, although we may not be aware of that reason.
Cardinal Dulles then talked about how the view of suffering in Scripture prepared people to recieve Christ.
Daniel - The young men who died in the fiery furnace were assured their suffering would result in their attaining eternal life. (The death of the righteous as a transition into heaven).
The Psalms - The Suffering Servant Psalms describe vicarious expiatory suffering. (Christ's suffering cleansed us from our sins and we can unite our own suffering to his). In the cross, Jesus takes on our infirmaties, diseases and sufferings and in a way becomes the new Job.
Cardinal Dulles explained that the suffering of Christ has four main results:
Jesus expiates the sins of the world
Jesus gives us an example of suffering
The Paschal Mystery shows that suffering in the world is nothing compared to the glory which we will attain in Heaven.
Christians can unite their personal suffering to Christ's for redemptive purposes.
One part of the lecture that I think surprised some people was when Cardinal Dulles spoke about Rabbi Kushner's popular book "Why do Bad Things Happen to Good People". Cardinal Dulles said that Rabbi Kushner wrote that God is not all powerful. He is a victim of evil and suffers because of it.
Cardinal Dulles asserted that that opinion "is not an option for Catholics". We must believe that God is all-powerful, all knowing, all good, all wise, and all perfect.
Speaking of natural evil, Cardinal Dulles said that particular evils are allowed because the order of the world is a greater good. God works according to the natural order. For example, "If death did not exist, the world would become overpopulated."
He described pain as being useful for making us avoid harmful things and to alert us to injury or illness. However, he said that pain is not always useful and for that reason the invention of painkillers can be viewed as a sign of God's providential care.
He said that the handicapped and those who suffer physical disabilities or pain provide an opportunity for compassion, care, and heroism.
He also said that while we believe that natural evil is a result of original sin, the suffering of Christ shows us that suffering is not necessarily related to sin and can lead us to heaven.
Cardinal Dulles said that Moral evil exists because God allows the human will to be free. "We can choose to serve God or not to serve God....Failure is not attributable to God, but to the creature alone." God could intervene, but ordinarily He does not. He allows the natural order to take it's course. If he always intervened to prevent good people from suffering, human responsibility would be decreased.
Cardinal Dulles ended his address with the reminder that all this is comforting to one who is not suffering, but that telling these things to one who is suffering will not necessarily comfort them. What will comfort them, he said, is our compassion, caring, and understanding.
Fr. Thomas Weinandy, OFM, Cap
Fr. Weinandy responded by aggreeing with and expanding on what Cardinal Dulles said.
He said that God must always be almighty because if we do not believe He is almighty, we cannot believe He is all good, all kind, all wise, and all just. Those attributes are dependent on Him being almighty.
"God exists in a different ontological order" he said. Unlike people, God never becomes more of what he is. "God is pure act in perfection".
Because God cannot reside in created order, "evil and suffering cannot wash back into God and cause him to suffer". However, God can act in time and history.
In Exodus, God frees the Israelites from slavery and as a result allows them to achieve a greater relationship with Him. This relationshipis different from His relationship with all other peoples and is possible because God acted in time.
The human acts of Jesus also bring about things that would not have been possible otherwise because He acts as the Son of God.
Fr. Weindandy said, "Because of Jesus Christ, we can relate to God in the fullness of His goodness. Because of our relationship with God, who is sinless and all powerful, we have hope that evil can be conquered. This hope will come to fulfillment when Jesus comes in glory".
It is the actions of the transcendent God that allows us to share eternal life.
The speeches were followed by a question and answer period.
Two of the most interesting questions were directed toward Cardinal Dulles.
One question was whether people would still die even if original sin did not exist?
Cardinal Dulles seemed to hesitate before answering, but he concluded that people would indeed die because of the problem of overpopulation, but that death would be completely painless and peaceful.
Another inevitable question was about the war in Iraq. Cardinal Dulles was asked, "What does the Lord want citizens to do if a nation is waging an unjust war"?
Cardinal Dulles, speaking like the son of a Secretary of State that he is, seemed to sense that this was an attempt to trap him. He said that there is a responsibility to not participate, but that is impossible because every action indirectly supports it. Therefore people have a responsibility to not participate directly. He also suggested that people not be forced to participate directly and that conciencious objector status be given. However, he added that people have a responsability to determin whether the war is really just or unjust and not simply go on a whim.
The questioner then challenged Cardinal Dulles saying, "More than 50% of the American public believes the war in Iraq is unjust".
Cardinal Dulles repeated that it is up to the individual to determine whether a war is just or unjust.
He was again challenged, "Ok, so what do those individuals to believe the war is unjust have to do".
Cardinal Dulles advised those who think the war is unjust to try to affect policy, participate in the election of candidates, write letters to newspapers, and even protest.