Death does not have the last word
Milena Kindziuk talks to Fr Dariusz Kowalczyk, SJ, a dogmatic theologian, the Provincial of the Jesuits.
A tragic sudden end of our earthly plans is incomprehensible and we can neither understand nor explain it from the human perspective. Only with time can we see that everything that happens has its sense.
Milena Kindziuk: - We are still shocked by the tragic accident of the Polish bus in France. The pilgrims who returned from La Salette, singing Marian songs, were killed. Why did it happen? How can we explain this?
Fr Dariusz Kowalczyk, SJ: - I do not know why this happened. Indeed, facing such a tragedy one must carefully use words in order not to fall in conceitedness, which happened to Job's friends. Seeing suffering they wanted to explain it, to rationalize it and show some cause.
- They even claimed that Job must have sinned and was punished for that.
- Yes, they did, but one should remember that in the end Lord God did not agree with Job's friends but he agreed with Job who always claimed that he was innocent and his suffering was the suffering of an innocent man. Today when I face such situations as the recent bus crash in France I always remind myself and other people of what kind of God we believe in.
- What God?
- God who was fully revealed in Jesus Christ. Christ came to the earth with love, good intentions; he did good, proclaimed the Good News. And what happened to him? Death. And it was death on the cross. One can say that it was totally absurd. Similarly, the pilgrims went to pray and tried to reflect on their lives and what happened to them? It seems that it was completely absurd. God's answer, God whom I believe in, is not a rational explanation: why do we suffer? Why do we die? God does not excuse himself of suffering.
- So what is God's answer?
- New creation. God's answer to the cross of Jesus Christ was the Easter morning and the Resurrection, and now God's answer to this tragedy will be eternal life, heaven, and resurrection.
- And what kind of a lesson is for those who stand aside and observe this tragedy?
- I think that everyone should learn a lesson himself. It should be in prayer, on one's knees.
- What lesson have you learned?
- I have learned that life is beautiful, life is a value and it is worthy being here on the earth. But one should constantly realize that life is not the ultimate value, that there is till something what makes our efforts, our love, and our struggle relative, we must realise that we will face death. Death - not a tragic and absurd one.
- This is the theory. But actually every death is tragic in some sense since after all we want to keep on living.
- And keep on loving. You are right. However, beyond the absurd and tragedy of death there is hope: God exists and will cause that it is life and not death that has the last word. Therefore, I repeat: this life is beautiful, we should care for it. It is more beautiful because even when it ends a new life comes, a better life. There is the new creation. And there are no more tears, no more pain and no suffering as the Revelation says.
- But those pilgrims must have prayed to be protected from 'sudden unexpected death'... And what happened? Did not God answer their prayers?
- Christians have the right to pray for concrete things. I walked in numerous pilgrimages to Czestochowa. I took part in bus pilgrimages and I know that one has always some intentions. Did God not answer those prayers? Now I remember Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, 'Father, take this cup away from me?', which means make me not suffer and die on the cross. But after a while Jesus added, 'Nevertheless, let your will be done, not mine.' I do not want to say that God wanted those people to be killed but I want to say that a real prayer is when we pray for some concrete things of this world but all the time we are open to what is unconceivable. And such a tragic sudden end of our earthly plans is unconceivable and humanly speaking it can neither be understood nor explained. Only with time one can see that all things have some sense. The sense is that after our plans have been destroyed a new perspective appears, which in this case means a new life.
- One of the priests who was to make that pilgrimage but at the last moment could not go said that he was saved since God did not want the sinner's death. Does this mean that those who were killed died at their best moments and were prepared to die?
- Death does not always come at the best moment. Therefore, I would warn against such a general statement that those who were killed were certainly at their best moments. God does not steer the world 'manually.' All things have their causes; the world is full of physical, chemical and other laws. When someone drives too fast or chooses a road, which he must not go, or the brakes are out of order, he does not say that it was God's will. I would not say that the people who were killed in this accident were best disposed at the very moment. But the priest who could have been in the coach and could have been killed but he survived has the right to say that if he died then he would not have been prepared.
- So how can we cope with such events that we object to and rebel against? How are we to accept suffering in our lives?
- One cannot remove revolt, sorrow, pain. I think that we must simple go through the experience of piercing pain. We should suffer through, experience rebellion. You can see such an attitude in the Psalms, which contains numerous questions: God, what else? God! A suffering man has the right to pray like that. But the important thing is that these questions were open to hope that comes from above.
Life is beautiful,
life is valuable,
and it is worthy to be
here, on the earth.
But you must,
that this life is not the ultimate value,
that there is something
our struggle relative,
that we will face death.
that is not tragic