God shows His presence in the midst of unthinkable tragedies

“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” Did I tell you what’s happening in our local Catholic communities lately? God’s been working.

Three people’s lives were saved when they received organs from a generous donor. That same week, two selfless individuals stopped to aid the occupants of a car that had flipped over on a local freeway. A heroic state trooper saved a life after risking his own on the same freeway. In response, get this: I heard a number of Catholic high schools from our archdiocese dropped their daily routine and came together in communal prayer.

To be sure, a number of Catholic high school students stepped outside of themselves — something foreign for teens today — because they recognized the needs of another. And then there was an outpouring of support for a teen who accidentally lost control of his vehicle and hit two people trying to assist another accident victim.

I’m not done. A couple of high school sports programs that forged past deep-seated rivalries also came together to show their support for an athlete … even coming together in prayer. And a week after, doctors at a local hospital were blessed by God with the talent and intelligence to save the limbs of a local teen.

A God-fearing teen was tragically struck after he righteously stopped to aid someone in a crash. Why would God allow that? The same teen was a state-champion-caliber runner. And you know what? Now he’s lost one of his feet. Where was God? Even worse, a local doctor who had spent her whole life saving others lost hers when she stopped to aid some crash victims. What’s the sense in that? Why won’t God do anything to stop these tragedies? God, why weren’t You there to help? “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” … Wait, what?

I’m not going to pretend I always see the roses past the thorns in my own life. In fact, I struggle often when my perspective portends that God promises us Heaven on earth; until I reread the bible and realize that God’s “chosen” people have been asking the same questions for centuries. The temptation for me is to forget that this world isn’t my home. And when “stuff” happens, I encounter that momentary lapse that challenges my faith until I’m reminded that many of the saints struggled with the same things.

Perhaps I should take some of the advice I give my own students: We can either say that “everything happens for a reason,” or “God can bring reason out of everything that happens.” To say that Sean English (the student injured in the crash) is a special young man is putting it lightly. I’ve never met him. But I know countless people who have. And those people have told me that he has blessed them with his faith when they’ve gone to visit him. Isn’t that supposed to be the other way around? To say that Dr. Cynthia Ray (the physician who lost her life) was a selfless woman who gave her life to save others doesn’t do her justice. I’ve never met her. But I’d bet those who have would agree.

I struggled to understand things often in my former career because I encountered tragedies regularly. But what never fails to amaze me — a testament to my own lack of faith — is how God can transform those abhorrent tragedies into unquestionable proofs that He lives today. It would be easy to gaze toward the heavens and lament a God who lacks consternation with our suffering, but for the fact that He became a man who was acquainted with it.

Our instruments of suffering are insignificant when contrasted with God’s power to transform them. Who would have thought an instrument of torture and death — the Cross — would be something we’d venerate on Good Friday? Who would have imagined the martyrdom of so many saints could set our Church’s faith ablaze? Who would have thought an unthinkable tragedy on a freeway would elicit God’s presence so deeply amidst us?

So, perhaps I can laugh in the company of St. Teresa of Avila when she says, “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few.” And revel in the company of St. Augustine when he reminds us, “Miracles are not contrary to nature, but contrary to what we know about it.” With regards to what we’ve seen in human nature these last few weeks, this speaks volumes. And it wouldn’t be possible without two human beings who showed us what happens when we couple that nature with God’s.

Paul Stuligross is director of campus ministry at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Preparatory and is a former police officer.