ASK FATHER: “Dear Fr. Z, why do bad things happen?”

From a reader… no… readers… no… many readers, all the time!

In summary…

“Fr Z, why does X [X = bad thing] continue to happen in my [FILL IN BLANK]?”

Many questions come in with the formula or some variation

“Dear Fr. Z, our priest (or bishop, or deacon, or whomever) did [FiLL IN BLANK]. Why?”

Evil is a mystery.

The old Catholic Encyclopedia, helpfully reprinted on the New Advent website, says that evil “is what ought not to exist. Nevertheless, there is no department of human life in which its presence is not felt; and the discrepancy between what is and what ought to be has always called for explanation in the account which mankind has sought to give itself and its surroundings.”

When we ask the “why” of morally evil acts of another, we necessarily also ask why we ourselves sin.

If we ponder the evil in our own lives, we might be able to understand better the evil in the lives of others.

Quid autem vides festucam in oculo fratris tui et trabem in oculo tuo non vides? Aut quomodo dicis fratri tuo sine eiciam festucam de oculo tuo et ecce trabis est in oculo tuo? Hypocrita! Eice primum trabem de oculo tuo et tunc videbis eicere festucam de oculo fratris tui.

We chose evil because (wrongly) we think it to be a good. Mind you, we can, because of appetites, vices, the temptations of the Enemy, etc., deceive ourselves about goods. Still, we choose what – at the moment – we think will bring us happiness or pleasure. Later, we realize that whatever pleasure there was in the evil, is in evil, it is inevitably transitory and false.

Evil (the absence of good, truth and beauty), by definition, cannot satisfy someone made in God’s image.

We choose evil because we have been deceived.

We choose evil because we are weak.

And, remember: Sin makes you stupid.

We choose evil because we are selfish and prefer our transitory pleasure over the beatitude of heaven.

How do we combat evil in society… in the Church?

How do we combat evil in ourselves?



Strive to let reason guide passions rather than the other way around.

Avoid near occasions of sin.

The best course to defeat evil in the world must be the same.



Discipline ourselves so that our intellects can guide our emotions and appetites.

Avoid near occasions of sin.

The solution to corruption and evil in the world is the same as it has always been:

Strive to be holy.

Desire heaven.

Raise your children to be saints.

Walk uprightly.

Be courageous.

Be willing to suffer.

Stick close to the sacraments and the sure teaching of the Church, which can be verified in her perennial teachings.

At this moment I have in my head the verse from Micah 6, which I recently saw in beautiful lettering in the reading room of the Library of Congress. As a convert, I still have some biblical verses in my head from the King James Bible and this is the verse I am thinking of:

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

And lest anyone get his panties in a twist (you know who you are), here is the Douay of Micah 6:6-8:

What shall I offer to the Lord that is worthy? wherewith shall I kneel before the high God? shall I offer holocausts unto him, and calves of a year old? May the Lord be appeased with thousands of rams, or with many thousands of fat he goats? shall I give my firstborn for my wickedness, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? I will shew thee, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requireth of thee: Verily to do judgment, and to love mercy, and to walk solicitous with thy God.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. benedetta says:

    Some years ago, I attended a lecture by the great Fr. Richard John Neuhaus at a parish in downtown Manhattan hosted by a Catholic young adult group on the occasion of the feast day of St. Lorenzo Ruiz. Every so often I attempt to google whatever I can remember of this talk, hoping, in vain, that it was transcribed, somewhere. Up until now — I was able to find it, linked to full video here in this article by Nathaniel Peters writing for Public Discourse last year.

    What I remembered particularly of this talk which struck me deeply at the time, and strikes me now again reading Father’s wisdom above, went along the lines of, and this during that lecture coming after a very incisive analysis of the forces arrayed and threatening the values of the Gospel, an observation, and he was very visibly, I thought, speaking from the realm of eternity in this, even in that moment delivering these remarks, stepping away from the podium, looking about, with a pause, almost an awareness of where he was, where we were, so to speak, in the presence of God, considering the things of God there together, all of us grouped together in that night in what could easily be passed over as just another almost random group of people gathered to hear some talk, one group of how many on that particular evening, in Manhattan, in New York, in the country, and yet he was as one recollects in prayer: that still he said, “we’ve never gotten it right”…as if to say, as I took it at the time, and still do, that, if it isn’t one thing, it will be another, in this fallen world, and, as much as we are called to do what we are able to do, right where we are, we shouldn’t also then pretend that it all depends upon this or that thing in our estimating, because the world belongs to God, completely, and we shouldn’t also underestimate the power of one good step as small and apparently useless and meaningless it may appear given the severity of what occurs contra all of one’s hopes and good plans.

    Here is the link — I’m sure fans of Fr. Neuhaus’ thought and work have seen this before but perhaps it will be new to others. The exact portion I recalled is beautifully quoted in Mr. Peters’ tribute. Scroll to the end for the link to a video of what was to be Fr. Neuhaus’ final lecture. A Blessed Sunday evening to all.

  2. Adaquano says:

    “The woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desired to make one wise.” That about sums it up

  3. MattH says:

    I see that the prophet Micah didn’t think it was contradictory to both do justice/ judgment and to also love mercy.

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