“God is love.” One year after the first earthquake of 2016, these three words from the letter St. John, which touch the depths of Man’s soul with hope and courage, are — more than ever — all one can say. In the days immediately after the earthquake, one felt the weight of the tragic event in isolation and silence. In the months that followed with tremor after tremor, culminating in the ultimate destruction of the Basilica of St. Benedict and all the other churches in Norcia, we saw that our tragedy was just one in a series of earthquakes. It was one part in a long history of collapse, of destruction, of death, but, in the hidden mystery of God’s love, also of redemption and resurrection.
The jarring wound forced into human history with the dagger of the St. Bartholomew earthquake on August 24 last year once again reminds us that we are not in control; we are not God; we are neither the master of the universe nor of the small patch of earth beneath our feet. We remain under the constant illusion of our own power – an illusion which God, in His mercy, allows – so that through our foolishness, our blindness, and our failure to be our own god, His true goodness and true love can be seen in glory, splendor and truth. The deep mystery that the earthquakes of 2016 reveal, like all unexpected disasters, is that God allows us to come to know our impotence so that we might take real hope in the only One with the power to pass from death to life.
One year from the first earthquake our mission as monks is clearer than ever: to live as witnesses to the power of the truth that God is love. The suffering and death of Christ on the cross — a gratuitous gift of complete love for us sinful men — is the only answer to our experience of suffering and death. God let His only Son die for us out of love. Every time we look to Christ in our suffering, in our own moments of loneliness and sadness, we can experience that love and have real hope, real joy. We can experience a joy that stands even when buildings fall, a joy that perseveres through tragedy.
Prior Benedict Nivakoff, O.S.B.