12/20/2012 03:02 pm ET Updated Feb 19, 2013

Keeping Our Hearts Open in Hell

Adapted from Fr. Richard Rohr's homily, "Keeping Our Hearts Open In Hell," delivered on the third Sunday of Advent, Dec. 16, 2012. Copyright © Richard Rohr 2012. To listen to Fr. Richard's homilies please visit the Center for Action and Contemplation.

The first reading for the third Sunday of Advent is "Shout for joy" (1 Zephaniah 3:14-18). And the first word of the second reading is "Rejoice" (Isaiah 12:2-3, 4, 5-6). And, yet, you well know that isn't what most of our country is feeling, perhaps not just at this tragic time, but many moments of our lives. I think it's fair to say we don't live in a healthy culture. Of all the civilized countries, we allow arms and trust in arms more than any. So we bear the fruit -- mass murders and killings, tragedies as we witnessed at Sandy Hook.

Often I think that the very point of faith must be: "How do you keep your heart open in hell?" How do you keep trusting? How do you keep any kind of happy, rejoicing faith when so much of life is, frankly, disappointing, tragic, absurd, evil, wrong? The heart just keeps being assaulted. And as many people get older the heart closes down.

A few years ago I gave a retreat to the Army chaplains from the whole Army Corp in Florida, and we were examining PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder. As I studied the real symptoms of this, I wondered if much of humanity in all of history has not had post-traumatic stress disorder. When you read history, you see it has largely been filled with people killing people, war upon war upon war.

God must cry. God created us for love, for union, for forgiveness and compassion and, yet, that has not been our storyline. That has not been our history. You have to find some way to not become a cynical or negative person, a person who keeps walking around and opening your eyes in the outside world but inside you close down, a person who stops expecting tomorrow to be better than today. I think that's much of humanity. And without a very real experience of love, God, grace at a deep inner level, you can't fake it. It won't work.

You can't just come to church services and think like everybody else does. Something has to happen that really changes our heart or we become as cynical and as negative as the poor young man who did this to 27 human beings. Yet he wasn't a poor boy. He had it all, physically speaking. And, yet, he didn't have it at all, spiritually speaking.

It's been said through all of history -- there certainly is the problem of evil. Why does evil exist? Why does God allow evil? Why doesn't God just step in and say "Stop it. Now, it's my turn. You've had your turn, and now I'm taking mine"? I guess that's what heaven means, when God can finally say, "Now it's my turn. And, I'm going to turn all of your crucifixions into an eternal resurrection." That's called Christian hope.

And that's why we begin with "Shout for joy," which doesn't make a bit of sense in the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook; "Rejoice," which doesn't sound reasonable at all. But we also have to admit, if we're consistent and honest, that, along with the problem of evil, there is the equal problem of good. Why are there so many good people? A lot of you good people are reading this. And you've seen them on TV, I hope.

Perhaps you saw that young father on CNN who gave the account of the loss of his little 6 year old, beautiful daughter. If you haven't, try to hear it. It makes me cry. He's so filled with faith, respect. He can't fake it at that point. And I thought to myself, well, any sermon I give will not come close to the sermon that this father is giving on CNN. He kept his dignity. He kept his positive attitude. He kept his love for life, himself and the world, even after tragically losing his adorable little girl. You can't fake it.

You see, brothers and sisters, you have to do your homework ahead of time because you can't do it in the last minute when the tragedy comes. Your heart has to be prepared ahead of time through faith and prayer and grace and mercy and love and forgiveness so you can keep your heart open in hell, when hell happens.

For more information about Richard Rohr and to read his books, visit the Center for Action and Contemplation.