Death and the Divine Plan Andrew Rudmann, Archdiocese of New Orleans

By: Andrew Rudmann

Not too long ago, a seminarian shared with me a powerful insight into divine providence. He told me that he was having a difficult time making an important decision because he had many options. He prayed for months about this decision, but the Lord did not make the decision any clearer. However, one day in prayer, the Lord finally spoke. He said, “You have prayed about this and you have thought about this. Now choose and know, no matter what you choose, I will bless you.” I believe we can sometimes worry so much about God’s “plan” for our life, that we forget who God is and how he works in our lives. We are so worried about our potential to ruin God’s plan, so worried that our potential for a life of happiness hangs on the line with every life-choice we make. However, the reality is that God will never stop blessing us; God will never stop loving us. Is it possible for us to make bad decisions? Of course. Will life present us with things that were not according to our plan? Without a doubt. It is so easy for us to think of God’s plan as a checklist that can be unfinished, as opposed to an invitation that can always be received. God is constantly inviting us to turn to him, inviting us to receive his ever-flowing blessing into our lives. God’s plan for our life is not a series of events that need to take place at a certain time; rather, God’s plan is a continuous unfolding, an unfolding with the ever present invitation to live in the life of grace. At every moment of our life, we need to realize that God is offering us his blessing. Even in despair, in sin, in trial, and in tragedy: God’s plan never changes.

I have been reflecting on this as I consider the question: “Why did God let Fr. John Arnone die?” I have been in seminary for four years and a strong Catholic my entire life. I have counseled many people through the loss of loved ones and grieved many losses myself. Unless the person is very old, this question is asked every time: “Why would God let this happen?” In other words, how could this possibly be a part of God’s plan? This very question that leads many people to deny the existence of God – if we have a loving, omnipotent God, why would he ever allow a tragedy like this to to occur? When this question is posed to me, I give some stock answer: God’s ways are not our ways; He let this happen so that he could make something greater; They are in a better place now; etc. In my mind, I simply believed that God loves us and therefore, he must have his reasons for “planning” these things.

However, when Fr. Arnone died, I realized that my faith in this had certain limits. Yes, tragedies happen, but I now realize that there are certain tragedies that I thought God would never allow. The death of a 49 year-old priest at the peak of his ministry is one of these tragedies. A young priest? A man working for God, saving many souls? How could God allow this to happen?!  Why did God not simply allow modern medicine to do its thing and put Fr. John back into the field? What’s more, this was supposed to be a routine operation. What’s the deal, God?

As I continued to reflect on all of this, I realized that I was thinking of God’s plan in a rigid way, as a series of independent events: How could God have possibly written this down on his plan for the life of Fr. John Arnone? The truth is that God never wrote death into his divine plan, not for Fr. John, not for anyone. At the heart of the question, “Why did God allow this person to die?” is really, “Why would our loving God allow anyone to die?” Death is a mystery; death is confusing. Why? Because it was never part of the plan. When God created the world, God did not say, “Let there be light and… let there be death.” No. God gives life to all that he creates. Although, in God’s omniscience, he foreknew of death’s entrance into his creation; nevertheless, this was not something he desired for his creatures. Death will always fill us with a foreign, distressing, and confusing feeling, like an uninvited visitor forcing their way into our home: death, you do not belong here.

When death comes about, especially in tragedy, we know that there is something terribly wrong; we know that something just happened that should have never happened. We believe that we have a loving and provident God, but we question how he could allow this terrible thing to come about. We begin to question his plan. How are we supposed to deal with this? How do we reconcile a tragic death with the divine plan? First, we respond to the reality: the death of Fr. Arnone is a devastating loss. We cry out to the Lord with the psalmist, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!” We grieve the loss of our father, our brother, our son, and our friend. We grieve before God and we allow ourselves to feel the pain of loss that man was never meant to experience. We feel the pain of separation; the pain of our heart being torn open as one we love is taken away from us. Yes, we grieve. But this is not the end. We know that this is not the end and for this reason we, the Easter people, do not grieve over the question why, rather, we grieve over the question, when?! When, Oh Lord, will death be no more? When, Oh Lord, will you deliver us from this valley of tears, as you have promised? Although we wait in mourning, we find consolation in knowing that through all of this, God continues inviting us to receive his blessing. God continues to invite us into his life of grace. God’s plan for each one of us, is that we will accept this invitation and one day, live with him in everlasting life.


Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord.
And let the perpetual light shine upon him.
May his soul, and the souls of all of the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God,
rest in peace.


About the Author: Andrew Rudmann

Andrew is in Second Theology at Notre Dame Seminary.


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