The Dominican who found in Christ’s wounds an answer to the problem of evil

Today is the day the Dominican Order celebrates its deceased members. As a lay student at a Dominican school of theology, I am observing it by praying for the repose of a Dominican priest I never knew, whose life and writings are an inspiration: Father Thomas Heath, O.P., a Massachusetts-born friar who was fatally injured by robbers in 2005 in Kisumu, Kenya. He was 84 and had devoted the last quarter-century of his life to African mission work. A Microsoft Word document containing a chronology of his life may be downloaded here, and a brief autobiography he wrote in 1993 (for his Boston College class’s 50th reunion) may be downloaded here.

Here is one of my favorite quotations of Father Heath, on the final resurrection. It is from the In Face of Anguish (Sheed & Ward, 1966), his effort to answer the problem of evil, and it inspired me as I wrote My Peace I Give You:

This is the mystery of the human body, that the members need each other, that the lower member cannot survive without the help of the higher, nor the higher without the help of the lower. All the members are in it together, for all are one body. So we shall on that day see how this is true of the body of Christ, and that will constitue another unfolding of the mystery of evil. One member is in need in order that the other may help it. Christ is in need so that Christ can help.  “For so long as you did it for one of these, the least of My brethren, you did it for Me.” But who did it? Christ! The Christ of our heart to whom, with many a faltering step, we had, in the end, been faithful.

So here, finally, the problem of evil will be solved, the mystery of evil penetrated, solved not in a speculative way, but existentially, in the realization and the experience of God’s sovereign goodness. All will come full circle in this last, eternal moment. The gaps will be closed, the scattered hints brought together into a whole, and the darkness of the tunnel will be shattered by light. Here we shall see the wounds of Christ, and know in a much better than speculative way what those words of his meant to the disciples on their way to Emmaus. “O foolish ones and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets had spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things before entering into His glory?” (Luke 24:25). And our own hearts will burn within us then, just as did the hearts of the disciples. Here we shall see the wounds of all the saints glowing now with their ultimate meaning. And we shall hear the blessed saying, “Ought not we to have suffered?” Here we shall perceive our own wounds, however great or little, healed with the ointment of the divine goodness. How we shall want to thank Christ for the chance He gave us to suffer for him, and with Him, and in Him.

I have a strong feeling I need Father Heath’s prayers much more than he needs mine. But it is a duty and a joy to pray for the dead, and we can trust that, in God’s grace, none of the merits of our prayers are ever wasted.

Father Heath’s legacy continues through the Dominican charity Father Tom’s Kids, which ministers to impoverished children in Kenya.

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