News from P.I.T. (Pastor in Training)
June 4 – The Most Holy Trinity
Growing up in the 90’s, one of my favorite TV shows (maybe because of the suspenseful music) was “Unsolved Mysteries”. The show, as the name states, reenacted ongoing mysteries from the past. Occasionally, throughout the years of the show, you might be lucky to get “an update” where they would reveal an answer to a former mystery.
As a math guy and an engineer, I have to say, I don’t like mysteries. I was always taught to solve the unknown. Even to this day, people will come with me with problems, and my automatic instinct is to calculate the precise solution. My mindset: answers are good, mysteries are bad.
But then, how do I deal with the ‘mysteries’ of our faith. For example, this weekend we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity: God is three persons, yet one God. Is this a mystery I can solve? The answer is clearly no… but then, are some mysteries therefore good?
Surprisingly, the answer is yes! Some mysteries are not meant to be completely solved, but rather entered into! We can see this in other areas of our lives too. For instance, what person in your life can you completely explain or define? Can you ever really solve another person? No. There is always more to be discovered in an other—even our very own hearts are a mystery to us! This isn’t a bad thing, but an opportunity. It’s what makes love, marriage, family, and friends a beautiful adventure that can captivate us for a lifetime! If we’re willing to enter into the mystery, to engage the mystery of the other with love and respect, then these relationships can continue to unfold as an ever more beautiful mystery!
So, unlike the 90’s show might have us believe, some mysteries are meant to be left unsolved—not because they’re nonsensical, but because their depths could never truly be exhausted. God revealed himself as love: as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We need not fret if we cannot fully grasp how it is possible to have 3 divine persons and only one God. Instead we can concern ourselves with the question, “How is my relationship going with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit?” It’s the mystery of our relationship with love himself, and the mystery at the heart of heaven.
May 28 – Pentecost
One of the most compelling things about our Catholic faith is our understanding of redemptive suffering—so much so that one couple I know specifically converted from Protestantism to Catholicism because of this! In their previous church, there was little understanding of how to fit suffering within the greater scheme of things. One can be tempted to believe that suffering is a sign of God’s displeasure, whereas a lack of suffering is a sign of God’s favor. Yet, upon reading the lives of the saints, we find that the opposite is almost true!
St. Thérèse of Lisieux, for example, rejoiced on Good Friday one year when she received the first sign of the tuberculosis which would take her life at age 24: “Ah! my soul was filled with a great consolation; I was interiorly persuaded that Jesus, on the anniversary of His own death, wanted to have me hear His first call. It was like a sweet and distant murmur that announced the Bridegroom’s arrival.” To be honest, such words from the saints can feel naïve or unrealistic as we are tempted to think, “Yeah, but they’re so far beyond me in sanctity,” or “But that was a different time and place…” Yet, human they were, and human are we.
JP2’s encyclical Salvifici Doloris explores the theology of suffering in great depth, and we would do well to heed this saint’s words of wisdom. For instance, he writes, “The springs of divine power gush forth precisely in the midst of human weakness. Those who share in the sufferings of Christ preserve in their own sufferings a very special particle of the infinite treasure of the world’s Redemption, and can share this treasure with others.” Suffering can be an opportunity for intimacy with Jesus, intercession for others, and the salvation of our souls. We are all going to face trials and death anyways, so why not let Jesus give them meaning?
Our world has lost the significance of suffering as it has lost the significance of Jesus’ cross. This is why we see even traditionally Christian countries like Portugal legalizing physician-assisted suicide, while others like Canada are already passing legislation to extend their medically assisted suicides to include “circumstances where a person’s sole underlying medical condition is a mental illness.” (see canada.ca)
Let’s be clear: asking physicians who have taken the Hippocratic Oath to inject you or your loved one with toxic quantities of chemicals with the intention of shortening your life is the opposite of ‘dying with dignity’. While watching another suffer is a great suffering in itself, what suffering people need is accompaniment, not euthanizing. The sick, mentally ill, and dying have inherent dignity. Their existence is valuable! And while there is nothing wrong with lessening someone’s pain (with painkillers, for instance), there is something very wrong with intentionally hastening someone’s death (even with painkillers). This line can be very thin, but it’s no less important: the catechism equates euthanasia to murder. (CCC 2276-9)
Finally, the sick and elderly elicit sacrificial love from their family and community—we should not resent them for that, but thank them and assure them that they are not ‘forgotten’, ‘worthless’, or ‘unwanted’! The difference between St. Thérèse’s disposition towards death and medically euthanizing humans is the difference between “thy will be done” and “my will be done”. Like the 7 Sacraments (or the Trinity for that matter), human suffering is indeed a mystery—not in the sense that it is irrational or unsolved, but in the sense that its significance is inexhaustible! Let us therefore trust in our good Lord, even in the face of darkness—for it is there that His light can shine all the more brilliantly.
May 21 – Ascension of the Lord
Have you ever noticed that in every aspect of life, there is a the need for the student to become the teacher? In a way, it is how the Lord created us. Starting with family life, the child will eventually become the parent, the apprentice become the professional, the student become the teacher.
We do this in small ways and in small steps. For example, I remember my dad teaching me how to change a tire. He did it once and then he told me to do it by myself so that I could be prepared to change a flat. Or I remember in math class, the teacher would solve a problem on the projector screen and then assign me to repeat the solution on ten other problems just like it. Even studying for the priesthood, I had the opportunity to shadow many priests in their ministry with the hope that when I myself was ordained, I could do likewise.
Everything in life, points to learning, doing it ourself, and even teaching others to do likewise! Our faith is no different. What was the Lord doing when he was with his disciples for 3 years? He wasn’t just teaching them rules or concepts, but also how to live—even to the point that the early Church would describe the Christian religion as “the way” …the way to the Father, the way to beatitude, the way to salvation! What is the Ascension all about? Yes, it is the account of our Lord ascending to the right hand of the Father in Heaven; but it also the story of our Lord asking his disciples to now live what they were taught, and to lead others on the way.
What about us? Do we not only know but also live the faith well enough so as to be able to teach it to others? Thankfully we don’t need to be Padre Pio or Mother Teresa to lead others to the next step on the way, because the Lord desires to send each and every one of us out—including you! For all of the ways in which we feel inadequate, let us ask the Lord on this feast of the Ascension to give us the discipline, courage, and zeal to learn, live, and share the gift of our faith with others!
May 14 – Sixth Sunday of Easter
Spoiler: this has absolutely nothing to do with Mother’s Day—that’s for the homily.
A couple weeks ago I went to the movie theater (yes, they still exist) to watch the movie Nefarious with my fellow Companion of Christ Fr. Max. Now, I very rarely watch horror movies because they’re typically a gross exercise in the fascination with evil on top of the other forms of visual immodesty that numb us to the grotesque and pornographic. However, this year is the 50th anniversary since the showing of The Exorcist, so there are several exorcism movies hitting the theaters these days. I wasn’t planning on partaking in the usual Hollywood exaggerations until I heard a review from an actual exorcist (a Catholic priest, of course) who deals with this stuff on a daily basis. He pooh-poohed The Pope’s Exorcist unsurprisingly because it was made by, well, Hollywood…and I think it’s safe to say that Hollywood doesn’t really care about the truth of things.
According to this exorcist, however, the creators of Nefarious did their homework. While it portrays a possessed man dialoguing with an atheistic psychologist, the movie is much like a visual version of C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters where we get a convincing and convicting glimpse into the mind of the enemy. If anything, the movie held back!—further convincing me that the producers cared more about faith than fireworks. Remember, the devil is not a threat to God’s omnipotence. The devil is just a rabid dog on a chain and can only do what God permits him to. God leaves us and the angels free to follow Him or not, but as one person put it rather brazenly, “If you play the devil’s stupid games, then you’ll win his stupid prizes.”
Nevertheless, we often think that the devil’s extraordinary activity like possession and puking up Nickelodeon slime is all that he really does. Nefarious reminds us that the devil is very much alive in the world today and that we need to “be sober and vigilant,” because “[our] opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
Witchcraft, wicca, and other new-age materials had their own giant section at the Barnes and Noble in Naperville the last time I strolled in—probably because they’re selling! Likewise, most people don’t realize that Freemasonry is directly antithetical to our Catholic faith and needs to be formally renounced—even if your grandpa just showed up to the local lodge for the fraternity and business contacts. (Feel free to email me if your family has a history of Freemasonry.)
I was certainly shaken at one point in the movie, not because of any gross excesses, but because of how accurately the movie portrayed the evil of abortion—all without showing a drop of blood. The movie is R for a reason, and I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone. But if you are going to watch it, just remember that the Creator is always infinitely more powerful than any of His creatures. Jesus Christ conquered Satan on a tree, just as Adam was conquered by the serpent on a tree. In Jesus Name, we can be free from any hold the enemy has on our lives, so long as we are willing to repent, surrender to Jesus, forgive others, renounce the enemy’s lies, and cling to our good, holy, true, and beautiful God.
PS the last ten minutes of the movie were out of place. The writing was solid up until that point when they reverted to the kind of unrealistic preachy-dialogue that makes some Christian movies painful to watch. Besides that, bravo!
May 7 – Fifth Sunday of Easter
Being the only son and “baby of the family,” I do have the claim to being my mom’s favorite and perfect son (her words, not mine). It also doesn’t hurt that I also became a priest! However, as you all know by now, I am certainly not perfect, nor completely self-sufficient. This becomes particularly clear given the fact that I too seek out the Sacrament of Reconciliation about every other month—I need Jesus just as much as anyone else!—and given the fact that some ministerial tasks prove to be too big for me to handle on my own—I need to depend on others! But there is a beauty in not being perfect in ourselves! As St. Aelred put it, “Almighty God can complete anyone He pleases. But God desires that we depend on each other, and what anyone does not have in himself, he finds in the other. Thus, humility is preserved, love increased, and unity realized.”
This quotation shows us that God has a beautiful purpose for giving us the gift of each other! Do we realize what a gift it is to need to depend on others? Or to have to ask for help sometimes? This is seen in our first reading from Acts of the Apostles as a lesson to the early Church. In this passage, there was a serious need being neglected as the Hellenist widows were being ignored. So how did the Church respond? It called forward seven new deacons, each with Greek names. The response to the problem came from within the community! “Humility is preserved, love increased, and unity realized.”
What a beautiful lesson that we can learn from the early Church. If we see a legitimate need within our community, that’s okay! We can trust that the Holy Spirit will call forward generous volunteers to complete the task. In fact, if God is raising that need before your eyes, perhaps He’s asking you to respond to it! Let’s ask the Holy Spirit this Easter season where He may be asking us to serve others within our beautiful parish of Our Lady of Mercy. That way humility is preserved, love increased, and unity realized.