Saturday, September 25, 2010


Just about everyone will agree that suffering is in general something to be avoided. We don't want to suffer. Still, there are times that there is nothing we can do to avoid it. It can pretty much be assumed that we will all lose loved ones, we will all be betrayed by those we thought were friends, we will all get sick, etc. At one time or another we will also all be the cause of an other's suffering.

Despite of how we may feel or what others may tell us,


God also doesn't usually deliver us from suffering either. Remember what is recounted in the Gospel of Luke:

After withdrawing about a stone's throw from them and kneeling, he prayed, saying, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done." (And to strengthen him an angel from heaven appeared to him. He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.) When he rose from prayer and returned to his disciples, he found them sleeping from grief. He said to them, "Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not undergo the test." While he was still speaking, a crowd approached and in front was one of the Twelve, a man named Judas. He went up to Jesus to kiss him. Jesus said to him, "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?"  Lk: 22:41-48
In this passage, Jesus suffers not only the pain of knowing he will be crucified, but also the pain of being virtually abandoned by his friends and then betrayed by one of them. The mental anguish was so great that "his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground". That is a powerful image. This was followed by his farce of a trial and finally a most brutal death through crucifixion. At his crucifixion, after being beaten and forced to carry the wooden beams of the cross for many miles, he had nails hammered through his hands and feet (wrists and ankles). He then hung there bleeding and gasping for breath for three long hours in the hot middle eastern sun. Some may think that Jesus' suffering was lessened because He was God, but many theologians think the opposite was actually the case. His senses were likely sharper than ours and He would have likely felt greater pain.


And about three o'clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Mt 27:46

Isn't that the cry of each of us in the midst of intense suffering? It is such a human reaction to the feeling of total isolation and confusion which suffering can cause. Still, we know, just as Jesus knew we have not been abandoned. We would love for God to come and rescue us and miraculously heal our wounds. Sometimes he does just that, but most of the time, we have to trudge through as best as we can.

Luckily for us, we do not suffer in vain. Because of the suffering Jesus endured for our sins, we can join our suffering to his. Think of this: a few months ago my son wanted a particular toy. He saved up as much money as he could for several months, but hadn't come even close to being able to buy it for himself. I bought it for him, but when we were at the store he handed me the few dollars he had saved up. His share in the purchase of the toy was minuscule, but important because it helped him to value the toy (which was really a gift from me) more, teaches the value of money, and helps him to mature. Ok, I'll admit that it is a poor example of redemptive suffering, but many of the same principles are at work. Salvation is ours with or without suffering. We don't get salvation because of our suffering. Our suffering is minuscule in comparison to the gift of salvation which God gives to us. Our suffering teaches us, matures us, purifies us and allows us to participate in the saving action of Jesus.

Our suffering and the causes of our suffering can also affect others in ways we cannot imagine. For example: This post is the result of the suffering of another person who doesn't even know I have this blog. I don't know who will read this post, what their situations are, or what they will do after reading this post. I hope that at least one person will be positively affected by this. It's for God to sort out, not me. I do know that watching my friend suffer with such faith has positively affected me.

As part of the Mystical Body of Christ, we are united to Christ. This makes redemptive suffering possible. Without Christ, our suffering is without value, but because we are united to Christ, our suffering is given purpose. We cannot sit back and say, "Oh well, Jesus took care of it all for me" and not even offer to do our part when given the opportunity. Instead, we can offer our suffering for our salvation and that of others. I don't know about you, but I am far from perfect. I sin on a regular basis and I confess those sins, but I still have a responsibility to make up for that sin as best as I can. I will do it either here on Earth through penances and redemptive suffering, or I will do it later in Purgatory.

Before you panic, I am not advocating that anyone even consider harming themselves in order to cause suffering. There is also nothing wrong with doing what one can to relieve suffering (within reason). Taking a pain reliever when you have a headache is a good Catholic practice. While you are waiting for the medicine to kick in, offer the pain to God and remember your dependence on Him.

In the meantime, I am going to try to avoid suffering and pray fervently for my friend, and all those who suffer, to be released from the bonds of suffering. Until then, we can each take comfort in the truth that suffering is not useless when united to Christ and His Passion, Death, and Resurrection.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Christ is the Point - Part 4

Don't take anything that I have written in this series as my recommendations for you. These posts are my way of sorting through my very confused thoughts over the past several weeks and I thought I would share these thoughts in case they can help someone else.

There are definately times when a person should go to another parish. In my opinion, if your spiritual well-being or that of your family is being harmed and there is another parish within a reasonable distance, then by all means go there.

There are several things that complicate my situation. 1) I am at least partially responsible for these abuses and so feel a responsibility to make up for my sins. 2) I have the knowledge and real ability to work to correct them. 3) In addition to my pastor being part of my spiritual family, he is also, although not by blood, part of my real family. 4) The numbers of priests in active ministry are falling and we need every priest we have. 5) I love my pastor and true love means making hard choices.

Because of those three things I have chosen my path. I don't know if I will make progress or not, but I will take St. Catherine of Siena and St. Monica as my patrons in this task

It's not about what would make me happy or what would be less frustrating. Christ is the point!

Christ is the Point - Part 3

I will admit that my pastor frustrates me. I wish I could say that liturgical abuses didn't happen at my parish, but they do. Most of these are minor when you look at the abominations which occur in other parishes, but they still shouldn't happen. I don't think it was always this way, or maybe he was, but I didn't realize it at the time because I was...ummm...liturgically "progressive". I will even admit to being at least partially at fault for some of the liturgical abuses which take place at my parish. Many years ago I was convinced that these things would be a great advancement and would make great progress in growing the faith of the congregation. Although, I now realize the harm I caused and I can't make it the way it was, Father does not. Still, Masses at my church don't have giant puppets, unordained homilists, liturgical dancers, or butterfly kites and I am grateful for that.

All of this has made me rather bitter and on more than a few occasions I wondered why I was still at that parish. Then, Father got very sick and we were subjected to the neverending cycle of "rent-a-priests". Some of these were very good and others were worse than I could ever imagine. This made me think about how lucky we are to even have a priest and not only only a priest, but a choice of parishes. I have the option to go to Mass at another parish with very little effort. Actually, to get to my parish requires that I drive through several territorial and ethnic parishes. There are parishes where there are no priests and Sunday celebrations are lead by deacons and laity. We are blessed indeed.

I am not saying that the liturgical abuses at my parish are ok, they are not, but I have chosen to stay put, pray for my pastor, and give as much gentle guidance as possible. The reality is that he has been a dear friend for many years and the thought of losing him both to death and illness has changed my perspective on these matters.

I go to Mass for Christ, I am Catholic because of Christ, and I pray for my priest to Christ. I pray that he will understand that Christ is the Point and because of that these abuses will stop. Please pray for him, for me, and for my parish. Because Christ is the point, I will stand with him and do my best to guide him both for the souls of the congregation, for his soul, and for my soul as well.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Christ is the Point - Part 2

I often hear many criticisms of the priests around me. Father P talks too long, Fr. M is too boring, Fr. C is snobbish, Fr. L has too thick an accent, Fr. N doesn't like people, Fr. A drives too expensive of a car, and the list could go on and on.

It shouldn't be about a preferred style or personality. There will always be those who are preferred by particular people, but if a person is choosing a parish or, even worse, leaving the Church because of a priest's style there is a problem. I'm not talking about abuses here, but ordinary differences between individuals.

"But.....I need to go where I am fed" you say. You are fed at every parish. You recieve the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ into your body and you become one with Him. What more do you want? Sure, it would be great if every priest gave 3 minute homilies in which they preached like Bishop Sheen after Mass they each lived like St. Francis of Assisi, had the linguistic abilities of the apostles at Pentecost, and had the personalities of Fr. O'Malley in "Going My Way".

The truth is, that just as I wrote in Part 1, they have the same faults as the rest of us. They get tired, frustrated, and lost for words. They might be shy, outgoing, quiet, loud, and any number of personality traits. If any of those are cause to make you want to leave your parish or the Church you need to reevaluate why you are there in the first place.

Christ is the point!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Christ is the Point - Part 1

We are not baptized into the hierarchy; do not receive the cardinals sacramentally; will not spend an eternity in the beatific vision of the pope. Christ is the point. I, myself, admire the present pope, but even if I criticized him as harshly as some do, even if his successor proved to be as bad as some of those who have gone before, even if I find the Church, as I have to live with it, a pain in the neck, I should still say that nothing that a pope (or a priest) could do or say would make me wish to leave the Church, although I might well wish that they would leave. ~Frank Sheed
The Church is perfect, the people who are in it and even those who run it are not. I hate to think that there are people in this world for whom I am the voice of the Catholic Church. For them, my words and actions are the words and actions of the Catholic Church, even if I am not working in any official capacity at the time. That is a terrifying thought. Still, that is what what so many are apt to do.

I met this week with a mother who removed her son from religious education and soon afterward stopped practicing the faith because of a volunteer teacher who had some less than ideal teaching methods. For her, that teacher was the face of the Church and she decided that it was better to leave because the teacher had turned her son off from religion.

I will admit that I have a responsibility as a Catholic, as a theologian, and as a parish/diocesan employee to behave in a certain way and to always bear witness to the faith. I also have a responsibility to minimize my faults and lesser qualities, but I am not perfect. I am a sinner who tries time and time again to get it right. I lose my patience sometimes. I don't always know the right thing to say. I may be in a fog and pass you by without realizing you are there. Don't hold these things against God and His Church.

Christ is the point!