May 28, 2023: My Dear Parishioners,
A modern day parable:
Many years ago, at a village on the Northeastern Coast of England, a tragedy was prevented because a Christian, a priest, lived out his mission at the right time and in the right place. It was 4am on that summer day in that little village, Father John was out for an early morning run in his clerical outfit. When he was approaching the boardwalk, he spotted a young teenage girl leaning over the railings and was sobbing. He asked her if he could help. And quite unexpectedly, she turned to him and proceeded to tell him what she was contemplating! “You know, I have been here an hour and I could not decide whether I should just end it all right here, right now. Finally, a voice in my head was telling me, ‘What’s the hurry? Give it 10 more minutes and should no one come along to talk with you, then by all means jump in!” It was at the precise moment that the priest saw her on the boardwalk and came over to her. It was as if the girl had wanted to wait for someone to come along and stop her. In front of a complete stranger in a funny outfit, quite unexpectedly, she felt completely uninhibited, and she poured out her heart to this man in black. She was debating whether her life was worth living anymore. Her best friend had just died of a drug overdose. And she blamed herself for it. Two nights before, they both went to a party, and she gave her friend some ecstasy with her drinks. Within half an hour, her friend was dead. Nobody knew she was responsible for it, but she knew, and that night in her room, she became hysterical thinking she had killed her friend.
The next two days were pure hell for her. Having been raised by godless parents, she never heard of the gospel. She had no concept of God. She did not know to whom to turn, because in her heart of hearts she knew she alone bore the responsibility for the death of her best friend. She thought her crime was unpardonable. She could not forgive herself, and she did not know to whom she would go for this forgiveness. Despairing, she thought she could not go on living with this blood guilt on her conscience. There was no way out, except the only way she knew, and that how she ended up at the town boardwalk near the water edge at 3 o’clock in the morning. While she was still debating within herself, this priest came along, and he began to pry her heart open with his kindness. It’s funny how people in desperate situations would pour their hearts out to a complete stranger at a bar, or in some unlikely places. That morning, the priest by the grace of God happened upon her, and in a few words, he told her about the mercy of God. As if she had been waiting for this moment all her life, the words spoken by the priest touched her soul in a completely unforeseen way. She never unexpected that this encounter would happen this way. She changed her mind and went home to tell her parents what had transpired.
May 21, 2023: My Dear Parishioners,
I came across these illuminating words from a homily by a priest a long time ago, and I would like to share with you:
"Ascension reveals the mystery of the Man-God. We know from where Jesus comes because we see where He is going: He comes from the Father and now He is returning to Him. What is the implication for us: our life is not hanging in thin air: God is our beginning and so He must also be our end. Ascending to the sky, Christ takes us into His heart and puts us in the heart of the Father.
Christ is the One who, in His incarnation, has united heaven and earth. He has joined together extremes: the poverty of man with the infinite riches of God, the lowly earth and the exalted heaven, the material and the spiritual. Heaven is not a place far away and above and beyond the most distant stars; it is something far more greater, it is where man can find his place in God. Christ is the man who is in God. At the same time Christ is the perpetual openness of God toward mankind. With the Ascension, we now know our true destiny."
“He himself is, therefore, what we call ‘heaven’, because heaven is not a space, but a person, the person of the one in whom God and man are forever inseparably united. And we get closer to the heaven, indeed we enter into heaven, in the measure in which we draw near to Jesus and enter into Him.“ (J. Ratzinger, Homily for Ascension 1975)
May 14,, 2023: My Dear Parishioners,
With the Passion and Crucifixion, Christ has given us Himself, his friendship, his own life, that we can now have true peace of heart.
At the Last Supper He commanded his Apostles, "Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Today, He is saying the same thing to us. “Do not fear!” If we stay close to him, what do we have to fear, what can trouble us? St Paul wrote: "With God on our side, who can be against us? Since God did not spare his own Son... we may be certain, after such a gift, that he will not refuse anything he can give..." (Romans 8:31-33).
The whole universe is ours, because Christ is ours. Everything is at our fingertips, at our disposal, because we belong to Christ, because we have faith in Him. In the midst of troubles, temptations, sicknesses, failures, and even our sins, Christ is always by our side, loving, guiding, and upholding us. As we accept this truth, we begin to experience true peace of heart, the kind that doesn't depend on moods and circumstances, the kind that gives us the strength and joy of the martyrs, who sang hymns as they were burnt at the stake.
May the joys of Easter continue to keep our hearts glad!
May 7, 2023: My Dear Parishioners,
We have been talking about the problem of injustice in a broken world. For a godless atheist, there should only one obvious solution for pointless suffering. But for a faithful Catholic, an entire horizon of possibilities opens up! When bad things happen to good people, the secular world has no answer for it – “It is what it is! Just suck it up!” But a believing Christian would refuse to just suck it up! He would argue and bargain and negotiate with God until he is satisfied that he has been heard. And it’s a beautiful thing to behold, because, you know, for him, God is real – as real as the day is long. Life is unfair, unjust, and unreasonable. But God is in charge, and so I am going to wrestle with God! That's how a Mr. Arek Szura, a Polish immigrant who lives in the Richmond district of Philadelphia, dealt with God. I am going to share his amazing story with you - a story I read from the website Aleteia recently.
His family and he belong to St. John Paul II parish there. One day, his critically ill son Adrian, 7, went into cardiac arrest in October 2022. Faced with the unprecedented calamity, this son of Poland did not curse God and wished to die. Neither did he climb on the roof of his house and cry to the whole world how life was so unfair to him and his family. Arek Szura made a promise to God: “If you let him walk out of this hospital, will walk from our house on my hands and knees to church to thank you.” Szura’s wife, Izabela, told Catholic News Agency that the odds were almost completely against Arek ever fulfilling that pledge. The Szura family had learned in 6 months before that Adrian suffered from acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). While in treatment, Adrian had experienced “the rarest of rarest side effects” from his chemotherapy: His heart stopped for 30 minutes as doctors at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia worked to resuscitate him. Although the medical team revived him, the boy experienced a number of potentially fatal side effects from the cardiac arrest, she said. “His kidneys and liver were not working, and his body swelled with almost 25 pounds of fluid because his kidneys (were failing),” Izabela Szura said. The doctors also warned that Adrian might have sustained neurological damage from the heart failure, she said. Adrian had “only a 10% chance of survival.” But Izabela and her husband Arek Szura, along with their daughter Alexandra, 10, and a band of supporters known as “Adrian’s Army,” refused to give up hope. Izabela Szura placed an icon of Mary and Jesus in Adrian’s hands, along with a rosary. Slowly, dialysis removed the excess fluid from his body — 46 days after his cardiac arrest, Adrian was discharged from the hospital. A month later, Adrian was “in complete remission” with no signs of neurological impairment. Today, he is “running around like a crazy kid”.
On April 8, Arek Szura fulfilled his promise to God, donning work gloves and kneepads to shuffle and crawl the 10 blocks from his home to St. Adalbert Church, part of St. John Paul II Parish and home to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Polish Apostolate. During the 40-minute trek on his hands and knees, “I prayed to St. John Paul II, St. Rita and St. Charbel,” said Arek Szura. Ahead of his arrival at the church — which coincided with the traditional Holy Saturday blessing of Easter food — his wife, the mother of the miracle boy, phoned the priest, Father Jan Palkowski, alerting him of the thanksgiving pilgrimage. The old priest literally broke down on the phone crying. He had been a priest for 47 years and had never seen anything like that. His whole family drove to catch up with Arek Szura as he neared the doors of the church, where Father Palkowski had his hands raised in blessing. Adrian “cried as he ran out” to meet his father. Arek Szura made his way up the church’s aisle and knelt before the crucifix that had been laid out for veneration during Good Friday services.
Let me leave you with some quotes from the Bible:
“I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes — I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!”
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
April 30, 2023: My Dear Parishioners,
Life is unfair. Get used to it! Haven't we heard that before? Is that possible? Can we just suck it up and move on – it is what it is and there is not a thing we could do about life. Children, especially, are very quick to recognize an instance of unfairness, and they are always quick to call out the perpetrators. Certainly, people can put up with the unfairness of life, but only to a degree, then life could become intolerable, even hellish. Take the case of a mother whose daughter was murdered by an over-jealous boyfriend, who went scot-free because the police mishandled the evidence. What for her to do once her lawyer had exhausted all possible venues of appeal? Countless victims of injustice went to their graves without any possibility that society could ever make redress on their behalf of all the moral outrages. And so, for a thoughtful person, the question of God is ultimately linked to the question of justice. If God did not exist, true justice would be impossible, wicked people would never be held accountable, and innocent victims would never have their day in court – either in this life or the next. If God did not exist, evil would certainly have the last laugh!
Now, what if life is unfair, but on an entirely different level: when we cannot pin our suffering on anyone, when bad things happen to good people without rhyme or reason, when we cannot name the perpetrator? What to do when we suffer as a result of sheer bad luck - being in the wrong place at the wrong time, inheriting bad genes, and the likes. What to do when life has decided against us randomly? Is it always possible to make lemonade when life gives you a lemon? What if life hands you not a lemon, but scorpions and rattlesnakes?
For Christian believers, the existence of God means, among other things, that justice will have the last say – regardless of how the court of earthly justice has adjudicated. A true Christian believer will not allow the unfairness of life to defeat him and embitter him and turn him into a pathetic victim. For a true Christian who loves God and lives on the graces of the Resurrection, life makes sense regardless of how meaningless it might have all been. Thus, he can put up with an unjust and unfair world without ever giving up on life, giving up on mercy, on forgiveness, on hope, without ever capitulating to resentment, despair, vengeance. Cardinal George Pell of Sydney spent more than 400 days in solitary confinement having been convicted wrongfully of molesting a child by the court system of the State of Victoria. After the Supreme Court of Australia finally overturned his conviction unanimously and freed him, the Cardinal was never heard uttering even a single word of hatred toward the prosecutors and the judges and his accusers.
For a godless atheist, there should only be one obvious solution for pointless suffering. But for a faithful Catholic, an entire horizon of possibilities opens up! When bad things happen to good people, the secular world has no answer for it – “It is what it is! Just suck it up!” But a believing Christian would refuse to just suck it up! He would argue and bargain and negotiate with God until he is satisfied that he has been heard. And it’s a beautiful thing to behold, because, you know, for him, God is real – as real as the day is long. Life is unfair, unjust, and unreasonable. But God is in charge, and so I am going to wrestle with God! (To be continued next week)