From Father's Desk

Dear Friends,

My heart is breaking for Ukraine. War is terrible, all the brutality and aggression, not to mention the chaos and death. This war has hit me especially hard. In part because my great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Wocjik, left the region of Galicia, between modern day Poland and Ukraine, to settle in Chicago. She is my Catholic relative, amid a host of Protestant ancestors, and I trace my Catholicism and hence my priesthood to her. And in another part, because I see this senseless aggression as a son attacking his mother. Ukraine is the cultural heart of the Rus people. Christianity and culture spread northward from Constantinople along the Black Sea trade routes, up the Dnieper River to Kyiv, and then eventually north and east. So, despite some rhetoric Ukraine is really the motherland of Russia.

This war primes the pump for the question: why do bad things happen to good people? This is one of those times when life just does not make sense. In this case, we can point easily to the source of evil. Sometimes life events are much less clear. In this case human freedom run amuck, choosing evil, ill will and violence, are the cause for these series of tragedies unfolding.

This week, we deal with a hard word: NO. Sometimes God says: No. Some may think that God always says no – or very frequently at least – and it is just to take the fun out of life. But in fact, when God says “no,” it is usually so that we can make a bigger “yes.”

In, Seriously God? (p.3) three possible answers emerge from prayer: go, grow, and no. Go is the green light - meaning, yes. Grow is the yellow light - meaning not yet, “grow into the gift.” No is the red light.  This makes me think of some wisdom from Fr. Jordan Aumann’s Spiritual Theology. He noted that in our prayer, sometimes God answers in the affirmative, other times in the negative, and still others in the not yet. But he also stressed the importance of petition. It is good to spend time and energy in supplication to God, seeking out graces and virtues. God showers us with graces and blessings. He is a generous father, but there are some graces that we will not receive unless we ask. Most of us may never play in the NFL or the Berlin Philharmonic, and a slim percentage are just naturals, but others will only make it with much practice, sacrifice, and prayer. We do not often think of prayer as the secret sauce to our success, and foremost it is not. Best it is to consider prayer the heart of growing in grace and virtue, but it could be the key difference between an average and a phenomenal life. We might reflect on this question: “What am I really willing to beg God for?”

In the Gospel this weekend, Jesus is tempted by the devil. In the desert for 40 days, Satan approaches Jesus when he is tired and weak with fasting. (Note, the evil one does not approach when we are strong and ready to resist.) Each of these temptations is in some way a shortcut, an easy out, a fast escape. Just turn these loaves into bread; just worship the devil and you can have your kingdom; just leap from this building so the angels rescue you and prove to everyone that you are the Son of God. Jesus does none of these things. He falls into none of these temptations, and at each step He renews his trust in God his Father. The last line is a bit ominous, “he departed from him for a time.” This wasn’t the last interaction between Jesus and Satan.

This session in the desert was a great training for Jesus; he strengthened his spirit, while saying “no” to evil and a greater “yes” to God. Lent is a great time for that kind of training. One question might help: is X for my genuine good? Will X help me to grow in holiness?

Yours in Christ,

Fr. Wilson