From Father's Desk

Dear Parish Family,

This Lent we are journeying together on two parallel roads. First, we make the traditional walk through the desert with Jesus, renouncing self and spending more time in prayer, fasting and generosity. Second, we are walking as searchers of the one true God, seeking to know who He is and how God acts.

We are challenged in life by mysteries or puzzles that present themselves and lead us to question or even to doubt. These realities can make us feel cold or jaded towards God; to come to grips with that truth, and to admit our questions and frustration is important in the faith-life journey. God never promised that the answers to life’s deepest questions would be readily apparent. Rather, He did offer wisdom to those who press on to the heart. What is it Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living?” Something like that. The opposite would be the foolhardy dictum: ignorance is bliss. These puzzles, doubts, questions - call them what you will - are moments for deeper understanding, of self, of God, of the universe. The unknown can become a bridge to deeper understanding.

Today we strike at the heart of the question: pain, the topic of chapter 5 of Seriously God? The authors suggest that God uses pain. While suffering and pain were not part of the original plan, God can use pain for our good in three ways: 1) disciplinary purposes, 2) the good of others, 3) growth in preparation for heaven. Let’s take each in turn briefly, but this is a key chapter to read, since pain is such a key aspect of our reality.

First, pain can be a corrective. Think of touching something hot. Pain and the fear of causing his family pain have definitely motivated my brother Sean to quit smoking and lose weight. The painful heart attack was a “wake up call” that he finally heard. Thank you for all your prayers!

Second, pain can also be used for the good of others. Pain as a consequence for bad choices often does not follow a 1:1 ratio. The calculus of the universe is more mysterious and complex. We could fast for Lent, and with each hunger pain lift up Ukraine. We could go without a coat, and feeling that cold could be an act of reparation (repairing something broken or wounded by sin) for something our ancestors did. I have been blessed to come to know some wise sufferers, disciples that God has asked to carry a burden not wholly their own. Instead, they lift up the brokenness of the world to God through their suffering. I do concur with the observation of Bishop Fulton Sheen, who noted as he passed a hospital, that much of the pain experienced there was being wasted since it was not being united to Jesus. Intention and a desire to unite our pain to Christ is a key part of the way God can bring good out of suffering. Look to the cross of Christ.

Third, growth for heaven. For me, this is really where the phrase: “no pain, no gain” can apply to our spiritual lives, not just some wacky thing the wrestling coach said! As we have grown up, think of all the discomfort we have endured to arrive at the current moment. Pain is a fundamental part of why we are who we are. In the Hail Holy Queen, we pray to Mary: “To you do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To you do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears…” Now frankly, I always thought that line was a bit extreme. Life is generally good and carries with it plenty of its own rewards. Yet, we must admit that we are sojourners. And “after our exile” we hope to see Jesus. Still, the process of traversing the valley of life and ascending the mountain of God is the story of discomfort, hardship, being pushed to our limit. And in the process becoming stronger and more resilient, better disciples and more resolute followers of the Lord. After all, on this earth we are the church militant. So, it makes sense that spiritually there would be something akin to Navy Seal training.

In the final analysis, pain is not really a problem - only if we fall prey to the illusion that the absence of pain is the goal of life. But heaven is the goal of life.

Happy trails!
Fr. Joel Wilson