Faith, pop culture, and headline reflections from Fr. Mike Schmitz.
Faith, pop culture, and headline reflections from Fr. Mike Schmitz.
The Real Answer to Why God Allows Suffering
Playing a video game called Injustice helps Fr. Mike explain the real answer to why God allows suffering.
In Injustice, Superman becomes a totalitarian dictator in his attempt to try and eliminate evil. Batman tries to tell him, in trying to eliminate evil he has ceased to do good, because without the freedom to choose evil, we don’t really have the freedom to choose good either.
Couldn’t God do better than Superman though? Couldn’t he just fix everything by bringing us back to the Garden of Eden? Anyone who is a parent knows that doesn’t work because God’s children—us—would just mess up again.
So what does God actually do? He doesn’t eliminate evil. He draws close to us in the midst of evil. He suffers a painful death. He descends to the depths of hell. He doesn’t take away suffering. He transforms it and redeems it by entering into it. This led St. Paul to say:
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24).
St. John Paul II said in suffering we receive a sliver of the Cross. Our suffering matters because Christ’s suffering matters and we are his body. All we have to do is tell God to use our suffering. Nothing given to God is ever wasted, so give it to God.
What It’s Really Like to Be a Catholic Speaker
Many people ask Fr. Mike, “How do you become a Catholic speaker?”
The quick answer is “Get baptized and start talking.” Of course this implies that you live out the promises of your baptism. When you do that, people will start asking you to give talks about the Faith.
At least that’s how it worked out for Fr. Mke. The caveat is that being a Catholic speaker is not all that it seems to be. The Faith is not going to spread throughout the world through someone on a stage with a microphone in hand. Christ will redeem the world through relationships, especially family and friendships.
The danger is in thinking that giving talks equals ministry. The Catholic teacher, director of religious education, and volunteer are in the messy relationships that make disciples of Christ one person at a time. We don’t want to become someone who is willing to travel a thousand miles to tell a thousand people about Christ, but isn’t willing to cross one street to tell one person about him.
Jesus first reached out to his twelve disciples and built strong relationships with them. Then people started coming to him. When you live an authentic Christian life founded upon a strong relationship with Christ and with others in Christ, people start noticing. You won’t have to aspire to be a Catholic speaker because those who are looking for a leader in the Faith will ask you to be one.
How to Get Real Friends
How many real friends do you have? Honestly, many people we call friends would probably better qualify as pals or buddies. The first step to getting real friends is to recognize how we are all made to be gifts of love. God is love and we were made in his image. We were also made for community, because God is a community of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Living out this love and community as God does requires availability and vulnerability.
By availability we mean “care-free timelessness”, as Catholic evangelist Matthew Kelly calls it.
By vulnerability we mean taking off the mask. This is the really hard part. As a missionary Fr. Mike knows once said, vulnerability is not just transparency. Transparency is letting someone look into the fish bowl. Vulnerability is inviting them into the fishbowl and letting them move things around.
How can we all learn to grow in love, community, availability, and vulnerability so we can become real friends to others and live as the image of God in the world?
If You’re Not Feeling Loved
If you’re not feeling loved by someone you love, take courage in the story of Leah in Genesis.
Jacob, Leah’s husband, did not love her. In fact, what’s even worse, he loved her sister, Rachel, instead. Leah named her first three sons out of her hope and desire for her husband to love her, thinking if she bore him sons he would love him. She named her first “Reuben” which means, “Look, a son,” saying, “Now my husband will love me.” She named her second son “Simeon” which means “listening” because she felt the Lord heard her prayer for Jacob to love her. She named her third son “Levi” which means “joined together” because she believed this time her husband will finally be joined to her.
By the time she had her fourth son, she named him Judah, which means “may God be praised.” She finally stopped trying to make Jacob love her, and instead she let go and let God take over. It’s no coincidence that Jesus would be born from the line of Judah.
Some people love people the way they know how to love, and the beloved just doesn’t notice. A father may love her daughter through acts of service rather than words of affirmation or quality time.
Others may simply not love you, but that does not mean you’re unlovable.
You’re chosen by God for a reason only you can know. Do not wait for someone else to give you the love that God the Father has already given you.
Freedom from the Fear of Death
Wearing masks, not wearing masks, and all the mixed emotions that have come with the coronavirus reveal that—as a society—we lack freedom from the fear of death.
Maybe you know someone who has died from the virus, or someone who lost their livelihood due to the lockdown. Many are wondering when they can safely go out again, or when they can they go back to Mass.
In fact, the coronavirus is revealing the fear of not just death, but also the fear of loss, uncertainty, and insecurity.
In these strange times, it’s encouraging to remember the one who conquered death. In Hebrews we read:
“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage” (Hebrews 2:14-15).
In a world without Jesus, death ought to be feared because it is a separation from life and everything good. But Christ has transformed life and death. This does not mean suffering and grief simply don’t matter, but in our suffering we have hope that death is not the end.
Living life is risky. About eight out of a thousand people die every year, COVID-19 aside (https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/WLD/world/death-rate). But the meaning of life is so much more than avoiding death. Frankly, some things are worse than death and some things are more important than our lives on earth. We are called to embrace the risks of life and live in hope … while still taking reasonable health precautions.
Believing in a God Who Allows Evil
It may sound foolish to believe in a God who allows evil, tragedy, suffering, and disasters. But God never promised to rid the world of these things. He promised us hope:
“and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).
At some point we are going to experience heartbreak, loss, and suffering. Anyone who thought having faith in God would take away those things in life had the wrong idea of who God is.
Fr. Mike says he has never been disappointed in God, because he knows what promises God did make. God is faithful. He will never break his promises, but he never promised that you would not experience grief. He did promise that in the midst of the pain he will be there. In being there, he will help you to love the giver of peace more than the gift of peace.
Discipleship is a daily cross. God promised trouble, not peace. He encouraged us to take heart in the midst of that trouble, and that’s how we grow stronger and holier.
There will be floods and fire and sickness and tragedy. Turn to the one who promised he will be there with you through it all to help carry you through it. When we feel we have been let down by God the most, those are the times when trust in him means the most.