Fr. Paul Kalchik: A Christmas Message

by Church Militant  •  •  December 21, 2018   

'The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it!' John 1:5

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This past year has certainly been dark, and many have little hope for the future. Many of our Church institutions and her leaders have been revealed to be something other than what they purported to be: grand juries making long lists of sexual predators among the clergy; popes and cardinals not acting as popes and cardinals should; and traditional marriage denigrated, on the verge of becoming a relic of history.

Dark times for this fallen world and challenging times for the faithful. Yet we do have hope.

"The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it!"

Ironically, we forget how dark the world was that First Christmas, 2,000 and some years ago. The civilized world in the West was at peace, yet this peace was maintained at great cost. At the time of Jesus' birth, four-fifths of the population of Rome were slaves. Health care was primitive at best. Most of those who lived at the time eked out a short life, often in squalid conditions and in bedlam.

And yet, God sent His Son into this very dark, dark world, to offer hope to all, hope of redemption and new life.

And yet, God sent His Son into this very dark, dark world, to offer hope to all, hope of redemption and new life. And 2,000 years later, a better Christmas Gift has yet to be given or matched!

One lamentable thing about Christmas, then and now, is that although God extends this salvation to all, so many walk away from this marvelous gift, some out of ignorance, but many out of simple indifference! You wonder why the image of the Madonna in so many of her depictions is sad; here is your answer. Despite her "yes" to God, despite the gift being freely given, so many are just so indifferent, so ho hum.

A gift package with exquisite wrappings and bow, left unopened and ignored under the tree — how lamentable is that! The world's greatest gift is made a vain thing. What good is God's gift of a Redeemer, when the Redeemer is not welcomed into a person's heart! Yet we have hope!

"The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it!"

This Christmas make it a priority to hold that true light which is Christ up for others to see, and to welcome Him into their hearts anew.

For myself, many, many years ago, that light which is Christ was almost extinguished in my heart, except that a very short, only about five-foot-tall, holy Jesuit priest intervened. Father Ed Miller made certain this light would not be extinguished.

At 19 in the aftermath of being raped by a bad priest, I was a shattered young man. The once rock-solid faith of my youth was destroyed. I found it hard to sit through the celebration of the Holy Mass, let alone try to say a Rosary, and yet God put this very little man in my life to pick up the pieces, and to try to make sense of the nonsensical.

That fall I had Fr. Ed for Johannine Theology at University of Detroit; the course entailed using the original koine Greek text and translating it into common English. Earlier that year when I signed up for this course, it seemed like a no-brainer. I had already taken three other Greek theology courses from Fr. Ed. And when you took a course from Fr. Ed, you could not help but learn from him, dynamo that he was.

If you can imagine it, his Greek courses were taught to the seminarians the first period of the day, and he would walk into the classroom in a clean cassock at 7:50 a.m., and by 9, he would be chalk dust from head to toe. We would always tease him about how he got more chalk on himself than on the board, but being a true master of many modern and ancient languages, Fr. Ed would just shrug off our teasing and share fun Bible facts. To this day, I have never met a holier or more knowledgeable priest — and I've met a lot of priests over the course of my 57 years. Father Ed was the genuine article, as compared to what has become common today — priests in name only.

So in the aftermath of what transpired in Chicago in the summer of 1982, I went back to university early, and began my fourth year. And I went through the motions as a student; I went to class, I tried to study, I tried to take notes, I tried to concentrate, my Franciscan superiors tried their best to keep me on track. They said all the right things: "It was not your fault." "The priest who abused you was bad." "These things happen in the course of peoples' lives." "Keep the faith!" There were a lot of other encouragements, but sadly none of these pithy sayings by my Franciscan superiors seemed to make much sense to me, or to ease the desolation I felt.

I just wanted to die, and one way I coped with all of this was by running. I spent every free hour I had doing so. I ran miles throughout Detroit, 8 to 13 miles a day, and I would never run the same route twice, never! I ran through wealthy neighborhoods, and I ran through the poorest neighborhoods. I wanted to die, and my desire was simply to run off into oblivion and disappear. And if some thugs wanted to take me out, an upper-middle class white boy running through their neighborhood, I honestly welcomed it! I did not fear death as much as I desired it. With death, the horror of what had happened to me would be over, and I would not have to think about how I had been ravaged.

With death, the horror of what had happened to me would be over, and I would not have to think about how I had been ravaged.

But God is good and holy, and God gave me Fr. Ed as my first-period Theology professor. I can still hear him rambling off the Prologue for Saint John's Gospel in its original Greek as I remember him today. He required all students to have the Prologue memorized, and to this day I can still recite most of it by heart. He was that kind of a teacher, so enthused about what he taught that you caught it all, just like catching the flu, except without someone coughing all over you!

As December rolled in that fall, for the first time in my life, I was a horrible student. My grades for all of my courses were in the toilet, and I even had a D in a philosophy course because I failed to turn in a paper. And even though Fr. Ed was a great teacher, Ancient Greek studies were no better. My mind was just a jumble of self-doubt and confusion. What was the point of any of it, why study, why get good grades, why even live? I thought to myself.

On the last day of term, I sat for my exam on Johannine Literature with Fr. Ed, and after sketchily completing my exam, I turned it in. And Fr. Ed pulled me aside, sat down alongside me and then proceeded to write on my exam in big bold letters: A+. To which I protested, "But I can't do any of this anymore."

He responded, "Perhaps not now, but you remember every word I say, and you have always been my best pupil. Perhaps in the future you will not remember how to conjugate all the subjunctive variations of the verb eimai, but you'll remember what is most important."

"I know enough of what happened from your Franciscan superiors to know this is a very dark time for you," he continued, "but 'The light that shone in the darkness the darkness could not overcome!' Have faith, have courage."

"Go home this Christmas and do not worry about any of it," Fr. Ed said to me. "In time you will make sense of it all! Why it happened and why God permitted it to happen. I am giving you for this course, this term an A+. I don't know about your other professors, but I will put in a good word. For all the Jesuits here at this university I am the superior, after all!"

"And by the by," he said, looking me right in the eye, "stop all the running and start eating, for God's sake. You are beginning to look like a man who is eating at a concentration camp and not at our cafeteria."

"Jesus said repeatedly in the Gospels — as Pope John Paul II likes to say, over and over again — 'Do not be afraid,'" Fr. Ed said. "Well, Paul, do not be afraid, have hope, have courage and your future will be bright! It will take time, but you have as a disciple an eternity of time to deal with."

I left that classroom crying. I did return to Chicago, and time has with God's grace healed me.

This Christmas, 38 years later, seems in so many respects like that Christmas all those years ago. But I can still hear Fr. Ed's voice speaking words of wisdom and consolation in my ears: Have hope, have faith and be not afraid. It's an important word of consolation for all of us, in these dark times in which so much has been lost, and in which so much is lacking.

"The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it!"


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