In non-pandemic times, the Lawyers Guild of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland would gather for Mass and a Lenten reflection with the bishop.
This year, Bishop Edward Malesic used technology to address about two dozen members of the group the evening of March 3 as he offered a Lenten reflection, “Turning Curses into Crosses.”
After an introduction by Judge Laura Gallagher, guild president, the bishop shared a newspaper story about a teenager with sickle cell disease, an inherited blood disorder that can cause pain and other serious health issues. He said the teen enjoyed life and loved to play basketball – unless the disease flared up. When asked if he would accept an opportunity to be cured of his affliction, the teen thought about it and declined. Although he admitted it was enticing, the teen said he wouldn’t be the person he is without his disease.
“He learned from it,” the bishop said, explaining that the young man had developed patience and learned to be positive despite his cross: sickle cell disease.
“Every cross is a blessing if we use it to follow Jesus,” he said.
When pondering if we have a curse or a cross, Bishop Malesic said to consider if there is a silver lining to the cross. He drew comparisons to this year of pandemic, noting that there have been blessings, including the opportunity to spend more time with those we love and the opportunity to learn more about and from each other.
“Do we allow God to accompany us in our time of suffering?” he asked.
The bishop mentioned his 103-year-old father who has had familiar things he loved taken from him one by one. “Yet he still finds joy and he stays positive,” he added.
We don’t need to look for crosses, the bishop said. “They find us.” But he said it’s important not to look at our burdens a curse, explaining we need to learn to get to the other side of the cross.
“Jesus gave us a glimpse of our future in last week’s Gospel, in the transfiguration. We have the promise of resurrection.”
Jesus knew what awaited him when he went to Jerusalem – torture and crucifixion. He couldn’t stop Calvary, the bishop said, but we can learn from him and not become bitter people.
He shared the story of another man in his 30s who came to visit him. The man was a musician and developed severe tinnitus or ringing in his ears. He sought a cure by seeing several specialists in the medical field and eventually, he got some relief. “But he now sees this as a cross,” the bishop said.
In fact, he said the man “offers up his cross at Mass, telling Jesus, ‘This is my body – ringing ears and all – that I offer up to you.’ I’ve learned from him.”
Bishop Malesic suggested another way we can offer up a cross in daily life, mentioning the need to wear face masks for safety during the pandemic. “We don’t like them, but we can offer up wearing them for the salvation of souls,” he said.
The bishop also posed the question: “Would you really want a cross-free life?” Referring to the teen with sickle cell disease, “He said ‘no.’ Our crosses make us who we are. We’re all made to be saints by the weight of our crosses. We move from death to life. May we all be saints one day, moving from death to life and finding Easter glory.”
During a question and answer session, the bishop addressed inquiries about closing churches during the pandemic and how he envisioned Holy Week this year.
He talked about a professor he met in Pennsylvania. The man was a devout Catholic; he and his children attended Mass regularly, but his wife did not. During the suspension of public Masses, they watched livestreamed liturgies and little by little, the man’s wife became more attentive. When public Masses were offered again, he said the wife returned to church with the rest of the family – a silver lining to the pandemic.
When asked why bad things often happen to good people, he said the road ahead is not always smooth. “Even Jesus fell with his cross. We have to come together as a community,” he added.
The bishop said he has an obligation to protect both the faithful and the clergy, noting that many priests are older or have issues that put them at risk for COVID-19. He said about 50-60 priests in the diocese either had coronavirus or were quarantined for a while because of exposure to the virus. He said he learned during a visit to St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Parma on Feb. 28 that about two dozen parishioners died from COVID-19.
Another questioner asked about the controversy surrounding the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which may be produced using a cell line from abortions. He explained that the Church tells us if there is a choice, to select another vaccine. But if there is no choice – as is usually the case right now – it is permissible to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
“But we need to ask the people producing the vaccines to stop doing this,” he said, referring to the use of cells from abortions for testing and production of vaccines.
As the session ended, he led the group in reciting a prayer to St. Thomas More, patron saint of lawyers.
“I appreciate you bringing your faith to your profession,” he told the guild.