September 17, 2015
Father Mark Doherty
Having grown up in a house full of boys (I am the third of four) I can easily picture the argument the Apostles were having along the road to Capernaum about who among them was the greatest. The arguments in the Doherty house were (and still are) almost entirely centered on athletic accomplishment, and because I was clearly the least accomplished athlete in the bunch I often felt like I was bringing up the rear in our little platoon.
Maybe the main reason why I was a far less accomplished athlete than my brothers is that I was born with two important ocular handicaps. I was born with nystagmus – a constant shaking of the eyeball brought on by an insufficient maturation of the central focusing mechanism of the eye; and strabismus – the inability for both eyes to be directed at the same object at the same time (in layman’s terms: cross-eyed). In early childhood I underwent three major surgeries aimed at correcting some of the pronounced problems. While the surgeries certainly helped, they could only do so much.
The result of all of this was that I felt cursed, and I often wondered why I and not my brothers had to live with the limitations of this handicap. I never felt more cursed than the day I was cut from college soccer. I would be the only man in my family to get cut from college ball. My father had played college football and baseball; my brother Philippe played basketball; Kevin football; and Paul played football and basketball in college.
In hindsight, some 17 years after having been cut from college sports, I look back on that day, and on my handicap in general, as a key to the great blessings the Lord has worked in my life the past decade and a half. Getting cut from college ball marked the beginning of a turning point for me. My own dreams and plan having been swept away, I finally began to give God a chance, a hearing in my life. The void created by my failure to make the roster allowed God to establish a beachhead in my life. I doubt that I would be a priest today, the happy and fulfilled man that I am, if I had not been born with a handicap. God has manifested his love for me by transforming my curse into the source of his greatest blessing upon me.
In last week’s Gospel and in today’s, we find the Apostles rebuffing Jesus’ assertion that the Messiah must suffer great things, die, and be raised from the dead. They don’t want a suffering Messiah; they want a conquering Messiah. But the truth is that if God were not able or willing to enter into our deepest sufferings, to take upon himself the burden of our curses, and transform them into newer and greater life than would have been possible without the curse, then he’s just not worth it.
Jesus is worth following and worshipping precisely because he takes upon himself the burden of my curse and transforms it into greater life. By doing so he manifests that God is the magis, the always greater: His love, goodness and power are always greater than anything else, even the curse of death, and for those who would allow him to, he would transform all of our wounds and curses into newness of life, life that would not have been possible without the curse. There is no curse, no suffering or wound that falls outside the purview of God. Through God’s transformative grace I have gone from the back of the pack to the front. I boast not in myself but in the power of God’s mercy, and I proclaim full-throated: “O blessed fault! O blessed curse! For through you God has worked something even greater in my life.”
Father Doherty is parochial vicar at St. Peter and St. Anthony churches and chaplain for Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory.