Below are excerpts from the May 2016 issue of The Long Island Catholic Magazine.

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Faith and new works

by Bishop William Murphy

 

Mary, Mother of Mercy

 

In the month of May in the Year of Mercy, what better subject can we turn to than Mary, mother of mercy? Before me (pictured at Madonnaright), I have a copy of one of the most beautiful paintings of the Renaissance. It is by Piero Della Francesca and it depicts Mary as mother of mercy and, hence, mother of the Church. She stands strong and beautiful; she stretches her arms out so that her cloak lifts in such a way that she is sheltering about 8 or 10 people, who represent all the members of the Church and all of humankind who receive through her the mercy of our heavenly Father.

Let us reflect on that image this month and, in our minds and hearts, keep that image before us of Mary. She is the one who, by God’s prevenient grace, is conceived without original sin. When the angel comes to her with God’s command that she bring his immortal Son into the world, she responds with her fiat: “Be it done to me according to your word!” Luke tells us that, once the angel left her, she set out in haste to the hill country to visit her older cousin, Elizabeth, who was pregnant with her son, John. As she enters the house of Elizabeth, she is greeted by her cousin, “How is it that the mother of my Lord has come to me?” And then we hear Mary’s response: the beautiful prayer of the Magnificat: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord … from this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his name.”

Mary receives all the graces of God’s merciful love and his heart bursts forth in song, giving thanks and glory to God because of what God has accomplished in her. And we, too, rejoice because in her womb is now the Son of God made man who comes to save us and bestow on us the salvation that God has planned for us all though the maternal generosity of Mary, who gives to Jesus her human nature.

But wait. Recall the next words of her Magnificat: “He has mercy on those who fear him from generation to generation.” Mary, understandably, is filled with gratitude to God and shares with Elizabeth her wondrous news of how God has blessed her with becoming the mother of Jesus. But I sense a shift in her prayer of praise. Mary thinks not just of herself, as well she might. After all, she is the only woman in the world ever to receive such a gift of God. Yet, even in the midst of her own joy at how merciful and gracious God is to her, she stops thinking about herself and turns her prayer toward us to embrace us in this great gift: “He has mercy on those who fear him from generation to generation!” Even at this unique moment, Mary does not think only of self, but of all of us who, from generation to generation, will be the recipients of God’s merciful love that floods the world and will redeem all of humankind through the death and resurrection of his divine Son, the son of Mary.

That total commitment to God’s will reaches its climax for Mary when she stands at the foot of the cross of her son. She shares in his suffering and death as only a mother can. She suffers the sense of abandonment and utter and complete loss as only one who is as filled with love for her son as she was filled with his body in her womb. And, there and then, her son, Jesus, gives her up to us: “Mother, behold your son. Son, behold your mother.” Mary, who accepted God’s invitation, who brought her son into the world, who is his most perfect disciple and who is full of grace, now becomes for all of us the mother of the Church and the mother of mercy!

St. John Paul wrote of her, “In her and through her, this love continues to be revealed in the history of the Church and of humanity. For she offers the Church and all humanity the merciful love of a mother.”

As we participate in all the various moments of this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Mary should be ever present to us in our hearts and minds. We ought to turn to her and ask her to accompany us in all the ways that we seek to open ourselves to the mercy of God. In turn, we must learn from her first to rejoice in the manifold ways that God grants us his merciful and forgiving love, and then be as attentive to others as was she in the prayer of her Magnificat. Yes, the Almighty has done great things for her and for us. Yes, his mercy pours forth on those who fear him from generation to generation. And yes, Mary is both mother of the Church and the mother of mercy, watching over us, protecting us, guiding us again and again to her son with the maternal love that made her our mother at the foot of the cross and the joyful mother who shows us the way through the cross to the resurrection.


 

Seminarian Profile

A journey of faith: Jiha Lim

 By Paul McAvoy | Photography by Gregory A. Shemitz

 

Jiha-Lim-smallFor some people, the call to a vocation comes with a dramatic intensity, like a bolt of lightning out of the air. For others, the call can be a quiet whisper, barely noticeable at first, but impossible to ignore. For Jiha Lim, who will be ordained to the priesthood this year, the call to his vocation was more like a crescendo in a musical score — quiet at first, but always advancing and building towards living his life fully in service of Christ and the Church.

“For me, faith was so natural, so gradual,” said Jiha. “I always used the analogy of the escalator for me, there was no difficulty, no obstacle, no supernatural miracle, no exciting story — it just flows, slowly, it goes up.” Jiha Lim was born in Seoul, South Korea, and lived there with his parents and older sister until he was 10 years old. He remembers going to daily Mass with his mother, very early in the morning, and helping as an altar server. The Catholic faith was a central part of his life. In this atmosphere of faith and family, the first seeds of his vocation found good soil, as he recalled with a laugh. “When I was about seven or eight [years old],” Jiha said, “I promised my mother that I’m going to become a Catholic priest, not because I really wanted to become one, or because I knew what it takes to be a priest, but just to please my mother as a little child. But really from such a thoughtless statement, it grew stronger and my aspiration to become a priest became real.”

When Jiha was 10, his family immigrated to the United States, and lived in several different places before settling in Valley Stream. He was fortunate that he was able to pick up English quickly at school. On the weekends, he went with his parents to the Korean Masses at St. Dominic’s in Oyster Bay, and there he became part of the Korean community, as well as his hometown community of Valley Stream. It was at St. Dominic’s that he met the man who would help encourage his vocation, Father Tom Ju.

His meeting and getting to know Father Tom through activities like being an altar server coincided with Jiha’s growing feeling that perhaps he had a call to the priesthood. Around middle school, he explained, “I seriously began considering the priesthood, and not just to please my mother, but as something God was calling me to do.” Having a good example in Father Tom further kindled and encouraged Jiha. “Father Tom was such a charismatic priest who really taught me what the priesthood was like,” Jiha recalled. “He was always unreservedly, selflessly giving himself to other people. I remember wondering, ‘Wow, this is a very smart man who knows a lot about philosophy, theology and so many other things. He’s a very intelligent, bright man — how can such a smart man be so eager to give?’ And I used to call it foolish charity, the charity that is so unreserved, that is willing to give without making any judgements.” This impression of the priest as one who was willing to give everything without a hint of reluctance is one that would stay with Jiha throughout his discernment.

“I saw the priesthood as giving the sacraments and helping people spiritually, but also providing practical help for people. It’s all connected,” Jiha said. This was also the time that Jiha began to reason through some of the more difficult aspects of the priestly vocation, such as celibacy, and he could see how that sacrifice would imitate Christ’s selflessness and give a testimony to the eternal life. For such a young man, these thoughts about the priesthood showed how mature Jiha’s vocation was becoming.

By the time he was in high school, the call had become undeniable. He had plenty of support in his parish, from Father Tom and others. At school, it was a slightly different story. “I went to public school my whole life, and I had great teachers and guidance counselors, but when I brought up my aspirations to be a priest to them, they didn’t know what to do with me!” Jiha found that the adults at his school were respectful of his decision, but they just didn’t know where to refer him for more information. Luckily, there were plenty of resources at his parish and Father Tom helped him, even to the point of writing his recommendation letter for seminary.

Jiha’s family, of course, was also supportive, and his father gave him the advice to look to the lives of the saints and men like Damien of Molokai for their radical commitment to the Gospel message. Jiha was inspired, though he felt a certain pressure (that he admits he put on himself) to try and put off the seminary for a while, to try out college and see if he still felt a calling to the priesthood. After high school, he spent a year and a half attending classes at a private college, but found he did not want to put off exploring his vocation any longer. With his parents’ blessing and the recommendation from Father Tom, Jiha was accepted by the Diocese of Rockville Centre to study pre-theology at The Cathedral Seminary House of Formation in Douglaston.

“I really loved it there,” Jiha said, “it was the first Catholic school that I had attended! For the first time in my life I got to live with priests and seminarians, all these great guys who shared the same faith and came from different parts of the world — not just different dioceses.” Jiha was at Cathedral for two years before transferring to St. Joseph’s Seminary, where he is finishing up his fourth year. In the time of his formation, he’s gotten to be very close with his classmates, where he has forged some of the strongest friendships in his life, and learned from some outstanding priests and teachers. “The men we have [teaching in seminary] are such high-quality, excellent, amazing people — and sometimes I even feel sorry to the parishioners out there who have to miss them because we keep them … I’m tremendously grateful and I know I’m very privileged.”

As he looks forward to his ordination, Jiha knows this will be the culmination of years of discerning and formation, of study and hard work. But more than that, it will be a chance to live out, as he sees it, the same kind of “foolish charity” and radical love for Christ that the people in his life have inspired in him. “I’m looking forward to learning from the previous generation of priests who are serving our diocese, to benefit from their mentorship and example. That way, I’ll be able to put together this well-balanced, never exclusive ministry that is spiritual, sacramental and practical in serving the people of God.”