How do you like them apples! Print
From the Diocesan Administrator
Written by Msgr. James Bartylla, Diocesan Administrator   
Thursday, May. 30, 2019 -- 12:00 AM
From the Diocesan Administrator column

Msgr. James Bartylla gave the following homily at the White Mass held on May 19 at St. Maria Goretti Church in Madison.

Greetings to our doctors, nurses, and all Catholic medical professionals, especially to those attending this “White Mass”, and thank you for your service and professional care to all of us who come to you in great need. Thank you too to the Catholic Medical Guild of the Diocese of Madison for arranging this “White Mass” and reception.

In the Gospel today for the fifth Sunday of Easter, we see moral evil confront Our Lord personally and directly. Judas leaves to do his “dirty work” and surprisingly Jesus exclaims at that moment, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.”

From a human perspective, that’s an odd response to the question of evil in which Our Lord seems to revel in the consequences of the evil act of his betrayer upon Him.

Question of evil

The question of evil is a mysterious one -- it’s as old as the serpent tempting Eve in the garden with the fruit (i.e., “the proverbial apple”). Is theology any help to this nagging question of evil?

St. Thomas Aquinas, in the Summa Theologica, I, Question 2, on “The Existence of God”, provides a very brief answer that is theologically succinct and sublime but experientially unsatisfying for many people. The objection in the Summa is stated thus: “It seems that God does not exist; because if one of two contraries be infinite, the other would be altogether destroyed. But the word ‘God’ means that He is infinite goodness. If, therefore, God existed, there would be no evil discoverable; but there is evil in the world. Therefore God does not exist.”

St. Thomas’ brief but beautiful reply to the objection is as follows: “As Augustine says (Enchiridion xi): ‘Since God is the highest good, He would not allow any evil to exist in His works, unless His omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil.’ This is part of the infinite goodness of God, that He should allow evil to exist, and out of it produce good.”

Nice answer to a thorny question, St. Thomas, but where do we ever see this? Here are three stories.

Redemption story of the innocent

The first profile pertains to the innocent. I had the great privilege last Thursday night to hear Melissa Ohden, a social worker by background, describe her story as an infant abortion survivor, as she spoke at our diocesan St. Thérèse Lecture Series.

She is not bitter to her maternal grandparents who coerced her mother to have the abortion, to her mother who went through with the procedure, or to the abortionist who begrudgingly signed her birth certificate for the “failed” saline infusion abortion procedure performed on her in 1977 at a non-Catholic hospital. Melissa’s story is one of God’s grace and power of forgiveness in answering God’s call in her life. See

Melissa, a Catholic, describes it as her redemption story. Not surprisingly, and sadly all too common, the abortion estranged her mother from her grandparents, and in this case, her mother wasn’t told that Melissa was born alive and survived the abortion.

Some of the nurses that day saved Melissa after the failed procedure, and Melissa became a brief ward of the state before being adopted. Eventually, later in life, Melissa found and corresponded with her biological mother, and then arranged a meeting with her at a zoo. Her mother cried as they hugged and said she had wanted to hold her aborted child for more than 30 years.

In a blessed way, her mother was given the opportunity, unlike so many other mothers who live with the regret of their abortion. (However, there is great help and gentle healing for such women at the Catholic Apostolates of Rachel’s Vineyard and Project Rachel -- I encourage women to seek this confidential, spiritual assistance!)

As Melissa became popular through public speaking on the issue, more and more facets of the events surrounding 1977 became apparent, including nurses present that day coming forward to talk to her. Melissa also describes how at her testimony at various government hearings regarding the issue of the sanctity of life, people in opposition refuse to talk to her, or tell her that she’s lying, or turn their backs to her. She carries her medical records with her and offers to show such persons the detailed records of the abortion procedure that “failed” and resulted in her birth.

Melissa is married and is in her 40s. She has children, and providentially, she gave birth to one of her children at the same hospital where she barely survived the abortion! In 2012, she founded the Abortion Survivors Network and has been in contact with over 200 such survivors.

God will always have the last say in goodness -- let’s call it truth.god. St. Thomas Aquinas can confidently say to the serpent, “How do you like them apples!”

Authenticity of former death row inmates

The second profile pertains to the authentic -- men and women who were former death row inmates. I had the same dramatic but grateful feeling on Thursday night at Melissa’s presentation that I had several years ago when I walked up the back steps at Holy Name Heights.

On the steps of the west entrance, ten or so persons were having a smoke. I stopped to talk to them to find out who they were as they stayed overnight, and I found out they were former death row inmates who were freed through later evidence, most likely DNA analysis, and who traveled the country speaking of their experience in the judicial system.

It is something that led to my interest in jail and prison ministry, and my love for the authenticity of those I meet “behind bars” who often are very honest about their life and often so ready for a deeper conversion in faith.

St. Thomas says to the serpent once again, “How do you like them apples!”

Courageous martyrs

The last profile pertains to the courageous. The Catholic martyrs of the communist era are beginning to stream forward in the Church toward sainthood, now when the Communist era has largely receded from memory for the younger generations.

The Church takes her time and recognizes her masterpieces slowly. For example, the Hungarian Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty, jailed and exiled by the communists, was just recognized as living the Christian virtues in a heroic way, the first step in the canonization process.

Blessed Vladimir Ghika, a Romanian priest arrested in 1952 for failing to join the communist regime’s schismatic church, died in prison in 1954 due to cruel treatment. He was beatified by Pope Francis on August 31, 2013.

St. Thomas Aquinas says to the serpent one more time, “How do you like them apples!”

These encounters make one realize that good theology saves and bad ideas kill. It’s the dangerous game for all of us of the high stakes of eternal life.

As we celebrate the Eucharist today, we thank you, the Catholic medical professionals, not only for your day-to-day service, but frankly, for your heroism of fidelity to the sanctity of life and to sacred doctrine.