Fr. Mike Paraniuk
Fr. Mike Paraniuk
By Fr. Mike Paraniuk
St. Mary Catholic Church
and St. Benignus Catholic Church

This is what Heaven on earth looks like for me: sitting around a campfire, the aroma of cooking steaks, the pleasure of a good drink and the company of a good friend. That’s what I did last Sunday evening to celebrate our children receiving their First Communion and my birthday. Then God did something wonderful as He always does.

When I entered Loop I at East Fork Park, I noticed this young man, who looked like a young Fabio, sitting near his tent at a picnic table. He sat by himself, intently focused on a book he was reading. When I left the park three hours later, I passed by him again. He was still at the same spot, sitting motionless while reading. I stopped my car and approached him.

It didn’t look like he had eaten, so I offered him some steak. Politely, he declined, returning to his book. I asked him what he was reading. He said, “the Bible.”

I replied, “I know a little something about the Bible. Anything particular you’re looking for?”

He revealed his life was a mess – lost a job, break up with a girlfriend, living back home with his parents, feeling alone. With a sigh he said, “I’m looking for peace. I don’t even know what peace looks like.”

I offered him my understanding of peace. I explained:

On this earth, there are two types of peace. One is offered by the world. The other is a gift given by God. Earthly peace is simply an absence from trouble. It is based on external things. It doesn’t last because nothing lasts in this world. You get a job, move out of your parent’s home and meet another girlfriend. You feel peace for a time. But if you lose any one of these things, you lose peace as well.

God’s peace is not the absence of troubles, but His presence in your life. It is a gift you can never lose if you believe in God. It is based on His love for you that never ends.

I had him look up John 14:27 “I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”

I remembered this verse because it is the reading for today’s sermon. The neat thing about God’s peace is that it lasts through all your troubles unlike earthly peace.

I shared with him that today was my birthday. I offered him a bit of wisdom I learned over 71 years of living. I have learned that if you have love, God and open your life to Jesus, everything does work for the good, even the troubles. The arc of a life with God always bends toward goodness. The greatest blessings in my life came when I was at my lowest. I opened his Bible to Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good.”

I asked him if he belonged to any church. He said he was Catholic as a child but didn’t practice for years. I asked him where he lives. He said Buford. I told him if he ever wanted to attend Catholic worship, there are two really great Catholic churches in Hillsboro and Greenfield. The priest there is wonderful.

He asked, “Who is the priest?” I smiled and said, “It’s me.”

He laughed and said, “I knew there was something different about you.”

I said, “My parishioners tell me this too, but I don’t know if that’s good or bad.”

I shook his hand before leaving. He said, “I’m hungry.”

“For peace?” I asked.

“Well, yes, but I’ll take some steak.”

What a joyous way to end my birthday. Happy Easter.