When the Doubts Disappeared
By Felix Carroll (Mar 16, 2011)
Years before he realized the flaw in his faith, Rick Paolini would have earned check-plusses on an imaginary scorecard grading devotion to the Catholic faith. Rick saw Jesus as the great score keeper who kept track of all the things he did wrong.
As a boy, he attended Mass nearly every day. Moreover, he went to the earliest Mass because it attracted the fewest worshippers, which to him meant fewer distractions. He had a devotion to the Blessed Mother. He prayed the Rosary. He prayed novenas. Against the odds of a secular society, he continued these practices through high school, college and into marriage at the age of 23.
A good Catholic, right? Right.
But he admits today he was "a little spoiled." He had never encountered any serious hardships. He led a charmed life.
"I had this formula," said Rick, who lives in Amherst, N.Y. "I would pray, and almost always my prayers were answered."
Then he got sick from a serious viral infection. He turned to all of his spiritual routines — his prayers, his devotions, and his attendance at Holy Mass. Yet he was still sick, too sick to go to work, a scary thing for the breadwinner of a young family.
"So I started to doubt my faith — not my faith in God, but my personal faith," said Rick. "I figured I must be doing something wrong. Maybe I wasn't saying the right prayers. In the course of all that, when I started to get better, those doubts were still in my mind."
It took him about two-and-a-half years to fully recover from his illness during which time a priest friend asked him to teach religious education. He didn't want to. The priest wouldn't let him off the hook. So he started to teach.
"I found that as I focused on God more, my strength was coming back," Rick said. "But the more important thing was that after a year of teaching ninth grade, the priest asked me to take charge of the program. As I reviewed books for the program, I found one that said that 'faith is your relationship with God and religion is the specific way you express that relationship.'"
When examining his own life, what Rick discovered was that he was practicing his religion beautifully but didn't really have a relationship with God. His practice of religion and his relationship with God were severely out of synch.
"I knew of Jesus, but I didn't really know who He was, and there's a difference," he said.
So he hit the books. He read Scripture. He read about the saints. He read the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This was all well and good, but the more he learned, the larger his questions became. Specifically, two things didn't make sense to him. One was the mystery of suffering. Why was there so much suffering in the world? The other was the crucifixion. God could have chosen to redeem the world any way He desired; yet He chose one of the cruelest and most painful of all. It took him years and the Diary of St. Faustina until his questions were resolved.
Meanwhile, in the mid-1980s, Rick's wife was diagnosed with depression. Rick thought he was going to pray it away, but it didn't go away. They had five young kids by then. Why suffering? "Why should my wife and I and our children have to suffer like this? What's the point?" he asked himself. He struggled with this through the mid-1990s. At the same time, Rick's brother Norm and a woman by the name of Amy Betros had begun a Catholic mission in the inner city of Buffalo called St. Luke's Mission of Mercy. The mission, which serves the poor, was founded upon the spirituality of St. Faustina whose revelations in the 1930s sparked the Divine Mercy movement.
One day, Amy handed Rick a copy of St. Faustina's Diary. Rick knew nothing of St. Faustina at the time.
"I looked at the Diary and was very polite, but I thought, 'Yeah, there's never going to be a day when I'm going to read this thing. It's way too long — 700 pages.'"
Just as he had imagined, when he started to read the Diary he promptly put it down. "To be frank," he said. "I thought Faustina was a nut. She was so far out. There's something wrong with her."
Rick was working as a general manager for Sears. Between that and the pressures at home with his sick wife, he was at his wits end.
"I saw in my brother a faith that was so strong and a trust in Jesus — Jesus, this person who I was trying to build this relationship with," Rick said. "I thought, 'There has to be something in this book that I'm missing.'"
So he revisited the Diary and came upon entry 342 in which Faustina writes about suffering. "True love is measured by the thermometer of suffering," Faustina writes.
"It honestly changed my life when I read it," said Rick. "It hit me in the face. The two things that made no sense to me — suffering and the crucifixion — all of the sudden made sense. My God would choose the path that He would suffer most because He loved me that much. That was his thermometer of suffering. It also showed me that suffering had a purpose. I understood for the first time redemptive suffering — having so much love for someone that you would suffer for them. It made so much sense in my relationship with my wife who I loved more than anything. But it was difficult because she was ill, but there was no one in the world that I should be more willing to suffer for.
"Saint Faustina goes on to list all of her trials in entry 343," Rick continued. "They were similar to my trials. But in her case, she was thanking God for them. When I read about her thanking God for things that bothered me or that I just about hated, I knew I was hooked. I could not put the Diary down. I fell in love with the messenger and the message."
As Rick put it, he was "on fire for Divine Mercy."
Soon after finishing the Diary he was kneeling before the image of The Divine Mercy and praying the following prayer: "Dear Lord. You know what's in my heart. You know I'm on fire for this message. If you want me to speak to others about it, lead me."
Within three minutes, Amy approached him and asked him to give a reflection about Divine Mercy and to lead the novena prayers that evening before Mass.
His future as an apostle of Divine Mercy unfolded from there. A volunteer from the local Catholic radio station, The Station of the Cross, approached Rick and told him he should be on the radio. Rick did not take the suggestion seriously for a long time, but she persisted, so he began writing Divine Mercy reflections for airing. But that wasn't all.
In 2004, Sears was making changes like many large corporations. Rick had the unpleasant responsibility of laying people off or notifying employees that their benefits would be cut.
"I eventually said to my wife, 'I can't do this much longer,'" Rick recalled. He thought very seriously of taking an early retirement. The biggest stumbling block was how he would support his family. One evening he prayed to St. Faustina and Jesus: "I'm frightened, and I need some help here, please show me that this is the right thing."
Then he opened the Diary to a random page. His hand landed on entry 548 in which Christ tells St. Faustina, "My daughter, I assure you of a permanent income on which you will live. Your duty will be to trust completely in My goodness, and My duty will be to give you all you need. I am making Myself dependent upon your trust; if your trust is great, then My generosity will be without limit."
"I told my wife about it," Rick recalled, "and the next day I told my boss I was leaving."
He left, with no job lined up. Nothing. After several months he began the novena to St. Faustina. His intention was that God would help him find some sort of income for him so he could pay his bills.
On the very last night of the novena, Rick came home and there was a message on the machine from the founder of The Station of the Cross. He was offered a position at the station. And, of course, he took it. That's where he works today, the business manager for Holy Family Communications.
He also serves as the co-host of a weekly radio program, "Divine Mercy in My Soul." He continues to create Divine Mercy reflections based on the Diary of St. Faustina. He is a member of a Divine Mercy group dedicated to spreading the message of The Divine Mercy and to establishing parish groups to pray the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy for the sick and dying.
Rick is now a guy who trusts and wants to spread this beautiful and powerful message of God's Divine Mercy.
Rick is in synch.