Saturday, July 23, 2011

Moving On

Today, I said goodbye to the parish where I have worked for the past 11 years and the pastor I have worked with for the past 14 years. It has been a long journey filled many with joys and sorrows, and many lessons have been learned. Together we watched three parishes close and together we helped bring a new parish into existence.

After I left my home parish, I never thought I would find a parish that would become as much a part of me as the parish where I grew up but over the years it became more than a workplace: it became home. Although I came here as an employee, I eventually officially joined the parish.

I pray that as I move on from this parish to my new assignment, that I will become as much at home in my new parish as I have here. I now am blessed to have two home parishes: The parish where I was raised and where my ministry began, and the parish where I spent so many years serving God and His people.

Today, I do not only leave a parish, but I also leave the diocese where I have worked for the past 17 years. Over those years, I have served in permanent and temporary positions in several parishes. Each parish and each priest has left a mark and has shaped me in ways I could not forsee. I am grateful to all those who have helped me in so many ways.

The Gospel today, particularly "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it." I have been looking for the field and the pearl and I have found them, so I go where the Lord calls me.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

17 Years

17 years ago on July 17th we celebrated the 17th Sunday of Ordinary time. That was my first day in parish ministry and a day I will never forget. It didn't seem like very much at the time, but it was the beginning of and experience and a wonderful adventure that would change the course of the rest of my life. Because of that simple day, I have met bishops, Cardinals, and even the Pope and well as presidents, musicians, and countless laity of various degrees of faith. I have had experiences which wouldn't have even happened in my dreams and made friendships that will last forever.

I had no idea where this would lead me, but there is no part of my life that has not been affected by the result of this day, 17 years ago and I am grateful. I returned today to the church where it all started. The church has been renovated so it no longer looks like it did at the time and there is a new priest now, but most of the people are the same. It was great to return "home" and reminisce with old friends.

Never underestimate the influence one person can have on a teenager. I am here today because a priest reached out to me, gave me something to do, trusted me with real responsibility, and was a real friend. I know that I am one of several who had the blessing of his mentoring and friendship and each of our lives were changed for the better.

I am thankful that I can look back over the past 17 years and find young people who I have been able to affect in similar ways. It delights me to see them, now as adults and nearly adults, and see how their lives have changed because I reached out to them, gave them something to do, and trusted them with real responsiblity. Of course, not every kid accepted, but those who have are now wonderful adults who have a strong foundation in faith, service and ministry. I am convinced that the best way to keep kids Catholic is to get them involved in parish life - I don't just mean youth groups! Choir, altar servers, altar guild, readers, religious ed, and parish councils are all great opportunities for young people to nurture and put to use their faith. Don't let these opportunities slip by.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The Theologian's Prayer

Most Christians have never heard of St. Anselm of Canterbury and even fewer have read his magnificent works called the Monologion and the Proslogion, but I think they are essential reading. If you read nothing else from St. Anselm, be sure to read the first chapter of the Proslogion. It is a beautiful and rich combination of deep theology, devotional writing, and prayer. I am convinced that the world of theology would be much better if chapter 1 of the Proslogion were engraved on the hearts and minds of every theologian.  

Here is the end of the chapter which I have dubbed as:

The ideal theologian's prayer. 

Let me discern Your light whether it be from afar or from the depths. Teach me to seek You, and reveal Yourself to me as I seek, because I can neither seek You if You do not teach me how , nor find You unless you reveal Yourself. Let me seek You in desiring You; let me desire You in seeking You; let me find You in loving You; let me love You in finding You.
I acknowledge, Lord, and I give You thanks that You have created Your image in me, so that I may remember You, think of You, love You. But this image is so effaced and worn away by vice, so darkened by the smoke of sin, that it cannot do what it was made to do unless You renew it and reform it. I do not try, Lord, to attain Your lofty heights, because my understanding is in no way equal to it. But I do desire to understand Your truth a little, that truth that my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand that I may believe; but I believe that I may understand. For I believe this also, that 'unless I believe, I shall not understand' (Isaiah 7:9)

Text from: Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works. Translated by Brian Davies and J.R. Evans. Published by Oxford University Press.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

On Idols and the Cult of Personality

We often warn our children about the dangers of taking sports stars, musicians, and actors as role models because of the chances that they will prove to be bad role models, but do we ever think about the people who we take as role models. Role models are an essential part of the human existance. We all need someone to look up to, to emulate, to show us what greatness and success looks like and the Christian life is no different. That is why we have the saints. We are called to look at their lives as an inspiration, to learn from them, and to discover the areas of their lives that we can emulate. Then there are the living examples of the faith who we look up. They can come from any walk of life, but they are most often priests or religious. These are the people who teach us, they often are those who have brought us to the faith. They inspire us. We can always count on them for advice and we trust their teaching. All that is good, but there is a line between having a role model who we look at realistically and turning that person into an idol and building a cult of personality around him.

The cult of personality is something that the Church has had to deal with since the beginning:
St. Paul wrote: For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by Chloe's people, that there are rivalries among you. I mean that each of you is saying, "I belong to Paul," or "I belong to Apollos," or "I belong to Cephas," or "I belong to Christ." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I give thanks (to God) that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say you were baptized in my name. (1 Cor 1:11-15)
There have even been people like Simon Magus who tried to build a cult of personality around themselves (Acts 8:9-24).

I was blessed by my childhood experiences. Blessed because I was raised with priests and prelates in my family and because I had close relationships with many other priests and bishops throughout my life. These relationships allowed me see to the pedestals that these men were often placed on and also allowed me to see their own personal struggles. When I look back on my experiences I stand is awe of the openess with which they let me into their lives. As a result, my idealism was destroyed when I was very young. Once when I was 16, someone asked me if I was nervous working with so many bishops and cardinals and I responded by saying, "Why? They are no different from anyone other priest. They just have much more responsibility".

Over the years, at least half of the priests who I have worked with have left the priesthood for various reasons. Even the priest who first reached out of me when I was a young teenager left the priesthood after a decade of misery in a vocation that was never his to begin with. Thankfully, he is now happily married in the Church and is a wonderful father to his children. One priest left because he became burned out, two chose to respond to homosexual lust, one completely lost his faith, one grew disallusioned with the Church, and one left after a tumultious affair with a member of the parish staff. Each of these left varying degrees of damage in their wake. The latter was the worst because he was a very talented priest who had a large "following" who he was able to convince of his innocence. Because of this, he was able to lead the congregation to do heinous things which nearly resulted in schism.

Of course, these were the dramatic things. There were also much lesser things. One priest with whom I worked was physically, emotionally and verbally abused by one of his immediate family members. Another suffered from severe clinical depression. Still another had left the priesthood before and after he returned he struggled to hold onto his priesthood and guarded it with everything he could muster.

The blessing of this experience was that I saw how truly human and flawed people in positions of power are and I learned to not be swept away by popular acclaim. I learned that pedestals are uncomfortable places for the individual and that the persons on them will fall sooner or later with tragic results to all involved. Still, I was shocked by many of the events even though when I look back the signs were everywhere.

This has left me rather cynical. I have seen the faults of those who are looked upon with honor and respect. I have met stars and presidents and I am not impressed by the rich and famous. In fact, the only person who has really ever left me speechless was the Pope himself. On the bright side, it makes conversations with these people rather easy.

So, why am I telling you all this? Really, it's because I know how easy it is to look at someone else, particularly someone with power and prestige, and think that they have it "all sewn up". It becomes worse when we are dealing with people of faith because the fall of our faith role models can damage our own faith if we have given an inordinate amount of respect to that individual. Remember, we belong to Christ! Not Father so and so, or bishop so and so, or Mr so and so. We are all sinners and we all fall short. However, we are each striving for the common goal: the heavenly beatitude but we cannot do it by ourselves.

This doesn't mean that we can't have people who we look up to and admire, so long as we don't make idols out of them. The vast majority of the priests and bishops I have met are very good and faithful men who have edified my faith and I admire them greatly. Still, we must remember that no matter who we are, we are all in the same boat. We are in the Barque of Peter and Jesus is at the helm. He must be our captain and we must keep our eyes on Him and trust in Him as our boat is tossed around in the storm. He is the Way and the Truth and the Life (John 14:6) but there are others who despite their own journey can lead us to Him just as we can lead others to Him. (One humbling experience in my own life was learning that my faith had touched a bishop.)We should take the saints as our role models and accept the living teachers who are provided to us, but we must always be careful to remember that these teachers are sinners like us who are striving for the crown of sainthood just as we are. Pray for them fervently because the principal difference because them and us is that Satan is gunning for these men in order to destroy them and our faith in the process.

Yes, when and if we come to discover the faults and sins of of those whom we admire it can be a crushing blow, but remember your own sins and the mercy and forgiveness you seek for yourself and be merciful and forgiving of others. Always remember that if you are considered a pious Catholic, there are likely plenty of people who are putting you on a pedestal too and taking your actions as representative of the entire Church. It's a heavy and unfair burden, but one that you too likely carry. I know that I do and I also know that I have been far from the ideal candidate for the task.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Have a happy and safe 4th of July!

Prayer for our nation:

God our Father,

Giver of life,

we entrust the United States of America to Your loving care.

You are the rock on which this nation was founded.

You alone are the true source of our cherished rights to

life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Reclaim this land for Your glory and dwell among Your people.

Send Your Spirit to touch the hearts of our nation´s leaders.

Open their minds to the great worth of human life

and the responsibilities that accompany human freedom.

Remind Your people that true happiness is rooted in seeking and doing Your will.

Through the intercession of Mary Immaculate,

Patroness of our land,

grant us the courage to reject the "culture of death."

Lead us into a new millennium of life.

We ask this through Christ Our Lord.


Sunday, July 03, 2011

Little Acts of Mercy

The well tended grave of Humberto Cardinal Medeiros
Today is the one month anniversary of my dear friend's passing. Since I am unable to visit his grave today, I went last Friday on the 4 week anniversary. (The one month anniversary is very important in my culture and is set aside as a time of prayer and penance) It also happened to be the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Day of Prayer for Priests. I went to the cemetery to pray for him and to check on the progress of the installation of his new personal headstone (The ground was being prepared). I was pleased to see that there have been many visitors to his grave who have left rocks at his family headstone (He is buried at his family plot and not at the diocesan plot). At this cemetery each plot is allowed to have a small garden and there were also some new flowers planted there. I also added a small plant and tended the garden. Father was always well loved and he has not been forgotten, but his death is still very recent and I wonder how long it will be until people forget and move on.

From there, I went to the Diocesan priest's plot in the same cemetery and found a very different situation. In a cemetery where each grave has a small garden which is tended by the family of the deceased, these graves were neglected. Some of the stones were nearly hidden by the grass that was growing over the flat plaque stones, or they were obscured by dirt and other material. I took the time to clear each one. Only one grave had a small garden of flowers and they were perrenials that appeared to have been planted years before and forgotten. It made me wonder if anyone ever thought to pray for these priests or if their names were now simply entries into sacramental registers, parish histories and family stories about "when I was your age". They too had been loved by many people, but now??? Two of the priests buried there had served at my home parish. One was the priest who arranged for my baptism. He died tragically after routine surgery when he was only 38 years old. The other was the long time pastor of my home parish who died after several years of retirement, the enjoyment of which was stolen from him by Alzheimer's disease. There were several other priests buried there whom I had known personally and others whose names I recognized because of their legendary status in the diocese. Still, they appeared to be forgotten.

Perhaps it is a sign that as faithful Catholics we realize that our departed loved ones are alive and we are called to let go of them as they pass into the embrace of God, but I think there is a far deeper and a far more disturbing significance. I have heard it said that purgatory is filled with priests because they have no one to pray for them. Think about it: When was the last time you saw a Mass intention for a priest who had died? Most people will offer Masses for parents and grandparents even decades after their death, but most people either never think of or think it inappropriate to request a Mass for a deceased priest. Perhaps it goes back to the idea that the priest is in some way spiritually other, holier, or somehow in less need of prayers. Perhaps it is because people are uncomfortable or ashamed to make the request. Perhaps they just think someone else will do it. Of course, there is the even worse thought that many people don't believe in Purgatory.

I always make a point to visit the communal priest plot at diocesan cemeteries and the story is always the same. The graves are forgotten (not by the cemetery staff) and I fear their souls are forgotten as well. Pray for those deceased priests who touched your life and for all those who have served your parish. They spent their lives serving and praying for us and they deserve the same in return. They have no widow or natural children, instead they adopted their parishioners as their children and the Church as their spouse. The next time you visit a Catholic cemetery, look for the diocesan plot, clear away the leaves and the overgrown grass, and say a prayer.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Novena for Priests

On this, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests, I was reminded of beautiful novena which I found on the website of Sacred Heart Parish in Dunn North Carolina and it has become a part of my prayer repertoire. I would like to offer it to you here so that each of you can pray it at least once.

Novena to St Jean Marie Vianney for Priests

Based on the Novena written by Anthony Manuppella ©1975 Daughters of St. Paul

First Day
St. Jean Marie Vianney, Who Accepted the Cross O holy priest of Ars, as a young seminarian you encountered many obstacles on the road to the Priesthood, but you realized that to suffer was to suffer with Christ on Calvary, and so, if following our Lord meant taking up His cross, you lovingly embraced it. Your motto in life became loving while suffering and suffering in order to love. You did not get discouraged, but your strong faith united you closer to Jesus every day of your life. Oh great St. Jean Vianney, you know what is needed for Father _____________________’s salvation--a strong faith able to accept the will of God in all things. To serve Christ, he too must take up his cross and follow Him. By your prayers, obtain for him a heart full of courage and strength. Obtain for Father _____________________ that same courage and strength to follow Jesus wholeheartedly even if it means following Him to Calvary. Intercede for him before the Lord that he may do the will of God, obey the commandments, and loyally love the Church, the Bride of Christ.
Recite the Novena Prayer.

Novena Prayer
O holy Priest of Ars, St. Jean Marie Vianney, you loved God and served Him faithfully as His Priest. Now you see God face to face in heaven. You never despaired but persevered in your faith until you died. Remember now the dangers, fears and anxieties that surround Father ___________________ and intercede for him in all his needs and troubles especially console him in his most difficult moments, grant him serenity in the midst of crisis, and protect him from evil. O St. Jean Vianney, I have confidence in your intercession. Pray for Father ____________________ in a special way during this novena.

Second Day
St. Jean Marie Vianney, Full of Zeal for Souls O holy Priest of Ars, you taught men to pray daily: “O my God, come to me, so that You may dwell in me and I may dwell in You.” Your life was the very living out of this prayer. The divine life of grace abided in you. Your zeal for the salvation of souls was manifested by your total self-surrender to God, which was expressed in your selfless service to others. You gave of yourself unreservedly in the confessional, at the altar, in the classroom, in fact, in every action you performed. O great St. Jean Marie Vianney, obtain for Father ________________ the realization that God also dwells in him when he is free of sin. Remind him that the salvation of his soul is the fulfillment of his existence. Awaken in him a sense of self-giving for the salvation of souls. Obtain for Father __________, by your intercession, a zeal for souls like your zeal. May he see that God dwells in him and in his fellow men. Obtain for him from our Lord the grace to lead all men to salvation. Let your prayer be his: “If you really love God, you will greatly desire to see Him loved by all the world.”
Recite the Novena Prayer.

Third Day
St. Jean Marie Vianney, Adorer of the Blessed Sacrament O holy Priest of Ars, you had such an overwhelming love for Christ in the Blessed Sacrament that you prayed for hours in His presence. You said that “when our Lord sees them coming eagerly to visit Him in the Blessed Sacrament, He smiles upon them. They come with that simplicity which pleases Him so much.” O Saint of the Eucharist, may your example enkindle in Father ____________ a deeper love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. By your prayers, never let him doubt Christ’s Real Presence, but obtain for him a firm faith rooted in the Eucharist. Help him not to be afraid to defend or preach Christ’s Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament. Obtain for him the grace to approach our Lord with simplicity of heart as he lays his soul’s innermost thoughts before Jesus’ Sacred Heart. Keep Father ___________________ under your continual protection, that he may be supported by your example and assistance and be faithfully devoted to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. May his life reflect the belief of our Lord’s abiding presence with us. O St. Jean Marie Vianney, by the power of your intercession, give us Priests devoted to the holy Sacrament of the Altar.
Recite the Novena Prayer.

Fourth Day
St. Jean Marie Vianney, Greatly Devoted to Our Blessed Mother O holy Priest of Ars, your life was consecrated to the Blessed Mother. You prayed earnestly to her, entrusting your Priesthood to her care. You begged all the faithful to pray the rosary, the favorite prayer of Mary, our Mother. You summed up the reason for your great love of our Lady by saying: “We have only to turn to the Blessed Mother to be heard. Her heart is all love.” O great St. Jean Marie Vianney, I ask you with all my heart through the merits of Jesus and the intercession of Mary, the Virgin Mother to make Father ____________’s life patterned after that of our heavenly Mother, full of love for God and his neighbor. Obtain for him a deeper love for our Lady and a filial confidence in her. She is the person to whom he can turn in times of distress when lonely or upset or in times of temptation. Inspire Father __________________ to consecrate his life to his Mother in heaven. May he know the powerful protection of Mary’s Mantle all the days of his life.
Recite the Novena Prayer.

Fifth Day
St. Jean Marie Vianney, Lover of Sinners O holy Priest of Ars, you spent many long hours daily in the confessional. People came to you for forgiveness of their sins from far-off places. Although you despised sin, you always received the sinner with much love and forgiveness. O holy confessor of the Lord, St. Jean Marie Vianney, awaken in Father ____________________ a sense of his sinfulness before the eyes of God. By your Priestly example, grant him a love of the reception of the Sacrament of Penance. Obtain for him the understanding that it is in confessing his sins that God’s mercy is poured out upon him and he draws closer to Christ. Obtain for him a deep hatred of sin and the grace to resist temptation. Teach him the value of frequent confession, where he meets Jesus, our Savior, the source of all mercy and consolation. Contrite and forgiven may all those with whom he comes in contact act with that same mercy. Pray that Father __________________ always love the Sacrament of Penance. Pray that he may call sinners to repentance with his good example and lives in complete service to our Lord.
Recite the Novena Prayer.

Sixth Day
St. Jean Marie Vianney, Model of Purity O holy Priest of Ars, your life was a model of purity. Your life of chastity was a source of edification to all. You said that when a soul is pure all the court of heaven looks upon it with great joy. Today we are experiencing a great disregard for the virtue of purity; it is looked upon with ridicule by worldly standards. O great St. Jean Marie Vianney, more than ever before, we need your prayers and help in avoiding sins of impurity. I ask you to help Father ___________________ to keep pure in mind and in body and give good example in his speech, conduct and in his faith. Obtain for him the strength necessary to combat temptations against the virtue of purity, which could lead him away from God. Unite your prayers with those of Mary Immaculate to implore God that Father ___________________ be pure in mind and heart and preserve him from those sins which are so displeasing to God.
Recite the Novena Prayer.

Seventh Day
St. Jean Marie Vianney, Humble in all Things O holy Priest of Ars, your life was filled with humility. You wore an old cassock. You ate meager meals. You realized that before the throne of God, you were one of His creatures made to glorify God and praise Him in all things. You said that the “first virtue is humility; the second, humility; and the third, humility.” You counseled people to remain humble, remain simple and the more one is so, the more good he will do. Your simplicity of soul and your uncluttered way of life led you to sanctity. O humble St. Jean Marie Vianney, when Father _____________________ forgets he is totally dependent on God for everything, intercede for him with Almighty God, to allow him to see that without His Creator nothing is possible and that he must rely on God for everything. He is his Creator, who keeps him in existence at every moment. Obtain for Father __________________ the grace of humility. May his life exemplify your humility and simplicity, a life uncluttered, a life totally dependent on God.
Recite the Novena Prayer.

Eighth Day
St. Jean Marie Vianney, Lover of Penance and Mortification O holy Priest of Ars, you led a life of detachment from worldly pleasures. Your meals consisted of a boiled potato each day; you slept a few hours each night. But you did all of this so that you would be able to serve God to the best of your ability. Your life was portrayed by the saying: “We complain when we suffer. We have much more reason to complain when we do not suffer, since nothing likens us to our Lord as the bearing of His cross.” O great St. Jean Marie Vianney, in these days when we are surrounded by so many comforts and pleasures, it can be so difficult for us to do penance for our sins and live a life of detachment. I resolve to offer some sacrifice today for the expiation of Father ______________’s sins and the sins of all mankind. Assist Father in accepting the cross God chooses to send him. May he embrace the life of sacrifice to which Priests are called. May he willingly offer his whole life to God! Obtain for Father _____________________ the grace to imitate the life of Christ by the bearing of His cross.
Recite the Novena Prayer.

Ninth Day
St. Jean Marie Vianney, Good and Holy Priest O holy Priest of Ars, you lived in an age of much upheaval, in a time when men turned their backs on God. Your bishop told of a parish to which he wished to send you where there was no love. He assigned you to Ars and said that you would be the Priest who would enable the people to know the love of God. Not only did you draw these people back to God, but your saintly reputation soon spread and many people were converted to a life of holiness. You said that a good Priest, a Priest after Christ’s own heart is the greatest treasure that God can give a parish. Give us such Priests! O great St. Jean Marie Vianney, once again we are living in day of upheaval. There is much evil in the word. Obtain for Father _____________ the grace to persevere in his faith and never to despair. May he walk with the Lord and trust in Him all the days of his life. Obtain through your heavenly intercession, for Father ___________________ the grace of modeling his life after that of Jesus Christ, that his people will know the love of God. More than ever the people need him to be able to bring the world to Christ. Pray for Father______________ and all Priests, O great Priest of Ars.
Recite the Novena Prayer.