Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus
that the whole world should be enrolled.
This was the first enrollment,
when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.
And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth
to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem,
because he was of the house and family of David,
to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
While they were there,
the time came for her to have her child,
and she gave birth to her firstborn son.
She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger,
because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields
and keeping the night watch over their flock.
The angel of the Lord appeared to them
and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
and they were struck with great fear.
The angel said to them,
"Do not be afraid;
for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David
a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.
And this will be a sign for you:
you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes
and lying in a manger."
And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel,
praising God and saying:
"Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."

Lk 2:1-14

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Struggle and Gift

Several months ago a friend and I were discussing some of the difficulties that seem to come along with being lay members of a parish staff. One of these difficulties is our inability to reveal our personal struggles in faith. For the most part, it is inappropriate for us to discuss our own struggles with the people we serve and it can be very awkward to discuss them with the priests for whom we work.

When the parish where you work is also the parish where you are a parishioner (as it was for me) you have a dual dilemma because your priest is also your boss. You can't burden the parishioners with your problems since you are there to serve them so you have to go about your work as though your spiritual and personal lives are well ordered. To discuss these things with your priest also crosses a priest/boss boundary which can be very awkward.

In my new job/ministry all of the above has become far more complicated and I have struggled to find out how to make it work. Both of my bosses are also my priests and I now have a complicated relationship with every priest in a 50 mile radius.

My bosses have taught me a great deal without even realizing it. A few days ago, one of my bosses (I'll call him boss 1) told me about a struggle that he was having with prayer. He was battling through it, but in the end didn't seem to be getting ahead. He was so human and so matter of fact about it that it made me stop and wonder what I was so afraid of. Here he was revealing his struggles to me and the only thing I could offer him was support and friendship while at the same time I battled with the idea of revealing my own struggles and sins to him in Confession where he could offer me absolution and God's grace.

Not everyone saw it that way, though. A coworker heard what he said, and after he left the room, she declared that she would never go to him for advice on prayer or the spiritual life. She thought it was scandalous and as far as she was concerned he was not as "holy as he pretended to be". Let me note here that Father never said he had stopped praying!

A few days later my other boss (boss 2) and I went to an evening Mass and dinner at another parish. It had been a very long and frustrating day for both of us and I wanted nothing more than to go home and relax. His yawning in the sacristy pretty much gave away his exhaustion. Still, whether we wanted to be there or not, we had an obligation to keep.

The Mass was beautiful and it is followed by a very nice dinner filled with delicious food, great conversation, lots of fun and our hosts were so gracious and caring. As we were leaving boss 2 said, "You know, they were so happy that we came. They think I gave them a great gift by coming to say Mass and visit with them during dinner, but I got a gift too. I came in here tired and frustrated, but I'm leaving happy, relaxed and so overtired that I'll never sleep tonight. None of them realize the gift they gave me". I knew exactly what he meant because I was leaving with the same feeling. We went because we had to, but in the end we stayed because we wanted to. In fact, we had so much fun that were among the last to leave.

So, what did I get out of this? Well, a whole bunch of things, but at least 3 in particular stand out.

1) Going through the motions when you aren't feeling it gets you to the other side so you can do it for real. We aren't going to feel like praying, going to Mass, or any number of things, but that doesn't mean you give up. (Ok, so this isn't new to me, but it is nice to be reminded).

2) Knowing my priest struggles with the same stuff that I do is a real comfort because I know he will understand and maybe even have better advice because of it. I don't have to pretend to have my spiritual life in order because he is well aware of his own faults and feels free enough to reveal them to me. (Yeah, I knew that too, I just have never had a priest speak to me so candidly about his own spiritual life. It was a real comfort).

3) Life is a two way street. The priest who struggles can help me with my struggles and might even help himself as he helps me. Knowing what to do and being able to do it are two different things and in talking to me, he is also talking to himself. (Again, not groundbreaking stuff here, but stuff we can easily forget. We can have an effect on our priests too and often what we are given can help him as much as it can help us).

The average parishioner doesn't have to worry about any of this, but being on a parish staff changes everything. You wouldn't bare your soul to your boss in the secular world and you really shouldn't in the ecclesial world either, but I know he won't look down at me when we are in the same boat. Anyway, maybe I can be an occasion of grace for him. ;-)

Now, if I can only come to grips with my own humanity.

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.