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.

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.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Corpus Domini - Caena Domini

A number of my priest friends are celebrating significant anniversaries this year, so I have had the occasion to attend several Masses offered in thanksgiving for the gift of the priesthood. One of those celebrations was held today. Holding this anniversary celebration today, on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, showed in a special way the connection which Pope Benedict pointed out in his homily for this feast when he said,

"The feast of Corpus Domini is inseparable from the Holy Thursday Mass of in Caena Domini, in which the institution of the Eucharist is also celebrated. While on the evening of Holy Thursday we relive the mystery of Christ who offers himself to us in the bread broken and wine poured out, today, in celebration of Corpus Domini, this same mystery is proposed to the adoration and meditation of God's people, and the Blessed Sacrament is carried in procession through the streets of towns and villages, to show that the risen Christ walks among us and guides us towards the Kingdom of heaven."
On this day, we are called to renew our faith in the Eucharistic presence and accept the transforming power of God who through the Eucharist makes us like Himself. As I look around my diocese, however, I see Masses being celebrated less frequently. Saturday morning Masses and nearly nonexistant and most parishes no longer have Mass every day because we do not have enough priests. Many parishes do not have a resident priest and more priests are called on to serve two and even three parishes. Fewer men are being ordained, but that doesn't mean that priests are not dying, retiring and falling ill.

The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ is inseperable from the events of Holy Thursday because Christ not only instituted the Eucharist on that day, He also instituted the priesthood. The Eucharist is dependent of the priesthood. For that reason, any person who loves the Eucharist must also love the priesthood. At his ordination, the priest becomes the conduit through with God provides the Himself to us in the Eucharist. It is simple: no priesthood = no Eucharist.

The Eucharist is also what binds us to God and to each other. For that reason: no sacraments = no Church. Without the Eucharist we would be little more than a prayer group or a social club, but with the Eucharist we are the family of God, the Church. We are a family so intimately bound to each other because we are bound to God. It doesn't matter if we have met that person or even ever seen him, we are connected because we are united to Christ.

Sadly, there are many Catholics who attend Mass and claim to love the Eucharist without recognizing the intimate connection between the Eucharist and the sacramental priesthood. Today, as you give thanks for the gift of the Eucharist take time to also give thanks for the men who are the only ones who can bring this great gift to us. Pray for them and pray for an increase of men to respond to the call to serve the Church in the priesthood.

When the Sheep Drive out the Shepherd

 I know a good priest who is leaving his parish assignment because so many of his parishioners have failed to accept him. The people have no real grounds for not liking him so they complain about his personality, his liturgical style (Mass is longer now), they don't like his homilies (his homilies are actually very good), and they complain that his is not like the previous pastor. In many ways, they chose to make his life miserable and to think only about what they wanted while ignoring what their priest needed and was capable of. Now that they have driven him away, they are upset because they will no longer have a resident pastor. I am having a hard time feeling sorry for them, but I do feel sorry for the priest who will now be responsible for two parishes.

Over the last three weeks, I have spent a great deal of time reflecting on my 18 years in ministry. Some of these reflections and memories are posted here, some will be posted in the future, and others are simply treasured in my heart. Over and over again I have been reminded of the odd ideas that people have about what life is like in the parish office and rectory and what can be expected of the priest and parish staff. In many ways it often seems that people treat it as an alternate universe where the priest is some sort of humanoid robot creature and we, as parish staff, are among the chosen few who get taken up into the mothership each day.


Sometimes I wonder if people think that when their priest was born the doctor said, "Congratulations, it's a priest!" He would have known, of course, by the white collar around the baby's neck. Let's enter reality! These men grew up in families. These families were not perfect and in many cases they were downright troubled. These men had their own experiences which shaped their personalities. Some were always good kids, but others had very dark and troubled lives. Some entered the seminary early while others entered after starting careers and entire lives. It is even becoming more common for widowers to enter the priesthood now. Of course people know these things, but it doesn't change what happens in parish life.

Holy Orders must be the source of this mystical vortex! Sometimes I wonder if people think that the indelible mark transforms the man into the humanoid. While it is true that ordination to the priesthood sets a man apart from the rest of the Christian faithful it does not change him into something other than human. It supplies him with the grace, if he accepts it, to fulfill his calling as a priest, but it does not make him perfect or change his personality, needs or nature.

Here are some of the strangest things I have experienced

At my home parish there was a woman who claimed that her mission in life was to turn priests into saints. She was a good woman who had a very loving and generous heart, but a very misguided mind. Every Sunday she would give Fr. C some booklet or paper about a saint who practiced one form of mortification or another. In one month she encouraged Father to sleep on a bed of nails, to fast on bread and water, and to sleep on the floor. Sleeping on the floor was her particular favorite and she would present information on in regularly. Father was becoming advanced in years and suffered from severe arthritis particularly in his back and knees, but she believed this suffering only made the penance more fruitful. Father would often respond by saying, "You like to have Mass, right? If I sleep on the floor I won't be able to get up to celebrate Mass." I was always responsible for helping Father up after the prostration that begins the Good Friday Liturgy and I knew the struggle he had to stand after just that short time. One Sunday, she rushed into the sacristy in a joyous mood, "Oh Father! I knew you were holy! You are going to be a great saint." Father was rather confused until the woman said, "You don't have to hide it. I saw the mattress and boxspring in the yard! I won't tell anyone that you are sleeping on the floor". With that she went to her pew. I turned to Father and said, "She has no idea that you bought a new mattress and boxspring?" She was clueless and was so happy that his was on the road to sanctity.

Parish supplies were also assumed to fall from the sky. One day I was stocking the sacristy cabinet with hosts and a parishioner came in and said, "Father has to buy those?" I was tempted to tell her that he only bought them once, blessed them and they kept on multiplying. It wasn't only hosts though! There were also strange ideas about clerical attire. One day I was opening a package from our local church supply store which contained several clerical shirts. A woman who was in the parish office saw the shirts and turned totally white! She gasped and said, "Those are priest shirts! You mean....well...I guess he....I never thought of it like that. He wears shirts!" I don't know what she thought he wore. I suppose it theoretically could have been possible for him to just have loosefitting black skin with buttons and a white collar if he was an alien from the planet Priestland.

The sad thing is that after years of this, it all gets rather frustrating. One day I was washing laundry because the housekeeper was sick. One of the parish groups was meeting in the conference room next to the laundry room and a few people said "hi" to me. Then one person noticed that I was washing clothes and said "You have to wash those?" At this point I was so tired and frustrated that I said, "Well, usually I put Father in the washer and then in the dryer. If it's a nice day I hang him out on the line, but he's been complaining that the spin cycle gives him a headache so I thought I would try just washing the clothes this time.

This semi-human status carried over into illness as well. Telling parishioners that Father wasn't available because of illness was unacceptable unless he was hospitalized. Once I had a woman come to the rectory who wanted to speak with the pastor, she refused to meet with the associate. I informed her that Father was unavailable because he was very ill with the flu and she said, "That's ok. I'm not afraid of catching it". I further explained that he had a high fever and needed to rest. She said, "It's ok, I don't mind". I wondered what her reaction would be if I, or maybe her boss, showed up at her door and demanded to see her when she was ill! While it is likely that Father would have left his bed to speak with her, since her need was important, given that she had refused the available priest, the rectory was a very busy place where at least 4-6 people an hour came by looking for one of the priests and had he come down to meet with her he would have never been able to get any rest, that was not a viable option.

More normal events

Those stories are just a few of the more amusing and memorable ones, but I have also seen priests berated by parishioners for sneezing during Mass, not being able to celebrate Mass standing or distribute Communion because of broken bones, accidentally misprouncing words, momentarily losing their place in the Missal, and speaking with an accent. Although we all want a priest who is a master at preaching, finances, business operations, administration, construction, building maintainence, counseling, theology, spirituality, liturgy, music, public relations, etc, the reality is that most priests are strong in some areas and weaker in others. I have worked with very holy priests who were strong in the pastoral areas of ministry, but were disasters in the temporal (financial and administrative) areas of ministry and the other way around as well.

So please, don't be surprised when the alter Christus at your parish turns out to be human after all. He is not ommiscient, he cannot bilocate, he cannot remember everything, he cannot make everyone happy all the time, he cannot change the rules to suit you, he has weaknesses and strengths, he makes mistakes, he has personal needs which must be fulfilled, he has emotions that can be deeply hurt, he has family and friends, he needs time off and time to relax. Have patience with him just as you want people to have patience with you. Remember, Jesus was human as well as divine. His humanity was not snuffed out or overwhelmed by his divinity. Jesus got tired, frustrated, sad and experienced the entirety of human life. His clothes even had to get washed.

Also remember, that your priest needs your support, your care and especially your prayers. Be grateful to have a priest. Don't be quick to judge him or to complain. Be gentle in giving advice or correction. Be forgiving. Send him a thank you note once in a while or just thank him after Mass some day. Be kind to him and speak well of him to others. Ask him how he is doing. Invite him to your home for a holiday particularly if he does not have family nearby. (I know many priests who spent Christmas by themselves because everyone assumed Father had plans) Pray for him every day (not for his transfer to another parish!) and pray that you will come to understand him better.

To read more on a similar topic: Read this post. The Dignity of the Priesthood

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Giant Hill Made of Tiny Grains of Sand

Today marks 3 weeks since Father's passing and it is hard to believe the time has passed so quickly. We celebrated his Month's Mind Mass last night and it was impressive to see the huge crowd of people who came to pray for him. The church was more than 3/4 full and people, including many priests, had come from many parishes and cities.

The Month's Mind Mass, also known in Portuguese as the Missa dos Anojados (Mass of Mourning), is a tradition which has fallen away in most parts of the country, but thankfully here, in the Portuguese community, it is very much alive and well. It is a second requiem Mass which is celebrated about a month after the person has died. The people who attend this Mass tend to have had a closer connection with the deceased and the tone of the Mass is more joyous and resurrection focused. it also provided an opportunity for those who were unable to attend the funeral Mass. While we can often tend to be filled with deep grief and shock at the funeral the Missa dos Anojados provides another opportunity to pray for and celebrate the gift of our loved one who has passed from this world.

Although there were far fewer people at this Mass than attended Father's funeral Mass (the church was standing room only and there were people standing on the steps at the funeral), there was massive crowd. The life of each person present had been touched by him in some way and they came to offer thanks to God for the gift he was in our lives and to pray that Father will receive his eternal reward. Yes, there were tears, but unlike at the funeral, these tears were filled with saudade (an acute sense of absence/longing) rather than grief, and hope rather than tragedy.

Because last night was the vigil of the Solemnity of St. John the Baptist, the readings and propers were from the Vigil Mass and not from the Order of Christian Funerals. I think, however, that there could not have been any more appropriate readings.

Although we were careful to not turn this into a Mass of Canonization, those I spoke with noticed the great similarities between Father's life and the lives described in the first and second readings. The first reading from the the Jeremiah. In this reading, God tells Jeremiah that from the time of his conception He had a plan for him. God calls him to fulfill that plan and become a prophet, but he balks at the idea and lists his weaknesses - He is not a good speaker and he is too young. Father too received a call at a very young age and set off for a country where he was a stranger and did not speak the language. He trusted that God would give him what he needed. Also, like Jeremiah, Father was very aware of his weaknesses but he was not ashamed of them. For example: He knew that his English was not always good, but it never stopped him from preaching God's word. Instead, he relied and trusted in God to strengthen him in his weakness.

The second reading was from 1 Peter. Here Peter talks about the mission of the prophets to never be self serving, but to serve others always and in doing so teach them the secrets of heaven. Again, this is how Father lived his life. He was always a man for others who, in his almost shy way, deflected attention off himself and always onto Christ. He could have taken St. John the Baptist's motto "He must increase, but I must decrease" (Jn 3:30) as his own.

After Mass, we gathered for some of Father's favorite desserts and couldn't help but discuss which ones he would have sampled first. There was also a great deal of fellowship and sharing of stories. Some stories were inspirational, others were funny, and others were poignant. At the gathering, I met old friends and made new friends. I was surprised at how many people sought me out and I was grateful to hear their stories and share mine. There was one woman who admitted to not really knowing Father, but she was compelled to come because he had saved her marriage. He always had a special charism to help married couples and I knew of many marriages in which he had facilitated reconciliations. This woman drove for half an hour to attend the Mass for a priest she had only spent 2 hours with. Several years before, her marriage was broken. She did not know who to turn to, but she had heard that there was a priest who was good at saving marriages. She called him and he offered to meet with her and her husband. After only a few meetings they decided their marriage was worth saving. He got then back to regular Mass attendance and daily prayer and directed them to The Teams of Our Lady, an international association of couples who meet in small groups for prayer and study and, when needed, counseling. Father was instrumental in the teams and served as a spiritual director for several groups in the area. This women told me that she was now happily married and it was all because Father showed her that her marriage was worth saving. There were many, many others who shared similar stories.

There were several priests, who like me, had been taken under Father's wing as children and under his mentorship grew in faith and love of Christ and His Church. These men became wonderful and talented priests who faithfully serve the Church with the same love and fidelity that they were shown from such an early age. I was the only female present who had been blessed with that kind of a friendship, but I know that my vocation to marriage and lay ministry was fostered by Father's example. I am a better wife, mother, and church worker because of his example of love, fidelity, and service. I know there were times that people wondered what was going on between us. One woman even asked my mother one day, "Why does your daughter want to be with such an old man? She is such a young woman?" My mother didn't know how to explain it, and unfortunately we were entering a time where suspicions were high and people were fearful. The truth is, I loved him like a father and in return I was loved like a daughter. The other priests, and those who were present from the beginning of our friendship understood this. The things I learned were true treasures and I will carry with me for the rest of my life and I hope to pass them on to future generations. I am very sad to know that, because of safe environment policies, this generation of young people will most likely never had the kind of friendship that the priests who Father inspired and I were blessed to have.

There were others who were there because Father had been there for them in their time of need. He had counseled them, sat with the ill and the dying, and administered sacraments, inspired through preaching, and just represented Christ to them in his daily life. It is said that the legacy of a priest in found in the souls he leads to Christ. None of these things made the news and individually may even seem to be insignificant, but gathered in the Church, the living legacy of  this priest was apparent. He had done one great work: he loved Christ, he loved his priesthood, he preached the Word of God and he pointed always to Christ.

I am left here with saudade, a deep untranslatable sense of longing and emptiness because I miss him and I recognize that the world has suffered a great loss, but I am also are fulled with hope because I believe that Father will reach his eternal reward which he looked forward to for so long. I will always pray for him, but I will also always pray to him. I despise funeral canonizations, but I am confident that, because of the way he lived and died and the amount of extreme suffering which he endured over these last 10 years, he is either presently in heaven or will be very quickly. (Father was dedicated to the practice of redemptive suffering) Like most people, his name will most likely never be listed among the canonized saints, and I am sure that is exactly how he would want it, but our goal in the Christian life to be become a saint (whether recognized or not). When he reaches his eternal reward he will be able to do more for us than he ever could before.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Priest and the Chalice of Sacrifice

As I have written previously, my childhood mentor and dear friend passed away a few weeks ago. This is a post I wrote two weeks ago, on the evening of his funeral Mass, and have waited to post until now in preparation for when this chalice will be used for Father’s Month’s Mind Mass that will be celebrated tomorrow.

A priest’s chalice is always one of his most treasured possessions. Often it is given to the new priest at his ordination by his parents or grandparents, and they are even often handed down from priest to priest. It is more than a cup. It is a chalice – a cup of sacrifice which at Mass holds the Blood of Christ which was shed for us. The chalice itself is a sign of the self-sacrificing ministry of the priest. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus Himself referred to his Passion and death as a chalice which He prayed would pass him by. Despite this prayer, Jesus accepted the will of the Father.

Father's chalice was given to him by his childhood priest. Many, many years ago I noticed there were two sets of inscriptions on the bottom: one very old and faded and one still old, but clearly newer. The newer one had Father’s name and the date of his ordination while the older inscription had the name of his childhood priest and the dates of that priest’s ordination. Sadly, I no longer recall his name or dates. Father was always very possessive of his chalice which was simple gold with the design of a crown of thorns around the cup. On the node and the base, there were scenes from the Passion. It was unlike any chalice I have ever seen but at the time I missed the profundity of it.

I asked Father why the chalice had a crown of thorns around the cup and he said it reminded him that every priest is called to sacrifice not only at Mass but in life. “Being a priest is not about doing what you want, it’s about doing what God wants even if it goes against what you want. You have to always be willing to sacrifice and a good priest will find joy in that sacrifice”. Father did sacrifice himself even at the expense of his own health. I watched him struggle for years with congestive heart failure and severe arthritis, and later with kidney disease, diabetes, and colitis but none of this ever stopped him from preaching and ministering.

Many years ago, he became seriously ill and his doctor was going to call an ambulance to transport him to the hospital from the doctor’s office, but he convinced the doctor that he was well enough to drive himself to the hospital. When an hour had passed and he hadn’t arrived at the hospital the doctor called the rectory to ask me if I knew what had happened. I was shocked when the doctor told me about the severity of Father’s condition not because I didn’t know he was very, very ill, but because he had called me from the car to tell me he was leaving the doctor’s office and was one the way to anoint a parishioner who was near death. The doctor was livid! By the time Father arrived at the hospital, his condition had deteriorated so dramatically that we were unsure if he would survive the night and within an hour he was beginning to lose consciousness. The doctors came and prepared us for the worst. However, he had one of his almost miraculous recoveries which we soon grew very accustomed to.

One day when I arrived when he was still very ill, he was very agitated almost to the point of tears. He told me that the Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion had brought Communion to the patients, but had skipped his room. It was now evening and he was still waiting for someone to come. I was also an EMHC at the same hospital so I went and checked the list. Sure enough he was on it and the EMHC had passed him by so I brought Communion to him. The complete joy and peace I saw come over him as I lead the prayers, that he was barely able to join in with, was beautiful and the moment when I gave him Communion is one I will always treasure. Just that once, I was able to bring Christ to the man who brought Christ to me and brought me to Christ. I will admit that was an odd event that felt as awkward as it was beautiful. In that moment he was a priest, but at the same time it was as though he wasn’t a priest. The battle between his humanity and his divine vocation became clear has his human frailty seemed to conquer his body, but his vocation and his love of God clearly possessed his soul which could never be conquered by anything else.

He did survive this illness and as he was recovering, he talked with the nurses about the faith and even went to hear confessions and administer the Anointing of the Sick to the other patients in the section of the hospital where he was. It was very moving and those he ministered to were profoundly touched. Before long, his room became so full of people because the families of the other patients would visit him as well that the doctors placed restrictions on who was allowed to visit. Father wasn’t able to get any rest because of all the people! Those restrictions frustrated him because he knew there were people who needed a priest, but at the same time he also knew this was a time when he truly needed to care for himself first. There were many days that I simply sat and read as he slept. Every so often he would awaken for a second to make sure that I was still there. He was very concerned that he would die alone.

For the last 7 years, his feet were so swollen that he had been unable to wear shoes and instead wore slippers everywhere. Just moving slightly would often cause him to cry out in pain, but he never stopped serving his flock even though his means of service changed as his heath faltered. After he retired he would celebrate Masses at many churches and would often go to the funerals of his former parishioners. Even as he was dying he wrote one last homily that was given out at his funeral. I have not read it yet, but I will as soon as I am ready. Until his final illness he wrote a regular column in a local weekly newspaper and gave daily radio reflections on one of our local radio stations.

He was always ready to be called home to God and made it clear that everyone should always be ready because we never knew when God will take us. He was blessed with the gift of having time to get extra ready. I am thankful that he had the opportunity to go to confession before he grew too weak and that he was able to receive the Anointing of the Sick and Viaticum. He also had the gift of having a priest present at his death as several of his closest priest friends were praying at his side in his last moments. This was very fitting for a priest who would make it a point to sit with the dying whenever he could and would go out of his way to ensure they received the sacraments.

When I saw the bishop using Father's chalice I couldn’t control the wave of tears that came over me. That chalice was so connected to him, and his priesthood, that seeing someone else using it was an overwhelming sign of his absence. In a few years that chalice will have a third inscription as a young man who Father inspired is ordained to the priesthood. I hope this young man accepts all this chalice represent both as the Eucharistic Cup of Sacrifice and as the symbolic cup of sacrifice which each priest must accept in his own life.

I have loved priests for a very long time, but I have never really known why. For some time I even considered joining an order of religious sisters whose charism is caring for priests as rectory housekeepers. Over the past week, I have come to realize that this love and desire to go out of my way for them is my response to Father’s example of sacrifice and the deep respect I have for all priests because of his example. Father's example also deepened my love and understanding of Christ and has allowed me to see Christ in every priest and to see that doing for a priest is truly doing for Christ.

The photo is of The Agony in the Garden window from the Church of the Assumption in Franklin, LA.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Priest Penitent

There is a lot of commentary currently on the blogosphere about priestly fidelity. This is different and has absolutely nothing to do with the priest in question. It is merely a story about fidelity to one's priestly commitment for your own reflection.

Many years ago I began working in a new parish. There were three priests in this parish: The mature pastor, a young parochial vicar, and a elderly retired priest. When I arrived for my first day of work I was warned, by the pastor, to stay away from the elderly retired priest. He clearly did not trust the old man and did not want him living in the rectory. One of the first things the new pastor did when he arrived at his parish was to call the chancery to check up on Fr. F's canonical status and faculties. Of course, Fr. F was deeply hurt when he discovered his new pastor was investigating him. Being young and rebellious, I ignored the advice of my pastor and would sit for hours talking with Fr. F about many topics. He was well spoken and very wise and I genuinely enjoyed talking with him.

When the pastor discovered us chatting in the living room, he ordered Fr. F to his quarters on the 3rd floor and with great concern asked me if I was ok and if Fr. F had "tried anything with me". I had never been so confused in my life so I asked about exactly what was going on. I found out that 20 years previous Fr. F had broken his promise of celibacy and entered into a long-term relationship with his secretary. His sin became public and very obvious when his young, unmarried, secretary became pregnant. Fr. F was forced to make a difficult choice. He could remain a priest and be forced to leave the country, never to return, or he could leave the priesthood. When he chose to remain in the priesthood he thought that his secret would never follow him, but he was wrong. For the rest of his life, he was faced with people who questioned his fidelity and his faculties.

He supported his son and his son's mother on the small salary he received from his parish work and longed for the child he only saw in photographs and one week a year during the summer. On occasion, we would speak about his sacrifice and once I asked him why he stayed. He said, "Breaking my commitment to celibacy was a sin, but to leave would be two sins. I am a priest and this is my penance". He also understood that had he left the priesthood it would have marked his son, it would make them unwelcome in their town, and it would have prohibited him from any possibility of earning a livelihood as no one in the town would hired an unfaithful former priest. He accepted his unwelcomness in the diocese, the suspicion from priests and parishioners, his relegation to celebrating the sparsely attended 6 am Mass each morning, and the looks of disdain from so many parishioners, and the many people who would refuse to receive Holy Communion from his hands. I, on the other hand, viewed him as a model of fortitude and faithfulness. He knew his sin, it was public, and it followed him everywhere, but he never gave up. He accepted his penance and clung to his priesthood. As he drew close to the end of his life, he moved to a nursing home where I would secretly visit him several times a week. There would be trouble if my pastor discovered. Many times Fr. F would be sitting in his chair holding a photo of his son and weeping silently when I arrived. His choice was not at easy one. When Fr. F died, his son attended the the funeral and I was glad to be able to tell him about how much his father missed him.

This is just one of the stories of faithfulness and unfaithfulness that I could write here. In this case, the priest was guilty and admitted it, but I know of several other cases where the priest was innocent and suffered through many years of agonizing limbo, which once brought a priest I know to the point of suicide, until being reinstated. Just as in the case of Fr. F, reinstatement to full active ministry even after being cleared does not restore a priest to his former level of respect. He will always be under suspicion, the things he said in anger and in response to pain and injustice will always be held against him, and he will carry the deep emotional scars with him for a lifetime. There is one particular priest, who I will not write about in any detail, who was unjustly suspended for several years, remained steadfast in his priestly commitment, was restored to full active ministry but now is treated as the black sheep of his diocese even though he is probably one of the best and most dedicated priests they have. He sees this as part of the priest lying down his life for the flock. After all, the life of a priest is a life of sacrifice and penance for the people of God. Just as the priest offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in atonement for the sins of the people of God, so the priest also offers his own life in atonement for the sins of the people of God. Every priest is called to be a penitent of sorts, but some have received a 1,000 fold portion.

Whether guilty or innocent, not every priest has the strength to take on a life of suffering, humiliation, and shame. Pray for those who are hanging on to their priesthood and pray for those who cannot hang on any longer. At the same time, pray for their family and friends, for those responsible for investigating, for the bishops, for those making the accusations, and for all those who are shaken by the accusations. Remember, there are no winners in this.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Come, Follow Me

In the last 17 years I have served in various positions in 6 parishes in three dioceses (not counting temporary positions). Today I packed up my office and left the the rectory where I work for the last time. My reasons for leaving each parish differ. Only one was involuntary, one was due to a church closing, and for 8 of the 17 years I worked at more than one parish at the same time.

One of the first questions I get asked when people find out I am studying theology is always "What are you going to do when you graduate? Are you going to be a nun?" (Some confused people ask if I'm going to become a priest). My answer has always been the same, "I will go wherever God wants me". Of course, that answer is totally unsatisfying for the questioner, but it is the truth. 

I was taught that all ministry requires a certain amount of dying to self and submission. Although I am not required to make a promise of obedience to a bishop or other superior, for my work to be ministry it must be authorized by a bishop or his delegate (usually a parish priest). This requires that I, at least in part, submit to his will and that I submit totally to the will of God. 

After much prayer, and an invitation from a bishop, I have realized that God is calling me to yet another diocese. The challenge is great, the work is exciting, and I am ready to put my hand to the plow and not look back (Lk 9:62). I am also excited to be getting back to working in liturgy - it is truly where my heart lies and where my theological roots are grounded.

I will miss the parishes where I currently work and all the friends I have made there. I will miss the familiar places and the comforts of "home" but my eyes are fixed on Jesus (Heb 12:2).
Please remember me and my family in your prayers as we embark on this "missionary" journey and for my parishes as well during this time of transition. 

Lenta e Calma

The things that give comfort and joy can be so strange at times. I was searching for something else when I came across a new CD that was released at the beginning of the year. On of the songs on the CD is a lullaby that I used to sing to my son at night which is a version of a hymn which we used to sing after Benediction at my home parish.

Finding this song made me so happy because it flooded my mind with so many happy memories of when my son was very small as well as the very beginning of my parish ministry, nearly 18 years ago.

Fr. Manzotti's version
Translation by Domini Sumus

Slow and calm over the earth
Night descends and light escapes
Now I want to say goodbye
Good night, my Jesus

O Lord, give us the blessing
against the evil that seduces
Guard my parents and I
Good night, my Jesus

At thy feet, O Virgin pure,
I ask for you motherly blessing
Good night, dear mother,
Good night my Jesus

The traditional version we sang after Benediction:
Translation by Domini Sumus

Slow and calm on the earth
Night descends; the light escapes
Now I want to say goodbye
Good night, my Jesus.

Silent in the tabernacle,
The rosy flame flickers
And gentle angels sing:
Good night, my Jesus.

My heart I wish you were
A sanctuary lamp
Because then I would not say:
Good night, my Jesus.

And you, O Virgin Mary
Give us your blessing too.
Watch over us tonight:
Good night, my mother.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Dignity of the Priesthood

One of the things which I always noticed about my dear spiritual Father were his hands. My first reaction, when I was very young, was fear. They were huge, far larger than the hands of a man of his stature are ordinarily, but I soon came to realize that they were gentle. As I got to know him better, I came to see that they were not a source of fear, but that they were a conduit a grace and peace as I watched those hands bring Christ to people and people to Christ. They were used for the extraordinary as well as the mundane. The hands which brought the Eucharist and anointed the sick also washed dishes and dug in the garden. As his body grew weak, those hands were used more and more to steady himself. The hands which had given me every Sacrament grew bruised from injury, illness, and medical procedures, but even in his last days he used them to bring Christ to others. Finally, I saw those consecrated hands for the last time as they lay still: holding the rosary which he had prayed so often.

Today would have been my dear friend's 53rd anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. At his 50th anniversary the poem, "The Beautiful Hands of a Priest" was read and I would like to share it here.

The Beautiful Hands of a Priest

We need them in life's early morning,
we need them again at its close;
We feel their warm clasp of friendship,
we seek them when tasting life's woes.
At the altar each day we behold them,
and the hands of a king on his throne
Are not equal to them in their
greatness; their dignity stands all alone;

And when we are tempted and wander
to pathways of shame and sin,
It's the hand of a priest that will absolve
us----not once, but again and again;

And when we are taking life's partner,
other hands may prepare us a feast,
But the hand that will bless and unite
us is the beautiful hand of a priest.

God bless them and keep them all holy
For the Host which their fingers caress;
When can a poor sinner do better than
to ask Him to guide thee and bless?

When the hour of death comes upon us
may our courage and strength be increased.
By seeing raised over us in anointing the
beautiful hands of a priest!

Over the last week, I have come to realize that I love priests because I love Father, I love Father because I love Christ, and I love Christ because Father made him present to me.

It would seem impossible that anyone who claims to be a good Catholic could look at the funeral of a priest as an occasion to show disdain, but that is exactly what happened and it pained me greatly because of the disrespect it showed not only to this priest, but to all priests. The reason: Ordinary Form vs. Extraordinary Form. It was only one person, but it was a person who claims to love Christ and His Church, but who entered the Church during the wake clearly because he was forced to by his parents. See, he believes in the Extraordinary Form only. He looked at the body of the man, the whom he claims fed him politically correct fluff and was responsible for his poor catechesis as a child, and the priests in attendance with disgust - as though he thought himself superior to the clergy (who in his mind are clearly heterodox, if not heretics).

This man was young when Father left our parish, so it is likely that he never realized, or at least does not remember, the orthodoxy and fearlessness with which this priest preached the faith. He does not remember the fiddleback chasubles which, until I left my home parish, I thought were used at every church. He was unaware of the devotion with which which Father celebrated the Sacraments, his faithfulness and fidelity to his priestly commitment, his unwillingness to mess with the prayers of the Mass, and the self-empyting sacrifices he made for his parishioners, and his lifelong vocation which began when Father was a very young child. Instead, he only remembers the Charismatic Masses, the willingness to let his parochial vicars experiment with the "latest fads" which were sure to engage the young people (most of which would cause Father to roll his eyes as he declared them as insipid), and his deep desire to engage the laity in parish ministry and the life of the Church. I have heard many traditionally minded Catholics describe Father as being soft. "He should have been tougher", "he should have refused Sacraments to those he deemed unworthy", "he should have put his foot down unweildingly and made it clear that he didn't care what his parishioners thought" - "he should have made it clear that he was the boss."

There were times when he did all those things, but for the most part, he was a priest of gentleness and compassion. A good shepherd, who loathed needing to be harsh, and always sought to be the gentle, welcoming face of Christ. He always saw every person who came to the Church for assistance as a soul to be welcomed and loved and he truly believed that love and compassion would draw that person to Christ far better than a harsh rebuke - the rebukes were saved for other times.

Father was raised and ordained in what is now called the Extraordinary Form and celebrated the Sacraments for the first decade of his priesthood in that manner. He would often speak about both the beauty and the imperfections of the Traditional Latin Mass as well the excitement and confusion that surrounded Vatican II. He would never be called a traditionalist, but he was happy to see the Church returning to so much of what had fallen by the wayside after Vatican II. In his last years, we spoke often about his theological opinions and even after knowing him for so many years, I was often surprised by his traditional views which I did not know he held as well as the progressive views he held. Through these conversations, I came to see where a many of my own opinions came from and why people always fail when they try to fit me into their stereotypical theological box.

You don't have to agree with everything a priest does and says, and there are often plenty of times when criticism is warranted, but we must never lose sight of the innate dignity of the character of the priesthood which is present on the soul of every priest and always show honor to the priest. As St. John Chrystostom wrote "he who honors a priest, honors Christ, and he who insults a priest, insults Christ." 

“What a priest unites in himself is what tears him apart. At every moment of his life he must answer two callings and entirely satisfy each of them without ever sacrificing either . . .. Transcendent yet incarnate; here is that same fundamental dualism which . . . constitutes the mystery of the Church and the paradox of Christian humanism.”
Cardinal Suhard

I have known faithful priests and unfaithful priests, orthodox priests and heterodox priests, priests who are liturgical masters and priests who are liturgical nightmares, but one thing always remains: they are deserving of respect because of their priesthood. We should pray for them all, offer support to the good and faithful, and offer direction to the troubled. We must be patient and forgiving of their failings, even when they anger us and never place ourselves in the position as the judge of their souls always remembering that they are consecrated to God and the Sacraments come to us through their hands. Although there are a few who are truly bad, the vast majority are good men who are doing the best they can with what they have to work with in their own human fraility.

I will leave you with this quote:  

"You must never forget that priests are, and that they remain, men.

God does not perform a miracle to wrest them from the human state.

The priesthood does not of itself give a person the power to do everything or to excel in everything. It is important to remember this lest you fall into a very old error . . . that of dehumanizing the priesthood and consequently of setting the priest outside of ordinary life.

That does great harm for by thus isolating him, as unbelievers do, to the exclusive realm of ceremonies . . . he is deprived in good part of his reason for being. If men refuse to pass through him, he no longer can be, at least fully, their mediator."
Cardinal Suhard

 Jesus, Savior of the world, sanctify Thy priests and sacred ministers.