Saturday, February 28, 2009
–Thomas Dubay, The Simple Life and Spiritual Freedom(San Francisco: Ignatius Press , 1981), 73.
(HT: Vox Nova)
Friday, February 27, 2009
Anyways, on to some summary of these talks.
Deacon Keating spoke first. He said we must catch fire. That we must be holy. There is no middle road in a sense. Only by catching on fire, by knowing Christ intimately, can we manifest his love. Further he mentions the reality that we as seminarians and future priests participate in the mystery of Fatherhood even though we are not natural fathers. We don't miss out on it. We encounter it in our little children, our parish, our congregation. And we should call upon the prayers of Mary and Joseph, who both knew spiritual fatherhood so well, to guide and show us how to be spiritual fathers.
Fr. Cantalamessa (pictured above) went farther. He spoke on St. Paul's understanding of Spiritual Fatherhood. To be a father involves two important aspects. One is to give birth and the second is to help that child reach its fullness. The apostles lived in a pre-Christian world where they actually begot children through the proclamation of the Gospel. We live in a post-Christian world where we once again face a situation like the first apostles. We too must once again beget children. We must give life through new converts. We must once again preach the kerygma. He pointed to a certain painting by Munch titled "The Scream". For him, this represented the reality that society has lost its very reason for existence and death awaits us all. This scream is a certain cry that lacks any sound because life itself has been stripped of meaning. Only Jesus Christ can fill this void.
His second point was the priest must help his children reach their fullness by helping them realize as Paul says, "I no longer live but Christ lives in me" (Gal 2:20). He says he has been to dialogues on religion, science, and philosophy and the one thing no one ever mentions in Jesus Christ. It's like they are afraid. Sartre said something to the effect that it is man who accuses himself and man who justifies himself. He does not need a savior. So the priest must teach Christ and bring his children to a surrender of self and a living in Christ which is the only real way of fulfillment.
One last thing he said that I loved. I am not pro priest facing the people for Mass or anti priest facing the people for Mass but he said that when you look out on the people as you say the words, 'This is my body' and 'This is my blood', these words become your own as well and you offer yourself to your people. You look at them and offer yourself, your life, your time, your every resource, each and every day. The Mass becomes for the priest a true moment of spiritual fatherhood.
Ok I'll stop here for now or else this post will be too long. To be continued...
Thursday, February 26, 2009
We cannot escape the cross. Our Lord was born in this world in order to die and rise again. Think and pray about that for a second: human beings committed the most diabolical sin imaginable - we killed God. Christ had to die for us to live. As He said in the Gospel, it had to pass but woe to those through whom it came to pass. He was like us in all ways but sin which means he experienced intense fear and suffering on that night in the Garden of Gethsemane. That, incidentally, is the reason why it is a good practice to make a Holy Hour with the Blessed Sacrament - you are keeping watch for one hour with Christ as He asked his Apostles to do so. Some of the guys like to do it at night and I've found a few of them in the chapel asleep. I tell them not to worry about it; it only means they're human like the Apostles!
It is also the reason why we need to return to the practice of penance, particularly those of you dear readers who are discerning a vocation to the priesthood. I believe in leading by example; if you think it is important for the laity to return to the practice of penance and regular confession, you must do so yourself. Fr. Barber warned us not to take on too great a penance because 1) we are still human, and if we may get discouraged and give it up altogether, and 2) it can lend itself to spiritual pride: "Look at me, I'm so holy, I'm doing X while those cafeteria Catholics are only doing Y." Needless to say, if you're puffed up with pride over some spiritual devotion you're making, you are being counter-productive to put it mildly.
We do penance to identify more closely with our Lord, to make reparation for our sins and for the sins of others, and to exercise greater control over the lower aspects of our will, i.e. our appetites. I think fasting is an especially good thing to undertake this Lenten season to express solidarity with the poor and those who are unemployed due to the economic depression. Before you do anything though, I also recommend running it by your confessor or spiritual director if you have one. I told mine about the penance I had thought of and he knocked it down a peg; I trust the Holy Spirit knows what I'm capable of better than I do. If you've never really done anything before, start small - like giving up the sugar and cream you normally put in your coffee - and gradually work your way up to greater things. And don't forget that we don't do these things for their own sake. We don't fast to lose weight, although that may be a side effect. Penance adds power to our prayer. And it helps us grow closer to Jesus, the Eternal Priest.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
There are many stories like this. I think it was St. Teresa of Avila who sought to run off and be a martyr as well. Anyways, on the way to my apostolate yesterday I passed by the seminary of the White Fathers, a big missionary order to Africa. A short quote about them from Bishop Ahern:
“Manual work and group recreation were part of the daily schedule, and laughter often broke out, especially over the ludicrous attempts of these men from different countries to master the strange languages of Africa. To relieve the tension of their strenuous life, holidays were celebrated by long walks to mission posts, where they could observe the work of the White Fathers in the field. These were arduous treks of twenty miles and more under a broiling sun, from which they returned happy but exhausted. They slept as soundly on a wooden plank of the novitiate as they would have slept in a featherbed. They were young and filled with heroic dreams. To be a White Father was to belong to the shock troops of the Church, and they were glad to have their mettle tested. Esprit de corps and the grace of God kept them going.”
It reminded me of this book I read a year ago that discussed a number of letters between St. Therese and Maurice. Maurice was a seminarian struggling with his vocation who sought to have a Carmelite nun pray for him on a regular basis. I believe it was St. Francis Xavier, the great missionary to Asia, that spoke of the reality that it was the prayers of cloistered religious that gave success to his work. Anyways, Maurice wrote a letter to a convent in Lisieux and soon enough, he had St. Therese praying for him on a regular basis and even writing him letters. Eventually he applied to be a White Father, was accepted, and served in Africa for some time. Here are some words from St. Therese's letters that stir up the soul when it comes to missionary work.
“Let us work together for the salvation of souls. We have only the one day of this life to save them and thus to give Our Lord some proof of our love. The tomorrow of this day will be eternity, when Jesus will reward you with the hundredfold of those sweet and lawful joys which you are giving up for Him.”
“Monsieur l’Abbe, you must find me very strange. Maybe you regret having a sister who seems to want to go to enjoy eternal rest and leave you to labor on alone. But let me assure you, the only thing I desire is God’s will….I don’t know the future, but if Jesus makes my premonition come true, I promise to remain your little sister in heaven. Far from being broken, our union will become a closer one, for then there will be no more cloister and no more grills, and my soul will be free to fly with you to the missions far away. Our roles will still be the same. Yours will be apostolic labor, and mine will be prayer and love.”
Ok that was kind of off subject but I guess what I really wanted to talk about was missionary work and more so the fact that yesterday I ran into this seminarian who is trying to study for the Diocese of Istanbul. At the moment, in Turkey, there is a very oppressive religious atmosphere. Catholics are few. Orthodox are a few more but they are both persecuted. They can rarely have priests enter permanently from outside. The main Orthodox seminary is closed. Things like this. Supposedly the Diocese of Istanbul has one priest, the bishop, for 12 parishes, schools, and a hospital I believe. He was telling me about the priest who was murdered in Turkey as well as the one who was stabbed. He also told me a story I had earlier about 3 Christian missionaries who had their throats slit. I guess he was there this past summer or the one before and a Muslim woman came in during the liturgy, went up to the altar, grabbed a candle, and started chanting Allah Akbar. They were freaked out. They were not sure if there might be people outside ready to come in and attack them. They waited. She left. But the reality is they had no recourse. It's crazy to realize that in this day and age when it is so easy for us to practice our Catholic faith that there are places like these where it is practically impossible to receive the sacraments and practice the faith in safety. Obviously things are worse in Iraq and practically impossible in a place like Saudi Arabia, but Turkey has a certain claim to being a modern country and is attempting to enter the European Union. They do profess secularism in their government. Yet the evidence to be honest seems a bit lacking. I went to Turkey this past summer for a few weeks and witnessed the same thing. The priests there the mentioned the persecution as well as some faithful.
Hearing these words from this seminarian filled my mind with dreams of being a missionary and preaching to people who craved the Gospel. That's where St. Therese came in. :) I think there is something amazingly thrilling about stepping out into deep waters and risking your life to bring people home. It's hard to imagine going back to home to the states while there are so many places that also need priests and religious. Nevertheless, I don't think my vocation is missionary work, at least at the moment. But maybe yours is...
Sunday, February 22, 2009
I highly recommend it to anyone in formation and those discerning as well, priesthood or otherwise (religious!!!). Right off the bat there are some very positive qualities about this book. 1, it's short, only like 96 pages. 2, it gets straight to the point. 3, it's very biblical, so the words come alive. But most of all it's just a wonderfully Christ centered and grace-filled book on virginity and celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of God. It's powerful. It's already shaken me up a bit.
I thought I'd just share one thing I came across recently that boggled my mind a bit. He starts talking about married life and virginity as charisms and says:
"Jesus' words: 'You have not chosen me; on the contrary, I have chosen you' apply to virgins in an altogether special way. You do not chose celibacy and virginity in order to enter into the Kingdom, but because the Kingdom has entered into you. In other words, you do not remain a virgin to save your soul more easily, but because the Kingdom, or rather the Lord, has taken possession of you, chosen you, and you feel the need to remain free to respond fully to that choice."
Therefore accepting a call to celibacy is realizing that God is already establishing his Kingdom in you. Earlier Cantalamessa talks about celibacy and virginity as an eschatological sign of what is to come. The life as a celibate and virgin is one that witnesses to the fulfillment of God's promises of salvation for all and union with God face to face in heaven. This unique charism then is a sign of God's Kingdom in the world and if you have this calling, how beautiful it is, because that means God has established his Kingdom in your heart and now you can respond with every part of your soul in love. Ok, one more part from Cantalamessa...
"From everything we have said so far we can already begin to see the need for a conversion in connection with virginity and celibacy. This conversion consists in moving from the attitude of someone who thinks they have given a gift or made a sacrifice, a big sacrifice, to the quite different attitude of someone who is aware of having received a gift, and a great gift, and needs most of all to give thanks. We must admit that sometimes that feeling is present in consecrated persons, at a more or less conscious level. Sometimes our married brothers and sisters encourage such a view without realizing it, by comments like:
'What a sacrifice, what courage it takes to give up the chance to have your own family and live alone, to give up such a brilliant future and lock yourself up in a seminary or a convent!'
And possibly we end up believing it ourselves. Whereas if our vocation is genuine we know that precisely the opposite is true and that they ought to exclaim: 'How fortunate!' I believe that there is no one called to this way of following Christ who at some time - especially at the beginning, when the vocation begins to blossom - has no clearly seen, or at least glimpsed, that what they were receiving was for them the greatest grace of God, after Baptism."
Celibacy and virginity is first a gift given to us by God that we should give thanks for and rejoice in. What a joy that God has shown such love that he has given us the grace to be consecrated completely to God. Obviously there is a sacrificial element to this vocation but an overemphasis on our sacrifice can lead to pride and that is truly deadly in priestly and religious life.
Anyways, you can see why I recommend this highly. Good stuff. By the way, it's the Feast of the Chair of Peter today and I rolled by the Vatican where St. Peter's statue was all dressed up with a vestment, a tiara, and a ring. In light of the many recent events in the Church, please join with me in praying for unity in the Church and reunion with those who stand outside of communion with the Chair of Peter.
This is the chair of St. Peter lit up with a ton of candles.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
St. Patrick's is definitely not just one university among many however. The word you will hear a lot around here is "formation." Intellectual formation is only one piece of the puzzle. In my opinion, the most important piece is the spiritual formation. Another vitally important part of formation is the human aspect. Every year the fourth year men are ordained to the priesthood, and most of the second year men move out for their pastoral year. This coming fall we will be welcoming who knows how many new faces. Even so, we are a family here and we are strongly encouraged to take care of one another. Man is a social animal as the Catechism teaches, so there are many different levels of community in which one must integrate. There are your brother seminarians from your own diocese of course, but there are also your immediate classmates. I hope we all keep in touch after we're ordained, God willing. I think it's good training for parish life too. You don't need to be a bubbly extrovert - Lord knows I definitely am not! - but it is important to know how to relate well to people.
If you're like me, i.e. you possess a BA in something other than philosophy, then you would have to complete two years of pre-theology before you were permitted to take theology proper. Pre-theology is basically philosophy. If you're thinking about the priesthood, or if you've already made the decision to apply, I recommend reading something on the history of philosophy - I did and it's been a tremendous help. Two years of pre-theology, four years of theology, and one pastoral year equals seven years. Does that sound like an eternity? :) Take it from me though, you will be astonished at how fast the time goes. I still feel like I just got here and I'm almost done with my first year!
In case you're curious about the subject line of this entry, yesterday was our "Day of Dialogue" followed by an afternoon of community fun and games. A Day of Dialogue is basically when the seminarians break off into groups and we propose five areas where seminary life can be improved and five areas we believe are outstanding. It is not meant to be a complaint fest, but a time for constructive criticism. Afterward, one of the games was Seminarian Jeopardy! The pre-theology "buzzer" was... a cow bell. I'm thinking of saying to Fr. McKearney, our director of music, "Those hymns are good but they could really use..."
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
My academic adviser once told me he found it amazing anyone could seriously wonder what is the spirituality of the diocesan priesthood. Every religious order has its own spirituality or charism: the Benedictines pray and work, the Carmelites have contemplative prayer, the Dominicans preach, and so on. But what is that diocesan priests do? The priest stands in persona Christi during the Mass. Therefore, it is essential that all priests and those considering or studying for the priesthood thoroughly know the Word of God. It drives my spiritual director crazy when people accuse Catholics of not knowing the Bible. It's true that we might not be able to quote chapter and verse, but most Catholics know the Bible better than they themselves may think. They hear readings from it at least every Sunday after all! When I was growing up my household only had the King James version on hand, so when I recall a verse or one of our Lord's parables, I still recite it in Elizabethan English :p
Last semester we had what's called "Priest Day," where alumni - priests and sometimes bishops - return to St. Patrick's and give us talks on life in the seminary and life in the parish. The guest of honor last year was Fr. Clement Davenport of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, St. Patrick's Class of '48. He told us something else that I think every Catholic should hold, but especially we seminarians: love Jesus in the Mass. The Second Person of the Triune God condescends to become our bread of life in the unbloody sacrifice of the Mass at the words of the priest; that's an enormously humbling thought. Who am I to think I am in any way worthy to do this? The answer, of course, is that I am not. No man is, but God calls whom He wills, despite our countless failings and ingratitudes. All we can do is say "yes" in a spirit of deep filial love and tremendous humility in that the Lord God of Hosts would call us through no merit of our own.
Finally, since the priest is another Christ in both Christ's priesthood and victimhood, it's essential that any man who believes he is called should have a deep devotion to Mary. Our Lady has an especial love for her son's priests since they are configured to her son's heart. Speaking as a convert from a kinda-sorta Protestant upbringing, it took me a while to embrace Marian devotion. When I first started as a Catholic I followed a "Just Jesus and Me" approach to my prayer life. Through the grace of God though my prayer life deepened over the next several years. Conversion and formation are both ongoing for me and probably will be for the rest of my life.
So I would recommend to any man who has ever had thoughts of becoming a priest: 1) Really know and really love the holy Scriptures since this is one of the ways God communicates to us; 2) Really know and really love what happens at the Mass which is the source and summit of all Catholic lives, but especially that of the priest; and 3) Place yourself under Mary's protection and love her as your own mother.
One of the things my spiritual director always asks me is how I experience the love of the Father. Always. :) So I'm always on the lookout for where God shows his love for me. I remembered a while back, long before I thought I was called to be a priest, when I worked at this summer camp for disadvantaged kids in LA. Each week we'd get a different group of kids who stayed in residence at the camp and we'd take them around to different activities everyday. It was a lot of fun to hang out with them and mess around with them. But you'd have kids who were struggling, foster kids, abused kids, single parent home kids, and the list would go on. Some of them would have a real tough time being there or leaving. I remember this one session I had this boy, about 10 years old, who had this cyst or something on his head. So everyday I had to put this cream on it so it would slowly heal. I'll be honest - it was a bit disgusting but I did it everyday faithfully. :) Towards the end of the week, I remember walking with him as we headed back towards the campfire circle after a long day and he turned to me and said, "Colin, I don't want to go. I'll just stay here with you." And that struck me for a second. And I passed it off, "Oh, but I'll only be here for a few more weeks and then I'll leave too." He responded, "That's ok, I'll go stay with you." This child was a foster kid.
Even now I think back on that moment. It strikes me. Because a certain part of me wanted to say of course you can come with me. You need a family who will always love you and watch over you and keep you close to their heart. At the same time I realized, I'm 19, what can I do? It was one of those moments that broke me a bit inside. And for me, I fondly remember this as a moment where I wanted to participate in that love that God has for us as Father and that we desire to give to others as well as a father. I think it was truly a moment where I experienced God's love for me because he let me experience that way he yearns to love and care for everyone of us. And to this day, this moment resonates in my heart when I think of why I want to be a priest and I think of where this kid, well now teenager, is.
Another story. I volunteered during senior year of college at an elementary school with a 4th/5th grade class. I have to admit - I love hanging out with kids and teaching them. It's just fun. They've got the amazing creativity and joy in the simple things that I know I have lost over time. I spent a semester in this classroom a few hours a week. I'd either find myself sitting with particular students having difficulty with a subject or just wander the classroom helping out as the teacher would work the front. I remember my last day in the class, I was graduating like the next day, the teacher came up to me and thanked me for my time in the classroom. And she said something to the effect of, "I've noticed so and so take a fond interest in you. He doesn't have a father figure in his life so it's been great to have you in the class." This is the kid who would poke me! Haha. Anyways, it was just another point at which I realized the joy of being father and sharing the love the Father has given me with others.
I have every once in a while run into a priest who is burned out or worn down from the day to day ministry. But I always wonder if you had just a few of these experiences of the Father's love realized in your own life through your love as a father for others, that these experiences of grace might reignite a tired heart. I dunno. I'm not there yet. But I wait with eager anticipation for the joys, sorrows, and struggles of ministry knowing how much the Lord needs fathers to care for his children.
Saturday, February 7, 2009
He said that one time his spiritual director, a strong and faithful old Jesuit, asked him, "Do you have a cave?" He was confused at first and didn't get it. But the old Jesuit explained, "Don't you have a place where you go to escape the busyness and chaos of the world and find refreshment in the Lord?" "Yes, yes, of course," he realized. He pointed out that in fact every great saint had a cave where they would escape to with the Lord. Some had physical caves like St. Benedict, I was just there last week, and St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis as well. Our Lord was born in a cave and further, it is most likely that when Jesus went up to pray alone he was in a cave as well. This is St. Benedict's cave below. He lived there three years all by himself!
We need a cave! I'm starting to wish I had a real cave just so I could imitate the spiritual giants. :) I've started to wonder where my caves are. Father mentioned a friend's place he could go to and crash at anytime. I remember a priest who loved to hike up into the mountains and I bet he would consider those trails his cave. I dunno if I have a good cave quite yet. I use the Blessed Sacrament chapel but I also just love walking up above the city on the hill right around our seminary. But I think that is so true. As we discern our callings in life, whatever they are, we need to have a cave which we retreat to every day so that we can be refreshed in the Lord and alone with the Lord.
St. Benedict talked about this sense of coming to yourself. And when you came to yourself you were at a certain equilibrium. There was only 2 ways you could go from there. You could be drawn out of yourself by the world and by sin and fall. Or you could be drawn out of yourself towards God. But he placed importance on this being able to come to ourselves. I think that's part of the reason quiet is so important, why our caves are so important. We can always then be ready to let God draw us out of ourselves to him. And even just coming to ourselves we realize who we are, our sad and sorry state, and our need and desire for God.
Got a cave? AMDG.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Pray too for the repose of the soul of Michael Dubruiel, author and husband of Catholic blogger Amy Welborn.
Finally, please pray for our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. Pray that he receive the gifts of fortitude and patience while he remains under sustained and hysterical attack from his enemies in the press.
Sunday, February 1, 2009
Most priests I know are diocesan so I'm used to hearing how they felt called to be a priest and serve in the parish. Yet sisters today are called to do so many things. It boggles my mind that you find so many, especially the ones I've met at my old seminary in Menlo Park and here in Rome, who spend their time at work and in prayer. Their entire lives are dedicated to service to God. These certain sisters you won't find out in the parish or running a hospital but cooking and cleaning and washing. An ordinary person might find it so odd to see women finding great joy in these simple lives yet here they are, living, witnessing, and growing into relationship with God. They remind me of Brother Lawrence who said:
“At the beginning of my duties I would say to God with filial confidence, ‘My God, since Thou art with me and since by Thine order I must occupy my mind with these external things, I beg Thee to grant me the grace to remain with Thee and to keep Thee company; but that it may be the better done, my Lord, work with me, receive my labors and possess all my affections.’ Then, during my work, I continued to speak to Him familiarly, to offer Him my little services and to ask His graces. At the end of the action, I used to examine how I had done it. If I found good in it, I thanked God, If I noticed faults, I asked His pardon for them and without being discouraged I purified my intention and began again to dwell with God as if I had not strayed from Him. Thus, rising up after my falls and making a multiplicity of acts of faith and of love, I have arrived at a state in which it would be as impossible for me not to think of God as it was difficult for me to accustom myself to it in the beginning.” Anyways, I just thought I'd say how amazing it is. In fact, religious sisters really inspire me to continue to live out my vocation and persevere in the call to become a priest. If they can do it, maybe God will give me the grace to do it as well. AMDG.