Monday, March 30, 2009
My mother, father and I are all trying to compete for the attention of Reina...
Sunday, March 29, 2009
in Redding, CA. It was a great experience celebrated by 700 youth. Not only was it fun to mingle with the youth but it was great to see the guys from St. Patrick's.
Here are some pictures...
Raj Derivera (College II) and Jeremy Santos (College III) enjoying a breakfest burrito
My spiritual director commented on my struggles and pointed out that I was trying to live my life on my terms. I have seen this reflected in my daily life since a child. I realized how blessed I was to be raised in a good and loving family, receiving a good education, and blessed with good health. Everything has been given to me. Plus seminary life, despite what some may say, can be somewhat easy on the living your life on your own terms. Sometimes you can feel almost spoonfed. It's not hard to find ways to take back your life. Formation really is up to you. So I found that this desire to live my life my way growing and in a sense, being saddened by my lack of ability to fight it.
My spiritual director compared it a bit to the child who wants what he wants, when he wants, how he wants, and where he wants. That is a whole lot of wanting. :) And in fact, my Lent has been a time to really begin to live not by my own terms but God's terms.
A further example if you don't mind. I recently completed my second draft of my self-evaluation. For those of you who do not know, one of the requirements towards the end of each academic year, is to write a self-evaluation noting both your progress and struggles over the course of the year in the realms of spiritual, human, pastoral, and academic formation. This is not exactly the easiest task. But what I have found for myself is that my own change from formation in the states to formation in Rome has been difficult. I've questioned and doubted why God would put me here. I've wondered if maybe this was a sign I was not supposed to be in the seminary at all. I had so many questions. But I found myself returning to my own experience of God's grace, most especially in how God called me, realizing that if God called me, then there must be something to be said for this experience in Rome.
And I have come to realize, that this change, has become a way for God's grace to continue to work in my heart, to transform my own desire to have life on my terms, and make it really life on God's terms. I've been so hungry to do ministry, believing that I had talents in youth ministry, and feeling like God was not using me. I have moved towards understanding, albeit slowly, that God has his plans for forming my heart and using me as He desires to bring about the Kingdom of God. It is not for me to decide on my own how that should take place. In fact, this really mirrors diocesan life where my place of ministry is not simply my own decision but one in which the Bishop and the priest council discern the place best suited for myself and the people of God. (by the way, that's Bishop Soto at 40 days for Life! Woohoo!)
The reality of this life, of this vocation especially, is that it must be on God's terms or it will fail miserably. We cannot simply live according to what we want. It does not work. It takes God out of the picture and once we take God out of the picture, we start losing our own sense of self. We only know ourselves by looking to God in Jesus Christ who shows us our proper true identity as sons and daughters of the Father. Once we've lost our identity, we cannot possibly fulfill our calling as man and woman nor as icons of the Father. We'll only do what we desire, which often times is debased or unbalanced, and we'll never be directed towards our greatest good of all, God. Obviously by this I do not mean that living on God's terms will always be the easiest road or the most pleasant, but it's the right one and it's the one that leads us closer to relationship with God. And it's the one that leads us home. AMDG.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
"A couple weeks ago I was reading Seven Storey Mountain and came across a passage where Thomas Merton talks about the beginning of World War II, and says in passing:
If I had accepted the gift of sanctity that had been put in my hands when I stood by the [baptismal] font in November 1938, what might have happened in the world?
In the context of that section of the book, it's clear that he was basically asking, Could I have stopped the war? At first I hardly noticed it, thinking of it as a poetic hyperbole to drive home the point that we should all try to be holy. A few pages later, however, that sentence still nagged at me. I went back and re-read it, as well as the paragraph that followed:
People have no idea what one saint can do: for sanctity is stronger than the whole of hell. The saints are full of Christ in the plenitude of His Kingly and Divine power: and they are conscious of it, and give themselves to Him, that He may exercise His power through their smallest and seemingly most insignificant acts, for the salvation of the world.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
If you write for God you will reach many men and bring them joy.
If you write for men–you may make some money and you may give someone a little joy and you may make a noise in the world, for a little while.
If you write only for yourself you can read what you yourself have written and after ten minutes you will be so disgusted you will wish that you were dead.
Merciful Father, please grant that I may write for you more than I write for men or for myself!
(HT: The Practicing Catholic)
Monday, March 23, 2009
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Groups of mourning voices, shouting and begging,
For a drop of quenching peace, that is all they're praying;
Essence turns ambiguous, as one's freedom is translated to dying
Power is equated with fighting, and living is all about killing.
Beliefs against beliefs, uprising, terrorism, political pressures,
Bombs, guns, bullets; war was blindly chosen among measures;
Pieces of dreams were shattered, security was threatened,
An eye for an eye, a life for a life, all defenses were weakened.
With the blink of an eye, light turned into darkness
Irreconcilable differences led to broken promises;
Thousands of blooded faces & wounded hearts,
Unstoppably annihilated by tons of raging TANKS.
While the sun is setting, anger and hatred hostage the night,
The horizon of hope is moving farther away from sight.
Sounds of violence conquer what's left in freedom and right
As flashes of defeat and death cripples the remaining sparks of light.
Thick dark clouds veils the shining grace of the moon
Turning the face of the earth into a pitch-black zone
Revealing nothing but the truth of an ongoing abomination
Every soul is wandering towards an existential desperation.
This night, sparks of gunfire and bombs are the sole lights that blinks
The innocent land feeds on cold bodies; while on wasted bloods it drinks!
There must be other options, some grounds, some common links:
where the heart peacefully breathes, the soul calmly lives, the mind rationally THINKS.
In the midst of suffering, death and horizon of hopelessness,
There must be a way out, somewhere beyond the restlessness;
Is it beyond the land buried in land mines? Or across the valley of tears?
Is it above the Wuthering heights? Or under the Lebanon's Cedar trees?
Their bodies are willing to die, but their souls are still fighting for life
They are exhausted in fears, but their hearts are still fighting the strife;
In their existence fueled by uncertainty, there's still room for life to strive
There's still courage that lingers within; There's still hope that can thrive!
Just when it seems that the world is slowly fading into pieces of dusty blanks
And history seems to write that life is nothing but this world's biggest pranks
There's still Someone above us who will govern ultimately all the human-made ranks,
There's still His undying truth of salvation that we all have to give THANKS.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Ever wonder what will be the outcome if these two “great” men (St. Patrick & St. Basil the Great) of our Church come across each other? The result will certainly be an unparallel view on the doctrine of the Trinity. What do I mean by this?
Remember that St. Basil the Great, one of the Cappadocian Fathers alongside with St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Gregory Nazianzus, who pioneered the Church’s understanding of the origin of the Trinity from Eternity: The Father as the Unbegotten, the Son as the Begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father through the Son. These fathers rephrased Monotheism in a way that the plurality of persons in the Trinity made the unity of God more dynamic.
St. Patrick, on the other hand whose feast we celebrated a couple of days ago, explained his view on the Trinity by using a “shamrock”. He would argue that like the Trinity a shamrock is both one leaf and three. Shamrock might seem simple analogy yet undeniably powerful.
When these two combined ---the result is an entirely richer one ---the Trinity ROCKS!
However, the question which I posed earlier is just hypothetical one. Reality check! It is 21st century already and the meeting of these two great men from two different time and space is indeed an impossibility. With this being said, we are just thankful that our Doctrine on the Trinity has been handed down to us by our early Fathers in a far more intelligible way than before.
Though these two great men’s path may not cross one another at this present time, the people representing them can still make the impossible possible. What do I mean by this?
This day, some of the seminarians studying for the diocese of Sacramento here at “St. Patrick’s” Seminary (with seminarians from Oakland, Reno, Guam, San Jose) met with the people representing the faith of “St. Basil the Great” of Vallejo. Though the meeting was not about the discussion on the Trinity, an in-depth reflection on the event may lead us to the profound mystery of the Trinity. This might sound “way-over-the-top” but the point that I’m making is the sense of community that I was able to experience during the meeting. This is what we are all about as Catholics, as believers of Christ and the Trinity! We are all called to share in that “Oneness”, in that perfect relationship that governs the Trinity. The sense of oneness and community that I experienced from this simple event reflects, at least in a simple way, what the Trinity is all about. What do I mean by this? As seminarians, we are being prepared to a life where we can configure ourselves in Christ. To be configured in Christ means that by virtue of ordination, we will be able to gather and shepherd the People of God as one ---to reflect the beauty of the oneness of the Trinity. This is our mission, to bring everyone into this reality of unity and communion with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. How can we do this? As early as now, the seminary provides us with tremendous opportunities to establish a non-superficial relationship with the people whom we will be serving in God’s time. With this being said, the meeting that took place between St. Patrick’s seminarians and St. Basil’s faithful ones is a powerful experience of this reality.
It might have been a simple tour of the seminary provided by St. Patrick’s to St. Basil but the experience is far deeper than meets the eye. Seeing these young and not-so-young people expressing their amazement and joy in seeing the seminary and how it operates created an atmosphere of belongingness. As much as they are warmly welcomed by the seminarians here at St. Patrick’s, it feels 100 times better as a seminarian to feel their passionate welcome to us as their soon-to-be shepherds. Though as seminarians we might to be able to reflect St. Patrick himself in the fullest sense or as the faithful people of St. Basil may not be able to reflect also their patron in strictest sense; what matters most is the fact that we can reflect in our littlest way the mystery of the Trinity in our short meeting.
St. Basil, we thank you for the short visit! Till next seminary tour….AMDG
We took the kids on a whirlwind tour of the seminary grounds - they had a schedule to keep so unfortunately we weren't able to take as much time as I would have liked, but it was a wonderful experience nonetheless. We concluded with a panel discussion in the Main Chapel where Sister Manuela of the Oblate Sisters of Jesus the Priest (thank you for all that you do Sister!), Seminarian Joe Peacock of the Diocese of Reno, Seminarian Richard Kidd of the Archdiocese of Agana, Guam, and Fr. Brian Atienza, the Sacramento Vocations Director, answered questions from the youths. My personal favorite was, "What do you guys do all day?" Our day begins with Morning Prayer in common, followed by Mass, breakfast, classes until 12:30, and then lunch. Most days of the week classes are over by lunch. Wednesday is my "long day" because I have classes until 3 pm. Otherwise we have free time to study, do homework, exercise, pray, or run personal errands until Evening Prayer at 5:10 pm. Then it's dinner at 6, followed by more free time until bed.
Richard mentioned having to break the news to his then girlfriend that he intended to go to the seminary. I too had to do that: I had to tell the wonderful woman whom I had been dating for years that I did not feel God called me to marriage but to serve Him and His people as a priest. I won't lie - it was hard for the both of us. But one year later I still feel I made the right decision, and she has begun seeing someone new and is 100% supportive of me. God won't be outdone by anyone in generosity. If you give up a lot for His sake, He'll give you abundant graces in return that will more than make up for it.
If any of you ever read this, thank you all so much for coming and giving us the opportunity to tell you a little about our home!
Friday, March 20, 2009
That's a serious responsibility, and you, O good and pious soul, are probably thinking that you are in no way worthy of such a sublime state of life. That's a good sign. There's nothing God can do with anyone who thinks he is worthy of the priesthood. But it is precisely in our weakness that His strength is made manifest. If I am ever ordained, God willing, I do not want to turn the Mass into a showcase of my own personality. Except for the homily, the Mass is not my own, nor any one person's. It is the Sacrifice of Calvary reenacted in an unbloody manner. My job, if I am a priest, is to stay out of our Lord's way and do everything as His Church asks me to do it: Say the black, do the red.
I'm struck by how so many generous young men and women spend so much time and energy agonizing over whether they have a vocation to the priesthood or religious life, but hardly anyone puts themselves through the same level of discernment for marriage. Have you ever noticed that? Marriage is a sacrament and vocation too. The majority of Catholics are called to marriage, but not all of us. St. John Bosco once said he thought that one in four Catholics had a vocation to the priesthood or religious life! (And he new a thing or two about ministering to youth.) Now your salvation probably does not hinge on finding the correct vocation - if it did, God would make it absolutely unmistakable to everyone which was the state of life they ought to pursue. But if a man whom God created for the priesthood enters holy matrimony, it will be like trying to jam a square peg into a round hole: he won't quite fit. He can grit his teeth and persevere, but is that really a healthy attitude? Would it be fair to his wife? Some generous, faithful men come to the seminary only later to find out they don't fit the life as well as they thought they would, and so decide to leave.
And there's nothing wrong with that. I have all the respect in the world for someone who takes the possibility of a call seriously enough to try out the life but decide it isn't for them, and I think they are very pleasing to God as well. Our Lord loves us and wants us to be happy, and so He would not call us to a life where we would not or could not be happy. The priesthood is not a job among jobs - if you think of it so, then you would never survive. It's a state of life. It requires sacrifice to be sure, but God's grace more than makes up for whatever worldly things you must give up. You will never have biological children, but you will have hundreds of thousands of spiritual children.
Before you make any decision on the priesthood, religious life, or marriage, you must ask yourself if it's what you really want. Our Lord does not force Himself upon anyone. A priest of our diocese, Fr. Matthew Blank, accompanied me to one of the classes yesterday and he said he had always assumed he wanted to get married. He never really questioned that assumption before, but when he did, he realized that perhaps what he really wanted was to be a priest. God loves you and wants you to be close to Him. Which vocation do you think will help you grow closer to God?
I'll close with two items. First, if you ever read or hear me speak on vocations and you think to yourself, "Priesthood? Religious life? Uh uh, no way, not a chance," then that's fine. I would just ask you to keep an open mind, pray, and go to Mass. If you're thinking, "I just don't know. Maybe. But I have so many problems. And I don't know if I could give up marriage," then I suggest getting in contact with a vocations director anyway. Maybe you're right. But then again, perhaps God might be prompting you. You'll never know one way or the other unless you do. If not now, when? If not you, who?
Second, yesterday was the Solemnity of St. Joseph, one of my favorite saints and an excellent role model for all Catholic men no matter what their state in life. St. Joseph, of all the men who have ever lived, was the closest to Jesus and Mary. God chose St. Joseph to be the head of the Holy Family, to live in the closest intimacy with Jesus and Mary for thirty years. That's no ordinary Joe. Pope St. Pius X wrote the following prayer to St. Joseph which I use in my own spiritual life:
"O glorious St. Joseph, model of all those who are devoted to labor, obtain for me the grace to work conscientiously, putting the call of duty above my natural inclinations, to work with gratitude and joy, in a spirit of penance for the remission of my sins, considering it an honor to employ and develop by means of labor the gifts received from God, to work with order, peace, moderation and patience, without ever shrinking from weariness and difficulties, to work above all with the purity of intention and detachment from self, having always death before my eyes and the account that I must render of time lost, of talents wasted, of good omitted, of vain complacency in success, so fatal to the work of God. All for Jesus, all through Mary, all after thine example O Patriarch , St. Joseph. Such shall be my watchword in life and in death. Amen."
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Benedict XVI highlighted the "indispensable struggle for moral perfection which must dwell in every truly priestly heart. In order to favor this tendency of priests towards spiritual perfection, upon which the effectiveness of their ministry principally depends, I have", he said, "decided to call a special 'Year for Priests' which will run from 19 June 2009 to 19 June 2010". This year marks "the 150th anniversary of the death of the saintly 'Cure of Ars', Jean Marie Vianney, a true example of a pastor at the service of Christ's flock".
"The ecclesial, communional, hierarchical and doctrinal dimension is absolutely indispensable for any authentic mission, and this alone guarantees its spiritual effectiveness", he said.
"The mission is 'ecclesial'", said the Pope, "because no-one announces or brings themselves, ... but brings Another, God Himself, to the world. God is the only wealth that, definitively, mankind wishes to find in a priest.
"The mission is 'communional' because it takes place in a unity and communion which only at a secondary level possess important aspects of social visibility. ... The 'hierarchical' and 'doctrinal' dimensions emphasise the importance of ecclesiastical discipline (a term related to that of 'disciple') and of doctrinal (not just theological, initial and permanent) formation".
Benedict XVI stressed the need to "have care for the formation of candidates to the priesthood", a formation that must maintain "communion with unbroken ecclesial Tradition, without pausing or being tempted by discontinuity. In this context, it is important to encourage priests, especially the young generations, to a correct reading of the texts of Vatican Council II, interpreted in the light of all the Church's doctrinal inheritance".
Priests must be "present, identifiable and recognizable - for their judgment of faith, personal virtues and attire - in the fields of culture and of charity which have always been at the heart of the Church's mission"."The centrality of Christ leads to a correct valuation of priestly ministry, without which there would be no Eucharist, no mission, not even the Church. It is necessary then, to ensure that 'new structures' or pastoral organizations are not planned for a time in which it will be possible to 'do without' ordained ministry, on the basis of an erroneous interpretation of the promotion of the laity, because this would lay the foundations for a further dilution in priestly ministry, and any supposed 'solutions' would, in fact, dramatically coincide with the real causes of the problems currently affecting the ministry".
Woohoo, a year for priests! This will be awesome. A deeper look into the mystery of the priesthood can only bring greater wonder and joy at God's amazing gift. If only I was going to be in town for St. Jean Vianney's relics...
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Today is one of those rare saints' memorials that has spilled into the popular culture. It isn't difficult to see why: American Catholicism is still to a large extent the child of Irish Catholicism. In our diocese of Sacramento, the Irish have played an integral part in building the Catholic community from the start. He probably doesn't do the internet, but in case he ever reads this, a happy St. Patrick's Day to you Fr. O'Kelly! (He's in residence at my home parish.) Thomas Day had a good comment in his book, Why Catholics Can't Sing: American seminaries are still largely run by priests of Irish descent. So a priest may have a last name like Kosczinski, Mbutu, or Rodriguez, but he'll have a mind that may as well have come from County Cork.
And we have St. Patrick to thank for it. As a teenager living on the former Roman province of Britannia, he was captured by slave traders and taken to the isle of Eire, where he worked as a shepherd for many years. He was told in a dream that he would some day escape from the isle but return to spread the Faith. St. Patrick himself testifies in his Confession that spending so much time alone with his flock enabled him to pray without ceasing. He eventually did escape and was ordained a priest and then a bishop. He did return to Eire and eventually converted the whole island. His iconography and pious legends credit him with driving out all of the snakes in Ireland, but today several scholars say that the snakes were meant to be symbolic of paganism and error.
I have an especial love for St. Patrick - when I converted I chose him as my baptismal saint. He is also the co-patron of the Diocese of Sacramento and the patron of this seminary. I think that St. Patrick was a perfect example of a true pastor of souls, to go back to the entry I wrote yesterday. Today he is more remembered as a cultural icon than as a man who really lived and walked this earth. With our culture in the United States the way it is today, I believe all Catholics need to have some of that missionary zeal St. Patrick possessed to such an eminent degree.
Monday, March 16, 2009
The point is the priest must be a pastor of souls - all souls. He must show the same care, solicitude, and respect to the poorest of his parishioners as he would show to the wealthy. This sounds like common sense, no? Beware though. It's much easier and much more tempting to fall into the opposite pattern. And the people will notice if their pastor is inordinately attentive to the rich or to the beautiful. Fr. Barber then said something I hadn't thought of before: our Lord probably was not handsome. Think of how Jesus is often portrayed in stained glass. We have no idea how he really looked of course, but do you think it's possible that when He walked the earth He was totally nondescript? Could He who came to save everyone, especially the lost, the lonely, and above all sinners, have even been homely? I imagine that no matter how He looked on the outside, everyone around Him sensed an ineffable inner beauty that pointed toward things above.
Think about all of the non-Catholics who reside within the boundaries of your home parish. Are they not souls too? Are not they too made in the image and likeness of God? If you become a seminarian and hopefully a priest, when you wear your clerics in public, you are a walking advertisement for the Church. I've worn my clerics when I've gone home to visit my parents and I get mostly positive feedback from others around me. You'd be surprised how many people will come up to you and start asking questions (or expressing their amazement at seeing someone as young as me in clerics!) Above all, be friendly and respectful toward everyone you meet. You never know how God may work through you to affect their hearts.
LETTER OF HIS HOLINESS POPE BENEDICT XVI
TO THE BISHOPS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
CONCERNING THE REMISSION OF THE EXCOMMUNICATION
OF THE FOUR BISHOPS CONSECRATED BY ARCHBISHOP LEFEBVRE
Dear Brothers in the Episcopal Ministry!
The remission of the excommunication of the four Bishops consecrated in 1988 by Archbishop Lefebvre without a mandate of the Holy See has for many reasons caused, both within and beyond the Catholic Church, a discussion more heated than any we have seen for a long time. Many Bishops felt perplexed by an event which came about unexpectedly and was difficult to view positively in the light of the issues and tasks facing the Church today. Even though many Bishops and members of the faithful were disposed in principle to take a positive view of the Pope’s concern for reconciliation, the question remained whether such a gesture was fitting in view of the genuinely urgent demands of the life of faith in our time. Some groups, on the other hand, openly accused the Pope of wanting to turn back the clock to before the Council: as a result, an avalanche of protests was unleashed, whose bitterness laid bare wounds deeper than those of the present moment. I therefore feel obliged to offer you, dear Brothers, a word of clarification, which ought to help you understand the concerns which led me and the competent offices of the Holy See to take this step. In this way I hope to contribute to peace in the Church.
An unforeseen mishap for me was the fact that the Williamson case came on top of the remission of the excommunication. The discreet gesture of mercy towards four Bishops ordained validly but not legitimately suddenly appeared as something completely different: as the repudiation of reconciliation between Christians and Jews, and thus as the reversal of what the Council had laid down in this regard to guide the Church’s path. A gesture of reconciliation with an ecclesial group engaged in a process of separation thus turned into its very antithesis: an apparent step backwards with regard to all the steps of reconciliation between Christians and Jews taken since the Council – steps which my own work as a theologian had sought from the beginning to take part in and support. That this overlapping of two opposed processes took place and momentarily upset peace between Christians and Jews, as well as peace within the Church, is something which I can only deeply deplore. I have been told that consulting the information available on the internet would have made it possible to perceive the problem early on. I have learned the lesson that in the future in the Holy See we will have to pay greater attention to that source of news. I was saddened by the fact that even Catholics who, after all, might have had a better knowledge of the situation, thought they had to attack me with open hostility. Precisely for this reason I thank all the more our Jewish friends, who quickly helped to clear up the misunderstanding and to restore the atmosphere of friendship and trust which – as in the days of Pope John Paul II – has also existed throughout my pontificate and, thank God, continues to exist.
Another mistake, which I deeply regret, is the fact that the extent and limits of the provision of 21 January 2009 were not clearly and adequately explained at the moment of its publication. The excommunication affects individuals, not institutions. An episcopal ordination lacking a pontifical mandate raises the danger of a schism, since it jeopardizes the unity of the College of Bishops with the Pope. Consequently the Church must react by employing her most severe punishment – excommunication – with the aim of calling those thus punished to repent and to return to unity. Twenty years after the ordinations, this goal has sadly not yet been attained. The remission of the excommunication has the same aim as that of the punishment: namely, to invite the four Bishops once more to return. This gesture was possible once the interested parties had expressed their recognition in principle of the Pope and his authority as Pastor, albeit with some reservations in the area of obedience to his doctrinal authority and to the authority of the Council. Here I return to the distinction between individuals and institutions. The remission of the excommunication was a measure taken in the field of ecclesiastical discipline: the individuals were freed from the burden of conscience constituted by the most serious of ecclesiastical penalties. This disciplinary level needs to be distinguished from the doctrinal level. The fact that the Society of Saint Pius X does not possess a canonical status in the Church is not, in the end, based on disciplinary but on doctrinal reasons. As long as the Society does not have a canonical status in the Church, its ministers do not exercise legitimate ministries in the Church. There needs to be a distinction, then, between the disciplinary level, which deals with individuals as such, and the doctrinal level, at which ministry and institution are involved. In order to make this clear once again: until the doctrinal questions are clarified, the Society has no canonical status in the Church, and its ministers – even though they have been freed of the ecclesiastical penalty – do not legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church.
In light of this situation, it is my intention henceforth to join the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei" – the body which has been competent since 1988 for those communities and persons who, coming from the Society of Saint Pius X or from similar groups, wish to return to full communion with the Pope – to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This will make it clear that the problems now to be addressed are essentially doctrinal in nature and concern primarily the acceptance of the Second Vatican Council and the post-conciliar magisterium of the Popes. The collegial bodies with which the Congregation studies questions which arise (especially the ordinary Wednesday meeting of Cardinals and the annual or biennial Plenary Session) ensure the involvement of the Prefects of the different Roman Congregations and representatives from the world’s Bishops in the process of decision-making. The Church’s teaching authority cannot be frozen in the year 1962 – this must be quite clear to the Society. But some of those who put themselves forward as great defenders of the Council also need to be reminded that Vatican II embraces the entire doctrinal history of the Church. Anyone who wishes to be obedient to the Council has to accept the faith professed over the centuries, and cannot sever the roots from which the tree draws its life.
I hope, dear Brothers, that this serves to clarify the positive significance and also the limits of the provision of 21 January 2009. But the question still remains: Was this measure needed? Was it really a priority? Aren’t other things perhaps more important? Of course there are more important and urgent matters. I believe that I set forth clearly the priorities of my pontificate in the addresses which I gave at its beginning. Everything that I said then continues unchanged as my plan of action. The first priority for the Successor of Peter was laid down by the Lord in the Upper Room in the clearest of terms: "You… strengthen your brothers" (Lk 22:32). Peter himself formulated this priority anew in his first Letter: "Always be prepared to make a defence to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you" (1 Pet 3:15). In our days, when in vast areas of the world the faith is in danger of dying out like a flame which no longer has fuel, the overriding priority is to make God present in this world and to show men and women the way to God. Not just any god, but the God who spoke on Sinai; to that God whose face we recognize in a love which presses "to the end" (cf. Jn 13:1) – in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. The real problem at this moment of our history is that God is disappearing from the human horizon, and, with the dimming of the light which comes from God, humanity is losing its bearings, with increasingly evident destructive effects.
Leading men and women to God, to the God who speaks in the Bible: this is the supreme and fundamental priority of the Church and of the Successor of Peter at the present time. A logical consequence of this is that we must have at heart the unity of all believers. Their disunity, their disagreement among themselves, calls into question the credibility of their talk of God. Hence the effort to promote a common witness by Christians to their faith – ecumenism – is part of the supreme priority. Added to this is the need for all those who believe in God to join in seeking peace, to attempt to draw closer to one another, and to journey together, even with their differing images of God, towards the source of Light – this is interreligious dialogue. Whoever proclaims that God is Love "to the end" has to bear witness to love: in loving devotion to the suffering, in the rejection of hatred and enmity – this is the social dimension of the Christian faith, of which I spoke in the Encyclical Deus Caritas Est.
So if the arduous task of working for faith, hope and love in the world is presently (and, in various ways, always) the Church’s real priority, then part of this is also made up of acts of reconciliation, small and not so small. That the quiet gesture of extending a hand gave rise to a huge uproar, and thus became exactly the opposite of a gesture of reconciliation, is a fact which we must accept. But I ask now: Was it, and is it, truly wrong in this case to meet half-way the brother who "has something against you" (cf. Mt 5:23ff.) and to seek reconciliation? Should not civil society also try to forestall forms of extremism and to incorporate their eventual adherents – to the extent possible – in the great currents shaping social life, and thus avoid their being segregated, with all its consequences? Can it be completely mistaken to work to break down obstinacy and narrowness, and to make space for what is positive and retrievable for the whole? I myself saw, in the years after 1988, how the return of communities which had been separated from Rome changed their interior attitudes; I saw how returning to the bigger and broader Church enabled them to move beyond one-sided positions and broke down rigidity so that positive energies could emerge for the whole. Can we be totally indifferent about a community which has 491 priests, 215 seminarians, 6 seminaries, 88 schools, 2 university-level institutes, 117 religious brothers, 164 religious sisters and thousands of lay faithful? Should we casually let them drift farther from the Church? I think for example of the 491 priests. We cannot know how mixed their motives may be. All the same, I do not think that they would have chosen the priesthood if, alongside various distorted and unhealthy elements, they did not have a love for Christ and a desire to proclaim him and, with him, the living God. Can we simply exclude them, as representatives of a radical fringe, from our pursuit of reconciliation and unity? What would then become of them?
Certainly, for some time now, and once again on this specific occasion, we have heard from some representatives of that community many unpleasant things – arrogance and presumptuousness, an obsession with one-sided positions, etc. Yet to tell the truth, I must add that I have also received a number of touching testimonials of gratitude which clearly showed an openness of heart. But should not the great Church also allow herself to be generous in the knowledge of her great breadth, in the knowledge of the promise made to her? Should not we, as good educators, also be capable of overlooking various faults and making every effort to open up broader vistas? And should we not admit that some unpleasant things have also emerged in Church circles? At times one gets the impression that our society needs to have at least one group to which no tolerance may be shown; which one can easily attack and hate. And should someone dare to approach them – in this case the Pope – he too loses any right to tolerance; he too can be treated hatefully, without misgiving or restraint.
Dear Brothers, during the days when I first had the idea of writing this letter, by chance, during a visit to the Roman Seminary, I had to interpret and comment on Galatians 5:13-15. I was surprised at the directness with which that passage speaks to us about the present moment: "Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’. But if you bite and devour one another, take heed that you are not consumed by one another." I am always tempted to see these words as another of the rhetorical excesses which we occasionally find in Saint Paul. To some extent that may also be the case. But sad to say, this "biting and devouring" also exists in the Church today, as expression of a poorly understood freedom. Should we be surprised that we too are no better than the Galatians? That at the very least we are threatened by the same temptations? That we must always learn anew the proper use of freedom? And that we must always learn anew the supreme priority, which is love? The day I spoke about this at the Major Seminary, the feast of Our Lady of Trust was being celebrated in Rome. And so it is: Mary teaches us trust. She leads us to her Son, in whom all of us can put our trust. He will be our guide – even in turbulent times. And so I would like to offer heartfelt thanks to all the many Bishops who have lately offered me touching tokens of trust and affection, and above all assured me of their prayers. My thanks also go to all the faithful who in these days have given me testimony of their constant fidelity to the Successor of Saint Peter. May the Lord protect all of us and guide our steps along the way of peace. This is the prayer that rises up instinctively from my heart at the beginning of this Lent, a liturgical season particularly suited to interior purification, one which invites all of us to look with renewed hope to the light which awaits us at Easter.
With a special Apostolic Blessing, I remain
Yours in the Lord,
BENEDICTUS PP. XVI
From the Vatican, 10 March 2009
Friday, March 13, 2009
I found this on my daily random search of Catholic headlines. I thought it was shockingly good so I've shared a short piece here. Feel free to follow the link to the blog post at Historical Christian.
"You must be more than merely decent. More than pious, more than fervent. You must be a saint. Only in becoming a saint can you then, by the grace of God, help us to become saints, too – the one thing to which we are all truly called. So be a saint, which is to be Christ, totally, given up and surrendered and abandoned to Him, martyred for Him, for love of Him, more and more as you live your life. Then you will see your congregations catch on fire, and run after you in love to be transformed, so attractive will you be. Because we will not see you, but Christ in you – and run to you to hear His voice, feel His touch, feel His power transforming our souls and our lives.
Down with decent priests, I say – and up with Christ! Up with priestly souls so radically changed and transformed in the fire of Christ’s love that you really radiate Christ to us, and draw all souls to you to be transformed as well, in His love! That is what we need! Up with Christ – and up with priests who are truly in Christ, in whom Christ truly is! “For I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal 2:20)
God bless you. I know it’s hard work, in a tough and thankless world that too often opposes you – and that includes the people in the pews. But the rewards are so much greater than the losses: Christ Himself will love you, and reward you. If you don’t, the losses are too great, and there is little, if any, reward. A merely decent life, being merely nice, for a priest is boring, stultifying, deadening – not only to yourself, but to the souls in your care. And in the end, will Christ truly love you, and truly reward you? "
I'm always inspired by what lay people have to say of the priesthood. It gives a seminarian a great vision from the outside.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
What the heck is reality made of anyway? If you've ever wondered that even in passing, you're thinking like a philosopher. If you were born and raised in the English speaking world, chances are you're some species of empiricist even if you've never taken a philosophy course in your life. You may not know much about philosophy, and your teachers may not, but your teachers' teachers were definitely steeped in empiricism, pragmatism, and behaviorism. I don't get to watch a lot of television anymore, but looking back on it I can definitely see how much it influenced me. In my opinion, modern politics in the Western world owes a lot more to Nietzsche than many people realize.
So why am I talking about this? Our History of Philosophy professor, Dr. Charles James, frequently interrupts his lectures to explain how a certain philosopher or a certain idea influences the world today. I believe the Program for Priestly Formation calls for all seminarians to be acquainted with the philosophical traditions of the country and the culture in which they shall serve. I'll be honest and confess there's a lot in modern philosophy I either don't understand very well, or when I read it I wonder about the author's sanity (we have good reason to wonder in the case of Nietzsche.) Philosophers' writings are notoriously dense. But believe it or not, their ideas still filter into the culture through the universities. Your own grade school, high school, and college teachers may have absorbed ways of looking at the world and philosophical assumptions without even realizing it. If you went to school in the United States, then you've been heavily influenced by the ideas of John Dewey.
Diocesan priests live and work in the world (hopefully without becoming of the world) so we have to know how our flock thinks. We have to be all things to all people, and it's sadly the case that the Church and the modern world are almost speaking completely different languages now. To pose the most obvious question, what would you say to someone who asks you, "Can you explain the Real Presence in the Eucharist? It still looks like a wafer of bread to me." Do you know what "substance" and "accident" mean in philosophical and theological language? Could you explain it to someone who has been raised to only accept as true that which he can learn through his five senses? It's true that some teachings must be accepted on faith because they come to us through Divine Revelation, but we have to use reason to answer objections to those teachings which may come up in RCIA classes or when answering critics of religion in general or Catholicism in particular.
Philosophy is tough, but it's necessary if one is going to tackle theology. And it's necessary to know some in order to understand where your future parishioners are coming from when they ask you questions.
Monday, March 9, 2009
Since this will be my first entry, I thought of sharing one of the things that I'm very passionate about which is poem-writing.To start it of, the poem which you will be reading is written a month ago (02-02-09) as I prepare myself for this Holy Season of Lent.The poem is entitled "The Prodigal". I'm assuming that most of us are familiar with the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).Lent is a time for coming closer to God, a time to return to the very heart of our Father. Though, the point of this poem might have sounded so typical or just another cheesy reflection on the parable and on this Lenten season, this poem is written in a different angle. There's a twist! I wrote this not from the perspective of a Son but from the Father's. Enjoy and feel free to comment. Godbless
Walk now my little child,
Go on and embrace the life you have
Fear no more, for love, to you will guide
Just walk now my little child.
Feel the wind rushing and blowing
Take time in breathing, inhaling, exhaling
Be calm, endure the breeze it’s giving
Just feel the wind rushing and blowing.
Run now my child as if there’s no tomorrow
Leave behind all of your fear and sorrow
Face the sun, its light you have to follow
Just run now my child as if there’s no tomorrow.
Go on, little one, don’t you stop moving
Let the world k now that you are still living
Turn your heads up high, forget about hiding
Just go on, little one, don’t you stop moving.
Take a look; see what you’ve been missing
The birds singing, the earth’s own breathing
Watch the people smiling, the young one’s playing
Just take a look; see what you been missing.
Forward, follow where life can take you
Don’t let hills and rocks hinder you
Let your passion and dream strengthen you
Just forward, follow where life can take you.
A little more and you’ll soon be there
No turning back, don’t let your soul wander
Contain yourself; you know you are no further
Just a little more and you’ll soon be there.
Enter my child, at last you are here
After moments of anticipation, you’ve arrived my dear
The place you once lost, is here to stay forever
Just enter my child, at last you are here.
Come closer, calm down your heavy heart
Smile little one, for you have found the lost part
Don’t be afraid, for we will never be apart
Just come closer, let me calm down your heavy heart.
You’re here, where your love will once again can bloom
No more worries, for here you have your own room
I’ll keep you safe, never be away from my bosom
Welcome back, welcome to the place you once called home.
Saturday, March 7, 2009
Around the country, similar anecdotal evidence seems to point to a trend: Where Eucharistic adoration goes, vocations follow.
According to Bishop Hermann, once adoration was established at Incarnate Word, a strong desire took hold among his parishioners. They wanted to pray specifically for vocations. “The parish was excited, and I was relieved,” he recalled for the Register. “We now had something that could help foster vocations. We found the help that was always there — Our Lord.”
I attribute my own decision to go to the seminary to regular Eucharistic adoration. Many St. Patrick's seminarians have pledged to spend at least thirty minutes of their personal prayer time praying for more vocations. When I first started as a Catholic (it will be four years on March 26) I confess I wasn't sure how to pray. Is it just a matter of reading things out of the prayer book? Will I be overwhelmed with a flood of tears and sensible consolations like we read in many lives of the saints? I can't say either have ever happened to me. But keep in mind that the purpose of prayer isn't to gain those sensible consolations - they depend entirely on the generosity of the good God. We pray to grow closer to Him. He Himself is our consolation and end.
Most of the time my mind is so crowded with distractions that I need a prayer book to help me focus. Usually by the last fifteen minutes of a Holy Hour, I'm recollected enough to just be quiet and still with the Lord. As is the case with human friends or loved ones, sometimes words aren't necessary. It's enough to just be there and keep watch. But I highly recommend beginning the practice of making a Holy Hour with the Blessed Sacrament every day if you can. In my old job I usually worked from 1 pm to 10 pm, which allowed me to both go to daily Mass and do a Holy Hour before clocking on. Go to Him and ask the Lord of the harvest to send more laborers for the harvest. Either way you'll be doing much good. Who knows - you might be the answer to your own prayer :)
After a few opportunities on both sides of the ball, including a shot off the crossbar late in the game, neither team was able to score, forcing the game into a shootout. Each team had 5 shots on goal. NAC went first and scored and Mater Ecclesia followed with a goal. NAC scored again but Mater Ecclesia missed their next shot and that would be the turning point. The NAC men were able to capitalize, scoring on every shot on goal, and pulling out an amazing victory over the defending champs. For those of you who don't know, Mater Ecclesia is the Latin American seminary in Rome. I do not have pictures from this game but hopefully this old one give you a sense of the thrill of victory.
I compare it to the U.S. hockey upset of Russia during the 1980 Winter Olympics. WOOHOO!
Sunday, March 1, 2009
He told us one story of a man who came into a mediation meeting with real anger in his eyes. He would not even make eye contact. Each person, lawyers, victim, and Msgr. Gruss had a chance to make some opening remarks. Msgr. Gruss mentioned his sorrow over the abuse that took place and his own desire to help in anyway. After two hours of mediation and such, the man looked Msgr. Gruss in the eye and said that before he came into that meeting, he had no desire to settle and was ready to go to court. But his words had changed everything. Later on he would call Msgr. Gruss and they would have coffee and continue to keep in touch. A couple weeks ago he received a letter that said "Dear Father Gruss". He had never called any priests father after his abuse. The letter continued saying if you wonder why I call you father, it's because in my eyes you earned it.
This story is just so powerful. Coming in during the end of the sexual abuse crisis myself, I never heard these stories. I obviously knew that people had been hurt and that the Church was being sued. I knew reform was taking place at different levels. I never heard of the hope that could be restored and the heroism of priests willing to face the darkness and evil of sexual abuse and bring light and hope. For us seminarians it was such a powerful example of spiritual fatherhood that is so ready to bridge any gap and love despite every hurtful glance, word, or act.
It also reminds me of the pope's own visit with sexual abuse victims in the U.S. One of those there, Olan Horne, said that "I've been hopeful; I've been hopeful for eight years. I have struggled in my spirituality. But hope has been my faith, and my hope was restored today. From what I heard, and I believe we received a promise today, and I believe not only myself but a lot of people received a promise today."
Another priest also mentioned his own story of a couple who were seeking a divorce. He challenged them and said, "I won't let you divorce until you start to pray" or something like that. And they tried it. And they've been together ever since. This heroism of these priests inspires me. It inspires me to want to be a good and holy father. It inspires me forward even as I struggle and persevere in prayer, formation, academics, and seminary life. It inspires me.
After these two speakers I realized one of the greatest blessings about being at the North American College. The priests sent here to be on faculty are some of the best priests in the U.S. They've served as pastors, as fathers, and they know what it means to be a priest. And they prepare us by giving us that same heart of Jesus Christ, who yearns to bring the Gospel to his people and to bring them home to his heavenly Father.
One more less I forget. We had a small question and answer session where this little sister from Florida stood up. Mother Adela, founder of the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary, gave us some words glowing with grace. She called us to be who we are as men and as fathers. She said in her mind, the holy family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph can also be seen in priests who act as fathers and sisters who act as mothers for the whole Church, their children. It is only when priests and sisters fail to live their vocations that that the children are exposed to the enemy. It was so powerful for myself. Knowing my own love for religious sisters, I realized that seeing them and spending time with them, reaffirm my vocation. They show me the other side opposite the priesthood in their consecration to God. Their prayerfulness, their charity, their chastity, and their life of obedience draw me into that mystery of the family where I too desire to offer myself at the service of God and care for the children of the Church (By the way, the use of the word children to refer to the Body of Christ was discussed and seen not as a way to in anyway bring down the maturity of the faithful but rather to point out that before the Father, we are all children who yearn to return home).