Friday, May 29, 2009

Only with the Eyes of a Loving Father

I am sorry for the length of this post but please bear with me as this has been something on my heart for a while.

One of the things I have been focusing on this year during my formation is living a faithful celibate life. It is one thing to say you can live the celibate life, another to promise it, but really different to practice it. Yet that is what the Catholic priest is called to do.

I am unsure if any of you have been reading about the priest scandal in Miami where a popular young priest, Fr. Cutie, was caught breaking his promise of celibacy with a divorced woman. Obviously, if this account says anything, it shows us that the life of a celibate is not easy. The priest is tempted just like any other man. And this does not go away with the sacrament of ordination.

So it becomes crucial that as seminarians and those discerning, we are formed in the celibate life. Part of this I believe is coming to understand all people as children of the Church, and therefore our children, as fathers in the Church. So whether someone is young or old, male or female, beautiful or not quite so beautiful, they are all our children and we love them all the same. And this love means we desire what is best for them.

There is a story of a saintly monk who was walking with another monk down a road and a prostitute, scantily clad, passed by in front of them. The latter monk turned away to avoid the near occasion of sin while the saintly monk looked on in love. The prostitute was so confused at the way he looked at her and realized finally, that he saw her true beauty as a child of God. She later turned from her former way of life and became a true follower of God (this is the best rendition of the story as I remember). And as my fundamental morals professor says, "A woman knows when a man is looking at her lustfully." She knows. So a priest, if he is truly to be father to all, must learn to see all people as his children. This comes with prayer and practice but it must come.

I remember a recent hospital visit of mine where I came into a room where there was a young Italian woman (22 years old I found out), who was very attractive. In fact, I was always jokingly told to stay away from the Italian women here less you end up staying in Italy and not as a priest. But nevertheless I came to this woman in a Roman collar as a Catholic seminarian to simply be the presence of Christ. And I was amazed how despite my being attracted to her, she was so happy and joyful too, I saw her as a child of God and ministered to her as such. I was able with the grace of God to be Christ and not just a 25 year old young man interested in talking to this attractive woman. This experience still marks my prayer at times realizing that God can accomplish what I cannot. He can give me the heart to be a celibate priest.

And celibacy is not something where you just buckle down with tight fists and say I am going to do it. This type of living the celibate life does not work. Rather, you have to enter into the spirit of the celibate life. I often wonder if Fr. Cutie had a priestly support group where he talked about his struggles over celibacy, if he had a regular spiritual director and confessor who gave him counsel and support, and I wonder if he had a regular group of friends and families who he could always call up to spend time with when he might feel alone. Because with a strong support and an active prayer life, priestly celibacy is not only possible, it is done everyday by the majority of priests around the world. These supports, the lives of others, help them to reinforce their knowledge that all people are their children whom they are called to love and serve. Celibacy is, yes, a gift from God and guess what, He is still giving this gift of celibacy.

The recent priest scandals like Fr. Cutie and even the bishop in Paraguay who has now admitted to three different relationships with women and three different children as a result destroys the Church from within. It destroys our witness, it destroys the faith of Catholics, and it brings great scandal upon the Church. I think sometimes what people fail to realize is that when a priest fails, it does not just effect him and maybe the other person or people involved, in effects all the faithful. Because the priest, as Fulton Sheen would say, is not his own. He belongs to the Church and he belongs to his people. People are hurt by scandal. Whether or not you say priests should marry, today's reality is that in the Latin Church, priests are celibate and breaking that promise is akin to cheating on your spouse. In some ways it may be even worse because it effects many more people.

This Cutie recently joined the Episcopal church and I suppose he will continue to act as some kind of minister. But has he not lost his priestly identity? Priests should cry out like Christ "I thirst" for souls. Yet the actions of this priest takes himself, this woman, and possibly others, directly out of the safe hands of the Church, putting souls at risk. These are the very souls his vocation is directed towards saving. And what do his actions really say? They say that if I cannot live the way I want to do and do what I want, then I will find a place where I can. He has turned the Gospel on its head. Jesus does not say just follow me, don't worry about the cross or denying any of the pleasures of your former life. He doesn't say well love is just accepting you just the way you are and you have no need to change. He is no longer the witness of Jesus Christ. The radicality of the Gospel, the one that young Catholics that I have met are so eager to say yes to, is the one that demands that they deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Jesus. Anything less than that is not worth anyone's time. Young people are tired of hypocrisy. They want something real. Laxity is not going to do it for them. It should not do it for us.

The opposite of this priest's actions is Msgr. Gruss. I have already mentioned his story to you. But I repeat it here for the sake of effect.

Before coming to the NAC, he served for a number of years in the chancery of his diocese and specifically worked with sexual abuse complaints and lawsuits. He would have to sit down with the victim, the victim's lawyer, and the diocese's own lawyer to try and reach settlements. He found himself tested in his love as a father by meeting with these people and hearing their stories. He was angered at the abuse at the hands of priests, in sorrow that people wanted money but not any help, and frustrated that attorneys were willing to bankrupt the diocese to get what they wanted.

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 is a priest that gets down in the trenches with people. He loves everyone, even those who may hate the Church for one reason or another. He is truly father. Do you see the chasm between these different models?

So as we continue to discern the priestly life, I think celibacy stands as a big question mark. The question is, can you do this with the grace of God? Has God given you this gift? Are you willing to make this sacrifice? Can you try to love everyone you meet? Because in the end, priests have great power in their hands. With it, they can do amazing good or horrible evil. As I have heard many times before, wherever a priest goes, he never goes alone. To heaven, he will bring many with him, and sadly if to hell, he will drag a whole lot of poor souls too.

My brothers and sisters, from my own 3 years of experience in the seminary system and the diocese, meeting over 300 seminarians and over 50 priests, I tell you, this life is beautiful, it is glorious, it is possible, and it takes a whole lot of courage. But the future of our Church does not lie in making things easier because of the age in which we live, but realizing we as our forefathers in faith are called in this age, to take up the cross and carry on the faith to the next generations.

Please pray for priests who struggle with celibacy, priests who have left the priesthood over celibacy, for seminarians being formed to be celibate priests, and for men discerning the call to priesthood and find themselves struggling over the issue of celibacy.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Si mundus vos odit...

If the world hate you, know ye that it hath hated me before you. If you had been of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you - John 15:18-19

I dearly love the people in our diocese and in my home parish. They're always so happy when I tell them I'm a seminarian. They always ask me to pray for their intentions and offer me whatever spiritual or material help they can give. In many ways though the modern world is extremely hostile to the Church and her teachings. This is, as Pope John Paul the Great said, a culture of death. Living the Faith - really, truly trying to live it in our daily lives and not just on Sunday - is quite countercultural. My non-Catholic friends have been 100% supportive of me personally even though they may disagree with this or that aspect of Catholic teaching. But as anyone who has been on the Walk for Life in San Francisco can tell you, many people are going to be rather more vociferous (and profane) in their disagreement, to put it charitably.

I bring this up because as everyone knows by now, the California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8 the other day. Same-sex "marriage" supporters have already vowed to go to the polls again in 2010, and at least one lawsuit is going to be filed asking the feds to step in and issue an injunction against enforcing Prop 8. Our own bishop Jaime Soto bravely taught the truth about authentic marriage last year, and the other California bishops too urged their flocks to turn out and defend the institution of marriage. Why am I writing about marriage on a blog devoted to writing about priestly vocations?

If you desire to be a priest, you have to be willing to take those unpopular stands when necessary. You cannot be afraid to challenge the world when the world is wrong. St. Jerome once wrote that the world woke up one day and "groaned to find itself Arian." St. Athanasius stood for orthodoxy when many of his fellow bishops and all of the worldly powers were against him which is where we get the expression "Athanasius contra mundum" - Athanasius against the world. In other words, the priest must sometimes be a prophet. Preach and teach the Truth in charity of course, but never fail to preach and teach the Truth. If someone echoes Pilate and asks, "What is truth," you have a ready answer: Jesus Christ.

Defending marriage in our current culture is difficult because our traditional teachings on love, marriage, self-giving, the natures of the sexes, and the parents' obligations to their children don't fit well with modern technocratic understandings of "rights." This is especially true with the ready availability of evils such as divorce, artificial contraception, and abortion. But we, as future priests, cannot fail in our duty to combat these evils through our prayer, teaching, and preaching. The People of God deserve no less.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Tu es sacerdos in æternum secundum ordinem Melchisedech

My day began at 6 this morning and I've just now gotten home. I suppose that kind of schedule is good training for the life of a priest! Today the presbyterate of Sacramento welcomed their newest brothers: Fr. Arthur Najera and Fr. Hector Montoya. Then Deacon Arthur was at St. Patrick's for his last year in the seminary while I was in my first year. He's only been a priest for about nine hours and I still catch myself calling him Deacon instead of Father. We didn't have any classes together obviously, but Arthur impressed me as a deeply spiritual man devoted to the priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ. I have the utmost confidence in him. Fr. Arthur will be at St. Joseph's in Auburn as parochial vicar. His pastor will be our former vocations director Fr. Brian Atienza. Sorry Arthur, you haven't escaped him yet ;) Fr. Montoya will be at St. John the Baptist in Chico. We seminarians also got to meet our new vocations director: Fr. Chuck Kelly, formerly the pastor of St. Anthony's in Winters. Fr. Atienza will step down as vocations director and Fr. Kelly will take his place effective July 1. Thank you for all of your help Fr. Brian, and for all of your hard work on behalf of our diocese.

We also had a Jubilarians Dinner tonight for those celebrating their silver, gold, and diamond jubilees as priests. I have another six years in the seminary to go so I always enjoy these opportunities to meet the other priests of the diocese. It's inspiring and humbling to see these men who have devoted 25 years+ to the priesthood, through good times and bad. Several of us seminarians were sitting at the same table with our vocations-director-to-be before dinner began and the subject of our own calls came up. Fr. Kelly entered the seminary at 33 and was ordained at 39. He once asked his spiritual director, "How do I know for sure?" He answered, "You don't." I think a lot of men fall into that trap of thinking, "I'll go as soon as God makes it absolutely 100% clear to me that He wants me to be a priest." Well, that's not how our Lord works most of the time. The only way you'll know for sure is if you actually take that step of trying out your vocation. Every time I have to speak on vocations or at some diocesan event, I always make sure to ask at least one man there, "Young man, have you ever thought of being a priest?" God is the one who calls of course, but it's possible I'm planting the seed of someone's future vocation. And if this blog or if anything I say or do inspires even one vocation, then it's time and effort well spent.

Woodland's young priest tested... shooting by officers shakes community.

That's the headline from the Sacramento Bee. Fr. Uriel was just ordained 2 years ago. This story is a good look into the lives of priests - everyday brings something different - to say the least. And it requires a heart of Christ to be able to minister to everyone involved. Priests from our diocese and around the world do stuff like this everyday! Please pray for the deceased man, his family, the officers, and Fr. Uriel.

"The Rev. Uriel Ojeda steered his pickup onto the road leading into the mobile home park in last week, one of his many trips there since the shooting of Luis Gutierrez.

Residents recognized him immediately. This is their priest – the young one who drives that bright yellow truck with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the back window.

An old man approached the priest. "Padre, what do you think?"

Ojeda knew the man was asking about Gutierrez's death on April 30. The 26-year-old farmworker had been stopped by three Yolo County sheriff's deputies with the gang suppression unit, driving an unmarked car. Gutierrez allegedly swung a knife at them and was shot and killed. Woodland police are investigating.

Since the fatal encounter, Ojeda, a priest for only two years, has become the man in the middle. He ministers to the Gutierrez family, visiting several times a week after Mass at Holy Rosary Parish. He is also aware that some of his parishioners are in law enforcement.

he incident has shaken the community, surrounded by vast tracts of farmland 20 miles northwest of Sacramento. The controversy has also tested the young priest.

He cannot take sides. Or appear to.

"Let's wait and see," he told the old man at the mobile home park. "And let's keep praying."

Read the whole story here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Ad introibo altare Dei

There have been some recent stories in the media about how for the first time since Gallup began asking the question, more Americans identify as pro-life than pro-choice. This is, of course, wonderful news and may God grant this trend continue until we can finally banish the unspeakable evil of abortion from the world once and for all. It reminded me of something else that has been floating around my mind for years, and which I think played an important role in my decision to go to the seminary.

Have you ever heard similar news stories about how such and such a percentage of Catholics don't believe in the Real Presence, or who use artificial contraception, or any number of other things that are contrary to the Church's teachings? Perhaps I'm looking at this differently as a convert, but for the life of me I can't understand why so many self-identified Catholics could be that way. I don't mean those generous souls who know what the Church teaches, do the best they can, and occasionally fall; that includes all of us. I mean those poor souls who either don't know or don't understand what the Church teaches or why owe our assent. I may be speaking out of place, but I think if everyone really knew and really believed what the Church says about herself and Who guarantees the truth of her teachings, dissent would be much more of a rarity. But that's a whole 'nother post. What I want to do here is reflect a little on the priest as teacher.

Before I considered the priesthood, my life's ambition was to be a university professor. I think that if any man wants to be a priest he needs to have the knack for teaching, or at least the desire to learn how. As a parish priest, you would be ultimately responsible for the content of all faith formation programs whether aimed at adults or children. And most importantly, you are responsible for the Sunday homily which is the occasion where most of your parishioners will see you. I only recently learned the difference between a homily and a sermon: homilies are meant to unpack the Scripture readings for that Mass, while a sermon can be on any topic related to faith and morals. Whichever the priest does, it's the greatest "teaching moment" of the week, so it's vital to put a lot of effort and most importantly a lot of prayer into it. Archbishop Fulton Sheen would start crafting his Sunday homilies for the next week as soon as he was finished with all of the Sunday Masses for the current week.

Do you love talking about the Faith, or sharing it with others? Are you committed to teaching everything the Holy Catholic Church approves and teaches because it is guaranteed by Him who can neither deceive nor be deceived? You will be asked these questions in a more formal way before your ordination to the deaconate and the presbyterate. The priest is not just a teacher of course; he is a Father. But teaching, both by words and by personal example, is inextricably bound up with it. The latter - personal example - is something all Catholics should strive toward.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Leave the apples be:

I can't dance like that even if I wanted to; it's in the St. Patrick's Rule of Life. Look it up!

I hope everyone has been having a good summer thus far (our brothers at the NAC still have a few weeks to go I believe.) My summer assignment begins next month. I'll be staying at St. Theresa parish in South Lake Tahoe so if any of you dear readers make it up there, feel free to drop by and say hello. You DO still go to Mass when you're on vacation, right? ;) Today my goddaughter is receiving her First Communion, so say a prayer for Rebecca!

(HT: The Practicing Catholic for the video)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Ordination Time

2 of our seminarian brothers, Deacon Hector Montoya and Deacon Arthur Najera will be ordained May 25th, Memorial Day, in Sacramento. The Catholic Herald covers their vocation stories. They are good reads. I know both of these men and I can sincerely say the diocese is blessed to have these men serving the local church. As we say in Rome, Ad multos annos!


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Coincidences? I think not

Today, May 13, has much significance in the recent history of the Church. On this day in 1981, Mehmet Ali Agca attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul II. The Holy Father attributed his survival to the protection of Our Lady of Fatima because on this same day in 1917, three shepherd children in the Portuguese village of Fatima reported the first of several apparitions of the Blessed Virgin. On the same date - May 13, 1917 - Fr. Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII, was consecrated a bishop. Pius XII was one of our great Marian popes, and formally exercised his ex cathedra authority to promulgate the dogmatic definition of our Mother's Assumption into Heaven. May 13 is also the birthday of Blessed Pope Pius IX who also explicitly invoked his infallible ex cathedra teaching authority to promulgate the dogmatic definition of Our Lady's Immaculate Conception.

Scripture tells us the hairs on our heads are all numbered, and not a single sparrow falls from the sky without God knowing of it. For that reason, I don't believe there's really such a thing as a coincidence in our Blessed Lord's divine providence. Looking back on my own life, it's still amazing to me that I, someone who wasn't even born a Catholic, am now studying to be a priest. At the same time though I have to believe that if it is indeed God's will that I be a priest, He would have known that from all eternity before I was even conceived. God arranged things to happen in my life to 1) bring me into His Church and admit me to His sacraments, and 2) inspire me to apply to our diocese and my seminary.

But all the while I'm still free to respond to God's grace or not. I'm still free to say "no" to His plans for my life, though I pray I never do. Thy will, not mine, be done Father. Thou art the Lord of history too, and the real significance of this day and all the other days too will be clear to us in the next life.

A short poem on Priestly Identity

"Oh Priest, who are you?
Not through yourself,
since you are from nothing,
Not for yourself,
since you are mediator of men,
Not to yourself,
since you are the spouse of the Church,
Not yours, since you are servant of all,
Not you, since you are God.
Who are you then? You are nothing, and all."

Saint Norbert

Ok I have to be honest. This saint name cracks me up. But he did found a religious order that continues to this day. In fact, a number of the Norbertines of Orange, CA study at the Angelicum with me. The Dominicans call them their younger brothers. It might be because they both wear the white habit. I never for the life of me know how they keep the thing clean. Anyways, you might be interested to check them out or the life of St. Norbert so I have provided some links.

Fr. Brian in town...

So Fr. Brian, our vocation director, has come to visit us in Rome. I think he picked just about the perfect time. Weather is warming up and the flowers are in bloom. Unless, that is, if you have allergies. Yikes! The pollen is horrible here. Anyways, the word on the street is that there will be a new vocation director assigned come July 1st. So please keep Fr. Brian, who returns to parish ministry, and our new vocation director in your prayers.

Meanwhile, I have heard that we are hopefully accepting three new seminarians into the diocese this coming fall. That will bring us to 38 seminarians altogether. That is, after the ordination of Deacon Hector Montoya and Deacon Arthur Najera to the priesthood on Memorial Day. Please pray for all the seminarians that they have the courage to continue in their priestly vocations and strive to be holy priests.

Ok, so this is basically a list of prayer requests. :)


Monday, May 11, 2009

It's all over

I have successfully completed my first year in the seminary - Deo Gratias! Our last day of finals was last Friday. It occurred to me that St. Patrick's is going to be like a whole new institution in the fall. At the end of every academic year, the fourth year guys graduate and go on to priestly ordination (congratulations Deacon Arthur!), and the second year guys move out to go on their pastoral years (I'll see you next year Mike, Eric, and Jhay!) One third of the student body in the fall will be brand new (perhaps you will be among the new guys, faithful reader?) In addition, our current rector, Father Jerry Brown, S.S., is retiring effective July. Our new rector will be Fr. James McKearney, S.S., the current Vice Rector and Dean of Students. Several faculty members are leaving us and some new professors will be coming on in the fall.

I'll be staying with my mother until my summer assignment begins. I came home yesterday afternoon and I'm still praying and reflecting on this first year. I still feel that I'm in the right place and I'm greatly looking forward to the resumption of classes in the fall. In the meantime, you're invited to the ordinations of Deacons Arthur Najera and Hector Montoya on Memorial Day, at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Sacramento, 10:30 am. Please keep them and the rest of us seminarians in your prayers.

Bible in a Year?

I have long been contemplating the reality that my familiarity with Scripture is horrible. Yeah, I'm Catholic but come on, we've embarked on a new day where we should know Scripture as well or better than our Protestant brethren. Heck, we have had it for 2,000 years. :)

I have prayed with Scripture and I am now taking all the Scripture classes but the reality is, my Scripture knowledge is still pretty bad. So following the advice of a recent homilist at the seminary, I've decided to read the whole bible in a year and hopefully continue to read it again and again each year. It only takes 20-30 minutes a day and just imagine what it could do. I imagine this is a good discernment tool as well. That's the reason I mention it here. St. Jerome said something like, "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." So just think about what it might do for your relationship with God.

I remember reading how St. Therese had very few possessions but the one she always carried with her were the Gospels. She knew them so very well and look where she ended up. She did not have a great education, especially when it came to theology, yet she became a Doctor of the Church. Where did she get all that theology? Scripture! Imagine what we can do simply reading and praying with the entire bible. So that's my plan. This is the scheme I am using if you are interested.


Saturday, May 9, 2009

Lessons on True Manliness...

I've heard that among the many problems in the world today, one of the greatest crisis is the defective understanding of masculinity. I remember being asked the question, "What does authentic masculinity look like", on a seminary application. And I was almost at a loss. But I realize now that to discern a call to the priesthood and to be a priest, we need to know what it means to be real men in the way our Creator ordained us. How else can we become men of the Church, fathers for the many, if we do not first know what it means to be a man? Grace, the gift of ordination, works with nature, our nature as men. So what does it mean to be a real man? Fr. Roger J. Landry has a great article on this here. I quote a small part below. He compares true men to a good soldier. This image helps, well at least for me.

A good soldier, especially one fit for battle, generally has the following ten traits, among others:

• He is willing to give his life to protect others.

• He is task-oriented, and lets his actions speak for themselves.

• He does his duty, even when it is unappreciated.

• He is a man of honor, who is loyal to others and to his principles.

• He is rooted in discipline and strength.

• He may be tender and compassionate but never soft.

• He sees himself as part of a unit, a band of brothers, greater than himself.

• He follows the chain of command, without considering it demeaning.

• He is courageous, even and especially when heroism is required.

• He sees sacrifice as an opportunity to show his character and demonstrate love.

There is also another article I came across that talks about the lessons we can learn from a great generation that came before us. I found this inspiring too. I will not say I necessarily support everything on that website, especially the advertisements, and even the author, but this specific material is good. Look here. I've posted a part below.

Lesson #4: Love Loyally

The men of the Greatest Generation took their marriage vows seriously. Brokaw wrote, “It was the last generation in which, broadly speaking, marriage was a commitment and divorce was not an option. I can’t remember one of my parents’ friends who was divorced. In the communities where we lived it was treated as a minor scandal.” The numbers bear Brokaw’s anecdotal evidence out: of all the new marriages in 1940, 1 in 6 ended in divorce. By the late 1990’s, that number was 1 in 2.

This was a time where there was no hanging out or “hooking up.” Men asked women on, and had serious intentions in doing so. When a particular gal caught a man’s heart, he proposed, and they got hitched. And they were married for the next 60 years.

Peggy and John Assenzio had the kind of commitment to marriage typical of the Greatest Generation. They were married right before John headed off to basic training. Peggy kept her husband constantly in her thoughts while he was away. “I never went to sleep until I wrote John a letter. I wrote every single day. I wouldn’t break the routine because I thought it would keep him safe.” When John got home, he and Peggy picked up right where they left off. John would sometimes have nightmares about the war, and Peggy was always there to comfort him. John said, “The war helped me to love Peggy more, if that’s possible. To appreciate her more.” Their commitment to each other was unshakeable. Peggy believed that young couples today, “don’t fight enough. It’s too easy to get a divorce. We’ve have our arguments, but we don’t give up. When my friends ask whether I ever considered divorce, I remind them of the old saying, ‘We’ve thought about killing each other, but divorce? Never.”


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Sons of the Church

I was reading an old rector's conference of Archbishop Timothy Dolan on the priest as a Son of the Church. I've just quote a few portions below. I assume it must be in one of his books by now but I am unsure which one. But it's a must read!

"St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, our first native-born American saint...on her death bed in 1821, at that white frame house one can still visit in Emmitsburg, she spoke her last words to her beloved religious sisters, five words, yet so telling and profound: “Be daughters of the Church.” Her biographer tells us she uttered those five words, seemed to fade away, and then revived to lift her head and say one final time, “Be daughters of the Church.”

Maybe it is because the Liturgy of the Word during this paschal season is so ecclesial, so rich in readings about the apostolic Church, bursting with promise, growth, conversion, evangelical preaching, and, yes, with adversity; maybe because this is a topic close to my heart, and because this is the final rector’s conference I will present here at the College – who knows, who cares why – but I say to you this evening, brother priests and future priests, “Be sons of the Church! Be sons of the Church!”

He mentions the fact that it takes a lifetime to discover what the Church really is. The Church is such a great mystery to be discovered. But he does mention seven things the Church most definitely is. It is catholic (universal), true, one, composed of people who are not perfect, apostolic, people centered, and it is on the cross. He goes into much greater detail. I focus simply on the last two sections.

The Church we love is people. Someone criticized Newman for writing too much about the role of the laity in the Church, and he replied, “The Church would sure look silly without them.” As Lumen Gentium reminds us, the role of the ministerial priesthood is precisely to serve the common priesthood of all the faithful. Call it communio, call them the “people of God,” call them “the faithful,” call it the Church – who cares? The Church we love is people...

...That means people first. If you are bothered by people, bored by people, distracted by people, inconvenienced by people, the priesthood is not for you; come to think of it, the Church is not for you, because the Church we love is people...

...Finally, the Church we love is on the Cross. “From His wounded side flowed blood and water, the fountain of sacramental life in the Church,” as we pray in the preface of the Mass of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We usually call Pentecost the “birthday of the Church,” but many of the Fathers would contend it to be Good Friday instead.

From this perspective, all those facts usually cited to prove the Church is failing – rejection of the Church’s teaching, criticism of the Church for its “failure to change,” persecution by hostile forces – are actually proofs of its success, because that means the Church is on the cross. That’s the Church’s real vocation, its real “contribution.” “If you want to see what a contribution really is,” observes Catherine Doherty, “look at the man on the cross. When you are hanging on a cross, you can’t do anything, because you’re crucified. That’s His contribution.”

That’s why priests are very near to those visibly on the cross – the sick, poor, suffering, struggling, lonely, hurting; that’s why a priest is mostly a “man of the Church” when he is suffering – from doubt, frustration, temptation, weariness, discouragement; that’s why the priest is strong in fighting the temptation the Body of Christ, the Church, still is taunted with today, “Come down off your cross and we will believe in you.” Because the Church we love is on the cross.


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Faces from the Past

Traveling through the Balkan states I came into the Cathedral in Mostar, Bosnia and caught sight of this poster in the back commemorating the many Franciscans who died during World War 2 and what I can only assume was under the Nazi regime.

Look at the faces. Some of them are as young as their early twenties. I cannot even begin to imagine the courage it took to face the oncoming threat of suffering and death. More so, I cannot imagine living so short a life with having so much left to be done. But I think this is the challenge for all of us. We must realize each day is a gift and simply live this day as our last. Accept it. Take it. Cherish it. Receive it from our Lord and then give it back to him. I think this virtue of living always ready to die will make us saints so very soon. AMDG.

Monday, May 4, 2009

On learning

"To study well, we must know the true end for which we study. We must not study in order to nourish our vainglory or to gratify our curiosity; but we must study in order to sanctify ourselves and edify our neighbor. There are some who wish to know merely for the sake of knowing; this is detestable curiosity. Others wish to know in order to become known; this is execrable vanity. Others, again, study in order to sell their science; this is filthy lucre. But there are others who study in order to be able to edify their fellow men; this is charity. Others, again, study in order to edify themselves; this is wisdom. The two latter classes of students only do not abuse knowledge; for they study only to do good."

- St. Bernard of Clairvaux

That's what keeps me going whenever I'm feeling tired from study - I'm not here for myself. Everything I do here and everything else I do outside of the seminary I want to do for the greater glory of God as Colin likes to say.


Sunday, May 3, 2009

46th World Day of Prayer for Vocations

From the Holy Father:

Brothers and Sisters,

On the occasion of the next World Day of prayer for vocations to the priesthood and to the consecrated life, which will be celebrated on 3 May 2009, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, I want to invite all the People of God to reflect on the theme: Faith in the divine initiative - the human response. The exhortation of Jesus to his disciples: "Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest" (Mt 9:38) has a constant resonance in the Church. Pray! The urgent call of the Lord stresses that prayer for vocations should be continuous and trusting. The Christian community can only really "have ever greater faith and hope in God's providence" (Sacramentum Caritatis, 26) if it is enlivened by prayer.

The vocation to the priesthood and to the consecrated life constitutes a special gift of God which becomes part of the great plan of love and salvation that God has for every man and woman and for the whole of humanity. The Apostle Paul, whom we remember in a special way during this Pauline Year dedicated to the Two-thousandth anniversary of his birth, writing to the Ephesians says, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him" (Ef 1:3-4). In the universal call to holiness, of particular relevance is God’s initiative of choosing some to follow his Son Jesus Christ more closely, and to be his privileged ministers and witnesses. The divine Master personally called the Apostles "to be with him, and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons" (Mk 3:14-15); they, in turn, gathered other disciples around them as faithful collaborators in this mission. In this way, responding to the Lord’s call and docile to the movement of the Holy Spirit, over the centuries, countless ranks of priests and consecrated persons placed themselves totally at the service of the Gospel in the Church. Let us give thanks to God, because even today he continues to call together workers into his vineyard. While it is undoubtedly true that a worrisome shortage of priests is evident in some regions of the world, and that the Church encounters difficulties and obstacles along the way, we are sustained by the unshakable certitude that the one who firmly guides her in the pathways of time towards the definitive fulfilment of the Kingdom is he, the Lord, who freely chooses persons of every culture and of every age and invites them to follow him according to the mysterious plans of his merciful love.

Our first duty, therefore, is to keep alive in families and in parishes, in movements and in apostolic associations, in religious communities and in all the sectors of diocesan life this appeal to the divine initiative with unceasing prayer. We must pray that the whole Christian people grows in its trust in God, convinced that the "Lord of the harvest" does not cease to ask some to place their entire existence freely at his service so as to work with him more closely in the mission of salvation. What is asked of those who are called, for their part, is careful listening and prudent discernment, a generous and willing adherence to the divine plan, and a serious study of the reality that is proper to the priestly and religious vocations, so as to be able to respond responsibly and with conviction.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church rightly reminds us that God’s free initiative requires a free response on the part of men and women; a positive response which always presupposes acceptance of and identification with the plan that God has for everyone; a response which welcomes the Lord’s loving initiative and becomes, for the one who is called, a binding moral imperative, an offering of thanksgiving to God and a total cooperation with the plan which God carries out in history (cf. n. 2062).

Contemplating the mystery of the Eucharist, which expresses in a sublime way the free gift of the Father in the Person of his Only Begotten Son for the salvation of mankind, and the full and docile readiness of Christ to drink to the dregs the "cup" of the will of God (cf. Mt 26:39), we can more readily understand how "faith in the divine initiative" models and gives value to the "human response". In the Eucharist, that perfect gift which brings to fulfillment the plan of love for the redemption of the world, Jesus offers himself freely for the salvation of mankind. "The Church", my beloved predecessor John Paul II wrote, "has received the Eucharist from Christ her Lord not as a gift – however precious – among so many others, but as the gift par excellence, for it is the gift of himself, of his person in his sacred humanity, as well as the gift of his saving work" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 11).

It is priests who are called to perpetuate this salvific mystery from century to century until the Lord’s glorious return, for they can contemplate, precisely in the Eucharistic Christ, the eminent model of a "vocational dialogue" between the free initiative of the Father and the faithful response of Christ. In the celebration of the Eucharist it is Christ himself who acts in those whom he chooses as his ministers; he supports them so that their response develops in a dimension of trust and gratitude that removes all fear, even when they experience more acutely their own weakness (cf. Rm 8:26-28), or indeed when the experience of misunderstanding or even of persecution is most bitter (cf. Rm 8:35-39).

The awareness of being saved by the love of Christ, which every Mass nourishes in the faithful and especially in priests, cannot but arouse within them a trusting self-abandonment to Christ who gave his life for us. To believe in the Lord and to accept his gift, therefore, leads us to entrust ourselves to Him with thankful hearts, adhering to his plan of salvation. When this does happen, the one who is "called" voluntarily leaves everything and submits himself to the teaching of the divine Master; hence a fruitful dialogue between God and man begins, a mysterious encounter between the love of the Lord who calls and the freedom of man who responds in love, hearing the words of Jesus echoing in his soul, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide" (Jn 15:16).

This intertwining of love between the divine initiative and the human response is present also, in a wonderful way, in the vocation to the consecrated life. The Second Vatican Council recalls, "The evangelical counsels of chastity dedicated to God, poverty and obedience are based upon the words and examples of the Lord. They were further commanded by the apostles and Fathers of the Church, as well as by the doctors and pastors of souls. The counsels are a divine gift, which the Church received from its Lord and which it always safeguards with the help of His grace" (Lumen Gentium, 43).

Once more, Jesus is the model of complete and trusting adherence to the will of the Father, to whom every consecrated person must look. Attracted by him, from the very first centuries of Christianity, many men and women have left families, possessions, material riches and all that is humanly desirable in order to follow Christ generously and live the Gospel without compromise, which had become for them a school of deeply rooted holiness. Today too, many undertake this same demanding journey of evangelical perfection and realize their vocation in the profession of the evangelical counsels. The witness of these our brothers and sisters, in contemplative monasteries, religious institutes and congregations of apostolic life, reminds the people of God of "that mystery of the Kingdom of God is already at work in history, even as it awaits its full realization in heaven" (Vita Consecrata, 1).

Who can consider himself worthy to approach the priestly ministry? Who can embrace the consecrated life relying only on his or her own human powers? Once again, it is useful to reiterate that the response of men and women to the divine call, whenever they are aware that it is God who takes the initiative and brings His plan of salvation to fulfillment, is never patterned after the timid self-interest of the worthless servant who, out of fear, hid the talent entrusted to him in the ground (cf. Mt 25:14-30), but rather expresses itself in a ready adherence to the Lord’s invitation, as in the case of Peter who, trusting in the Lord’ word, did not hesitate to let down the net once more even after having toiled all night and catching nothing (cf. Lk 5:5). Without in any sense renouncing personal responsibility, the free human response to God thus becomes "co-responsibility", responsibility in and with Christ, through the action of his Holy Spirit; it becomes communion with the One who makes it possible for us to bear much fruit (cf. Jn 15:5).

An emblematic human response, full of trust in God’s initiative, is the generous and unmitigated "Amen" of the Virgin of Nazareth, uttered with humble and decisive adherence to the plan of the Most High announced to her by God’s messenger (cf. Lk 1:38). Her prompt "Yes" allowed Her to become the Mother of God, the Mother of our Saviour. Mary, after this first "fiat", had to repeat it many times, even up to the culminating moment of the crucifixion of Jesus, when "standing by the cross of Jesus" as the Evangelist John notes, she participated in the dreadful suffering of her innocent Son. And it was from the cross, that Jesus, while dying, gave her to us as Mother and entrusted us to her as sons and daughters (cf. Jn 19:26-27); she is especially the Mother of priests and consecrated persons. I want to entrust to her all those who are aware of God’s call to set out on the road of the ministerial priesthood or consecrated life.

Dear friends, do not become discouraged in the face of difficulties and doubts; trust in God and follow Jesus faithfully and you will be witnesses of the joy that flows from intimate union with him. Imitating the Virgin Mary whom all generations proclaim as blessed because she believed (cf. Lk 1:48), commit yourselves with every spiritual energy, to realize the heavenly Father’s plan of salvation, cultivating in your heart, like her, the ability to be astonished and to adore him who is mighty and does "great things", for Holy is his name (cf. Lk 1:49).

From the Vatican, 20 January 2009

Saturday, May 2, 2009

St. Therese to a struggling seminarian

I forget if I mentioned this other book I have read called Maurice and Therese by Bishop Ahern. The book details the relationship between St. Therese and a seminarian. The letters show forth her great love for seminarians and I find her words speak to me as well. Here is a small excerpt and some words of great encouragement. Just imagine a saint speaking directly to YOU! :)

“Don’t think you frighten me by speaking of “your best years wasted.” As far as I’m concerned, I thank Jesus who has looked at you with a look of love as once He looked at the young man in the Gospel. More fortunate than he, you have faithfully responded to the Master’s call. You have left everything to follow Him, and you have done so at the most beautiful age of your life, at eighteen. Ah, my brother, you can speak as I do of the mercies of the Lord. They shine in you in all their splendor. You love St. Augustine and St. Mary Magdalene, those two for whom “many sins were forgiven because they loved much.” Me too; I love them. I love their repentance, and especially their loving boldness. When I see Magdalene coming forward before all those guests, washing with her tears the feet of the Master she adored, Whom she was touching for the first time, I sense that her heart understood the depths of love and mercy in the Heart of Jesus. And sinner though she was, this loving Heart was ready not only to forgive her, but still more to lavish upon her the blessings of His divine intimacy and lift her to the heights of contemplation.”


Friday, May 1, 2009

And I will lift you up on eagle's wings

From Father Z. comes this story about the first known attempt at flight. It was made by an 11th century Benedictine monk!

The first known serious flight attempt in world history occurred about a thousand years before the Wright brothers, in western England. Then, a young Benedictine monk leapt with a crude pair of cloth wings from a watchtower of a church abbey at the beginning of the 11th century. This monk, known to history as Eilmer of Malmesbury, covered a furlong – a distance of approximately 600 feet – before landing heavily and breaking both legs. Afterwards, he remarked that the cause of his crash was that he had forgotten to provide himself with a tail.

...As well, church artists increasingly showed angels with ever-more-accurate depictions of bird-like wings, detailing the wing’s camber that would prove crucial to generating the lifting forces enabling a bird – or an airplane – to fly. This climate of thought led to general acceptance that air was something that could be worked. Flying was thus not magical, but could be attained by physical effort and human reasoning.

Don't believe it for a second whenever someone tries to describe the Middle Ages as the "Dark Ages." Those people really knew how to use their reason; men like St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas could have eaten atheist polemicists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens for breakfast even without any appeal to divine revelation. This is just my opinion of course, but I think philosophy has been all downhill since St. Thomas. One of the reasons why he can be a delight to read (now I've really revealed my nerdiness) is that his philosophy is firmly grounded in common sense. Chesterton said that no philosophy since Descartes has really corresponded to everyone's sense of reality. It's like all of the modern philosophers say to us, "If you'll just grant me this one little twist, everything else will fall into place."

Don't misunderstand me though. I've enjoyed my first year of pre-theology and learning about all of the great philosophers. I find philosophy interesting for it's own sake, but I also derive great joy from knowing that I'm fulfilling God's will by doing this (I hope so anyway :p) Next week is finals week. Say a prayer to St. Jude for us.