Tuesday, July 28, 2009

It's not all about you

When I first arrived at St. Patrick's last year (has it really been that long already?) I met a third year theology seminarian who had just returned from his pastoral year. He said returning to the seminary was difficult for him - not because he was doubting his vocation but because of all of the wonderful people he had met during his year in a parish. I've only been at St. Theresa parish in South Lake Tahoe for one summer and I know something of how he must have felt. Technically our summer assignments end on August 1, but many seminarians stay past that date if the parish will have them. We have an annual seminarian retreat to attend next month and then I have to return to St. Patrick's a week early because I'm part of the orientation team for the new guys. I'm eager to resume my studies but at the same time I will be sad to leave this place.

This morning I visited the old folks in the nursing home for what will probably be my last time. I once asked my spiritual director, "What on earth do you do in situations like that? What do you say? Do you make small talk or just say the black, do the red, and get out?" It really depends on the specific situation, he told me. I don't have to worry about this for several more years, but when you are administering viaticum to someone who is dying or coming to the bedside of someone who has just recently died, very often the family only wants you to do the ritual. Don't try to improvise. Some of the old folks I visit are more talkative than others and they're thrilled to meet a seminarian. Some prefer that I just pray with them for a bit and then give them our Blessed Lord. You learn to pick up on who wants to talk more or not. I always wonder if I've done enough or if they think I'm too brusque and businesslike or something. But on my way out they all thanked me profusely for visiting them these past few weeks and said I've been just wonderful. I thanked them in return for their kind words and said don't forget to thank God too.

Because that is why we're here. I personally am no great apostle or saint, but as a future priest I must learn to be another Christ - "I must decrease so that He may increase." "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." One thing I always remember when receiving praise is that it's not all about me. My own life is not all about me.

On a lighter note, last night St. Theresa hosted world famous solo-violinist Elizabeth Pitcairn, accompanied by Toccata, the Tahoe orchestra and choral choir. 2009 is the 200th anniversary of Felix Mendelssohn's birth, so the night began with selections from his opera Elijah. Elizabeth performed for the second half of the night's event. Words can't adequately describe her God-given talent. You really had to be there. It was a full house too which was gratifying for James, the conductor. About five minutes before the concert began, the parish music director asked me to lead an opening prayer. I wish I could have had more time to prepare, but such is life. I asked God, the source of all light and beauty, to open everyone's hearts to the transcendent beauty toward which the music points. Afterward, one of the musicians approached me and said that while he couldn't hear my words, he could see they came from the heart. Fulfill your duties and our Blessed Lord will always make up for your defects.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Top 10 Reasons to be a Celibate

These are largely in jest. Please don't take me too seriously.

10. You come home to a quiet house, usually.

9. You don't have to remember nearly as many anniversaries and birthdays, that is, unless you have a big parish staff.

8. No arguments about money! You don't have a lot.

7. Don't have to wake in the middle of the night for baby. Instead you can get up for the sick and dying.

6. No one complains about the state of your room.

5. Everyone invites you over to dinner. Just think about all the possibilities.

4. You don't have to call anyone to tell them you will be out late, except the secretary.

3. No one forces you to go shopping with them.

2. You get a deep experience of 2 vocations, both celibate and married. As a priest, you are celibate but you are also at the constant service and ministry of the family.

1. You give witness of our future state in life, where we are not married or given in marriage, but united in heaven with our God.

Convinced? Well luckily we have openings. Call your vocation director today! :)


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Speaking of the poor

South Lake Tahoe is a much poorer community than you might think. The local economy is centered on the casinos; whether you have a job for the summer or not depends on how many tourists show up. The people who live here full time tend to be retirees or service industry workers - hotels, resturaunts, taverns, etc. I went to lunch with the parish bookkeeper the other day and she said that many people think of South Lake Tahoe as a plum assignment but it can actually be a very difficult post. To give you an example of what I mean, every Sunday during his homily Father Ron always asks, "How many of you are visitors today?" It's 75-80% of the congregation, every time. What this means is it can be difficult organizing parish events. We are currently putting together a youth backpacking trip for the end of this month. At the end of every Mass I hand out sign up sheets to people on their way out. The most common thing I hear is, "Sorry but I'm only visiting and I won't be here then," or "Sorry but I have to work those days." Nonetheless, I've really enjoyed meeting people from literally all over the world. Yesterday after Mass a visitor from Bakersfield stayed with us to say the Rosary. He's going through RCIA in the fall and he'll be the class of 2010 (class of 2005 representin' here!)

Father John Grace, one of the pastors emiritus, is a living legend around here. He practically built everything here from scratch. While he was pastor, he did everything: mowed the lawn, repaired the heating system, did mason work whenever bricks started to crumble, etc. Next door to the rectory is Grace Hall, named for Father Grace. In the foyer is Father Grace's Wall of Fame with two dozen civic and ecclesial awards for outstanding service to the local community and the Church. This is where the Bread and Broth ministry operates - it's essentially a soup kitchen. Every Monday they serve hot meals for the poor. Every Friday someone in the pantry hands out canned goods to anyone who shows up who is in need. One of the volunteers, Bill, told me it's a very popular stop for Tahoe's needy because they don't ask a lot of questions; only things like, "Do you have any food allergies?" or "Do you have a stove or microwave or any way of cooking?" Some people who come only have a bicycle and the clothes on their back.

On Monday of this week I took our Blessed Lord to old folks in the nursing home attached to the local hospital. Everyone there knows I'm a seminarian, and the first time I went over there to meet everyone I was in jeans and a polo shirt, but everyone still calls me "Father" despite my protestations that I'm not a priest yet. I hope that's a good sign :p But I'd have to say visiting them was my favorite experience up here so far. One lady, Flo, is blind. One of her favorite activities is listening to someone read the Bible. I wish I could have stuck around longer so I could have done that with her. Pete was in tears when I placed the Blessed Sacrament upon his tongue and afterward asked me to pray for his daughter who was diagnosed with cancer.

As Colin said below, being here reminds me of how blessed and privileged I am. And it's been very edifying to see people in the most trying circumstances still on fire for the faith. I hope and pray that I am able to do well by them and by God who has given me so much.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

San Egidio

San Egidio is a ecclesial community that among other things, works with the poor and provides a number of soup kitchens.

(sidenote, this story is a bit old, as I am currently in China, not Rome)

I went there the other night to serve at their dinner service and ended up stamping tickets. As I looked up at each person walking through, I saw the diversity of people. We had people from Afghanistan, Nigeria, Russia, Poland, France, Bangladesh, and on and on. Each of them down on their luck. It's so heartbreaking to see these people here wandering kind of aimlessly just trying to get by. They pick up some food here and maybe some luck somewhere else. But it isn't easy. So many of them seem lost.

And all I could do is stamp their ticket and send them on their way. Even I felt a bit lost in the chaos. But I remembered who I was and realized that there was something I could do. I could pray for each of them and do my best to bring one small piece of joy into their lives with a smile. It's not much. But it left me with some ability to effect change, no matter how small.

I love going out to places to serve because I think it is the greatest reality check. After waking up early to go to Mass, dozing through parts of some classes that are not very entertaining, and complaining about the food for pranzo, a simple experience with the poor blows all these other thoughts away. My life is easy. My life is blessed. I am not sure what God has in store for so many of these people and I can't explain why I am in a nice comfortable seminary while they are out on the street. I simply can't. But it is a moment like this that makes me realize how much God loves me and how much He wants me to love others as best I can.


Friday, July 17, 2009

What makes it so hard to say yes to the priesthood?

During the year, I read Pastores Dabo Vobis (a good read for discerners) for my advising sessions with my formation adviser and there is a great section on young people and the obstacles to discernment and saying yes to the possibility of a priestly vocation. I would include religious vocations in here as well. They're really good points and I think hit at the center of what we as seminarians and all Catholics need to address in our culture.

1. The lure of the so - called "consumer society" is so strong among young people that they become totally dominated and imprisoned by an individualistic, materialistic and hedonistic interpretation of human existence. Material "well-being," which is so intensely sought after, becomes the one ideal to be striven for in life, a well-being which is to be attained in any way and at any price. There is a refusal of anything that speaks of sacrifice and a rejection of any effort to look for and to practice spiritual and religious values. The all-determining "concern" for having supplants the primacy of being, and consequently personal and interpersonal values are interpreted and lived not according to the logic of giving and generosity but according to the logic of selfish possession and the exploitation of others.

2. This is particularly reflected in that outlook on human sexuality according to which sexuality's dignity in service to communion and to the reciprocal donation between persons becomes degraded and thereby reduced to nothing more than a consumer good. In this case, many young people undergo an affective experience which, instead of contributing to a harmonious and joyous growth in personality which opens them outward in an act of self-giving, becomes a serious psychological and ethical process of turning inward toward self, a situation which cannot fail to have grave consequences on them in the future.

3. In the case of some young people a distorted sense of freedom lies at the root of these tendencies. Instead of being understood as obedience to objective and universal truth, freedom is lived out as a blind acquiescence to instinctive forces and to an individual's will to power. Therefore, on the level of thought and behavior, it is almost natural to find an erosion of internal consent to ethical principles. On the religious level, such a situation, if it does not always lead to an explicit refusal of God, causes widespread indifference and results in a life which, even in its more significant moments and more decisive choices, is lived as if God did not exist. In this context it is difficult not only to respond fully to a vocation to the priesthood but even to understand its very meaning as a special witness to the primacy of "being" over "having," and as a recognition that the significance of life consists in a free and responsible giving of oneself to others, a willingness to place oneself entirely at the Service of the Gospel and the kingdom of God as a priest.

4. Often the world of young people is a "problem' in the Church community itself. In fact, if in them - more so than in adults - there is present a strong tendency to subjectivize the Christian faith and to belong only partially and conditionally to the life and mission of the Church, and if the Church community is slow for a variety of reasons to initiate and sustain an up-to-date and courageous pastoral care for young people, they risk being left to themselves, at the mercy of their psychological frailty dissatisfied and critical of a world of adults who, in failing to live the faith in a consistent and mature fashion, do not appear to them as credible models.

There is a lot here to digest. I think we must consider how we fall into these categories and need to find purification from them. But then also how we can change the parishes and communities in which we live or will live in order to develop a culture that is fertile for vocations.


Friday, July 10, 2009

San Carlo Hospital Ministry!!!

So I thought it might be a good time to talk about the type of pastoral work I get to do in Rome. I'll admit, it's nothing like the states where I was able to work with youth, confirmation groups, and young adults.

But nevertheless, the Lord always seems to provide that which He has asked you to take up. Actually as I was praying about which apostolate to do, I had these grand visions. I wanted to run tours of St. Peter's or teach little kids about the faith. Or I could just do the easiest of all and often so rewarding, prepare food and serve in one of the many soup kitchens in Rome.

I did NOT really want to work in a hospital talking to patients in Italian. I do not really like hospitals and Italian is not my forte or so I have been told. But the Lord had other plans. That's why sometimes I say I do not like praying because I get told these ridiculous things. Go be a seminarian. Say yes and go to Rome. Go minister in a foreign language. GAH!

So back the story. We don't do ministry our first semester to help with our adjustment. But the second semester I felt called to do hospital ministry. The year is long over but I still remember those first few weeks. I was completely overwhelmed. I realized this ministry was so beyond me and I was just flailing in these conversations with the patients. I had no good words to say and there would be these awkward pauses. Sweat would roll down my face. I'd look away. And then mumble some words goodbye. Yikes, I was not good at this. But I kept praying.

Things got better. My Italian came, very slowly. I started having better conversations. I realized they did not really care how my Italian was. They simply cared that I was there. Plus they liked talking to an Americano. :) But I began to realize that this ministry was not at all about me and much of my stress and worry was thinking that it was. Coming into a hospital as a man of faith, a religious, who is authentic and honest in the desire to simply be with people and be Christ for them in their moment of pain and suffering was all I needed.

There are still difficult days. But then there are days, like the last day of ministry for this year, when someone shares amazing news. This woman approached us towards the last minutes of our time there and simply shared her joy in God's love in the midst of suffering and sorrow. She got it. She understood God's love for her and the constant abiding presence He has in her life. Amazing.

Somehow, in God's great humor, He assigned me as the new capo for next year. All that means is I am in charge of the 4 of us who go to the hospital on a regular basis. But nevertheless, it's another step along the path that I do not choose but from which I am grateful to have laid out before me. I am never ready but I know one thing, God's grace is always enough.


"So what do you do all day?"

St. Theresa parish in South Lake Tahoe is much poorer than you might think. Like the rest of the local economy, it depends heavily on tourism for its income. The church seats about 700 and last weekend every Mass was standing room only due to the high number of visitors. I attended all of the weekend Masses so I could have an opportunity to meet as many of the people as I could. I ran into several people from my home parish who were there on vacation, and a few people from Nativity parish in Menlo Park (where many of us St. Patrick's seminarians go for Sunday Mass during the school year.)

The parochial administrator here, Fr. Ron Marcelo, is an awesome guy and a very good priest. Tomorrow I have to assist him with 22 infant baptisms, one in English and 21 in Spanish. Fr. Marcelo was ordained for the religious community of Verbum Dei in Spain. His adopted Spanish family came to visit us for a few days so for a while the official language of the rectory was Spanish. I speak it slowly and with a thick accent so I need all the practice I can get! Castillian Spanish is a little different from Latin American Spanish - think of it like the differences between British English and American English.

Two pastors emiriti of St. Theresa live in the area: Fr. John Grace and Monsignor Murrough Wallace. They assist with saying Mass and doing weddings and funerals when Fr. Marcelo is away or otherwise occupied. A pastor (or parochial administrator - the difference is a techincal one in canon law that I'm not totally familiar with) has a lot of day-to-day administrative work that must get done. Fr. Ron said that as a priest, you can be as busy as you want to be. The trap to avoid here - and I myself frequently fall into it - is burying yourself in work to the point where your spiritual life suffers. Every priest I've ever talked to has always given me the same piece of advice: a healthy spiritual life is essential. If you don't have a strong relationship with Jesus and Mary, then parish life will break you, period.

Two daily Masses are offered here, one at 8 am and one at 12 pm. I'm trying to organize a more formal rosary group to meet after the 8 am Mass. It can be difficult though because many of the people who stick around afterward to pray it with me are tourists who are leaving soon. Nonetheless, it was wonderful to meet them all and I hope that they will keep me and all of us seminarians in their prayers. I guess I should have told them about this blog. We always like to see the traffic up :)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Know Thyself...

I forget who said it but it is indeed true, "The unreflected life is not worth living." Or another admonition, "Know thyself." I think we live in a world that is so utterly chaotic and fast-paced that we never give ourselves time to be alone, be in the quiet, be outside the constant stream of activity that society draws us into and sweeps us away with.

But knowing ourselves is so important in terms of discernment and formation but even more so even as a human person created in God's image. To know who we are, to reflect on our nature and purpose, can only lead to true fulfillment. Without knowing ourselves, what we desire, who we are called to be, I am pretty darn sure we'll end miserable.

Man is called to discover who he is. We can see this happen often in high school, where teenagers rebel against parents, standout from others, or just run. The question being - who am I? But I think today the question is not answered well because man is not given all the answers. So often man knows nothing of God and therefore the relationship he is invited to embrace. I remember one day in middle school where someone asked the teacher, "What is the purpose of life?" This teacher, being a bit eccentric, turned the class into a discussion on the topic where we all went around answering the question. I think the ultimate conclusion was to do whatever would make you happy. Nice and vague. But this is the sense I got in my own education. Religion was never highly looked upon. I don't think we really expected to get any answers there.

But much of what seminarian formation and discernment is, is to discover who you are by discovering who God is. How does this happen but in a developed prayer life. And I think an essential part of that is retreat. Yeah, you can leave your old life and start another in search of discovering who you really are or take some grand trip, but I think retreating into the silence of your soul where the Holy Spirit dwells is the true place of discovery.

It's one of my great joys ever since entering the seminary to be able to take days of recollection, desert days, or even days during vacation periods to spend a half day or full day in prayer and reflection. It's wonderful to have it built into your life . The quiet can be a scary place, I've been there and weeklong silent retreats still give me the chills. It can be worse than the dentist on drilling day. But I go, knowing the amazing ways in which God reveals himself to me in the quiet. And likewise I discover my own weakness and sinfulness that is transformed by God's grace.

I'll be honest. I never took a good retreat or even went on a pilgrimage before I entered the seminary. But in my own search to know myself, to know Christ, I would find myself, after a long day at work, before the Blessed Sacrament. Or early in the morning, I would find myself receiving the body of our Lord at Mass. My search is not quite over. I discover more about myself each day and how much God loves me. And I realize, this vocation, is one of the greatest gifts He has ever given me.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Christmas came early this year

Today the Holy See has officially published Pope Benedict's newest encyclical letter, Caritas in Veritate. This is his long awaited "social encyclical" which has been delayed numerous times in order to take into account the current global recession. I haven't had a chance to read the whole thing yet but once I do I'll contribute my own reflections. I urge everyone to read it as well! I have all the love in the world for Pope John Paul II, but his writing could be awfully dense. I greatly appreciate our current Holy Father's experience as a professor because he knows how to have deep discussions about the Faith in a way that anyone can easily understand.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A Saint for Our Times

And even perhaps a model for the priesthood.

This comes from America magazine and written by David Nantais. Just a snippet...

"Bernard Francis Casey, known as Barney, was born in Prescott, Wis., on Nov. 25, 1870, to an Irish immigrant family. As a young man, he had a momentary experience of the brutality of the world that radically shifted his concept of life. While at work as a trolley conductor in Superior, Wis., he once saw a drunken sailor standing over a woman lying on the tracks; the sailor held a knife in his hand and yelled at the woman, threatening her life. Casey realized that this incident was not an isolated one—that the world was full of such violence. He also realized he wanted to make things better. He prayed for the sailor and his victim, and a few days later told his pastor that he wanted to become a priest.

At St. Francis De Sales diocesan seminary in Milwaukee, Casey floundered academically in courses taught in Latin and in German. After four years there he was advised to enter a religious order instead. He entered the Capuchins at St. Bonaventure’s Monastery in Detroit on Christmas Eve 1896. He received the habit and took the name Francis Solanus, by which he would be known for the rest of his life.

Solanus’s superiors believed that his struggles with academic work during formation would prove an impediment to full priestly status, so they ordained him a “simplex” priest, one who could neither preach nor hear confessions officially. He performed rudimentary duties like serving as porter at the monastery. Yet Solanus fully embraced his mission and greeted each person with such joy and respect that it evolved into a ministry of hospitality and spiritual counsel. Because of his gentle nature, which put people at ease and encouraged even the despairing to hope, Solanus earned the nickname “the holy priest.”

Father Solanus’s caring presence and reputation for listening intently to each person also drew thousands to the monastery. “Do we appreciate the little faith we have?” Solanus once asked a friend. “Do we ever beg God for more?” Solanus counseled his visitors to do both. He welcomed alcoholics and the homeless in the same way he welcomed local dignitaries like Mayor Frank Murphy. By looking beyond the superficial—a person’s drunkenness, addiction, poverty, grief or uncouth behavior—Solanus showed people their reflection as “beloved” in God’s eyes."

I compare this story to what I have heard about some clerics who seek high office in the Church. Which way will we live out our priesthood? There are so many diverse ways in which the devil can lead us astray. We are not necessarily called to be bishops and cardinals, rather most often just as parish priests, and in whatever way God asks of us, even if this means we are disregarded and left with the rudimentary tasks or the 100 person parish. This is always a tough message for me to chew on. :)


Friday, July 3, 2009


This Fourth of July weekend, take some time to listen to one of my favorite preachers, Archbishop Fulton Sheen, on Christian freedom: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

On human nature: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

I'll update again whenever I can. Until then, have a blessed summer and be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in your life.

The Man: St. Joseph

When the Pope went to Africa back in March, he spoke about how St. Joseph reminds us of the value and meaning of priestly vows. Just a couple excerpts (This comes from the Vatican Information Service):

Speaking to the crowd and to His disciples, Jesus declared: 'You have only one Father'", said the Pope in his homily. "There is but one fatherhood, that of God the Father, the one Creator of the world, 'of all that is seen and unseen'. Yet man, created in the image of God, has been granted a share in this one paternity of God. St. Joseph is a striking case of this. ... He is not the biological father of Jesus, Whose Father is God alone, and yet he lives his fatherhood fully and completely. "To be a father means above all to be at the service of life and growth", he added. "St. Joseph, in this sense, gave proof of great devotion. For the sake of Christ he experienced persecution, exile and the poverty which this entails".

When Mary responded to the angel's call, she was already betrothed to Joseph, the Holy Father observed, adding: "In addressing Mary personally, the Lord already closely associates Joseph to the mystery of the Incarnation. Joseph agreed to be part of the great events which God was beginning to bring about in the womb of his spouse". Taking Mary into his home "he welcomed the mystery that was in Mary and the mystery that was Mary herself. He loved her with great respect, which is the mark of all authentic love. Joseph teaches us that it is possible to love without possessing". Drawing inspiration from Joseph, all men and women can, then, "come to experience healing from their emotional wounds, if only they embrace the plan that God has begun to bring about in those close to Him".


Thursday, July 2, 2009

St. John Vianney's pastoral plan

For the Year of the Priest, why not study the patron saint of parish priests?

Into this cultural milieu stepped the little priest from the village of Ecully, and he gave the people of Ars something they had never seen before. How did he do it? Our group detected eight basic features to his pastoral plan: 1) the conversion of his own life as a priest; 2) manifesting an approachable and available demeanor; 3) prayer and ascetical living; 4) channeling initial energy into those families already faithful; 5) giving special attention to the liturgy, preaching and catechesis; 6) addressing problems at their roots and not in their symptoms; 7) planting good habits of prayer and the works of mercy; and 8) doing it all with a strong priestly identity.

And while we're at it, here are fifty two movies, one for every week of the year. If you start now you won't have much catching up to do!