Thursday, December 31, 2009

Too many parties all at once I'm sure

Happy birthday to his excellency, the Bishop of Sacramento, Jaime Soto! And may you all have a happy and blessed new year! I myself will be going to a party at the house of one of my old coworkers from the days of Longs Drugs (before they became CVS.) I always enjoy these opportunities because it won't just be people I know, but many people I don't know. And when people I don't know find out what I'm doing and where I am, they always have lots of questions about the faith and the Church. St. Peter tells us to always be prepared to give an account of the hope that is in us. I'll admit it can be daunting prospect given all of the false notions of the good life my generation has been raised on, but then I remember that it's not me I'm talking about. Whatever I say to people as a seminarian and some day, God willing, a priest, should not be about me. "It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me."

I clearly remember last year's New Year's Eve party. It made me grateful that all seminarians must have some philosophy before being admitted to theology. One guy I spoke with was something else. It was like pulling teeth just to get him to concede that there is an external reality which is independent of our own subjective perceptions. I think of it as a good experience though. Part of a priest's vocation is to teach Truth (Truth with a capital "T" is a person, remember.) The flip side of that is a priest must be able to refute error. The dictatorship of relativism the Holy Father once spoke of does not like the latter one bit. It is wrong to hold that some things are wrong. It is an error to tell someone they are in error. But that is precisely what we need our pastors to do today: 1) Lead people to the Truth that is Jesus Christ; and 2) perform the spiritual work of mercy of correcting those in error.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Prayer request

Today would have been the 89th birthday of Monsignor Richard Schuler, a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis. He died in 2007, and I would like to request that you say a prayer for the repose of his soul. Everyone who loves sacred music owes Monsignor Schuler a debt of gratitude for keeping it alive during a time of great upheaval in the Church. I also wanted to post a true story about Monsignor that shows what it really means to be "pastoral."

Msgr. Schuler did have friends in high places (which didn’t shield him from regular criticism from the chancery or attempts at sabotage), but he also had friends in “low” places. One of my favorite memories of the few months I lived at St. Agnes was the afternoon that Monsignor knocked on my door and asked if I was doing anything important. I said no, and he said, I’d like you to come with me for a bit.

We drove to a pretty decrepit-looking apartment building and walked up a couple flights of stairs. On the way he had explained to me that the woman we were going to see was agoraphobic. she had contacted him several months ago, saying that, though she seldom left her apartment, she did a lot of reading. In the course of her reading, she had become convinced of the truth of the Catholic Church. She wanted to be baptized. He met with her several times, instructing her in the faith until he was convinced she was ready for baptism. He set up a date and time and waited for her in the Church, but she failed to show up. When he called her, she said that she couldn’t bring herself to leave the apartment that day – her anxieties were just too severe. So, he told her he’d be over to visit the next week – that is what we were doing.

When we got to her apartment, he introduced me, and she welcomed us in. He spoke with her at length, in the most pastoral way I had ever witnessed. When she said that she was second-guessing her decision to become Catholic, because she wasn’t sure that she could make it to Mass on Sundays, owing to her psychosis, he reassured her that no one is bound to the impossible, and if it was truly impossible for her to make it to Mass, she was not under that obligation. He encouraged her to continue in counseling and medication, and to make every effort to come to Mass.
He also cautioned her about the ways in which Satan would use her mental condition to prevent her from joining the Church. In the end, he convinced her to be baptized.

He baptized her then and there in the kitchen sink, using the ritual in Latin at her request, with me as her godfather, confirmed her and gave her her first Holy Communion from the pyx in his pocket. We stayed with her for awhile after that, chatting – the glow on her face was amazing. As we were leaving, the bells from St. Agnes were ringing in the distance. He told her that she should remember, everytime she hears the bells ringing, she should know that she has a parish praying for her – and that she now has an obligation to pray for her parish, and especially her pastor (with that trademark twinkle in his eye).

I saw her once or twice after that at Mass, always in the back, by herself. I didnt get her address, and can’t even remember her name, but I pray for her often.

After that experience, anytime someone would speak of Msgr. Schuler as cold-hearted and reactionary – “Msgr. Rigid J. Schuler” – I would laugh and say, you have no idea what you are talking about.

Comment by Tim Ferguson

Monday, December 28, 2009

Merry Christmas to All

Merry Christmas to all from across the divide!

I am enjoying my time here in Madrid with the Missionaries of Charity. It´s been an interesting time to say the least and I will definitely have something to write about when I get back. There is just nothing quite like cleaning, feeding, and take care of every bodily need of adult men suffering from AIDS. I frequent prayer, especially at the beginning, was just, ¨Jesus help me!¨ Help me do this and to do it with love. Things are a lot easier now. The routine has set in. People know me. I sort of know Spanish. It´s good. Every day is a bit different. Which when dealing with the sisters is always expected and for the better. It´s a true experience of abandonment to Divine Providence. I cannot wait to share some of it when I get back to Rome. :)

Hope everyone is enjoying their time at home and with family.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

The House of Christmas by G.K. Chesterton

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost - how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky's dome.

This world is wild as an old wives' tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas Break

I will be heading out to Madrid this Christmas for a couple weeks to work with the Missionaries of Charity. They run an AIDS hospice for men as well as a number of other things.

I hope to keep posting through Christmas. We'll see what access looks like.

If I do not get to say it later, Merry Christmas to all.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Talking Tough

This priest brings up an interesting idea. He uses funerals as a place to reach fallen away Catholics who will attend funerals and weddings but not much else. Though I support his idea, I wonder if it comes on too strong. Anyways, it's definitely worth a read. It's from the Archdiocese of DC blog.

"I celebrate just over 50 funerals a year; about one a week. (People are dying to come to church here). And most of these funerals feature large numbers of fallen away Catholics and unchurched individuals. Most of these people I see ONLY at funerals and sometimes weddings. For this reason, in recent years, I have altered my approach at funerals and direct almost half of the sermon to the unchurched and call them to repent and return home. Surely in the first part I speak of the deceased, offer thanks to God for their life, entrust them to God and ask the congregation to pray for the repose of the deceased soul. I never fail to menton judgment and purgatory as reasons for this prayer. That is too often not mentioned at Catholic funerals, a terrible oversight if you ask me. But the bottom line is that I spend the first half of the sermon commending the deceased person to God’s benevolent mercy and care.

But given the terribly high loss in the practice of faith and the consequent grave condition of many of the souls at any given funeral I cannot allow (any longer) an omission to be made of summoning them to Christ. How can it be that God has led them to my parish and I would say nothing to them to dissuade them from their path away from God and his sacraments? So many souls today are not only unchurched and backslidden (fallen away), but they are often locked in serious, mortal sin. I cannot know this about any particular individual but it is clear that many are lost like sheep without a shepherd. While conscious of my own sin, I cannot remain silent (any longer) and fail to call the unchurched and fallen away back. And trust me, even at the funeral of strong Catholic families there are MANY who are fallen away. Add to that the fact that many funerals I celebrate are for people who themselves were not always fervent in the practice of the faith. Families of such as these have even more members in need of a sobering wake up call."

Full Article


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Catholics come home

Are you a fallen away Catholic? Do you know a fallen away Catholic? The Diocese of Sacramento is participating in the nation-wide "Catholics Come Home" project. Check out the website, starting with Bishop Soto's welcome to visitors. I enjoyed the video about famous Catholic converts. I'm the lowest of them all, but I'm in good company :)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Another Heroic Priest

"Foley is one of 14 Catholic priests serving in Afghanistan and spends much of his time traveling around the country to visit soldiers at forward operating bases and smaller combat outposts. He also handles nine Masses on weekends including a Mass in Spanish.

"You have to remember it may be your fourth or fifth Mass of the day but to them it's their first Mass, and to some out in the field it may be their first Mass in four or five weeks. For some it may be their last Mass," Foley said.

Among Foley's duties is visiting patients and staff at the hospital at Bagram as well as mortuary affairs. He frequently is called at all hours to go to the hospital to comfort a wounded soldier from his battalion or a service member who is Catholic; he performs the Catholic ritual of anointing of the sick as well as comforts the fallen soldier's buddies.

"It's very somber, very respectful - there's a love for that fallen comrade," said Foley, adding that he's inspired by the attitude of wounded troops.

"You'd be so impressed with the soldiers. When they come in (to the hospital), their first question is, 'How are my battle buddies?' And the second question is, 'When can I get back out there?' It's a pretty inspiring place to be'."

Whole article here.


A culture of vocations or a culture of death

I heard a story from a friend of mine the other day. Someone said to him, "I know what we can do to stimulate more vocations: the Church needs to change. It needs to allow priests to get married, ordain women, and be more gay friendly." He replied, "The Episcopal Church does all of that, and they have an increasing shortage of laity." His interlocutor responded that the Catholic Church is not the Episcopal Church. He then said, "Let's keep it that way."

I don't believe there can be such a thing as a "vocations shortage." God always calls enough men and women to serve His Church as priests and religious, but today not enough of them are answering that call. Why? In Pope John Paul II's letter on priestly formation, Pastores Dabo Vobis, he diagnoses two causes: cultural disease and ecclesial malaise. For 18, 22, 29, or however many years they've walked the earth, young men have been told that the world is here for them. They are unique consumers defined by what kind and how much of the stuff they buy. Virility is defined by how many women you've slept with. You are only "educated" to the degree you subscribe to rationalistic scientism. Certain strains of feminism demand that we accept that "to be equal" means "to be the same." And above it all, the implicit assumption that "truth" is a quaint medieval notion only held to by right-wing troglodytes. Sacrificial love - the kind modeled by Christ - is an almost foreign concept today.

JPII proposed the solution offered by St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians: sacrificial obedience to the Faith. Most of the people who read this blog are surely lay people, and I must tell you that it is part of your mission as a lay person to create a climate of vocations to the priesthood. So I ask you: 1) Would your life in Christ inspire a young man to become a priest? or 2) Would your life in Christ cause a young man to go running into the arms of the culture of death? Think about what all young Catholic men who are considering the priesthood face today: an atmosphere of suspicion because of the sex scandals, parents who want him to find more remunerative work, impurity as a way of life for his friends, and priests and DREs who allow error to contaminate the faith, if not kill it.

Every diocesan event I go to - no matter how big or how small - I always ask at least one young man if he has ever considered being a priest. And you know what? None of them has ever outright said, "No." Even if they did, that doesn't mean they don't have a vocation. Speaking for myself, I definitely said "No way" the first time someone ever suggested the priesthood to me. But you, the laity, are primarily responsible for leavening the culture. And it is part of your unique vocation to live and work in the world to create that culture which encourages priestly vocations. If a seminarian ever stays in your parish, take a moment to encourage him. Believe me, it makes all the difference in the world. And above all, pray a lot.

Friday, December 11, 2009

We still Kant have that

I've successfully completed another semester at St. Patrick's, thanks be to God. This semester was more difficult than the previous two, mainly because I've been entrusted with more responsibilities around the house. But with Christ and the Blessed Virgin's help, it's all over. Pre-Theology just finished setting up for our end of semester Christmas banquet, so now I can finally relax.

My adviser, Fr. Stevens, is also the academic dean. I've noticed that all of my classes overlapped this semester: information I learned in my Ethics class became invaluable in my class on the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. My philosophy courses have been invaluable. Part of what it means to be a priest is to know the world in which you will be living and speaking to the people. Many people - including many Catholics - are good Kantians now in that they believe faith and reason are completely separate spheres. Every time you hear a Catholic pol say, "I'm personally opposed to abortion, but..." he is revealing himself as a child of Kant.

This generation of priests and seminarians faces a unique challenge in the history of Christendom: we live in a secular world. We no longer possess a religious imagination. I'll quote a line from one of Fr. Stevens' favorite poems: So much depends on a red wheel-barrow. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to unpack the meaning of that sentence. Those of us who went to public schools never really got to learn skills like that. Much of my seminary education thus far has been picking up skills and ideas I should have learned in childhood. Philosophy helps me understand why I didn't - because my teachers' teachers were operating with a specific philosophy of education and epistemology in mind.

Truth is truth no matter the source, so we cannot simply dismiss modern philosophers out of hand. Believe it or not, even Michel Foucault had some unique insights into the human condition that are valuable for understanding the world we must engage. So take the time to sift through them, testing everything, keeping what is good, and bugger all the rest. If you're thinking about the priesthood, I strongly suggest learning some basic philosophy too since you'll need to know it later on if you pursue it. At the same time, don't lose sight of the most important thing. Academics are important here, but your spiritual life is the most important.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

New Monthly Discernment Group in Sactown

We are starting a monthly discernment group for men 17-35 years old. Here is the info.

photo by roadsidepictures

Place: Leatherby's Ice Creamery (2333 Arden Way, Sac, CA)
When: Second Monday of each month
Time: 6:00 p.m. for dinner and ice cream ($5) followed by a talk

If you have any questions, feel free to call the Vocations Office (916) 733-0258.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Priestly Model

Try this priest out. He was embedded with soldiers in Korea when the Chinese entered the war.

"For days, the 3rd Battalion fought off mass charges of Chinese. They ransacked bodies for weapons and bullets when they ran low.

Kapaun and Clarence Anderson, a doctor, set up an aid station in a sandbagged dugout.

The GI perimeter shrank to 50 yards end to end, but Lt. Walt Mayo saw Kapaun run 300 yards outside it to drag wounded inside.

During one of those runs to help the wounded, Kapaun was captured and led away at gunpoint. But Mayo, as he told author William Maher later, shouted a command and GIs rose up and fired, killing the captors.

McGreevy heard officers yell at Kapaun to leave the battlefield.

"No," Kapaun called back.

The officers yelled again.

"No," Kapaun said. "My place is with the wounded."

The priest looked as calm as he did at Mass."

Full article here.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Some Christmas Humor

I cannot but post this picture and the commentary, especially as my seminary is in the midst of decorating our hallways for Christmas.

"Good news is that I truly out did myself this year with my Christmas decorations. The bad news is that I had to take him down after 2 days. I had more people come screaming up to my house than ever. Great stories. But two things made me take it down.

First, the cops advised me that it would cause traffic accidents as they almost wrecked when they drove by.

Second, a 55 year old lady grabbed the 75 pound ladder almost killed herself putting it against my house and didn't realize it was fake until she climbed to the top (she was not happy). By the way, she was one of many people who attempted to do that. My yard couldn't take it either. I have more than a few tire tracks where people literally drove up my yard."


Monday, December 7, 2009

Growing in Charity

What prepares one to take the step to be a priest or religious? Among other things, perhaps one of the greatest is charity or love. A vocation without love will become a cross rather than a joy. With a vocation for a lifetime, it must be love. Only love can last forever.

St. Therese was always one to discover certain fonts of grace in daily life that would help her to love. She tells the hilarious story of how she is washing with another sister who keeps splashing her with the dirty water. Rather than telling her to stop annoying her, she accepts them and as she says, "I decided to turn up as often as I could to that lucky spot where so much spiritual wealth was freely handed out." She also tells the story of sitting next to the most distressing nuns during prayer who annoy her with small noises. And she uses the opportunity to simply offer it as a prayer as she cannot pray with others.

In many ways, one prepares for the long haul, a life consecrated to God or the married life, by beginning with the smallest of things. Rather than complaining about that one thing that always gets on your nerves, start going out of your way to brighten the day of a co-worker who drives you nuts. I find this all the time in the seminary, whether it's fellow brothers who I much rather avoid than each lunch with or particular events in the seminary that become moments of interior complaining. But they can also be moments to love when you just don't want to or pray when you would just prefer to complain.

I think we are called, and I am so especially, to find those fonts of grace God has already put in our paths and that we constantly avoid. It is not easy but the practice of true charity will bring such good into the world and prepare our hearts to say yes to God in the smallest of things and the greatest - so that our yes today reverberates through our entire lives.


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Discernment Retreat

I just heard the word that the annual discernment retreat at St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park (my alma mater sorta) will take place from January 15th to the 17th, 2010. If you areinterested, contact the vocation director in your area. It's a great weekend to meet seminarians, get the feel of the seminary, and receive some tools for discernment. There is not any kind of formal commitment to seminary required.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Or maybe I'm just long-winded

Sometimes I forget this is a house of formation and not a regular post-graduate academic institution. We often have oral exams. Many guys leap at that opportunity, but in many ways orals are more difficult than written exams. You don't have as much time to think since the professor is sitting across from you at his desk, waiting. You have to study harder in order to have the information readily available.

I just had my oral final exam in ethics. Fr. Andrews asked me to explain Kant's deontological theory of ethics and stopped me after two minutes or so. "Ok, you obviously know that. Tell me about natural law." Another two minutes, "Ok ok, you know that pretty well too. Anything else on any other topic we've studied in class?"

They do oral exams because in a real sense all of the seven years I'm here will be aimed toward making me a good preacher. Most of the people in the parish will only see you on Sunday morning. The sermon/homily is your one interaction with them all week so you have to have that gift of cramming as much information as possible into ten minutes or less. You have to hold their attention, communicate real content, and resist the temptation to easy one-shot gimmicks. And as many, many lay people have told me, not many priests have that talent. Fr. Stevens says you should always look at the readings for that Sunday and ask yourself, "What questions do these readings pose to us?" Do that, and the homily is already halfway finished.