Tell me the story of the holiest person you’ve ever met
It’s not an easy question, because I believe I’ve been blessed to meet so many people from all over the world who are quite holy. It was so hard to chose just one, but at the end of the day I had to “trust my gut.” So in trusting my gut, I don’t intend to speak ill or lesser of anyone else, but rather to highlight some of the most intense expressions of holiness I have experienced.
To me this person is Sr. Loreci. She is a member of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who, if I was allowed, I would have chosen as a whole group. They are my dear friends, but they also challenge and inspire me to more fully live out my vocation everyday.
I first met Sr. Loreci when I spent the summer doing missionary work in Albania. Sr. Loreci, originally from Brazil, worked as the head nurse in their health clinic. I served as her assistance and pharmacist, or on a second trip, deacon. I have told many stories about Sr. Loreci in my homilies over the years all around the world, from Rome, to Connecticut.
What in my gut leads me to name Sr. Loreci? In short it’s her capacity to integrate her prayer life with her apostolic work in the face of great injustice and suffering, all while still maintaining a cheerful disposition.
A few stories to bring that bold statement to life (warning – some of them are medically gross):
In her examination room in the clinic, she did not have the typical posters of human anatomy you might find the doctor’s office. Instead she had an image of Christ on the cross. While carefully removing bugs from holes in a man’s infected feet, she invited him to look up at the image of Christ crucified and to unite his sufferings to Christ, even going to the detail of pointing to the nail through Christ’s feet. This encouraging patients to understand their pain through the suffering of Christ was a daily practice. It was a beautiful way for her to care not only for their physical wounds, but also their spiritual ones.
The day before my second visit to Albania, Sr. Loreci had suffered a great tragedy. Back home in Brazil two men broke into her sister’s home and killed her brother in law, in cold blood, in front of his children, her nieces and nephews. Now I don’t know about all of you, but if that was me, I’d be pretty angry and would want come back and at least comfort my sister, if not go after the guys who did it. But what did Sr. Loreci do, she got up in the morning, prayed morning prayer, went to Mass, and then off to the homes, to imitate Christ. She wasn’t superhuman or immune to suffering from this terrible incident, there was time for mourning and sadness too, but the faithfulness in her response to keep doing what she was called to do in that moment remains so inspiring to me.
Then there is story that tops them all. I’m not sure words can ever do it justice, but I’ll try.
One morning we received a phone call at the health clinic. We were told that this man’s cousin, 33 years old was suffering from extreme internal and external burns as a result of an electrical accident. He was so badly burned, he could not come to the clinic. So we went to his house. When we arrived the man was lying in bed in only a pair of boxers as his entire body from shoulders to toes was covered in third degree burns. Most would want to turn and run away at the sight. It was truly horrific. His vocal cords were damaged so you could see his neck strain, and his toes curl, as if he was crying out in pain, but no noise came out. Instead of turning away from such suffering, Sr. Loreci went right to work, so carefully tending to each and every single one of his wounds. We ended up there for hours.
I sat at the end of the bed attempting poorly to console the mother of the man, his wife and his little daughter. As I noticed the most profound wound on this man was on his torso near the heart, it occurred to me that as I sat at his feet, with his mother, it was like being gathered at scene of the crucifixion. Furthermore, I was watching this sister, an Apostle of the Sacred Heart, curing the gash in his side. His accident was only made possible by the economic injustices and poverty present in his country.
That evening, after we had returned home and made our evening holy hour, after dinner I asked Sr. Loreci a question, “Sister, how do you do it everyday?” She looked at me and said, “If it weren’t for Jesus, I couldn’t do anything.” More specifically, she added, “If it weren’t for Christ in the Eucharist, I couldn’t do anything.”
That level of integration between the sacraments, the spiritual life, and service is holiness to me. It’s what I want. What I strive for. It’s what I’ve seen in others as well, but perhaps most concretely in Sr. Loreci. So for now, that’s the story of the holiest person I’ve ever met.
What about you? Feel free to write you own post and join the link up. Don’t forget the hashtag #HolyPeople, and to link to Liz’s post.
Here’s a homily I gave in Connecticut to the a gathering of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and their families. It was the Sunday after the first profession and renewal of vows for some of the younger sisters, who were all present along with their families.
On June 28, 2012, I packed everything I thought I could possibly need for the summer into two backpacks, one on my belly and one big on my back, got a cab and headed to the airport in Rome. I was excited for the adventure of a lifetime.A few hours later when we landed in Tirana, Albania we had to take one of those buses to the terminal and I’ll never forget that moment when I stepped out of the plane at the top of the steps. I looked at the advertisement on the side of the bus and I hit me hard, I didn’t know what those words meant. I didn’t speak the language. Those of you that know me know how much I love languages and talking, so this was really stressful. But it wasn’t just the words that had me doing my best Dorothy impression, “Toto, we’re not in Missouri anymore.” I suddenly felt somewhat nervous, concerned about the uncertainties, the total lack of knowledge as to what would take place during my mission.
A few minutes later having passed through customs I collected my bags and walked out into the main hall where I immediately spotted Sr. Flora, who I only recognized by the habit, as I’d never met her before. She then took me to the Apostles community in Dajç, where I was welcomed with open arms for lunch. As soon as I got there, all of my worries and concerns were gone. Why? I had never met these four women whose house, table and food I was now sharing. But in a deeper sense, it was if I had already met them, because I had already met all of you. There we were, within a few minutes laughing and having a good time as if we’d known each other a long time. Why? It wasn’t just because they dressed the same as you all, but because the habit is an external sign of an internal reality, a charism, a certain zeal and love of Christ which was instantly recognizable. So to Sr. Elizabeth, Mahilia and Christina, in the words of our reading from St. Paul today, you have put on not just some new clothes, but a new self, you now belong in a deeper way to the this lovely group of sisters who surround and support you here in Hamden, across the US and all over the world.
Yesterday we all gathered together, what a joyous gathering it was, to celebrate first vows and renewal of vows. This putting on of the new self. For the rest of us, such celebrations can provide the opportunity for us contemplate how it is that we are called to do the same, so whether we made vows just yesterday, or many years ago, ordained some number of years ago or just 5 weeks, newlywed or married a long time, we should all be inspired, and strengthened by the example and witness of these 8 young holy women. A reminder that we too are to put on this new self in Christ, through our joy we are renewed in our zeal and love for God.
But what does this new self look like? It’s not like we can just flip through a catalogue to pick out what a new self looks like? You won’t see it in any of the back to school ads? There’s no app for that.
To get that answer we need only turn to today’s Gospel reading in which our Lord reminds us, “Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.” This same food which, “comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Which gives LIFE to the world.
So as Fr. Bob mentioned, this new self is not to be mopey, crabby and miserable, we are to be full of LIFE, but how? what’s the source, let it be because we have been nourished by the Eucharist. Thus the Eucharist, that which gives us life must impact our entire being and all our doing. Let it become the Caritas Christi that Urgets nos. And we’re not just alive when we are singing so beautifully in the chapel, but in all that we do, everywhere we go, everyone we meet, Christ’s presence may be recognized in us.
Some of you may have heard Mother Clare telling some of my stories from Albania, and I shared some of them with you all as well. When I worked in the Health Clinic in Dajç, I help the sisters in the clinic and sometimes, when there are really bad cases, we go out to their homes, in which we encounter incredible amounts of suffering, for things that we take for granted here. Like diabetes, many of us either are, or know someone affected by this for us, controllable disease. We see advertisements for the little strips on tv. In Albania there are no strips, no shots. So inevitably people lose circulation in their feet, lose the ability to walk and then eventually call the sisters to come cure their wounds as they lie on their deathbed. One night after a long day, after having seen terrible things, I was visiting with Sr. Loreci, and i asked her, “sister, how do you do it? I’m only here for a little while but you do this day in and day out, how do you handle so much suffering?”
She looked up at me and said, “If it weren’t for Christ, I could do nothing, If I couldn’t receive him in the Eucharist, I could do nothing”
What’s even crazier, and some of you might have heard this story because I know Mother Clare found out while she was here on her visit to the US province, this same sister, the day before my most recent visit to Albania, had suffered a great tragedy. Back home in Brazil two men broke into her sister’s home and killed her brother in law, in cold blood, in front of his children, her nieces and nephews. Now I don’t know about all of you, but if that was me, I’d be pretty angry and would want come back and at least comfort my sister if not go after the guys who did it. But what did sister do, she got up in the morning, prayed morning prayer, went to Mass, and then off to the homes, to imitate Christ, washing the feet of diabetics and healing the sick.
That sisters and brothers, is what it means to be one who lives, “Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.” That is the recognition that this bread from Heaven, “gives life to the world.”
May this Eucharist we celebrate, amongst the many joyous celebrations of this weekend, be that which gives us life, not just here and now, but in every aspect of our lives so that we who have put on a new self in Christ, and especially for those newly professed, may your lives always be a witness and living expression of Caritas Christi Urget Nos.
Last Tuesday I sat down for a half-hour interview with Lino Rulli of “The Catholic Guy” radio show on SiriusXM’s Catholic Channel 129. All week-long Rulli stayed at the NAC while interviewing seminarians about our lives. In the pre-interivew meeting he said he didn’t want to necessarily sit around and talk about theology and Church issues, but rather about us and our lives as seminarians and our lives before entering seminary to show that we are in many respects just regular guys trying to live out our vocation, which just might be the priesthood.
Since SiriusXM is a subscription service it is hard to find the interview, if you’re already a subscriber you can go to the SiriusXM web site and go through the on-line player to find the show from May 8, 2014. It is also possible to sign up for a free trial in order to hear the piece as well, at least, that’s what I had to do.
For more on some of the topics discussed in the interview see the following posts. If you can’t listen, reading these posts will in some instances give much more detail than in the half-hour interview.
Yesterday was the Feast of the Sacred Heart. To me this day is so important to me spiritually that it comes right after the Triduum and Christmas.
Fortunately I was able to serve Mass in the Basilica di Santa Croce in Gersalemme. The Mass was organized by the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. They were present along with many families consecrated to the Sacred Heart. I was joined by a few other priests and seminarians who also have a great friendship with these sisters. Afterwards we all went over to the Generalate to celebrate.
Right now we are in the three week long examination period. So no more updates, as I’m just studying all the time for all my exams.
So far: 3 down, 4 to go!
Then in a little more than two weeks I return, as the priest I was with in Albania said all the time, to the “United States of…Freedom!”
Yesterday I had to give an hour long presentation on Matthew 9:1-8 for my seminar class at the Gregorian University.
Before class I was in the computer lab printing off some handouts for the presentation, when amidst the stress, I was filled with awe and gratitude. I just found myself in awe of the places God has taken me since saying Yes to his will. Places and situations which a few years ago I would have never imagined remotely possible. I felt this becaue there I was sitting in a computer lab which was not unlike any computer lab at Mizzou or in high school, but this time I was sitting amongst students from all over the world in a place far away from home. This was reinforced when I then went to my seminar where the 14 students come from 8 different countries. A place and situation I would have never imagined, but there it was, a total gift.
Then in the evening as I prayed and reflected some more I began to recall so many of these gifts and other moments in which I was able to stop and realize how I was in a place I never would have imagined, such as Albania.
Furthering that reflection I was going through some old writings when I came across a piece found below from my first semester of seminary, in which one sees the same reaction of awe. Now nearly four years later some things haven’t changed. Going through some of these writings for the no longer active Jeff City Seminarians Blog was interesting to see parrallels with my current situation. I’ll try to post some more with updated reflections in the next few days and weeks.
A trip to the Nelson-Atkins
December 7, 2009 by Geoffrey A. Brooke Jr.
This semester I am taking a class in basic design, sometimes known as art class. It’s actually a rather enjoyable class. This past Saturday we had a “field trip” to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. Due to a variety of understandable reasons the trip ended up being a rather small group. I went along with a fellow transfer junior from Wichita and our instructor, Fr. Pachomius Meade OSB, who is originally from Palmyra, Mo.
I really had a wonderful time. It was nice that the group was so small because we could actually see what we wanted to see and not follow some big group around in a rushed manner.
We primarily looked at two types of art, the first being Baroque religious art, the second being 20th century contemporary art. I think the religious art is for obvious reasons, the contemporary art was focused towards our final project for the class.
When I was younger my parents used to always take me to museums, most of the time I failed to appreciate the art. However, as I have gotten older, and perhaps wiser, I have come to appreciate the art much more. My main source of appreciation comes from a source of amazement. I find myself amazed at what some people can do with a paintbrush. Art is not one of the gifts I received from God, however, I can see it and respect it in the work of others who do have that gift, while being grateful for the many gifts I have received from God.
At one point I couldn’t help but think about the path I’ve taken the past 15 months or so to lead me to where I was on Saturday. Last fall, I would have found it hard, although not impossible, but hard to believe that 15 months later I would be in an art museum with someone who went to KU for two years and a monk. I couldn’t help but smile and be grateful for all the blessings I have been able to receive in the past several months, one of those being this fun, and educational trip to the art museum.
On February 7th I wrote the first post on this site in over four years. I mentioned that in addition to new posts, during the break I would try to write a few “catch-up” pieces from different experiences over the last couple of years. To that I end I wrote two pieces on my pilgrimage to the Holy Land this past Christmas; one with general thoughts, and another post recounting two specific stories.
Now that I have another break for Easter, I’d like to do a little more “catching up,” in particular I’d like to share some reflections on my time in Albania last summer.
After our first academic year in Rome, we were not permitted to return home. We were however given the freedom, with diocesan and seminary approval to be adventurous and look for different opportunities. As a result 67 men in my class were spread out all over the world. To my knowledge we had guys in at least (I’m sure I’ll forget some) the following countries, England, Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Italy, Poland, Israel (Holy Land), Ukraine, Taiwan, Tanzania, India, Hong Kong, and of course Albania. This all led to some amazing table conversations when we all got back.
For the sake of time what I’ve done below is cut and past different parts of various reflections, reports, e-mails etc. that I wrote when I returned to Rome. Thus it won’t flow as a single narrative, but hopefully it paints a picture of my life in Albania and the lessons I learned.
A quick overview: When I was in the flatlands, I helped in the health clinic, primarily relying on my experience working at a pharmacy when I was in high school. In the mountains we were assigned three “villages” or sides of mountain ridges. We rotated between the three doing Catechesis Mon.-Sat. On Sundays we celebrated Mass at all three. Due to the lack of quality or lack altogether of roads we would take a jeep as far as we could go and then hike the rest of the way before ringing a bell to let everyone know we’d arrived. Then everyone on that ridge would make their way to the field where we met.
In response to a question asking for a description of our living situation, I wrote the following:
Dajç, Lezha, Albania: This was a rural farming community where I stayed with the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I was here upon arrival in Albania before heading to the mountains for the missionary experience as well as after the mountain experience for another week. I stayed in the convent, in the guest wing. Both times I stayed at the convent there were four sisters present, though there was a change with two of the sisters between the first and second time I stayed with them.
Qibik, Albania: This is where I stayed during the missionary experience in the mountains. Here we stayed in a restaurant-hotel run by a family who also lived in the same structure. Our community was comprised of myself, two Albanian junior sisters of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus who study at the Pontifical Lateran University, an Albanian seminarian in 4th theology studying at the national seminary in Albania, and an Albanian priest, ordained in 2002.
This hotel had part-time running water and part-time electricity, both would come on and off throughout the day and night. For showering and washing our clothes we had two trash buckets which we slowly filled with water, when it was running. We had one common room where we prayed, ate, and spent our community time. There were also separate rooms for the seminarians, nuns, and priest. These living quarters proved to be very formative for me, as it was a good opportunity to learn simplicity and poverty through actually living simplicity and poverty.
As for our community we were separated by a maximum of 13 years in age. I felt that we were able to establish a great community attitude and strong morale. With two nuns, two seminarians, and a priest we were well balanced. Our community time, whether it be at meals, traveling by foot or in the car, or during our time together in the evenings was one filled with a healthy balance of serious reflection and joy. There was certainly a great amount of laughter amongst us, particularly in the evenings as we relaxed after a long days work. In fact we would laugh so hard that one time one of the patrons in the restaurant below our rooms asked the waitress what was going on up above, to which she responded, “oh those are just some really joyful people laughing.” In addition to our obvious joy, we also took time in the car or afternoon to reflect on how the days activities had gone, and what could be done to improve. We also did a good job motivating each other to keep working as the work was very tiring. Given that four of us are students there were also several intellectually stimulating conversations about various theological topics and our experiences in our respective universities. All of these experience contributed to a very positive sense of community.
When asked, “What did you learn about the people and about the nature of diocesan ministry?” I responded:
Though my work was with a diocesan priest and seminarian, the nature of our ministry was missionary. That being said there were certain aspects of the experience that could be found in a diocesan setting.
One such example took place when we were sitting in our community on a Friday evening when we were called downstairs to the restaurant because there was a man who wanted to see us, his father was dying and he wanted the priest to come and perform last rites. We immediately prepared the necessary items and took off down the mountain to his house. In this experience I had to learn to comfort and aid the family as they were suffering a great loss.
Later, when it came time for the funeral of this same man I learned to be more adaptable. We planned on celebrating a funeral Mass for this same man, however when we arrived at the cemetery chapel, we saw that not only had the people removed the pews to create more room for everyone to stand, they had also removed the altar. Since we could not celebrate Mass we had to quickly change plans and celebrate a burial outside of Mass.
The most profound lesson I learned about diocesan ministry is the role of the priest amongst his people, his flock. The people in the mountains do not have a resident priest, which is why we went for the month of July. This meant that when we did show up, many were very happy to see us, they also had a very heathy respect for us and especially our words. The lesson that I drew out of this reaction, which is somewhat different than the reaction of people to priests in the United States is the importance of the priest to be amongst his people. We drove 3.5 hours into the mountains so that we could be among the people. This experience taught me, even with a different language and culture, it is important to amongst the people.
Another diocesan type of experience that I learned took place during the blessing of homes in the evenings. When we went to people’s homes to bless them, they were extremely generous. Many of the people on this mountain practiced sustenance farming, they grew what they needed, yet when we came to visit, they took from their own supply to give to us. They would offer fresh fruits and vegetables as well as homemade sausages, cheeses, and honey. They had nothing yet gave so much. At times I even felt uncomfortable taking food from them, however as the time went on I came to realize that I must learn to receive. I think I went in with the mindset of, “we are here to give this blessing” but failed to realize our need to be open to receiving. Another aspect of this receiving was to receive graciously and lovingly. In all charity, some of the people we met were better at making cheese, honey etc. than others, therefore some of the foods were not exactly tasty, enjoyable or pleasant to consume. What helped me to learn to receive graciously was the reflection on the fact that the people who had made these foods had done so with the best of their ability, and they were very proud of their work, they poured much energy and time into the making of those foods, and in many ways they poured themselves into these items. Thus what seemed like bad food became something beautiful, and if I didn’t enjoy a particular item I could offer my own minor suffering and desires as personal sacrifices, personal gifts, just has these people had given of themselves. For me eating these appetizers before the blessings of homes was a very humbling experience, which taught me that while I might want to go around and give, go around and do, sometimes God is calling us to give of ourselves through receiving from others.
Both of my experiences in the mountains as well as at the clinic helped me to understand that fundamentally ministry cannot be separated from prayer and the action of ministry cannot merely be seen on a human, material level, but rather must be seen, with “the eyes of faith,” such ministerial work must be seen also on a spiritual level. In the mountains this was felt through the realization that catechesis was not merely the act of teaching, but rather a passing down of the faith, an entering into the tradition of the Church as passed down to me and working to make that faith come alive in others who were younger, so that they might the same to others after them. This lens of faith and prayer as it comes to ministry also applies to the aforementioned description of eating food in the families of others, it became not just the act of eating but rather an entering into communion with these families. The experience of cold showers with no running water became a way of accepting a little suffering or discomfort for Christ and a way of entering into a solidarity with those to whom we were ministering.
This was by far the most profound and memorable experience of the summer. In my mind, there has not been a day yet when I have not been back to this man’s house. These words are very inadequate and most certainly don’t do the experience justice.
The most powerful individual experience of the summer was when one of the sisters and I were asked to go to a house to help a man in his early 30’s who had been severely burned. In an accident he became tangled with an electrical wire and suffered from both internal and external burning. The majority of his front side (arms, chest, stomach, legs, and feet) was covered in third degree burns, parts of his skin were charred. In particular there was a deep wound on his right side. For the most part I sat and watched as the sister began taking off his bandages and providing treatment to his wounds. As the sister cleaned his wounds with various creams, medicined etc., I could see the man writhing in pain, yet little to no noise was coming out of his mouth because his vocal chords were damaged, he was only able to speak in a very soft tone of voice. While all of this is going on, his mother was sitting in a chair at the foot of the bed. The mother was extremely distraught, emotional, and sad as she gazed upon her suffering son. In between her tears she would cry out a few phrases in Albanian, which translate to, “O Lord!” or “Thanks be to God.” I sat next to her and attempted to console her in her own pain and suffering. This lasted for an hour and a half. As I sat there soaking in this scene I found myself drawn to the scene of Christ’s crucifixion. I came to see this man as Christ suffering silently on the the Cross, and the mother, as Mary, weeping at the feet of her son. Furthermore, the man had this large gash in his side, just as the side of Christ was pierced. I was watching this sister, called an Apostle of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, clean, and repair this man’s pierced side, additionally as she cured him physically, she spoke to the man about understanding his suffering in relation to the suffering of Christ, her willingness to aid this man and bring him closer to Christ was to me a great act of reparation to the Sacred Heart.
Lastly, I was asked, “WHERE WAS GOD AT WORK in this experience: in you, in other people, and in the church?” My response was as follows:
The principle means through which I saw God at work was through the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I have known these sisters for a long time, but before this experience my interactions with them were primarily either joining them in prayer or recreation. This was my first opportunity to live with and minister alongside the sisters.
Going into the experience, I had asked the sisters to work with them, they told me enough about the program that I felt it was something I would like to do. However, at the same time there were a certain number of unknowns with entering into a new culture, and going someplace I had never been before, and my first time in a place where I did not speak the primary language for an extended period of time. Yet, without ever meeting these individual sisters beforehand, I felt I was able to trust in them, much like I strive to trust in God. Furthermore, when incidents came up, for instance, getting my hand filled with thorns, I knew that the sisters would take care of me. These are two ways they personally helped me to grow in the way that I try to trust in God.
The clinic run by the sisters was free for patients, yet many felt the need to bring what little they had to give, mainly vegetables, milk and animals from their property. The food that the sisters received from those whom they served in the clinic was the food they ate, in other words, they relied on their work to sustain them, physically as well as spiritually. This reliance was to me a powerful witness of their assumption of poverty and solidarity with those in the village, just as Christ chose to become man among us.
Lastly, I saw God at work in this experience through the sisters by the very fact that God has given us this Church, and each of us a vocation in this Church. I was so grateful to God that he has brought me to this worldwide congregation. There is no doubt that I could see how God has worked in my relationship with this order that I was able to just show up in a foreign land with sisters I’d never met and was able to joyously and fairly seamlessly enter myself into their community because they share a common charism with all of their sisters whom I have met and know all over the world.
I hope that explains a little of my experience in Albania, if you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment. I have become quite fond of this country so often misunderstood or just not known to so many others throughout the world.