Praising the Press: On the Diaconate

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Back when I started this little site I was attempting to launch my career in journalism, instead of the priesthood. I was pursuing two potential avenues, Catholic press, or secular press coverage of religion. While obviously in the end, God had other plans, my love of journalism and writing has never died.

The Press and the Catholic Church

For many years while I was in seminary I always talked about and envisioned reusing this space to share come comments regarding the intersection of journalism and Catholicism. Instead, as the tides have turned, I’ve mostly continued to use it as a portfolio kind of site, linking to my various content around the web, reflections, media appearances etc..

One of the web sites that I have always admired from afar when it comes to promoting religious literacy is GetReligion. As a Catholic theologian, specifically of fundamental theology, yes, I may at times disagree with particular nuances or points in their coverage. However, on the whole I find their work to be fair, thorough and balanced.

Furthermore, outside of the journalism bubble and deep, or even not so deep, within Catholic confines, it can be quite popular to bash, “the media,” “the press,” or “journalists.” Claims of Anti-Catholicism and an antagonist lack of trust can be strong at times.

Certainly at times there are instances where I read a secular article about the Church, that as a priest, theologian, and former journalist, make me want to throw my laptop through the wall. However, on the whole I attribute such mistakes what is known as religious illiteracy. I’m not saying there aren’t cases of Anti-Catholic bias, I am saying that religious illiteracy amongst journalists, and society as a whole is the far more prevalent problem. It’s also not a problem exclusive to Catholicism.

With all that being said, I’d like to start attempting to realize that vision I had of how to use my love of journalism and the Church. The other day I was talking with friends about it at lunch and realized that I had no excuse as to why I’ve waited nearly three years since leaving seminary.

Instead of contributing to the laments and critiques, cultivating a culture of division and pessimism, I’d prefer to take a more positive approach. There are plenty of other spaces for one to satisfy their cravings for that kind of material. Instead, I’d like to focus on some of the times when secular press does a particularly good job. To give praise when and where praise is due. Not to say to that all of the pieces featured are perfect, but to provide compliments when they are well-earned. Hence the title, “Praising the Press.” For now I make no commitments as to how frequently or infrequently such posts might appear, it’s just another project I’d like to try.

With that being said let’s look at the first entry from the Jefferson City News Tribune:

Jefferson City bishop examines role of deacons

One of the things that I like about this piece is the manner in which it combines the historical context, the teaching of the Church (i.e. what is the diaconate?), and various local individuals involved. Furthermore, the writer appeals to both figures of authority, the bishop, as well as the human interest side of those who are living the reality of the diaconate. All together this provides a thorough background and foundation of some aspect of the Church (the diaconate), along with a contemporary, personal, and local connection. The depth of the explanations are a good example of the opposite of religious illiteracy, but instead, actual religious literacy and comprehension. Lastly, the author addresses some of the concerns going forward into the future as well in a fair and realistic manner.

Again, the point of these pieces will be to briefly highlight good work. There is already enough negative noise on the internet. If you see any other good stories about the Catholic Church in secular religion journalism, please send them my way.

 

 

 

Why your son should go on Camp Maccabee

Back in 2009, I was accepted to enter seminary in the fall. I spent the summer working for Religion News Writers Association. At the beginning of the summer I met a priest of our diocese, Fr. Bill Peckman who invited me to come help with this new camp he was starting for high school boys. So I agreed to help out, and after I lost my glasses in the river on a float trip, as they say, the rest is history. I’ve been involved with the camp on and off ever since (Rome made it somewhat difficult). When I lived in Rome, many would ask me, what’s one thing you are really excited about or proud of in your diocese? My answer always was, “Camp Maccabee.”

So what’s the deal with Camp Maccabee? What makes it so great? Why have I been promoting it in parishes around the diocese, on Facebook and on Twitter? Why should you bother to send your son? Allow me to explain.

What is it? What does it entail?

Camp Maccabee is a week-long (Sunday-Friday) camp for young Catholic men entering high school (9th-12th grade). The camp consists of a variety of outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, fishing, warrior/ninja dash obstacle course, low ropes course etc. These fun outdoor activities are pared with daily Mass, Adoration, Liturgy of the Hours, Confession, a series of talks about the virtues and Catholic masculine spirituality (they very every year), and discussion groups.

Not only are the outdoor activities fun, but also they are meant to help teach the men how to sacrifice for one another through teamwork, as well as how to grow as a leader. The talks are then meant to help the men take the lessons they’ve learned through the activities and apply them to the other areas of their life so that they can grow in maturity and faith.

Why is it needed?

When I was in high school I was very active in my local parish’s youth group. I cannot tell you how many times I would show up to an event and the number of girls way out numbered the number of guys, sometimes even to the extreme where I was the only guy present. I still see it today when I do youth ministry as a priest. Camp Maccabee seeks to reverse this trend. To say to young men, it’s ok to be a guy and have faith. The camp helps these young men to grow in their Catholic faith and masculine identity at the same time. Not only does the camp say, “it’s ok to be a guy and have faith,” but it also provides the young men with the tools to be able to grow.

Furthermore, in my work in a Catholic high school, as well as looking at society in general, I think it is fairly obvious that many young men today are very wrapped up in themselves, it’s always about me, me, me. This attitude is often also coupled with an attitude that nothing is ever their fault, they are always the victims. Lastly, there is the issue of how they treat women, treating them as objects of their pleasure, not respecting their beauty and dignity, and in doing so, not respecting themselves either.

Camp Maccabee seeks to reverse some of those trends. To provide a healthy, Catholic and virtuous understanding of what it means to man in today’s world. We teach about what it means to embody a self-sacrificial kind of love that is focused on the other and not just oneself. Instead of victims looking to blame others and escape problems, we teach them how to be leaders who will take charge and help others to grow.  Lastly, through things like Theology of the Body, we teach them how to love and respect woman in a deeper and more Christian manner.

Does it work?

Do I think that 5 days can completely solve all of the difficulties and problems your son in facing? Absolutely not. Camp Maccabee is not some sort of magical quick fix, where you drop your son off on Sunday and then poof, you get someone completely new on Friday.

Do I think it works? Of course. I believe that the lessons these young men learn on Camp Maccabee plant seeds, seeds that grow and develop over time. Over the years I have seen young men who have come back year after year, the difference between them as someone entering their freshman year and senior year, is palpable. While some of that may be generic maturing, I like to believe that Camp Maccabee has helped in that process.

As the camp has developed over the years, we now have many young men come back and help as junior staff or counselors when they are in college. That’s how you know it’s working. These men come back to share the gifts and lessons they first learned as campers, which they now want to share with the next wave of young men. They are also able to testify how the camp has helped them with their college experiences.

Should I send my son?

If you agree with anything I’ve said so far, then yes! Of course you should send your son. If you have a desire for your son to grow and mature as a young Catholic man, then I see no greater opportunity in our area.

As parents when you had your son baptized, you promised to help raise your son in the faith and to help him grow in his relationship with Jesus Christ, sending your son on Camp Maccabee is a concrete expression of how you can live that promise you made to God on the day of their baptism.

That being said, the camp is strenuous, there are lots of difficult outdoor activities, and so your son will be pushed. If you think this might be too overwhelming at this point, perhaps it’s best to wait a year. If you think, that’s great, I want them to push themselves so they can grow, then send them our way.

Here’s a short video from Fr. Bill, the founder of the camp reflecting on this very issue:

 

How do I sign up?

All of the camp application or registration forms are found on CampMaccabee.com. From there be sure to click on the “Sign up” tab.

There you will see instructions for mailing in your forms. If you live in one of the parishes where I serve as a priest, you can hand them to me directly and I’ll make sure they are submitted.

There are two weeks to choose from:

  • July 16-21 @ St. Robert Bellarmine, St. Robert, MO
  • July 23-28 @ St. Robert Bellarmine, St. Robert, MO

How else can I help?

So perhaps you don’t have any sons? Or your children are too young still or already past high school age? Yet you are still stirred with a desire to help the camp. I can think of two ways in particular:

  1. Pray: This camp has only been able to survive, sustain itself and grow through the efficacious power of prayer. Pray for all the young men who are on the fence about going, that they may be moved to take the courageous step of signing up. Pray for those young men who will be attending, that God will use the camp to help them grow in ways they cannot even imagine. Pray for the parents of these young men, that they may have the courage to help support their sons as they grow in their faith. Lastly, pray for us, the staff, that we may be vessels of God’s grace for those young men starving to hear God speak to their heart.
  2. Donate: Over the past 8 years the camp has grown considerably, expanding to two weeks as well as expanding the activities and number of campers. Like everything else in the world, these things cost money to happen. We only charge the campers $150 to go on the trip, and even offer scholarships to those who can’t afford to go. Yet the reality is that all of these activities and the food (they are teenage boys after all) cost much more. Perhaps if you can’t donate money, you can get in touch with Fr. Bill Peckman to find out what other specific needs there may be. In the past we’ve had people donate whole hogs or cattle, (lots of pork and beef for the kids), a smoker and much more. If you are interested in helping out in this way, please visit CampMaccabee.com. Know that your support makes a tremendous impact on the lives of so many young men and will continue to impact the Church as they grow into adulthood.

Conclusion:

So when you wonder why I run around the diocese praising Camp Maccabee, now you know a little bit more about why I believe so much in this project. I don’t even believe this post covers all of my thoughts on the subject, so there might be more coming in the days and weeks to come. In the mean time if you have any questions for me, feel free to leave a comment below.

Diaconate Ordination

Praised be Jesus Christ! Yesterday I was finally ordained to the Order of Deacons along with 42 of my classmates in the Papal Basilica of St. Peter. We were blessed to have Donald Cardinal Wuerl as the ordaining prelate.

While I’ll have more thoughts and reflections in the coming days, for now I know many people have been asking for photos. This is a very preliminary and initial collection of photos taken over the past few days. There will be more to come as I receive them from everybody else, so be sure to check back for more!

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Taking up the Cross

As I continue to prepare for diaconate there are many new beginnings, but also some endings too.

Today was one that started off with such an ending. For the last time I served Mass.

I remember distinctly one of the first times after I started attending Mass regularly, I turned to my mother and pointing to the altar server carrying the Cross, noted that I wanted to do just that, serve Mass and carry the Cross.

For the next few years I waited with eager anticipation for the day I would be able to serve. I remember getting asked to serve for the first time. I served when the priest asked me because the trained kids didn’t show up. I was nervous because I had no clue what to do.

Then we moved to New Jersey and I was formally trained. For the first few years all I wanted was to be the biggest and strongest kid on our “team” so I could carry the Cross.

Finally I got to that point and I kept on serving through high school and into college.

Obviously in a seminary we have Mass everyday and there’s an over abundance of overly qualified servers floating around. At the NAC, those of us who are acolytes take turns three at a time each day. There is one who helps with the Missal, one with the bells, and the third with the Cross.

Today was the last time I will be on the schedule as a server. The next time, please God, I will be a deacon.

Quite fittingly today I was slotted into the third spot, Cross bearer.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. -Matthew 16:24-25

Diaconate Oath Signing

Last night along with my classmates I participated in the diaconate oath signing ceremony. The ceremony is composed of two parts in which we first make a profession of faith and secondly an oath to uphold the office of deacon which will be entrusted to us shortly. While short and relatively simple, the seminary has always done a great job making this into a beautiful moment. I remember the impact it had on me my first year as I watched the fourth year men call out their names one-by-one. This is the first of a series of events that will be taking place over the next few weeks surrounding diaconate ordination. The experience of signing the profession and oath really made it all sink in, that after five years in seminary, and more importantly, 26 years of life, this is really happening, and it’s happening now. What a great blessing and grace-filled time. Please keep me in your prayers during these next few weeks. Of course, here are some photos of me from the oath signing, for more photos click here.

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After processing into the chapel as a group, we wait for the ceremony to commence.

 

He we are signing the documents after we all read them out loud together in front of the entire seminary community.
He we are signing the documents after we all read them out loud together in front of the entire seminary community.

Last day of first cycle classes

Today was a big day for many of my classmates and I, we finished our classes for the so-called “first cycle” of theology which grants one a pontifical degree known as the S.T.B. Next year I will begin another degree for “second cycle,” which leads to an S.T.L.

Many of my classmates who came here from over 40 countries will not be returning. Many of them will be returning to their home countries or sent out on mission to begin new apostolates and ministries, sharing what they’ve learned here in Rome. Today was the day to say our goodbyes. We might run into each other during exams, but today was our last day all together after three years.

Of course, I have a theory, that for those who give their lives in service to the Church, there is no such thing as “goodbye,” only “see you later.” I don’t know when I’ll see some of my classmates again, but with all of the events that take place in the Church, you never know when you might just run into someone again. Even if it’s 30 years from now, it’s still, “later.”

That still didn’t make certain parts of today somewhat sad and difficult in saying “see you later,” to so many good friends whom I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know these past few years. When people ask me what I like most about studying in Rome, my first response is always my classmates at the university and the seminary.

Here’s a photo of the group of us after one of our classes this morning.

Many of my classmates gathered together for a photo on our last day of classes.
Many of my classmates gathered together for a photo on our last day of classes.

Field trip and refugee presentation

On Wednesday we took another field trip for my class on Catholic social doctrine. The last time, we visited the Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice. This time we visited a center for helping refugees, known as, “Centro Astalli.” We received a tour of their facility and learned about their programs. They serve meals, teach Italian, and provide medical and legal assistance to refugees who find themselves in Rome. After visiting the facility that seeks to respond to the crisis of refugees on a local, pastoral level, we made our way to a classroom for a presentation. The presentation was on the work of the international organization, Jesuit Refugee Services. The organization seeks to respond to the crisis on an international level. They have facilities like the one we visited in Rome all over the world. They also help to get people out of dangerous situations and provide legal assistance. Lastly, they also seek to work against some of the root causes that have created the crisis. Given that the Jesuits were already over the world when Jesuit Refugee Services was founded, they were able to establish an international network. Different countries, including the USA, have other organizations associated with the nation’s episcopal conference. When I worked at CNS, in the USCCB building, I had the opportunity to meet many people who worked with Migration and Refugee Services at the USCCB.

This was not the first time I have attended a workshop/conference/presentation on refugees. However, this time there was a different feel to the experience. That difference was created by the crowd, my classmates. In the past when I attended presentations of this nature, in the USA, all or at least, the overwhelming majority, of those present came from America. This time it was very different, as I’ve mentioned before there are approximately 140 students in my class who come from around 40 different countries. The woman leading the presentation spoke of various situations in different countries around the world, whether they be countries dealing with conflict, or countries where refugees were arriving. All of these situations and conflicts touched all of us in very different ways. That is to say as she rattled off countries, there was often someone from those very places. It made conflicts and difficult situations that often seem so far away, much closer. Instead of several thousand miles away, they were just two rows in front or behind me. What a blessed learning experience indeed.

Appearance on “The Catholic Guy” with Lino Rulli

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.

My interview touched on quite a few topics from my life. As in the past, it was a little different being the one being questioned as opposed to the one asking questions. My experience in journalism was one of the things we discussed, in addition to Albania, seminary life, and of course, BBQ!

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.

Canonization Experience

71,004 is the officially listed seating capacity of Farout Field in Columbia, where fans gather to watch the Mizzou Tigers play football each fall. 1.3 million has been the reported combined attendance for the canonization of St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II for those in the vicinity of St. Peter’s as well as those watching on screens across the city. That’s over 18 Farout Fields filled to capacity.

As the weeks and days approached for the canonization I began to realize just how difficult it is to even come close to comprehending a crowd of that size.

As the city continued to fill up with pilgrims in the final days leading up to the ordination I left to help lead a retreat for a group of families from all over Italy. We planned the retreat so we could return on Saturday, in time for the canonization. Those who desired to do so could go to St. Peter’s Square and wait all night. That’s just what I did.

Upon return to the Eternal City I ran across town as quickly as one could given the increased traffic. I packed a bag with some water, snacks, sleeping bag, and my breviary. I made my way down the hill and met up with a group of fellow seminarians from the Pontifical North American College.

There we created our space to sleep, hang out and pray amongst the sea of pilgrims. It was quite the camp site. There was a great excitement in the air as many were singing in several different languages, flags from countries all of the world could be seen waving above the crowds.

At one point in the night we were all allowed onto the Via della Conciliazione, the street leading up to St. Peter’s Square. As the crowds made their way onto the street, I was separated from my group. At that point we were still not allowed into St. Peter’s Square, so everyone had to remain standing in a crowd taking up the length of the street.

After an initial wave of movement, I found myself with a few Italians who belong to Communion and Liberation movement. Having just returned from a retreat of another movement within the Church provided for a nice conversation about the different movements within the Church and their respective charisms.

When the crowd finally settled in for the long haul, I found myself surrounded people from Italy, France, Poland, Romania, and Spain. In particular there were groups of high school students from France and Poland. Both groups loved to sing. At times they even sang back and forth with each other in the different languages. Neither spoke the other’s language, yet they were able to communicate a great joy between each other because of their common faith. Displays of flags and the singing of songs at events such as this are concrete expressions of the true Catholicity, that is, the universality, of the Church.

After many hours standing around, we finally made our way forward towards St. Peter’s Square. I ended up on the very edge of St. Peter’s Square in the area that is officially known as the Pope Pius XII Square.

As for the Mass itself, there were two moments that stick out in particular. The first came during the Formula for Canonization, the moment when the Pope declares the blessed to be a saint, and the second during the Eucharistic Prayer.

Everyday each of us say any number of words, most of them inconsequential. Only in certain cases do our words have an effect on reality. When a baseball umpire declares a player “out!”, the player is actually, “out.” No matter how many times we yell “Safe!” at the television, nothing changes, the player is still, “out.” This phenomenon, on a much more important matter, is what makes the Formula of Canonization so special.

Only the Pope, on behalf of the universal Church, has the authority to declare someone a saint. So when he prays the Formula of Canonization, he does so with that same authority, and the Church from that moment forward and forever enroll that person, or in this case St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II, among all the saints.

In our diocese, many are praying and working hard for the beatification of the Servant of God, Fr. Augustine Tolton. While it is a good and holy thing, something to be encouraged, that we continue working and praying for his cause, until the Pope declares him to be among the beatified, he will still be considered a Servant of God by the Church.

It’s hard to describe what it’s like to directly hear the long-used Formula of Canonization. The words prayed in Latin by the Pope are the same words that have been prayed by many popes throughout the history of the Church at many canonizations. While on retreat in the days leading up to the canonization, I stayed at the shrine of the Redemptorist priest, St. Gerard Majella. There in a display amongst his other effects, was the Missal used at this Canonization in 1904, opened to the Formula of Canonization.

Two days later I heard those same words coming from Pope Francis. It was a powerful spiritual experience. Specifically, it is a moment in which one feels a particularly connection not only with those being canonized, but all the saints, a connection between Heaven and Earth. It is a particularly intimate moment between God and man. It is this same connection between God and Man that also made the Eucharistic prayer such a powerful experience.

After standing for nearly 12 hours straight without sitting, we finally arrived at the Eucharistic Prayer. Just like thousands of other times when I have attended Mass, I knelt. Yet, this time, in part due to the physical circumstances, kneeling too became a deep spiritual experience in itself. Kneeling becomes something that many of us take for granted, and when that happens, we lose the true significance of the act.

In this case I was already physically weak, tired, and sore, yet kneeling on hard cobblestones became a great grace. That is because in that moment, I knew exactly why we were kneeling, for Christ, for his sacrifice on the Cross, and his presence in the Eucharist. All of the supposed suffering I was experiencing physically, suddenly seemed like nothing, as it truly was in comparison with his sacrifice on the Cross.

In the end, the entire canonization experience, beginning with waiting in line with fellow Catholics from all over the world, to the Formula of Canonization, and finally receiving the Eucharist, truly was an experience that can be summed up with the first line of that same Formula of Canonization. It was an experience “For the honor of the Blessed Trinity, the exaltation of the Catholic faith and the increase of the Christian life.”

Holy Thursday – Altars of Repose

At the conclusion of the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper, In Coena Domini, there is the tradition of placing the reserving the Blessed Sacrament on an altar other than the main altar of the Church. This altar is called the Altar of Repose, and is usually decorated especially for the occasion. The faithful are then encouraged to come and pray. In this moment the Church recalls and lives the experience in garden of Gethsemane (Mt 26:36-46).

In Rome this tradition takes on another dimension when one considers the vast number of Churches throughout the Eternal City. It is a tradition to spend the evening walking from Church to Church stopping in to pray. The streets are packed with faithful pilgrims. It is one of my favorite evenings every year.

This year was a little different than past years as I was able to accompany roughly 60 students from my apostolate, Loyola University Chicago as well as a few students from Duquesne University. As in past years, it did not disappoint. It was a beautiful evening of good conversation and deep prayer.

Here are photos from a few of the Churches we visited.

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