Daily Reflection: 2 May 2017

Today’s readings can be found here.

Reflection:

As has been the theme throughout these recent days, the Eucharist is at the heart of our Gospel today. Today the people ask Jesus to, “give us this bread always.” If only that could become our own prayer, “Lord, give me this bread always.” The good news is that he does! Today, as I was preaching to school kids who had just made their 1st Communion, I told them to take these words to heart, “give us this bread always.” That their 1st Communion not be their last communion.

We have to eat everyday, and we try (though fail), to eat a healthy, balanced diet. We know that we cannot survive by saying, “well I had my veggies yesterday on May 1st, now I’m good for the month.” We have to continue to nourish ourselves physically. So it is even more true spiritually. This is why we go to Mass and received the Eucharist every Sunday. Pope Pius X even encouraged the practice of receiving the Eucharist on a daily basis. We don’t go to Mass to be entertained, we go to be nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ. If that is our intent, then we will never be bored, but we will always find ourselves crying out, “give us this bread always.”

Daily Reflection: 24 April 2017

Today’s readings can be found here.

Reflection:

“When were you born again?” That’s a question we as Catholics hear sometimes from our Protestant brothers and sisters. In today’s Gospel, Christ speaks of our need for a sort of rebirth in the Spirit. Some Catholics tell me they don’t know how to respond when someone asks them “When were you born again?”. For us the answer is simple: Baptism. For it is in Baptism that we die to this life and rise to new life in Christ. (N.B. – This is why it’s good to know the date of your baptism, and celebrate it every year.)

In some cases, in my experience, if you answer with the date of your baptism, and your baptism took place when you were an infant, there will be a follow up question. It sounds something like this, “Ok, but when did you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?” Our simple answer: Every time we receive the Eucharist. Every time we say “Amen,” to the Body of Christ, we are renewing and professing our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior who died on the Cross and rose from the dead for our sins.

So the next time you are asked these questions, hopefully you’ll be a little bit more prepared to respond. You can see that is not that we as Catholics aren’t born again or that we fail to claim Jesus as our Lord, we do. The way we do these things is through the Sacraments, which was the way that the Apostles established as they understood the teachings and commands of Christ.

 

Daily Reflection: 12 April 2017

Today’s readings can be found here.

Reflection:

When was the last time you welcomed someone into your home? Do you frequently host guests, or that a rare and special occasion? Do you prepare differently for different guests or different occasions such as holidays? What about when guests show up unexpectedly? What would you do if you were told someone important was coming?

Now imagine you are the “certain man,” in today’s Gospel. You are just told Jesus is coming to dine at your home for Passover. Jesus sends some of his disciples ahead to warn the man. I mean, think about you, you hear a knock on your door and these guys tell you, “oh no big deal, the Son of God is coming over for dinner next week, just thought you might want a heads up?”

Wouldn’t that make you freak out? Would you drop everything to immediately drop everything in order to begin cleaning every square inch, so that it’s perfect before our Savior arrives? If you’re like me, you pay extra attention in cleaning before your mother comes for a visit, so what about Jesus?

The reality is that while the disciples may not be knocking on our physical door anytime soon, every time we go to Mass they knock on our spiritual door. Christ so deeply desires to enter into the home that is our soul. Think about what we say at Mass right before receiving communion, the very presence of Christ, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…”

So just as we clean for anytime guests come over for a visit, especially when they are important, so too it is true for Christ entering into us. It is for this reason that it is good to go confession frequently, and certainly before receiving communion if we are in a state of mortal sin. Even if we are not in a state of sin, we can heed this need for preparation by arriving a few minutes early to pray before Mass so we are less distracted, less cluttered as we enter into the celebration. Christ desires to celebrate this great feast in the spiritual home of our soul, like the man in the Gospel we need to hear the warning of the disciples and make sure our home is prepared to receive the Son of God.

The Eucharist: Adult Ed Resources – 10 April 2017

Since next week is Holy Week, I had to make some adjustments to the class schedule. In my conversations with those attending the class, also because it is Holy Week, we decided it would be appropriate to spend the class speaking about the Mass and the Eucharist.

Therefore the class on the Eucharist will be: Monday April 10, 2017 at 7:00 PM in the Sacred Heart Activity Building.

In past weeks I’ve compiled various texts from throughout the history of the Church on the various topics. Thankfully, the Church has also done this in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. If you read the Catechism carefully, you will note that the majority of it is not original material, but rather a compilation of many sources from the earliest days of the Church all the way through Vatican II and beyond. I do not believe that I can do this any better than the Church has already done. Therefore this week the readings all come from the Catechism. The Catechism dedicates paragraphs 1322-1419 to the Eucharist. I have selected the paragraphs listed below to focus on for our class:

If you own your own copy of the Catechism, then you can look the paragraphs up yourselves. If you don’t own a copy, then you can click on the links above to navigate directly to the relevant paragraphs as published on the Vatican web site.

The reason I did not compile the texts into a .pdf has to do with the formatting of all the sources and the amount of time this would take.

I look forward to seeing you all on Monday evening.

Reminder there is NO CLASS this Thursday, April 6, 2017, due to the Chrism Mass, which of course you are all invited to attend.

Lastly, if you want a little preview of Monday’s class, here’s a homily I gave on the topic a few years ago.

“If it weren’t for Christ, I could do nothing…”

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.

Recognizing Christ in the Eucharist

Over the past weekend I was also able to preach during a holy hour with some of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It was my first time doing exposition and benediction. It was a beautiful evening. The mother superior asked me to preach a few words during the holy hour, of course I obliged. I must say it was a little different than preaching during the Mass. Below is a rough text of what I’m pretty sure I said, I gave the homily without a prepared text and in Italian, however, later that evening I typed it out in English to send to one of the sisters in the USA. I think the text if faithful to what I actually said, I’m certain it’s faithful to some of the sentiments I wanted to convey. While it is geared towards a very specific (and wonderful) congregation of women religious, I believe some of the sentiments found therein have a universal application.

Text:

As many of you already know after my first year in Rome I could not go back to the United States. So I went off to Albania to go on mission with the Apostles. However, when I arrived, as I stepped off the airport to go down the steps to bus, as I looked at the bus with an Albanian advertisement on the side, I realized something. I was in a country where I didn’t speak the language, a country even further from home, where i knew no one, didn’t know the culture. I suddenly felt quite alone, quite lost, I started to question myself, what was I doing here? Did I make a mistake? What’s going on? Etc.

Then when I walked into the house of the Apostles, something changed. No, I didn’t know those individual sisters themselves or even their names yet, but it was as if I already knew them, because I already knew all of you, and all of your sisters in the United States. I was able to immediately recognize them, not just by the habit, but rather by their faith, their joy, the way they lived out their vocation. The same way I see it in all of you and your sisters in the United States. By the end of lunch it was as if I had known them for years. All of my worries, confusion, and doubts had been taken way because I was able to recognize these sisters right away.

This is how it is when we enter the chapel anywhere in the world. In the Eucharist, we recognize the presence of Christ. We we are far from home, when we feel confused, when we have doubts, concerns, problems, when we feel alone. We come to the chapel and recognize Christ in the Eucharist, for it is he who can take away all of these burdens. When we recognize him and he takes away everything, we can be at peace, we never have to feel alone again.

First Homily

After posting my homily from this past Saturday, I’ve received some requests for my first homily after my diaconate ordination. The Mass was celebrated by my Bishop at the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. The Church is very important in Rome because it houses the relics brought back to Rome by St. Helena, mother of Constantine. Given that I had family and friends present from eight different countries, I decided to preach in both English, Spanish and Italian. I didn’t want anyone to be left out!

First the text as prepared in the different languages, then a translation with the full text in English. While homilies are meant to be delivered, I hope reading the text provides for fruitful reflection as well.

Continue reading “First Homily”

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

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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