Daily Reflection: 19 April 2017

Today’s readings can be found here.

Reflection:

When I was teaching my high school class about the Eucharist, the following question was raised. “Father, if I have doubts, can I still take the Eucharist?” I responded, “Of course!” As Pope Francis reminds us, the Eucharist is, “not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 46) If you recall the Eucharistic miracles, many took place when the priest himself had doubts.

In today’s Gospel the disciples on the road to Emmaus are confused, downtrodden, they too have doubts about the accounts of the Resureection. Yet, what does Christ do with them? How do they recognize him? In the breaking of the bread, in the Eucharist. So when we approach the Altar, with our doubts and imperfect faith, we ask God to give us the gift of clarity as he did to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. So that our hearts too may be burning with his love.

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”

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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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.

Venerating the relics of St. John Paul II

The stone marking the spot where St. John Paul II was shot in St. Peter's Square on May 13, 1981.
The stone marking the spot where St. John Paul II was shot in St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981.

This afternoon we received an e-mail from the Rector that the College had received a relic of St. John Paul II. It is a piece of his bloodied cassock from the assassination attempt on May 13, 1981.

We were given an opportunity to venerate the relic after Evening Prayer. As I walked up the aisle I still felt some pain in my feet and general soreness in my muscles from the experience of the Canonization.

Yet as I got closer to venerating the relic I came to realize and reflect on the fact that the pain or soreness I was feeling paled in comparison with being shot multiple times and suffering significant blood loss.

After being shot, St. John Paul II continued to lead the Church, traveling the world, for more than 20 years.

A good example of perseverance and courage to continue through one’s struggles.

St. John Paul II… Pray for us!

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.”

Vigil for Peace

Yesterday I returned to Rome in the morning to begin the new school year. In the evening Pope Francis hosted a vigil for peace as a part of the worldwide day of fasting and penance for peace.

So, jet lagged as I may have been, I knew this would be something worth attending. And I was right, it was a beautiful and prayerful evening.

This event stood out to me in relation to other Papal events because of the spiritual attitude and atmosphere in the square, it was very profound.

I was not able to stay until the end because I was falling asleep standing up and starting to topple over, however I did make it through the Rosary, Litany, and the Pope’s homily.

As I reflected this morning about what made last night so different I came to the following conclusion: all of those present had the same purpose, peace.

So often with Papal Masses, Angelus prayers, audiences etc. many people attend for the sole purpose of seeing the Pope.

Last night was different, yes the Pope was present, and we were blessed to have him leading us in prayer, but the people weren’t there just to see him, they were there to pray for peace.

A beautiful and humbling way to return to Rome and kick off the new year.

Please join me, Pope Francis, and the whole Church in praying for peace, particularly in Syria and Egypt.

Reflection on Fr. Augustine Tolton and the Priesthood

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am now in the summer exam period. Unlike the United States, here exam period is not one week, but three. Our exams are all comprehensive and all 10 minute oral exams.

This semester we had a professor who threw my classmates at the Gregorian and I for a little bit of a twist. The course is on the Sacraments of: Ordination, Matrimony, Anointing and Reconciliation. We had to do a unique assignment that would turn into a great opportunity to share our cultures.

The assignment was to compose a short simple reflection on the life a person who has lived in our country in the last 150 years. The reflections were to be no more than one page and were to tie a quote from the figure to some of the theological themes we have discussed in class. We then had to get together in pre-determined groups of three to share and discuss our persons of interest. The groups were set up by the professor so that each of the three students came from different cultures. I was in a group with a young Italian lay woman and a Croatian seminarian. We had a great discussion.

I chose Fr. Augustine Tolton, the first African-American priest, who was baptized in my diocese.

I thought I’d share my reflection here too.

Introduction

Servant of God, Fr. Augustine Tolton was born as a slave on April 1, 1854 in Brush Creek, Missouri. His slave owners were Catholic and allowed him to be baptized. In 1862, after the death of his father, Fr. Tolton escaped slavery along with his mother and siblings. They resettled on the other side of the Mississippi river in Quincy, Illinois. Young Augustine worked in factories, but loved Mass, eventually he got a job in the rectory so he could study under the priests. He himself wanted to be a priest, but was rejected by every U.S. seminary and many religious orders. Finally, he was accepted by the Propaganda Fidei, getting ordained in 1886. He believed that he would be sent to Africa to minister and evangelize. In a surprising move he was then sent back to Illinois to serve black Catholics until he died of heat exhaustion while visiting the sick in 1897. He was the first African-American priest.

Quotation

The Catholic Church deplores a double slavery – that of the mind and that of the body. She endeavors to free us of both. I was a poor slave boy but the priests of the Church did not disdain me. It was through the influence of one of them that I became what I am tonight. I must now give praise to that son of the Emerald Isle, Father Peter McGirr, pastor of St. Peter’s Church in Quincy, who promised me that I would be educated and who kept his word. It was the priests of the Church who taught me to pray and to forgive my persecutors… it was through the direction of a Sister of Notre Dame, Sister Herlinde, that I learned to interpret the Ten Commandments; and then I also beheld for the first time the glimmering light of truth and the majesty of the Church. In this Church we do not have to fight for our rights because we are black. She had colored saints – Augustine, Benedict the Moor, Monica. The Church is broad and liberal. She is the Church for our people.” [1]

Theological Reflection

The circumstances of the death of Fr. Tolton are a powerful expression of the sacrificial priesthood, a total giving of self for others. He died bringing the Eucharist, anointing and confession to the sick and dying. This makes it quote easy to see the intimate connection between the priesthood and the Eucharist, Christ gave up his life man, Fr. Tolton gave up his life for his parishioners. He also speaks of the importance of the Church. In the above quote one can find the vocational aspect of the priesthood, that is that God frees us from slavery of sin, but calls us to do his will. This is seen in the life of Fr. Tolton, a freed slave who makes a promise of obedience to the Church. A man who thought he would be sent to Africa, but was sent back home to a much more hostile environment, and by obedience, he went. This is the great paradox of this man’s life. In this way he unites himself with Christ who is God, who humbles himself not only to become man, but, “taking the form of a slave…becoming obedient to death, death on a cross.” (Phil 2:7-8). Fr. Tolton demonstrates how one can find true freedom by following the will of God, and obediently serving his Church. It is obvious in this text that the has a great respect for the Church, in which demonstrates the closeness of the priest with the Church, with the people of God, the mystical body of Christ. His reverence shows the priest is always united to the Church, through prayer and sacrament. The text also expresses the importance of the priest’s role of teaching. Fr. Tolton was grateful for the teaching of an academic subjects that he received from priests. However, this also another kind of teaching referenced, not an instruction of academics, but rather an instruction of the heart. He notes that it is from the priest that he learned to pray and forgive his persecutors, who were many in his time. Thus the priesthood is also an instructing the faithful in how to grow in their relationship with God through prayer and the forgiveness of their persecutors.

Here is the prayer we can all pray for Fr. Tolton’s Cause for Canonization.

O God, * we give you thanks for your servant and priest, Father Augustus Tolton, * who labored among us in times of contradiction,* times that were both beautiful and paradoxical. * His ministry helped lay the foundation for a truly Catholic gathering in faith in our time.* We stand in the shadow of his ministry.* May his life continue to inspire us * and imbue us with that confidence and hope * that will forge a new evangelization for the Church we love.

Father in Heaven, * Father Tolton’s suffering service sheds light upon our sorrows; * we see them through the prism of your Son’s passion and death.* If it be your Will, O God,* glorify your servant, Father Tolton, * by granting the favor I now request through his intercession * (mention your request) * so that all may know the goodness of this priest * whose memory looms large in the Church he loved.

Complete what you have begun in us * that we might work for the fulfillment of your kingdom.* Not to us the glory,* but glory to you O God, through Jesus Christ, your Son* and our Lord; * Father, Son and Holy Spirit,* you are our God, living and reigning forever and ever. Amen

Prayer found on http://www.toltoncanonization.org

1. The quote can be found on pg. 22 of the Biography found here.

Leading St. Peter’s Tours

One of the many things that I enjoy about my experience here in Rome is my “apostolate.” An apostolate is an assignment we the seminarians receive out in the city, this comes from the word apostle, or one being sent.

At the NAC, we have quite a variety of apostolates, some work in schools, parishes, hospitals, soup kitchens, nursing homes, universities.

For the past three semesters my apostolate has been with the Bishops’ Office for United States Visitors to the Vatican.

For the past two semesters I have also served as the “capo” or leader of this apostolate, which currently has 23 seminarians assigned. As I said above, it has been a great joy.

We offer free tours of St. Peter’s Basilica M-F at 2:15 P.M. during the school year. We also work at the Bishops’ Office for United States Visitors to the Vatican. There we help with the distribution of tickets for Papal audiences and Masses.

Whether it’s in St. Peter’s Square or at the office, we meet people from so many different backgrounds, perspectives and walks of life.

We try our best to meet the people wherever they may be on their journey, and then help them along the way.

Typically the tours are somewhat small, and so I try to listen and watch how everyone is reacting so I can learn where they are on their own personal journey, then go to meet them and bring them through the basilica.

These have led to many inspiring, intense and emotional spiritual experiences for many. There are so many beautiful and inspiring stories. Yet, it is we the guides too who are inspired and amazed. Inspired by the love and devotion of so many faithful Catholics who are so excited for the opportunity to be in Rome, and amazed at how the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of so many who come not expecting much, but who become moved and changed by the experiences.

It’s a great opportunity for me to learn how to listen, how to teach, and how to love. A way to learn how to become the Shepherd I believe God is calling me to be.

(Update: See my new post on the endorsement of our tours by the New York Post)

Life is Eternal

Every Thursday evening is known as “formation night” in the seminary. It is during these nights that we receive some of our pastoral formation. Some nights we do practice homilies, other nights there are various presentations on important topics.

Last night we talked about conducting funerals, wake services and other ministry to those who have lost a loved one.

I was reminded of a poem I first heard many years ago, but saw again recently. Without discussing theology too much, I can see how it might help one who is suffering from the loss of a loved one. I thought I’d share it here too.

LIFE IS ETERNAL-

I am standing on the seashore.

A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean.

She is an object of beauty and strength.

I stand and watch her until she hangs like a speck of white cloud, just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then someone at my side says, “There. She’s gone.”

Gone where? Gone from my sight-that’s all.

She is just as large in mast and hull as she was when she left my side. Her diminished size is in me, not her.

And just at the moment when someone says, “There. She’s gone,” there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices shouting,

“Here she comes!”

And that is dying.

– Henry Van Dyke