On August 30th I returned to Mizzou to celebrate the student Mass at the Newman Center. Here’s the homily I prepared for that special occasion.
Sr. Sarah Graves
(Br.) Benjamin Keller
(Br. ) Joseph Albin
(Sr.) Elizabeth Doyle
(Deacon) Josh Duncan
Ashley Viola – Sr. Caterina
Fr. Geoffrey Brooke
For those of you who, like me, aren’t math majors, that was 10. 10 names I read. 10 young men and women who have entered religious life or the seminary in the last 6 years. Which one of you is next? I know most of you are saying, it can’t be me, I’m nothing like those people. You know what all of those people have in common, we all went to Mizzou. Oh yeah, but father, Mizzou is really big, there’s lots of students and those students were never in my situation. Oh yeah. Here’s something else you have in common with those 10 people, you’re sitting in their same seats. I sat over there, Sr. Elizabeth over there, JP over there, Sarah over there, Br. Joseph over here, Deacon Josh, where did you sit?
Not only did we sit in the same physical seats as you all, we too went through the same experiences that have had and will have during your time at Mizzou. From the joys of living on campus with a stranger you’ve never met, er, I mean, roommate. the difficulty of making new friendships and finding your way in a seeming sea of students with so many activities and things to choose from, for me, outside of the Newman Center, I was on the Mizzou BBQ team, I bet you a bunch of you didn’t even know we have a BBQ team. The difficulty and frustrations with school work. Tailgating and going to sporting events, homecoming, the list goes on and on. College is a busy and exciting time when you’re being pulled in many directions, that was true for all of us 10 as well.
Maybe you’re still thinking, ok father, so maybe you’re right, you all did go through the same stuff as us, but, I’m not worthy, I’m not good enough, I’ve got too many problems, to many faults. There’s no way God could be calling me. Guess what? You’re right! None of the 10 of us were or are or ever will be “worthy.” It’s God who makes us worthy. He gives us the strength and grace to be able to respond and do whatever we have to do as priests and nuns. So get over yourself and your weaknesses. Let God take control.
So ok fine, you’ll accept that God can make you worthy, but how do you know? The only way for you to know is if you are willing to cultivate a relationship with Christ. That’s where you are very lucky here at Mizzou, because you already have a whole host of people here at the Newman center who want to help you grow in your relationship with Christ. Meet Angelle and JoAnn, as well as the interns focus missionaries and the Dominican Priests. They work tirelessly to organize many events and programs throughout the year all to help you grow in that relationship with Christ, which will help you to learn if you are called to the priesthood or religious life.
Let me tell you about one of those activities that had a major impact on my vocation. Raise your hands if you’ve heard about the small group bible studies? Ok great. Now I want you all to raise your hands because you’ve all heard about them now.
Well you see when I was here as a student, and I’m not that old, remember it was just 6 years ago that I was in those seats. There weren’t small group bible studies, there was just small group bible study. My first year I was the pretty much the lone freshman along with a bunch of upperclassmen. A group by the way which included Sarah Graves, who just entered the Religious Sisters of Alma Michigan last month, and Br. Joseph Albin a member of the Dominicans. So my second year, Angelle asked me to take on leadership of the group. The first month or so we had a small group, but for whatever reason, scheduling etc., that group suddenly dwindled down to two, myself, a sophomore and a freshman girl.
Then one day she walked in and said, “Geoff, Geoff, I’ve got something to tell you, last night I had this experience during Mass, and I think I might be called to be a nun!” I was in shock, because two weeks prior, I had my own experience in prayer which led me to think about the priesthood, and so I replied to her, “well to be honest this morning I just asked for the seminary application.” So then, while the bible study continued the rest of the year, few people ever came, but the two of us would get together and support each other in our process of discernment. Fast forward to this summer, on June 27th I was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Jefferson City, and just 5 weeks later on August 1st, Sr. Elizabeth professed her first vows with the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Ok yeah, get the awws out, because as awesome as that story is, it’s not why I share it with you tonight. You see, think about it, Angelle and JoAnn, they could have seen that bible study as a flop, only 2 of us going, one sophomore, one freshman. They could have easily decided to cancel that bible study, decide to come up with something different. Instead they saw the bigger picture, and let the bible study continue that year and beyond, the bigger picture is 200 students participating in small group bible studies last year! Think about that, from 2 to 200.So when I said that Angelle, JoAnn, and the whole staff here will support you in getting to grow in a relationship with Christ, I mean it! How many will sign up this year? 250? 300? These small groups will help you to grow in your relationship with Christ and to discern your vocation. No, I’m not saying that if you sign up for bible study you will become a priest or a nun, although 2 for 2 was pretty good that year. What I am saying is that the small groups will help you grow in your relationship with Christ.
There’s another reason I tell you about my small group bible study. Remember when I said how blessed you were to be at Mizzou because you have this great staff that’s so willing to help you grow in a relationship with Christ. Now I want you to look at the person next to you, in front of you and behind you. You all have your fellow students to help you grow in your relationship with Christ. In the small groups you will be able to help support each other and build a strong sense of community.
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.”
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 11, 2013 I woke up at my aunt’s house in London, I was to fly back to Rome that night after having spent a few days there relaxing after finals. In the morning I went to Mass and then thought I’d swing by the English language Catholic book store to see if they had any of the books I’d need for second semester.
Then everything changed. I was in the bookstore when I overheard a customer tell an employee he just heard on the radio the Pope is resigning. I froze in shock, did a double take, listened closer. There was a part of me that doubted him, but another part, deeper in my heart that felt this was true. So I quickly made my purchase and rushed back to my aunt’s house to turn on the news.
The emotions of those first few hours and days were so varied and intense. In particular I remember that Ash Wednesday, February 13th, about which I have already shared my reflections on this blog and in the diocesan newspaper.
Those first few days were just “Phase 1” of these past seven weeks. This is what I think of as the “announcement phase.
Phase 2: The waiting game
After Ash Wednesday, there were the final two Sunday Angelus prayers of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Those experiences very similar to the first few days in that they were intense, but they were just serving as the bridge to the final hours of Pope Benedict’s papacy. Overall these two weeks were some what of a down time. It was the calm before the storm. This was the time for the significance and reality of everything to begin to sink into our minds and hearts.
Phase 3: Saying Goodbye
After the few weeks of preparation it was time to actually say goodbye. This goodbye would take roughly 36 hours. It began on the morning of Wednesday February 27 when I got up to attend Pope Benedict’s final public appearance, his last Wednesday General Audience.
I was very fortunate at the time to have my pastor, Msgr. David Cox in town for a sabbatical program. Therefore, we were able to go together along with Deacon Jason Doke. Being able to attend such an important event with two great men from my diocese made the day all the more special.
In particular, what I reflected on at the time, and still remember is the experience of the universality of the Church. Certainly, every Sunday at the Angelus or any other Papal event, this is on full display and always most noticeable through the dozens of different flags seen in the square. However, on this occasion, that universality was all the more palpable, perhaps it was just the heightened emotions brought on by the significance of the event, or perhaps the beautiful ecclesiological discourse given by Pope Benedict.
The universities cancelled classes that morning, but it’s pretty safe to say that we still learned quite a lot.
The next day, Thursday was the last of Pope Benedict’s nearly eight year pontificate. In general I recall a somewhat somber mood that day. We had the full slate of classes in the morning but my mind was more focused on the moment.
In the afternoon it was time for the final goodbye. We are blessed with a location very close to the Vatican and just happens to be in the flight path between the Vatican and Castel Gandolfo. In fact in the past the we had seen the Pope fly overhead on his way to and from Castel Gandolfo. Obviously, this time was different.
8:00 PM Rome time was also the official begining of the Sede Vacante. So the talk that evening began with prayer as usual, but it had a different tone and a different realty began to hit when we prayed for the Holy Spirit to guide the Cardinals in the election of a new Supreme Pontiff.
Phase 4: The General Congregations
This is when things very quickly shifted from somber to exciting. During this time all of the American cardinals stayed with us and it seemed as if there was a constant shuffling about. We were still going to our classes, but there was definitely a buzz or excitement in the air.
It was during this period that all of the nearly 6,000 accredited journalists arrived to cover these historic times.
Given my past work in journalism, I offered to help the College’s Media Relations Director, Msgr. Jeffrey Burrill. I helped facilitate different interviews etc. It was also during this time that I myself was interviewed by CBS Evening News along with two others from the College.
Participating in that interview was an experience all by itself. They followed us around for a few days filming different aspects of our lives, and then finally the interview aired the night before the beginning of the Conclave.
It was also during this time that I had the opportunity to meet up with a few former colleagues. I really appreciated the opportunity to both catch up personally, but also to hear about their thoughts and perspectives on all that was going on at the time and the state of the Church in general. I believe that it is very good for me as a seminarian to listen to and understand how it is that others see the Church and the world, so that I might be able to present the Church to the world in an even more effective manner.
The excitement of these times made me fondly remember my time working as a journalist. I was quite excited and there was definitely a part of me that wanted to be filing reports etc.
However, there was also a great sense of peace, that now, four years after entering seminary, I am where I’m supposed to be and doing what I’m supposed to be doing.
Though my vocation story was not included in the final cut, let me share what I told the reporter.
“It came to a point where I had to ask myself, was I running for a successful career in religion journalism? Or was I running from God, from the priesthood?”
Obviously, I came to a realization it was more the later than the former.
Now I can say what a great joy it is when one runs to God instead of from God.
What a great joy it is to use those same gifts not for the building up of my own self, my own career, but rather for God and the Church.
Phase 5: Conclave
This was it, it was finally time to elect a new Pope. It ended up being much shorter than so many predicted, but it was definitely an intense 36 hours or so.
It began with the early morning “clap-out” for the Cardinals. Then we were off to the Mass of the Holy Spirit for the beginning of the Conclave. Though not always the case for Papal events, this time a majority of the NAC seminarians were all able to sit together underneath the statue of St. Veronica very close to the Baldacchino.
With Mass over, it was time to start watching smoke, snd yes, for those wondering, I did make a few jokes about not using our BBQ Smoker during the Conclave.
There are three distinct things I remember about the smoke watching experience.
1) There was a great anticipation in the air, it was as if anticipation was no longer a verb, no longer an action, but rather it was now a state of being, it was an emotion, and one that was certainly shared by all.
2) It was raining, a lot.
3) Even though it was raining, there were a ton of people. You had to get to the square early not because they might burn the ballots earlier than announced, but just to get a space in the square.
At one point a reporter asked me why I thought there were so many people gathered in there in the Square.
I responded, “because this is very place St. Peter gave his life for the faith, the same faith that we share, and so we’ve come to see the election of his successor. For the Pope is not only the Universal Pastor of the Church, the leader of Catholics all over the world, the Bishop of Rome, but he is also the successor of Peter.”
Phase 6: Habemus Papam
The morning of March 13th I had my annual faculty evaluation. After it went well, I asked one of my closest friends if he wanted to go out for dinner to celebrate. The plan was to go down to the square for the black smoke at 7:00 PM and then go grab a bite to eat.
At 7:05 PM white smoke happened.
Everyone started screaming and running forward, somehow what felt like a Square full of people all squeezed forward, moving from what Americans might call a reasonable concept of, “personal space,” to a much more Italian mindset in which the former is at best a vague notion and generally non-existent.
Thus we all remained packed in “like a can of Sardines,” as some people say, until 8:12 PM when Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, came out onto the Loggia and said,
Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum;
Eminentissimum ac Reverendissimum Dominum,
Dominum Georgium Marium
Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae Cardinalem Bergoglio
qui sibi nomen imposuit Franciscum
Then Pope Francis came out and greeted us with his now somewhat trademark, “Buona Sera.”
The most powerful moment that from the many I’ve talked to was somewhat if not completely lost on television was the moment when Pope Francis asked us to pray for him in silence. The square had only been getting louder and louder as many people came from all over town once there was white smoke. Then, at the very instant he asked for quiet, it got exceptionally quiet. A very moving experience of silent prayer with a couple hundred thousand others.
I thought, what a great continuity of humility. Pope Benedict ended his papacy by stepping aside was a great act of humility, and now, Pope Francis was beginning his papacy with a great act of humility in asking for our prayers.
After Pope Francis’ first blessing I ran back up the hill in order to greet all the journalists who came to interview the Cardinals. After the Cardinals had dinner with Pope Francis, they arrived up on the hill around 11:30 PM and began press conferences and interviews right away. They stayed until 1:30 AM when I was finally able to go to bed. Thankfully, the Rector moved our community Mass to the evening the next day.
One of the more joyous events of the evening was when my fellow seminariwns spontanously formed a “clap-in” for the Cardinals when they returned.
Beyond the moment of prayer, the big picture take away from the evening was just realizing I had been present for the announcement. This was something that I had seen replayed in countless videos and photos of past elections. However, this time I didn’t see it through some other medium, but I was actually present myself, what a blessing.
Phase 7: Papal Installation
March 19th is the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Spouse of Mary and Patron of the Universal Church. What a beautiful occasion to hold the Mass of Installation of Petrine Ministry for Pope Francis.
Monday afternoon, we received a phone call asking for all the non-ordained seminarians to help with the Mass by serving as communion ushers. 10 of us volunteerred to be the “capi.” Given my work as the capo of the St. Peter’s Apostolate, I became the leader of our group. So we went to a meeting with the Papal MC’s and got all the instructions. I then designed a system to help get us all down there, and in position to help.
The next morning the weather was beautiful, and the Mass even more so. We were fortunate to have very nice seats for the parts when we weren’t helping. Most especially I was very grateful that we all had the opportunity to participate in this historic event, even if only in some small way.
On Holy Thursday I attended the Chrism Mass in the morning, the great thing about this Mass is watching the 1,600 priests process into the Basilica, as it’s the only Papal Mass all year any and every Priest is allowed to concelebrate. It’s an inspiring sight to behold, especially for one striving for the priesthood such as myself.
In the evening, Pope Francis celebrated Mass in a prison, so I went with a classmate to a local celebration of the Last Supper.
Both Friday and Saturday I worked at the Visitor’s Office in the morning, always an exciting and moving ministry.
Friday afternoon was primarily spent with my good friends, the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. First I attended the Service of the Lord’s Passion at the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, an old Roman basilica where the relics of the true Cross are kept. The Basilica was standing room only.
The most powerful part of the Liturgy took place during the procession with the Cross, and the Priest chanted, “Behold the Wood of the Cross on which hung the Salvation of the World.”
After the celebration the junior professed sisters and I went over to the Colosseum for the Via Crucis. This year the reflections were prepared by some Lebanese youth, they were very well done.
Saturday and Sunday I attended the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday Masses with Pope Francis. Both were impressive and solemn celebrations.
The reason why I felt it was important to include the Triduum in this reflection is that the Triduum has helped to serve as my introduction to Pope Francis. These have been great opportunities to learn from him through his homilies. Allowing him to help form me to become a better priest through his humble example of words and deeds.
Now it is time to move on, always filled with gratitude and joy.
Gratitude for the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI.
Gratitude for the gift of Pope Francis
The Joy of Easter, that Christ is Risen!
The joy of knowing that the Holy Spirit will continue to guide the Church.
Just wanted to let you all know that I am taking an extended leave of absence from my blogging duties with CORP. I need to take care of some personal and academic items before being able to give the blogs the proper amount of attention they deserve.
When there are more updates they will be posted here. The CORP blogs will not die without me, others will keep blogging on those sites and I encourage you all to check them out frequently. However, for those of you visiting this site to find my work, there will be no new work in the foreseeable future.
Thanks for all of you have supported me along the way in any capacity, I am truly grateful for all your support.
The first one, which I direct, is called ReligiousLife@MU, it covers all religious happenings on campus in Columbia.
The second, which I help to design and administrate, and may soon begin contributing, is called, God, Media and More. The idea of that blog is to look at various current issues and events when it comes to how religion is covered and portrayed in the media.
For this summer, 2008, I have been honored with a wonderful opportunity to serve as an intern with Catholic News Service. This is a valuable experience of a lifetime. I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity.
CNS is a wire service, very few articles are published to our public site. However, many clients do publish the articles they choose to put in their papers to their websites.
In addition to having articles published to the wire, I also contribute to the CNS Blog.
As my career continues forward I will notify readers of all new positions I undertake.
The purpose of this blog is to provide a central place where friends and family, and others, can find my work.