“…when the storm rages, take refuge in the cell of His Heart, console yourself with the hope that the promises of Jesus will bring every pious soul to flourish perpetually.” -Book 8
Yesterday evening we hosted a community wide (that is all 3 parishes combined) prayer service for all those who have passed away from within our Catholic community in the past year. The families of the deceased were invited to come and participate as well. We had a nice turnout. As a part of the service, I preached a short homily in both English and Spanish, as the entire service was bilingual given that we had people from both cultures present. Here’s what I had to say to them, more or less.
Our current worldview or cultural perspective tells us that death should be something clean, sterile, and kept at a distance. We try to remove ourselves from death. Yet all of us are here tonight because we know that’s not true. We know that death is real. The pain and hurts we feel are real. The wounds we feel in our hearts are not clear and sterile, but rough and dirty. So what do we do with this real pain, this real hurt?
Pope Francis tells us that the Church is to be a field hospital for the weak and suffering. But who is the Church? What’s she made up of? It’s no accident that yesterday we celebrated All Saints day, and today, All Souls Day. This reminds us of the three-fold make up of the Church. It’s not just us here gathered together. There’s us here on Earth, the souls in purgatory and the Saints in heaven. In our time of weakness and suffering we ask the saints to intercede before God on our behalf. We pray for the souls in purgatory, that they too may experience the glory of God.
The world tells us death is the end. That we are now separated from our loved ones. In the Church we believe that’s not true! Death is not the end, but a new beginning. We are not separated at all, but rather are united in prayer and love. In this way, the whole Church, us, the souls in purgatory and the saints, united by our faith in Jesus Christ as our savior, can become the field hospital which cures our painful wounds brought about by mourning the loss of a loved one. For we are not separated, but are united through prayer and love.
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.
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.
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.
Yesterday I had the great opportunity to attend the perpetual profession of four sisters from the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Infant Jesus (Suore Francescane Missionarie di Gesù Bambino). Two of the four are classmates of mine at the Pontifical Gregorian University.
In order to support them on the most important day of their lives, we organized a group of classmates to attend the beautiful ceremony.
A bunch of us left early in the morning to make a full day trip out of the experience since some had never been to Assisi. Given that I spent a summer living in the small medieval town, and was not one of the Franciscans busy making vows, I became the default tour guide.
The morning group was composed of two Ecuadorians, a Brazilian, an Italian and myself. Later we met up with a Peruvian, a Portuguese and two other Italians.
We had a great time visiting many of the different Churches in the upper part of Assisi. We stopped in each to pray for the sisters who would be making their vows that afternoon.
Of course there was a necessary stop for pizza before heading down the hill to Basilica di Santa Maria deli Angeli, home to the famous Porziuncola. There is quite literally a small Chapel inside of the larger basilica.
There we joined hundreds of family and friends for a beautiful liturgy celebrated by the recently named Cardinal Bassetti from nearby Perugia. During the Mass, the sisters each professed perpetual vows of chastity, poverty and obedience to the mother general of their order.
Unfortunately we only had a few minutes at the reception as we had to catch the last train back to Rome so we weren’t able to get any photos with the sisters at the reception. They had many other guests waiting to congratulate them as well.
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!
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.”
Now that I’ve been in Rome for almost three years, I think there are certain patterns and routines from year to year that are beginning to become mini-traditions. One of those mini-traditions is that each year thus far I have joined the junior professed sisters of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus for the Via Crucis, the Stations of the Cross with the Pope on Good Friday at the Colosseum.
This year there were fewer of us than the past two years but it was still quite a pleasant evening. We always get there quite early and just spend the afternoon hanging out while we wait.
Another unique aspect of the experience is that between all of the sisters and I we are fluent in at least 7 languages, so as many other pilgrims come by and see us hanging out together, they will ask questions and inevitably we can always point them in the direction of the individual who speaks that particular language. A simple yet profound expression of the universality of the Church.
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.