Daily Reflection: 14 April 2017

Today’s readings can be found here.

Reflection:

Frankly, today’s readings speak for themselves. They are the greatest story ever told. So to comment on them specifically is always a daring challenge. Today, I’d like to reflect upon how I have recently witnessed the kind of sacrificial love Christ offers for us on the Cross.

As some may know one of my roles in the diocese is as professor/formator for the Spanish speaking permanent diaconate candidates.

Yesterday, the teacher became the student.

I was blessed to be able to attend the naturalization ceremony for one of the candidates and his family.

What did I learn?

Of course there was a great civics lesson, as it was a truly unique and moving ceremony.

More importantly I learned about the values of hard work, dedication and sacrifice. For yesterday was not just about 35 minutes in a Federal Court Room, it was about 19 years of love and sacrifice.

Today we celebrate Good Friday, Christ’s sacrificial love for us on the Cross. this candidate and his wife give us a living witness of this love through the sacrifices they have made for their children.

Thank you for letting me be a part of your special day.

Thank you for letting the teacher be the student once more.

Image may contain: 2 people, people standing and suit

Daily Reflection: 13 April 2017

Today’s readings can be found here. (N.B. – These are for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper since we celebrated the Chrism Mass last week.)

Reflection:

On Tuesday during our monthly “Ongoing Formation for the Newly Ordained Priests,” the topic was how to fulfill the teaching office of the Church as pastor. For example, what should the role of the priest be in PSR, RCIA, Adult Education, Youth Group etc.

Yesterday, I had coffee with a graduate student I had met by accident at a local coffee shop. He asked me what I loved within the many duties of a priest. I told him beyond the sacraments (the obvious answer), I love teaching. I love teaching in the high school, permanent diaconate formation, or adult education.

Through our baptism, we are all called, each in our own particular way, to be teachers of the faith. Sometimes it’s through formal settings, but mostly through deed and example. Such is the case in today’s Gospel. It’s also the case for the Martyrs last Sunday in Egypt.

I’m excited because today I will be able to learn from one of my students from the permanent diaconate formation program as I will witness he and his family participating in the naturalization ceremony, as they become U.S. citizens. I am inspired by the example of hard work and dedication he and his wife have shown their children over the past 19 years they have spent in this country. At the same time not only were they concerned about bettering their own situation, their family, but also that of the Church. They dedicate countless hours each week helping their parish in a variety of ways. Now he is in the permanent diaconate formation program, preparing to dedicate his life to service of the Church. Such selfless love, mixed with great joy, is a powerful and contagious witness. It all culminates today. I’m beyond grateful I get to witness such an event and learn from their witness.

Today’s Gospel challenges us to ask, how do we teach? Through our words? Through our actions? Through our service? Through love? Listening? At different times we will be called to teach in different ways, what is important is that we teach Christ and the Paschal Mystery we prepare to begin this evening, do so faithfully, humbly and with charity.

Pastor’s Pen – On Pope Francis

During the month of September, we were blessed to have Pope Francis visit our country. During that time I wrote a pastor’s pen to help people get the most out of the experience.

 

By the time you’re reading this Pope Francis’ Apostolic journey to the United States will be nearly finished. However, as I write this note, his journey has just begun. So I cannot speak to the specifics of what he has said. After all, I can neither read minds nor predict the future. At the same time I would like to offer a few words for how it is that we can all benefit from the many graces of his visit.

First of all we can’t fall into the trap of thinking, “Philadelphia is far away.” No. We should be grateful that the Holy Father has chosen to visit our nation and culture, and we should listen to hear what he has to offer each of us. He may be speaking on the East Coast, but it’s our job to listen, and then make those words come alive here in Pettis County.

One of the difficulties we all face in our modern world is the need for the quick answer, the one-liner, the headline, the 140 characters in a tweet. Yet, if we are honest I believe we would all acknowledge that life is much more complicated and has much more depth. This is also true of Pope Francis’ message. So don’t remain satisfied or get caught up in only the tweets, headlines and catch-phrases of this week. Take time to read the entirety of Pope Francis’ speeches and talks. This will help you to get a better understanding of what he is saying to all of us. If you’re wondering where to find the texts, go to www.vatican.va, then click on logo for the Pope’s Apostolic Journey to Cuba and the United States. There you’ll find links to all of his public addresses. Thankfully, these addresses, like everything else on the internet, remain forever. So you can still go back and read them if you didn’t have time this past week.

Lastly a reminder that one of the great things about Pope Francis is that he is just that, Pope Francis. So while many might attempt to place our Holy Father into their camp, category, or label, we must do our best to ignore such attempts. For Pope Francis does not belong to the “left” or “right,” he is neither, “progressive” or, “traditional.” He is not a legislator or political leader, he humbly seeks one goal, to bring Christ to people and people to Christ.

Welcome Pope Francis! Thank you for coming to our great nation!

Thank you BBQ

This spring I will be finishing my three year course of study known as ‘First Cycle” which results in the ecclesiastical degree, S.T.B. I have been working towards this degree at the Pontifical Gregorian University. Seeing that we are at the end of the three years, my classmates and I decided to invite all of the professors from the core classes throughout the course of the three years to come for a dinner at the North American College.

Naturally, we decided to go for a somewhat American theme. Therefore, I was asked to take over the BBQ duties. I cooked pork shoulder for 11 hours and pork ribs for 6 hours. I also grilled some vegetable skewers. Other classmates provided great help in preparing potato salad and cheesecake for desert.

What made this evening so entertaining and memorable was the opportunity to interact with so many of our professors in a new context. Our professors come from so many different countries, cultures and backgrounds. They are both men and women, consecrated religious, diocesan priests, and laity. Normally we only get to see one professor at a time, and normally, they are lecturing while we sit, listen and take notes. In this context, there was more than one professor present, and it was a more social setting. Everyone seemed to have a very good time while enjoying both the food and the company.

One of the plates served for our dinner with the professors.
One of the plates served for our dinner with the professors.

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)

Adventures in Albania

On February 7th I wrote the first post on this site in over four years. I mentioned that in addition to new posts, during the break I would try to write a few “catch-up” pieces from different experiences over the last couple of years. To that I end I wrote two pieces on my pilgrimage to the Holy Land this past Christmas; one with general thoughts, and another post recounting two specific stories.

Of course on February 7th I had no idea what was coming on February 11th and the seven weeks between then and now. So most of the postings since then have been focused on my experiences during those historic days.

Now that I have another break for Easter, I’d like to do a little more “catching up,” in particular I’d like to share some reflections on my time in Albania last summer.

After our first academic year in Rome, we were not permitted to return home. We were however given the freedom, with diocesan and seminary approval to be adventurous and look for different opportunities. As a result 67 men in my class were spread out all over the world. To my knowledge we had guys in at least (I’m sure I’ll forget some) the following countries, England, Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Italy, Poland, Israel (Holy Land), Ukraine, Taiwan, Tanzania, India, Hong Kong, and of course Albania. This all led to some amazing table conversations when we all got back.

For the sake of time what I’ve done below is cut and past different parts of various reflections, reports, e-mails etc. that I wrote when I returned to Rome. Thus it won’t flow as a single narrative, but hopefully it paints a picture of my life in Albania and the lessons I learned.

Ringing the bell to let everyone know we had arrived.
Ringing the bell to let everyone know we had arrived.

A quick overview: When I was in the flatlands, I helped in the health clinic, primarily relying on my experience working at a pharmacy when I was in high school. In the mountains we were assigned three “villages” or sides of mountain ridges. We rotated between the three doing Catechesis Mon.-Sat. On Sundays we celebrated Mass at all three. Due to the lack of quality or lack altogether of roads we would take a jeep as far as we could go and then hike the rest of the way before ringing a bell to let everyone know we’d arrived. Then everyone on that ridge would make their way to the field where we met.

In response to a question asking for a description of our living situation, I wrote the following:

Dajç as viewed from my bedroom window.
Dajç as viewed from my bedroom window.

Dajç, Lezha, Albania: This was a rural farming community where I stayed with the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I was here upon arrival in Albania before heading to the mountains for the missionary experience as well as after the mountain experience for another week. I stayed in the convent, in the guest wing. Both times I stayed at the convent there were four sisters present, though there was a change with two of the sisters between the first and second time I stayed with them.

The mountain ridge of Qibik, Albania.
The mountain ridge of Qibik, Albania.

Qibik, Albania: This is where I stayed during the missionary experience in the mountains. Here we stayed in a restaurant-hotel run by a family who also lived in the same structure. Our community was comprised of myself, two Albanian junior sisters of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus who study at the Pontifical Lateran University, an Albanian seminarian in 4th theology studying at the national seminary in Albania, and an Albanian priest, ordained in 2002.

This hotel had part-time running water and part-time electricity, both would come on and off throughout the day and night. For showering and washing our clothes we had two trash buckets which we slowly filled with water, when it was running. We had one common room where we prayed, ate, and spent our community time. There were also separate rooms for the seminarians, nuns, and priest. These living quarters proved to be very formative for me, as it was a good opportunity to learn simplicity and poverty through actually living simplicity and poverty.

All five of us together.
All five of us together.

As for our community we were separated by a maximum of 13 years in age. I felt that we were able to establish a great community attitude and strong morale. With two nuns, two seminarians, and a priest we were well balanced. Our community time, whether it be at meals, traveling by foot or in the car, or during our time together in the evenings was one filled with a healthy balance of serious reflection and joy. There was certainly a great amount of laughter amongst us, particularly in the evenings as we relaxed after a long days work. In fact we would laugh so hard that one time one of the patrons in the restaurant below our rooms asked the waitress what was going on up above, to which she responded, “oh those are just some really joyful people laughing.” In addition to our obvious joy, we also took time in the car or afternoon to reflect on how the days activities had gone, and what could be done to improve. We also did a good job motivating each other to keep working as the work was very tiring. Given that four of us are students there were also several intellectually stimulating conversations about various theological topics and our experiences in our respective universities. All of these experience contributed to a very positive sense of community.

When asked, “What did you learn about the people and about the nature of diocesan ministry?” I responded:

Though my work was with a diocesan priest and seminarian, the nature of our ministry was missionary. That being said there were certain aspects of the experience that could be found in a diocesan setting.

One such example took place when we were sitting in our community on a Friday evening when we were called downstairs to the restaurant because there was a man who wanted to see us, his father was dying and he wanted the priest to come and perform last rites. We immediately prepared the necessary items and took off down the mountain to his house. In this experience I had to learn to comfort and aid the family as they were suffering a great loss.

Later, when it came time for the funeral of this same man I learned to be more adaptable. We planned on celebrating a funeral Mass for this same man, however when we arrived at the cemetery chapel, we saw that not only had the people removed the pews to create more room for everyone to stand, they had also removed the altar. Since we could not celebrate Mass we had to quickly change plans and celebrate a burial outside of Mass.

The most profound lesson I learned about diocesan ministry is the role of the priest amongst his people, his flock. The people in the mountains do not have a resident priest, which is why we went for the month of July. This meant that when we did show up, many were very happy to see us, they also had a very heathy respect for us and especially our words. The lesson that I drew out of this reaction, which is somewhat different than the reaction of people to priests in the United States is the importance of the priest to be amongst his people. We drove 3.5 hours into the mountains so that we could be among the people. This experience taught me, even with a different language and culture, it is important to amongst the people.

Another diocesan type of experience that I learned took place during the blessing of homes in the evenings. When we went to people’s homes to bless them, they were extremely generous. Many of the people on this mountain practiced sustenance farming, they grew what they needed, yet when we came to visit, they took from their own supply to give to us. They would offer fresh fruits and vegetables as well as homemade sausages, cheeses, and honey. They had nothing yet gave so much. At times I even felt uncomfortable taking food from them, however as the time went on I came to realize that I must learn to receive. I think I went in with the mindset of, “we are here to give this blessing” but failed to realize our need to be open to receiving. Another aspect of this receiving was to receive graciously and lovingly. In all charity, some of the people we met were better at making cheese, honey etc. than others, therefore some of the foods were not exactly tasty, enjoyable or pleasant to consume. What helped me to learn to receive graciously was the reflection on the fact that the people who had made these foods had done so with the best of their ability, and they were very proud of their work, they poured much energy and time into the making of those foods, and in many ways they poured themselves into these items. Thus what seemed like bad food became something beautiful, and if I didn’t enjoy a particular item I could offer my own minor suffering and desires as personal sacrifices, personal gifts, just has these people had given of themselves. For me eating these appetizers before the blessings of homes was a very humbling experience, which taught me that while I might want to go around and give, go around and do, sometimes God is calling us to give of ourselves through receiving from others.

Both of my experiences in the mountains as well as at the clinic helped me to understand that fundamentally ministry cannot be separated from prayer and the action of ministry cannot merely be seen on a human, material level, but rather must be seen, with “the eyes of faith,” such ministerial work must be seen also on a spiritual level. In the mountains this was felt through the realization that catechesis was not merely the act of teaching, but rather a passing down of the faith, an entering into the tradition of the Church as passed down to me and working to make that faith come alive in others who were younger, so that they might the same to others after them. This lens of faith and prayer as it comes to ministry also applies to the aforementioned description of eating food in the families of others, it became not just the act of eating but rather an entering into communion with these families. The experience of cold showers with no running water became a way of accepting a little suffering or discomfort for Christ and a way of entering into a solidarity with those to whom we were ministering.

This was by far the most profound and memorable experience of the summer. In my mind, there has not been a day yet when I have not been back to this man’s house. These words are very inadequate and most certainly don’t do the experience justice.

The most powerful individual experience of the summer was when one of the sisters and I were asked to go to a house to help a man in his early 30’s who had been severely burned. In an accident he became tangled with an electrical wire and suffered from both internal and external burning. The majority of his front side (arms, chest, stomach, legs, and feet) was covered in third degree burns, parts of his skin were charred. In particular there was a deep wound on his right side. For the most part I sat and watched as the sister began taking off his bandages and providing treatment to his wounds. As the sister cleaned his wounds with various creams, medicined etc., I could see the man writhing in pain, yet little to no noise was coming out of his mouth because his vocal chords were damaged, he was only able to speak in a very soft tone of voice. While all of this is going on, his mother was sitting in a chair at the foot of the bed. The mother was extremely distraught, emotional, and sad as she gazed upon her suffering son. In between her tears she would cry out a few phrases in Albanian, which translate to, “O Lord!” or “Thanks be to God.” I sat next to her and attempted to console her in her own pain and suffering. This lasted for an hour and a half. As I sat there soaking in this scene I found myself drawn to the scene of Christ’s crucifixion. I came to see this man as Christ suffering silently on the the Cross, and the mother, as Mary, weeping at the feet of her son. Furthermore, the man had this large gash in his side, just as the side of Christ was pierced. I was watching this sister, called an Apostle of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, clean, and repair this man’s pierced side, additionally as she cured him physically, she spoke to the man about understanding his suffering in relation to the suffering of Christ, her willingness to aid this man and bring him closer to Christ was to me a great act of reparation to the Sacred Heart.

Lastly, I was asked, “WHERE WAS GOD AT WORK in this experience: in you, in other people, and in the church?” My response was as follows:

The principle means through which I saw God at work was through the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I have known these sisters for a long time, but before this experience my interactions with them were primarily either joining them in prayer or recreation. This was my first opportunity to live with and minister alongside the sisters.

A photo with the Apostles living in Dajç.
A photo with the Apostles living in Dajç.

Going into the experience, I had asked the sisters to work with them, they told me enough about the program that I felt it was something I would like to do. However, at the same time there were a certain number of unknowns with entering into a new culture, and going someplace I had never been before, and my first time in a place where I did not speak the primary language for an extended period of time. Yet, without ever meeting these individual sisters beforehand, I felt I was able to trust in them, much like I strive to trust in God. Furthermore, when incidents came up, for instance, getting my hand filled with thorns, I knew that the sisters would take care of me. These are two ways they personally helped me to grow in the way that I try to trust in God.

The clinic run by the sisters was free for patients, yet many felt the need to bring what little they had to give, mainly vegetables, milk and animals from their property. The food that the sisters received from those whom they served in the clinic was the food they ate, in other words, they relied on their work to sustain them, physically as well as spiritually. This reliance was to me a powerful witness of their assumption of poverty and solidarity with those in the village, just as Christ chose to become man among us.

Lastly, I saw God at work in this experience through the sisters by the very fact that God has given us this Church, and each of us a vocation in this Church. I was so grateful to God that he has brought me to this worldwide congregation. There is no doubt that I could see how God has worked in my relationship with this order that I was able to just show up in a foreign land with sisters I’d never met and was able to joyously and fairly seamlessly enter myself into their community because they share a common charism with all of their sisters whom I have met and know all over the world.

I hope that explains a little of my experience in Albania, if you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment. I have become quite fond of this country so often misunderstood or just not known to so many others throughout the world.

Sometimes it really is a small world after all

Last Saturday I attended the Easter Vigil Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica. I’ve already shared about the experience in relation to the last several weeks.

I’d like to add a little more, this time focusing on the experience of waiting in line. Given that this Mass is such a “hot ticket” every year I went down to the square six hours before Mass. I was fortunate enough to attend with two other NAC seminarians who were also journalists before entering seminary.

When you must wait in line that long it’s always good to make friends with those around you.

Behind us was a very nice man who a professor from Providence College and is here teaching in Rome for the semester, he was joined by two of his children. They sat with us for the Mass as well. We parted ways and my parting thought was simply that it had been a pleasure to meet such a nice family.

The next day when I arrived in the square, it was packed. So I made my way into the closest open section and then looked for American college students studying abroad as I thought I’d be able to help them understand everything that was going on.

After Mass people started shuffling around to get close to the Pope as he drove by in the Popemobile. As this was winding down I ended up chatting with a family from Philadelphia. Then I saw on the screen the Holy Father embracing a special needs child. The family then noted that this child was on the other side of our section.

As for the many thousands who were then there, and the millions who have now seen on tv, I was exceptionally moved by Pope Francis’ embrace of this child.

Today I came across this beautiful blog post by the father of that child, as I was reading the post something clicked, I knew this man. I had met him just the night before. I had gone to the Easter Vigil with him and two of his other children.

Sometimes it really is a small world. You meet people, and seemingly life goes on, you just never know what grace the Holy Spirit will pour forth next.

Pope Benedict’s Last Audience

As many of you are already aware, this morning the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI held his last Wednesday audience. The universities cancelled morning classes so that we could all attend this historic event. It was quite the emotional experience, so many emotions, so much difficulty to articulate such feelings.

At every audience the Pope delivers a principal message in Italian which lasts 20 minutes or so, followed by shorter summaries in different languages. Today, his main talk was incredible, an absolutely beautiful discourse on the Church mixed with his own personal experiences. I think I learned quite a bit of ecclesiology this morning in those 20 minutes as I heard those beautiful words surrounded by thousands of people from all over the world. For those wanting to read this words, eventually the main talk will be translated and posted on the Vatican Web site.

Here are some photos from this amazing day.

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