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!

News Tribune article

In the last few days I have received a few messages about an article that was published in the Jefferson City News Tribune.

I am mentioned in the article for having helped a young couple from the diocese to get tickets to attend a papal audience with Pope Francis as newlyweds and thus meet the Holy Father. Thankfully it was a successful venture and seemed to have a great impact on the faith of the couple.

What a joy it was for me to get to meet them, take them on a tour of St. Peter’s and to help them have a wonderful experience in Rome.

Here’s a link to the article:

Local newlyweds get blessing from the pope

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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Canonization report published

After attending the Canonization of St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II last Sunday, I wrote a reflection, which I shared here.

Since then, the diocese has published a edited version of said reflection for the Catholic Missourian. An online version of the published article can be found here.

What a great joy and blessing it was to attend such a historic event. Yesterday we had no classes for the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, it’s like labor day in Italy, so I was finally able to catch up on some sleep.

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.”

Audience with Pope Francis

This morning classes were cancelled at the Pontifical Gregorian University. However, the cause was most certainly just. Pope Francis had invited all of the faculty, students and staff of the university to an audience at the Vatican. I guess you could consider this another field trip.

So instead of heading across the city to the university, those of us from the NAC only had to go down the hill to the Vatican. We met up with our classmates, other students and professors. For the first hour or so there were a series of songs sung by representatives of the various countries and cultures represented at our university. The mixture was quite eclectic. As the time for the audience with the Holy Father approached, the event took a more prayerful disposition, as the rector led us all in prayer. Then Holy Father arrived and addressed all present. His address can be found here. After the address he greeted many of the professors present. Then, to our surprise he started to make his way up the aisle where all the students were present. We all lined up against the barriers and stuck our hands out shake hands with the Pope.

A blessed morning indeed. I took my simple point-and-shoot camera and didn’t get too many good shots. Here are three I can share.

Pope Francis addresses the university community.
Pope Francis addresses the university community.
Pope Francis approaches as he greets the students along the aisle.
Pope Francis approaches as he greets the students along the aisle.
After he passed by me, I had to put the camera down to shake his hand.
After he passed by me. There is no photo of him right in front of me as I had to put the camera down to shake his hand.

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.

Field Trips are still fun

Even at 25 years old, in my 19th year of formal education, I must admit, field trips are still fun. Today for my class on the Church’s social doctrine, we got to do just that, take a field trip. We visited the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. We were treated to a lecture by the secretary-archbishop of said council. He talked about important global economic themes in the recent documents, Caritas in Veritate and Evangelii Gaudium. A layman who works for the council also presented to us the council’s most recent text on the relationship between energy sources and justice. No it wasn’t the zoo, a museum or the science center, but it was still a fun morning. It provided a nice change of pace and a way to see how it is that the principles learned in the classroom are being applied in the life of the Church.