Sunday, March 13, 2011

Instituted Acolytes

On Sunday, March 6th, my classmates and I were instituted to the ministry of Acolyte. In practice, this means that we are now able to assist at the celebration of the Eucharist, purify the sacred vessels and, when needed, to assist with the distribution of Holy Communion, as the rite indicates. In theory, however, we have taken one step closer to the Priesthood of Jesus Christ.

The ceremony itself is quite a beautiful event at the college as 54 men are robed in albs and lined up in the chapel to receive the ministry. It brings hope and joy to the hearts of our guests, those at the college, and particularly those receiving the ministry as it bears witness to the vibrant life of the Church. We often hear of the negatives of the Church, the struggles, all in a very depressing manner. Like priestly ordinations, the institution of 54 Acolytes speaks loud and clear—that the Catholic Church is very much alive! The Holy Spirit continues to guide the Church, as it will until the end of time, through thick and thin.

The ministry of Acolyte is all about service—at the altar of sacrifice and the altar of the world. One of my greatest hopes about becoming a priest and serving as a pastor in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee is that I will always remember to be a servant. That, like Christ, I will empty myself to the Father and to the people I serve. As I was instituted to the ministry of Acolyte, I was given the great grace of a renewed zeal and excitement for the priesthood. In these years of preparation, I often find myself longing for the day when I will be able to dive into the ministry of the priest and, with the help of God, become an instrument for God to enter into the lives of His people, and vice-versa. As the rite proclaims, “Take this vessel of bread for the celebration of the Eucharist. Make your lives worthy of your service at the table of the Lord and of his Church.” Please pray for me, and my classmates, that we may do just that.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Holy Land

This Christmas, I was fortunate enough to have been able to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with a number of my brother seminarians from the seminary. It was a retreat-like pilgrimage which centered around the more spiritually rewarding sights in the Holy Land, with much time for personal prayer and liturgy. We spent the first half of our trip in Galilee, near the sight of Peter’s primacy, Capernaum, the Mount of Beatitudes, and the sight of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes—all within walking distance from one another. The latter half of our trip was spent in Jerusalem. I had incredible experiences in both Galilee and Jerusalem, even though they are quite different, and I would like to share a few reflections on my time spent in each area of the pilgrimage.

The first thing that struck me about the region of Galilee is the peaceful tranquility that is present there. From the first day at the Church of the Primacy of Peter, I opened my Bible to the epilogue of St. John (21:1-19) and meditated along the Sea of Galilee. Nearby, there is a small waterfall which empties into the Sea of Galilee—it is here that the disciples would have washed their nets after a day of fishing, and it is probably the location where some of the disciples would have been called by the Lord. Day after day I returned to this sight, meditating on the Lord calling the disciples to Himself. I also meditated on how his call extends to me, and to each of us in one way or another. We spent a day on the Mount of Beatitudes, reading the Sermon on the Mount from the Gospel of Matthew. We spent a day in Capernaum, where Jesus would have spent most of his time healing the sick, teaching in the synagogue, and preaching to his disciples. All this contributed to the peaceful, reflective environment that I experienced. Yet, for Christ, all this peace did not take away from his mission in Jerusalem—the Cross. He always had his face set toward Jerusalem. After spending a few days in the chaotic city of Jerusalem, I quickly realized how much I desired to return to the peace of Galilee. I scoured the city for a quiet place to pray, and found it in the basement of a local Catholic church which had the Blessed Sacrament exposed for adoration. Our Lord probably felt the same way at times—in fact, the garden of Gethsemane is one of the only reserved places in Jerusalem that offers a quiet environment. It’s no wonder it was the preferred place for Jesus to take his disciples while in Jerusalem.

The second realization I came to while in Jerusalem was how proud I am to be Catholic. Sadly, there is still much tension and violence between the major religions in the Holy Land. Christians are still being persecuted by Muslims in many areas of the Middle East, and even the various Christian denominations seem unable to live together peacefully. The word Catholic means universal, and this is the beauty of the Church. We are universal—breaking cultural barriers—yet, we believe in the Revelation that is given us in Scripture and Tradition. The creed we profess every Sunday contains the beautiful teaching that is given to us by Christ for our salvation. Let us be proud and stand up for our beliefs! If I learned anything from my time in the Holy Land, it is the need for Christians, especially Catholics, to be proud and firm in our religious beliefs, but to love and pray for all those who may not accept our faith.

Many people, myself included, try to find the Lord in the various sights and physical experiences they have in the Holy Land. It is a blessing to be able to gain a better understanding of the environment and culture that the Son of God made His dwelling. However, I quickly learned that in all my searching for the Lord in the places I visited, I never found Him in the way I wanted to. What was I missing? I neglected to recognize that the Lord is present in the tabernacle. He is fully present, body, blood, soul, and divinity in our Churches and Chapels. What's more, the Holy Spirit is present in each one of us. Through Baptism, we die with Christ and rise again with Him as a new person, marked indelibly with the Holy Spirit. God is present with us everywhere and at all times.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Clericus Cup

Each year, there is a rather popular soccer tournament among the major seminaries in Rome, named the Clericus Cup

From the viewpoint of the media, it is an opportunity to show that seminarians and priests can participate in competitive sport in a virtuous manner, contrary to much of what professional sport offers these days. From our standpoint, it is an excellent opportunity to build fraternity with brother seminarians, both those from your own college and other colleges as well. For months, from January to April/May, we practice twice a week, often including rigorous conditioning, in order to prepare for the tournament. I've found that few other things build fraternity as well as conditioning and training week in and week out with the same group. Although our immediate goal is to win the tournament, ultimately we do this for the glory of God. To engage in healthy, friendly, competitive sport is an excellent way to put into practice the fullness of humanity--to manifest God's creation of the human person in the way the Father intended it. Personally, it doesn't get much better than playing my favorite sport, one of my great passions, in the shadow of the dome of St. Peter's basilica in Rome.

Check out the PNAC Clericus Cup website for a review of last season, including photos, videos, and more! You can also take a look at recent news coverage from the NY Times and Fox Sports.

This year, the organizations that run the Clericus Cup pulled together a pool of the "all-stars" of last year's tournament to play against local teams in Rome. Myself, and 2 other men from the PNAC played with men from a number of other seminaries in Rome, including the Brazilian college, Polish College, Rome's Pontifical College for mission countries, and Redemptoris Mater (community of the Neo-Catechumenal way). Our first match was played against the Guardia di Finanza, Italy's branch of the police that deals with currency and other financial matters. The purpose of organizing an all-star team was to show, once again, that "another soccer is possible," as it was phrased by the advertisers. That is to say, through the inspiration of the priests and seminarians who participate in the Clericus Cup, soccer can be played with both a competitive and charitable attitude. This is an especially important message for Italy, and many other countries where soccer is so popular, in which soccer matches can quickly turn into arenas for political campaigning (as is displayed by fascist groups in Italy), hooliganism, and violence. The message that sport can be a way to build bridges and friendships between nations and cultures was evident, at least for the Clericus Top all-star team, as I was able to meet and make friends with other men studying for the priesthood in Africa, South America, Europe, and Asia. Our match against the Guardia di Finanza was quite an extravagant and highly publicized event for what I thought to be an insignificant game in the eyes of the secular world--for that reason, I was pleasantly surprised. In fact, Giovanni Trapattoni, the manager of the Ireland national team, was scheduled to coach us for the day, but was unable to attend at the last minute. The first few hours were spent in a press conference, followed by the match itself, and topped off with a casual dinner hosted by the Guardia di Finanza.

Here is a picture of the team in full taken from an ABC News-Spain article (for our Spanish speakers):
and a slide show of the events from the Clericus Top website.

In the end, it was a great day. For a morning, I felt like a professional, like Steven Gerrard in his early days, but it was important to remember that our purpose, as it is in all that we do, was to glorify God.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Finally, my blog post is on time! Here is a thanksgiving homily I had to prepare. One personal side reflection: holidays are especially difficult times to be away from home, simply because they are times for families to get together. As I spend these days away, I reminded of Christ who was not welcome in his homeland, abandoned by his best friends, and crucified by the very people He served. He was able to do all this, firstly because He was God, but He also knew that He belonged in union with the Father and the Holy Spirit in heaven. We, too, must remember that we are pilgrims on earth, journeying to the heavenly Jerusalem--union with the most Holy Trinity. Now for that homily:

“Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. You have given all to me to you, O Lord, now I return it; all is yours, dispose of me wholly and according to your Will. Give me only your love and your grace, for this is enough for me.”

I begin with this quote from St. Ignatius because it captures the very essence of what it means to be grateful, to have a spirit of thanksgiving. Ignatius cuts to the core, to the very fact that there is absolutely NOTHING that we can claim to be ours except for our sinfulness. Everything else, all that we have and possess, is from the Lord. What does this mean practically? It means that we ought to be thankful for everything that we receive. That’s right, everything!

We’ve all had days when it seems like nothing else could go wrong. We are amidst great trial. These are the moments when it is most difficult to be grateful—when we encounter the Cross. Yet, we ought to be grateful even for our suffering! It can seem quite silly to thank God for the Cross, if we look at it by itself. HOWEVER, if we see that the Lord permits our crosses for the benefit of our souls, it quickly turns into an extremely welcome gift.

The book of Sirach puts it best: “My son, when you come to serve the LORD, prepare yourself for trials. Be sincere of heart and steadfast, undisturbed in time of adversity. Cling to him, forsake him not; thus will your future be great. Accept whatever befalls you, in crushing misfortune be patient; for in fire gold is tested, and worthy men in the crucible of humiliation” (2:1-5).

Be assured that there is nothing that God can’t use for good. So thank God for the trying moments, those moments of despair, when we are forced to completely rely on the Lord—those are the moments when we are being tested in fire—that we may become gold.

“Bless the God of all, who has done wondrous things on earth; Who fosters men's growth from their mother's womb, and fashions them according to HIS will!” (Sirach 50:24). Thankfully, the Father doesn’t form us according to our will, for it would only lead to failure. Thankfully, HE forms us to HIS will—for it leads to perfection, even when it seems like it is leading to despair. Have hope!

So, whatever blessings we may receive from the Lord this Thanksgiving day, whether it be a united family, a bountiful feast, or even just a day off of work, don’t forget the good that comes from our trials, our Crosses, and don’t forget to thank God for them!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fix Your Gaze on Him

Here is my practice homily from the daily readings on September 23rd, 2010:

If you have ever seen Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ, you might remember the scene with Jesus and the adulteress.
If you haven’t seen the movie, at least you’ll recognize it from scripture: a mob of accusers have caught a woman in adultery and are ready to stone her for her sins. They bring her to Jesus and he tells them those famous words, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” You know this story, right? Well in the movie, this scene is rather dramatically presented. After the mob breaks up one by one, dropping their stones and leaving, it cuts to the woman, who is obviously in great distress. She crawls toward Jesus with her face turned away and reaches out for the man who has saved her life. As she reaches his feet, he gives her his hand, and as she looks up, she finds Christ gazing at her with the most loving and forgiving expression on his face. I could take that seen and go back to it again and again and again in prayer. When I picture Him gazing at me, it’s as if the entire world could pass away 100 times over, and I would be oblivious to it. There’s something mesmerizing about that gaze.

Some were saying “John has been raised from the dead’; others were saying, “Elijah has appeared”; still others, “One of the ancient prophets.” Both Herod and St. Peter listen to these false claims about Jesus, but they react very differently to them. Luke tells us that Herod “kept trying to see him.” We know later that once they finally meet, Herod “had been wanting for a long time to set eyes on him” and “was hoping to see some miracle worked by him.” Herod saw Jesus as nothing other than a man. Peter, on the other hand, knew very well that Jesus was “the Christ of God.” He knew this because he saw with the eyes of faith. He not only saw Jesus the man, but Jesus the Christ.

Peter knew the gaze of Christ. He received it as he betrayed him. But like the adulteress, that gaze was full of love and forgiveness. He longs to give you that—each and every one of you.

If we see the world the way Herod did, with expectation and faithlessness, we find ourselves searching endlessly for miracles and signs from God, but to no avail. We will keep trying to see him, but will never find him. If we have the eyes of faith, like Peter did, we will see Him everywhere. We will know his gaze, we will feel His love, and it will be mesmerizing.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Preaching Workshops day 2

Day 2 of homily workshops, and it's not as easy as I thought. I have learned quickly that the priest must always be looking for homily material. Assuming that the average parish priest will preach every day, as well as multiple times per weekend, it becomes clear that this aspect of the priestly life is extremely important and takes up a significant amount of time. I certainly experienced that over the course of the week. This homily was given according to the Scripture readings on September 22, 2010:

“Your word, O Lord, is a lamp for my feet.” It’s more than simply a poetic phrase. This brief psalm refrain offers us deep insights into the mystery that is the Word of God. Picture being led by a lamp through complete darkness—how crucial that light is, how dependent we are upon it! It is guiding, it is protecting, it is powerful. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, in the Gospel, Luke mentions proclaiming the Good News in the same breath as curing diseases—not once, but twice! I find that we often fall into the temptation of placing greater value on physical miracles than those that we can’t observe with our senses. “The apostles cured diseases everywhere, oh and they proclaimed the Good News as well.” Do not underestimate the power of the Word of God! Proclaiming the Good News is essential to the healing of the sick. It’s easy to assume that Luke is referring to the physically sick, or those suffering from bodily diseases. We must not forget that our Lord always forgave sins before curing their physical ailments. Why? Because the Word is life-giving! It is healing. It is alive and working in our lives.

This is the beauty of the Eucharist—it gives us both bodily and spiritual nourishment. Just as the apostles were sent to proclaim the Kingdom of God and heal the sick, we too are given access to the Kingdom of God through the reading of Scripture, the Word, and the healing power of the Eucharist.

We believe that Jesus Christ is the Word made flesh. He is God, He is perfect, therefore, we have no need, nor d
o we have any reason to add to, remove from, or change anything about Him. Rather, dwell with the Word made flesh. Let Him, the Word, be your shield—take refuge in Him. “Add nothing to his words, lest he reprove you, and you will be exposed as a deceiver.” Often times we like to take possession of the Word, and alter it to our satisfaction. No. Let the Word guide you, let it be the lamp for your feet, follow it to its source—a love beyond imagination.

We don’t have to look far to find a litany of saints who have changed lives and saved souls by their proclamation of the Good News: starting with St. Peter on Pentecost, St. Paul, John Chrysostom, Thomas Aquinas, the North American Jesuit Martyrs, and countless others. We have also seen the effects of those who have taken the Word and distorted it by fitting it into their own subjective scope—the result is heresy, division in the Church, and much, much, worse.

The Word is Truth, who is ultimately a person, Jesus Chr
ist. Seek truth. Seek Jesus Christ, and with the guidance of the Church, let the Word be the lamp for your feet as you walk with Him!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Preaching Workshops

This past week, the second year men began preaching workshops. This includes daily lectures as well as an afternoon practicum--that is, live practice. I thought I would post the fruits of my labor, so that you can all watch my progress. Comments and critique are welcome.

Disclaimer: As I am not yet an ordained priest (and thus, not an official spokesperson of the Catholic Church) and still writing
practice homilies, my views do not necessarily reflect that of the Catholic Church--even though it is my intent to be perfectly in line with Catholic teaching.

Here is my first ever practice homily on Luke 10:38-42 (Martha and Mary):

Listen to the Lord! What was it that Mary did that caused our Lord to label her choice as "the better part?" Martha seems to do it all right: she welcomes Christ into her home, she serves him, what is there left to do? I'm sure many of us can identify with Martha, including myself. "Lord, I've been serving you, I've been working hard, I'm tired, why are you rewarding Mary for being lazy!?" The answer--she sat and listened to the Lord! Mary's devotion and zeal for the Lord will not be disturbed by the temptation to be efficient, the temptation to do, and achieve for the Lord. Rahter, Mary remained confident that sitting and listening to the Lord was not a waste of time--instead, it was the better choice. As it is often remarked in the
Christian community, "time spent with the Lord is never time wasted." Why is this so difficult for us to believe? I venture to guess that it's difficult because it takes a radical surrender and trust in the Lord and the Holy Spirit to carry out the will of God, which we are certain, at times, cannot be achieved without our doing. How wrong we are! The more we let God be God, the more we allow the Lord to work in our lives, which ultimately brings us happiness and satisfaction beyond belief.

Mary's trust in the Lord allows her to sit and listen to Him, knowing that her seemingly inactive attentiveness to Christ was better than any work she could have done on her own. BUT, that does not negate Martha's work! Martha's active service, in itself, is not bad. The same hoes for any work we ourselves do for the Lord--in itself, it isn't bad. Rather, it becomes bad if we do not accept the Lord into our work--if we do not take the time to sit and listen to the Lord. "Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build" (Psalm 127). Martha was so preoccupied with her work that she forgot the reason why she was serving in the first place. She was so distracted that she forgot to listen to the Lord. How easy it is for us to do the same. We can go hours, days, week, without even thinking of settling ourselves and asking the Lord for guidance. Martha's fault was not in her service, but that she let her work keep her from listening to the Lord.

Because a constant communication with our God, who loves us infinitely, is first and foremost, anything else we do must include that communication between lover and beloved. Brother Lawrence, a barefoot Carmelite of the 17th century writes, "The time of business, does not for me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my [workplace], while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament" (Presence of God 25). That's the key! Time spent in contemplation, listening to the Lord in love
is essential. At the same time, we are called to be instruments in God's plan for salvation. The difficult task is to unite the two. Mary chose the better part, but that doesn't demean the goodness of active service for the kingdom--so long as we invite the Lord into that service. What it does, however, is remind us that whatever you do, wherever, whenever, listen to the Lord!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

Thus begins another year of formation in Rome. As I say my goodbyes to family and friends, I am reminded of the moments in which Christ departed from his loved ones--namely, at the passion and the ascension. As our Lord prepared his disciples for what was to come: his death and resurrection, he consoled his evidently distraught and confused friends. Let's look at the words of our Lord according to St. John: "it is for your own good that I am going, because unless I go, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you" (16:7). There you have it! Although we may be parted geographically, we are united through the power of the Holy Spirit, in the Eucharist, in Christ Himself. It gets better! The power that bonds us through the Eucharist is greater than any bond formed by humans. Thus, the paradox: because we are separated, we must rely solely on the power of the Eucharist, and therefore, we are united more perfectly. This is how I have seen my recent departure--not as a loss, but as a gain.

That's the first half of it. The second half is precisely laid out in the Gospel of Luke. Let's turn to the ascension: "Now as he blessed them, he withdrew from them and was carried up to heaven. They worshipped him and then went back to Jerusalem full of joy" (24:51-52). If we are united in the Eucharist, we cannot help but be filled with joy. The Eucharist is the "eschatological tension" as the late Pope John Paul II called it--that moment in which we have a taste of heaven on earth. How can that not bring us joy?

Goodbyes are often sad, painful, and difficult to cope with--all of which are natural--but it doesn't have to end there. We take this opportunity to be united in prayer, in the Holy Spirit. We offer ourselves at the table of the Lord, so that we may be united as one mystical body of Christ.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Station Churches

Large groups of seminarians dressed in black huddle together under umbrellas, trying to escape the rain. It's dark and wet. They walk along the Tiber river, many with rosaries in hand, on the way to the station Church of the day. This tradition has been carried from the late 2nd/early 3rd century in Rome. People from all over Rome would gather together in a specified Church to celebrate Mass with the Pope at the beginning of Lent. Today, hundreds of residents in Rome, including those at the North American College, gather together to continue the tradition.

Various Churches in Rome are selected for the pilgrimage--a different Church every day. Some days the walk might be only a few minutes. Other days, it can be a 1.5 hour journey. It takes a certain discipline and act of the will to force yourself out of bed an hour earlier than normal in order to walk to the station Churches in the cold, wet, darkness of the mornings in Lent.

However, after a quite penitential walk across the city, what awaits you is something spectacular. The station Churches are not only aesthetically beautiful, but they possess a rich and beautiful history of the Church, as much of the eternal city does. The station Churches are often the most ancient Churches in Rome. Often times, the first Masses that were celebrated by the Christian community in the first centuries A.D. were celebrated in these Churches. Before the legalization of Christianity, Masses were held in private, often in the houses of the wealthier Christians. After they died, these property owners would often leave their house to the Church, which would then be used as a worship site.

More often than not, these stational Churches will have the relics of various Saints who have some affiliation with that particular sight--often times it is the place of their martyrdom. I think the quote that is written above the roof the North American College articulates it well: "O Roma Felix, quae duorum Principum es consecrata glorioso sanguine." In English, "Oh happy Rome, whom that most glorious blood forever consecrates..."

We honor the first martyrs, whose blood was shed, and thus consecrated the city of Rome, along with all the Saints. That most noble act of faith, which gave life to the Church, we remember through our participation in the stational Mass. It is impossible to articulate the experience of the station Churches, and the emotion that ensues. All I can say is that an hour long walk through a cold, wet, dark Rome is NOTHING compared to the sacrifice of those who died for the faith they believed--namely, the passion, death, and resurrection of the 2nd person of the Trinity--Jesus Christ.

Here are some highlights of the Station Churches:

Monday, February 15, 2010

Foggy London Town

Rather than bore you all with elaborate descriptions of experiences that really cannot be properly recapitulated, I figured I would show you through a SMALL selection of the many photos I took, along with two of my classmates, during my trip to London and other parts of England.

Wells Cathedral

Fish and Chips at a local pub in Wells, shortly before attending an Evensong celebration that evening (evening prayer sung by Cambridge choir).

View of the surrounding area in Bath.

Bath Abbey

Salisbury Cathedral by night!

A view of the immaculately preserved Roman baths. The dark figure in the foreground is me.

Salisbury Cathedral by day.

A picturesque view of Stonehenge at dusk.

Stonehenge. It was so freezing that day. I guess it doesn't help that we were standing in the middle of an open field with the wind wipping around freely.

Westminster Cathedral (not to be confused with Westminster Abbey).

A shot of Trafalgar square on New Year's Eve after getting out of the National Gallery - gorgeous!

Outside the Eagle and Child in Oxford. One of C.S. Lewis' favorite pubs during his time in Oxford.

A view of Trafalgar Square.

Tower Bridge after a tour of London Tower, where St. Thomas More was kept, among others.

Chris and I feasting on a traditional English Breakfast...I was so happy!

Munching on an English meat pie.

The entrance gate to Canterbury Cathedral, situated next to a Starbucks (thank God!). There is actually a room in Starbucks with big bay windows opening up to the Cathedral - beautiful!

At Christ Church College, in Oxford.

More of Christ Church College. You might be thinking, "Wow that looks a lot like Hogwarts!" Well, you're right! They used this room to film the dining hall scenes.

At Buckingham Palace.

Aerial view of Oxford (above and below).

Big Ben!

Another view of the Roman Baths, in Bath.

Bath Abbey from the front.

Salisbury Cathedral cloister courtyard.

Canterbury Cathedral! So sad that all these beautiful Churches were once Catholic.