The Deepest Truths

With the Ordination and First Mass behind us, I’ve been struggling a bit to find my footing in this strange new reality. Despite the fact that I’ve spent the past six years learning more about priestly formation and deepening my own understanding of Catholic theology, the actual reality of Evan’s ordination caught me flat-footed.

Photo of Evan at his first Mass at St. Paul the Apostle in New York.
(Photo courtesy of the Paulist Fathers.)

On Sunday, May 26, 2019 Evan returned to St. Rose of Lima (our home parish) to celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving. Two of his Paulist brothers who had served as pastors of St. Rose in the 80s joined him and concelebrated. Our pastor, Fr. Clarence Sandoval, concelebrated as well. The church was packed with our parish family as well as friends and family of other faiths who came to celebrate with us.

It was a joyful worship, but one which was – at the same time – very, very strange. Seeing Evan at the altar leading the community in prayer, making the familiar gestures of blessing and consecration, and ultimately elevating the host and the cup was beautiful. He seemed so confident; his voice calm and clear as he recited the prayers and he moved through the liturgy as if he’d been doing it for years. It was a moment of fulfilment; the manifestation of something I’ve anticipated for a long time.

It was also deeply unsettling.

On Monday, Memorial Day, Evan celebrated a house Mass for us. So there, in our living room with our cats roaming about, we three enjoyed a quiet Mass before breakfast. In his alb and stole, Evan stood behind a desk which had been pressed into service as an altar. Just before he began, he said, “This is one of the most surreal things I’ve ever done.”

“Surreal.” That was the perfect word to describe what I’ve been feeling since the Ordination in New York.

I knew it was coming, but I don’t think I’d fully anticipated the impact. I hadn’t realized that Evan’s ordination would force me to confront the deepest truths of our faith.

In the language of the church, Ordination changed Evan at an ontological level. That is, through the sacrament, he has been changed and his relationship with the community has changed. The Evan who entered the church as a deacon, left as a priest. Those aren’t simply different titles; they are different states of being. At the same time, he is still very much the child Kit and I raised.

He has been given the authority to “confect the sacrament of the Eucharist in persona Christi.” Which is a poetic way of expressing that he acts in the person of Christ to consecrate the bread and wine at Mass.

At the same time, he delights in good meals, entertaining movies, and beloved video games. He groans at my bad puns and shares warm hugs with his mother.

His is simultaneously a minister of heaven and a child of this world.

This is the very heart of our incarnational faith. God isn’t some remote figure who sits in a distant heaven judging us. God is the love which forms and sustains the universe. To drive the point home, God came to us in the person of Jesus Christ; simultaneously fully divine and fully human.

This strange co-existence isn’t just something which happens only at ordination. It is the nature of every sacrament to bring us face-to-face with the truth of the incarnation. It’s just that sometimes we get so used to the sacraments that we forget exactly what’s taking place. We overlook the extraordinary truth.

In the language of the church we call this a mystery. It’s a reality we can wrestle with, but never fully comprehend.

Evan’s ordination drew me up short and sharpened my awareness of the sacraments and the mystery they express. It reminded me that I participate in a community which treats the physical and the spiritual as parts of a whole and that the rituals and practices of the church are designed to put us in touch with the Divine. It was an invitation to enter into the mystery of faith in a new and deeper way.

For this, and for the opportunity to walk with Evan on his vocations journey, I can only say, “Thank you, Lord.” (Even if it’s going to still be weird to see him saying Mass!)

Thoughts on Obedience

(Editor’s Note: Guest blogger Megan Dahle shares a few thoughts on an aspect of the priesthood that is sometimes overlooked.)

priest-1352801_640Many Catholic parents are excited when their sons show, on their own accord, increased devotion to Christ and to his church. When many young men fall away from the truth, it can be especially joyful to see the opposite happen in your family.

They smile when their children show interest in the saints or attend mass more than once a week. They are excited to see their children partake in the sacrament of reconciliation or buy religious medals to remind them of the lives of the faithful.

When parents see that devotion turns into a desire to take holy orders, parents can sometimes have objections and worries about their son’s future life and happiness. When a young man is ordained a priest, among his vows are celibacy and obedience. While most of the conversation around the discipline of the priesthood surrounds the vow of celibacy, obedience can be difficult for parents to accept, too.

Obedience Can Be Scary

Why do parents object to the idea of obedience? We all want to think that we are independent, free to choose our own life’s path and direction. This is particularly the case in America and the rest of the west, because we often confuse the general good of political freedom with complete personal freedom as well. But the desire to remain independent is not something that God desires for us.

art-painting-285919_640Being Fully Human

To understand the virtue of obedience, one must understand what it means to be human as God designed us to be. For that, Christians across the world turn to the creation story in the book of Genesis, because it describes what God intended for his creation.

In Genesis, chapter one, we read, “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” God created humans in his image, which means that God’s image is manifest in us. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that the image of God is made manifest when we live in accordance with the created order and obey God’s will.

The Image of God: Sin and Redemption

Independence from God’s will, however, comes from sin. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s will by eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they marred humanity with “the wound of original sin” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1707). Our desire to be independent comes from our desire to be independent of God.

Jesus Christ’s passion and resurrection, however, heal the wounds of sin and restore the image of God in us. The adoption we receive in baptism gives us the power to live rightly and obedient to God’s will. The life of a faithful Catholic is a struggle between the desire to obey God and the desire to sin (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1707-1709).

The Paradox of Obedience

We cannot be completely free, because we always obey one master, whether it be God or sin (see Romans 8). Being fully human, by manifesting the divine image, means we live in perfect obedience to God’s holy will. When we are independent, however, we end up as prisoners to sin and bound in chains of our own making.

Even St. Paul lamented how frustrating this can be for the faithful Christian when he writes, “I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Romans 7:23). This rule is counterintuitive, and provides a seeming paradox: obedience is freedom. Independence is slavery.

The Life of Jesus

Our Savior, Jesus Christ, demonstrates this principle most completely in his obedience and submission. Though he was the eternal Son of God, he submitted himself to fallible human beings, his parents. “Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them” (Luke 2:51). Not only does Jesus follow God’s will, but he submits to the proper authorities, which, in this case, means his parents.

The whole of Jesus’ life was following his Father’s will. He says in John, chapter eight, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me. And the one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him.”

We see perhaps the most beautiful example of Jesus’ total obedience in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus leaves his disciples to pray, and he asks God to spare him. He prays, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus expressed his freedom through submission to God and His will.

The Religious Life

saint-benedict-1508869_640The religious life helps us to see the freedom of obedience, not just to God, but also to religious authorities above us. Monks and nuns across the world follow orders or rules that guide their daily existence. One of the most famous of these orders is the Order of St. Benedict. He writes about the virtue of obedience:

“not living according to their own choice nor obeying their own desires and pleasures but walking by another’s judgment and command, they dwell in monasteries and desire to have an Abbot over them. Assuredly such as these are living up to that maxim of the Lord in which He says, ‘I have come not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me’(John 6:38).”

These orders prescribe a pattern for daily life including the most mundane details like the clothes one wears. The order prescribes daily life in such detail, because obedience in small things trains the heart to obey God when temptation arises. Following the rule helps the faithful Christian obey God when it counts.

Thomas a Kempis wrote about this in his famous book, Imitation of Christ. “Go where you may, you will find no rest except in humble obedience to the rule of authority. Dreams of happiness expected from change and different places have deceived many.”

For people who are used to talk of freedom, obedience can seem scary. We imagine harsh dictators and cruel oppression.

In the Catholic Church, however, obedience is a great virtue. Obedience to Christ and to religious authorities opens the door to manifesting the image of God by submitting our wills to the will of another. In this way, we train ourselves to be obedient to God.

Megan Dahle is a Catholic Blogger who likes to emphasize in her writing both the life of prayer and how to live bravely as a Catholic in modern society. She is a devoted mother and wife and a Catholic business owner. Before this eCommerce adventure, she was an accountant. She enjoys coaching robotics for her daughters’ FLL teams and gardening.

Decisions, Decisions

© Copyright P L Chadwick and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence 2.0 attribution and sharealikeTwo roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth…

Robert Frost perfectly captured the agony of choice in his poem The Road Not Taken. Each choice we make closes off others, each represents a commitment of sorts … a path we have chosen to follow knowing that there may be regret for the path left unexplored.

This came up recently on the Word On Fire Show with Bishop Robert Barron. The particular episode was a discussion called Heroic Priesthood. After spending some time talking about what it means to be a priest and how the ordained priesthood differs from the priesthood of all believers, Bishop Barron spends a few minutes talking about discernment. He suggests several useful tools including listening to the voices of others and finding a spiritual director. At the end of that he says:

Realize that life is short. One thing I find with the millennials a lot is they have this thing about keeping every option open all the time. That I have all options open all the time. Well you don’t. Life is short. It goes by fast. And so you can’t just keep everything open, you’ve got to say, “Jump in.” Jump onto a path. It’s not going to be perfect. You will have some regrets, but everybody does.

(The whole episode is worth your time, so click on over to listen to it as it includes some advice for the parents of discerners as well.)

So, what’s the antidote to indecision? Decisiveness. Easier said than done, though. What do you do if all options seem equally valid?

There was a good answer in a profile piece that ran on the Washington Post. It explores the discernment journey of a seminarian in DC. Anthony Furgeson felt drawn to the life of an artist and only gradually heard the call to priesthood.

He describes his early sense of being called as “horrifying”. He talks about waffling between being thrilled and terrified by the idea of religious life. Eventually, just before Christmas of 2013, he arrived at a moment of clarity.

“I felt like there was a fork in the road,” he recalls. “I could either choose life with this really nice girl, or I could apply to seminary. I knew I had to decide, and I knew if I decided one way, it would kinda close off the other path.”

At a Sunday Mass he prayed for guidance. “The response that I really sensed back — and I’m not going to say it was a Charlton Heston voice — it was just very gentle, quiet, placed-on-the-soul interior realization that it didn’t really matter which way I chose. The Lord would be there either way.”

Knowing that made it easier for Ferguson to consider what he truly wanted. “And when I thought about going into the priesthood, I really did feel that there was a warm sense of peace,” he says.

I’ve heard this sentiment echoed by a couple of priests — God is not going to be angry if you choose one good over another. Conversely, God will be with you no matter which path you choose. So, as Bishop Barron says, “Jump onto a path.”

For parents, this means being willing to give your child the space to discern and let them know that they have your support either way. No matter what, they will still be your child and you can be confident that God will be with them.

I don’t think Robert Frost was speaking of religious life, but he made a good point when he finished his poem with:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

— Dad (of Evan)

Spiritual Direction

Did you know that all seminarians are required to have a spiritual director?

Do you know what a spiritual director does?

I certainly didn’t when Evan started his journey of formation.  A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about the role a spiritual director plays in formation and how everyone might benefit from having one.

Back then I summed it up by saying:

A spiritual director is a guide to interior growth and renewal, not counselor or therapist.  The discussions center on the relationship between the directee and God.

You might still wonder what the personal experience is like.  (Which brings me to the point of today’s brief post.)

On a recent Busted Halo broadcast, Fr. Dave Dwyer talked with producer (Brett) about the experience of interacting with a spiritual director.  If you’re interested, it’s well worth your time to give it a listen.

— Dad (of Evan)

Objection Series: “But people are so critical of priests!” Super Human or A Human of Faith?

It must be hard to live your life and do your job while under a microscope. When every human failing is on display for others to comment and judge, you can lean toward one of 2 extremes:  defensive, self righteous arrogance on one end and humility on the other. Humility is a virtue everyone needs to work on and some of us have to work harder than others. During seminary formation  and ongoing spiritual direction, priests have to work on this just like everyone else.

Priests are not the only ones under a microscope today.  Police officers arepolice traffic stop under scrutiny on a daily basis.  In some areas, there is suspicion and mistrust with or without provocation.  How would you like to wear a body camera at work  documenting everything you say and do which could easily end up on the 6 o’clock news?   Since  priests won’t be wearing body cameras any time soon, perception is reality for people.  Many people find it necessary to voice their unsolicited opinion of their priest whether it is charitable or not.  “Who am I to judge?”  is not heard very often in our culture.

Whether you are a priest, police officer or politician, you have to accept the fact that you can’t please everyone and someone will always be less than satisfied.  How can you be expected to hit the perfect balance in every interaction with every personality across the spectrum of human experience?  You can’t; it is impossible.

So what do you do when everyone expects you to be “super” human?   A good place to start is to find where your heart is on the continuum between defensive, self righteous arrogance and  humility. Since this can be a moving target, we should make it a practice to check our location periodically.   Having the humility to know who you are and what you are called to do goes a long way  in dealing with this reality in the workplace, with your family or in a life spent serving  others.   Below is a post that describes this beautifully to give you a different perspective on this objection.

 

NewPriestNJ
Super Humans
06/26/2015

by Matthew Higgins

When I was a kid, I thought it was extremely odd that the priests at my parish took vacation time. I had no clue that they were allowed to do that. I did not see priesthood as a typical career, but something that took a great deal of sacrifice—including sacrificing any personal time for the service of the Church. For instance I knew that a priest could not get married and have children of his own. I knew that a priest lived simply and was at the service of the Church, mostly through the parish where he was assigned. To me, that meant he was at the service of the Church 24/7.

Now that I am older and understand a little bit more about the workings of the Church and parish as an institution as well as the Body of Christ, it makes perfect sense to me that priests are “allowed” to take time off. From my professional and personal relationships with priests, I know how important it is for priests to take time off—whether that means a day during the week or a
week’s vacation.

My childhood image of the priest and one that is shared by too manysuperman flag people is that these men are super human. The priest is not super human, but a human of faith. Not being super human does not mean he does not do super human things. In fact, through faith in God (who is very super human—not contained or restricted by human limitations), humans can do some super human things.

In the Gospel… we encounter something that is very super-human: faith and the consequences of faith known as miracles.  What is important to look at in these readings is who displays their faith and who does not. First, Jairus comes in faith to Christ on behalf of his jesus and little girldaughter. Jairus is looking for Christ to help. He has faith in Jesus’ power to heal and that faith has a consequence—healing for his daughter. Think for a second of the tremendous faith and courage it took for this man to leave his daughter’s side as she was at the point of death. With full knowledge that he may not be there with his daughter until the very last moment, he leaves and goes to Jesus. What selfless faith!

Second, the woman suffering from a hemorrhage has tremendous faith in Christ’s power. Her faith has a consequencewoman with hemorrhage—healing and salvation.  Each act of faith draws people to Christ. Each act of faith results in a miracle. Sometimes, like in the case of this woman, it is our own faith that moves us to act, that moves us toward Jesus. Other times, like in the case of Jairus, it is the great faith of others that leads us closer to Him and allows Him to miraculously heal us in big and small ways.

When we look at this connection between faith and healing through the lens of the life of the priest, we can see how these men can sometimes be mistaken for being super human….Fr Johnson at mass

Every time a priest says Mass, a miracle takes place. Through the priest, Christ becomes present on the Altars of our Churches and through faith we draw nearer and nearer to Him.  

Through the priest, Christ brings healing to those weighed down by sin in the Confessional and those sick and dying through the Sacrament of Anointing.

When a man, who is all things worldly and impure, through the constant prayers from his mother or grandmother, has an encounter with Jesus and repents…that’s a miracle. (When that man enters the seminary and becomes later becomes a priest…that’s a miracle too)

When society makes champions of sexual immodesty and immorality and then a priest, through His faith in Christ, makes a promise to and lives out a life of celibacy…that’s a miracle.

priest and  preachingWhen society becomes more and more divided under a false flag of hateful relativism disguised as “equality” and “tolerance” making others feel discouraged or afraid to speak the truth and a priest stands up and preaches God’s love strengthening our faith…that’s a miracle.

When a loved one dies suddenly, and your priest is there to help you not only in celebrating the funeral Liturgy but also on a personal level, following up with you as the months go by when it seems like everyone else is going on with their lives…giving you hope and encouraging you in faith…that’s a miracle.

Yes, a priest is human—a human with sins, struggles, and pope frances going to confessionbrokenness. But he is also a human that recognizes he needs to go to Jesus in faith to heal his brokenness. He is a human that allows Christ to work in and through him in these various situations. He is a human that shows an example of faith, attracting others to the super human person of Christ, increasing our faith in the one, true God—God who performs miracles big and small in those who have faith in Him.

Please know the authors of this blog pray daily for parents of discerning sons and daughters to find understanding and peace.

A Series of Objections

I will be posting a series on common objections parents have surrounding a son’s interest in discerning a vocation to priesthood or religious life. I will take one objection and go deeper on the topic. Some of these objections are things you man-explaining-woman-arguing-living-room-young-men-women-40422131may have already discussed with your son, while others may be too embarrassing or politically incorrect to say aloud or even admit to yourself.

I hope to pull back the curtain on these concerns and help parents reflect on why they may have these objections. Understanding the reality behind an objection with concrete and accurate information can help you gain some perspective on the concern.

In a critique of Fr. Brett Brannen’s book: A Priest in the Family, the reviewer acknowledges that the concerns of parents are legitimate:

…he [Fr. Brannen] explains priesthood, seminary, celibacy, and how a man discerns his vocation—all while keeping in mind parents’ legitimate concerns.

I found this very comforting when I read that. I am not being unreasonable or reactionary in my concerns. They are legitimate and deserve respect, information and time to address.

Every one of the objections below is addressed in either one of Fr. Brett Brannen’s books: To Save a Thousand Souls or A Priest in the Family. These books give good basic information along with stories of how seminarians and their families handled common objections.  These books are introduced in the post HERE: 5 Myths and Facts about Discernment or Isn’t there a book about this somewhere?

I plan to blog on each of these objections over the next few weeks, but from a mother’s point of view. Some of these objections did come out of my mouth early on as I struggled to understand. I will own up to which ones I did say or at least think and how I dealt with them.

Objections:
• How can you know what you are giving up when you haven’t even lived yet? You are so young, you don’t know what this means

• What if he is falsely accused?  People will be suspicious of him. He will always be under a microscope. People are so critical of priests.

• It’s such a hard life

• He will be lonely

• He will be so overworked

• I just want him to be happy! Part 1: What is happy anyway?

• I just want him to be happy Part 2: Where do my objections come from? Why do I feel so strongly about this? Why am I so angry, frustrated, or emotional about this?

• How/Why did this happen in our family? We aren’t even that religious.

• How can this be real when it has happened so fast: See the post This is just a phase or I don’t want another trumpet in the attic HERE

• What will _____________ think or say?

• I will never see him, especially on holidays

• I will never have grandchildren

If you have an objection or concern that is not addressed here, just leave a comment and we will address it.

Please know that the authors of this blog pray daily of the parents of discerning sons and daughters to find peace and understanding.

Another Vision of the Future

What if you could look into the future and see what your son’s life could be like in 6 years, 16 years or  26 years?  This ‘Vision of the Future’ series is intended to provide real life examples of an authentic discernment process that led to priesthood and then the expression of a joyful and fulfilling life.

The preceding post ( See: A Vision of the Future HERE ) shows a video of 2 young priests going through a discernment process that led to their priestly vocation.

Fr Joshua Johnson Fr Joshua Johnson was ordained in 2014,                                                                                         while Fr. MIke Schmitz was ordained in 2003.Fr Mike Schmitz

This post details Msgr. Charles Pope’s narrative of his discernment process 26 years ago and his reflection on ‘The Mystery of being a Priest.’  As a parent, you may identify with his  history of coming of age in the ‘beige Catholicism’ of the 1970’s and 80’s. He was ordained in 1989 and blogs regularly HERE at the Archdiocese of Washington DC blog

The Mystery of Being a Priest
Msgr. Charles Pope • June 23, 2015
Each year I concelebrate with hundreds of others priests in the ordination Mass of new priests. I find such Masses deeply spiritual. I have no role other than to quietly Monsignor Charles Popeconcelebrate, so the readings and the rites move me deeply. As I sit quietly, I ponder the mystery of my own priesthood.

When I was growing up, there was little to indicate that I would ever become a priest. I was not a particularly spiritual child (at least not after age 7). I did not “play Mass.” In fact, I did not like church at all. At the end of Mass when the priest said, “The Mass is ended, go in peace,” I responded, “Thanks be to God!” much more vigorously than necessary.

My teenage years were marked by rebellion and pride. And while it is true that I joined the parish youth choir, it was only so that I could meet girls. It was not an evil intent, but not particularly spiritual. I did indeed date a few of them, two of them seriously.

But sometime during college a strange and uncomfortable notion came over me that I was being called to the priesthood. It was an odd desire, one I could not explain.

It was true that by that time I had become a Church musician, organist, cantor, and choir director. But again, I do not think I was particularly spiritual.  Music was something I enjoyed, but my involvement was more about leadership and impressing others, especially girls.

The growing desire to be a priest was inexplicable to me. At the time I was dating a real beauty queen, Denise. She was pretty, kind, and did not bring a heavy agenda to the relationship. Her greatest desire was just to get married and start raising children. I was two years away from graduation from college. I already had a job lined up with the Army Corps of Engineers. My life seemed pretty well set. And now this? The priesthood? How crazy is that?

And it wasn’t just a fleeting thought; it was a desire and it was growing. It was so mysterious, so strange, so unexpected. Somehow in my most honest moments I knew that the desire for the priesthood was stronger than the desire for marriage. But it seemed disloyal to Denise and I wasn’t going to break her heart, no way! And frankly I did not respect most of the priests I knew at that time. It was the late 70s and early 80s, the era of beige Catholicism, and the priests I knew seemed worse than irrelevant. I often fought with the pastor about music. He couldn’t think past Carey Landry and the St. Louis Jesuits, while I had met Palestrina, Bach, Mozart, and Victoria.

What on earth (or in Heaven?) was this thinking about being a priest? I just couldn’t make sense of it.

I will spare you all the details, but God won. Denise had a change of heart (or maybe she got glasses and saw that I wasn’t all that great   ). Or maybe she sensed my growing ambivalence. I won’t go into the details, but our dating ended. The troublesome pastor and I also parted ways (he later left the priesthood).

Two years later I entered the seminary.  And now here I am, today, celebrating my 26th anniversary as a priest.

Sitting in the Basilica the other day seeing nine new priests ordained was a great joy. And there again were those words that spoke to the mystery of the call: Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet (Jer 1:4). Well, God always knew, but it sure was news to me before I was 22.

Yes, the call of God is a great mystery to me. Before I was born, God knew I would become a priest, but surely I did not know until long after birth.

Even after my ordination I would not have selected most the assignments I was given over the years. I came forth from the seminary as a Thomist, a Moral theologian. I graduated at the top of my class. I was skilled in Latin and the ancient liturgy, a lover of chant and polyphony. But my assignments were in African-American parishes that knew little of these, and where Gospel music was the mainstay.

Yet I could not be happier. I lost nothing of what I had; I only gained more. The mystery of God’s call makes our own notions and plans seem laughable in retrospect.

The second reading at ordination this past Saturday also speaks volumes to my experience. Paul wrote to Timothy, Until I come, attend to the reading (or Sacred Scripture) exhortation and teaching … Be diligent in these matters, be absorbed in them, so that your progress may be evident to everyone. Attend to yourself and to your teaching (1 Tim 4:12ff).

Here, too, God has been good to me. I can only say that for 30 years now, 26 of them as a priest, I have prayed every day, celebrated the liturgy every day, read and studied God’s word every day, and confessed every week. And through it all I am a changed man. I’m not what I want to be, but I’m not what I used to be. A wonderful change has come over me. I am more confident and serene. I have seen sins put to death and graces come alive. I love God more than ever. I love to pray and to teach. I have come to love God’s people so much more.

Surely my faults are still quite manifest. I am proud, opinionated, and too rash in many of my judgments. My zeal makes me impatient and too quick to judge. Have mercy on me, Lord and dear people of God!

But so many good things have come to change my life and to make a new man of me. Thank you, Lord. I do not boast, except in the Lord, for it is He who has accomplished all through the means above and by the prayers of his Holy people.

Please know that the authors of this blog pray daily for parents of discerning sons and daughters to find understanding and peace.

Everyone has 3 Vocations

With all the talk on this blog about vocations and discernment, you may enjoy a video by Fr Mike Schmitz who provides a little different explanation of the 3 (yes, three) vocations that every person on earth has.

Years ago when our generation was coming of age, a vocation meant religious life, married or single.   A vocation to religious life was always referred to as a “calling”.  I never heard of marriage or single life as being a “calling”.  The inference was that marriage was a choice and single life was a default.  The idea of choosing a single state in life for a specific purpose was unheard of.

The universal call to holiness was a major concept to come out of Vatican 2.  It is too bad that this news and its’ application to everyday life took decades to get to the people.  I am glad that young people are hearing this information now, but for those of us who grew up with out it, it is nothing short of revolutionary. It is a realistic prescription to make you into a saint.

Fr. Mike gives a clear explanation about how all 3 of your vocations come together for you to become the saint God wants you to be.

Fr Mike Schmitz, Director of Youth and Young Adult ministry in Duluth, Minnesota is also the chaplain at the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth. You can listen to his archived and current homilies HERE or find him on Youtube with both short and long presentations.

Please know that the authors of the blog pray everyday for all parents of discerning sons and daughters to find peace and understanding.

This is just a phase… or… I don’t want another trumpet in the attic.

As a parent, how do you know if your son’s  interest in discerning a vocation is the real thing or is it just a phase?  When he is  young, it is  hard for a parent to believe this could be for real.  I always thought this kind of decision took years of struggle.  How could this happen so fast and still be real?   Is this just a whim?  An idealized fantasy?  Is this going to be like the trumpet lessons that he was so desperate for and then lost interest within a few months?  Here is a little bit of my son’s story and how I came to understand that this was a serious desire and not just a phase.

When my son first told me he thought God was calling him to the priesthood, he was  17 years old and finishing Junior year. About 3 months before this, he attended a Kairos retreat held by his catholic high school.  When he returned, I knew something was different by his attitude and behavior.

Within the first week after the retreat, the group decided to all go to 7 am mass every day before school.   Now, any catholic mother would be pleased to see a teenager do this.  For my son, something else made it significant.

Prior to this, I could hardly get him out of bed to get to school.  Normally, we had to leave home by 7 am to get to school by 740.  It was common for me to check on him at 630 am…still in bed, 645 am… still in bed.  “I’m up , I’m up”…  then still find him in bed at 7 am.

Going to 7 am mass meant that he would need to get up at least an hour earlier to get to school.   Since I was driving him, getting to school by 7 am meant that he had to be ready to leave the house by 615 am.  It was significant to see him up and ready to leave at 615 am and worried if I would make him late.

This change in behavior was surprising to me, based on his love of sleeping.  But I still thought, “This is  great!   But I know my son, how long can this possibly last?  This is a phase.”  On the weekends, my son could sleep in as late as noon or 1 pm if I was not home to get him up.   By the first weekend, I was surprised to hear that he was planning to go to morning mass on Saturday and meet some of the Kairos kids there.  That gave me pause, but I still thought,  “This is a phase.  I’m glad he is doing this, but I don’t see this lasting for any length of time.”

As the weeks wore on, he continued to go to the 7 am mass at school even when no other Kairos kids were attending.   Right after the retreat, the group would meet in the chapel after school to say the rosary or just to pray together about 2 – 3 times per week.   Gradually this petered out about 6 weeks later.  My son either stayed after school to go to the chapel, or he would get in the car and ask if we could stop at our parish church on the way home.  Although surprised, I was happy to do it.

The first time he asked, I said, “Sure, how long do you think we will be there?  I have to get dinner in the oven.”  His response was “I don’t know, it is not up to me”.   “Okay,” I thought  “I’ll just respect the time he needs and not push.”  This happened at least 3 times per week during the next few months where he would stay between 30 – 45 minutes.

At this point, my attitude was pleased, but still watchful and waiting to see how long it would last.   My son  was different is some ways, but not others.  He seemed much more pleasant and cooperative at home for a typical 17 year old boy. But he would still fight with his brother, grumble over taking out the garbage, and leave wet towels on the bathroom floor.

At this point, he did not have his driver’s license, so whenever he wanted to go to church, confession or daily mass, he had to have someone drive him.  Most of the time, it was me.  This meant that during that first summer, I went to mass with him every day, including Saturday.

Sometimes we would sit together and sometimes we wouldn’t.  After mass we would go out for coffee and talk about this idea of being a priest and applying to seminary.  This was a very special time for me to be able to listen to his concerns, fears and excitement.  If he had been able to drive, we would not have had that time together.

Prior to these events, getting his license was not a big issue.  Now he became much more aggressive trying to get enough hours of practice in so he could get his license.  Once he did, it seemed he asked to use the car to go to church frequently. I admit, I did think this was a ploy to get to drive more, but at least he was going to church.

During the summer, he would drive to confession once a week.  I have never gone to confession once a week in my life.  Again, I was impressed as he always had a better attitude when he returned.   By the end of the summer, he was going to confession on Wednesdays and Saturdays; twice in one week.  I think this was the point that I knew this was serious and not just a phase.

Please know that I am not as cynical and callous as this story may sound.  Remember, I have 2 older children who went through their own phases of interests and passions which typically gave way to the next new thing.  Certainly, my son’s increase in a devotion to his faith was not something I had ever seen before.  But the sudden onset and fervor seemed to fit the pattern of other phases I saw in his older brother and sister.  It honestly never seriously occurred to me that his behavior would only increase over time.

My take away bit of advice for other parents is this:  Look at the behavior changes:  Is he changing his priorities, his friends, his schedule, his hobbies?  How long has this been going on?  Has it been sustained or even increased over time?  For me, seeing these sustained changes  in my son over time was what helped me realize that this was not just a phase, but a serious interest in pursing further discernment.

I hope this can help other parents who are wondering if this is just a phase for a son or daughter or is it a serious desire that needs exploration.

Visiting the King in Memphis

St Mary's Memphis

Last Saturday found me in Memphis, Tennessee at the tail end of an educational conference.  My colleagues took advantage of the the opportunity to head off to tour the king’s home, Graceland. I stayed behind for the vigil Mass for the Feast of Christ the King at St. Mary’s parish.

 

From the outside, St. Mary’s is a sturdy, unassuming brick building built along familiar lines.  A cornerstone near the front door anchors the parish in 1864, the start of the post-Civil War reconstruction.  Classic column-and-arch architecture lends the compact interior the feeling a European cathedral.  Fitting, as it was built originally as a German parish.  The hand-carved wooden pews, confessional and altar give the space a sense of weight and dignity; the earthly embodiment of the heavenly ideal.

There is no denying the beauty of the church and its parishioners are justly proud of having just celebrated the parish’s sesquicentennial.  What struck me most — and moved me during my time there — was the sense of community beyond the walls of the church.

As I entered, a small group near the front prayed the Rosary.

Hail Mary, full of grace…

Their public prayers formed a sort of Greek chorus behind my own private prayer before the Mass, reminding me that I am loved by God individually and as part of a larger community.  The modest crowd that filtered in was a visible sign of the universality of the Church.  Across the world, in thousands of other parishes, hundreds of thousands of people were celebrating the same Mass with the same Liturgy and the same readings.

It was comforting and moving, sitting in the company of other believers whom I had never met and would likely never see again; yet sharing the experience of the Eucharist.  It was a moment both commonplace and profound.

And that, I think, is what I took away from the experience.  Not the homily (although it was a good homily), not the music, or the readings or even the beauty of the space.  The gift I received from the King that day was the simple truth that none of us is alone; we are all pilgrims on a journey toward heaven and there is great comfort in knowing we that none of us is alone.

God In All Things

Taken from Wikipedia, provided by Piotr Bodzek, MDIt’s been a rough couple of weeks at our house.  Cathy already hit the highlights of when things started to go south.  There’s more to the story, though, and I think it’s worth sharing.

The trip to the ER followed a week of belly pain and the onset of a fever.  In short order they recorded my vitals, poked and prodded my abdomen, gave me an IV and ran me through a CT scanner.  Everyone was caring and efficient and shortly after the scan one of my nurses said, “It’s appendicitis.  If there’s a surgeon available we’ll operate tonight.  If not, we’ll admit you and operate in the morning.”

Oh.  Okay.

Mystery solved, I guessed.  The health team was clearly feeling some urgency, but nobody seemed to be panicking.  I took that as a good sign.

Sometime around midnight a doctor came into the room, introduced himself, and started talking about the procedure.

“I take it you’re the surgeon?” I asked.

“Yes,” he laughed.  “I forgot to mention that.”

He ran through what was going to happen and said he’d see me in the OR.  On the way out, he said, “They found a tumor in your bladder.  You’ll need to see a urologist about that in the next week or two.”

Oh?  Not okay.

My father died in 2011 of a type of bladder cancer.  Hearing that I had a tumor was somewhat alarming.  (Although I have to admit that my feeling of alarm may have been attenuated a bit by the morphine they’d pushed through my IV.)

When they let me go mid-morning on Monday, the discharge instructions included a reminder to contact a urologist as quickly as possible.  The night before the surgeon had provided some referrals on the back of his business card.  Both of us were exhausted having only gotten a couple of hours’ sleep the night before, so we didn’t even think about the card again until Tuesday.

We researched the providers, selected one, and made an on-line request for an appointment.  By Wednesday we’d had no reply, so I called the Urology Clinic and they said they could get me in late on Thursday — the day before the holiday weekend.

The urologist we chose is an enthusiastic young doctor who had already reviewed the CT images by the time we got to the clinic.  He outlined the various scenarios from worst (metastasized cancer that would require extensive, aggressive treatment) to the best (low-grade non-invasive cancer).  Then he had us go to his procedure room so he could check the tumor visually.

“That’s a classic smoking-gun cancer,” he said when it showed up on the screen.  He snapped a couple of reference images and told me he had an opening on his surgical schedule for Monday morning.

Another Monday, another surgery.  (Cathy has asked me to try to break myself of the habit of having surgery on Monday mornings.)

I was in the OR less than an hour and when I emerged from the anesthetic, the urologist told me that it was a low-grade cancer with a very small footprint and that it hadn’t invaded the bladder wall.  Under the circumstances, it was the best of all possible outcomes.

The pathology report (my healthcare provider has a web portal through which I can access my own medical records) officially declares the tumor as “low-grade non-invasive” and notes that it is “negative for involvement of muscularis propria”.  Confirmation that it was the best of all possible outcomes.

In less than two weeks I went from thinking I was healthy to having had two surgeries and an official cancer diagnosis.

Increasingly, I find myself drawn to Ignatian Spirituality with its finely balanced integration of the practical and the spiritual.  In particular, I appreciate how the Ignatian approach encourages us to find God in all things.

I find myself looking back over the past two weeks to see threads of Grace woven through the experience.  Certainly the brightest of the threads is the tumor diagnosis itself.  Had it not been for the appendicitis (unusual in a man my age) there would have been no reason for me to have an abdominal CT.  I was completely asymptomatic for the cancer, so it might have been years before we found it.

Another moment of Grace was receiving the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick between the Masses last Sunday.  Our pastor is on vacation and the recently-ordained Fr. Christopher Gray is filling in.  Fr. Gray performed the long form of the sacrament and it was a beautiful and moving interlude in the midst of all of everything else that was going on.  The reading for the rite was Matthew 11:25 – 30, the same as the Gospel for the Masses last weekend.

Fr. Gray noted that we should take that a sign of providence and I smiled.  I think, perhaps, he thought I wasn’t taking him seriously, but it was quite the opposite.  I did see that as a sign; yet another in the long line of signs of Grace.  (Fr. Gray also noted that I had now received six of the seven sacraments and only lacked Holy Orders to make it a full house.)

The Grace came me through the event itself and its marvelous timing; through my wife’s care and resiliency in getting me to and from the hospital and appointments and standing beside me the whole time; through our friend Amy who urged us to go to the ER; through the care provided by the many different professionals I’ve interacted with in the last couple of weeks; and through the support and prayers of my friends, family and community.

God truly is in all things and these past two weeks I’ve had the privilege of getting a glimpse of some of the unexpected places that reveal God’s presence.

A Book Report

CBC_thumbnailEvan has gone back to DC and will shortly be headed out on a retreat.  Before he left we had a conversation about the contents of this blog.  One of his brother novices pointed out that — from the parent’s perspective — there’s stuff to write about at the beginning of seminary and stuff to write about at the end.  In between are classes and seminars and apostolates and service.  Maybe not the most riveting content.

There’s some truth to that, but I expect we’ll have a few interesting tidbits to pass along in the coming year.  And, this blog is as much about us s it is about the seminary experience.  We, too, are living through our faith journey which is a continual conversion experience.

The nice thing about conversion is that it’s an experience we all get to share with one another.  And that brings me to the topic of this post; a brief report on a great book about a personal conversion.

Catholic by Choice: Why I embraced the faith, joined the Church and embarked on the adventure of a lifetime is Richard Cole’s memoir the journey that brought him into the Catholic church.  Cole brings his poet’s sensibility to a personal saga which he describes as “…a love story about conversion and the honeymoon of faith.”

Evan met Richard while on his apostolate in Austin and gifted me with an autographed copy of the book for my fiftieth birthday.  As a convert myself, the subject matter drew me in and the beautiful, vivid language held me to the end.

Cole opens the book with a trip he took to a monastery for the purpose of rest and relaxation.  What he found, though, was a spiritual director.  She tells him, “You are being created, very deliberately, at God’s own pace. It’s like being pregnant or cooking.  If the soup takes three hours to make, you can’t rush it.  Just wait.  And while you’re waiting, you have to trust.  You can’t presume to know what God is doing.  That’s not faith; it’s a false security.  You simply have to have faith.”  Like a kid in an adventure story who discovers a fragment of a pirate’s treasure map, Cole began his search.  Along the way, he flashes back to his younger years, his struggle with alcoholism, and his desire to be significant.  Nothing he turned to seemed to satisfy his hunger, until he began to discover Christ.

His wife had been raised Catholic and had parted company with the church, so they sought compromise solutions by joining other communities.  Even as they attended an Episcopalian parish, Richard also went to daily Mass.  He read the Bible daily, hoping to find some answer and he prayed and encountered Jesus.

It really is a story of an inch-by-inch conversion.  Cole tried to be good enough for God.  A recurring theme in the book is his need to have the “right” answers and to be seen as the smart one — an impulse I’m entirely too familiar with in myself.  In the end, though, he has to let go and enter fully into relationship with God.

Near the end of the book returns to the monastery for another retreat and is frustrated that he can’t seem to figure out why he’s there and what God wants from him.  His spiritual director gives him some good advice.  “Don’t’ analyze.  Think about what’s happened to you this weekend, but don’t analyze it.  You don’t evaluate a loving relationship.  You’re simple there with the beloved.”

Cole’s honesty throughout the book is engaging and there’s nothing I can write here that will truly do it justice.  So, I won’t try.  I’ll end with one more quick quote and a relevant video.

Cole has joined the RCIA program at his parish and tells of a classmate who approaches the task of conversion like a doctoral candidates on the fast track.  She attacks the problem of faith with books and a copy of Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises.  She asks the RCIA director for the best way to pray as if there is a universal answer that will fit all people in all situations.

The director answers; “Dance with God.  Don’t read or study.  Just try dancing, literally dancing with the Lord.”

I think that might be what the producers of the BBC series Rev had in mind when they wrote this into the series:

— Dad

Path to the Priesthood

Saturday, May 24, 2014 saw the addition of a new priest to the Paulist ranks.  “Jimmy” Hsu, having completed his formation period was ordained by Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Texas.

If you dig into the archives of the Paulist Fathers’ website, you can trace Jimmy’s formation.

It starts with an article from August 2009 detailing the Mass at which Jimmy marked the transition from novice to student by making his first promises to the community.  In part, the article says:

For Yao “Jimmy” Hsu, the novitiate year was a chance to experience St. Paul, the legacy of faith left by Paulist founder Servant of God Father Isaac T. Hecker and being part of a community.

“[Making first promises] is the first formal step to being part of the Paulist community, but is another small step in the road ahead,” he said.

Fast-forwarding to September of 2013 brings us to Jimmy’s final promises, payment for service (one penny) and ordination as a transitional deacon.

Jimmy Hsu, CSP, took his final steps toward the priesthood by pledging a lifetime of service with the Paulist Fathers before his Paulist brothers, family and friends Sept. 6 in the chapel of St. Paul’s College in Washington, D.C. The next morning, Mr. Hsu was ordained to the diaconate in the Crypt Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception by Most Rev. Barry C. Knestout, auxiliary bishop of Washington, D.C.

After one year of ordained service as a deacon, and update on the Paulist Fathers’ website reflects on Jimmy’s journey and his impending ordination.

Encouraged by family and friends, Deacon Hsu was inspired by the example of the Paulists he met at the University Catholic Center while earning a philosophy degree at the University of Texas at Austin.

“My family has always been supportive of whatever I do, and they are proud of my decision [to become a priest],” Deacon Hsu said. “And the Paulists have been there to help me process my experiences in formation and become part of the community.”

The big moment came on May 24, 2014 when Jimmy Hsu was ordained.

“You will be consecrated to Christ in a very special way,” said Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of the Diocese of Austin, Texas – Deacon Hsu’s home diocese – who presided over the ordination.

“Impart to everyone the word of God you have received with such joy,” the bishop said, “so that by your example you will build up the house that is God’s Church.”

One of the things that has impressed us the most about the Paulists is the strong sense of community.  (I suspect the same is true of most orders.)  Evan has become part of a larger family and considers Jimmy a brother.

We extend our congratulations to the newly ordained Reverend Jimmy Hsu and pray that God blesses his ministry.

— Dad

Priesthood as Exemplary Masculinity

Word on Fire posted an article this week that really needs no commentary from me.  So, other than noting that the passage below caught my eye, I’ll leave it to you to read the whole thing.

In the priest’s role we find what manhood is actually all about, that being service to the Bride. In his collar of strength he gives his life day in and day out to the needs of his fellow man and the desires of his Bride, the Church. If only more men would look to this place of encouragement and follow in the footsteps of the great men who came before them, not fearing their testosterone but embracing it and letting its great fire burn within the heart of the hero we men are called to be!

Read more.