Diaconate Ordination

It’s been a wonderful Christmas for us … and I hope for you as well.

Both boys were able to come home. It’s been good to be together again as a family. We’ve had lots of meals and laughter and family time.

Evan served as the deacon for a couple of Christmas Masses and it was wonderful to see him moving farther into his vocation.

The Paulist Fathers media team has put together a nine-minute “highlights reel” from the ordination Mass in September. It was a moving event that I doubt I’ll ever forget … but it’s still nice to have the video to go back to.

— Dad (of Evan)

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My Brother the Deacon

I’m back from a whirlwind visit to Washington DC. My brother just took final promises and managed to get himself ordained as a deacon. In under a year that turns into a full on Roman Catholic Priest. My dad has already posted an overview of what happened here. You don’t need me rehashing the order of events from first promises through to his first Mass acting as a deacon. So forgive me if I skim those bits.

I never really doubted that Evan would continue down his path. It suits him fairly well, gives him a good and fulfilling life, and most of the other Paulists seem nice enough. I can’t speak for all of them as I haven’t met all of them. Anyways from the time he told me over Christmas break that he was changing his major to Philosophy with a minor in religious studies (to which my response, incidentally, was “Oh great my brother’s going to be a priest”), I figured he was set for life.

CSP_logo[1]That said, sure or not, it seemed like a fun idea to lay a side bet. So about four years ago I made a promise to Evan. If and when he took final promises I would get a tattoo of the (then current) Paulist Fathers logo. Now I fully intended to keep to this promise. But I had briefly forgotten it in the rush of travelling from one coast to another and prepping for a con the next week. So it came as something of a surprise to me when the first thing he said to me after his Final Promises Mass–literally the first thing–was “you owe me a tattoo”. To which I could only respond that he was right.

So I guess I need to find an artist, and scrounge up the money. There is also a small debate as to where to put the tattoo. He requested it be somewhere I could show off by rolling up a sleeve. I’ll figure something out.

Other than that everything was a massive blur of receptions, family, Mass, more Mass, another reception and sneaking off to do homework when I could. I am not as overwhelmed as my parents are. Maybe it hasn’t sunk in but it doesn’t feel like much changed. He made this choice years ago. Yes now there are official titles, duties, responsibilities and abilities to go with it but it’s just another step on the path. He’s still my brother, he’s still brother to all the Paulists and he’s still doing that thing he set out to do back in college. Good for him.

A few small notes about proceedings.

First the Ordination Mass: the one bit he got to control was who in his party would help carry the gifts. Usually the choice is one’s mother but he picked me. Apparently in equal measure because I am his one and only biological brother and because between the lack of a tie, long hair and generally scruffy appearance even in formal attire I helped to embody the Paulist rebellious streak. Works for me.

Secondly, gift giving. He wanted various texts of the forms, prayers, rituals and so on for various sacraments. The parents got him Marriage, his godmother sent Baptism, so it fell to me to provide for funerals. I’m gothic enough to pull it off. When I get back to the coast I will also be sending a small secular gift. After all he may have devoted his life to God but that doesn’t exactly take every second of his time. Oh and the Mission Crucifix he got is awesome. Never seen one with a skull and bones on it before.

–Brother of Evan

 

 

The Patron Saint of Seminarian Moms

296px-gerbrand_van_den_eeckhout_-_anna_toont_haar_zoon_samuc3abl_aan_de_priester_eliThe first reading for today (December 22, 2106 – Thursday the fourth week of Advent) is from first Samuel (1 Samuel 1:24-28) and deals with Hannah bringing three year old Samuel to the Temple and leaving him there. She had promised the priest that if she had a son, she would dedicate the child to the Lord and she held to her part of the bargain.

When my son Evan entered his novitiate, these were the first readings I heard upon going to Mass. Right then and there, Hannah became my new favorite saint. I admired her strength in giving her child over to what she knew was right. The reading don’t say how she felt on leaving Samuel behind but I imagine there were tears and possibly even regrets but she still followed through. (Officially Hannah is the patron of childless wives and infertile women, but there doesn’t seem to be a patron for seminarian moms so I’ve adopted her.)

How often in both my children’s lives I have wished to keep them close so I could protect them. Every mother feels that mix of joy and sadness when their child moves away and leaves their protection. For most children, they eventually form a bond with one special person who enters their life and is there to help them. For my son, that isn’t an option and I fear him having no one to help him.

This is of course not true. Besides the counsel and wisdom of the brothers within his order (for a secular priest it would be the formation group and his peers), he has the Holy Spirit to guide him and be his counsel. This does not mean I stop worrying about him, or wanting to know he is safe, but I remind myself that I must give him fully to God.

This year my husband and I approach our first Christmas without him home with the family. While we grieve his absence during the holidays, we are lifted up but the words of Mary “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, My spirit rejoices in God my Savior” and realize our son is in good hands.

A Merry Christmas to you all and a Blessed New Year.

— Mom of Evan

The Miracle of Priesthood

prayer-card-jesus-prayer-for-vocations

 

 

As it turns out, today (April 17,2016) is the World Day of Prayer for Vocations.

Over at Aleteia.org Deacon Greg Kandra made vocations the focus of his homily.  He leads off with a quote from a letter that he received from a friend in Philadelphia:

“This morning we received devastating news at Mass. Our beloved Augustinian pastor has been diagnosed with liver cancer that has spread to his lungs. The priest who told us said that he was visiting him yesterday when a cousin came into the hospital room and told him that they are all praying for a miracle. His response was, ‘I have already received a miracle. I am a priest.’”

This is probably the best – and most honest – answer to those who have an objection to a man entering the priesthood.  Ordination is an extraordinary event and being allowed to share in the priesthood of Christ in a special way is, indeed, a miracle.

Deacon Greg speaks with great reverence and love about his own call and ordination as a permanent deacon and talks of it as an on-going source of grace and blessing in his life:

Surveys tell us again and again that clergy and religious report among the greatest job satisfaction in the world.

That’s because it’s not a job. It’s a vocation.

As that priest in Philadelphia knew: it is, in fact, a miracle.

Finally, he suggests ways of introducing young men to the idea of the priesthood.  The best advice he gives is that you should ask God if you (or someone you know) is called.  He points to Pope Francis who advises young people to “Ask Jesus what he wants and be brave!

In an address to seminarians in Rome this week, Pope Francis outlined the appropriate way to respond to God’s call — to be all in and not “half-way” priests.

“We respond to this vocation in the same way as the Virgin Mary does to the angel: “How is this possible?” Becoming “good shepherds” in the image of Jesus “is something very great and we are so small.”

“Yes, it is true, it is too great; but it is not our work! It is the work of the Holy Spirit, with our collaboration,” Francis said in his address to the College, adding spontaneous comments here and there to his prepared speech.

“It is about humbly giving oneself, like clay that is to be moulded, letting God the potter work the clay with fire and water, with the Word and the Holy Spirit.”

It is true that “at the beginning intentions are not completely righteous, and it is hard for them to be so. All of us have had moments when our intentions were not completely righteous but in time this changes with everyday conversion. Think of the apostles! Think of James and John. One of them wanted to be prime minister and the other a minister of the economy because it was a more important role. The apostles’ mind was elsewhere but the Lord patiently corrected their intention and in the end the intention of their preaching and martyrdom was incredibly righteous.”

So, on this World Day of Prayer for Vocations, take a moment to ask God to call those whom he chooses to the priesthood and offer to be the bearer of that message if you can.

Objection  Series:  “How could this happen in our family?  We aren’t the model Catholic family!”

The first Sunday after Christmas celebrates the feast of the Holy Family. This is one of my favorite feasts of the church because it always gives me hope that our family can be better.  When you think about it, it really is amazing that Jesus chose to be  born into a poor family with all the struggles of living in a small village under Roman rule.  Even today, a family can relate to the struggles surrounding Jesus’s birth and life before his public ministry.

Holy Family rectangle

Now you can look at the Holy Family and say, “Well, Jesus was perfect, Mary never sinned and Joseph must have been the perfect husband.” Our families are not perfect and will never be perfect.  But the Holy Family gives us a model of the ideal in family life and marriage.  With the Holy Family, we see how the family is the place to learn to love, serve, respect and support each other in order to take it out to serve the world.

 

So if there are no perfect families, where do seminarians come from?  Not from under a rock, but from families, just like yours and mine. They are born into and grow up in couple silent
typical families with flawed parents, strained marriages, periods of
unemployment, relatives with drug and alcohol addiction and sick grandparents.  These families fight and argue over the remote, among other things, and whose turn it is to take out the garbage.

 

Black family cookoutThey celebrate holidays and birthdays and have cook outs in the summer.
Parents work to provide what they feel is the best they can afford for their children.  Older children hand down clothes to younger siblings and want the latest electronic device because “everyone has one.”

 

Vacations are planned and cancelled at the last minute.   Parents try to manage the family finances and then the refrigerator breaks down.  Doors get slammed and harsh words are exchanged.  Apologies are either generously offered or coaxed out of the offender.   Misunderstandings and outright lies, broken promises and letting each other down happen with varying degrees of frequency over the years.

 

Teenagers break curfew, get into to trouble at school and fall in and out of man injury-accident
love before  graduating from high school. More trouble ensues in college with learning money management, underage drinking, minor car accidents and repeating college courses more than once to pass.  Now the fighting is about using the car, whose turn it is to mow the lawn and still taking out the garbage.  Teens and young adults at home are prodded to get to Sunday mass and reminded when confessions are scheduled even though they’ve been at the same time for the last 15 years.

 

These families have relatives who don’t talk to each other and others who
strained marriagehave not had contact for 20 years.  There have been sudden deaths and unexpected pregnancies in and out of  marriage, divorces and broken engagements.  Some have not been to church in 15 years and others are verbally hypercritical of the Church and certain teachings.

 

Does any part of this sound like your family?  Well, most of these troubles have happened in our family over the years.  That’s why the example of the Holy Family gives hope to keep moving forward.

 

So they next time you say that seminarians or priests don’t know what it is like to live in the real world, just remember that they grew up in a family with all the problems and stresses, joys and sorrows this world provides.

Family with adult sons

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

 

 

 

 

Objection Series: Celibacy or “He’ll never have his own children!”

Letting  Go

When you look back, parenting feels like a long series of letting go of your school_bus_image
child.  The first day of school is a day of pride and tears for parents. As  the years go by, your child starts to take bigger, more serious steps away: getting a driver’s license, starting to date, working a summer job.  Leaving for college feels like the last nail in the coffin when you finally say that last good bye, give that last hug and  wipe that last tear away.

Even when they come home for vacation, their lives are not at home, but with their friends and activities at college.  Every one of these acts of letting go are a normal part of a child’s growth and maturation.  These milestones are happy but bittersweet for a parent.
large-lego-blocks

It can take years to realize that your child is not your own, they are given to you for only a  short time. It just doesn’t feel like that when you are up to your ears in diapers and  Lego’s trying to get through the afternoon.

Control

At birth, you start with being responsible for meeting their every need: physical,  emotional, psychological. Between birth and age 5, parenting is exhausting, but you can pretty much  direct their lives, their friends and their activities.   Once they take those first steps away: going off to school, choosing their own friends, you come to the realization that you can’t control every part of their lives.  With every passing year, the stakes only get higher as they take bigger steps away until one day you realize: they are not yours to hold onto forever.
mom and teen sonThey have been given to you to nurture, love, educate until you send them on their way.  This is a difficult realization for any parent and can be much harder for some parents than others.  Thankfully, the Father has designed this so that we have to learn to let go little by little over many years.  Eventually, you  realize, it takes a lot more love to let go than to hold on.

Are you worried that if your son becomes a priest, he”ll miss out on all the joys of being a parent? Below is an exert from a post by a Catholic mom on Ignitum Today who addresses this very question.

Celibates Make Great Parents                          6/02/2014

by Lauren Meyers

There are a few things that I do every day. I brush my teeth. I drink a cup, of coffee… and I kiss and pinch the cheeks of my two sons. As most parents would testify, I love my children. I love their laughs, their hugs. I love seeing them learn and watching them grow. I cherish every day with them, and I wonder how I ever lived without them. I want to take them in my arms and never let them go.

It’s times when I think about this joy that I wonder about those priests, religious, and other members of the Church who have taken a vow of celibacy. I don’t mean to make assumptions or to judge, but I wonder if it’s lonely. I wonder if they feel regret. I wonder if they feel that they are missing out by not being parents.

I get my answer when my four-year-old son opens up a new toy from his grandparents. He immediately says, “I need to show Father Kevin!” His first desire is to share the pride and joy of his new dinosaur with our parish priest. I get my answer when we are at the mall. My two-year-old sees a sister in a habit and, without ever having seen her, yells out, “Mary!” He is instantly comfortable and happy in her presence, and smiles as he reaches out his hands to her. I get my answer when another parish priest wags a finger with a smile and reminds my son not to run near the front steps of the rectory. He returns the smile and walks back to the vestibule.

I get my answer: They are parents. That’s not to say that they are parents in the same way that a man or woman who changes diapers in the middle of the night, packs lunch boxes, or spends countless hours driving to practices and recitals is a parent. These men and women, though, love immensely. They nurture, teach, and admonish. They pray for and provide guidance for countless children, youth, and adults. They care for others in any way that is needed. They are called to love in ways that are motherly and fatherly. Just like any parent, their presence is irreplaceable.

Those who are called to celibacy are not exempt from parenthood, and in some ways make the greatest parents. They are, perhaps, best equipped to be parents because they are conscious of a fact that I know I overlook all the time:

My children are not my own. My children do not exist for the sake of my personal fulfillment. Their lives are not meant to serve my own desires. My call as a parent is to protect and nurture a soul which belongs to God, so that soul might remain in the presence of God for all eternity. My vocation is to love immensely and to let go with trust.

Those who are celibate display true love and abandon. They love and are loved by God so dearly, and have abandoned themselves with complete trust in God’s will. Who better to help me return my children to God than those who have given themselves to God in such an intense way? Who better to remind me of my call to love with abandon and to return to the Lord every gift I have been given, including my children? I hope, in my life, to express true gratitude for those celibates who have vowed to love all the sons and daughters of the Church as their mothers and fathers. I hope to learn from them how to be a great parent.

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

Advice for Discerners — And A Thought for Parents

One of the blogs that I follow regularly is “Co-Author Your Life With God“.  The author, Sr. Marie Paul Curley, describes the blog’s purpose this way:

…interactive, accessible exploration about discernment as a spiritual art that helps us the everyday Catholic discover and live God’s will.

It’s worth remembering that just as all of us have a vocation, all of us have an obligation to discern God’s will for our lives.  And discernment is an on-going process.  Sr. Marie’s posts give great insight into discernment in general and, at times, into religious discernment specifically.  Her storytelling approach resonates with me and I always look forward to what she has to share.

Today she posted about dealing with disapproval from your family.  The whole piece is worth reading, but I found her conclusion to be particularly powerful.

Our vocation is a sacred calling that is too important to let the resistance or disapproval of family and friends stand in the way. Countless priests, brothers, and sisters had to go against their parents wishes to follow their vocation. (The family of Saint Thomas Aquinas’s family kidnapped and imprisoned him to prevent him from following his vocation in the Dominican Order.) This is not an easy path to walk, but if we possess sufficient maturity and have discerned well, it is more important to follow God’s call than to give in to our family’s opinions. Jesus himself called his disciples to leave their parents and families behind to follow him.

Thinking about this in light of Pam’s recent post from a mom who struggled with her son’s vocation, it occurred to me that the parents of a discerner have a difficult task.  We have to cooperate with God’s grace, without trying to force it one way or another.  We have to create a space within ourselves — and within our relationship with our child — that will permit everyone involved an inner freedom.

This involves an abandonment of self; a great letting-go which allows God to grab the wheel and steer our lives.

Fortunately, we have a great model in Mary.  Her consent to God’s plan, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word”, is nothing less than willing assent to abandon herself to God’s will.

May we all have the grace to follow her example.

We must have done something right.

When I read blogs of parents encouraging vocations in their children, I can’t help but feel a little inadequate.  These blogs have many wonderful ideas I wish we had done when our children were younger.  For example, I wish we have said    “What do you think God wants you to be?” instead of “What do you want to be?”

As parents,  the list of things we did wrong is much longer than the things we did right. So it is easier to share this short list of things that I can see now had a positive impact in the long run.

I know a religious vocation does not come from anything overt that parents did or didn’t do, but from the Holy Spirit.  With the youngest in seminary, the other 2 appear to have grown into responsible, compassionate and generous young adults.  So, I can’t help but think, “We must have done something right.”   Looking back, I have come up with a list of things that in the long run seems to have had a positive impact.

Number one has to be attending catholic schools.
I know many vocations come from those who attended public schools.  But, after putting 3 children catholic school kidsthrough 12 years of catholic education I can’t help but reflect on all the positive benefits not available in public schools.

The example of the sisters, priests and lay teachers was a powerful factor as well as the transmission of our values and beliefs.  But the other factor is related to the cost and sacrifice related to attending catholic school.  Here are a few examples:

They saw our family sacrifice to pay for catholic education.  When they would complain about not going on a fancy vacation or getting a new car, we would remind them that we have decided to spend our money differently: sending them to catholic school.

2kids in catholic uniforms

Buying school uniforms every year was always difficult. We utilized the donated uniforms at grade school and high school while donating what they had outgrown.  Looking back, I realize the kids never complained.  It was just accepted that this was a way to help with the expenses of a catholic education.

nun teaching boy

We never allowed any disrespect or criticism of priests, religious sisters or any authority figure in their life. If a child made a negative comment in this regard, it was addressed immediately.

3 alter servers

Weekly mass  This is a no brain-er in our home. Even on vacation, we would plan where we would be able to go to Sunday mass.

Supporting and encouraging participating as altar servers and in youth group.

Actively participating in the life of the parish. I can honestly say we did not do this to specifically “encourage vocations.”  At best, we thought it was part of showing them how to be a responsible adult.

boy shoveling snow

Encouraging service to others
They were expected to shovel snow for their grandfather & other elderly neighbors and refuse money.  They helped to gather and deliver donations  to those less fortunate at Goodwill, donating to homeless shelters and pro-life baby showers.

1381656446_Grieving-girl-with-motherUsing a death in the family as a way to share more deeply in the application of our faith.
Our children lost a beloved grandfather suddenly. We shared our sorrow and grief with them, but communicated that we were happy he was in heaven with God.

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

Objection Series: Where did he get this idea? We aren’t even that religious!

If you have read some of the parent stories on this blog, you have seen that a vocation does not have to come from the super catholic families with 12 children who pray the rosary every night.  Everyday, parents try to do the best they can to raise their family saying gradechildren in the faith.  Some days we succeed and some days we fail. Looking back on how we raised our children, it seems the list of things we did wrong is much longer than the things we did right.  Does this sound like your parenting experience?  If so, you may be asking yourself,  “How did this happen in our family?”

Here is a post from a website from the Vocations Office in Newark NJ called New Priest NJ.  There is a category of blog posts labelled “Parents” on the lower right side of the page.  This post talks about how the thought of a vocation can grow in a person’s mind and heart and how it needs to be explored.  Read this excerpt to see how this young man answered his call to discernment.

“Just a Thought”         posted  May 22, 2015

It starts with a thought. It develops with a question. The answer leads to fulfillment.

Many men who have grown up in the Church have, at one point or another, considered the priesthood. Even if it altar boyswas a fleeting moment while serving as an Altar boy or on a Youth retreat, men in the Church consider the priesthood. As these men witness the lives of their parish priests, oftentimes they think, “I wonder what made him want to be a priest…Could I do that?” Unfortunately, for many men, the discernment process ends with that one thought. It is either quickly disregarded or not encouraged enough to develop or bear fruit.

As with any way of life, when we see a good or positive role model, we are drawn to be like that person.

Part of desiring to be like that person naturally brings about the question, HOW are they like that? When we are blessed to have good, holy men in our parishes, it can lead to developing good and holy men discerning God’s fathermike2_outwill in their lives. Growing up, I saw the hardworking priests in my parish that made me feel welcome and that I mattered. I saw how happy they were as priests-administering the sacraments, leading ministry groups, running pilgrimages, and much more. They were kind, thoughtful, faithful, and dedicated to the people of the parish. Their words spoke to my heart and I often thought that I could be happy living a life like that.
It is very common for that thought to enter the head of men with similar experiences. It is that very thought that begins discernment in a man’s life. The thought must be developed and nurtured. It must become a question—“Is Jesus calling me to be one of His priests?”

The question is nurtured through prayer and discernment. For some this question leads them to study and enter into formation in a Seminary. For others this question is considered while working or studying full time.
young man praying in natureEventually, when he asks the question sincerely and is completely open to receiving the answer, the Lord responds. For some the answer is YES, for others the answer is NO. For me, the answer was no, but I can now live out my vocation to married life with confidence that I laid it all on the table—I have no regrets—and I am a better husband and father because I allowed that thought to become a question and the answer brought about fulfillment in my life.

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

Dinner with a Side of Answers

meat-569073_320Want to know what seminary is like?  Ask someone who’s been there.  Ask a priest.

Cathy and I stumbled into this accidentally a few months after Evan told us he was in discernment with the Paulists.  Our pastor, Fr. Clarence, had invited Fr. James DiLuzio, CSP to come to the parish to present the Luke Live mission.  A couple of weeks before the mission date, the parish office put out a call for people willing to feed Fr. DiLuzio a meal.  If circumstances had been different, we might have glanced past the notice and hoped that somebody stepped up to help out.

As it was (and since Fr. DiLuzio is a Paulist) we jumped on the opportunity and scheduled a lunch and a dinner with him.  The lunch was Saturday at noon, so Evan came down to join us.  At lunch we talked about the seminary, the discernment process, and life as a priest.  We continued the conversation over dinner a couple of nights later.  It set our minds at ease on many of the questions we’d been asking.

Since then, we’ve taken advantage of every opportunity to dine with visiting priests.  We’ve talked Star Trek with a geek priest, interfaith politics with a priest who worked at the Vatican for ten years, genealogy with a priest who has traced his family back to the Mayflower, life in the Holy Land with a Franciscan, formation with a man who attended minor seminary (high school seminary), travel with a retired priest from California and seminary with several.  We’re learned about their backgrounds, how they were called to the priesthood and what their formation was like.

To a man, they’ve all been good company and we’ve enjoyed our time with them.  Getting to know them has given us insight into Evan’s journey and let us see the human side of the priesthood.  Those informal conversations have been a real blessing for us and I imagine they’d be a blessing for you as well.

So…next time you have a visiting priest in your parish, offer to take them to dinner.  Oh, and don’t forget your pastor as well.  You’ll be surprised at what you can learn from him.

— Dad (Evan)

P.S.

We took the Franciscan — in full habit — to a lovely restaurant with outdoor seating.  The habit got all of the looks.  In Utah (where the LDS church makes up the majority of the population) you just don’t see men in habits that often.

— D

First Promises Mass 2014

Fr. Eric Andrews delivers encouraging words to the novices during his homily at the First Promises Mass.Last weekend we made our first visit to St. Paul’s College in Washington, DC.  Taking advantage of a Utah state holiday, we left early Thursday morning and returned on Sunday.  The occasion was the 2014 First Promises Mass.

As I understand it (and if I get this wrong, please let me know and I’ll correct myself) the novice year is explicitly a time of discernment — both for the candidate and for the community.  As the end of the year approached, all four of this year’s novices were evaluated and a decision was made about their suitability for the community and their readiness to continue their formation.  It is also the point at which the novices become full members of the society and earn the privilege of putting CSP (Congregation of St. Paul) after their names.

All four of this year’s novices were invited to make their first promises.  This involves promising to be faithful to the Paulist Constitution and to fully engage in the community for the coming year.  (Aside: While they are students, the promises are renewed each year up to the point that these men are ordained as Transitional Deacons.)

This year's novices promising to obey the Paulist Constitution and professing their belief that they are called to be missionaries.Fr. Eric Andrews, the newly elected president of the Paulists, traveled to DC to celebrate the Mass and to receive the promises from the students.  Director of Novices, Fr. Rich Colgan, con-celebrated the Mass.

It is difficult to capture the Mass using the written word.

 

There are moments that stand out strongly in my memory.

In his homily, it was clear that Fr. Andrews knew each of the novices and could speak to the experiences they’d had during the last year — both inside the community and out.  Working from the readings (the 17th week in Ordinary Time Year A) he wove the story of Solomon asking for wisdom with Pauls’ firm belief that we are called according to God’s purpose with the parable of the Pearl of Great Price.  Each of the readings reinforced the idea that following God’s call is worth the cost.  (Aside: Evan and the other novices asked me to serve as one of the lectors for the Mass and I was honored and humbled to be involved.)

As always, the promises took place after the Liturgy of the Word and before the Liturgy of the Eucharist; the same place you’d find a Wedding or Baptism.  The novices stood, enunciated their names and joined their voices in making their promises.  (They had crib notes to work from to ensure they got the words right.)

The four moms presenting the gifts to Fr. Andrews.To her great surprise, Cathy found herself weeping when Evan took his promises and then signed the book recording the event.  I’ll have to admit it was a more powerful moment than I had expected.  (Note to self: bring tissues for future significant liturgical events.)

When it came time for the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the four mothers were asked to bring up the gifts.  This  was especially powerful.  It spoke to the fact that these women had made gifts of their sons to God — much like Hannah giving Samuel to God.  For me, this was a profound sign of their faith in God.

After the Mass, there was a reception in the common room with finger foods and good company. Of course the families of the novices were present including parents, siblings and more distant relations; our own contingent consisted Cathy, Ian and I as well as Cathy’s parents and sister from Erie.  The priests from St. Paul’s college were in attendance as were the externs — priests who are living at St. Paul’s while they work on their studies at the nearby CUA.  Although the students are all away on summer assignments, many of them returned for the Mass.  That gave us the opportunity to meet Stuart Wilson-Smith, Michael Hennessy and Matt Berrios (who was the cantor for the Mass — he has an awesome voice and an epic beard).  We also got to meet several of the Paulist Fathers including Fr. Frank DeSiano, Fr. Charlie Donahue (who was very kind and supportive when he talked to Cathy and shared his vocation story), and Fr. Steven Bell (Busted Halo and shortly to be re-assigned to Ohio).  We met so many people it was hard to keep track of them all and I apologize if I missed anyone.

Not remembering all of them is a shame because what we found was an incredible community filled with light and the joy of a shared mission.  As guests of the house, we were able to participate in the life of the community by attending the Friday morning prayers and Mass and by taking our meals with the community.  (Aside: The cooking staff at St. Paul’s college does an incredible job of providing great meals for all who live there.)  Everyone we met was genuinely welcoming and we had some fascinating conversations over our meals.

Likewise, it was great to meet the other novices and their parents; to hear about their spiritual journeys and how their experiences were similar to our own.  It made me wish we lived in a more Catholic part of the country so that we might be able to form some sort of parents’ group for vocations.

We also managed to fit in a few tourist-y things; the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, the monuments of the National Mall, the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America, and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

All of these were wonderful moments during the trip, but what I most remember is the joy of having our family together to celebrate this important moment in Evan’s formation journey.

Evan, Cathy, Kevin and Ian at St. Pauls' college after the First Promises Mass, July 26, 2014.

— Dad

Still the Father

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Last Sunday I was sitting at the computer when my phone rang.

It was Evan.  Unusual for him to call on a Sunday.

“Hi,” I said.  “What’s up?”

“I need an exit.”

“Huh?”

“I’m lost in DC and need help getting back to the college.”

“Ah…where are you?”

“Ummm…Ord and…hang on…there’s a cross street coming up…4th.”

“Okay…stand by…”  I called up Google maps and felt a little like an air traffic controller in one of those disaster movies.  Here I was, thousands of miles away, guiding Evan in with my voice.  “Got you.  Tell me the next cross street.”

“Okay.  Here is comes…45the Place.”

“Bingo.  You’re headed west.”  I asked Google for directions to St. Paul’s college and it obligingly tossed up a cheerful blue line tracing a path across the city.”

“Okay.  I can guide you in from here.”

So I stayed on the line, giving directions, tweaking the route when real-world road conditions didn’t match my tidy-bird’s eye view, and easing Evan back home.  While he drove, he filled me in on just how he’d come to be in an unfamiliar part of the city.

As part of his training, he is encouraged to attend other churches.  In his novice year he’s attended services in churches where English is never spoken, he’s taken some of his classmates to a Mormon ward meeting, and he’s developed a particular fondness for the spirituality of the Eastern Rite churches.  This past Sunday he went to a Ruthenian church.  Like many of the Easter Rite churches, it is considered to be in full communion with Rome.  The rites are different, though, from those you’d find in the average Roman Catholic church in the U.S.

Evan enjoyed his visit, but got turned around on the way out and needed a little help finding his way.

Which reminded me that — even a continent away — I’m still the Dad.

Both of my sons still seek my advice on matters small and large.  (They don’t always take my advice — that’s the beauty of asking for advice.  Just because somebody gives it to you, you don’t have to accept it.)  While he was an undergraduate, Evan frequently asked me to review his papers and make suggestions as I saw fit.  Ian has sought my advice on school projects, his novels and various job situations.  And, at various times, I’ve served as their personal OnStar.

(Aside: I don’t blame Evan for getting lost.  Out here where Evan grew up, the cities are laid out in nice, square grids.  Addresses tend to be things like 550 East 300 South.  If you know the city and the E/W and N/S coordinates, it’s almost impossible to get lost.  Especially if you know that the Wasatch Mountain range lies to the east.  If your destination is to the east, drive toward the mountains.  South?  Keep the mountains on your left side.  By contrast, the roads of Washington DC appear to have been laid out after a night of heavy drinking by contractors who were unclear on the concept of “the shortest distance between two points.”  Of course, that could just be my western bias.)

All of which got me thinking about my relationship with God.  You know, God the Father?

(To be clear — and to avoid giving offense — I’m not suggesting that I’m God or even particularly God-like.  The situation just gave me pause to think.)

When we call out to God for help, it’s usually because we’re lost somewhere.  We’ve gotten stuck or confused or overwhelmed and need to find a way back home.  And God is still the Father.  Still there.  Waiting to give us guidance and advice.

Even though I don’t follow that advice as often (or as closely) as I should, I still find the fact of God’s presence comforting.

— Dad

P.S.

For a more elegant exploration of this idea, I suggest you click over to the Ignatian Spirituality blog.

Back from the Desert

There’s a delightful bit in Pixar’s “Up” in which Russell (the eternally optimistic scout) is trying to assemble a tent.

Tents are hard!

The scene ends with the tent sailing over the rain-soaked horizon with Russell dejectedly declaring, “Tents are hard.”

A few years back Cathy and I adopted that as a family meme during Lent.  Whenever our Lenten sacrifices seemed particularly difficult, we’d look at each other and say, “Lent is hard.”

This Lent turned out to be unexpectedly difficult.  Not that I’m complaining, mind you.  It just wasn’t the Lent we anticipated.  But, I guess, that might have been the point.

Of course we were busy with the formation classes we were teaching and the Catechist Formation course we were taking.  For me, spring is always a busy time at work as we wrap up one fiscal year and plan for the next.

That was expected.

Cathy’s accident on St. Patrick’s Day was something of a surprise.

She fell and broke her right arm.

Too much merriment?  Nope.  She was at work and tripped on the sidewalk while crossing between two buildings.  She’d been holding an empty box and had her hand curled under.  When she fell, she landed on the back of her right wrist.  I’m not medically trained, but if I understood the doctor, the official diagnosis was that she “crunched the bone up, but good.”

Good enough, anyway.  The next day she had surgery to put in a T-shaped bit of titanium and seven screws.  (Oddly, when you compare broken arm stories with people, they want to know exactly how many screws you got.  Perhaps there’s some secret club you can join when you have enough screws in your bones.)

She was out of work for the better part of two months.  She’s had casts and braces and physical therapy appointments and doctor’s visits. Her medical clearance was granted this past Wednesday and she’s pleased to be back on the job — even if she’s discovering some unexpected limitations.  (Who knew staplers required so much force to operate?)

Cathy was a trooper and did well.  Still, we had to shift some of the household responsibilities and some things had to go by the wayside (including the blog) while we sorted things out.

Evan’ sojourn in Austin was spirit-filled and he came back with a better idea of how parish life looks from the priest’s point of view.  He also had a chance to visit old friends, new friends and distant relatives whilst in the weeks leading up to Easter.

And, as part of my Lent, I designed a new website.

It felt, in many ways, like a sojourn in the desert.  Not what we had expected; and more harsh than we anticipated.

There’s power in the desert imagery, though.  Cathy and I love the desert wastelands of southern Utah; the intimidating rock formations, deep canyons, and surprisingly stubborn life.  The desert is a hard place, but that hardness makes the life there all the more sweet.  Like grace born of suffering.

Easter was lovely, though.  The Vigil Mass was beautiful and moving as always.  Cathy has been restored and life is settling back into something resembling routine.  In the end, it was worth the journey, but I think the phrase “Lent is hard” may mean something a bit different to us from now on.

— Dad

Coffee, Catechism and a Black Apron

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Our oldest son, Ian, works as a Starbucks barista and trained as a Coffee Master.

“Coffee Master?” you ask. “What’s that?”

Coffee Masters are the Starbucks equivalent of the geniuses in the Apple Stores.  They’re the ones who know exactly what makes a blonde roast different from a dark roast and why sun dried Sumatra tastes so much better than it’s more mundane cousins.  They’re distinguished from other Starbucks partners with a black apron.  The Starbucks Melody blog explains it this way:

If you are a customer, and you have a question about coffee, look for the Starbucks baristas in black aprons:  They can talk to you about the four fundamentals of great coffee (water, proportion, grind, freshness), or if you want a low acidity coffee, a black apron Starbucks barista might steer you in the direction of Italian Roast, or if you want to try something fun and new as an espresso shot, again the barista can help answer those questions.  (The new Yirgacheffe works beautifully as a shot of espresso!).

Earning the apron was no easy task and, along the way, Ian taught me a lot about coffee.  I learned (for example) that coffee is the world’s second most traded commodity.  (Oil takes the top spot.)  I also learned to identify the various component flavors of individual blends and to articulate what I like and dislike about each.

P2020471As part of the training, Ian hosted a series of coffee tastings in his store.  These involved selecting and pairing different coffees with different foods to explore the ways in which flavors interact and strengthen one another.  In one surprising match, Ian paired a blonde roast (which I find a bit bitter) with some smoked gouda.  To my delighted, the cheese smoothed out the coffee and improved the flavor of both.

I’ve also learned to sound a bit snobbish when I say (in all sincerity) that the new Ethiopia blend has a smooth flavor that lingers on the back of the the tongue and has a chocolaty aftertaste.

I bring all of this up for three reasons;

1) I’m proud of Ian and how hard he worked to earn this distinction

2) It reminds me that the created world is good and God meant for us to enjoy it

3) There’s a link between this and the importance of catechesis

Really.

I’ve been a fan of coffee for since I took up the habit in college more than a quarter century ago.  And, for most of that time, I drank whatever was available.  I’d occasionally say something like, “That was a good cup of coffee.”  Except, I only said that because it tasted good to me.

I had no real understanding of coffee.  No appreciation for what it took to go from raw coffee cherries (they’re not really beans, I learned) to the dark liquid in my cup.  The language to describe the coffee in any meaningful way — to be able to communicate with others what I was experiencing — was beyond me.

Once I started to learn, though, a whole new universe of appreciation opened up for me.  The coffee hadn’t changed, I had.

I think the same is true for catechesis.  Cathy and I have been taking a catechist preparation course this year based on the Echoes of Faith series.  At the start, I assumed that teaching religious education was more-or-less like teaching any other subject.  It was about getting the students to understand the content.  They needed to be able to answer the questions appropriately and demonstrate some knowledge of the material.

As the class goes on, I’m rethinking that.  Certainly the knowledge is important.  Understanding is the basis of appreciation.  More importantly, though, my students need to have the experience that comes of out that knowledge.  If Ian had simply described different roast profiles to me, I’d still be stuck at the “Gee, that’s good coffee” stage of development.  By coupling the knowledge with the experience of tasting and giving me the opportunity to articulate what I was experiencing, Ian helped me to expand my appreciation of coffee.

That’s not to say that the knowledge is unimportant, but it’s too shallow a way to share the Faith.  The Catholic church isn’t a series of rules or historical anecdotes.  It is a living faith which should be experienced and integrated into daily life.  It is a way of being which fundamentally alters the believer.  Perhaps we’ve overlooked that in the past.

My “coffee formation” (if I can use that phrase respectfully) has brought me to a place of deeper understanding of and appreciation for coffee.  Bad coffee (which is sadly abundant in Utah) has become nearly intolerable and I’m willing to expend time, energy and money to get good coffee.  Imagine what would happen if our catechism programs made people turn away from lukewarm faith and made them willing to work hard at what they believe.

— Dad