Saturday, September 28
Keeping the faith for nearly a millenium
Yesterday, Cardinal George was here at the seminary to celebrate the Jubilee of the Ordination Class of 1953. It was a beautiful liturgy. The Cardinal spoke about the seasons of life, underscoring that yesterday was a time for giving thanks to these men for their faithful service to the Church of the Archdiocese of Chicago for nearly fifty years.
Fifty years! There were nineteen priests in attendance, so that means the honorees have been living in persona Christi for nearly a thousand years.
The Jubilarians, some of them hobbling, stood around the Cardinal to concelebrate the Mass, joining themselves with their bishop around the One Sacrifice that unites them all with the High Priest, Jesus Christ, and the Church they have served for fifty years. (I wonder if their fifty years haven't been among the most difficult in modern times).
Anyway, I blogged yesterday about how grateful I am to be Catholic. I suppose I should have said "Catholic again" because I am what some call a "revert" to the faith. (Maybe I'll blog about that sometime in the future.) As I observed those nineteen priests yesterday, I was humbled by their witness of service and fidelity to Christ and the Church.
And I was grateful. But not just for them. I'm also grateful to all of you who remained in the Church, keeping the faith, while I wandered away like the Prodigal. Though it hardly seems enough, I need to tell them and all of you, thanks!
Friday, September 27
Crucifixes, Icons, and the Little Flower
On Wednesday, a good friend of mine came to visit me at the seminary. He is former Youth Pastor of the evangelical Protestant church I had attended. Currently, he runs a youth ministry in rural Michigan, and he does so with talent and wisdom. I'm indebted to him and his wife for teaching me everything I know about youth ministry. They, along with a group of probably 20 volunteers (including myself) ministered to 100-150 students each week at what they called their Sunday "growth events" and even more at Wednesday "outreach events." Aside from the numbers they drew, they showed me the transformative potential of relational ministry with high school students.
When this friend of mine was here, he remarked on the beauty of the Mundelein campus (and it is beautiful). Then, when he came to my room, he noticed the pictures, icons (of Christ and Mary), and 2 crucifixes I have in my room. He asked me who the woman in the black-and-white photo was, and I told him. I explained about Therese, her Little Way, and I told him how she has taught me about the love and mercy of God. And, I said, I'm beginning to appreciate the importance of doing little things with great love.
Though he seemed surprised by how important Therese was to me, he trusts me and my faith enough to respect my devotion to her. Then he asked about my two crucifixes (one on the wall and one on my desk). He asked whether having so many crucifixes in my room and on campus didn't somehow rob the crucifix of its "iconic power." They're all over the place, he said. And they are.
I honestly hadn't given that much thought. But my friend could be right. It may be possible that persons could become calloused by seeing "too many" crucifixes. Then again, I suspect most of us benefit from seeing them--because when we do, we come face-to-face with the love of God made flesh.
I'm always grateful for the conversations I have with this friend. And, this time, his comments and questions made me grateful that I'm Catholic, that I'm part of a sacramental church. That's part of the genius of the Catholic Church. The Church knows we need the help of crucifixes, icons, and other sacramentals. So the Church gives them to us.
In a small way, crucifixes help me understand the life to which I'm called. They also help me understand why Paul could say "All I want is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and to share his sufferings by reproducing the pattern of his death. That is the way I can hope to take my place in the resurrection of the dead" (Phil. 3:10-11).
Every day, my crucifix is calling me, as it were, to live my life right there, smack dab in the middle of the Paschal Mystery. That's where all the saints lived their lives. And it's where we're all supposed to live. St. Therese (with all the saints), pray for us.
Tuesday, September 24
Counting my blessings
One of the benefits of being in formation at Mundelein is that we get to learn from great priests--in the classroom, in spiritual direction, and in the context of the liturgy. Here's just a sample of the great homilies we get to hear. (This is the homily for yesterday, Monday of the 25th Week of Ordinary Time.) I thought about cutting out excerpts, but it's just too good. Tell me, how lucky am I?
My Dear Sisters and Brothers:
In our Liturgy this morning, we begin reading from the Book of Proverbs, traditionally called a liber sapientiae, a Book of Wisdom, in the Latin Lectionary. Unfortunately, we are, in fact, going to zip through this book; we'll be finished with our liturgical readings by Wednesday.
I, for one, wish we could take much more time with the Book of Proverbs. In fact, I recommend that everyone here take time to read it carefully and prayerfully over the next two weeks. It's here we learn that fundamental principle of the spiritual life: "the fear of the Lord (our awe and deep reverence for God) is the beginning of knowledge" (Prov. 1:7). And indeed it is!
I think you'll find that many of its pages---filled with concrete, practical advice on a great range of human concerns---could easily be stitched into the pages of our own Formation Handbook. You'll notice, too, meditations of great power on God's omniscience and His everyday providence; on the Lord's goodness and on the strength and joy that comes from abandoning our lives to Him. And in the eighth chapter, you'll discover that incomparable meditation on Wisdom that helped the early Church formulate her profound understanding of what God has done for us in our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Notice, here, this morning, the advice we receive: "Refuse no one the good on which he/she has a claim . . ." (Prov. 3:27).
In fact, put no one off who is truly in need, especially when you can help. Leave aside those self-serving questions by which we too often rationalize our unwillingness to help others, or even to notice them. Yes, certainly, some people will take advantage of you---especially if you are a priest---but better that than brushing aside Christ's extended hand in the person of His poor.
And then this: "Plot no evil against your neighbor . . ." (Prov. 3:29).
In fact, the only scores you should ever keep are on the Bears and the Packers, the Cubs and the Sox (well, maybe not this year!), and folks like that (and, of course, when you play golf with Fr. X). Seriously, though, keeping score---resentments---is a spiritual cancer, absorbing far more energy than we can ever afford, and all for nothing, other than to justify more sinful behavior!
And notice, too, don't go around picking quarrels---picking at people, arguing to no purpose, fighting with them when they're not there, carping, and backbiting, and other ugly habits. This is the stuff of pettiness. (And I'll tell you now: If you want to grow in the spiritual life, and as a priest after the heart of Christ Jesus, stay out of the pettiness of life [in the] seminary! After fear of the Lord, this is Rule #2, and you heard it here!)
And then, this from Proverbs this morning: "Envy not the lawless man and choose none of his ways . . ." (Prov. 3:31).
Here's a teaching as old as the statement of God's Law in the Book of Exodus: Never allege the behavior of others as reason not to do good yourself. In other words, listen carefully to God---we call this obedience---and take care of the call God has given you. All of us, here, especially today, all of us must be proactive, intentional, about our call from God: as committed disciples, living on into structures of committed love. If we're not, and instead, we root around in the garbage and junk that draws our heart's energy away from Christ, we'll never be holy---and what good is a priest who has no holiness of life?
Our reading from Proverbs, this morning, concludes with this happy thought: "To the humble, the Lord shows kindness" (Prov. 3:34).
Essential to a diocesan priest's spirituality is, I think, the discipline of humility. A discipline, remember, is a way, or path of learning. Humility---the word is from the Latin, humus, "fertile soil," "good ground"---is the way of putting the needs and interests of others before my own (see Phil. 2:3-8).
We learn this, of course, from Jesus. It's easily said; it's not easily done. It requires practice---every single day---to cover the roots of our lives in this fertile soil of self-giving love. It requires prayer---every single day---to travel on this good ground on which stands our Savior's Cross.
Take this matter of humility to spiritual direction and to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Stay with it now, because we can never learn enough. Humility is an everyday need for a priest of Jesus Christ; it's an everyday light for these dark times in which we live. And best of all, humility attracts the kindness of God. And what could be more wonderful?
Peace be with you, my sisters and brothers, and with all who love the Lord in simplicity of heart.
I count myself blessed to be able to learn from priests like this. And it's not just that this priest gives good homilies. He and other priests here model what it means to be priests of Jesus Christ. If you will, please join me in giving thanks for good priests like this as well as all the religious and lay men and women who serve the Church by forming future priests.
Monday, September 23
Learning to blog again
It's amazing, really, how easy it is not to blog. You just don't. That's all it takes. Billions of people don't blog every day, and they seem happy enough. And I was, for longer than I planned, among that happy throng. Now that I've returned to blogging, though, I suppose I need to offer a good excuse for my extended silence. The problem is I don't have one.
When Labor Day rolled around, I admit I was tempted to fulfill my blogging promise. But then that was orientation week at the seminary, and I had things to do. There were new seminarians to welcome, good friends to spend time with, and a final draft of an appendix for my dissertation to finish up, which, alas, is not quite done.
Then two days later, as you know, I had a lot of company thinking twice about blogging. That was when Fr. Rob Johansen received that letter. Truth be told, when I saw the second St. Blog's priest get stuck in the blogging bog, I seriously doubted that blogging was worth the risk.
Everyone who blogs knows that blogging is a mixed blessing. It takes time to blog, to "keep up" with what's happening and then--the major challenge for some of us--to write something that might just be of interest to a few readers. So the question for me these past weeks has been whether what I blog is worth my time and yours.
As recently as last week, I thought the answer to that question was "no." And though you may well conclude that it's not worth your time, I've decided to give blogging one more go. As I return, I thank all who bid me take up my blog again. I have no doubt that without your prompts, this blog would have remained silent for much, much longer.
Oh, no. What have I done? I'm already feeling a bit of the bloggin' itch.