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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Blessings for Christmas

May God bless you and your families this Christmas, and in the new year!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Here's the question from today's readings:

Are you going to build the temple (even if that's not what God wants?)?


Are you going to
be the temple?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Remembering Avery Cardinal Dulles

Fr. James Martin reminisces and offers a fine tribute to our recently deceased brother, Cardinal Avery Dulles:

Given his lightheartedness, it seemed appropriate that, in 2001, during the Vatican ceremony when he was made a cardinal, Pope John Paul II placed the customary red biretta on Avery's head, and it toppled into the pope's lap. No one enjoyed telling that story more than the new cardinal. And he enjoyed recounting a tale from his Navy days, when as officer of the watch, he ordered his ship to fire on a German U-Boat in the Caribbean. When dawn came, Ensign Dulles realized that had bombarded a coral reef.

read the whole thing here.

I ran into Avery Dulles shortly after he was made a cardinal. There had been a piece on him in the New York Times magazine earlier that week. I told him I enjoyed the piece. He laughed, as he often did, and then became a bit indignant. "That last part about the subway token. It never happened," he said. "The reporter just made it up." As usual, he had found a way not to be too impressed with himself.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Not Iggy Pop

I knew I liked Cate Blanchett for some reason besides the fact that she's one of the most talented actresses in film today. She also has three children, the youngest of whom is named, "Ignatius." Why? She explains:

Cate also denied she and Andrew chose the name Ignatius for their baby as a tribute to outrageous rocker Iggy Pop, insisting it is in honor of Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus.

She explained to Interview magazine: "Of course one thinks of Iggy Pop. But it's Ignatius Loyola."

I'm not so sure about, "Of course one thinks of Iggy Pop." But, then again, I belong to the Society of Jesus!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Death and New Life

It's been a draining few days on the priesthood front, but also days filled with consolation. On Thursday I flew to Tampa to say goodbye to my good friend Joe. It wasn't exactly how I'd envisioned our next meeting. But it was good to celebrate his life with so many others whose lives he had touched over the years. Over 600 people turned out for the funeral. What an honor, too, to be able to concelebrate his funeral mass. It was beautiful, and finished with a moving procession outside the chapel and down the drive of the high school, where people lined either side holding candles. It was exactly the kind of thing Joe would have done for somebody else (though it might not have been as well organized!). On Thursday night, I sat with a group of Jesuits and reminisced about our times with Joe. It was exactly what I needed. I got a good night's sleep, and then headed back home.

Today, I had the joy of beginning marriage preparation with a couple whose wedding I will witness next Fall. What an honor too to be with them as we discuss preparations for their new life together. I look forward to the coming months, getting to know them better, and helping them to get to know each other better, and what marriage will mean for them.

These are the privileged moments, both sad and happy, that are among the blessings of being a priest. Then there is also the mixed blessing of having the 8:00 am mass tomorrow morning. Time to go finish my homily . . . (I wonder if they'll have any rose vestments)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Road Signs

Most of my life as a Jesuit has involved living quite close to where I've worked and or studied. So, the recent move of our school to Brighton, while remain living here in Cambridge, has forced upon us the new reality of being commuters. This means I'm spending more time driving than I normally do. And, that I'm doing so in Boston. Normally, I don't mind driving. But a single trip in this city is rarely without its tense moments, near misses or near-death experiences. The one exception is Sunday morning, when things are magically quiet and sedate on the roads. I notice that the stress of driving here means that it is the time when I'm most easily annoyed, and it's not hard to find things to be annoyed about. The other day I thought it might be nice to have a set of placards to hold up for other drivers at such moments. They would say things like:

(or the more polite version I saw recently: Hang up and drive)





and for bikers:



(yeah, I realize that one's kinda long)

But mostly, SHUT UP AND DRIVE would probably take care of most of it.

I'd probably still be stressed, and this would probably prompt some creative gestures, still I think it would help me feel a little better.

Or maybe I'll just get one of these:

Liturgical Pet Peeves: The Mouth-Wipe

Spoiler alert: Once you become conscious of this, it might drive you crazy. So continue to read at your own peril.

Recently after breaking up a fight about liturgical colors on my Facebook page, I was chastised by one of my Facebook friends for not using the moment to speak out against "liturgical abuses." Putting aside the fact that I really hadn't researched whether or not dark blue was approved in the U.S. for Advent or not, and that I'd never seen anyone even wear a dark blue vestment during Advent, I really didn't see it as my duty to serve as the liturgical abuse policeman at that moment. Besides, people treating each other with Christian charity is of far greater concern to me than what color Fr. Joe the Plumber chooses to wear at mass on the Second Sunday of Advent. I have limited tolerance for such conversations, and I'm also concerned that for some looking out for "liturgical abuses" can become an unhealthy obsession. It can cause one to forget the reason they might have become concerned about such things in the first place--the importance of the Eucharist.

That said, there is something, not quite an abuse, but more of a bad habit, that I might be willing to mount a campaign against. It involves the misuse of the purificator. Living in a community of priests, or concelebrating mass, one often finds oneself faced with this. The presiding priest drinks the wine, and before handing the purificator and wine off to be shared, wipes his mouth with the purificator! Now, that same purificator which he just slathered his germs all over, will be used to wipe the cup after each person has received the wine, making the practice seem somewhat pointless. Little wonder than that so many people choose to forego the cup. I know that I consider the possibility after witnessing this, but I usually don't have much of a choice.

However, this is all just another reminder of what I realize even more clearly now as a priest. Those searching for that perfect liturgical experience are headed for a life filled with despair. Despite my best efforts, my masses are rarely as perfect as I would like them to be. Already I know that I have inadvertently worn the wrong color, left out a prayer or two, used vessels that are illicit according to the GIRM, etc. Part of this is the reality of being a religious priest and not having control over the norms of the particular parish where you are saying mass. Unless the local variants are particularly egregious, I really don't have much say about how the externals of the mass go (my job is not to go into somebody else's parish and tell them how they should be doing things). Most of this, on the other hand, is just a matter of being human. We all make mistakes, and we do interpret what is permitted and what is desirable a little bit differently. Sometimes the norms are not so clear, and even seem to contradict each other (the GIRM and one of the major documents on the liturgy, for example, seem to say different things about what kind of bread should be used at mass). Though there are some priests out there who clearly just do their own thing, most of us are trying our best.

Though, admittedly, I wish some would try a little harder not to use the purificator to wipe their mouth! Nevertheless I do take care to try not to let that distract me from what is really important at that moment--the Eucharist.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

What I Did During Summer Vacation

Back in August, I helped with a great young adult retreat at our retreat house in Atlanta. One of the people on the retreat wrote an article about the retreat house, and even quoted me (though it's not the most interesting thing I've ever said)!

Ignatius House Offers Spiritual Getaway Close to Home
by Amy Wenk

November 28, 2008

Everyday life features so many distractions — gridlocked traffic, unending e-mail, the blaring television, chatty co-workers — that little time remains for personal reflection.

A nearby place offers a timeout — a spot to slow down, contemplate in silence and improve your spiritual well-being.

The Ignatius House Jesuit Retreat Center is far from the noise of daily life yet close to home in Sandy Springs. The center is on 20 acres off Riverside Drive, perched on a bluff overlooking the Chattahoochee River.
"The Ignatius House provides such a unique atmosphere, it is hard to ignore the beauty and tranquility that you find here," said Atlanta resident Christine Smith, who first took a respite at the center in August 2007. "Every time I leave, I am blessed with a new sense of perspective and optimism about myself, my life and my relationship with God and others . . .

Read the rest here.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Joe's Next Assignment

I lived and worked with Joe for a year. During that time we became very close. Then and since we have talked about many things. He once very earnestly said to me, "Mark, promise me you'll never let them name anything after me." I said that I'd do my best. But I expect it will be difficult. He was the president of Jesuit High School in Tampa for more than a decade, despite the fact that he wasn't really the school president "type." It took a lot out of him. Yet, he didn't let the job define him. He made it his own. He spent less time at fundraisers and with benefactors than most presidents, and in many ways acted as more of a spiritual leader (when he wasn't butting heads with people). He called himself "head of maintenance." And this wasn't as false a humility as some surely thought. Joe was forceful in his convictions, but always aware that he might need to ask forgiveness for being found to be wrong. And though he knew himself not to be the president type, he left a considerable legacy nonetheless, especially in his transformation of the school's physical plant and facilities. Maybe "head of maintenance" wasn't so far off the mark.

Joe and I sometimes spoke of our respective futures. I'm not sure Joe was always sure I would cut it as a priest. He thought, as others have, that I would also be a good husband and parent (I would remind him that the two were not necessarily mutually exclusive). And, as close as we were, my year of working with him was not without its tensions, and failures on my part. Yet, I could always be honest and frank with him in ways I couldn't be with others, and he never held my failures against me. As for Joe's future, he hoped the end of his tenure as president would come soon (it took another five years). And even then, in the ministry he was doing off campus, he was noticing the great consolation he received from accompanying several friends in their final days. He thought for his next assignment he might like to do something like that, working as a hospice chaplain or something along those lines. I looked forward to seeing him do that. I knew he would be great at it.

But then came the stroke toward the end of his tenure as president just 8 months ago, from which he'd been recovering ever since. When I last saw him he was complaining that he'd probably have to continue his rehabilitation through November, which he did. Then, just weeks ago he got away to make a return visit to Tampa. There he fell ill once again, and enjoyed the consolation of brother Jesuits being there for him in his final days, before moving on to his next assignment. Already, I am sure, he is praying for us all.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Thanks to Joe

In an October 2004 America magazine article, Robert Maloney writes:

I entered St. Peter’s Basilica yesterday just after the gates swung open at seven in the morning and found myself drawn to the altar of Blessed John XXIII. Each day a priest preaches there who does everything wrong and everything right. He didn’t disappoint me. Having once taught homiletics, I’m terribly critical of him. In yesterday’s brief homily he mentioned Michelangelo, the Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, Moses, Aaron, Jesus, of course, and Catherine of Siena. Unity, the lesson I used to drill into my students, is surely not his strength.

But I go to St. Peter’s to listen to him again and again, because, apart from all the rules he breaks, he does everything right. Today I noticed how he prayed before he preached, his head bowed reverently. His love for God’s word radiated as soon as he launched into the homily. As he spoke, I saw that he had prepared well, meditating on the Scriptures. In spite of all his digressions, some of which were intriguing, his main point hit me forcefully.

I remember smiling when I read it. I knew that priest. No, not that priest precisely. But another who fit the description. I forwarded the article to my friend Fr. Joe Doyle, S.J., noting "when I read this I thought of you." Joe's masses were like a circus. His homilies would be all over the place, he would randomly call people up to the altar ("everyone over 65 come on up"), he would single people out and talk to them, reminisce about experiences when he taught their parents, while some of the more liturgically astute would cringe at his rather loose sense of the rubrics. Yet, his masses never failed to inspire, even if as an aspiring priest you knew you would never say mass that way. Often people would say they were the best masses they'd ever been to. And, on a personal level, Joe would never fail to remind you that he loved you. At the same time, he was no teddy bear. He could be as stubborn as hell. But it was always in the service of what he thought to be the right thing, even if it meant sometimes people thought him unreasonable (and sometimes they were right). Yet no one was as aware of his limitations as Joe was, he prayed always that God would help him to be better. Though as a priest there are many ways I don't resemble Joe (my masses are a bit more sedate and generally stick to the rubrics), I hope in those important ways, the ways in which he did "everything right," I one day will.

I received news of Joe's passing this afternoon. I regret we didn't have the opportunity to have that one last conversation. But I'm glad he was able to be there with me on the day of my ordination and a couple of days later, when I last saw him. We talked for a few minutes and he insisted on a few pious gestures from the new priest, both awkward and special. Now it's my turn to ask him: Joe, pray for me.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Jesuits on the Frontiers

My latest article, a reflection on the work of the Jesuits' recent General Congregation in light of "postmodern" challenges, has finally been published! (I wrote it almost five months ago) It's a bit "Jesuity," as it is addressed to Jesuits, but I think it also offers some insights for a wider audience. It appears in the 100th issue of the Jesuit journal, Promotio Iustitiae, along with several other articles written in a similar vein. I chose to focus on a concept of "frontiers," a concept which showed up both in the congregation documents, and in the Pope's address to the congregation. Here's a little bit of what I had to say about one of the frontiers closest to my heart:

. . .There is a deeper “vocation” crisis than simply the decrease in those answering the call to priesthood and religious life. An increasing number of young people are not even realizing their vocation to a life of faith in Christ and participation in the Church. None of us can afford to ignore the call to this frontier.
There are many borderlines along this frontier where we can engage young people, inviting them to share our life with Christ. Some have become adept at speaking to young people in a language many recognize—the language of popular culture. This can be precarious, as popular culture sometimes promotes thing contrary to what we believe. But when we use popular music, television, film and the internet as a means of communicating Christ, young people themselves begin to realize the tension between what Christ preached and what popular culture frequently does. Other Jesuits are exploring the possibilities of that less than two decade old frontier of the worldwide web which, though not exclusive to youth, is a part of their lives they have come to take for granted in a way most do not. The Irish and British Jesuits have successful established the on-line prayer ministries “Sacred Space” and “Pray-as-you-go.” Jesuits of all ages are exploring the potentialities of this medium for evangelization. In such a venue, one’s age, attractiveness or experience becomes less important than whether or not one has something interesting or compelling to say.
This is not true just on the internet. Jesuits of all ages can aid and inspire young people by offering liturgy for them, by directing them on retreats or by accompanying them on mission trips working amongst the poor. Though each of us has a different “literacy” when it comes to youth culture, each of has the capability to invite them to faith in Christ because passion, though sometimes misdirected, is so much a part of their life, and we have made our passion our life—Jesus Christ. By our love and example, we can give young people license to take the passion which they bring to so many other things to their lives with Christ and participation in the Church. The recent World Youth Days have offered hope in this regard. With our worldwide network of educational institutions, we have a privileged place at this frontier which others do not.

What are the other "frontiers"? Read the whole article (or the whole issue) here. My article begins on page 47.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Welcome to Advent--The Priest in the Jungle

On Sunday night I had the 5:00 mass. I knew it was the First Sunday of Advent, but it honestly didn't occur to me until I arrived at the church that there would be a few different things to do. Thankfully, the parishioners quickly got me up to speed. We lit the first Advent candle, as soon as someone was able to help us find the taper to light it with. It was hidden in plain sight (it wasn't very big). Then there was the light show. They accidentally turned out all the lights just before the Gospel (at first I thought it was deliberate, but I couldn't imagine why!). Then, when it came time for the Eucharistic prayer, BAM!, two spotlights shining right in my eyes! It looked as if the congregation was sitting in a fog! Thankfully, they were turned off before communion, so that I could see again. All that said, I enjoyed the opportunity to celebrate my first first Sunday of Advent! (and, bonus!, it meant I wasn't watching the Patriots get rolled over) Anyway, the whole experience kind of fit in with my homily. So, I'll share it here:

Today we begin the season of Advent. I always approach Advent with a bit of trepidation. Because I feel as if it is a time during which something wonderful should be allowed to happen; that if were to fully take advantage of the spirit of watching and expectation that I might find myself spiritually renewed and invigorated for a new year. Yet, Advent has been almost inevitably, for as long as I can remember, one of the busiest times of year for me. The expectation that I feel is not for the coming of the Lord, but rather all those things expected of me, all those things I have to accomplish in addition to my usual busyness in the coming weeks. My own expectations for having fully appreciated the graces of Advent, are usually disappointed as Christmas arrives and I wonder where those 4 weeks have gone. I expect that I’m not the only one here that has had this experience.

So, with that in mind, I was thinking about the final invocation of today’s Gospel: Watch! And it reminded me that my feelings were not so far removed from that of the characters in one of my favorite stories, Henry James’ The Beast in the Jungle. It’s a story that’s all about watchfulness, and which warns us not to be confounded by our own expectations—or our own egos.

The story begins as the two main characters, John Marcher and May Bartram meet at a party. Though John does not remember, May reminds him that they had met some years before. The certainty that they had met comes when May reminds him that he had shared with her one of his deepest convictions. John is astonished because he realizes that she knows something of him which he had shared with no one before or since. She describes to him what she still remembered so well:
“You said you had had from your earliest time, as the deepest thing within you, the sense of being kept for something rare and strange, possibly prodigious and terrible, that was sooner or later to happen to you, that you had in your bones the foreboding and the conviction of, and that would perhaps overwhelm you."
Marcher explains that even in the intervening years, he has not achieved any greater sense of what this rare and strange thing might be, but that he is certain he would know it when he sees it. A deep friendship is forged by this intimacy, and May agrees to watch with John for its coming.

Remembering this story helped me to recall something else about the importance of this season. It’s not just that we watch for Jesus’ coming in the Incarnation, but that we watch together. Our lives, however busy, do not necessarily dictate what we do or do not get out of Advent, if we can together, like the Israelites in today’s first reading, recognize our need for God. And, just as importantly, how Jesus is incarnated in each one of us.

Back to the story. John and May become almost exclusive friends as they watch together. John even expresses his concern that May might be putting off her life for his sake, and the sake of what is to come. But May seems untroubled by this, and they continue this way for years. However, there comes a time when May, haven fallen ill, starts to become impatient. She even, it seems to John, appears to know what it is they have been waiting for, and seems even to believe it has already come. During their conversation she gathers the little energy she has, rises up from her chair and stands uncertainly before him, challenging him to see it. But he doesn’t understand her sudden impatience after all this time, and even regrets having burdened her so. Eventually, May succumbing to her illness, tries once more to help him realize the truth before she dies, but he cannot see it. A year later, John sets out to visit May’s grave and, on the way, he sees the pained face of a man who had so obviously lost the one he deeply loved. In that face he recognized what he should have been feeling, had he but realized that which he had been watching for had been there all along, and he flings himself face down onto May’s tomb.

John and May’s story reminds us certainly of the message in today’s Gospel to watch and prepare ourselves for Christ’s anticipated and unexpected arrival. But it also reminds us that Advent is a time not to be so distracted by the jungle of our lives—or even our hopeful expectations for Advent—that we miss the many ways in which we catch a glimpse of that final coming in the ways in which Christ becomes incarnate to us in the events and in the people—especially those who watch with us—of our daily lives.

If you're interested, you can read Henry James' full story here.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanks to You!

Here's wishing all you DRP followers and lurkers many blessings this Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 20, 2008


There are a lot of quality programs on TV these days that I like. Unfortunately, some of my favorites are complex, include their share of violence and undesirable characters. I enjoy, then, having a show or two that I can watch that simply inspire me. A few years ago, Joan of Arcadia, canceled after 2 seasons, was just such a show. I'm not sure it was given a chance. And, recently, there has been another--Eli Stone. Well acted, and well-scripted, it tells the story of a lawyer who receives visions which help him to know which cases he is to take, whom he is to help. Compared to the many other cynical legal shows, it has been a breath of fresh air. Eli Stone is a character that you feel like you want to get behind, and be like! And the fact that he is working for God--or however you want to explain it--is quite appealing to me.

So, I am truly disappointed at news coming from ABC that the show is likely to be canceled, if it hasn't been already. I wonder if anybody considered that this is the kind of show that would probably be more appealing in an earlier time slot. If anybody from ABC is reading, please reconsider! There has to be a place for just good, inspiring programming whose future isn't determined simply based on ratings. And, if you haven't seen it, catch it while you can!

Enduring Mysteries: Arch Nemesis

Every once and a while I like to get a McDonald's burger. And each time I continued to be amazed at their seeming inability to make a Quarter Pounder without cheese. Advancements in technology have not seemed to be able to put a dent in this virus within the golden arches' system.

By now, I know always to check my order before leaving. Good thing, because today my "Quarter Pounder, no (emphatic no) cheese" turned into "Quarter Pounder, Cheese only."

Hmmm . . .

O, Jerusalem . . .

My little homily for today's readings (sorry, nothing about the 7 heads and 7 eyes):

The great hypothetical we like to ask ourselves every once and while--and I think it's good that we do--is: If Jesus were to visit us right now, would we recognize him? If the Gospel is any guide, I'm guessing that those who would quickly answer "of course I would," would probably be those least likely to do so. The Scribes and the Pharisees were pretty sure they would recognize the Messiah when he came and most of them, it seems, were quick to decide that Jesus didn't fit their profile. Indeed, in today's Gospel reading we get the sense of Jesus' deep sadness that so many of those he came to save could not recognize him.

And I have to say that I'm not so certain I would do any better, because I know how often I've failed to see Jesus at work in my own life. This is probably true of all of us. Yet, I don't find in this a reason for despair, but for hope. Because this realization actually helps our chances at recognizing Jesus' presence in our lives. Knowing that we could miss out, reminds us that we need help. Even the greatest spiritual director is only great to the extent that he or she recognizes his or her own need for a spiritual director. For the greatest spiritual wisdom comes not in an unwavering confidence that we will recognize Jesus when he comes into our lives, but rather in a humble desire to seek out all the help we need to make sure we don't miss him when he comes.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Giving Thanks

With Thanksgiving approaching, it seems appropriate to share this excerpt from the reflection I wrote just prior to my ordination. Indeed, in a way, it all started on Thanksgiving, twelve years ago:

It’s appropriate that my decision to pursue the life of a Jesuit and a priest began at Thanksgiving. Because, as I reflect on the nearly twelve years between that Thanksgiving and now, this is my prevailing sentiment—thankfulness. I give thanks for the elderly and dying woman who invited me to rub her feet, offering me one of my first lessons in priesthood. I give thanks for spontaneous prayers asked for by a struggling mother in the entrance of the church after mass or looking into the eyes of a homeless man in a White Castle parking lot in the Bronx. I give thanks for students who let the fact that I was a Jesuit make a difference in the classroom, and in their lives, sharing with me their fears about everything from academic success, to their drinking habits, war in Iraq, or a parent suffering from addiction. I give thanks for my many colleagues in ministry these years in parish ministry, hospital ministry, campus ministry, youth and young adult ministry, all of whom have taught me something about what it means to be a priest, and who let me share my experience and gifts, sometimes in challenging ways. Without all these lessons I would not have the strength to find the words, the gestures or the silence for days like the one last summer which began praying with a family reeling from the sudden stroke of husband and father, found me later in a room praying with and for a man who had just died and his family, waiting with another family for the priest who had been called to anoint their dying father, and finally standing with the parents of a man who had attempted suicide as the doctor told them he wasn’t likely to make it, and it was probably better he didn’t. At the end of the night I did my best, at the Father’s request, to be sure that his son would be anointed at the other hospital to which he was medevaced. Few days have made me as conscious as this one did of my gratitude for the many things people had taught me along the way (otherwise how could I have done it?), and the ability to pick up a phone at the end of that night and talk it all through with Abby, one of my lay ministry colleagues, before making the drive home.

Read the entire reflection here.


Last week I had an early morning daily mass, one which I take weekly. After the mass, I went home, changed my shirt, and met up with a friend, P., for breakfast. She brought her infant son along.

As we arrived at the cafe, we ran into a couple of women who had been at the mass just forty minutes before. They also know P. As we greeted them, one of them said, "Oh, are you P.'s husband?" I wasn't immediately sure how to respond. But, before I precisely knew what I was saying, I blurted out, "No. I'm the priest. We just had mass together."
"Oh," she said, as it started to sink in, "I knew you looked familiar!"

Fr. Mossia?

A friend alerted me today to the fact that "CathNewsUSA" has featured "Diary of a Rookie Priest in its latest edition.
The story appears just above one about a "Father Cutie."
And, while they have managed to avoid the common mistake of giving me the name of my friend Fr. Massa, they have renamed me Fr. Mossia!
Oh well, it's a privilege just to have been nominated, right?

The direct link to the article: here

Update: In a quick response to my e-mail, the first mention of my name has been corrected. Yet, in the second instance, I still remain Fr. Mossia. Oh well!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Halloween & All Saints

with Father James Martin, S.J.

courtesy of

Note to Saint Joseph: He was only kidding!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fourth & Walnut

Last week's readings reminded me of Thomas Merton's experience on the corner of Fourth and Walnut in Louisvile, 50 years ago. So, I incorporated it into my homily. While looking for the quote, I found his original diary entry, which differs a bit from the version that was eventually published. Both are worth reflecting on. Here's the diary excerpt:

Yesterday, in Louisville, at the corner of 4th and Walnut, suddenly realized that I loved all the people and that none of them were, or, could be totally alien to me. As if waking from a dream—the dream of separateness, of the “special” vocation to be different. My vocation does not really make me different from the rest of men or put me is a special category except artificially, juridically. I am still a member of the human race—and what more glorious destiny is there for man, since the Word was made flesh and became, too, a member of the Human Race!
Thank God! Thank God! I am only another member of the human race, like all the rest of them. I have the immense joy of being a man! As if the sorrows of our condition could really matter, once we begin to realize who and what we are—as if we could ever begin to realize it on earth.

The next part, a reflection on chastity, was new to me:

It is not a question of proving to myself that I either dislike or like the women one sees on the street. The fact of having a vow of chastity does not oblige one to argument on this point—no special question arises. I am keenly conscious, not of their beauty (I hardly think I saw anyone really beautiful by special standards) but of their humanity, their woman-ness. But what incomprehensible beauty is there, what secret beauty that would perhaps be inaccessible to me if I were not dedicated to a different way of life. It as though by chastity I had come to be married to what is most pure in all the women of the world and to taste and sense the secret beauty of their girl’s hearts as they walked in the sunlight—each one secret and good and lovely in the sight of God—never touched by anyone, nor by me, nor by anyone, as good as and even more beautiful than the light itself. For the woman-ness that is in each of them is a once original and inexhaustibly fruitful bringing the image of God into the world. In this each one is Wisdom and Sophia and Our Lady—(my delights are to be with the children of men!).

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Can a Priest Speak Publicly As a Private Citizen?

Can a priest speak publicly as a private citizen? My inclination is to say "no." As a priest, you speak as a representative of the Church whether you like it or not, right? At least that's what I thought. Now, sincerely, I'm not so sure. Archbishop Chaput in a highly publicized statement (even if it was addressed to a small group) seems to have muddied the waters a bit.

In a previous post, I reflected a bit on my responsibility as a priest as regards my political views. I did this in light of Archbishop Chaput's instruction to his priests and deacons that they should not publicly endorse or affiliate themselves with any political candidate. I have found it incumbent upon myself, in a similar vein of thinking, to be somewhat circumspect in sharing with others who I might or intend to vote for. I tend instead to share with others the range of issues that I am concerned with. For example, having noticed the almost complete absence of any mention of the poor in the current presidential campaign, I have come to the conclusion that advocacy on behalf of the poor is something we have to be especially concerned with in the coming years, no matter who wins the election. I also share with people my concern for the full range of life issues. In the spirit of Cardinal Bernardin, I am a "seamless garment" pro-life advocate. These issues, too, will continue to be of concern no matter who wins the election.

All that said, Archbishop Chaput this week left me a little confused as to the stance he encouraged, and which I have been taking. After make very specific statements in public about a political candidate, he made the distinction that he was speaking as a private citizen and not as a representative of the Archdiocese of Denver. But my question is: Was he speaking as a priest, or not?

I ask this not because I necessarily agree or disagree with what he said (and I will not say, in the spirit of what I've just been saying). I ask it because it has implications for the question of whether or not priests can responsibly make public statements in favor of, or in opposition to, specific candidates. Speaking from my perspective as a priest, I doubt that it would be enough for my superiors or my local bishop for me to simply say, after making public statements in favor of a particular candidate, that I was doing so as a private citizen. But this is what some might take Archbishop Chaput's statement to suggest.

Just this past year, Archbishop Burke of St. Louis suggested that it was irresponsible on the part of the basketball coach at St. Louis University to take part in a rally for Hilary Clinton, because he was a representative of a Catholic University. Archbishop Burke didn't seem to think it was enough for him to say that he was doing so as a private citizen.

This all leaves me, and I think many others, confused as to how we as priests are to engage political questions. It will be interesting to see in the coming weeks if we get some further clarification on this matter.

Preaching to Children

I consider myself a pretty good preacher, at least when it comes to preaching to adults. And, anyone over 13 or so for that matter. I also feel that I'm pretty good with grade schoolers in CCD class or in just casual interaction. But, for some reason, when it comes to preaching to the little ones, I feel hopeless. I've never had an instance of doing it after which I felt it went well. As long as I'm asking questions, I have their attention, but the minute I start trying to simply tell them something, I lose them. Their attention starts to wander, and I want to send them back to their seats and say, "OK, I'm going to talk to the adults now" (come to think of it, that may not be such a bad idea. Hmmm . . .) And it's hard for me to refocus on the mass when I'm thinking about what a disaster that was.

And so it went last Sunday when I had the family mass at a local parish. Yet, surprisingly, after mass a number of people told me that I had done a good job preaching to the kids. I think they were just trying to be nice. But, still, there may be a chance that I'm not as hopeless at it as I think. Time will tell.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Wild Grapes

This past Sunday was my first opportunity to celebrate mass at the parish where I served as a deacon. It also had, as I mentioned in the last post, somewhat challenging readings. I got a request to post my homily, so here it is:

I’ve spent a lot of time here in the last few years, teaching the children, helping with RCIA, and serving last year as a deacon. So, it is with great joy that I have the opportunity to come and celebrate mass with you today. This is a special moment for me, returning this fall as a newly ordained priest to the city and the people with whom I’ve lived and worshipped for the last three years. So, I would have hoped that the readings for today would have been a little more, well, celebratory. Really, as I set to preparing myself for this homily, taking into account the occasion, I couldn’t help but think: Now I’ve only been a priest for three and a half months, so I might be missing something: But are these really the readings for “Respect Life Sunday”? How exactly might I approach this? Point to the wicked tenants in today’s Gospel and say, “Hey, look at them. Don’t do that.” We’ve got vineyards being torn down because the grapes have gone wild, and we’ve got people driven by greed, beating, stoning and killing others. It would seem that the only way to go at the life theme is by way of a negative example.

But then I thought about “Sideways,” the surprise hit movie of a few years ago about the misadventures of a group of wine enthusiasts. It too, wasn’t the most uplifting story, but what intrigued people about it was its passionate, even beautiful dialogue about wine. At one point, for example, the pathetic and depressed Merlot-hating main character is asked about his passion for Pinot wines. He says in response, “I don't know. It's a hard grape to grow. It's thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It's not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and uh, thrive even when it's neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And, and only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot's potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they're just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and... ancient on the planet.”

The Pinot grape which Miles describes is a far cry from the wild grapes of today’s first reading. Yet the vinegrower he describes sounds a lot like the vinegrower whom Isaiah speaks equally passionately about in the first reading. “Let me now sing of my friend,” Isaiah begins, telling us of a vineyard owner, who places his vineyard on a fertile hillside, clears away the stones, plants the choicest vines, and builds a watchtower, treating his grapes with the utmost of care. This care promises a rich harvest. So, why, we are left to wonder, does he get “wild grapes” instead of rich grapes with the flavorful potential of a Pinot? Why is it that all that hard work and great care is not reflected in the final product?

You might say to me, well, Father, isn’t it obvious? He’s not really talking about grapes! The vinegrower is God and the grapes, well, they refer to God’s people. That’s why they’ve gone wild! Because they have a will of their own. And if you said that to me, I’m pretty sure you’d be right. But if you’re right, then we ought to be concerned about the fact that faced with us wild grapes, the vineyard owner decides to tear the vineyard down!

Today, in the pictures of both vineyard owners we can take away the image of a harsh God, one who tears down the unfruitful vineyard, and another who’s likely to kill the greedy and unfaithful tenants who have killed his son. These stories are meant to strike us this way, because they are meant to serve as a warning to us not to live lives unpleasing to God. Some are positively motivated by the idea that they better shape up or God will punish them. But I’m pretty sure this isn’t the view that will motivate us long-term. And I think to focus too quickly on this would be to miss the more positive point that like the passionate vinegrower, God is passionate about caring for us. And that, truthfully, we cannot do without that care. The speaker of today’s psalm realizes that, crying out to God: “Once again, O Lord of hosts, look down from heaven and see; take care of this vine, and protect what your right hand has planted . . . restore us; if your face shine upon us, then we shall be saved.”

Positively, this means that as people cared for by God we are called to reflect the work and care of our Creator and sustainer in our lives. In essence, when people see us, they should also see the God who cares for us, the God who sends his Son, even in the face of danger, to save us. Respecting life begins with accepting the care of God for us, of cooperating with God’s determination, as Miles puts it, to “coax [us] into our fullest expression” rather than growing wild, as if we were on our own. That is how we become, as Saint Paul encourages us to be in the second reading, people devoted to whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious and excellent, keeping our minds and hearts focused on the things of God. If we do that, then we can’t help but have an appreciation for life, because we recognize that every person is loved and cared for by God. Their life and ours comes from God, and cannot be without God.

This is the message of today’s readings. And this is what marks the difference in our respect for life from those that do not see the rights and dignity that come as a result of that reflection of God’s care in every person. We are called to cooperate with God in loving, caring and advocating for the preservation of the dignity of the lives of others whether that life be that of an unborn baby, the homeless beggar in Harvard Square, the “enemy,” the death row prisoner, or the person nearing the natural end of life. We are challenged to see these and indeed all lives as objects of God’s love and care, especially because we know we cannot do without God’s love and care for us.

The mass and the homily were received well, and I got one especially interesting reaction. A couple approached me after mass and said, "Father, we have to tell you that your homily had a very particular importance for us." My heart swelled a bit. How wonderful, I thought, something I said really touched these people. "Oh father, yes," they went on, "you see we spent about four hours yesterday trying to remember the name of that movie."

Saturday, October 4, 2008

A Little Help, Here . . .

Regarding the choice of readings in the lectionary and/or special Sundays:

To whom it may concern:

Must we have a Gospel parable which speaks of beating, stoning and killing on Respect Life Sunday?!

I'm just sayin' . . .

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


From the 34th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus' document, "The Jesuit Priest: Ministerial Priesthood and Jesuit Identity":

"Each stage of training marks a deeper entry into the experience of Jesuit priestly life. Nearing ordination a scholastic must consider the bold act of Ignatian trust in Christ's lordship of the Church: humble service of Christ is inseparable from a loving service of the Church. The first few years after ordination require the full development of confidence, wisdom and compassion. At this stage he requires help from fellow Jesuits and the people he is called to serve. It may be he will be confronted by his own weaknesses."

Monday, September 22, 2008

Internal Dialogue: What Am I Doing Here?

I had the daily mass at a local parish this morning.
Though it has become a more routine thing, I'm still very self-conscious while I say mass. And today, like many days, there is still that voice in my head saying, "How is it that I'm up here, doing this?" As I sat in the presider's chair for some moments of meditation I wondered: Is there a point at which this becomes second nature? A point at which you are so used to it you don't even think how odd it is that here I am a the altar praying these prayers?
The thought is reassuring, but it is also accompanied by the concern that I would never want this to become just one of the many things I do. I hope there will always be room for a consciousness that this is something special. But I'm jumping ahead . . . for now it is strange, and wonderful.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

For the Record

For those of you who frequent blogs in which Saint Ignatius is purported to be a strong influence, I just want to say that as far as I know Saint Ignatius is neither a Republican nor a Democrat. However, I can say with some certainty that he is most definitely a Catholic.

This is not me judging your Ignatian experience because, at least as I know it, Ignatian experience has nothing to do with that political party you support, whom you dislike, or even who you are going to vote for (or not).

You can be interested in Saint Ignatius without being required to hate John McCain or Barack Obama. Indeed, I think Saint Ignatius would insist on you loving them both.

I'm Father Mark Mossa, and I approved this message.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Priest Goes Back To College

The Boston College Chronicle introduces the new BC School of Theology and Ministry. I had a few things to say about my new beginnings at BC:

Doors Open and a New Era Begins
By Melissa Beecher Chronicle Staff

Mark Mossa, SJ, is the first to admit that he is not a "traditional student."

Ordained a priest in June after 11 years of Jesuit formation, Fr. Mossa has studied hard to achieve his vocation. But he also keeps a blog — "Diary of a Rookie Priest" — listens to Coldplay and travels the world on retreats and service programs.

So when it came time to consider doctoral programs, the newly formed Boston College School of Ministry and Theology (STM) proved to be the best choice for the 41-year-old's unique circumstances.

"I'm serious about being a scholar. But at this point in my life I need to also be able to give sufficient attention to growing in my priesthood, and simply being a good priest," said Fr. Mossa, a Worcester native.

"STM, I realized, would allow me to give attention to both these elements of my vocation in a way that some of the other doctoral programs I was considering might not." . . .

Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Priest Returns To "Normal" Life

The past week has included at least three sharing sessions, which has left me pretty “shared out,” but also allowed me to frame and reflect upon some of my experience as a new priest.

I find that I’m really missing the community which I served as a priest this summer. Even though I didn’t get to know most of them as well as I’d have liked to (with German study during the week, and rushing off to another mass during Sunday’s social time), I formed an intimate bond with them through our celebration of the Sacraments. There is an intimacy which comes with the regular celebration of Eucharist and Reconciliation with a community that is difficult to quantify or explain adequately, but that is very real. Thus, I feel a bond with the English-speaking communities of Frankfurt and Liederbach in Germany which I feel with no other community.

It was purely accidental but fortuitous that my first “parish” would be these communities in Germany. And I will be forever grateful that it worked out so. It gave me an opportunity to give myself over to my new priestly identity. Why? Because I had no choice! I arrived on a Wednesday to a place where I knew no one, to a place where they only knew me as a priest. By Saturday I was celebrating mass with the community, after only having met a few of the individuals that made it up. I had to figure the priest thing out as quickly as possible because, while that was not all I was to them, that was the part of my identity with which they were immediately most concerned. I was their “summer priest,” or transitional priest, until the new pastor arrived. There wasn’t much opportunity to ask what to do, or settle into the job. They expected that I would, more or less, know what I was doing (even if I wasn’t quite so sure). Indeed, one of the challenges of being a neophyte priest, I found, was that most of the people were only too willing to cede all of the authority to me. So, a question like “how would you like me to do this?,” would often be met with something like, “however you like” or “what ever you normally do, Father.” I would then have to remind them that since I’d only been a priest for a few weeks, “whatever you normally do” was not a category which existed for me! But we worked it out.

I got into a rhythm there. Mass in German during the week at the Jesuit community (someone else presiding, of course!), and then my English masses, one on Saturday night, two on Sunday morning. Often there were confessions to hear, before or after mass. I’d get vested, hoping that the lector, Eucharistic ministers, and altar servers would show up, and a few minutes before mass head to the back of the church for a brief prayer with the ministers, followed by the procession. Though there was sometimes some last-minute scrambling for help, most of the time the people scheduled showed up. At the start of one mass I realized we had no reader, but before I could say anything a kind parishioner took it upon himself to come up and do it! Emergency resolved! After mass I always lingered at the exit to greet the people on the way out. This helped me to get to know the people a little better, even if it was also a temporary delay of the post-mass letdown which I spoke of in a previous post. This, I learned, is one of the great challenges of priesthood. The priest moves from this intense experience of worship and intimacy with the community to being alone with himself. It both affirmed my choice to join a religious community and deepened my sadness at the lot of many of our diocesan priests who frequently have only an empty house to return to.

My summer community taught me far more than I expect they are aware. From little things like how to handle and integrate prayer intentions slipped to you only minutes before the mass begins to larger things like how to keep the community engaged during the homily. I don’t know if this community was unique, but while I know that some found some of the things I said challenging, only one time did I feel I had lost them. Preaching every week to them, I started to get a sense of what helped keep them engaged, and what didn’t. But again, like I said, that community, because of its international character and because many of them were very involved, may prove an exception to the rule of the typical Catholic community here in the States. Fingers crossed.

Indeed, that is now my greatest challenge. I was forced to dive in and be priest in my summer context. Really, once I made the commitment to being there, I had no choice. That was a great grace. But now, back to my “normal” life, back in Boston and back again in studies, my great challenge will be to figure out what it means for me to be priest in this context. I don’t yet have a regular parish community, and I certainly won’t in the way that I had this past summer, where I was their only priest for seven weeks. Being back home means that in many contexts (sitting in a classroom, for example) I am not really seen any differently than I was six months ago. In some ways that’s a relief! This means that my priestly identity, while always with me, is being exercised in a much more “occasional” way. I have the daily mass on Monday here; I have the Jesuit community mass on Thursday; I’m acting as a “supply” priest at a local parish on Sunday, etc. Then its back to class on Monday afternoon. Then there’s the mandatory Jesuit community meeting on Saturday. I have to make sure I have a ride to school next week. I must fit in some visits with family and friends. And, oh yeah, there’s that paper that’s coming due. In the midst of it all there are frequent announcements: “Priest needed here to do this or that.” I’ve seen the notices for years. Now, finally, I can respond. But, do I have the time? Shouldn’t I be careful not to get overcommitted? Things are suddenly much more complicated than they were in the summer, as I try to figure out how to be priest back in my “normal” life. Yet, as the saying goes, it’s a nice problem to have.

"No Blog Is An Island"

An article in the latest National Catholic Reporter explores the Catholic blogosphere, and this humble blogger gets a mention:

While bloggers often link to other blogs or other media to build ideas, some aim to destroy, as Fr. Martin indicated earlier. Most bloggers will argue, with some justification, that they are attacking the argument, not the person. While that’s generally true, it’s easy to see how the venom directed at someone’s words can sting the speaker and his or her supporters. Even more, it’s blog readers who cross the line. Most blogs include comments sections -- “comboxes” for short (not for nothing does the word resemble “combat”), where readers can add their own thoughts, and sometimes no holds are barred. When Gerald Augustinus of the otherwise reliably orthodox “Cafeteria Is Closed” blog wrote of his support for gay rights this past March, he was hit with a barrage of hostile comments that went on for a month. A sampling: “Whether or not you realize it, on this issue you are a pseudo disciple of Satan!” “As to your new militant pro-sodomite stance, I will be reporting these posts of yours to the Catholic League as soon as possible. ... Hope to see you soon at your own personal auto-de-fé. You brought this all on yourself. Apostate.” More recently, the “Cafeteria Is Closed” blog shut down.

Several bloggers lament the acrimony of their occupation. Jesuit Fr. Mark Mossa closed his blog about seminary life, “... And I let Myself Be Duped,” after online attacks, remarking, “I’ve grown tired of swimming against the tide. The most negative Catholic blogs still continue to be the most popular.” The “Aún Estamos Vivos” blog commiserated: “Do we all feel so safe behind a keyboard that we feel free to write things that we would never say face-to-face without coming to blows?”

On the other hand, “Catholic Sensibilities’ ” Todd Flowerday enjoys the virtual jousting and says of some traditionalist blogs, “Being in the extreme minority of their commentariats is a guilty pleasure. It keeps me sharp, crossing swords with them.” The collegial Christopher Blosser regards “Vox Nova” as a favorite blog even though it often posts things that “we at ‘Catholics in the Public Square’ might consider ‘fighting words.’ So, as you might expect, we’ve had our share of online feuds.” Imagine the blog wars to come over how Catholics should vote this fall.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

New School Year, New Priests

This week we had a mass that I've been very much looking forward to. Now that we've all returned, and new Jesuits have joined us this year in our studies, we gathered to celebrate the Birth of Mary. Those of us ordained during the summer concelebrated the mass. What a joy to share the gift of our common priesthood, as well as our international Jesuit brotherhood! Pictured are the new priests of my community, Jesuits hailing from five different continents.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Laying on of Hands

Just before the ordination: The soon-to-be deacon with three rookie priests.

One of the most powerful moments of my ordination--and surely any priestly ordination--was the "laying on of hands," that moment when each of the concelebrating priests, after the bishop, places their hands on the heads of those being ordained. I've always thought it a powerful symbol since it connects us physically and spiritually with the Apostles, who laid hands on their successors who, in turn, did the same. One gets a sense of being something larger as well as knowing the support of one's brother priests, many of who have been friends, mentors and models of priesthood.

This weekend I learned that it is equally powerful to stand on the other side. Three of us from my community who were ordained this summer traveled up to Montreal for the diaconate ordination of one of our community members here in Boston. He was ordained at the same time as two new priests from his province (French Canada). So, I had the opportunity for the first time to lay hands on some new priests, just 10 weeks after my own ordination. And it was just as powerful from the other side. Indeed, since the entire liturgy was in French, and my French is pretty rusty, such symbolic actions and gestures took on added significance. There was no need to translate. The three of us also had the privilege of concelebrating the first mass the next day, at which our new deacon assisted.

It was a grace-filled weekend during which we got to meet several of our French Canadian Jesuit brothers for the first time. They couldn't have been more friendly and hospitable!

What a humbling privilege to find myself part of this "chain" of grace.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Give Me My Name

“Our celebrant today is . . . I don’t remember his name, so he’ll have to introduce himself . . .”

So I was introduced at the beginning of one of my masses this summer. One could take offense. I didn’t. But I did wonder if it was symptomatic of something I’ve been noticing all summer, with varying degrees of comfort. I have a new name. That name is “Father.” Even people who do remember my name are prone to calling me not Father Mark or Father Mossa, but simply “Father.” And if that were not enough, some people insist on punctuating nearly every sentence with it in the course of conversation. Now don’t get me wrong; I know they are just being respectful. But I don’t always feel worthy of such respect, especially from those who have been living a good and devout Christian life a lot longer than I have been.

In many religious communities people used to—and some still do—begin their life with a new name. My friend Frances, who recently joined the Trappistines, is now “Sofia.” One of my favorite high school teachers, Brother Alois, started his life as “Donald.” So, getting a new name is not something foreign to religious commitment. And, indeed, I would often be mistakenly called “Father” during my Jesuit formation, but most of the time only when I was wearing clerics. One of the most disarming things that happened right after ordination was having people call me Father when I wasn’t wearing clerics! They’d been, most of them, witness to the event, so they knew who I was. The secret was out.

This summer only heightened my awareness of this new name, because I found myself being introduced to most of the people I would come to know in Germany, already a priest. Indeed, in the case of most of the parishioners where I was working, their first encounter with me was when I was presiding at mass. I suspect most of them didn’t even find it necessary to learn my name; it was easy enough simply to call me “Father.”

My concern in all this is not so much being called “Father,” however. I suppose I’m more concerned with the “Mark” getting lost. Not that it would be so terrible, but I don’t want to just blend into some general category they have in their brain. I want them to know the unique me. Not just because I like to be appreciated, but also so that the unique gifts God has given may be best put to use. Does being just “Father” somehow obscure that? I’m not sure. I may be thinking too much into it. Nonetheless, it’s an identity that I’m still not quite used to. Someone says “Father,” and it doesn’t immediately sink in that they are talking to me.

Yet, in spite of all this, I also find myself resisting the temptation to say, “just call me Mark.” This is because I think that I also have an obligation myself to appreciate and respect my new identity. As much as I know myself to be just like everybody else, there is at least one way now that I am not like everybody else, and cannot be. I’m an ordained priest not because I crave respect and adulation or whatever, but because God has called me to be this. So as uncomfortable as I may be being called Father, I am equally if not more uncomfortable with inclinations I might have to make little of it. It smacks of artificial humility rather than the real humility which is required—accepting the vocation God has called me to, and its consequences. But there is also more to me than just this particular vocation. So maybe in addition to “Father,” maybe there could be also be a “Father Mark” once in a while. Just so I don’t get lost.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

New Home

The last week has been quite busy, thus my absence. I returned to the States in time for the young adult retreat in Atlanta. It was a great weekend. In addition to a few talks, I heard confessions, and presided at Sunday’s mass. It was a real privilege to be able to do so much. I’ve been doing retreats since I was a teenager, but this was different because now I had a different role. Indeed, much of it was new. It was the team’s first time doing this retreat, and our first time working together. Because I was in Germany, I did not have the opportunity to really get to know them before the weekend, so it took some getting used to each other. Little things needed to be negotiated, like assuring them that it was not necessary to defer to me when it came time to pray. And, of course, I still have to get used to people referring to me as “Father” so often, which I will say a bit more about in a future post.

Then, it was off to Florida for a few days to visit my parents, and contend with Tropical Storm Fay, which kept us at home for most of my birthday. We had to postpone our day trip to Sarasota until Thursday. By then the storm had moved further along enough that we had a nice, pretty day there, with a few sprinkles, but no rain.

Now I’m two days back home in my community here in Boston. Things are familiar, but again very new. I return to a new house, and return as a priest. There are new faces, old faces have gone, and I’m not quite sure exactly where I fit in with all this. But I’m looking forward to seeing how my new life back at home comes together . . .

Friday, August 15, 2008

Newly Busted

My friends over at Busted Halo are basking in the glow of their new web design. Check it out! There you can also find the homilies of Paulist Father Dave Dwyer who, along with Mike Hayes, hosts the Busted Halo podcast.

Anniversaries & New Beginnings

These are days replete with significance for me and many others. Yesterday, August 14, marked 11 years as a Jesuit for me (I entered August 14, 1997), and two months as a priest. Today, August 15, is the 9 year anniversary of the day I took my first vows in 1999.

Today, also, I'm remembering in a special way the group of novices from my province who this morning pronounced their first vows: Paul Frederick, Marcus Fryer, John Hough, Stephen Pitts, and Sylvester Tan. They will leave the novitiate to begin their Philosophy studies in New York, Chicago and St. Louis. And, God willing, they will also find themselves in 8-9 years ordained priests. Please pray for them.

I'm unable to be with them today because I'm in Atlanta preparing for the retreat I'm working on, which begins tomorrow. We have about 35 young adults coming to participate in the retreat, which is exciting! Please pray for all of us as well!

On Tuesday, August 19, the Company magazine bio of me will cease to be incorrect, as I will be celebrating my birthday.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Last Homily in Frankfurt

I was pleased when I saw the readings this week. How appropriate that I should finish my time here with my "first parish" with the Gospel story depicted on my ordination card! Indeed, Peter's walk on the water is one of my favorite Gospel episodes, one that has brought me much consolation in my years as a Jesuit. And I enjoyed the chance to reflect on it in the context of Elijah's encounter with God in that "tiny whispering sound" in the first reading. So, here it goes:

One of the most frequent questions I hear from people on retreat is: How do I know that it is God speaking to me in my silent prayer, and it’s not just my mind telling me what I want to hear? It’s a great question, and I can relate to it because I often ask myself the same thing. And it’s not an easy one to answer. Save for God appearing and speaking to you directly—and even then you’d probably think yourself crazy—it’s hard to be sure. How did Elijah know, in the first reading today, that God wasn’t in the earthquake, the wind or the fire, but instead in that small whispering voice? Save for the fact that he was a prophet, and thus should know such things, who knows?! At this moment Elijah was on the run from people who wanted to take his life. It’s a wonder he didn’t grasp on to the idea that God would manifest himself as something thundering and violent. Yet, perhaps he simply recognized that at such a time it was not more violence that was needed, but rather a whispering calm. In any case, I think we’re meant to take note of what happens next. When Elijah recognizes God he moves to the front of the cave. He comes out of hiding and waits for God to tell him what’s next.

This is actually an apt metaphor for our prayer experience. And this is what I tell those who ask me about it. Like Elijah, we look for God. And, like Elijah, we trust that God’s presence will be made manifest in our lives. In answer to that recognition, we too have come out of hiding. We open ourselves to God. So, why wouldn’t God speak to us? Why wouldn’t God take advantage of that openness in prayer and reveal to us what’s next. And God inevitably does. Sometimes God just confirms what we were thinking already, for certainly God was already working. But sometimes God does something that comes as a total surprise.

When God does speak to us in prayer, and I think he does far more often than we recognize, this is usually an invitation to obedience. If you’re looking to be a rebel, here’s your chance, because this is one of the most countercultural things about our faith. Not only that we would talk to God, and claim that he speaks with us, but that we would let God tell us what to do! In a world that worships independence and self-determination, people will think we’re crazy not so much because we claim to speak with God, but that we would do something contrary to our own will in order to serve God’s will! And their objections will only become louder and more thunderous if, as sometimes happens, things then don’t go so well.

Six years ago I found myself in just this kind of situation. I’d finished the first part of my seminary studies, and was looking forward to a few years of active ministry before returning to studies. There was a plan in place for me to go and teach English at one of our high schools. I was really excited, and looking forward to it. However, about six months before I was to start, I was asked to consider another position. Not teaching, but directing the campus ministry and community service programs. I was not happy. I’d already told my formation director that an administrative type job would not suit me well, but he insisted I consider it. I did, then returned to him and repeated my objections, adding that I would do whatever was asked of me and try my best. I was asked to do it, and tried my best to do it well, but I couldn’t hide the fact that I was just barely keeping my head above water and that the work was making me miserable. I thought: If I weren’t a Jesuit, I would just quit. Indeed, I’m not sure I would have made it if it hadn’t been for the presence of a couple of Jesuit friends, and my work outside the school directing two women through a retreat in daily life, where we encountered just the kind of questions about prayer I was speaking of.

After a year of basically overworking myself, the principal expressed no appreciation for my work, but instead not so nicely invited me to leave. And my religious superiors were starting to wonder about my future as a Jesuit. But by then I had already realized for myself that something new was happening. I realized that despite my desire to just quit the job, my confidence in my vocation as a Jesuit and a priest had not wavered, even if now it was being called into question. Also, what had been happening at that same time was that I had already received an unexpected invitation—from someone who had no idea what was going on with me at the high school—to come and teach at Loyola University in New Orleans. I spent a very happy and successful two years there during which even I was amazed at the things I was able to accomplish, and the doubts of my superiors were soon put to rest, more or less.

I realized then why, for reasons I couldn’t have anticipated, a few years before I had found myself so drawn to the story in today’s Gospel reading. As with Elijah, this is a story of recognition. Peter and the Apostles think they’re seeing a ghost as Jesus walks toward them on the water. Yet, in response to Jesus’ voice, Peter does what many of us would like to do when we are trying to sort out whether or not God is really speaking to us: He kind of dares Jesus to prove himself, saying, “If it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus says, “OK. Come on.” Like Elijah stepping out of the cave, Peter offers to Jesus his obedience, by stepping out of the boat and, amazingly, finds himself walking on the water. Now a lot of people want to see this as a story of failure. But I want to say, wait a minute! Did you notice that Peter walked on the water? Jesus told him to, and he walked on the water! Yeah, then he started to notice the high winds, and began to sink, just like the winds of independence, self-reliance and doubt can get in the way of our attempts to answer God’s call to walk on the water as well. But, at least he stepped out of the boat! And he and Elijah both highlight for us today, what I also learned during that miserable year: When we choose to trust that we are hearing God in our prayer, when we choose despite our doubts and even perhaps contrary to our own will to be obedient to God, we’ll probably find what Peter did. We’ll sometimes find ourselves doing more than we ever imagined we could, and we’ll sometimes find ourselves miserable and struggling for air. Yet, either way, like Peter, we’ll always have the confidence that we’ll be heard when we cry out, “Lord, save me.” And we’ll also have the confidence that God will respond.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Atlanta Bound

A week from now I'll be back in the states to help out with a young adult retreat at our retreat house in Atlanta. I'm really looking forward to it, though I expect I'll be a little jetlagged. I'm also looking forward to having the opportunity of visiting with the Jesuits there. The retreat house, and the Jesuits, were featured in a recent article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. If you're a young adult in the Atlanta area, think about joining us. You can find information about the retreat here. Here's a little snapshot of Jesuit life from the above mentioned article (the photo above includes some of the Jesuits in question):

When the priests aren't conducting retreats, they are often preparing sermons to deliver in local parishes and counseling spiritual seekers, said the Rev. Albert Louapre, known as "Father Al." They also must handle the more mundane facets of life such as laundry and cooking —which often involves a can opener.

After Mass on this morning, the priests gathered in the kitchen to make their breakfasts — four men darting from refrigerator to sink to stove to toaster. Around the breakfast table the conversation turned toward the seminary attended by Louapre, 78, and the Rev. Niel Jarreau, 81.

"The older generation," cracked Salazar, 64.

In response, he got a perfect lip-vibrating, tongue-extended raspberry from Jarreau.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Twelve Baskets Full: Last Week's Homily

In past weeks the readings have challenged us with threats that if we don’t step up as Christians, that if we don’t plant firm roots and do the kinds of things Jesus asks, we risk being thrown into the fiery furnace, where there will be “wailing and grinding of teeth.” We tend to prefer to fast forward past these parts of the Gospel so that we can focus more on readings like those for today’s mass, which promise that nothing can separate us from God’s love and God will give us all that we need. This is the future we’d rather imagine for ourselves—God accomplishing miracles to heal us and to feed us, not the pain of being separated from God because of our actions. Or, because of our inaction.

Despite the sunnier tone of today’s readings, Jesus’ response to the Apostles in today’s Gospel, “Give them some food yourselves,” challenges them, and us, not just to act, but also not to fail to act when others are in need.

We begin every mass with the penitential prayer, “Lord, have mercy.” But in the longer version of that prayer we are more explicit, confessing and asking forgiveness for, “What I have done, and what I have failed to do.” While we mustn’t live our lives consumed with regret, much good can come from asking the forgiveness of others for ways in which we’ve failed. Most of us who show up to Mass each week probably aren’t spending a lot of time deliberately hurting others by our actions. Our failures tend to be a bit more subtle, but just as real, and potentially just as problematic.

My point, however, is not to dwell on this but instead to propose that today’s readings might help us to understand why we often fail to act as we should, and how we might do better.

Today’s readings are hopeful and reassuring. God says, “Come to the water,” I will provide everything for you! Saint Paul reassures us that “nothing can separate us from the love of God revealed in Christ.” This is what we want to hear.

But think a little more abut what is being said here. God is saying you don’t need to worry about yourself: I am everything that you need. And Christ is showing us, through all that he does for us, that nothing can separate us from God’s love! Just think about that for a bit longer. Now, ask yourself: Do I really believe this? Do I really live it?

I must confess that as much as I’d like to answer with an enthusiastic and unqualified “yes!” to these questions, I have to hesitate a bit. See, I often find myself in situations in which I feel that if I really believed that God was going to take care of everything, I would be doing things differently. Why? Because I tend to play it safe, rather than to give extravagantly like God says he will in the first reading. I think: If I really believed this, I would be giving more money to the poor, putting more in the collection basket, and be living more poorly myself, not always putting that little bit aside “just in case.” I’d be feeding more hungry people. I’d be responding more quickly to those I encounter who are in need, rather than worrying about the risks involved, the consequences, or how it might inconvenience me. If I really believed all this, simply put, I would take more risks and live more radically, in a way more like what I spoke about in last week’s homily. In a way more like Jesus did. Maybe you have had a similar feeling.

But this precisely where the hope in today’s readings lies. Because, like me, you probably have a deep desire to believe these things wholeheartedly. I know that despite my frequent failures, because of that desire, each day I find myself believing it more and more. Growing in this desire has convinced me that the more our belief in God’s generosity, protection and love guides those things that we choose to do, especially those things that we could easily and without significant consequence walk away from, the more we will find ourselves doing amazing, even miraculous things for God and for others. We will love others in ways that seem foolish, but that we know are holy and right. So that when we find ourselves in impossible situations like the Apostles do in today’s Gospel—thousands of people and almost nothing to feed them with—we won’t try to send them home, we won’t even need Jesus to tell us “give them something to eat yourselves,” because, with Jesus’ help, and perhaps risking everything, we will already have found a way to do it. And we will stand back in awe when we see how much we have left over.