Thursday, July 31, 2008
If you had a look at the Company magazine article which I linked to below, you may have noticed that a number of us who were just ordained are 40 years old or better. Even considering the fact that the article has my age wrong, I'm still 40 years old. During my Jesuit formation I sometimes got a bit discouraged by the fact that I wouldn't be ordained until I was 40, but I always took consolation in the fact that our founder, Saint Ignatius, was older than 40 when he was ordained and, besides, waited over a year before saying his first mass!
Today is the feast of Saint Ignatius. So, in celebration, I have added to my sidebar something I wrote a couple of years ago (so in places it is a little dated). It is the complete text of Saint Ignatius' autobiography, divided into small parts which you can read a day at a time, accompanied by a reflection after each part. It offers some nice insight into the life of Ignatius before he founded the Jesuits and became a priest, as well as some insight into my own life before priesthood. If you're not interested in the latter, the posts always begin with the selection from Ignatius' autobiography. You could simply read that, and skip the rest.
Happy Feast of Ignatius Loyola! Many blessings on you!
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Company magazine, a magazine of the U.S. Jesuits, has published its latest issue which includes details about the men ordained in the U.S. this year. Check it out here.
A bit more information on our new priests can be found at the US Jesuit webpage.
I've only been a priest for about six weeks, but already I've fielded repeated questions about "my parish."
The truth is that I don't really have a parish.
Most people's understanding of the priesthood is according to their experience of being a member of a parish, where there is usually a permanent priest assigned, usually a diocesan priest. So it is not surprising that most people would think that all priests are assigned to a parish. This, in fact, is not the case, especially for priests like myself who belong to a religious order. Yes, some of us do spend time working in a parish. However, at least as far as Jesuits are concerned (and I expect this is true of many other religious priests), many if not most of us are unlikely to be permanently assigned to a parish in the same way a diocesan priest is (diocesan priests are often assigned to parishes for a minimum of six years at a time, and often end up staying longer). Even Jesuits who are assigned to a parish often after several years are assigned to another ministry. Our association with a parish, then, tends to be different than that of diocesan priests, the majority of whom spend most of their priestly lives in parish ministry.
How is it different? Well, take, for example, my current situation. I do have a parish, in a sense, as I am currently the only priest regularly serving the parish here. Nevertheless, I am not "on the books" as the pastor, another priest who lives here is officially listed as the administrator of the parish. It is also an international community of people who worship in English here in Germany, one in which the community takes a lot of responsibility for what happens in the parish. I, more or less, just show up to say mass, hear confessions, etc. Yet, still, it is "my" parish, in a sense, for at least the next few weeks. For better or worse, the community has had only me saying mass and preaching for about two months. So, we've developed a relationship, and I have the luxury of being able to refer back to things I've said previous weeks, hoping they might remember (!).
Some here have asked what parish I am going back to, and I've had to explain my situation. Though I am a new priest, I have been missioned to further studies, not to a parish. This does not mean I will not be working as a priest. What it means is that I have to find some regular work for myself as a priest. And, as you might imagine, there is no lack of opportunity. What I am hoping is that I will be able to be involved in some of the student liturgies at Boston College, and I will also try to arrange with a local parish for me to come each weekend and take one of the masses there.
As a religious priest, then, one becomes something of a guest in the places where he offers mass. This is nice in one sense because I don't have all the responsibilities that come with a parish. I can come in and bore or inspire the people (hopefully the latter!), and then go home again. It also has its challenges because, since I am a guest, I don't have the luxury of doing everything precisely the way I would want to do it. Each parish has its own peculiar way of doing things and, as a visitor, it is not necessarily my place to insist on doing things otherwise. If they were guilty of some egregious error, I might have to take a stand, but usually this is not the case.
I must admit I kind of like this way of being priest, because you get to meet a variety of different people, and it fosters the humility required to appreciate approaches to worship that, given my own preferences, I might not otherwise be involved with. I get to experience the richness and diversity of the Catholic faith from a rather unique perspective, while also experiencing the wonder of the one common Eucharist we share, and this whether I find the community's approach to worship joyful, prayerful, or exceedingly dull. Christ comes there to be with us whether or not the community is inspired, whether or not the music is good, and whether or not I say the mass perfectly while I try to do things their way.
So, I guess "my parish," then, is not a place, but rather a unique mix of experiences, with a wide variety of people, who I am grateful to have the opportunity to serve as a priest.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
I escaped Frankfurt for about 24 hours and went to Cologne. Below is the interior of the Jesuit Church there, on the left the Cathedral. There I also had the pleasure of meeting Theresa, a theology student at the University in Bonn, who I have been corresponding with for a while. She discovered my blog a while back, and got it in touch. I'm glad she did! We had a very nice time.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Monday, July 21, 2008
So, yeah, there was that brief memory lapse on Saturday night. But at my final mass on Sunday, which is at a different church than the other two, things kind of took a turn for the worse.
Before mass I forgot to do one thing that I usually do--check the Sacramentary to be sure it's ready, all the ribbons in the right place, etc. This I didn't realize until after I'd already processed to the altar to begin Mass. Which is not too much of a problem because I only need the book for the prayer which comes just before the readings. That page, thankfully, was marked. But, not only was the book not set up for mass otherwise, it was not the Sacramentary I usually use! This one is set up a little bit differently. So, instead of being attentive during the readings, I was fumbling through the book, hoping not too many people were noticing. I managed to get things more or less in place before I had to get up to proclaim the Gospel. And, actually, of the three versions of my homily this weekend, this one, I thought, turned out the best. Then, back to mass.
I was so flustered by having the wrong book, I forgot the handwashing. I didn't realize this right away. No, I realized this a short while later, which caused me also to wonder: did I skip more than that?! This distraction, then, messed up my gestures for that part of mass, but I also managed to figure out that I'd only skipped the handwashing. So, Phew! No questions about the validity of mass.
So, I thought I was out of the woods until I realized that I hadn't marked the page for the prayer after the Lord's prayer, which I usually have the book open to for that part of the mass. So, a little bit of panic as I realized this was going to have to be from memory, and if I got stuck this could be really embarrassing. I'm happy to say the memory worked, and we made it through the rest of mass without a hitch. I'm not sure how aware the congregation was of all that drama, but it was a humbling reminder of the fact that every mass need not be perfect to be prayerful--and valid!
You have to wonder a little after the Gospel readings for the last two weeks: Why is it that the Apostles keep asking Jesus to explain his parables? Shouldn't they, of all people, know what he's talking about? In fact, didn't Jesus say that they were the ones who were supposed to get the parables, as opposed to those who didn't recognize Jesus for who he was? And if the Apostles didn't get it right away, maybe this means we have to think a bit about where we stand.
I used to teach poetry. Most students hate poetry. And they don’t hate like they hate brussel sprouts, or asparagus, or some other kind of vegetable people tend to dislike. They hate it because it intimidates them. They hate it because when it comes to determining the “right” answer, most have come to one of two conclusions: the right answer is secret or hidden, and it’s too much work to try and figure it out; or, there is no right answer, so what’s the point? To a certain extent, their frustration is justified. Because when it comes to poetry, there is no single “right” answer. However, this does not mean, as some then conclude, that any answer is right, nor does it mean that there are no wrong answers. When it comes to an individual poem, there are many ways in which it might be interpreted correctly; there are other ways which might initially seem correct but, upon further examination, can’t be justified; and then there are many ways which can be easily shown to be wrong, if it is not already obvious. The key to arriving at a good interpretation of a poem—and this is another reason why students are frustrated—is that you can’t just read it once, and then make up your mind what it means. You’ve got to stay with it, read it a few times more, consider how others have interpreted it, look at it in terms of its own historical context, pay attention to how it moves you, consider how it might speak to people today, put it aside, and come back to it again. The key to arriving at a good interpretation is to be open to discovery, being willing to see how you might have gotten some things wrong, so as to better understand and even live in the reality which the poem explores. Unfortunately, in a semester course, in which students are most concerned with what grade they are going to get, few are going to be convinced of how worthwhile such a process of discovery might be.
But our life as Catholic Christians, fortunately, is more than a semester course. And the process of discovering what it means to be a “good Catholic” is not unlike interpreting a poem. Those of us that make a serious effort at living the Catholic life “rightly” will experience some of the same frustrations as that poetry student. At first we might think that we have it pretty much figured out. But then we look at it again and again, and things that we once thought we had right don’t seem to work anymore. We meet other people who have been at it longer who show us a new way of approaching things, or we meet younger people with new understandings which shed new light on our old prejudices about how one must go about things the “right” way. Soon we realize that it is impossible for us to get it right once and for all, and not have to worry about it anymore.
One of the things that should make all this easier, but just as often seems to make it harder, is that we are all in this together. We’re all stuck with each other, all of us at different places in our attempt to live the life that Jesus has called us to as Catholic Christians. We don’t all go to our own private masses on Sunday. No, we all come together here, no matter where each of us in that process of discovery, here to share our common belief in Christ and to worship together, the weeds and the wheat.
This image from today’s gospel of the weeds and the wheat is an image that
When we become too convinced with the “rightness” of where we are in the Christian life, and the wrongness of where others are, we run the risk of not recognizing the possibility that we may have placed ourselves among the weeds rather than the wheat. Today’s readings call us not to certainty about our Christian lives, but to humility.
Brothers and sisters:
The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness;
for we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.
And the one who searches hearts
knows what is the intention of the Spirit,
because he intercedes for the holy ones
according to God’s will.
Let’s pray today that, especially as we endeavor to live together as a Catholic community, that our desire to be right and to live rightly might not interfere with our trust in the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of others, and especially in our own.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Because of the seal of confession, I hesitate to say too much. But my experience so far has made me realize that the circumstances of the confessions we practiced in our cases in class were rather ideal. They presumed you had only limited pressure as far as the time you could spend. But, when someone asks for confession 15 minutes before mass, the time you can spend is limited. I'll admit to feeling torn. I don't want to deny somebody the Sacrament, but I also regret having to rush through it. Nevertheless it seems more important to allow someone the grace of the Sacrament rather than insist on having the ideal situation. I have to trust that the Holy Spirit, as the readings for this Sunday suggest, will make up for our shortcomings. It also helps me appreciate more the opportunity I have when someone comes for confession and I'm not so rushed.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
This is the "before" shot, taken after my last time serving as a deacon, at the first mass of Fr. Bill Murphy, S.J. (center) in Chicago, a week before my own first mass. With us is our good friend and housemate for two years, Fr. Dani Villanueva, S.J., from Spain.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
I'm not sure how I feel about them taking the name for themselves. Indeed, "Holy, Holy, Holy" would probably be more interesting. But, nonetheless, this more positive story about priests can't hurt these days!
You can learn more about them here.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Monday, July 14, 2008
It's especially acute, I think, because I'm somewhere where I don't really know anyone very well. But, nevertheless, I expect this is an experience many priests probably suffer from.
Presiding at liturgy is not only a moment of intense personal prayer, it is an even a more intense communal experience. Different priests probably have different levels of awareness of the people they are praying with, but I haven't found myself getting so lost in the mass that I forget there are several hundred people there praying with me. This is probably a good thing. I started singing in choral groups and choirs from a young age, and so I still simply by habit look at people when I am singing (in this case also praying), not only looking straight ahead, but looking around. I take note of the faces, and have to take care not to get too distracted by the many things going on out there! I am also very conscious during my homilies of whether the community seems "with me" or not. My experience as a member of the congregation has been that some priests manage to be blissfully unaware of whether or not this is the case. But I hope I never get there.
So, this means that when we come to the end of the mass, I've just had an intense experience of community. I also find it important to be there to greet people as they leave, so that experience continues even after mass to a certain extent. But then comes the moment to head back to the sacristy and get out of my vestments. I'm left alone, while everyone else has gone off to do whatever is next. It's not hard to feel suddenly very lonely, especially here in a city where I barely speak the language. That doesn't mean the people here have been completely inattentive. I was invited to join some of them for dinner after my first mass here. And, the weekend before last, one of the ladies in the parish just outside the city where I also celebrate mass (almost as if somebody knew I was feeling this) offered to bring me to a local festival, which I enjoyed very much.
One of the things that exacerbates this, no doubt, is the shortage of priests. After my first mass on Sunday morning, the people gather for coffee and refreshments, and then some pretty regularly go out together for breakfast afterwards. I'm not able to join them, however, because I have to rush off to the next mass at another church. I don't resent it, and I'm glad I'm able to do it, but this prevents me from getting to know the people at either community as I would like to. But since I suspect I'm not the only one experiencing this sort of thing, I thought it might be good for people to know. If the priest at your parish doesn't have to rush off to the next thing after mass, maybe he would like to join some of you for breakfast or lunch! It wouldn't hurt to ask.
In the meantime, I'm thinking I just might have to be proactive as well and make some plans beforehand to meet up with some people after mass!
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Tonight during the homily, about half way through, all the faces went kind of blank. I seemed to have lost them. So I was thinking: Maybe I need to change the homily for the morning.
However, after mass I was informed that evidently about the time the faces started going blank, the microphone had cut out. So, many people in the church couldn't hear me at all.
So, was it the homily, or was it the microphone?
I think I'll sleep on it and make some adjustments in the morning . . .
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
I have also become much more conscious of what I don't quite want to call "pet peeves" because, while they are things that bug me, they aren't unimportant or silly as, I assure you some of my other "pet peeves" are.
The one that is on my mind these weeks has to do with receiving the Eucharist. Now I've not yet had anything so bad as the communicant who, according to a Jesuit friend, came to communion talking on his cell phone, but I am tempted to give an instruction on receiving the Eucharist. Now, I'm sure that my readers are not guilty of such things, but maybe you could tell your friends. This is what I would say:
First, and this might actually make the difference, consider that the Eucharist is something that you probably actually want to receive. How might you approach the Eucharist as if it were something you really wanted?
Second, imagine if someone were about to give you something that you not only really wanted, but also really needed, where and how would you hold your hands to receive it? Would you hold your hands so low that the person would have to risk back injury to give it to you, or just casually stick out one hand as if unconcerned where what you are receiving might end up? Or wouldn't you hold both hands up high, near those of the person giving it you, so as not to lose something precious?
Note: when you don't hold your hands up high, you cause confusion, because the priest or eucharistic minister, not seeing your hands, will presume you're receiving by mouth, the result being further confusion when you don't open your mouth.
I was a child when communion in the hand was first introduced, and I think the way we were trained to receive still works well: Hold your hands high, left hand placed over right, so that the Eucharistic minister can easily place the bread into your hand. It's that simple.
Third, patience. "Amen" is a response. You're saying "yes" to something! Don't preempt me by saying "Amen" before I say anything. Wait until the priest or eucharistic minister says, "Body of Christ," and then say "Amen." And you silent types, overcome your shyness and at least say "Amen," don't just stand there and say nothing. Also, it's not a time to chat, so stick to "Amen" and avoid such things as "how are you?" and "have a nice day!"
Fourth. You may never have considered this, but priests and eucharistic ministers of my age (40) and younger tended to be brought up receiving communion in the hand, or at least knowing that was the way the majority of people received. So, as a result, when you come for communion by mouth, this can be a source of anxiety. There is more danger of something going wrong, like dropping the bread, or touching someone's mouth. This is not to discourage anyone from receiving this way, but just FYI. You can help alleviate that anxiety, and protect against such accidents by opening your mouth fairly wide, and sticking that tongue out (not all the way).
Fifth. It was because of things like this that the Church recently asked people to bow their heads before receiving communion. This is good for helping you to remember that the Eucharist is something you actually want to receive!
Finally, a note on intinction. Some people have become accustomed to dipping the bread in the wine, and then receiving the bread that way. This is actually the common practice in some eastern rite Catholic churches. But most people do not intinct the way it is supposed to be done. The proper way is to hand the bread to the eucharistic minister and let them dip the bread in the wine. They can then give it to you on the tongue.
Again, I think the first thing is more or less the cure for all ills. Remember that the Eucharist is something that you want and need, and is worthy of reverence. The rest, then, would more or less take care of itself.
Sunday, July 6, 2008
My "first assignment," on the other hand, is to continue my studies. Though I am now a priest, that will be my primary task for the next few years. This does not mean I will not be working as a priest. However, instead of being "assigned" to a particular parish, I will, when I return to Boston, establish some kind of regular schedule of priestly ministry. This could be at a local parish, or perhaps in campus ministry at the university. I will find some place where there is a need, and offer my help. Since I did not return to Boston after ordination, I have not yet had the opportunity to get that set up.
Nevertheless, this summer I am working as a parish priest, of sorts. Generally, after ordination we are expected to at least spend the summer working as a priest, usually in a parish situation. In my case, I also had another goal for the summer as well: to learn German. And so I found myself a job working as a priest in Germany, while I study German.
No, I'm not inflicting my horrible German on some poor parish! I'm serving as a priest to two English-speaking parish communities in Frankfurt, Germany for the summer. I have three masses per weekend. Two at a twelfth-century church here in Frankfurt, on Saturday night and Sunday morning, and one more Sunday morning at a church built in the last half-century in a suburb of Frankfurt. It's a fascinating situation to work in. The Frankfurt community is a fascinating mix of people, English speakers from numerous countries who have come here to live and work. The People come from Asia, Europe and North America primarily, though we have people from other parts of the globe as well. There are even some Germans in the community who prefer the English liturgy to that of the German churches they have been to. The other community is mostly ex-patriate Americans, though there are also people there from a number of other places. They are both lovely communities, and I'm enjoying the work very much, especially the opportunity to work in such a multicultural context, while also learning a lot about German culture in the meantime!
It's also interesting being "the priest" amidst my fellow students at the language school, where I completed my first week on Friday. Most of them seem to have a limited religious "literacy," and so they have lots of questions! Once we establish first that Jesuit is not another religion, then I can tell them a little bit more about the richness of the Catholic tradition of religious life, and my experience of being a priest thus far. This is the second summer in which I have spent a good bit of time among people for whom God and religion is not necessarily a big part of their life, not necessarily because they are hostile toward it, but just because for whatever reason it has not been a big part of their lives. I spend so much time in religious and Catholic circles that I think I sometimes forget how many people like this there are out there. And it seems as if the number is growing. I'm starting to wonder whether something that God might be calling me to in the future is outreach to such people. My experience has been, like I said, that rather than being hostile toward Christianity and Catholicism they are rather quite interested in knowing more about it. I don't feel it necessary to proselytize. I just answer their questions. Who knows where that might lead?
In many ways, then, what I'm doing now is my "first assignment," and I'm finding it a nice way to start my life as a priest. And it will be a good experience to carry with me as I continue my studies and my priestly ministry back home.
Saturday, July 5, 2008
And, as you'll see, the experience of this week had more than a little influence on this weekend's homily!:
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
As I listened to those final words of the Gospel today, I couldn’t help but be struck by the apparent difference from the message of our readings in the previous two Sundays. Last week, the readings shared the theme of rescue, and seemed to be warning us that our belief in God and our choice to follow Jesus will often find us helpless and in need of rescue. And one clear message which came through in the readings the week before that seemed to be that our following of Jesus would not only at times find us helpless, but also that we would suffer for it. So, what a relief to hear from Jesus today: Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest . . . for my yoke is easy, and my burden light. This is the message we’ve been waiting for! No helplessness, no suffering, but rather, this is going to be easy! Does Jesus’ invitation today mean we can just forget about those other things he said? Or is Jesus contradicting himself?
As I pondered this question, a rather obvious analogy presented itself to me. Most of you here today are people who are living somewhere that requires you to speak a language that is not your own. And that required that somehow you had to learn the language. So, you already know the helplessness and suffering involved in making such a change in your life. Yesterday, I finished my first week of learning to speak German. There are few things that leave me feeling as humiliated and helpless as learning a new language. One day it seems like I’m starting to get it. The next day I’m wondering if I learned anything the past few days. And I don’t know about you, but this is much like my experience of being a Christian. One day, one week, I’m on such a roll, doing precisely the kind of things God has been asking me to do, and I start feeling pretty good about myself. I’m starting to get this Christian thing! Then I find myself doing something really awful to somebody, or getting distracted by things not of God, and I wonder: have I learned anything in thirty years?
As followers of God, as Christians, it seems that we are always trying to learn the language. And readings like our first two today serve to remind us that it is a language often foreign to our experience. God’s dominion, Zechariah, tells us comes not from violence, war and domination, but by proclaiming peace to the nations! And
Jesus’ invitation isn’t offered to those who find life easy, with a promise that life will continue to be that way. No, he presumes that we are laboring, that we are burdened, trying to learn the language of the Christian life. A language in which dominion comes from peace and not war. A language in which our material desires are transformed and replaced by the desires of the Holy Spirit, and the desire of Jesus for a world in which all will come to know God his Father as he does. Learning this language, like learning any language which is not one’s own, puts us in situations in which we are helpless, unable to understand what someone is trying to say to us, and suffering from the humiliation which comes with it. Our pride is taken away, and we find ourselves dependent upon others, even for the most basic of things. This, by the way, is a good time to remember that this is the daily reality for many in our world.
But, if we continue to labor, carrying the burden that each time we take a step forward we soon seem to be taking a half step—or even two steps—back; If we stay with it, we eventually find ourselves at that wondrous moment when those conversations which we once seemed like so much noise, suddenly start to make some sense! Soon, it’s not so much effort to speak or even understand the language. We needn’t translate every word. It starts to come more naturally. Indeed, I except some of you have been here long enough that at times you need to say something in German, because you can’t remember the English word! The language has not changed, but we have. In a significant sense, we have been made new. How much greater, then, if in our Christian lives, we can get to the point where we can’t even remember how we used to think or do things, because we have become so accustomed to living as Christ calls us to live—living lives filled with generosity, faith, hope and love. Our burden becomes lighter, our work easier, because we have come to know how to speak the language of the Spirit, even though as with any language there is always more to learn.And the greater ease which comes with living this language of the Spirit frees each of us to do what we are called to do: to teach others to speak it too.
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
“We are blessed with the enthusiasm the newly ordained will bring to the mission of the Church,” said Cardinal Sean O’Malley, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations. “We pray that through their good work and example more men will generously respond to the Lord’s call to serve as priests.”
The report reflects a response rate of approximately 84 percent of the 401 potential ordinands reported to CARA. These 335 ordinands include 242 ordinands to the diocesan priesthood and 77 ordinands to the religious priesthood. Another 16 ordinands did not specify whether they were being ordained to diocesan or religious priesthood.
CARA also found
- Most ordinands have been Catholic since birth, although close to one in ten (9 percent) became Catholic later in life.
- Half of responding ordinands (51 percent) attended a Catholic elementary school, as have almost half (49 percent) of all Catholic adults in the United States. However, ordinands are somewhat more likely than other U.S. Catholic adults to have attended a Catholic high school and they are much more likely to have attended a Catholic college.
- Ordinands were active in parish ministries before entering the seminary, with between about half and three-quarters indicating they served as an altar server, lector, and/or Eucharistic minister in their parish.
Get all the info here.