Wednesday, September 24, 2008
"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
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 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 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 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.
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
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
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.