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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Yes, Father

Did you ever notice that in the movies when they want to portray a priest as being especially sensitive or pastoral (or just as often manipulative and creepy), he says to the person that has come to see him, "Yes, my child." Now I don't know about you, but I don't know of a single priest that refers to others as "my child," except perhaps in a sarcastic way. It's just not done. However, many people do insist on calling you "Father," and this takes some getting used to. Not that this is wrong or anything, it kind of goes with the job, but when one day people are not calling you that, and the next day they are, it can seem a little strange.

I thought it would be easier to adjust, because it certainly wouldn't be the first time. During my years of formation I was known to dress in clerics when I was working, and I got used to people calling me Father then because, hey, I was dressed like a priest. In the beginning, I would correct people and explain to them that I wasn't a priest. But, often enough, they would respond with something like, "I understand, Father." It eventually just became easier not to bother to explain.

But the weekend of ordination it was suddenly different. People were calling me Father when I was wearing civilian clothes! This was a clear indication that something had changed! Still, some of those people knew me before, and so some were still comfortable enough with just calling me "Mark."

But this week I arrived in my summer assignment here in Frankfurt, Germany. Besides learning German, I'm serving as a priest for two English-speaking communities. They don't know me as "Mark." They only know me as the priest, as "Father Mark." So, besides settling into this new language, I'm simultaneously settling into this new identity. And, for the next couple of months it will not only be "Father," but also at times "Vater."

I start German classes tomorrow morning. So please remember this "Vater" in your prayers. You might also remember the German football team. Unfortunately, tonight they lost the European cup (which I'm not totally upset about, because that means tonight it will be easier to sleep than if they had won--still, that would have been fun too!). Tschüss!

Speaking of Politics . . .

My brief notice regarding things political reminded me that I have actually revealed my vote publicly in print at least once, though it was well after the fact. I was making a point about the election of Benedict XVI shortly after it happened, and dragged Bob Dole into it. Then, I was taking a bit of a risk in what I said. But three years later, it seems I was more or less on the right track. This is what I said:

I do think it’s somewhat shortsighted to expect that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger will handle the Papacy the same way he headed up the Congregation of the Doctrine for the Faith. I also think it shows little faith in the power of the Holy Spirit and the prayers of the mystical body of Christ to jump to the conclusion that his election is somehow the death knell for the Church or its engagement with the modern world. Pope Benedict is an intelligent man with a critical mind. He sees the complexity of things and is sensitive to the needs of the world, perhaps to a greater degree than his previous job allowed or betrayed.

If you want to know what Bob Dole had to do with all this, and Jon Stewart, for that matter, read the whole thing.

Priest & Politics

As a Jesuit, and now a priest, I hesitate to even share with others who I'm likely to support in elections. I have been an independent since I first began voting, so it's not hard for me to steer clear of endorsing a particular political party. And, since I have yet to find a candidate that is consistent on the issues most important to me and the Church, I never find myself voting for a particular candidate without reservations. Nevertheless, I feel it's my responsibility to vote for the candidate who is likely to be best, given the range of issues involved. Life issues, of course, are at the top of my list, and I pray that one day that we might have a presidential candidate who is consistently pro-life on all issues which involve the dignity of human life.

Archbishop Chaput has a new and, I think, positive initiative in this regard, though I was a little surprised to hear of it since he was also the man who was quoted in a 2004 New York Times article: "We are not with the Republican Party," he said. "They are with us."

Nevertheless, in 2008, he seems to be advising his priests and deacons against such statements:

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Priests and deacons serving in the Archdiocese of Denver will not be allowed to donate money to political candidates or make endorsements under an upcoming directive from Archbishop Charles Chaput.

The directive states that clerics “may not publicly participate or endorse political campaigns or initiatives, or publicly affiliate themselves with groups whose primary purpose is to do so”, The Coloradoan of Fort Collins reported Saturday. The amendment to the archdiocese’s pastoral handbook will be published in Wednesday’s Denver Catholic Register.

Chaput is one of the country’s most vocal bishops about Catholics’ need to speak in the public square and is set to publish a book on the subject this August. He oversees churches in metro Denver, northern and northeastern Colorado and some mountain communities. . .

Read the rest here.

Additional Note: The linked article was only an excerpt from a larger article, which its author was kind enough to alert me too. The full article is worth reading. Thanks to Bob Moore for the heads up!

Saturday, June 28, 2008


So, you think priests learn everything they need to know before going on the job? Well, maybe some do. However, I think many of us tend to get most of it, but not all depending on the emphases or biases of our teachers. Being a new priest is kind of on-the-job training, especially if like me you're offering mass in a variety of places (I offered mass in Frankfurt, Germany tonight!). Every place does things a little different. And, things that have fallen out of fashion in one place, may be all the rage in another--the beauty and complexity of the Church Catholic!

Last week, I offered a special mass in somebody's home and needed to borrow a few things from the local parish. The sacristan was nice and accommodating, but also a little suspicious, me being a Jesuit and all. He wanted to be sure that I didn't do anything liturgically incorrect. Which I appreciated, because I was hoping the same thing. When, at his insistence, we had collected more things than I really needed, he asked whether I also needed a pall.

This left me a little confused, as what I know as a pall is what you put one somebody's coffin at a funeral. So, I asked politely, "what's that?" He was . . . do I have to say it? You can fill in the blank. The pall, it seems, is that square thing that is sometimes placed on top of the chalice. So, the cat's out of the bag: I haven't mastered all the lingo.

I explained to him that I really wouldn't know what to do with it, as we weren't trained to use it. And, frankly, at least in the places I've been to mass most of my life, I haven't seen it used all that much. But nonetheless it will probably be fodder for the next discussion of how poorly Jesuit priests are trained. Asi es la vida, as they say.

That said, save for that gaff, my experience of saying mass in most places I've visited in the last two weeks has been basically positive. And all my masses have been received quite well, even lacking a pall.

There are probably many more sacristans out there just waiting to stump me. And I'll be the first to admit that they might very well succeed. But I'll also be thankful for having learned something in the process. Like you may just have as well!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Cue the Deluge, or My First Mass

I would guess that for most Jesuits, given our long formation period, ordination itself is not the source of incredible anxiety. It may seem impious to say but, though it may be one of the most important days of your life, when it comes to the ceremony you just have to get through it. It's afterwards that the change really begins. And the greatest source of anxiety for me, once the ordination mass was done: my first mass. Sure, I'd practiced it numerous times, but this time it was with a whole congregation--for real.

I'd imagined what it might be like and woke to find things already a little different than I'd imagined. Grey skies. I hadn't thought much about the weather, but of course my imagination had supplied a nice sunny day. Then there was thunder. Then lightning. Then pouring down rain.

Now, in New Orleans such storms are usually quite brief. And, even when brief, the streets can fill up with a good bit of water. But this morning the rain just kept coming, and coming. Was God having second thoughts about the previous day? Had my ordination been the catalyst for the next great flood? In no time, there was a foot of water between me and my first mass.

Forget the time of prayerful meditation before my first mass. Suddenly, I was on the phone trying to ensure that my family was going to be able to get there. And did I mention that my mother is terrified of thunderstorms? At one point, evidently, my mother threatened to stay where she was. My friend Bob, ever the sensitive one, told her that she was going to be at that mass, even if he had to carry her there!

I had to wait for a truck to come get me. The water was so high, it was risky even with a car. I had planned to be there forty-five minutes in advance. I arrived with only ten minutes to spare. I checked to see if my family was there. All were, save my brother and his family who hadn't stayed on campus and were stranded at his hotel. Indeed, I was surprised and moved by the number of people that did make it despite the weather. And sorry for those that didn't. I got dressed, took a little time to collect myself, thanked God that I had asked my Jesuit brother, Fr. Steve Sauer to be there to help me out (and calm me down), and got in the procession. And, of course, as we were ready to begin, the sun came out.

In my opening remarks, I pointed out that the Scripture verse on my ordination card is from Jeremiah. Many of you will already know what it is. It begins: "You duped me Lord, and I let myself be duped." And, it seems, I told the congregation, that he's done it again!

Of course, I was nervous. And Steve, thankfully, prevented me from skipping over at least one part of the mass. And though I was shaking when I started, the jitters soon left as I stood to proclaim the Gospel, and followed that with my homily. I begin my homily by noting that in the previous days I had been speaking to my niece and nephews about the fact that as a teacher, one can't help but have favorites among his students, and went on to speak about how the first reading for that day seemed to indicate that God had his favorites too in the people of Israel, his "treasured possession." Then I went on to suggest, however, that this does not say as much about God as it does about us as human beings, that we have a need to know that we are specially loved by some and, indeed, specially loved by God, so that we can love not only those who are our favorites, but strangers too, and even our enemies. To illustrate this I recalled one of my earliest memories, a day when my parents had taken in a family about whom they had reservations, after they had suffered a house fire. While not exactly "enemies," this family was not likely to have been guests in our house under other circumstances. It's an early lesson in taking care of others that I have never forgotten.

My niece and nephews were thrilled to have been included my homily. And I was thrilled to have them included in the mass. Two of my nephews served the mass, and my other nephew and my niece brought up the gifts. The photo above shows all five of us together. It was also wonderful to celebrate mass for my family and so many of my friends both from New Orleans and elsewhere. Since it was Father's day, I took the opportunity to recognize both my parents, my story in my homily illustrating what I had received from them. And I also presented the towel with which I wiped the oil from my hands during the ordination to my mother, a wonderful tradition which honors the mother of a priest and grants, according to some, a free ticket into heaven!

Then there was cake, generously provided by the members of the community, and time to celebrate more with my friends. It was a day which I was unlikely to forget anyway, but now even more so after the challenges of the morning! We exited the chapel to find a beautiful day!

Un Otro Sacerdote Nuevo

I'm not the only rookie priest being unleashed this summer. This weekend, my fellow community member, Pablo Veiga, will also be ordained in Spain (I don't know if that will have any effect on the European Cup Final). If you read Spanish, there is nice little article about Pablo here (and if you don't, you could probably get the jist via Babelfish or some other translation program).

"Me temo que tengo vocación -añade- y estoy convencido de que esta es la manera en la que estoy hecho para vivir, la manera en la que Dios me sueña y la que más feliz me hace."

Thursday, June 26, 2008

"Are You Ready?"

The most frequent question put to me in the days leading up to my ordination was: "Are you ready?" I didn't quite know how to answer. "I hope so" or "I should be after almost 11 years as a Jesuit" were two that came to mind. People didn't really want me to say "no," but that probably would have been nearly as appropriate as the other two. I suppose it might have helped to ask for a clarification: "Ready for what?" The ordination ceremony? Priesthood? The rest of my life?

As far as the ordination liturgy goes, you can bet I was ready! I'd spent enough time in the preceding months taking care of the many details associated with it--music, ministers, reception, etc. that I was ready for it to happen and be over. In fact, I didn't experience much anxiety or nervousness about the ordination itself until really just before. There were no last minute doubts or jitters. I'd made up my mind about this long before! God just had to make sure it would happen.

Jose and I vested in a TV room in the rectory. So, to relax ourselves just before we spent a little time watching Laurel & Hardy. They were trying to sell mousetraps in Switzerland. They figured there would be a pretty big market, because of all the cheese.

The ordination mass, as always, was moving and, thankfully, we had good MCs, so I didn't have to worry too much about the choreography. I could focus on the moment. The Litany of Saints was powerful. I didn't even notice, as reported to me later, that an overzealous guest almost stepped on me trying to take a photograph. Equally moving was the laying on of hands by the Bishop and all the concelebrating priests. Though I had to wonder: Were those who seemed to be pushing down excessively hard worried it might not take? My vesting was an emotional moment, yet complicated. Though at the beginning it was only meant to be one, age and infirmity resulted in having three of my dearest Jesuit brothers vesting me. I was happy to have them all there, but there's only so much that needs to be done! So, I had to do what I could to make sure they all had a part in it. I think we succeeded. They got me dressed, anyway, and I got to share the moment with each of them. Then there was the anointing of the hands, concelebration of the mass, the blessing of the bishop, the blessing of the congregation and numerous more blessings at the reception! Graces abounded and I got to share them with so many good friends and family and several of my former students!

I was ready for all that.

The real source of anxiety was Sunday morning: the first mass. More to come on that.

Am I ready for my life as a priest? There's no saying. If being a priest is anything like being a Jesuit has been, I hardly know what to be ready for. But the surprises of Jesuit life have taught me an important lesson: I don't have to be "ready." I just have to follow where Jesus leads me and know that if I should falter I need only cry, like Peter, "Lord, save me."

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Veteran Jesuit, Rookie Priest

This is not meant to speak ill of anyone, but simply a clarification because people might like to know.

In past years, people have often said things like "Mark's studying to be a Jesuit." To which I would often reply: "No, I'm actually already a Jesuit, I'm studying to be a priest." The confusion no doubt stems from the fact that most of us spend nearly 10-11 years as Jesuits before we are ever ordained priests, but once we take our first vows after two years in the novitiate we are "SJs."

So, in recent weeks it has taken another form: "Mark is a new Jesuit," or "Mark was just ordained a Jesuit," as if my ordination as a priest made me a Jesuit.

It hasn't seemed necessary or worth it to try to correct people during these celebratory weeks, but it's not just a matter of semantics but one of identity. And, it is part of my challenge in these early weeks of priesthood.

I have spent nearly eleven years being a Jesuit. I have a pretty good idea of what that means for me, and a pretty good sense of my identity as a Jesuit. But now it can no longer be the same because now not only am I a Jesuit, but I am a Jesuit priest. And while that is not completely different, I'd be kidding myself if I thought it the same.

So, I am not a new Jesuit (though newer than a lot of my wiser Jesuit brothers), but I am a new priest, and though I'm a little fearful, I'm looking forward to discovering what that means. That is what I'll be writing about here.

Photos of Recent Events

The Ordination Liturgy was beautiful

See more photos here

Mike and Marion came from New York

Kathreja came from DC

Patty and Bob came from Boston

My nephews served my first mass
See more photos here

We had a party
See more photos here

Saint Peter's, my parish and employer before I joined the Jesuits let me come and celebrate mass, and were kind enough to throw me a party of their own.

My former boss, Msgr. Leigh Lehocky, concelebrated the mass

They had a beautiful cake, which I never did get a piece of.

And I was happy that Justin, one of the former members of the youth group, came out for it.
See more photos here.

And photos of these, and other events, can be found on my Flickr page.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Some Pre-Ordination Thoughts

An excerpt from a reflection I wrote prior to my ordination:

Knowing how different my experience of being a Jesuit has been than what I at first thought it might be, I’m not sure that I can fully appreciate now what I am in for as I become a priest. But, at least at this point, being a priest for me has to do with “real presence.” The analogy to our belief about Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist we receive when we gather to worship is deliberate, as certainly one of the things I most look forward to as a priest is the privilege of helping others to encounter Christ in the Sacraments. In my preparations in the past months for these ministries, I know I have only begun to get a glimpse of the graces which God might offer to others through me in this way. I also speak of “real presence,” however, in terms of how I already understand myself as a priest. In my years of formation, though I have sometimes regretted that I could not offer others the consolation of the sacraments, I have come to realize that beyond words and actions, often the greatest gift I have to offer to people is to be there for them sometimes to pray, sometimes to talk, sometimes to hold their hands or simply just to sit in silence. I have also learned that though there are many gifted in other ways whom I would like to be like, that God makes best use of me when I’m not trying to be “super-Jesuit” or “super-priest,” but rather when I offer others the gifts God has given me, and myself, warts and all. Though I strive to be holy, I find that much more often people thank me for being real.

There are still ways in which I find myself at times running away from being all that God want me to be. I’m not always as patient, generous or Christ-like as I strive to be. Fear, or lack of confidence, while less likely now to cause me to run away, can still hinder my progress in God. Yet, still so often, like on that day at the hospital when I surprised myself with my ability to mourn with three families in one night, I look back in awe at how God’s grace was able to accomplish something through me that I alone could not have done. It’s with trust that God will continue to do so that I confidently offer myself for service as a priest. My ordination card captures the Gospel scene which reflects a similar trust. Peter, despite all his faults, is able, at Jesus’ invitation, to walk on water! He doesn’t let a sea get in the way of his running toward Jesus. And even when his confidence wanes and he begins to sink, he knows that Jesus will hear his cry for help and pull him from the water so that he might live to do even more extraordinary things another day.

God has shown a similar faithfulness to me in the best and worst times these past years, especially in the gifts of family, friends, colleagues and brother Jesuits with whom I’ve shared those times. On the morning of June 14, 2008, when the call goes out for those to be ordained, I will be mindful of that faithfulness and thankful for all these gifts when I declare myself “present.”

Something New

Suddenly my life is new. And there has been some call to say something about it. So, I'm going to try to offer some reflections in the next few weeks on the first months of priesthood. I have been a priest for ten days and already it's clear that almost 11 years of preparation doesn't keep it from being a new an different experience once it's a reality. I have a new identity, and it's going to take some working out of what precisely that means. And it might be of interest to a few others to have a glimpse of that process. So, I'll share occasionally about that. Unlike my past blog, there will be no comments, but I'm happy to answer inquiries via e-mail, which can be sent by means of the link in my profile.