Reading Already There?

There's more to the experience than just the book. Find it here.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Still Going . . .

I've been preoccupied with some health issues lately--not to mention classes--but as you can see from this article on the Fordham website, I'm still managing to do some ministry. It even quotes a previous blogpost!

Enjoy! I'll offer some reflections of my own on the experience of the last couple of months soon.

Blessings for Advent!!

Monday, October 12, 2009

I'm Still Alive, Really!

All the energy I put into finishing the writing of my book this summer, and moving, not to mention starting a new graduate program here at Fordham, has left me lacking in both time and creative energy. So, that's why you haven't heard from me in a while.

I'm enjoying my new community here a lot. Both the larger community, and the Jesuit community in which I live. I've already had an opportunity to be involved in several masses with the students, which is something I wasn't really given the opportunity to do at BC. I've also started helping with mass and confessions at a nearby parish, which I can walk to!

Lots been happening. So I will have some reflections soon. But right now, I've got a paper to write.

Some have asked about the book. I have received my Imprimi Potest, but we're still seeking some permissions for, of all things, use of song lyrics. The book will appear late summer of next year.

Hope everyone had a nice holiday weekend--if you had one.

In Other Words . . .

Suck it up, Father! You're a pastor, and they're sick.

A certain amount of discomfort and suffering comes with the job.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Amen! Thank You, Cardinal O'Malley

Thanks to Cardinal Sean O'Malley for saying what desperately needed to be said:

"Advocating for the dignity of life is central to my role as a priest and a bishop. One of my greatest satisfactions in my ministry thus far was helping to overturn the abortion laws in Honduras. The person who answered my call for help with that effort was Dr. Bernard Nathanson, who had been a prominent leader in NARAL and the abortion rights movement. His own change of heart led Dr. Nathanson from a practice of providing abortions to becoming one of the most eloquent exponents of the pro-life movement.

Helen Alvaré, who is one of the most outstanding pro-life jurists, a former Director of the Bishops´ Pro-life Office and a long standing consultant to the USCCB Committee for Pro-Life Activities, has always said that the pro-life movement is best characterized by what it is for, not against. We are for the precious gift of life, and our task is to build a civilization of love. We must show those who do not share our belief about life that we care about them. We will stop the practice of abortion by changing the law, and we will be successful in changing the law if we change people’s hearts. We will not change hearts by turning away from people in their time of need and when they are experiencing grief and loss.

At times, even in the Church, zeal can lead people to issue harsh judgments and impute the worst motives to one another. These attitudes and practices do irreparable damage to the communion of the Church. If any cause is motivated by judgment, anger or vindictiveness, it will be doomed to marginalization and failure. Jesus’ words to us were that we must love one another as He loves us. Jesus loves us while we are still in sin. He loves each of us first, and He loves us to the end. Our ability to change people’s hearts and help them to grasp the dignity of each and every life, from the first moment of conception to the last moment of natural death, is directly related to our ability to increase love and unity in the Church, for our proclamation of the Truth is hindered when we are divided and fighting with each other."

Read his whole post on his blog here.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


When things got a little tough for me in my early years as a Jesuit, my friend "Dutch," (above, right, vesting me at my ordination) an older Jesuit priest, could always be counted on to provide a listening ear, and words of affirmation. Recently the New Orleans Times-Picayune ran a story about him:

Jesuit priest shares stories of a lifetime

Sunday, July 26, 2009

By Sarah Druen

. . . Why write about the Jesuit experience? The short answer is because I recently had the great privilege of becoming acquainted with a group of retired Jesuits who live in Algiers at the Ignatius Residence, located at 6321 Stratford Place.

In particular, after visiting with 83-year-old the Rev. Tom "Dutch" Jenniskens, I was inspired by his reflections and remembrances and given his blessing to share these various gems with you, our eager readers.

Jenniskens may never have become a Jesuit or served at Jesuit High had it not been for his own father's acts of courage and unselfishness. In answering Monsignor Peter Wynhoven's plea to assist in the staffing at Hope Haven, Jennisken's father relocated from Holland to Marrero, serving as a lay missionary.

Initially, the greatest need was in getting the dairy started and following the enlistment of the Salesians, the focus shifted toward working with the needs of the boys.

In 1945, the young Jenniskens, who had graduated from Jesuit High in 1943, was confronted with one of the most important and difficult decisions of his life. The U.S. was in the middle of World War II and Jenniskens knew without a doubt that he had a vocation to the priesthood. Although Jenniskens' brother, Peter, chose to become an archdiocesan priest, Jenniskens knew his call was to become a Jesuit, yet he was torn because of a desire to contribute to the war effort.

Ultimately, Jenniskens chose to serve his country by pursuing his religious vocation. To this day, Jenniskens recalls not only his frame of mind, but his exact location when he made his final decision. While sitting up in one of the windows, by the fish pond, Jenniskens received the grace of conviction, stating, "I knew this was where I belonged and I never looked back." . . .

You can read the whole story here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Theologian as Dead Frog

After reading this article in The Chronicle of Higher Education by someone who identifies himself as "theistic off the job and professionally agnostic,” I'm wondering if I should reconsider my Theology studies. He explains:

“Theology [as opposed to religious studies] also views itself as an academic discipline, but it does not attempt to advance knowledge. Rather, theologians practice and defend religion.”
How can theology be so unambitious?

“Since rituals do not accomplish what the religion says they do, the researcher evaluates them on the basis of what they actually accomplish, even when the doctrines do not acknowledge those accomplishments.”
It seems I should also reconsider my vocation as a priest.

“In sum, the religion researcher is related to the theologian as the biologist is related to the frog in her lab. Theologians try to invigorate their own religion, perpetuate it, expound it, defend it, or explain its relationship to other religions. Religion researchers select sample religions, slice them open, and poke around inside, which tends to "kill" the religion, or at least to kill the romantic or magical aspects of the religion and focus instead on how that religion actually works.”
Can somebody explain this to me? As far as I can tell, this analogy doesn't make any sense, because shouldn't the religion researcher then be dissecting the theologian? And, if so, wouldn't that make it hard for the theologian to invigorate or perpetuate anything? Unless, perhaps, maybe after dissection the frog is resurrected? But, then again, this might not "kill" religion, but start a new one. I'm confused. And, besides, I don't want to be the dead frog. Maybe I could be a virus?

Also, apparently, if I want to persist in being a priest and a theologian, I'm going about it unethically:
“The failure of theologians to remind the members of their churches and synagogues that the Bible is an anthology of ancient literature composed by ancient people in an ancient culture has consequences. The laity are entitled to know that any god described in a biblical text is an ancient god, a byproduct of the ancient culture that produced the text. The god of the Bible is the sum total of the words in the text and has no independent existence. It would be reasonable to begin every theological discussion with the disclaimer "the god described in this sacred text is fictional, and any resemblance to an actual god is purely coincidental." This is not an outsider's dismissive opinion, but the reality, and theologians have an ethical obligation to teach that truth even if they also want to believe and teach, as is their right, that a god exists.

But, thank God, it seems that my qualms may be unwarranted. He wants to reassure me:
“Am I trying to imply that theology is without value? Certainly not.”

So, maybe it is safe to step back into the sanctuary, and the classroom. And, in case you were wondering, I checked: not from the April Fool's issue.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

I'm Good

You never know how things are going to come across on the internet. I've had a few kind messages from people, thinking I was upset or down, because of the post (since removed) which at least two people described as "raw." It wasn't as raw as what I had originally written for myself, and it was trying to express something I've been thinking about for some time. So, it wasn't really as raw as it seemed. But since it was interpreted that way, it's probably better that I removed it. I can assure you that I am not down or upset, but actually quite the contrary.

Indeed, I've had a lovely couple of days. One of the things that's great about being a Jesuit priest is that we have this great network of people who are graduates of our educational institutions. Since I am a graduate of Fordham university, I received word that there was a group of Fordham alumni coming to New Orleans this week to assist Catholic Charities and Operation Helping Hands in some of their ongoing rebuilding work. Knowing I was going to be here at the same time, I contacted them and invited them to the parish for mass. They kicked off their week with an alumni reception here in town last night. So, I joined them and some other local alumni last night for drinks and hors d'oeuvres in the French Quarter, and they joined me for mass this morning at 11:00 am. After mass, I joined them for an afternoon around town. So, it's been a really enjoyable couple of days with a group of young alumni, all of whom have graduated within the last ten years. Many of them used their vacation time from work in order to come down here for this trip.

This is truly one of the perks of being a Jesuit. I have enjoyed seeing many of the great positive contributions my former students are making in the world. And that's only a small percentage of the alumni I haven't taught myself from other schools, like this group from Fordham (actually several of them were students at Fordham at the same time I was a student). What a privilege to spend some time with them these last two days! I know they are going to do great work here this week.

So, yeah, sometimes there are the conversations that are a little lacking in Christian charity, and in sensitivity toward people I care about, but that's one of the "perks" too. Knowing the success of our work, witnessed to by the generosity of our Jesuit alumni, helps outweigh the criticism of those who fail to see the good.

So, really, I'm good.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Voices in My Head

So, the book manuscript has been submitted, which is a relief. But with that comes the back and forth reevaluation in my head. Maybe that part wasn't really finished. That part was really good. Does it really all come together? Does it provide what I wanted it to? Yes, there's enough there that many different people will be able to getting something out of it. Did I limit the audience too much? Or not enough? Blah, blah, blah.

I expect this is normal, and I'm counting on editorial feedback. And, of course, there is always the fear that they'll return it and say: This is really awful. But I'm pretty certain that won't happen.

In the meantime, I'm throwing myself into my summer work as a parish priest. And starting to look ahead to other things like moving, the young adult retreat I'm working on next month, my own retreat, and a new school year at a new school. So, I guess it's helpful that stuff is running around my head as well!

For Some, I Must Be the Agent of Darkness

Today I again had one of those experiences where as a priest I feel like I just have to sit silently, and hope that maybe God gives me something to say, if God wants me too. And, if not, God will take better care of things than I can . . .

A friend expressed some concerns about this post. So, I've removed it, at least for now, to consider his concerns.

If you're interested in my thoughts, feel free to write me at my e-mail address.

Friday, July 10, 2009


My creative energies have been focused elsewhere lately. So, I hope you have not been "put out" by my absence.

My book, which has been floating far too long in the ether, is nearly complete. I'm not sure why it has been such a prolonged effort, but I hope it will prove to be worth it. It has been a fascinating experience of inspiration, frustration, change and nurturing. Chapters moved, titles changed, and the realization that it will never be quite "done." How much to explain? How much to leave to the reader? The hope and the trust that ultimately it will be up to the reader to finish, for it is for him and her and them after all.

This is all to say that my lack of blogging ought soon to produce a material reward, in 2010. Here's a description, I prepared for the publisher:

Part memoir, part cultural critique, part Christian apologetic, Title Yet to Be Finally Determined is Jesuit Fr. Mark Mossa’s spiritual primer for young adults searching for God in their life. “You may have noticed that there are not a lot of Catholic Christian spirituality books out there that speak to your experience,” he says to the reader, “I noticed that too.” This book is Mossa’s attempt to begin to make up for this lack, by delving deeply and honestly into his own young adult experience. While doing so, he invites the reader to agree to one key insight, which provides the book’s basic structure: “Whether we like it or not, each of us has a past, present and future. And . . . they’re connected.”

Indeed, as the title suggests, Mossa’s book is all about making connections. That, he says, is what the spiritual life is all about. It has to be more than just a vague feeling of self-transcendence. True spirituality, he insists, must connect us with God, and other people. Drawing inspiration from sources as varied as Marlon Brando and the Psalms, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Kermit the Frog, Adam Sandler and U2 he invites young adults on a journey to finding God already present and active in their lives, in their relationships and in their culture.

Along the way, by also sharing his own successes and mistakes, and the lessons he learned from them, he hopes to offer insights more suited to the complexities of life in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. What does it mean to allow myself to love and be loved? Can I ever really forget the pain of my past life? How do I discover the unique life that God is calling me too? Inviting young adults to embrace what he calls a “spirituality of desire,” Title . . . seeks to start them on the path to an adult spiritual life, one energized by the common human desire to be with God.

Sound interesting? I hope so.

I have promised to submit the manuscript Monday, and there is only a little and much to do between now and then. So, see you on the other side.

Please pray with me that my finishing touches will be sufficient, for now.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Friday, June 19, 2009

May We All Be Enthralled by Christ

From the Holy Father's declaration of "The Year of the Priest" which begins today:

To the Most Holy Virgin I entrust this Year for Priests. I ask her to awaken in the heart of every priest a generous and renewed commitment to the ideal of complete self-oblation to Christ and the Church which inspired the thoughts and actions of the saintly Curé of Ars. It was his fervent prayer life and his impassioned love of Christ Crucified that enabled John Mary Vianney to grow daily in his total self-oblation to God and the Church. May his example lead all priests to offer that witness of unity with their Bishop, with one another and with the lay faithful, which today, as ever, is so necessary. Despite all the evil present in our world, the words which Christ spoke to his Apostles in the Upper Room continue to inspire us: “In the world you have tribulation; but take courage, I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). Our faith in the Divine Master gives us the strength to look to the future with confidence. Dear priests, Christ is counting on you. In the footsteps of the Curé of Ars, let yourselves be enthralled by him. In this way you too will be, for the world in our time, heralds of hope, reconciliation and peace!

May our faith be deepened. And may we everyday become better servants of the servants of God.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Celebrating the Gift of Being a Priest and a Jesuit

On a Monday morning two weeks ago in Quebec, the Poor Clare community got a rare treat. My newly ordained Jesuit brother Andre had come to say mass for them. And with them he brought two Jesuit deacons (soon to be ordained themselves) and three Jesuit priests, including myself, to concelebrate. It was a wonderful celebration, and each of us even dared to make a contribution to the prayer, in French. The Sisters held a reception afterward for Andre and, as we gathered round, they insisted Andre tell the story of his vocation. It was in French, of course, so I was only able to get the gist of it, not all the details. But when he was finished, I completely understood when one of the sisters commented (in French also), “So, you’re a young priest, but an old Jesuit.” We laughed, but also nodded our heads, because what she said was true.

Today I celebrate a year as a priest. And it is truly something to celebrate! I love being a priest, even though it has only been one year, and there are still so many “priestly” things I haven’t done. So, no need to change the name of the blog. One year in, I’m still a rookie. But I have also been a Jesuit for almost 12 years, and that, to me, is just as much cause for celebration. That’s why I’m glad that today was pretty low-key as far as anniversary celebrations go. I didn’t preside at a mass to celebrate the year. Instead, I concelebrated the first mass of another brother Jesuit. Then, I enjoyed the day with several other brother Jesuits—spending the afternoon in the city, going out to dinner, seeing a movie and just talking. A fitting way for this “old” Jesuit to celebrate the gift of my “young” priesthood, a gift inseparable from whom I have become because of my brother Jesuits and, of course, the people whom I’ve had the privilege to minister with and to. Next week I’ll celebrate with them.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Frontiers Not So Foreign, or Far Away

One of the exciting things about being a priest, especially a Jesuit priest, is that we are not always sure what kind of situations we might find ourselves in that demand our ministerial skills. The recent General Congregation spoke several times, as has the Pope, about how often as Jesuits we are especially called to be on the “frontiers” of faith and culture. Some of my most privileged moments of connecting with people have been outside of typical “church” contexts. Traveling from one place to another, for example, you never know what kind of need you might encounter. Often there’s a chance to help someone, or listen to their story in a way that is part of my priestly vocation, even if that person doesn’t even know that I’m a priest (I don’t wear clerics 24/7). But I also like it when I’m with a group of people, my fellow German students last summer, for example, in which I just happen to be a priest sharing an experience with them. A lot of the time the fact that I’m a priest doesn’t make a difference, but there are times that it does. There are the conversations—what’s it like? And there are the times when people do have a need to talk about something, or ask for help, and they know that I’m someone who they can probably count on.

I’ve noticed recently that I run into a lot of people that I would term “religiously indifferent.” They’re not hostile toward God or religion. And they are often very good people. However, for some reason, it hasn’t occurred to them that God should be a part of their life. It makes me wonder what it would be like to be “chaplain” to a group of people that one is not typically chaplain to. Like bikers, circus performers, journalists, buskers, CEOs or something like that. Those are interesting “frontiers” one could explore!

Father Jim Martin has offered a peek into just such an experience in his book A Jesuit Off-Broadway. Don’t let the title fool you. This isn’t a light-hearted reminiscence on one Jesuit’s brief dalliance with the New York theatre world. It is a remarkably engaging and often deeply moving account of being a priest on the frontiers of faith and culture, of finding God in new and surprising ways. He almost seamlessly moves from his account to being theological advisor to the off-broadway production of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot to reflections on some of the most profound theological questions, and does so by showing us how the troupe of actors which he came to know and love struggled with those same questions. Fr. Martin admits to being a little star-struck at first, especially having the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman as the play’s director. But he soon enough got over that to see how real these people were, and how serious they were about honoring the lives and beliefs of the characters they were portraying—Saint Monica, Saint Thomas the Apostle, Judas, Jesus, Mother Teresa, etc. As his story progresses, we witness not only the sometimes uncomfortable birth of a work of art, we see how Fr. Martin and the cast are transformed by the experience. All this is placed in the context of the Christian tradition in a revealing and enlightening way, and as one continues to read, one starts to feel as if they know and love this group of people, just as Father Jim comes to know and love them too. And one sees how the Spirit works in varied and surprising ways because a priest has been introduced into what at first seems a “foreign” context, but which eventually is revealed by compelling portraits of each of the cast members, as a place—a holy place—not so foreign at all. I think I’ve become this book’s biggest fan.

One of the most moving parts of the book for me, came at the very beginning, in the foreword by the playwright, Stephen Adly Guirgis. He explains:

“I asked many questions that, perhaps, one is not supposed to ask, and, on occasion, Father Jim would reply with answers that perhaps he was not supposed to give. I tried to—and needed to—leave no stone unturned, and Father Jim, secure in his faith and his priesthood, never did anything but supply direct answers to pointed questions. And he did so kindly, thoughtfully, and with both a passion for the subject and a wealth of com-passion for me—his confused, often irate and disconsolate lapsed Catholic Interrogator. In short, he was everything I think a Priest should be: caring, thoughtful, strong, unimpeachable—and up for the challenge. In short, I have no doubt that Father Jim is one of Jesus’ true soldiers. And trust me: I’m not the doubt-free type. I drown in doubt, and to the degree that that’s true, Father Jim, from our first meeting and right up to today, is slowly teaching me to swim.”

Friday, June 12, 2009

Google Humor

So, I just discovered that this blog is the first result for the following search:

something a person use to wipe their mouth with

Too funny!

(especially because the point of the post was--don't wipe you're mouth with it!!)

"Food" for Thought (and Prayer)

I'm taking some time to reflect on Pope Benedict's latest message to priests, on the Feast of Corpus Christi:

“Being Eucharist! This must be our constant desire and duty so that the sacrifice of our existence accompanies our offering of the Body and Blood of Christ at the altar. Every day, from the Body and Blood of the Lord we find that free and pure love that renders us worthy ministers of the Christ and witnesses of its joy."

That's just a taste. More here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Where am I? What am I doing? What mass is this?

One of the nice things about being a religious priest is that you frequently get to celebrate mass with several different communities. This, however, can also be a challenge. If I remember, I remind myself before mass about the specific practices of a particular parish, or even a specific mass at the same parish, because sometimes they do things differently on weekdays and weekends. However, it is often the case that I have to take a moment in the course of mass to stop and think, especially if I've been on a "roll" and have spent several weeks doing the same mass. This forces some improvisation at times, either on my part, or the part of the liturgical ministers. If I've poured all the wine, and I wasn't supposed to, that can make it difficult to offer communion under both species as planned. Or if the wine is already poured into separate chalices I might forget that the wine in the main chalice is for me alone, and pour too much. One parish offers communion under both species. One doesn't. One does on the weekdays, but not on Sunday. Each community has its own way of distributing communion, so I try my best to be in the right place, but that doesn't always work either. And, of course, there are the times when the "last-minute recruit" ministers get confused, so that while I'm trying to hand one my ciborium after communion, she instead hands me hers!

Trying to keep this all straight can be even more of a challenge those weeks, like one I had a while back, when I find myself saying mass in six different places in one week! I depend on people when I arrive to tell me what to do, how they do things, etc. This at times takes a little coaxing because many are apt to defer to me and say, "whatever you want, Father." After which I have to convince them that what I really want is to do things the way they are accustomed to doing them. It usually gets worked out. However, we still don't always get things straight. Recently, after a music director told me they were singing "everything," we had a very awkward silence when it came time for the "Gloria." As we discovered, once I asked in the middle of mass, "everything" meant "everything but . . ." Most recently, when offering daily mass somewhere for the first time, the server whispered to me halfway through mass, "Do you know we have adoration after mass?" No, I said, nobody told me that, just tell me what to do . . .

You only have to be a priest for a little while to realize that those that obsess over everything in the mass being "perfect," are doomed to be disappointed. As much as everyone involved makes the effort to ensure that it is reverent, prayerful and perhaps even inspiring, there will always be those little gaffs which remind us that our worship, as our lives, is beset by human frailty. And I expect this is as it should be.

Now, where am I?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

'Tis the Season!

Ordination season has begun. Please pray for our new "rookie" priests. This weekend I had the pleasure and privilege of attending the ordination of one of our newest Jesuit priests, Father Andre Brouillette, SJ, of French Canada. He's pictured above with Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the presiding bishop. Still a new priest myself, it brought back a lot of the feelings of my own ordination less than a year ago. And it was especially moving because I got to share it with my friend and his family (even if the language gap made communication a challenge at times--my French is very rusty). It was also a community event, as several of us traveled from Boston to be there with Andre. Below, you can see Father Peter Nguyen, SJ, who, like me, was ordained last year, laying hands on Andre (I was in line right behind him).

In the United States, all our new Jesuit priests will be ordained in the next three weeks. Some of our international brothers who study here with us will also be ordained then, as well as in July in August. I know many of them, and they will be a great gift to the Church. But I also know they face many challenges. So, again, please pray for them, and all the rest of us rookie priests.

You can find more photos from the ordination, as well as the Cardinal's homily (in French) here.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Wait for it . . .

One of my favorite things to do as a priest--believe it or not--is to hear confessions. Some people are afraid to go to confession because they are afraid that the priest is going to yell at them (and, unfortunately, it may even have happened to them once). Honestly, I can't imagine any reason why I would feel compelled to yell at someone during a confession. One might need to be firm about something at times, but there's still no need to yell. Indeed, my experience is that usually it becomes a joyful and healing conversation, once the person has gotten past the difficult part of confessing his or her sins. Sometimes people laugh, sometimes they cry, but it is because it has been a good experience.
Another reason people don't go is because they feel embarrassed because they don't know what to do. I wouldn't let this deter you because, in my experience, nearly half of all my confessions have been with people who weren't sure what they were doing. I'm happy to help. In fact, I often have to stop people from leaving because they've stood up to go before I've had the chance to give them absolution! Also, there's no shame in bringing a "cheat sheet" along with you. Busted Halo has provided a pretty good one, which advises: "Don't get up to leave after that prayer [the act of contrition] because the best part is yet to come: The priest will extend his hands in your direction and he will pray the Prayer of Absolution . . . " So, give it a shot, bring the sheet along with you, and don't run out before you've gotten what you came for!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Notre Dame: Faith, Culture or Politics?

I suspect that many American Catholics, like myself, will be happy when this Sunday has passed. Many of those on both sides of the Obama at Notre Dame debate will, hopefully, wake up on Monday morning wondering what they got so worked up about.

One of the interesting questions surrounding the controversy is what, in the end, it is really about. For many it is truly about the life of the unborn. Many others, however, have mixed motives. So, is it about morality, faith, culture or politics? Here are two interesting takes on the controversy that I’ve read lately:

Catholic Culture & Notre Dame

Sectarian Catholicism

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Surprise: You're Graduating! Now, Start Packing . . .

Among the reasons for my long absence has been the completion of my STL thesis. I finished everything last week. And, since I did so that late, I was not expecting to graduate. Well, yesterday I was informed that I am. So, I've had to scramble a little to get myself ready for Monday's festivities!

This will close a chapter of my academic career, just as I prepare to start a new one. This August, I will be moving to New York City to begin PhD studies in Theology at Fordham University. I will also set about the task of confusing the Catholic world by living and working with my friend, Fr. Mark Massa, S.J. I'm not sure if the world is ready for this, but I'm looking forward to it!

Those of you who are in the vicinity of New York (e.g. Penni, Amy, etc.), I hope you will come visit! School starts the first week of September.

A Face Only a Christian Could Love?

Things have been crazy lately, and I thought I should do something special for my 100th post! But, alas, my Mothers' Day homily will have to do.

“He’s got a face only a mother could love.” I suspect you’ve heard this expression a few times in your life. Despite the fact that it is meant to serve as something of an insult to the person to whom it’s directed, the expression wouldn’t exist if we didn’t tend to believe in the premise behind it. For the presumption that comes with this expression is that a mother’s love is something extraordinary. Of all people in the world, it tells us, the person whose love we can always count on is our mother. Mothers are known for their heroic love, loving their children even when no one else seems to, or seems able to. It is this kind of love which we celebrate today, when we thank our mothers for everything they are and have been to us.

But that expression also got me thinking. Why isn’t there an equally valid expression, “he’s got a face only a Christian could love”? Because isn’t it true that our love for others is also something that people should be able to count on, that our love for others is meant to be something heroic. Indeed, God tells us that even should a mother forsake her child, he will not abandon us. And, as the people of God, we are challenged to do the same, to love with a love that goes even beyond the heroic nature of a mother’s love. To love like Jesus did.

It’s not easy. Take our first reading today, for example. Here we have the Apostles, who knew Jesus, faced with Saul, one of those that were persecuting them, saying now, “I am one of you!” “Jesus appeared to me and told me to join you.” Our text, from the Acts of the Apostles, says at first “they were all afraid of him.” They didn’t exactly welcome him with open arms. But they did give him a chance to prove himself. And they were eventually convinced of Jesus’ claim on his life, and his sincerity. Using the image from our Gospel reading today, we can say that they saw his fruits, and saw that they were good.

My fear is that today not only do we fail to love as we should, but that more and more in the political climate of our country today—and don’t fool yourself into thinking for a minute that it hasn’t infected our church community—we are not even allowing ourselves to see what kind of fruits others are producing. It’s easier to attack and demonize and not get to know the other person at all. Instead, we trust what other people, who have political agendas, have to say about them, instead of seeing for ourselves.

In today’s political climate, I don’t think Saint Paul would even have been given a chance to demonstrate the truth that Jesus had called him to be an Apostle. The so-called Christian bloggers would have made mincemeat out of him before he even had a chance to demonstrate the fruits of his calling. I read the blogs and the editorials aimed at people who are deemed “not Christian enough,” for whatever reason, and I can tell you that charity does not rule in what many of them write. And, lately, because I do occasionally write in such venues, I’ve taken to asking myself, and I’m encouraging others to do the same: Does your love for the unborn, for the poor, for Jesus cause you to speak uncharitably and contemptuously of others? And do you even really know these people well enough to make such judgments? I know there are times when I could answer “yes” to the first question, and “no’ to the second. And I also know that is not what Christian love is all about.

Given the ways in which we so often fail, I suspect there is not a lot of hope for adding that new saying, “He has a face only a Christian could love.” We’ll have to stick with Mom for now. And we should also look to Jesus. One of the most striking things about Jesus is that he never failed to share a table, even with those he criticized and even with those who were known to be public sinners. Loving them was always more important than shunning them. Adding them to the community of believers was always more important than isolating them because of their unbelief. Healing them was always more important than pointing out how sick they were.

Of course, it’s easy enough to say when faced with everything Jesus did and was, “I’m sorry, but I’m not Jesus. I can’t love like that.” I suspect there are mothers here who once thought of themselves, “how can I be a mother, I can’t love like that.” And then that day came when her child was born and suddenly she found herself capable of a love she never imagined. Gathering together on Mother’s Day to worship our great lover Jesus, we are invited to imagine ourselves capable of heroic and even Christ-like love and to make that the fruit by which we will be judged by the world, and by which we judge others.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Receiving Communion Redux

I've been a bit preoccupied lately with school and ministry, etc. So, I've just discovered a pretty good discussion inspired by my recent post here.

Lots of interesting points of view on the subject, and more evidence for my suspicion that some instruction might be in order!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Fr. James Martin on Susan Boyle

"It may be the best example of the how God sees us--and the way that the world often doesn't."

Read it all here.

Faith Hope & Love

Check out The Story of Faith Hope, an inspiring blog about a baby that wasn't supposed to live, and her mother's courage.

Thanks to Margaret for bringing it to my attention.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Priest's Sacrifice

Occasionally the press gives us good news about a priest! Here's a nice story from "Normal," Illinois:

Priest’s gift of solidarity: Parishioner gets his kidney
Associated Press

A Roman Catholic priest has decided to stand in solidarity with a parishioner by donating his left kidney to her.

Monsignor Eric Powell, pastor of Epiphany Roman Catholic Church in Normal, underwent surgery at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, Ill. Transplant surgeon Dr. Beverly Ketel later said Powell and the kidney recipient were doing well.

The priest said he wanted “to alleviate potential suffering and stand in solidarity with a sister in Christ.” The 45-year-old Powell would not name the recipient of the kidney.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Charlie, Don't Bite the Finger That Feeds You . . .

This video will serve as a humorous way of illustrating my point:

charlie bit my finger

I wrote a post a while back in which I spoke about some of the challenges involved in distributing communion. And lately I've been noticing that more and more people are choosing to receive communion on the tongue rather than in the hands. After almost a year as a priest, I've just about got the technique down for giving communion on the tongue without too much worry of "flying host incidents," which I also wrote about before. But now there is another challenge--people who receive communion neither in the hand nor on the tongue, but between the teeth! At a recent mass, I almost lost my finger a couple of times! I'm thinking that since more people are choosing not to receive in the hand any more, it might be a good time to offer some catechesis as to how to receive on the tongue. I know that since as a child I learned how to receive communion on the tongue only shortly before communion in the hand became more common, there are probably lots of people younger than me who, though they've decided to stop receiving in the hand, may never have been taught how to receive on the tongue. And not to lay it all on the young people, there are some older folk who seem to have forgotten how. If I could just make one suggestion: get that tongue out there, enough with the teeth!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Internal Dialogue: Am I Still Saying the Same Prayer?

One of many nightmare scenarios: You start off saying one prayer, and inadvertently veer off into another.

I was afraid I might have done that Thursday night. I was saying mass for "Junior Night" at a local Catholic high school. This is one of the school's smaller classes, so it wasn't a huge crowd, and not all Catholic. Since it was a special mass, I decided to pray the Gloria. Only problem--no one joined in. I mean nobody. I was so distracted by this that I started to wonder if I was praying the right words, and even started to fear that maybe I had veered off into another prayer. So, when I got to "receive our prayer," I just ended it there. No one seemed to mind.

Turns out, I hadn't gotten off course, but, what, no one knows the Gloria? I know we just finished Lent, but there were more than a few lifetime Catholics there!

So, an appeal: When you fail to respond, you leave us rookie priests thinking we've done something wrong. So, help us out!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Easter & Updike

An interesting piece from Religion & Ethics News Weekly:

On Easter and Updike
by David E. Anderson

Easter is not easy for most poets and writers, the difficult mystery of resurrection being more intractable than incarnation.

One of the best examples of the problem is perhaps the most famous Easter poem of the second half of the 20th century, John Updike’s “Seven Stanzas at Easter.” Updike identifies the difficulty in the opening line:

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

The crucial word in the center of the first line—if—states what might be called “the Easter problem” starkly, and Updike’s insistence on the orthodox doctrine of the physical, bodily reality of the resurrection, even when hedged with the doubting if, provides a succinct but apt statement of one of the key themes of his work—the terror of death and the search for some sense, some promise, of overcoming, and he will not brook any evasions:

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded
credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The tension between belief and doubt in the face of death, between faith and its opposite—certainty, and the need for resurrection run through all of Updike’s vast body of writing, from his early novels, stories, and poetry (“Seven Stanzas at Easter” was written in 1960, just a year after his first novel was published, and the poem was the winning entry in a religious arts festival sponsored by a Lutheran church on Boston’s North Shore) to his later work, including Due Considerations, his final collection of essays and criticism, and Endpoint, a posthumous book of poems published this month.

“Endpoint” does not directly address Easter, but its many meditations on Updike’s impending death—he died January 27 at the age of 76 and was battling cancer as he wrote many of the poems, specifically addressing his illness in a number of them—underscore the tension he wrestled with throughout his career between the fear of death and the hope for some kind of afterlife. In a poem entitled “Death of a Computer,” he writes of an old computer’s final crash and the “hopeful garble” on the monitor’s screen: “I in a spurt of mercy shut it down. / May I, too, have a stern and kindly hand / bestow upon my failing circuits peace.” In “Fine Point 12/22/08,” the last of the seventeen poems in the title sequence, he asks, “Why go to Sunday school, though surlily, / and not believe a bit of what was taught?” He praises Jews who “kept faith / and passed the prayers, the crabbed rites / from table to table as Christians mocked”:

We mocked but took. The timbrel creed of praise
gives spirit to the daily; blood tinges lips.
The tongue reposes in papyrus pleas,
saying, Surely—magnificent, that “surely”—
goodness and mercy shall follow me all
the days of my life, my life, forever.

Updike wrote in an early autobiographical essay, “The Dogwood Tree,” of his fascination with what he called “the three great secret things”—art, sex, and religion and how they combined and interacted in his artistic mission to “transcribe middleness with all its grits, bumps, and anonymities, in its fullness of satisfaction and mystery.” While the appreciations and obituaries that poured forth at his death duly noted how art, and especially sex, wove themselves into his work, few noted what British novelist Ian McEwan called Updike’s “religious seriousness,” his being “constitutionally unable to ‘make the leap of unfaith.’” . . .

read the rest here.

The complete "Seven Stanzas at Easter":

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

When I Think of Easter . . .

I remember Mayo Kikel.

Mayo was one of the first teachers I met when I visited Jesuit High in Tampa the Spring prior to starting work there in 2002. She impressed me with her conviction that God wanted her there. She could easily have worked at a school closer to where she lived, but instead she made the extra long trek to our school each day. I have only met a few teachers like her, so convinced that they were fulfilling a mission. When I began work at the school the next Fall, she quickly became one of my favorite colleagues.

This made it all the more difficult when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. We were already to chip in and fill in for her wherever needed. But, amazingly, even after she started the cancer treatments, she never missed a single day of work. It was what she lived for. And though it left her with little energy to do much else, she came back day after day. None of us would have faulted her for taking a day off, much less complaining, but she rarely did.

As Easter approached, she came to ask me a favor. I was the Director of Campus Ministry and was in charge of the program for our once-a-week morning convocations, when the whole school gathered in the chapel to begin the day. She told me how good the boys at the school had been to her, and she wanted to use the convocation just before the Easter break to thank them. What she wanted to do, she explained, was to sing a song, an Easter song. Now this was not without its risks. Such an endeavor at a school of some 650 boys was just as likely to invite ridicule, as it was reverence. We talked about this, but she was determined. So we made plans.

When the day came, I stood up at the podium and said, "Mrs. Kikel has told me how wonderful you all have been to her during her illness, and she asked if she could do something to thank you." The music began.

The song she sang was told from the perspective of Peter, beginning with a Peter all too aware of how he had failed Jesus. And, now that Jesus was dead, there would be no opportunity to make amends. Then it took up where our Easter Gospel reading began, with Mary come to announce that Jesus had been taken from the tomb. Peter runs to the tomb, John running up ahead. They find the burial cloths set aside, and Jesus missing, and they begin to realize what has happened. In the song Peter exclaims, "He's alive!" "He's alive!" "He's alive and I'm forgiven. Heaven's gates are open wide!" "He's alive!" "He's alive!" The song built until Mayo sang out the final, "He's aaaalive!" And then something happened which even now when I think about it inspires tears. Immediately and without hesitation, every boy in that chapel stood up and applauded.

We speak a lot in our Jesuit boys' schools about being "men for others," and I have yet to see a better example of that than I did on that day. When we speak about Easter, we speak about everything being made new because of what Jesus did for us, and because God raised him from the dead. Things were made new for me that day. No matter what they did after that day, I could never quite see those boys in the same way again. They had stepped up when it was most important. And I can never think of Easter without thinking of Mayo Kikel who because of her humility, faith and courage was able to inspire such a moment.

Mayo beat the cancer, but was stricken just a couple years later with a rare disease which took her from us. But I will never forget her. Few people in my life have exemplified as well as her what Easter is all about.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Watch Your Metaphors

Friday morning I joined some ministry colleagues for a Good Friday service at an assisted living facility. It was my my job to give a brief reflection after some readings from the Passion. I began by saying "today we are invited to stand at the foot of the cross with Jesus . . ." To which one of the people attending replied incredulously, "You want us to stand?!" "No, please don't," I replied quickly, not completely holding back a laugh, "I was just speaking metaphorically."

Thursday, April 9, 2009

I'm Not So Sure About This

I don't want to think about it too much, but somehow it seems to miss the point.

(Though maybe you could combine it with a car wash to raise money for the youth group!!)

Holy Thursday

Today I received an e-mail from someone thanking me for being a priest. I'm not always sure how to respond to such gratitude, for how often do we thank others for answering God's call to their particular vocation? I generally don't see my choice as any more heroic than that, for example, of the parent who serves God by devoting his or her life to children and family. Nevertheless, since I know that a priest can be taken for granted by his church or congregation just as easily as a parent might be by his or her children, it is nice to receive thanks now and then. So, perhaps in humility it's better not to overthink such things.

And, indeed, it is Holy Thursday, a day when priests are invited to give thanks for the privilege of serving the people of God as we do. Lest we become too impressed with ourselves it's also the day on which, according to Jesus' injunction, we wash others' feet. Especially on my first Maundy Thursday as a priest, it reminds me of an important moment in the realization of my own vocation which I wrote of some years ago:

Did I do what? I stopped and looked at her ugly, twisted old woman's feet and I thought no, absolutely not! But I hardly had time to think about what I was doing when I saw my hands reaching for those feet because I realized something else. If my answer was not yes, then it was time for me to leave all this and go home. Because if I couldn't do this, then I couldn't possibly be a Jesuit, I couldn't possibly be a priest. Because what I was trying to be, what I had to be, was someone who does rub feet. I would be a fraud if Jesus couldn't say to me on that final day, "I was dying and you rubbed my feet."

You can read the complete article here.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Abandoned & Forsaken

Some stories for Palm Sunday:

Theologian Jurgen Moltmann found his faith and his vocation during World War II. A soldier with the German Air Force, he was captured and brought to Scotland as a prisoner of war. He describes his worst day in the prison camp:

“And then came what was for me the worst of all. In September 1945, in Camp 22 in Scotland, we were confronted with pictures of Belsen and Auschwitz. They were pinned up in one of the huts, without comment . . . slowly and inexorably the truth filtered into our awareness, and we saw ourselves mirrored in the eyes of the Nazi victims. Was this what we had fought for? Had my generation, as the last, been driven to our deaths so that the concentration camp murderers could go on killing, and Hitler could live a few months longer? Some people were so appalled that they didn’t want to go back to Germany ever again. Later they stayed on in England. For me, every feeling for Germany, the so-called sacred ‘Fatherland’, collapsed”

In the midst of his despair, an army chaplain gave him a Bible to read:

“I read it without much comprehension, until I stumbled upon the psalms of lament . . . They were the words of my own heart and they called my soul to God. Then I came to the story of the passion, and when I read Jesus’ death cry, ‘My God, why have you forsaken me?’, I knew with certainty: this is someone who understands you. I began to understand the assailed Christ because I felt that he understood me: this was the divine brother in distress, who takes the prisoners with him on his way to resurrection. I began to sum up the courage to live again, seized by a great hope . . . Christ’s God-forsakenness showed me where God is, where he had been with me in my life, and where he would be in the future”

Elizabeth Johnson, reflecting on Dietrich Bonhoeffer's words in his prison journal, "Only a suffering God can help," relates this story from Margaret Spufford:

“Closer to the point is the reflection of another woman who spent endless days and nights on a hospital ward with her tiny, sick daughter, helping the nurses with the other babies when she could. It was a dreadful exposure to the meaningless suffering of the innocent. ‘On those terrible children’s wards,’ she writes, ‘I could neither have worshipped nor respected any God who had not himself cried out, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Because it was so, because the creator loved his creation enough to become helpless with it and suffer in it, totally overwhelmed by the pain of it, I found there was still hope.’ This is one way the symbol of a suffering God can help: by signaling that the mystery of God is here in solidarity with those who suffer”

Monday, March 30, 2009

Angry Mass

I've already had plenty of experiences of "sleepy mass," and only a few instances of, thank God, "totally uninspired" mass (I'm talking about my own masses, not those presided over by other priests), but today was my first experience of "angry" mass.

I'll explain. If you made it to mass today, you'll know that the readings were the story of Susannah, from the Book of Daniel, and the story of the woman caught in adultery, from the Gospel of John. As I considered what to say in my homily this morning, I realized that there was no way around it--today's readings definitely had something to say about injustice against women. To avoid the issue, as some might have, seemed to me to be ignoring the elephant in the room. Today's readings clearly had something to say to use about gender justice, and the injustice perpetrated against women by abuse of power and sinful double standards. That's what I spoke about in my homily. I admitted that I myself haven't exactly been the best advocate of gender justice, and have been known to roll my eyes at academic discussions of the evils of patriarchy, but that it was clear in these two readings that gender justice is something we are meant to be concerned about. We are called, like Daniel, not to stand idly be but to speak up when we see injustice being perpetrated against women. And, we are challenged by Jesus to examine the ways in which our own attitudes and opinions ignore such abuses of power, and conform to sinful double standards. And while we can often point to more egregious examples of injustice and violence against women in other countries, that shouldn't prevent us from recognizing that there is plenty happening here, right in our own communities.

Honestly, this was a bit out of my comfort zone, and so I was pretty nervous. I wasn't sure how people would react. I was pleased with the homily, though it took a lot out of me. And, as I reflected for a few moments afterward, I was confident that what I had said indeed reflected God's concern.

And that was why I was so appalled and angered by the prayers of the faithful! Now, they come from a book which the parish bought, so no one there is to blame, but I couldn't believe that after I had said all that, the first prayer was for "our bishops, priests, and deacons." And it only got worse. There was not a single mention of women, never mind injustice against women. I wanted to scream! Instead, I did the more genteel thing, and added my own prayer at the end for women who are victims of sexual abuse and violence. I wonder if I should have said something more, but I always want to be careful not to distract people from the liturgy of the Eucharist (and I'd already said quite a bit). And, hey, I'm saying something more now.

But I was distracted, and I wondered if people noticed that I was angered by how the prayers had indeed managed to ignore the elephant in the room. I couldn't help but wonder if that was a deliberate omission, and whether the people who wrote the prayers had considered how out of sync that first prayer was likely to be with many a homily today. Sometimes at mass I'm taken by how well the prayers, usually written independently of me, fit with the subject of my homily. And sometimes when they don't, I wonder if I missed something. But today was the first time that I felt the prayers didn't seem to get it at all; that it wasn't me who missed something. I'm certainly going to mention this to the pastor. Maybe it's time to get a new prayer book.

But it was a strange experience to be praying the prayers while I was angry. And though we had a long first reading, in which case I would sometimes pray the shorter Eucharistic Prayer II, I deliberately avoided that Eucharistic prayer today, because it is less inclusive, and most strikingly only prays for the Pope, Bishop and all the clergy when that time comes. There aren't the prayers for all who have been called to Christ's friendship and the family gathered, as there are in other Eucharistic prayers. I also found myself becoming much more conscious of the gender language in the prayers than I usually am. That doesn't mean you're going to find me praying to God the Mother, or anything like that, but I did feel compelled to pay more attention.

One person came and thanked me after Mass. I wonder what the others thought. Perhaps for some it was a bit too much for a Monday morning, but it's certainly got me thinking, as you can tell. Hopefully, they are thinking about it too.

And, you too.