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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 CurĂ© 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 CurĂ© 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.