30 November 2009

28 November 2009

Did you miss them?

It has been a while since I last posted a homily. What follows is my homily for this Sunday. I hope to resume posting homilies for Sundays and holy days.
The First Sunday of Advent (C)

The liturgical year, with its celebration of the season of Advent seems to run in stark contrast with the secular year, which already has begun to celebrate Christmas, even before Thanksgiving Day. We Christians may be tempted to celebrate Christmas now with the secularists, too, but by doing so we would deprive ourselves of a great treasure.

The season of Advent has as its chief end two purposes: a preparation for the Second Coming of Christ at the end of time and a preparation to celebrate his Birth at Bethlehem when he entered into time. The temptation today, I fear, is to anticipate too early Christmas Day at the expense of our spiritual growth by not realizing that he who comes is both King and Judge.

In many families the Christmas tree has already been raised and will be taken down shortly after Christmas dinner, in stark contrast to the liturgical year, which celebrates Christmas on the twenty-fifth of December through the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, this year on the tenth of January.

It seems that we have forgotten – or at least neglected – this rich season that calls us to wait, to be still, to ponder; this season calls us to those things we would rather avoid, hating silence as we do. Indeed, as the world celebrates a distorted reason for the season, Holy Mother Church calls us to spend these days in quiet recollection preparing ourselves for the two-fold coming of Christ.

Through this season, the Christian people, “raises its gaze to the final goal of pilgrimage in history, which is the glorious return of the Lord Jesus.” But through these days the Christian people also recalls Jesus’ “birth in Bethlehem with emotion, it bends down before the crib. The hope of Christians is directed to the future, but always remains well rooted in a past event.” Through the season of Advent, we focus our attention first to Christ’s future coming through the sixteenth of December; beginning the seventeenth of December we focus our attention toward Bethlehem.

Too often we lose sight of both of these directions – the future and the past - in the hustle and bustle of worldly life and are so caught up in the present distractions. Advent calls us to step beyond this busy-ness, to contemplate anew the great love of the Lord Jesus, of the one who “will fulfill the promise [he] made to the house of Israel and Judah” (Jeremiah 33:14).

Joseph Bottum has rightly observed that “the disappearance of Advent seems especially disturbing – for [it has] injured even the secular Christmas season: opening a whole, from Thanksgiving on, that can be filled only with fiercer, madder, and wilder attempts to anticipate Christmas.” By this he means:
More Christmas trees. More Christmas lights. More tinsel, more tassels, more glitter, more glee – until the glut of candles and carols, ornaments and trimmings, has left almost nothing for Christmas Day. For much of America, Christmas itself arrives nearly as an afterthought: not the fulfillment, but only the end, of the long Yule season that has burned without stop since the stores began their Christmas sales.
Will we, too, be caught up in this? Will Christmas come for us as a disappointment, as a relief, rather than the culmination of a great preparation?

Is this not what the Lord Jesus warns against when he tells us to “beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life” (Luke 21:34)?

It is too easy for us to give in to the temptations that surround us, to ignore this season of grace through which the Lord can make us “increase and abound in love for one another and for all … so as to strengthen [our] hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his holy ones” (I Thessalonians 3:12-13).

If we keep well the Advent season, patiently and intently, if we live it truly as a season of longing through which we hope to learn “to love heaven,” we will not become drowsy from the anxieties of daily life and we will be richly blessed. Indeed, the Lord will make his paths known to us, he will show us his paths and will guide us in truth (cf. Psalm 25:4-5).

As we seek to prepare ourselves for the day when the Son of Man will come “in a cloud with power and great glory,” we will recognize him as the one who comes “to judge the living and the dead (Luke 21:27).” The more we consider his judgment, the more we will realize – if we quiet ourselves in his presence – that “good and upright is the Lord; thus he shows sinners the way” (Psalm 25:8). If we use these days of Advent prayerfully, the Lord will guide “the humble to justice” and will teach “the humble his way” (Psalm 25:9).

If we use these days in this way, the Lord will surely “increase our strength of will for doing good that Christ may find an eager welcome at his coming and call us to his side in the kingdom of heaven.”

Let us, then, my friends, not anticipate too early the fulfillment of this holy season, but let us live it fully each day preparing for the coming of our Lord. May he find us watching and waiting in joyful hope when he comes. Let us “watch for the day, hoping that the salvation promised us will be ours when Christ our Lord comes again in his glory.” Amen!

Linking around

Abbot Cuthbert Johnson reflects on the season of Advent. Joseph Bottum does the same (it's actually a reprint from the December 2007 issue of First Things.

Sandro Magister has written about the Manhattan Declaration - which you can read and sign here - and Pope Benedict XVI's homiletic style.

The excitement builds

Wednesday will mark one of the greatest days in the history of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois when the Most Reverend George J. Lucas, Archbishop of Omaha, will return to the Diocese of which he was the fifth Bishop, to rededicate the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception after an extensive restoration.

A web site has been established for the occasion and has good pictures and descriptions of the various elements of the Cathedral. Be sure to check it out!

27 November 2009

Fr. Tolton

Godzdogz has a good post on Father Augustine Tolton, the first black priest in the United States and who has many ties to Quincy.

26 November 2009

The Establishment of Thanksgiving

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

- Abraham Lincoln
Capello tip to The Crescat.

25 November 2009

In the news

  • The Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George, whose motherhouse is in Alton, celebrate today their 140th birthday (a.k.a., anniversary of their founding by Mother Anselma). Congratulations, Sisters!
  • St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Effingham dedicated their new grade school building Sunday afternoon.
  • The Franciscan Hospital Sisters will display Nativity scenes from around the world at the Chiara Center December 4-6.

24 November 2009

Most Holy Father...

...can we please have a new Bishop?

In the Year for Priests

This evening the Ladies' Sodality hosted several area priests for a dinner to honor the priesthood. It was evening for us simply to enjoy.

A year ago the ladies began praying for priests and more vocation to the priesthood by having a Mass celebrated each week. When Pope Benedict XVI announced the Year for Priests on the Feast of the Sacred Heart (the parish's feast day) the ladies continued having two Masses celebrated for priests each month.

This evening the ladies really out did themselves. The decorations alone were outstanding:

The meal was one of the most delicious I have yet eaten, made by Sicilians. I took a couple of pictures, but didn't think to take pictures of each course:

Thank you, ladies, for a delightful evening!

Behold, the new copier

As we received the new copier in the parish office, I think it is safe to say that my secretary and I felt like children on Christmas morning.
The man who gave us the copier told us he tries to make one person happy each day, and he has certainly done so today. In fact, he has made quite a few people here very happy. May the Lord bless him for his generous kindness!
It is really all quite overwhelming. I have no idea how to properly thank him, save only with those two simple words: thank you.

Surprise, surprise!

Have you ever simply been ambling about your day and sat down at your desk to check your e-mail only to discover that a $10,000 copier fell into your lap to replace the below copier (it still works [remarkably], but note the brick that must be in place for it to copy)?
No? It happened to me last week and I could not be more pleased about it. It will arrive here at the rectory and all the parish will to do is keep an annual contract at a very reasonable rate. You should try it sometime.

I am not sure what I am doing, but whatever it is I must be doing it well. Thanks be to God! And to the patron saint of electronic imaging devices!

23 November 2009

Here's something you don't see every day

Have you ever noticed that places do not get really interesting until after you have already left? Take this story, for example, of a bull running loose in the streets of Effingham:

A bull tore down a fence at Effingham Veterinary Clinic on Keller Drive in Effingham Saturday, crossed the highway and escaped into Rollin Hills Subdivision before he was captured after being subdued by a tranquilizer [more].

That would have been fun to see.

The second gem of the midwest

The State Journal-Register has an article in today's edition about the restoration of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and a series of pictures to go along with it. I would ignore the nasty and largely unintelligent comments to the article.

22 November 2009

An evening with the Baptists

This evening the First Baptist Church in Virden hosted the annual Thanksgiving Service sponsored by the North Macoupin County Ministerial Association. Pastor Philips invited me to preach the sermon and I happily accepted his invitation.

My words were very well received and the Baptists were gracious hosts. I'm pleased to say that the local Catholics were also very well represented.

What follows is the sermon I preached for the occasion:

Dear Pastors and Ministers,
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

May the Lord give you peace!

I am grateful to Pastor Philips and to my fellow members of the Virden-Girard Ministerial Association for their kind invitation to preach this evening. They have welcomed me warmly and have been very supportive of my ministry here among you, and I thank them. I thank, too, the members of First Baptist Church who are graciously hosting us this evening; may the Lord reward you for their kindness.

Some four hundred years ago, in 1621 a great feast was held between Puritans Separatists and local Indians to give thanks at Plymouth for the recent harvest in the midst of great hardship. This week families will gather across this land to commemorate this event, though the current difficulties are not so severe, the harvest is not yet finished and our own menus will be very much unlike that of the first Thanksgiving on this nation’s soil.

There is something within us, a certain desire and longing, a certain necessity, if you will, to give thanks. Man must give thanks, for he is not his own, in and of himself. Saint Paul puts it this way: “What have you that you did not receive” (I Corinthians 4:7)? All that we have is gift, whether we recognize it or not.

This need to express gratitude has given rise to rituals and traditions in every culture of the world, in every age and place, from the simplest peasant to the most noble of kings. Although much has changed, this desire to offer thanks remains, even, curiously enough, among atheists.

The greater man advances technologically, the greater his need to give thanks lest he become lost in himself, lest he become ill at ease and unable to rest.

In every corner of the world we discover certain truths. Among them is this: the more a person gives thanks, both to his Creator and to his fellow man, he greater his happiness will be.

Here in the civilized West we have come to the notion that life is meant to be happy and that if, for one reason or another, it is not, something must be amiss. But, my brothers and sisters, is this, in fact, the reality of our human existence?

If we think back to that first celebration of Thanksgiving, can we really say that life was happy for the Europeans or for the Indians as we think a happy life should be today? Of the original number who set sail from England, half died of malnutrition, disease and the elements before the celebration of that first Thanksgiving. Twenty years later, they still had only one plow among them.

The hardships they endured, we, with our indoor plumbing and electricity, computers and supermarkets, can scarcely imagine. Theirs was a life few of us could have lived and in this regard they are not very different from the major course of human history.

This certainly could not have been what we mean by a happy life, but it may well have been a contented life. Would any one of the pilgrims have expected anything less? Of course not; difficulty and hardship was part of everyday life. Why should we expect it to be any different for us, here at the beginning of the twenty-first century?

This gives us cause to consider for what we are grateful. Do we give thanks for the ease with which we have our food, for our trusty air conditioners in the summer and heaters in the winter, for our vehicles which make travel so fast and simple and for the other technological advancements of our age? Of course we do, but we should not stop there.

Those first pilgrims rendered thanks to Almighty God who saw them through that first difficult winter. They did “not forget all the gifts of God,” simple as these gifts may appear to us (Psalm 103:2). They were well aware that, as King David sang, it is the Lord “who pardons all your sins, heals all your ills, delivers your life from the pit, surrounds you with love and compassion, fills your days with good things” (Psalm 103:3-5).

The Lord does all of these things through the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is this very cross of which the Redeemer says, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24).

The Church – and each of her members – must always give thanks to God for so great a gift through which all good things come to us. For without the Cross of Jesus Christ, what do we have? As Saint Peter says, “By his wounds, you have been healed” (I Peter 2:24).

So often we seek to flee from the Cross, to avoid what is difficult and seek only what is easy. But, my friends, the Lord Jesus did not promise us a rosy and happy life; he promised us persecution and rejection and division; he promised us the Cross. It is only through his Cross that we know his peace, his joy and his love. Why, then, do we run from it? Why do we not instead run toward the Cross whenever it is presented to us?

We are often afraid of the Cross because it requires us to change our lives, our manner of thinking and doing. It requires us to renounce ourselves more and more until we can say with the Apostle, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

The Cross of our Lord is not simply his; each of us is called to share in it and share in it we must, if we wish to be his disciple. The Cross will come in different forms for each us because the Lord knows how we will best grow in holiness and grace. He knows best how to complete the good work he has begun in us (cf. Philippians 1:6).

Whereas the Cross was once the symbol of death, now it is the symbol of live, the symbol of victory. Christ reigns now from the throne of his Cross, offering each of us a share in his victory. This is why Saint Paul says we are to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (I Thessalonians 5:18). Are we grateful for the Cross as it comes to us?

Saint Paul was certainly grateful for the Cross of Christ, even if he asked for it to be taken from him. When it was not, he accepted it as a faithful disciple and through it came to rely on the grace of Christ in all things, finding in it the cause of his joy (cf. II Corinthians 12:7-8). Christ Jesus said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness,” which lead Saint Paul to say, “Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (II Corinthians 12:9). This is the mark of one who has accepted his share in the Cross.

Writing to the Church of Colossae, he says, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church” (Colossians 1:24). How can he rejoice in his sufferings? Because he is thankful for them, because he recognizes the grace given him through them.

Saint James, too, recognized this grace, and so he wrote, “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3).

Likewise did Saint Peter know the beauty of the Cross. “In this you rejoice,” he says, “although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:6-7).

Dear brothers and sisters, let us never seek to shy away from the Cross, but let us welcome it gladly, with rejoicing and much thanksgiving. This seems contrary to our natural inclinations. We willing give thanks for the blessings we receive, those things we ordinarily consider good, but to give thanks for difficulties and hardships seems almost insane to our modern sensibilities.

Consider the following reflection of a soldier from the Civil War:

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve; I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked for health, that I might do greater things; I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.

I asked for riches, that I might be happy; I was given poverty, that I might be wise.

I asked for power, that I might have the praise of others; I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life; I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.

I got nothing I asked for – but everything I had hoped for.

Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.

I am, among all people, most richly blessed!

This is the reflection of one who knows the beauty of the Cross, of one who is thankful for it.

As we gather this week with family and friends around our tables, we will rightly recall with gratitude that first Thanksgiving at Plymouth. We will rightly recall with gratitude the many material blessings the Lord has given us, both in this nation and in this time. But let us not forget to render thanks to the Father Almighty for the gift of his Son, for the gift of his Cross, for our sharing in his sufferings.

An anti-religious movie?

20 November 2009

For my British readership

Some of good friends of mine and their high school age son are in London visiting their son who is studying in Wales.

Do you have any recommendations as to what they should see before returning home?

The high schooler has aksed if the London Dungeons are worth seeing.

Too much of a production?

A priest-friend of mine e-mailed a request to help hear his second graders' First Confessions. The way in which he offered the invitation both made me laugh out loud and has given a bit of food for thought:
Nothing fancy… my focus on these things is not to make a big production for the second graders. We won’t do a big Liturgy of the Word with song-singing and a candlelighting/butterfly releasing event at the end… (Actually, releasing butterflies in January might be considered cruel.) I’ll just offer a good last-minute examination of conscience, review of the ritual, and get ‘em going. The idea is that this experience of the sacrament should be as normative as possible with respect to what they might experience on a Saturday afternoon-- all the parts and prayers (such as the Act of Contrition, etc) in tact.
I, too, am rather in favor of not releasing butterflies in January. The last thing we need is the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals coming after us.

I also share his conviction "that this experience of the sacrament should be as normative as possible."

Is a child's First Confession an important, holy and joyous day? Of course it is. But it should also be just the first of many confessions thorughout their lifetime. Does making a big to do of this day go against that principle by making their first confession so do different than their second confession? Or their 83rd?

I do not know, but I suspect it might. Compared to a child's first confession, his second might seem a rather a let down, a bit anti-climactic.

Singing cutesy songs after their first confession, giving paper hearts or flowers to mom and dad may be fun for the children and entertaining for adults (who are rightly proud of their children), but does not help prepare them for their next confession? Does it help instill within them a genuine love of the sacrament? Does it help them understand our need of the sacrament?

My penitents have told me that they like confessing to me because it is "easy." What they seem to mean is that I do not ask too many questions and I do not offer too much advice. I very clearly make a distinction between confession and spiritual direction. I only ask questions if I need more information to understand the nature of their sin, and I only offer words of counsel if I genuinely feel the penitent needs them. At the same time, I will hear confessions anywhere - on the soccer field, in the library, in a corner stairway, walking down the sidewalk, in the dining room and, of course, in the confessional itself. And all without any fanfare, just the rite in its simplicity and beauty.

I wonder if my priest-friend is on to something. Please feel free to discuss this in the combox, with charity, of course. You are free to disagree with me.

19 November 2009

The sitting room

N.B.: For some reason, Blogger will not let me move these pictures. There were intended to go within the text below.

In the room just off the front entrance my predecessor kept his office. I attempted to do the same but the more I tried to make the room - which seems to have been intended as a sitting room - I simply could not make it work.

One day last week someone came by the rectory for spiritual direction. As I waited for her to arrive it suddenly dawned I me that I really did not have anywhere to sit and visit with directees, parishioners or even friends and guests. We talked at the dining room and I resolved to remedy the situation.

Upstairs my predecessor had set aside a room - that had been two rooms - as a library and study. Since the shelves and desk are attached to the walls I kept the room for the same use and have now moved all of my office into it (consequently, it is a bit disheveled at the moment). I decided to use the room just off of the entrance to the rectory as my sitting room, to visit with friends and guests, to watch television and play video games, and even read the occasional book.

Earlier this week I went to the local furniture store and chose a couch and two chairs to make the room both comfortable and stately. They arrived this morning so I've spent the majority of the day rearranging the house.

When the new drapes arrive which have been ordered the room will really take shape.
Presently I am tired of being in the house all day and am going for a swim. When I return I'll see to a bit of paperwork, work on a homily or two and call it a day.

18 November 2009

Sleepless nights

I apparently was not the only priest to sleep precious little during the course of the night. In my case, I suspect the weather is still up to something...

Another priest put his sleepless night to work (I've been working on a redesigning the format for the parishes bulletins) and put together a list of things on his Facebook page people may not know about priests [with my comments]:
  1. The absolute worst time to tell us anything important is in the receiving line after Mass. Don't expect us to remember... [He's right, you know]
  2. We are very flattered that people think of us when they go to Mass on their vacation, but we don't collect bulletins from other parishes.
  3. We don't have anyone cook for us. Most of us tend for ourselves [and most of us don't mind this].
  4. We aren't offended when people swear in front of us. "I'm sorry, Father," isn't necessary [or if it is, it ought to be necessary in front of anyone].
  5. Celebrating all the sacraments is a joy but, given a chance, 9 out of 10 priests would rather do a funeral than a wedding [there's a lot less paperwork involved].
  6. We go to confession to other priests, usually outside of the Diocese or to a spiritual director. We can't go to ourselves.
  7. We have one weekday that is our day off. The most popular day off is Monday [I prefer Friday because the parish does not have a Saturday morning Mass]. Obviously, we're busy on weekends.
  8. We don't sleep in clerical garb [and we often wear "normal people clothes" around the house]. Nor do we bathe in holy water.
  9. Words of support and encouragement are much appreciated. So is honest feedback. "I didn't understand your homily" would be a most welcome critique [along with an idea of where we lost you, otherwise the critique isn't of much use].
  10. We like other people saying a meal prayer from time to time.
  11. We don't remember most of everything that's said in the confessional because we hear so many [and we don't want to remember]. They all sort of run together...

16 November 2009

Simple things

Last evening one of the parishioners invited me over for an evening with the high school students from Sacred Heart parish. The idea was to have an evening of "fun with Fr. Daren."

Two of the moms prepared salad, bread and desserts and I made my (well, Giada de Laurentiis' [I didn't make the meatballs but I bet those would be good]) rigatoni all'amatriciana. It's an unbelievably simple dish that yields a most delicious result.

The conversation was more entertaining than the picture shows.

After we ate we sat down for a good game of Apples to Apples and fun was indeed had by all.

It was an enjoyable way to include a day that included two Masses, my first baptism in my new parishes and a meeting with the lectors and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion.

Today found me mostly at my desk attending to more paperwork, that is, after celebrating Mass in the parish and then at the nursing home.

The non-sacramental highlight of the day occured in the afternoon when I went to the local furniture shop to purchase a couch and two chairs for the sitting room I will soon have in which I will visit with friends and guests (who may well be one and the same). The furniture should arrive on Thursday.

Tomorrow will find me largely on the go. The day will begin with confessions and Mass at 7:15, followed by a quick bit in the office before a meeting of the Virden-Girard Ministerial Association. After the meeting I will join one of the area pastors for lunch.

At 1:30 I will meet a representative from Collette Vacations to talk about the possibility of my being a chaplain for some of their tours, particularly one to Germany next year. At 3:00 I have a meeting in Springfield regarding a trust set up to benefit Catholic education. At 7:00 I will celebrate Mass for the Ladies' Sodality and, if energy and strength permits, I will join them for their meeting after the Mass.

A happy thought

...on an otherwise dreary day:

Good news

Over at Adam's Ale, Fr. V. passes on the happy news that he is no longer the parochial administrator of St. Sebastian Parish in Akron, Ohio; he is the Pastor.

Congratulations, Fr. V.!

14 November 2009

I love being a priest

One of the great joys and privileges of being a priest is hearing confessions, to listen to a fellow sinner sincerely seeking to follow Christ more faithfully. To offer a few words of counsel (I rarely say very much, preferring instead to stay out of the Lord's way), to give a penance, to speak the words of absolution is more fulfilling than can be put into words.

This morning I heard confessions for a retreat with high school students from the St. Louis area. One of the priests who was to help had a funeral this morning so I spent more time hearing confessions than I expected but was profoundly touched by the honesty of the penitents and of their desire for greater union with Christ.

There are those who are concerned for the future because of the youth of today; I am not one of them.

The life of a priest is truly a blessed, rewarding and fulfilling life. Priestly ministry - given my weak constitution resulting from my arthritis - often leaves me nearly exhausted, but always happy even if I do not always look it.

We priests sometimes refer to it generically as the great Sunday slump, a state in which physically a priest is fine, but spiritually, emotionally and pyschologically there is little left and he ambles along in a zombie-like state. I'm about in that state now so if I'm rambling along, I trust you'll forgive me.

Two new books you should get

Friday I stopped in Effingham for dinner with several friends and stopped by the local Christian bookstore before hand on my way from a meeting in Mattoon.

I was looking for Francis Cardinal George's new book, The Difference God Makes and found two recently released books from Baker Academic in their Catholic Commentary on Scripture series: II Corinthians and Ephesians. I've used the volume on Mark extensively and highly recommend it.

If you haven't looked at this series yet, be sure to do so.

Ascending the keep

While away on the Kairos retreat earlier this week with the senior boys from St. Anthony's, I gave a talk on the love of God. In the course of the talk, I shared with them how I came to know God's love through the deaths of my parents.

I said to them,

Those castles I had built with Legos were somehow quickly built of my own emotions. It seemed as though all of the people I loved were being taken away from me, so now I would be very careful whom I loved so that I would not be so deeply and profoundly hurt again. This was a necessary thing for an eight-year-old boy to do, but very unfortunate as well, because it kept me from experiencing the love of countless people – as it continues to do today - and it stopped me from sharing so much of the love that is within me, struggling to be set free.

I did, however, notice something slowly changing inside of me: someone was trying to break through my defenses and it seemed the intruder was successful. I began to feel, ever so slowly, a little bit more at peace.
This undetected intruder was Jesus Christ. I do not remember explicitly inviting him in, but I also did not refuse him. His all but sudden appearance in my keep was the best thing to ever happen to me.

Others were allowed - ever so slowly - to enter into the castle, as it were. The closer the friend the farther they were allowed to enter. This remains largely true to this day, though I am trying, with God's grace, to chip away at the walls I have constructed.

The next day another adult on the retreat gave a talk on obstacles to God's love and used Simon and Garfunkle's song, "I am a rock" to introduce his talk:

Not being one to get out very much I'm not sure I'd heard the song before. If I had, I certainly never paid it any attention.

Before the song ended, one of the boys leaned over to me and said, "It sounds like the song was written for you."

Since the retreat I've listened to the song several times and it has grown on me. With the exception of the line, "I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain. It's laughing and it's loving I disdain," I think I agree with him; the song suits me well.

I've always known I have a need of friendship - as does everyone - and that friendship causes pain because it entails love (which always is a willingness to suffer), but I've never disdained laughter or love.

I've always been aware of the contradiction - perhaps paradox is a better word - of both retreating into the interior castle and of yearning to love and be loved; the two move in opposite directions. The walls are built up for proctection, yet these very walls cause pain because, as Rich Mullins sang, "There's a lot of love locked up inside me I'm learning to give."

For those who have suffered the loss of a great love, allowing oneself to be vulnerable again to love and be loved can be a great difficulty. For one reason or another, this has been the topic of several conversations with people lately, not simply in my own life but in theirs, as well.

If we consider the life of Christ Jesus we see two principle ways in which he made himself vulnerable to love: the Incarnation and the Crucifixion.

In taking flesh and being born of the Virgin Mary, the Second Person of the Trinity risked being vulnerable for us. He risked our rejection of his love.

In suffering death for us, the heart of the Savior was pierced, signifying his overflowing love that could not be contained, so fully did he give himself for us.

As we follow after him we, too, are called to make ourselves vulnerable to be loved by him and by others. We, too, must allow our hearts to be wounded so that the love of God may flow out from us to those we meet each day.

To do so requires abandoning ourselves to him, trusting in his love for us. It requires a union with the Cross of Christ and a willingness to suffer with and for him.

Naturally, some days are easier than others. For some, being a rock and an island may be a necessary thing. Now if we can only allow ourselves to be a maleable rock and an island that does not kick off the visitors.

These are just a few thoughts on my mind lately; I hope they may be helpful to a few of you.

12 November 2009

I'm back!

I apologize for my unexplained absence over the last few days. Before I disappeared I was busy preparing for the coming days and preparing for my return (always the worst part of going away) and simply forgot to update the blog.

This past Saturday I attended a day-long meeting and returned to the parish in time for the evening Mass.

Sunday afternoon through yesterday afternoon I was away on a Kairos retreat with the senior boys from St. Anthony High School. I am still marvelling at the grace of God as we experienced it on the retreat. Truly a wondrous and powerful few days for which I am deeply grateful.

I returned to Virden yesterday afternoon and met with a priest-friend for dinner at the rectory. He is my former pastor in Quincy and is now my "mentor-pastor" who will advise me and offer suggestions (and critiques) as I learn more and more what being a pastor entails. We had a very enjoyable conversation and I look forward to meeting with him often in the next several months.
Today is mostly an "in office" day, sorting through mail and other papers. Slowly but surely I will get the rectory in order. This evening I will celebrate a memorial Mass for the Knights of Columbus.

The big question now is what to do with my office. The room my predecessor used for his office is really designed to be a sitting room. It makes a great sitting room but not a very good office. At the moment, the house really does not have a comfortable room simply to sit and visit with people or to watch television.

I have a study/library upstairs with a television and two chairs. I am thinking of doing my work in the study and changing the downstairs office into a sitting room. The only downside to this is that my sitting room would be downstairs and my office upstairs. On the flip side, the current study could not be converted into a sitting room without a good deal of work.

I'll figure it out one of these days.

Sorting through the mail today I received the following notice from my cell phone service provider:

We have changed your "Billing" address to reflect the new address that you submitted to the US Postal Service through its change of address process. We're sending this letter to your old address in case the update was done in error.
Who changes their address by mistake?

06 November 2009

Very true

One of my former high school students pointed me the other day to the St. Anthony High English Blog.

A recent post offers seven "funny one-liners," my favorite of which is:

Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
I am a great lover of tomatoes, but I cannot imagine they would go well in a fruit salad.


God our Father,
maker and lover of peace,
to know you is to live,
and to serve you is to reign.

All our faith is in your saving help;
protect us from men of violence
and keep us safe from weapons of hate.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

03 November 2009

This should be...interesting

In just a few minutes my secretary and I will meet in the rectory with the Diocesan Parish Finance Coordinator, who happens to be a grade school classmate of mine.

Hopefully, he'll be able to tell us what to keep, how long to keep it, how to keep it and where to keep it.

Today, the organization of the parish office will either take a giant leap forward, or quite a few backwards.

02 November 2009

When will have a new Bishop?

Father Kevin Laughery, Judicial Vicar and Pastor of Holy Cross parish in Auburn, provides us the answer in his typical fashion: "They're ready when they're ready."

In honor of the day

Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms us and frees us, allowing us to become fully ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives becomes evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire” (I Corinthians 3:15). But it is also a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally of ourselves and totally of God. In this way the interrelation between justice and grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us forever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth and towards love… The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy.

- Benedict XVI, Spe salvi, 47.

At the blessing of graves

This afternoon we celebrated the Blessing of Graves at the Virden Cemetery. About 20 of the faithful attended the 4:00 p.m. prayers.

One of the parishioners mentioned beforehand that he wished he had brought his camera along. I reached into my cassock and produced my camera. He kindly took the following pictures:

A light-hearted moment before the prayer.

A small portion of the Virden cemetery.
It is a public cemetery and has a few intriguing stones.

Listen, brothers and sisters, to the Scriptures.

At 7:00 p.m. I will celebrate Mass for the Holy Souls.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord. Let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace. Amen.

In honor of the day

Death is, then, no cause for mourning, for it is the cause of mankind's salvation....

Death was not part of nature; it became part of nature. God did not decree death from the beginning; he prescribed it as a remedy. Human life, because of sin ... began to experience the burden of wretchedness in unremitting labour and unbearable sorrow. There had to be a limit to its evils; death had to restore what life had forfeited. Without the assistance of grace, immortality is more of a burden than a blessing.

- Saint Ambrose of Milan

01 November 2009

An historical tidbit

One thousand nine hundred and thirty years ago today, Mount Vesuvius buried Pompeii.

I just thought you'd like to know.

In honor of the day

The Kingdom of God is a gift, and precisely because of this, it is great and beautiful, and constitutes the response to our hope. And we cannot—to use the classical expression—”merit” Heaven through our works. Heaven is always more than we could merit, just as being loved is never something “merited”, but always a gift. However, even when we are fully aware that Heaven far exceeds what we can merit, it will always be true that our behaviour is not indifferent before God and therefore is not indifferent for the unfolding of history. We can open ourselves and the world and allow God to enter: we can open ourselves to truth, to love, to what is good. This is what the saints did, those who, as “God's fellow workers”, contributed to the world's salvation (cf. 1 Cor 3:9; 1 Th 3:2). We can free our life and the world from the poisons and contaminations that could destroy the present and the future. We can uncover the sources of creation and keep them unsullied, and in this way we can make a right use of creation, which comes to us as a gift, according to its intrinsic requirements and ultimate purpose. This makes sense even if outwardly we achieve nothing or seem powerless in the face of overwhelming hostile forces. So on the one hand, our actions engender hope for us and for others; but at the same time, it is the great hope based upon God's promises that gives us courage and directs our action in good times and bad.

- Benedict XVI, Spe salvi 35

He's going to get you...

Isn't my nephew cute?

Wouldn't you know it?

Lately (well, for about a year or more) I've been finding my laptop more of a burden to use than a help. It is faster than my desktop, but I have always been fond of a desktop, in no small part because of the actual mouse (I know, I know; I can get a mouse for my laptop). For whatever reason (which I don't quite understand myself), I simply prefer a desktop now that I am not travelling as much as I did in the seminary.

This evening I was actually going to post the homily I preached this weekend for All Saints Day (I haven't posted a homily since I've been in Virden because they have largely been reworks of homilies I've already preached) when, lo and behold, my desktop appears to be near death, suffering from a series of "thermal events" and various other problems besides, including the dread "blue screen of death."

I suppose it's time for a new desktop, which means I can start playing cool games again.

Thankfully, I have most of the files on my desktop also on an external drive. Naturally, I haven't yet placed this weekend's homily on it.

Instead, in a few minutes, I'll give you another thought from Pope Benedict XVI.

On the day

Father Selvester provides us with a short history of today's Solemnity.

Abbot Cuthbert reflects on the place of today's Solemnity within the context of the liturgical year.