Wednesday, July 28, 2010
‘In the New Covenant, prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father who is good beyond measure, with his Son Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit.’ With these words, from the introduction to the fourth section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we are reminded that the life of the Catholic Christian is not simply about blindly following a set of rules, but is ultimately about being drawn deeper into unity with our Triune God.
For those who have read it, this last section of the Catechism is amazingly beautiful, as it is profound. Describing the joys and struggles of personal prayer, as well as the history and development of prayer in the Scriptures and life of the Church, it provides a wonderful basis for all of us wishing to grow in prayer; for left alone, we do not know how to pray as we ought.
While there is much to recommend, I want to focus on one section: paragraphs 2725-2745, entitled ‘The Battle of Prayer.’ Acknowledging that ‘prayer is both a gift of grace and a determined response on our part,’ these paragraphs affirm that prayer is not always easy, sometimes there is dryness in prayer and the heart aches for a response from God, yet only silence is heard. When one experiences such things, it is tempting to think that the method one is using for prayer is wrong or that God has somehow left you alone in the desert to wander on your own.
Rather, it is often the case that God might be asking for strength and discipline in prayer, refining the impure motivations and helping to dispose the heart to be set only on Him. Many of the spiritual masters in our tradition talk of prayer like a muscle, that unless it is exercised, it will atrophy and disintegrate. Then when need arises and one turns to prayer, nothing happens. The will has been so weakened, it is unable to respond, truly a frightening proposition!
But the Catechism gives some helpful guidance in this regard. In the face of difficulty in prayer, the Church calls for vigilance. The bridegroom comes in the middle of the night, and blessed are those who are prepared for his return. This vigilance calls for an attentiveness of heart to the promptings of the Spirit, but the heart will only hear those promptings if it has been conditioned to do so.
The Catechism also highlights temptations found in a lack of faith and acedia. The prior is getting caught up in the cares and concerns of this world, only turning to the Lord as a last resort, highlighted by the phrase: ‘I have tried everything else, I might as well pray.’ Perhaps if we had the habit of praying first, God would help us find the pathway out of this particular mess quicker! Acedia, on the other hand, is becoming too comfortable, a ‘lax ascetical practice.’ In this, the will is not conditioned to deny itself, untrained by fasting and almsgiving; even the smallest temptations are unable to be resisted.
As we grow in prayer, three fruits begin to manifest: trust, hope and charity. The heart that prays trusts in God’s providential care that no matter the storm, the Loving Father will help you to see it through to the end. In essence, ‘Do not tell God how big the storm is, but rather tell the storm how big God is!’ The heart that prays is formed to hope that that there is more here than meets the eye. It recognizes that this world is not all there is, but that there is a paradise awaiting on the other side. Finally, the heart that prays is the heart that loves. It is the power of love for both God and our fellow men that enables the heart conditioned by prayer to persevere over difficulty for the sake of the other, that they too might dwell in God’s Eternal Home in the life to come.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Seeing as how we come from Western Ohio, Cincinnati and Eastern Iowa; we tried to find a place that was (somewhat) convenient for all and settled on Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana. (Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, Indiana.)
We left a week ago this past Sunday and returned on Wednesday, July 21. And while my snarky side really wants to come out, we did end up having a pretty good time, all in all. (which is no small feat when you bring 31 different personalities together!)
The reason for my post, however, is that Holiday World makes no apologies about being a Christian environment. There is a large nativity set displayed prominently upon entering the park, the dress code is strictly enforced: nothing too revealing (i didn't venture into the water park), no offensive slogans on t-shirts, etc. One of the sound stages was playing Praise and Worship music during the day. The park was clean and well kept, the staff very friendly and cooperative, and best of all: free drinks! They have Pepsi Oasis stations around the park, go in, grab a cup and fill-er-up. When it is well into the 90's, as it was last week, these are life-savers!
If you are looking for a good, family-friendly vacation spot in the eastern Mid-West, consider Holiday World.
On Saturday, July 17, the Knights of Columbus from the Archdiocese gathered for the annual State Officer Training/State Tour, something like that. Anyway, it was mostly the heads of the local councils to bring them up to speed on what the initiatives and agendas will be for the upcoming year.
Over the last few years, the state treasurer presents the diocesan vocation office with the funds collected from the diocese through the Knights' Pennies from Heaven Campaign. (Side note: the Pennies from Heaven is the jar that the Knights pass around during their meetings and they collect the spare change and pennies from members' pockets; all to be presented to the local Vocation Office.) This year, I was presented with a check for a little over $15,000, which we can all agree is a bunch of pennies!
We use this money for our media outreach and development, setting it aside until we can do something big with it. Past examples: the revisions that brought about www.cincinnativocations.org when I came on board four years ago were paid for out of these funds. The 'Man Behind the Collar' videos were paid for out of these funds. The upcoming revisions to the main page of the Vocation Office are also funded by this. We use any left over funds to support the production of our annual Vocation Awareness Week Materials as well. We try to stretch each penny to it's max, and I think we have been successful in developing a good product with what we have been given.
As I had a Mass that I needed to get back for, I was going to leave right after the check presentation (I know, ingrateful lout that I am!). However, they told me to hold on for a few minutes.
Unaware, I sat back down to be awarded with the 'Religious of the Year' award from the Knights in Archdiocese of Cincinnati for my work in the Vocation Office: helping raise the awareness of the importance of vocations, for diligience in traveling far and wide for the work of the office, and for the long hours it seems I work. (Yes, Dad, more than three hours a week!)
I was truly humbled and thankful for the recognition. However, as I said in my remarks upon receiving the award, I truly feel that this is just what I have been obliged to do. I very much enjoy the work I get to do as Vocation Director, and am just trying to be a servant in the vineyard of the Lord.
Anyway, a special note of thanks for all that the Knights of Columbus, both here locally and nationally, do to support vocations to the priesthood.
Fr. Michael McGivney, Pray for us!
Thursday, July 15, 2010
His second paragraph, after talking about the joys priests have in celebrating the Eucharist, states:
I cannot imagine taking the same satisfaction in hearing confessions. In the church where I go to be shriven here in New Hampshire -- no, it's not my parish . . . I don't evacuate where I eat -- the priest who faithfully staffs the booth each Saturday sounds like he's in his 70s. His old voice creaks through the grille, gentle but serious, and on my way out after penance I find myself wondering about the man. What path drew him to this place? Is he sick at heart, after all these years, of hearing week in and week out how stubborn and irreformable are our hearts? How is his health? And then, more selfishly: What will we do without him?
Truthfully, this is one of the hardest things for laity to understand. Until you sit 'in the box' and hear Confessions, you can never know how you will react, and the graces that flow directly in front of your eyes during these moments. Many priests, this humble scribe included, report never feeling more like a priest than when sitting in the box, 'shriving' the faithful.
Why is this? First, as mentioned, grace is palpable in this Sacrament. Hearts open up before you, not because of any particular talent or gift you may have as a priest, but simply because you are a priest. It is in the Confessional that the priest is truly called to be an 'Icon of Christ,' merely a bridge between this person and the saving grace of Our Lord on the Cross. It is humbling that some will tell me their deepest, darkest sins and fears, faults and failings, not for me to hear, but for Christ to hear. To offer a bit of counseling, at which I often feel very inadequate, and to echo the prayer of Absolution. I tell you, I can often feel the power of Christ channeling through.
Does this mean that every Confession is like this? Unfortunately not. Some, one can tell, are reciting the same laundry list of sins since their First Confession. Yes, they are there, but as a priest, I want to work with them to get at the heart of those sins that they might not fall back into the same traps. Some, I can tell (and I do not have the gift of reading hearts, that would be very scary!) only mention a few minor things, and I wonder what else is there. (Six months between Confessions, and all you've done is look cross-eyed once?!?! Should I start the canonization process now?) It happens infrequently, but does happen that some confesses something but does not have firm purpose of amendment to change their ways, and yes I have refused absolution, but only very rarely and never lightly, as a way of trying to help bring about the conversion. I hope and pray I was right in these situations.
One last point: anonymity and 'remembering' the sin. As priests, there are particular graces that do help priests forget the sins, whether face to face or behind the screen. Plus, I know I make a conscious effort not to remember, but when I am finished with my 'session' in the box, try to say a short prayer before the Blessed Sacrament: 'Lord, these were offered to you, I place them at your feet that you might take them all and forgive these sins offered in hope.'
It helps me, and I imagine other priests have their own way of coping, too.
That, and we hear so many confessions, it is hard to remember what went with who. In the box, you're not that important, Jesus is.
Monday, July 12, 2010
Friday, July 9, 2010
We headed down to St. Paul's once again, this time for Mass as a group. We were originally assigned to a small chapel, but we wouldn't fit, so we moved into the apse chapel. Hard to pay attention.... Anyway, St. Paul welcomed us to his Church.
and Pope Benedict smiled down upon us with all of his predecessors, right up to Peter himself!
With the connection to our Cathedral Church, we had to make a stop at St. Peter in Chains, to see the very chains themselves! Back into the City we went.
Moses shook his horns at us, I couldn't get closer for a better pic, alas!
A short trip down the Esquiline (?) hill to the Flavian Ampitheater, aka 'The Colosseum' Tempting to call it a 'big pile of rocks', but impressive none-the-less. A cross now marks where the emporers sat and condemned so many of our early Christian brothers and sisters to their death, (but NOT the Apostles, it wasn't built yet!)
From there, we went back out of the city to the Catacombs of St. Callistus, I had some shots of the grounds, but nothing too impressive, shots underground were forbidden. The one teenaged girl in our group started to sort of freak out a bit while in the catacombs, but she made it through.
From there, back into the city for Mass at Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, the Domincan Parish in town. Below is a pic of small chapel dedicated to St. Catherine of Sienna, big enough for three people, I think.
The male singer, mysterious missing from the above pic, was proud to say that he was a Cardinal, once upon a time! He played a Cardinal in the movie about Pope John Paul II and still had the pic on his cell phone, he was sure to show allt he priests in the group!
Alas, RomeTrip2010 was coming to an end, an early, early morning pic-up at the hotel (3:30 AM) for the flights back, one through Frankfort and Chicago to Cincinnati, one through Paris to Detroit, and the process of beating jetlag begins. I think I am mostly over it by now.
I will offer one more set of reflections on the impact of the trip and some further thoughts, stay tuned.....
Ok, fine, I succombed to Siesta and took the Metro back to the Hotel.
After Siesta, I journeyed out again, this time on search of Caravaggio's, wishing for more luck that pilgrimage churches.
First stop: Santa Maria del Populo, which was a rather short walk from the hotel. Alas, I found what I thought was the right Church, turns out there are two of the same name, or that it is a 'split church,' only Romans would think this a good idea! I was in, what I would learn, is the wrong one! To find the paintings of the martyrdom of St. Peter and the calling of St. Paul, go to Piazza del Populo, on the north end of the old city, the two Churches at the north end of the square, and they are in the one closest to the River Tiber. Now I know.....
Not to be totally thwarted, I did find the Madonna with the Peasants at San Augustino's, which is a truly stunning work. Earlier in the week, we had visited Sante Luigi dei Francesca (St. Louis of France) and the Matthew Chapel to see his works there.
Back to the hotel for dinner and a sleep.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
“Um, Mom, this is the small one.”
Two years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Rome with my parents. They had never been, while I was making my fourth trip to the Eternal City. I had a sense of the city, the scale, the majesty, prior to our arrival, but it was fascinating to experience the ‘newness’ of entering Rome for the first time through the eyes of my parents.
Mom’s jaw had dropped upon entering the Basilica of St. Mary Major, one of the four major basilicas in Rome. The gold leaf on the ceiling, the altar and canopy that dominate the space and the shear volume of space was overwhelming for a first time visitor, yet St. Mary Major is dwarfed by her three larger sibling basilicas — St. Peter’s, St. John Lateran and St. Paul Outside the Walls. As my mother experienced, the faith was much bigger than our little parish in western Ohio.
As I write this, I am preparing to return to Rome for the fifth time, this time with a group of pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati who are journeying with Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr as he receives the pallium from Pope Benedict XVI. I can’t wait to once again see the look of awe as someone enters St. Peter’s, or experiences the joy of flipping a coin into Trevi Fountain or strolling through the Roman Forum for the first time.
For those who make a trip to Rome, the impact can be lifelong. To walk the streets where Peter and Paul walked, to visit the prison where Peter was held before his martyrdom, to see the altars built up over the remains of the names we hear in the Roman Canon, our faith comes alive. There is a strong recognition of the universality of our Catholic faith, a universality that is both across history as well as across the globe, for in Rome you truly come into contact with your brothers and sisters in Christ from all corners and all times.
The testimony of history and of cultures worldwide, however, can lead to a trap: one can become obsessed with the outward gleanings of the church. St. Peter’s Basilica is phenomenal, one of the largest structures in the world. The art contained in the churches and museums in Rome is priceless and transcendent and the cynical sort might ask, “Why doesn’t the church sell all this stuff and give the money to the poor?”
True, we could do so, but then we would lose the deeper meaning. These artistic treasures are the patrimony of the faithful, and so many of them are available to see without cost (well, except for the plane ticket to Rome!), which would surely change if they were sold into the halls of a private collector.
But even deeper, the many works and treasures in Rome are there because they express something, they teach, they form you as you walk among them. The Eternal City is just that because her very DNA is wrapped in Christ, and Rome expresses her faith in Christ in all the beauty and treasure that is contained in her ancient walls. Rome expresses not a dead faith, but a living reality — Christ.
To visit Rome is to meet our ancestors in the faith, to walk in the footsteps of martyrs, churchmen and women, great teachers and humble workers with the poor.
The difficulty is that we cannot all make this same trip, so what are those who remain to do? Luckily, here in Cincinnati, there are numerous churches and sites that serve as possible local pilgrimages. While not as epic in scale, they can serve much the same purpose. The two cathedrals in the Greater Cincinnati area, the Shrine Chapel in Maria Stein, St. Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana, or Gethsemane in Kentucky, all provide much the same encounter as Rome.
No matter the location, the universality of the church of Rome shines forth in all her splendor, and we thank God for the gift of the church to guide us closer to Him, both on earth as it is in heaven.
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
On the flight back from Rome, I had the chance to read through (finally) Fr. Brett Brannen's excellent new work: 'To Save a Thousand Souls: A Guide for Discerning a Vocation to Diocesan Priesthood.' As a Vocation Director, this is the tool I've been looking for in helping men discern the priesthood.
Last Thursday, we broke from the heat of the city of Rome for the sleepy hamlet of Assisi, home to one of the greatest saints of all-time: Francis.
Monday, July 5, 2010
Sunday, July 4, 2010
The plane is a few minutes from boarding to Chicago, talk to you then.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone