Friday, September 30, 2005

A letter to youth

"Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs... Then he embraced them, laid his hands on them and gave them his blessing". - Mk 10: 14,16
As I get set to leave St. John's on Sunday, I want to write a special note to the youth of this great parish. This is to all of the students in the school, CCD, and youth group:

My young brothers and sisters,

Hi! Thank you so much for letting me spend so much time with you in Church, on the playground, in the classroom, on the campgrounds, at Cyberspace, on the white water rapids, and in your homes. You are a very special group of people of whom I am very proud and love very much.

As I said this morning at Mass, there are two things in this world that I love the most: 1) Jesus in the Eucharist, and 2) youth. I spend as much time as I can with both of you every day. I spend an hour with Jesus every morning in Church. Then, I come visit you on the playgrounds, in the classroom...I want to be wherever you are. I want to be a priest so that I can spend so much time with Jesus and you every day for the rest of my life. What a life!!

Jesus loves you very much! He, too, has a special love for children. The Bible verse above shows that. All of our love comes from Jesus. The love I have for you is from Jesus. It is really His love for you, coming through me. He has been the one playing with you, talking with you, embracing you, and laughing with you. It's not about Brother Greg, it's about Jesus. It's all about Jesus. He is always here for you; He will never leave you.

For now, I have to leave you. I have to go serve Jesus in another place. But, I will be back to visit you soon. I will pray for you every day. Please pray for me! Also, pray for Fr. Ray, Mrs. Suit, your teachers, your parents, your brothers and sisters, and your friends. Jesus wants us all to pray for each other. We are a family! Thank you very much for letting me be a part of the St. John's family.

I will miss you all a lot but will smile when I think of you. Please smile when you think of me! Our smiles will say, as they always do, "Jesus loves me".

May God bless each of you always,

Brother Greg

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Living next to a saint

I am good friends with a couple in Pennsylvania. They live very close to the seminary I attended (Mount St Mary's), and I would visit them and their five kids frequently. Great Catholic family! When I would visit, I played with the kids and joked around much of the time. But, then, they invited another seminarian (who was a deacon) to their home. He prayed evening prayer with them, blessed their house, and led them in a rosary. When he left, their kids halfheartedly said, "so that's what a seminarian is supposed to be like!" ...(oops)
Last week, I learned that a good friend of mine from the seminary lost his long battle with cancer at a very young age. Fr. Darin Didier was a ordained a priest of Fargo, ND in June of this year after fighting non-Hodgkins lyphoma for many years in the seminary. The disease had been in remission for at least a year, maybe two. Unfortunately, it returned this summer, and Fr Darin died the first week of September.

Darin and I were friends, classmates, and neighbors. I would hear him coughing through many a night in his last year of seminary. He rarely (if ever) complained about the cancer, and lived his simple yet joyful life as normally as ever. Darin was very athletic, intelligent, kind, enthusiastic, and loving. To me and many others, he was a saint. For nine months, I had the great honor of living next to a saint!

When he was first diagnosed with the cancer, he underwent radiation and chemotherapy, and had to leave the seminary. After a while, the doctors told him that the treatments were not working properly. Eventually, he was told by them that there was nothing more that they could do. So, Darin turned to natural supplements, a strict diet (he was already a health nut), and to priests. He had a few priests pray over him in the hopes of a healing. Basically, he put his whole life in the hands of God.

Amazingly, the cancer went into remission. He was well enough to return to the seminary and resume his formation for priesthood. He continued a rigorous natural and supernatural diet to keep the cancer from returning. He was an heroic witness to the virtue of faith to so many people at and around the Mount, not to mention elsewhere. What courage!

The amazing gift for Fr Darin, obviously, is priesthood. He was cured long enough to be ordained. When a man is ordained a priest, it is forever. Fr Darin is a priest forever! I believe he is like John Paul II in the sense that he had a very short stay in Purgatory, and is now in Heaven. He endured the Cross in huge ways; now, he enjoys the fruits of Paradise with Almighty God and all the angels and saints.

I have already asked his intercession on some matters. As powerful as his prayers were on Earth, they are even more so now. Father Darin, pray for us!

Oh, and by the way, the seminarian I mentioned above was Darin Didier.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Thank you, GW!!

I learned this summer that I won't be returning to St Stephen's/GW. Cardinal McCarrick has asked me to serve in a parish in Montgomery County (Maryland) for this school year. Hopefully, he will ordain me a transitional deacon in December, and then a priest in May '06. I will keep you updated.

Last year at St Stephen's was one of the greatest experiences of my life. To be around such great people in the parish and GW was such a blessing! I am extremely grateful to the former pastor (Msgr Hill), staff, young adults, and parishioners for making me feel so welcome and part of the family. I spent most of my vacation time there last year because of your hospitality, joy, and goodness. The young adults inspired me with their faith and generosity. I will miss them- studs, all of them!

To the students of GW, I say thank you in a HUGE way. You allowed me to be a part of a big year in your lives to share laughs, tears, and faith. You are all so talented and have such busy lives, yet you gave so much to Christ, me and the programs. You opened your minds and hearts to Christ and it paid such great dividends for all of us. I encourage you to continue living the generous spirit you have, and give yourselves more to Him and to others in prayer and service.

While the dinners and discussions were truly memorable and powerful experiences, my greatest memory was a Lenten Penance service. Amid the craziness of your schedules, the fact that it was late on a Sunday night, and with some being afraid because it had been years since going to Confession, we still had a great turnout! Something special is going on when people make the free choice to reconcile with God and the Church in Confession. It was AWESOME to see! Inspiring, really. Hopefully, it was awesome for those who went to experience the mercy of God in a deep way.

I will continue to blog on this site unless Fr Gurnee decides to have someone else take over. We still have many people reading this each week, which is great. I will try to visit GW at some point this year. I pray for all of you each time I pray the rosary. For those who have asked me to pray for them or their special intentions, you are on my list which I take to Night Prayer each night (always looking to add to the list!). Until I see you next, I will see you in prayer.

I love you all, and from the bottom of my heart am truly grateful for the love and support you have shown me. May God continue to bless you abundantly this year, and all the years of your life. Please pray for me, priests, and those in religious life. Thank you, GW!!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Tabernacles of hope

"You know you are getting old when the candles cost more than the cake."

- Bob Hope
Here is an exerpt from a reflection I gave at all the Masses this past weekend at a parish in Southern Maryland:

There are two things that I can say with great confidence about Hurricane Katrina. First, the hurricane was not part of God’s active, perfect Plan. Second, God has allowed this to happen in order to bring about tremendous good. On the first point, the Book of Wisdom, Chapter One, “God did not make death, nor does He rejoice in the destruction of the living”. On the second point, whenever we ask, ‘why does God allow evil to exist? Why does He allow suffering’, we need to look at the Cross. Why did He allow that? He loves his only Son infinitely, He has perfect love for Jesus. And yet, He allowed Him to suffer tremendously.

Like Christ, the people in the South, particularly New Orleans, have been humbled something fierce, have been stripped of almost everything, and have suffered tremendously. They are carrying a HUGE Cross. Like most crosses, they didn’t choose this. They are sharing in Christ’s Passion and suffering. But, while Christ had his Good Friday, He also had his Easter Sunday. He rose from the dead! Conquered death! Life after death! So, too, those in the South who are in their Passion will have a Resurrection.

Mother Teresa once said, “Don’t ever get so sad that you lose sight of the Resurrection”. While we are men and women of the Cross – Jesus says, ‘unless you carry your cross, you cannot be my disciple’ – we are men and women of the Resurrection. We believe and have great confidence that our brothers and sisters in the South will experience a Resurrection. They will experience a newness of life that they’ve never known. They will find joy in things that before they didn’t or in things that they’ve taken for granted – a bed to sleep on, a hot meal, a roof over their heads. We believe that they will experience a Resurrection soon.

We come to this Mass, every Mass, celebrating Christ’s Death and Resurrection. Especially in the Eucharist, we remember Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross in a special way, and that makes Him present on the altar under the signs of bread and wine. We receive Jesus’ risen flesh and blood in Holy Communion, and go forth from this place as living tabernacles of hope to those we meet. We have the risen Lord dwelling within us at that point. Hope Himself dwelling within us. We take a message of hope, this Gospel of Hope, Joy, Peace and Love to our neighbors, friends and family this week, and pray with great confidence for the victims of Katrina.

“Don’t ever get so sad that you lose sight of the Resurrection”.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Big Hurt in the Big Easy

Sorry it's taken me a little while to get back on here to make a post about World Youth Day... it was awesome! Probably over 1,000,000 Catholic youth there to greet Pope Benedict and celebrate our Catholic faith. I actually got to shake the Pope's hands at one point! We toured churches and tombs of saints in Rome, Assisi, and Padua before heading off to Germany. In Germany, the crowds were huge for the Opening Mass, conferences, prayer vigil, and Closing Mass. For the vigil and Closing Mass, our group (of about 125) walked 6 miles, and slept outside with a million other people. The 2 week pilgrimmage was an encounter with Christ and his Church for many in our group. Pretty cool stuff!
It is very painful, frustrating, and sad to watch the TV coverage of the devastation in the South from Hurricane Katrina. The networks are trying to show positive stories of heroism with every story of heartbreak. And, there are many great people rising to the occasion and doing selfless acts of love for their neighbor. But, there are also some people who are either acting immorally or illegally in acting solely for themselves. In other words, God is very much at work in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama right now, but so is the Opponent.

Some of the glimpses of the conditions down there, especially in New Orleans, remind me of Calcutta, India. I was there in 2000, working briefly with the Missionaries of Charity. There are many similarities between Calcutta and New Orleans at the moment. One thing I saw a lot of in Calcutta is many people wandering the streets with nowhere to go, nothing to eat or drink, and unclean conditions all around them. I saw the exact same thing on the TV on Wednesday; people walking around New Orleans with nothing except the shirts on their backs. What is going on in the Big Easy is the norm for Calcutta.

Can any good come out of this? Physically, yes, but it will take much time, effort, and money. Spiritually, yes, too, and I believe it will be much more immediate. In Calcutta, I saw the poorest of the poor; we are seeing them every night in New Orleans on TV. They really have nothing. For the men and women of Calcutta who sleep on sidewalks or for those in New Orleans who walk back and forth on Interstate 10 with no food, clothing, or shelter, it's really just them and God. They have nothing else except Him right now. Maybe for the first time in some of their lives, they are talking and listening to their Father in Heaven.

Do we who are rich do that? Or do all of the things ("toys") we have distract us from talking with God? Have we tuned God out with all of the noise of the world - I Pods, cell phones, internet, etc.? Are we focused more on things of this life or things of the next life? Jesus warns us: "Do not store up treasures for yourselves on earth... but store up treasures for yourselves in heaven" (Matt 6:19,20). Also, he tells the rich young man to "go and sell your possessions and give money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me" (Matt 19:21). Our Lord knows full well the danger of riches. Possessions can become evil if we become attached to them.

I don't believe that all of this has happened to the people of the South because they're evil, and God is angry. On the contrary, I believe that God has allowed his children down there a great opportunity to reach out to Him. He has allowed them to be humbled, stripped of almost everything, and suffer greatly; He allowed the same things in His own Son's life. In a radical and paradoxical way, Christ honors the poor but condemns the rich (see Matt 19:24). Our Southern brothers and sisters are the poorest of the poor; they are the 'poor in spirit' whom Christ calls 'blessed' (Matt 5:3).