Friday, December 30, 2005

Mary, Mother of God

Many of us are getting ready for a big celebration this Saturday night and Sunday. January 1 is always a time of excitement, parties, joy, and hope. The Church herself honors this glorious day with a Solemnity, which is the greatest type of feast in the Roman calendar. The world celebrates Jan. 1 as New Year's Day, and it is a fitting time to celebrate the arrival of a new calendar year. But, the Church celebrates Jan. 1 for a different reason:the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.

As an FYI, the Church's new year starts in Advent. The first Sunday of Advent is the Church's New Year's Day. So, liturgically, 2006 began on the first Sunday of Advent. The (3 year) cycle of readings from the Lectionary changed A to B (next year it will change from B to C). Just a little liurgical FYI for ya!

The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God is placed on Jan 1 more for its relationship with Christmas than to the secular celebration of New Year's. It is placed on Jan 1 in the Roman calendar because it is seven days (one full week) after the Birth of Christ. The Church celebrates many aspects surrounding the Birth of our Savior in this holy season - Holy Family, Holy Innocents, Epiphany, etc. It is still within the Octave of Christmas (the 8 day celebration of Christmas), and highlights Mary's role in the First Coming of the Messiah.

The official title of Mary, Mother of God, is Greek: Theotokos. There can be no debate about her title as Mother of Jesus. But, this title of Theotokos has sparked debates with our brothers and sisters of other faiths. The Church proudly affirms this and many other titles of the Blessed Virgin Mary because of her extraordinarily significant role in bringing Salvation to the world.

Mary is referenced throughout Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly. Her role in God's Plan as the Mother of the Savior brings praise from the angel Gabriel ("Hail, full of grace") and her cousin, Elizabeth ("blessed are you among women"), but also vicious attacks from Satan (Book of Revelation). The title of Mother of God does not give her divine status; she is still and always will be recognized by the Church as a human being.

If we stop and think about it on basic terms for a minute, it's obvious- Mary is the Mother of Jesus who is the Son of God. He is God himself, the second person of the Trinity. Ergo (one of my favorite words), Mary is the Mother of God. Now, that's pretty easy math. That's basically the formula the Church has used to name Mary as Theotokos. But, so much of who she is goes into title - she was preserved from any traces of original sin from the moment of her conception, she always said yes to God, she lived the Commandments and Beatitudes perfectly, etc. She is "full of grace" - the Father created her to be the Mother of His Son and gave her extraordinary grace for her to live every moment of her life in this role.

She is the mother of God! She lived a life like you and me, and had all the joys and pains of day to day life in the world. For nine months, she carried God in her womb! Then, she nurtured and raised him as a little boy. She watched him "grow in wisdom and knowledge" and then accomplish his mission of Salvation that ended in a bitter and painful death on the Cross. This is all the fruit of her womb. As Elizabeth said to her, "blessed is the fruit of your womb".

So, do I really know Mary? Is she a part of my life? Christ came to me through her; she is blessed indeed, as Scripture repeatedly says. She is the perfect instrument through whom He entered the world. She is His Mother!! He gave her to me at the foot of the Cross (in the person of the Apostle, John). She will always lead me to Christ - "do whatever He tells you". In this new year of 2006, may I go to Jesus through Mary, and realize her incredible intercessory power as the Mother of God. May I imitate her in always saying 'yes' to God.

Mary, Mother of God: pray for us!

Happy New Year and Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.

Friday, December 23, 2005


What a weekend last weekend!! First, the ordination to the transitional diaconate. Then, the Redskins whooped the Cowboys! 35-7!! I should get ordained every weekend! Woo-hoo!!
Wow, last Saturday night's ordination was awesome! Many people have said it was a very powerful and moving experience. Uh, yeah! For me, it was this, of course, but it was a lot of fun! I had made a holy hour with the Lord just before the Mass began, and at the end, I said to Him, "let's have some fun!" I was filled with such peace and joy.

There were a bunch of people there - the place was just about filled. I saw many people I knew there, and it was so great to enjoy this with so many who have been praying for me and supporting me for 11 years. We're finally here!! Thanks, especially, to all the GW students who came. I greatly appreciate all of you efforts.

Some people have commented that this ordination was different from any other that they've been to. It did have a special feel - like it was electric or something. The ordination rite itself went smoothly. Apparently, when my name was called, I practically shot up out of my chair. Guess I couldn't wait (been long enough). I made promises of celibacy and obedience to Cardinal McCarrick and the Church of Washington.

Then, there was some drama. The other two guys and I prostrated ourselves as the Church sung the litany of saints. I started to have images of my Dad, Father Wells, Mother Teresa, and other family and friends who have died. My saints in Heaven!! They were there!! They have been there for me for so long. Well, the litany went on for a while, and it was an extremely powerful experience for which I wasn't ready. I got up off the floor, thinking 'somebody needs to mop up that wet spot' I left with my tears. Tears of joy, of course!

Then, the big moment. The Cardinal laid his hands on me, and the Holy Spirit came upon me. That is the Sacrament of Holy Orders right there. I've waited 11 years+ for that one moment! Oh, cool! So, as a result, I have the power of the Holy Spirit that the Apostles and early deacons of the Church had. I have the faculties to preach, baptize, give blessings, etc. This is so cool!

After this, I was given two vestments to wear as a new deacon, and then served the rest of the Mass at the altar. There was a huge mob scene after we processed out, and it's all kind of a blur. Lots of people. Praise God! We had a big party at my brother's house that went late. Great time there! I preached twice the next day, and served for the Cardinal that night (during the Redskins game!). I really enjoy serving as a deacon- I've got the power!!

As I said in my first homily, "I thank God for all the gifts he's given me to serve as a deacon".

Friday, December 16, 2005

The love of my life

Tomorrow is the big day!! It's a big day for many reasons, but one of the biggest will be that it's when I make my promise of celibacy. I have spent the last 12 years of my life "discerning whether or not Christ is giving (me or any seminarian) this gift", as John Paul II put it. He has led me to this momentous day, and I truly believe He is offering me this precious gift of celibacy. Yes, celibacy is a gift!! My last day and a half on retreat focused on celibacy. I meditated on Matthew 19:10 and Song of Songs, chapter 4. Here are some insights.

Mt 19:10 - I am called to celibacy "for the sake of kingdom"
- my life should point to the kingdom of God
- my bride is the mystical Body of Christ (the people of God) and the eucharistic Body of Christ; my spiritual intimacy is with the people, physical intimacy with the Eucharist

- this realization cut right to my heart. I have been thinking for so long that I will marry the Church in a spiritual way. This is true, and I want to be spiritually intimate with many people. My heart is built that way. But, I also desire (like we all do) physical intimacy. I need to be able to see and touch the One on a regular basis. Celibacy means that Christ is the One. For me, specifically, it's Christ in the Eucharist. I see, touch, taste, smell, and hear (in my heart) Him every day in the Eucharist. The Eucharist has been the love of my life for 13 years; this retreat helped to rekindle that love. I want to give my life to Jesus in the Eucharist (and the Church). I will promise Him my life tomorrow, and then that promise will be consummated as a priest each time I offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

This is the sweetest love on Earth! The Song of Songs is one of the most beautiful descriptions of the intimacy God desires with us. God invites each one of us to be married to Him in Heaven for all eternity. He invites me (and all religious) to a special intimacy with Him on Earth as well. Truly, truly, an incredible gift from the Lord!!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

"Where are today's Apostles?"

Please pray for my cousin, George, and my uncle, Mike. They both are sick right now, and could really use your prayers. Thanks, "prayer warriors"!
On about the second or third day of my retreat, my director had me meditate on several Scripture passages. Below are some of the things that stirred my heart and mind during those days.

1. 1 Sam3: 2-10
- Samuel hears God's Call two times while he rests, but thinks it's Eli talking to him. Eli tells him that it's Yahweh speaking to him. So, for the third time, Yahweh calls out to Samuel, and Samuel finally hears the Lord, and says, "speak, Lord, for your servant is listening".

Well, me and "Sammy" have a few things in common. The one that jumped out at me is that it took us both three times to hear and answer God's Call! As you probably know, this is my third try at seminary / priesthood - third time's a charm, right, Sammy!?

2. Rom 10:14-15
- I, like the priests and deacons in the early Church, am called to preach the Good News. Me? Who am I to teach people about the Kingdom of God? Well, all I know, is that God knows who He's called.

I am to be a messenger of the Good News. What is the Good News? Most fundamentally, that God loves us. My goal is to end each Sunday homily with a reminder of how much God loves- "please, remember this day, that God the Father, Son, and Spirit has unconditional and infinite love for you".

3. Is 6: 1-8
- my preaching will come from my worship - public and private. My worship of the Word and the Eucharist at Mass will define my preaching. My time in Adoration of the Eucharist outside of Mass will help to shape and mold my heart more to Christ's, so that I will preach and act as He wills.

4. Acts 6:1-7
- I am called to preach with great love as a man of prayer; called to be an apostle! This insight hit me pretty hard as it occurred on a feast of an Apostle, St. Andrew (Nov 30). "Where are today's Apostles?", my director asked.

I am called to have great zeal, both publicly and privately. I am called to love as Christ loves, and serve as Christ serves. Here's a paradox that hit me along the lines of service:

The more I give, the more I have to give.
The less I give, the less I have to give.

This is rooted in grace and charity. What it means is that the more that I give myself to God, I find that I actually have more energy to give (to Him and others). Zeal begets zeal; selflessness begets selflessness. On the flip side, laziness begets laziness; selfishness begets selfishness.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The prayer of Jesus

Ordination to the diaconate!! I will be ordained a transitional deacon along with two other men by Cardinal McCarrick next Saturday, December 17, at the 5 pm Mass at St John Neumann Church in Gaithersburg, Md. Thanks be to God!

I will make promises of obedience and celibacy to Christ through His Church, and then be ordained through the Laying on of Hands (a Tradition that goes back to the Apostles!). This is the sacrament of Holy Orders (the three offices of Holy Orders are deacon, priest, bishop). A man who is ordained a deacon is ontologically changed...he is a deacon forever!
So, my recent retreat really helped me to spiritually and personally prepare for this incredible gift of ordination. I want to present some of the powerful ways the Lord spoke to me during the five day of silence at the hermitage.

Day # 2: My retreat director gave me a couple of passages from Scripture on which to meditate. One of them was John 17: 9-11, 16-19. This is Jesus's prayer to the Father for His priests: "consecrate them in the Truth". Consecrate means to "set aside for" or "dedicate". As one of His future priests, Jesus prayed that I would be consecrated to Truth (Himself- Jesus says I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life). Jesus prayed for me!!

That thought hit me hard because we usually pray to Jesus- He is the recipient of our prayers. Actually, though, our prayers never stop at Christ. He always takes them to the Father. He is our greatest intercessor; He is the sole mediator between God and man. But, still, to think of the Son of God on his knees praying to the Father for my sake and the sake of all priests kind of blew me away.

Am I consecrated to Christ? Well, yes, because of my Baptism. But, no because I haven't set aside and dedicated everything in my life for Him. Am I ready to be consecrated to Him? This will officially take place on Dec. 17...that's what this is all about. I say with an ethusiastic 'YES' that I wish to be consecrated to Christ. I am ready to give Him all that I am. At one point in the ordination rite I will prostrate myself and lay down my life for Christ. The Lord is asking that it not just be a symbolic gesture. He wants me to dedicate myself totally to Him.

Christ consecrated himself to the Father for me and all of us - that we might be consecrated. In a special way, though, He prayed that those He calls to Holy Orders would be especially dedicated to Him who is Truth. I truly felt the power of His prayer during these five days with Him "in the desert". He will consecrate me to the Father next Saturday night. Last week, He prepared me even more to make this a full, internal reality.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The silence was deafening

Well, last week was an unbelievably good week! I spent five days in silence with the Hermits of Bethlehem in New Jersey. When I arrived on Monday, I experienced some culture shock as I was shown my living quarters and briefed on the rules of the community. First, silence. Dead silence. The community is basically in the middle of nowhere...just woods. There is a main house and chapel, and then there are the hermitages.

My hermitage was two rooms, which included a bathroom. Tight quarters but doable. I was doing fine the first day; the first night was a different story. No one told me about the many little creatures who would share the place with me. I went to spend time with Jesus, and ended up hanging out with about 10 little spiders, too! Ooh, don't like spiders. The silence of the place at night was deafening. When I turned out my lights, it was completely dark. Black everywhere. I said goodnight to the little guys on the floor, and actually slept very well.

Then, there were the meals. Each hermit, including yours truly, took his/her Playmate cooler down to the kitchen and picked up each meal. We took our meals back to our respective hermitages, and ate there. The food wasn't too bad, but each meal felt a bit institutional. Part of the deal in their community. Wednesday was bread and water only, but they gave us enough bread to last a week!

I write all of this to lay out the physical environment, and the things that caused me a bit of shock. But, the overwhelming sense in this beautiful place is the tremendous sense of peace that is there. It is the presence of the Lord, and you feel it much more in the seclusion of a hermitage than in the noise of the world.

It was one of the hardest weeks I've ever had, but also one of the best. The spiritual fruits of the week were more lavishing than I anticipated, and will try to write about some of them in the coming days. I think it would be good to share some of the incredible gifts that Christ gave me last week, especially as I approach my Ordination to the Diaconate (Dec 17). It is powerful stuff!