Tuesday, May 30, 2006

First Mass of Thanksgiving!!

"God is awesome!!" That was one of the first things I said at my first Mass of Thanksgiving this past Saturday evening after being ordained a priest of Jesus Christ earlier in the day. It was an AWESOME weekend!! God is very good! Here are some pictures from the first Mass (no pics from the Ordination online yet). I will try to write about the Ordination experience asap. Please pray for the 12 of us newly-ordained priests!

1) Before Mass
2) Residents of Gift of Peace / Missionaries of Charity
3) My friend, Katie, becomes Catholic by making her profession of faith
4) Offertory with my nieces and nephews
5) Full Church!
6) Eucharistic Procession in front of the youth
7) God is awesome!!

Friday, May 26, 2006

On the eve of Ordination

So, tomorrow, I get ordained a priest by the awesome Grace of God!! I'm sitting here at St. Francis, with the soundtrack from "The Mission" playing on my computer, trying to get all my last minute details taken care of...it's busy! We had a GREAT week of retreat that ended Thursday, and it's been crazy ever since. But, good crazy. So, I'll finish up soon, and then what?

What does a man do the night before he becomes alter Christus (another Christ) in the world? The phone which has been off the hook since yesterday is silent (phew!). My family has gone back to their homes after we got together for Adoration, discussion about what tomorrow will be all about ("it's all about Jesus" my little nieces and nephews shouted out!), and dinner. One conversation awaits. I need to go see Him shortly.

I will spend at least an hour with Christ tonight in the chapel. Might be more because I probably won't be able to sleep (last night, it didn't happen...too excited). I will be with Him to whom I will give my life fully tomorrow. Kind of makes me think about the night before He handed over his life to the Father and all of us. Tonight might be a sort of Gethsemane.

But, I will try to rest in his peace. He has drawn me to his heart, his Sacred Heart, through the Immaculate Heart of his mother. It's hard to put in words what my own heart is experiencing now, this closely united to Christ. I will be changed sacramentally and ontologically tomorrow, but he has been changing me so much over the past several years. I am not worthy to be a priest of Jesus Christ; it's only because he has formed me and shaped me to be like Him that I can go forward tomorrow.

Now, with all of the hoopla and details, I have caught myself forgetting one of the biggest moments of all after the laying on of hands (that's the point at the Ordination when I become a priest): the Consecration of the bread and wine at my first Mass. For 14 years, it's been a dream. The Dream. To make Christ present on Earth. Truly present. Through my hands. Through my words. But, they will be His hands... His words. His body...his blood. Tomorrow, the Incredible happens. All because of Him who is Incredible. Awesome. Amazing. It's all about Him. "It's all about Jesus".

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Retreat for priesthood ordination

Along with the other 11 men from DC to be ordained priests this Saturday, I'm making a five day retreat this week with the other men, as required by Canon Law. Please pray for us!! I will try to make a post later this week when I return.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

What happens at Confirmation?

Congratulations to the (+/-) 120 young men and women who were confirmed today at St Francis!! Bishop Holley celebrated this beautiful and glorious Sacrament during two Masses that were both standing room only. His Excellency gave a long sermon at each Mass, saying that, "I know I am preaching a long homily. But, I do this because I care about these young people. I have come here today to tell them that God loves them and so do I".

What happens at Confirmation? What is this sacrament all about? When did it start? It appears that the average Catholic doesn't know the answers to these, so it's good that we review the basics of this sacred act of God. During Confirmation, Bishop Holley anointed each candidate with (much) chrism oil on their forehead. He then said, "Be sealed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit". In Confirmation, then, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are confirmed, or "sealed", in each of us who receive this sacrament.

We first receive these gifts of the Holy Spirit- wisdom, knowledge, right judgement, courage, understanding, reverence, and fear of the Lord - at our Baptism. We receive God's life (Grace) at that moment; the Father, Son, and Spirit dwell within us at that moment under the sign of water. In Confirmation, these gifts are sealed within us under the sign of oil so that we will be courageous, wise, reverent, etc. Mainly, Confirmation sends us on our mission to bring God's love and life to others. It sends us on our way as Christians.

All the good that we do, then, is through the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has guided the Church since the first Confirmation, Pentecost, in 33 AD. On that day, the Spirit came upon the Apostles as "tongues of fire", allowing the Apostles to speak to Jews from many different countries about Jesus. 3,000 Jews were converted that day, and the Church began. He is a POWERFUL Spirit!! He has been speaking and working through the Church - the Magisterium, Pope, Bishops, priests, and all the Christian faithful - as the Advocate of the Church. He teaches us about God, and helps us to interpret Jesus' Word through the centuries.

The Sacrament of Confirmation is the last of the three Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism and Eucharist are the other two). Now, these young men and women have been fully initiated into the Catholic Church. As Bishop Holley said, "you are not the future Church. You are the Church. The Church needs you". In the Catholic Church, we receive the FULLNESS of God's love, truth, mercy, peace, etc., mainly through the sacraments. The Spirit dwells fully in the Church, and now in each one of them. My prayer for these vibrant young parishioners is that they live out their faith, doing the Will of the Father through the Holy Spirit of Christ.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Mothers: Heroes for Christ

1. New shepherd!! As you've probably heard, we have a new Archbishop of Washington, Bishop Donald Wuerl from Pittsburgh. He will be installed as Archbishop in June; Cardinal McCarrick will still ordain the twelve of us as priests next Saturday (5/27), and will continue to live in Washington. Thank you, your Eminence, for your fatherly care, heroic service, and heartfelt love! Welcome, Bishop Wuerl!

2. DC 'Hood game: this Friday, May 19, 7 pm, Watkins Mill HS, versus St John Neumann parish. Come and root on us priests and seminarians!!
This past Sunday, we honored all mothers, grandmothers, and godmothers for Mother's Day. As I said in my homily, all mothers who live out their vocation are heroes! They are heroes for Jesus Christ, for life, and for love. As Msgr. Ralph said in his comments at the end of Mass, we know we are loved by our mothers; this helps us to know we are loved by God.

Jesus says in Sunday's Gospel that he is the true vine, and we are the branches, and that only in him can we bear fruit. Apart from him we can do nothing! When we think about what it means to bear fruit, then, we know that it is only in Christ that we can do good in our lives. But, if it weren't for our mothers, we wouldn't be here at all! We wouldn't be on the vine of Christ. So, any fruit that we bear is in Christ through our mothers. We are the fruit of our mothers' wombs.

We look at the Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary. The fruit of her womb is her Son, Jesus Christ. We say in the 'Hail Mary', "blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus". Mary shares in the fruit of Jesus' life which is Salvation, the greatest fruit the world has ever seen. We look at his Death and Resurrection, which is our Redemption; Mary shares in that. Our Redemption, then, is the fruit of her life, the fruit of her love. The Church gives Mary the title of "Co-Redeemer"; she shares in the fruit of her son's life.

My mother will share in whatever fruit I will bear in my life as a priest. Whatever good any of us does in our lives, it is through our mothers. It is fitting that they share in our fruit because of all the sacrifices they ahve made for us: at least nine months of physical sacrifices, and all that it takes to nurture, mold, and shape us to be the persons we are today. Our mothers are the primary formators on Earth of our personalities and characters.

We thank God for our mothers, grandmothers, and godmothers. If they are no longer with us, we pray for them and thank them for their heroic lives. We thank all mothers for their lives, and for giving us our lives. It is through them that we are on the vine of Christ, and bearing fruit in Him. Mothers bear the most and greatest fruit on His vine because all fruit is through them. They are true heroes for Christ, life, and love.

Friday, May 12, 2006

A teen's experience at Lourdes

Below is an inspiring and powerful post by Maggie, a teenager from Virginia who was on our trip to Lourdes. She wrote this as a comment to one of my posts, but it's so good that I wanted everyone to read it. Thanks, Maggie!!
"Hey! I'm one of the teens from the trip and think its great that you've posted blogs about Lourdes. As you know, once you've been to Lourdes you just 'get it'. For me it was the international community of believers united to celebrate Catholicism. For someone like myself who had low expectations and fading faith, I left Lourdes grateful for being Catholic. As a cradle Catholic I felt like a was only a Catholic by default. Lourdes provided me with a very individualistic experience with Christ.

One of the most meaningful experiences for me was the Eucharistic procession where I carried one of the flags next to the exposed Host. I was literally "walking with Jesus" and felt His presence along with all the Catholics that followed from the Domain to the altar. Most importantly I felt completely secure discussing Catholicism with you and other pilgrims. Since I don't usually talk with my friends in depth about Jesus and the faith it was great to have your perspective and advice on the numerous questions I had about the faith. It made me feel more confident in its teachings.

The truth is Lourdes isn't about the water. It's a chance to put your life in perspective. When you walk together with the sick, the clergy, and the laity in prayer you develop a sense that no matter your struggles whether they are visible or not, Jesus bore all of them on his cross and calls for you to join him in eternal joy in heaven. Although God's plan for each of us is unclear and may be frightening at times we can be comforted knowing He loves us. What problems we face is undeterminable and our joys will be coupled with suffering.

However, we are comforted with the fact that if we submit to God's will and partake in his plan than we will reach eternal happiness with him. The only way we can approach the uncertainty of life is through prayer and as you eloquently said Deacon, 'to tell the people you care about that you love them at every opportunity because you never know what will happen'. It is this love of Jesus and one another that unites us and comforts us through life and all the struggles we may experience.

Whether God calls us to advocate his plan at a young age like Mary and Bernadette or later in life like the apostles, may we be open and accepting of his plan. As Bernadette innocently welcomed her journey that was accompanied by persecution and doubt, we are called to experience Jesus with this same childish innocence.

I encourage everyone to make a pilgrimage to Lourdes to demonstrate there willingness to partake in God's plan with a loving community of advocates of Christ."

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

One of the most powerful spots in the world

Update from Maria Stefko Turner, our good, young friend who is courageously battling cancer. She writes: "I had a reoccurence and just went through a stem cell transplant. I am continuing to recover and am very grateful for all your prayers. Please continue praying".--Maria
Many of the daily and nightly activities in Lourdes come from what the Blessed Mother asked of Bernadette. She told her to build a chapel on the site of the well, and to go "in procession for the glory of God". So, every day we were there, there were numerous activities in the large and beautiful Basilica, and a nightly procession glorifying God in honor of our Lady.

It was really quite staggering to me how much goes on in Lourdes EVERY DAY. Every day, there are many Masses at the Grotto or in the other churches, off and on chanting all day and night, processions, praying of the rosary, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, talks, washing at the baths, malades everywhere, Stations of the Cross...it was unbelievable how much Catholic stuff happens there every day in that town. At one point in one of the processions, I thought, "this is what Heaven will be like".

Just about every night, I walked from our hotel down to the Grotto (which is open pretty much all night). It is impressive how alive the place is with all these activities. I really enjoyed the place and the people we were there with. I would walk around the Grotto, taking in all the sights and sounds, and then find myself right in front of the spot. It caught me off guard and overwhelmed me.

What spot? The spot where Mary appeared to Bernadette. I thought, 'this is where the Mother of God appeared on Earth 148 years ago. Whoa!' It really was a powerful realization that stayed with me the whole trip. I tried to remember to pray for people back home while I was at the spot, and in the Grotto. As I wrote in my last post, at least one of the people I prayed for at the Grotto has already experienced a miracle. It's a powerful spot!!

Another time, I came back to the spot, and noticed something else going on at the Grotto. Now, the spot took on an even greater importance...it was the spot in front of Jesus appearing on the altar in the monstrance. I've been in the Presence of the Lord many times, but this was one of the most meaningful. Then I thought, 'there's such a huge deal made about Mary appearing here, and rightly so, but Jesus appears here every night, and where are all the people and hoopla for this?'

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Miracles of Lourdes

I just returned from Lourdes, France, with a group of about 300 people from the Order of Malta. What an amazing week! We took about 40-50 malades (those with physical ailments or diseases) with us, and their care and well-being was the main focus of our large group. What occurred there is hard to describe, but I will at least relay some of our experiences in the next few posts.

The story of Lourdes began when the Blessed Mother appeared to a young French girl named Bernadette in 1858. Word spread through the small town that the young girl had seen visions of a "beautiful lady", and the excitement started to grow. The legitimacy of the apparitions started to take root when the girl gave messages to a priest from the lady that Bernadette could never have created on her own. One message from the lady was in Latin: "I am the Immaculate Conception". (The dogma of the Immaculate Conception had just been declared by Rome in 1854). In her limited education, Bernadette didn't know Latin and couldn't have known about the dogma.

Mary told St. Bernadette to "drink and wash in the (spring) water". Bernadette used her hands to dig through the dirt and mud to find the spring; she was laughed at by the townspeople who thought she was crazy. But, then, a blind man washed his face with the water and found his sight. A mother bathed her dying child in the water, and the child lived. Since 1858, there have been 67 documented miracles of Lourdes and countless undocumented miracles.

People from our group witnessed one of the latter miracles. A woman went to the baths of Lourdes having suffered through years of not being able to walk because of a stroke. When her legs first touched the water, she screamed, "Ahhh...my legs are burning!" The women near her tried to comfort her, but she pushed them away. "My legs are burning... and, this is really good!" For the first time in years, she could feel her legs!! She was able to walk out of and away from the pool, and discarded whatever device she had been using to get around.

To this point, we have not heard of any physical healing or miracle with anyone from our group (although a saintly woman with cancer said she felt cured after bathing every day at Lourdes). But, we did see spiritual healings and conversions. Several people in our group went to Confession for the first time in many years, prayed in Adoration of Jesus in the Eucharist for maybe the first time ever, prayed regularly the Liturgy of the Hours with me and another semiarian for the first time, and showed an overall new spiritual and personal lease on life at the end of the week. A conversion of the heart shows God's power more than any external miracle!

Possibly the greatest miracle for me during the trip involved someone from St Francis who has been away from the Church and for whom I've been praying a long time. I prayed hard for this person's conversion the first 2-3 days at the Grotto, saying, "Mary, please...please". Two days later, a close friend of this person sent me an email titled, "Lourdes miracle in Maryland", which explained how a conversation about the Eucharist between the two of them that night led the person to express a strong desire to come back to Church. AMAZING!!

Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us!