Tuesday, September 29, 2009

We need to keep the momentum going!

Friends of the Newman Center,

There is a lot of excitement these days around the Newman Center, thanks be to God. Many students have made the same comment to me since the new school year started: “this will be a good year here”. We are offering many exciting and attractive programs and events to which the students are responding in larger numbers. My guess is that we’ve had over 500 different students come through the doors of the Church for students Masses and the Newman Center for different events in September. God is good!

We spent about $10,000 this summer in making necessary improvements to fix up the Newman Center (see my posts from 8/7 and 8/28, “Fixing up the Newman Center”). All of the comments from students and friends of the Newman Center regarding the changes have been positive. The Center is more attractive and inviting for the students, and we have a steady stream of them visiting their “home away from home” each day.

We also invested around $5,000 in our Opening BBQ and to promote our Masses, programs, and events. The investment has paid off so far. Approximately 300 students enjoyed free Chipotle, Outback, and Coldstone at our Opening BBQ, the largest crowd in years. Many of these students signed up for our fall programs and student groups; almost 50 of them have already participated in our Freshmen Retreat, Bible Study, and RCIA. Most importantly, attendance at our student Masses on Sunday nights has doubled; this past Sunday brought our largest crowds since Opening Masses.

Of course, Tuesday Night Dinners continue to be a very popular draw, with 70 to 80 students coming weekly to enjoy our free, home-cooked meals. As much as we all enjoy these excellent nights to socialize with one another, the best parts of Tuesday Dinners have been the Masses which have preceded the meals. Like the Sunday Masses, attendance at these Masses has been growing; last week, 25 students freely and joyfully participated in Holy Mass. Those of us who know the importance of the Mass and the Eucharist know how huge this is! Finally, we added many new, fresh, and helpful resources to the Newman Library which our students have already been enjoying as they build their theological and moral knowledge.

So, as you can see, we have gotten off to a good start and have some momentum going, thanks be to God. We need to keep the momentum going! But, in order to do so, we need your help. Would you consider making a donation to the Newman Center? Your tax-deductable donation will help us to bring many GW students to Christ and to bring Christ to many GW students. No donation is too small. The generosity of the friends and alumni of the Newman Center and the goodness of God have brought us to this exciting point. Let’s keep it going!

If you would like to make a donation, please make checks out to “Newman Center” and mail to: Fr. Greg Shaffer, GW Newman Center, 2210 F St, NW, Washington, DC 20037. On behalf of the students and our campus minister, Meg Miller, thank you very much for your prayerful consideration of making a generous contribution to the Newman Center.

In Christ,

Fr Greg

Monday, September 28, 2009

26th Sunday - homily

I went to seminary at Mount Saint Mary’s in Maryland. In my first year there, I went on a service trip during Spring Break with the college students from the Mount (we’ll have an alternative Spring Break here, and let you know more about in October). About fifteen to twenty of us drove down to Mobile, Alabama and spent a week in the L’Arche community. This community is incredible. It is made up of men and women with physical and mental handicaps. You would think they would be the angriest people around; the opposite is true. They were filled with such joy! We had a great time with them.

It was kind of awkward at first getting to know the college students. Here I was just one year out of college and hanging out with them dressed like a priest and studying to be a priest. The ride down was kind of quiet between us. As the week went on and we did work together with the people at L’Arche, we got along much better. Then, on the way home, they launched into their questions…the flood gates opened! In the midst of their questions, we got talking about mortal sin. They asked what that was, so I explained that a mortal sin is 1) seriously wrong, 2) you know it’s wrong, and 3) you freely choose to do it. One of them asked if skipping Mass on Sunday is a mortal sin. “Um, yeah”, I said. Then, “is getting drunk a mortal sin?” Um, yeah. One of the girls kept asking these questions; even her friends knew the answer to them. She was bummed out. So, I said, “but remember, you have to know that it’s a mortal sin for it to be a mortal sin”. She breathed a sigh of relief. Then, I said, “But, now you know”. She was like, “oh, thanks a lot!”

Another time I went to Tennessee for a Catholic Heart Workcamp with some teens. It was another service trip that had cool, Catholic stuff at night. At the end of the night, we slept in school classrooms. Our guys were in the same room as a rowdy bunch of guys from Cincinnati. The first night was rough because they were so loud. We all fretted the second night. When eleven o’clock rolled around, I asked the guys to keep it quiet. The next thing you know, they were asking me all of these questions about Purgatory…! They said that no one from their school or parish could answer their questions. So, I made a deal with them: if I answered their questions, they all would have to go to Confession the next night. They all agreed. Well, the next night they all went to Confession! They were actually very psyched about going to the sacrament afterwards, and bragging to each other about long they were in there!

I know you all have questions. You have questions about sin. You have questions about Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. You have questions about Confession and the Eucharist. I was camping with some teens a few years ago on a white water rafting trip. The second night there, I gave a talk about Confession and the Eucharist and then opened it up to questions. The teens asked questions for an hour about these two sacraments! I put copies of two pamphlets out and they devoured them. Then, later, they were sitting around the campfire, saying to each other, “26…32…41”. I asked them what that meant. They replied, “that’s the number of sins we have!”
I invite you to bring the questions about our faith to us at the Newman Center. Bring them to me. Bring them to Meg, our campus minister. We will try to help you find the answers to your questions. If you don’t feel like talking to us, grab a pamphlet or book from the Newman Library. Also, you can post questions or comments on our blog site; you can do this anonymously. We just want to help you find the Truth. That is one of the biggest roles of the Church.

I also know you have questions about the Sunday readings. Our Bible Study on Monday nights really help to understand the readings better. For this Gospel (Mk 9: 38-43, 45, 47-48), you might be wondering why is (nice, peaceful) Jesus talking so much about Hell. And, does he literally mean that we should pluck out our eye or cut off your hand if they cause us to sin? If he meant this literally, then your chaplain would be in sad shape. I would be maimed, without eyes, hands, etc., would be drooling…Mass would take a whole lot longer here! I am a great sinner. No, it’s not meant literally. I think Jesus is referring to is Confession. It is in Confession that we get a new eye, a new hand, etc. St Paul would say that we become a “new creation” when we walk out of the confessional. And, the main purpose of Confession is to keep us out of Gehenna, to keep us out of Hell.

May the Eucharist help all of us to turn away from sin and turn back to Him who is Love. He offers us His Love each and every day. May we know His love this week.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The story of salvation (cont.)

(continued from Tuesday's post)

What would God do for us? He sent His Son to us! His Son became one of us and offered himself as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins. Christ's sacrifice on the Cross became the only acceptable sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins.

So, Christ's death and resurrection of Christ (it is understood as one event) is the act of salvation; it saves us from our sins and opens the gates of Heaven for us. We need to participate in the death and resurrection (the Paschal Mystery) of Christ in order to be saved and to enter the kingdom of Heaven. How do we do that?

Christ gives us seven main ways to participate in the Paschal Mystery: the sacraments. It begins with Baptism in which we die (to Original Sin) and rise with Christ. Jesus says we need to be baptized if we want to be saved. The most common form of baptism is water, but there are two other types: blood and desire. Those who are martyred receive Baptism by blood. Those who do not know about Baptism but desire to do the will of God can be saved (Catechism, #1260). This would include all of the holy men and women from the Old Testament; if they desired to do God's Will (living in anticipation of the Christ), they could be saved. We believe that Christ spent three days in the dead, freeing them from their waiting place to Heaven.

The faith and eternal life we receive in Baptism are nourished by the Eucharist. These are the two sacraments that Jesus says we definitely need to receive eternal life. (If you are ever talking with someone who says they don't need to go to Mass to get to Heaven, tell them that Jesus says we need to receive the Eucharist in order to have eternal life...in John 6:53) The other sacraments help to build up Grace in our lives and lead us to live and witness to Heaven in this life.

Hopefully, this story helps all of us to say "thank you, Jesus" the next time we walk by a crucifix or come to Mass where we remember what He has done for us.

What are the questions that you (GW students) have about the story or about the sacraments? (btw, basic questions are encouraged!!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The story of salvation

1) Tuesday dinner tonight at the Newman Center, 6 pm (Mass at 5:30). Will be another good, home-cooked meal!

2) Last call for Freshmen Retreat! There are still spots available on this weekend's retreat. Those interested need to let me know by tomorrow (9/23).
So, it seems that we've had some of our (many) GW seminarians participating on our site. "Theology2b" (hmmm...someone getting ready to enter theological studies??) and others tackled the question I posed last week. Btw, guys, it's cool that you're on here but it was a question to GW students. It might be a little early for them to leave theological comments or questions on here, but I'm trying to invite them to do so. If I were a college student, I probably wouldn't enter into a discussion among seminarians. Please keep that in mind in the future...

So, the question was "how many people died and went to Heaven between Adam and Eve and Jesus Christ (in other words, B.C.)??" The correct answer is zero. Now, I've heard the answer of "one" before because Elijah was taken up to Heaven (2 Kings 2:11). So, I've had to alter the question to "how many people died and went to Heaven before Christ?" Some of you are reading this and wondering, 'what is the point here?' The point goes back to the initial discussion of the need for Baptism. It is a big point! And, it goes all the way back to the beginning...yes, Adam and Eve in the garden.

Adam and Eve sinned in a major way in the garden. God created them and gave them an earthly paradise. They were free to do whatever they wanted, and they did. They were naked and didn't even notice. They were loving life! Then, things changed. The devil got involved and tricked them into doing the one thing that God said they couldn't do: eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge (of good and evil). Why did they do it? Because Satan tricked them into believing that if they ate the fruit of that tree, they would know what God knows. Oops, he lied. They fell for it. As soon as they ate the fruit, "the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked" (Gen 3:7). Things changed for them and the world because of their sin (Original Sin). (Btw, this is where suffering and death entered the world. God didn't create suffering; all suffering is a result of sin - either our sin or the sin of others).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church lays out the narrative and consequences of Original Sin (#396-421). Among the consequences of Adam and Eve's mortal sin (it was seriously wrong, they knew it was wrong, and they freely chose to do it) were that they broke their relationship with God (as all mortal sin does) and the gates to the Kingdom of Heaven were closed to mankind. The situation would remain that way (no one going to Heaven) even though mankind tried to atone for his sin. The Israelites offered many sacrifices to God for atonement (at-one-ment), but none of their sacrifices were acceptable to God for the forgiveness of sins. In other words, man cannot bring about the forgiveness of his (major) sins. Only God can do that. And, that forgiveness is needed in order to be in close relationship with God and to enter His Heavenly kingdom.

Mankind needed to be saved from its sin. What would God do? To be continued...

Monday, September 21, 2009

25th Sunday - homily

Jesus says in tonight’s Gospel that the greatest among us are those who are servants of all. Well, we need some more of you to step up in service to the rest of us. We need help mainly in the area of liturgical ministers. After Mass, we will have sign-ups for lectors, ushers and greeters, and altar servers. The Newman Center also needs help with Tuesday dinners. If you like to cook or help out in a kitchen, we could use your help on Tuesdays. So, this is a call to service. Please be generous as GW students usually are when it comes to being the servants of all.

Speaking of service, I need to serve my boss, Archbishop Wuerl. He has asked me and all of the priests of Washington to speak to you about a topic that I didn’t want to talk to you about this early in my time here. He has asked me to speak to you about marriage because there are efforts being made in D.C. to redefine marriage. I know this is a big issue around here. It is out of obedience to him and out of love for Jesus and you that I speak to you about marriage tonight especially as it relates to same-sex unions. You all have a right to hear what marriage really is; it is out of love for all of us that the Church teaches us about marriage.

When I speak to people about marriage, I usually begin with a question: who is the author of marriage? We find the answer right off the bat in the Bible, in the Book of Genesis. God is the author of marriage because when He creates the first two people – Adam and Eve – he describes them as being married. He creates them so that the two of them “become one flesh” as husband and wife. It is clear from the beginning that marriage is between a man and a woman.

When Jesus is asked about marriage in Matthew 19, he reaffirms Genesis. He reiterates that “in the beginning”, God created them “male and female” and that “a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (v.4-5). Jesus raised marriage to the level of a sacrament. For the past 2000 years, the Church has flushed out the Lord’s teaching on marriage more fully. She has grown in her understanding of the sanctity of marriage as well as its benefit to children. She has always known what recent research has found: that the best environment in which children are raised are with their biological mother and father.

I have deep and profound respect for people who struggle with same-sex attraction and are trying to live holiness…trying to live chastity…trying to be good Catholics. When I speak with them, I affirm them of their dignity, respect, and the great love that God and the Church has for them. I remind them that they are good and are loved.

Now, I need to use an analogy and in no way do I mean to demean these people. The analogy has to with the Eucharist. If I use potato chips and Coke in a few minutes at the Consecration instead of bread and wine, would it still be the Eucharist? No. I need to use bread and wine for the sacrament to take place. I can’t change that sacrament. In the same way, we can’t change the sacrament of marriage. The sacrament of marriage is between a man and a woman.

Finally, we most experience God’s love through married persons. Hopefully, we have had that experience through our parents – that their love reflects the love that God has for us, as Scripture says (Ephesians 5). Most people are called to be married, and this is a good thing! But, Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 19 that not all persons are called to marriage; some are called to celibacy for different reasons. But, they, too are called to reflect God’s love. Whatever our vocation is, may we bring God’s love to others. May others know that God loves them through us as we have learned His love through others. May we know God’s love and reveal His love to others this week.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A question for you (students)

I went to the dentist yesterday for my bi-annual check-up. All went well, but it's about as enjoyable for me to go the dentist as it is for people to come to me for Confession..! Actually, there are similarities between the two events, and every Catholic should be going to Confession as often as they go to the dentist (twice a year).

My dentist is very good at his profession (and surfing!) as well as being a devout Catholic. He has many other good, Catholic people on his staff. They all make it more of a pleasant experience than usual. My dentist helps to teach the baptism class at his parish in Maryland. I'm sure he does a great job. We were discussing it yesterday (well, they were talking regularly; I could only talk after spitting) and comparing how we go about teaching the sacrament of Baptism.

In between spits, I explained to "Doc" and his great dental hygenist that I like to tell the "story of salvation" to couples who come to have their child baptized. I have told the story on here before - it involves Adam and Eve (Original Sin) and why Christ needed to come into the world (salvation). There is a question that I ask every couple that is at the heart of why Christ came into the world and at the heart of why Baptism is necessary. This is a question I have asked here before and one that I asked both Doc and his assistant yesterday -with a little help from me, they got it right (not everyone does).

The question for you (students) is: how many people died and went to Heaven between Adam and Eve and Jesus Christ (in other words, B.C.)??

And, please provide a brief reason for your answer.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

DC 'Hood on the ADW blog!

We welcome Meg Miller to the Newman Center! Meg begins today as our new campus minister and we are all very excited that she is here. She brings many gifts to our community, among them a great desire to bring our students to Christ and bring Christ to our students in different ways. She is looking forward to getting to know the students and to helping them in any way she can. I will ask her to post on here regularly. She has a strong passion to teach, especially with regards to theology of the body. God willing, she will do great things here.

The Archdiocese of Washington has a blog site! It is good stuff. Please check it out by clicking on the title of today's post. There is a post from September 10 on "DC 'Hood", the basketball team of Washington priests and seminarians. The video in that post was done by the Washington Times who covered our game at the Verizon Center in 2008.

DC 'Hood plays games regularly against parish teams in their gyms with an annual game at Verizon. We're trying to schedule a game in October and I'll let you know if that is on. Otherwise, we should have a game against my former parish, St Andrew's, in November. Go 'Hood!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

24th Sunday - homily

In my last parish, we started a youth group for high school students that met once a week. We had a lot of fun on many of those nights! We mostly did fun, social stuff but also included some serious nights. Our first meeting was Fear Factor – we were outside doing games and stunts like you might see on the show. It was a blast! People were running around yelling, hooting, and hollering…ok, so I was yelling, hooting, and hollering (“woo hoo”), getting in water fights…you know, the usual stuff a priest does! At one point, my pastor had to remind me that I was not one of the teens…oops. I had a lot of fun with those teens and I look forward to having a lot of fun with you all.

As I said, we did mostly social nights but also included some serious stuff. Once a month, we did Eucharistic Adoration in the Church. Almost all of our teens did not know what Adoration is; Adoration is when the Eucharist is brought out from the tabernacle and exposed on the altar for people to worship…to adore. It means being in the Real Presence of Christ. It is AWESOME! Now, at first, it was bit intense for the kids, but they were very intrigued by it. They began to fall in love with Adoration. There was a stretch there when they were coming out more for Adoration than the fun stuff! I’ll finish with a cool story about one of our teen’s experience in Adoration.

It is within the context of Adoration that I most often consider the question Jesus poses to the disciples in tonight’s Gospel: “who do people say that I am?” We can picture ourselves sitting here in front of the Eucharist talking to Christ, and he asks us this very question in regards to the Eucharist. “Who do people say that I am (in the Eucharist)?” We could answer, ‘some say a symbol, others a representation, still others a piece of bread only’. This would be accurate because most Christians say this. And, it’s not just non-Catholic Christians (Protestants) who say this. A study from years ago found that 70% of Catholics believe that the Eucharist is just a symbol. 70%. I think that the 70% don’t believe in the Eucharist because they don’t know the teaching. They don’t know John 6 where Jesus teaches about the Eucharist, they don’t know that that “this is my body” means this is my body. We really don’t hear the teaching much at all in homilies, in school, or at home. One of the biggest reasons I became a priest is to teach the 70% as I have been taught. As I indicated last week, I used to be among the 70%.

So, if we’re sitting there in Adoration having a conversation with our Lord just as the disciples were, He could ask us the next question: “who do you say that I am (in the Eucharist)?” This is a question I want you all to focus on this year. When you come to Mass and I elevate the Host, hear our Lord asking you, “who do you say that I am?” When you come to Adoration – we have Adoration at the Newman Center every Wednesday from 8-10 pm - or come on retreat with us – we’ll do Adoration in a powerful way on retreat – start to work toward an answer like Peter gave, “you are the Christ”. If it is the Body of Christ which we adore and receive at Mass, then we are in the presence of God! If it is Him, then it’s the most amazing gift on earth. We are that close to God…a few feet away in Adoration and actually have Him inside us in Holy Communion. Christ makes Himself present in the Eucharist so that He will be that close to us! He wants to be that close to us, that much a part of our lives, to have that much of a personal relationship with Him. The invitation for us this year is to have a personal relationship with Him in the Eucharist.

Finally, one of the teens from the youth group only came out every once in a while and didn’t seem to be all that into Adoration when he came. He was a nice guy who was very popular with the teens. He had had a very rough couple of years because his father died suddenly the year before he started high school. He came to Adoration one night and told me afterwards, “Father Greg, during Adoration, I felt the presence of God”. His statement certainly was a pleasant surprise. But, the look on his face was pure joy. I had never seen this kid look so happy! It was a turning point for him; he is now a leader in the youth group and a great one at that. This is one of the major points about the Eucharist: it brings us into the Presence of Christ which is where we find true peace, joy, happiness, and love. This is what I want all of you to experience this year. Through the Eucharist, may you know the peace and joy of Christ. May you know His love. May each and every one of you know God’s love this year.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering Sept 11, 2001

Here are our upcoming Newman Center events. Hope to see you all there, especially at Mass!!

1) Today, Sept 11 - GWU 9/11 Remembrance Vigil at 6:30 pm in University Yard. I will be one of the people offering a prayer. Hope you can make that and then join us for our Scavenger Hunt at 7 pm at the Newman Center.

2) Sunday, Sept 13 - Opening 5 pm Mass at Mt. Vernon campus ("the Vern") with Pizza to follow; 7:30 pm and 10 pm Masses at St Stephen's (Come to Mass, for Christ's sake)

3) Monday, Sept 14 - Bible Study, 7-8 pm, Newman Center. We will discuss the Mass readings from Sunday and how they relate to college students.

4) Tuesday, Sept 15 - Free dinner, 6 pm, Newman Center (Mass at 5:30 pm).

5) Wednesday, Sept 16 - "Wacky Wednesday" at the Vern, 9-11 pm. The focus will be on service - we'll watch a powerful movie on the life of Mother Teresa and make sandwiches for those who are hungry.
Today is the eighth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on our country on Sept 11, 2001. We all remember where we were when we heard and watched the shocking news coming out of New York, DC, and Pennsylvania that morning. It was, of course, surreal.

I invite you to leave a comment here describing your experience from 9/11/01.

I was taking an exam in the seminary. The dean of studies came into our classroom and quietly told our professor what was going on. He could easily be described as the 'absent-minded professor'. The dean left the room, and the prof said, "gentlemen, two planes have crashed into the World Trade Center. Thousands of people are dead". We were all like, 'what?!' Needless to say, we all did miserably on the exam. I did the best I could to finish the exam and then ran to watch the unbelievable events transpire on TV.

Late in the morning, there were reports of a fourth hijacked plane flying over the suburbs of DC which is where my family lives. I tried to call them, but all phone lines were down. It was a scary hour. Finally, I reached them and all were safe. Then, as we headed over to a packed Mass with the Mount college students to pray for all the victims, we heard that Camp David was a possible target of the fourth plane. Our seminary, Mount St. Mary's, was right next to Camp David. It was extremely tense on top of all the other emotions that all Americans felt that day.

As with GWU, members of the Mount St Mary's community perished that day. A girl from the college whom I know lost her father who was in one of the World Trade Center towers. It is chilling to see all of the names on the list of victims, but especially the name of Mr. Rhodes. Here is a very small portion of names from the list here, and ask you to pray for all the victims and their families at some point today:

Gordon McCannel Aamoth, 32, New York, N.Y.* Maria Rose Abad, 49, Syosset, N.Y. * Edelmiro (Ed) Abad, 54, New York, N.Y. *Andrew Anthony Abate, 37, Melville, N.Y. *Vincent Abate, 40, New York, N.Y. *Laurence Christopher Abel, 37 *William F. Abrahamson, 58, Cortland Manor, N.Y. *Richard Anthony Aceto, 42, Wantagh, N.Y. *Erica Van Acker, 62, New York, N.Y. *Heinrich B. Ackermann, 38, New York, N.Y. *Paul Andrew Acquaviva, 29, Glen Rock, N.J. *Donald L. Adams, 28, Chatham, N.J. *Shannon Lewis Adams, 25, New York, N.Y. *Stephen Adams, 51, New York, N.Y. *Patrick Adams, 60, New York, N.Y. *Ignatius Adanga, 62, New York, N.Y.*Christy A. Addamo, 28, New Hyde Park, N.Y.*Terence E. Adderley, 22, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.*Sophia B. Addo, 36, New York, N.Y.*Lee Adler, 48, Springfield, N.J.*Daniel Thomas Afflitto, 32, Manalapan, N.J.*Emmanuel Afuakwah, 37, New York, N.Y.Alok Agarwal, 36, Jersey City, N.J.*Mukul Agarwala, 37, New York, N.Y.*Joseph Agnello, 35, New York, N.Y.*David Scott Agnes, 46, New York, N.Y.*Joao A. Aguiar Jr., 30, Red Bank, N.J.*Lt. Brian G. Ahearn, 43, Huntington, N.Y.*Jeremiah J. Ahern, 74, Cliffside Park, N.J.*Joanne Ahladiotis, 27, New York, N.Y.*Shabbir Ahmed, 47, New York, N.Y.*Terrance Andre Aiken, 30, New York, N.Y.*Godwin Ajala, 33, New York, N.Y.*Gertrude M. Alagero, 37, New York, N.Y.*Andrew Alameno, 37, Westfield, N.J.*Margaret Ann (Peggy) Jezycki Alario, 41, New York, N.Y.*Gary Albero, 39, Emerson, N.J.*Jon L. Albert, 46, Upper Nyack, N.Y.*Peter Craig Alderman, 25, New York, N.Y.*Jacquelyn Delaine Aldridge, 46, New York, N.Y.*Grace Alegre-Cua, 40, Glen Rock, N.J.*David D. Alger, 57, New York, N.Y.*Ernest Alikakos, 43, New York, N.Y.*Edward L. Allegretto, 51, Colonia, N.J.*Eric Allen, 44, New York, N.Y.*Joseph Ryan Allen, 39, New York, N.Y.*Richard Lanard Allen, 30, New York, N.Y.*Richard Dennis Allen, 31, New York, N.Y.*Christopher Edward Allingham, 36, River Edge, N.J.*Janet M. Alonso, 41, Stony Point, N.Y.*Anthony Alvarado, 31, New York, N.Y.*Antonio Javier Alvarez, 23, New York, N.Y.*Telmo Alvear, 25, New York, N.Y.*Cesar A. Alviar, 60, Bloomfield, N.J.*Tariq Amanullah, 40, Metuchen, N.J.*Angelo Amaranto, 60, New York, N.Y.*James Amato, 43, Ronkonkoma, N.Y.*Joseph Amatuccio, 41, New York, N.Y.*Christopher Charles Amoroso, 29, New York, N.Y.*Kazuhiro Anai, 42, Scarsdale, N.Y.Calixto Anaya, 35, Suffern, N.Y.*Jorge Octavio Santos Anaya, 25, Aguascalientes, Aguascalientes, MexicoJoseph Peter Anchundia, 26, New York, N.Y.*Kermit Charles Anderson, 57, Green Brook, N.J.*Yvette Anderson, 53, New York, N.Y.*John Andreacchio, 52, New York, N.Y.*Michael Rourke Andrews, 34, Belle Harbor, N.Y.*Jean A. Andrucki, 42, Hoboken, N.J.*Siew-Nya Ang, 37, East Brunswick, N.J.*Joseph Angelini, 38, Lindenhurst, N.Y.*Joseph Angelini, 63, Lindenhurst, N.Y.*Laura Angilletta, 23, New York, N.Y.Doreen J. Angrisani, 44, New York, N.Y.*

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Ideas to boost Mass attendance?

Our number one goal at the Newman Center this year is to increase Sunday Mass attendance among GW Catholics. We are doing a lot to meet that goal with advertising in the school newspaper and online throughout the fall semester, hanging a banner at the Center regularly, asking students who attend Mass to invite their friends and roommates to join them, electronic advertising via email, Facebook, and Twitter, and continually inviting those who visit the Center to attend the student Masses. Soon, I will be offering room blessings to anyone who is interested; this will be a good way for me to meet more students and to promote our Masses. Any other ideas that you might have?

I have confidence that our Mass attendance will increase as the year goes on, especially as more people learn about and are invited to the new 10 pm Sunday Mass. This past weekend we had a fair turnout at our Opening Masses: about 200 students at the student Masses and about 100 students at other Masses at St Stephen's. While this is an improvement, it is still only a little over 10% of GW Catholics.

Two things: One, I am very happy that 300 of our students attended Mass this weekend. Two, this is not just about numbers, it's about souls. If almost 90% of (about 2000) GW Catholics missed Mass, then that is a lot of souls in danger. Every GW Catholic needs to be at Mass every Sunday in order to keep God's commandment ("Keep Holy the Sabbath") and to have eternal life through the Eucharist ("whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life" - John 6:54). Someone who misses Mass puts him/herself at risk, as Jesus says: "unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you" - Jn 6:53)

The most important thing in life is to get to Heaven. We need to be at Mass to get to Heaven. As the shepherd of souls here at GW, it is my responsibility to get GW Catholics to Heaven. So, then, it is my responsibility to get them to Mass. Can you help me?

Specifically looking at the ad in the school newspaper and website, I could use ideas for a line for the ad. The ad currently is next to the Sudoku game and justs lists the Mass times. We should have a creative and alluring line next to the Mass times. Your ideas are welcome; here are some of mine:

- Wanna go to Heaven?
- Wanna see a miracle?
- God's love in the flesh
- KnoW Mass, KnoW Heaven
- "Come to me and I will give you rest" (Mt 11:28)
- Come to Mass, for Christ's sake

Monday, September 07, 2009

23rd Sunday - homily

For those of you who I haven’t met yet, I am Fr Greg (Shaffer), the new chaplain of the Newman Center, the Catholic Student Center here at GW which is located at 22nd and F Streets. I am psyched to be here and to be your chaplain and am excited about our year together. When I was in college, I had many good times and have a bunch of stories that you’ll hear this year. One of my best stories was when I went out to California with buddies of mine one year around Halloween. We went out to a club one night there and hit the dance floor. Oh yeah! I was out there groovin’ and everything until, all of sudden, the dance floor cleared. I started to make my way back to my friends, but they were saying, “No, Shaffer, stay out there, man”. I was like, “why? What’s up?” Then, I see all of these people in really nice Halloween costumes coming out…it was a Halloween costume contest!

The others had really nice costumes; I was wearing a t-shirt and shorts! They awarded the prizes based on crowd noise. The emcee came out and asked each participant who they were: “I am Batman”…”I am Catwoman”, those before me said. Then, he gets to me, and asked, “who are you?” Taking the microphone by hand, I yelled, “I’m the guy from the East Coast! See my white legs!” The crowd went nuts…I got third place!

Yes, I had many good times in college. But, it was also in college that I realized how clueless I was about our Catholic faith. I was raised Catholic, went to Catholic school, and Church every Sunday. But, what I learned must have gone in one ear and out the other; it never really registered. I became good friends with a priest, Fr Wells, who was brilliant and a TON of fun. I remember talking with him one day in his office about faith and said to him, “Well, you know, Father, the Eucharist is just a symbol”. He said, “WHAT?!” I said, “it’s a symbol?” (real shakily). Now, Fr Wells completely believed that the Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood of Christ…that a change really takes place in the bread and wine at every Mass. He replied to me, “Greg, this is my body means this is my body”.

When he said that, something happened. I thought, “what? We really believe that?”So, I began to go to Mass more often – during the week – to hear the words I had heard so many times. It just hit me: this is for real! My faith became real: the Mass, Confession, the Cross…all of it. I finally got it; it’s like tonight’s first reading: “here is your God”.

That conversation changed my life. Fr Wells opened my ears. It’s very much like Jesus opening the ears of the deaf man in tonight’s Gospel. This event changed his life. He rejoiced that he could finally hear! In much the same way, I have rejoiced ever since Fr Wells opened my ears that day in his office.

It is my great hope that we at the Newman Center can help open the ears of any of you who are like I was in college: spiritually and theologically deaf. We will offer some stuff this year that will really help you hear what God is saying to you. For example, if you come to Mass every Sunday and have trouble understanding the readings, we will offer Bible Study on Monday nights. We’ll talk about the readings and see how they speak to college students. Also, if you’re having trouble hearing God speak to you in your life in general, we will offer a few retreats. A retreat is a profound way to get away, enter into quiet, and hear the voice of God.

It is my great hope that I can help open your ears of faith. Just as a priest was there to open my ears, I am here to help open yours. I am here to help you. I am here to serve you. I became celibate so that I can give my whole life to you: give you all of my time, energy, and love. 24 hours a day. Let me know how I can help you.

Through the Eucharist, may God open the ears of all of us. May we hear Him speaking to us this year. Above all, may we hear with our ears and know in our hearts this year how much God loves us. May each and every one of you know God’s love this year.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Opening BBQ: God is good

God is good! We had a perfect day of weather for our Opening BBQ, generous amounts of excellent food from Chiptole, Outback, and Coldstone, about 300 students come steadily over four hours, and an all-star team of student leaders who were so welcoming in greeting them and making them feel at home. Once again, a BIG turnout! And, it wasn't just quantity. I am really impressed with the quality of students here, especially the freshmen who came out in large numbers again today. Here are some pics:

All-star team!

The leaders made the day a smashing success with God's help: signed up 100 new students to our database, over 50 for the freshmen retreat, and at least 10 for RCIA...so far! God is good.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Spread the word (and spread the Word!)

I hope the first week of classes has gone well for all of you. Transition is always difficult, no matter if it's transitioning into freshman or senior year. Everyone is nervous beginning a new year, even the professors! I hope you have been able to find some peace in the midst of it all, mainly by being in conversation with Christ. He is with you.

I ask all of you to spread the word (and spread the Word!) regarding the following programs and events at the Newman Center. Thank you for being our greatest marketers!!

1) Opening Masses - this Sunday (9/6), 7:30 pm and 10 pm at St Stephen's (2436 Penn. Ave). Ice cream social in the Parish Hall after the 7:30 Mass. Please invite your friends and roommates to go to Mass with you - you never know what good that can do for someone!

2) Blog site - please tell your friends to check out our blog site here, and invite them to leave comments or questions. Above all, it is a Q & A - I'm looking for some questions! You can give them the link - http://gwcatholicforum.blogspot.com

3) Opening BBQ - Tomorrow, Sept 5, 12-4 pm. FREE Chiptole, Outback, and Coldstone!! Also, free t-shirts, cups, and raffle for gift cards (Visa, etc.). We'll have sign-ups for Freshman retreat, RCIA, Knights of Columbus, and the Catholic Daughters.

4) Bible Study - Mondays, 7-8 pm. If you or your friends have trouble understanding the Sunday readings (who doesn't?), this can really help. We'll discuss each week's readings and try to apply them to college students. Begins Sept. 14; come any Monday you are able.

5) Freshman retreat - Sept 25-27. This is an excellent opportunity for freshmen to get away from the stress of the first weeks of college, make new friends, and try to enter more deeply into conversation with Christ. The cost is only $35 for the first 25 people who sign up and $75 after that. Space is limited so encourage people to sign up soon!

6) Scavenger Hunt - Sept 11, 7 pm. Fun night searching for items around our area, including the memorials (?). Enjoy this adventure!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Welcome Back Dinner

Great turnout tonight at our Opening Tuesday dinner (150-200 people). Good food and good time! I was really impressed with those who came and look forward to getting to know them and their friends more this year. God is good!

"Travelers Visit Priest's Grave for Prayer, Healing"

The following is a recent story from WCCO, a CBS affiliate station in Minneapolis about my next-door neighbor in the seminary, Fr. Darin Didier who died just three months after he was ordained. To view the page, please click on today's title. Also, please take a look at the post I made on 9/21/05 about Fr Darin, "Living Next to a Saint", as found in our Archives (September 2005).

For the past few years people from across the country have made the trip to a small western Minnesota cemetery. Most have never met the man they are there to talk to.

Darin Didier was priest for just three months. He died three weeks before his 33rd birthday.

His parents, Len and Bonnie Didier, said growing up their son was a little shy. He was every bit the athlete in Alexandria and was a track and cross-country star through college. He went to the University of North Dakota to be a physical therapist.

Before he started his last year at UND, he changed his mind about being a physical therapist. He wanted to be a Catholic priest.

Darin started seminary and a few years later he was at home for a visit.

"He was just walking around here and I noticed a spot on the back of his neck. I just thought it looked a little different," Bonnie explained.

In 2003, Darin was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. He went through chemotherapy, radiation and a stem-cell transplant.

"Everything that they did for him his cancer rebelled and came back worse," said Len.

"He was very accepting. I think that made it easier because if I was down he would actually lift me up. I have to remember that," said Bonnie.

His parents had him buried in the back of St. Mary's Cemetery. It's a small area on the west side of Alexandria. They were not prepared for what happened next.

Darin's parents started to see cars pulled over and people mulling around the grave. They would leave little trinkets by his gravesite. People were coming to ask for Darin to intercede on their behalf for healing.

In three years, hundreds of people have stopped by, including a whole bus full of kids just a few weeks ago.

"We've had people from every coast. We've had people from Maryland. We've had people from California. We've had people from down South," Len explained.

Now, they have a little black book where people can write out their prayers. They also have a place for people to put small tokens they may want to leave behind like coins and rosaries.

"I think it's been by word of mouth that people have had different experiences and they want to share it with others," said Bonnie.

The first thing Darin's father noticed on the grave was a picture of a sonogram taped to the side of it.

That picture belonged to John and Maggie Mauch.

They were expecting their third child and they found out quickly that something was wrong. Doctors told them their little girl had a hole in her back and would be born with spina bifida. They said there was still time to end the pregnancy.

John's parents had heard about the grave a few hours away.

"We just kind of looked at each other and went, 'He says we should go,'" said Maggie.

In the summer of 2006 the entire Mauch family made the trip.

"I asked for peace to be with us and the complications she had to be just less than what they thought it was going to be," Maggie recalled.

Their daughter, Macy, went home from the hospital just a week after she was born. Her doctors were amazed at all she can do considering how high on her back her injury is.

The Mauch's don't think too much about that day at the grave. But they do think about how much of a miracle little Macy is.

"The reason why we did it is, 'What's it going to hurt?'" said Maggie.

"I feel very humble that our son is still touching a lot of people's lives," Bonnie said.

Touching more lives in his death than his parents believe he ever possibly could in his life.

"I guess what I learned from my son if I were to sum it up, is life is a matter of surrender. Surrender doesn't mean to give up, it means to do the best you can and leave the results to a higher power," Len said.

Every year there is a memorial Mass held in Father Darin's honor. This year, it's on Labor Day, Sept. 7 at The Church of St. Mary in Alexandria.