Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"The mother of my Lord"

Happy feast day! Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Visitation when Mary visited Elizabeth. She traveled about 70 miles on rough terrain with Jesus in her womb in order to be with her kinswoman who was pregnant with John the Baptist. It is an incredible scene which is described below by americancatholic.org. The Visitation is the 2nd joyful mystery of the Rosary; the fruit of the mystery is love of neighbor. Mary stayed with Elizabeth and served her for three months.

This is a fairly late feast, going back only to the 13th or 14th century. It was established widely throughout the Church to pray for unity. The present date of celebration was set in 1969 in order to follow the Annunciation of the Lord (March 25) and precede the Nativity of John the Baptist (June 24).

Like most feasts of Mary, it is closely connected with Jesus and his saving work. The more visible actors in the visitation drama (see Luke 1:39-45) are Mary and Elizabeth. However, Jesus and John the Baptist steal the scene in a hidden way. Jesus makes John leap with joy—the joy of messianic salvation. Elizabeth, in turn, is filled with the Holy Spirit and addresses words of praise to Mary—words that echo down through the ages.

It is helpful to recall that we do not have a journalist’s account of this meeting. Rather, Luke, speaking for the Church, gives a prayerful poet’s rendition of the scene. Elizabeth’s praise of Mary as “the mother of my Lord” can be viewed as the earliest Church’s devotion to Mary. As with all authentic devotion to Mary, Elizabeth’s (the Church’s) words first praise God for what God has done to Mary. Only secondly does she praise Mary for trusting God’s words.

Then comes the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). Here Mary herself (like the Church) traces all her greatness to God.

One of the invocations in Mary’s litany is “Ark of the Covenant.” Like the Ark of the Covenant of old, Mary brings God’s presence into the lives of other people. As David danced before the Ark, John the Baptist leaps for joy. As the Ark helped to unite the 12 tribes of Israel by being placed in David’s capital, so Mary has the power to unite all Christians in her Son. At times, devotion to Mary may have occasioned some divisiveness, but we can hope that authentic devotion will lead all to Christ and therefore to one another.

“Moved by charity, therefore, Mary goes to the house of her kinswoman.... While every word of Elizabeth’s is filled with meaning, her final words would seem to have a fundamental importance: ‘And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her from the Lord’ (Luke 1:45). These words can be linked with the title ‘full of grace’ of the angel’s greeting. Both of these texts reveal an essential Mariological content, namely the truth about Mary, who has become really present in the mystery of Christ precisely because she ‘has believed.’ The fullness of grace announced by the angel means the gift of God himself. Mary’s faith, proclaimed by Elizabeth at the visitation, indicates how the Virgin of Nazareth responded to this gift” (Pope John Paul II, The Mother of the Redeemer, 12).

Monday, May 30, 2011

Happy Memorial Day

An insufficient but heartfelt thank you to all who have served our country in defending freedom and justice, especially those who "have laid down their lives" for us.

6th Sunday of Easter - homily

"Always be ready to give...a reason for your hope".

Recently, I was talking to a group of women whom I had just met. We were in a short car ride and talking about good things going on in the Church. I blurted out my usual line, "God is good". A couple of the women nodded in agreement, but one of them replied, "I don't know about that". The other ladies asked why she said it, and the woman expressed her doubts, mainly with the story of a friend whose twin girls died at birth. Her friend had been living a sinful life but began to turn her life around before she became pregnant. She now feels that God is punishing her for her past sins, and the woman with whom we were speaking feels the same way.

It's moments like these as a priest that I call on the Spirit of truth to help me out. My basic prayer is usually, "ok, Spirit, you gotta help me, because I have no clue what to say". The Spirit came through, as usual. After listening to this woman a few more minutes, I said, "God is not punishing your friend. The Catechism of our Church teaches that God does not seek vengeance for our sins. He is not punishing her. In fact, He is even more upset about the twins' deaths than she is, as sad as she is". I wasn't sure how that would be received by the woman who had said she stopped going to Church long ago. Her reply: "tell me more".

I told her what our second reading teaches: that Christ suffered for sins once. He was an innocent victim. He wasn't punished by the Father. Her friend is there with Christ on the Cross. She is not being punished. We reached our destination and as she was getting out of the car, the woman thanked me for my words which she said were "beautiful". Ahh, thank you, Spirit of truth for your beautiful words!

Folks, we always need to be ready to give a reason for our hope. We always need to be ready to give an explanation for our faith. Sometimes, we only have five minutes like I did in the car. This might be the only five minutes people will have with the Gospel their whole lives. So, we have to be ready. I know that it's a daunting challenge. It can be completely overwhelming to people to explain our faith at any moment - in a car or subway, at a party, or even on the street.

If we are really living our Catholic faith, then we will be asked about it at some point. People see us as the disciples of Jesus. They expect that we know our faith...that we know the Spirit of truth, as our Lord says in today's Gospel.

They want to know the truth about God and turn to us for help. They want to know the truth about suffering...about sin and evil...about Heaven. They want to know what the Catholic Church teaches. I went to a graduation party yesterday. Within the first five minutes of being there, a non-Catholic asked me, "did Jesus have any brothers or sisters?" We always have to be ready.

We don't always have to have the answers, but we should know where to find the answers. Certainly, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is the best resource. You can google search the catechism or other Catholic websites for your answers (like our GW Catholic Q&A blog site!). Yesterday, at the party, I simply gave a link to a website called "Catholic Answers" which addressed the question of Jesus's siblings (cousins is more like it).

So, you can go online to good Catholic sites or you can go to a good Catholic bookstore like the Catholic Information Center down the street for books on what the Churches teaches. But, you may want to start with a prayer to the Spirit. Ask the Spirit to help you to know the truth and to guide you to truth. He will. He is the Spirit of truth and the Spirit of joy. When we come to know the truth, we come to know joy. And, then we can share that with others. The woman in the car showed real joy the next day when I saw her. She knew the truth about God and the Church's teaching on suffering! And, she said she would share that truth and joy with the mother of the twins.

Finally, God wants us to know and live in the Spirit, the Spirit of truth. Life in the Spirit - to which Jesus was raised - is a life of joy! When we live in the Spirit, we are filled with joy like the early Church was in the first reading. At the center of our life in the Spirit is the Eucharist. What joy this brings us to receive Christ in the Eucharist! If there is one teaching to know and to know well, it is the Eucharist. Jesus teaches more on the Eucharist than any other teaching. He wants us to know, believe, and share the truth of the teaching of His Real Presence in the Eucharist. When we know it, we know truth and joy. When we know it, we want to share it with everyone we know. We want them to know how awesome it is to live in the Spirit, the Spirit of truth.

Friday, May 27, 2011

5 Years of Priesthood: 'Time Flies When You're Having Fun'

Five years ago today, twelve of us were ordained priests for the Archdiocese of Washington, thanks be to God. For me, the five years have flown by (‘time flies when you’re having fun’). For my former parishioners and current students, I’m sure it has seemed A LOT longer than that! I might offer some reflections on these past five years or on priesthood in general in the coming days, but, for today, I simply give thanks and praise to God for calling a great sinner like me to be a priest of Jesus Christ.  It is an AWESOME call and AWESOME  life.  I said it when the Call first came to me and I've said it every day as a priest: I am truly not worthy.  I am eternally grateful to God for calling me.  Today's Gospel says it all:  "it was not you who chose me, but I who chose you". (Jn 15:16).

Today's celebration is really about the Grace of Holy Orders...the Grace that we received on that day to act in persona Christi (in the person of Christ) in celebrating the Eucharist and all the sacraments and to live faithfully as alter Christus (another Christ).  This Grace is real and it's powerful. "There but for the Grace of God, go I" (as a priest).  His Grace has played the starring role in my faithfulness as a priest.  "It’s not about success, it’s about faithfulness” – Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.

Our ordination received some cool press coverage because we had the largest ordination class in DC in over 30 years. And, four of us were heavily influenced and inspired by one priest, Msgr. Thomas Wells, to become priests. The article is below.

Also, a good friend of mine, Ty Roach, taped the ordination and just posted portions of it on youtube. It is under the Post article. Many thanks to Ty for taking the time to do this – it is a great gift!

Praised be Jesus Christ! Now and forever!

'Wells Guys' Take Their Vows as New Priests
Men Recall Monsignor Who Inspired Them

By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 28, 2006

To the seminarians he inspired over the years, Monsignor Thomas Wells exuded joy in everything he did: celebrating Mass, orchestrating large ski and golf outings, simply gabbing on the phone for a few minutes with people he loved.

And those he befriended know he would have found joy in seeing four Maryland men who worked with him be ordained yesterday for the Archdiocese of Washington. The four, with another ordained last week for an Illinois diocese, are nicknamed "the Wells guys" because they were inspired by the beloved priest, who was killed by a homeless man in the rectory of his Germantown church in 2000.

Before an overflow crowd of about 2,700, the Wells guys were among a dozen men who became Catholic priests at a solemn yet joy-filled ceremony at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast Washington.

One by one, the names of the new priests were proclaimed "for service of the church of Washington." One by one, each answered "Present!" When they turned to face the congregation -- which gave them a long, heartfelt round of applause -- some struggled to contain their emotions. Blinking eyelids, bobbing Adam's apples and firmly pressed lips betrayed their composure.

Theirs is the second-largest group of new priests in the nation, and the largest class in the Washington Archdiocese since 1973. Nationwide, the number of new priests is declining. Final figures are not available, but initial reports suggest that 359 men will be ordained this year in the United States. That is a decrease from 438 last year and 454 in 2004. The Arlington diocese is ordaining seven, its largest class since 1999.

Even more remarkable is that so many priests in the Washington Archdiocese were nourished in their faith by one man. Four had worked with Wells at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Bethesda, and one met him at a parish in Bowie.

"It's so rare to see this many from one place," said the Rev. Edward Burns, who heads the office of vocations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "It just shows the impact one priest can have."

Wells had worked at Our Lady of Lourdes for a couple of years in the 1980s and then for five years in the 1990s. A year before his death, he was transferred to Mother Seton Parish in Germantown. Soon after he was killed, his friends set up the Monsignor Thomas M. Wells Society, which provides financial assistance to seminarians, sponsors retreats for men considering the priesthood and encourages prayer.

Now some of his proteges are drawing widespread attention. Outgoing Washington Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick prayed at Our Lady of Lourdes on Friday night. Each of the newly ordained priests was to have Masses this weekend.

A procession of more than 200 churchmen, including 180 priests, opened yesterday's two-hour ordination liturgy. Incense filled the vast, soaring nave. Happy women among the families of the 12 new priests dabbed their eyes with tissues. Little girls in flouncy dresses and hair ribbons pretended to be grown-up. And 8-year-old Dillon Smith, who said he wants to be a priest, watched the ceremony through a mini-telescope.

"It's been since 1973 that we've had a class this large, so what a great blessing that is from the Lord for us," said McCarrick, presiding at his last ordination because of his retirement in July.

Wells was 56 when he was killed six years ago. His sister, Mimi Shea, was at the ordination. "It's the first time I really feel, 'Wow, his death meant something,' " she said.

"I mean, I've never seen so many people so happy," said Shea, who directs the religious education program at Sacred Heart Church in Bowie, where Wells is buried. "The faith in this room is amazing."

The men Wells mentored invariably invoke his zest for life in describing the gregarious man who was jauntily called "Boomer."

He encouraged them to enter the seminary and stick with it. He organized groups to ski out west and play golf. He talked regularly with them on the phone, and "we'd just laugh for five minutes, nonstop, and then hang up," said one of the new priests, Rob Walsh, 36, whose family knew Wells for years.

"We were stuck in traffic once, and suddenly he's laughing at the top of his lungs, nonstop," said another of the new priests, Greg Shaffer, 34. "Then he says, 'I'm just thinking of the party we're going to have after you're ordained, after your first Mass.' "

"If it wasn't for his death, I wouldn't have seen it so clearly," said Andrew Royals, 26, whose family became close to Wells when the priest was at Our Lady of Lourdes. "It was almost like a bugle was going off in my ear. I thought, 'I could try to be one of those guys.' "

Although the men and others who knew Wells say they are grieving, a celebratory air surrounds this weekend because many believe Wells's spirit and the prayer that followed his murder are directly responsible for last week's ordinations.

Shaffer, Royals and Avelino Gonzalez, a 41-year-old Cuban-born naval engineer, were members of Our Lady of Lourdes. Walsh was raised in Sacred Heart in Bowie, another parish Wells had worked in. Another priest, Mike Lavan, 43, also belonged to Our Lady of Lourdes but transferred to the Rockford, Ill., diocese after Wells's death. He was ordained there recently but returned to Bethesda to join the events and celebrate a Mass.

"I believe he has a much greater influence now than he had on Earth," Walsh said Thursday of Wells as the Washington class met for a rehearsal at the shrine. "Father Wells's prayers are doing such good, not just for us, but for this whole group."

Many at Our Lady of Lourdes also credit the ordinations to their method of prayer. Unlike most churches, the parish takes the wafer consecrated at each morning's Mass -- which Catholics believe is the body of Christ -- and puts it on display all day, every day, in a side chapel.

It was Wells's handling of the Eucharist -- the wafer and wine used in Communion -- that parishioners and the new priests say so vividly represented his faith.

"When he lifted it up, his eyes were clearly focused on it, in what appeared to be deep prayer, and that was very moving. And he did that Mass in and Mass out. He held that, and he prayed," Cecilia Royals, Andrew's mother, said. Grieving for Wells, she said it would take 10 men to replace such a priest.

Years ago, Wells and some of his guys talked about taking a golf trip to Ireland to celebrate if they became priests. Next month, on the anniversary of Wells's death, a group of them will do just that: golf, and celebrate Mass.

Staff writer Caryle Murphy contributed to this report.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

"Spiritual direction is necessary"

There are many facets and practices of our rich Catholic faith that GW Catholics are just coming to know and appreciate. One of them is spiritual direction. Spiritual direction is when a person meets with a holy man or woman (usually a priest or a nun) on a regular basis in order to get, well, some direction spiritually. The director is like a guide on the spiritual path who helps the person to know which path to take to follow Christ. The main role of the director is to help the person discern the Will of God. He represents the Church in providing an objective point of view to the person’s situation or problems. It can be extremely helpful! One young man has been coming to me for direction for almost two years; he made the comment at our meeting last night that direction has helped him to figure out what he couldn’t discern on his own. Now, he is beyond excited to enter a religious community in July.

Don’t think that spiritual direction is only for people who will become priests or nuns! God has given me almost two dozen current directees, most of whom are not GW students. A handful are already married (and former parishioners), many are discerning marriage, and a few are discerning religious life. While discerning what their vocation is and how to live it are important to them, the common denominator with all of them is discerning their call to holiness. Btw, people who come for spiritual direction learn much about our Lord and His Way from their directors, but often give so much to them in terms of inspiration and witness.

I know that many of you want to grow in your faith. You want to grow in holiness. You wouldn’t be reading this blog if you didn’t. But, you don’t know how. Many people start spiritual direction with me and say, “I know that I need this, I just don’t know how to do this”. I describe spiritual direction to them, saying that they simply tell me what is going on in their lives. It can be different from person to person and can often go in any direction (no pun intended). Really, it’s any direction that the Holy Spirit takes it; He is the real Director! Usually, though, it involves Confession, talking out problems or moral situations, prayer life, family life, q&a about faith, and vocational discernment. My director and I spend half of our time each month, it seems, talking about the Redskins or sports….I’m a deep guy.

I would like more GW Catholics to go to spiritual direction. Once a month is preferable, or at least a few times a semester. It doesn’t have to be a long meeting (an hour is the longest) every time. It’s just like going to the doctor…and a spiritual director is a “doctor of the soul”. It’s like a check-up for your soul. Many of you are carrying a lot of junk on your souls. I don’t just mean sin. I mean serious problems that you’ve been carrying around by yourself for a LONG time. Jesus basically says in Matthew 11:28, “bring me your junk”. Spiritual direction is a way to bring your junk to Christ (through the priest). It doesn’t have to be to me (I make this clear every time I start with a new directee), but it should be to some priest or religious.

In case the sin of pride is creeping in and you are thinking, ‘I’m not telling Father Greg my problems’ or ‘I don’t need this’, consider a few things. First, many GW students from different backgrounds and situations have come to me with their problems….even those who I have gotten to know well outside of direction. I believe they have had an experience with the Holy Spirit through our conversations. The Spirit has given them wisdom, joy, and peace…which is really Christ’s promise of Mt 11:28: “come to me…and I will give you rest”.

Second, as far as the need in general for direction, here are two strong witnesses. The first is a woman who just asked me to be her director. Wow, what a beautiful and powerful statement she makes! The second is a holy man in Rome you might have heard of who makes the case for spiritual direction. Check these out, look up Matthew 11:28, and plan on starting spiritual direction this fall.

1) “Why spiritual direction? Well, in reading the saints and teachings of the Church, it is clear that if a soul desires to progress in holiness, spiritual direction is necessary. Furthermore, I (humbly) acknowledge that God has had His Hand on my life (since a very young age), despite some necessary troubles and adversity, in a remarkable way. In fact, such have been the graces that He has granted me that I cannot take any credit for my own spiritual journey . . . I view all as a gift, that I have neither had the knowledge to understand in advance, nor the knowledge to seek for myself. Recognizing that I have a particularly strong will, yet even stronger desire to abandon my life completely to God, I know that my soul is in need of spiritual direction to accomplish His ends for my life. Currently, I am in a serious courtship with a fine young man (also a serious Catholic), and have recognized several points of conflict that might have been avoided (or recognized sooner) if I had been under good spiritual direction. Ultimately, I want to serve God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength; and in my prayer and sacramental life, God has been emphasizing to me that I need to put forth the effort to find a spiritual director.”

2) VATICAN CITY, MAY 19, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Anyone who wants to live their baptism responsibly should have a spiritual director, says Benedict XVI.

The Pope affirmed this today when he addressed members of the Pontifical Theological Faculty Teresianum. The faculty was founded in 1935; the audience with the Holy Father was part of the institute's celebrations of its 75th anniversary.

Benedict XVI reflected on the Carmelite institute's emphasis on spiritual theology in the framework of anthropology. He said that in today's context, studying Christian spirituality from its anthropological foundations "is of great importance."

The Pontiff recognized that an education at the Teresianum not only prepares students to teach this discipline, but has an "even greater grace" in that it gears students to "the delicate task of spiritual direction."

"As she has never failed to do, again today the Church continues to recommend the practice of spiritual direction, not only to all those who wish to follow the Lord up close, but to every Christian who wishes to live responsibly his baptism, that is, the new life in Christ," the Pope stated. "Everyone, in fact, and in a particular way all those who have received the divine call to a closer following, needs to be supported personally by a sure guide in doctrine and expert in the things of God."

The Holy Father noted how a spiritual guide helps ward off subjectivist interpretations as well as providing the counseled with the guide's "own supply of knowledge and experiences in following Jesus."

He likened spiritual direction to the "personal relationship that the Lord had with his disciples, that special bond with which he led them, following him, to embrace the will of the Father (cf. Luke 22:42), that is, to embrace the cross."

The Bishop of Rome urged the Teresianum students to "make a treasure of all that you will have learned in these years of study, to support all those whom Divine Providence will entrust to you, helping them in the discernment of spirits and in the capacity to second the motions of the Holy Spirit, with the objective of leading them to the fullness of grace, 'until we all attain,' as St. Paul says, 'to the measure of the fullness of Christ.'"

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

5th Sunday of Easter - homily (by a father of a GW Catholic)

This past weekend, I traveled up to New Jersey for the diaconate ordination of Dr. David Strader, the father of Beth Strader (GW Catholic, class of 2014).  It was a beautiful celebration!  Deacon Strader was one of 35 men to be ordained permanent deacons for the Archdiocese of Newark (they ordain deacons every five years).  It took place at the Cathedral in Newark which is ginormous!  It is larger than St. Patrick's in New York and was designated a minor basilica by Pope John Paul II when he visited there in 1995.  I made some new friends from Newark - priests and lay people (yeah, Ron!).  The Straders showed me serious hospitality, making me feel like I was part of the family.  Great weekend all around!

Deacon Strader preached at the first Mass at which he served that evening in his parish.  The parishioners have been praying for him and supporting him throughout the five years he's been in formation to be ordained.  They showed him much love during and after the Mass.  I asked him to send me his homily so that I could post it here; it is below.

Please pray for Beth who had shoulder surgery this morning.  She is in recovery after a successful surgery.  BettAYYY!!

There is a lot of theology in this Gospel reading (John 14:1-12).  But I have to admit that my first thought after hearing it is: “Where did Jesus get these guys?” They are clueless! Remember, the disciples have been with Jesus since the very beginning of his ministry. This conversation is taking place at the Last Supper, right before Jesus is arrested. And they don’t know who Jesus is? That Jesus and the Father are one? It is hard for us to believe that anyone could be that clueless.

And yet…and yet, these are the same disciples who would witness Jesus’ death and resurrection and then receive the Holy Spirit. These are the disciples who would become the Apostles—dedicated men who would become the foundation of the Church, men who in many cases died for Jesus. What converted these clueless disciples into fearless Apostles who would spread the love of Christ throughout the world? One word. Faith.

Jesus said, “You have faith in God; have faith also in me.” Even for two clueless disciples like Thomas and Philip, that statement was clear enough. And we shouldn’t be too hard on the disciples. Sometimes we have trouble seeing who Jesus is, ourselves. Whenever we fail to see Jesus in the poor, the immigrant, the elderly, or the pre-born, we are just as clueless as those first disciples. And like them, we sometimes need a reminder.

Last Advent, my class of deacon brothers had an opportunity to share a Saturday morning reflection with Sister Joan, a School Sister of Notre Dame. She shared with us a story when she was studying for a graduate degree in theology. She had signed up for a course in Christology, the study of Jesus Christ, and was startled when the first class met to find that it was being taught by a rabbi. She thought to herself, “How can this guy know about Jesus and still be Jewish?” Her puzzlement continued week after week. It was clear that the rabbi knew his stuff. Finally, towards the end of the semester, she summoned her courage and asked the professor directly, “How can you be so knowledgeable about Jesus Christ and yet be a rabbi?” He was quiet for a long time and Sister Joan was afraid that she had offended him. Finally, he looked up at her with a trace of tears in his eyes and explained, “You have been given a wonderful gift of faith. I received a different gift.”

All of us here tonight, like Sister Joan, have received a marvelous gift of faith, a gift that can come only from God. But often in our lives, other people transmit that gift of faith to us. Think for a minute: who in your life passed along that gift of faith to you? Maybe your parents? Maybe your spouse? Maybe your daughter, who wanted to be an altar server so badly that she pestered the ever-living daylights out of you, until you thought, “Well, if it is so important to her, maybe it ought to be more important to me.”

Growing up, my parents made faith an important part of my life. Mabelle and Frank made sure that I went with them to church every Sunday and said my prayers every night before I went to bed. And you didn’t just go to church in your regular school clothes—you had to get dressed in your Sunday “best”. I had to shine my shoes every Saturday morning so they would be ready for church the next day. And God forbid if I ever played outside in my Sunday clothes!

In addition to my parents, there was another person who was important in giving me the gift of faith, the gift of Catholic faith. I was never going to have a comfortable relationship with my father-in-law, Patrick, because I had stolen his only daughter in marriage. But if he hadn’t lived out his Catholic faith and taught it to his children, none of this that has happened today would have been possible. So I have a big “Thank you” to say one day.

Through our gift of faith, we can hear the words of Jesus, “I am the way and the truth and the life”, and they can resonate in our souls, not as an abstract concept that we might understand in our minds, but as a deep, true realization that we carry in our hearts. In a few moments, we are going to stand up and recite the Creed and say, “We believe…”. “We believe…”: what a profound statement of faith! And then, we will be invited to share in the Eucharist, at the table of Our Lord. A sacred meal that not only demonstrates our faith, but nourishes it and sustains it as well.

Jesus tells us, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” It’s pretty easy to understand. Even for some clueless disciples, like Thomas, Philip, and us.

Monday, May 23, 2011

"Helping Catholics Stay Catholic After College"

The following online article is from the New York Times, “On Religion” section, May 20:

Helping Catholic Students Remain Catholic in a Setting of Nietzsche and Beer Pong

NEW HAVEN — When she graduated four years ago as the valedictorian of a Catholic high school in Chicago, Marysa Leya received a present from her biology teacher. It was a hand-painted crucifix, intended for her college dorm room, with a note from him on the back urging her: “Be sure to stay as grounded and awesome as you are now.”

Before leaving the Midwest for Yale University here, Ms. Leya also got some parting advice from her grandmother. “Don’t lose your faith,” Ms. Leya, 22, recalls being told, “out there on that liberal East Coast.”

In their divergent ways, Ms. Leya’s teacher and grandmother were expressing the conventional wisdom about religious young people heading off to college. Exposed to Nietzsche, Hitchens, co-ed dorms and beer pong, such students are almost expected to stray. Just as surely, the standard thinking goes, their adult lives of marriage and parenthood will bring them back to observance.

Things didn’t work out quite that way for Ms. Leya. In her four years at Yale, which culminate in commencement this weekend, she never missed a Sunday Mass and joined in weekly discussions of scripture. As a typical underachieving Yalie, she also drew cartoons for the student newspaper, captained the club tennis team, participated in a Polish cultural society and, oh by the way, earned her way into Northwestern’s medical school with a 3.78 grade point average as a biology major.

For all that, perhaps because of all that, Ms. Leya has also become part of a nationwide pilot program designed to keep actively Catholic college students just as actively Catholic after the last mortarboard has tumbled to earth. The program, Esteem, has operated from the contrarian premise that a college graduate who is suddenly reduced to being the young stranger in a new parish may well grow distant or even alienated from Catholicism.

“I can’t imagine shirking my faith,” Ms. Leya said in an interview this week at St. Thomas More, the Catholic chapel and center at Yale, “but how do you keep it important around all the chaos of med school? How do I become a meaningful member of a new parish? How do I allow the kind of experiences I’ve had here to continue?”

For Ms. Leya, like about 70 other students on six campuses, Esteem has provided intensive education in the Catholic practice, especially the role of laity, and a handpicked mentor who combines professional success with religious devotion. In Ms. Leya’s case, he is Dr. Leo M. Cooney Jr., a professor of geriatric medicine in Yale’s medical school, and, as important, a veteran of his own spiritual walkabout.

“We wanted people who were living out a life of faith that might have struggles,” said Kathleen A. Byrnes, a chaplain at St. Thomas More who is on Esteem’s executive team. “Not someone with all the answers.”

Esteem began, in fact, with a question. Every fall, the chaplains at St. Thomas More would welcome back alumni for the religious ritual known as the Harvard-Yale game. Invariably, those recent graduates delivered similar reports of Catholic life after Yale: stultifying parishes, aging congregations, irrelevant homilies, all resulting in a drift away. So what could be done?

A series of meetings by three people in 2004 — Geoffrey T. Boisi, a Wall Street executive active in philanthropy; Kerry Robinson, the development director at St. Thomas More; and the Rev. Robert L. Beloin, the church’s pastor — led to the initial notion of Esteem. A $25,000 grant from the church paid for a planning conference and development of a business plan.

Then, with a donation of $102,000 from an unidentified corporation, Esteem set up its pilot program for the 2010-11 academic year. Under the aegis of a national organization of Catholic executives, the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management, Esteem recruited students and mentors on campuses that included elite private schools (Stanford, Yale), public universities (Michigan State, Ohio State, U.C.L.A.) and one Catholic institution (Sacred Heart in Fairfield, Conn.).

Yet what all the planning comes down to, in a certain sense, is the hour each week when Ms. Leya and Dr. Cooney get together, and the chemistry that Esteem’s founders hope will emerge between them.

Dr. Cooney’s own trajectory, decades before Esteem was devised, ratifies its viewpoint. The third of 11 children in an Irish-American family, the product of Catholic education from kindergarten through college, he had many assumptions jolted when he started medical school at Yale.

To be immersed in biological science was, for him, to be confronted with an alternative system for the world than divine creation and oversight. His ultimate specialty, working with elderly patients nearing death, shook his belief in an afterlife. And such doubt seemed to him the disqualifier of faith.

Only in the last dozen years, since being introduced to St. Thomas More by a student, has he resumed regular observance, becoming more deeply involved than ever. What drew him back more than anything, he said, was Father Beloin’s message “that doubting is encouraged, that it’s part of the journey.”

Still, when Ms. Byrnes approached him about being a mentor to Ms. Leya, he asked, “What can I do?” Teaching medical students how to conduct muscle exams? That he could do. Modeling faith in action? That was getting into sin-of-pride territory.

Still, in his self-effacing way, Dr. Cooney shared what he could with Ms. Leya. He told her about the rough transition from college, with its built-in community, to the medical education’s regimen of long hours, less socializing, maybe a different hospital in a different city for your residency, then internship, then fellowship.

They talked, in a pragmatic way, about the parishes near Northwestern’s medical campus in Chicago, and the university’s Catholic center. More philosophically, Dr. Cooney reminded his protégée to find time amid the pressure to stop and reflect, to keep looking for a base, to see Catholicism as a means to an end: connection to a community.

As for Ms. Leya, she expects to attend her last Mass as a Yalie on Sunday. The chaplains have already asked that she lead the worshipers in a reading from Peter. In it, the apostle asks of the believers what Esteem has asked of her, to “let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.”

Friday, May 20, 2011

“(Summer) Reading indeed has made many saints”

I hope that the summer break has started well for all of our GW Catholics! Each one of you should be doing some spiritual reading this summer; 5-10 minutes a day, at least. Sacred Scripture is most preferred; reading a chapter of one of the Gospels each day might work well for you. In addition, below are some suggestions for your summer reading which are either new books or classics. If bloggers have any other ideas, please leave a comment with them. Have a safe, fun, and faithful summer!

“Reading indeed has made many saints” – author unknown

Beginner / Intermediate

1. Made for More by Curtis Martin, Ascension Press.

2. Burst by Kevin Wells, Servanti Books.

3. The Mass by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Doubleday.

4. Prison to Praise by Merlin Carothers.

5. St. Catherine of Siena by Raymond of Capua, TAN Books.

Intermediate / Advanced

1. Jesus of Nazareth Part II by Pope Benedict XVI, Ignatius Press.

2. Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales, TAN Books.

3. The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis, various publishers.
4. Confessions of St. Augustine, various publishers.

5. True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin by St. Louis de Montfort, Alba House.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

GW Catholic lottery winners on the Today Show

Last month, we welcomed back to GW our good friends, Gilbert and Jacki Cisneros. They were visiting GW for a week and came to our Sunday night student Mass and then food after Mass. I mentioned them at Mass as being good friends of the Newman Center who have “invested much in all of you”. What I was referring to is the sizable donation they have given to the Newman Center and the tremendous interest they show in what we are doing here.

Gil and Jacki won $266 million in last year’s California state lottery...! They are both Catholic and Gil is an alumnus of GW; they have given over $1 million to GW University already. They made it clear when they won that they will be giving much to the Church and to education. This is exactly what they have done.

They were on NBC’s Today Show the other day to announce their latest act of generosity: providing scholarships totaling $1 million over the next five years to assist high school students who wouldn’t otherwise go to college. We respect our friends to no end because of their openness to God’s grace. In the midst of enormous worldly temptation, they are choosing good...great good! They are choosing to let God do His good work....amazing work. They are inspiring examples to all of us.

To view the video of their Today show interview, please click on today’s title.

$266M lotto winners give back to hometown kids

They’re devoting part of jackpot to scholarships for students in working-class community

By Scott Stump
TODAY.com contributor
updated 5/17/2011 11:27:33 AM ET

Jacki and Gilbert Cisneros may now live in a big house in Newport Beach, but they have certainly not forgotten the working-class Latino neighborhood that has been part of their family for generations.

After all, Pico Rivera, Calif., is not only the place where the couple traces its roots, but also where Gilbert purchased the winning Mega Millions lottery ticket that netted $266 million a year ago, making national headlines. The couple could have moved away and spent their millions on themselves, but they want to give something back to a town that has given them so much.

Thus, alongside Hispanic Scholarship Fund president Frank Alvarez, the wealthy couple announced on TODAY Tuesday that they are providing substantial scholarship money to benefit students from Pico Rivera. With a gift to the Hispanic Scholarship Fund that will run into seven figures over the next five years, the couple want to give students at the town’s only high school, El Rancho High School, the financial assistance to achieve their dreams of attending college.

‘A family commitment’

“Kind of reflecting back on my own life and when I went to college, my parents, I knew, would support me in whatever decision I would do, but there was no push towards college,’’ Gilbert Cisneros told TODAY’s Ann Curry. “There was no college fund. I kind of knew that I was pretty much going to have to do it on my own. Luckily for me I was able to receive a scholarship that enabled me to go on to college.

“Now that we have the means to do some good, we kind of want to give other students that same opportunity.’’

Jacki Cisneros, whose grandfather is a former mayor of Pico Rivera, told Curry that they hope to assist hundreds and possibly thousands of students over the years by working with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. The Cisneros’ gift aims to provide 50 scholarships of $2,500 each to students from El Rancho starting in 2012 while also contributing to community outreach programs designed to encourage post-secondary learning.

Pico Rivera also will be at the front of the nationwide “Generation First Degree’’ campaign by the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, which is pushing for a college degree in every home for Hispanic students.

Finally, the Frank Terrazas Legacy Scholarship Program will be created in honor of Jacki’s grandfather as an endowment that will provide scholarships to future El Rancho students.

“Going to college and getting your college education is a family commitment,’’ Gilbert Cisneros told Curry. “Everybody has to be involved. You can’t just put it in neutral and hope your kid goes in the right direction.

“We want to get the family support in there, so there’s a program in there to help families understand the importance of college, and what it would mean.’’

Dreaming big

All told, the Cisneros’ scholarship gift totals more than $1.25 million over the next five years.

“I knew that getting a college degree in every household in Pico Rivera, which is the goal of these wonderful people, is not going to only change the lives of the student, but the entire family and the generations to come, so I was elated,’’ Alvarez told Curry.

El Rancho High School has a graduation rate of more than 90 percent, but many students do not have the financial means to continue their education.

“We dream big,’’ El Rancho senior Daniella Lopez told NBC News. “We dream of schools like NYU and big schools that we want to go to. Sometimes we can achieve that because of our intelligence, but we’re hindered by [the fact] that we don’t have money to go to it.’’

The Cisneroses want to ensure that students like Lopez and other seniors are allowed to earn that college degree and not wonder what might have been, like 1994 graduate Sergio Silva.

“I lacked resources and family support,’’ Silva, who did not attend college, told NBC News. “I didn’t have the proper guidance, I think. I was three classes away from transferring, and I just stopped going.’’

While the population of El Rancho is largely Hispanic, the scholarship fund is open to all students, not just Hispanic ones.

The Cisneros couple made national headlines last May when Gilbert purchased 10 Mega Millions tickets, including the winner, while picking up dinner at L & L Hawaiian BBQ in Pico Rivera. Their blue-collar roots immediately showed, as Jacki continued to go to work at her job at KNBC in Los Angeles despite the life-changing financial windfall.

It was the eighth-highest total ever won in Mega Millions history, and it came thanks to Gil’s unwillingness to pay for parking to get Mexican food downtown. He opted for L & L Hawaiian BBQ instead, and ended up purchasing the winning ticket.

The odds of buying that ticket were 175,711,536 to 1.

Thanks to Cisneros and his wife, the odds of seniors at El Rancho High School moving on to college just dramatically increased.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"When it come to sexual union...there is no 'third way'"

One of our freshmen sent me the following online article on cohabitation which is quite good. She wrote: “thought you might be interested. very straightforward and clear, i like it”

April 3, 2011

Pastoral Care of Couples Who are Cohabitating

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

We are all painfully aware that there are many Catholics today who are living in cohabitation. The Church must make it clear to the faithful that these unions are not in accord with the Gospel, and to help Catholics who find themselves in these situations to do whatever they must do to make their lives pleasing to God.

First of all, we ourselves must be firmly rooted in the Gospel teaching that, when it comes to sexual union, there are only two lifestyles acceptable to Jesus Christ for His disciples: a single life of chastity, or the union of man and woman in the Sacrament of Matrimony. There is no “third way” possible for a Christian. The Bible and the Church teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman and opposes same sex unions.

We have three groups of people who are living contrary to the Gospel teaching on marriage: those who cohabit; those who have a merely civil union with no previous marriage; and those who have a civil union who were married before. These people are objectively living in a state of mortal sin and may not receive Holy Communion. They are in great spiritual danger. At the best - and this is, sadly, often the case - they are ignorant of God’s plan for man and woman. At the worst, they are contemptuous of God’s commandments and His sacraments.

Of these three groups, the first two have no real excuse. They should marry in the Church or separate. Often their plea is that they “cannot afford a church wedding” i.e. the external trappings, or that “what difference does a piece of paper make?” - as if a sacramental covenant is nothing more than a piece of paper! Such statements show religious ignorance, or a lack of faith and awareness of the evil of sin.

The third group, those who were married before and married again outside the Church, can seek a marriage annulment and have their marriage blest in the Church. Please remember that divorce still is no reason to refrain from Holy Communion as long as they have not entered into another marriage or sinful relationship. Many Catholics are confused on this point.

Christ our Lord loves all these people and wishes to save them - not by ignoring their sin, or calling evil good, but by repentance and helping them to change their lives in accordance with His teaching. We, as His Church, must do the same. In accord with this, I would remind you of the following:

1. People in the above three situations cannot receive the Sacraments, with the important exception of those who agree to live chastely (“as brother and sister”) until their situation is regularized. Of course, those in danger of death are presumed to be repentant.

2. These people may not be commissioned as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, not only because of scandal, but even more because one commits the sin of sacrilege by administering a Sacrament in the state of mortal sin.

3. Nor are such people to be admitted to the role of sponsor for Baptism or Confirmation, as is clearly stated on the Archdiocesan Affidavit for a Sponsor. It is critical for the sponsor to be a practicing Catholic - and can anyone be seriously called a practicing Catholic who is not able to receive the sacraments because they are living in sin?

4. When it comes to other parish ministries and organizations, I feel it best to leave these situations to the judgment of the pastor. Prudence is needed, avoiding all occasions of scandal. We must see their involvement in the parish as an opportunity to work urgently to bring such people to repentance and the regularization of their lifestyle.

5. Many of these sins are committed out of ignorance. I ask that our pastors preach on the gravity of sin and its evil consequences, the 6th and 9th Commandments of God, and the sacramental nature and meaning of Christian marriage. Our catechetical programs in our parishes - children, youth, and adult – must clearly and repeatedly teach these truths.

A Church wedding does not require some lavish spectacle and entertainment costing vast sums of money (Indeed, how often we have seen the most costly weddings end in divorce in but a few months or years!). While beauty and joy should surround a Christian wedding, we must remind everyone that it is a sacrament, not a show.

6. Those who are married outside the Church because of a previous union are urged to seek an annulment through our Marriage Tribunal. If it can be found that the first marriage lacked some essential quality for a valid marriage, the Tribunal can grant an annulment. Your pastor can help someone start a marriage case for this purpose. It is important for such couples to continue to pray and get to Mass even though they may not receive Communion, until their marriage can be blest in the Church.

Our popular American culture is often in conflict with the teachings of Jesus and His Church. I urge especially young people to not cohabitate which is sinful, but to marry in the Church and prepare well for it.

I congratulate and thank those thousands of Catholic married couples who role model the Sacrament of Marriage according to the teachings of Jesus and his Church.

Sincerely yours in the Risen Lord,

Most Rev. Michael J. Sheehan
Archbishop of Santa Fe

Monday, May 16, 2011

4th Sunday of Easter - homily (Baccalaureate Mass)

I ask you to think back four years ago today: May 14, 2007. Think about where you were and who you were. George Bush was president and Father Bill Gurnee was the chaplain of the Newman Center (he was two chaplains ago). You seniors have been through three chaplains and three campus ministers in your four years here. I truly thank you for being the glue that held the place together; now, you pass on a strong program to our underclassmen. Gasoline four years ago was probably more than half of what it is today, but still twice as much as when I was 17 (we don’t need to say what year that was!). For you graduating seniors, you were seniors in high school having the time of your lives. You were excited to come to GW and change the world. You were filled with high goals and aspirations. I have no doubt that you achieved your goals, knowing how committed to excellence you have been these four years. On behalf of the Newman Center and St. Stephen’s Church, I congratulate you on all of your successes and your graduations from GW.

I ask you to think back to the person you were four years ago in relationship to Christ. Some of you might cringe thinking about that little 17 year old brat…I do! You might cringe at how little you knew Him. It has been at George Washington University – of all places – that some of you have come to know Him. It has been here that you have developed a relationship with Him. And, let’s make no mistake: our relationship with Christ is the most important thing in our lives. Even the Catholic Church says it’s not about a religion; it’s about a person, Jesus Christ. This doesn’t mean that we can be “spiritual, but not religious” or that we can follow him as individuals only. It means that we focus our attention on HIM. Today’s readings, especially the Gospel, are about relationship with Christ.

Some of you might have been, as the second reading says, like sheep who had gone astray. But, “you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls”. “Guardian of your souls” – what a beautiful line! You might have been away but now you are back with Christ, your shepherd. You are following Him. You have gotten to know Him. You have heard His voice calling you to do great things. He is calling each of you by name. He leads you out from here as a shepherd leads his sheep. “We are his people, the sheep of his flock”. Sheep are lost without their shepherd. If you go out into the world without Christ, you, too, will be lost.

I know it is scary to leave here and go out into the world. It’s like St. Peter being called out of the boat by Christ. The boat is our comfort zone. The boat has been the Newman Center or GW the past four years. Now, you are being called out of the boat into deep waters and in the midst of storms like Peter. Christ says something to him that He reiterates to all of you: “Do not be afraid”. Christ is with you. Be not afraid.

You graduates are soaking up all of the accolades, awards, and honors of graduation weekend. And, rightfully so. But, your relationship with Christ is what’s most important. The biggest achievement that you’ve had at GW might be coming to Sunday Mass! That’s an incredible thing. You have lived what tonight’s psalm reminds us of: “the Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want”. Nothing else is as important as our relationship with Christ. Nothing is more important that following Him. All of the stuff you are about to jump into – Wall Street, law firms, medical practices – it’s all important stuff, no doubt. But, you leave here firmly grounded in knowing that Christ is #1 in your lives. You only want to go where He leads you. You might want a motto as you leave. Try Phillipians 4:13: “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me”. Phillipians 4:13.

Many people ask me how to do we hear the voice of God. How do we hear the voice of the shepherd? Prayer. This is my plea to you graduates: be men and women of prayer. A good priest friend of mine used to say to the couple at weddings: “I beg you, I beg you, I beg you…to get on your knees every day and pray to your God”. I beg you all to pray every day. Hear the voice of the shepherd calling you to do great things. He is calling to be priests and religious brothers and sisters…or to be husbands and wives and parents…or to live holiness in the workplace. Whatever He is calling you to, that will be your happiness. That will be your fulfillment.

Finally, stay close to the Eucharist. This means Sunday Mass every week, daily Mass whenever possible, and Eucharistic Adoration. You have seen the large number of people from the State Department, World Bank, and other places who attend the daily Mass at the Newman Center. It is possible and it really helps. If you stay close to the Eucharist, I promise you will find your vocation and you will do what Christ is calling you to do. You will do God’s Will and find your happiness.

If there’s one thing from this year that I want you to remember and to know deeply in your hearts, it is this: YOU ARE GOOD AND YOU ARE LOVED.

Friday, May 13, 2011

"From receivers to givers" - a graduating senior's beautiful reflection

Commencement weekend! Congratulations to all graduating GW seniors and grad students!! Baccalaureate Mass this Saturday, May 14, 5:30 pm, St. Stephen’s Church. All GW Catholic seniors and their families are invited!!

Here is a reflection by a GW Catholic senior. She submitted this to the university as a potential speech at Commencement…it should have been accepted! The reference of St. Paul and Scripture quote probably doomed its chances, unfortunately.

Over the past four years we have been told that college is the time of our lives; a time of independence from our parents, self-discovery, experimentation, change.

Walking through Foggy Bottom this year, did you ever pass by a wide-eyed freshman and laugh to yourself, secretly knowing that this was you not long ago: mildly lost, walking down all the cross streets to the Elliot School because you didn’t know how to cut through University Yard, wearing your GWorld on a lanyard around your neck, full of J Street food and aspirations.” So what makes us so different now from then other than 120 credits and a resume chock-full of internships?

Saint Paul once said, “What do you have that you did not receive (Cor 4:7)?” And this college journey has truly been about receiving:

In our freshman year we experienced residential life for the first time; some of us met our first love in Thurston, but most of us learned of our faults, imperfections, and idiosyncrasies through the eyes of our roommates, through the House Proctors who resolved our petty conflicts and baked us cookies during midterms, and through the amazing staff who cleaned our dorm rooms (especially Marie from Lafayette and South Hall- you’re the best). From campus living we received self-awareness and patience.

In our sophomore year we experienced an inauguration like no other; whether we were a College Republican or Democrat we huddled together for warmth on the National Mall, and became a part of American history. From the many motorcades that tore through campus, internships on the Hill, and voting by absentee ballot in our first Presidential election we received our sense of civic engagement and responsibility. But more importantly from the U.S. servicemen and women, and all the GW Veterans here with us today we received the freedom that allows us to live in this great nation’s capitol free of the fears and political distress that ravage our world today.

In our junior year we experienced a global university; whether we were fortunate enough to study abroad in one of over 50 countries or as international students representing 125 countries here at GW, we received a worldview and friendships that we’ll carry with us the rest of our lives. We watched from our desks as a financial crisis unfolded, and we experienced one of our own exchanging dollars for Euros and other stronger currencies in our travels.

And now as we conclude our senior year we sit in our caps and gowns that represent perspective, reason, and wisdom. Some of us that our professors and educators “taught us how to think” while some us believe that perhaps we still know very little about the world, but at a higher level. Today we receive a diploma, but today is no longer about receiving.

Since we arrived at GW, better yet since we arrived on this Earth, we have been graced with all of these gifts, and apart from our grades we did not need to earn most of them. Our commencement today is more than a celebration of academic achievement; it marks our transition from wide-eyed freshmen to confident, educated, ready-for-the-real-world graduates; from receivers to givers.

And so today I ask myself, and all of my fellow classmates, not what will we take from college or who we leave behind, but what will we give away? When we arrived at GW we were told that we would be cultivated into the leaders of tomorrow. Whether tomorrow means graduate school, professional life, the armed forces, or something yet to be discovered it is time to lead and to serve others. Thank you George Washington University for your many gifts and God Bless the Class of 2011 – may you always be called to give and to serve. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Senior Day pics

Jersey shore!


Senior senior!

In front of the casino where one missionary dominated blackjack...and the chaplain didn't

"Marilyn pout"

My new best friend

Monday, May 09, 2011

3rd Sunday of Easter - homily

A buddy of mine was ordained a priest years ago in the South. Every priest ordination is a big event, but this one carried an extraordinary feel to it. He is an amazing young man, and it was such a huge celebration for his family and parish community. I think he was the first priest from his parish in many, many years. Towards the end of his first Mass, he gave a significant cloth from his ordination to his mother which is traditional. He reminded everyone there that that day only came about because his mother was open to life. He was the last of many kids - maybe eight or ten - and there had been serious concerns of having him (or any more children). But, she and his father said yes to life, and now the Church has a new priest because of it. It was a very powerful statement about motherhood. As we celebrate Mother's Day, let us all be reminded that everything we have comes through our mothers. Everything we have - priesthood included - comes from motherhood. Everything we have in Christ comes through Mary, our Blessed Mother. We thank God for her, our mothers, grandmothers, and godmothers.

We all have life through our mothers. We are all on the path of life, as we hear in today's psalm. We are on the path of life and, so we are the disciples on the road in today's Gospel. This Gospel is often used on retreats because it helps us to see where we are on the path...on the journey of faith. The disciples are walking along the path when something incredible happens: God walks with them! He starts talking with them but they don't recognize him. It is Easter Sunday, but are still sad and "downcast"...they are still reeling from the Crucifixion. Then, another incredible thing happens: God teaches them the Scriptures! He interprets the Old Testament passages that refers to him, mainly from the prophets. Can you imagine God teaching the Bible to you? They said later that their hearts were "burning" when He opened the Scriptures to them.

We have pretty much the same opportunity through the Church. Christ gave his authority to interpret and teach Sacred Scripture to the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. So, if we find a good teacher in the Church, we can have Scripture properly interpreted to us. And, when this happens, our hearts burn for Christ. We get a little sample of this from the first reading. Peter interprets Psalm 16, specifically "you will show me the path of life, the fullness of joy in your presence". This is one of my favorite lines in all of Scripture. Peter interprets what David wrote in Psalm 16 in light of Christ's resurrection. It is through the resurrection that we are shown the path of life and come to know the fullness of joy in Christ's kingdom.

Many GW students this year have been in Bible studies led by FOCUS missionaries. They have had the Bible interpreted properly for them by these excellent teachers. And so, their hearts are burning for Christ. You can see it in their eyes and hear it in their words. If you weren't in a Bible study this year, definitely sign up for one in the fall. If you're around this summer, we will have a ten week Bible study on the Book of Revelation led by an excellent teacher, Jeff Cavins. He will explain the dramatic imagery of Heaven contained in Revelation; our hearts will be burning.

After the intense Scripture lesson, Jesus then celebrates the Eucharist with the two disciples. Many commentators have called this scene the first Mass; there is the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. It is in the Eucharist that the disciples recognize Him. There eyes are opened and they come to recognize Him. Many students have come to recognize Christ in the Eucharist this year. Twice as many have been coming to Sunday and daily Mass, and dozens come to Wednesday Adoration. Like me in college, they have recognized that it is really Him in the Eucharist. It's not just a symbol or representation...it's really Him…Body, Blood, Soul, Divinity! This is what the disciples realized in the breaking of bread: that Christ is risen and that He lives.

Finally, as we reflect on our journey of faith of the past year, let us recognize God walking with us. He has been with each one of you. He has been revealing Himself to you. He has shown you His life. He has shown you His love. My hope is that your eyes of faith have been opened to recognize Him and His love. My greatest hope is that you recognize deep in your burning hearts that you are good and you are loved.

Friday, May 06, 2011

"GW Catholics" video

1) "Jesus and Burritos" tonight!  For those still around, Eucharistic Adoration at 6 pm followed by Chipotle burritos at 7.

2) Final student Masses this weekend: Sat 5 pm, Sun 5:30, 7:30, and 10 pm.  Student Masses will resume on Aug. 28.  "Opening Masses" on Sept. 4.

3) Congrats to all those who are finished with exams, especially you seniors!! 

Have a great summer!

Here's our new GW Catholics video.  Thank you all for an AMAZING YEAR!!

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Christian one-liners

With all the seriousness going on with exams and world events, I thought a little humor would be fitting for this week. Here are some “Christian one-liners” which I found online. They aren’t necessarily LOL one-liners, although some are pretty good. They are probably meant to be more insightful and inspiring than hilarious. So, be inspired!

My fav is “Benefits” (actually just used that line last night here before I read it today).  What's yours?

The Boss

Under the same management for over 2000 years.

Come As You Are

You are not too bad to come in and you are not too good to stay out.

Insomnia Cure

If you can't sleep, try counting your blessings.


Try our Sundays. They're better than Baskin-Robbin's.

Cosmetic Surgery

Come in and have your faith lifted.

Seating Arrangements

Where will you be seated in eternity? Smoking or non-smoking?


Give God what's right -- not what's left.

Which Way?

Man's way leads to a hopeless end -- God's way leads to an endless hope.

Two Ears

Since God gave us two ears and one mouth, He must have wanted us to do twice as much listening as talking.


The person who angers you, controls you!


God doesn't grade on the curve, He grades on the cross.


If God is your Copilot - you're in the wrong seat!

Unconditional Love

Yes, God loves us all, but He favors "fruits of the spirit" over "religious nuts!"

The Message

Our job isn't to change the message. Our job is to let the message change us.


God didn't promise a calm passage. He promised a safe landing.


When you pray, don't give God instructions. Just report for duty!

Forbidden Fruit

A forbidden fruit will create many jams.


You can tell how great a person is by what it takes to discourage him.

God's Will

The will of God will not take you to where the grace of God will not protect you.

Best Formula

1 cross + 3 nails = 4 given.


The problem ahead of us is never as great as the Power behind us.


Peace starts with a smile.


Working for God does not pay much, but His retirement plan is out of this world.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Pray for Osama bin Laden

On Sunday night, I watched the news coverage of the reported death of Osama bin Laden. I had just gotten back to the rectory after picking up a few things from the Newman Center. While I was briefly at the Center, some students were following the news online and saying things like, “it’s great to be an American”. They asked me to join them in watching the news, but I declined, not because I wasn’t interested, but because it was 11 pm on a Sunday night and I was eager to get at least a little bit of rest. When I got home, I watched the President’s statement and was actually impressed by his tone and demeanor. He was somber and to the point (of delivering facts). He gave the message, to me at least, was that this news is about justice for what happened on September 11, 2001, not about celebration over the death of an enemy. That was the proper and appropriate message to send to the world. He even invoked God’s name a few times, referring to our country “under God” and imploring God’s blessings on us twice. Well done, Mr. President.

But, then, another message was sent to the world. And, from GW students!! The news coverage became much more interesting and personal when it showed the crowd of people at the White House, many of whom were presumably GW students. I thought to myself as the camera panned the crowd, ‘there are my kids’. And, they were going crazy. They gave the message, at least to me, that the news of bin Laden’s death was about celebration over the death of an enemy. I was actually saddened to see people cheering at the White House and Times Square or to hear revelers honking horns and screaming on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the rectory.

These were the two message sent to me, a patriotic American. We don’t always act and react based on how we will be perceived around the world, but in this situation especially, serious consideration about the perception of things needs to enter in. How will the rest of the world perceive the messages sent on Sunday night, particularly those who are not sympathetic to the American cause? Will their celebrations become a new part of the story by contributing to an attack on the United States? The Vatican, which allies itself to the American cause more often than not, released an immediate response after seeing GW students, et al, celebrating:

(from ncregister.com) “This morning, following the killing of Osama Bin Laden, the Director of the Holy See Press Office, P. Federico Lombardi, issued the following statement to reporters:

Osama Bin Laden - as everyone knows - has had the gravest responsibility for spreading hatred and division among people, causing the deaths of countless people, and exploiting religion for this purpose.

Faced with the death of a man, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibility of everyone before God and man, and hopes and pledges that every event is not an opportunity for a further growth of hatred, but of peace.”

I recognize that this whole situation is extremely emotionally charged. It has been highly emotional here for almost ten years, going back to 9/11/01. I also recognize that some people were there celebrating justice as they understood it in this situation and the accomplishments of our military, not just the death of a man. There are things to celebrate here: it seems that the directive from the president was not just to kill bin Laden. The forces were preparing to capture him, but he fought against such a capture and was killed in the process. If that is true, then that approach of trying to bring him to justice through means other than murder should be commended and celebrated. But, on Sunday night within just a couple of hours of the news breaking , we did not know the purpose of the mission. It makes a big difference.

Sunday night’s impromptu public celebrations were caused by emotion, mainly. Hopefully, things will calm down and reason will prevail. There really can’t be a justification for Christians celebrating the death of any man, even Osama bin Laden. For every Old Testament proof text that people are offering along the lines of “eye for an eye”, the Christian trump card is, “love your enemies”. So, the Christian response is based in love and mercy. Specifically, the Christian response is to pray for the happy repose of the soul of Osama bin Laden…even just one prayer. Our prayers do not excuse the sins of his life; they ask God to have mercy on his soul. Pray for Osama bin Laden as you would pray for any person who has died. This is what a Christian does in this situation.

From the Fatima prayer: “Lead all souls into Heaven especially those most in need on thy mercy”

Monday, May 02, 2011

Divine Mercy Sunday - homily

Some of you may remember when you much younger that the second Sunday of Easter was called, “Good Shepherd Sunday”. In 2000, Pope John Paul II renamed it, "Divine Mercy Sunday". It was the same day that he canonized St. Faustina. He called it "the happiest day of my life". It was in 1931 that the Lord Jesus appeared to St. Faustina in Poland and told her to write down many specific and concrete ways that He is offering His Divine Mercy to the modern world. There are incredible graces associated with Divine Mercy! One of these graces is that Catholics who attend Mass today can receive a plenary indulgence. A plenary indulgence removes all temporal punishment due to sin; basically, it takes away all time in Purgatory. So, if you know someone who has died, you can send them straight to Heaven with the indulgence! To gain it, you need to satisfy the three conditions within a week: 1)go to Confession, 2) receive Holy Communion, and 3) pray for the Pope. I will be offering confessions after Mass and all week to help you gain the indulgence.

Another of the graces is the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. The chaplet is prayed on the rosary beads and takes about five minutes. This is a powerful, powerful devotion. I came to know its power a few years ago when a family member was dying of cancer. She had been away from the Church for many years and refused the sacraments when I offered them towards the end. She only had days to live and we were very worried about her soul. So, at the advice of the priest, we and many of our prayer warriors began to pray the chaplet every day for her. The day before she died, she asked for a priest. I believe that she was saved through the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. We have cards in the back which show how to pray the chaplet. There is an image of Divine Mercy on the front of the card; there are even graces for those who look at the image.

Divine Mercy Sunday celebrates the mercy of God. So much of what we have comes from God's mercy. The second reading lists a litany of gifts: "in his great mercy, God has given us...a new birth...a living hope...resurrection...inheritance...heaven...faith...salvation". We can see so much coming from God's love; Pope John Paul II said that mercy is "love's second name".

God is mercy. He cannot NOT be merciful. He cannot NOT forgive us or have compassion on us who are in constant need. As Mary says in her Magnificat, "he has mercy on those who fear him in every generation". Every generation! He is merciful in every generation of the Old Testament. Many people see the God of the Old Testament as vengeful and wrathful. But, if you've studied the Old Testament, you know that God is merciful throughout. People are constantly rejecting Him and His covenant and He constantly invites them back in to covenant. He continually offers them second chances.

God is merciful in every generation of the New Testament and ‘til the end of time. Today's Gospel is the main Scriptural evidence for the sacrament of Confession. Christ gives the power to forgive sins to the first priests in John 20:20 (and following). Think about it for a sec: do you really think that God just brought the forgiveness of sins to the generations who lived when Jesus walked the earth? Of course not. He intended to have every generation receive His forgiveness of sins through priests. So, the power has been passed down to each generation of priests since then.

In his mercy, God constantly gives us second chances. Many people get sour to Confession because they confess the same sins over and over again. But, look at the flip side: God continues to forgive our same sins over and over again. He always gives us another chance. As one of our grad students pointed out in our Bible study, He gives Thomas another chance in today's Gospel. After everything that has just happened - all the events that we just celebrated - Thomas does not believe. After the Passion and Death and Resurrection, Thomas still needs evidence to believe in Christ. Thomas is very much like us. We need hard-core evidence. Now, Jesus could have been like, ‘Thomas, you fool. Why did I pick you in the first place?’ He wasn’t. His response was merciful. He simply gave Thomas the evidence he was looking for: He showed him His side and His hands. Thomas responded with, “my Lord and my God”. Many of you students should do what Thomas did: ask the Lord to show you the evidence. I know that many of you are looking for reasons to believe…that God is there…that He is alive…and that He loves you. Ask Him during Holy Communion tonight to show you the evidence.

Finally, Thomas is like us and we should be like Thomas especially when it comes to the Eucharist, the risen Body and Blood of Christ. Actually, the Church recommends that when the priest elevates the Host at the consecration, we should whisper Thomas’ words, “my Lord and my God”. The Eucharist is our hard-core evidence. It is the immediate evidence that God is here…that He lives…that He loves you…and that He is merciful.