Saturday, October 13, 2007

"Each of us is willed...loved...necessary."

I was recently given a prayer card with a quote from Pope Benedict XVI and thought I would post it. The quote speaks for itself and does not need any further explanation:

"And only where God is seen does life truly begin. Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary. There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him."

Monday, October 01, 2007

Faith and Trust

How does a man make the final decision to enter the seminary? What are the indicators that he should look for? Is he to wait until he has absolute certainty that this is the path chosen for him by God? Should he anticipate a miraculous sign or hope to receive a type of revelation in his prayer?

Most priests and seminarians will tell you that they did not experience a miraculous sign or even that they had absolute certainty that they were supposed to be a priest when they entered the seminary. What they will tell you is that they had an interior sense they were being led by God, that they desired more out of life, that they wanted to serve and lead people closer to the Lord, and that the thought of the priesthood was frequently on their hearts. But when it comes down to making the actual decision to enter the seminary, it really comes down to faith and trust. To make the leap from discerning a vocation outside the seminary to entering the seminary takes faith and trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus speaks to his disciples about the power of faith (“if you have faith the size of a mustard seed…”). When a man is discerning a vocation to the priesthood he is bound to go through times of trial and maybe even times of doubt that God is truly calling him; but this is so that his vocation will ultimately be strengthened. The priest is called to be a man of faith so that he can lead people in the journey of faith. Ordinarily, then, the Lord in his wisdom does not give a miraculous sign revealing a vocation to the priesthood; rather he allows the man who is discerning a call to the priesthood to go forward in faith and trust.

To illuminate the importance that faith and trust plays in discerning a religious vocation, we have only to look at the life of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. While studying and later teaching in India, she witnessed tremendous poverty. On September 10, 1946 she was on a train ride from Calcutta to Darjeeling for a spiritual retreat. During this train ride, the Lord spoke very clearly to her about the mission to the poorest of the poor he had prepared for her. This experience, mystical in character, was a defining moment in her life. Without questioning the Lord, she responded to his invitation. She left the community of the Sisters of Our Lady of Loreto and she began the Missionaries of Charity. Mother Teresa trusted the Lord unconditionally. Most likely, she didn’t see everything the Lord had in store for her future. In fact, we now know that much of Mother Teresa’s life was filled with spiritual darkness and desolation. But she always trusted that the Lord had called her and given her this particular mission.

Mother Teresa teaches us that we will not always have absolute certainty of the future. But, we are invited to put our faith and trust in the Lord. We can trust that, if we are open to his guidance, he will never lead us astray. This is a great consolation for the man who is discerning a call to the priesthood. If you are a man who is open to the call to the priesthood but you’re not sure if God is truly calling you, you may need to take a leap of faith. The bottom line is that, in time, the Lord will make it clear to you if this is the path you are to follow

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Infinite Mercy of God

This Sunday’s gospel focuses on the infinite love and mercy of God. To communicate the radical nature of God’s mercy, Jesus uses three parables. To the hearer, there is an obvious disproportional nature to these stories: why in the world would the shepherd leave the ninety-nine to go after the one? Why would the woman throw a party after finding one lost coin, a party that would cost her more than one coin to host?! How could the father forgive and forget after such a slap in the face by his son? The point is clear: The Lord desires that every single person know the depths of his love and mercy. No sin is greater than God’s mercy, and no sinner is beyond the reach of his mercy. The Lord is always willing to forgive.

One of the most humbling aspects of the priesthood is hearing confessions and dispensing God’s mercy in this wonderful sacrament. It is simply amazing to know that I am acting as a minister of the Lord’s forgiveness, that I am an instrument of his divine mercy and healing. For priests, the gospel this weekend connects on the deepest level: we are called to bring his mercy to the one who is lost; we are called to proclaim his mercy and to invite people, especially those who feel unforgivable, into the loving and merciful embrace of God.

If you are a man discerning a call to the priesthood, it is important that you be attentive to the deep desires of your heart: do you desire to make people aware of the infinite love and mercy of the Lord? Do you desire to be an instrument of healing and reconciliation in peoples’ lives? Can you envision yourself hearing peoples’ confessions? Do you want to pass on to others the love and mercy that the Lord has shown to you?

Regardless of what our vocation is, we should all be grateful for the infinite mercy of the Lord. He loves us infinitely and unconditionally.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

New Beginnings

I think it’s ironic that for so many years my life was punctuated by the beginning and end of the academic year and now it continues to be so as a priest. My first assignment as a priest was St. Philip’s in Greenville, a wonderful and vibrant faith community with a large school. The summertime was always a bit different—not less busy, but different—because the students were gone and there were fewer events that were associated with the school. Once September came around, however, school and religious education activities inevitably picked up.

Now as Vocation Director I live at the seminary and I am also the priest on campus at Rhode Island College. So the cycle of the academic year flowing into the summertime—and vice versa—continues. September 4 was our first full day here at the seminary, and now with all the seminarians back, we are in full swing.

From my point of view, then, my “new year” always begins as the academic year does. For many of you, it’s the same way. Your life is punctuated by the beginning and end of the academic year. So a fitting question to ask is what can I do differently this year to help me in my spiritual life? Put another way, what are my goals, particularly with regard to my relationship with Jesus Christ, as this “new year” begins?

Because the summertime has a more leisurely feel to it, it’s sometimes easy for us to slack in our spiritual life. So a good starting point for the new academic year is to resolve to pray more. Here are some practical ways to get your spiritual life back on track if you’ve slackened:

• In my last post, I wrote about the daily examen prayer. This is the type of prayer you may want to incorporate into your daily life: taking time each day to reflect on God’s action in your life and thanking him for all of the daily graces he gives to you.
• Another idea is to incorporate the daily reading of scripture into your life. It’s as simple as starting with the Gospel of Mark—the shortest of the gospels—and reading a little each day.
• Presuming you are attending Mass every Sunday, you might think about getting to Mass during the week as well, even if just once.
• Receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation frequently is a wonderful practice. Think about going monthly.
• Praying the rosary and growing in your devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary will always lead you closer to Jesus Christ.
• Find a good spiritual book to read. It’s good to stay inspired. “He Leadeth Me” by Fr. Walter Ciszek is a book that I highly recommend.
• In the midst of the busyness of the academic year, resolve to spend some time in silence each day. Silence is something that many people try to avoid; however, it is in silence that our relationship with Christ deepens.

So, there you have it: some practical ways to grow in your relationship with the Lord. Remember, God has a plan for you. As your prayer life deepens, don’t be surprised if you experience a movement in your heart toward a particular vocation. It is in prayer that God will reveal the vocation to which you are called. Pay attention, then, to the stirrings of your heart, whether they are for marriage and family, priesthood, or religious life.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Saint Ignatius and God's Will

One of my favorite saints is Ignatius of Loyola, the great founder of the Society of Jesus (also known as the Jesuits). Ignatius was born in Spain in 1491, and before experiencing a profound conversion to Christ at the age of 30, he was a soldier in the Spanish army.

During a battle against the French at Pamplona, Ignatius’s leg was struck and broken by a cannonball. As he recuperated in his bed at home, he began to read the Life of Christ and the Lives of the Saints. As he read, he noticed something happening in his heart: he felt himself drawn to Christ and he desired to imitate the saints that he was reading about. This time of recuperation was a defining moment in his life, and from that point on he devoted his life to Christ and to spreading the fire of God’s love to all people he encountered.

One of the great methods of prayer that Ignatius proposed for spiritual growth was the daily examen. In fact, still today, priests in the Society of Jesus are asked to set aside fifteen minutes twice a day in order to pray the examen. But what exactly is the daily examen and how does one pray it?

Many of us are probably familiar with what is traditionally called the examination of conscience. This examination consists of a prayerful review of the good and the bad that I have done during the day. The problem with this prayer is that so often it is too self-focused. For Ignatius, the daily examen was meant to be so much more than just what I’ve done well or not so well; the examen is all about God’s action in our daily lives. Ignatius believed that by being attentive to God’s action in our daily lives we can more easily discern the direction in which he is leading us.

How does one pray the daily examen? Ignatius proposed the following way* (see footnote:
• Transition: I become aware of the love with which God looks upon me as I begin this examen.
• Step One: Gratitude. I note the gifts that God’s love has given me this day, and I give thanks to God for them.
• Step Two: Petition. I ask God for an insight and a strength that will make this examen a work of grace, fruitful beyond my human capacity alone.
• Step Three: Review. With my God, I review the day. I look for the stirrings in my heart and the thoughts that God has given me this day. I also look for those that have not been of God. I review my choices in response to both, and throughout the day in general.
• Step Four: Forgiveness. I ask for the healing touch of the forgiving God who, with love and respect for me, removes my heart’s burdens.
• Step Five: Renewal. I look to the following day and, with God, plan concretely how to live it in accord with God’s loving desire for my life.
• Transition: Aware of God’s presence with me, I prayerfully conclude the examen.

The spiritual fruit that we reap from praying the daily examen is a deeper attentiveness to God’s action in our lives. We also grow in the spirit of gratitude because we take time to give thanks for the many blessings the Lord gives us everyday. We develop a sensitivity of heart to God’s graces and we desire to respond more completely to his will. The daily examen is a wonderful way to discern God’s will in our lives. Where is God leading you? What vocation is he calling you to? Of this Ignatius was certain: if you set time aside everyday to examine God’s action in your life, you will come to see more clearly what he is asking of you and where he is leading you. And it’s always a good idea to take the advice of a saint.

*I have borrowed this section verbatim from The Examen Prayer by Fr. Timothy Gallagher, OMV, (Crossroad: New York, 2006), p.25. I highly recommend this book.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Fatima and Eternal Life

On Thursday, July 19, I returned from a very blessed trip to Portugal. The majority of time was spent on pilgrimage in Fatima; however, we also were able to tour some other parts of that beautiful country. If you ever have the opportunity to visit Fatima, I highly encourage you to go. It is one of the most peaceful and prayerful places I have ever been. For those who don’t know the story of Fatima, it was ninety years ago this year when the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children six times from May to October proclaiming a message of prayer and penance. Over the years, it has become one of the most visited Catholic shrines in the world.

Matthew Kelly, a young Catholic author and speaker whose books and talks I have come to enjoy, said that he travels to Fatima each year “to find answers.” His sentiment became a reality for me as I left for Fatima in the midst of a very painful experience. In June, I wrote about My Father’s Day Gift and how two students from Rhode Island College called me on that day to wish me a Happy Father’s Day. Two days before I left for Fatima, one of those students, Vicky Cadorette, died at the age of 20. Vicky was a spiritual daughter to me. Her death was sudden, and all of us who knew and loved her are still deeply grieving.

A priest possesses a real fatherly affection for the people that the Lord has entrusted to his care. Vicky was one of those people in my life. And the bottom line is that it has been one of the most painful experiences of my life. But, in a beautiful way, it has been a real experience of spiritual fatherhood: a father weeps and mourns when he loses one of his children.

As painful as this time has been, however, I would not trade spiritual fatherhood for anything in the world. The Lord is so good that he allowed me to be at Vicky’s bedside in the hospital to absolve her from her sins and to give her the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick before she died. I was able to spend time with her family, and I was able to spend time in silent prayer by her side. Even though she was unconscious, I know she received grace from the sacraments and prayer, and I know that she is now with the Lord.

Faith and prayer sustain us during difficult times, and over the last few weeks I have spent a lot of time in prayer pondering God’s sometimes mysterious ways. During this particular time, I have come to a deeper appreciation for the Communion of Saints. The truth is, we still have a relationship with those who have died. I know that Vicky is with the Lord; therefore our friendship continues. I know she is praying for us.

For some mysterious reason the Lord brought me to Fatima two days after Vicky’s death and it was there that I experienced the Lord’s peace in a profound way. During difficult times, we are often robbed of peace. But with faith in the Lord, we can experience peace even in the midst of tragedy. Only with faith is it possible to grieve and at the same time to have hope and joy.

Catholic priests are called to proclaim a message of hope and salvation. Those who die in the Lord are alive in him forever. Death is not the end, but the beginning. If I were not a priest I would not have known Vicky Cadorette; and all who knew her were blessed by her life. As a priest, as a spiritual father, the Lord used me to bring her the sacraments at the end of her earthly life to prepare her for Eternal Life. For this, I am forever grateful.

Eternal rest grant unto her O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace, and may the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

A Step of Faith

“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step.” I recently came across these words spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As one of the pioneers of the civil rights movement in the United States, Dr. King lived these words. He certainly didn’t see the whole staircase; in fact, he saw a lot of opposition. But he walked in faith and proclaimed the truth that all people are created equal, regardless of the color of their skin. His efforts, along with so many others, paved the way for equal rights for African Americans in our country.

The words spoken by Dr. King are applicable, I believe, to any man who is discerning a call to the priesthood. Oftentimes, when a man is discerning a vocation to the priesthood there is a certain amount of fear involved in the decision-making process. The “what if” and “how-do-I-know” questions inevitably arise. What if I’m not really called? What if I’m not happy? How do I know that God is really asking me to do this? How do I know when to take the next step? The questions can be many, and the anxieties and fears can be quite emotionally taxing. Believe me, as a man who went through the discernment process, I know!

Dr. King’s words remind me of a story of a priest I know. As a young man, he was discerning his call to the priesthood. He had thought about if for a few years, but was still unsure if the Lord was asking him to do this, even though it was always on his mind. For quite some time he had been speaking regularly to a priest about the possibility of entering the seminary, when finally the priest said to him: “Look, either go or get off the pot.” (The priest may have used another word for “go”, but so as not to be overly crude, I omitted it here).

The priest’s advice was exactly what that young man needed to hear to take the next step. The truth is, some people feel the need to discern their vocation forever. They go on for years wondering if they are called. They keep thinking about it. They keep praying about it. They keep talking about it. But they don’t do anything about it. All the while, the answer is right in front of them. The Lord is simply saying, “Try it!” Or, as he said to the first Apostles, “Come and see.”

Frequently, when a man speaks with me about the priesthood, I will say to him, “Look, if you enter the seminary it doesn’t mean that you will be ordained a priest the next day.” The reality is that he still has years of discernment ahead of him. And if during his time in the seminary he decides the Lord is not calling him to the priesthood, he is free to leave. However, if during his time in the seminary his call is confirmed, then he will have peace in his heart that he is on the right path. The bottom line is that the best place to discern a call to the priesthood is in the seminary, not outside of it.

So, for those of you who feel that you’re on the fence and you’re not sure whether the Lord is inviting you to follow him as a priest, you might take Dr. King’s advice and take a step of faith. Or, better yet, take the advice the priest gave to that young man: Go or get off the pot.