Last month I linked to a story in the Jefferson City News Tribune, telling the story of a young couple from Jeff City that I met here in Rome. Now the local Catholic newspaper, the Catholic Missourian, has also run a story on their encounter with Pope Francis. That story can be read by clicking here. It retells the couple’s experience in even greater detail.
Sorry for the lack of posts, I hope to get some updates up soon. I’ve been deaconing a lot, but without giving any homilies.
This past weekend I preached at my apostolate, Loyola University Chicago’s John Felice Rome Center. I was preaching to a group of college students currently studying abroad here in Rome. It was my first Sunday homily since being ordained a deacon. Over the weekend I gave two other homilies as well, I didn’t have a text for either of them, especially since I found out I was doing one 30 seconds before Mass. If I have time and remember well enough what I said, I’ll type them up too. As always, these homilies are meant to be delivered, but here’s the text anyway:
October 27, 312, just a little more than 1702 years ago, not too far from this very spot Constantine and his troops were camped out before the famous battle of the Milvian Bridge. That evening Constantine had some sort of a vision, he saw a sign, the Chi-Rho. To us Americans it looks like P-X, they are the first two letters of the Christ in Greek, Christos. So he put the sign on the shields of his men and the next day, despite being outnumbered, won the battle. So as he entered this great and eternal city, he had a problem. Unlike the other Roman leaders, he couldn’t offer sacrifice at the temple of the God who won his victory, because that temple didn’t exist. So he’s forced to go to Sylvester, the Pope at the time and asks what can I do? The first response was, “stop persecuting us!” And so the Edict of Milan was passed in 313. The second time he asked, the response was, “Build us a Church!” That Church, what some refer to as the first Church of Christendom, is known to us as St. John Lateran, the Cathedral of Rome, one of the four major basilicas. All throughout the world people are celebrating the dedication of that Church, and we are so blessed to be right here.
Some of you who are historically inclined might disagree with my more, narrative approach, but I do so for a reason. Certainly I don’t think that any of us can directly relate with all of the elements of this stories because I’m pretty sure none of us have ever been generals, emperors, or had such mystical type of experiences. However, I also believe that there are certain elements of this story that very much relate to each one of us.
We are all looking for signs. For all of you who are in college these are such important years when you are trying to decide what you want to do with your lives, we’re constantly looking for answers, for signs.
We want to know if we are called to priesthood, religious life, or married life. We want a sign, or we say, we haven’t received a sign so therefore I’m not called to priesthood or religious life. If that’s the case then marriage risks becoming some sort of a default, which does that vocation a great injustice. It’s not fair to your future spouse if you see marriage as a default, it is a vocation.For religious life, priesthood and marriage are all vocations. We are all called.
The other problem we have is that we all expect the sign, the call to be some sort of overwhelming experience, much like that of Constantine. We expect some sort of big experience. Or we think it will be like the Lion King and God will appear in the clouds and tells us what we are to do. Or maybe we think of the sorting hat in Harry Potter, you just put a hat on your head and it yells out, “Priest!” “Sister” “Husband” or “Wife.” Rather God calls us through much more simple and subtle signs, which can be difficult to see and hear sometimes.
When I was still in high school, before I would ever have said I was actively considering, or discerning I was serving Mass on Sunday I was sitting on a bench and the visiting priest came over and asked me, “what are you going to do when you get bigger?” I replied, “Be a better lineman.” He asked again, I responded, “Hit harder.” Again, “Block better.” Finally he gave up asking and just said, “what about being a priest!” I laughed at him. I gave it no thought, just laughed. I wonder what he’d say if he saw me now…
See in the moment I didn’t see that as a sign, I didn’t want to listen, I just laughed and dismissed the priest. This wasn’t some powerful experience, some great clarity or great sign, it was a simple, maybe all of a 1 minute conversation. If we walk around this life looking and waiting for a big sign, we’re likely to laugh at all the small signs as they pass us by.
In the story of Constantine even after he had received this special grace, he wasn’t sure what to do. So for us who receive signs in more subtle ways, it can seem even more difficult to make sense of it all, to figure out if we are indeed called to priesthood, religious life, or marriage.
So what can you do if your wrestling with these different signs? Trying to make sense out of life and what God is or is not calling you to do with your life can be difficult. To do this in some way we must imitate the example of Constantine, who went to the Pope, Pope Sylvester, he went to the Church to get answers. Thankfully the Church provides us great help. You can go on come and see weekends, visit with vocations directors, visit with priests (or seminarians) and sisters and other couples that are already married. Hopefully your home campus ministry programs organize events and activities to help you discern and support those who are discerning. In addition to all of these good things organized by the Church, there is one thing that is still much more important, prayer.
I once met a sister from Albania, she grew up under the Communist regime. A country whose regime prided itself on being the most atheistic regime, a regime who imprisoned, tortured and killed many people for their Catholic faith. At the time this sister was growing up, there was no Church, no Mass, no campus ministry, no activities. There was only one thing they could do, pray. And even that they had to do in secret. So when she started to hear a call, a sign, she had only one option, so she prayed and she prayed and she prayed. Eventually, the regime fell, and shortly thereafter she entered the convent, where has happily served the people of God for over 20 years now.
We are all blessed because we do not live under such harsh circumstances, but we too must pray. In prayer we grow in a personal relationship with God. As we grow in that relationship we will be able to see and understand exactly how he is calling each and every one of us, because he is calling all of us. We learn to make sense of all the small signs and calls, so we can better respond more fully.
In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks of his body as a temple. The temple is the place where God dwells. In order for him to dwell in each one of us, we must first open up the doors to let him in. For if we let him into our lives, and as he dwells in us, it will become easier and easier to make sense of all the signs and calls, so that we can fully respond to do whatever it is that he is calling us to do whether it be priesthood, religious life or marriage.
In the last few days I have received a few messages about an article that was published in the Jefferson City News Tribune.
I am mentioned in the article for having helped a young couple from the diocese to get tickets to attend a papal audience with Pope Francis as newlyweds and thus meet the Holy Father. Thankfully it was a successful venture and seemed to have a great impact on the faith of the couple.
What a joy it was for me to get to meet them, take them on a tour of St. Peter’s and to help them have a wonderful experience in Rome.
Here’s a link to the article:
Over the past weekend I was also able to preach during a holy hour with some of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It was my first time doing exposition and benediction. It was a beautiful evening. The mother superior asked me to preach a few words during the holy hour, of course I obliged. I must say it was a little different than preaching during the Mass. Below is a rough text of what I’m pretty sure I said, I gave the homily without a prepared text and in Italian, however, later that evening I typed it out in English to send to one of the sisters in the USA. I think the text if faithful to what I actually said, I’m certain it’s faithful to some of the sentiments I wanted to convey. While it is geared towards a very specific (and wonderful) congregation of women religious, I believe some of the sentiments found therein have a universal application.
As many of you already know after my first year in Rome I could not go back to the United States. So I went off to Albania to go on mission with the Apostles. However, when I arrived, as I stepped off the airport to go down the steps to bus, as I looked at the bus with an Albanian advertisement on the side, I realized something. I was in a country where I didn’t speak the language, a country even further from home, where i knew no one, didn’t know the culture. I suddenly felt quite alone, quite lost, I started to question myself, what was I doing here? Did I make a mistake? What’s going on? Etc.
Then when I walked into the house of the Apostles, something changed. No, I didn’t know those individual sisters themselves or even their names yet, but it was as if I already knew them, because I already knew all of you, and all of your sisters in the United States. I was able to immediately recognize them, not just by the habit, but rather by their faith, their joy, the way they lived out their vocation. The same way I see it in all of you and your sisters in the United States. By the end of lunch it was as if I had known them for years. All of my worries, confusion, and doubts had been taken way because I was able to recognize these sisters right away.
This is how it is when we enter the chapel anywhere in the world. In the Eucharist, we recognize the presence of Christ. We we are far from home, when we feel confused, when we have doubts, concerns, problems, when we feel alone. We come to the chapel and recognize Christ in the Eucharist, for it is he who can take away all of these burdens. When we recognize him and he takes away everything, we can be at peace, we never have to feel alone again.
After posting my homily from this past Saturday, I’ve received some requests for my first homily after my diaconate ordination. The Mass was celebrated by my Bishop at the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. The Church is very important in Rome because it houses the relics brought back to Rome by St. Helena, mother of Constantine. Given that I had family and friends present from eight different countries, I decided to preach in both English, Spanish and Italian. I didn’t want anyone to be left out!
First the text as prepared in the different languages, then a translation with the full text in English. While homilies are meant to be delivered, I hope reading the text provides for fruitful reflection as well.
Today I preached at Mass for the first time since my Mass of Thanksgiving the day after my diaconate ordination. Since then, I have deaconed many times, but not had the opportunity to preach.
The Mass I was assigned to preach today was for seminarians and it was in Spanish.
Here is the original text, followed by a quick translation. Homilies are meant to be delivered obviously, so this is not the same thing, but maybe it helps you get a grasp of my message.
En Febrero después de los exámenes de mi segundo año en Roma fui con unos de nuestros hermanos a Polonia. Mientras estuvimos allí fuimos un día a Auschwitz. Fue una experiencia muy difícil, muy fuerte. También es muy difícil explicar mis emociones cuando estaba en aquel lugar donde un número inexplicable de personas habían sufrido tanto y donde habían muerto. Siempre digo a otros que me preguntan acerca de mi visita que era como caminar en un nube de maldad. Al fin de nuestro tour de tres horas, tres horas en el mal, estuvimos muy cerca a la puerta principal de Auschwitz, estábamos en un círculo y cuando mi di la vuelta la primera persona que vi era… un sacerdote. Inmediatamente, mi paré.
En otras palabras como dice San Pablo hoy, “El «subió» supone que había bajado a lo profundo de la tierra”
Estuvimos en uno de los lugares más horribles en el mundo, un infierno sobre la tierra, y allí fue un sacerdote, en imágen de Cristo, En frente a los horrores incompresibles, algo casi incomprensible donde me sentía como en una grande oscuridad, allí encontré un sacerdote: una luz de Cristo, una luz en la oscuridad de nuestra existencia humana.
Nosotros quienes somos llamados al sacerdocio tenemos que reflexionar sobre estas palabras de San Pablo, este ejemplo del sacerdote y el ejemplo de Jesu Cristo.
Como también dice San Pablo hoy todos tenemos una vocación en la Iglesia para la salvación de los otros, y nosotros como sacerdotes, o futuro sacerdotes, tenemos que salir de nuestras casas, de donde nos sentimos cómodos, tenemos que ir a los lugares difíciles, los lugares donde existe la maldad, donde la gente está sufriendo, en lo profundo de la tierra.
El sacerdote que vi aquel día no tenía medio de ir en un lugar tan lleno del mal, pero hay también otro sacerdote que en aquel mismo lugar, Auschwitz, dio su vida por un otra, San Maximiliano Kolbe. Estos dos sacerdotes nos presentan un gran testimonio de cómo podemos imitar Cristo. Si querremos traer, mejor, subir, la gente a Dios, a Cristo, antes tenemos que ir donde están ahora, incluyendo en los lugares más difíciles, en lo profundo de la tierra.
Y si podemos hacer esto cuando hablen de nosotros no digan, “supone que habían bajado” sino “sabemos que habían bajado.”
In February after exams of my second year in Rome I went with some of our brother seminarians to Poland. While we were there we went one day to Auschwitz. It was a very difficult and powerful experience. It is very difficult to describe all of the emotions I experienced when I was in that place where an inexplicable number of people suffered so much and died. I always tell people who ask me about my visit that it was as if I was “walking in a cloud of evil.” At the end of our tour, three hours walking through this evil. We were very close to the main gate of Auschwitz, we were huddled up in a little circle and when I turned around the first person I saw was…a priest. Immediately, I stopped.
In the words of St. Paul today, “What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended into the lower regions of the earth?
We were in one of the most horrible places on earth, a hell on earth, and there a priest went, in the image of Christ. In front of incomprehensible horrors, something that was so incomprehensible I felt like I was in a great darkness, there I encountered a priest, a light of Christ, a light in the darkness of our human existence.
Those of us called to be priests need to reflect on these works of St. Paul, the example of that priest and the example of Jesus Christ.
St. Paul also tells us today that we all have a vocation in the Church for the salvation of others, and for us as priests, or future priestes, we have to leave our homes, where we feel comfortable, we have to go to the difficult places, the places where evil exits, where people are suffering, in the “lower regions of the earth.”
The priest I saw that day did not have fear to go to a place so full of evil, but there was also another priest in that same place, Auschwitz, who gave us life for another, St. Maximilian Kolbe. These two priests present to us a great testimony of how we can imitate Christ. We we want to bring, better, raise people up to God, to Christ, before we must go where they are now, including the most difficult places, in “the lower regions of the earth.”
If we can do this, when others speak of us they will not say “suppose they went down” but, “we know they did.”
(On this last point the English translation of the scriptures varies from the Spanish text by not using the verb to suppose.)
After finishing first cycle, and more importantly, getting ordained a deacon, the next step for me in the past few weeks has been beginning my new degree program, an S.T.L. in Fundamental Theology. One of the many questions I’ve been asked lately has been, “What is Fundamental Theology?” Well, a part of the reason for that question is that you don’t see it appear as a discipline in the United States very often, usually, it is an introductory systematic course. However, at a few universities in Europe it is considered an entire discipline within theology.
This semester I am taking six courses plus a seminar, the seminar is titled, “The Specificity of Fundamental Theology,” in short it is a survey of the major themes found within the discipline. For the first weekly paper we were asked to answer among a few questions, “How do you define Fundamental Theology?” It was meant to be a personal response as we begin this two-year long journey of study. I thought I would share that part of my paper here too, since so many have been asking. Though a warning, given the scope of the paper (there was another question and it was max. 1 page), in my mind this is an understandably limited definition, but hopefully it’s a start for the person asking the initial question:
What is Fundamental Theology?
In one sentence I would define fundamental theology in the following manner. Fundamental theology is the study of the credible presentation of revelation and faith in the modern world. Such a definition can be unpacked in order to expose the principal elements of fundamental theology. One arm of fundamental theology is the apologetic arm which seeks to develop a “credible presentation” to the “modern world.” However, the other arm of fundamental theology, the dogmatic arm, serves as its core and is found at the center of this definition, the theology of revelation and faith. By the study of revelation, fundamental theology seeks to understand the means by which God, “chose to show forth and communicate himself,” (DV, 6). Therefore, fundamental theology does not seek to understand all the contents of revelation but rather the whole of revelation including the relationship between Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, which, “flowing form the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end.” (DV, 9). By the study of faith fundamental theology seeks to study man’s response to God’s revelation. It is a response in which, “man commits his whole self freely to God, offering the full submission of the intellect and will.” (DV, 5). Therefore it is the responsibility of fundamental theology to analyze the relationship between faith and reason. This brings fundamental theology from its dogmatic aspect to apologetic aspect. This latter aspect of fundamental theology seeks to bring its dogmatic aspect into dialogue with the modern world. It seeks to analyze the signs of the times and then develop a credible presentation of revelation and faith, not necessarily to explain particular dogmatic truths of the faith, but why it even matters to believe in anything in today’s world, and more specifically to believe in Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church.
DV = VATICAN II, Dei Verbum.
Let me know if you have any follow up questions or if something is still not very clear in this brief description.
After an incredible week full of so many blessings and lots of activities, most importantly ordination to the diaconate, I was blessed to have a week of vacation. While all the events were so much fun, there’s no denying I was pretty exhausted by the end.
Many of my classmates have already begun the new academic year, however my particular program does not start until next week.
So I was able to arrange a short three day trip down to Bari to visit some friends and get away from Rome for a few days.
In Bari I was able to deacon a few times in Italian, but more importantly I was able to relax some.
I took many walks around the city with no worries regarding time or where I was going.
Now I’m back in Rome and ready to start the regular routine. My little excursion to Bari turned out to be just what the doctor ordered.