An update six months in the making

It’s easy to fall into the trap of sharing a photo on social media with a photo or two and forget that the months go by without really sharing what you’ve been up to. I like to share what I’ve been up to via blog because it lets me be more prosaic, but especially because writing gives me more time to process and share what I’ve been doing. Some moments in life are not meant to come and go in a flash, so amidst the little moments I want to share a few life treasures with you all. For those who prefer a “snapshot,” I include pictures too; consider them an visual executive summary since I know I don’t have a monopoly on being busy.

Made for Greatness Retreat (April 28)

The parish (I won’t bother naming it anymore–it’s now THE parish) organized a retreat for men that was held at Pinecrest Academy. I was there to provide sacramental support (Mass and Confessions), but I also attended all the talks and gave a talk during Eucharistic Adoration on the importance of Confession. The retreat was preached by a young Dad, Christopher Carter, who has a growing FaceBook group, Men Living for Greatness, that helps men live their Catholic vocation. A lot of the men on retreat were older than Christopher. It could have been a daunting and intimidating task, but his conviction, passion, and vulnerability underscored his message poignantly. Sometimes he was moved to tears by what he wanted to share.

My first return visit

Image result for anointing of the sick

I’ve now spent about a year helping at the parish, and before this year I practically never attended to a sick or dying person with the Anointing of the Sick and Viaticum (the Eucharist for the dying). Professors in a house full of priests focused on a different ministry–this one was eminently parochial. The grand majority of my visits are just once: I anoint the person and often never see them again. In late May I had my first experience of accompanying someone and their family all the way from hospitalization to death’s door to the funeral. A lady in the hospital asked for Confession (out of respect for her and her family I won’t mention her name) and I came. Her voice was raspy, but she was alert and asked me to pray for her (I always do, and I add the sick to our parish prayer list whenever I can).

Sometime later Image result for catholic funeralI received a call asking me to come to a home and administer the Last Rites. It was her again, at her kid’s home. I don’t think they even knew I was the priest who visited her in the hospital, and as they prepared her for my visit I chatted with her children and explained that I’d visited her previously. They knew death was close. She was unconscious now, making small, periodic gasps, and she had a rosary in her hands. All her children surrounded her bed as I prayed with them for her and anointed her. She passed not long after and the family asked me to celebrate the funeral, which I did.

Even when unconscious or comatose I try to say a few words of comfort to the dying, because you never know what they can hear. On this occasion it occurred to me to tell her not to be afraid of what was approaching: just like any journey she was surrounded by loved ones who were sending her off, and loved ones waiting for her at her destination. There’s no point in mincing words with someone who has a terminal diagnosis. It’s a moment to console them, encourage them, and get them ready.

Not long after I visited an elderly woman in the hospital who was giving her nurses a lot of grief and being fussy. I started praying for her and getting ready to anoint her and give her Communion, and she asked me, fear in her eyes, “Father, are these the Last Rites?” I told her with all sincerity, “I don’t know.” Our Lord could heal her, if it was his will, or he could welcome her home. I’m happy to say she called asking for Communion about a week later and was doing much better than the first time I saw her. When Our Lord calls, he calls. We’re in his hands.

Fr. Rajeev Philip’s priestly ordination (June 2)

For the Legionaries there’s been a change of planning for diaconate and priestly ordinations. Previously we were all ordained, with a few exceptions, in December. At first it was as close to Christmas Eve as feasible, but in recent years it was mid-December. The Legionaries had the most canonically brief diaconate possible (six months, and some received permission for a briefer period), so the superiors recently decided that the diaconate period should be longer, pushing the priestly ordinations out to to Easter-time. It was a good move, but it also meant I’d never be in Rome again for the priestly ordination of my students unless I made a special trip.

This year I had a pleasant surprise when one of my diocesan students, Rajeev Philip, announced that he would be ordained a priest in Tampa, FL on June 2nd. Being in Georgia I was able to fly down and participate on that special day, representing all the Legionaries who’d helped in his priestly formation. Rajeev is a Catholic of the Syro-Malabar rite, so the ordination was different in many ways, but just as breathtaking as when we celebrate it according to the Roman Rite. Clergy and family came from all over for the ordination, and I had the chance to congratulate another former student, Kevin Mundackal, who’d just been ordained a priest too. In the photo below Fr. Rajeev is to the center bishop’s left, and Fr. Kevin is to Fr. Rajeev’s left. I’m in the back left of the photo (just look for the pale shiny bald spot…). Note the beautiful vestments they wear for celebrating the Eucharist: their copes are adorned with symbols of the Eucharist and the Holy Spirit. I’m wearing a chasuble that’s normal to the Roman rite since I’m Roman rite; each priest wears the vestments proper to his liturgical rite at Mass.

St. Brendan the Navi-gator 5K (June 16)

After the ordination I skipped the flight and ran back to Georgia to get ready for the parish 5K scheduled for June 16th. I arrived in Cumming, GA on June 15th because I ran really slow. Okay, those two previous sentences were Fake News. I started a little fundraising campaign for the parish by asking for pledges for my participation in the St. Brendan the Navi-gator 5K (and I blew through my projections thanks to many of you). Registrations for the 5K were a little lower than projected, so the weekend before I encouraged people at Mass to register and told them they were guaranteed not to finish last in the 5K because I was participating. I was planning to walk the 5K. The day of the 5K (it rhymes) the registrations up-ticked. I found a great t-shirt to identify myself as their associate pastor.

On 5K day (it rhymes) I gave everyone a little pep talk and repeated my promise that nobody’d finish last while I was participating. People sign up for 5K’s oblivious to the cause or fundraiser–they just love competing. As I arrived in the parking lot some people were getting themselves “in the zone”: stretching, propped against walls and contorting themselves in strange angles, avoiding eye contact with their “competitors.” The great majority of people were just chatting before the race began.

I kept my pledge, only “cheating” (is it cheating if you’re not trying to win?) slightly and asking those last few parishioners who were walking with me (they know who they are) to go ahead of me and cross the finish line before me. I finished literally and officially last, as confirmed by the ankle device I had to wear along with the other participants. For the record, my hands are raised in victory, not because of the Sheriff’s cruiser in the background, and it is not a house arrest anklet.

Pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament (July 21)

The parish organized a pilgrimage by bus to the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, AL, where the sisters of Mother Angelica (of EWTN fame, among other things) now lived. We traveled by bus and departed from the parish parking lot in pouring rain. Ten minutes later the route was blocked by a fallen tree, then as we crossed over into Alabama the bus broke down and we were stuck in a Walmart parking lot for several hours (there are worse places to be stuck; the pilgrims went shopping). It was okay though, we had a kneeling bus, and we prayed and got back on our way. Pilgrimages are never meant to be easy.

That we arrived at the Shrine way behind schedule was an understatement, but the staff there were very accommodating (and our apologetic bus driver as well). Instead of concelebrating at their midday Mass I was able to celebrate the Sunday Vigil Mass for my group in the evening, which was Providential, since we’d be getting home late and it meant they could sleep in on Sunday (I had the 7:30 AM Mass that Sunday and the wonders of coffee kept me functional that day). The sisters do perpetual adoration, so from a beautiful large monstrance Our Lord in the Eucharist watches down on you as you adore him in the chapel. We never saw the nuns, since they are cloistered, but we heard them on the other side of the sanctuary and Fr. Miguel, one of the brothers, helped us with setting up Mass.


Vacation (August)

July ended and I flew out to California to spend some time visiting family and friends. It was wonderful, as always, to see everyone. Just before my departure some scandalous news broke regarding Cardinals, accusations, and abuse. I wrote about this in my monthly installment of the weekly e-mail (we take turns) of RC Spirituality Center (you can see it here: My white collar job). I was on vacation when this all broke, so it didn’t come up much in conversation. My first impression was that the faithful were asking us, their priests, to express outrage. I am saddened by what has happened, but I can’t foster outrage for those not faithful to their priestly or episcopal vocation any more than I can express outrage to the penitents who come into my confessional regularly to confess their sins, big and small.

My second impression was that things have already improved a lot since the 70’s and 80’s when the majority of these cases occurred. That impression was corrected slightly by a priest who preached my annual spiritual exercises in September. He helped me see that for the victims who were not acknowledged they re-live the horror of what they experienced every day. It is an ongoing ordeal that their Church has not acted. I pray for everyone affected by these scandals, and I assure you that my experience throughout my priesthood is that the Church is taking great pains to train everyone who works in her ministries in ensuring a safe environment for everyone. In the U.S. everyone who wants to work with youth is vetted very carefully. When I came to the diocese of Atlanta last year, the first time as a priest (I spent two years there as a brother), I filled out a lot of paperwork, had my safe environment training re-certified, and had my background checked in the States as well as in Italy. There’s still a lot of work to do to help victims of abuse and ensure that abuses of authority in these matters never happen again. Let’s pray for our bishops to have the insight and courage to do the right thing always.

Back to vacation. A generous colleague of mine in the parish took me on a day trip with his frequent flyer miles to the National Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio. I’ve always been fascinated my military aircraft and space travel. Among other things the Memphis Belle was on display, as well as a B-52 Bomber so huge it had other planes tucked under its wings (the panorama shot below is 360 degrees in one of the the hangers–the B-52 is on the left).

I then drove up to stay at our retreat center in Bethesda, MD. I visited Washington, DC for the first time to just see the monuments (a treat, since in two visits to D.C. I never had time to see the sights), spent a day at Gettysburg, stopping at the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton shrine on the way back to Bethesda, and went to the awesome Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Annex in VA, which included, among other things, my Favorite Fighter Plane of All Time: the F-14 Tomcat, and the Space Shuttle Discovery (I’m getting excited just recalling it all). It was a blast.

After DC and a stop by the Legionary community for lunch in PA I went up for the rest of my vacation to my old Legionary community in North Smithfield, RI, and just went for scenic walks, relaxed, and watched Ready Player One three times (and the scene with Mecha-Godzilla six times at least–I’m a nerd, gamer, AND I lived through the 80’s. I admit it and I own it.). I was also able to visit with some friends in RI and MA who I hadn’t seen in a long time.

Archdiocese of Atlanta Convocation of Priests (September 10-13)

In September I attended a diocesan convocation of priests for the first time in my life in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. It was held at the Legacy Lodge at Lake Lanier. All the priests of the archdiocese attended, along with Archbishop Wilton Gregory and the auxiliary Bishop Bernard Shlesinger (Bishop Joel, the other auxiliary bishop, was actually at our College at the time in Rome attending a course for new bishops organized by the Congregation for Bishops).

We prayed some hours of the Divine Office together, concelebrated, had some long Q&A’s with Archbishop Wilton, and spent a lot of time together. I’ve never had a chance to get out to the parishes other than those in my deanery (to help with Lenten penance services), so it was a great opportunity to meet with priests from all over the archdiocese. I also chatted with Archbishop Wilton briefly and had lunch with Bishop Ned (his full name is Bernard, but he goes by Ned).

My first academic journal article published

The latest issue of the academic journal Alpha Omega, published by the Pontifical University Regina Apostolorum published my article on the expression “subsists in” in the dogmatic constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, of the Second Vatican Council. I is my first academic article, since I’ve been mostly working on publishing proceedings from a theology congress. The article is available online if you have theological interest, insomnia, a long attention span, or all of the above, and addresses the question of the relationship between the Church of Christ, the Catholic Church, and non-Catholic Christian Churches and ecclesial communities.

Legionary Priest get-together (October 26-28)

Back in Rome I also participated at the end of August in another sort of priestly convocation. Legionary priests in Rome who’d been priests for 8-15 years (priests with fewer years of priestly life or more had separate gatherings) were invited to get together at a house near Massa Lubrense, Italy (for those who’ve read my chronicles for a long time we call it Termini). We divided into groups by ordination class (mine was 2006) and spoke about our vow of poverty, fraternal life, self-care, and the use of the media.

It’s hard to describe the bond between priests ordained the same year. It was a joy to be able to meet with the priests you’d studied theology with and just talk about how the years had been and what you were up to. The last afternoon everyone gathered and the priests, one by one, shared with the group 2 or 3 things that helped them persevere in their priestly vocation. In my ordination class some have left the Legion, and some have abandoned the priesthood. This get-together was wonderful opportunity to talk among peers and share what we’d learned since ordination. Loneliness, whether physical or emotional, is devastating to a priest. Even at the archdiocesan convocation the diocesan priest lamented that they didn’t have more fraternal life due to the distances between their parishes. Let’s continue to pray for priests. I assure you we pray for all of you too.

 

Mass times while visiting Watsonville

Just a quick note to let everyone know where I’ll be celebrating Mass during my visit to Watsonville, CA at the beginning of August. I hope to see you.

Date Place Time
Thu 2-Aug Our Lady, Help of Christians 9:00 AM
Fri 3-Aug St. Patrick’s Church 8:00 AM
Sat 4-Aug Our Lady, Help of Christians 4:15 PM
Sun 5-Aug St. Patrick’s Church 7:30 AM
Sun 5-Aug Our Lady, Help of Christians 11:00 AM
Mon 6-Aug St. Patrick’s Church 8:00 AM
Tue 7-Aug St. Patrick’s Church 8:00 AM
Wed 8-Aug Our Lady, Help of Christians 9:00 AM
Thu 9-Aug Our Lady, Help of Christians 9:00 AM
Fri 10-Aug St. Patrick’s Church 8:00 AM
Sat 11-Aug Our Lady, Help of Christians 8:00 AM

Academic life, parochial life

It’s been four months to the day since my last post, and the best way I can summarize the last five months or so is academic life and parochial life, with a sprinkling of literary life (including this post).

Theology

I spent the fall semester in Rome teaching Ecclesiology (the theology of the Church) at the Bachelor’s level and and a small group Licentiate-level seminar on priesthood in the thought of Joseph Ratzinger. On November 9th as part of our Theology Congress I gave a presentation on the theology of an expression from the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium (n.8) describing the relationship between the Church of Christ, the Catholic Church, and other non-Catholic Churches and ecclesial communities. God-willing it’ll be published as a journal article in September. On November 11th at the College we invited American seminarians and priests living and studying in Rome to a dinner called Communio USA. After my summer experiences in the diocese of Atlanta it was nice to meet a seminarian from the diocese of Savannah, originally from Augusta. On December 13th at the plenary meeting of the Theology Department’s faculty I gave a presentation on the theology of vocation.

Priestly ordinations

On December 15th I helped hearing confessions in a retreat for families who were in Rome for the priestly ordination of their loved ones.

On December 16th I attended the priestly ordination of my Legionary brothers. Most were my students, and two were now my colleagues and confreres in the Rome Professor’s community. I was a little sad because ordination time was always in Advent, but starting this year the brothers will always be doing a longer transitional diaconate, moving ordinations to Easter-time, when I’d be away from Rome. This was the last group to be ordained priests during the part of the year I spend in Rome.

Foto general oficial ordenaciones 2017.jpg

On December 17th I attended three first Masses, concelebrating in one of them. There are many beautiful little churches and chapels in Rome, so walking between them was quick. On this day and two days later (December 19th) two guest posts I had written were published on Ask Aunt Katie and uCatholic (in addition to the post of December 19th I also did another on February 20th).

 

On January 6th, at the end of a concelebration for the Epiphany I took a photo with one of my students, Br. Anthony Freeman. It was on his initiative, because he was about to be concluding his studies in Rome and knew I was returning to the United States in a couple of weeks. I’d first met Br. Anthony when he was just Anthony, in 2002/2003 at a boy’s retreat I was helping as a brother. At that retreat he’d expressed no interest in the priesthood, but not long after that his mother contacted me because he wanted to attend our minor seminary. “Why the change of heart?” I asked her. Apparently he’d been so adamant about entering the minor seminary that she was taken aback by my question. For me it was just a reminder that the vocation is from Our Lord; he calls. What I didn’t realize until just before this photo was taken that I was the first Legionary he had ever met. Before my return to the United States I said a Mass with him in Rome. Little did I realize how Providential this would be (more on this later).

Return to St. Brendan’s

Classes for the first semester ended on January 16th, and I returned to the United States on January 17th. The Blessed Mother was looking out for me; I dodged flight-cancelling weather in both Amsterdam (connecting flight) and Atlanta, which was under snow. Back to parish ministry, although still dedicating time during the week to study and writing. Within I few days I celebrated my first funeral. The biggest difference between academic life and parish life is ministering to the sick and dying (being on call to administer the Anointing of the Sick and Viaticum) and impromptu pastoral counseling. We have confessions schedule four times a week, and the penitents are non-stop for 2-2.5 hours on average. I’ve met beautiful souls, searching souls, and suffering souls, and I’ve tried to give an encouraging word to everyone in their circumstances. A priest doing an academic ministry usually doesn’t have this sort of ministry on a regular basis (which is why, among other things, I’d never celebrate a funeral before).

Lent at St. Brendan’s

On February 14th Lent began with Ash Wednesday. We had Masses and services to distribute ashes all day, and every one, with the exception of the earliest, was standing room only. I also spent Ash Wednesday correcting final exams from my Ecclesiology course (necessary, albeit penitential if a different way). Throughout Lent, in addition to the regularly scheduled confessions, I helped out at Penance services at parishes throughout the deanery, and at the parish there were special sessions scheduled for everyone in Faith Formation. This all culminated on Good Friday; I heard confessions that day from 11 AM to 9 PM, with a quick lunch break and the Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion in between. During the commemoration we have the veneration of the Cross, and the parish does something a little different: people take turns holding the cross so that people can venerate it. Except for the start and finish its spontaneous: sometime just taps your shoulder and switches out with you. People from all walks of life, big and little, stood side by side supporting the cross beam so that others could venerate it. This Holy Week was probably the most diverse flock I’d ever been with, since previous years where either at the seminary in Rome or as chaplain for an academy or religious institute.

On February 18th I gave a presentation on the Sacrament of Reconciliation for adults who were preparing for Baptism or to come into full communion with the Catholic Church by participating in RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults). I then gave them a talk on the sacraments of Holy Orders and Anointing of the Sick on March 11th. Some were just starting the program, but many would be completing their catechumenate during the Easter Vigil.

On March 23rd I presided over a living Stations of the Cross in Spanish. The stations were set up throughout the parish property, with costumed actors. I was trying to avoid standing with the “Pharisees” watching Our Lord, but I seemed to often end up near them. Maybe Our Lord was trying to tell me something…

On March 31st at midday (Holy Saturday) I blessed baskets containing the first foods that would be used to celebrate Easter. In Slavic Christianity there is a long tradition of doing this blessing, so we organized a blessing for the parish. I wrote a article for our parish bulletin that you can view here about the practice and the symbolism of the food.

That evening, during the Easter Vigil, I would sing the solemn Paschal Proclamation (the Exsultet) and preached the homily. Three adults were baptized and over a dozen RCIA catechumens received their First Communion and Confirmation.

The Resurrection and the Life

On Easter Monday (April 2nd) I received the sad news that Br. Anthony Freeman, who I mentioned above, had been found dead in his room at the College in Italy. Apparently he had a small heart condition and died in his sleep. He was 29 years old and was going to be ordained a deacon in July. I’d been hoping to attend at least his diaconate ordination. Br. Anthony had been very active on social media spreading the faith, doing, in his words, “Catholic coaching,” and had just published a book to help millennials get closer to God entitled One Step Closer. I’ve no doubt that he went straight to Heaven. He was one of the holiest and most enthusiastic people I’d ever know. I never saw him down. I know he’s now interceding for us all from Heaven and he’ll be greatly missed.

A few days later my Uncle, George Kovacich, passed away at 94. It’s only as I write this that I realize what a sad year in terms of loss: I’ve lost three uncles (Pave Drpić, Tony Maglich-my Godfather, and now uncle George) and an aunt (Franka Drpić). I wasn’t able to attend or celebrate the funeral of any of them, or Br. Anthony’s, and a few days ago (April 19th) I concelebrated in the funeral for a friend’s mother who’d died at 93, Therese Couture, a holy mother of seven. That same day I celebrated another funeral at the parish for a dad who’d died at 41. During the concelebration the weight of everyone who’d passed away came down on me; I didn’t just pray for Therese, but for everyone who’d passed on.

As Therese’s daughter told me after the funeral, it’s a bittersweet moment, even after someone has lived a long and holy life, sweet because a long life has changed, not ended, bitter because we’re separated from our loved ones. I often wonder how non-believers handle the loss of a loved one at all. It’s no coincidence that the Easter Candle is lit and present at every funeral to remind us that life is changed, not ended, and death does not have the last word. By the grace and mercy of God we’ll be reunited with those we love one day. Thank God for the Resurrection.

Life is a beach

The week after Easter week a generous parishioner arranged for us to take a few days off at a vacation rental in St. George’s Island, FL. It’s a long island with a long beach, perfect for a nice walk along the surf line or to watch the dawn (both of which I did). It was off season, so it was relaxing and quiet.

May the Risen Lord continue to bless you this Easter season.

 

 

 

 

Pilgrimage to Fatima

Some opportunities drop out of Heaven. While I was at St. Brendan the Navigator parish in Cumming during the summer the pastor, my brother priest and Legionary Fr. Matthew Van Smoorenburg, asked if I could cover for him as chaplain at the start of a parish pilgrimage that would be visiting Portugal, Spain, and France, since I’d already be in Europe. Twist my arm… I’d have an opportunity to visit Portugal and, especially, Fatima for the first time. My home parish (Our Lady, Help of Christians in Watsonville, CA) has a large Portuguese community and a beautiful statue of Our Lady of Fatima, one of my favorite depictions of Our Lady. As I was preparing to enter the seminary I’d often pray in front of that statue. So after requesting the proper permissions and the okay from my dean (since the semester and classes were underway), I spent October 31st to November 3rd in Portugal.

October 31st: departure for Lisbon

After giving class in the morning on October 31st I headed by train to Fiumicino airport for the flight to Portugal, arriving with no problems. A couple sitting next to me didn’t say a word, but their faces lit up when they saw I would sit with them and the wife gave me a thumbs up when we left the plane and a smile.

I arrived at the hotel in Lisbon as the sun was setting. The pilgrims were receiving an orientation talk by our pilgrimage guide, Jorge. I was happy to see more than one familiar face in the group, since I’d spent the summer saying Mass at the parish. It was a little surreal staying in a hotel again. I hadn’t stayed in a hotel in over twenty years (and a motel in over ten), but if anyone knows European hotel rooms they’re not much bigger than my normal accommodations at home (small, that is). The biggest difference was a TV and remote strategically positioned to be viewed from bed. I didn’t use it; other than sleeping, my hotel time was brief and consisted of catching up on my blogs and prayers before bed. Jorge had recommended trying bacalhau (salted cod fish), since the Portuguese considered it a staple dish with lots of ways to prepare it, and at dinner I tried some and loved it. The irony was that Croatians also go crazy over a stew made from salted cod fish called bakalar that my parents never let me try because they said it was an acquired taste and didn’t want to waste it on me. In California, for my parents’ restaurant, we’d travel down to San Pedro to purchase it because it was imported.

November 1st: All Saints, Lisbon, Santerem, and Fatima

The next morning we spent touring Lisbon. As our plane came in for a landing the previous afternoon I was struck by the uniformity and clean lines of Lisbon’s architecture. Our guide explained that the city of Lisbon had been largely destroyed in an earthquake in 1755 (on All Saints, 262 years to the day), and the reconstruction was so massive that the streets were laid out with great symmetry and the buildings reconstructed en masse using veritable factories of production materials.

Cathedral La Sé and birthplace of St. Anthony of Lisboa (a.k.a. of Padua)

We visited the cathedral La Sé (short for the Latin Sedes Episcopalis–see of the bishop). St. Anthony of Padua (from Lisboa, actually–ask a local and they’ll tell you) was baptized at the cathedral. I learned a local tradition of devotion to Saint Anthony that I’d never heard before: women who wanted to get married. At one point the women would tie their hair into a pony tail and cut it off, leaving it as a sign of an ex voto (a token showing that St. Anthony had answered their prayer–in Marian shrines, for example, some people leave silver hearts). It’s not done anymore, but, at the time, a women with shorn hair was considered a woman of ill repute, so it was a way of showing humility regarding what people thought of you and your reputation.

A short walk from the cathedral was the Church of St. Anthony, built on the spot where he was born and raised. It was a beautiful church. It too was destroyed by the 1755 earthquake, and the children of Lisbon went throughout the city raising funds for its reconstruction. Considering how beautiful it is, they were very successful and people were very generous.

St. Anthony is an example of how God uses everything you have to accomplish his will. At first St. Anthony went to the Abbey of Santa Cruz in Coimbra, the capital of Portugal at the time, and studied theology and Latin. It was only later that he decided to become a Franciscan after being struck by their joy and witness. As a Franciscan he traveled to Morocco, inspired by the example of the Franciscan martyrs, but fell sick and, on the way back to Portugal ended up Sicily when the ship was blown off course. From there he went to Tuscany and stayed, become known as il Santo (the Saint) by the Paduans. St. Francis of Assisi was still alive, and not convinced of the need for the friars to do studies, but, after St. Anthony was asked by his abbot to preach a homily at the last minute, he showed his eloquence and intelligence and the friars started studying under his tutelage. If not for his talents the Franciscans may have never gotten into theological studies.

Mosteiro dos Jeronimos monastery, Lisbon

After some more touring by bus we arrived at the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos (The Hieronymite monastery). The monastery once housed the Hieronymites, an order of monks,  dedicated to the Biblical scholar and translator St. Jerome. From laying the foundation to completion took around a hundred years (the original plan was eight, but when the taxes they’d levied for its construction swelled they expanded their plans). Being close to the harbor this monastery also became a hub for Portugal’s great exploratory achievements. The great Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama is buried in the chapel.

The monastery was originally commissioned by King Manuel I, who had entrusted the monastery to the Hieronymites and asked that they continue to pray for him, even after his death. Given the great achievements of the Portuguese in this period it seems their prayers were answered. The monastery also showed artistic embellishments called the Manueline style, named after King Manuel I, containing many elements of sea travel and exploration.

The monks also concocted a pastry, the Pastel de nata, and solemnly entrusted the recipe to a nearby bakery, now famous, called the Pastéis de Belém (named after the district). I can attest that the pastry is heavenly (note the lower case to avoid idolatry…).

Mass and the Eucharistic miracle at Santerém

After lunch we departed for the town of Santerém (forty-five miles north of Lisbon) to celebrate Mass at the Igreja do Santissimo Milagre (Church of the Holy Miracle) and see a Eucharistic miracle from the thirteenth century. We celebrated the Mass for All Saints, and in my homily, my first opportunity to preach to the pilgrims, I told them that pilgrimages were a reminder that the Pilgrim Church on earth is always on pilgrimage, headed toward the Promised Land of Heaven. Our pilgrimage was simply a more intense part of that journey to sainthood, the sainthood every soul in Heaven has achieved by God’s grace and to which we are all called. If we on earth are part of the Pilgrim Church, in Heaven we’ll join the Church Triumphant: one Church, two states of life within her. All Saints celebrates all the saints, anonymous and otherwise, who are now in Heaven, helping us and awaiting us.

Now for the Eucharistic miracle (source). A woman faced with an unfaithful husband decided to consult a sorceress to see how she could win him back. The sorceress demanded a consecrated host as payment (which is sacrilege, for those who don’t know), so the woman took one at Mass in the Church of St. Stephen and hid it in a veil. As she left the church, with the host hidden and held to her chest, the host started to bleed and people tried to help her, thinking she had cut her hand. She ran home in a panic and threw the bloody host into a trunk. Her husband did not come home until late. In the middle of the night they were awoken by a strange light coming from the trunk. The woman confessed to her husband what she had done and they both knelt in repentance before the miracle.

A priest sealed the miraculous host in wax and returned it to the church, placing it in the tabernacle. When he later opened the tabernacle he discovered the wax in pieces and the host enclosed in a crystal pyx. The crystal pyx is now on display in a silver monstrance, with a smaller reliquary containing the wax. We were allowed to spend a moment up close looking at both (from an area behind the one you see in the photo below), and you could see the dried blood around the host. No photos were allowed, but it was a moving reminder of what a miracle the Eucharist is every day.

First arrival at Fatima

After Santerém we continued on to Fatima. It was dark by the time we arrived, but that didn’t deter us from going to the shrine right after dinner. I won’t recall everything that happened at Fatima; EWTN has a wonderful site dedicated to the topic, and I read excerpts of it to the pilgrims when we were travelling by bus. Walking into the shrine reminded me of the first time I’d seen Saint John the Paul II in person: surreal. I couldn’t believe I was actually in Fatima and at the shrine. On one of John Paul II’s visits there I watched the procession with that same image and hoped I could participate some day. Now I had my chance. That evening we attended a rosary in the Chapel of the Apparitions (the spot where Our Lady appeared), which included a candlelit procession with the statue of Our Lady in the plaza. On Facebook I asked for prayer intentions and tried to bring them all before Our Lord in the Eucharist and Our Lady.

We stayed at a new hotel that new how to cater to its clientele. There was a picture of Pope Francis at the reception desk, a shop selling religious articles, and in my room there was a Eucharistic motif to the headboard of my bed. There were pilgrimages staying their from Ireland and Africa as well.

November 2nd: All Souls, Tomar and Fatima

The next day I concelebrated in an English Mass at the Chapel of the Apparitions. In the chapel there is a statue of Our Lady on the exact spot where she appeared. After distributing Communion I walked right past it to put the ciborium back in the tabernacle and it was incredible.

After Mass we went to visit the homes of the children to whom the Blessed Mother had appeared. When the children started seeing apparitions it began with an angel who later revealed himself to be the Guardian Angel of Portugal. We visited that spot and I also had the unexpected grace to meet a relative of Suor Lucia. She was gracious enough to let us pose for photos with her. I gave her my priestly blessing afterwards and she smiled and reverenced my hands. According to our guide she was almost a hundred years old.

 

Tomar and the castle Convento do Cristo

After a lunch and shopping break we headed to Tomar to visit the Convento do Cristo (the Convent of Christ), a castle that was the see of Templar power in Portugal from the XII century to the XVI century. The Knights Templar (their full name is the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon–since in the Holy Land their headquarters resided on the ruins of the Temple) resisted a Moorish invasion and Christianized the region, then later funded the great exploratory push of Portugal. They were entrusted with the entire Tomar region. History buffs at this point might point out that the Templars were dissolved in the XIV century after being subjected to a smear campaign that had the intention of confiscating their assets and property. That is true, but Portugal was so favorable to them due to their help in the Reconquista that in Portugal they were re-founded as the Ordem dos Cavaleiros de Nosso Senhor Jesus Cristo (Order of the Knights of Our Lord Jesus Christ) and “inherited” the same assets and property with the blessing of Portugal’s king and Pope John XXII.

I was really struck by my visit to the Convent (castle), and not just because I am a medieval enthusiast. Hearing their history, their accomplishments, and their trials, I couldn’t help thinking about how similar the names “Knights of Christ” and “Legionaries of Christ” are. At one point our motto was “contemplative and conquering,” and expression now mitigated a little to “contemplative and evangelizing” (to be honest, I prefer conquering). While not denying that our Founder did some reprehensible things, things that did require a deep institutional review on our part and reform, it’s also true that some would accept nothing less than our complete dissolution. On my last visit home someone at the parish told me exactly that. It’s obvious that I disagree, but the important thing is that the Holy See does too, or else I’d be the first to pack my bags. Some despicable things really happened in the Legion, but some accusations are untrue.

The Knights of Christ gave not only spiritual, military, and financial support to Portugal, but cultural support as well, bringing resources from the Holy Land without which the great exploratory endeavors of the Portuguese would not have been possible, such as maps the Western world had not yet drafted. Evangelization is not just directly spiritual; it is also meant to transform individuals, societies, and cultures from within. That may no longer require swords, armor, and castles, but it does require a spiritual militancy that is willing to fight for and defend not just the truths of the faith, but the truth itself using whatever morally acceptable means are available. As Legionaries we take up that battle too. A pilgrim was kind enough to buy me a little miniature of a Knight of Christ, kneeling to pray while resting on his sword, to remind me that I too must always fight on behalf of Our Lord. When we were in the gift shop looking over the knight miniatures I pointed out the praying knight right away, and I’m glad to say that a few men on the pilgrimage followed suit by buying it too. I keep it on my desk now, near my computer, but pointing toward a portrait of Christ in my office to motivate me whenever I get an attack of laziness.

All Souls

Since it was All Souls day I took advantage of our bus trips to remind the pilgrims of the important of praying for the souls in purgatory. I explained indulgences and how to get them. If you want a recap of the importance of All Souls Day and praying for the souls in purgatory see my homily for All Souls Day. Part of the traditions of All Souls Day is a visit to the cemetery to pray for the dead. This year I prayed at the tombs of Templar Knights in the Convent of Christ. One of my brother priests also had just lost his dad to cancer, and I was happy to tell him via Facebook that I would remember his father in my Mass and during the pilgrimage.

Eucharistic Procession

We returned to Fatima and after dinner I decided to visit the shrine one last time and participate again in the procession. Since it was Thursday the procession would be with the Eucharist, and the Rosary would include Exposition and Benediction at the end. Right up my alley. I’d discovered the night before that priests could vest in alb and stole to sit in the sanctuary during the rosary and then process with the Blessed Sacrament, so this time I did. As I was vesting a priest entered who looked very familiar: it was a fellow Legionary priest, Fr. Oswaldo Verdín, who was with a pilgrimage of Brazilian Regnum Christi members. What a Godincidence. He did the Exposition and Benediction. On my first day in Fatima I missed the pastor of my home parish (Our Lady, Help of Christians) by only a few hours, who’d already been in Portugal for a few days with his group.

November 3rd; Back to Rome

As the pilgrimage continued to Spain I returned to Lisbon and flew back to Rome after three unforgettable days.

 

 

 

Summer at St. Brendan’s

After finishing a Licentiate-level theology seminar on the Ecclesiological Thought of Henri de Lubac at Regina Apostolorum I left Rome in early June for Merrimack, NH, to participate (and serve as chaplain) in a Fides et Ratio seminar on the Church Fathers, Doctors, and Popes held at St. Thomas More College and organized by the Faith and Reason Institute. The format of the seminar is an academic retreat by and for educators, and we enjoyed a wonderful “repast” of great Catholic and Christian authors, discussing selected texts in a quiet college campus on summer break.

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After the seminar I traveled to Cumming, GA to spend the majority of my summer at St. Brendan the Navigator parish. St. Brendan’s is a parish of the Archdiocese of Atlanta under the direction of the Legionaries of Christ, and ministers to around 3,500 families, including a substantial Hispanic community. The Cumming area over the last twenty years (at least) has been growing on overdrive, and the parish was founded in 2001. Starting this summer I’ll be regularly helping the three Legionary priests assigned full time to this parish in addition to spending every fall and early winter teaching in Rome.

St. Brendan the Navigator

My priestly ministry to date has mostly consisted of an academic ministry, chaplaincies for the Consecrated Women of Regnum Christi, and a chaplaincy for a girls’ boarding school. I’d occasionally help a parish out with Mass or confessions, but this was my first experience spending an extended period of time not only visiting, but working as a part of the parish team. About a month and a half of my stay there I was dedicated full time to the parish, covering for the other priests on vacation, spiritual exercises, or visits home. At the parish we had four times a week scheduled for Confession, each at least two hours long, which was usually not enough. The only day I didn’t have penitents in line from the beginning and for the duration (and usually beyond) was the day after Hurricane Irma blew through.

For the first time I was “on call” for a sacramental emergency line: if a loved one is nearing death the priest “on call” can be contacted, day or night, to come and give him or her the sacraments and send them to Our Lord. The morning Hurricane Irma, downgraded to a Tropical Storm, was scheduled to pass through the area I visited a hospice and administered the last rites to a man not expected to survive the day. His family was understandably grateful I braved the adverse weather to come (I told them to thank God in his Providence that the storm’s arrival had been delayed).

We have three Spanish Masses, in addition to confession, and I also celebrated quinceañeras for several young women turning fifteen who wanted to present themselves to the Lord for his blessing and entrust themselves to the Blessed Mother. On the first Saturday of July a group dedicated to nocturnal adoration of the blessed sacrament had a ceremony of initiation as part of the Saturday evening Mass, and a large group of young men and women joined the group (over thirty). These same people devoted to the Blessed Sacrament would also become altar servers for the Spanish Masses. A growing Indian group of parishioners also starting organizing nocturnal adoration monthly and asked me to preach for them a few times.

During July there were also intensive Faith Formation courses for children K-5. I gave talks on sacred vessels, the parts of Mass, and Adoration, along with a little adoration time in silence. The Faith Formation concluding with a celebration of the Eucharist. Among the questions were, “The purificator is used when giving out the Precious Blood for sanitary reasons, isn’t it?” (Answer: among other things). and “Can I take one of the used hosts home with me?” (Answer: no, we keep it in the tabernacle if we don’t consume it).

Working in a parish also gives you many unexpected opportunities for pastoral outreach. After Mass people would ask for confession, advice, counseling, and blessings. One distraught person sought some guidance after not having set foot in a parish since before the Second Vatican Council. He’d attended my Mass, in the back, and said “things have changed a lot” (an understatement). I was happy to see a few weeks later that he is now attending Sunday Mass again.

While in Cumming I resided in the Legionary community that ministers to Pinecrest Academy, the parish, and the Territorial Direction and Administration of the Legion in North America. It’s my home away from Rome (sorry, I couldn’t resist). I had the opportunity to attend the Regnum Christi Spirituality Center offsite meetings for the first time since I started writing Finding the Plug for their website two years ago. I had never met a third of the team: working via e-mail and the occasional Skype does not give you enough perspective on working with a great team of people who really want to nourish as many people spiritually as possible.

Back in Rome classes are underway (Ecclesiology and a Licentiate-level seminar on Priesthood in the Thought of Joseph Ratzinger), and I’m preparing a conference and article for a theology congress (Church Unity and Christian Divisions: Paradigms and Perspectives) and a plenary assembly of the theology faculty. Working in a parish is beautiful, but some priests have other ministries too. Back to the books!