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.
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.
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!