I am happy to announce that my new book, Maximizing the Mass, has just been published with spiritual reflections to help you get more out of Mass. For my Finding the Plug blog readers (and my Maximizing Mass parish bulletin excerpt readers) this book has all the reflections in one place. It’s currently on sale on Amazon in print and should be available for Kindle within two weeks. God bless you!
Within two days 2020 will be upon us, and I thought it would be good to take some time during the Christmas break to remember some of the best of 2019. I already wrote at length about my pilgrimage to the Holy Land in February, but there were also many other memorable moments in 2019. After finishing the first semester at Regina Apostolorum in Rome and going on pilgrimage I returned to the United States on February 14th and returned to the parish rhythm of life with a few weeks of Ordinary Time before Lent began on March 6th. During Lent all parish priests organize and help with Penance Services in their parish and neighboring parishes, so Lent was full of extra sessions of Confession.
On March 30th I gave a presentation on our Holy Land pilgrimage and practically every pilgrim, along with other parishioners, attended, including some from out of state.
On March 31st I gave a presentation on the sacraments of Holy Orders and Anointing of the Sick to our RCIA group as part of their catechetical preparation. On April 12th I presided over a live Stations of the Cross. The parish is undergoing a heavy renovation, so we had to be a little creative with the route, but it’s a very powerful presentation. On Fridays in Lent the Knights of Columbus host a fish fry, so people coming out of dinner (or going in) joined the Way of the Cross procession. A powerful evangelization event. On Good Friday (April 19th) I and other priests heard confessions all day except for a brief lunch break until the Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion in the evening (and then a few more penitents after that). On Holy Saturday (April 20th) I presided over midday prayer and blessed Easter baskets, a tradition from Slavic Christianity that is growing. That evening at the Easter Vigil I sang the Exsultet (the Solemn Easter Proclamation).
Part of our parish renovations is the addition of a new chapel, and the pastor asked me to help with the artistic designs in the chapel, including the altar, ambo, and baptismal font. Meetings and conversations began in April. The renovations and new chapel are being finished over the next month, so when I return to the States in February it should all be done.
The week after Easter week the parish fathers went to Tybee Island on the outskirts of Savannah for a few days of rest after all the Lenten and Easter excitement. On the way down to Tybee Island we stopped to visit the beautiful Church of St. Joseph in Macon.
On May 13th I visited the Museum of Aviation in Warner Robins, GA.
In the first week of June I spent a week of working vacation in Keystone, CO. The community had their vacation schedule in Colorado for the first two weeks of June, and I had to prepare for an academic seminar at the end of the month, so I brought my books and read with liberal sprinklings of hanging out with the fathers. Colorado is a beautiful state. I’ve never seen so many shades of green in the trees. I returned to Georgia in time to walk the parish Navi-gator 5K on June 8th (thanks again to everyone who sponsored me and pledged donations to the parish). It was pouring rain, but fun as always.
The academic seminar was held in the last week of June in Oxnard, CA at the Santa Clara Retreat Center (the airport shown is LAX). It was a Fides et Ratio Seminar organized by the Faith and Reason Institute, and the topic was priesthood, right up my alley. Several other priests participated (about twenty-five participants in all) and we had some great discussions. As proof of what a small world we live in I saw one of the participants a few months later in Rome at St. Peter’s Basilica, chaperoning students on pilgrimage.
In July I gave two catechetical talks to elementary school students about All Saints and Pentecost. Some of them dressed as saints for the All Saints talk, so I dressed in my cassock and explained to them why it was not a costume.
In August I visited home in California at the start of the month (good to see many of you while I was visiting). The blue ocean below is the Pacific, seen from the Santa Cruz wharf, with the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in the background. It was a clear day and I could hear people on the rides at the Boardwalk.
I returned to Georgia, then continued my vacation by driving down to Louisiana. I hadn’t driven there since 2003, and I hadn’t visited since 2008. I had a tranquil vacation, staying with the Legionary community in Mandeville, reading, walking, watching videos, and visiting with old friends. I returned to the World War II Museum, which when I last visited it in 2003 was the D-Day Museum, and it had changed a lot. I highly recommend it if you ever visit New Orleans. It originally opened in New Orleans because the landing boats for D-Day were manufactured there.
On my walks I ran into some large spiders that spun webs across the trail. They were about two-thirds the size of a Tarantula. I later discovered that they were Golden Orb Weavers and not harmful to humans (unless you count psychological damage). On a rainy day I pushed through one’s web with my umbrella unknowingly and it later crawled up into the inside of my umbrella (in the woods, unlike space, people can hear your scream, but thankfully no one was around…to hear me scream). Thankfully it was a large umbrella so I got it out pretty quickly.
I returned to Georgia before vacation was over for a day trip to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where a World War II landing boat, still sailing, was docked for a few days, the USS LST 325. They fired the forward gun at our request (not loaded, but it made the same noise as the genuine article would), and I was able to sit in one of the side turrets and look menacing. It was not far from the Tennessee Aquarium, which is one of the best fresh water aquariums in the world, along with a good salt water aquarium. I am not in the cage below for trying to fire to gun on the ship; it is a shark cage, and no priests or sharks were harmed in the taking of the photo.
On September 7th we organized an investiture ceremony at the parish for the brown scapular of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. I was amazed at the turnout. People had asked individually over the months leading up to the ceremony, thinking a blessing of the scapular was enough (it’s not; there are some devotional commitments to make too), so we decided to organize it and it was a good First Saturday gift for Mary.
On September 14th the parish had a half-day pilgrimage to the Trappist Monastery in Conyers, GA. I had heard of it for two years and it was my first opportunity to visit. The serenity and silence there were palpable and wonderful. Their simple monastic rule of life, inspired by St. Benedict’s ora et labora (pray and work) reminded me of my Novitiate days. What impressed me most was their church, made from cement that they had brought and poured wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow. They arrived in Conyers from Kentucky with not much more than a barn and some property and built a wonderful monastery and retreat center. At midday we attended the Divine Office with the monks in the main church.
On September 18th I return to Rome for the first semester (still here as of this writing), starting eight days of spiritual exercises that same day, and then a week and a half of class prep before classes began for me on October 8th. In addition to classes in October and November I was preparing a paper for a Christology congress scheduled for November 21st. The paper I contributed was on the complex reality of the Church in the light of the mystery of the Incarnate Word, a thought inspired by Lumen Gentium 8. I’ll be publishing it in English sometime in 2020 and it will be published in Italian as part of the congress’ proceedings as well.
Thanksgiving is not celebrated in Italy, but I didn’t have classes that day and it was a nice quiet day. We had turkey for lunch and pie, which is not guaranteed in Italy, so it reminded me of how much for which to be thankful. In December I had a nasty cold/flu that pretty much knocked me off my feet for three weeks, so it was a quiet month. It didn’t keep me from visiting the Galleria Borghese on the 1st, before I got sick. No photos were allowed inside, but they had several wonderful works of Bernini.
On December 23rd I concelebrated at St. Mary Major’s for the the thirteenth ordination anniversary of my class. The silver reliquary above the Missal below contains relics of the the Lord’s crib. We celebrated Mass at that altar, down below the main altar. The altar trimmed with blue is the altar Salus Popoli Romani (which means “salvation of the Roman people) where Pope Francis comes before a trip to pray. The icon at its center is believed to have been rendered by St. Luke the Evangelist in the first century A.D.
We’re still in the octave of Christmas, so have a Blessed Christmas and New Year.
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.
|Fri, Aug 2||Our Lady, Help of Christians||9:00 AM|
|Sat, Aug 3||St. Patrick’s Church||8:00 AM|
|Sun, Aug 4||St. Patrick’s Church||7:30 AM|
|Mon, Aug 5||Our Lady, Help of Christians||7:00 AM|
|Tues, Aug 6||St. Patrick’s Church||8:00 AM|
|Wed, Aug 7||Our Lady, Help of Christians||7:00 AM|
|Thurs, Aug 8||Our Lady, Help of Christians||9:00 AM|
|Fri, Aug 9||Our Lady, Help of Christians||9:00 AM|
In February I had the privilege of going on pilgrimage to the Holy Land for the first time with parishioners from St. Brendan the Navigator. I am indebted to my family and the parish for their generous support in enabling me to make this trip, and I am also indebted to the pilgrims who graciously provided their photos, since a few days of mine were lost while on the trip.
Day 1 (Sat. Feb. 2): Arrival in Tel Aviv and Trip to Tiberias
Day 2 (Sun. Feb. 3): Nazareth, Cana, and Mt. Tabor
- His private life. We were in his home town, where he grew up, and spent years living with the rest of the Holy Family before beginning his public ministry. The streets we walked were built on the neighborhoods where he played, visited family and friends, etc. It was also a place of the hidden life of Mary, who treasured things in her heart, and of Joseph, who quietly worked as a just man and provided for Mary and Jesus. It teaches us that even a hidden life can be a holy life, a lesson many contemplative nuns and monks live even today, but not just them; every believer is called to simply do their part in the family and strive for holiness without a lot of fanfare.
- His divine life. There was also another hidden life to be revealed: his divinity, which we contemplated later in the day by visiting Mt. Tabor, where the Transfiguration took place.
At the Church of St. Gabriel (run by the Greek Orthodox) we visited the well where Mary probably came often with Jesus to fetch water. Inside the church there is a place where you can still hear the water running.
Day 3 (Mon. Feb. 4): Our Lord’s Public Ministry
Day 4 (Tues. Feb. 5): Caesarea Philippi, Magdala
Day 5 (Wed. Feb. 6): Mt. Carmel, Caesarea Maritima, Jerusalem
Day 6 (Thu. Feb. 7): Bethlehem, Ain Karem
Day 7 (Fri. Feb. 8): Mt. of Olives & Mt. Zion
Do you resolve, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to discharge without fail the office of priesthood in the presbyteral rank, as worthy fellow workers with the Order of Bishops in caring for the Lord’s flock?
Do you resolve to exercise the ministry of the word worthily and wisely, preaching the Gospel and teaching the Catholic faith?
Do you resolve to celebrate faithfully and reverently, in accord with the Church’s tradition, the mysteries of Christ, especially the sacrifice of the Eucharist and the sacrament of Reconciliation, for the glory of God and the sanctification of the Christian people?
Do you resolve to implore with us God’s mercy upon the people entrusted to your care by observing the command to pray without ceasing?
Do you resolve to be united more closely every day to Christ the High Priest, who offered himself for us to the Father as a pure sacrifice, and with him to consecrate yourselves to God for the salvation of all? [I do with the help of God]
Do you promise respect and obedience to the diocesan Bishop and to your legitimate superior?
Day 8 (Sat. Feb. 9): Dead Sea Region
Day 9 (Sun. Feb. 10): Old City of Jerusalem
After lunch we made one last official pilgrimage stop: the Western Wall at the Temple Mount. This wall was part of what remained of the Second Temple, and Jews gather here to pray and to tuck written prayers in the nooks and crannies of the Wall. Atop the Temple Mount is the Dome of the Rock, which only Muslims can enter. Security to come to the wall was tight and cameras monitoring everything, since any incidents in this area would spark a lot of trouble. The Orthodox Jews would not want to walk up on the Temple Mount for fear of treading on the ruins of the Holy of Holies.
The Dome of the Rock, with a large golden dome, is the third most sacred site to Islam, and it is on the spot where the First and Second Temple stood (see 2 Chronicles 3:1). It is also believed to be Mount Moriah, where Abraham was going to sacrifice Isaac at the Lord’s command (see Genesis 22:2). The photo below from Wikimedia commons shows the dome seen from the plaza of the Western Wall, the large wall below it in the photo.
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
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 I 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.
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.