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.