Fall, Advent, and Christmas

My intention was to just write about my visit to Sacred Heart Apostolic school, our minor seminary in Indiana, sometime in mid-November. Two months happened. It was the first Fall since 2012 that I didn’t head to Italy to teach at Regina Apostolorum. The book project I completed in October was the last major commitment to the university, and I started applying for positions teaching theology in the United States (as of this writing, no offers yet). Over the summer I received the community responsibility for the finances (the community administrator), and with RC Spirituality and my work for the Legion as Territorial Prefect of Studies, I’ve been happily busy.

In late October and early November I covered a little more than usual at Our Lady of Lourdes in Raleigh while the pastor was on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje. All Saints on 11/1 was a beautiful liturgy, and I celebrated All Souls at the parish and we processed to a columbarium at the parish and loved ones prayed for their dead buried there.

On 11/3 I visited, as Territorial Prefect of Studies, Sacred Heart Apostolic School, in Rolling Prairie, Indiana. I had not been at the school since 2008. I’d been making the rounds of our formation centers, presenting the new plan of studies, and at Sacred Heart I met with the formation team, the professors, and the students.

After catching up with a family I’d know in Florence (Italy) I visited the Legionary fathers studying at the University of Notre Dame and had my first tour of the university. When I was flying into South Bend one of the attendants at the gate kept talking about the “touch down Jesus.” I had no idea what it meant until I saw the huge image of Our Lord on the side of their huge library. Seeing two floors of the library dedicated to theology alone made we want to move in (I did apply for a position at UND in October; I didn’t get an interview). The basilica on campus was also breathtaking.


On campus there is also a beautiful Marian grotto inspired by the grotto at Lourdes.

I celebrated Thanksgiving for the first time in nine years in the U.S. In Rome they always made a turkey lunch for us, but the fixings were never exactly the same. It was a long forgotten experience for me to have to wind down around a Thanksgiving break, since it wasn’t celebrated in Italy. A parish family arranged a wonderful turkey lunch with all the trimmings, and I and the fathers of my community in town had a quiet day at home after morning Masses.

With the arrival of Advent I and the other fathers helped out with penance services at the local parishes, which had been on hold since COVID started. A meal with the other priests was offered at each penance service, so it was the first time I spent time with the clergy of my deanery. For my fifteenth anniversary of ordination (12/8) I took a cultural tour of a Cabela’s (I did get a couple of things, nothing too outdoor or lethal) and then was treated to a steak dinner.

The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe was on a Sunday of Advent this year, which took priority, but that didn’t keep the parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes from constructing a beautiful shrine to Our Lady, right in front of the presider’s chair during Mass. At the start of Mass I quipped, since many of the faithful couldn’t see me as usual, due to the shrine, “for the record, I stand behind the Blessed Mother.” A large image of her is kept in the vesting sacristy of the parish, and I often speak to Our Lady in the few minutes before I process out for Mass.

On 12/16 the diocese had its first clergy Christmas gathering since 2019. I was not at the September convocation of priests, so it was my first opportunity to meet clergy from all over the diocese of Raleigh. Earlier the same day I visited Bishop Luis Rafael and gave him a copy of my new book. I also gave a talk on liturgical life to the young professionals group at St. Joseph’s parish.

On 12/21 I travelled to California to spend Christmas with my family for the first time in 25 years. When I knew my annual Rome teaching commitment would be concluded by 2021 I pitched the idea to my Mom, and we were both excited. It was also the first time reconnecting with some friends and family since COVID broke out in 2020. The afternoon of Christmas Eve I helped my Mom wrap presents for nine people: it was probably more presents than I’d wrapped in the previous 24 years combined.

Fr. Jason, the pastor of St. Patrick’s, invited me to celebrate the Midnight Christmas Mass at the parish where I was baptized. The day of Christmas was the best. My Mom had all my brothers, my sister-in-law, and my nieces over for dinner. I had not been around children excited about opening Christmas presents in years; my youngest two nieces, Petra and Rose, were excited, but patient. After dinner (which the girls ate in record time) we gathered in the living room and took turns opening presents. My niece Rose hugged her grandmother after opening each present from her.

For me the greatest gift was to be home with them for Christmas. A few days later I travelled up for a day in Chico to visit and say Mass for my aunts Lucy and Marie. My family gave me a chalice and I used it for the first time for Mass with my aunts. I returned to Raleigh on 12/30 for our customary end of year retreat on 12/31. I wish everyone a blessed 2022.