St James Cathedral - Seattle, WA

Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Path to Holiness

When I started writing this, I intended to write a blog article about supporting and promoting vocations. I then realized I should first tell you a part of my own vocation story, since it has shaped many posts written on this blog.  It didn't lead to me priesthood (no matter how much I wanted it to), but it's still my path to holiness. 

(I hope you don't find it too boring.)  So here's how it goes.

I'm a cradle Catholic, raised by good Catholic parents. Because of them, I was able to have Catholic schooling growing up- first at my parish's grade school, Assumption, and then at Bishop Kenny High School, both next to each other in Jacksonville, FL.  I had thought about becoming a priest as a teenager, and became more convinced that this was my vocation.  Really attracted to the liturgy, I served Mass often.  I had come to know the several priests at my parish. From each one, I got to see different aspects of the priesthood- parish priest, high school teacher, military chaplain, canon lawyer, just to name a few.  I liked what I saw.  After a visit to Saint Meinrad in southern Indiana with my parish youth group during my senior year of high school,  I applied to the Diocese of St Augustine, was accepted, and started in the Fall at Saint Meinrad College to discern and to study, hoping to be ordained a priest around 2004.

Saint Meinrad
I loved being a seminarian.  I grew up a lot and was challenged a great deal.  I must have thought of quitting more times than I can count, but at the same time I knew that God wanted me to be there. There were about 100 students in the College (more than half were seminarians), 100 more seminarians in the graduate School of Theology, and 135 Benedictine monks who ran the place.  I learned a lot while I was there, but I wish I had taken my studies more seriously so I could have learned more.  With most of the guys in my class being lay students, we also had our typical college moments (some of which are still reminisced about at reunions despite my own embarrassment).  I took part in many of the ministries a seminarian would do, teaching religious ed and offering retreats to the local parishes in southern Indiana.  I'd go home during breaks and in the Summer to work at the chancery, Catholic Charities, and/or take part in parish life in northern Florida. There was a small contingent of students from St Augustine studying at Saint Meinrad; we got to know each other well, especially with the 12 hour long car rides to and from home.  Jason Trull was a couple years ahead of me; we were from the same parish and had attended the same grade school and high school.  I'm proud to say he's celebrating 10 years of priesthood this year.

St Augustine Cathedral-Basilica
I also loved the diocese that I studied for.  St Augustine was a smaller diocese, with just over 100 priests, 52 parishes, 9 missions, and just over 100,000 Catholics at that time.  Within the clergy, all the priests seemed to know each other; most of them knew or were familiar with us seminarians.  If I was traveling a needed a place to stay for the night, I could always count on staying at the rectory of a nearby parish.  Bishop Snyder had been the diocesan bishop since I was two years old.  He was the bishop who confirmed me in 8th grade.  He handed my high school diploma to me 4 years later, and then inspired me while in the seminary.  I don't think any other diocese could have been as welcoming and supportive.

I traveled a lot, which really broadened by experience of the Church.  Saint Meinrad was on the edge of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, minutes away from the (Arch)Dioceses of Louisville, Evansville and Owensboro, so we were able to get a good sample of the Church's life in all of them. I also traveled to other seminaries for different events or just to visit- the Pontifical College Josephinum, Mundeline Seminary, and Notre Dame in New Orleans, to name a few.

Chicago's Holy Name Cathedral
Saint Meinrad College closed in 1998, so I lived in Chicago for little, finishing my undergraduate coursework for Saint Meinrad at St Joseph Seminary (the diocesan seminary at Loyola University).  I experienced an Archdiocese that is much bigger than anything I had ever seen.  To give you an idea, Chicago had one archbishop who was a cardinal, 10+ auxiliary and retired bishops, and well over 1,500 priests (including the religious) who served 3.2 million Catholics.  I remember trying to wrap my head around how big the archdiocese was, and how it was possible that two priests serving in Chicago may never meet each other.  I had never heard of a vicariate, couldn't figure out why a Church would need so many auxiliary bishops, and never found out what the diocese's vice chancellor actually does.  Big archdiocesan liturgies usually involved multiple languages- five was the most I had experienced at one Mass (English, Latin, Spanish, Polish, and Vietnamese).  I also had the opportunity to interact with Francis Cardinal George three times while I lived there- I can tell you he's a pretty neat guy.

Now to be completely honest, at times I was far from being a model seminarian.  I was still in college, and therefore not exempt from arrogance or stubbornness.  I didn't always follow the rules, and didn't have to be as mischievous as I was.  I should have practiced more self-restraint in certain relationships.  A little more piety would have been better, too.

As you know, I didn't make it to ordination.  When I graduated from Saint Meinrad in 1999, I decided to finish a second undergraduate degree in social work from Loyola University and pursue an internship with Catholic Charities Chicago (the largest Catholic Charities in the nation).  I had every intention on going to Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans the next Fall, but by then I knew that God had something else for me.  I had an innate ability for problem solving, and was very drawn to meeting the temporal needs of people.  I knew I couldn't be both diocesan priest and social worker; and God needed me to a social worker.  (God's will wasn't as clear to me back then as I'm making it sound now.) Around the same time, I met the woman who would later become my wife, and that pretty much sealed the deal.

Leaving seminary life was much harder than I thought it was going to be, at least the first few years.  I really missed the life of the seminary community- the fraternal comradery, liturgical prayer, and the intriguing dinner table conversation that only want-to-be theologians could have.  At home in northern Florida, I couldn't go to Mass without someone coming up to talk to me.  Either they didn't know that I had quit and wanted to ask how things were going, or they had heard I left and asked me how I was doing- in the way that you would ask someone who just got dumped by his girlfriend.  Needless to say, I felt a little heartbroken, and that I had broken the hearts of others.  It was especially hard when reminded how bad the Church needed priests, or if I saw a vocations poster that had my picture on it!

It was also difficult for my then girlfriend (we're married now).  I moved to Pennsylvania where she was from.  We dated for 5 years before I proposed, two or three years longer than we really needed to.  The extra years were my fault- while she was hoping that I would propose, I was too busy trying to figure out why God didn't want me to be a priest even though I had really wanted to be one.  I had been preparing myself to love everyone (like a priest should), and had to learn how to lovingly dedicate myself to one person.  Eventually, I stopped arguing and surrendered to God's will.  I proposed, we got married the next year, and now we have two beautiful children and will be celebrating 6 years of marriage.  God's will can't be more clear now, especially when one of the children needs a diaper change or the garbage needs taken out.

I didn't end up a priest, yet my time in the seminary was far from a waste.  My own spiritual growth aside, I have a broadened experience of Church that few Catholics have.  I've seen the celebration of every sacrament.  I participated in the dedication of two churches.  I've watched men who started out as curious seminary applicants put on a stole and chasuble for the first time several years later.  These unique experiences have definitely impacted me, and now I apply them to the life of my parish and my own family as a dedicated layperson.

To be fair, not everything was positive.  I also had a good view of the many problems in the Church.  I remember too well when one of the seminarians from my diocese was dismissed only 3 months away from his priestly ordination.  When I was at home, I observed the bishop and his staff deal with the clergy sexual abuse issues as best they could at the chancery, and figure out how he was going to explain these concerns in his report for the pope during the upcoming ad limina visit.  The bishop would sometimes talk about these things when we shared a meal, and I knew how much all of this weighed on his shoulders.  At another time, I watched in shock as I saw on the news a certain Chicago priest whom I had lived with walking into the courtroom for his trial, charged with pedophilia.  It's important for me to say that even though I have seen more than my fair share of scandal, I still love the Church.  No matter how ugly it was, nothing can take away from the reality of the Gospel.  If the scandal with Judas couldn't stop Jesus and the Apostles, then no scandal can ever stop the Church.

Just as the Church keeps going, so does my vocation story.  (No worries, I'm concluding here.)  Only God knows what will happen next, and that's probably a good thing.  Each of us has a vocation story or a path to holiness, whether ordained or layperson, married or single.  We may not share it as openly, but it does shape us and the people around us, even if we're not aware of it.

I've always enjoyed listening to the vocation stories of others.  Please consider sharing a part of yours, no matter how similar or different.  I'd love to here what you have to say!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Ascension Sunday?

Did you go to Mass on Ascension Thursday?  Wait, was the Ascension even celebrated on Thursday?  

If you missed it, I wouldn't panic.  The Ascension might be transferred to the following Sunday in your area.  In the United States, the Ascension was transferred to Sunday, except in the ecclesiastical provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Omaha, and Philadelphia. This may have led to some confusion; at least it did where I live.  In western Pennsylvania, the Ascension was celebrated on Thursday.  Drive a half-hour to a diocese in eastern Ohio or West Virginia, and the Mass would have been for the Thursday in the 6th Week of Easter since the Ascension is celebrated on Sunday.  This was the first year I've noticed that so few areas celebrated the Ascension of the Lord on it's usual place on the calendar- 40 days after Easter Sunday.   

So why the change up?  Transferring the Ascension to Sunday is actually not that new, and part of a larger trend to transfer holy days of obligation and other solemnities to the following Sunday.  Doing so allows greater exposure and more solemn celebration of the holy day among the faithful.  For the Ascension in the United States, this started on the west coast in the late 1990s and eventually spread.  Other parts of the world have also transferred this solemnity to Sunday including Australia, Canada, and some countries in Europe.  With the approval of the Holy See, the episcopal conference (the body of bishops in a country) can transfer solemnities and change some of the holy days of obligation (Canon 1246).  In the United States, each ecclesiastical province (the metropolitan archdiocese and its suffragan dioceses or territories) was permitted to decide whether to transfer the Ascension or not.

There are two additional solemnities that are usually transferred in the United States for the same reason.  The Epiphany is moved from January 6 (twelve days after Christmas) to the Sunday between January 2-8.  Corpus Christi is also moved from the Thursday after Trinity Sunday to the following Sunday. 

Are other days transferred?  Sometimes.  If a solemnity falls on a Sunday in Ordinary Time, then the solemnity replaces the Sunday.  An example would be the Assumption of Mary on August 15- if it falls on a Sunday, then the Assumption is celebrated.  However, Sundays during Lent, Advent, and Easter take precedent over any solemnity during the season.  Examples include the Immaculate Conception on December 8 which is transferred to the following Monday if it falls on a Sunday in Advent, and the Annunciation of the Lord (March 25) which is transferred to a following Monday if it falls on a Sunday in Lent, during Holy Week, or within the Easter Octave.  This isn't a local or regional thing, but done on the General Roman Calendar.

Confused yet?  Well, let's make it just a little bit worse and talk about the other holy days of obligation.

According to Canon 1246, there are 10 days (not including Sundays) that are holy days of obligation:
  • Mary the Mother of God (Jan 1)
  • the Epiphany (Jan 6)
  • St Joseph (Mar 19)
  • the Ascension (40 days after Easter)
  • Corpus Christi (Thurs after Trinity Sunday)
  • Sts Peter & Paul (Jun 29)
  • the Assumption of Mary (Aug 15)
  • All Saints (Nov 1)
  • the Immaculate Conception of Mary (Dec 8)
  • Christmas (Dec 25)
If this doesn't sound familiar, that's OK.  Each country has their own holy days of obligation set by the episcopal conference.  In the United States, the Immaculate Conception and Christmas are always holy days of obligation.  The additional three days, other than the Ascension, (Mary the Mother of God, the Assumption, and All Saints) are holy days of obligation unless they fall on Saturday or Monday, then the obligation is abrogated or dispensed.  (This also started in the 1990s.)

So why is the obligation sometimes abrogated?  The answers are both pastoral and practical.  It's no secret that Mass attendance is low in many places on a holy day of obligation.  Also, there are areas where the availability of priests is very low.  There are rural areas where the parish boundaries cover hundreds of miles- the Saturday vigil Mass may be over 100 miles away from where the Sunday Mass may be the following morning.  If you're the priest, that's hard to do; twice as hard if there's a holy day of obligation during the week.  For the priests that struggle to make it happen, they end up offering extra Masses for the people who aren't attending.

Here's my opinion on the matter.  I'm not a big fan of transferring the solemnity to Sunday.  Doing so does expose the occasion more to the faithful, but I think it also takes away from the universality of the Church, especially in modern times where more people are able to travel greater distances and have greater access to information via the internet.  Instead, I'd rather promote the solemnity and encourage its celebration.  Too many people think the that the Church calendar only runs on Sundays, not realizing that there are so many feasts and memorials during the week.  Maybe people can't make it to Mass that day, but they can celebrate a solemnity in other ways.  

As for abrogating the obligation on certain holy days, I can understand this.  This may be especially necessary in areas where there is limited access to sacraments for social, economic, or vocational reasons.  If you've never experienced it, it's hard to understand how getting to Mass may be difficult for either the priest and/or the faithful. 

Also, it's important to say that we shouldn't participate in Mass just because the Church obligates us to do so.  You can go to Mass anytime it's offered, even if we're not obligated.  Sundays and obligated days are just the essentials; there's plenty more that we can celebrate.

Canon Law says the following about holy days of obligation:
On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass.  Moreover they are to abstain from those works and affairs which hinder the worship to be rendered to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s day, or the suitable relaxation of mind and body. (Canon 1247)
I'm a big fan of the "suitable relaxation of mind and body" part, next to participating in Mass of course! 

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