advent – “lying” in patient expectation

Over the course of the last two weeks, I’ve been to several schools that were having Reconciliation Services for Advent and individual confessions were part of the service…..I was struck by a thought while doing this ministry over the last two weeks.  Advent for me is always a time to ponder, to patiently expect and prepare one’s heart for the coming Christmas season….a reminder of the coming of Christ in the future and also the patient expectation of receiving Christ into one’s being.  I always think of the term….”lying in wait” when it comes to Advent, but this year a twist was added to this meaning….I was very surprised while listening to the students to hear them “confess” to lying….whether it be to their parents, friends, and teachers.  They certainly were not happy that they were doing this but it seemed as though it was always the convenient way out of an unwanted predicament. “Lying in wait” took on a whole different meaning for me as I spoke to these students about Advent being a time to “make straight our paths” and seek the truth in accepting Jesus into their lives.

They understood what I was saying but also said that it was difficult for them in a world that demanded so much from them to always be honest and wait patiently for the right answers to come to them….we chatted about what Advent could mean to them – a time to set things straight with the Lord and with others.  I began to think that a person in Formation in religious life could have the same dilemma….how to wait patiently for the Lord to direct his or her actions, being true to themselves and to their communities….I was reminted of that classic scene from the movie “The Nun’s Story” where the Mother General is addressing the postulants right before the reception of the habit and entering the novitiate that they must always seek to be truthful in their discernment of God’s will…..she told them that they could lie or cheat their sisters and even themselves but they can never hide the truth from God.

Advent is certainly a time for all of us to be mindful of this truth uttered by Mother General in the movie…it is a time that we can use wisely by making straight our own paths in discerning God’s call to us….to not run away from the truth but to seek it and go after it in peaceful and patient expectation of finding and doing God’s will in our life…all of us are being FORMED daily in God’s truth and it is always best not to lie about it…..after all, the truth always comes out in the end anyway.  I came away from these services with a new appreciation of the Advent season and I guess I would change my phrasing from “lying in expectation” to “laying in expectation ” seeking the truth and living the truth of God’s call to love and joy in my life….I hope and pray your Advent season enables you to do the same in forming your response to God in your life….may it always ring free and true….

Those Whom We Remember

The Holy Father instituted 2015 as the Year of Consecrated Life. It will focus on prayer, service, and community life. This effort that is being supported by Pope Francis, proclaimed the Year of Consecrated Life, is for renewal and grateful remembrance.  The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations established and is encouraging “Days with Religious” initiatives and resources to help families learn about the consecrated life of religious men and women. Activities around the country will focus on sharing experiences of prayer, service and community life with those men and women living a consecrated vowed life.

Preparing for this extraordinary time of renewal has made me gratefully remember and appreciate the men of women of my past and present in a very new and rewarding way.  In addition to being grateful that my family sacrificed to support my life-long vocation to religious life and the priesthood, I am forever grateful to the religious in my life. Those who have cared for me, my family and countless others during their consecrated lives made great contributions to our society through an immense number of sacrifices and ministries. For me…They are women religious like the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament who teach in our schools.  They are religious men like the Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers who staff our parish churches. They are the members of the Society of the Divine Word who do mission here and abroad.  They are the Sisters of the Holy Family who do all of the above. What binds us all together is that we, along with families and the Christian faithful, strive to bring care, mercy and the love of Christ to those ignored by society and those trying to thrive in a cruel world.

Today the care givers that are alongside me as I work to follow the example of so many before me are sisters, nuns, priest, and brothers like the Sister Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Augustinians and most especially my own Norbertine community of priests, brothers, sisters, nuns and associates.

I would invite all who read this short note to join us in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in the upcoming year on February 8, 2015 for an event know as “Religious Open House”. Please know that the 2015 Papal Visit scheduled will have other events that will be coordinated to also celebrate the World Meeting of Families to take place in Philadelphia and will include tours, other open houses, receptions, family activities, and presentations on the history of religious communities at convents, abbeys, monasteries and religious houses.  Stay tuned for the excitement that will be here at Daylesford Abbey in 2015 as we gratefully remember. In the meantime, who is it that is on your list of those we should remember.

Discovering Discernment

The other day I was speaking with someone and they said, “If only I could discover what God wants me to do with my life…” and it started a discussion between us on the difference between discovering and discernment. To discover something means to externally find something that wasn’t there before we concluded and has to do mostly with the externals in one’s life.  Discernment, we concluded, had more to do with opening one’s heart to one’s senses and letting the world into one’s heart so that the heart could listen and dialogue with one’s surroundings and one’s soul.

I sort of liked the definition we developed in our discussion because to discern God’s will means to let my heart enter into a dialogue with my senses and with God in order to touch my heart in such a way that I am able to “hear” God speaking with me.   It is the ability to listen with one’s soul, not just with one’s ears. It is a chance to be still and take in all of God’s creation with your senses and then respond, “Here I am, Lord, I come to do your Will”….discovering seemed to us an “uncovering” of the MY will in one’s life whereas discernment meant more the “letting in” of God’s will into one’s soul…..not my will, but your will be done, in imitation of Jesus’ words in the Garden of Gethsamene.

Discernment became for us a more in depth, soul searching listening to the whispers of the Spirit as the Spirit moves us in the direction of communion with God.  It is the whisper that Isaiah had to listen to so intently in the cave and it is the willingness to let go of my formalized way of discovering and giving way to the gentle movement of my discerning heart.  When I discover something, I rejoice like the woman in the Scriptures who found her lost coin, but when I discern I then think of what does God want me to do with the coin.

Discerning is always being open to “dialoguing with the Lord” in order to be like Samuel when, in the stillness of the night, he heard his “CALL”.   We, you and I, have to listen for the CALL because when we hear and accept the CALL from the Lord, we will be filled a heart-peace and a heart-calmness for we will have found out what God wants us to do with our sometimes “lost” lives.  We will rejoice in the receptivity of our hearts and respond with a soul commitment to enter into this God-dialogue.

Godspeed with your discovering your own journey of discernment…….remembering that  there is always a companion walking with you.

Vocations Awareness Celebration at St. Norbert Parish

I can think of no better way to end the Church’s prayerful celebration of the dedication of the Lateran Basilica and the final day of Vocations Awareness Week, than to have a youth mass at St. Norbert Parish in Paoli, Pa with my confreres in formation. The night began with a Youth Mass, which was completely packed with such dedicated souls, eager to give praise to God for all His blessings He has bestowed on this assembly. The Mass was wonderfully presided by Fr. Abbot Richard Antonucci, Abbot of Daylesford Abbey, and the homily was given by Fr. John Zagarella, who preceded to tell the faithful about the importance of listening to God’s call for them in their lives; especially the call to a religious vocation. My fellow confreres and a portion of the formation group from the Immaculate Hear of Mary Sisters (IHM) led the procession in and out at this Mass, visibly demonstrating the closeness of our two orders and also our support of religious vocations in the parish community.

The second part of the night consisted of a vocations awareness program that was put together by Fr. John Joseph Novielli, Vocations Director at Daylesford Abbey. Yours truly participated in the program, along with my fellow Novice, Sam Fulginiti, who is now into his second year of the novitiate. We also were blessed by the presence and contributions of two of the second year novices from the IHM’s. Our goal was to communicate to the St.Norbert youth group the joys of discerning the Lords call, and how we answered this call by our saying “Yes” to religious life. We heard some fantastic witnessing last night from our religious life participants and the youth group asked us all challenging questions about what our life is like as a religious and the particulars of living out the vows we will soon take over the next few years. All in attendance left the parish event feeling blessed by God for such a prayerful night and hopeful that this young and faithful gathering will someday pursue a vocation to the Priesthood or Religious Life. Thanks be to God!

For All the Saints

Sunday was the feast of All Souls.  It is a day to remember, and celebrate and be thankful.  After the Prayer after Communion at mass we are usually blessed and then told to Go in Peace.  This Sunday at the Abbey we processed to the cemetery to remember our Norbertine brothers, our confreres, who are buried there.   The entire assembly processed out to the cemetery, with a schola singing the ancient chant In Paradisum, the bell tolling, and the cold winds blowing.  There was a Litany of Remembrance prayed and sung as Abbot Richard went from grave to grave reverencing each one with incense.  The first Norbertine to be remembered was Abbot jJohn Nietzel, the first Abbot of Daylesford.  As a young boy in grade school I served Mass for Fr. Netizel. Later on in life I would sit and enjoy his stories that he would tell at dinner.  I remember him coming to St. Monica’s, the parish where I had been pastor.  It was there that while celebrating Mass he collapsed.  It was the last place he said Mass outside of the Abbey before he died on Easter Sunday.  We stopped to remember and celebrate and give thanks for him and all those other men buried in front of the Abbey Church.  I am who I am because of each of them.

Receive their souls and present them to God the most high.  Rest in peace.  Thank you!

The long and winding road

No, this isn’t about a Beatles’ song…..but it is about an experience of this past weekend that I thought worth sharing….I had a chance to go visit some family and friends in North Jersey. Saturday was a real “washout” with heavy rains and very damp and cold weather…..we also turned our clocks back to standard time so I knew that daylight would be shorter come Sunday….well Sunday arrived and after a day of cold and rain, the sun was shining brightly but the wind was blowing a cold and biting wind……The Spirit drew me out of the house and into the throes of a great late autumn day…..the sun warmed my face as the biting wind made a winter coat, gloves and scarf a necessity…..and what did I find….yes, you guessed it….a long and winding road….it must have been a service road at some point in history and it served me well on Sunday…..

It was great walking in the wind and the sun…..the air in my lungs brought in new life and a fresh way of seeing things…..leaves blew off the trees like dandelions in a summer breeze and I felt the hand of God overshadow me and “blow me over” with the winds of November…..it was also All Souls’ Day and I began to think about all those who I no longer have physically with me and by God’s grace and the Spirit’s Wind, I felt their presence with me.  As I walked I prayed for and to these women and men who were and are such an important part of my life and I thought of how they brought me to this long and winding road today…..through prayers, through mentoring, through listening…..through bringing the Word of God to me in their love for me. Together we walked that road and I felt so energized and thankful for the gifts I had received over the last decades.

As I walked along, I thought and prayed for all those who journeyed with me through my vocation “calling” discernment period and I was filled with gratitude, joy and a desire to do the same for others…..it is amazing what the “wind blows in” on a windy November Sunday.  I realized that I never walked a long and winding road alone…..because the Spirit was and is there to journey the road of discerning God’s will in my regard everyday…..and even when the crunch of the leaves underfoot match the beauty of the leaves blowing in my face.  I wish you a Sunday like that this Autumn.  Godspeed!

The Book of Revelation

On Monday I participate in a course centered on the Pentateuch with a Catholic theologian and priest. He is also an archeologist. As my week moves forward I am in a Wednesday morning class studying the Torah with a professor that is a Rabbi from the local Jewish community. She is also a published and well-respected author.  Life as a graduate student… WOW. I have indeed come to appreciate graduate school in a new way. But I am so glad that I can always remain a student who reads, studies and prays even after graduation.

My Monday morning revelation!  The Song of Debaroh in Judges 5:5 and the book of Judith in the Old Testament…what do they all have in common? Perhaps, at first glance, you would say the name of a women is obvious and so, then you would say these scripture passages both have a female connection to the scriptures. This is no doubt, yes they do. But, for me today, the one thing these scriptures have in common is that I very rarely read, study and pray on these scripture passages. Now I want to read and study and pray with the other parts of the scripture I have neglected for far too long! I am excited. I will be forever grateful for my time of studies that have given me an improved habit of praying, reading and studying the bible in a new way, with new insights and new habits.

Fall Pictures at the Abbey

Well, I was unable to take some photos for a few weeks now because of some eye problems I was dealing with, but finally today I got outside to capture some Fall pictures from around the abbey. Even though many of the trees are not a brilliant as they were last week, I did manage to take some pictures. Below are some of these pictures.

Fr. Dave

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breaking out of one’s shell

I visited a relative who is in his 50’s these past few days and suffered a stroke a little over a year ago. I must admit it jarred me to be so “up close” to a person who is experiencing difficulties “breaking out of the shell” that he is in, almost literally, since the stroke.  He cannot talk and  is paralyzed on one side, yet he is totally cognizant of what is happening around him and has full use of his intellect.  He can think of what he wants to say but cannot express it…..he is literally locked up in a body that is keeping his mind a prisoner….He  wants to participate in the world around him and yet he can’t.

As I was driving home, I was thinking of him and how hard it must be for him to negotiate his way through a day….and then I began to think of it being similar to trying to break out of my shell and proclaim the kingdom of God in word and sacrament when I am bound up in the shell of my self-centeredness.  I know what I want to say and proclaim about God’s love, mercy and goodness in the world and yet, at times, my “shell” keeps all these good tidings inside of me for fear of being either politically incorrect or offensive….and then I think about a great homily I heard the other day about Jesus coming to set the world on fire, ablaze with the flames of destruction so that something new can come into being…..

All seemed to come together for me in the car ride home…..like my relative who can’t express what he wants to say, I often let my feelings of insecurity and brokenness keep me from setting the world on fire with God’s love…..I want to, yet I don’t because I feel as though I am in some shell that can’t be broken.  I admired my relative for his tenaciousness in trying to get his points across and for not just wallowing in self-pity.  I realized that many of my “only if I could” were mere excuses for not daily answering fully God’s call to me to proclaim God’s good news in the way I live…..I knew what I wanted to say and I had the grace of Providence to say it…..my relative taught me a valuable lesson yesterday…..to let go and let God do with my life as god wills…..after all isn’t that what Jesus and we pray every day…..give us this day our daily bread to YOUR will may done on earth as it is in heaven….I just have to “crack open” that shell!

In Sickness and in health

One of the priestly ministries that I have enjoyed over the years is that of visiting the sick and the home bound.  I missed that in my time in the Novitiate.  As the assistant rector of the Abbey Church I have been called on to visit members of our Sunday assembly when they are hospitalized or confined to their home.  There was a telephone call about six weeks ago that was directed to me.  It was  from a couple who had worshiped here a few years ago. The husband was diagnosed with leukemia and after many moths of treatments there was no more that could be done by the world of medicine.  I went to their home, we talked and cried. We prayed and I gave him the Sacrament of the Sick and Holy Communion.  I have visited when they called.  He has taken time to prepare the Funeral Liturgy.  We have had good talks about God, and life and death.  He has been a blessing for me allowing me to minister to him.  Both he and his wife are so strong.  Their love for each other is beautiful.  Please keep them in your prayers.