The source and summit of our Christian life

Last Saturday, I was the concelebrant for my godson’s Mass where he received his “First Holy Communion”.  The church was filled to capacity and I was passing through the front door, the usher smiled to me and said, “Father, if only the Church could be filled like this every Sunday, it would be great”.  This statement by the usher to me sat with me all day and I began to reflect on how Vatican II has called the celebration of the Eucharist as the “source and summit of our Christian life”.

For the families and the new “communicants” gathered to celebrate and receive the Eucharist that day, I am sure the Eucharist was, at that moment, the source and summit of their life, but I began to wish for them that the Eucharist would continue to be the source and summit of the daily lives.

Of course, the children were all “cleaned and washed up” for their big day, but my hope and my prayer for them would that they might come to see that every time they celebrate the Eucharist, it is their BIG day.  Sure, there are different degrees of importance in our lives’ events, but my prayer was and continues to be for my godson and his classmates that they continue to see their intimate connection with Christ in the Eucharist as always a very special moment in their lives.

I surely came to a greater love and appreciation for the Eucharist in my life by participating in the First Communion Liturgy for these young Christians.  It gave me a great sense of gratitude for the gift of my priesthood and the priesthood of all Christians who participate in the breaking and the sharing of the Body and Blood of Christ at this, the “most precious sacrament of the altar”……..Come let us receive what we are and become what we receive: the Body of Christ.

Divine Mercy Sunday

On April 22nd, I had the great experience of being the celebrant for the “Grand Reunion” Mass at the high school that I attended many decades ago. It was a truly inspiring gathering because the venue for the Mass was filled with former students and classmates and it was a great day to rejoice not only in the Paschal Mystery, but also in the Divine Mercy Sunday devotions with the fellowship and fraternity of former students and colleagues.

The Gospel really hit home. The “doubting Thomas” Gospel was the one for the day and the filled chapel left no doubt in my mind that the lessons learned many years ago from our teachers in high school still had a great impact on our religious practices and beliefs. Those present were certainly those “blessed who have not seen yet believe” and the participation and singing in the Mass really inspired me and encouraged me in my vocation as a religious priest.

I mentioned this to one of my classmates after the Mass, and he suggested that not only the sound teaching that we experienced in high school but also the example of our teachers had such a positive impact on us that spirituality had become a constitutive element of our makeup. I was so humbled to hear him speak this way and then when I began to think about it and remembered both the teaching and example of so many of our teachers, I realized how full of truth my classmate’s remark was to me.

I was honored to be singled out to celebrate the Eucharist at the gathering and it made me stop and give a special thanks to God for my vocation just as the impact of the reunion made so many of those present to stop and give thanks for their respective vocations in the ministry of proclaiming the Paschal Mystery and Divine Mercy in their respective lifestyles. It was a great time to rejoice in fellowship and particularly so by beginning with the celebration of the Eucharist…..all of those who are blessed who believe even if they have not really seen, but have experienced the Divine Mercy in their lives.

Come, Holy Spirit

Last week, I had the opportunity to concelebrate the liturgy for the celebration of the sacrament of Confirmation.  A family member had a son who was being confirmed and I was invited to be a concelebrant at the Mass.  At first, I wondered how I was going to “fit” this celebration into a crowded calendar, but after some maneuvering, I managed to find the time needed for this momentous Christian initiation liturgy.

I was a very inspirational event for me, perhaps one intended for me by the Lord as this time during the Lenten season.  As I sat in the sanctuary and looked out at the faces of those being confirmed, I was touched by the integrity and devotion of the young adults being confirmed.  There was no lack of “being totally involved” in this Kairos moment in their lives.  The enthusiasm with which they “dialogued” with the Bishop and the solemnity with which they approached the bishop to be confirmed, inspired my own commitment to the Lord’s service and gave me great hope for the future of the Christian community.

I was reminded of St. Augustine’s famous quote about “our hearts are made for You, O Lord, and they will not rest until they rest in You”.  The Confirmandi exhibited a vitality in their expression of their faith commitment that touched my heart and my soul.  It stirred my heart as I watched them receive the Holy Spirit into their hearts in the very sacramental grace of the moment.  I was renewed and recalled to mind that invocation of the Holy Spirit where we pray, invoking the Spirit to come and renew the face of the earth.  Certainly, the change that I saw on the faces of the children confirmed, “confirmed” in me the special presence of the Spirit at that moment and inspired me to invite the Spirit into my heart that afternoon in a special way that renewed my own heart and soul. I was very thankful for the grace to be part of this very special afternoon Confirmation liturgy.

Untie him and set him free

“Untie him and set him free”.  These words from John’s Gospel on the raising of Lazarus from the dead have always struck me with a poignancy that truly affects my heart.  More than just the physical removal of the bandages from the now “brought back to life” Lazarus, the passage has always impressed on me a meaning for Lent that we as Christians and particularly, myself as a consecrated religious, should take note of in our Lenten times of contemplation.

Jesus restores Lazarus to life and his first words to the those is the crowd is to untie the bonds of death that still bind Lazarus to the land of the dead.  This too, I find, is the message that Jesus is giving me during this Lenten season.  I am being given the chance by Jesus to be “untied” from all of the bindings that keep me in the darkness of “death”.  Jesus calls me to come forth from my tomb of isolation and despair into the brightness of a new life in Jesus. Jesus gives us life and frees us from those things that bind us down…resentments, anger, envy, jealousy and complacency.

My call to religious life is one way for me to cut the ties that bind me to the bands of sin. I can through Lenten reflection and penitence give my life to Jesus in a way that frees me to live a life of love and joy. I can be brought back to life and live of life of service and commitment to God’s ways and not my own self-centeredness – a life that leads from the tomb to a new birth in the womb of a Christian community of Norbertines who will continually call me forth, untie me and set me free to proclaim God’s love and joy to the world.  May reflection on this reading do the same for you.

One heart and mind on their way to God

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I would like to share with you the gratitude and joy that my vocation as a Norbertine priest gave me two weekends past.  I was privileged to baptize one of my former student’s children. It was his and his wife’s third child and I was asked to preside at the Rite of Baptism for all three.  It gave me great joy to remember and celebrate with my former student and his family, sharing memories of his and his brothers’ high school days and then having the joy of welcoming his son into communion with the Body of Christ.

The experience filled me with gratitude for my vocation that affords me a participation in the sacramental ministry of the Church, and in true Norbertine tradition, uses the grace of the occasion to share the Norbertine communio with others: combining the community life of a Norbertine Abbey with the service, in this instance, in a sacramental way, of incorporating a new member into the Christian community. 

I was overwhelmed that it has been seventeen years since I taught this student and yet he still wanted me to part of his family’s journey of being of “one heart and mind on their way to God”.

I was and am very grateful that I had this opportunity to exercise my sacramental ministry in service to a former student and his family and makes me thankful for the gift of vocation that the Lord has given me. Perhaps you have the same realizations of God’s giftedness in your own lives and can understand the feelings of joy and humility that this giftedness brings.  Reflect on and respond to the gift ….. it’s part of the hundredfold that the Lord speaks about.

St. Francis of Assisi

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Yes, October 4th, the memorial of St. Francis of Assisi.  It is a very important day for me since I bear the name Francis and was named in memory of the saint from Assisi. We blessed the animals here at the Abbey last Saturday, but it was celebrating Mass today and reciting the Office of Readings for the memorial feast that real brought home to me the significance of Francis of Assisi for all consecrated Religious and all peoples.

As a young man, it is known that he led a rather irresolute life; but after a conversion experience, he became such a close follower of Jesus that he was given the gift of the Stigmata: bearing in his body the wounds of Christ.  This conversion experience is so similar to Paul’s story in the first reading from today’s liturgy: how he gave up his former ways to become the herald of the good news, much like Mary in today’s Gospel, who sat at Jesus’ feet and just listened to His words of life. Francis himself listened to the words of Jesus and found life living the poverty and humility of a God who emptied himself of His Godhead and took on the form of his own creation, living in poverty and humility, using this poverty and humility to change the world.

Pope Francis, who took his name after today’s saint, also calls on us as religious to “wake up the world”, living simply and humbly in respect for and in cooperation with each other and with all of God’s Creation. To be poor and humble affords us all to see beyond the “bling” of this world in order to live the happiness of being redeemed and justified by Christ.  I am drawn to Francis’ words of exhortation, calling us to live humbly and in example of the poor man from Nazareth who changed the world by waking it to the love and compassion of a merciful God. 

I thank God for my vocation and the opportunities it gives me to spread the Good News of Jesus, ever mindful that Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of God is theirs. May we all realize that this is the vocation of all of us who commit ourselves to following the Way of the Lord: in humility, in poverty of spirit, and in imitation of Francis who in giving all to the Lord, attained in his words TRUE happiness and love.

Come, Holy Spirit, and renew the face of the earth

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Last Thursday, I had the privilege of concelebrating the Confirmation Mass for a young girl who is the daughter of a former student. It really was a special moment for me because she was the youngest of his children; and when in high school, let’s just say that religion was the last thing on his mind. I would smile and say that, one day, this would change because of the moral character that was so evident in his life.

So, we stayed in touch after he graduated from high school, and he fell in love with a wonderful woman who continued to bring out the best in him; and now, he was having his youngest child confirmed. He also told me that he attends the early Mass on Sundays, which also caused me to smile because he used to hate it when his father would take him to the early Mass when he was in high school. Such a real conversion of heart!

He and his wife wanted to surprise their daughter with my presence and when I walked in with the concelebrants, she just smiled so widely and looked over to her parents and then to me. I was so impressed with her and all of the children being confirmed that day. They sang, they interacted with the Bishop, and one could see that the Holy Spirit was truly free flowing through the Church. Two things impressed me tremendously. The first was the vigor, vitality, and sound that they projected as they renewed their Baptismal vows: they really knew what they were promising and were filled with the joy of the Lord to renew their vows. Secondly, the Bishop asked some of the children what name they had chosen and so many chose the name of their grandfather or grandmother, which spoke to me of the continuity of the Faith and also its future. The children picked their grandparents’ names because of the love that was shown them all their lives: a love imbued with the Spirit’s presence. One child even said that he picked the name because his grandfather was such a religious person and he hoped to follow in his footsteps. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that answer. I could hear “Faith of our Fathers” going through my head. I knew the Faith was secure for the future.

Being a priest is such a joy for me, especially on these special occasions when I can intensely feel the presence of the Spirit doing its work of renewing the face of the earth. I am so happy to be able to be part of that renewal.

 

Happy Easter!

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Happy Easter! The liturgies of the Triduum are over. Our Triduum retreatants have gone home and stillness has settled on the Abbey for a little while. The weather is beautiful: the sun is shining and warm, the wind is blowing and reminding us all that March is still here, and the flowers are beginning to show the vibrant colors that make Spring so glorious; all reminders of new life, the Spirit blowing where it wills, and the stillness and calmness that allow for us who live here at the Abbey to walk a little and reflect on the Glorious Mysteries which we just celebrated.

It was a wonderful and spiritually energizing week. I can’t remember one in the past years that affected me so much and helped me feel the closeness of God in my life. As I walked down the front road today, let the sun warm my face, and feel the Spirit enflaming my heart like the disciples’ on the way to Emmaus, I knew that God had called me to the Abbey to minister to God’s people, to contemplate and be drawn more deeply into the love and mystery of God. I thought of Psalm 139; “God, you know me and have knitted me in my mother’s womb”; because I know that God has so blessed me with his presence in my heart. As I walked and talked with the Lord, the time flew by and I realized that it was time for Vespers: a time of quieting oneself down, remembering again God’s love for me and giving me a chance to appreciate the graces that God has given me.

I follow the bell as my heart responds to God’s call. Perhaps you can, in the quiet times of your life, do the same.

 

The Sacred Triduum

We are about to enter into a most sacred time in Christian liturgical experience: the Sacred Triduum, where some persons say that we commemorate the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus as the “first fruits of the new creation”. As I was pondering on this miracle of God’s intervention into my–no, all of our lives, the word commemoration just didn’t do it for me. Being a member of Christ’s body, I began to think about the liturgies (from the ancient Greek for “works”) that will take place and came to a feeling of calm and peace, yet one of yearning for these experiences because they are more than “commemorations”; they are the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus taking place in kairos time and not kronos, or chronological time….

The liturgies or the works of the worshipping communities will be making REAL the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus. Ontologically speaking, these events will not only remember but will make real for us; through the sacraments instituted by Christ; his own Passion, Death, and Resurrection. I am humbled to be a part of this kairos moment when God intervenes into humanity’s life and graces it with the redemptive suffering that wrought our justification and righteousness.

Blessed be God, praised be God, for in this year of Mercy, God’s merciful love makes real our salvation!

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Bring the little children to Me

In older Bibles, one can read the phrase of Jesus: “Suffer the little children, and forbid them not to come to me” (Matthew 19:14). Today we see the phrase being translated a little more children-friendly by saying, “Bring the little children to me, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” I was particularly touched by these phrases during the last few weeks when I was hearing confessions from young schoolchildren.

Of course, since Daylesford Abbey offers the prospect of Reconciliation as one of its charisms, many times we are called on to perform the ministry of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the local parishes and schools. This is such an important part of my ministry as a Norbertine – to help others experience the merciful and unconditional love of Jesus in the sacrament of Reconciliation. Unfortunately, many of these little children come to confession “scared to death” that they will not know the exact phrases to make a good confession. One little girl came to confession, sat down, and started bawling because she couldn’t remember what she was told to say during the sacramental encounter. I smiled at her and put her at ease as she smiled back at me and I told her that God wasn’t all that interested in how she “said her confession”, but more importantly wanted her sorrow for some of the wrong things she had done since her last confession and to know that God loves her unconditionally. She took a deep breath, smiled again and thanked me for not “hollering” at her…… and I spoke with her about some things she shouldn’t have done and then gave her absolution. She looked at me and smiled and thanked me for being such a nice person. I responded by asking her to remember that God is the “nicest person” she could ever have in her life. She walked away smiling confidently and happy that she “made a good confession”.

It is a great privilege for priests to work with penitents in the sacrament of Reconciliation, especially for us Norbertines who stress Reconciliation as one of our charisms. I felt so happy for that little girl and for myself who helped her experience the loving power of God in her young life, perhaps to remember this sacramental encounter that next time she approaches Reconciliation. Yes, bring the young children to a loving God. It was good to change the word “suffer” to “bring” and know that, in return, the children get the gift of knowing that they are the loving children of God.

Thank you, Lord, for opening my heart to this experience and let it always be a lesson for me to keep in mind the next time some little one comes to the sacrament. After all, we all are children of a loving God.

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