The first step

“The first step to carrying out a dream or change in you is desire.”–Napoleon Hill

What a simple yet very profound statement I found the other day when I was attending a seminar on how to transform grief and loss into something positive. I do some work in a facility for court adjudicated youth and one day, I got word that one of the residents had a death in his family and wanted to talk to a priest. I went over to the facility, found the resident, and spoke to him about his grandfather and how much the grandfather meant to him.

After about a half an hour, I asked the resident what his grandfather think of him being in this correctional institution, and he began to fill up and said that his grandfather would be sad; but he desired to give his grandfather’s memory a gift and that was coming back to the Church, receiving the sacraments, and doing well when he gets discharged in about two months. I listened to his confession and then was able to offer Mass for his grandfather and made plans to do so again.

The above mentioned quote that I heard the next day seemed to fit like a fine pair of shoes; the desire to keep his grandfather’s memory alive was enough for this resident to change and carry out the dream of being a really good person in honor of his grandfather. The quote also struck home with me, especially in this Lenten season. I must have that desire to be a better religious and priest so that I can help persons find their desires and carry them out to change their lives.

Perhaps you are being called to carry out your dream of helping others as a religious or a priest: all you have to do is admit the desire and the change can happen. It only takes that first step.

The change of seasons

The change of seasons always gives me the chance to look at the changes in my outlook on life. Just like March, I found myself both hot and cold on many issues. I was out walking in the beautiful sunshine yesterday – allowing the warming sunshine to warm my face and letting the fresh Spring-like air just carry me along as I was walking on one of the Abbey’s roads…….. and today! I was cleaning off an overnight snowfall on the car that I was using to go to the local parish for the 6:30 am Mass. Just like the weather, I find myself running hot and cold today as I was walking and thinking about something that I did a couple of weeks ago. On a Thursday, I celebrated a funeral for a ninety-five year old woman who lived life to the fullest, and on the following Saturday I was baptizing a baby boy who was just a few months old.

I thought about the highs and lows of the weather and yet I had to admit that both days described were beautiful, walking in a warm wind and coming out of the Abbey to view a snowy wonderland! I then thought about the funeral and the baptism I celebrated. I felt the hand of God in all four of these events and I found all of them to be grace-filled moments for me….. the weather reminding me that God is in control and the funeral and the Baptism reminding me that all life has both its beginning and end in the Alpha and Omega of my world, Jesus. I became so grateful for personally experiencing Jesus in my life and ministry. Whether walking in the snow, or experiencing the Spirit’s presence in the wind, I am grateful for my friendship with Jesus. My ministry as a religious priest, experiencing Jesus in both the funeral and baptism I celebrated makes me so grateful for answering Jesus’ call to serve his sisters and brothers. I felt so alive with God’s love and life-giving grace that my thoughts actually became my morning prayers.

g2ORiZi

and Jesus said, “bring the little children to me”

Last Sunday, we celebrated the solemnity of Corpus Christi, the solemnity celebrating the gift of Christ’s Body and Blood to us.  I was reflecting on this special day and my mind drifted back to a few weeks ago when I was the celebrant of the First Communion Mass for a group of second graders….and I began to ruminate on the words of Jesus mentioned in the title of today’s blog in connection with last Sunday’s solemnity….

I must admit that when I began the First Communion Mass and looked out at the second graders, they seemed to be very pre-occupied with what they and others were wearing for the First Communion, how to pose for picture for the families, and in general, seemingly more concerned with their surroundings, than with what they were participating in for the first time.  However, as the Mass continued, they seemed almost to become transfixed on what was happening, and as I looked out from the altar, I saw that the girls and boys were really cognizant of what was happening…they approached for reception of Communion with a reverence, a joy, and an awe, that was clearly visible on their faces and in their demeanor….and it reminded me of that scriptural quote in the title of today’s blog…..and then it affected me…..I was the “waiter” so to speak for the Lord’s supper, bring the Bread of Life to these children and I felt a sense of simple joy to be able to act as the “maître’d” so to apeak, at the Lord’s banquet.  I was the instrument in God’s hands bringing the Eucharist to these children….and it humbled me and made me full of reverence and awe for the celebration….indeed, in children we find the Truth.

After the First Communion Mass and then again last Sunday I thanked God for giving me the vocation of priesthood and especially allowing me to bring the Eucharist to these children….it is a humbling and exhilarating experience to the “servant” at the Lord’s table, serving the Bread of Life to the children…..and to mindful of the awesomeness of the Lord’s sacred mysteries! May I always wait on the Lord’s table.

God’s grace is poured out upon us

As part of my ministry, I spend some time each month ministering to residents of a facility for court adjudicated youth. A couple of weeks ago, three students approached me and began asking me questions about our Faith Tradition, and after a few minutes of speaking with them, they told me that the reason that they came to see me was because they wanted to be baptized and receive the sacraments because they have come to believe that Jesus is their savior and their saving grace in this world and in the next.  I was floored by the enthusiasm with which they spoke and it reminded me of how at Pentecost God’s grace was poured out on the disciples to go forth and proclaim God’s good news…..I listened and asked each of them to write something about why they wanted to be baptized and who Jesus is to them…One of them wrote” to me Jesus is my Savior, to me is more than a man who sacrificed himself for everyone’s sins.  To me he is a necessary part of my life, like a heart is to a body….Without Him I don’t have a guiding hand telling me what is good”.  How inspiring was such a statement from an adolescent in his situation.

I was so impressed and humbled by what these three young men said to me that I was humbled and realized how God’s grace was working in all of us this Easter season….I began lessons with them and on Pentecost Sunday, the three young men will be baptized and received into the Church….on such a special day the Spirit will be more manifested in their lives….I drove home thanking God that I could be a small part of the miracle of Faith that God was “gracing” these three young men with during this joyful season…My spirits were lifted and thanked God for giving me the grace of my vocation which enabled me to be part of the “graced time” God was working in the lives of these three young men….Alleluia!

Thirst for knowledge

I just returned from a week’s stay in Chicago where I spent time with our seminarians who are studying at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. It was a great week, especially celebrating the Octave of Easter with them…..as I sat, talked with and listened to their “discussions” about their classes and met with their teachers, it only enhanced the whole Easter Triduum experience for me…the Risen Lord is truly present among them and I kept on thinking about the phrase from the Psalm ….athirst is soul for God, the God of my salvation…..why? because you could sense the thirst in their souls for the Lord, and the deeper knowledge that comes from their studies….it was like participating in the Easter Triduum again but in a deeper sense of God’s presence and love. In speaking with their professors and visiting the school, the conversations and the place itself resonated with the joy of the season….certainly the thirst for knowledge was helping to quench theirs and my thirst for the Lord in this Easter season…..it provided me with a sense of vitality and hopefulness for those pursuing a call to the Religious Life.

Daylight Savings Time

Last Thursday, we here in Paoli, experienced our heaviest snowfall of the year, ten inches of snow fell and the abbey’s grounds became a winter wonderland…trees covered with snow, the grounds looking like a large container of vanilla ice cream, all ready for the chocolate syrup…..but as I walked outside to get into a car to go and celebrate an early morning Mass at one of the local parishes, the quiet stillness enabled me to “tune in” to the God of my heart as God allowed me to experience the calm communion of my heart and mind with God’s.  In quiet Communion, I felt an sense of calm, an easiness that all is well and God’s love is covering the earth just like the snow was covering the Abbey’s grounds…..it was a intensely spiritual moment and in the darkness I felt God’s presence leading me onward…..

Advance three days ahead and the clocks were moved ahead one hour and the temperatures “soared”, if I can use that term, to the 50’s. The snow began to melt and green started to appear…..Once again, walking out in the early morning sunlight I saw new life that was emerging from the white snow and the parable of the grain of wheat came to mind…….I had just celebrated the funeral of a friend of mine on Saturday and this morning as I walked and heard and saw the dripping water from the melting snow casting shining glimmers of light in the warming sun, that sense of communion re-appeared in my being and I was “tuned in” this time to the rhythm of the melting drops of snow, falling in a pattern that matched a beating heart – a beating heart that reminded me of God and how my friend was now emerging from the blanket of death into a new life of communion with her God….

All of this gave me a sense of calling, a direction, of being led by a God of love along the journey of life ready to do God’s will in  my regard and smiling that now he has given me an extra hour of daylight each day to recognize the warmth and new life of Spring…..may you have that same experience in your “daylight savings time zone”……just stay zoned in and not zoned out! God be praised and Godspeed to all of you.

Come After Me

Several times this week, the Gospel featured the various “call” stories from the synoptic gospels…but the one from Mark always strikes me with its “call” being done in the context of urgency or immediacy.  Jesus’ coming is a NOW EVENT and calls for a NOW RESPONSE.   Sometimes I think in this individualistic society that we live in, we are even encouraged to take our time and “think things over” before we make any decisions……yet if you read the “call” stories from the Gospels, Jesus tells the first of his Apostles to “come after Me” or “come, follow Me” and they immediately leave their nets, their own worldly entanglements we might say, and follow Jesus….that we could do the same.

So often, I know my own willfulness, pride, and even fear gets in the way of dropping my nets of worldly entanglements and just setting off freely to follow Jesus.  Yet the more I think about it and view the newly fallen snow outside my window, I begin to feel that it must be a truly freeing experience to be able to say “YES” to Jesus’ call.  It’s so pure and innocent like the white fields that I am looking at, and yet, I hesitate. I wonder why?

I begin to think of all those things that I will have to leave behind….and yet, in the end, when Jesus calls me home one day, won’t I be doing just that….leaving all behind to follow him into the great mystery of Love that awaits all of us…..I pray that each day I may become more and more free of those nets that keep me giving a free and complete “yes” to Jesus….. I promised that once on the day of profession…..it’s good to remind myself each day of what that promise means….to be like the Master because he became like me…..Lord, help me keep taking that step that follows yours.

The Silent Mystery revealed

Walking through the Abbey Church in the silence of the early morning during these days of the Christmas find myself drawn more deeply into the mystery of the LOVE that is at the center of the Christmas season and the mystery it enfleshes.  The smell of the evergreen wreaths, the nativity scene mounted on the wall and the glowing of the four candles of the Advent wreath all seem to let me sink deeper into the mystery of God’s love for us by incarnating the Son in the Virgin’s Womb.  The quietness of the Church and Chapels, the soft glow of the candles burning on the Advent wreath, and the stillness of these early mornings make me ever so aware of God’s limitless love for us, a love so great that God actually became one of us…there was a popular song in the 1990’s entitled “What if God were one of us” and God IS one of us….what a mystery of ponder, a silent yet powerful mystery that will bear fruit during the Passiontide.

Yet one doesn’t even think of Passiontide as one gazes at the red roses and the poinsettias.  I am filled and awed at the God becoming human aspect of the silent mystery of Yuletide and even though I know that the Crib and the Cross are intimately connected, right now I can only ponder the wonderful love God has for me because God has  become like me.  What gratitude enters my soul and heart and I respond to the call to return that love by seeking to love God in the best way that I can, now and in the seasons to come….Perhaps you can feel that pull of God’s love calling you ever more deeply into the silent mystery of Christmas and hopefully you will respond to that call to serve God and God has served us….I think this is what Jesus means when he tells us that he has come to serve and not be served.

I hope these days of the Christmas season and the New Year will be a time of new beginnings for you and a time for you to re-connect with the mystery of the Incarnation..  May it be a time of searching one’s heart in the quiet stillness of the season and letting your heart respond to God’s call to conversion and an ever deepening of your being part of God’s plan of salvation.  The Cross will certainly come but for now let us rejoice in the Crib which signals the unfolding of God’s love for us.  O Come, let us adore and let us to tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born and lives in your hearts.  God’s Peace be yours.

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….

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.