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!

A Truly Divine (Devine) Sunday…

On Sunday October 19th, 2014, the Norbertines and the Immaculate Heart Of Mary Sisters (IHM’s) came together to celebrate 50 years of profession for Sister Rita Devine, during a special Mass ceremony held at Daylesford Abbey. This was such a wonderful occasion for both religious groups, let alone for Sister Rita, who serves faithfully in the front reception office at our Norbertine Spirituality Center. Close to 150 specially invited guests of Sister Rita’s came out to Daylesford to show their love, support, and gratitude for the many blessings Sister Rita has bestowed on all their lives, in which we give thanks to God for her “Yes”. I served as a backup Acolyte this day, assisting the three IHM Novices that were designated by Sister Rita to serve as Acolytes for her celebration. After Mass was over, the entire assembly made their way back to our large dining hall for a special celebratory toast and turkey dinner, which was absolutely delicious I must say. Once dinner was over, a music DJ started spinning appropriate dance floor tunes and invited everyone to get up onto the dance floor to shake a leg and grab a partner. While yours truly abstained from killing himself on the dance floor, this did not stop other Norbertines and IHM’s from having a great time showcasing all the latest moves, which were perfectly in synch to the beat of the music blaring from the DJ’s stereo speakers. I can’t think of a better way to demonstrate Norbertine “Communio” between the two religious orders than sharing not only the meal at the Sacrifice Table, but also a meal and festive dancing later on in our large dining hall. This truly was a wonderful moment and a blessing to all of us!

Theologically speaking and pertinent to this past Sunday’s celebration, I also learned a little bit more about friendship from my class on St. Augustine this week. St. Augustine says “authentic Christian friendship has God as it’s author and reference, which is rooted in Christ Jesus, the mediator, and is elevated by HIS grace, finding it’s ultimate perfection in heaven.” Taking the time to ponder this definition in my heart today, I can honestly say this is how I felt having the IHM’s with us to celebrate the glorious and momentous occasion of 50 years of Sister Rita saying “Yes” to our Heavenly Father. We are a close-knit family that gives continuous thanks to God for His love and the Gift of a religious vocation, and we pray that He will continue to work within us, sending the Holy Spirit, so that we may make known the good news of the Gospel.    God Bless

The Heart of the Matter…

Not only does the title of this week’s blog showcase one of my favorite Don Henley songs from his amazing catalog of hits; it also indicates the theme of my entire week in regards to my classes and participation. Starting with my InSearch course at Immaculata University last Thursday, students were asked to put together an arts and crafts project that traced the moments of our lives, the good, the bad, and the ugly. This “Heart Map” was to also include how God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit made Himself present in these moments. First, let me tell you that I really do not like assignments that include artistic elements of drawing, as I’m not very talented in this area of creative expression. I think I almost failed Art Class and Shop Class back in High School, and so, this brought back a ton of bad memories and frustrations. However, once I got the ball rolling on this project, the Holy Spirit took over and helped me create something that surprised even my worst critic…Myself …The best part about this assignment (or worst, depending on your phobia) was that each student got up in front of the class and displayed their hearts (and souls) sharing their joys and struggles, which is not easy to do when you only have known this group in front of you for one month. It was one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever witnessed, as my fellow students suddenly became vulnerable in the telling of their life stories and how their relationship with God supported and brought them through each moment. This is truly one of the best things about being a Christian…Our hearts hold the keys to the Kingdom; the very Kingdom that Christ tells us about in the Holy Gospels.

In my class with my Formation Director last week, the theme of the heart continued when we discussed the Rule of St. Augustine, the same rule we Norbertines follow throughout our spiritual lives together as a community. We are called to be “of one mind and one heart on the way to God” (I-2.) and “live together in harmony and love”(1-8.) In fact, everything we say and do must reflect God’s love in our actions and words towards others, which is where the heart comes into play. While this may be hard to do, especially when we are feeling angered or cheated in some sort of way, we need to always ask Christ Jesus for the grace to overcome our own selfish and destructive desires, defeat the father of lies, and shine the divine light and love that emanates from the holy temple within. Live a Big-Hearted life! God Bless.

The Divine Painter

Peace be with you… The highlight of the past week for me was the start of the 42nd Annual Art Show on Friday October 3rd. Who needs to travel to NYC or Paris when you can wake up from bed in the morning and practically be enveloped by great works of art. While these works may not receive the same adulation and fanfare as those that are produced by the artistic masters like Rembrandt or Picasso, they do remind you of the great local and regional talent that’s out there that sadly goes unnoticed. This year close to 100 artists have agreed to display and make available for purchase their mini-masterpieces, with part of the proceeds going to the Norbertines at Daylesford Abbey. We held a reception on Friday night that rivaled the opening of any great exhibit located in a major metropolitan area, and yours truly donned an orange flag to help with the influx of connoisseurs looking for parking spaces. Life as a Norbertine Novice is never dull or predictable, on the contrary; it’s a life full of passion and color, especially when you’re surrounded by paintings and sculptures from the area’s finest.

I truly believe that all forms of artistic work come from God, a divine gift that inspires the heart and soul of the one doing the work of creating. As a long time songwriter, I know it’s really not of my doing, in terms of putting the chords and melodies together, for I really could not tell you how this process works in some sort of textbook fashion, let alone repeat it over and over again. Rather, the notes and the ideas seem to be channeled into me from a source, a divine muse if you will, and I bet if you ask painters, architects, movie directors, or video game makers the same question, they’ll tell you their greatest creative works appeared to them from out of nowhere as well. If you’re someone who believes you don’t have an artistic bone in your body, and the best you can do is draw stick figures, ask Christ Jesus to inspire you in this creative process and who knows, maybe they’ll just make it into the Louvre.

God Bless!

The Spirituality of Cooking…

Peace be with you…Sometimes the best way to share the love of Christ with someone is to share a simple meal together with them. It’s even more spiritual when you get to do the cooking! I get the opportunity about once a month to cook for my fellow confreres, though they might not think it can be called cooking after tasting their meals (just kidding), but hey, I do my best. Not only am I a Novice in the Norbertine order, but I’m also a Novice in the kitchen…but this does not stop me from joyfully chopping up vegetables, baking meats, and setting the tables up properly for meal time. What’s really important is the fact that we spend time together, living out our “communio” with one another during the dinner hour. This is a special time when we Norbertines get to catch up on all the happenings of the day, discussing everything from world events, to how our individual days went out on our assignments. Some of us like to recite puns, which always gets a laugh or two from the others sitting around us.

Now for something theological about sharing a meal together…What would Jesus do? It is well documented throughout the Gospels that Christ enjoyed spending His time at the dinner table, whether it was dining with His disciples during the last supper, the wedding feast at Cana, or with sinners who were in need of spiritual healing. Whatever the situation happens to be, Jesus is present with the ones he loves. In fact, Christ is present to us every time we attend Mass, as we participate in the eating of His body and the drinking of His blood. How fortunate and blessed are we! I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a better dinner partner than Christ Jesus at my table for all eternity…hopefully He will like my cooking. God Bless

Abbey Fest 2014 & The Body of Christ…

Peace be with you…What do you get when you combine 2,000 attendees, top-of-the-line music entertainment, wonderful food and craft vendors, and more importantly, the presence of Christ Jesus in the Holy Eucharist? Well let me tell you…You get the 2014 Abbey Fest extravaganza! I cannot tell you how blessed we were to have had such an event on our grounds at Daylesford. This was a vision that was put together almost a year ago from some very talented people on our Abbey Fest committee, and all the hard work of planning and executing this blessed event paid off. Not only did we have renowned Catholic artists such as Matt Maher and Audrey Assad perform their inspiring music, we also had an incredible Mass celebration as the headline event. My favorite moment came around 8:00pm, when we had a procession of the blessed sacrament through the crowd and onto the main concert stage with 2000 people on their knees in silence, while holding onto candles that miraculously burned throughout the entire adoration period…While I cannot speak for everyone, I have to believe that at this moment, with Christ truly present, it had to have touched everyone deep down into their heart of hearts.

To pull off an event of this magnitude flawlessly, the talents and the efforts of many are needed to make sure the innumerable amount of coordination of tasks get seen to fruition. It’s times like these when the Body Of Christ comes together, united under the watchful guide of the Holy Spirit, to give us all the strength and wisdom we truly need when undertaking a challenge such as Abbey Fest 2014. I have never been a part of such an overwhelming outpouring of love and selfless giving, like what I witnessed over this weekend from over 100 lay volunteers and religious, all working tirelessly to bring Christ to all the souls that were here at Daylesford on Saturday. God as surely blessed us through all of you!

A Week In the Life of a Novice…

Peace be with you…This past week provided a picture perfect example of the contemplative and active dynamic that make up each day of Norbertine life. On Monday I got to spend some quality time before the Lord both in the early morning and late afternoon, putting my soul at ease and reassuring me that HE will be with me as I tackle the upcoming joys and challenges that we call religious life. In fact, every morning is spent in contemplation before we gather as a community for Morning Prayer to recite the office. After prayer and Mass, things become more active throughout the day with in-house classes from the Norbertine Fathers, assigned work periods, and various meetings. I especially like to highlight the class at Immaculata University last Thursday, where I got to meet all my fellow brothers and sisters who also are in their first year of the novitiate with their respective orders. I found every one of my classmates friendly and humble, a perfect opportunity to share some Norbertine “communio” with this diverse group of God’s faithful. This new spiritual journey I said “Yes” to by entering into the novitiate just a few short weeks ago, is really starting to unfold and reveal its fruit to me, and I look forward to updating you all on my experiences as they happen. God Bless

Persevering as a Norbertine Novice…

A warm welcome to all my brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, and welcome to my very first blog entry…I hope this finds you well. The last few weeks have bestowed many blessings on me as I continue my discernment with the Norbertines at Daylesford Abbey. I entered the Novitiate a few weeks ago during the feast of St. Augustine, receiving the white habit and the constitutions of our Order. Now, I begin my class work with the Norbertine Fathers and will continue these studies throughout the canonical year. One class will focus on Norbertine history and the life of St. Norbert and the other class will delve into all things St. Augustine from whom our rule comes. I seriously recommend the reading of “Augustine of Hippo”, a biography by author Peter Brown if you’re interested in learning more about this iconic and influential saint. I would like to share with you what St. Augustine says about the gift of persevering, for this is a key concept into the pursuance of any religious vocation. St. Augustine says that through perseverance we are joined forever with the divine and can take solace in knowing that God will protect us from all that the world can throw at us (Brown 407). I find this phrase so comforting and reassuring, especially in times of self-doubt or times when I’m needing strength both physically and spiritually. Although I’ve been actively pursuing my vocation to the priesthood with the Norbertines for a few years now, I’m actually at the beginning of my spiritual journey and pray that God will continue to provide me with this gift as I head into the future with my new family. God Bless!