Christmas tidings

Merry Christmas, everyone. May the joy of Emmanuel (God with us) lift your hearts and bring you glad tidings.

The Abbey came to life in a special way over the past couple of days, with festive colors of green and red, joyful sounds of heavenly choirs, and grateful hearts expressed on cheerful faces, as over a thousand of Christ’s flock came to celebrate the birth of our Savior during the Christmas Eve Vigils on Saturday night and the Christmas Day Mass on Sunday. However, before any of these wonderful celebratory feasts could take place, a lot of work went on behind the scenes, especially in the days and hours leading up to these blessed Eucharistic celebrations of Christ’s birth, to make sure everyone present had a joyful Christmas experience. As a member of this community, the joy of setting up the decorations, serving as acolyte for each of the masses, and preparing a meal for my confreres, reminds me not only why I’m a disciple of Christ Jesus, but also why I entered into community life in the first place: to serve my neighbor!

As we make our way through the Christmas Octave, let us remember each and every day, all blessings that our loving God has bestowed on us. Not only have we received from Him the best gift ever imaginable; His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ; we also can be thankful for the gift of having one another to share our lives with during this most sacred and beautiful time of the year. God Bless!

The O Antiphons

The Lord is close at hand; Come, let us worship Him! One of the many joys I get to experience as a professed member of this Norbertine community, is the opportunity to Cantor for the Divine Office and Mass. On December 17th, the singing of the sacred O’ Antiphons began, letting us know that Christ our Savior is only moments away from entering into our world, so that we may know our Heavenly Father in the most intimate of ways.

How blessed are we to have a God that loves us so much, that He would want to take on flesh and the human condition, to dwell with us here on earth! Starting with the O’ Holy Wisdom antiphon, we acknowledge our limitations as created creatures and urn for the divine guidance that only Christ can give.

Speaking of wisdom, yours truly just finished final exam week at Immaculata University, and while I recognize there is a difference between wisdom and intellect, I’m blessed as an older student to be able to impart whatever human wisdom I may have on my much-younger and energetic student counterparts. All of my professors this semester have blessed me greatly with their expertise and dedication, passing on whatever they can, with the fruits of becoming a more well-rounded and knowledgeable human being.

However, none of this would possible if I didn’t have Christ Jesus to lead and nurture me through this academic experience, especially, when my Spanish class gave me such a run for my money this year…just kidding! God Bless.

A day of recollection

On November 30th, the Norbertine community was treated to a wonderful day of recollection, given by Rev. Francis Doyle, O.S.A. This presentation, held in our Divine Word Chapel, focused on the coming of our Lord, in this holy season of Advent. Fr. Doyle, blessed us with his spiritual wisdom and insight during the two daily conferences, and he also provided us with some spiritual food for thought, in the form of questions to ponder, during the quiet reflective times of this special day.

The highlight of this day of recollection for me was the sharing of the individual reflections from my confreres; a time of illumination for sure, on a spiritual idea or phrase, that really resonated with them from the earlier talks. Days of recollection allow us to slow down from our busy day, to properly center our hearts and minds on the splendor of God, the Church calendar, and the blessings of community life. Once this day of recollection is over, I find the talks and sharing of that day continue to bear fruit, as I journey deeper into the mystery of this blessed season.

I’m already looking forward to our Lenten day of recollection, but first, I’ll enjoy the coming weeks that lead up to the glory of our incarnational Lord and Savior. God Bless!

Advent blessings

A happy first week of Advent to all my friends in Christ Jesus! It’s been a while since my last posting effort, and so, I hope this finds you well. As a quick update… God has continued to bless me, since my last communication with you all, as I’m approaching my four-year anniversary (Jan 2017) with the Norbertines, at Daylesford Abbey. If that’s not enough of a blessing to report, I professed my vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, for a period of three-years, this past August 27th, in front of the entire Norbertine community, both professed and lay. I’m grateful to God, my confreres, family and friends, for all of their support and well wishes, as I took this big step in the vocation process.

As a seminarian, attending Immaculata University, I’ve been working hard on my theology, philosophy, and other required courses, in which the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters (IHM’s) are so lovingly passing on their collective wisdom to me. Now, with the Christmas Season at hand, it’s time to end the academic affairs of the past year, and find even extra space in my heart for the Lord’s coming.

We sing each and every morning the Gospel Canticle Antiphon “Take courage, the Lord our God comes to save us” which fuels us with hope and joy, reminding us all that something truly amazing is about to happen…May you remember this always, especially as you go about the busyness of the upcoming weeks ahead. God Bless!

Fr. John Zagarella, pt. 4: priesthood

As the month of November winds down, I’ll say goodbye for now, but leave you with a final reflection on my 30 plus years as a Norbertine priest. The years have been filled with many different ways to bring the charism of Norbert of Xanten to the people of God. I continue to be dedicated to discovering new and life giving ways to bring his spirit of peace, concord, healing and reconciliation into my ministry. Let’s pray for one another. If you have any questions for me, please contact me. In the meantime, have a Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving. May the upcoming Season of Advent bring you joy.

Sincerely,
Fr. John Zagarella, O.Praem.

Fr. John Zagarella, pt. 3: Vestition

Welcome Back, Readers:
So my story continues with my Vestition on August 28, 1979, my 21st birthday!  After a truly wonderful Affiliate experience, I was now vested in the white habit of the Norbertine Community.  I don’t think I’m too far off the mark when I say that entering a canonical novitiate was a very unique way to celebrate a 21st birthday!  My years in Formation were met with many opportunities and many challenges.  But above all, those years were a time to grow in love and knowledge of the Community to which I was more and more deeply committing myself. 

I realize now that I am older the gift that I was given back then. Simply put, being schooled in the lives our Fathers Norbert and Augustine long ago has given me the blueprint for living my life today; the decisions I make, the paths I choose and the goals I aspire to must first be grounded in reflecting on them both: what would Jesus do? What would Augustine do? What would Norbert do?

Have a great week.  See you soon for reflections on ordination and my experiences as a Norbertine priest.
Blessings,
Fr. John

Fr. John Zagarella, pt. 2: Affiliate period

Hello, Folks. As I promised last week, I’ll continue my Vocation story with my entrance into our Affliate Program. In those days, we lived in a house no longer on the Abbey grounds called Emmaus. I lived there for a year with another Affiliate and our Director, Fr. Thomas Rossi. It was a great experience! We had a terrific opportunity to get to know the Order up close and personal, and at the same time, have enough “space” to continue our process of discernment.

One of the things I enjoyed the most was hearing the Vocation stories of many of the Professed members of the Community. I loved hearing the ways God’s call came to each man in different ways through different people, places and event, yet all were called to Daylesford Abbey. Until next week, keep listing for God’s call in your life!

Blessings,
Fr. John

Introducing Fr. John Zagarella

Greetings! I’m Father John Zagarella, O.Praem, and I’ll be on this Vocation Blog through the month of November. There are many aspects of my life as a Norbertine to highlight, but for me, the best place to start is at the beginning.

What drew me into the Order was my experience with the Norbertines as a student from 1972-1976 at Bishop Neumann High School in South Philadelphia. What I saw as a teenager were so many examples over my four years at Neumann of these guys who were down to earth, approachable and friendly with us as students and with each other. They truly seemed to like one another and enjoy working together. That spoke volumes to me, and made me want to know more about this Community of priests and brothers.

I eventually spent several weekends at Daylesford on Vocation Discernment retreats. Those were truly great experiences. It was so powerful experiencing the daily life of a Norbertine! So it was very easy for me to make my decision when I thought that religious life was indeed the Lord’s desire for me. I eventually made application to the Order and entered our Affiliate Program in the summer of 1978. What a terrific year that was living with Fr. Tom Rossi, O.Praem. at a house that was then on Daylesford’s property that we called Emmaus.

I’ll be back the week of November 7th with snippets of life as an Affiliate. In the meantime, I would really encourage anyone who may be thinking that religious life is where the Lord is leading you to come and spend a weekend with us. We would love to host you. Have a great week ahead! Be safe.

Blessings,
Fr. John

A Norbertine Priest in Afghanistan and Kosovo

2b-kosovo-eye-diseaseFrom 2003 till 2011 I was a military chaplain. The Chief Chaplain of the Czech Military Chaplaincy told me, in the beginning of my service, that there is an important skill which military chaplain must have: the strength to bear loneliness. During my service there were many wonderful moments, but some were very hard. I had to go through long and intensive training, and often lived a long time out of my community. Deployments abroad meant living a couple months without my community and often without any other priest. I lost several friends and had to announce their death to their families – parents, wives, siblings. There were moments when my community, my family, my friends or parishioners from the past, couldn´t understand.

On the other hand, I experienced that God was near by many new blessings: the community of military chaplains, the friendships of soldiers, wonders around me (such as the Afghanistan’s amazing natural landscape or Kosovo’s religious monuments). I met people who were very poor, sick, suffering, who lost a lot of family members in war, but who were full of hope and strong in the Lord. Their witness encouraged me. I often felt not strong enough, not good enough, not skilled enough; but God let me experience that he can use me as his instrument even with my weakness and imperfection. I experienced a conversion of soldiers who were touched by God´s grace and found Jesus. I could help them to prepare for baptism and they became our brothers in Christ. There was a lot of blessing around me.

Maybe the words of Psalm 94:18-19 could help me to express what I want to describe:

When I said, “My foot is slipping,”
your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.
When anxiety was great within me,
your consolation brought me joy.

And my Norbertine family surprised me as well.

In Kosovo and Afghanistan, we met people who suffered horribly. There was a poor family in Kosovo where three children had a serious eye disease and had lost their eyesight. There was a painful pressure in their eyes, but any medication was too expensive and unavailable in their area. The kids got some eye drops bringing relief only on Christmas. There were villages destroyed by mudslides in Afghanistan. Many people lost their homes, their lives, or were injured. I was a chaplain of a Provincial Reconstruction Team and our goal was to support people in need. But this was too much and we needed more support of our Government and other organizations. And one day, there appeared a 4 year old boy, Hammidulla, in our camp. His uncle brought him in his arms. He fell into a fire and was burnt on his tummy, groin, and thighs. No hospital in Afghanistan was able to help him and military doctors suggested moving him to the Czech Republic for a complicated surgery. And there were many other cases, many other people in need.

We wrote letters to the Czech Republic and asked some organizations for support. I sent the letter to my community and priests of our Abbey. We found organizations and people who supported us. But guess who was the most generous? Norbertine parishes. They did collections on Sunday Masses and sent us more money than we expected. We could help Hammidulla to stay 5 months in the Czech Republic and paid part of his rehabilitation and special treatment. We could buy expensive medication for the needy people of Kosovo. We bought a lot of blankets, pharmaceuticals, school equipment, and built a new kitchen and dining room for kids in an orphanage in Afghanistan. I could continue with more stories.

Many of these generous parishes were in need as well. They needed money for restoring their churches, old organ, parish houses, and pastoral projects and so on. But there was still enough to share with others.

I was proud of my Norbertine family.

3-an-orphanage

 

One heart and mind on their way to God

baptism

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.