OLPH Pedaling Padres

Please contribute to my benefit ride for the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home here in Atlanta! Every dollar counts!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Priest's Vacation

What does a priest's vacation look like?

There's probably as many answers to that question as their are priests, but I like to think that the vacay I just took would be a model for vacations for the rest of my priesthood.

I've really only got four qualities, or marks if you will, that "a little time away" must meet: Holy, Fraternal, Awesome, and Cheap.

No matter what, the Lord must be at the center of the vacation.  As the old axiom goes, there's no vacation from your vocation.  Daily Mass is a must.  Making time for daily prayer is a sine qua non.  On the other side of the coin, there can be no room for shenanigans.  If I wouldn't do it in my priestly clerical clothing, it probably shouldn't be done at all.

Friendships are so crucially important.  How hard it is to stay in contact with the friends you make in college or in, a priest's case, in seminary.  A priest-in-process can make so many great friends, guys with whom he can share anything from a beer and a belch to a hear-wrenching spiritual struggle.  A priest's vacation ought to be shared with priest-buddies.

Location and stuff to do.  What good is a vacation if there's no change of scenery, no recreational (read 're-creational') activity?  If it's the same ol', same ol', the vacation probably wont serve its purpose.

All the above must be accomplished while keeping the price within a reasonable range.  And a priest's reasonable range is and ought to be a little lower than the average person's.  We make a promise of simplicity in accordance with our state in life.  There's no vow of poverty for diocesan priests (as there is for religious priests), but the Lord's call to be detached from the things of the world still applies--as it does to ALL CHRISTIANS.  Priests should witness to it all the more, showing how such a detachment is actually quite freeing and joyful.

So here's a picture of the vacation I just took.  It should speak for itself on each of the qualities of an epic priestly vacation.

Mass on a rock on the island of Culebra

Holy -- It's the Mass.  There's nothing more holy than the Mass.  There was Mass every day.  This Mass was offered on the island of Culebra, on an empty beach.  The candles wouldn't stay lit, but besides that, it was practically perfect in every way.  We had a holy hour each day, prayed our Liturgy of the Hours, and offered a rosary each day as we drove to the different spots around the east coast of Puerto Rico.  I even got to go to confession!

Fr. Keith owning a waterfall in El Yunque national rain forest.
Fraternal -- while he's not in the picture, my great friend Fr. Keith Romke of the diocese of Rockford, IL, joined me on this epic vacation.  He was the principle celebrant for this Mass.  He's a year behind me in ordination class.  Our friendship began when we were both on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  He's a great man, an awesome priest, and a dear friend.

Zoni Beach, Culebra

Awesome -- I think the top picture speaks for itself on this mark.  Puerto Rico is simply stunning.  So much natural beauty.  We snorkeled every day, each day better than the last.  We chilled on the beach, we harvested coconuts, we had great food, we hiked in rain forest, we toured Old San Juan.  So relaxing, so fulfilling.  Just in case the top pic doesn't capture the high awesomeness factor, feast your eyes on this one.

Finally, Cheap -- You might be thinking, Ok, you went to Puerto Rico.  How is that inexpensive?  Well, it just was.  Being a priest has a few perks.  In this case, one of those perks is that ordination hooks a man up in the largest fraternity in the world.  No matter where a priest is on God's green earth, there's going to be a Catholic Church there, and a pastor who will take you in for free (especially if you offer to take one his Masses or confession times).  Fr. Keith and I stayed at San Juan's San Agustin parish.  It's certainly no Ritz, or even a Holiday Inn for that matter.  But it is a private and safe room with a bed and air conditioning.  Free lodging REALLY helps, and I'm most grateful to Fr. Felix and his Redemptorist brothers who hosted us.  The only expenses we had were the flight, the rental car, and  food.  The flight was astonishingly affordable, mostly I think because we're smack in the middle of hurricane season.  But, praise God, weather was not an issue.

So that's a priestly vacation.  Can't wait for the next one!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Check it.

No matter whether we're working our jobs, living in our families, trying to help society, voting, saving the environment, whatever we're doing, we MUST be thinking with our Catholic conscience.  Why?  Because Jesus is either Lord of our lives or he's not.  Because he either gave his Spirit to the Church or he didn't.  Because there's either truth or their isn't.

Here's some videos from Spirit Juice Studios that I've found that are awesome in showing the logic, the truth, the beauty, the challenge and the passion of what it looks like to let the light of Christ impact our lives.

On voting:

On gay marriage:

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Convocation of Priests

If you're in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, you may have noticed a shortage of priests.  But I'm not talking about a vocations crisis; I mean that there are actually no priests in our parishes these days.  

That's because they (we) are all up here at Lake Lanier for a 3-day convocation.  Once every two years, the whole presbyterate with the Archbishop gather for a few days of priestly fraternity and conferences on timely issues.

My first convocation was just after ordination in 2010 and the topic was all about how to implement the new translation of the Roman Missal.  We were given study texts and practical pointers on how to make the transition a smooth one.  I'd say we've done a decent job.  Not great, but not poor either.  There's still work to be done to reveal the complete awesomeness of the Third Edition.

This year, the general topic is "stewardship of the priesthood".  We are looking at the current state of affairs in the Archdiocese.  Exploding numbers of Catholics--mostly from immigration, but a fair number of converts and reverts--the outlook for the future based on the numbers of priests and seminarians, and how to plan for effective ministry going forward.

Please keep us in your prayers!  Pray this one from the Pope if you don't mind:

LORD JESUS CHRIST, eternal High Priest, you offered yourself to the Father on the altar of the Cross and through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit gave your priestly people a share in your redeeming sacrifice.

Hear our prayer for the sanctification of our priests. Grant that all who are ordained to the ministerial priesthood may be ever more conformed to you, the divine Master. May they preach the Gospel with pure heart and clear conscience.  Let them be shepherds according to your own Heart, single-minded in service to you and to the Church and shining examples of a holy, simple and joyful life.

Through the prayers of the Blessed Virgin Mary, your Mother and ours,draw all priests and the flocks entrusted to their care to the fullness of eternal life where you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.



Thursday, September 6, 2012

Cardinal Dolan's Prayer

Copied from www.lifesitenews.com:

With a “firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence,” let us close this convention by praying for this land that we so cherish and love:

Let us Pray.

Almighty God, father of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, revealed to us so powerfully in your Son, Jesus Christ, we thank you for showering your blessings upon this our beloved nation. Bless all here present, and all across this great land, who work hard for the day when a greater portion of your justice, and a more ample measure of your care for the poor and suffering, may prevail in these United States. Help us to see that a society’s greatness is found above all in the respect it shows for the weakest and neediest among us.

We beseech you, almighty God to shed your grace on this noble experiment in ordered liberty, which began with the confident assertion of inalienable rights bestowed upon us by you: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Thus do we praise you for the gift of life. Grant us the courage to defend it, life, without which no other rights are secure. We ask your benediction on those waiting to be born, that they may be welcomed and protected. Strengthen our sick and our elders waiting to see your holy face at life’s end, that they may be accompanied by true compassion and cherished with the dignity due those who are infirm and fragile.

We praise and thank you for the gift of liberty. May this land of the free never lack those brave enough to defend our basic freedoms. Renew in all our people a profound respect for religious liberty: the first, most cherished freedom bequeathed upon us at our Founding. May our liberty be in harmony with truth; freedom ordered in goodness and justice. Help us live our freedom in faith, hope, and love. Make us ever-grateful for those who, for over two centuries, have given their lives in freedom’s defense; we commend their noble souls to your eternal care, as even now we beg the protection of your mighty arm upon our men and women in uniform.

We praise and thank you for granting us the life and the liberty by which we can pursue happiness. Show us anew that happiness is found only in respecting the laws of nature and of nature’s God. Empower us with your grace so that we might resist the temptation to replace the moral law with idols of our own making, or to remake those institutions you have given us for the nurturing of life and community. May we welcome those who yearn to breathe free and to pursue happiness in this land of freedom, adding their gifts to those whose families have lived here for centuries.

We praise and thank you for the American genius of government of the people, by the people and for the people. Oh God of wisdom, justice, and might, we ask your guidance for those who govern us: President Barack Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden, Congress, the Supreme Court, and all those, including Governor Mitt Romney and Congressman Paul Ryan, who seek to serve the common good by seeking public office. Make them all worthy to serve you by serving our country. Help them remember that the only just government is the government that serves its citizens rather than itself. With your grace, may all Americans choose wisely as we consider the future course of public policy.

And finally Lord, we beseech your benediction on all of us who depart from here this evening, and on all those, in every land, who yearn to conduct their lives in freedom and justice. We beg you to remember, as we pledge to remember, those who are not free; those who suffer for freedom’s cause; those who are poor, out of work, needy, sick, or alone; those who are persecuted for their religious convictions, those still ravaged by war.

And most of all, God Almighty, we thank you for the great gift of our beloved country.

For we are indeed “one nation under God,” and “in God we trust.”

So dear God, bless America. You who live and reign forever and ever.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Controversy on Facebook

Last night, I posted the above video on my Facebook wall about Planned Parenthood, showing that these are the types our current administration supports and champions.

One of my friends from high school was moved to comment.  Since I spent so much time on the response, I thought I'd kill two birds with one post.  Any chance to educate is worth taking.  Here's what my Facebook friend had to say, followed by my reply:
This is cringe-worthy, to be sure. I just truly feel sorry for these people that think this is appropriate. Abortion shouldn't be consumed like tic-tacs. 

HOWEVER - The First Lady merely said this: "And he believes that women are more than capable of making our own choices about our bodies and our health care. That's what my husband stands for." And while these people are unfortunately grouped in with that, I would pretty much bet my bottom dollar that her comments are in direct response to the ridiculous comments that Todd Aiken made a few weeks ago that are still on the lips of everyone talking politics. She did not specifically mention that she condones abortions but rather a woman's right to decide for themselves.

Now, Fr. Michael - you and I have NEVER discussed politics. In fact, I've restrained myself from being offended by your cover photo's message in realizing that you and I are just never going to agree. Agreeing to disagree, so to speak. 

But what I should say: I am a registered Democrat. So is my soon-to-be-husband. And we're both pro-life. Why? He's adopted. And he was adopted by the most tremendously loving, caring family one could ask for. That's truly an amazing example of what not aborting a child can do. But that doesn't give us the right to tell women how they conceive a child is legitimate or not, or dictate the circumstances life has dealt them with financially, mentally or otherwise. We can only pray that they find the right decision within them. 

The point the First Lady is making is actually quite a conservative one: less government. Government should not have the right to interfere with a woman's reproductive organs. I actually find it quite hypocritical that this issue is even on the Republican platform when they are all about less government in the lives of individuals. We can hope, pray or whatever we want for any of the people affected by circumstances - and while this video truly shows the disgusting sides of it, there are two sides to EVERY story and unfortunately, it's not an organization's job - religious or otherwise - to dictate how someone acts. We must remember that not everyone subscribes to our same beliefs, and to think otherwise, really, goes against what "religious freedom," to reference your previous post, is all about.

And here is my reply (name changed to FRIEND to protect his identity):
FRIEND, thank you for your comment. While I imagine you're right in that we won't agree on things political, I hope we can come to agreement on certain things that are, in fact, true. 

You're right to claim that a woman should have the freedom to do with her body as she see's fit. Any person should have that freedom. There is, though, a problem with your logic: you pre-suppose that the baby has no rights of its own. Doesn't the new person in the womb have the freedom to have their body cared for? If, in fact, the creature in the womb is a human person, it is already worthy of its dignity, its life, its protection.

I'm glad to hear that you and Graham are pro-life. As you state, his very existence is due to the fact that someone recognized the dignity that was his *simply because he was already there*. What the whole pro-life argument is about is simply this: that a unique, irreplaceable, completely individual human person exists at conception, and, as a human person, like you and me, has a right to life, a right to live. It's not as if a fetus magically becomes a baby at birth or even at viability. It doesn't "become" a human person when it starts to look like one. It simply IS a human person from the first moment of his or her existence. Because fetuses are persons, laws should protect them and, more importantly, people should love them, simply because they are there. The dignity of the person demands that we respond in love. The same is true of the poor. The same is true of the immigrant. The same is true of absolutely every single human person on the face of the planet.

Now, as for your thoughts on government involvement in women's healthcare, I have two points:

1) I would be thrilled to find a way to explain the Affordable Care Act as anything but a massive intrusion of the government into *everyone's* healthcare. Yes, it is a crime that so many people in a first-world country like the USA are without healthcare. But it seems better to me, particularly in my role as a priest, to build up the sense in people that they are their brother's keeper and that they have a Christ-given mandate to honor the dignity of their fellow-man and to do what they can to alleviate the sufferings of those around them. If people really and truly cared for one another, we wouldn't be in the mess we're in.

2) There are some issues that simply trump other ones. Government should be concerned with pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. If life falls by the wayside, nothing else is guaranteed. We should have great distrust of any politician (no matter how just he/she is to the poor, no matter how great a speech-giver, no matter anything else) if he or she is knowingly willing to allow innocent human persons to suffer the loss of their intrinsic dignity.

My point in posting the video was, admittedly, to "rally the troops". Mrs. Obama gave a fantastic speech, and it was clear how sincere she is about her love for her husband and his work. But while her words were smooth as oil, her words were naked swords. 

The problem is that, underlying her message is this torrent of what I can see is at best woeful ignorance or at worst, straight up deceptive evil. This administration has uncompromisingly united itself to Planned Parenthood, touting as women's rights the killing of untold millions, yes millions of human persons. Check out PPhood's website someday (particularly what they show/tell in the kid's section) and tell me if they are presenting a healthy approach to understanding human dignity. You won't find it. What you will find are instructions on how to masturbate, how to have intercourse, how to avoid telling your family you made a mistake. They get kids hooked on sex then tell them "Oh, your casual approach to your sexuality got you in a crisis pregnancy? We can take care of that for you. They are a business, plain and simple. Abortion is their cash cow. 

How many people agree that abortion is wrong, but still want it as an option for cases of rape and incest? Almost the whole country. Even Planned Parenthood itself has argued that it wishes to reduce the number performed, but wants them in such emergency cases. Then why, I ask you, do we not have laws yet limiting abortion only to cases of rape and incest? Because that doesn't produce enough income for Planned Parenthood.

The only reason they get involved in politics is to ensure that they have a steady cash flow coming in. Obama needs PPhood for the "women's rights" vote. PPhood needs Obama to stay alive and to continue building palaces off the monies raised by killing babies.

FRIEND, you're a smart man. I enjoyed our friendship in HS and college, and am chagrined that our friendship fell away. I do not intend to offend by placing things like my banner or this video on facebook, but rather to show my facebook friends that it's "right and just" to allow our faith to influence our politics. In fact, it must. If it doesn't, do we really believe it at all?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Fr. Michael's MUST READ List

(Currently reading)

Catholic Teaching on Homosexuality by Fr. Louis Cameli

      Only just begun, but this libretto so far shows great promise.  One thing I appreciate from the beginning pages is that the author stresses the importance of distinctions: not all people with same-sex attraction are part of the "gay-rights" political movement.  Homosexual does not imply "pride parades".  He also asks some hard questions right from the get go: do I determine myself or do I receive my nature as a gift?  Am I the source of truth or is there a source outside of me?  Looking forward to the rest.

 Fatherless by Brian J. Gail.
      An excellent Catholic novel.  And it is very Catholic.  Gail certainly has done his homework, going into great detail on some of the most pertinent and timely issues in the current social dialogue (abortion, contraception, pornography, priest crisis, etc).  The beef of the story so far is how the characters let their faith guide (or not guide) their actions in these true-to-life scenarios.  Will the priest step up to bat for truth?  Will the man sacrifice his morally bankrupt company, thus loosing his family, or appease his wife and sacrifice his conscience?  Will the mother of a depressed and distressed teen abandon her wayward and abusive child or will she find a way to bring normalcy back to her household?  I have a feeling that life and love will prevail.

These are the books that I suggest for the serious Catholic.

1.  The Life of Christ by Fulton J. Sheen

       The (now) Venerable Fulton J. Sheen opens wide the door to the life of the greatest man who will ever live.  His style is timeless, much like his subject.  You will never read scripture the same way again.  I took this as a companion on a Holy Land pilgrimage and felt it gave me better insight to the Heart of my Savior than any other scripture commentary.  Read it with the liturgical seasons.  Constantly and unceasingly edifying.  Favorite. Book. Ever.

2.  Theology of the Body by Pope John Paul II

       A seriously powerful exposition of Catholic theological anthropology.  Created in the image and likeness of God, mankind bears within itself the very reflection of the divine in that we are made for love, by love.  John Paul II starts with the question concerning divorce in Matthew chapter 9, which propels him to launch into an intense meditation on the creation narratives of Genesis.  The depths he plumbs have some epically radical consequences for man and woman.  This book changed the way I understood myself, how I relate to women, and how I view the Church.

                                                     3.  The Confessions of St. Augustine by St. Augustine
      This was required reading for a class at the JPII Institute on Augustinian theology of love and friendship.  It is truly a masterpiece, utterly astounding.  Augustine wrote it as a prayer, a meditation on the experiences of his life.  From full-blown pagan to total sell-out for Jesus Christ.  He captures the sense of loss and grief.  He nails the experience of shame and confusion and the overwhelming nature of the encounter with God in the Lord Jesus.  

4.  Light of the World, The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times, an interview of Pope Benedict XVI with Peter Sewald
       Ever wonder what the Pope thinks about hot-button issues?  The pope opens his mind and heart in this engaging interview.  Sewald seems, at times, to be pestering and fishing for scandal, only to be met with compassion, reason, and sound judgment.  Contrary to what many would have you believe, this book is NOT all about condoms for Africans and sex abuse by clergy.  It's a beautiful insight into perhaps the greatest mind alive today.  We have such an amazing gift in Pope Benedict--a truly holy scholar and passionate pastor.

Called to Love

Starting tonight and running for the next 5 Tuesdays, Christ the King's Young Adult Ministry, the CTK 20/30 Somethings, will be hosting a book review and discussion on the themes of Carl Anderson and Jose Granados' Called to Love, Approaching John Paul II's Theology of the Body.

While admittedly not as technical a work as its source text is, this is no watered-down theology book.

Anderson and Granados take us deep into the mystery of Bl. John Paul II's theological anthropology.  What is it to be a human person?  Why am I here?  Does my body have anything to tell me about my purpose?  What's the point of sexuality anyway?  What is "the good life" and how do we live it?

These are some of the questions that are answered in this truly inspirational volume, which takes the most salient points of the Theology of the Body, illuminating and explaining them in light of the Catholic faith.

I first encountered this book mere days after it was first published.  Jose Granados was one of my professors at the time at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family.  Thankfully, the book is more user friendly than his lecture style (nothin but love for you, Fr. Jose!).

Anyway, if you're in the Buckhead area, and are in your 20s or 30s, please come by our parish hall on Tuesdays at 7:00PM.  If you can't make it, I STRONGLY urge you to get the book and read it.  It's definitely on my must read list.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Homily, 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Come Holy Spirit...

The past 5 weeks have all been about the Bread of Life, the Eucharist, the great gift of love that the Lord Jesus leaves us: the Body of Christ given for us, that we may become the Body of Christ. 

St. Augustine points out that when we receive the Bread of Life, unlike when eating other foods that become part of us, we ourselves are incorporated into the Body of Christ. 

Today, Scripture leads us to contemplate how we are to care for that Body; how faith leads us to action.

Moses: “Hear the statutes and decrees…that you may live.”

The Lord: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me.”

St. James: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

In the seminary in Rome, once you were ordained a priest and were in your fifth and final year of formation and studies for the priestly ministry, you moved down to a corridor on the first floor reserved for student priests called “First Rectory”. 

There was an air conditioned lounge on that corridor, with couches a mini fridge, an espresso maker, and a TV.  Seminary High Life.  Priestly Bling.  That TV only picked up 4 channels (I thought to myself: this must be what it was like for my parents growing up?)

Those channels were Fox News, BBC, CNN, and a crazy Italian channel that showed American classic movies ridiculously dubbed into Italian.  (You loose a certain something of movie magic when you see that iconic little alien say, “ET chiama la casa”).

Anyway, the TV bounced between Fox and CNN most days, depending on who had “dibs,” who was there first.

One evening a particular news commentator was on and he was on a rant.  One comment in particular caught my attention: “If you go to your church’s website and see the words ‘social justice,’ run as fast as you can”.

Now, to be fair, he was critiquing the idea of social justice that it is always and everywhere an imperative of a governing body to take away from the “haves” and give it to the “have-nots”.

Most people hear the words “social justice” and understand that we have a responsibility to care and love our fellow man.  But some people respond to “social justice” in one of two extremes, either “You made bad choices so you deserve to be poor; that’s social justice” or, on the opposite extreme “You have a lot and I have a little, so Yes, I have a right to take your property, and the government is there to make sure that happens!  That’s social justice!”

Both are equally flawed propositions. The truth of real social justice is NOT that a governing body become a Robin Hood of sorts.  Nor is it that those who are struggling to make ends meet must be doomed to stay there.  So where then is the truth?

The truth is that our actions, our decisions, must be shaped by the faith we profess.  Right action in this regard is discerned when what goes into our minds and hearts (the Word of God) and what comes out (our actions) are in harmony.  When they are not in harmony, we’re no better than the Pharisees whom the Lord blasts as “hypocrites”.

“Humbly welcome the word [of God] that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls,” St. James urges today.  Let God’s word be the guide, let his precepts be the guiding light in all we do . . . it’s not just a matter of right and wrong, it’s a matter of salvation.

The Lord gets flustered because the Pharisees honor God with their lips, “but their hearts are far from [him].”  Going through the motions isn’t enough.  Adherence to a moral life dedicated to the true good is not something we do to earn God’s love, but rather it is our response to his love.  If our morality is not a response of love to the one who is love, it’s worthless, and we’ll eventually abandon it.

The Church has based its social teaching on two primary principles: solidarity and subsidiarity.  BOTH must be in place for the protection of human dignity and the true flourishing of peoples and societies.

First, the Principle of Solidarity – it could also be expressed as “friendship” or “compassion”.  It’s that expression of closeness with those who are suffering, that “I’ll be with you come hell or high water” kind of attitude.  It’s the fact that, yes, I am my brother’s keeper.  I have a responsibility (hear that theme of “response” in there?) to make sure that I do my part to alleviate the sufferings of others.  I respond to the needs of others around me.  This solidarity was beautifully expressed 11 years ago in NYC, and again in the surge of financial and spiritual support that is still sweeping over Japan as they rebuild from their massive earthquake and tsunami. There was in both instances, and many more like them, a tremendous outpouring of solidarity, of compassion and communion.  You’re hurting, I am here for you.  I will do what I can to love you through this mess.  That’s the response that builds up society.  That’s solidarity. 

Second, the Principle of Subsidiarity puts forth that nothing should be done by a larger and more complex organization which can be done as effectively by a smaller and simpler organization.  We hold that “smaller and simpler organization” to be the individual, who bears a responsibility first and foremost for himself, and must be free.  The next level up the chain is the family.  If the family can do it on its own, they must be free to.  Examples: a mother discerns it’s time to let her teenager decide what to wear today.  A city lets its homeowners choose heating by electricity or gas.  Or the Federal Government gives States the freedom to set certain laws, like speed limits.  If the smaller can do it, they must be free to do so.

Again, subsidiarity and solidarity must walk hand in hand, so that human persons, created in the image and likeness of God, are never trampled underfoot, and so that a centralized power doesn’t disregard the freedoms that belong to all people.

It’s a balance that must be lived out, that must be intentionally acted upon.  Living that balance is a primary way that we exercise our faith, that we walk the walk, that we manifest to the world the Lordship of Jesus Christ in our lives.

Brothers and sisters, hear these statutes that you may live!  Honor the Lord with your lips AND your hearts – let your love for him overflow into your love for others, particularly for those who need you most.  How will you stay unstained by the world to offer back to God your pure religion?  It all depends, even your salvation, on how you respond to the love that the Lord offers you.  Care for his body.