Lent 2017: The Winding Staircase of Lent

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Angel of Independence, by Carlosr chill via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0,

In Mexico City, there is a monument known as the Ángel de Independencia, or the Angel of Independence, which sits aloft a tall spire, arm outreached to the square below, bearing a shining crown of victory, golden wings pointing toward the sky, all commemorating the independence of Mexico. Inside the monument, there is a winding staircase and to get to the top, you must utilize this staircase, which is small, dark, and seems almost endless. When you get to the top, however, you are greeted by a magnificent view of one of the centers of commerce and tourism in Mexico City, the Plaza Reforma and you realize that despite the work, sweat, and apprehension, the trip up the stairs was well worth the effort. This, my friends, is Lent.

Lent is hard work, but it is worth the effort. During these 40 days, we journey with Jesus Christ through the desert, and learn that “one does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” Among our daily concerns and activities, we remember through the journey of Lent that everything we do and say must be focused on God, for from God we receive all our blessings and our very lives. In Lent, we seek to pray, fast, and give in order to reorient ourselves towards God and His Word.

Our Lenten sacrifices and journey would carry no meaning if we did not remember the reason for it all: the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. “The gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ” renews us and justifies us, and it is this sacrifice and gift of Jesus that gives Lent its fullest meaning. By journeying with Him in the desert for these forty days, we are led with Him to the Cross on Good Friday. From the Cross, we are led to His tomb, and from His tomb, we are led to the moment where our faith is ratified. Through the long dark staircase of Lent, which we climb together with Jesus Christ, we will come out into the glorious light of Easter morning. Let’s make the trip worth our effort, remembering that He is at the center of it all.

For Reflection:

In what way, perhaps outside the “usual” Lenten sacrifices, can I pray, fast, or give, to make this Lent meaningful for myself and others?

A version of the preceding originally appeared in our parish bulletin.

Finding Joy in the Heavens

In a recent post, Br. Guy Consolmagno pondered two different questions,”Why does science need God?” and “Why do we need science?”

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One of the telescopes owned by the Vatican Observatory, this one located at Castel Gondolfo – another main telescope is also located in Arizona. By Stefano Bolognini (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons.

We have to ask ourselves, what’s the point? Why do I spend late nights gazing at the heavens, studying stars, planets, and nebulae? Over the years, my love of astronomy has developed out of a search for understanding and discovery, the desire to know the universe on a deeper level. As I’ve explored topics such as cosmology and theoretical physics on an amateur level, while preparing on a professional (or rather, in a more appropriate term, vocational) level, for the priesthood.

Ultimately, both pursuits are the result of a deeper need to know, to learn, and to come closer to truth, albeit from different perspectives. When I do come closer, at the same time discovering just how much further I really have to go, I also discover something more, something unexpected, and something that Br. Guy discovers in his search as well: joy. The search for truth, both from a scientific and spiritual standpoint both lead to joy: we need science to better understand our physical world, and religion helps us to move ever deeper, discovering the foundation of the beauty of our universe.

As Br. Guy states it, “This is not a sort of pantheism. God is not the same thing as the laws of nature. But everything that makes science worth doing, desirable to do, everything that gets us out of bed in the morning to do it, is a pointer toward God.”

In my own journey, the scientific has led to the religious, and the religious has led me to a greater desire to study the natural world: the more I study science, the greater the awe increases in my heart, and I realize how God the Father has created a universe beyond words and understanding, drawing me into an ever deeper desire to study said universe. Indeed, my continued study of science is what led me to religion, and Catholicism, in the first place, helping me to realize not only the necessity of a Creator behind our magnificent universe, but also the necessity of a Savior, and the faithful presence the Spirit in our lives.

You can read the rest of his article over at the Vatican Observatory Foundation blog.

Let’s go searching for Geminids!

Tonight, December 13, we are in for a special treat from one of the best meteor showers throughout the year: the Geminids!

Well, sort of.

First, the good news:

The Geminids will be visible all throughout the night sky, seeming to originate from the constellation Gemini. This shower is also one of the most spectacular, both due to the number and the fact that it occurs during the cold months, when skies tend to be clearer and more favorable (with the exception noted under “bad news” below) to viewing.

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The Geminids in 2012 – via NASA

Now the bad news:

This is where the exception, or rather exceptions, I mentioned above come in. First, we have a full moon tonight. This one is also a so-called “supermoon”, when the Moon is not only full, but at it’s closest approach to Earth, which means it will be a bit brighter than normal. That means it will be a bit more difficult to see meteors tonight.

Also, if you are in the United States, you’ll be dealing with this:

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Current cloud cover in the US – via Intellicast

Yes, much of the U.S is experiencing at least some cloud cover at the moment, which will not make viewing any easier. Trip to Mexico City, anyone?

A few quick viewing tips:

  • The best viewing time is around 2AM, when their apparent point of origin will be highest in the ski. That said, the show should be good all night long.
  • Dress warmly and bring some coffee, tea, or other hot drink of your choice.
  • Allow your eyes to adjust for a full 20 minutes
  • If you can’t catch them tonight, you should still see a few over the next few nights, as we will be in the Geminid’s path for a few more days.

So get out there, brave the elements, have a good look at that beautiful supermoon, and hope to catch a shooting star or two!

Happy hunting!

Pax.

H/T to NASA, always an excellent source of information.

Reflection: Be the Tax Collector

Reflection for October 23, 2016 – 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

pharisee and tax collector.jpgIf last week’s readings showed us the importance of prayer, then this week’s readings demonstrate how we should pray: in humility, trusting God. In our society, how often do we see famous personalities exalting some good work they have done? While not everyone is like this of course, we often see celebrities and others praising their own virtues, showing off their good deeds to the world. The same attitude is seen with the Pharisee in today’s Gospel, who shouts aloud his apparent virtues, going so far as to say to the Lord, “I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity!” The Pharisee, like some famous individuals we see in modern times, was saying and doing all the “right things,” but did he have the right intent or disposition? After all, while our external actions carry great weight and consequence, in the end, it is the final disposition of our hearts that God examines.

Should we look to the Pharisee or the Tax Collector as an example of how we should pray? Is the Pharisee an example of the humble attitude we should take before God, when we enter into prayer? No, of course not! Instead, we need to be more like the Tax Collector, who recognized his unworthiness before the Lord, and yet still approached Him, saying, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” This attitude of humility is important to remember as we approach the end of the Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis: not only must we spread the message of God’s love and mercy to others, but we must embrace it ourselves. Trusting in divine mercy, turning to God and saying, “Let my soul glory in the Lord,” we can find true peace in our lives.

Question for reflection: What are some ways I can cultivate humility in my prayer life and my interactions with others? An example might be to do a good deed, make a sacrifice, or dedicate a Rosary or Mass to someone or some situation without telling anyone about it.


As part of my pastoral internship, I have been given the responsibility for writing our weekly bulletin reflections. Due to the nature of the medium, they are short, but try to take into account the current Sunday’s readings, most especially the Gospel. I will post these reflections here each weekend; your feedback, whatever it may be, is most welcome as I seek to refine my writing skills and ask the Holy Spirit to guide my words! You can read these and other types of reflections based on the readings at Mass by going here. Pax.

Reflection: Pray without ceasing

As part of my pastoral internship, I have been given the responsibility for writing our weekly bulletin reflections. Due to the nature of the medium, they are short, but try to take into account the current Sunday’s readings, most especially the Gospel. I will post these reflections here each weekend; your feedback, whatever it may be, is most welcome as I seek to refine my writing skills and ask the Holy Spirit to guide my words! More on the pastoral internship itself in a later post. Pax.


hpbox_personalprayerWhat does it mean to “pray without becoming weary” or perhaps in a more familiar formulation, to “pray without ceasing?” I don’t know about you, but this sounds like a pretty tall order! We are bombarded constantly by outside distractions, some of which are even good and necessary. Even so, we are called to make our lives ones of prayer and reliance on God. The psalm reminds us today that “Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth,” and so we need to constantly turn to Him, being persistent in our faith, whether it is “convenient or inconvenient.” All we have is from God, and so all that we do needs to be directed towards Him.

How do we cultivate this life of unceasing prayer? One early Christian writer suggested this: a person “prays without ceasing who prays with good works and works with a prayerful spirit.” In other words, prayer does not simply consist of going to Mass, saying grace before meals, and other times of structured prayer. While these are good and essential for the Christian life, it also means turning everything we say and do into a prayer itself. We must not only set aside time each day for personal prayer, but make the entire day itself a living prayer. This is possible no matter what one’s vocation, job, or state in life, in good times and bad, in triumphs and challenges, and even in everyday mundane tasks. By offering our words and actions to the Lord, no matter how insignificant, we remain focused on Him, which will inevitably lead to a more balanced, fulfilling life here on Earth as we seek to be with Christ forever in Heaven.

Question for reflection: What are some concrete steps I can take to make my life more prayerful and centered on God?

Aventuras: La Prisión Militar (The Military Prison)

I just spent the day in prison, and it was probably my favorite day in Mexico so far.

I suppose I should explain that statement… After all, I have had many wonderful days in Mexico!

On Thursday, I went with my pastor to a military prison to celebrate Mass, hear confessions, and have a Holy Hour (obviously, I wasn’t the one celebrating Mass or hearing confessions, but I did serve as an acolyte). We went with two other people from our church and a local religious sister who has been involved in prison ministry for many years.

The day started when Father told me, “Don’t wear blue, red, green, or yellow.” All of this actually made sense, since I have worked with troubled youth in the past and I am very well aware of gang violence and related issues. Still, I did not know what to expect, and to be honest, I was a bit apprehensive. I knew, however, that everything we were about to do would be for His glory alone, and so I left it to Him, asking for the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

When the five of us arrived, there were several rounds of screening. I’m not sure how much detail I should use, so I will stay sufficiently vague I hope. Of course, we had to enter the military base itself, then we proceeded to the prison. Once there, at the first entrance we were checked for any electronics, then at the next gate, the real screening began. I say this because at this particular checkpoint (out of 5 total), we spent about an hour and a half. I quickly found out the reason for our long delay – one of us had one of these:

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Nueve días mas y voy a utilizar esto para mi regresar a Los Estados Unidos…

You can guess who it belonged to…

In any case, after checking to see if it was O.K. for this estadounidense to enter the compound, we were escorted by several M.P.s through the rest of the checkpoints and finally to the prison chapel, where many of the congregation were already waiting for us.

Upon arrival, Father got to work almost immediately, taking a couple of chairs out to a grassy field and began hearing confessions. Meanwhile, I started to help prepare for Mass and the Holy Hour. This experience in itself was very humbling, as the prisoners were asking me if everything was set up correctly. These were men with ranks from Private all the way to Major, who for whatever reason found themselves incarcerated, asking me for advice and direction, this backward hobbit of a seminarian from the Central Valley of California. What’s more, is that they were all so welcoming, prisoners and M.P.s alike. I could tell that many of these men had a deep faith and were truly attempting to seek God’s everlasting mercy.

After confessions were over, we had Benediction to conclude the Holy Hour and then began the Mass. I will always remember the fervor and the strength with which these men sang! I assume some of it has to do with the discipline of the institution and their military training, but to hear their voices ring out in praise to God was truly an edifying experience. I now understand why a soldier’s battle cry can strike fear into the heart of his enemy!

Following the Mass, we had the opportunity to gather and share a meal. So many of the conversations I had enlightened me to life inside the prison, and helped to show me the need for mercy and compassion in today’s world. A side benefit to all these conversations is that today, just nine days before I return to the United States and begin my Pastoral Year, I realized that I have actually learned some Spanish, and it was a joy to be able to connect with so many people on such a profound level (even as they were being very patient with my fledgling speaking skills).

The conditions in this particular prison were very nice, but I am under no illusions that other prisons in Mexico come close to comparing with this institution. I also know that the United States has over two million people under incarceration, almost one percent of the adult population in our country. My time in the federal prison today has helped open my eyes to the need for us to reach out to ALL people – every single person deserves to encounter the merciful touch of the Father through the Son with the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, that encounter may come through one of us, and we have to be ready to respond. No person’s life is worthless, and we cannot let anyone forget this truth, because I think when people do forget it, this is when they begin to slide even deeper into darkness. Let us work to bring the light of Christ to all people, even as we seek to encounter and accept the mercy of God in our own lives.

I have had many valuable and enriching experiences in Mexico – new cultures, new people, new places. There are so many memories that I will cherish for a lifetime, but today, the day I spent in prison, will be the day that makes the largest imprint on my heart, the one exception being my encounter with Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Todo gloria a Dios. Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, ruega por nosotros. San Benito, ruega por nosotros.

Pax.

Fr. Jacques, the police, and 11 years a Catholic

“As we have borne the image of the earthly man, so we shall bear the image of him who is from heaven; since the first man who came from the earth, is earthly, but the second man who came from heaven, is heavenly. And so, dearly beloved, we shall not die anymore. Even if we fall asleep in this body, we shall live in Christ, as he said: Whoever believes in me, even if he die, shall live.” -From a sermon on baptism, by Saint Pacian, in today’s Office of Readings

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Père Jacques Hamel, from the Diocese of Rouen

What does it mean to be Catholic, to live a life rooted in Jesus Christ? What does he call each of us to do, to give, to sacrifice? How are we called to love and to show mercy? I have been reflecting on these questions today for two reasons. The first reason begins Fr. Jacques Hamel, a retired priest in France who was murdered while he was celebrating Mass. He was a faithful priest who carried out his ministry, his life, centered on the Faith, someone who parishioners called, “a good priest … who did his job to the very end.” Fr. Jacques lived out his baptismal and priestly call to proclaim the truth to all nations and all people, even if that meant giving the ultimate sacrifice, even to his very last words.

How are we called to love Christ and his people?

This first reason began with Fr. Jacques and continues to my experience in Mexico, although they are very different. Several times I have visited public hospitals with my pastor, Fr. Augustín, and at each one, we were met by delays, questions, and outright indifference. One hospital prevented us from entering for over an hour, while streams of people proceeded past us and through security without a care in the world. Fr. Augustín later told me that many police officers, being an arm of the government, did not like Catholic priests, and tried everything they could to make life difficult for priests, even in the small ways. Fr. Jacques faced down responded to his call in a very defined and specific moment, and Fr. Augustín responds as well, even if in a different way. This was a shock for my American sensibilities; for as much trouble as we have right now in the United States regarding discrimination against those who are not  “with the times”, I would find it unfathomable if someone were to prevent a minister in this manner from seeing one of his people, whether in a public or private hospital.

As shown by these incidents, through our Baptism, we are called to sacrifice, love and mercy.

Bpatism

August 13, 2005

Which brings me to the second reason that I am reflecting on all of these questions: today, I celebrate 11 years since my Baptism, Confirmation, and First Communion in the Catholic Church, taking Saint Benedict as my patron. So I am brought to consider how I have lived out that baptismal call in my own life: where am I called to love, to sacrifice, to show mercy? How am I called to give glory to God in the things that I say and do? Although I have discovered some answers, I am still searching, as I am sure many of my Christian brothers and sister do as well. After all, I don’t think most of us have it completely figured out!

As I look out the window onto the cityscape of Mexico City, just 16 days before I return to the United States, I have come to realize though that it is in the everyday interactions with people, here in Mexico and back in the U.S., that I am called to live out the love of Christ. I do not know if I will ever face situations as difficult or profound as Fr. Augustín or Fr. Jacques. After all, in the words of of St. Thomas More in A

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11 years later, after institution as an Acolyte

Man for All Seasons, “this is not the stuff of which martyrs are made.” But as I continue preparation for a different type of calling in my life, the next step of which will be my Pastoral Year, I know that I, and all of us, are called to live out each day molding our lives to Christ. Sometimes we will fall, but then we must return to Him, recognizing that His mercy is ever-present, and that we are called to spread that mercy in our own lives and in the lives of others, something that I pray I will do faithfully when I am, Lord willing, ordained a priest. The Lord knows that since my baptism I have fallen many times, but it is my hope that through the faults and messiness of my life, Christ may work through me and through all of us to bring His message to the world.

Please pray for me, for all your seminarians, priests, and religious. Know that you remain in our prayers as well.

Sancte Benedicte, ora pro nobis.

A Naomh Pádraigh, guigh orainne.

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, ruega por nosotros.

Persistent Perseids Pierce the Planet

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A Perseid meteor over the Paranal Observatory in Chile. By ESO/S. Guisard [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Unless you live in a big city (or are visiting one in a foreign country), you may have noticed an occasional streak across the night sky late at night or early in the morning. This signals that Earth has begun to cross the path of Comet Swift-Tuttle and we are fast approaching the height of one of the most spectacular meteor showers of the year: the Perseids.

This year, however, the show will be extra special, possibly the best in 20 years.

Jupiter has done us a favor this time around, pushing the cometary debris a little closer to Earth. Late at night on August 11th, I highly encourage you to bundle up and head outside. After the moon sets around 1AM, you are in for a spectacular show, if predictions are correct. Astronomers are expecting up to 150 meteors per hour – for those playing the home game, that’s at least two a minute.

Some tips for viewing the meteor shower:

  • The best viewing will be early in the morning, after 1AM when the moon sets.
  • Look towards the northeast, but don’t stay so focused on that point that you lose the rest of the sky.
  • If possible, get away from city lights. I usually go to a campground or a local lake.
  • Bring a jacket so you can bundle up – even if you are in a warm climate, sometimes temperatures at night can get a bit chilly during the summer.
  • Bring a reclining lawn chair or a good blanket to rest on so you can observe comfortably without craning your neck. A sore neck will mean a quick end for your star-gazing.
  • Be patient. I know it’s a weeknight, but try to stay out at least an hour. Not only does this increase your chances of seeing some spectacular sights, it will allow your eyes to adjust fully, which can sometimes take up to 20-30 minutes. Also, the show gets better throughout the early morning.
  • Even though the peak is on Aug. 11/12, the days prior or following should still provide a decent show.
  • Bonus: Bring a good pair of binoculars and see if you can identify any objects in the sky. Mars and Saturn will be in the vicinity of the Moon on August. 11, in the south-southwest sky. That reddish star below Saturn on that night? That will be Antares, one of my favorites to spot.

More information is available from Astronomy Magazine, EarthSky, or any decent Google search.

Ad majorem Dei gloriam!

Aventuras: La Parroquia de San Felipe

Ayer yo vine a la Parroquia de San Felipe de Jesus. La parroquia es en un barrio pobre, pero la gente son maravilloso. Ellos son muy humilde y generoso. El Señor es bueno todo tiempo! Yo estaré aquí solo hasta 29 de agosto, pero conozco mi teimpo aquí será bendito!

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The parish is currently undergoing a major renovation. All of the windows in the temporary chapel have the medal of Saint Benedict emblazoned upon them.

Yesterday I arrived at the Church of San Felipe de Jesus. While it is in a poor neighborhood, the people are so very wonderful. They are kind, generous, and humble. God is good all the time! I will be here only until August 29, but I know that my time will be blessed! I was especially excited when I discovered this parish has a strong devotion to Saint Benedict, my patron Saint, and Saint Michael the Archangel.

The pastor I am with, Fr. Augustín, is a wonderful man – prayerful and loving of all the people with whom he comes in contact; a true example of priestly humility and generosity! He has been so very patient with my fledging Spanish skills so far, and has encouraged me to work hard and to not be afraid using my new language. I am looking forward to learning a lot from him!

Over the next month, I will try to update you on current happenings with the usual photos, etc. Word on the street has it that Fr. Augustín enjoys going places, so I think that I will be able to see a lot more of the city, not only during excursions, but shadowing him during his different ministries as well.

Por favor ruega por nosotros en Mêxico todavía, y conocen que nosotros somos rogando por tu también. Muchas gracias y hasta luego!

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, ruega por nosotros!

(And my next posts in the Saint Augustine and Looking Up series should be coming out this week. También por favor perdon mi español. Yo estoy aprendiendo todavía.)

Aventuras: Visitando el Asilo de Ancianos (Visiting the Nursing Home)

 

Last night, we had the privilege of visiting a local Catholic nursing home, just 15 minutes walking distance from the seminary. I’ve been in quite a few different and very fine nursings homes in the United States, including my service in an Alzheimer’s care facility back at the seminary during the last school year. Taking these experiences into mind, I had certain expectations, but those expectations were quickly thrown out the window.

This particular nursing home, run by around 25 religious sisters and many support staff, houses approximately 120 residents. During our tour and visit with the staff and residents, we were greeted with open arms and had some terrific conversations. As the tour progressed, I was struck by the facilities: when one thinks of a nursing home, images of a quasi-hospital environment come to mind, one that is often very stark. Not so here: it felt like home; it didn’t feel like a nursing home. Going through the different sitting rooms and dining areas, I noticed the personal touch given by the sisters, as well as the comfortable environment in which the residents were able to live, with quality furnishings, always-available amenities, and pleasant surroundings. And as you can see in the pictures below, the chapel is bigger than many churches I have visited!

Does this mean that nursing homes in the United States are somehow deficient? Certainly not! We can provide excellent care to our seniors during these crucial years of their lives. There is, however, a difference in the way the two cultures approach the issue of senior care, I think: I felt as if the residents here in Mexico were much more integrated into life, rather than what can sometimes be see as being set aside. This nursing home, or asilo de anciano, even treated us to a dance that some of the residents had been rehearsing for an upcoming fiesta! It was truly an active and lively place! Some moments with residents that will remain with me for a long time:

  • Alicia, who was very interested in where we were from and hearing about our background and work in the United States. A wonderful lady with a great sense of humor!
  • Refugia, who, according to the sister, is currently 117 years old (even checked with my professor to make sure I heard her correctly). While I do not doubt the veracity of her claim, the current verifiably oldest living person is 116. Whether or not the records are incorrect or Refugia simply does not have the records any longer does not matter: this wonderful lady was clearly full of life and blessed us with her presence!
  • Nina, with whom I had the longest conversation, all in Spanish of course (God bless her for her patience with my burgeoning Spanish skills). She had actually lived in the United States for many years, and had some comforting words as I continue to learn Spanish: “When I came to the U.S., I knew three words: hello, thank you, and hamburger. If I can learn English, then you will learn Spanish just fine. You will be a terrific priest!”

When we were done visiting residents, the staff did what any Mexican family would do when you are invited to their home: they fed us; in this case, some delicious deserts and cold drinks.

I am so thankful for my time at the nursing home. These sisters and residents have been a true blessing, and have provided a wonderful example of charity, compassion, and faith, an example that will help to inform and shape my future ministry. I truly think that both cultures can learn something from each other when it comes to senior care, combining the quality of medical care with the ideal that seniors are valuable, contributing members of society; in fact, I have already seen this integration take place in many places in the United States.

We must remember that it is our duty as Christians to uphold the dignity of all persons. That means remembering their worth and treating them as such, never forgetting the inherent dignity that each individual has at every stage of life. Please keep the residents, staff, and sisters in your prayers!

I have attached a few photos; there aren’t many since we were busy talking, and I haven’t included any with residents due to the need to preserve privacy.

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, ruega por nosotros!