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.

Aventuras: Regresando a los Estados Unidos (Returning to the United States)

Es cierto que el tiempo mueve muy rápido! En estos días últimos en México, estoy reflejando en los tres meses pasados. Este es un país maravilloso! Voy a extrañar especialmente la gente y mis muchos amigos nuevos! Pero, necesito regresar a mi hogar, California, para que pueda continuar mi camino durante mi año pastoral. (And continue learning how to use the subjunctive case.)

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One of my favorite paintings in Mexico – God the Father painting the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe

I have had so many rewarding experiences here in this wonderful country! I cannot begin to express the gratitude that I feel for my hosts, my new friends, for their hospitality, for their patience… While I am certainly looking forward to returning home, I will also miss everyone here very much!

I have learned three main lessons here in Mexico, besides learning Spanish of course:

Expect the unexpected: From scorpions to thuribles, my time in Mexico has presented many new and unexpected experiences, many of which I have not begun to realize the impact that they will have on my life. But this is how God works, no? Many times we have small moments, unexpected encounters, that at the time may seem insignificant, but down the road we realize that they define who we are. Mexico has become a part of who I am, and I look forward to using what I have learned here in my ministry and life.

Being patient with myself: When I arrived here, I thought that by August 29th I would be speaking near-fluent Spanish. It’s not like we spend years learning our native languages, right? Of course, I’ve found that my journey with Spanish will extend over much more than three months, and I am at peace with that. In any new endeavour, we need to have patience with ourselves. Normally, we do not change or learn something new overnight. We see this in how God works in our lives: for the vast majority of us, there is no St. Paul-like conversion, or Augustinian revelation. No, the Lord slowly works with us, walking with us, molding us to be more humble servants. Our job is to be open to this process, whether the process involves learning a new language or learning how to be with the Lord.

A priest is a priest for all people: This is a lesson I already knew I suppose, but it was brought into a new focus for me here in Mexico. I think that it is very easy for us to take this maxim, whether you are a priest or not, and give lip service to it, but to not realize the true depths of what it means. Many of us who work in ministry know this maxim to be true, but do we know it in our hearts and really put it into practice? Here in the center of Mexico I have encountered many different people: cardinals, bishops, politicians, businessmen, homeless, former prostitutes, the terminally ill, students, teachers, craftsmen, unemployed, ministers, lay people, and everyone in between. For those of us studying to be priests, and for all ministers in the Church, we are called to reach out to all people, even when it makes us uncomfortable. In fact, especially when it makes us uncomfortable, for it is in those moments that we encounter Jesus Christ. When we find ourselves paying only lip service to these words, then we need to take a moment to reflect, wake up, and realize the depth and beauty of all of God’s people. Mexico has helped me to refocus on this as it presented me with many wonderful, challenging, and blessed experiences!

As I find myself saying goodbye to so many people, I also find that they all now hold a special place in my heart. As I mentioned above, Mexico has become part of who I am, a very cherished part. I fully intend on returning one day, and while I do now know when that will be (very likely some time after my, Lord willing, ordination), until then I will continue to keep these people and this country in my heart and prayers. Espero verte pronto!

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, ruega por nosotros!


This will be my final post in the Aventuras series. I hope that you have enjoyed seeing some of the snapshots of my time here in Mexico, during which I learned not only the culture and language, but also experienced things and encountered people that will remain with me for all my days. From here, the blog will return to astronomy, reflections, the Journey series, and sharing a moment here and there from my upcoming pastoral year.

The other posts in this series can be found by viewing this category.

+AMDG+

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.

Aventuras: Unexpected Detours

The last couple of weeks have brought many new experiences, as well as some unexpected detours. The most important, however, would have to be my brief return to the United States due to a family situation, for which continued prayers are most certainly appreciated! (Please note that the link leads to Facebook, and is only accessible if you are logged into the site. Sorry). This unexpected detour, however, still contained many lessons and brought some wonderful opportunities to continue practicing Spanish. Here are a few snapshots from the last couple of weeks, even though they are a bit different than the typical snapshots you might expect:

28 Junio 2016

I received a phone call from back home that led to my needing to return to the United States. The only reason why I mention this here is to thank everyone who supports seminarians and our way of life. Without your generous encouragement and support, particularly that of my home Diocese, I would not have been able to return home. So, thank you!

1 Julio 2016

I decided to try Uber on my own for the first time, and it was a great experience. My driver, Germán, was very talkative, which I much appreciated. This is what immersion is about: interacting with people, talking, and learning on the fly. I am sure there were probably several times when he could have laughed at my poor Spanish, but nonetheless he was incredibly patient with me and we had a great conversation. Please pray for him and his family: he works two jobs, washing windows and Uber, in order to support his mother and two brothers

Airports are wonderful places for people watching. On my way through security, there were many people who were estadounidenses as our flight was headed directly to Dallas without any other connections in Mexico. There was one young lady who was having a difficult time getting through security and the various checkpoints due to her lack of Spanish. Much to my surprise, I knew enough to help her and serve as a quasi-translator!

4 Julio 2016

After spending time with family, I returned to Mexico on the day we celebrated our independence. All of the flights were uneventful, although customs was…interesting. At the request of a seminarian brother, I brought back some SPAM from the United States. Well, I didn’t know how to say “canned meat”, so I told Mexican customs, “Tengo carne en mi mochilla.” Well, meat happens to be on their list of items that they check very carefully. Eventually, I was able to express to the customs agent what it was, and once he saw the two cans of SPAM he laughed and waved me through. A bit nerve-wracking, but you’d be surprised at all the creative ways you can use a language when you really really want to say something but don’t quite have the correct words.

I took Uber back to the seminary, and this driver had a bit of a surprise for me. We were having a good conversation, but about five minutes from the seminary, I noticed that all of her MP3s had English titles on the display. I asked her, “Tú hablas español?” Her response? “Yes, but when I learned you were here studying Spanish, I decided it would be good to give you more practice!” Needless to say, she received a 5 star rating on the app for that trip.

When I finally returned to the seminary, everyone was wrapping up a barbecue and watching Independence Day. Can’t think of a better way to spend a 4th of July evening.

7 Julio 2016

Today we finished one of our classes, “Hispanic Ministry in the United States in the 21st Century: Blessings and Challenges.” Taught by Sr. Guadalupe Ramirez, MCDP, this course covered the history of Hispanic immigration in the United States, as well as the current issues surrounding Hispanic ministry, helping to prepare us to work with Hispanics in our home dioceses back in the United States. Even though it lasted for only three weeks, the course was packed with information, and our professor delivered the material that demonstrated not only her expertise, but her deep faith as well. I will be taking her lessons with me and using them for years to come!

In the meantime, we return to our full schedule of 6-7 hours of language classes on Monday. Please keep us in prayer as we approach final exams, and then our month-long parish assignments.

Tomorrow, we will visit Puebla and the Great Pyramid of Cholula, and on Sunday we will visit the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon in Teotihuacán. More pictures to come after this weekend. Until then, know that you all remain in our prayers. Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, ruega por nosotros!

Aventuras: New Sights, Full Immersion, and Thank You

Now that I have arrived safely in Mexico City and gotten settled here at the seminary, started language courses, and become acquainted with the surrounding area, I thought I would provide a few “snapshots” of my first week and a half:

Lunes – 6 de Junio

It’s been a long day! My flight left Sacramento close to midnight, and I didn’t get any real sleep on the plane, so it’s been about 36 hours since I’ve had some good rest. All that said, this city is amazing! As soon as we got off the plane and into the car, we took in the sights and sounds of Mexico City. This summer holds a lot of fun, surprises, and growth! But first, sleep!

Martes – 7 de Junio

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I am now officially a student of La Universidad Pontificia de Mexico, or The Pontifical University of Mexico, which is about a 20 minute walk from the seminary. Here at the university we will take all of our language courses, after being assessed and sorted into appropriate classes. The campus is stunning – it seems to be a mix of modern university and old-style pueblo. The grounds are immaculate, and our new professors seem ready and eager to help us learn.

Viernes – 10 de Junio

Today is laundry day, but not just any laundry day – I ventured out to a large supermarket to buy laundry supplies with a few of the guys. It was a terrific chance to use my Spanish skills. All in all, a good trip. Well, until I realized that the “soap” I bought was actually fabric softener, realized of course after I had started the load! Oh well, back to the drawing board, and back to the store!

Sabado – 11 de Junio

13427730_10153839868369022_5875260542306651394_nToday we went to the Museo Nacional de Antropología, or National Museum of Anthropology. There was so much to learn, we felt like we hit only the very tip of the iceberg! Looking through the eyes of the Mayans, Aztecs, and Spanish, one gets a taste of the depth and breadth of the story of the Mexican people. If only we had about another week to spend here. I wouldn’t mind coming back to Mexico in the future just to study the history itself, visiting the ancient sites and getting to know the people even further. I am certainly looking forward to the various excursions we have planned this summer…

Domingo – 12 de Junio

Today, we visited la Parroquia de San Augustín, a beautiful church here in Tlalpan, the district of Mexico City that will be my home for the next three months. They have masses almost every hour on Sunday and they are ALL packed! We also had a chance to attend mass here three days ago, and the priest invited us back to the sacristy. Words can’t do it justice, so I will try to get the pictures posted soon!

Lunes – 13 de Junio

Today I started reading a book in Spanish called El Hobbit. Have any of you heard of it before?

Oh, and la venganza de Moctezuma is a real thing. (Edit 15 de Junio – So far 4 of us have encountered Señor Moctezuma. I got off fairly light so far, but prayers would be appreciated – some of the guys seem to have been hit hard).

Miercoles – 15 de Junio

Have I mentioned the weather here yet? It’s absolutely gorgeous. The temperatures are a bit on the warm side, but comfortable. Rain is frequent, usually in the late afternoons. My favorite part, however, are the nights: for the past several days we have had some pretty awesome thunderstorms, which are great for falling asleep to. The sounds of the weather at night, mixed with those of the city, have helped me adjust nicely to this new environment.

(Don’t tell my mom, but you should have seen how soaked we were the other day coming back from the bus after a short trip to OfficeMax – it was great!)


So, this first several days have been packed. They keep us busy – all told, by the end of the two months of classes, we will have had over 180 hours of coursework in language and culture. Then in August, I will be sent to a local parish to serve for one month, at the end of which Bishop Soto will come down to visit me and the other Sacramento guys. I can’t wait to take what I am learning here back to Sacramento to put to use in our diocese! I will try to organize and post pictures soon.

Before closing, I would like to say thank you to all of you who support your seminarians and priests. There are so many I could mention by name, but that’s simply not possible… My family and friends, especially my parents, whose love and encouragement have been constant… My home parish and diocese, especially my pastor and my Knights of Columbus council, without whose steadfast support I would not be here… And most of all, Almighty God for leading me and the other Sacramento seminarians forward in this wonderful life. To Him be the glory!

Please know that you are in all of our prayers daily. ¡Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, ruega por nosotros!

Aventuras en México: Time for Immersion!

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By Microstar [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

In just a few days, I will say goodbye to the ol’ U.S.A. for three months while I travel to Mexico City for language immersion at Seminario Hispano de Santa Maria de Guadalupe. This time promises to be full of grace, adventure, and many surprises, although I will certainly miss everyone back home!

The trip will consist of two phases, essentially. During the first part of the trip, I will be living and studying at Seminario Hispano, taking classes in Spanish as well as Hispanic ministry. During this time, my brothers and I will have a chance to visit the sights and sounds of the city, as well as many landmarks throughout the area, such as the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the ancient pyramids of some of Mexico’s original inhabitants. The second phase of the trip will find each of us in local parishes, exercising our new-found (and hopefully refined), language skills as we work alongside priests and laypeople of the Archdiocese of Mexico in order to continue our learning and growth.

While I will keep my own personal travel  journal, I hope to share some of the experiences here as I discover more about, and immerse myself in, Mexican culture, beliefs, and language. When I am able to, I will post them here with the title “Aventuras,” providing a few “quick takes” of my travels and experiences in a place so rich with history, tradition, and faith. Feel free to drop me a line sometime, and know that you all remain in my prayers. In the mean time, please pray for my brother seminarians and me as we begin our adventure in Mexico.

¡Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, ruega por nosotros!