Saturday, September 25, 2010

Nostalgia in the Oddest Ways

Back three weeks ago now, I was back at home spending time with my family before I came back to seminary.  It was a blast.  I loved being with my parents and my brothers and sisters.  A particular joy was in watching and playing with my nieces and nephews.

One of my nephews had just picked up a habit that I dropped a long time ago.  It was the subject of much discussion, both around the dinner table and on into the evening.  My little nephew, pushing two years old, is refusing to swallow his food.  He will sit for more than a couple minutes with a bite of food in his mouth and will not let it go down his throat.

I used to do this as well.  Not just when I was a toddler.  I still have memories, not so much of holding food in my mouth, but of sitting at the dinner table, long after everyone else had left, with a plate of half-eaten and long cold food in front of me that I refused to eat.  They are vague memories.  Maybe I was four, possibly five years old.  I still remember my mom threatening to and then actually setting the timer. That was usually pretty intense.  Only later did I find out that while she said it was five minutes, she actually gave me ten.

My parents never gave up the fight, even though I did this regularly.  Every time I refused to eat, they were more stubborn than I.  They remained the adults in the situation.  Eventually I learned to eat what was given to me.  To this day, I eat every bit of food on my plate, and I'm willing to try almost anything.  It really annoys me when I see other people leaving food on their plate, or even refusing to eat perfectly good food because of this or that ingredient that they "don't like."  I can't imagine categorically "not liking" a type of food.  Even if I did, I would probably still eat it.  I think that something would have to legitimately taste like dirt for me to pass it up.  Seriously, it confounds me that people will simply refuse to eat things like peas, or tomatoes, or onions.  Those are all really good!

I don't know if there's anything in particular I'm trying to say here.  I just like peas and Brussels sprouts, even though I used to hate them.  Do your kids a favor--make them eat their food.  (I know that's funny coming from me, who will never be a parent, but still, I'm living proof that making your kids eat their food yields grown ups who are able to appreciate a wide variety of foods without prejudice...I'm just saying.)

By the way, Swan Lake is a fantastic piece of music.  I've never been to a ballet, and I'm not really drawn to go, but if I ever had the chance, I would go to see Swan Lake.  (I'm listening to it right now as I write this post.)

Yet another picture:
It snowed in Rome last year!

I don't usually post links, but a good friend of mine, also to be ordained in a couple weeks, also has a blog.  He posted this at the end of our week long workshop on marriage counseling.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Profession and Oath Videos

Here are a couple youtube videos of the Profession of Faith and Oath of Fidelity.  I say my name at 1:15 and 1:07, respectively.

Profession of Faith

Oath of Fidelity

Monday, September 20, 2010


This past Saturday evening I took the first oath of my life.  Before being ordained (and also before taking up various different offices in the Church), one must publicly make a Profession of Faith and swear an Oath of Fidelity.

It was very cool and very real to stand up before the seminary community and say aloud the following words:


I, Stephen Vrazel, with firm faith believe and profess everything that is contained in the Symbol of faith: namely:

I believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen. I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made, one in Being with the Father.  Through him all things were made.  For us men and for our salvation, he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.  For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.  He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.  I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.  With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.  I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.  I acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.  I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.  Amen.

With firm faith I believe as well everything contained in God's word, written or handed down in tradition and proposed by the church--whether in solemn judgment or in the ordinary and universal Magisterium--as divinely revealed and called for faith.

I also firmly accept and hold each and every thing that is proposed by that same church definitively with regard to teaching concerning faith or morals.

What is more, I adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman pontiff or the college of bishops enunciate when they exercise the authentic Magisterium even if they proclaim those teachings in an act that is not definitive.

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I, Stephen Vrazel, in assuming the office of deacon, promise that in my words and in my actions I shall always preserve communion with the Catholic Church.

With great care and fidelity I shall carry out the duties incumbent on me toward the Church, both universal and particular, in which, according to the provisions of the law, I have been called to exercise my service.

In fulfilling the charge entrusted to me in the name of the Church, I shall hold fast to the deposit of faith in its entirety; I shall faithfully hand it on and explain it, and I shall avoid any teachings contrary to it.

I shall follow and foster the common discipline of the entire Church and I shall maintain the observance of all ecclesiastical laws, especially those contained in the Code of Canon Law.

With Christian obedience I shall follow what the Bishops, as authentic doctors and teachers of the faith, declare, or what they, as those who govern the Church, establish.  I shall also faithfully assist the diocesan Bishops, so that the apostolic activity, exercised in the name and by mandate of the Church, may be carried out in communion with the Church.

So help me God, and God's holy Gospels on which I place my hand.

a picture - it's not related to the post:
Gothic Quarter dead ahead

Saturday, September 11, 2010


I am beginning my ninth year in seminary.  Where I'm sitting right now, it really feels as long as it sounds.  It feels like an eternity since my family moved me into my room at St. Ben's eight years ago.  It feels like ages ago I pulled up at the front door of TC, but it's only been six years.  Even the three years since my plane landed in Rome seems like a long time.  This has been a long process.

I've changed a lot in that time, thanks be to God.  I realize that much of that change is simply parallel to growing up, but it's nice to look back and see God walking with me, leading me to where I am now and beyond.

Beyond!  That's all I can think about.  After yet another taste of parish ministry this summer and realizing that all I really want to do is serve as a priest, coming back to seminary for one more year is kind of testing my patience.  I made the comment to one of my classmates today that I'm considering this final "deacon" year as a mere formality.  I can't wait to get back and start whatever it is God has planned for me.

But then, as I was praying today it hit me pretty hard that even this formality year is a gift from God.  I'm full-speed-ahead regarding the priesthood, and I would probably start tomorrow if it were possible, but for whatever reason, God wants me here right now.

The Lord already has a willing servant--maybe he wants me to work on becoming more of a holy servant.  There's no sense in being excited about ministry in the future if I'm forgetting holiness in the present.  I am here right now, so I'm just going to work on doing that well.

unrelated photo:
Asleep on a bus in the Eastern Desert

Monday, September 6, 2010

An Apology for Newton/Amazing Grace

Amazing grace how sweet the sound 
that saved a wretch like me...

"Hold it.  This song refers to human beings as wretches.  That's not okay.  It's obviously a protestant understanding of grace.  Throw it out.  It is of no use to a Catholic.  In fact, it's anti-Catholic."

I've heard this before, albeit not in as many words, from many people in the Church, and it has never sat right with me.  But, it always seemed to me that they had a point, so I wasn't going to argue.  In fact, it can be understood from the point of view of total depravity of man, that man is absolutely worthless, that man is fundamentally wretched...

...but then I realized that there's more than one way to understand it.  And that's okay.  It is in fact not an obviously protestant understanding of grace.

First, context is ever relevant.  We ought to know a bit about the author of the hymn, John Newton.  He was an English sailor involved in the slave trade, who later converted and studied theology and became a pastor (yes, a protestant pastor).  The song, while not directly a reference to giving up the slave trade, clearly springs out of Newton's own personal experience.  I think that this tells us a lot about the word "wretch," as employed by Newton.

As for the word itself, the last I checked, "wretch" is not a theological term.  Since this is poetry we're talking about, it is open to mean a whole range of things, including yes, a totally depraved pile of refuse.  But it can also simply mean a sinner.  It could mean one who is in a wretched state or one who is very unhappy or misfortunate (which is actually the common usage).  Why would we immediately jump to think that "wretch" is intended to imply a Calvinist total depravity?  What on earth points us in that direction?  Nothing that I can see.

But furthermore, even if Newton intended "wretch" to imply total depravity, why does that mean that when I use it, I also have to mean total depravity?  I think that the hymn is beautiful, and if we understand "wretch" to mean "sinner," then it's perfectly okay from a doctrinal standpoint.

If we are to read into "wretch" the idea of total depravity, then perhaps we should do the same to this passage from Augustine:

In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created.

Are we to conclude from the word "unloveliness" that human beings are totally worthless wretches?  Is Augustine denying that his being is fundamentally good in that he's made in the image and likeness of God?  I think not.  I think rather that Augustine is making a point about God's loveliness--he had just before referred to God as "Beauty ever ancient, ever new."   In the same way, Newton is saying something about God's forgiving and redemptive grace, grace which is in fact an amazing gift to us who were found in a sad state (wretchedness of a sort).  We shouldn't be afraid to sing his beautiful hymn.

Oh, but wait - if we sing further on we come to this line:

How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.

"Wait a minute!  Grace does not depend on my believing in it.  It is not my action that brings about my salvation.  This line is way off!"

...Okay, that's true, grace doesn't depend on belief, but if we slow down and read the words we'll see that the song doesn't make that claim either.  If we ignore the first few words of the line, then yes indeed, it becomes problematic:  "...grace appear[ed] the hour I first believed."  However, the words "How precious did that" are important qualifiers.  They're actually pretty vital to the meaning of the sentence.

It's not saying that there was no grace until I believed, that grace suddenly appeared in that moment when I accepted the Truth (which would be incorrect, because grace is not dependent upon my acceptance of it or my belief in it).  It's saying that when I believed I became aware of the grace and it appeared to me precious.  We can return to our good friend Augustine and see almost this exact same kind of exclamation in the words "Late have I loved thee, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new."  Augustine is lamenting that it had taken so long for him to realize that only God can satisfy his longings.  ("Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.")  He doesn't mean (and no one would suppose that he would mean) that God's Beauty is dependent on his own late arriving love for God.

Just so, John Newton is making no assertion whatsoever that grace only appeared at the moment of belief.  (Or if he is, he's doing a pretty poor job of it by choosing these words.)  He's saying that at that moment, when he finally saw the grace for what it is, it appeared to him precious--a Beauty ever ancient, ever new.  I think that John Newton's own realization of his place before God was not that dissimilar to Augustine's.  However, please don't overreact against me for comparing the faith experience of a protestant to one of the great Latin doctors of the Church.  The only thing I know about Newton are the lyrics of this song, so if I'm somehow deeply wrong in this comparison, mea culpa.

Looking at the words themselves, I see no reason to exclude this hymn from Catholic use.  I've seen people get very bent out of shape over this line, and that's really quite amazing.  Simply paying closer attention to the words makes the problem go away entirely.  It is a non-issue.

An unrelated photograph:
I wanted to see the Globe Theatre,
but all they had was this replica.