Saturday, April 30, 2011

Holy Saturday

On Holy Saturday afternoon I wrote the following.  This is the final entry of my retreat journal: 

Today I walked into the Church of Our Lady and St. Benedict in the village of Ampleforth.  On entering the church, I dipped my hand into the holy water font.  It is a particularly beautiful one:  about a foot tall, sitting on a pedestal, an angel kneeling down, holding out a large half shell in which is kept the holy water.  I did it out of habit, only half thinking about it.

But my hand hit dry marble.  The illusion created by the accumulated dirt and algae had tricked me.

… Oh.  Right.

A friend of mine said recently that the emptiness felt on entering a church on Good Friday with the sanctuary lamp out strikes him to the very core.  I felt the same, or similar, at the holy water font, when what should have been there, wasn't.  What a remarkable sign of Jesus buried in the tomb.

Then I went in and prayed.

When I came out, I looked at the statue.  (Without the water, it could hardly be called a font.)  It struck me that this angel knelt there dutifully throughout the year, hold up the water that stands as a reminder of their Baptism to all who pass by.  It is a joyful and wonderful task.  But today, she also has a duty.  She's there to trick me.  I am so used to dipping my hand in that shell, and the shell itself looks very much like it actually has water in it.  She kneels there inviting habit to take control so that…

…so that I might unwittingly find an empty shell, a dryness that pines like the desert for water, a desolation.  She's there to put me ill at ease, uncomfortable.  She's there to remind me of the incredible Mystery of Christ buried in the tomb.  She did her job, and now the power of Easter will be even stronger to me, for that lack will be undone tonight!

Easter Candle at Ampleforth
Happy Easter!

Good Friday

I had a cold all through Holy Week.  This was a problem because the monks had asked me to sing the Exsultet at the Easter Vigil.  (For those who are unfamiliar, the Exsultet is a long, joyous, and ancient chant in the presence of the Easter Candle, which symbolizes Christ himself.)  I was honored and excited at the chance opportunity, but all through the week there was a good chance that I physically would not be able to do it.

In a moment of prayer and surrender however, Good Friday evening, I came to the following conclusion:

If I must give up singing the Exsultet because of this cold, I have an opportunity for humility.  If I find tomorrow morning, however, that I do it, I have yet another opportunity for humility.

By that I mean that to let go of the honor of singing the Exsultet would take humility, even if I was forced because of a cold.  But there would also humility in being able to sing it despite the sick state I was in.  It would be something that could only be credited to God.  I know my musical talent is a gift from God, but every now and then I need a reminder.  If I were to sing his praises on the most holy of all nights, it would be by his grace alone.  I'm glad that so often he breaks down the foundations of my ego - I am generally in need of it.

[The story goes on:
On Holy Saturday morning, when I was going to have my final rehearsal, I woke up with a blocked up nose and a raspy, phlegmy throat.  I told Jeff, another deacon on retreat, that short of a miracle, I would not be able to do it.  He replied, "then ask for a miracle."  I did; and I had a lot of people praying for the same thing throughout the week.  I got my miracle, sang it well at the rehearsal, and then at the Vigil, even sang it a whole step too high (by accident) with no problems.  In fact, it was better than I have ever sung it.  Thanks be to God, for I know I did not do it by my own power.]

Random Bavaria Photo:
Overlooking Neuschwanstein Castle

Holy Thursday

At the Mass of the Lord's Supper, I served as one of the deacons with the monks.  As the abbot washed the feet of the chose twelve, I was at his side with the washbowl and towel to help him out.

Now, I have had my feet washed before at Holy Thursday, but I've never had the place I had this year.  I know that in years to come, I will be the one washing others feet, so the symbol of the abbot's servile work was not lost on me.

It's funny though that I talk about washing others feet as being something in the future!  The whole point of the story from John 13 is that we're all supposed to wash one another's feet, and not delay!  It's not just the presider's job at Holy Thursday; it's everyone's job everyday.

Random Bavaria photo:
Dinner in a beer garden

Wednesday of Holy Week Part II

My priesthood is not my gift to give.  It isn't even my priesthood.  Christ is choosing to give the gift to his people through me, and why he chose me, I cannot tell.  In my pride I am yet tempted to come up with reasons why I'm "great for the job," but as experience has taught me, no man, especially not me, is qualified for this enterprise.  Thank God for His help, for if I were left alone to be a priest, I would screw it up big time.

St. Anthony of the Desert supplies fitting words:
The performance of signs does not belong to us - this is the Savior's work.

Wednesday of Holy Week Part I

During the retreat I read the Life of Anthony, by St. Athanasius.  It tells of the life of St. Anthony of the Desert, who with St. Paul of Thebes is one of the great founders of Christian monasticism.  Much of the work describes his encounters with demons, temptations, evil spirits, and exorcisms.  Now, since we are all very convinced in this modern world that such things do not exist, these kinds of stories might seem anachronistic.

Now, putting aside for the moment that such things do exist, I just want to talk about the confidence with which Anthony approached these encounters.  It can be for us a great asset in combatting temptation.  Often times we can feel that temptation is so strong that it is inevitable that we will succumb to it, but if we listen to Anthony's view on demons and temptation, we might begin to recall that we are made in the Image of God, and called to a freedom that makes sin and the powers of evil pale in comparison:

"We must not fear them,
even though they seem to assault us
or threaten us with death,
for they are weak and have power to do nothing
except hurl threats."

"For these antics they deserve instead
to be ridiculed as weaklings."

"But if they held no sway over the swine,
how much less do they hold over people made in the Image of God!"

After reading such sayings from Anthony, I see that he can be a powerful intercessor for us in times of temptation of all kinds.  Whenever selfishness begins to manifest itself in us, in whatever way (greed, pride, lust, gluttony, envy, ...) let us ask Anthony to help us to live up to our Dignity, crushing temptations against the Rock who is Christ when they first appear, before they have the opportunity to grow into something more dangerous.

Random Bavaria photo:
Beneath Hohenschwangau Castle

Tuesday of Holy Week

For part of my retreat, I did lectio divina with the story of the man born blind from John's Gospel (Ch. 9).  I meditated with much of the story, but the final words of Jesus to the Pharisees struck me in a particular way:

If you were blind you would not be guilty, 
but since you say, "We can see," your guilt remains.

For a very long time I have thought myself able to see, and because of this, I've been stuck in my sin and pride.  However, through the past couple of years, and especially on this retreat, it is ever clearer to me that I am blind.  I am constantly lying prostrate asking for God's help simply because I know I am incapable.  I can only see because he gives light to my eyes.

This story is after all centered on Jesus' statement "I AM the Light of the World."  I was born blind, as was the man in the story, as well as the Pharisees.  And, like the Pharisees, I have insisted for all my life that I can see.  Now I know this is wrong; I can only see because he makes me to see.

God is content to let us continue on claiming we can see, claiming to have everything figured out, claiming to have the Truth.  He patiently bears with all of that nonsense.  He grants us the power to push him away, and we do not hesitate to use it.  But every so often, he completely brings down the barriers and leaps into our experience.  Every now and then, we need to be undone.  Thank God for those times when he disturbs us.  He stirs up the waters and brings our stagnant faith back to life.

Monday of Holy Week

I just want to quote the words of St. Augustine from the Office of Readings on Monday of Holy Week.  Augustine can sometimes be a little longwinded, so I often look with despair when I see his name in the breviary.  Yet, there is a reason he comes up so often, and every now and then, his spiritual/literary/theological genius comes out in force.

The case in point being the Wonderful Exchange.  This is a very famous passage about the Incarnation:

Of ourselves we had no power to live, nor did he of himself have the power to die.  Accordingly, he effected a wonderful exchange with us, through mutual sharing:  we gave him the power to die, he will give us the power to live.

There is very little I can say beyond the beauty and simplicity of those words, so I won't try.  Instead, I'll just try and live the life He gives us.

Random Bavaria photo:
Light rain at Andechs

Holy Week Thoughts

Now that the Easter Octave is almost over, this post and the ones to follow might seem a little late in coming.  I was on retreat over Holy Week, and then didn't have internet access for most of this week.  So, while I've wanted to share some of the fruits of that retreat, I haven't had the opportunity until now.  Don't worry though, I'm sure I'll come up with something for Easter after I post all my Holy Week thoughts.

The retreat took place at Ampleforth Abbey, in North Yorkshire, England.  It was great to be in a monastic setting as I made my retreat, especially since I began my priestly training at a Benedictine abbey (St. Joseph's in Covington, LA).  In the posts that follow, I certainly won't be including all of my retreat experience, but just some of the fruits with which God blessed me.  Also, after the retreat, I visited Bavaria with some other Mobile seminarians, so I'll throw in pictures from that trip.

Ampleforth Abbey

Saturday, April 16, 2011


I'm posting this a little late, but I haven't gotten the opportunity to write it until now.  The first line of Friday's Gospel really struck me (pardon the pun):

The Jews picked up rocks to stone Jesus. (Jn 10:31)

Immediately I thought:  What irony!  They would pick up little hand-held rocks with which to stone the Rock of Ages.

My mind started to explore the imagery, and what it might mean.  Their small rocks are the precepts of the Old Law, which as St. Paul teaches us, has no power to save.  In contrast is the person of Jesus and his New Commandment, to love one another as I have loved you.  The Jews can throw their rocks, but they will just shatter and bounce off of what is much harder and stronger.

And, figuratively speaking, this is just what happens in the story - he says to them,  "I have shown you many good works from my Father.  For which of these are you trying to stone me?"  They reply (in an audibly frustrated tone), "we are not stoning you for a good work, but for blasphemy."

Their slavish attachment to the letter of the Law rather than to its Author causes them to let fly petty accusations, which of course simply shatter and are deflected by the love and truth that He is.

While I'm on the topic of Christ as the Rock, check out these lines from Psalm 105:
[Psalm 105 is a recounting of salvation history, from Abraham, all the way to the Israelites in the desert.]

He pierced the rock to give them water;
it gushed forth in the desert like a river.

Now, if Christ is the Rock, then look at the symbolism of the rock in the desert from which God gave the Israelites water.  Here, the psalmist uses the words, "He pierced the rock." (referring to Moses striking the rock with his staff)  That word choice is very telling: Jesus' side was pierced, and blood and water flowed out.  St. John Chrysostom teaches us that the blood signifies the Eucharist, and the water, Baptism - both of which give life to the Church, the bride of Christ, born from the side of his dead body, just as Eve was created from the side of Adam as he slept.

And so, we see just how important Baptism is, since it gives us life while we are yet surrounded by the desolation of the desert.  Baptism comes to us from Jesus, who was pierced for our offenses.

Just some thoughts.  Have a good Holy Week!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


I'm just about two months away from priestly ordination, and I'm very excited.  It's getting hard to stay focused on the daily life here at the seminary, on my studies, on anything really.  But I wanted to give an update on the things that have been going on:

#1 - This one is huge.  A couple weeks ago,  I was graced with the opportunity to travel to the Holy Land (for the second time!) with three other Mobile seminarians, and a group from the Archdiocese led by Archbishop Rodi.  This was truly an amazing experience, and it deserves its own blog post, so I'll get to that later.

#2 - I've started playing music again.  That is to say, I've started just sitting down and playing music for no other reason than it gives me joy.  I had forgotten how refreshing and life giving it was, and I'm glad to get back into it, more regularly anyway.

#3 - Over Holy Week, I'll be making my canonical retreat before ordination, so please keep me in your prayers.  I'm traveling with some friends to Ampleforth Abbey in Yorkshire, England where we will spend the week not only celebrating the Triduum, but also preparing ourselves spiritually for ordination.  I was there two years ago. It's a wonderful location. The Abbey liturgies are beautiful, very reminiscent of my time at St. Joseph's Abbey in Louisiana.  I'm really looking forward to this retreat.

#4 - I've got my "thesis" topic. (It's really just a short 30 page paper to cap off the MDiv program.)  My area of specialization is patristics, so I'll be writing a few of the Fathers' interpretations of Gen 27 (that's when Jacob dresses up like Esau and deceives Isaac into giving him the blessing), focusing mainly on the moral problem of Jacob's deception.

#5 - Southern Night - the Gulf Coast seminarians at the NAC are starting our annual labor of love in putting together Southern Night, an invitation only event for the southerners at the seminary.  We go all out with specialty drinks, seven courses, music, etc.  It's always a lot of fun, but also a lot of work.

#6 - Clericus Cup!  The annual clerical soccer tournament is now going into it's third week.  The North American Martyrs are performing fairly well, but we need a win this Saturday to get into the quarter finals.  As always, the fans from the NAC are going all out, dressing up and shouting our heads off.  I'm more or less leading the charge as Uncle Sam.  If you don't mind dealing with the Italian, you can check out the tournament website: Clericus Cup (The "Photo Gallery" is easy enough to find; Martyrs pictures will always be found under "Girone B.")

I guess that's about it.  Things are going pretty well these days...

Love Your Enemy ...

... but who is my enemy?

Most of us don't have "enemies" in the sense of mortal combat, or combat of any sort, but that's not necessarily what Our Lord is getting at.

Rather than what we normally think of as adversaries, I think Jesus' words might also point us in a more creative direction. In examining my day, I can easily find that there are many people for whom it is difficult me to love. I would submit, therefore, that love your enemies means love those whom you find it most difficult to love. (and all those in between)

We all have a tendency to think that this or that person is just unacceptable, so incompatible with the way we understand things to be, that they're just not worth the time.  We find ourselves saying or thinking things like "I just can't stand that guy," or "there she goes again," etc.

Hold it right there.

Stop for a second and think if you could ever imagine Jesus saying or thinking the same thing in your place.  It's kind of a twist on the old WWJD.  Or better (worse?), imagine that you are that person, and it is Jesus who is regarding you.  You are a sinner, constantly "letting him down," failing to live up to his expectations - would he ever say or think such things about you?  Could you ever imagine Jesus saying "I just can't stand that guy" about ANYBODY?  No!  Not at all!  Not ever!

We often forget that it is also these people whom Jesus is talking about when he says "love your enemies."  Love that person whom you find it most difficult to love. Jesus does not hesitate to love that person, even if you do.

"I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least." 
- Dorothy Day

Back to Random Photos:
Clericus Cup season is back, and so is Uncle Sam.
Here I am holding up the Oscar that we wave whenever
a player from the opposing team takes a dive.
(It's pretty weird wearing fake facial hair.)