Do We Have a Church If We Don’t Have Priests?

Deacon Greg pointed me to this video which has excellent production values on a group of newly ordained priests.

Beautifully done and a nice keepsake for these men of their ordination day.

One small quibble: While our priests are of paramount importance, I’m not sure it’s accurate to say “If we don’t have priests we don’t have a church” as the rector, I believe intoned in the video. If we don’t have priests that would be tragic, but there are plenty of communities that do not have priests at this point. Are they no less a part of the Body of Christ? I get the point that we need someone to consecrate the Eucharist and even priest-less parishes share in the sacrifice of another community where the sacrifice of the mass was offered–and therefore they are indebted and tied to a priest in some way. But if there were no priests, what would that mean for the church? What would become of ritual and sacrifice? Would others be called to a new role and who would decide how to move forward on this?

It’s a good question to ask and an even better prayer to pray that we always have priests and deacons.

But it also behooves an additional question: What are we doing to bring the body of Christ into the world? How do we proclaim Christ in ritual where we gather each week? How are we present to one another in the Eucharist and how do we become active participants and not merely consumeristic receivers?

A choir director I know, even challenges her choir in a similar way. “We are ministers of music. The CONGREGATION is the choir! We’re called to be ministers of the word in song, to awaken and enliven the hearts of the faithful so that they sing out with just as much joy as we might express.”

We might want to take that lesson into our hearts this week and be moved by the fact that we have priests and deacons, lay ministers and catechists, ministers of song and hospitality. Without any of them, we might not have a church, much less priests alone. We need each member of the faithful to continue to preach the goodness of our church, to inspire each one to their proper role in life and in the life of the church.

Priests didn’t come from the clear blue sky. They were called from the community to be priests by God for the communities that they, in turn will now serve.

That’s a blessing. We rejoice and be glad. And our response in love is not just to be served, but to serve. And that goes for all of us.

In that way, our common priesthood lives forever.

My dear friend, Fr. Jack Collins often reminds me that “what is common to all is sacramentalized by some.” Perhaps with those who choose to have their priesthood sacramentalized, we indeed have a problem.

But if we really have faith, we believe that God is present in all of us. Is that any less of a Eucharistic moment? Some might think so. I choose to think that God always finds a way out of no way.

And so, I am comforted by that gracious thought. The truth that we are not God. And therefore, while we choose to have men be “in persona Christi” God still exists whether or not men continue to make that choice.

God will never abandon us. And while that’s comforting, it’s still easier to see and feel when we have priests amongst us.

Today, let us pray that young men will continue to respond to the call of Christ to the priesthood. And let us also pray that we too, respond accordingly to our vocational call as well.

Now go and find your favorite priest and tell him how important he is to your community and offer to help him out with something.

Being Found By Love

Fr. Mark Mossa’s new book, Already There: Letting God Find You is amazing!
There is a tidbit of wisdom in nearly every paragraph which will find its way into the heart, mind and soul of anyone who dares to read it.

His first chapter speaks of his first love, which is an interesting tale all on its own–a heartwarming story of both romance and heartache. But at its core, it sincerely talks about a notion that I found humbling: Being Found By Love.

As I look back on my life, I often see myself searching for love and occasionally finding someone to love. At times, I’m afraid, I didn’t find that love returned. Was love unable to find me?

As I searched more deeply, I realized a stark truth: Quite often in my life, I was too afraid to be found by love.

Have you ever found a person who just takes your breath away? Dennis Miller, the brilliant comic, said of the first time he saw his wife, “I’ll pass out if that woman comes anywhere near me.” Apparently, he conquered that fear. But often it’s not fear of approaching love, but fear of not being good enough to deserve the love of someone else. Perhaps even when love is found, fear keeps the revelation of self that we all have to offer back to our love from really happening. What if she doesn’t love that part of me? What if she doesn’t agree with my opinion? We act like addicts afraid of being unable to get our next fix. What if the love runs out?

Marion, my wife, helped me get over that. I think I fell more deeply in love with Marion when we had our first fight. Now that sounds completely ludicrous, but in fact it’s true. Most relationships I had been in had a breaking point. I wasn’t rich enough, or I wasn’t dedicated to the relationship enough, or I didn’t possess enough ambition for the other in my life. Whenever we fought, it was a sign that all of these shortcomings were a weakening of her favor in my eyes. The message I internalized was clear: I wasn’t measuring up to another’s expectations.

So I hid. I prolonged relationships by being a giver. I’d quiet my opinions and tolerate someone who wasn’t right for me because let’s face it, it’s easy to stay in a comfortable relationship than to go back out there and start over with someone new.

But hiding who you are doesn’t allow love to find you. Why? Because the person that’s out there isn’t you–but rather some incomplete notion of you. Being accepted for who you are by another is actually quite humbling. It says to you that you are enough, that you are more than enough.

My wife gives me that message every day. No matter what I might put out there, she doesn’t stop loving me. (Even when I’m clearly being a jackass)

That first fight came and ended. I felt like I was waiting for another shoe to drop. Clearly a fight was a sign that this relationship was headed down a bad road. But instead, Marion really understood how I felt and she allowed me to own my own feelings and not have to hide from who I was. I didn’t need to be afraid of being myself, in fact, I could give Marion all that I really am. I could let all the facades drop. Marion saw me figuratively naked. And I was still beautiful to her.

Being found by love means that we can be loved for who we are. How often do we succumb to the idea that we aren’t good enough? We play those same games with God, don’t we?

“I’m not holy enough–God doesn’t expect anything from someone as bad as me. The church is liable to cave in if I even show up.”

Being found by God is all about us becoming comfortable being seen exactly as we are–with no pretentions, no games, no deals. We come before God as sinners, broken people and yet, we are still more than enough for God, who is perfect love.

Do we dare to let God find us? Or do we hide in the bushes, too afraid to come out and be seen?

Perhaps that is our challenge. And the challenge that Fr. Mark is leading us to with his excellent new book. Maybe it’s easier than we think? After all, we simply have to be all that we are. To dare to let others see who we really are beyond all the masks that we put up. When we do that in Fr. Mark’s words, we find that indeed we can be found by love, who finds us where we already are.

What a Friend We Have in Cheesus

Last night’s episode of Glee was very, very Catholic.

The teens explored religion when one, Finn, the singing QB, makes a grilled cheese sandwich on the George Foreman grill and finds the face of Jesus imprinted on it.

He prays, nearly mockingly to it, “O Grilled Cheesus…”

Now I’m sure some took offense to this, I merely spit diet coke all over the couch in laughter.

Later, Kurt, an openly gay character, rejects the notion of prayer and God completely, when students suggest praying for his father, who suffers a heart attack and is left comatose. He sings a striking version of the Beatles, “I want to hold your hand” later in the episode.

It should be noted that the show offered many pro-life themes. Kurt suggests that some religions look upon his humanity as a gay person as “less than.” It’s never suggested that Kurt’s dad should be euthanized, quite the opposite in fact. Even the jaded, evil, Cheerio Coach, Sue, has a tender moment with her sister, where she reveals that she stops believing in God because people looked at her sister as “less than perfect” when she clearly knew otherwise simply because she has down’s syndrome.

“God doesn’t make mistakes. That’s what I believe.” she says. She later adds, “Do you want me to pray for you Sue?”

OK, that made me cry.

But perhaps the most Eucharistic moment of all is when Finn, eats the grilled cheese sandwich after exploring that God goes far beyond his very notions of a magical Santa Claus. It’s his connection with God and the longing for intimacy with his peers that is very central to our idea of communion. As he eats the sandwich, the symbolism is clear: Finn longs to be connected with the Body of Christ.

Mercedes brings the house down twice with an amazingly refreshing version of “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” with full gospel accompaniment and a haunting rendition of “I look to You” which I’ll leave you with here.

Sometimes life really does imitate art (intentional misquote). This episode reflected the feelings and questions that many young people have about religion. We should note that many of them rolled their eyes at the mention of the word “spirituality.” But the good news is that as bad as things get, most of them just “don’t stop believin.'”

Get a Dog

So after yesterday’s accident I spent the day at work and then had a long and successful retreat meeting with students and my co-campus minister Katie.

I was pretty spent and I returned home with only one thing on my mind. I needed my dog. I was kind of cranky and I tend to take that out on my wife. And I know that the only sure cure for cranky is to go for a walk with Haze the Chihuahua and then let him curl up on my lap. When it’s time for bed, he comes barreling into our bed and he dives under the covers and curls up behind the knees of Marion or myself. We’ve been known to roll over on him and he’ll remind us of his presence with a sharp growl.

So we walked and cooled down together in the cool midnight air of Buffalo. It was an uneventful walk but it allows me time to do the Examen for the day and to search for the gratitude that my dog always is eager to show me. Yesterday was an easy one. No injuries in a car accident. The other driver admitted liability and her insurance is covering me completely. $2000 worth of damage to the back end of my car isn’t fun, but it’s a lease and so it’s not that big a deal. I was just glad everyone is OK. We can replace plastic and metal but not our lives.

Haze greeted me with some big tail wags and was free and easy in his gate as we walked not far from where the accident occurred. There was no other place for us to be. We just were able to enjoy a crisp cool evening, a semi-full moon and some…er..relief.

Haze doesn’t care what I drive. Or how much money is in the bank. Or what my title is at work. Haze just wants me, every night, to walk with him.

I could say similar things, of course about my lovely wife. And of course, about God, who always longs to walk with us.

But it is truly unbelievable how this little dog brings much peace to me. We humans all need to de-stress and when I got home, my worried wife needed to hold me and understand that I was OK. I was grumpy and exhausted and walking the dog could all to easily seem like one more task that needed to be checked off the list.

But peace is offered each time I attach that leash to harness and head out the door for a simple romp. We run and walk and chase a rabbit or two. We simply are alive and the momentary escape into a world where all that matters is that time to walk, reminds me that I am loved as a child of God, who offers us all we really need.

Ben Stein seems to understand this well:

I woke up last night and didn’t feel Haze anywhere nearby in my bed. My wife also got up to get a drink and when she returned I asked her where the little guy was. She didn’t know. We checked around. Not in the dog bed in my office. Not in his crate in the living room and not curled up on the couch or a chair. I went back into the living room and pulled back the covers to find Haze in the corner of my bed curled up in our comforter. His reaction? Well…take a look for yourself.

Submission. Caught. You got me playing hide and seek and now I’m it.

God is a lot like finding a dog under the covers. When we find God and realize that God has been there all along–there is nothing more to do than to simply rest easy and maybe scratch a belly. And then simply sit in peace with this newfound simplicity.

So get a dog and you just might find God, lurking amidst the crap in life.

And even admid the crap that comes with walking a dog.

Fender Bending Gratitude

This morning I dropped my wife off at her job and then drove to the local home store to order a new screen door. Then it was off to work.

A rainy Tuesday and morning traffic made things a bit sluggish. The car in front of me stopped quickly and I slowed down and stopped as well.

Then about five seconds later it happened. SMASH! A car behind me smacked into the back of my 2010 Nissan Sentra while I was at a dead stop.

Everyone was fine. No injuries. Just two cars banged up, hers much worse than mine. My back fender is dangling but it looks like plastic pieces that have broken off. It could have been much worse. I drove the car to work and had a backed up morning–but am otherwise fine.

Surprisingly, I was calm. I easily got out of the car and made sure the other driver and her kid was OK. I was met with apologies, admission of guilt and some tears. Having not been in an accident before, I had to think.

“I guess we call the police and exchange insurance information now, right?” I said to her.

“Yep. Sounds good.”

And so we did. Two newcomers to Buffalo, providing simple information.

The cops came and got us off the road and ran some reports. All was well again and I was told to drive off by the police while they called a tow truck from AAA for her.

I drove the rest of the way to work. As I pulled into the driveway I felt gratitude, things could have been much worse. Once you’ve been in an accident, you understand how precarious it is on the road, even if you are a good driver. I allowed myself to feel empathy for the woman who hit me, as it had to be tough to plow into someone else and even tougher to realize that she just smashed up her car. And even tougher to do it all with a child in the car.

The bottom line, all is well. I am going to make it through today. For others, they may not be able to say the same.

May Our Lady of the Highways watch and protect us all on our ride home today.

StrengthsFinder Prayer

So I took the Clifton Strengths Finder indicator some time ago and then again recently. I’ve taken the early 1.0 version and now the 2.0. Here are my strengths as indicated by the indicator:

Version 2.0 says I am an:
1) Activator – basically, I don’t like talking about things we’re going to do. I want to help people actually do them.
2) Positivity – I have a positive attitude and don’t like negatively reinforcing things on others.
3) Harmony – I don’t like discord. I want everyone to get along and things to run smoothly.
4) Belief – I live by the courage of my own convictions and respect others who do as well.
5) Empathy – I can feel for others. I think this is my strongest trait. I have the ability to put myself in another’s place and try to understand their side of things.

The earlier 1.0 version gives me 3 different ones.
Empathy – See above
positivity – see above
Communication – Well duh! I like to communicate–but only in so far as it brings me into empathetic, harmonic, and positive situations. Blogging, for me, isn’t about spouting off, but rather expressing my belief and then listening for what others see in that for themselves.
Individualization – I see each person as in individual and work with them for their specific needs and goals.
Woo– which stands for winning others over. I have the ability to work with people in a way that rallies them to my side. I don’t do this manipulatively. Rather I try to relate in a way that develops friendship and respect.

And so, we spend some time in prayer, thinking about how my strengths might help me today.

A Strengths Finder Prayer

Lord, let me spend my day
with empathy for others
Let your words touch others
in ways that I cannot.

Let me be your instrument
as a doctor uses the scalpel
and the musician strikes
a chord on the keyboard or string.

Mostly though Lord, let me simply be
a quiet presence of comfort
A trusted soul and confidant
for those you would have me meet today.

May that empathy bring harmony
to activate many lives in believing in you.
May the gentle spirit woo all of us
into more positive communication with you and one another.

For it is in that spirit of prayer
that we individuals make our simple words
Into strong foundations
That serve us, in serving you….

Forever.

Amen.

For one million dollars….I would…

So I was walking the dog last night when a man was looking at my very cute doggie and asked what his name was. I told him “Haze” and since he was kind of creeping me out I kept walking. He said, I’d love to have a dog like that, he’s very cool.

I thanked him and told him that I was indeed very lucky and that I wouldn’t sell this little ball of fur for any amount of money.

And then I wondered if that were true.

Fr. Pat Keleher, the Pastor at the North Campus Newman Community told me a great story over lunch the other day:

A man bought a house and moved his family, a wife and new baby, into the home and all was well with the world. He paid about $200,000 for the home and was quite happy.

A man showed up a few days later and told him that he really wanted to buy the house. The man flatly told him that the house wasn’t for sale and that he just moved in. But the man was insisting, “No, I really want to buy it!”

Angrily, the new home owner told him a bit more sternly, “I told you…it’s not for sale, buddy!”

Then the man simply said, “Well, I’ll make you an offer anyway. Would a million and a half dollars be enough?”

Sold!

So back to my dog…I wondered if that man who was enamored by my dog offered me an overwhelming price for him, would I have accepted it? The truth is that I love that dog so much that I think I’d turn him down. Call it an unhealthy attachment, if you will, but by the same token, if there were someone out there that I thought needed Haze more than I do—or if I thought they could give Haze a better home than what he has with me, that might be a more compelling reason for me to give up my pal.

Notice, I said “might.” Mostly, because I really think I’m the best person for that chihuahua and he’s been my loyal companion too.

What else wouldn’t I give up for riches? Obviously my wife (Robert Reford, keep your indecent proposal to yourself) and my marriage is one. My parents and sister and other family members are obviously others—but they are people and relationships and not possessions, if you will. The truth is that there isn’t a whole lot that I wouldn’t give away for that kind of proposal. My master’s degree diploma might be one and the first copy of my book another. Pictures could be another, especially if I have no other copy. My wedding ring and our wedding album might be other items. My job in ministry would be another.

What would I give up rather easily? If I got that home offer, I’d move very quickly. My car, my iphone, this very computer–they are all transient purchases, means to an end with little sentimental value.

I think as I have matured, I have been able to let go more easily of things and grasp on more tightly to relationships. A sign of maturity? Perhaps?

What would you let go of easily? More difficultly? Not at all? What if someone offered you a boatload of money for your job? Your car? Your family home? Would you bite?

Are you more honest on Facebook than with your family?

La Lupe, a blog on BustedHalo® by Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft discussed an interesting point: How much do you tell your family about your decisions?

I recently had a conversation with an old friend who was thinking about making some major life decisions without telling her family about it. She knew they would disapprove and she didn’t want to deal with them. She justified it by saying that she believed in what she was doing and just wanted to do it and tell everyone later.

This is a tough issue. There is great tension between wanting to be independent, to be your own person, to make your own decisions and your responsibility to your family.

After 25 years of having to figure out what to share and not share with my family, it’s still a tough call each time. I know that I don’t want to have to lie to my family so I try not hide things that I’ll have to lie about to cover it up but at the same time I don’t tell them every detail about my life. It’s one thing to get a tattoo that you never tell mom about because hopefully she’ll never see it. It’s quite another thing to elope and move out of state saying adios to the family through your rear view mirror as your drive away.

But having to hear them talk and talk about why they don’t like something that you believe in wholeheartedly can be sometimes hurtful. Usually, though, it is just downright annoying.

It seems like an obvious question for the millennial age to add to the conversation here: How sad is it that we blog stuff to random strangers and acquaintances but can’t tell those who should be close to us certain things?

Is there anything on your facebook page that you wouldn’t want mom to see? Have you blogged about grandma behind her back? Are you in the midst of a major life decision but think that the family has nothing to contribute to your thought process–but you freely post a question about it on facebook?

If so, why might we be that way? What does it say about us and how different is this from just 20 years ago? Any thoughts?

Baby Buggies

So it’s starting to happen…

Many of my married friends are having children.

I wondered how I’d feel about this, since my wife and I can’t have kids and yes, indeed, the feelings are mixed between personal sadness and grand elation.

A number of friends I have often take the bitter pill when they hear of the success of others when things aren’t going well for them. Others hate to hear “I have a boyfriend and he’s great!” when they are alone. I suppose when people are smitten by the love bug that others can find their romantic bliss disgusting infatuation.

But isn’t this a bit of a spiritual misnomer?

Shouldn’t the joy of others bring us joy? Shouldn’t the birth of a child always be a happy occasion even if it isn’t my child and even if that won’t ever happen for me? I’m looking at a little baby in Logan Airport right now and his mother looks filled with joy (and maybe in need of a bit of sleep).

Perhaps what really got me in touch with this was this recent video, that my friend Michelle Larkin (nee Gillan) from my Fordham days posted of her and her newborn child Reece on Facebook.

There’s no embed but once “mom” starts talking HERE I tear up instantly.

Michelle was the first friend I met at Fordham and when I see the joy on her face that is brought to her by this child, how can I not be happy? How can I possibly focus on my own loss of knowing that I’ll most likely not have a similar experience (well, I’d have the experience that her husband Tim is having!)?

Perhaps when feelings of loss come to us naturally when we experience the joy of others, we might notice that we haven’t grieved our own losses properly. Perhaps something is missing in our lives that we might not have control over and we need to ask ourselves “what else is offered?” to ourselves.

Not having a child gives me more time for the students at UB, young adults in volunteer organizations and others who I minister to. In a sense I am giving life in a different way to them and to my wife and even to that little ball of fur called my dog.

What else is God calling me to if he is not calling me to what Michelle and Tim and other parents have?

I don’t always know. But I always trust that it will be wonderful

Tag Devotions

Paul Snatchko writes:

On Tuesday, a little round of “tag” ensued at this end of the Catholic blogosphere. Those tagged were asked to name their five favorite devotions.

So since he tagged me my favorite devotions are:

1) The Ignatian Examen: Which I do almost every day, usually when I walk the dog late at night and it’s quiet and I can think about the past day–the good and the bad. I sometimes use sacredspace.ie or pray-as-you-go.org

2) Sunday mass (does that count?): Most importantly I would say that holding my wife’s hand during the Penitential rite which reminds me of the times that I haven’t been able to hold her hand.

3) The Rosary: Which I say when I don’t have the words to pray and I am grateful for the words the church gives us.

4) The Stations of the Cross: Which I’m always looking for new ways to make these come alive and where people can share their reflections on these.

5) Praying to St Ignatius and St Joseph and most recently Dorothy Day.
I look to them for guidance and support often and always feel peace and gratitude when I ask for their intercession.

I’ll add a final one:

6) Song: I probably like listening more than singing because I’m not a great singer (although my wife likes it when I sing to her). But having voices raised in song gives me a lift almost always.

Sorta like this: