Can You Hear Me Now?

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday and the gospel contains the line…”My sheep hear my voice, I know them and they know me.”

Many people have chosen to take the time to use this as a day to concentrate on vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and for religious life for women. But I’d like to take two steps further.

The first is that we can’t just leave our religion to the auspices of the priests. We all need to hear that same voice calling us to serve the people of God. How we choose to do that may be by becoming a priest or religious–which indeed is a good thing for those who are called to that life. But how do the vast majority of us hear God’s call working in our lives?

This weekend I attended the wedding of my dear friend Marc Adams and his lovely now-wife, Lexie in Washington, DC. These two people have lived their lives for others and have been a sign to all of us individually and now collectively as a couple of God’s deep love to the world. They met in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. The legend of the story was that Marc met her at a JVC retreat and that Lexie had gotten on a bus to head back to her community before Marc had the chance to pursue getting her phone number.

So he ran after the bus, shouting…”You’re the nicest person I have ever met! What’s your name again?”

It seems that Lexie heard Marc’s call. At the wedding Lexie stole the show by saying “I”d like to introduce you to my family. She then started with her parents and her sisters and brother and then she ended with the touching line:

“And this is my husband, Marc!”

And we heard that call loud and clear. Lexie had chosen Marc to be her own. More importantly, these two people offer themselves as gift to each other in love and in that love they are able to be gifts to the world.

Their pastor, Fr. Patrick Smith, at St Augustine’s Church, in Washington, DC reminded us of that and more importantly that Marc and Lexie need to remember that all of their love stems from God’s love for them. That they are not enough for one another even in all of their love that they so clearly have in marriage–they will need God who is the only one who gives us everything we will ever need.

I think there are many priests and more importantly many seminarians who need to hear that message. Too many seminarians place the idea of the priest as an “all too holy,” vocation. That their calling is somehow “better” than other callings that they could have chosen.

In truth, I think these men who act in this fashion, (dare I say) are probably not called to the priesthood at this time. In fact, before they can truly be called, they need to learn a bit of humility. Before they can hear that voice they need to hear the struggle of loving beyond boundaries, of choosing celibacy so that they can be truly free to give themselves to the world’s needs, of things not being about YOU.

I fear we have too many priests and seminarians who haven’t heard that call. The call of being an obscure shepherd–always chasing after love and not caring about one’s own ego.

And there are often too many married people who haven’t heard the call that Marc and Lexie have. The call to place our own needs behind those that we freely choose to love for a lifetime. I know I don’t always do that–and I need people like Marc and Lexie to remind me of that call.

“My sheep hear my voice…I know them and they know me.”

Do we let God really see us for who we are–without all of the pretentions? Can we offer all of ourselves to God in love and not in our own arrogance. Rather can we hear Jesus’ voice calling us to be Christ for others even if that means that we have to continually go running after love, after that sheep that nearly got away.

Can we run after God in the same way that Marc ran after Lexie –offering all of ourselves, being unafraid and even risking embarrassment?

Because that’s how the Good Shepherd runs after us.

Latin Mass Crowd Ousts Cardinal

CNS provides us with a story that allows us to see that while our church is quite diverse in terms of liturgical preferences (e.g. Latin mass vs. post-Vatican II liturgy), that we can all unite over our response to one sad event in our church’s history: The sexual abuse scandal.

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The group organizing the first pontifical solemn high Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington in 45 years announced it was replacing as the main celebrant a cardinal criticized for his handling of a clergy sex abuse case.

Colombian Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, who was scheduled to celebrate the April 24 Mass, made international headlines when a letter he wrote years earlier surfaced, in which he praised a French bishop for refusing to report an accused pedophile priest to police, even though French law required him to do so.

The Maryland-based Paulus Institute for the Propagation of Sacred Liturgy did not list a specific reason for choosing a different celebrant for the Mass honoring Pope Benedict XVI’s fifth anniversary as pope.

However, the announcement came a day after a Chicago-based group of survivors of clergy sexual abuse had called on the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI and Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl to stop Cardinal Castrillon, the retired head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy, from celebrating the Mass.

“This action will help maintain the solemnity, reverence and beauty of the Mass,” the Paulus Institute said in a statement issued April 21. “We are in the process of seeking another bishop to celebrate a Pontifical Solemn Mass on Saturday and are confident that one will agree. However, in any event, a beautiful, dignified traditional Latin Mass will be celebrated.”

Indeed. I almost want to go to this and I actually will be in DC on that day at a wedding.

Best Easter Vigil… Ever

So I’ve been blessed by parishes that do good liturgy throughout my adult life. But I think this year had to have been one of the best Easter Vigil Masses I have ever been to.

As we lit our candles from the Easter Candle and shattered the darkness we prayed the Exultet louder and louder–as the Jews pray at the wailing wall. (I wish I had video or audio of this but I was lighting candles). The prayers just built higher and higher and the music for the Exultet built as well until the sound of crashing symbols called us back into silence and then music. Beautiful.

Dramatic readings led us into hearing the story of our salvation and they were wonderfully prepared by a bunch of strong actors and lectors and my wife who did one in sign language. And our gospel proclamation complete with procession by our Deacons was also moving as was Fr. Jack’s homily.

Of course seeing the newly baptized and confirmed always moves me, but it especially did this week. We are a church mired in scandal and yet, 11 people decided to join our universal church in our parish and thousands more worldwide. Here’s just a snip of confirmation along with our outstanding Contemporary Music Ensemble singing the best version of the Litany of Saints that I’ve heard in some time.

He is risen, indeed. I’m part of a great community and He is truly alive in them.

Continued Easter Blessings to you and yours.

And we know that He is alive.

The Irish Homily Review Board

Deacon Greg pointed me to this article in the Irish Times where a group of journalists headed to several different churches in the Dublin area and wrote their thoughts on the weekly homily.

To be fair, the standards were rough. The journalists pointed to a good homily being about 8 minutes (which I think is a bit short to get into anything of depth). With the sexual abuse scandal there also seemed to be looking for a link to the prodigal son gospel to the scandal.

All in all, the journalists were pretty fair. I enjoyed this piece from an admitted agnostic:

Was I enlightened? Much as I admired Fr Clarke’s performance, this agnostic is not convinced personal forgiveness is ever simple, nor that there’s much more to the prodigal son than a patch to cover a moral loophole: if it’s so easy to be absolved, what’s the point of being good? That much, though, accompanied by the unravelling history of clerical scandals, prompted further consideration about how the Church and its teachings might ever be reconciled with society. Can you ever have meaningful forgiveness unless it is accompanied by justice?

Tough crowd–and rightly so. Perhaps we’ll do something similar in a host of cities in the United States over time.

Boulder Priest Says Jesus Excluded People

Fr. William Breslin, a priest from Sacred Heart of Jesus parish in Boulder has banned children from entering his elementary school because their mothers are lesbians.

NCR has more from reporter Thomas Fox including this snip:

I asked Breslin what moved him to ban the girls from entering the parish elementary school and he responded: “Let me tell you clearly. This whole matter is about having the freedom to uphold the teachings of our faith. It’s about preserving that freedom when a secular society doesn’t want us to have it. The same thing is happening in Washington, D.C., where government is dictating to the church.”

When Breslin looks out at the world he sees an increasingly secular society, one that has lost its moral compass, and, as it grows more secular, it is all the more important the Catholic faithful stand firm and speak their minds, defending the faith.

This is what Breslin thinks he has done, taking a stand against homosexuality.

The priest writes a blog on the parish web site. In it he has explained his seemingly unpopular decision.

Last week he allowed comments to be posted freely. When they became so overwhelmingly critical of him, he took them off the site.
On his blog, Breslin wrote, “The complaint [against me] goes more or less this way: Jesus would never have turned anyone away, no matter where they came from or who they were. Now let us set things right.

“Actually Jesus did turn people away. In Mark 5 Jesus healed the demoniac, and after the healing the man wanted to become a disciple. Jesus said, No, go back to your own people and tell them all that the Lord in His mercy has done for you. And when the rich young man wanted to follow Jesus, He told him, Go first and sell what you have and give it to the poor and then come follow me. And in John 6, Jesus taught a very hard message so that most of those following Him turned away and would no longer walk in His company. He did not soften His message so as to win them back.

Um, no! Perhaps Fr. Breslin needs to go back to seminary and learn his scripture more carefully. Jesus doesn’t turn anyone away for their sins, but uses people for who they are. People turn away from Jesus on occasion in scripture, but the invitation from Jesus is always offered. The people Fr. Breslin cites in scripture are not denied by Jesus, but rather one is sent to evangelize others and the other goes away of his own free will.

Lastly, these children are being punished for nothing that they have done, but rather for the actions of their parents. Talk about a stupid decision. I guess if you want to proclaim the church’s teaching on homosexuality with vigor the best thing to do would be to restrict education to children who may or may not be gay. That makes sense.

Regardless, NCR has the complete story. The really interesting thing about this story is that the church is divided on generational lines with younger people supporting the children and their parents and the older crowd supporting the priest’s decision.

This is going to end badly for all involved I fear. I’ll wager that the school has to close for lack of enrollment. How about you? Opinions?

St Patrick’s Day

I took a walk through St. Patrick’s Cathedral while in New York last week which always brings up something new for me when I do so.

This year I was fascinated by the former Archbishop’s crests on the floor of the grand Cathedral. I’ve met 4 of the Archbishops and they all are in fact, Irish. Terence Cardinal Cooke, John Cardinal O’Connor, Edward Cardinal Egan and now Archbishop Timothy Dolan. I swear the Irish mafia insures that the bishop is “one of us” so they can get good parking for the parade.

In fact, there has only been one non-Irish Archbishop in New York: the Frechman, John Dubois. Dubois is buried under the sidewalk of the Cathedral so “people can walk all over me in death, just as they did while I was living.”

You have to have a good sense of humor to be the bishop!

Today in New York they’ll be more police and fire staff out in their “dress blues” than any other day besides September 11th. And appopriately enough that’s actually the true color of this holiday as opposed to the green that most will wear. Irish warriors wore blue into battle and so NY’s Finest and Bravest are in good company.

Today, especially, I am thinking not merely of Ireland and New York, but mostly of my nearly 82 year old father who came to the United States from Ireland in 1947. Imagine crossing the ocean at the tender age of 19! But indeed that is what he did and in 1950 he married my mother, an American, born of an Irish mother and French Canadian Father. May he continue to be proud of his own Irish heritage today.

Lastly, for those who faced sexual abuse in Ireland, a blight in that nation’s Catholic past–may today bring you healing and an opportunity to pray to Patrick who after being imprisoned found his way to convert others. May you continue to convert souls to care for those in need and not merely protect their own interests.

Amen and slainte to all.

Be Naked at Church?

Um, this is not what I meant…

From American Papist

Dressing up to go to church has long been out of fashion in many denominations. Most Sunday services at church now resemble like casual Fridays at the office. The trend in dressing down will likely continue, but one congregation in Virginia may be taking the “come as you are” ethic just a bit too literally.

In church, you come as you are. That’s especially true inside the Whitetail Chapel in Ivor. Clothing is optional for everyone from the pastor to the congregation.

“I really don’t think God cares what you wear when you worship,” said Richard Foley, a member of the congregation. “The thing is worship.”

Churchgoers like Foley have no problem getting the word of God from a pastor in his birthday suit.

“Some of the biggest moments in Jesus’ life he was naked,” Pastor Allen Parker said. “When he was born he was naked, when he was crucified he was naked and when he arose he left his clothes in the tomb and he was naked. If God made us that way, how can that be wrong?”

And while this is tame, there is a video from the local TV station in Virginia:

While not a Catholic Church, (Thank God) this is a sure sign to me that there needs to be some limit in dressing down for church services. But where is the line. We explored this before in this link…so perhaps it’s a good time to revisit. What should one wear to church?

I think we should dress at least somewhat appropriate for mass. The larger question is that who becomes the arbiter for this? A golf shirt and a nice pair of pants is appropriate for men in my opinion,,,a button down shirt is even nicer. But some would say that anything less than a shirt and tie is awful. Women can wear a nice skirt or dress but certainly a nice pair of pants is fine as well. I would say we should think “business casual” while others favor a more formal style. I do sometimes wear jeans, but I don’t wear torn jeans or filthy clothes and even that would be inappropriate for some.

I may also say that it’s not our job to be the fashion police. And there are more than a few ministry professionals that could use some help from our good friend Peacebang, the esteemed Rev Victoria Weinstein who provides such fashionista advice and those who could use the most help are often the first to scream about others.

And whatever you do, do not wear your birthday suit to church, no matter how nice you think that may look. Some birthday suits in that video looked like they could use a little ironing.

Tales from the Sacristy: Gaffs and Blunders

Altar Boys and Girls make tons of the mistakes. The secret is to not let anyone know that this happens by making your mistakes small and not so huge that the entire church ends of staring at you.

Most of the time, “mistakes” are really accidents. Like the time the processional cross slipped out of my hands in the sacristy and banged onto the sink not only eliciting a loud crash but also sliding the corpus of Jesus from an upright to sideways position! (Fortunately, we were able to slide it back to the upright position).

Or the time when Timmy Robinson’s shoe got caught in the church carpeting and he flew off of the altar down the center aisle. (Think curling rock in a surplice and cassock).

For those of us who were little when we started…I had to carry the cross which was way too heavy for me, but I did it. Only then, I wasn’t able to place it into it’s holder which was a pin raised off the ground nearly at my waist, that the hollow end of the cross would slide into. I would try and stumble backwards, losing my balance and nearly crashing into the nearby altar. Finally, Michael Margiotta came to my aid and helped me save at least some dignity.

One of the most bizarre stories…
Alphonse DiLello was one of the older Altar Boys (probably late high school) was quite confused when people started screaming at him during a Holy Thursday mass when he was lighting high candles on a side altar. People were screaming, “It’s on fire!” There were curtains next to the tabernacle and he thought that was what was burning and looking upwards he couldn’t see anything that was on fire at all.

And that is because what was on fire was him. His surplice actually caught fire while lighting candles by the tabernacle. He wacked it out with one firm blow of his left hand, luckily. He escaped with just a burned left pinky. As a sign of a good liturgist, Al, as he was known simply went into the sacristy, ran cold water on his hand, took off the burned surplice and returned with a fresh one as if nothing had even happened. This all happened during the communion procession and our pastor restored order rather quickly with a “OK, he’s fine. It’s all over now. Quiet down please.”

Lastly, two of my all time favorites was when during a funeral, Fr Dominc Russo was presiding and the pascal candle was behind him. One of the servers hit it and it tumbled right down bonking Fr. Russo in the noggin. He didn’t get burned fortunately, but hot wax was everywhere, in his hair, over his glasses, on his vestments. A mess, to be sure, but hysterical mess.

I mentioned in an earlier post about the garb that the younger altar boys had to wear. A white hooded alb with a pectoral cross hanging around the neck and a white cincture. We went out for an evening procession on the streets of Yonkers and I saw at least 5 African-American people start to run. They thought we were the Klan and we were actually all very upset about this. We were trying to be signs of Jesus in the world and we ended up being mistaken for a sign of hatred. Sad.

What crazy stories do you have about serving mass? Post them here or send the more lengthy ones to me at

Tales from the Sacristy: LOL

A visiting priest once forewarned a group of us altar boys:

“If I see any of you laughing on the altar, I will throw you off of the altar and you will not be allowed to serve again!”

Yikes! The strange thing was that it never occurred to me that there was anything funny about serving mass. Others would say that because mass could sometimes be a drag, that they’d have staring contests across the altar or make funny faces at one another. Perhaps that’s what the old man was referring to.

But just putting that thought in our heads was enough. And then the giggles ensued in the sacristy amongst some of us. Contagious giggles…that nervous laughter that nobody really wants to participate in, but does anyway.

We were laughing before we even rang the bell for mass. A weekday mass, which meant few people, usually a bunch of Italian old ladies. But the old priest wouldn’t stop.

“There is nothing funny about this. Look! You are already laughing before you even get out there.”

Ramon Guzman and I were convinced that this priest meant business, so we confidently made a pact not to stare at one another or make faces or in any way provoke laughter out of one another. We were going to be good altar boys.

That was until we reached the foot of the altar.

As any good altar boy knows, you bow at the altar with the priest. So here we are two altar boys and the old priest and we reach the altar and begin the profound bow to start mass.

And Father let out one of the loudest farts as he bent forward. And all hell (perhaps literally) broke out. I laughed, Ramon laughed and the old man might have actually allowed himself a snicker as well.

You can’t make this stuff up. Can you?

Altar Boy Humor: Tales from the Sacristy #1

So I’ll share some of the more funny experiences I’ve had as an altar server. Some happened at mass itself and others were in preparation for mass and others even farther removed from the experience on the altar altogether.

Here’s my first one and it comes from the first mass I ever served and the second comes from the first mass I ever served with a friend.

So one of the duties of the altar server is to light candles. So one needs to be comfortable with fire and lighting matches and generally speaking one needs to be comfortable enough with fire so as not to burn the church or themselves down.

So at my first mass, Henry (Enrico) Di Lello and Dominic Finouli were the two “Senior” altar boys assigned to train me. They were allowed to wear cassock and surplice but I, a Junior, was only to wear a white alb with a hood and a cross around my neck and a white rope tied around the waste to cinch the alb up a bit.

I always thought it looked a little too Ku Klux Klan (more on that in a later post).

Regardless, Henry lit a match for me and lit the taper on the long-handled “candle reach”–so one could light those really high candles–and proceeded to push me out the door to light the altar and tabernacle candles.

It’s harder than it looks. Candles can be testy and some don’t light with an easy touch. Tapers are also very temperamental. They burn quickly, but they are thin resulting in long burned ends of taper remaining and more importantly resulting in long flames if left burning too long.

So the first candle was up high and wouldn’t light and so the taper was burning…and burning and soon I had a flame on the edge of the candle reach that was probably (I’m not exaggerating) the length of my forearm.

Dominic saw that I was about to set the church ablaze and came running over and pulled the lever on the candle reach down to completely snuff out the flame.

I was all of 9 years old. Not exactly the start I was hoping for, but the candle was twice my height. I nearly fell over twice just trying to reach it. My early thought was “If I become a priest, I’m never going to have candles up this high in MY parish.”

My second experience was when Billy Butler (you just can’t make these names up can you?) and I were alone in the sacristy with nobody to light the match for us to start the candle lighting process. No sexton, Larry and Charlie were two older retired men who were always in the church prepping priests for mass.

No Larry, No Charlie, No priest. No mom or dad outside either. It was a Saturday mass and we had walked to church together from our houses. We were afraid of two things:

1) Msgr. Troy would come down and find that the candles hadn’t been lit yet.

and 2) In order to avoid situation #1 above, we’d actually have to light a match ourselves.

So attempt after attempt of us nervously trying to light a match by barely touching the flint strip on the back of the book of matches proved fruitless. Finally I had seen people fold the matchbook over and trap the match between the cover and flint strip to provide enough friction to create the spark that one would need.

So I tried it myself. Viola! I struck my first match.

The problem was that it scared me so much that I jumped, throwing the match out of my hand and landing on the cloth counter. I slammed the match with a book to put out an ensuing fire. That worked, but it also made a small burn mark on the cloth cover, not really enough to notice, but one that Monsignor would surely see.

Monsignor Cajetan J. Troy was our pastor. He was well-respected in the Archdiocese and often travelled with Cardinal Cooke to see the Holy Father. When the Pope visited New York, Msgr. Troy was enlisted to go with Cardinal Cooke and bring the Pope back to New York. Msgr. Troy was a great man. I loved him but we also respected him and even feared him a little. I’m not sure why…he was a gentle man of great compassion and would only get angry when we made too much noise in the sacristy. He came down and I told him about the burn mark and about how we were really trying to just prepare the altar for mass.

Msgr. Troy looked at the burn mark and then at us and replied, “You kids shouldn’t be lighting matches anyway! But here, let me light the taper for you. Now go light the candles and don’t worry about this little mark. I’ve made the other three marks in it myself spilling coffee and such on it. But you boys need to be more careful. Don’t worry about the candles until the last minute. It doesn’t take very long to light them.”

Whew! And in hindsight, there was really never any reason to fear our pastor. He served as my confessor for years and was always so compassionate and understanding. I cried when he retired and was annoyed when the new pastor forbade him from coming to visit the parish once.

His brother was a Paulist and I had served my first mass with him. Fr. Joe Troy, CSP was also a very compassionate man and was great with us kids. It was these two men who helped me love serving mass and I owe them a great debt of gratitude. It was quite ironic that I ended up working for the Paulists for nine years after serving my first mass with one of them.

So what altar boy or girl stories might you have to share? You can post comments or send me the lengthier ones to