Sunday, June 27, 2010

Celebration's Ending

Today I completed my celebration of my anniversary with a dimmer that included a number of my friends here in the city and my parents.  We had a lovely time.  These celebrations were preceded by a Mass which I celebrated for the Spanish speaking community in Belle Fourche.  In a rather fortuitous coincidence, I celebrated Mass there today on the anniversary of my first Mass of Thanksgiving, which I also celebrated in that parish.  This was my first Spanish Mass, and I felt like I stumbled a lot, but the people were kind and told me I had done a good job.

The day ends on a rather tragic note, though.  Three of our parishioners were killed in a canoe accident this afternoon - a father, his eleven year old daughter, and a young man who came to the parish about the same time I did.  A second daughter, age eight, heroically walked for about two hours through weeds, willows and sink holes before finally finding help.

This is one of those times when there is nothing I can say, and can only cling to the knowledge of God's love and mercy.  My prayers are with their families tonight.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

One Year

Today I celebrate my first anniversary as a priest.  The day began with Mass and adoration at 8:00 AM followed by rehearsal for Fifth and Broadway (about which I will be writing soon).  After that, Fr. Mike took me to lunch at El Patron.  We decided to stop for dessert at Armadillos where, to my surprise and my delight, a small contingent was waiting to wish me a Happy Anniversary.

So far, it has been a good day.

So far, it has been a good year.

So far, this has been a good life.

I love being a priest.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Forgotten, Venerable Tradition

As Fr. Marcin often remarks, the priest ought to be a lion in the pulpit and a lamb in the confessional.  I think this is good advice, but sometimes I fear I am too much the lamb in the confessional.  There are several reasons for this.  First, I think that penances should be concrete, so that the penitent knows when he has accomplished his penance.  It is pretty easy to know when you have prayed three Hail Marys.  It is harder to know when you have spent "some time reflecting on the Gospel for the day."  I think that the penance should be easily accomplished in a timely fashion.  I do not want to place people in the occasion of sin by asking them to do a penance that is easily forgotten over the course of several days.  One Rosary makes sense.  A Rosary every day for the next seven days is easy to forget.  The penance should emphasize conversion, and if possible, be related to the sins confessed as well as emphasize God's forgiveness and love.  Men struggling with any area of fatherhood, for instance, could be asked to light a candle to St. Joseph.

I wonder sometimes, however, if I am not a too lenient father, failing to assign severe enough penances.  I was reflecting on this aloud with a priest friend recently, and he reminded me that I need not worry about such things if I am also doing penances for the penitents who come to me.  I had forgotten about this venerable tradition, but I hope to devote myself to this practice from now on.  May it draw both the penitent and myself into deeper union with the Lord.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

An Identity Crisis

Before the turn of the year, I was conscripted into service for the Diocesan We Walk by Faith Appeal.  In this appeal, we hope to raise $12.5 million.  The first half of this goal was accomplished by the Bishop and his development people before I was ever involved.  Perhaps they were lying, but these people seemed to make the first half seem easy.  The second half has been like pulling teeth.  We are very near the end now, and are asking the vast majority of parishioners to consider making a pledge or $1500 over the course of five years.  This amounts to slightly less than one dollar per day.  Each parish in the diocese has pledge cards for every registered Catholic in the parish.  Our goal is to get the people to listen to a short presentation (about 10 minutes) and then fill out a card. There is no hard sell, no arm twisting, and no stress.  If you can contribute, great.  If not, that's great too.  At the Cathedral, we have about 900 families who we would like to see participate in this part of the appeal.  Of course, such a goal is unrealistic.  Of these 900, perhaps 400 are completely inactive, coming to Mass only at Christmas and Easter if even then.  The rest are a combination of very active to semi-regular Catholics.  We made our pitch on Sunday.  Of the 900 potential participants, thirty-five decided to come downstairs for a cup of coffee and to fill out their cards.  As you might imagine, I am pretty annoyed.

The problem, as I see it, is not so much the fact that people are uninterested in participating in this particular project.  Rather, it is the fact that we have so many baptized people who are completely disengaged from their faith lives.  The incredible apathy that people demonstrate toward their faith, frankly, disgusts me.  Ultimately, in my mind, what we are dealing with is a crisis of identity.

For me, I am a Catholic Priest.  By virtue of my vocation, my primary identity is rooted in the fact that I am ontologically configured to Christ, the Head of the Church.  I am defined by who I am in relationship with Christ.  In a way, it is easier for me, because I have willingly consented to and actively pursued this identity.  Nevertheless, the truth of the matter is that every baptized person is identified first and foremost by his relationship with Christ.  In baptism, we are changed.  It is not just a symbol, it is not just a right of passage, and it is not just an initiation ceremony.  In the moment of baptism, we are transformed into Children of God.  This is not just pretty imagery.  We are creatures completely different from those who are not baptized.  In baptism, we begin to share a life of intimacy and union with the Holy Trinity.  God's Divine Life permeates all we are from that point forward.  Baptism is the most significant event of our lives.  And yet, we treat our Catholicism as though it were somehow accidental to us, having no particular bearing on who we are.  The way we live suggests that like the color of my shirt, the essence of who I am is unchanged by the fact of my baptism.  As a result, we do not find our identity rooted first and foremost in Christ.  Rather, it is tied up in our work, in our place of study, in our family, in our sport of choice, or in our political party.

It has been suggested that this is a worldwide phenomenon.  I disagree.  Sure there are lots of Europeans who do not do not practice the faith in which they have been baptized, but the difference is this:  They actively resist the faith.  They have intentionally decided to oppose the faith.  They at least show a little passion about religion, albeit in the wrong direction.  Love and hate are simply two sides of the same coin.  Apathy is something altogether different.  Apathy is just another word for tolerance, which Dorothy Sayers  understood so well:
In the world it is called Tolerance, but in hell it is called Despair, the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for
which it will die.
Today, in the Church, we have not the luxury of apathy nor even of laziness.  Today's Catholic must be zealous.  Today's Catholic must let his faith imbue every moment of every day in every aspect of all that he does.  Anything less will lend itself to the apathy, tolerance, and despair so prevalent in this generation.

I have some thoughts on how to begin, knowing that each time I point a finger, I point three back at myself.:

1) The Church's liturgy must always be about the worship of God.  The music we use, the way we preach, and the dignity with which we celebrate must speak to the fact that we come to render worship unto God who, while present in the community, remains apart from and something distinct from the community.

2) We must renew our familiarity with a firm Catholic anthropology.  We must devote ourselves to the venerable Catholic intellectual tradition that helps us arrive at the truth of who we are.

3) We must take seriously our baptismal call to be evangelizers in the world.  We live our faith not just at home with our families, but especially outside the home.

4) We must stop insisting that faith is expressed most deeply in the various services we render at Mass.  Such a postulation only reinforces the idea that I have done my part if only I showed up.  Certainly there is a need for people who will read, serve, and assist in the distribution of Holy Communion.  These things, however, flow from an intimacy with God that leads me to devote myself more wholly to the life of my parish.  My spiritual growth does not begin because I am Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.  Rather, such a role should be an expression of maturity in my faith.

5) We give preference to those who are already committed.  We take their opinions more seriously, and are more willing to make concessions for them, knowing that because they are faithful, they already have some sense of what they need in order to do what God through the Church calls them to do.  

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Sometimes the Collar is Heavy

Gabe and Eli

I have two younger brothers, each of whom is the father of two sons (The next younger and his wife are expecting.  We should know the sex relatively soon.).  That brings me currently to the grand total of four nephews.  I love them very much, and look forward to every opportunity to be with them.  Most recently, I was able to join my next younger brother's wife and sons along with my parents as they shared a Mexican meal at one of Rapid City's better Mexican Restaurants.  As an aside, El Sabor, on East North Street is the most like the cuisine I enjoyed when living in Mexico for ten weeks, and is thus my favorite, even though it is little more than a hole in the wall.  But I digress.

As I entered the restaurant where my family was already seated, I tripped on the rug at the door.  The time it took me to turn around and flatten the rug was sufficient for Gabriel, now five and the oldest of my nephews, to leap from the table and run to me and grab me around the legs.  "Uncle Tyler!" he exclaimed.  "Gabe!" I cried back to him.  As I did so, I was looking around the restaurant.  Who was seeing me with this little boy?

After lunch, our whole caravan decided we needed to stop by Cabelas.  I wanted a backpack and some socks.  My sister-in-law wanted to look at tents, while my dad wanted to look at air rifles and the like.  Gabe and his younger brother Elijah accompanied us into the store and immediately ran off like mad men, but only far enough that they could look back and see us.  We found the backpacks and socks quickly enough, and the tents that were supposed to be on sale were not.  As a result, we had some time to kill while Dad examined the air rifles and smaller shotguns and fancy trap throwers.  Along with my mom, the boys, and their mother, I went to look at the live fish display where the boys ooed and awed over the trout and other indigenous swimmers.  From there, we went to see the large display of taxidermy creatures from the Black hills.  Within that display is a small area of running water and there are, of course, more fish.  The boys were too short to see them so I lifted them up and held them on the railing so they could look too.  Again I looked around to see who was watching me with these boys.  I let them down and then took Eli by the hand as went in search of Grandpa.  Again, more quick glances.  Who was watching me.  Later, I was driving the cart now full of things we absolutely had to have.  There was a large box on top, so Eli decided to ride on the rack below the cart.  We took off and lost Grandpa and Grandma who were distracted by something shiny in one of the cross isles.  Gabe and his mother had already gone to the car because Gabe was naughty.  Now, I was alone with Eli without another caretaker in sight.  I stopped and waited nervously until Grandpa and Grandma arrived, wondering the whole while what people were thinking to see a priest by himself with a toddler.

I hate this.  I am sickened by my own fear and insecurity.  I am not about to take my collar off in public simply to avoid the shame that some of my brothers have brought to it.  I am also not about to deny the love and affection a child deserves from his uncle for fear of what people might think of it.  At the same time, I do not want to be a source of scandal for people who don't know me or my family.  I do not want to be the impetus for the lurid speculation of unsympathetic observers who have already made up their minds about priests and children.

These are the moments when the collar gets heavy.  These are the times when I realize that part of the penance priests must do is to carry the shame of their brothers who have abused children and ruined lives and who now live secluded existences, anonymous when they enter a restaurant or Cabelas.  it is a burden priests now bear each time they leave Church property in a collar.  It is a burden they must -absolutely must-bear if they want to give witness to the truth of the Paschal Mystery.  If love can conquer sin and death, we cannot run from the sacrifice love demands. 

It is always the cross that makes us holy.  It is always the cross the destroys the power of evil.  To overcome the darkness of the sin that now swirls about the Church, priests must not lay this cross down. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Experimental Recipes

I have always had some interest in the culinary arts.  Growing up in meant and potato country, however, did not foster the most delicate of palates.  Taste, it would seem, is a largely environmentally acquired faculty.  As a result, like my father, I tend to resist foods that tends toward the sweeter side of the taste spectrum.  For instance, barbecue beef, with all of its brown sugar, is only as sweet as I like a main course to be.  I simply despise fruit with meat, or fruit with a salad.  As far as I can discern, apples, raisins, and mandarin oranges mixed with greens beneath any sort of salad dressing are an abomination in the eyes of the Lord.  

As a child, I learned to cook from my mother.  At that time, I was sure she was an accomplished chef.  She is a good cook, but when I was in sixth grade she started working away from home.  At first she spent every second night in town; when we older the intervals were longer.  As a result, she did not cook for the family as much as she had previously.  Now, better than a decade later, she is convinced that she has forgotten how to cook.  Culinary creativity is a discipline that requires practice.  She received it when cooking for a family three times a day.  She is out of practice.

When Mom started working, I started cooking for the family.  I was not particularly adventurous.  I used a lot of cream of mushroom soup and macaroni.  Occasionally, though I would attempt something more exciting.  Usually it was a failure.  Who would have guessed that adding cocoa power to pancake batter would not result in chocolate pancakes, but rather, an ugly, black, and bitter mess.  Who would have suspected that one cannot cook a frozen vegetable medley from a plastic sack in the deep fryer.  After enough setbacks such as these, one returns to what one knows.

Once in college, I began to see the tell tale signs that my parents were aging.  My mother began watching Matlock.  My father subscribed to National Geographic and Readers Digest.  They decided to get a house cat.  As is often the case, my father became more set in his ways, while my mother's horizons began to expand.  Dad would eat beans, beef, and potatoes as well as a few flavors he had decided he liked.  Mom decided she wanted to experiment with Italian and Asian flavors.  I was encouraged to begin experimenting again.  I had learned a few recipes here and there and I tried them out on my folks.  They were more or less successful.  Here and there, I would introduce them to new things I had discovered - nutella, mangos, and the like.

Most recently, my mother has decided to begin trying new experimental recipes.  Last summer we made some sort of ravioli from scratch.  We also tried a cilantro pesto.  Today, we tried the cilantro pesto again, but with a few new additions: a little citrus juice, a bit more jalapeƱo pepper, less cheese.

Dad, of course protested.  "Only salad should be green," he complained, but Mom and I were not disappointed.  It still needs some tweeking, but this may become one of those favorite recipes that Mom begins to make all the time.    

Monday, June 14, 2010

Being Luke

Today marked day one of a week long elementary school summer program that we call Summer Saint School.  It has been running in the Cathedral Parish for many years now, and it is very popular among the kids.  Honestly, I do not know much about it.  I was not really involved with the planning of it.  As far as I can tell, it consists in crafts, a visit to the Church to learn about one of the saints in the windows there, other activities designed to help illustrate related points from the deposit of faith, and a real life visit the saint being studied during the day.  Today, the kids had the opportunity to meet St. Luke the Evangelist.

I told them about being a physician and about converting to Catholicism from a pagan religion.  I talked about writing the stories of Jesus in my Gospel, and about traveling with St. Paul.  I mentioned that St. Paul and I were shipwrecked together.  They seemed particularly amused when I reenacted the time I was sea sick before the shipwreck.  I also explained to them that I am remembered for having been an iconographer.

I would never have suspected that it is so easy to be a saint.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


When I was in school, I was required to read an essays whose author and title I have now forgotten.  The thesis of the article, however, was that Jesus' chastity consisted in the fact that he never tried to grasp from the Father that which belonged only to the Father.  Sins against chastity, the author suggested were those sins wherein a person attempts to take something that by right, can only belong to another.  This is more than stealing.  For instance, with Jesus, in his temptations int he desert, he never condescended to turn the stones to bread or to bow and worship the Evil One.  These were acts reserved solely for the Father.  For Jesus to have done them would have been an attempt on his part to take for himself action that must be reserved to the Father.  This weekend's first reading illustrates the point well.

King David had been given much by God: His throne, his kingdom, and his safety from the murderous threats of Saul.  David, unsatisfied with what God had given him, however, took the Bathsheba the wife of Uriah to be his own.  Bathsheba was not his to possess in two ways.  First, she was already the wife of another man.  Uriah had sole claim to her body and fertility.  Moreover, David had no right to try to take from Bathsheba only what was pleasing and satisfying to himself.  He did not see in the beautiful woman anything more than her beauty.  He did not value her as a person.  He did not recognize that he had no claim to any part of her.

It seems to me that as the author I noted above claims, sins against chastity almost always begin this way.  One person hopes to possess the pleasing things he or she sees in another without giving due recognition to the personal value of the other.  When one is fantasizing about another, one seldom stops to consider that the other has a soul, has parents, has siblings, that the other is truly another person and not just an object.   They cannot be owned or simply used by another.

We attempt to take and own what is not ours often however.  Sins against purity, gossip, and even cheating on homework are ways in which we do this.  Our response to these "unchaste" acts must be like that of the sinful woman in today's gospel.  We must turn out of ourselves, love much, and do penance.  We must seek to give away what we have been given.  We must not take what has not been given to us.  We must not assume to take on the role that belongs only to the Father.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Welcome to the Priesthood

So Blogger kind of conked out and wouldn't let me on last weekend.  As a result, I was unable to ward you that I would be gone for a week on the Rapid City Diocese's annual retreat for priests.  I just got back this afternoon.

It is great fun being with other priests.  They energize me, they inspire me, and they encourage me.  As a result, a retreat with priests is often a time not just of spiritual renewal, but of fraternity with the brothers.  This retreat was a preached retreat, with talks delivered by Fr. Carl Arico from Newark.  They were good enough, but I find that a preached retreat seldom does much for me.  There is a tension between wanting time to be with the priests and talk to them, and knowing that a silent retreat would be more spiritually fruitful to me.

I concluded the retreat with a deeper sense of God's love, though and a burning desire to apply that love to the wounds of so many of those to whom I minister.  Moreover, I end the retreat with a couple of new developments for my own ministry.

1) I am now a Hispanic Minister.  I begin celebrating Mass in Spanish in Hill City once per month beginning in September.

2) At the end of this month, our director of High School Faith Formation resigns.  We have been unable to hire a suitable applicant.  That means my role in that area is also likely to change substantially.  

I am intimidated by and excited about both of these new opportunities.  I suggested as much to my brothers on retreat.  Their only response was "Welcome to the priesthood." 

Friday, June 4, 2010

Baseball Revisited

More often that not, I find professional and semi-professional athletes to be great oafish brutes possessing money, arrogance, and basic social ineptitude in the same quantity that they lack basic human decency.  There are exceptions to this rule.  I think, for instance, of the late Joe DiMaggio who left flowers at the grave of Marilyn Monroe every week until his own death.  This week has brought to light a new athlete of virtue.  With only two outs remaining in the bottom of the ninth Umpire Jim Joyce's bad call stole stole a perfect game from pitcher Armando Galarraga.  Amidst the fury of America's baseball players, Galarraga's response was simply, "Nobody is perfect.  He probably feels worse than I do."  

Thursday, June 3, 2010

For Annie, On Her Birthday

Though middle school and high school boys (and many of their fathers) find it difficult to believe, celibacy is a great gift given to priests.  It permits them in a very real way to offer themselves wholly and unreservedly to God through service to his people.  Through celibacy a man lives in a concrete way the mystery of the union with God we hope to experience in heaven while simultaneously witnessing to that reality in the world.  In a word, celibacy is the way in which a priest loves.  Anyone who has ever really loved has learned that love always demands sacrifice.  

For me, and I suspect for my brother priests, the sacrifice of celibacy is not really about the sexual act itself.  Rather, it is tied to the fact that we will never enjoy fatherhood and family life in the same way as most of our peers.  For this reason, just as families need priests to provide the sacraments for them, inspire them, teach them, and lead them, so too do priests need families to inspire them, spur them to deeper holiness, image the love of God in the world, and witness to the power of love that sacrifices itself for the good of another.  There are many such families who provide this witness to me, and they know very well who they are.  I expect I will receive some gentle ribbing because they haven't been mentioned by name here, but tonight, having just parted company with them, I am thinking in a particular way of the Jacques and Annie Daniel Family.

I love to visit the homes of families, and never turn down an invitation if I can avoid it.  Oftentimes, though, when visiting a family, I get the sense that they assume that I am always on top of my game and that I have got this whole priest thing figured out.  Sometimes they assume I have the whole marriage thing figured out too.  In a sense, the way that I speak, the way that I act, and the general manner in which I approach life serve as a measure of goodness, and truth, and righteousness for these families.  They are right to do this.  To look at one's priest this way is appropriate.  If the priest is really alter Christus, another Christ, people should have a right to expect that he models a godly life.  The problem is this: I am not always a very good representation of our Lord.  

As with all of us, I am still a man on the way.  Sometimes, I need to be reminded of this fact.  The Daniels seem to grasp this reality instinctively.  They grasp how it is that I can be father to them while also recognizing the father I am called to be.  In other words, they look to me to be their priest in the present moment while still encouraging me to become the priest God intends me to be.  They call me higher.  In a similar way, they can make a distinction that many priests still cannot.  A priest is a priest, even when he is trying to relax.  Being at their house "off the clock" doesn't  absolve me of my duty to be a priest always and everywhere, but they also recognize that I am often with them because I need a place to go where I can be "off the clock."  I am not looking for a place where I can "just be Tyler."  I am not just Tyler anymore.  I never will be again.  I do, nevertheless, appreciate having a place where I can just be Fr. Tyler.

The Daniels spur me to holiness not because they preach at me or because they read my soul and announce my sins to me.  Rather, they try to live their own married vocation faithfully, and the fidelity they show towards the life to which God has called them inspires within me a desire to be more faithful to the vocation to which God has called me.  The love they have for each other and their children fans the flame of love burning within my own heart.  In the time I spend with them, I vicariously share in the joys of parenting children and having a spouse.  Hopefully from me they are reminded that it really is all worthwhile.

And, to top it off, they make great tea, they stay up at least as late as I do, I have great fun with their kids, and after a day of homeschooling or a long day in the parish, we can all appreciate some conversation with another adult.    

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Modern Conveniences?

Priests give blessings, so it would seem logical that they could also lay a curse, right?  Would a curse have any negative effect on an inanimate object?

Tuesday is typically my day off, and though I am not rigid in my protection of it, I do try to avoid work on Tuesdays as much as possible.  Things being what they are, though, today was one of those days where out of those hours not devoted to sleep, I have enjoyed only about two and a half that have not been dedicated to work in one variety or another.  A staff lunch, some necessary emails, and a few calls occupied part of that time.  The remainder was dedicated to downloading (the re-downloading) Skype and installing a webcam on my laptop computer so that we could interview a potential employee online this evening.  For whatever reason, my computer is not working correctly.  The program would start and after what seemed like twenty minutes, I would be alerted that the program was not responding.  I was, of course, already aware that the program was not responding.  That is why I had pushed ctrl+alt+del seventeen times.  

Having finally brought up the task manager, I asked it to end the various programs.  Apparently it was unable to do so.  Annoyed, and secretly hoping the machine would burst into flames, I restarted the computer but moved too quickly.  Like people, computers can only be asked to do so much when they first get up, and they become indignant when asked to do more.  I slowed down and waited.  And then waited a bit longer.  Presently I discovered that my computer had apparently joined some sort of electronics union and doesn't have to do anything  that it feels beneath its dignity  Anything but the simplest of computations are beneath its dignity.  After having nearly thrown it from my second story office window, I decided that perhaps I needed to find a better response.  Besides, I didn't want all of the electronics to go on strike and try to harm my iPod for being a scab, so I restarted the computer and left for the west side of Rapid City to buy a wig (more about that later).  There is something eminently satisfying about buying a wig.  Feeling refreshed, I returned to the battle.  

Upon retuning I found that union lawyers had negotiated a workable contract for my computer, allowing that it would not be required to work as it is supposed to, but well enough to proceed.  I changed clothes, celebrated the evening Mass for the parish and came right back to my office.  A riot had broken out.  The interview team had gathered and had managed to get the interviewee on Skype but the computer had gone berserk again.  I tried peaceful talks with the infernal contraption for several minutes while the interviewee enjoyed a pleasant view of my armpit as I wheedled with the camera.  The talks fell apart, and I decided to exercise the Reagan option.  If the computer would not cooperate, I would fire it and hire better help  I unplugged the computer and we decided we would have to do a telephone interview.

Which is why I am so glad that I spent most of my day-off trying to make the thing work.