Monday, May 31, 2010

For Bloggers

Memorial Day

I have long harbored a certain mistrust for the United States Military.  One of my uncles served in the Army.  From what I can remember of conversations overheard as a child, the experience was not a good one.  Early in my high school career, I began receiving calls from all branches of the military promising that by joining them, I could hope to become the recipient of manifold benefits, and I would likely never be sent to a place where I might be shot by a person who spoke a language other than my own.  A couple of years later, the Army convinced my next younger brother that these same promises were true.  In his senior year of high school, he enlisted under the assumption that a military career would provide for himself and the young woman he intended to marry after basic training.  I met his recruiter and went with my brother to various of his meetings before entering.  I experienced a great deal of deceit on the part of the military.  "Try not to mention to your hernia surgery," my brother was advised.  "Let me teach you some ways to trick the scales and make yourself seem lighter than you are," the recruiter suggested another time.  The greatest scam of all, though, was a signing bonus that never materialized.  That is the military.  The military, however, is not the same as a soldier, a sailor, an airman, or a marine.  For these people, I maintain an incredible respect, believing that as regards the military, the whole is somewhat less than the sum of its parts.

Today, Memorial Day, we remember in a particular was those who have fallen in service of their country and of their countryman.  As a priest, I speak often of the call that each of us has to lay our lives down in sacrifice for the love of our brother, and I do mean it.  We are each called to make a sacrifice of our lives.  Very few of us, however, do so to the point of shedding our blood.  For those in our armed forces, though, such sacrifice is a reality.  Today, most of them will find themselves in situations with a high likelihood of giving their lives for the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  They do so recognizing, as we all eventually must, that true happiness necessarily consists in a willingness to die for a cause greater than ourselves and that our lives have been given to us for the sole purpose that we might return it as a gift to others.  They stand before us as signs of valor and honor; they remind us of who we are called to be.

Today we recall in a particular way those who gave their lives.  We would be remiss to forget, however, that few emerge from the military unscathed.  Those who have seen combat must live with the memories of it.  Though a real problem for those returning from combat, PTSS often goes untreated.  Mental illness runs rampant among those discharged from the service.  Rates of alcoholism and other addictions are very high.  Infidelity and divorce rates are astronomical among service men and women.  Moreover, they often return to a nation hostile to them because we fail to distinguish between a war itself and those who fight in it.  The men and women who sacrifice in this way deserve our respect, our compassion, and our admiration.

Those who have died serving this nation likewise deserve our admiration, and more importantly, that we honor those ideals for which they gave their lives.  Most especially, they deserve our prayers.  They have given their lives for the sake of the liberties we enjoy each day, and they have often done so without the benefit of the sacraments of the Church to guide them from this world to the next.

Almighty and eternal God,
those who take refuge in you will be glad
and forever will shout for joy.
Protect all soldiers as they discharge their duties.
Protect them with the shield of your strength
and keep them safe from all evil and harm.
May the power of your love enable them to return home
in safety, that with all who love them,
they may ever praise you for your loving care.

Lord Jesus and Mary, Mother of God,
Hold the brave souls of those who have fallen in battle
 in the palm of your hand.
Comfort them and their families.

Look kindly on your departed veterans who courageously served our nation.
Grant that through the passion, death, and resurrection of your Son
they may share in the joy of your heavenly kingdom
and rejoice in you with your saints forever.

Send angels of protection, love, and comfort
to all the service men and women at war.
Bring them home safely and comfort their families.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

St. Michael the Archangel, pray for us.
St. Martin of Tours, pray for us.
St. Sebastian, pray for us.
St. George, pray for us.
St. Joan of Arc, pray for us.
St. Ignatius of Loyola, pray for us.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Minor Rant

During Lent the other priests of the Cathedral and I offered weekly lessons/reflections on various elements of priesthood for the Year of the Priest.  I addressed the history of the priesthood in two sections and then concluded the series with thoughts on living In Persona Christi.  The people asked some great questions which always left me thinking afterward.  

On one of those occasions (I cannot recall exactly what prompted my comments in this regard) I remember exhorting the people to commit their lives to something.  This exhortation is near to my own heart because shortly before my ordination as a deacon, I was afraid to make a lifelong commitment.  It seemed as though I would be losing my freedom.  In a sense, that was true.  I was making a decision not to be free to make every choice on my own.  I was choosing not to always get to do what was easiest or the most fun.  In a word, I was choosing against selfishness.  Because of that commitment, I am happier than I have ever been.  One would not expect this to be the case given how people behave, though.

It is simply maddening as we work on the We Walk By Faith Campaign.  I call and call and call, more or less begging people to attend an informational meeting.  People will not commit to going to an event even to learn about the project.  Then, they are annoyed because I call again.  For Pete's sake people!  Just come and hear what we have to say.  If you don't want to participate after that, I really do not care.  But I will continue calling you until you tell me that you are coming or until you simply refuse to participate in any fashion at all.  Either answer is fine with me.  Just make up your mind, and then do as you say you are going to do.

This same lack of commitment exposes itself in other simple things.  For instance, to date, only about a dozen people have committed to attending World Youth Day in Spain, and no amount of advertising and cajoling can convince the kids to commit to the event right now.  Some are worried that it might overlap with the first day of college classes (as if anything meaningful happens then anyway).  Others are worried that we won't be able to raise enough money.  More are simply convinced that they might miss something more fun by committing to this event so far in advance.  I wish I could shout from the top of the Church, "Commit!"  

People of my generation and younger are especially afraid of committing to anything.  It is not only frustrating in terms of minor things like World Youth Day and Steubenville North.  It is devastating in the more important areas of life.  "Why should we not just live together for a while in case we decide that we can find something better than each other?"  Or better, "I can't commit because I may not be able to do it."  Of course you can't do it.  That's why you get married and ask for the grace of God to sustain you.  I love this one: "I can't go to the seminary because I might not be called to be a priest."  How do you ever propose to find out?  "I want to go to college and discern if I am called to the seminary."  Wrong.  You go to the seminary to discern that.  An attempt to do so outside of the seminary will almost certainly be met with failure.

Commitment is not to be feared.  It is freeing.  It was so amazing the day after my ordination to realize that I no longer needed to worry about whether or not to be a priest.  All I had to do was keep the commitment I had made.  Even when I do so poorly, I do not have to question whether or not I have discerned correctly or if I have done the right thing.  I just have to do what I said I would do.

So, for the sake of your sanity and the salvation of your souls, commit to something before losing the good thing that is staring you in the face. 

Saturday, May 29, 2010


Pentecost Sunday saw me playing the role of the Grim Reaper.  At six o'clock in the morning, I was just getting out of bed to unlock the Cathedral when the phone rang and I was greeted with words I never like to hear.  'Hello, this is Rob, the Hospital Coordinator.  We have just had an unexpected death and the family has requested to see a priest."  I quickly splashed some water on my face, guzzled some mouthwash and unlocked the Church.  I went to the hospital, prayed with the family, and then made my way back to the Cathedral for the early Mass.

The rest of the day was a drudgery.  Scheduled for four Masses (two with the Bishop), I was tired.  Among these Masses, I was expected to attend the graduation Mass for the local Catholic High School, which was to occur on the opposite side of town.  Before heading to the graduation, I stopped at the hospital.  "Praised be Jesus," I said to myself upon discovering the no one had requested anointing or a visit that day.  Fifteen minutes later I was approaching the Church where graduation was to occur when the phone rang.  "Hello, this is Rob, the Hospital Coordinator.  We have just had an unexpected death."  I turned around, and called Fr. Mike to tell him that they would have to find someone to distribute Holy Communion in my place at the Mass.  In another fifteen minutes, I was back at the Hospital.

It is my practice, before entering the room where someone had died to collect as much information as possible from the nurses.  The deceased was ninety-four and had no family in town.  Neighbors from his community has brought him to the hospital some days earlier.  I entered the room, and these same neighbors were still there.  "Are any of you Catholic?" I asked.  A woman nodded her head that she was.  "Good,"  I said, "Please join me in this prayer by making the responses."

Almost always, before saying much to the family, I pray the prayers for the dead.  This helps to bring about a sense of calm and comforts the people somewhat before asking them to talk to me.  We prayed the Church's prayers for the dead, and when I had finished, I spoke to those gathered.

"I understand that none of you are directly related to James."

"No, Father.  His only son is coming from Oklahoma."

"How do you know James?"

"Oh, he lives in our neighborhood.  His wife died a couple of years ago.  We have been looking in on him from time to time since then.  We brought him in a few days ago.  His heart was failing."

"He Knew he was dying?"

"Oh Yes, he was ready to go.  But I didn't want him to die alone, so we have all been taking turns being here with him."
"Was he Catholic?"

"No, but we felt like someone should come and pray.  I'm Catholic so I called you."

I thought this was absolutely beautiful.  In a world where people often never speak to their neighbors, this small group had gathered around an old man from their neighborhood and helped him die in peace.  The deceased was not a religious man, but those who cared for him had the good sense to call a priest to pray for his soul after death.  They had previously helped him to make his funeral arrangements, and before leaving they would gather his affects and take them home to be collected by the man's son at a later date.  We let ourselves get so busy, and we spend so much time being afraid of the people around us.  As a result, we sometimes fail to meet our obvious Christian responsibilities.  Would that we were all so generous to the needy in our own neighborhoods.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Home Again, Home Again, Lickity Split

I am glad to report that I have arrived safely back in Rapid City.  Having spent the night in Eagle Butte and shared a lovely conversation with Fr. Matt Falgren, I was able to celebrate Mass for the staff at the rectory there this morning.  Because I spent a summer with these people, it was a great blessing to share the Sacrifice of the Mass with them at the same altar from which I was daily nourished as a deacon.

Speaking of deacons, the Diocese of Sioux Falls now has five new transitional deacons.  I left Wednesday morning intending to make it to Aberdeen by early afternoon.  I arrived in Faith at around 11:30 AM, and celebrated Mass before joining Fr. Marcin for lunch.  After a longer than expected interlude, I departed that fair city around 3:30 PM.  So much for an early arrival.  I reached my destination only minuted before my dear friend, Fr. Gregory Parrott.  As classmate of mine, he and I enjoyed a lengthy dinner and a lively conversation.  That evening, more than any other part of my vacation, was a time of rejuvenation for my ministry.  He and I have spent hours of our lives arguing with one another over major and minor points of theological contention.  Wednesday was different.  There were no arguments, just good-natured and holy conversation.  Both of us, I hope, were edified.  We chatted long into the night before retiring.

Thursday's ordination was beautiful.  The liturgy, other than being somewhat long, was beautiful.  The new deacons were giddy with joy following the Mass, and for a moment, I was caught up in how I felt following my deaconate ordination.  What joy!  I look forward to the day when I will see them stand at the altar as priests of Jesus Christ.

Besides the deacons, I saw a great variety of men with whom I studied at St. Paul Seminary.  It is remarkable to me that one year as a priest has led me to forget so much about what seminary life was like, including the names of some of the men.  It is a bit like summer camp.  One insists that he will always remember those moments shared with the other campers only to realize a few weeks later that he can hardly remember what they look like.  After the ordination, lunch with a friend from school occupied me until leaving for home.  A long and quiet drive always leaves me with plenty of time for reflection.  The following themes seemed to garner the most attention:

1) The Holy Trinity is the central tenet of the Christian faith upon which the rest of the faith rests.  It is also the most difficult of issues to try to address in a homily.  Sunday is Trinity Sunday.  About what shall I preach?  (I am leaning toward a homily on marriage, though the experience of believing without understanding is also attractive.)

2) Holy Mother Church directs us to expend much or our resources in catechizing adults.  Are we going to do a summer educational series?  About what?

3) Is the wind ever going to stop blowing?

4)  Who is going to drive for my summer middle school excursions?  (Does anyone care to volunteer?)

5) How am I going to be better following this vacation?  (The same answers as always - more prayer, less sin, and proper diet and exercise)

6) Is there a reason the car in front of me is driving ten miles per hour under the speed limit?

So, these reflections are not especially profound.  I had hoped they might be having had several days to think about a new post.  The best I can conclude is this:  I am rested, more or less, and ready to get back to work.  It will be good to be back with my people again this weekend.  One of the great rewards of being away is getting to come home.   

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Getting Ready to Go

I have noted in my previous blogging days that I hate packing.  I have always put it off until the last possible moment.  This fact applies to major moves and even short trips.  I have always been this way; though Susan Safford and the Meyers-Brigg Personality Inventory have determined that this should not be true of me, my mother can attest to the veracity of this claim.  Even when preparing to go to college for the first time, I did no packing until late the evening prior to my move.  The result of this is that I almost inevitably leave something behind.  I have a collection of toothbrushes and deodorants purchased at convenience stores.  I have a variety of extra t-shirts I have had to buy here and there.  Typically, though, I do not leave behind the most essential things.  Unfortunately, the liturgical year played a dirty trick on me this year.  Monday required that we switch breviaries, as the Easter Season concludes following the celebration of Pentecost.  I had not considered this when I grabbed my breviary and placed it in my bag.  Now, I am without the proper texts for the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours.  I have to make due with pieces from here and there and wherever I can find them.  Hopefully tomorrow I will be able to borrow one from a priest as I make my way toward Aberdeen where I will be assisting at the Diaconate Ordination for the Diocese of Sioux Falls.  In the meanwhile, I am off to try to find Vespers for today.  More from Aberdeen.

Update:  God bless Universalis.  They have the whole office online, albeit in a different translation.  Like I said, I do what I must.

Monday, May 24, 2010


I am a terrible homebody.  While I love to be out with parishioners, sharing their lives and and being present in their homes, when it comes to recreation, I would just as soon be at home as anywhere else.  As a student, it was terrible because, living sixty miles from town at my parents' ranch, it took a great deal to motivate me to leave, even for a day, to go see people in town.  So, last evening, as I was finalizing plans to travel on a whirlwind trip to the Twin Cities and then Aberdeen, it occurred to me that I would probably find more relaxation at my parents' place.  So, after sleeping in, cleaning my room (a relative term in this instance), going to confession and buying some groceries, I now write from the comfort of the living room where I grew up.  The rain is pouring, the roads are getting muddier by the moment, and I have no plans except to finish this post, watch television, celebrate Mass, and pray the Divine Office.  My folks will be here soon (apparently they were in Rapid City today) and I will cook a meal for them and my nephews who are with them.  In fact, as I write, I hear the rumble of the diesel pickup they are driving.  No, this ranch it is not an island paradise, and there is a good chance that I will be drafted into some sort of servile labor before I leave, but it is home, and it is comfortable, and it is quiet, and it is good.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Eleven years ago today I graduated from high school.  I remember that not because it was a particularly meaningful day, but because a friend reminded me that today is her birthday and I remembered that I had graduated on that day.  Eleven years, to those who have been out of school twenty and thirty years, probably doesn't seem like a lot.  But eleven years for me represents almost forty percent of my life.  And, in that forty percent of my life, I have discovered a great deal.  Perhaps most significantly, I now realize that most of what I thought was important at the beginning of that forty percent turns out to be largely insignificant.  I wonder if I will find the same thing eleven years from now.  At that point, I will be forty, and twenty-two years since high school graduation will represent fifty-five percent of my life.  Will I look back on these first years of priesthood and wonder why I wrote what I have written in these posts?  Will I consider these meditations unimportant, and these experiences shallow?  Surely I will have grown and matured, and I will see the immaturity in what I have said here.  In truth, I can't get there without having been here first.  That's the thing with human experience - maturity arises out of immaturity.  The former relies upon the latter and there are no shortcuts between the two.   

Friday, May 21, 2010

Long Days

Some days are longer than others, I think.  Today was one of them.  Time seemed to slow to a near stop, and for whatever reason, I couldn't seem to sleep enough.  Other days are much shorter, leaving me to wonder how midnight can possibly come right after 8:00 AM.  This phenomenon is pretty awful when a short day follows immediately after a long day.  Here's hoping for a regular twenty-four hour day tomorrow.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Unpolished Thoughts on Fatherhood

As I have often heard it said, every man needs a damsel to protect and a battle to win.  It is hardwired into them, a part of what it means to be a man. Men are supposed to be protectors, supporters, and providers.  For every man, the idea of sacrificing his life for the sake of his bride should be attractive.  There is a reason men like movies about war, knights, and epic conquests.  This is the reason boys read comics about Batman, Spiderman, and Superman.  This is the reason why the song, Impossible Dream, is meaningful.  This is why men admire strength, courage, integrity, nobility, and sacrifice.  This is why men are moved by the stories of William Tell, St. Thomas More, St. Sebastian, and Hector.

Just as these things are true of men, so too is it true that men are supposed to want to be fathers.  In fatherhood, they practice the virtues they admire in the great heroes of western culture.  However, the ugly reality of original sin has so corrupted men that in place of the virtues they so often admire in others, they find in themselves greed, selfishness, fear, and cowardice.  These are the vices from which they claim, "I don't want to be a father," and drive them to preoccupy themselves with various schemes that will provide them with frequent sexual congress without the consequent wife and offspring.  In doing so, instead of saving, they destroy.  Rather than strength, they demonstrate incredible weakness.  Rather than noble, they show themselves to be the most base of men.  Instead of heroes, they become villains.

That is the ugliness of sin; men know what they really want - virtue, heroism, sacrifice - but they content themselves with something inferior because it is easier, less costly, and more immediately satisfying.  Peter Parker's Aunt May seems to grasp this reality in all it's depth:

Henry knows a hero when he sees one. Too few characters out there, flying around like that saving old girls like me. And Lord knows, kids like Henry need a hero—courageous, self-sacrificing people setting examples for all of us. Everybody loves a hero. People line up for them…cheer them...scream their names. And years later, they’ll tell how they stood in the rain for hours just to get a glimpse of the one who taught them to hold on a second longer. I believe there’s a hero in all of us…that keeps us honest…gives us strength…makes us noble…and finally allows us to die with pride, even though sometimes we have to be steady and give up the thing we want the most – even our dreams. Spider-Man did that for Henry and he wonders where he’s gone. He needs him.
Step up men.  It is time to be a hero.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Spiritual Direction

I meet with my Spiritual Director, Fr. Rob Kroll, every six weeks or so.  During this time, we examine themes that seem to recur in my prayer, events that have made some impact on me, and my general well-being.  I saw Fr. Rob this morning.  We had a good visit, and I feel quite a lot relieved, though I was not altogether aware that I was burdened when I went to see him.  I discovered that it has been kind of a stressful month or so.  Having recognized that, I can set those things aside, move on, and keep on doing what needs to be done.  Thanks, Fr. Rob.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Baseball Retrospective

To the great disappointment of the grandfather, I was never a baseball player.  My grandfather loved the game, but as a young man, lost an eye in an automobile accident, thus destroying the depth perception necessary to play the game well.  He could never understand why anyone who was able to play the game would not.

I, on the other hand, as a child, could not fathom why anyone would play the game, capable or otherwise.  Sports, in my estimation were (are?) stupid.  Overweight, uncoordinated, and terribly self-conscious, there was little anyone could do to convince me to participate in anything of the athletic variety.  This attitude was interrupted only briefly in middle school when I played basketball.  I still distinctly remember making two baskets in the championship game in the local tournament in which my team placed first my eighth grade year.  They were not last second winning shots, but they were my only successful game-time shots during my basketball career.  Beyond these, I tend to remember any attempts I made in the athletic realm with a degree of revulsion.  Athletic contest lent itself to humiliation, and already ashamed because I was not a good athlete, I chose what I had convinced myself was the higher road.  By the time I went to high school, my attitude towards sports and their participants had reached a level of contempt equaled only by the contempt a housewife has toward a cockroach in her kitchen.  

Beneath all of this remained an abiding sense of shame because others were talented athletes and I was not.  It was fear, mostly, that prevented me from playing.  I would be made to look the fool, and I would handicap my team.  The results of these insecurities were not altogether negative.  I became interested in theater and music and found that I had some degree of talent for both.  One of my proudest high school moments occurred when I received an award for individual excellence in acting at a One-act play competition in my junior year.  Likewise, I managed to get myself elected to the student council and remained in office for three years.  None of these achievements, however, was sufficient to overcome my poor self-image that, in part, arose from doubts about my own manliness because I was never an athlete.

Years in formation and a growing spiritual life would eventually help me overcome these issues from my youth.  My largely negative attitude toward sports still remains with me, though, albeit for different reasons.  I will be eternally grateful that my father never attempted to relive his own adolescence vicariously through me.  I will be eternally grateful to my parents that they never insisted on sports, and that they did not demand athletic prowess as the method by which to prove my worthiness of their love for me.  I will be eternally grateful that my family never lost its souls in the worship of the Sports-God before whom all else must bow in obedient docility.  I will be eternally grateful that I never suffered under the illusion that sports would somehow pave the way for my future.  I will be eternally grateful that in place of athleticism, I gained skills that will benefit me for a lifetime. 

And yet, in spite of all of my residual bitterness and innate doubt in my athletic potential, as the rain fell and I sat watching a middle school baseball game (one quickly learns to love or at least tolerate the things one's children love, after all) this evening, I couldn't help remarking aloud, "I wish I would have played baseball."

Monday, May 17, 2010


Once a month, I gather with a group of priests for Jesu Caritas meeting.  We gather at a Cabin in the Black Hills beginning Sunday night.  On Monday, we spend time in prayer with one another, in conversation about the ups and owns of our ministry and other parts of our lives, and in recreation of some sort.  We take turns cooking meals, leading prayer, and doing dishes.  This time of fraternity is always a welcome arrival for me.  It is a source of rest and renewal.  So, by the time you have read this, I will be in Silver City.  It will be a nice break before getting into the craziness of this coming week. 

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Eagle Buttle

View Larger Map

Over the weekend, I was in Eagle Butte, Promise, and White Horse substituting for a vacationing brother priest.  I spent the summer there as a deacon, so it was good to go back.  The house was cold, the weather wet, and few people seemed inclined to come to Mass this weekend.  My car was nearly lost in the ruts and potholes (There was no way around them. I could only go through them.) on the way to the mission parishes.  But the company was great.  Fr. Brian Lane welcomed me warmly, fed me well, and offered some fantastic perspective for this baby priest.  So all things remaining equal, I count this as another successful weekend. 

(As a matter of curiosity, you can move the map pictured above around.  You can also make it larger or smaller.  Google does some pretty cool stuff.)

An Education Gets Put to Use

This article from the New York Times (not that I would generally recommend reading the NYT) recently arrived in my email inbox from our parish nurse.  She has the responsibility to coordinate our care and outreach to the sick, the homebound, and the grieving.  She had asked that several other priests and I would read the article and then share our thoughts with her.  My response follows below.

When determining what is ordinary and extraordinary, a basic distinction must be made between medically ordinary and morally ordinary means.  In medicine, a means is ordinary when each of the three following criteria is met:

1) The Treatment is scientifically proven. 
2) It is statistically successful.
3) It is reasonably available.

If any one of these criteria is not met, the means is considered extraordinary.

Morally speaking, a means is ordinary when beneficial, useful, and not unreasonably burdensome (physically and psychologically) to the patient.  Some consideration must be given to cost as well.  The data used to make this determination are typically hope for benefit, common use (the treatment is not exotic or experimental), and that they are commensurate with one’s status (financial, physical, and psychological), and that the means is not otherwise unreasonable.  When some treatment is ordinary, one has the moral obligation to make use of it.  In contrast, when a means is morally extraordinary, one has no obligation to make use of it except in circumstances where the patient is unreconciled with God, or when the life or welfare of another person depends upon the life of the patient.  From this, it can be seen that moral decisions about end of life care are often artful.  There are few “lines in the sand” across which one absolutely may not step.  The Church does insist, however, in contrast to the suggestions of the article, that basic nutrition and hydration are never to be considered extraordinary except in those cases where they would hasten death. 

Given the specific case of dementia, I think the NYT treats human suffering a bit too flippantly.  It is one thing to recognize that a person is very near the end of one’s life and to withhold certain basic treatments.  It is another to say that because a person suffers dementia, there is little reason to treat problems of ill health that tend to affect many of the elderly.  When death is immanent, we have great freedom to allow nature to take its course.  It does not seem to me, however, that we have the freedom to make death immanent by refusing to treat a very treatable condition.  To give antibiotics to treat an infection is not likely to be extraordinary even if it would mean great confusion and psychological turmoil for the patient.  The argument of the NYT seems akin to suggesting that the illnesses of those with Downs Syndrome should not be treated because Downs itself is incurable and because of the potential for confusion and psychological discomfort on the part of the patient. 

The NYT seems to give too little credence to the inestimable value of human life.  They presume that suffering is an evil that must be avoided at all costs.  While suffering is an evil, in the Christian context, it holds a redemptive value.  It finds meaning in the Paschal Mystery.  Even the demented are human; they have value and so does their suffering.  As regards palliative care, I agree that there are often times when the treatment of pain and the provision of comfort would be more appropriate.  The aggressive treatment of disease for the person whose death is already immanent makes no sense (though it is not immoral - one is free to pursue extraordinary means if one chooses to do so).  So, while I appreciate the NYT arguments as to the progressive nature of dementia, I find their conclusions as to the moral course of action quite dubious.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Truth Hurts

I find that one of the hardest parts of priestly ministry is the fact that I am often called upon to tell people difficult things.  These are not the sort of dramatic moments such as breaking the news that a loved one has died or the like, as one might expect.  That sort of news is easier in a way; it is concrete and there are specific things one does in reaction to such news.  Much harder than this is to speak the truth when doing so will likely cause a person great pain.  Unlike death, the pain to which I refer is vague; its source is unclear, its remedy unknown, and healing could take a lifetime.  Take, for instance, the young man who has convinced himself that he is happy, even though it appears that he has become engaged to a young woman only because he has been hurt once too often, and is afraid he won't find anyone else.  Take the bride-to-be who has decided to settle because the shame of her past convinces her that she deserves nothing better than her intended spouse.  As beneficial as these truths may be in the long run, it is dreadful seeing the false reality evaporate into thin air while cold hard reality settles in.  To tell someone that another is dead seems like it must be easier than to have done the actual killing.

Difficult though they may be, these moments occasion the opportunity for seeds of conversion to be planted in very rich soil.  As with any field, one needs to pull the weeds if the intended plant is to grow well.  So too with the soul.  When the lies one has created to protect oneself are revealed and uprooted, the soul suddenly finds itself ready to really believe in the love that God has for each of us, and to begin reciprocating that love.  One discovers that what had passed for love and happiness previously are fabrications or, at best, poor imitations.  Moreover, when the soul experiences that true love, its appetite for more becomes insatiable.  And then, I am glad I had the courage to tell the truth.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Brief Moments of Grace

Last summer, when I was first beginning my priestly ministry, I often had fleeting moments where I would suddenly realize, "Hey, I'm a priest."  This would happen while sitting at the computer writing an email, or as I signed a document and forgot to add the "Fr." before my name.  Since then, I have grown rather used to this fact, and these moment have become much more rare, but they still occur from time to time.  Such was the case this morning as I was washing my hands and glancing in the mirror noticed that I was wearing a collar.  "Hey, I'm a priest."  For me, these are grace-filled moments of gratitude, joy, and happiness.  I love being a priest.

Why I Pray the Roman Canon

Death, dying, and funerals are par for the course when it comes to priestly life.  Most often, priest seem to approach these issues with a level of profession objectivity that permits them to do what needs to be done to meet the needs of the family.  There are occasional deaths, however, that cut a bit more deeply; the priests mourns not only in empathy with his people but out of his own sadness as well.  Such was the case when I recently learned of the death of Ron.

I was not especially close to Ron, but he was one of those unavoidable types - always around the Church, dedicated to making rosaries for whoever would take them, and speaking to the priests of whatever special message Our Lady had most recently given him.  Moreover, I had special care for him inasmuch as he resided in one of the assisted living facilities over which I have primary care.  In the fall, he confided that he was thinking of moving to Colorado to be near his daughter.  Apparently he followed through on that decision.  That may have been the last time I saw him.  In fact, other than a passing reference to him here and there, I seldom thought of him.  However, where his absence was most obvious was at the assisted living facility where I celebrate Mass on a monthly basis.  Though a daily communicant, he came to that Mass when it was offered.  Since leaving Rapid City, the people of that facility receive occasional updates about Ron which they have passed along to me.  Most recently, I was told that that he had died.  Beyond that fact, I know little about the circumstances surrounding the end of his life.  Neither, it would appear, does anyone else. 

Today, at that assisted living facility, I celebrated Mass for the repose of his soul.  When I arrived to do so, I was saddened to learn that another resident had also died.  Loretta had been struggling with a heart problem for some time.  I visited her before Easter to celebrate the last sacraments.  I had not expected her to survive the week.  She did.  Last week, she and I prayed the Rosary together as she awaited the end of her life in hospice.  She was kind, generous, and grateful.  Hers was a truly holy and happy death.

So, in celebrating Mass with the small Assisted Living community today, I prayed the Roman Canon (Eucharistc Prayer I).  This prayer, besides being most similar to the prays in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (the Old Latin Mass), also provides moments where one pauses to pray for particular intentions by name.  "Remember, Lord," the priest says, "Those who have died, especially those for whom we now pray."  As I pause at that moment, the reality of what I am doing impacts me deeply.  In the Mass, the sacrifice of Christ is perpetuated throughout the rest of time.  In celebrating the Mass, the saving work of Christ is applied once again to those for whom the Mass is offered.  When I pause in the moments called for by the prayer, I have time to recall this truth.  Today, in a special way, Christ's sacrifice was made new for Ron and Loretta.  May they rest in peace.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Fr. Ronald Bowers, Vice Rector Emeritus of the St. Paul Seminary, often commented that money is a reality with which even the Church has to contend.  This fact has impressed itself upon me in a particularly concrete way in the last few months.

I have somehow managed to convince twenty-four of the high school students of my parish to attend the Steubenville Youth Rally in Rochester, Minnesota.  The cost of the event for our group is $285 per student.  They were required to pay an initial deposit with the promise that I would help them raise money for at least some portion of the remainder.  As a result, I spend a great deal of time plotting ways to separate my parishioners from their cash.  Soups suppers during Lent were great.  A Caramel Roll sale made a huge profit.  Pie sales in the fall seem likely.  Car washes, bake sales, and talent shows are all in the works.  I spent part of this evening working out the details of such a fundraiser with a mother who lives near the Church.  Thanks be to God there are dedicated and motivated mothers who make all of these things happen.

The thing about asking people for money, though, is that it gives perspective to the current economic difficulties.  I am well provided for.  I don't have to worry about housing, insurance, food, and other necessities of life.  I live rather comfortably.  I do not consider myself to be overly generous, nor am I miserly.  Nevertheless, to suddenly have money (a reality uncommon during my seminary days) helps me to realize just how hard it can be to give it up regardless of the worthiness of the cause.  So, thank you to all of you who have ever helped a young person go somewhere and do something they would not have been able to do otherwise.  It does more good than you know.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Year of Firsts

The life of a newly ordained man is marked by a series of "firsts" - his  first Mass, his first confession, his first wedding, his first funeral, his first fight with the pastor.  All of these serve, to some extent, as rites of passage through which one must progress before taking the next step of assuming full responsibility for a parish as parochial administrator or pastor.  In almost a year, I have accomplished many of these.  While I harbor no immediate ambitions to become a pastor (I find it quite consoling to be able to say things like, "You're really angry about that.  You should go tell the pastor right away."), I will be glad when I can expect not to encounter many more firsts, and have the confidence that comes only with experience when dealing with God's holy people.

Some firsts have been incredible.  My first Christmas as a priest at the Cathedral was spectacular.  Never have I celebrated Christmas so well.  So too with my first Easter.  The terror of my first day in the confessional and the great joy the celebration of the sacrament brought to me will always be fresh in my mind, I think.  The same is true of my first deathbed confession, and the first confession of a fallen-away Catholic.  Hearing teenagers ask "Father, would you come to my game?" or  "Father, can we go to coffee?" or being hugged by a middle school girl just because - realizing for the first time that I really am their father - is indescribable. 

Some firsts have been terrifying.  I still recall vividly how only days into my priesthood I was called to the hospital to pray with an elderly man who had just unexpectedly lost his wife.  It was a moment of profound sadness for me as I walked with him to his car and realized that he would go home alone for the first time in decades.  Trying to make sense of a confession spoken in Spanish with the penitent behind the screen left my brain numb afterward.  Preaching for a funeral of a woman I have never met, and whose family I am not likely to meet again left me feeling sort of empty.

There are some firsts that remain firsts however often they happen.  No number of repetitions of the same experience prepares one to weep with the parents of a dead baby.  No amount of exposure to it prepares one for the pain revealed by the confession of a post-abortive mother.

Yet, despite the tragedy and the anxiety some of these experiences have created, in their own ways, each of these firsts has been beautiful.  They have been entrusted to me by God who in them has given me permission to behold some glimpse of his own glory.   In some ways I feel like a small child filled with wonder as his parents place some tiny baby animal in his hands.  "You can hold it," they encourage, "But be gentle.  Don't squeeze it.  Be careful not to drop it."  So has the Lord spoken to me about these firsts.  "You can hold them, but be gentle.  Don't drop them." 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"Rain makes me blue, Paul"

Unlike Annie from the film adaptation of Stephen King's book Misery, the rain doesn't make me blue.  I rather like it, other than the muddy roads it creates when I want to visit my family on the ranch.  It does tend to make me introspective, though.  And a little sleepy.  We have had two inches or so in the last couple of days.  Today, my day off, is a good day to spend in my room with some books, some movies, and a new blog.

Apologia for a Blog

Commenting about his time in formation, a seminarian recently said, "The days are long, but the years go fast."  It was a sentiment with which I could easily resonate.  My own experience had been very much the same.  One year, five years, ten years in formation flew by and suddenly I had become a priest.  During those days of preparation, especially once I had entered the theologate, I found that writing offered a means by which I could recollect and give proper consideration to the events of a busy day.  Most often, this process was facilitated by means of contributing to the seminary's blog.

Now it has been almost a year since I last blogged, and though I find myself somewhat astonished to say so, I miss the daily routine of writing something.  Moreover, I find that each day brings some new experience that deserves more careful examination than the busy lifestyle I have adopted has heretofore afforded it.  So, this blog is as much for me as for any reader.  It helps me to pray better, to see more clearly where God is working, and to "decompress."  I suppose I could do this as easily in a journal.  But a journal, more than just personal, is private; a journal lends itself to narcissism, self-righteousness, self-pity, and isolation.  A journal is a means by which one addresses oneself without reference to another human.  A blog, in contrast, suggests that I am in conversation.  What I write here, I write for myself, but with the knowledge that others can and eventually will comment, thus deepening my own reflection and hopefully hastening my progress toward holiness.  

So, this blog, I hope, will be less about news and events and political discourse (there are plenty of other venues for these things), and more about God's continuing work of redeeming the world as embodied in one priest who wants to be a better priest and who wants to be holy.  To this end, I commend this work to the intercession of St. John Vianney and our Blessed Mother. 

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.  
St. John Vianney, pray for us.