Saturday, December 29, 2007

Challenged by the Rule

For a while now, I've made it a practice of studying the Rule of St. Benedict each day. When I first began my discernment journey, I was praying about and investigating a monastic vocation, and for about a year and a half I studied the Rule this way, and found it very rewarding. The journey today, of course, is in discernment and formation toward diocesan priesthood. But I've come to realize that there is still something within that is attracted to, formed by, and desires to conform to Benedictine spirituality. With my Vocation Director's permission, I was received as an Oblate Novice of St. Meinrad where I study for the priesthood. Oblates are those who strive to apply Benedictine spirituality to wherever they are called in life. There are men and women, young and old, married, priests, all walks of life represented among the Oblate community. (You can read more about the Benedictine Oblates of St. Meinrad at this website:

Anyway, this morning as I was reading and reflecting on the Rule I got hit right smack dab between the eyes. (That's a good thing, by the way. Not always comfortable. I don't always enjoy it. But how can we grow without the occasional BAM right between the eyes?) In Chapter 20 of the Rule, Saint Benedict instructs his monks this way: "We must know that God regards our purity of heart and tears of compunction, not our many words."


I hope you won't be scandalized if I share a "secret" with you: I'm not perfect in the pure of heart category. And there are many days that my "words" may seem much more pure than my heart can match. I suppose in some respects that's a reflection of the human condition. And one of my important goals is to learn to live for and seek a heart that is devoted to God and by His grace acceptable to the vocation of the priesthood. But wow do I have a long way to go. And my sense is that I will always have a long way to go. We are, after all, humans. We are, after all, sinners.

This morning, I am reminded that it is only by God's grace that I can even attempt to utter the right words in His praise and service, and that any purity of heart I've attained is His doing alone through grace. I'm reminded that I am broken, and made whole by His love and care. I'm reminded that I lack perfection, which is no excuse not to strive for it, but rather it is an invitation to humility in the face of Him who leads me.

I may have shared here before (I don't remember) words of challenge and comfort shared with me by a priest at the Cathedral that is my home parish, Fr. Frank: God doesn't call those to the priesthood who are qualified, He qualifies those He calls. Thank God.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

And Now for Something Completely Different...

OK - I'm a bad blogger. Haven't written anything in almost TWO WHOLE MONTHS!! Arg - sorry folks. I wish I had some good reasons, but I don't. Just got busy with school. So, for something completely different ... instead of NOTHING on my blog... here's something. ;-)


1. Is everything OK?
Yes - absolutely! Everything is MORE than OK. I settled well into the routine as St. Meinrad, have made some great friends, and (now) have finished my first semester of school in more than ten years. I really, really feel like the luckiest guy on the planet most days - even when there are things I don't like about being in formation, I absolutely adore being there. (Does that make sense?)

2. Are you silent because something troubling is going on?
No. *grin* I really appreciate all the emails I've received asking if everything was OK. I tried to answer them individually as I got them. But - and this is the truth - everything is just fine. Some asked if I was leaving the seminary. Nope - right now you'd have to drag me away. (See #1.) I am home for Christmas, but you know what I mean. True - there are some things that come up during the formation experience that aren't completely appropriate for the universal world of the blogsphere - and these aren't always bad or difficult things, just some stuff isn't for "public consumption" you know? But, really, there's nothing troubling going on.

3. You haven't quit writing all together have you?
No - absolutely not. I write all the time. I write papers. Gosh do I ever write papers. And I guess that's one of the differences with the blogging. In my previous job, I didn't get to scratch my writer's itch at work, so I was drawn more often to blogging perhaps just because I love to write. But papers aren't all that I'm writing. I'm starting on a small book, too. Don't know yet if its a book that will ever be for anyone else to read but me - in fact, writing the book is really something that I decided to do as part of my spiritual formation, so the act of writing it accomplishes the goal. But, some day, perhaps it'll be something that's available.

4. What classes are you taking?
Interesting that I never blogged about that. I'm in the first of a two year of the philosophy program that's required for those with bachelor's degrees that weren't in earned in seminaries, so it's a little "light" on the theology, but here goes:

* Creed in History & Theology
* Ancient Philosophy
* Logic
* Human Development/Christian Maturity

Those are done now. During the month of January, we have a short term during which I'll be taking two classes: Human Sexuality (a celibacy formation seminar) and Christian Spirituality. During January, we'll also begin our ministry assignments which for philosophy men is parish observation. I've been assigned to the Cathedral in the Archdiocese of Louisville, where I'll spend the better part of most Wednesdays.

5. Is it really that busy at seminary?
Oh yes, as one of our Deacon class men would say. True - we're only in class in the morning four days a week. But, intellectual formation (classwork) is only 25% of the overall formation program. In addition to prayer, study outside class, and completing assignments, I've been having to focus on planned "down time" to keep some good balance. This comes in many forms, sometimes reading, continuing to practice icon writing, hanging out with the other men in my class, and things like that. Overall, I'm sometimes amazed at all that I've accomplished in a day - and sometimes amazed at all that even the productive day leaves undone.

6. What do you miss most?
My family and my home. But I keep in touch by talking on the phone and emailing, and sending written correspondence. It's funny - but one of the things I've found myself doing more since going to the seminary is actually writing a card, a letter, or a postcard - it had probably been 5 years since I'd done that before going to school. Don't know why... it just seems to fit a bit better.

7. What do you like most?
The rhythm of prayer that is the skeleton for everything at the seminary. I hope it helps me to create that rhythm of prayer as the foundation of my days even when I'm not in the seminary. And oh do I ever love the beauty of prayer at St. Meinrad. There's nothing quite like the chant that even us poor seminarians pull off in our seminary chapel. I hope to be able to practice enough to be able to do that also even when I'm gone.

8. What are you reading?
Apart from classwork, I keep two or three books going at once and try to stop a couple times a day to read just a couple of pages from one or another of them. These aren't books I "study" - but rather books I try to reflect on slowly, over time, in the context of what's happening in my life. I suppose its a sort of lectio divina - though you'd have to have a broad definition of that to include this. Anyway, I blogged some about the "Prayer for Beginners" book I started with. I've also finished a book on St. Ignatius's Examen practice written by Fr. Tim Gallagher. Right now, I'm reading Fr. Gallagher's book on St. Ignatius's rule for Discernment of Spirits. Along with that, I'm reading a book by the Rector of the seminary on Priestly Spirituality, and a classic seminarian read in Fulton Sheen's "A Priest is Not His Own". I try to spend a couple minutes each day with reflection on a small paragraph or so from The Rule written by St. Benedict, and reflecting on the mass readings for the next day and the coming Sunday.

9. What Will You Do Over Christmas Break?
NOTHING!!! Just kidding. I am excited, though - its the first time in FOREVER that I've had this much time off at Christmas. I've visited a 2nd grade class to talk about vocations and had a great time. I'm sleeping in (but just a little). Doing a little work to try to raise some funds. I'm at the cathedral's evening mass every day, and keeping to my LOTH prayers. And - just enjoying some frivolity with my time too. I bought two computer games my first day home, and have played them some - something I haven't done in months. But the days aren't empty at all. Seems like something worth doing (as in, not really a waste of time) comes up as I go along - like Monday I went to Louisville to visit a great friend who lives on the other side of the country who was in for a few days.

10. Will you keep blogging?
Yup - I'm gonna' try. Hopefully in the new year, I'll be able to get in the habit of more regularly posting.

Well - those are the answers to some of the common questions I've been getting. If you're reading this, I congratulate you. It means you didn't completely give up on checking the blog. Now I'm off to have some dinner with mom & dad, and see what the evening has in store.

Blessings to you all as we keep vigil this last week before a most excellent celebration!!!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Standing Under a Harvest Moon... bright that I can see the shadow of my breath on the ground beneath me. The gentle rustle of water in a small fountain reminding me of the peace of the place. The four walls of the courtyard hugging me warmly and reminding me that I'm in the arms of Love itself. Midnight is not a scary, dreary place. God is there. I'm grateful I recognized it last night.

This week has been a bit crazy. A good kind of crazy. But crazy nonetheless.

We were out for a long weekend this past Friday and Monday. It was nice to be home for a visit. Nice to give and receive hugs from the family. Share Grammaw's special breakfast. (Mmmm.... scrambled eggs, sausage...and the highlight: Cinnamon Toast!!!). Nice to have a meal and catch up with mom and dad. Nice to visit with a true woman of God and His will for our lives - a spiritual guide I trust even as I work more routinely now with my assigned spiritual director at seminary. Nice to pray at the Cathedral - home also for me. Nice to make small talk with the cathedral's newest priest - a man walking the next bend in what seems to be this journey that I'm walking. Nice to see both of the twins - get to hug them, tell them in person I love them. It was nice to visit.

...and it was nice to be back. Something funny happens when I make that last turn in the road that leads from the highway to the Holy Hill at St. Meinrad. The twin spires of the Archabbey church peak through the landscape...and I know I'm returning home. And then, I plunge in - with a light heart, with joy at a good week's work.

Yep - there have been papers to write galore this week. There have been guests to host. There have been evenings that need to be shared with brother seminarians. Visits with the Vocations Director for our diocese. All in and through the tempo of prayer. There have been letters of gratitude to write for all whose back in the diocese who are praying for us, and who take a moment to encourage us with a card, or some cookies.

...and there have been impromptu encounters with the Harvest Moon, in a small courtyard, where if you're quiet enough, and you're looking, and you catch a stream of grace you can find a moment to be with the God who creates it all, who calls us all, and who sustains us through it all.

Pretty cool.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

So, Really, What's Going On?

A friend called the other night - a friend who reads this blog to keep up with what's happening with me. And she asked, "Um... I don't know anything at all about how your days unfold, what you're REALLY doing at seminary." Funny - she's right. Don't get be wrong, the important stuff that's happening on a deep level often finds its way here. But, that's often a result of the "tasks" at hand. It's a fair question - that I'll try to from time to time - reflect on.

What's a typical day? There are none. I mean, we have a "typical schedule" - but what I'm coming to find out is that what's even more normal than the typical schedule is some sort of adjustment to that schedule. It was frustrating a bit for me at first - but as I began to reflect on it, I realized it was good practice, good formation, for the life of a priest; whether the seminary does that on purpose or not is almost irrelevant.

Classes around here are four days a week, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday. The normal schedule for class days goes like this: Breakfast @ 7, Morning Prayer @ 8, Class @ 8:30, Class @ 10, Mass @ 11:30, lunch after mass. We don't have afternoon classes during our first year, but starting next year some of our classes may be in the afternoons.

Evenings are sorta' scheduled like that. Evening prayer is at 5 throughout the community for the most part, though we only pray with the whole community one night a week. There are meetings galore - not all of them optional - and they eat some time. And, of course, there is the studying that needs to be done.

Wednesdays aren't "Free Days", though it may appear so. Wednesdays are time reserved for pastoral formation, celibacy formation, rectors conferences, colloquies, and things like that. The schedule isn't usually as booked on Wednesdays as other days, but they're full nonetheless.

Gee - you're probably thinking - that's a pretty light schedule. How is it that seminarians always seem so busy (having a hard time staying current on correspondence, always talking about all the work they have to do, never seeming to have a moment's time at all)? It was a mystery for me, even in the first couple of weeks I was here. Gosh, I thought, this is going to be cake. Um.... I was wrong.

The only way I know to tell you how the time gets used is to list the things that I, for my formation, try to accomplish on top of the scheduled things above on a regular basis:

* Spiritual direction (1 hour every two weeks)
* Spiritual reading/reflection (1 hour each day)
* Work out at the Gym (1 hour twice each week) - I try, this doesn't always happen.
* Journal on "where I am" spiritually, in formation, and discernment (1 hour twice each week)
* Correspond with a priest of our diocese (1 each week)
* Correspond with a brother seminarian from the diocese (1 each week)
* Pray Rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet (1 each day)
* Holy Hour (prayer before the blessed sacrament) (2 times each week)

OK, these are just the "seminarian" things I try to do. My list also includes things that are important to me, and that I feel I need to do so that I don't become too unbalanced or burned out of unable to focus. For example, I try to talk to my family/friends on the phone at least twice a week. I try to spend time in some creative enterprise at least a couple of hours each week - right now I'm trying out the prayerful painting of icons (called "writing"), I'm also trying to work with a brother seminarian here who has an interest and talent in making vestments to learn to do - and enjoy - that. And as strange as it sounds, I make a "plan" to spend at least two evenings a week just hanging out with my brother seminarians. If I don't plan that, it won't happen. A lot like planning to post on this blog, and even planning time in my week to - literally - do nothing.

Every day I look at what needs to be accomplished - for school, for my spiritual formation, for my sanity... and I pray, "Lord - my plate is full. Thank you for the amazing opportunity to be here, in this place, undergoing this formation. Please help me to remember that this is NOTHING without You, that I can't be a good seminarian - no less a good priest one day - apart from You and the relationship we share. I want to overflow with your love, not overflow with activity. Give me the grace of perspective I so desperately need." With varying degrees of success, driven by how much I surrender each moment to Him, it comes together nicely.

So...anyway... in case you were wondering, that's what's going on with my days and my time.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Still Need the Light...

Being at seminary doesn't make one Holy. :-) I suppose I knew that coming in. I suppose I knew that seminarians aren't Holy. I suppose I knew that, even at the end of seminary formation, ordination does not itself make one Holy. I should clarify - what I really mean is perfectly holy. That's what I'm not. I'm grateful more and more each day for formation - for a process of identifying, sanding away (sometimes knocking off with a sledge hammer) those parts of me, of self, that aren't part of what a healthy, strong, Christ-centered man is. After all, first and foremost, before and a part of being "priest" MUST be being a healthy, strong, Christ-centered man. Thank GOD for formation. Thank GOD for the Church's acceptance of imperfect men as clay tossed on the wheel to be shaped and molded.

Most of all, Thank GOD for the Spirit which helps to make us (all of us, not just seminarians) moldable, formable. For His word and work in our lives that makes the clay more pliable. I read in a book on prayer when I first got here words that ring in my head every day, over and over. It's ALL grace. ALL of it. Not of me. Grace. Grace to be open. Grace to be convicted by the Spirit. Grace to be drawn to reconciliation. Grace to be accepting of - to love - to be challenged by and at the same time inspired by - the whole process. Grace to smile through it, even when there are difficulties. Grace.

But, I digress. What I really wanted to share was how powerful a song from my youth has been today. (Have I blogged about this Charlie Peacock song before? If so, I apologize.) When I was in high school Rich Jones was our Campus Life coach. He was the first person I ever heard start a prayer with "God - you are SO AWESOME!!!" His approach to life and following Christ literally - and I mean literally - rocked my world. Put me on a new footing with God, got be out from behind the little walls of loving God only through prescribed sentimentalities that I wasn't connecting with on a real level at all, and brought me to a place where I could walk and talk with God a little more authentically.

Anyway, one day I get in Rich's car - I think he was giving me a ride to work after school or something. And there's this SONG on the tape player. (Yep - I'm old - cassettes in the car were what we had. Didn't know what CDs were yet.) Anyway, this song comes on the tape. And it, too, rocked my world. About a year or 18 months ago, DC Talk re-recorded the song. I have it on my iPod. I'm in a habit now (don't fall off your chair, those of you who know me) of getting up around 5:30, and by 6 I'm outside somewhere with my iPod praying. Some of my prayer is rooted in listening to a handful of songs that really lift my heart to God, and help me pray to Him those things that words are insufficient to pray. This song is one of them.

Father - I want to be in the Light. I trust you to birth in me continually, every day, as I strive for continual conversion, a spirit that even more aptly struggles against that-which-is-not-of-You. Save me from the disease of self. I want to be in the Light. I'm still - and always will be - a man in need of a Savior!! Thank You for sending & being that Savior! Thank You for all the days and all the ways that You are molding and crafting me into the man You want me to be. Thank You for the grace of conversion. Thank you for the reminder of how MUCH I want to be in the Light, and how reliant on You for that I am. I truly am falling in love.

I've been trying to find a light
on my own, apart from You.
I am the king of excuses -
I've got one for every selfish thing I do.

The disease of self runs through my blood
It's a cancer fatal to my soul.
Every attempt on my behalf has failed
to keep this sickness under control.

What's going on inside of me?
I despise my own behavior.
This only serves to confirm my suspicions
that I'm still a man in need of a Savior.

I want to be in the Light, as You are in the Light.
I want to shine like the stars in the heavens.
Oh Lord - Be my Light, and Be my Salvation!
All I want is to be in the Light!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Family Meals...

It was the worst Thanksgiving ever - even worse than the year I stayed at college over Thanksgiving instead of coming home. It was horrible. For the past three or four years, the family had been coming to my house for Thanksgiving. That year - there was no way to get that to happen. Mom & Dad & Grammaw had all decided they didn't want to share Thanksgiving with others who had just as much right to be in my home. I couldn't force anyone's hand - that wouldn't make any sense. I couldn't mend any bridges - in fact, there was no mending that could be done. The reactions, the preferences, were not completely unjustified on either side - including mine. I cried. Cried hard. My heart was breaking. Those I loved most in the world couldn't be together at the same time around the same table in my home. I love them all - felt equally drawn to welcome them all at my table - saw imperfections on all sides - understood where everyone was coming from - and, honestly, even on some level saw that it just must be that way. I tried blaming mom... it didn't work, even in my own mind.

Nothing could bring my family united in heart and mind and spirit to the Thanksgiving celebration around a table in my home, a symbol of the place of deep love and devotion I hold them all in. That Thanksgiving, we all did the best we could...and my heart was broken. The tears still come when I remember it.

Today is Sunday... how long will be break the heart of God this way? God, who calls us to Himself - seeing that we cannot gather around one table? How long will Christ see all that was won in and through ultimate love and untimate sacrafice divided, unforgiving of one another, with only platitidues and "forced" respect and affection for the sake of appearances?

My heart breaks each time I bow before the altar, each time I kneel in God's presence to remember Who He is, What He Did, How He Loves Us Still. I don't know how to gather the whole family together...but I must believe God does. I don't have the theological answers, don't know how to address the cultural divide that today seems even more insurmountable than the theological divides, don't know what to do always but to be at the table myself as best I know how...

...but I know what it feels like to try to gather my family together in one place only to find that - my table set, my love offered, I must offer it fully and completely to my family gathered at different times and different places. Surely I don't paint God's experience of the divided human family only with my own experience... but it must be somewhat the same by analogy.

Will you pray with me? Can we, in this action, unite ourselves at least this way?

God - We are divided. But we love You. We are honest and authentic in what divides us - all trying our own way to love and serve and listen to You as best we can. Save us from being divided for the sake of being divided. Save us from being divided because we can't be bothered any longer to wrestle with that which divides us. Save us from being divided because after all this time it has become comfortable. Save us from being divided beacuse we are lazy.

To the extent that we break Your Heart in our division, we are sorry. We love You. We trust You. We follow You. And we're not perfect. We take the good from Your hand, and the bad - knowing that the bad isn't You or from You, but trusting You work all things - the good from Your hand and the bad - for our good. And so - give us the grace to walk with Love and Authenticity toward You, and draw us to Yourself. And, when it be Your will, join us in Your house around Your table, for a Thanksgiving fully together with You and one another.


Peace be with you all.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

What I'll Trade for an "A"

Perhaps every first time seminarian runs into this problem at least once. My sense is that I will probably notice it more than once time before I "get it right". In fact, chances are this will continue to be something for me to work on forever that falls into the category of "ongoing conversion". What am I talking about? What it is that I'm willing to trade for an "A"...

Well into our first semester as seminarians, we're all wanting to do well. I mean, we're here, we've found our way to the chapel and the dining hall - and figure that as seminarians we at least know where to pray and eat - so surely now's the time we being to be evaluated. And we want to perform. I don't think I've met a man here who doesn't want to do well - do well at discerning, do well at developing spirutally, do well at becoming even more whole and mature men, do well at being formed into priests. Only problem is - in this very broad context of formation, only one area is sitting right in front of us every day with a very clear things to do list, a large amount of our day planned for us to prioritize this effort, and continual feedback and evaluation all the time. Academic studies. And so, for me at least, that naturally means it becomes the focus.

Now, don't get me wrong. Of COURSE it should be part of our focus. After all, we must learn to be priests. And we have a whole heck of a lot more to learn than just how to read the sacramentary and the Liturgy of the Hours book. But since academics are such an objective focus, I discovered over the past week and a half or so, it had become my WHOLE focus.
I can say it even more plainly, though it pains me to admit it. I realized on Monday that the last week had been almost completely dedicated to striving for an "A" on the first major academic assignment on our calendar. I worked a couple hourse every day - on it for two weeks; a couple hours that before this time had been spent on prayer and spiritual reflection. In short, I traded a couple hours each day in academic pursuits for time growing in my relationship with God.

But - a couple hours isn't a huge deal. After all, God has called me to be here in the seminary for now, and being here in the seminary means going to class, learning the material, and performing adequately. What WAS the problem was, as the due date got closer, I traded more than a couple hourse. At mass, my mind would get distracted by the assignment. At morning prayer, my mind would get distracted by the assignment. When I woke in the morning, my first thought was the assignment. When I went to bed at night it was the last thing I thought about. In my conversations with my seminarian brothers, it was what I talked about. I wasn't trying to learn the material and adequately perform, I was trying to get an "A". Trying to be outstanding.

Trying to live beyond my means academically...

...and I was willing to trade my prayer life to obtain that.

THAT's the problem. Although, I'm not beating myself up for it. What I am doing is thanking God a TON for that realization. Because, I believe, we don't get those realizations from our own minds alone. They are grace. EVERYTHING is grace. Grace to see how I can better balance. GRACE to see I'd got a bit out of balance. GRACE to accept my shortcoming, to see and accept that there were some issues of pride involved in it. GRACE to accept it as ask for more GRACE to address the issue.

Today, as I continue to work with this realization, I realize I no longer want to trade my prayer life, my time falling in love here at the seminary, with intellectual pursuits. You know - funny thing is - I "made this trade" - and have no idea whether I'll get an "A" or not. The even funnier thing? I realized it doesn't matter. Because, even if it earns me an A, it wouldn't have been worth it.

Does this mean I'm ditching any focus on my academics? Uh... if ever a cliche was called for it is here. No - I don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. (I love that cliche, and almost never get a chance to use it.) What I really realized I need to do is work constantly, daily, in a self-aware way, on striving for balance. Some days, I may need to trade an hour or two of my prayer time for extra studies. Other days, I may have an hour or two extra that I can trade from free-time to prayer. Some days may genuinely lend themselves to a proper sharing of priorty and time. But - overall - I don't think it makes sense to get out of balance.

The US Bishops say that becoming a well formed priest happens relying on four pillars. They don't emphasize one over another. To become a well formed priest, we must grow spiritually, mentally, as mature well-adjusted men, and academically. If I went to the gym every day for six months and only exercised my right arm, I'd end up looking a little funny...and I might even end up handicapping myself in some way. Balance...appropriate balance...growing and being formed across the board.

Not only do I not want to do it... I think I'm being asked to try my best not to trade my spiritual life and formation for an "A".

Pray for balance for my brother seminarians and I.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Living Sacrifice on an Altar...

It's been a crazy week. I wrote in an email to my mom that I'd not been able to keep up with which end was up. Yes mom - its because its been a hectic week. Nothing deeper to it than that... at least I don't think. The people walking the face of this planet today that I care about the most are my immediate family (grammaw, mom, dad), my friends (two in particular), and the twins. Of the six, I've spoken to one on the phone this week, and two others only once by email. That's what I mean by a crazy week.

And then, tonight, I saw a living sacrifice offered on the altar here at St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel. No - there wasn't any blood shed. We did not slaughter anything... well, not literally anyway. But - it was still no less meaningful, no less dramatic - at least for me. What I saw, there before my eyes, on the same altar on which I see the holy and living sacrifice of the mass celebrated each day, from which I receive again the fruits of the perfect sacrifice offered once for all so many lifetimes ago...

...there on that altar I saw nine men literally lay down their lives. It was a lot less bloody than what probably came to your mind from the title of this entry. It was a lot less violent that the scene painted in the Gospels of Christ's sacrifice. But it was no less significant than those in this respect - I watched these men lay their lives on the holy altar - in the presence of, on behalf of, for the ministry and nurturing of, the Church...

Tonight, eight men of our 4th Theology class made their deacon promises. One by one, three times, they read aloud promises that handed over their lives to the service of God, and God's people. One by one, they processed to the altar, placed their hands on the Holy Gospels, and pleaded for God's grace and assistance in being faithful to these promises. One by one, they arrived at the altar, placed a sheet of paper upon which they had writted in their own hand the promises they were making, and there - on the altar upon which we participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, they signed their names.

Greater love have no man than this - that he lay down his life for his friends. And his enemies. And those he's never met. And a world of lost and lonely people in the shadow of our steeples. What a witness. What a gift.

Pray with me for my brother seminarians: Brother Jeremiah, Aaron, Matt, Joseph, James, Dennis, Jose, and Jeremy. Pray for the grace to remain faithful to their promises. Pray thanksgiving for the gift of vocation in their lives that has enabled them to travel this journey, and step to the altar to freely offer their lives.

Tonight, I saw eight lives offered to God... and I was moved.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

I Have Some of the Strangest Prayers Sometimes...

Call me a sentimentalist... swayed by emotion... Yeah - I'll buy that indictment. I just don't buy that its always bad. Apart from anything to ground it, it can be dangerous. But, when it leads me closer to Christ, I'll take it.

What am I talking about? Some of the lyrics to songs that are patently not about God - many that are what you might call "love songs" - that can very easily take on a resemblance to prayer for me. Try this one on for size that was on the radio as I was struggling against the temptation to hang up the towel and call it a night before finishing my work for the day:

You're my peace of mind in this crazy world.
You're everything I've tried to find,
your love is a pearl.

You're my Mona Lisa,
you're my rainbow skies,
and my only prayer is that you realize
you'll always be beautiful in my eyes.

The world will turn and the seasons will change,
and all the lessons we will learn will be beautiful and strange.
We'll have our fill of tears, our share of sighs.
My only prayer is that you realize
you'll always be beautiful in my eyes.

You will always be beautiful in my eyes.
And the passing years will show
that you will always grow
ever more beautiful in my eyes.

When there are lines upon my face
from a lifetime of smiles, and
when the time comes to embrace
for one long last while,
we can laugh about how time really flies.
We won't say goodbye 'cause true love never dies.
You'll always be beautiful in my eyes.

OK - I know - there are some theological problems with applying these lyrics out of hand to Jesus. First of all, thank God, when it comes time to say goodbye to this world, it won't be for "one long last while". But - isn't that because True Love never dies? And, after all, if there's a definition of the grace that we've been given by God, isn't it His True Love?

Well - OK - maybe its too much of a stretch. I don't know. But I do know this much is true. I can look at God squarely, and with all truth, honesty, humility, and gratidue... and say, "And my only prayer is that you realize You will always be beautiful in my eyes."

Monday, September 10, 2007

What Value a Soul...

The chapel was darker than normal...and the Easter candle was present and lit. Quietly, from our places of study, or rest, or exercise, or fellowship, our community made its way like a medieval cadre toward the light of the candle. A momentary pause to remind ourselves of grace by touching water to our forehead, core, and right then left breast. Another momentary pause to set ourselves aside for this office we're about to undertake...set ourselves aside by honoring the altar instead of ourselves. And then to our seats... and comfortable, wrapped in the warmth and glow of the Easter candle and all it represents. So very unlike those souls I saw perishing before me on the screen as the decision to tumble from the doomed building was carried out. So very unlike the souls tonight who sleep in fear of terror, whether in New York or London, or the sandy ways of the Middle East, or the heartland of America. Whether their trembles come from fear of the unimagined next iteration of "plane as bomb", or the unwavering attack of another military action, or the need to carry out another military action in response to one's duty to country, or fear of a loved one's safety who is half way around the world carrying a weapon. So many souls... so much fear... so much need for peace...

...and we sing Where hate and fear divide us and bitter threats are hurled, in love and mercy guide us and heal our strive torn world... and cry out in chanted meter, "When I call, answer me, O God of justice." Yes... in the recesses of our heart we scream ANSWER ME! ANSWER ME, will you? I don't understand, I cannot see... where is justice, where is love, where is peace?

...and again we sing deliver EVERY nation, Eternal God we pray... and somewhere within our heart finds the temptation to say, "Yes... deliver every nation, find some way, won't you, to restore peace? To bring family and friends home, to restore families and lives destroyed in thousands of ways...on all sides of the conflict. Deliver us all, Eternal God we pray"

When hope and courage falter, Your still small voice be heard; with faith that none can alter, uphold us by Your word.

And I gaze upon the Easter candle, and bend my voice into the prayer my brothers and I pray... and realize that through the ages, men have prayed in this way... wondering... waiting... watching...

Two thousand nine hundred and eighty five. Right? The number of souls that perished on that day? And how many since? And how many lives destroyed, and families ripped apart? What value a soul? What price can we put on that life? Just one of them... that first one I saw tumble to the hard, cold pavement? What price?

My prayer seems insufficient. The lighted Easter candle seems dim in comparison. My bow, my untrained mode at chant. What value that soul - I don't know, but certainly more than I can pay. "Yes", I hear from my Friend. "More than you can repay. So, does that mean you get off the hook with a few words, a bow, a song?"

No, my Friend. But, all I have to offer is a prayer. Clinging like a baby to a promise for the peace that will one day come, I say, "Peace be with you". And I say it to all, as representative of my intention, and my Friend's. And I shut my mouth, and make my bow, and walk silently away into the world in which I can pray in a different way... and if I've understood my Friend rightly, the prayer of my words will become the prayer of my actions.

What value a soul? Just one... just one who died on that day?

Keep bright in us the vision
Of days when wars shall cease,
When hatred and division
Give way to love and peace.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Is EVERYTHING Holy and Uptight at the Seminary?

Someone very dear to me asked this question in a casual phone conversation earlier today. I about died laughing. I suppose you would have had to hear the tone of voice the question was asked with to understand why I was laughing. They'd just said, "Are you going crazy yet?" and the tone of voice implied, 'Um...I KNOW you - and you're a good guy and all, but not stuff and uptight and not what I would think of as holy all the time." I laughed because, my friend is right. I don't think of myself as stuffy and uptight, I don't think of myself as the caricature we have in society of holy. Walking around all day with my hands folded in prayer, my head bowed, not cracking a grin or ever venturing an enjoyment of any kind. Always thinking on the "lofty" and "holy" - never enjoying the experience - any experience.

A modern day Pharisee.

No - that's not me. And, indeed, if that were the life of a seminarian (or of a priest), I'd be somewhat concerned. Not only because I don't know if I could be turned into that person - but also because I don't know that becoming that kind of person is good or healthy for a priest. Not healthy for the priest, nor for those he may join one day in a parish.

No... everything is not that kind Holy and Uptight here at seminary. We have a good time. We occasionally do just like you - sit around, have a beer, watch some TV, listen to music --- yes, there IS music at the seminary apart from chant, we even play the frivolous game every now and again. Yes - we DO have fun, enjoy ourselves, enjoy the community within which we live.

Let me give you an example. Last night was an all-school picnic. It was held at the UnStable - yes, that's what its called, UnStable. It used to be a stable I think - now its a campus hang out, and as such being very much no longer a stable, its the UnStable. There's a cover band of seminarians here (called Abbey Mode - its hilarious... Abbey Mode... its very descriptive of the sharp and quick wit among the community here - if you don't get it, post a comment and I'll explain it)... anyway, Abbey Mode played for a couple hours last night. And as a cover band, they're amazing. They could play a classic Lynard Skynnard song ("Sweet Home Alabama") right before playing a GREAT cover of "Play the Funky Music White Boy". And - hold your breath now - while they were playing some of the guys were... are you ready???... shooting pool!!! Wait... hang on... we're not through yet. Yes, that's right, I even drank TWO BEERS while that was going on. Scary, huh?

No - in fact, for me, its not scary at all. It's honest. It's authentic. It's healthy. And... its holy.

"What? Now I KNOW you Catholics have flipped your lids... having a beer and shooting pool as Holy? What's next?" Well, I don't know what's next - maybe watching a movie at the local theater. Oh, wait... we did that last weekend... and it was holy too.

Before you think I've gone crazy, let me explain. It's holy because we were there, together in one place, all here for a common reason. We're all here to follow what we believe the call of God Himself to enter into the full time and full-life service of His church. We're here to be formed into healthy, stable, loving, caring men of God, men who can live in and strive in a community of others. We're here to be formed into good priests, and to try to listen very closely - in fact, as close as we can - to the Voice that is the only Voice that can truly call us.

So, when we exist authenticly as real people, enjoying one another's presence, building one another up, sharing community, and recreation, and good music, and good fun - it IS holy. We're practicing what it means to be happy, healthy people. We're acknowledging that we're people, living in the world - and even though not OF the world, we strive in healthy community. Holy because, as we live and breathe and enjoy life in the company of one another, we open our lives and experiences to the presence of God among us. We see and experience Christ in our friends, and our formators (yes... Father Rector was there, yes... my formation dean was there..., yes, the monks even on occasion walk around on this planet sans habit)... and we're given the opportunity to discover what it means to be Christ to others, to genuinely love and care for and experience life.

Is everything Holy at seminary? Yes - I think it is. Even in our weakness, our shortcomings, the places we fail, the ways in which we fall short of the goal - there's holiness in that as it becomes manifest and as we open ourselves to the work of the Spirit in forming us.

OK - don't get me in trouble with the Bishop. Please don't take from what I said that its OK to do whatever you want to do and milk life for all the vice its worth and call it Holy. :-) That's not what I said at all. What I did say was that living an authentic life can mean not being stuff shirted all the time, it can mean enjoying time with others, it can mean letting one's hair down and just spending time with one's friends. And, I am saying that doing that can be holy.

Uptight? Inappropriately pious? Somber all the time? No. That would make for crazy unadjusted men. Men who couldn't navigate the waters of life, no less shepherd a community and stand before the altar for others.

It's been nearly two weeks now - and every day I become more grateful for being in this place. May I learn ever more deeply all the things it means to be holy, and be formed into the man God wants me to be. At the UnStable, at the Holy sacrafice of the mass, in the presence of my fellowman.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Humbled, Amazed, and So Very Grateful...

In the nearly two weeks since I've been here at the seminary, I have been so amazingly humbled and amazed by the sincere outpouring of support and encouragement I've received - literally from all corners of the world - and all corners of my diocese. The mail room said, when I went down to get my box assignment, they were glad I was finally here... they wanted to meet this guy who had packages arriving for him before he arrived himself.

I assured them it was not of my merit. And, while I know that sounds cliche, and merely polite, it is genuine and authentic for me. Many of you who have done and said things to encourage me, and support this journey for me, are not of the same religious tradition as I. Some of you may share the practice of Roman Catholicism. And I say this hoping it doesn't offend any: Your generousity, love, concern, encouragement and support make Christ present to me in these days. In many ways. I find comfort and consolation for the difficulties in your thoughts, prayers, words and actions. I find nourishment for my journey - spiritual, physical, and emotional. I find acceptance of who I am, and loving hope for who I can become. I find friends. I find love. These things make Christ present in my life.

I'm so very grateful for this experience at the start of my journey. It makes me keenly aware that, for me, community - community that includes peoples across space, and I believe across time - cannot be separated from our pursuit of God, God's will for our lives, and the grace required to seek out and carry out that will. I don't know that I believe God requires community in order to manifest Himself to us - but I do believe, and have experienced, that community is often where and how we find Him in the most real ways.

I used to say, almost as idiom, "I'm humbled" by something. I suppose I was conditioned to say that from great orators, and readings, and modeling behavior of people I admire and wished to imulate. I don't think until today, when praying and reflecting on this part of my experience, I don't think I ever really understood it before now. Today, I truly am humbled. I'm humbled because what has been so freely offered to me by others, some strangers, some gifts completely unexpected...I'm humbled because I know there was nothing I could do to merit the gift. And I know there is neither anything I can do to "repay" the kindness... nor was any repayment expected, anticipated, or possible.

And for the first time in my life, I think I understand a different motivation to pray for others. Not in the strict of petitioning on their behalf. But rather, to pray for them the same may I might go to work for them so they could take a day off. (Ok - bad analogy - my praying for you doesn't change what prayer can do in your life, or "get you off the hook" for finding your own journey of prayer...but hopefully the analogy helps.) Not only is praying for you - in my prayer time, but also in my studies, and my spiritual formation, and in how I live and love and build up the community that is present to me - not only is praying for you in these ways the ONLY thing I can do...the prayers, support, and encouragement move me to pray on your behalf in these ways. I want to pray for you in these ways. I'm driven to that response much like I'm often moved to tears when coming face to face in the presence of God. It's not from a should, or a sense of repayment... but a natural, spontaneous upswelling of what I would call right response that, I further believe, comes from a place within wherein God dwells.

So, to you all, who've sent cards, and books, and prayers, and good wishes, and ALL the ways you've reached out to touch me, I want to say thank you. I'm humbled - really. And moved to pray for you in all that I do. In that way, I hope to unite you to what I hope to do here. And in that way, I pray, we will all come to know and serve the God of our understanding.

And that's what I say, today, "Peace be with you."

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Where Does It Come From?

The desire to be a priest, that is. Or perhaps, I think what I'm really asking is where does one's desire to follow what they believe to be their vocational calling come from? Is it a product of "our will" - or is it a product of "God's will"? Is it born of our actions, our reactions, our experiences - that is, is it a product of "us"... or, on the other hand, is it a product of God's work and will and love in our life, which would make it grace?

Try as I might, I can't reconstruct how this question is what I was left with after our beginning of a Day of Prayer for the seminary community just moments ago. Father Sub-Prior Denis from the archabbey is directing our day of prayer - and his point of departure was, it seems to me now as I reflect on it, a very different concept: What is seminarian piety.

But there was a moment during Fr. Denis' reflection when he said, "And here is the ultimate model of piety: When in the garden, Jesus said, 'If You are willing, let this cup pass from me. But not my will, Thy will be done.'" The model of piety - complete surrender. A complete turning over of one's will. A complete turning over of His will. Beyond what He wanted or didn't want.

So often, in my mind, the discernment journey returns to the need to discover whether this burning desire to serve God as priest comes from within or from God. For, there is no longer - at least there hasn't been for a long time, and there is not today - any shadow or doubt about whether or not I desire to serve God as priest. But in what is that desire rooted?

Did Christ want to be Christ? Did Jesus - fully God and fully man - want to be the first, highest, model priest? Or was it God's will manifest in Him? Must these be either or? No - I think not. Surely it is possible for my desire to be in concert with God's - but it certainly possible for my desire to be contrary to God's desire.

So - the question for me is - is my desire to be His priest... is it of me, or of Him. Is a desire to be priest ever completely of one's own design only? Or is it that, at least at its kernel, its core, its most basic, is that desire always born of God Himself.

Thank God we can pray...for more than in classwork, or in formation conferences, or conversations with others... more than anything else, prayer can lead me where this question is leading me.

Stop, Look, & Listen

The most profound nuggest I've picked up so far in my week here at the seminary didn't come from attending the "first class" in the four subjects I'll be studying this semester. It didn't come from any of the many orientation meetings, or the Rector's convocation address. It wasn't imparted during the daily Eucharistic celebrations, or in discussions with returning students. It wasn't even handed on in a conversation with the Benedictines who are on staff here at the seminary and who are very much a part of the seminary community, or even my first meeting with a new spiritual director.

Don't get me wrong - these have been important, beautiful, amazing, exciting experiences - all of them. There HAVE been profound nuggets already available to me through them. I can already sense that this truly is a place of formation, of a "machinery" if you will where the process and the people in the process are truly tools of God Himself in forming men for the priesthood. And I'm humbled to be here. But, the most profound wisdom I've encountered so far came from a small book that was given to each of the new seminarians during orientation - it's called "Prayer for Beginners".

When I was first handed the book, my ego jumped and screamed: "Are you KIDDING me? I'm not a beginner! I've been at this thing for a while now. Maybe you should give this book to someone else." I crack myself up sometimes. It happened to be given to me just two days after writing here about my difficulty praying here. Pride can play some amazing tricks. So, after I got over myself, I realized that perhaps there could be something to this book. And surely if the formation staff felt it valuable enough to pass on to all the new students, coupled with my difficulty with prayer recently, maybe I should give this a read.


The most profound thing I've learned since getting settled in to the seminary is that prayer - for beginners and perhaps even the most seasoned - can be as simple as "Stop - Look - Listen". I've been getting the order messed up, or skipping some of them - no WONDER I've been having a challenge in prayer.

My first times in the chapel, I was listening hard... wanting desperately to find my center in prayer where I meet God. And I was looking - looking at who was doing what, what page I should be on in the Breviary. Yada yada yada. Noise. Nothing "happening". Oh, don't get me wrong - I believe my attempts at prayer must please God, even when its not "working". I do believe the discipline of praying is pleasing to God - and comes from God. Or at least, that deep desire within that leads to the discipline of prayer comes from God. After all, my attempts to pray are motivated from a desire to be close to Him - and that, I believe, can only come from a seed of desire given us by God - its grace, not a result of works.

But... my problem was I was forgetting the fundamental starting point for prayer - at least according to this book. Stop. I hadn't stopped to see God in where I was, what I was doing. I hadn't stopped to see the amazing things happening in my life as a result of God's calling and drawing me forward. I hadn't stopped to see the roses around me, no less smell them.

This morning, in just a few moments, I'm off to Sunday morning prayer, and shortly thereafter the Sunday mass. This morning, I'm going to try to rememer to STOP before I attempt to look and listen. Ever been in love? When you walked into the room with the object of your affection, wasn't there always a moment - even if just an instant - when you just stopped, in your heart and mind, and looked. And then you listened - to words, to actions, to experience, to the unspoken as much as the spoken.

One of the formation staff said it best earlier this week. Yes, we're here to learn and practice. But most of all, seminary is about falling in love. Falling deeper and deeper in love with God. This morning, I want to fall in love.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Trying to Pray...

I was just too tired last night to try to figure out how to describe what I meant by being here and praying or at least trying to. Today, I'm more rested. The day wasn't as full, the place wasn't as new - and so I'm not as physically and mentally exhausted - that's the good news. But, the "trying to pray" thing is still there, so I'll share a little about it.

Don't get me wrong - community prayer at the chapel is beautiful. It's nice to be chanting morning prayer with the community. We've also been at community prayer with the Benedictines who's Archabbey host the seminary - and that is absolutely beautiful. And, the discipline to pray isn't the problem I'm running into. I get my rump to the chapel - I'm even following the appropriate dress code. The problem is tapping into, participating in, the communion and conversation with God.

With all the newness - and I suppose some of the aftershocks of leaving loved ones and a life that I'd become accustomed to behind - my mind keeps wandering during prayer. I'm worried about chanting the right tone, making sure I'm on the right page in our Breviary, and trying to keep the sweat wiped off my face so I don't drip all over the chapel. When I can get my mind off these things, I sometimes quickly find myself contemplating if I know where to go next, and what time to get there. What's happening back home? How are the twins? And on and on.

That's not exactly prayer.

... hrm... or is it?

Just as I sit writing this, I'm reminded of a conversation I had not more than an hour ago with one of the diocesan priests who's in residence here about the different kinds of prayer, and the Benedictine idea of "work as prayer". Don't get me wrong - wiping sweat and figuring out where the next class is isn't some divine and holy work. I know that. But it occurs to me, before I go lashing myself with 12,000 wet noodles that, at least for these "new" and "first" days, that IS my work.

Perhaps the "trick" (as if I could trick myself or God successfully at the heart of things, but I suppose that figure of speech works...) I suppose the trick is to be humble enough to accept that right now, for today, in this space, those are my jobs - and to find a way to offer them with the INTENTION of prayer. Perhaps for right now - or for times that may be like this in the future - I might find a way to offer the act of trying to pray as prayer, right along with all the other that's going on.

Anyway...that's what I meant yesterday when I said I was here and praying, or at least trying to. Pray for me, my friends... or at least try to.

Here, Alive, and Praying...or at least trying to...

Yep...I made it. Got the stuff all moved in. Well, most of it. I had packed one box of books that were ones I'd wanted to have close - books that I look at frequently, or reference often in my own journey. But, it just didn't seem like there was going to be enough room for them, so I sent them home. Maybe I'm learning to let go of material things - even those that are dear to me - a little better? I don't know. After all - I sent them home, I didn't donate them to the poor.

I'm so blessed that my family came with me to move in. It may be a little corny for a 34 year old to have his mommie and daddie and gammaw come with him to move into school. I gotta' tell ya' - I could care less how corny it was. It helped me emotionally move through that transition space. It helped my physically - before they left they'd done many practical things to help me get settled and feel comfortable. Gammaw - my grandmother, an amazing woman who I love absolutely - stripped the bed, got new mattress comfy things so I'd be all comfortable on there, and remade it. She and mom & dad (mom is mostly "mom" - though as a little tike she was Momma' Spankum' - no joke - that's what I called her; and dad is often dad or "pops") got pictures hung. I have pictures of the twins, pictures of my brothers and sister with their families, pictures of some places that are significant in my life so far. I have pictures of mom, me, and Grammaw - only Dad is missing, and I've hinted already about five times what a great Christmas gift that would make. (Um... Dad... HINT HINT!!!)

It really, REALLY helps the space feel like home. And I have two special photographs that were sent to me by a friend that were taken of an amazingly beautiful depiction of Christ carrying the cross to Calvary just above my desk. There is so much for me in those two shots - the story behind them - what they represent - how that, in a very small way, is the model with which I should approach this transition and time in seminary. I'm glad these are over my desk - they remind me what all the "work" that I'll do seated here is supposed to be about - discovering, willingly walking, the road I find before me...searching for my God, which in turn will lead me to a place and a way that I can give the best I've got - and what is needed of me - to all those I encounter. THAT'S what "being in the seminary" is supposed to bring me to, isn't it?

Yada, yada, yada... ever notice I get off on tangents and "talk way too much"? :-) What I'm really saying is that I'm here, moved in, the only thing left to unpack is the coffee maker, the printer, and the CDs - and I haven't run home with my tail between my legs. Yet. ;-)

More later about the prayer thing...I've got to get some sleep. It's midnight-thirty, and morning prayer is early. Thanks to all of you who have sent me emails, phoned to express your support, and who I know are praying with and for me. I'm so overwhelmed by your generousity of spirit - and it may take me a week or two to get back with you to thank you personally. I hope you find your way here to read my thanks...and that you'll know my not getting right back to you immediately in person is just a function of there being so many of you reaching out to me. Thank you, again, so much. I'm humbled. It helps more than you'll ever know.

One final note - to my beloved family. You are truly a blessing without which I could not have comprehended the idea of sitting where I sit this minute. My love for you - all of you - is beyond measure. I don't know where this crazy road I'm on will lead, but I know I couldn't have taken any of the first steps without you. You are now, and will be forever, in my heart. Thank you - Gammaw, Mom & Dad - for everything.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Ever Notice How...

...things sometimes just don't seem to work out "the right way"? I have a friend who often encourages me in times like this: 'Sometimes its a matter of our will vs. God's will; one of them is perfect, the other...not so much.' Well, the last part of that is a paraphrase, but you get the drift.

All of the arrangements are in place, I thought. All the "things left doing" were doable, I thought. I'm smiling even as I write this. Things don't always work on our schedule, according to our plans. And - particularly given my entrance into the seminary in just two days - perhaps its a good lesson to have right in front of my eyes. I sense there's a lot more "surrender" to come in seminary formation. I trust I can find the balance to "surrender" without "giving up" - because they are two very different things. With one, we stop fighting against the wind. With the other, we stop doing anything.

Father... help me to surrender to Your will. Help me trust that, when situations don't proceed as smoothly as I'd thought they would, they will and are Your time and in Your way. Help me to remain open to Your leading, depending on You, and listening for lessons and opportunities for growth, rather than becoming defensive and scared. And when the chips are down, help me to put one step in front of the other, do the next right thing, and trust the outcomes to Your Divine Providence. Amen.

We hardly ever know what's going to be around the corner we're planning to turn... sometimes, we're even surprised before we get there.

Peace be with you...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


...sometimes when I try to figure out what to share with others about something, I'm speechless. Which, for me, is a RARE occurance. But, in trying to figure out how to 'put together' what I experienced on the road trip around the diocese...well, "Wow" is about as far as I can seem to get.

The people are amazing. And I'm including a lot of folks in that. The families who welcomed us into their homes. The parish communities who came out to visit with us, and share a meal with us. So much encouragement. So much laughter. So many smiles.

And then there's the people that our mountain parishes serve outside the "Catholic communities" there. We didn't meet many of them directly. We saw some from a distance. Others we met only briefly. There are many challenges and struggles in the Appalachain regions of eastern Kentucky. Poverty. Education. Addiction. Homelessness. And I'm impressed that serving their needs is a priority among those I met ministering in this area...regardless of whether or not they 'become Catholic'.

Lexington is - was created to be - and hopefully will continue to be true to its identity as - a mission diocese. This comforts me - and it challenges me. It comforts me to know that the Church in this area has a specific identity as reaching out to the poor. It comforts me to know that the Church in this area is committed to its ministry even though Catholics are in a distinct minority. It challenges me at the same time. Do I have what it takes to labor in this field? To remember that ministry is...often times required beyond the walls of the church...often times requires no words. Do I have what it takes to be a man of action, of service, of physical labor when its required...not just a man of prayer, and leadership, and meetings. I want to be the kind of man - the kind of priest - who can and happily will do both.

Wow...I've got a lot of learning to do. A lot of re-shaping. (Physically... emotionally perhaps... spiritually for sure...) I suppose that's why the time in seminary isn't referred to as "study", but as "formation".

And - my brother seminarians - WOW about them, too. We're as diverse a group of guys as I can imagine. Different ages. Different backgrounds. From different countries and cultures. Some (like me) a bit 'liberal'. Some a bit 'conservative'. But, as I reflect on the differences, I'm struck by the fact that the differences are dwarfed by some powerful similarities. We all want to serve others. We all think we're called to a Holy Priesthood, and are willing to follow a path designed to help us hear better if that call is there. We all love one another. Isn't that amazing?!?! I mean, I really could see and feel it tangibly. Love. Care. Prayer for one another. Support and encouragement for one another.

Heck... I'm a guy that could easily get on anyone's nerves quickly enough. And yet - I was treated with compassion, comraderie, care, encouragement, and welcome. And, I noticed I genuinely wanted to treat the other guys the same way.

What sets us apart from one another is truly eclipsed by what draws us together. And that's cool.

See...I've already written too much, and I've not said much of anything. That's why "Wow" is about as close as I can get. I'm just intensely grateful for this trip, the timing of it in my journey - though it in many ways created as many challenges for my next steps on the path as it did energize me.

If I keep writing, I'll not say anything else more clearly, and still not convey adequately the depth of the experience, so I'll stop for now.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Road Tripping...

Well, I'm off! (Some of you already knew that about me, though, didn't you?) What I mean THIS time is I'm off on the "Rock the Collar" tour of the Lexington diocese with my brother seminarians. I'll probably be away from a computer for the next week or so while I'm travelling with the group - though if I find a kind pastor with Internet access, I'd love to give you "live updates from the road".

What is "Rock the Collar"? It's a holy trip with some great purposes. 9 of us who are entering for the first time (like me) or returning to seminary from our diocese are piling in a Dodge Durango and visiting parishes throughout our diocese. Each evening we'll arrive at a new parish and spend the night with host families from that parish. The next morning we'll meet up with the pastor and spend the day with him however he chooses. (Goal #1 - Get to know the priests in our diocese - one day, Lord willing, we'll be serving right along with them.)

Sometime during the day we'll celebrate mass together, and spend a hour in Eucharistic Adoration. We're also going to be praying Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer together. (Goal #2 - Pray together. Goal #3 - Have some time "apart" for prayer and reflection before school starts.)

As the afternoon draws on, we'll gather with the whole parish community to share a meal, introduce ourselves, and share our vocation stories. (Goal #4 - Get to know the parish communities our diocese serves, and let them get to know us. Goal #5 - Promote vocations by sharing what God has - and is - doing in our lives.)

This has "reality show" written all over it. I tried to convince the vocations office to wire up the Durango with cameras. If they did "God or the Girl" - they could make "Holy Roadtrip, Batman" or something. I KNOW it would be a hit.

Anyway - keep my fellow seminarians and myself in your prayers this next week. The toxic smell from the back seat on any roadtrip could wipe anyone out... Just kidding. We appreciate your prayers for safe travel, for bonding together, and for carrying a message throughout our diocese.

See you in a week or so!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Tagged Again...8 Things About Me

I've been tagged again by Vito at "The Long Road to the Priesthood". This time, the challenge is to share 8 facts or habits about myself. Here are the rules:

"The rules are simple…Each player lists 8 facts/habits about themselves. The rules of the game are posted at the beginning before those facts/habits are listed. At the end of the post, the player then tags 8 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know that they have been tagged and asking them to read your blog."

So, here goes:

1. I'm a smoker.
About a pack a day. (I know...I know. It's times like this I LOVE that Jesus said, "Let him who has no sin cast the first stone." LOL) My guess is that, with my move to seminary - which doesn't allow smoking inside - and with a much reduced income and smokes $3+ per pack, this will be reduced. OK - enough rationalizing. The rules should have said, "And no excuses or rationalizing".

2. I'm actively involved in a 12-step program.
The one I'm involved in is for family & friends of those who struggle with addiction called NarAnon, very similar to AlAnon. Anonymity is important - suffice it to say the person's who's struggles with addiction first brought me to this group aren't my parents or my grandmother. The real point is, it wasn't their addiction that led to my struggle - it was my reaction to it. So who brought me there is not relevant. I'm forever grateful for the 12 steps, what its taught me about life and walking with the God of my understanding. Without the spiritual awakening that took place in my life as a result of the program, I don't know that I'd be where I am today.

3. I designed (heh..past tense...more lasts) web-based software for a living.
I conceptualized them, worked with our clients to conceive of the application's requirements, interfaces, and underlying data structures. I also managed the development & implementation projects, and handled ongoing troubleshooting & development. I loved my job, I'm good at it - and I'll miss it.

4. I LOVE music.
I've posted about it before here and here. Music connects me with deeper feelings, reminds me of great experiences, transports me, lifts me. I can't remember ever a time of being far away from music - and can't imagine it. I can't sing all that good, but that doesn't keep me from letting it belt out while I'm driving down the road.

5. I'm (sorta') an only child.
My mother and father were apart from the time I was born until I was 10 or so. They re-united, and I have three half-brothers and a half-sister. In very many ways I'm an only child. But, with that, I have some of the "good stuff" of having siblings - mom & dad have grandchildren even though I'm entering seminary and may enter the clerical state. I need to, and want to, work on my relationship with my brothers & sister in the coming years.

6. I cry.
Yep - guys do cry. And I'm one of them. Sometimes during movies, even. LOL. I am often moved to tears during what are for me intense spiritual "encounters". Sometimes during prayer. Often - very often - during mass. I've come to be pleased that I can cry when I want to - its much better than playing "macho" and trying to bottle it all up.

7. I'm still very close to 2 High School friends.
Up 'til my move later this month, its been common for me to see and or talk to one or both of them several times each week. I'm going to miss them nearly as much as my family when I move.

8. I LOVE to cook.
Try new recipes. Experiment without a recipe. Cooking for myself or for others. I suppose I could have said, "I love food" instead, but that would betray too much about my rotund figure - heh - but it comes from that same place. Food is just neat to work with - and so is serving something interesting...either to myself or to others.

OK...there's my list. Now I'm supposed to tag 8 other people who blog. I wish I could tag some folks who don't blog but who read mine... maybe I'll do that sometime. But for now, I'll try to stick to the rules. I tag:

1. Ryan at A Jesuit's Journey
2. Gashwin at Maior autem his est caritas
3. Keith at Just a Guy From Jersey
4. Fr. Noel at Beneath the Same Sheltering Sky
5. Fr. Martin at Bonfire of the Vanities
6. All the guys at Cincinnati Seminarian's Blog
7. Jeff at Life is a
8. Patrick at Veritas nunquam perit

OK guys... you're tagged - the rest is up to you!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Moments of Complete Surrender... an airplane charging the runway to take off... the apex of the rollercoaster's first hill...
...liftoff of a space shuttle when you're an astronaut...

As I was driving to work this morning, I was listening to a news story about the successful launch of the space shuttle, carrying a teacher among its crew. I was reflecting on the tragedy years back when the space shuttle carrying who was to be the first teacher in space exploded. I was in a classroom back then - watching on TV just disappeared. I began to think of how those seconds & minutes just prior to ignition must have felt for today's "teacher in space" - indeed for all of the crew members.

You're strapped in - months of preparation leave you feeling as confident as you can that you're doing what you're supposed to be doing, and that everyone around you is doing what they're supposed to be doing. The door is bolted shut - the ground crew gives that final thumbs up - hopefully with a smile. You take a deep breath.

There's a few seconds, even after the countdown begins, while the crew member is still there - can still see you - before the rocket engines begin to fire... if you're not going along for the ride, it's time. A few more seconds, and it won't matter how much you want off - it won't matter how much those around you want to help you get off...just a few more seconds and it won't make any difference.

...3 ....2 ....1 ....

In that moment - complete surrender. You're riding this thing to outer space. Getting out, staying on planet earth are no longer an option. The engines have ignited - momentum is building - gravity is losing its hold on you... even though you've not moved an inch yet. Fears of what may happen may enter your mind - but you've no choice but to move through them.

I wonder if our astronauts begin to catalog the things they wonder if they've taken care of - or question whether they've taken care of them adequately. Did I turn the toaster off? Will the kids eat their vegetables while I'm gone? Is the mortgage paid? Did I go to the bathroom? OK to make the list I guess... but no matter what you determine in the process, at least for the next several minutes there's nothing you can do about it. My guess is that Ground Control, no matter how accomodating they are, is busy during lift off. Maybe once you get in orbit they'll check on the toaster for you... but for now... it's total surrender.

What will be will be. God is in charge. We've all done the best we can do to prepare - now its time to go. Now its time to do. If corrections need to be made along the way, we'll do that - but we're committed...

...and we have liftoff.

I realized, driving to work this morning - next to my last day in the job I've held for 12 years... less than three weeks until entering the seminary... I'm sitting on the launch pad. I'm strapped in. Taking deep breaths. Going through my pre-flight checklist. If something critical were to happen, I could still climb out of the cockpit. The moment of TOTAL surrender isn't here yet. The engines aren't yet firing.

...but, my guess is if you're an astronaut, by the time you're strapped in and the boosters are fueling, it would have to be something really, really big - not just passing fear or anxiety - before you'd raise your hand and say, "Um.. thanks anyway, I think I want off." Yeah... me too.

T minus 15 days and counting. God, come to my assistance. Lord, make haste to help me. I'm ready, I think.

Did I mention I don't like roller coasters? lol

Monday, August 6, 2007

...unite all Your children...

The blogsphere these days is rampant with discussion on the recent Vatican document that provided some "clarification" on words, terms, and issues related to Christianity beyond Catholicism. I have to admit, I've had to read and re-read, counsel with wise and trusted guides on this journey, and pray with the document. That's a good thing, I've discovered. It is evidence of God living and working in my life.

Those who don't know me may not know that divisions in the "body of Christ" in our world, in our time, was what first opened my awareness to God's calling in my life to Catholicism. I'm sure at some point in my blogging life that will come out in more detail. For now, suffice it to say that this is "important stuff" to me. From my early teen years, finding how to contribute "my part" to unity among believers, finding how to embrace Christian brothers and sisters in appropriate ways, and being heart-broken at the divisions among Christians has been my portion. I'm both grateful for it, and at times lament it. It's like the pain of a child over a broken family. I can only imagine what the divisions must do to Christ Himself, who allowed His body to be broken so that we could find unity with Him in God... and among one another.

ANWAY... I was reminded this weekend that MY portion - MY effort in this, at least includes sharing, expressing, and enjoying whatever measure of unity among Christians can be ours in the here and now. And man, was I ever BLESSED in that reminder, and the experience.

I was raised for most of my life in the Cramer & Hanover Church of Christ in Lexington. My family are still members of that church - and as I've shared before, it still in many ways feels like "home". I'd wanted to take a time to set aside and thank them for all they've meant to my life personally, to my spiritual walk, all they mean to my family... to thank them for loving and tending to a young lamb like me... and to ask their prayers as I pursue God's calling for my life. Yesterday, we met for a couple of hours to share a meal, fellowship together, and ... live out the measure of unity in Christ we share today. We may not be able to break bread at God's altar together, we may not agree on many fine points of doctrine - there is much, perhaps, that is not "united". But - if we're not careful, we'll overlook - I'll overlook - that there is much that IS united. If nothing more than our hearts & minds in trying to serve our One True God, His Son, and follow His Spirit. And, as our shared fellowship and meal proves, we can reach across what divides us to pray with and for one another, encourage one another, LOVE one another, and see Christ in one another.

Later that afternoon, I was praying at mass. It had been a wonderful day - my sister (who's moving half way across the country soon) came to visit so mom & dad could get to spend some time with the grandkids (who are, dare I say, ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS!!!). In short, God was smiling on me all day. And then, He smiled on me even more brightly, and broke my heart in the tenderest and most amazing way. During the (for me) holiest part of the Holy Sacrafice of the Mass, as we are literally on our knees before the altar of God on which is presented Christ Himself broken for us, the priest - with and for us all - prayed these words:

In mercy and love unite all your children wherever they may be. Welcome into your kingdom our departed brothers and sisters, and all who have left this world in your friendship. We hope to enjoy for ever the vision of your glory, through Christ our Lord, from whom all good things come.

And, as the tears streamed down my face - in awe, and wonder, I once again surrendered the lack of perfect unity among followers of Christ to the only One who can address it - the only One who knows and understands - the One for whom we all, in some way or another, long.

Dona nobis pacem.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Welcome Christ the King Family!!!

A few weeks ago, I was asked to share some of my vocations story for our parish newsletter. Along with what I wrote, I provided the newsletter editor a link to my blog. I wanted to invite my parish family - the Cathedral of Christ the King in Lexington - to share in this journey with me as well as my other family and friends.

My copy of the newsletter arrived in the mail today - and my "article" along with the link was in this month's issue. SOOO.... to any new visitors from CTK - WELCOME! Pray for me, as I remember you in my prayer as well.

And if you don't have it on your calendars yet - remember the incredible opportunity to meet ALL our seminarians for the diocese on Sunday, August 19, from 2 - 4 pm at the Cathedral for the conclusion to our "Rock the Collar" road trip! It will be a GREAT time - Bishop Gainer will be there as well speaking on vocations in our diocese.

...more to come on the craziest road trip ever conceived.... take a bunch of seminarians, cram 'em in an SUV for 10 days, and criss-cross our corner of the state of Kentucky. I'm SO EXCITED!!! I'll have a chance to get to know my fellow seminarians better - get to know the priests of our diocese better - and remember that "strange smell" that always seems to come from the back seat on road trips. (Am I the ONLY one who remembers National Lampoon's Vacation?)

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

I Hate Lasts...

So far this week, I've given my "official" two week's notice at work, had my last meeting with my spiritual director, and my last meeting of a ministry group I've been actively involved in for the last two years at church. In the month prior to this, I've spent my last night in my home, had my last Saturday morning "made to order breakfast" at my Gammaw's house, scratched my kitty on the head for the last time, cooked my last meal in MY kitchen, met for the last time with two long-time clients in my job...

...and that's just right off the top of my head. If I were to sit and think about it for another ten minutes I could fill an entire post with just listing my "lasts". But that would be more depressing than I even want to attempt.

I hate lasts. I hate goodbyes. I really, really, REALLY dislike change. I was sharing with some friends tonight that I'd gladly keep bringing "firsts" into my life forever... if only I could just "give up" any "lasts". (My sense of humor is quirky... I was just thinking the only "last" I'd ever really enjoy is my last last.)

The difficulty with some big changes in life is that there can be a overabundance of lasts all at once. Emotionally, I feel like I did 12 years ago when I graduated college. It seemed like my WHOLE WORLD was "last" something. And I hated it. It made me sad. It wasn't "bad" per se. But... I wasn't yet across the bridge from all those "lasts" to begin experiencing any firsts to balance it out.

It's very much like this right now... and has been for more than a month. Actually, I think it started for me at Christmas time when I realized I was probably decorating my house for the last time for Christmas. Seven months of lasts... and now a marathon of them for the next three weeks - before any "firsts".

It's hard. That's all. Just hard. OK. But hard. It will get easier when the "firsts" begin to come. And, I AM looking forward to them. First night at the seminary. First class. First mass at the seminary chapel as a seminarian. First meeting with my new spiritual director. And... I'm sure the firsts will create some anxiety. (First test?!?!?! I haven't taken a test in 12 years! First paper?!?!?! Someone hasn't critiqued my writing in forever.) But, with firsts I'm able to connect with the sense of life moving on. Living. Today, all I'm experiencing are chapters closing.

A wonderful woman shared a prayer card with me tonight as our meeting closed. She said it had just happened to be in her purse today - and she wasn't sure why. As I was sharing tonight, she began to think maybe sharing it with me was why. It was just what I needed. (THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!)

For all who are moving through a season of change, of lasts...

Lord, be our guide and our protector
on the journey we are about to take.
Watch over us and preserve us from all accidents,
keep us free from harm to body and soul.

Lord, support us with Your grace when we are tired.
Helps us be patient in any trouble which might come our way.

Keep us always mindful of Your presence and love. Amen.

Monday, July 23, 2007

I've Never Liked Roller Coasters... fact, I don't think I've ever been on one. The one trip I can remember to an amusement part as I child, I got on one of the rides with my Aunt Sherril. And no sooner had it started, than I began to scream bloody murder. I don't know if its something about the out of control sensation, perhaps my fear of heights - I'm not sure what it is. The closest thing I've ever experienced to a roller coaster is those "virtual coasters" you can ride - where you get in, and they play a movie all around you and move the seats you're in to match the movie. But even in those, when it "gets too much" you can close your eyes...and the sensations diminish.

I have many friends who LOVE roller coasters. And they describe the sensation as one of intense fear and excitement at the same time. I always thought that was bunk - there's no WAY to feel both fear and excitement in the same measure at once, I thought. It must not really be fear they were feeling. And...even if it WERE possible to feels those sensations at once - there's no WAY that could be an enjoyable thing. I mean, if you did it once - and that's the way you felt - there'd be no WAY you'd want to do that again. Certainly not spending loads of money and waiting in line just to be terrified matter how exciting it was for you.

Well...I still don't like roller coasters - don't know that I'll ever get on one. But I gotta' tell ya' - in these last few weeks I've come to believe what it is others tell me they like about them. Fear & excitement all at the same time...and experiencing that in a context of enjoyment. That's very much the emotions that are prevailing all day every day for me these last weeks.

When I first began to pack up the house - sort through those things I wanted to keep, and those things I couldn't take with me to school. As I began to go through the emotional and physical process of letting go...letting go of material possessions, letting go of my pet of 10 years - the most amazing cat I've ever known, letting go of the freedom and secuirty of my home, beginning to feel the letting go of financial security of having a good job... well, it all feels like riding a roller coaster. I'm terrified in many ways...and yet excited in many ways...all at the same time.

Letting go isn't easy. The physical and emotional effort that's involved is taxing, its hard. I'm not really sure I can explain how I've been able to do it. There have been many tasks - throwing away memoribilia that I can no longer find a way to keep, taking Smokey (my cat) to the Humane Society, loading up the car and hugging my grandmother for the last time as a neighbor. I'm not sure how I did these things. As I approached and moved through each of those events, all I could think was, "There's no way I can do this. It's not possible. I just don't have it in me to do this." And yet - somehow - some way - I did. (Talk about evidence of God's grace...I mean, I KNOW the strength to do these things did NOT come from within me.)

And yet - even through all of the fear and difficulty of those things - there is right along with it a growing excitement. No - I'm not excited about having to do and experience those things. Most of them make me very sad. But I AM excited about where this path is going. I AM excited about beginning this new phase of my life...embarking on this adventure. That's what it feels like - an adventure. I have no way of knowing for sure where it will lead. It's possible that a year away at seminary will lead away from the ordained priesthood instead of toward it. But - the ADVENTURE - well, it IS exciting.

So, I have a new found appreciation for those that like riding roller coasters. Don't get me wrong - I have no intention of getting on one any time soon. But, for perhaps the first time in my life, I have an appreciation for what that experience offers to so many. There is something OK - something even enjoyable perhaps - about being utterly terrified and excited at the same time. I don't know that I understand it completely. But my sense is that there's an "X-factor" in the mix somewhere that allows it to be enjoyable. I don't know about the roller coasters...but for me, I must accept that x-factor as God's love, presence, strength and friendship. I only hope all those around me, for whom this adventure of mine is creating change, and fear, and sadness, and loss...I only hope for them that the same sense of excitement, or at least peace and presence of God, finds its way to them through it all.

Friday, July 20, 2007

I Been Tagged....Why I Love Jesus...

OK - I'm still new to this blogging game. Couple of months ago, I posted my response to the iPod Shuffle Challenge - its something I discovered in the blogsphere (uh...from the way I've read it, this means "blog universe"). I've read about getting "tagged" too. Sometimes specific people are tagged - to share answers to a common question, for example, on their website. Another blogger in the blogsphere might comment or email to tag someone - and they might respond on my blog. Another way it works is that someone "tags you" just by reading their blog - as happened in this case. I have to admit - I've been tagged in this way before (anonymously, so to speak). And, maybe I'm a cheater because, though I've been tagged, I've never done anything.

But... what fun is that? I mean, when we played tag as kids, how much fun would it be if I just said - "Um... nope." when you tagged me?!?!?! So - today I'll play along. And - if you're reading this - consider yourself TAGGED. (If you don't have a blog yourself - publish your answer in the comments.)

Why do I Love Jesus?

  1. He's "big enough" and "bad enough" to love me - even when I'm unlovable.

  2. He turned water into wine at a party, fed strangers when they were hungry, did what was right without telling everyone about it all the time, and still found time to hang out with his family & friends .... (wow - what a model for a good priest!)

  3. He didn't pay attention to who the "authorities" (civil, religious) believed to be dirty, beyond help, or not worth it. Well - that's not true. He paid GOOD attention to it...

  4. He invited his friend to walk on the water with him, didn't laugh at - scream at - or ignore him when he fell in, helped him out of the water and back to the boat, and didn't hold it against him.

  5. There are many people who have sacraficed in their life for me - and love them all very much. (Mom, Dad, Grammaw, John & DeeDee, Vernon & Pauline, Victor & Mae, Mr. Miller ... OK - can't write the whole list...) So - doesn't it make sense that I - too - love the One who not only sacraficed IN life for me... but WITH life?

Go ahead - play along. TAG!

An Open Letter to My Lord & My God...

I can count a million times that people have asked me how I can praise You with all that I've gone through. The question just amazes me! Can circumstances possibly change who I forever am in You?

Maybe since my life was changed - long before any rainy days - it's never really ever crossed my mind to turn my back on you, my Lord... my only shelter from the storm. Instead I try to draw closer to You through these times. I am yours regardless of the clouds that may loom above because you are much greater than my pain. You who made a way for me, suffering Your destiny. I mean... whats a little rain?

So I pray: Bring me joy, bring me peace. Bring the chance to be free. Yes - please bring me these. Bring me anything that brings You glory! Still - I know there'll be days when this life brings me pain. But if that's what it takes to praise You... Jesus, bring the rain. Bring me anything that brings You glory.

You know - my experience doesn't always match what's above. I wish it did.

There have been a million ways I've said, "Bring the rain." I have to admit - there was a time just about three years ago, when it sounded a lot more like... "OK big shot! You think you're so good? You think You've got everything under control? Tell you what! BRING IT ON! I DARE YOU!!!"

I know... not an attitude that one would imagine from someone who's about to enter the seminary, huh? Thing was... at the time, that's how I felt. When I looked around - from the middle of the storm - well, it seemed like God was hurting so many people that I loved. Seemed like He wasn't doing anything to help them. Seemed like He wasn't doing such a good job of loving this creation of His.

And in all my arrogance - I stood on the edge of my existence and consciousness and said "Bring it on!" I was ready for a noon-day showdown with God. In my arrogance, I wanted Him to come account for Himself.

I don't know how this works out theologically... all I know is my experience. Something miraculous happened when I let God into the place where I really was... when I shared with Him all that I was thinking and feeling... even the parts that weren't "a good little boy" thinking in "all the right ways". God did come. Right there. To all those places of dark, and doubt, and pain, and struggle. Right there - where all the anger and frustration toward Him was living. Right there - where I was wandering in the storm... lost, and cold, and afraid. Right there. When I came before God and took off all the masks, stopped "performing", and just 'was' - God loved me.

The "letter" at the top of this post isn't my writing. You might have guessed it - its the lyrics to a song. Sometimes, as I've shared before, a song captures all that's in my heart better than I can. (Just click the image below to play the song.)

The song is beautiful. They lyrics are beautiful. They bring me tears - of joy, of humility, of love. They capture what I want to be my posture toward God. And - I've found that since that time I dared to say "Bring it on..." - well, I've found that since then, my heart is closer to seeing and feeling a different way of saying "Bring the rain." It's no longer a challenge - no longer from a place or arrogance. Today, its from a place of love. Today, I say (as best I can) - bring me joy, bring me peace. Bring the chance to be free. I know there will be days when this life brings me pain - and when that's what it takes to praise You... oh Jesus... bring the rain.