Saturday, June 28, 2008

On the Stove Again...

...I Just Can't Wait to Get On The Stove Again...

OK - that's not how Willie Nelson sang it - but when I moved here to the rectory for my summer in Pikeville, one of the things I was most excited about was the chance to cook again. Don't get me wrong, I'm so VERY grateful for the dining room situation at seminary. When I'm struggling with papers, or reading, or even just 'tons of stuff to do' at seminary, its nice to not have to think about what to eat. Just showing up at mealtime is very nice. But I do love to cook, and I miss it some.

Anyway, I've been cooking for Fr. Wil and myself and really enjoying it; and I didn't let up while he's been gone. Earlier in the week I was talking with Mom on the phone; she's often sharing new recipes she's discovered with me. Two of them she shared were very interesting, and I thought I'd give one a try.

Now... I should be honest - sharing a recipe most often includes having it read to us, but not necessarily writing it down. I've always sorta' thought of recipes as 'guidelines' rather than rules. (You know, like Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean...) So I always modify and tinker, maybe replace something with what might sound better to me. So, the recipe is just getting the general idea of what the creator was after, and then in the cooking, I sorta' make it my own. *shrug* It's more fun this way.

Anyway, mom - this entry is for you! Check out what I had for dinner last night!!!

Sacramental Oils

Each year, bishops in the Catholic church bless oils that will be used by every parish in their diocese throughout the year for the various sacraments. There is the Oil of the Catechumen, Oil of the Sick, and Sacred Chrism. These oils are used in many of the Church's sacraments, including baptism & confirmation, annointing of the sick, and calling to Holy Orders. (If you're interested in reading more about the Chrism Mass and/or the oils, check out these two links: Chrism Mass Bulletin Insert; Chrism Wikipedia Article.) Though different Christian denominations may not practice blessing or use of oils in the same way, scriptural references to "annointing" should not be foreign - and it is easy to understand (even for those who don't practice it) a Christian community reflecting practices of annointing due to its prominent place in the Old and New Testaments.

But - I digress. (Who? Me? Digress? NO WAY!!!)

Because the Chrism Mass is celebrated each year, a replenished supply of sacramental oils is provided by the ministry of the Church through the Bishop each year, and unused oils from previous years are to be consumed - typically by fire. I don't know the theology of it - but somewhere inside it seems to resonate with the idea of trusting God today for what we need today. We are not a people that need to hoard - God will provide. (But - as I said, I don't know that for a fact....)

Anyway, while Fr. Wil has been away on vacation, he asked me to consume the previous year's holy oils. Looking for guidance online, I discovered ways to burn the oil - but it didn't seem right to me to just light the fire, like I was burning trash. *shrug* Just me, I guess. Anyway, I wrote the following prayer that I said each time as I lit the fire to consume the oils - it felt more appropriate to me to offer some sort of prayer, and the exercise in considering what might be included in this prayer deepened my appreciation for what God is doing in the sacramental life of the Church and the person when the oils are used. (That may be a lesson for the future - if I need to deepen my experience of something, I could try to write an appropriate prayer related to it... hrm....)

Anyway - here's the prayer I wrote:

Father, for love of Your people, You give the Church sacraments to strengthen us in our journey toward You. Through the ministry of Your bishops, you transform everyday oils into Holy matter through which Your priests welcome us, Your children, into Your Church, confirm Your calling in our lives, strengthen us through illness, and guide us always to You. We praise and thank You for such provident care.

Each year, You provide for our family of faith a renewed store of these Holy oils as our local Church celebrates Your continuing care for us, and seeks the blessing of the Holy Spirit on the ministry offered through these sacramental oils. Today, we celebrate this continual care for us as we consume oils from previous years with fire – confident that we will never be lacking in what we need for our journeys.

Accept this as an offering of praise for this care. As we return these oils to You by fire, we ask the same Holy Spirit that once came in fire to anoint your Church at Pentecost to strengthen all those who have been blessed through the imposition of these oils in times past. Bring them all, and us, into the light of Your presence.

We pray this through our Lord, Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reins with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Friday, June 27, 2008

It's Stupid and Petty, I Know... But...

...I LOVE my jeans. One of the things I loved most about the job I held for 12 years before going to seminary was the freedom to work in a professional context where bluejeans were acceptable. And crocs. And - OH MY GOSH - can you believe it? Even the occasional untucked shirt.

Today, we received an email from the new administration at St. Meinrad outlawing jeans. ARGH!!! What? You mean its possible to look professional, be taken seriously, be considered by others to be 'dressed appropriately' in bluejeans and an untucked shirt? Uh - YEAH! Welcome to the year 2008 (about ten years late...)!

But, you are being formed for the priesthood...the standards are different. Yes, I agree 100%. The standards ARE different. But WHICH standards. Could it be we spend so much time focusing on the externals that the internals are slipping? Could is POSSIBLY be that a life steeped in prayer, genuine love for the people of God, prayerful preparation for liturgy, a genuine availability to the flock he tends - could it possibly be that these things are more important to a man's ministry as a priest than whether or not he is DRESSED APPROPRIATELY?!?!?!!

Not to mention that from personal experience, the most effective ministry I've received from the priests in my life has most often come when they WEREN'T in 'chapel dress'. Eye to eye, person to person, priest (who is a 'real person' called to the vocation of priesthood, but a real person who - GASP - wears bluejeans) to parishoner...

Case in point: Fr. Wil (my supervising pastor for the summer assignment here in Pikeville) wears a clerical shirt for masses. Period. The rest of the time he dresses casual - and the people appreciate it. And so do I.

OK - I'm done ranting. Truth is, I love St. Meinrad - and I hate change. I'm intensely insecure about the complete transformation of the administration there. Not only is there a new Rector - but almost all of the administration and formation staff have changed in one broad reaching swoop. And that makes me nervous, because I wonder if the St. Meinrad I've come to love will be there when I return from the summer. And (did I mention it??) I hate change.

So...even something 'simple' like "No more jeans" freaks me out a little.


...THIS must be why I need five more years (at least) of formation before I could even consider seeking ordination. ARG!! Pray for me folks.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Square Ministry

Ministry in the mountains is, as I said in a previous post, a bit different than I imagined. That doesn't mean it doesn't have its surprises. Last Thursday after morning mass was over and I'd settled down with a good book for the morning...

Random thought that has nothing to do with this post here...
I'm enjoying some of my extra free time over the sumer reading the Kay Scarpetta novels written by Patricia Cornwell that have come out in the last several years. I LOVE this series - Cornwell writes books that - in my opinion - catch you from the moment you begin. A former girlfriend of mine in college got me started on reading Cornwell, and I've remained a big fan. I got a little frustrated when 'The Last Precinct' came out, and then Cornwell wrote several other novels without the Scarpetta character who is - by far - my favorite contemporary fiction heroine. Anyway...I discovered when visiting the Pikeville library that there are several Scarpetta novels out since I last read Cornwell. I've read one already (plus two Grisham books that were good, too), and I'm into my second - and have another checked out ready to go.

...and now we return you to the regularly scheduled blog...
...already in progress...

when Fr. Wil comes outside and says, "Today, you're going to learn one of the most important skills in Mountain ministry. We're going to call SQUARE DANCING for a group of kids having camp in Campton."

As you could image, I almost dropped my teeth (except that, thank God, I don't have dentures that I could have dropped.) Though the drive up to Campton was long, the kids there had a great time (and Fr. Wil had as much - if not more - fun than they did).

Fr. Wil having (more?) fun warming up himself before we get started.

And as I remembered during the Smoky Camping trip (I think I'd learned it long before - but it just isn't always present to mind), if the kids are having fun, it's all worth it. So - I've been initiated into one of the 'most important skills for mountain ministry':

Fr. Wil calls the Virginia Reel while Sr. Amy looks on.

Father warms 'em up with a line dance.

The Virginia Reel is always a big hit.

Monday, June 23, 2008

My Home for the Summer...

Things in Pikeville have been much, much quieter and slower than I had anticipated. 'Great expectations' are to blame, I think. I had imagined so much (more? that's probably not the right word... I think I imagined so much different work being done), because Fr. Will is the only priest in the whole county, covering the Pikeville parish as well as two missions. As it turns out, most days seem very slow to me, with just one or two things to accomplish for the whole day.

I'm strugging a bit with this - and praying with it. What lesson does God have for me in this? I suppose, as so often before, there are the common lessons I can always use reminding of: God is more concerned with who we are, how we are, and our relationship with Him than what we DO. BEing is so much more important than DOing. I suppose also there's a real message in dropping our expectations and preconceived notions about how we'll serve Him - and instead remaining open to what (and where, and how) he puts whatever ministry in front of us that will serve Him. After all, this kind of surrender, this kind of letting go and getting out of the way, is important to making sure that we're following God's agenda for ministry, and not our own. Pray with me about this, my friends. One of my biggest shortcomings is an inability to effectively cope well with nothing to do.

Still, I have to say, the people and places of Pike County are amazing. The parish family here have welcomed me very warmly. And I've been invited into many homes. I enjoy so much those times I'm able to visit folks who are recouperating in the hospital or unable to get out much - either bringing communion to them, or just spending some time with them offering some encouragement and prayer. I also enjoy the quiet moments of prayer here at the rectory with a good view of the eastern Kentucky mountains. I pray Morning and Evening Prayer most days with this view in sight.

Here are also some pictures of the parish church in downtown Pikeville... including one showing Fr. Wil preparing for mass.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Survived Camping Trip

Some of you have been wondering whether or not I survived the camping trip. Well I did - and I had a good time, too. Even got into the water, believe it or not. There were about 50 or so kids, but plenty of adults on hand to make it run very smoothly. Jeff Estacio (another seminarian from my diocese) was also there. All in all, I survived it - and have another experience to talk about. :-)

We arrived there Monday of last week right after lunch, and left Thursday just before lunch. During the days, we took the kids hiking in Deep Creek park (on the North Carolina side of Great Smoky Mountain National Park) - and also took them tubing down Deep Creek which runs through the camp ground. I went tubing only one day - it was enjoyable for the most part, but shallow parts on some of the runs meant by oversize rear end got stuck quite a bit - and I didn't really enjoy walking down the river carrying the innertube. LOL. Then there were the creepy crawly friends along the river. I'm not scare of many critters except those without legs that crawl (and SWIM!!!) on their bellies. So, I only tubed the first day.

The highlight of the week for me was "camp mass" that Fr. Will and Fr. John celebrated for us right there in the campground. A more beautiful cathedral would be hard to find - and the kids really seemed to enjoy it as well. In some ways, it reminded me of my own very, VERY fond memories of Church camp when I was much younger.

Here are some pictures... more later this week on how I'm passing my time here in Pikeville.

Fr. Will making his world famous pancakes on Tuesday morning.

Alan with some campers playing "Speed" - a great card game - or a new one that the kids taught Alan called "Egyptian Rat Slap"! GREAT FUN! You can see one of the campers from here in Pikeville - Thomas - making MOOSE EARS behind my head in this photo.

Fr. Will and Fr. John celebrate mass at our campsite.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

God Wants Our LOVE More Than Our Sacrifice

As part of my formation goal for the coming year, I'm trying to develop a sustainable priestly spirituality. Based on the recommendation early last year of Fr. Ron Knott, a member of our formation staff on loan from the Archdiocese of Louisville, my goal includes beignning a prayerful reflection each Monday on the coming Sunday's readings. My goal is to reflect on the readings each and every week as the week unfolds. In addition to that, twice a month or so I will practice writing a homily-like reflection. My hope is that this practice deepens my spiritual journey of discernment and formation by helping me listen more closely as God speaks to me and the community (communities??) I'm a part of... and also that I practice trying to be an instrument of God speaking to others through that process.

*shrug* I'll share at least some of these reflections here for those who may be interested. More to come soon on my recent trip with Fr. Will and about 60 2nd - 4th graders for four days of camping and tubing in the Smoky Mountains. Peace.

10th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Hos 6:3-6
Rom 4:18-25
Mt 9:9-13

I’ve always been a person of good beginnings. I get excited at the front end of a project. I get excited and make plans and commitments. I have grand images of how things will be with this new chapter in life. And I love God – I do. And so my images are often those of piety. Coming to Pikeville for the summer, for example. As the end of the school year approached and I learned of my assignment for the summer, I began to get excited.

I saw myself covering the miles and miles of mountains being a beacon of hope for the Church there. I saw myself rising early in the morning to pray. I’d pray the whole Office, stopping five times faithfully each day to offer a sacrifice of praise. I’d get back to a regular practice of lectio divina and have long talks with God. I’d meet and serve the poor, the forgotten, the underserved. I’d spend a Holy Hour every day at the parish church. My struggles with day to day living would vanish in a cloud of love and service to God’s people. After all, God was calling, and I am willing!

And then, soon, two things happened. Sure as anything, after a couple of days that voice of doubt and past experience began to creep in. “Come on, Alan – we’ve been here before. You never live up to those images of piety. You never seem to pray as much as you think you should. You never do as much as you like. What do you know about the mountains? What do you know about much of anything – after all, you’re just a seminarian… and a new one at that!” Yeah – that old voice I’d heard before – and the scary thing about it is: it’s true. I never seem to get as far, as well, and surely not as Holy as I’d hoped. And with that realization, sometimes I’m tempted to give in to what has been – surrender to what I’ve always been, how far short of the mark I’ve often been. All that light and excitement and energy that comes with the good beginning threatens to get clouded over.

The second thing that happens is, I actually begin that beginning. I move to Pikeville. I begin to start routines. I try to set the bar high and work through all the plans and images and imaginings I’d had floating around in my head. I set out to do what it is I thought I would. And wouldn’t you know it…not even two days into it and it turns out that voice has a lot of truth. I didn’t pray that Evening Prayer as devoutly as I’d wanted. I didn’t get up and exercise one morning like I thought I should. Instead of spending my evening writing letters to those I know who need encouragement, or praying with the scriptures as I thought I would, I watched a movie. (Oh – it was a good movie all right – but as soon as it was over, there was that voice – back again, louder than before – and with ample evidence at hand to prove its point.)

It’s a familiar story – and perhaps it’s familiar with you, too? Ever have great dreams of how you’ll honor or serve God that just don’t seem to come out the way you thought they would? Ever decide to start some – even simple – prayer or devotional practice as a way to boost your relationship with God only to find a few days into it it’s gone by the wayside? Ever decide you were going to participate in some ministry here in the parish, only to realize months down the road that you never made that first call? Do you ever hear that voice that says, “Here you go again, my friend. Bet you’re gonna’ miss the mark. See? You already are!”

Good thing that’s not the whole story, isn’t it?

There’s GOOD NEWS for us today – GOOD NEWS to be had here where Christ has come to be present with us in Word and Sacrament. Yes – GOOD NEWS in the very WORD of God. And that GOOD NEWS is that God KNOWS us – KNOWS us well enough to express His LOVE for us in a way that allows us to LOVE him back. And the best news of all is… that its our LOVE he wants most from us. When we genuinely and truly love Him, all the rest falls into place just as it should.

We heard in our first reading that God knows our ‘piety is like a morning cloud, like the dew that early passes away’. I’ve been struck by the beauty of the mist over the mountains on these early mornings here and Pikeville – and by how quickly the sun burns it away. Yep – just like my good intentions sometimes. Here for a bit, and then quickly burned off when the ‘day-to-day’ routines kick in. And if this were all there were to the story, we’d all be in trouble – wouldn’t we? But God tells us in this first reading that its not perfection in all our good intentions He’s after – it is our LOVE that God desires – God wants us to LOVE Him and to know Him.

We don’t just listen to that voice that accuses us, that voice that reminds us of our shortcomings. We don’t do that any more than Abraham did when God told him he’d be the father of many nations. Abraham probably heard that same voice that we sometimes do – he was almost a hundred years old and married to a barren woman. He could have heard that same voice saying, ‘There’s no way, old man. No WAY for you to father nations. Just LOOK. Look at your limitations. Look at your shortcomings.” But, instead, we read in Romans that Abraham never doubted God’s promise – never doubted that God would do through him what God said He would do. And it was credited to him as righteousness.

Today we’re here to worship a God who loves us – and knows us. A God who knows our limitations, but calls us forward anyway. A God who calls even those of us who fall short of the mark sometimes. And what He asks of us more than anything is to love Him. Christ came not for the perfect, not for those who perfectly live what they set out to live. Because God knows our inability to reach perfection better than anyone – after all, He created us. No, those who are well don’t need a physician, but the sick do… those with shortcomings do… those whose fervor burns off like the morning dew need Christ. And how is it that we respond? With love, by our efforts to know God, by our actions that grow from that love and knowledge.

The sacrifices, the holocausts, the devotion and service to God that are true – that last – that will be sustained long after the morning sun has burned the mists of our own plans and designs away… they grow naturally out of that genuine love for God – a love planted in us by God, a gift from Him that constantly draws us back to him…, that love the flowers as beautiful as the wildflowers in a spring meadow.

As we worship Christ in Word and sacrament, let us remember that what God wants most from us is our love. As we eat His body and drink His blood, let it nurture us in that love that brought Him to us in the first place. And, with a true love and devotion of men and women healed of an eternally terminal illness, let us go forth from this place to share this GOOD NEWS with those we meet. For, when our love grows strong, nourished by Christ Himself, the piety, the devotions, the sacrifice, the life we live will be stronger, more beautiful, and more pleasing to God than anything we could come up with on our own. That love will help us know how God intends us to honor and serve Him, and give us the strength to follow His intentions – and that love will sustain us, even in our shortcomings, so that our efforts won’t burn off like mist in the first ray of sunlight.

Together, strengthened by this Eucharist, let us ‘Go and learn the meaning of the words: I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ Amen.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

News Flash: Alan NOT Missing :-)

Three months - oh my goodness - three months since I last posted anything on my blog. My apologies. I could come up with a long list of excuses - and some of them might even be close to good - but that wouldn't serve any good purpose. This morning I realized as I was checking my email that the only thing keeping me away from posting to my blog today was a sense that it had been so long since I'd written anything, I wouldn't know where to begin. What a pathetic reason not to post something, huh?

I realize its like that sometimes in life for me. Great things I want to do... then I miss a day or a week without doing them, and THAT becomes the reason for not doing it next time I think about it. Quite stupid, if you ask me. It's a lot like the readings for this coming weekend's mass. (Check them out here if you like...

Anyway - one of my goals for the summer was to get back to at least a somewhat regular blog posting. So, to "clear away" that stupid excuse for not knowing where to begin, here's a quick 'news brief' on what's taken place over the last couple of months.

  • I finished up my first year in seminary at St. Meinrad - and brought in straight A's again in my coursework. More important than the grades themselves, though, I believe I finished the year with a good balance of study, prayer, relaxing, entertainment, social interaction, etc. In short, I feel like I reached a good balance in all the important things to keep myself spiritually, intellectually, mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy. That is an accomplishment I thank God for more than the good grades.
  • I completed my term as president of my class - and decided not to run again. I'm very pleased with this decision, though it was a hard one for me to make - I genuinely enjoyed and was energized by that role in caring for and building community with my class brothers at seminary.
  • I was asked (and accepted) by the formation staff to serve as the seminary community's banquet coordinator for the coming year. I'm pleased to be able to serve the community in this way, planning menus, coordinating other men as they serve the community at table, and hosting the community and its guests to our most important events and times in the life of the community. Graduation banquet before the end of the year was my first 'trial by fire' - and it was awesome... we welcomed 325+ people for dinner and celebrated our graduates. It was incredible.
  • I have also been given the opportunity to learn about - and put my action where my mouth is - the social teachings of the church by serving the community next year as the Justice and Peace Chairman. I don't know a lot about the Church's official teachings in these areas, and though they're often dear to my heart, I'm shamefully lacking in doing anything in this area. I'm praying that serving the community this way will help eliminate both of those problems.
  • I completed my annual evaluation with the formation staff, and received their endorsement to proceed to the next year of formation. This evaluation is a critical look at all four areas of formation for priesthood (intellectual, spiritual, human, and pastoral) and how a man is progressing in these areas. As part of my ongoing discernment, the annual evaluation is an important way the Church participates in understanding God's will for my life.
  • After returning home for the summer for about a week, we had our annual seminarian convocation with Bishop Gainer. It's wonderful to live in a diocese , and be blessed by the spiritual leadership of a Bishop who knows the seminarians he may one day call to the priesthood. Bishop Gainer spends time with us - not just at convocation - and I'm certain he prays for and with us by name. More importantly, he genuinely gets to know us - our journeys, our strengths and weaknesses. Heck - he even visited our seminaries this year and spent time with the formation staff. For our convocation this year, in celebration of the anniversaries of the second oldest dioceses in the U.S. (of which Bardstown - which became Louisville - and from which Lexington traces its roots), we 'road-tripped' to the proto-Cathedral in Bardstown, as well as the first seminary west of the east coast, and also the oldest church located and operating in the diocese of Lexington. It was great to meet new seminarians from our diocese (welcome Rob and James!!!!) - and difficult to say goodbye to Holy men who've discerned that continued formation is not for them (Tim, you'll remain in our prayers - we love you brother!!!).
  • Finally, I've settled into my summer assignment at St. Francis of Assisi parish and missions in Pike County, Kentucky with Fr. Will Fraenzel - a priest of 40 years whose spent most of his ministry in the moutains of eastern Kentucky. I'm still learning my way around and figuring out what I'll be doing, but I'm excited about the opportunity to learn about "mountain ministry". Next week, Fr. Will is taking me camping with a hoarde of second graders in the Great Smokey Mountains - pray for me. :-)
I can't think of any more 'news updates'. At least this gets me past feeling I wouldn't know where to start. Now, hopefully, I'll get off my excuses and update here with some frequency. Pray for me - and know that all you who read this blog and especially those who are so encouraging with comments, emails, letters, and gifts - you all remain in my prayer as well.