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Into Great Silence: SERIOUSLY 8 DAYS OF SILENCE? ARE YOU CRAZY?

Since the beginning of Christendom, silence has been a part of the great spiritual tradition of the Church. Today, the world sees this pretty much only in the example of the contemplative religious who spend their days in some great big monastery in the middle of nowhere. Really, though, the practice of observing silence is still alive and well in the Church. Of course, not everyone is called to live their lives in total seclusion like a contemplative religious brother or sister, but certainly most priests and seminarians spend a lot of time in silence, both in their own daily prayer and meditation but also on more rigorously structured retreats. Many of my friends in the internet world often seem confused when I talk about going on a silent retreat, so I thought share some information here.

Like everything in the Church, the practice of making a retreat goes right back to scripture. In his gospel, St. Mark recalls how at a certain point in their ministry, the apostles had become so busy, and new disciples were constantly “coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” Can you imagine? We all have experienced times of great stress in our lives, but to have no time even to stop and eat? This kind of stress can lead to burnout and cause the apostles to take their eyes off the prize and become weary and fall away from their mission. But Jesus looks gently at them and says, “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place , and rest a while.” (Mk 6:31). 

This is the invitation the Lord has set before me and my 170 brother seminarians in Omaha this summer. The rush of the school year, of final exams, of graduation, of preparing for Major Seminary and graduate studies in Theology can all be very stressful. Indeed, all of our lives, whether we are priests, seminarians, religious, or lay faithful, are usually very hectic. This is very dangerous! 

The Lord’s invitation to my brother seminarians and I rings sweetly with the sentiment of a savior, of an advocate, of a friend who is concerned about us. 

But 8 days of silence? Doesn’t that seem a bit excessive? The real question is this: How far am I willing to go for Jesus? How much am I willing to give up in order to give myself completely to him? From this perspective, 8 days is nothing! It will take a lifetime to be conformed to Jesus, to be perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect, but it’s a lifetime I’m willing to live! 

It gets even easier when I realize that God calls us first. God has called me to a more meaningful communion with him. God calls us first and all we have to do is respond to him and follow his lead, with a little help from the Church and our spiritual directors, of course. 

Please pray for me as I begin this retreat tomorrow. Know that I am keeping you all in my heart as I go away and rest a while with my best friend, the King. 

God calls man first. Man may forget his Creator or hide far from his face; he may run after idols or accuse the deity of having abandoned him; yet the living and true God tirelessly calls each person to that mysterious encounter known as prayer. In prayer, the faithful God’s initiative of love always comes first; our own first step is always a response.Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 2567.Image

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Again, a Graduate.

And so, four years later we’re all at it again. Graduation. “Commencement exercises”: The exercise of commencing the next chapter of our lives and all of the sappy rhetoric and teary goodbyes these events imply. 

I went to North Central for a year with the strange idea that the future I’d invented for myself of being a high school english teacher and a total baller would somehow come true of my own volition. Let’s just say that only one those dreams has any hope of coming true and, sadly, I’ll never be a high school english teacher. 

Then I left NCC to study for the priesthood. And, seriously, I’ve never been this happy. Despite the amount that I complain, I actually really liked studying philosophy. I feel like I actually know how to think critically and effectively about the world. I praise God for this gift. Of all the beautiful things that I learned, what I think is the most important did not come from a textbook, but from the heart of Saint John Paul II who said that “we are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us.” 

Through the grace of God’s loving providence, I finally encountered – and I do mean in a real, tangible way – the Father’s love for me. I was able to see for the first time, and then time and time again, that Jesus really does love me, that Jesus really does have a plan, that Jesus really does believe in me. I finally understand that, though God does know my heart, through the sacraments (especially confession and the Eucharist) we are invited to know God’s heart. It is knowledge of this heart, it our loving and praising and surrendering to this heart, that serves as the foundation of true conversion. Jesus does not call us merely to believing or professing faith in him as a means to salvation. No, he calls us to true conversion of heart; he wants to change our entire world and make it beautiful again. In a word, it will no longer be we who live, but Christ who lives in us. That sound familiar? This inward change makes all the difference; let yourself be rescued. Let him change you heart. 

“I must desire, not to be what I am not, but to be very truly what I really am.” St. John XXIII

From the flip side,

RA

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Did the Devil still win?

Ok, duh, of course not. The devil never wins. 1 Corinthians 15:57 suggests that we’ll always be victorious if we continue to follow Christ.

No doubt, it’s incredibly awesome that the planned Satanic black Mass that was supposed to take place last night at Harvard was cancelled. Surely, this was the result of millions of prayers, fasting, acts of penance, works of mercy and charity, and perhaps a change in the hearts of the event’s sponsors. There is some rumor that the Satanic group held the event anyway at another location, but I’ve heard conflicting accounts about this.

Even though the event was cancelled and there was a holy hour held and people joined in praising the Lord(things the Devil absolutely hates) both at Harvard’s St. Paul Catholic Church and all around the country (we had a moment of celebration last night at our annual Center for Catholic Studies Banquet), did the Devil still make himself known to us in some way? Yep.

We all know that the one thing the Devil hates more than anything is the light; this is why he’s called the prince of darkness, this is why he is so often associated with mischief and deceit. He hates the light, or should I say, the Light. Satan prefers to spend his time in the shadows not making himself explicitly known; the more people he can fool into thinking he doesn’t exist or isn’t active, the more freedom he enjoys in going about his business.

Well, Satan was certainly made known this week in the local news of Harvard’s Crimson newspaper, through press releases from the Archdiocese of Boston and the Harvard Catholic Student Association, and of course through the national news media. If he’s so against being blatantly posted all over newspaper headlines and the evening news, this whole debacle doesn’t seem to make sense. Or does it? Apparently Satan thought it was worth the risk if he could enjoy some other gains, and I think he certainly has.

In his book The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis presents a series of letters between a demon, Screwtape, and his demon nephew, Wormwood. The first letter in the book ends this way:

“But the best of all is…to give him a grand general idea that he knows it all and that everything he happens to have picked up in casual talk and reading is the ‘results of modern investigation.’ Do remember you are there to fuddle him. From the way some of you young friends talk, anyone would suppose it was our job to TEACH!”

Many think the Devil is trying to teach us something new about how to live and that his new and evil ways are so revolutionary and fun to follow. The Devil knows nothing new; everything he knows he knows because God allows him to know it. He has nothing new to teach us, nothing new to reveal to us. He knows this. He’s not here to teach us, but to fuddle us. He’s here to ruin plans, to make mountains out of molehills, to mess things up and cause to scramble and lose our peace of mind and charity of heart.

By stirring up this mess at Harvard, the evil one distracted us from real news like the kidnapping of 300 Christian Nigerian girls by Islamic extremists. He took our time in prayer away from those things for which our hearts truly yearn and instead made us turn our prayer time into a focus on him and his power. If he can’t remain hidden, then he desires to be exalted.

This week, Satan certainly fuddled with us, didn’t he? His name was all over our TV screens and newspapers and in our minds and thoughts and prayers. But he didn’t win. His coming out into the light of day for this short time brought far more Godly people out online and in the streets of Boston and in the churches of Christians of all denominations to sing the praises of God. By his action, he caused more Masses to be offered, rosaries to be prayed (Mary kicks the devil’s butt literally every single time), and hours spent with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Even in his best efforts, Jesus always wins. The great High Priest always wins. Goodness always wins, Truth always wins, Jesus Christ who is the Son of God, Savior of the world, and friend of sinners always wins.

Go fuddle somewhere else, idiot.

 

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In Christ,
RA

 
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Posted by on May 13, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Holy Week Language Practice

Helloooo! I was bored a couple of night’s ago and thought I’d practice a little bit of my second favorite language, French! Here’s a brief reflection on Holy Week and Easter that I wrote in French with the English translation below. I’m sure some of my French speaking friends will find some errors, let me know where they are so I don’t make them again! :)

Mes frères et sœurs :

                Cette semaine est vraiment très sainte ! Cette semaine est très sainte parce qu’il est la semaine de la passion et la résurrection du Seigneur Jésus Christ. Vraiment, cette semaine nous rencontrons Dieu dans le monde, dans nos familles, dans nos frères et sœurs et fils, et surtout dans nos cœurs. Tout au long de l’année, le Dieu parle à nous dans nos cœurs, mais il parle la spécialement dans cette semaine très sainte.

Pourquoi ? Pourquoi est-ce que cette semaine est différente du reste de l’année ? Encore, par sa passion et résurrection, nous rencontrons Jésus ! Jésus est mort afin que nous puissions être libres ! Libre de quoi ? Libre de nos péchés, libre des blessures de nos cœurs, et libre de la honte de nos vies.  A cause de son sang, nos blessures deviennent une bénédiction.

Quelquefois, nous voulons abandonner notre chemin de la sainteté parce que le chemin est trop difficile ou trop long pour nous ; nous voulons dire à nous-mêmes « Je ne suis pas assez fort pour la vie Christiane.  Ou est mon Dieu ? Est-ce qu’il m’adore ? »

Alors, aujourd’hui, disons à notre Dieu, notre Père, notre Roi : « Mon père, mes péchés sont nombreux et grands. J’ai besoin de votre amour ! Je veux votre amour pour moi ! Je dois savoir votre amour ! » Je promets, le Seigneur va écouter a vous parce qu’il vous aime !

Alors, chaque matin, quand je me réveiller, je vais dire avec une grande joie :

« Ouvrez les yeux de mon cœur, aujourd’hui ! Ouvrez les yeux de mon cœur parce que je suis votre fils ! Je suis un fils de Dieu ! Jésus Christ est mon rédempteur, mon Roi, mon Dieu, et mon meilleur ami ! Il est mon frère. Mon magnifique, mon extraordinaire, mon sensationnel Dieu : Je t’aime ! Je t’aime ! Je t’aime ! »

Cette semaine est très spécial. Il attend pour vous, il attend pour moi. Abandonnez votre cœur dans son cœur. Vous y trouverez la vraie paix et le vrai bonheur.

Que Dieu vous bénisse !

Joyeux Pâques !

 ———–

And in English:

Dear brothers and sisters:

                This week is truly very holy! This week is very holy because it is the week of the passion and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Truly, this week we must meet God in the world, in our families, in our brothers and sisters and children, and, most important, in our hearts. All throughout the year, God speaks to us in our hearts, but he speaks especially during this very holy week.

                Why? Why is this week different from the rest of the year? Again, through his passion and resurrection, we meet Jesus! Jesus has died so that we can be free! Free from what? Free from our sins, free from the wounds of our hearts, and free from the shame of our lives. Because of his blood, our wounds become a blessing.

                Sometimes, we want to abandon our way of holiness because the way is too difficult or too long for us; we want to say to ourselves, “I am not strong enough for the Christian life. Where is my God? Does he love me?”

                So today, let us say to our God, our Father, and our King, “My father, my sins are many and great. I need your love! I want your love for me! I need to know your love.” I promise, the Lord will listen to you because he loves you!

                So each morning, when I wake up, I will say with great joy:

                “Open the eyes of my heart today! Open the eyes of my heart because I am your son! I am a son of God! Jesus Christ is my Redeemer, my King, my God, and my best friend! He is my brother. My magnificent, my extraordinary, my sensational God: I love you! I love you! I love you!”

                This week is very special. He waits for you, he waits for me. Abandon your heart into his heart. There you will find true peace and true happiness.

                God bless you!

                Happy Easter!

               

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

“Return to me, rebellious children,” says the Lord.

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So seminarians and priests (and lots of other people, too) pray what the Church calls the Liturgy of the Hours out of a book called a breviary 5 times a day (Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, Daytime Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Night Prayer). It is the prayer of the whole Church since, despite time and language differences, every breviary contains the same prayers. I could go into a lot more detail about this, but on to the real post….

Here’s a reflection from my journal:

The reading from Daytime Prayer this last Friday (Midday Prayer, April 4) was from Jeremiah, and ends with the verse, “Return to me, rebellious children,’ says the Lord.”

Lord, why don’t people flock to you by the millions each second of each day? Why aren’t the lines for Holy Communion hours long and spanning city blocks? Do many people hate you? Are you unloved? Maybe by some who don’t really know you. For most, I’d suspect that the reason is simple, but sad: not that we don’t love you, but that we love ourselves more.

The peace and promise of your son and his redemption, his purchase of heaven for us, his eradication of our sins by his blood, the promise of life – flourishment on earth and total friendship in eternity – how can these be denied or ignored?

It is hard for us, for me, to first admit that I am a rebellious child before being able to really give over my heart to you. It is hard to admit that I am fallen and sinful and weak. Jesus, my savior and perfect friend, do not let me forget the peace that comes with this difficult admission and never let me forget, even for a second, the promises offered to me that follow from it. I love you, Jesus, my king and best friend.

—-

Easter’s almost here! Don’t let it pass by and leave you untransformed.

RA

 

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Prayer of the Little King

You ask of me not mediocrity, but greatness.

Help me to see where my heart is
weary, indifferent, or unclean.

Wake me up. Make me holy.

Heal me. Deliver Me. Rescue Me.
Sanctify me.

Mend my heart, close my wounds, open my soul

 

and breathe.

 

Breathe into me

your life, your power, your strength, your zeal

that I might love and preach and spread your gospel.

And never, ever stop loving me

for I promise with all my heart

to never, ever stop loving you.

Make me free.

Make me holy.

Make me yours.

 

“And I will do it,”

says the Lord.

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Rome: Academia

I’m sitting here during our “study hours” (one of the joys of being a seminarian) in the library of the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, thinking about all of you back in Oswego with grateful affection and, due to the weather, a tinge of pity. It was 48 degrees when I left for class this morning and I overheard one of the Italians say “Winter has arrived in Rome!” We’ve got it hard over here, folks; keep us in your prayers, won’t you? 
If it’s any consolation, I’m kind of looking forward to the snow and Chicago winter when I come back in January. 

Anyway, lest any of you think I’m just over here on a long vacation or some kind of field trip on steroids, I thought I’d share a little of the academic life of Rome with you all.

For a long time, Rome has been a major cultural hub of Europe. The concept of a university as we think of it today was developed by the Church in monasteries and other places of learning in the middle ages. Thus it is only fitting that there many of the finest universities in the world (at least for the study of philosophy, theology, canon law, and relevant subjects) can be found here in Rome. Some universities are overseen by the Vatican’s congregation for education, and these universities bear the status and name “Pontifical.” These schools are also licensed to give certain “degrees” (the Europeans call them “licenses”) from the Church, things like STB, STL, STD (varying levels of the study of Sacred Theology), JCB, JCL, JCD (varying levels of Canon Law), etc. Also, if I’m not allowed to make jokes about the STD (doctorate in Sacred Theology), then neither are you. 

While in Rome, I am studying at a place called the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, also called the Angelicum because St. Thomas Aquinas is known as the “Angelic Doctor” for his work, among other areas, in the study of angels, knows as “angelology.” You might wish I was joking, but I’m not; there really is an area of study called angelology and it is absolutely fascinating. 

The “Ange” is about a 2 mile, 40 minute walk from our house near Piazza del Popolo and is situated right next to the Roman Forum. Up the street and around a (couple of) corners is the Colosseum and to the right and up (and down) some hills is the Papal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore (St. Mary Major). 

The university offers programs primarily in theology, philosophy, and canon law. As a college seminarian, I am required by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Program of Priestly Formation” to study philosophy, which I was a little reluctant to do at first. The truth is, however, that none of the theology of the Church, its sacraments, social teachings, moral teachings, etc make sense without philosophy. Without the study of the soul and its implications for human dignity, matter and form/accidents and substance and their relevance to the sacramental life of the Church, logic and forming good arguments, (believe me, the list is endless) none of what I am studying as a seminarian or will practice as a priest makes any sense. 

We also have the chance to study art, some theology, and a course involving the social dimensions of the Church through history. 
So, real quick like, a run down of this semester’s courses:
Modern Philosophy is taught by a Spanish Dominican living in Italy teaching about French and German philosophers to English speaking students. This is stuff like Descartes, Locke, and Kant. 

Art and Architecture is a survey of church art, art media, the evolution of sacred art and its relevance to the life of the Church.

Spiritual Theology: Theology of the spiritual life/relationship with God. Basically getting one’s mind blown every Wednesday from 8:30-10:15am by a former spiritual director of Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta. 

Church and Culture is a class sponsored by our home university in St. Paul and is taught by one our own professors. 

Intro to Italian: Va bene. 

But seriously, there’s no way I’m letting the academics get in the way of my education while living here in the heartbeat of the Church. Every walk down the sidewalk is a lesson in itself. 

Thanks and praise always to God who, besides being the Man, never fails to satisfy. No matter what subject it is, at the end of the day we are always studying him and his goodness to us lowly creatures here who, for some odd reason, he loves so much. 

Same as ever,
RAImage

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2013 in Uncategorized

 
 
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