Pope St. John XXIII, Pray for Us!

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Excerpt from the Opening Speech of Pope St. John XXIII on the occasion of the Opening of the Second Vatican Council, St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, October 11, 1962. 

The Church is the most loving mother of all

Today, Venerable Brethren, is a day of joy for Mother Church: through God’s most kindly providence the longed-for day has dawned for the solemn opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, here at St. Peter’s shrine. And Mary, God’s Virgin Mother, on this feast day of her noble motherhood, gives it her gracious protection.

Certain it is that the critical issues, the thorny problems that wait upon man’s solution, have remained the same for almost twenty centuries. And why? Because the whole of history and of life hinges on the person of Jesus Christ. Either men anchor themselves on Him and His Church, and thus enjoy the blessings of light and joy, right order and peace; or they live their lives apart from Him; many positively oppose Him, and deliberately exclude themselves from the Church. The result can only be confusion in their lives, bitterness in their relations with one another, and the savage threat of war.

In these days, which mark the beginning of this Second Vatican Council, it is more obvious than ever before that the Lord’s truth is indeed eternal. Human ideologies change. Successive generations give rise to varying errors, and these often vanish as quickly as they came, like mist before the sun.

The Church has always opposed these errors, and often condemned them with the utmost severity. Today, however, Christ’s Bride prefers the balm of mercy to the arm of severity. She believes that, present needs are best served by explaining more fully the purport of her doctrines, rather than by publishing condemnations. Not that the need to repudiate and guard against erroneous teaching and dangerous ideologies is less today than formerly. But all such error is so manifestly contrary to rightness and goodness, and produces such fatal results, that our contemporaries show every inclination to condemn it of their own accord—especially that way of life which repudiates God and His law, and which places excessive confidence in technical progress and an exclusively material prosperity. It is more and more widely understood that personal dignity and true self-realization are of vital importance and worth every effort to achieve. More important still, experience has at long last taught men that physical violence, armed might, and political domination are no help at all in providing a happy solution to the serious problems which affect them.

The great desire, therefore, of the Catholic Church in raising aloft at this Council the torch of truth, is to show herself to the world as the loving mother of all mankind; gentle, patient, and full of tenderness and sympathy for her separated children. To the human race oppressed by so many difficulties, she says what Peter once said to the poor man who begged an alms: “Silver and gold I have none; but what I have, that I give thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, arise and walk.” (Acts 3:6) In other words it is not corruptible wealth, nor the promise of earthly happiness, that the Church offers the world today, but the gifts of divine grace which, since they raise men up to the dignity of being sons of God, are powerful assistance and support for the living of a more fully human life. She unseals the fountains of her life-giving doctrine, so that men, illumined by the light of Christ, will understand their true nature and dignity and purpose. Everywhere, through her children, she extends the frontiers of Christian love, the most powerful means of eradicating the seeds of discord, the most effective means of promoting concord, peace with justice, and universal brotherhood.

Prayer

O almighty and eternal God,
who throughout all the world made ​​in blessed Pope John
a living radiant example of Christ the Good Shepherd,
grant us, we ask, that through his intercession,
we may be enabled to pour out an abundance of Christian charity.
(Through our Lord Jesus Christ…)
(Through Christ our Lord. Amen.)

Original Latin: Omnípotens sempitérne Deus, qui per orbem terrárum in beáto Ioánne, papa, Christi boni pastóris vivum effulgére fecísti exémplum, concéde nobis, quaésumus, ut, eius intercessióne, abundántiam christiánae caritátis laetánter effúndere valeámus. Per Christum.

Prayer of Protection

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Here’s a great, little prayer I came across today for when you’re feeling down and in need of strength. I hope it helps you as much as it helped me.

“Prayer of Protection”

Armor of God: O God, bless and protect me as I place the belt of truth around my waist; the breastplate of righteousness upon my chest; the shoes of zeal upon my feet so as to spread the word of the gospel of peace; the shield of faith on my left arm to quench the burring arrows of the evil one; the helmet of salvation upon my head so as to have the mind of Christ; and I place the sword of the Spirit in my right hand which is the Word of God (cf. Eph 6:14-17). I also wrap myself in the mantle of enthusiasm so as to be passionate only for your works Lord Jesus (cf. Is. 5:9-17).

Protection of Jesus’ Blood: I now ask you, Jesus, that I be placed under the protection of your most precious blood that you shed on the Cross for us to free us from sin and the temptations of Satan and his cohorts (Rev. 12:10-11; 1 Jn 5:6-12; Col. 1:19-20, 2:13-15; Eph. 1:7).

Mary’s help and Intercession with St. Michael and Angels: Mary, our Mother, I seek your protection and intercession with the Sacred Heart of Jesus for me and my family, and surround me with your mantle of love to discourage the enemy.
St. Michael, and my Guardian Angel, come defend me and my family in battle against all the evil ones that roam the land.

Amen.

A Nostalgic Struggle

Here's a nostalgic photo of the sunset over Assisi, Italy in November 2013

nostalgia

I’m definitely a nostalgic person. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a stellar memory and, like many people, small things trigger memories allowing me to “relive” (not in like a “That’s So Raven” way but in a “I’m-a-grandpa-telling-war-stories kind of way) different events from the past in incredible detail. That’s just how it is. For instance, I got my driver’s license on October 18, 2008 which was a perfectly sunny fall day; I used 1/2 tank of gas just driving around town with the windows down being a baller that day. Now every time I’m in the car, windows down, and it’s a perfectly sunny fall day, I become very sentimental and get lost in those “ahh I remember this” thoughts. What I’m experiencing is not rare. Basically, it’s called having a good memory and then adding new emotion to it. It’s called being a sap.

"The night before I got my license" as seen through the nostalgic lense of "look how skinny I used to be"
“The night before I got my license” as seen through the nostalgic lense of “look how skinny I used to be…”

This weekend, I went home over a long weekend from seminary and I was outside painting and mowing and relaxing and at some point it occurred to me, “hey, this is exactly what weekends in high school were like!” And then came all of the memories of how it “used to be” and “why can’t it be like that anymore?”

These thoughts are good, for the most part. They’re good proof that we haven’t yet experienced a complete psychotic break with reality. But, for me anyway, they lead to living life in the clouds and not focusing on what’s actually happening around us, causing us to miss the new memories being made because we’re stuck on the ones that have already happened.

When I got back to seminary, I played a little “bible roulette” (wherein a person prays “Holy Spirit, open your Word” and just opens to a random page and starts reading until whatever they’re supposed to read has been, well, read) and in yet another proof that the Holy Spirit guides our prayer, I opened right up to Ecclesiastes 7:10:

“Do not ask why the past was better than the present, for this is not a question prompted by wisdom.”

I’d been asking myself this question all weekend! Nostalgia is often a way of calling to mind and gaining a deeper gratitude for God’s gifts to us and, in this sense, is an excellent thing! But, as I now understand, it can also be a distraction. Let’s not miss what’s going on in the here and now because what we’re too attached to the wonder of what’s past.

+ Jesus, my best friend, give me the grace not to miss the present because of the glare of the light still shining on the past. I can’t anticipate with joy the flame of your presence (yes, Lord, pun intended) because I don’t want to let go of the past. So help me live in the here and now, help me not to miss old ways of life; help me to die to them that I might rise again with you, for “to me Christ is life and death is gain.”

Jesus accomplish great things for your glory in me. Here I am Lord, right now – send me.

Here's a nostalgic photo of the sunset over Assisi, Italy in November 2013
Here’s a nostalgic photo of the sunset over Assisi, Italy in November 2013

On CBS’ Criminal Minds and how it (sort of) Relates to Jesus

criminalminds

I’m all about CBS’ show Criminal Minds. Always have been. Although I must admit that being in college with limited access to TV and no time for Netflix caused an unfortunate lapse in my keeping up with it. Since I’ve been at Mundelein Seminary I’ve been trying to play catch up with the show on Netflix and have been enjoying every minute of it.

When you watch one episode right after another on Netflix, the rhythm of each episode becomes pretty apparent: initial kill, gathering at the BAU including the ever popular “wheels up in 20″ from Hotch, arrival in setting city, investigation, etc etc etc………all of this leads up to the climactic scene which almost always involves a car chase and a shoot out and then the team busting into some warehouse where the killer is about to off the final victim but THANK GOODNESS THE BAU ARRIVED JUST IN TIME…AGAIN because inevitably the killer has a gun or crowbar or power tool or some other horrible object and has the victim in a choke hold threatening “to do it!” But for some reason, it never gets old.

In dealing with pastoral situations, we are taught to remember the line our mothers used when they encouraged us not to judge or be gossipy on the playground: everyone is struggling with something; everyone has skeletons in the closet. Maybe we’re not at the level of a complete psychotic break or at risk for becoming serial killers, but chances are, whatever you’re struggling with is accompanied by an unwelcome dose of self-condemnation, self-hatred, shame, and the desire to just put it all to rest. If you experience this as regularly as I do, congratulations: you’re a successfully emoting human being.

Too often we let these problems and struggles overtake us and overpower us; in a word, we become both killer and victim in the climax of an episode of Criminal Minds. I’ve got my soul, my heart, my brain in a choke hold and I’m just ready to have a full out freak out sesh real quick when, all of a sudden, right on cue, in busts Jesus with his light saber of mercy ready to rescue me.

I don’t know, maybe that’s a little far-fetched but you get the idea. Jesus is, among other things, the conqueror of sin and death and the bringer of light and mercy. I know it’s cliche, but it also happens to be true: God is Father and protector. Start by telling him about what’s got you down, what’s got you worried; I promise he’ll answer you, but not usually in the way you expect. You just gotta have patience, and you just gotta believe.

Let Hotch and the BAU handle the murder cases. God’s got your issues under control. There’s something remarkably freeing about that.

To God be the glory,
RA

We Have Yet to Expand

I’ll admit that I sometimes worry about the future of the Church, especially in America – and, for the record, it’s not only because God-willing as a priest I’ll someday be a leader of it. It troubles me when I hear about catechism classes with kids who don’t know the title of the “Our Father”, not to mention the words to it, or when the kids willingly admit that they don’t attend Mass on Sundays and don’t seem to mind. Then there’s all the hullabaloo in the news about this or that Church thing and all the uproar that follows – misguided commentary from the mainstream media and an impossible-to-keep-it-all-straight frenzy in the Catholic blogosphere. Everywhere my pessimist’s eye turns I see disinterest, disagreement, and detachment.

At Mundelein, Fr. Michael Fuller breaks the spiritual life down into four points:Encounter, Gratitude, Expansion of the Heart, and Union with God. Lately, I’ve had this (admittedly prideful) feeling that I’d made it past the first 3 and had achieved a kind of union with God. And, I think, for most people with well-functioning prayer lives that it’s probably true that most of them are in fact experiencing union with God in some way. But then something funny happened in prayer the other day…… All of these quotes and ideas and scripture passages concerning gratitude came to mind and I began to realize that while I often a exhibit a kind of “thank you very much, see you soon” kind of gratitude usually shown to nice neighbors and mail men, I am a far cry from any kind of deeper gratitude for the wonderful things and people in my life, not to mention gratitude toward and for God in my life.

At first this was a major bummer because it looked like St. Ryan of Oswego might not be the done deal I thought it was, and it also meant that, following those four points, I was also a far cry from intimate and unceasing union with the Trinity. But that also means something that my rarely used optimist’s eye picked up: I have yet to experience a true expansion of heart, a true conversion of the way I love the Lord, am loved BY the Lord, and, in turn, love the world. In a word, the best is yet to come. There is still so much work for Jesus to do in my heart, and not because I deserve it, but because he loves me and wants to see his will fulfilled in and through my vocation.

“Don’t worry, Ryan. I don’t go to Church anymore but I’m still trying to be a good person.” Fantastic! But why are your desires so puny? If the point in life is only to be “good” (whatever that means in a culture dripping with relativism) then what am I celibate for? We aren’t called just to be “good”, but to be holy! We aren’t called merely not be to jerks to one another, but to love one another as we love ourselves. And, in our culture which places such an emphasis on love of the individual, you’d think we’d love our neighbors even more.

So the good news is this: we aren’t lost, we aren’t doomed, we’re just confused. Preaching the encounter with Christ means to preach the expansion of our hearts BY MEANS of that encounter and a discovery (with Jesus’ help) of a gratitude more authentic than we’ve ever known before. The hardest thing about it is actually deciding to let Jesus in; change hurts, acknowledging our faults hurts, and there are a million things that I would rather do than have God almighty point out where I’ve gone wrong. But you know what? It’s a lot better than the alternative; it’s a lot better than living life with me as the means and me as the end; it’s a lot better than living life looking down and in instead up to God and out at the world; and it’s beautiful to know that, even at the hour of my death, the future still lies ahead of me as far as eyes (of faith) can see. Church, we’re not folding up shop; please hang in there….we have yet to expand.

In Christ,
RA

Mary, Star of the New Evangelization, pray for us.
Ss. Claude la Colombiere and John XXII, pray for us.
Sans Reserve | oboedentia et pax.

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

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