The Big Picture

From today's Office of Readings:

Then the Lord addressed Job out of the storm and said:

 

Who is this that obscures divine plans with words of ignorance?
Gird up your loins now, like a man;
I will question you, and you tell me the answers!

 

Where were you when I founded the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its size; do you know?
Who stretched out the measuring line for it?
Into what were its pedestals sunk,
and who laid the cornerstone,
While the morning stars sandg in chorus
and all the children of God shouted for joy?

 

Job 38

Job is a curious book in many ways. But whenever I read it, it reminds me that I need to know that I don't have the big picture. God's plan often confounds us, and our vision is so terribly limited. We only get the tiniest glimpse of the plan of God and God's vision for the world.

What we need, all of us, to remember, is that God's love for us is as vast and incomprehensible as is God's plan. All that we can do, and the only thing that we should do, is to trust in that love.

In Thanksgiving

The following is taken from the Thanksgiving that I printed at the end of the worship aid for my First Mass:

Where do I start to give thanks for everyone and everything that has led me to this particular moment in my life? So many have given so much of themselves in order to contribute to my formation and to support me in every possible way during the last five years in seminary. I’m so grateful for every experience – both the joyful ones and the difficult ones – that have made it possible for me to more fully follow God’s call in my life.

The place we always start, of course, is with Almighty God. It is God who created me and God who formed me. It is God who called me from my mother’s womb – before I ever knew God myself. It is God who tests me and God who loves me and God who is the grace by which I can do things I’m not capable of. It is God whose presence in my life makes it possible for me to get out of bed every day and eagerly anticipate whatever will be part of my life in that day. It is God who continues to call me to repentance and God who forgives and God who blesses and encourages and sends me out to do His will. It is God who makes sense of all the things that confound me and God who is the abiding presence in my life, calming my storms or, more often, just calming me. God is the reason for this day and every day. I don’t have adequate words to convey my gratitude to God for all He has done for me; my prayer is that my life will be that thanksgiving, day in and day out.

My heart is completely full of thanksgiving for my family and friends, and especially my parents. Not only have they been completely supportive of this momentous – and rather late – step in my life, but they have been the reason for it in the first place. It was from my parents and grandparents that I first learned the faith and first experienced God. God has used them to show me grace and love and teach me to look for God in every person and in every experience. That faith has given me so much in my life. I am grateful also to my wonderful sisters, Sharon and Peggy, to my brother-in-law John, to my nieces Julia and Molly, my nephew Danny, to all of my aunts and uncles and cousins, and to all of my friends. All these have been family to me, have been sources of God’s love and grace, and have been supportive in ways that have made this journey so much richer. To all of my family and friends, I say thank you for everything you have always given me in my life.

I am thankful, too, to Bishop Imesch, Bishops Kaffer and Schlarman, to Fr. John Regan, our outgoing vocation director, to the faculty and staff of Mundelein Seminary, to all of my field education supervisors, and all those I have served in those assignments, to everyone in my home parish here at St. Petronille and all who have been part of my formation in one way or another. To say that this five-year journey of formation has been rewarding is the biggest understatement I can make! Thank you all for being part of that.

To paraphrase an ancient Jewish prayer: if I had just received all of this love and support, if I had just had this magnificent journey of formation, dayenu, it would have been enough. But to have all of that and be brought to service as a priest of Jesus Christ, well, my heart overflows. Thank you all. Thank God.

+ Fr. Pat

Ordination

Quite a few people have asked me what the Ordination was like for me. Of course, it’s a little beyond words. This whole weekend was certainly the most awesome time of my life; a time where I know God was really working in me and guiding me to where I was created to be in the first place.

Walking into the Cathedral, I was really overwhelmed with emotion. The beauty of the music, the decorations, all of my relatives and friends, as well as the procession of soon-to-be brother priests just left me speechless — literally. I tried to sing the processional song — “Laudate, Laudate Dominum” — one of my favorites, but the words just wouldn’t come out! Clearly, I was meant to be taking this all in, and sometimes that’s best done in silence.

There were several very moving moments for me during the actual Rite of Ordination. When Bishop Imesch said “we choose this man, our brother, for the Order of Priesthood,” I was so filled with joy. Those are the words I had been preparing to hear for five years. Then, as I knelt for the Bishop and priests to lay hands on me, all of which took place in silence, I was really struck by how ancient a rite this is. The apostles first laid hands on Stephen and six other men to become the first deacons of the Church (Acts 6:5-6), and the practice has continued through the ages of the Church, and now to me.

Perhaps the most moving moment for me, though, was after the prayer of Ordination, when I was vested by Fr. Bill Dewan, the pastor from my internship in my second year of theology, and Fr. Jim Donovan, my spiritual director. When the diaconal stole was removed and the presbyteral stole put on, I almost literally felt the Spirit vesting me. At that point, the fact that I was now a Priest of Jesus Christ was very real, and I was once again overwhelmed. By the time my hands were anointed, I was very glad that I had the opportunity to go to the sacristy to wash my hands, because, quite frankly, I needed some time to compose myself. The joy that I then felt as my brother priests offered me the sign of peace, and when I was escorted to my new place among the concelebrating priests in the sanctuary, was better than anything I’ve ever experienced.

Then there was my First Mass of Thanksgiving yesterday at St. Petronille. My homily from that Mass is here.

I was very honored to have a number of my brother priests concelebrating, as well as two of my classmates. Fr. Greg Labus, ordained last year for the diocese of Brownsville, Texas, concelebrated the Mass, and Deacon (soon-to-be Fr.) Chris Reising, to be ordained this coming Friday in DesMoines, Iowa, was my deacon. Many of my friends and family, as well as a number of parishioners from St. Petronille, were there to help me celebrate as well. The choir was composed (no pun intended) of many of my former choir members, some of my family, and folks with whom I’ve worked in music ministry along the way. They were incredible, and the music was a welcome addition to the prayer.

I was rather nervous, as you might expect, getting ready for Mass. I took time to pray, but even then, I didn’t calm down until the Sprinkling Rite. I must admit, I probably enjoyed bestowing the fullness of the sign of water on my friends and family a bit too much! But that was what I needed to relax, and to focus on each part of the Mass rather than anticipate what came next (advice given to me by Fr. Dan Bachner). The joy of celebrating the Eucharist for the first time was absolutely incredible, and I feel so incredibly blest to be a Priest of Jesus Christ.

I am so grateful for everything so many have done to make this weekend so beautiful. From Sr. Sharon of the Office of Divine Worship, to the choirs for both Ordination and my First Mass, to my brother priests, family and friends — everything was wonderful. Thank you all!

So, you’re probably looking for pictures. Soon, I promise!

Update: Here are a couple of articles recently published by The Catholic Explorer, our diocesan newspaper, about my then-upcoming ordination:

Pentecost: Jesus is Lord!

Today's readings

 

PrayerCard

 

We've gathered today on the Solemnity of Pentecost … one of my favorite feasts of the whole year. Today, we have one last opportunity to celebrate the joy of the Easter season. For fifty days, we've been celebrating our Lord's resurrection, his triumph over the grave, and his defeat of sin and death. We've been celebrating our salvation, because Christ's death and resurrection has broken down the barriers that have kept us from God and has made it possible for us to live with God forever. In the last week, we've been celebrating our Lord's Ascension, with His promise that though He is beyond our sight, He is with us always. And today, today we celebrate the wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit, poured out on the Church, who breathes life into nothingness to create the world, who recreates the world with power and might, and who pours out the power of forgiveness on a world hardened by sin.

The Hebrew word for Spirit is ruah, with is the same word they use for "breath." So the Spirit who hovered over the waters of the primordial world also breathed life into our first parents, giving them not just spiritual life, but physical life, and life in all its fullness. The psalmist today makes it very clear that this Holy Spirit is the principle of life for all of us: "you take back your spirit, they perish and return to the dust from which they came; when you send forth your spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth" (Ps. 104:34).

It is this same Spirit that is poured out on our world, which often times doesn't look very life-giving. This world of darkness of sin, of war and terror, of poverty and injustice, of sickness and death; this world can be recreated daily when the Spirit is poured out on hearts open to receive Him. This Spirit bursts forth from the believer into action: working in various forms of service, works and ministries to proclaim, not just in word, but most importantly in deed, that "Jesus is Lord" (1 Cor 12:3).

It is this same Spirit that is given to create the Church as Jesus breathes on the apostles on the evening of that first day of the week. In today's Gospel reading, the Holy Spirit is given for the reconciliation of the sinner. Our Church picks up this theme in the Sacrament of Penance when the words of absolution tell us that "God, the Father of Mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son, has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins." Because it is in the forgiveness of rivalries, it is in the healing of broken relationships, it is in the restoration of peace and in the pardoning of sinners that God's plan for creation is most fully realized.

That same Holy Spirit who hovered over the waters at the creation of the world now hovers over the Church. The apostles first received that Holy Spirit, but now it is poured out on us as well. Nothing that is truly good can be conceived of, nor realized apart from that Holy Spirit. As the sequence tells us today: "Where you are not, we have naught, nothing good in deed or thought, nothing free from taint of ill." It is the Spirit who gives life, both physical and spiritual. It is the Spirit who speaks in our prayer, putting those prayers in our hearts in the first place, and uttering all of our inexpressible groanings when we cannot pray ourselves. It is the Spirit who gives gifts to enliven our works and ministries. It is indeed the Spirit who gives us faith to cry out, "Jesus is Lord."

Having gathered today in this place on this great Feast, we now pray for not only an outpouring of that Holy Spirit, but also for the openness to receive that Spirit and the grace to let that Spirit work in us for the salvation of the world. We, the Church, need that Holy Spirit to help us to promote a culture of life in a world of death; to live the Gospel in a world of selfishness; to seek inclusion and to celebrate diversity in a world of racism and hate; to effect conversion and reconciliation in a world steeped in sin. Brothers and sisters in Christ, if people in this world are to know that Jesus is Lord, it's got to happen through each one of us. One life and one heart at a time can be moved to conversion by our witness and our prayer. Let us pray, then, that the Holy Spirit would be able to do all that in us.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth. Amen. Alleluia

The Mystery of the Lord’s Cross

Receive the oblation of the holy people, to be offered to God.
Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate,
and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross.

— The Rite of Ordination

These words from the Rite of Ordination have sobered and well, almost haunted me in the last few months of my formation. Not that they are surprising, but they certainly get right to the point of what priesthood, and indeed the whole spiritual life, is about. For in Baptism, we are indeed all crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20) and the life we live is not our own. Christ himself taught us that we must lay down our lives for our friends, as he did (John 15:13).

This is true in a special way for the priest, who is called to offer the Sacrifice, and who must respond to the needs of God’s people. In a little over twenty-four hours, my life will no longer be my own, and I will be often called on to die to myself to follow Christ and do His work.

The strength to do that comes from Christ himself, who sends us His Holy Spirit to give us the grace to do what we cannot do on our own. The joy that comes from that grace is immeasurable. Conforming my life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross is a serious responsibility, but also a great source of peace and joy.

Pilgrimage

I promised myself that for this week before Ordination, I would take the time to visit some of the Churches that have been important to me along the way for Mass and some prayer. That has been an amazing experience: a real opportunity to look back on all of my life and see how God has been active in the various communities in which I’ve lived. Monday was lost because I was on a plane all day, but Tuesday started out at my home parish, where I was the deacon for daily Mass (yes, that’s unusual there too, but was nice for me). Yesterday I went just one parish north of that to the place where I grew up and received first Reconciliation and Confirmation. Today I went to the Abbey across from my college, and in which community I once discerned a vocation as a monk.

Tomorrow I will go to the church of my Baptism, which my family moved away from when I was an infant. So I’ve never really remembered being there. It’s not a terribly long drive, so I am looking forward to it. I also plan to go into the city tomorrow for Confession.

Pilgrimage, whatever form it takes, is a beautiful thing because we actually physically move toward the Lord in some way. This physical journey for me has been showing me the many ways God has called me throughout my life, and has helped me to reflect on my response to that call. It has also helped me to be grateful for the call, in its many forms, throughout my days.