Our Lady of Sorrows

Today’s Feast | Today’s Readings

ourladyofsorrowsIn the very early morning hours of September 15th last year, I got a page on my fire department pager. I looked at the page, which told me that they were responding to a vehicle accident, but they were asking for fire-medics and not a chaplain. So I deleted the page and went back to bed. At 7:00am, I went to the chapel for Mass, at which time I found out the details of that page I got earlier in the morning. Four seminarians had been returning from off campus, and were involved in an accident on our property, across the lake from the school. The rector announced that one of the students, Matty Molnar, had been killed in the accident, and that another, Jared Cheek, was critically injured. Jared died the following day.

You can imagine the shock to our relatively small community. The details of the incident unfolded in the days and weeks following the accident, but information alone did not make us feel any better. The significance of the accident happening on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows was not lost on us, and the celebrant’s homily, a homily he prepared the day before the accident, could not have been more fitting if it had been planned that way. There were few, if any, dry eyes in the chapel that day, which is really striking when you consider it was a room full of mostly men who don’t often show that kind of emotion.

Today, we offer a mass of memorial for Matty and Jared. We might also remember the many loved ones from each of our families who have gone before us, marked with the sign of faith. Mary reaches out to us in our sorrow today, she who knew well the sorrows that life could bring. Just as Jesus reached out to her from the Cross, entrusting her to the care of his beloved disciple, so he reaches out to us in our own sorrows, entrusting us to the care of those among us who are his beloved disciples. Mary is our intercessor in the sorrows of this life, and our leader into the joys of the life to come.

Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.

The light at the end of the tunnel?

Back when I was working in the print industry, we always used to joke that whenever we'd see the light at the end of the tunnel, it would turn out to be the headlights of an oncoming train.  That was a little cynical, of course, but a sense of humor is extremely important in the print industry!

Lately, I've seen a bit of the light at the end of the tunnel as far as my formation goes.  I graduated last Saturday with my Master of Divinity.  I didn't think it would be any big deal to me (Ordination, of course, is the big deal, right?), and I didn't plan on going to graduation at first.  But back on Family Day this year, I chose not to be on campus, because I needed some time away to grieve the loss of tragic events at our seminary.  So I promised my parents I would do graduation.

And, of course, as these things usually go, I am glad I did.  It gave me the chance to meet the parents of some of my friends, as well as to spend some time with my friends one last time.  It helped me also to put some closure on the end of the seminary journey and this part of my formation.  It was a light at the end of a five-year tunnel.

There's just a few weeks left until Ordination.  Then I get to live the life for which I've been preparing these last five years.  As one of our formators said in our class's end-of-the-year Mass, "It's time for you to go."  I'm excited to live the life of a priest, and all of the events of these next few weeks are lights at the end of the tunnel for me.  Yes, the tunnel does seem to go on and on, because we're never really done with our formation in life, but as you progress through it, there's more and more light.

And, thankfully, that light isn't the headlight of an oncoming train.

Reconciliation Practicum, Day 1

I heard my first “fake confession” in my Reconciliation Practicum class today. I have to say it was pretty scary, but also an awesome feeling at the same time.

It brought me back to a time probably eight years ago or more now, when I was going through a crisis of faith. I thought seriously about joining a non-denominational megachurch in our area. I was really torn on the issue, and almost did it, but, as usual, God sent a big sign. One of the nights I was there, the minister, who was obviously an ex-Catholic, spoke of his experience of the sacrament as a child. I remember him saying something like “… and then the priest forgave my sins, or at least that’s what he said he did …”

His very disparaging comments about the Sacrament of Penance were really jarring to me. I know I thought at the time that what he was saying was certainly not my experience. At that point, I knew I could not live without the sacraments of the Church, and well, here I am now.

Preparing to hear confessions, to be on really holy ground with people who bare their souls and are seeking God’s forgiveness. I know how awesome this sacrament has been in my own life, and I feel so very blessed to be given the opportunity to celebrate that sacrament with God’s people. It’s an awesome prayer, absolution:

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;
through the ministry of the Church
may God give you pardon and peace,
and I absolve you from your sins
in the name of the Father, and of the Son, +
and of the Holy Spirit.

I know how much hearing that prayer of absolution has always meant to me, and how different the world looks to me when I have been absolved. God truly longs to reconcile all the world to himself, one soul at a time. What a blessing to have the opportunity to be part of that.

The Nature of Friendship

One of my courses this quarter is called “Friendship and the Moral Life.” I just turned in the final paper for the class, and the introduction to the paper was a reflection on friendships in my life. I thought that those three paragraphs were worth blogging about…

One of my great concerns about coming to seminary five years ago was the issue of friendship. I liked my life just fine the way it was: I had a good job, a growing spiritual life, and plenty of good friends. So uprooting myself and leaving all that behind was naturally a little frightening. But if I am honest, I would have to admit that those same friendships I was loathe to leave behind were the same friendships that were pushing me forward. These were the same friends who were not only not surprised when I told them I was going to seminary, but were in fact incredibly supportive.

The grace of friendship, however, has not been something I have left behind when I drove through the front gates of the seminary. God has certainly provided some extremely important friendships that have seen me through my formation. Those friends have also seen me through some very difficult times, including the month in first theology when both of my parents were diagnosed with cancer. I am certain now that I would not have stayed in the seminary were it not for them, and one of the spiritual insights that I remember from that time is how blessed I felt to have been in seminary at the time, because the support those friends gave me was more than I could have hoped for at any other time of my life.

The incredible grace of friendship has been a constant source of support and encouragement for me, but has also been a force that has kept me focused on doing God’s will in my life. These friends have supported me, but also on occasion called me to task, challenged me, and helped me see who I am through more objective eyes. As my friends have become more a part of my life, I have felt challenged to grow and to become a stronger servant of God than I would have otherwise. And I know that, even for some years before I came to seminary, I have always linked friendship with faith. I have experienced friendship as an icon of Incarnation: my friends help me to know God’s presence in my life and in the world.

St. John Bosco, Pray for Us

Today I’m preaching at the seminary. Talk about a rough crowd; definitely the most critical of audiences. I’m preaching on the feast of St. John Bosco and here’s what I’ll say…

St. John BoscoReadings: Phil. 4:4-9 Matt. 18:1-5
St. John Bosco Biography

“Unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Someone once told me that you can only be a child once, but you can be childish your whole life long. I think he meant “childlike,” or at least that’s what I prefer to think.

Jesus tells us we have to turn and become like children: that we must turn away from what we are like now, to become the way children are. So what are children like? One might think of children as innocent and pure … unless, of course, one has been a substitute teacher for a sixth-grade religious education class. I don’t think innocence Jesus is going for here.

Children are also completely dependent on their parents for everything. They need a roof over their head, clothes to wear, food to eat; they need to be educated and socialized and taught to pray. Jesus was calling his followers to turn away from thinking they had everything figured out and taken care of and to realize that they needed God, that they needed God’s wisdom, and needed God’s grace and forgiveness.

St. John Bosco is a very compelling figure for me. Having been a youth minister, I am drawn to his concern for youth. And I have been very moved by the obedience he shows in his vocation and his spiritual life. We can see John Bosco in this Gospel in two ways. First, he was one who helped poor children who very literally had nobody they could depend on. He taught them, and brought them to Mass, and fed them and sheltered them. He was able to reach out to ruffian boys who everyone else had given up on. I guess that makes him the patron saint of cam priests and formation contact people.

But even more than that; more importantly, he was childlike in his obedience to God’s will. For example, most of the priests who tried to help him for a time eventually fell away; many of them because they were put off by John Bosco’s efforts to help these poor children while himself not having even a penny to his name. He had grand plans but no obvious means to achieve them. But Bosco was confident in what God could do in him when he had absolutely nothing. In his childlike dependence on God, he was able to build houses and schools for poor children, several churches, and even found a religious order, the Salesians of St. John Bosco. We should all be so childlike.

I find it so easy in my life to be filled with delusions of self-sufficiency: those sins, as Rolando mentioned yesterday, are legion. As we come to the Eucharist today, would that we could turn away from any of that in our lives, and reach out our hand, in childlike faith, to receive our Lord who longs to be our strength and our sufficiency. “Whoever humbles himself like this,” Jesus tells us, “is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Blessed are your eyes

Turning to the disciples in private he said,
“Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.
For I say to you,
many prophets and kings desired to see what you see,
but did not see it,
and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”

During my CPE experience, this was a quotation of Scripture that greatly consoled many of us. We saw a lot of nasty stuff in those days, but we also saw some things that were really holy. People who died after a wonderful old life, ready to go to the kingdom; families who rallied around a sick or injured member; spiritual growth in our fellow chaplain interns. It was a blessed time, and I think we always knew that, even in the crazy times.

How true that is in everyday life. We see a lot of things that we would rather not see, but if we are looking and attentive, we see a lot of God’s grace at work as well. And blessed are we to see it.

The question for me right now — as difficult as it is to be at seminary now with the grief of our tragedies and the craziness of the Apostolic Visitation — is what is it that I am seeing that blesses my eyes; what is it that I am hearing that blesses my ears? That will be the focus of my prayer in these days.

Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, pray for us.

Say More About That

The paradox of transformation is the paradox of death/resurrection, a time of dying to what was, as we move into what will be. It's a strange mix of color and darkness, of both knowing and not knowing. This somewhat abstract image reflects on the leap we take into the mystery of our own tansformative journeys. Here we face the changes and sometimes the death of our hopes, our dreams, our bodies and our relationships. As we stand in these times of change, we simply ask to be faithful and to trust in a loving God who can truly make all things new.   Painting by Doris Klein, CSA.
In CPE, we had a little “inside joke,” if you will, about the statement, “say more about that.” That’s one of those phrases often used in counselling, spiritual direction, and CPE. It’s a good, open-ended question, better than something that would call for a “yes” or “no” answer. But it gets thrown around so much, that our group laughed about it a lot, unless we really meant to use it.

I know if my group were with me right now, they’d be asking me to say more about how things felt with all of the tragedy that’s happened on our campus these last days. And there has been a lot. The two deaths alone would have been enough (kind of a reverse “dayenu” prayer), but another one of our brothers contracted West Nile Virus and is not well, and the mother of one of our professors died in Georgia. So we’ve had enough, and then some.

So how does that make me feel? Well, I guess I’ll say more about that…

First of all, it pisses me off that the availabilty of counseling has not been trumpeted from the rooftops. If this had been a public elementary school, counselors would have been available the next day. Despite news reports to the contrary, that has not yet happened here. Sure, there are spiritual directors and faculty to talk to, but nothing organized, nothing systematic to make sure nobody slips through the cracks. I know that people are slipping through the cracks and will continue to do so, and we should know better than that.

So I guess I’m in the anger stage of my grief right now. That feels pretty lousy, but I know I have to go through it. I do intend to find someone to talk to about it. Friends have been good, but it’s time for an objective point of view, I think.

Cardinal George was on campus the other night to talk to us about the tragedy. I know that what he said was true: we have to learn from this event, use it in our formation; we have to care for one another; we have to model our lives on the saints as we embrace the grief and pain and move through it. But he said nothing about how to take care of ourselves. Nobody has. And that’s what pisses me off most. It’s easy enough to say “you’re here to become priests, so buck up and stay the course.” But it’s quite another thing to have to do that, and quite frankly His Eminence’s words, while well-intentioned and probably the best he could do when it comes to pastoral care, just ring hollow.

So I still miss Matty and Jared. Matty especially, since I knew him best of the two. I miss his music, his laughter, his outreaching friendship for everybody. Grief just stinks.

From the holy card from Matty’s funeral, the Memorare:

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary,
that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection,
implored your help or sought your intercession was left unaided.

Inspired with with confidence,
I fly to you, O virgin of virgins, my Mother.
To you I come,
before you I stand,
sinful and sorrowful.

O Mother of the Word Incarnate,
despise not my petitions,
but in your mercy, hear and answer me.
Amen.

The days just keep on getting sadder…

Jared, Fr. Dan, and Matty
I grieve for Matty and Jared, both way too young to die. I knew Matty pretty well, and worked directing the contemporary choir with him last spring. He was talented, energetic and bright, and will be a loss to his archdiocese.

I also grieve for Rob and Mark, who have minor physical wounds but other wounds which will take longer to heal. And I also grieve for our community, which has lost four outstanding presbyteral candidates, and four beloved brothers.

The picture at right shows Jared, Fr. Dan and Matty during some fellowship time.

This picture is from Matty’s website.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

A Very Sad Day

Our Lady of Sorrows pray for us
I’d like to ask you all to keep our community at Mundelein in your prayers. Early this morning, four of our seminarians were involved in a serious, tragic car accident, on our campus. I don’t know all the details yet, and I probably don’t want to know. But one of them was killed, another underwent head trauma surgery at a nearby trauma center, another underwent some surgery on his arm, and the fourth was physically unhurt. But he was the driver, so there are other hurts to deal with, obviously.

M, the seminarian who was killed, and I were good friends. He and I directed our contemporary choir together in the spring quarter last year. He was young, enthusiastic, committed to the faith, a talented musician, outgoing and a lot of fun to be with. I can’t imagine this place without him.

R, the driver, was the director of the contemporary choir except for the spring quarter last year, when he was on internship. A very talented musician, he and I also shared similar ecclesiologies, so I’ve been close to him as well. We don’t know if he will be returning to the seminary.

I’m hurting a whole lot right now. I haven’t been this sad in quite a long time, and I’ve been through a lot of stuff. Please pray for me, pray for our community, pray for M, R and the others.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord,
And let perpetual light shine upon him.
May he rest in peace. Amen.

Our Lady of Sorrows, Pray for us.