Monday, December 9, 2013

Feeding 3,000 - and the Prayer Wave to Stamp Out Global Hunger

On December 10th, 2013, in every time zone of the world at 12 noon, please pray to stamp out global hunger.  Pope Francis just launched the campaign through a video.

With that in mind, I am reprinting here a story of feeding the 3,000, an extraordinary day in my life in April 2005, with one of my sons, a good friend, Greg Dix, and two of the Missionaries of the Poor serving the poorest of the poor in Jamaica. The actions of one farmer and a few willing volunteers can make a difference to so many lives. Won't you join the #PrayerWave today? #Food4All Won't you pray for an end to hunger every day?

If you have eaten today, please pray for all those who have not been so lucky!

--------------------------------------- April 2005 -----------------------------------------------

        A spring vacation in Jamaica!  Doesn’t that sound exciting?  After a cold, damp winter, I left on Easter Monday to travel to Kingston, Jamaica, with ten others from Our Lady of Good Counsel parish.  But this was no Spring Break – we were journeying to the facilities of Father Ho Lung and the Missionaries of the Poor.  Ten of us were going, and five, like my son and I, had never been on such a visit.  We were an eclectic group of women and men, from teenagers to grandparents, students, teachers, doctors and managers.  For those five of us who were new to this experience, we were both excited and anxious about the unknown journey ahead of us for the next few days.  We would soon be changed by this encounter in ways we are still learning to understand.
When we arrived, Monday, we had brief tours of the Brother’s living quarters and chapels, which were simple, but beautiful.  They were, however, far from the resorts, located in the neighborhoods with the poorest of the poor in Kingston.  As we drove from the airport to the Missionaries of the Poor, we saw street after street lined with homes.  Not homes as we know them, but shacks put together with scraps of wood and metal that were all that the poor could find.  Blank stares from the adults were cast in our direction as we drove by, and the occasional wave from a child seemed to recognize that we were not part of the usual traffic on the streets.

Our work really began on Tuesday, when I joined two other volunteers, Carol and Lisa, at Good Shepherd mission.  This facility, for men (and a few boys), held about 60 residents.  I had never experienced such levels of poverty, where even the clothes that the residents wore where not theirs, but were provided by the Brothers through donations and gifts from places like Moorestown and Mount Laurel.  The residents suffered from many physical, mental and emotional challenges.  I had expected to encounter various mental handicaps among those who lived at Good Shepherd.  What I had not been prepared for was the physical handicaps that were the daily challenge of so many of the residents.  It took some time to get acclimated, and to see past the scars, wounds and bent limbs to see the person behind the eyes and smile.
My most startling realization, made during the first two days in caring for these residents, is that they are not the poor, or the homeless.  They are not people to be classified or generalized with these categories.  They are God’s children, and they have names.  They are Trevor, and Sheldon, and Jasper, and Duncan.  I quickly found that they wanted to know my name, and for those who could speak, they were excited when someone else knew their name.  When Sheldon heard that someone had been speaking about him the night before we arrived, his smile and whole face beamed with joy – someone outside these 12-foot high walls knew who he was.  Or in his words, “They know my face!?”
Our new friends wanted to be touched, to be held by the hand, especially the children.  It didn’t take long before I wanted to touch and hold them just as much, and it was hard to leave at the end of each day when our time with them was over.  By that afternoon, Jasper was falling asleep in my lap as I read stories to the older residents.  I wondered when was the last time that Jasper had been held, and didn’t want to disturb his rest.
The second day brought a visit to a one-room schoolhouse outside of Kingston, and the delivery of cases of books donated by members of our parish and school community.  The joy was electric – it was a school holiday, but about 15 children streamed from the shacks surrounding the school to help us carry the boxes.  Something exciting was happening for them that day, with both visitors and all the boxes coming into their neighborhood, their school – their world.
That afternoon took us back to Kingston, and to Bethlehem House, the mission for children.  We met many who were physically and mentally tortured with illness, and yet we felt their happiness at our presence and our touch.  After dressing one young man of about 14 after his bath, I was waiting for the wheel chair that had brought him to me to come back.  He reached out to me – to hold my hand – and with strength I could not have imagined pulled himself up, and with limbs that should not have supported him he walked toward the door, meeting the wheelchair halfway!  This noble, bent but strong youth had a spirit and courage that I could only admire, watching his accomplishment that to most of us would be taken for granted, but for him, was perhaps the hardest thing he had done in weeks.  Tears of both joy and pain flowed easily at Bethlehem House.
For my son, Will, along with Greg Dix and myself, the third day was almost surreal.  We had been invited by the Brothers to assist with a “Chicken Run.”  I was a tentative participant, balanced by Greg and Will’s excitement – this was going to be something else!  We traveled in a 2-½ ton open truck to a farm outside of Kingston, where we helped to catch and carry 800 chickens.  Up until that day, my experience with farms was limited to orchards and pumpkin-picking hay rides.  Now, I know where both the chickens and the eggs we eat are raised!   
Yes, that is how you catch and carry chickens!

We soon were back in the truck – the three volunteers along with Brother Ronald and the 800 chickens in the open back of the truck – heading back to Kingston.  After the 90-minute ride, we drove into the poorest neighborhoods, and would stop with the horn announcing that we were there, and Brother Pierre calling out, “Food, food”.  In moments, we would have 50 children, adults and elderly people surrounding the back of the truck.  Eager hands reached out for the chickens that would feed their families and friends at a feast on Sunday, as we distributed the gift of a generous farmer to those in need.  After about eight or ten stops, the chickens were all gone.  We were tired, dirty, and amazed at what had just happened that day.  We did not get to know their names in these neighborhoods, but could tell from their smiles that Thursday had been a very good day, as we fed perhaps 2 or 3,000 people.
Two chickens for each family, which they will happily share with neighbors.

Returning to our homes on Friday, security check-ins and air travel was somewhat anti-climatic.  We would miss our new friends.  And perhaps most importantly, we would remember their names and faces.  I will always remember Sheldon, Jasper, O’Neill, Duncan, Trevor, Sallie, Willie, Andre and many others.  These are just some of the names of God’s children, the names of His Poor.
                                                            - Deacon Jim Grogan

December 10th - 2013: Won't you give someone a lift up to a better life? Start with a prayer to end hunger!

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Campus Bells

Monday evening of my fall break, I am sitting on the beach in the nearly-full moonlight, alone with the sound of the waves, offering my Evening Prayer. Other than the moon and the stars, the only light around is the glow of my iPhone where I follow the feast day’s (St. Pope Callistus) Liturgy of the Hours. Instead of the prescribed hymn, I take out my recorder, and pipe “How Great Thou Art” as my hymn for the Hours.  When I lean back and look away from the moon, I see hundred - no, thousands - of stars sparkling in the night sky.

Does it get any better than this?

Doonbeg Bay, County Clare, Ireland

Well, … yes, it does!

Much as I have enjoyed this Fall break, which I comically told my friends that all the “college kids” get, I yearn for the measured life at Immaculate Conception Seminary. My sons have gone back to their schools already, so this wonderful break seems long enough. For me, I have come to find great peacefulness in the days measured by the bells.

When the semester began in August, we gathered in the University Chapel for the Liturgy of the Hours and celebration of the Eucharist.  About 50 yards outside our front door were the memorial bells on the Seton Hall campus, which beautifully toll each hour and quarter-hour. I came to expect that we would not begin the Angelus at 6:30 each morning until two bells signaled the half-hour. And as we gently progressed through Morning Prayer, most days, three bells would toll 6:45 as we were saying or singing the Benedictus.  Perhaps it is the musician in me that noticed the wonderful symmetry of the bells when we were singing this Gospel passage.  The same pattern would hold true later in the day as we gathered for Evening Prayer, and again when we would recite Night Prayer.

When we moved back into our own Good Shepherd Chapel a few weeks into the semester, I was very happy to hear those familiar bells - a little softer in the distance, but still making the hours sacred by their gentle tones.  In a sense, the bells mirror my feelings of the gift that this time at Immaculate Conception Seminary is to me.  They mark time, but it is somehow shifted from the chronos of a busy day - which the bells surely track - to kairos, God’s time. I have come to appreciate what an incredible gift this year at the seminary is in my discernment and formation, simply because I can allow myself to surrender to the kairos, the moments that God offers to me each day. These moments are quiet in the chapel before the day begins, or energized by the communal prayer of the gathered seminarians and priests; time together at meals, in conversation, and on the basketball court are each precious moments. The time in each classroom has also become kairos, although most professors do appreciate our being ready to go at the scheduled start-time for class! Each day has become kairos for me simply because I see each moment spent as God is calling me this year, getting deeper into the understanding of scripture, or theology, or Canon Law, getting connected more fully into the life and fellowship of the ministerial priesthood that hopefully lies ahead for each of my brother seminarians and myself.

It has also become kairos during my weekend time at St. Agnes and Our Lady of Perpetual Help parishes, where, again, there is a mass schedule and specific assignments (“Am I in St. Agnes today, or OLPH?), but nevertheless the time there becomes a particular gift to meet new parishioners, and to spend hours speaking of the life of a priest with Father Bill. Last week, when no altar servers were available, the sacristan asked if as the deacon, would I be able to serve? I assured him it would be no problem, and then he asked if I would ring the bells during Mass, too. While not generally of the mind that bells during the words of consecration add anything to the spiritual moment, I assured him that I would be sure to ring the bells.

Seems that bells are as essential to kairos as they are to chronos.  Tomorrow, I’ll make the 130 mile drive from Sea Isle to South Orange. I’m certain that within fifteen minutes of arriving back at the seminary, kairos will be signaled by the tolling of the campus bells, God’s reminder that He has given me this time, this year, to grow ever closer to His Son, Jesus, along with the companions He has set on this journey with me; I hope they all had the chance to look into the vast sky tonight, and see His gift in the beauty of the points of light in the darkness, a mirror of what each of us are called by our Baptism to be for others.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Almost Grown

“How do your boys see this journey for you?” is probably the most frequently asked question by friends and acquaintances when they speak with me about my entrance into the seminary and study for the priesthood. Every once in a while, a unique variation on this comes up, as a good friend asked recently:

“Who takes care of your boys?”

That one made me stop and think about not only how to answer, but to look into the depths of the question. A significant part of the timing of my decision has to do with the fact that my sons are growing up into young men, and as I like to say, on any given day two out of the three are on my “good list.” They, like most twenty-somethings, wrestle with layers of challenges in their daily lives as they are maturing. Each has a unique, personal perspective on my journey that reflects their current status, with two still students in college and my oldest son out in the “working world.” Every parent will tell you that you never stop worrying about your children, whether they are in their teens, twenties, thirties or forties, so as their Dad, I do my share of worrying.

Which makes this question a little bit haunting: “Who takes care of your boys?”

In considering this, I was drawn to two items framed on the wall of my bedroom at home. The first was a gift from my brother, a calligraphy print that states, “A brother is like a strong tree to lean against in a storm.” That phrase is one that applies in a very real sense to my three sons today, who are not just sons, but have become mutually supporting brothers. As they continue to mature in the years ahead, they will learn more and more the value of their friendship as brothers, both in supporting each other and in the loving support and encouragement they offer to me.

The second item is a framed watercolor print by Sandi Gore Evans titled “Almost Grown.” It was a Father's Day gift many years ago from Ellie to me, and it illustrates a sneaker next to a baby shoe, a remarkable analogy to the stages of growth they have gone through, as have I.  When that watercolor was new, the sneaker was “mine” and the baby shoe was “theirs.” Now, however, both are theirs, and it captures the notion that they have “almost” grown into young adults. Some days they seem closer than others to that goal. At any rate, for them, my phone sounds the same whether they speak to me in South Orange or Mount Laurel, and their respective time away at school or work is simply where each of them, and I, need to be right now. When we find the chance to actually be together in the same place, it is a great blessing; when we meet this year, it will be me as well as them coming home during fall break and holidays.

Some of you know of my particular trust in the Blessed Mother, and I try to say a Rosary daily for my sons. On each mystery, I contemplate not just the biblical moment for Mary and Jesus, but I apply that particular mystery to what they need, or what I hope for them. The “Visitation” might have me calling to mind an interview they have coming up as a visit of sorts, or the “Presentation” might have me asking the Blessed Mother to watch over them as they get ready for a test or paper in college. While meditating on each mystery, I place my needs and concerns for them under the protection of the Blessed Mother; each day, this Rosary is said just for their needs. (Don’t worry; the rest of my readers are included in other petitions during the Liturgy of the Hours each day!)

So the answer to the question, “Who takes care of your boys?” is really very simple for me: I have a role to play as their Dad, and it is a role I enjoy and cherish, but the real care comes from the Blessed Mother, whose intercessions for my sons with her Son I implore and count on every day.

Any parents reading this, consider talking to Mary about your kids each day; she is Our Lady of Good Counsel, the Seat of Wisdom, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the Queen of Heaven. Trust her to take care of your boys, and girls, each day.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Week One and the Eve of Classes

It is an amazing thing when dreams start to blend into reality; that has been my experience this past week, when Sunday evening a week ago I moved into Lewis Hall to continue my discernment for the priesthood. For about two days, our community was small – the sixteen of us who entered Immaculate Conception Seminary as the “new men.” During those first days, I described my feelings to a friend as feeling like a kid at Christmas – everything wrapped in excitement, both because of the newness of each part of our orientation together, but also because the dream has indeed started to become a reality. Each long day was packed from dawn ‘til night with newness: new information, new friends, new structure to the measurement of our days between cycles of community prayer.

The last half of the week was spent on a retreat with all the community – new guys, returning seminarians, and faculty. Those who may know my challenge with remembering names can imagine that as one of my personal speed bumps when meeting about sixty or seventy people in the span of five days. I’d like to hope I have about two-thirds of the names down so far, and I’ll give myself the coming week or two to remember the rest; the retreat with the returning men became a special time to get acquainted, and to hear stories of just what I can expect in the community living for the next year. I still feel like a kid at Christmas, perhaps more so as one on Christmas Eve, knowing there are surprises right around the corner with each new day.

Tomorrow begins the academic term, with classes starting at 8:30 after morning prayer at 6:30 – does everyone get excited about starting their Monday morning with Canon Law? (Let’s see if I say that two weeks from now!)

Most significant about this week has been that time is now measured by prayer; sure, there are lots of scheduled meetings and classes, but all center around and make way for when we gather to pray together, along with the encouragement to extend that prayerfulness into our personal time, too.  What a gift that has been! In the closing comments of our retreat, the seminary rector offered this insight to us: “God is inviting us to so much more than ordination.” In a very real sense, that comment defines so much of what has happened this week, and what will happen in the weeks ahead. For me, the academic class work is a gift and opportunity, along with the gift of time to sit with God, to enter into God’s time, kairos, and to find hidden there the invitation to simply listen to what Jesus has in mind for me each day.  The good news is that we have the time for this quiet reflection. The better news is that we are learning how to make this time count for the rest of our lives.

Thanks to all who have shared thoughts and prayers, text messages, and e-mails this week. I value that prayerful support more than words can describe in this blog, so I will leave it as simply repeating my thanks to each of you.

The campus bells have just tolled 8 o’clock; the hustle and bustle of the undergrad celebrations that filled Seton Hall today have quieted down to simply night birds and cricket sounds from my window; night prayer will be calling us together in the beautiful chapel in about an hour or so. I can’t imagine a better way to wrap up a busy day than with these moments of quiet solitude.

Thank you, God, for the gifts that have filled my days this past week, and for the graced moments in the day ahead. “Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive.” So much more than a prayer for meals; so much more than an invitation to ordination!

P.S. – Many have asked what my address is here. I can be found at Rev. Mr. Jim Grogan, Immaculate Conception Seminary, 400 South Orange Avenue, South Orange, NJ 07079 until next May

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Hope, Dreams and Letting God Find Me

This past week was an interesting one – in very real terms, a “transitional” week for me. After nine years as a permanent deacon, I began the formal path toward seminary study by joining the annual Diocese of Trenton Seminarian Retreat. Curiously, that formal action of joining with my brother seminarians changes my classification to that of “transitional deacon.” English majors among my acquaintances have had fun speculating on how you change from “permanent,” but transitional captures more than just a designation within seminary progression; it speaks to the hopes and dreams that anticipate transition and transformation along the path ahead of me, intellectual and spiritual transformation as I seek God in my daily life.

This week-long retreat was a profound experience of praying with and getting to know the 30+ men I have joined who are studying to become priests for this Diocese. Spending time in prayerful community highlighted the sense of freedom I feel as I approach the two-week countdown to moving into Seton Hall. As a seminarian – and later as a priest – it becomes not only our obligation but our privilege to commit ourselves to deeper prayer life.

The retreat created the opportunity to celebrate morning and evening prayer together, along with joining for the daily celebration of the Eucharist. Equally important was the fellowship shared, and getting to know the other men who represent the future priests of our Diocese. Young men in their twenties and thirties, and a couple of us in our forties and fifties, with a common dream: to serve the People of God in the Diocese of Trenton. These men have come from the Philippines, from South America, and from throughout New Jersey to pursue this dream. Some from other states, such as California and West Virginia, have found their spiritual home here in the Diocese of Trenton, just as I have called this Diocese home for almost thirty years now. These men give me such a joyful sense of hope for the future of our Church and Diocese.

Naturally, my own excitement is high as August 18th, move-in day, draws near; the paperwork is complete, classes are registered, and I already have a couple of the books for courses that will both challenge me and continue my “transition” from the secular life to more fully participating in the life of the Church. Many of my family and friends ask, “So, are you ready?”

Simply put, the answer is “yes!”

So much of the year ahead is an unknown, and that’s OK; joining the seminary community in a few weeks will begin to reveal what God has in store for me. I’m expecting surprises – some good, some perhaps not so good, and that is wonderfully OK. Those who know me well understand that I always see the glass as half-full, never half-empty.  That means that each surprise will add to the excitement that this is God’s path for me. I am so very blessed that I have long-time friends who want to keep an eye on my journey, and I look forward to sharing it with you in this blog, and in e-mails, and yes, in the occasional visits. As for me, I look forward to getting to know the men from my Diocese at ICS even better than the retreat opened up this past week, and in joining this community that forms priests for other diocese throughout New Jersey, New York and more.

The prophet Jeremiah tells of God’s plans for us, and speaks of our basis of hope: “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.  When you call me, and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me.”

This past week, the Gospel reminded us to knock and the door will be opened, to seek and we will find, to ask and we shall be given from God all that we need. I am ready, and full of hope, and can’t wait for the surprises when God lets me find Him.