Monday, June 23, 2014

Intercessory Prayer and the Fortnight for Freedom

     As a seminarian, with more than a little “academic” bent to my life, I am still surprised when people I meet in conversation will respond, “I didn’t know that!” to what I might consider basic tenets of our Church teaching.  Reflecting on this phenomena a bit, I realize that I shouldn’t be surprised, because I often say the same thing.

     A few days ago I had a conversation with a friend about annual appraisals, which sort of took me back to my past. After mentoring and managing people for more than 30 years in business, I recall that often, I and other managers would speak about the need for staff to take part in their own “self-directed education” in order to advance. That begs the question: in our Church life, how many of us actively pursue expanding our knowledge through self-directed learning? 
     This weekend, the Fortnight for Freedom began, running from June 21st to July 4th. On their website, the United States Council of Catholic Bishops ( states: “The theme of this year's Fortnight will focus on the freedom to serve the poor and vulnerable in accord with human dignity and the Church's teaching.”

     That message seems, to me, to be so basic; if someone desires to help the poor and the marginalized, shouldn’t we all - including our civic leaders - cheer them on, and perhaps offer to help, too? But a simple review of the fact sheet the USCCB offers illustrates that for an organization such as the Catholic Church, there are multiple civil and legal attacks on the freedom to serve the poor.

     Most of my readers I expect continue to be aware and concerned about the US Department of Health and Human Services mandate that runs counter to our Church teaching on sterilization, contraception and abortion. But there is more to the focus of the Fortnight:

- Who would have guessed that Catholic foster care and adoption services have been driven out of business in places like Boston, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and the entire state of Illinois?

- Would you have guessed that the USCCB Migration and Refugee Services, offered for years while working with the federal government, had its contract changed because the government required them to refer people for contraceptive and abortion services in violation of our Catholic teaching?

     More examples could be cited, but it could be more effective for my blog readers to explore these limitations on our freedom yourselves. Type into your browser, and continue your “self-directed learning” about the threats to living out the Gospel; I hope and pray that you will be glad that you did.

     For my part, I found it interesting that the bishops mention the saints on our Roman Calendar during these next few days whose lives reflect a political dimension. From reading about their lives, we will better understand that this is not something new only in our 21st century.

June 22nd – Saints John Fisher and Thomas More, Martyrs

     Fisher, Bishop or Rochester, and More, Lord Chancellor, where both martyred for defending the teaching of the Church against King Henry VIII, especially in regard to the sanctity and permanence of marriage. Today, the same sanctity and permanence of marriage is being challenged from within our secular society that has reduced marriage to a commodity, governed more by popular media than centuries-old Church teaching.

June 24th – The Birth of Saint John the Baptist, Martyr

     Jesus’ cousin was martyred for speaking out against the marriage of Herod to his brother’s wife, Herodias. We find here one of the earliest martyrdoms in our Church history where the defense of marriage was one of the charges held against the Saint.

June 28th – Saint Irenaeus, Bishop and Martyr

     This 2nd century bishop and martyr is known for his defense of Christianity, including his early creed that served as the precursor of the Nicaea formula of faith to be promulgated a century after Irenaeus taught – and died in 202 A.D. – for the Christian faith against tyrannical Rome, under Emperor Septimus Severus' persecutions.

June 29th – Saints Peter and Paul Apostles and Martyrs

     Both Peter and Paul would be put to death for their leadership of the emerging Christian faith. Each wrote for us some of the strongest texts about standing firm in faith in the face of any trials and attacks. Consider spending some time reflecting on 1 Cor 16:13 or 1 Peter 5:8-10.

July 1st – Blessed Junipero Serra

     Serra was the 18th century Franciscan whose passion for the faith led him, on his missionary journey, to found missions along the Pacific coast, nine throughout California. We find in Blessed Serra that foundation of faith upon which our country has been founded.

     As you consider the prayers of the Church during this Fortnight of Freedom, please reflect on the many saints whose lives offered complete witness to the Gospel … for many, unto their martyr’s death. We have them to thank, and to intercede for us during this critical time in our country.
 (From the USCCB Prayer for the Fortnight of Freedom)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Looking Forward to my Pastoral Year

I’m Back!

Sorry to those faithful readers, many of whom I have met and spoken too over the past few months as you asked, “Are you still going to write your vocation blog?”

The answer is “Yes,” coupled with the caveat from last summer that if I didn’t post an entry for a while, it was because the semester workload was a priority. This spring semester, the workload of seven courses won out over blog posts. Sorry … but it might happen again sometimes, so thanks for your understanding and continued prayers.

A quick update for friends and family, of things that can be checked off:

  • Completed my academic program at Immaculate Conception, and graduated with my second M.A. in theology on May 15th.

  • Sold my home in Mount Laurel, so Sea Isle City is now “home” when I am not in my parish.

  • Completed by diaconate assignment at OLPH/Saint Agnes, having formed some wonderful friendships with Father Bill, Father Michael, and the great parishioners who call Atlantic Highlands and the Highlands “home.”

  • Moved out of Seton Hall, and moved into Saint Robert Bellarmine in Freehold, NJ, as my “home” for this next “pastoral year.”

Some have asked me, “What is a pastoral year?” For my continued formation to the priesthood, a pastoral year is one that is spent full-time in a parish, gaining experience in all that makes up the rhythm of parish life. So far, that has included participation in various parish committee meetings, and some particular projects as outlined by my pastor, Monsignor Sam. I am excited about the experiences that will become part of my formation in the coming twelve months for a few reasons.

First, it is extremely valuable to experience life in a parish outside of weekend liturgies. Through my decade of service as a deacon, I have a sense of those duties, both liturgical and pastoral, such as marriage preparation and bereavement services. My experience of the administrative side of the parish has been limited, and this year will offer me a depth of experience in this area. Saint Robert Bellarmine is a busy, large parish community, so there will be varied experiences of many types in the weeks ahead.

Second, I am extremely fortunate to be connected once again with an old friend (or should that be “long-time” friend?) Monsignor Sam and I first met in 1984 when he was a newly ordained priest, serving his initial assignment at Our Lady of Good Counsel parish in Moorestown. We had the opportunity to work together three decades ago, and I am now to be the beneficiary of those three decades of priestly experience during this pastoral year. Along with Father Ed, our parochial vicar, I am truly blessed to have these men share their life’s experience in ministry with me. If these first two weeks are any indicator, I will be profoundly wiser in twelve months in regard to the everyday life of a parish priest.

Third, I have been welcomed to Freehold, NJ, by another friend, Deacon Rolf, who is both the parish manager here at Saint Robert's and a classmate from my diaconate class of 2004. In just a few days, Freehold has already begun to feel like "my neighborhood" through the welcome of these old friends and new acquaintances among the parish.

Please keep me, and all my brother seminarians in your prayers, along with all the priests, bishops and faculty members who continue to prepare us to serve God’s People. I promise that you will see more regular posts in the months ahead, now that the academic schedule is in the rear-view mirror.