Thursday, November 19, 2009

Keeping tabs...

I don't know why I just thought of this today, but in order to keep people better updated about my progress through cancer treatments, I started a journal on I'll continue to update this blog with my reflections and information about other things going on in my life, but I'll keep the cancer specific stuff over on CaringBridge. You can find the site at:

As always, thanks for your prayers!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

And then, everything looked different...

Ok, it's been a really long time since I've posted, but just about all of you should know the reason for this by now. Nonetheless, I thought I'd give a little summary in case there was any confusion.

In the middle of September I had surgery to remove an enlarged lymph node from the area under my left arm. The pathology of the lymph node revealed that the growth was malignant and was diagnosed as non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of cancer. Further tests revealed a complete diagnosis: stage 4 diffuse large B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma. This type of lymphoma, I have been told, is of the aggressive type, which means that it grows quickly. However, I've also been told that this type of lymphoma is very treatable (i.e. it responds well to treatment - which, if it had the possiblity of virtue, would make somewhat virtuous, I guess) and that the treatment is well-developed and proven to be effective. Together, what this means is that treatment should (and will) start soon (very soon).

Beyond having to tell my family that I have cancer, the hardest part about all of this so far has been trying to describe how this diagnosis has affected me; because it seems that my reaction to this news has been decidedly less desperate (??? if that is even a good word to describe it) than everyone else's so far. Somehow, within all of this, it has never occurred to me that this is the end of anything, which (from my perception, at least) is contrary to how others have reacted to this news. I've tried for weeks now to make sense of this fact. Fundamentally, it seems, there is a very simple, yet very real answer. The reality of this disease is that it is not the end of anything. Every doctor whom I've talked to has assured me that there is a way out of this. And so, in a very real way, there is no reason to entertain any thoughts resembling despair. Looking at the wider picture, the reality of this situation is one that oftentimes we'd all like to forget; that is, that we really aren't in control of everything that happens to us. If we can recognize that there is someone, much greater than us, who is in control of all things, and if we can recognize that this someone loves us more deeply than anyone else does or is able to (including ourselves), then we can approach situations such as these with a spirit of docility, infused with hope by the one who cares for us so deeply, knowing that we are not and will not be left alone. Hope is the reality of all of this.

That having been said, what has overwhelmed me the most in all of this is the incredible expression of concern that so many have expressed. With every expression of sympathy, I see such a deep sorrow that I would have to suffer any such hardship. With every offer of assistance, I see such a deep desire to suffer with me, to take part of this burden from me. This is, in its truest and most real sense, a manifestation of Jesus Christ, the love of the Father, living in each of you. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son... Your eyes of compassion are the eyes of Christ looking on me and telling me, I love you and I would rather suffer everything than to see you suffer, even for a moment. Because of this I know that, more than anyone, God does not desire me to suffer. Yet, he has chosen me for this moment, just as he chose his Son to suffer and die so that we might be saved. And so, what more could I do than pray as Christ prayed, Father, if it is your will, let this cup pass from me; yet not my will, but rather may yours be done.

And so, it is with impossible hope, hope that could only come from outside of me, that I take up this cross. Yet I know that I do not carry it alone. Each of you has already put your hand to this cross in every prayer and in every offer of assistance that you have given me. You have helped me to see Christ living here with me and to come to know his love in a way that I have been blind to for so long. Thank you. My prayer is that each of you will know that God's love is real and that you will come to know that love profoundly in your own lives. Ad majorem Dei gloriam. Amen.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A step back...

Having returned to the seminary to start my next semester, I'd like to take a step back and reflect for a moment on a couple of the often unspoken aspects of the seminary experience.

First, after spending ten weeks in Antigua, Guatemala, a city that by no stretch of the imagination could be called "quiet," I have been struck by just how easy it is to find a moment of silence to listen to the "small, whispering voice" of God speaking to me. One has to want to find this experience in the seminary, for sure, as there are many things within the community that can distract you from that silence (good things, of course, but the point is that the silence is there when you choose to enter into it). I've found refreshment by simply placing myself within this experience of silence during these first couple of weeks.

Another part that we seminarians often forget is the cost of our seminary education. None of us forgets the fact that many faithful, committed people back in our dioceses and who support our religious communities make many sacrifices to provide for our years of formation as we prepare to be the ministers of the mysteries of our faith for this generation and generations to come. But we do sometimes forget that we seminarians, aside from giving ourselves wholly to the process of formation, can share that burden somewhat by seeking out scholarships like those offered by the Knights of Columbus and Logos Bible Software. Each year, the Knights provide scholarships to Catholic seminarians currently enrolled in a four-year theology program. The awarded funds apply directly to the tuition/room & board costs for the seminarian and thus lessen the burden that the people from their home diocese or who support their religious community must bear. Another innovative program has been initiated by the Logos Bible Software company. They are providing a seminary scholarship to a seminarian of any Christian denomination as a way of promoting the ministry of spreading the Gospel and the care of souls. And these are just two ways that we seminarians can do our part to ensure that we are being good stewards of the generosity of all who support us from our homes.

Conscious again of just how truly blessed I am to be able to pray and study at such a place as Saint Meinrad, I am energized to give myself fully to my studies and formation so that I may one day, God willing, be a humble and fruitful steward of the ministry that God has called me to. As always, thank you for your prayers!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Church and Forrest Gump

By God's grace, I've had the last few weeks without parish or seminary responsibilities to reflect on my experience in Guatemala and I've finally hit on a way to describe it that sums up how it has affected me. I hope that it transmits well what I perceive as my experience to you as you read it.

One of the most significant things that I think I've experienced has simply been a greater appreciation of what it means to be Church. The Church is not a place, not a building of stone and steel and wood, but it is a body, that is, Christ's body, which is a union of persons, the faithful who have been sacramentally initiated into it, and so it seems to me that whenever we experience another person, that is, whenever we consciously recognize the personhood of someone whom we've met, what we really experience, in part, is a new dimension of the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ here on earth. These dimensions often times are almost unnoticeable if we aren't paying attention. Sometimes, however, they expand our vision beyond what we thought we were looking for.

With this in mind as I reflect back on my experience in Guatemala, I am struck by how my life has become intertwined with people whom I have no logical reason to have ever met. When describing my experience over the past few weeks, I've recognized how much I sometimes must seem a little like Forrest Gump. For those of you who may not be familiar with the movie, it is the story of a man whom most wouldn't give much credit to. He is unassuming in appearance and mentally slow. The story unfolds as Forrest shares his life experiences with various people one day while waiting for a bus. Each person is amazed as this unassuming man reveals his amazing life experiences and how they have intertwined his life with some of the most famous people and important events of his time. Yet, he doesn't see it as anything outside of the ordinary. He just sees it as his life, as if it was normal to receive the medal of honor and to have meet president Kennedy as well as to have "fallen into" a wildly successful shrimping business and gotten in on the ground floor of the Apple corporation. I suspect most of you have seen this movie and so this description, hopefully, is sufficient to bring it forward in your consciousnesses. (If not check out the Wikipedia article on it.)

And so, in my reflections and in sharing my experiences, this is something of what it feels like. As I describe my experiences, I often times don't see anything out of the ordinary about them. I just look at them as experiences that anyone might have that, if given the opportunity to have them, would have. Yet I see in the faces of others this sense of amazement that causes me to reflect back and to see just how incredible some of these experiences really are. I also see, however, that these are not experiences that are far from us, because in the end these are all part of the experience of being human, that is, the human experience. By sharing with each other our experiences of other people, the relationships and the intertwining of our lives, we share more and more of what it really means to be human. When we come to experience this more and more we become more authentically human. Authentic humanity, then, is the shared experience, that is, the experience of community, which, in part, is what it means to be Church.

And so it is with joy that I share these experiences with you and I am humbled by the blessings through which I have been given the opportunity to have them. I thank you all for continuing to share my journey with me and I look forward, with hope, to the continued journey. As always, thank you for your prayers!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

He llegado

Much faster than I expected it to happen, I have returned to the States. For sure, it will be another week before I can pull my life together back here in Indiana and after that time I hope to share some thoughts and reflections about my time abroad.

Until then, I just wanted to let everyone know that I made it back safely. Thanks for all of your prayers!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The human experience...

I know it's been a couple of weeks, but a lot has gone on since then and I think that it has been providential that I haven't had time to write until now. When I last wrote I described the experience of mass at the hospital chapel and the incredible experience of Christ that I experienced in the presence of the residents of the hospital. I also described how I intended to return to volunteer at the hospital in order to seek Christ in a way that I don't think that I have ever experienced Him before. Because of a national holiday that week (the 30th of June), I was unable to register until this past Monday (the 6th of July). In the meantime, the weekend of the 4th of July, I literally fell into an opportunity to do something incredible. A young married couple, Kris and DeeDee Hatchell, have been studying at PROBIGUA for most about the same amount of time that I have this summer. Kris is an engineer and the director of mission trips for the engineering students of Lipscomb University in Tennessee. In these trips, students develop a economical and sustainable (read: low maintenance, using local supplies) method to supply clean water to poor communities in Latin America. For those who may not know, the biggest problem to the general health of poor communities in Latin America is the lack of clean water to drink, cook, and clean with. With clean water, the people of these communities can spend less time and money (money they often do not have) on health care and can spend it on developing their communities, whether it be through farming or some other industry. Thus (besides being a basic issue of social justice), having clean water is one of the fundamental ways that the people of these communities can begin to break the cycle of poverty.

The weekend of the 4th, Kris and DeeDee had planned to travel with a friend (a Guatemalan native who also works on community development projects) to some communities outside of Coban to inspect a couple of water sources that they might use to bring water into as many as four communities that currently do not have clean water supplies. My plans to climb one of the volcanos near Antigua fell through and at the last minute I asked if there might be room for me on their trip. By God's grace there was room for me in there car and within an hour I had a small bag packed and was ready to leave for something comepletely unknown. After a nice lunch at Christian's (the Guatemalteco) house we were off for Coban. I learned a lot about their work on the three hour drive up to Coban. They have helped out a few communities so far and are excited to continue to expand their work by partnering with other groups, such as Engineers in Mission. We spent the night in a hotel in Coban where we had a nice meal to prepare ourselves for the big morning of hiking up a mountain and then retired for the night. Saturday morning (the 4th), I sat in on a breakfast meeting between Kris, Christian, one of the local land owners and a leader of one of the communities that we were planning to visit that day to discuss the plans for capturing, cleaning, and moving water to the different communities on his land. He was very open and responded positively to the proposals, committing to working with Kris and Christian to help the people who live on the land he owns. Afterwards, we packed up and left for the mountains. We were able to drive farther than they had been able to in the past and so that shortened our walk slightly, which was nice considering that we still had a long climb ahead of us. The morning was clear and relatively cool. Thus even though the climb was tough, it wasn't as exhausting as it could have been. We arrived at the meeting point - a school at one of the highest points of a particular community that was close to the water sources. There we met one of the local residents before the arrival of Juan and Juan, two men from the farthest community away from these water sources (nearly 5 km) who were hoping that these water sources would be good enough to supply their community as well. After greeting each other and taking a bit of a rest, we set out to check out the water sources. For the first source, we literally had to walk through a corn field planted on the side of the moutain. The source looked great, however, and like it could possibly supply much of the needs of the communities that Kris and Christian were hoping to help. The community resident also knew of a couple of other water sources nearby and he took us there to see them. They were also great potential sources of clean water for these communities and so we were all encouraged.

The whole way to seeing these sources, we were accompanied by a small boy, probably no more than four or five years old. Hoping for an opportunity to practice my Spanish with someone who spoke at my level, I tried speaking with him. It seems however that he didn't know Spanish and probably only spoke the local Mayan dialect, so I settled for having a little foot race with him back to the school after seeing the second water source. After returning to the base community, I sat in on a meeting between Kris, Christian, and most of the community leaders that was meant to bring them together in order to emphaize the need for them to commit to cooperation between their communities before the project to bring water to their communities would work. We met in the Catholic Church there, which was nothing more than a post frame with wood panel walls, a corregated metal roof and a dirt floor. Being the priest-to-be, Christian thought it would be appropriate that I lead the prayer to open the meeting, which was a great honor. The meeting was fruitful and we left with a great sense that these communities would work together to help make this project a reality. We then had an opportunity to see their secondary school, which at this point was only one grade (7th) and had only a handful of students from each of the various communties. The kids were great and the girls were especially intregued with DeeDee who has naturally curly hair, something these young girls apparently have never seen before :) Soon we bid the youth fairwell and were off to the community of the two Juan's where a lunch had been prepared for us.

Their community was indeed far from these water sources and I started to imagine just how tough it would be for Kris' group to bring water to this community. We arrived and the whole community, it seemed, was there to welcome us. Now, they prepared lunch for us, not for everybody, which meant that we ate while the community sat and watched us eat. Needless to say I felt slightly awkward. They prepared a traditional dish (the name of which I forget), which was a soup with various spices and (typically) a type of meat. That day they prepared it with beef, which for a poor community had to be quite an extravegant gift for their guests. After lunch we had a meeting with the community to explain what we found that day and what the next steps would be. Kris and Christian answered some questions from the community and, again, it all seemed to be very fruitful for both parties. From there we drove out to visit one of the last communities along the road.

Along the way we stopped at the house of one of the Juans. It was an experience that I will never forget. This simple house of posts, wood paneling and a thatched roof housed Juan, his wife and his five children. They had only three beds for all of them (and the beds were only a sheet of plywood on four posts with a blanket). One of the bedrooms doubled as the kitchen. Christian pointed out to me the small shelf with a Crucifix and a statue of the Blessed Virgen and told me that they were devoutly Catholic. Then they showed me his water supply. Basically, he set up a frame sticks tied together and laid a plastic tarp within them to catch rain water that is channelled from his roof. There is no cover and so the water is nowhere near clean. This, however, is the water that they drink, cook and clean with. During the dry season, Juan and each of member of his family have to walk one hour to the river to fill jugs with water and then carry them one hour back to his house - something that they have to do two to three times a week. As we looked at Juan's water capturing system, Christian whispered to me that what we were looking at was a sin, indicating the obvious injustice that so many have clean water but Juan and his family could afford nothing more than this. In my heart I agreed with him completely but outwardly remained speachless. As we prepared to leave, Christian asked if I would give Juan and his house a blessing. I told him I wasn't authorized to do such a thing. He asked me, however, as a representative of the faith that Juan and his family so devoutly followed, to pray with them. I didn't want to at first because in my heart, I knew that he had to be so much holier than me. Suffering accepted with a humble spirit purifies ones soul. Thus I am certain that Juan is much closer to God than I am right now. Humiliated (in the truest sense of the word) by what I experienced, I accepted that, nonetheless, I was indeed a representative of the Church to him and so I agreed to pray with them there. In that moment, I had a glimpse of what it really meant to be a priest and that it meant to be a physical presence of the spiritual reality in which these people have placed so much faith. It was a powerful experience that will form my formation in the years to come.

After a brief visit to the last community and an hour's worth of drama as we tried to get someone to open the pad-locked cowgates that crossed the road back to town (you'll have to ask me about that later... it is quite a story and it confirmed for me that Juan was well on his way to sainthood), we were on our way back to the hotel to rest and return to Antigua the next day. On the return trip, I had a great opportunity to learn from my traveling companions (who are all Evangelicals) a little about their faith as well as share a lot about the Catholic Church with them. It was truly a great experience and I couldn't thank them all enough for it. I returned home with a refreshed and humbled spirit.

I've had a lot of feelings and thoughts throughout this week since that experience. In spite of the fact that the people of these communities seem to have a very difficult life, nonetheless there was something very attractive to me about their life, something that seemed much more authentically human than what I've experienced elsewhere. It reminded me a lot of my experience in Haiti and I've begun again to try and discern what that means about what God has called me to in my life. The whole situation - from the impromptu decision to go, to the focused work of meeting with communities to share our gifts in a spirit of justice, to the sharing in the life of a community - all felt like it was all guided by the Holy Spirit. Right now I'm not sure what it all is pointing me towards. I thank God, however, for the opportunity and pray that I can continue to be open to what he desires to reveal to me and especially to how he plans to use my gifts here and also how he plans to use this experience in my future ministry. Thanks for reading and your continued prayers. Your comments are always welcome. May God's peace continue to be with you!

For a view of all of the pictures, click here.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Making myself blind

I know that in my first reflection, I commented that I knew that God had something planned for me here and that I only needed a little bit of blindness to see it. Today, I think that I acquired some of that blindness. Being the only the second weekend that I've spent here in Antigua since I arrived in late May, I didn't know exactly what to do with myself. Rest was certainly first on the list, and rest I have. I also wanted to experience another parish besides La Merced, which has been my first choice for daily mass, mostly because of its proximity to my house and school. On the indirect recommendation of my teacher, I decided to attend mass in the chapel of the hospital San Hermano Pedro. This is a hospital founded by Franciscans (Saint Hermano Pedro was a Franciscan and is, literally, the local saint to Guatemala and, specifically, Antigua) and seems to focus on serving the handicapped and elderly.

I arrived early (about 9:00 for 10:00 mass) in order to pray a holy hour before mass. Just after 9:30, the staff started bringing in the patients for mass. Almost immediately, I was overwhelmed emotionally. I still don't understand it fully, but as best as I can figure out, there was suddenly an intense amplification of the presence of God through these persons. It wasn't pity that overwhelmed me, but love. Somewhat embarrassingly, I don't think that it was my love for them, but rather their love for me that I felt overwhelming me. I think for the first time, I truly saw the unique personalities of mentally/physically handicapped persons. In spite of their incapacity to express themselves as we do, I was amazed by the demonstration of their intelligence and what abilities they actually had, in spite of their limited physical capacities. For example, one small boy, probably no older than 12 years old, who obviously had a physical handicap that prevented him from using his arms and legs, had a powered wheelchair that was controlled by movements of a pad behind his head. I watched in amazement as he maneuvered his chair, using only his head, into a tight corner of the chapel, next to another young girl in a wheelchair, without hitting a thing! Even though he seemed to move without control, he showed me (again to my embarrassment for my initial thoughts) that he had much more control of his movements that I gave him credit for. Then, to completely obliterate my ego, I watched as the young girl next to him recognized him and reached out her arm to him. He responded by grabbing her hand as if to greet her with a hug and a kiss. Needless to say, the tears were falling. In spite of not understanding anything additional in the mass than I did yesterday, I felt that today, in the profound presence of Christ in these beautiful persons, I truly prayed the mass for the first time since I've been here. By the end of mass, I had become convinced that I needed to spend more time there, experiencing Christ in the sick and suffering.

Now, the anniversary of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati's death is July 4th. And so I've been praying a novena for his intercession so that I can see what God has planned for me here. After mass, I prayed the novena for the day. Today, the meditation was on the Beatitude, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied." The novena also includes a daily comment from the preserved writings of Bl. Pier Giorgio. Today, it included this from him: "What wealth it is to be in good health, as we are! But we have the duty of putting our health at the service of those who do not have it. To act otherwise would be to betray that gift of God." With that I was convinced that I needed to begin volunteering at the hospital as soon as possible. I stopped and received information from the front desk and will return on Monday to sign up. I know that I won't be able to do much - I only have one month left before leaving Guatemala - but I will offer what I can and trust that God will graciously receive my offering.

As for why I titled this entry "making myself blind..." As I walked to the chapel this morning, I came to realize that Saint Francis parish was going to have their "Corpus" Eucharistic procession this morning. I was tempted to abandon my plans in order to participate in the procession. I decided, however, to stick with my plans, blindly following what the Holy Spirit had (quite discretely) led me to and I was rewarded with this incredible gift. I look forward with great anticipation to offer what I can to help these poor and suffering children of God and, at the same time, to be healed myself of some of the spiritual suffering that I have been enduring. Thank you for your continued prayers. Be assured of mine for you. Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, pray for us!

For more information about the work of the hospital Hermano Pedro, click here.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Our first religious pilgrimage in Guatemala

Two weekends ago, PROBIGUA organized a trip to the major pilgrimage site in Central America. They arranged the trip specifically for the seminarians (I guess they thought that they had a captive audience). We left early on Saturday morning in PROBIGUA's "Bibliobus" (their mobile book-mobile) for the 5-6 hour journey. On the other side of the capital city, the temperature quickly rose and anyone who thought that this pilgrimage wouldn't involve suffering was quickly corrected. Our driver was obviously very comfortable driving the bus and very comfortable with the Guatemalan "customs" of the road (they aren't really rules, because I doubt that they are written down) and so we made the trip in 5 hours. We were greeted by a guy who was more than happy to give us a great price for what turned out to be pretty nice hotel rooms for the night, considering the cost (literally about $5.25 per person for one night), and we quickly got settled in. Esquipulas is a tourist town, but for Central Americans, not westerners. It was a much different feel there because we were obviously the only gringos in town. We got a lot more looks from people, but, interestingly enough, they didn't seem to bother us any more than we are bothered in Antigua. After dropping our stuff in the hotel we decided to head over to the Basilica to check it out briefly before grabbing some lunch. Much to the delight of the seminarians (and the American priest who was with us), they were just preparing to begin a daily mass (btw, where in the States can you find a daily mass at 12:30 p.m. on a Saturday?). Most of us stayed for mass (there were a couple of non-seminarians/clergy traveling with us). After every mass, the Benedictines that care for the Basilica have people line up outside of the church to offer them blessings and to bless religious objects that they wish to consecrate as a remembrance of their pilgrimage. After receiving our blessings, we stopped for lunch. A few of us were surprised to find out that not every restaurant in Guatemala knows how to prepare a decent hamburger and so some left lunch still a little hungry. After lunch we walked to the other side of the city where there was a smaller parish with a beautiful little church. They were having Eucharistic adoration when we arrived and we, again, enjoyed some time in prayer. We returned to the Basillica in order to connect with a friend of Rigoberto (the director of PROBIGUA), who is a priest in residence at the Basilica. After meeting with him to determine which mass would be best for us to come to on Sunday (they were celebrating their Corpus Christi feast that Sunday), we went back into the Basilica to visit the shrine of the "Cristo Negro" or "Black Christ." My understanding is that this shrine is important because it was the first shrine set up specifically for the native people of Central America. Those who setup the shrine did so with an image of Christ crucified whose skin color was close to that of the native population. This was intended to give them a sense of connectedness to Christ. As with many popular devotional images, the Christ image here became even darker after years of votive candles burned near it, leaving their soot on the image. Thus the image is now known simply as the "Black Christ" and it continues to be a popular yearly pilgrimage site for Central Americans. The curators of the Basilica created a path behind the sanctuary for the devoted to enter and pray with the image throughout the day without interrupting any of the liturgies being performed in the church. One unique aspect of Latin American devotion that I've noticed so far is that they never turn their back to the physical place where they just directed their prayers. This means that they walk backwards away out of the Blessed Sacrament chapel and from devotional images where they have left their intentions for the intercession of one of the saints. Thus, as we walked up to the Cristo Negro, there were people walking backwards down the long path away from it, having left their prayers and requests for help/healing at the foot of the cross. Each of us in the group then took our turns leaving prayers and intentions at the foot of the Cristo Negro. Some of us followed the model of the locals and walked backwards away from the icon so as not to turn our backs on it. We left our prayers there with thanks, trusting that God never fails to answer prayers. We rested a little before dinner and had a nice relaxing evening. The next morning we celebrated mass in the Basilica with Rigoberto's former classmate as the main celebrant. They allowed the seminarians to sit "in choir" (for those who know what that means), which was actually behind the altar in the sanctuary of the church. After mass, we checked out of the hotel, grabbed some lunch and "set sail" back to Antigua.

Reflecting on the trip I realized that religious devotion here is somewhat different than I am used to in the U.S. Here, there seems to be little room for silence in prayer. Even during Eucharistic adoration, the faithful seem to be continuously praying either a rosary, a litany, or a novena of some kind. It has been a little frustrating for me, because a large part of my spirituality focuses on simply sitting in silence in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I had hoped that traveling to this pilgrimage site I would find an a greater respect for silence in prayer. I didn't find it there, however. I won't say that I was disappointed, just that I didn't find it. This has been a good experience for me, though, and has definitely opened my eyes to some things I have to consider when ministering to Latin Americans who have migrated to the States, and so it was definitely fruitful. We suffered a little, like you should on any pilgrimage, but returned safe and sound (gracias a Dios!). Stay tuned for more updates soon. Thanks for your prayers!

(to see the whole album, click here)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The "corpus" season begins...

One of the activities during our first full week here was to watch a movie about the traditions of Holy Week here in Antigua. Particularly grandiose is their Good Friday/Holy Saturday religious processions. They lump these all into one term: “Semana Santa.” During these processions, somewhere between 50 and 80 men (or middle-school aged kids, or women, depending on the procession) carry floats bearing larger-than-life-sized images of Jesus carrying his cross and Our Lady of Sorrows, among others. Throughout the streets are colorful carpets of colored sawdust called “aflombas” that are made by laying down layer after layer of the colored sawdust through large stencils with different designs. Some are relatively simple and others are extremely elaborate and include flowers and other plants. Many of the homeowners along the procession route create aflombas in the street in front of their houses the night before the procession (they will also decorate the fronts of their houses with adornments of varying degrees of extravagance). This is amazing because the aflombas will be destroyed by the procession as it passes by. As a pragmatic American, I was simply amazed by how much effort the Antiguans put into their annual Triduum remembrance.

Unfortunately, however, I was not in Antigua for Semana Santa to see this amazing annual event in person. Nonetheless, I will be able to experience other religious processions here in Antigua during my time here. I had one of those opportunities last Thursday. In the States, many Catholic parishes celebrate the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus Christ (a.k.a. Corpus Christi) with a Eucharistic procession, one that usually walks around the parish church and sometimes even goes out into the surrounding neighborhood. In Antigua, however, it’s bigger – though not as big as Semana Santa. One unique characteristic of the celebration here is that it lasts almost through the whole month of June. Through some weird tweak of liturgical calendars, each parish here in Antigua is allowed to celebrate the feast on a different day so that each of them can host their own procession without conflict with other parishes. The cathedral parish in Antigua was given the honor to be the first to hold their celebration (it kind of makes sense to give the Bishop first dibs…) and our school made the procession one of the "cultural activities" that it offered that week. The seminarians all opted to attend the mass also and so we had a full morning of activity, none of which included learning Spanish. The cathedral is not a very large church so we needed to get there early to get a seat. The stairs to the cathedral are covered with pine needles, which indicate that today is a special feast day. The church was decorated beautifully with many banners and flowers adorning its interior. The mass was celebrated by the Bishop with all of the solemnity that this feast deserves. Believe it or not, this level of solemnity also includes fireworks. Not in the church, of course, but outside the church. Needless to say I was a little startled when the first mortar shots were fired off during mass. This occurred a few more times during mass, particularly at the consecration. The Bishop is old and spoke nice and slow and so I almost understood his homily. After mass, the Blessed Sacrament was placed in the monstrance and the procession began. Led by what appeared to be a woman’s religious group (probably something akin to an “Altar and Rosary Society” in the States) carrying banners, the Blessed Sacrament made its way into the streets of Antigua. The Blessed Sacrament was followed by a small band that led the group of people in joyful songs along the way. These reminded me of the Psalm in which it speaks of a procession of the Arc of the Covenant (which represented the real presence of God for the Israelites) in which there were “dancers in the front” and “musicians coming last,” indicating the great joy that accompanied the procession.

Long strips of firecrackers were lit off in front of the procession. At one point I was a little put off by the fireworks, but soon thought it was pretty amazing that the Antiguans were willing to pull out all the stops to make a big show of the fact that the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ was making its way through the streets of their city in the form of the Blessed Sacrament. The procession made about four stops at different houses where the Blessed Sacrament entered for a short time. These all seemed to be private schools or hospitals. In the streets there were a few aflombas, though not nearly as many nor were they as elaborate as I suspect that there are for Semana Santa. Some of the house fronts were decorated and one block in particular strung decorations across the street. Many young children were dressed as angels, representing the angels that are always ministering to Jesus wherever He is. The procession wound its way back to the front of the cathedral and when the priest carrying the monstrance (multiple priests passed off the monstrance to each other during the procession) came to the door of the cathedral, he turned and gave benediction to all the people following him. The Blessed Sacrament was then returned to the altar and exposed for the remainder of the day for the faithful to adore.

Having spent a couple of weeks here, I was starting to get a little frustrated because I didn’t feel like I was getting a good sense of Latin American culture. Antigua caters to Western tourists, so it’s been difficult for me to break out of my comfort zone to experience the culture. That day I got my first real taste of the culture here in Guatemala and I enjoyed it thoroughly. This past weekend, we traveled to a famous pilgrimage site in Guatemala where they celebrated the feast of Corpus Christi (stay tuned for a post about that). This weekend, the parish of Our Lady of La Merced will host the “corpus” celebration. As I said, ‘tis the season to celebrate…

If you would like to see all of the pictures from the procession, click here. (Hopefully next time I´ll be able to figure out how to easily format these posts to include the pictures.) Thanks for your continued prayers.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

First reflections

As I walk around this city, I am reminded that I am not necessarily on vacation here. There are many good things to see and do here, but I feel reminded that I am here for a reason beyond simply being an extended-stay tourist. There are many poor in Antigua; those who I've seen, and many more, I suspect, that I haven't seen. I see the poor in material, but I know the spiritual poverty is great among those who visit here. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati would spend what he had to help the poor with what they needed. He didn't stop there, however. Rather, he would also spend time with them, getting to know them and feeding their emotional, if not also spiritual needs. I'm not sure if I can do that yet here, but I know that I have to be more open to helping the poor around me with what I have, that is, with what God has given me. Fr. Larry Richards has said that if you want to be a saint, all you have to do is desire to be one. He has also said (and only slightly contradicting himself) that all you have to do to become a saint is to pray and love (I suppose one flows from the other, however). I pray today that the Lord will give me the desire I lack by removing all within me that prevents that desire from increasing in me. I pray for the grace to pray with abandonment and to love with abandonment, not because I desire to be with God, - which, of course, I do - but because to do so is, in some sense, to already be with God. This is something that I think Bl. Pier Giorgio knew and it is something that I can learn from following his example. Through his intercession, I ask for the grace to follow his example and to live the Beatitudes as he did, both here and when I return home. May my life overflow with God's love. Thanks for your continued prayers.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The first weekend

The first weekend here was relaxing. I´m feeling pretty settled in with Elsa and even though I can´t come up with many words to describe everything that I´m doing, we nonetheless have nice conversations at each meal. Maybe feeling a bit overconfident, I committed myself (and Tony) to go to the big (and by ¨big¨I mean ¨huge¨) open-air market in Antigua on Saturday morning to practice my Spanish and possibly buy some stuff. I was overwhelmed by all of the stuff; not just your everyday wares (e.g. clothing, CD´s, etc.), but also produce, meat, and other foodstuffs (the best was the whole chickens cut open to show you that they left all the organs and gizzards inside). I chickend out (no pun intended) and decided that it would be better to have a list of things to look for than to try and just randomly stop and buy something; so we didn´t buy anything that day. Armed with a small list, however, I will be able to head back another day to test not only my Spanish skills but my bargaining skills as well.

Sunday, we enjoyed a beautiful liturgy at La Merced. They had a large youth music group that played very beautifully. After four days of liturgies in Spanish, I began to see why Hispanics have some difficulty when they come to the States. By Sunday I was already beginning to be frustrated in prayer because I couldn´t understand what was being said. True, the Mass is the Mass, but trying to achieve ¨full, conscious, and active participation¨becomes much more difficult when you can´t understand the words that are being said, or the responses you are supposed to give. It will get better as the weeks continue, however, I´m sure.

I continue to just walk around and see different sites in Antigua. There´s a lot to see, for sure. I´m looking forward, however, to possibly getting away from here to a little less ¨touristy¨place soon to see a little more of the native life of Guatemala. We´ll see what next weekend brings. As always, thanks for your continued prayers. Please feel free to send me any prayer requests you have, as long as you don´t mind that I pray for them in Spanish :)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Tony and I made it to Antigua no problem last night. Rigoberto, our ride from the airport in Guatemala city, says that he knew who we were because we looked holy. I assured him that it must have been the ¨lost¨ look on our faces that tipped him off. My house is very nice and SeƱora Elsa is very kind, only asking a few questions before allowing me to be in my room and get settled in. Things get moving pretty early in the morning here, so it seems, because I woke up multiple times before my alarm (set for 6:00) to hear much movement going on in the street and Elsa working diligently in the kitchen. I thought that I had set my clock wrong and that I was an hour behind because of all the activity. Thankfully I wasn't, however. I guess that nobody wants to waste daylight, so they all get moving in the morning. After a nice, simple breakfast, I was off to the school (PROBIGUA). I knew how to get there but made the mistake of assuming that there was only one Spanish School on the street. I stepped into the first one that I came upon and... well, let's just say that it wasn't PROBIGUA. They were awefully confused about why they didn't have my reservation until I mentioned the word PROBIGUA, after which they promptly (and very hosptiably) directed me down the street. Nice start, huh? Well, I made it down to PROBIGUA (past the other Spanish School on the same street) and soon meet my tutor. She has been very kind, starting easy by just getting to know me and about my family. We did a lot of simple things - mostly, I think, just to get me feeling confident in speaking in Spanish. I have some simple homework for the day, which should leave me time to do some exploring around Antigua this afteroon. A humble, but decent start to my stay. Thanks for your prayers!

Monday, May 18, 2009

The vigil of Guatemala

Well, I stand somewhat ready to begin this brief adventure to Central America. Tony and I fly out tomorrow afternoon. By all standards, I have everything prepared except one thing... I don't speak any Spanish! I know, I'm going to learn Spanish and I will learn it quickly because, well, you can't be surrounded by it without picking something up, but this is a step outside of my comfort zone - a step towards blindness, if you will. I trust, however, that God will bless this journey with many miracles if I just stay out of His way and lose just enough sight so that I can truly see. Thanks to all who are praying for us. Stay tuned...