Monday, February 28, 2011

God rocks my socks off...

One experience from the Destination: Jesus retreat has stayed very close to my heart in the past week (and by "very close" I mean "sitting on it like ten-ton elephant"). When Fr. Brian gave us seminarians the chance to introduce ourselves, I decided to take the opportunity to point out that it was at this same time last year that I had just received my final chemotherapy treatment for cancer and that now, in part because of the prayers from those who attended DJ last year, I was standing before them nine-months cancer free. The response to this was another standing ovation and, with tears in my eyes, I thanked them all and assured them that God indeed does hear and answer prayers.

After the closing mass with Bishop Doherty, I was standing outside of the worship space (i.e. the gym) just hanging out and greeting folks as they were leaving. A triad of young ladies came by me and one of them asked if I was "the seminarian who has cancer." I said yes and she proceeded to tell me that she had prayed for me during mass. Humbled, I thanked her deeply. Then she leaned in and in a quivering voice said, "My mother passed away from cancer this past Monday." Somewhat shocked, my first reaction was to express my sympathy and, given that she had just prayed for me, to offer prayers for her and her mother. With tears in her eyes she thanked me. What followed was a few awkward moments as I thought she was going to walk away, but then her and her friends stood near me for a while. I tried to figure out if I should say something else, but I was literally frozen and couldn't think of anything that wouldn't seem trite. Soon, though, they did walk away and it wasn't long after that I had the thought that would haunt me for the next week: Not two hours previous I was proclaiming that my healing is proof that God hears and answers our prayers. Without doubt, this young girl had prayed, and prayed hard that her mother would be healed, yet she wasn't. Did I let her walk away thinking that God hears everyone's prayers but hers? I had the opportunity to say something more to her and I didn't. Did that just make it worse? And if that isn't enough, I had asked her what her mother's name was so that I could pray for her by name, but I hadn't gotten her name, nor did I know what parish she was from. "Excellent pastoral ministry, Petan..." I cynically thought to myself.

As a result, all week I've been praying for her hoping I could find some way to get in touch with her so I can at least acknowledge that I know how hard she must have prayed for her mother and that I, too, am baffled by the mystery of why God chose me to live and her mother to die, but that I am nonetheless confident that God heard every one of her prayers. I was brought to tears at what I felt was the real possibility that she would begin to doubt if God really cared for her and her mother and that my fear of engaging her in the moments of awkwardness might have let her come to that conclusion. This really came to a head today as I approached to receive Holy Communion. As I did, I begged for God to be merciful on me for being so weak-willed.

I picked up my mail after lunch (as I usually do) and in my mailbox was a letter whose return address was in a city in Michigan that I did not recognize. As I walked back to my room I racked my brain trying to figure out who it could be from. I finally made it to my room and opened the letter and that was when God rocked my socks off. It was a letter from this young girl! Not only was she not upset about what I had said or baffled by the mystery of God's providence to the point of real doubt, but she expressed how happy she was to hear that I was in remission from cancer. But wait, there's more... She also expressed how she has come to see cancer as a gift from God (and this girl just lost her mother!) and that she feels called to consecrated religious life! Finally (could there be more?), she said that one of her friends had described to her that I "looked like Jesus" as I expressed my care and concern for her... Good Night! I am glad I made it back to my room before reading it because as soon I did, I dropped down into my chair and wept. All of the pent-up feelings of anxiety, sadness, helplessness, and fear all came pouring out as I thanked Jesus for his merciful answer to my prayer.

In the Archabbey Gift Shop here on the Hill, they have a lot of real "kitch-y" stuff. There is one thing, though, that I saw with a saying that I thought was nice and which stuck in my brain. It was a small placard (probably a refrigerator magnet) and it reads: "God answers prayers in three ways: 'Ok,' 'Not yet,' or 'I've got a better idea.'" Watch out for #3, you might get your socks rocked off :)

P.S. I'm not the only one... check out this incredible story (she must have seen the same magnet!).

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Destination: Jesus

This past weekend, I was able to participate in my diocese's annual youth retreat weekend, entitiled Destination: Jesus. It is a Eucharistic retreat built off of the model of the Youth 2000 retreats. This is year is the sixteenth year that our diocese has sponsored this event and it has grown every year. Nearly 950 youth attended this year's event and I came away exhausted (and all I did was support all of the people that were making everything happen) because the experience of being around so many young people who are being lit on fire for Christ, who are finding healing in the Sacrament of Confession, and who are allowing Christ to touch their heart, possibly for the first time in their lives, inspired me to pour myself out for them in anyway that I could think of.

Listening to some of these youth tell me about the great experience that they had, about some incredibly difficult situations that they are dealing with, and then worshiping our Eucharistic Lord with them made me want to be a priest more than ever. Part of the last day of the retreat is reserved to ask the youth to consider vocations to the priesthood and religious life. They've seen the seminarians and nuns running around all weekend, but on Sunday we get officially introduced. Our Director of Vocations, Fr. Brian Doerr, introduced us and bragged that our seminary rectors all agree that we are some of the best men studying for the priesthood that they've seen. I was feeling a little embarrassed by this, but then the entire crowd of 950+ people erupted into a standing ovation for us and I was brought to tears. I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love. I am invigorated to continue to give myself to completing formation and to being ordained a priest. I am also hopeful that our witness this weekend will inspire a few young men and women to consider whether or not God might be calling them to a religious vocation.

Fr. Brian has an e-form that anyone can fill out if they are considering a vocation to the priesthood or religious life up on our website. It can be found at Click and submit the form if you are interested in getting information about discerning a religious vocation. Or, if you know someone who participated in the weekend, please send them the link in case they forgot it after the weekend.

Most of all, let us continue to pray for vocations, both that we may have the courage to fully live out our own and for others to courageously accept their own, and for the youth whose lives have been changed forever by their encounter with Christ this weekend, that in all things God may be glorified!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Our Lady's boy

For those who don't know, my good friends Ken and Beth had their third child last December, Leo Michael. I was quite honored when they asked me to be his godfather (my fourth!). Leo was born on December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, when we celebrate that Jesus' mum Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin. Because of my travels in January, Leo has not yet been baptized. Tomorrow, however, is the day! I find it only a little providential that his baptism will happen the day after the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes (Feb. 11th), which is the day that we celebrate Mary's appearance to St. Bernadette Soubirous in which Mary revealed herself as the "Immaculate Conception." Mary, the Immaculate Conception has this boy covered ;)

Leo's two months old now and he looks great! Check him out...

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Race is On!

One of the things that hit me as I began the new semester last week was that it is only three months before the Race for Vocations MiniMarathon in Indianapolis! Needless to say, having spent most of January travelling (without running gear), I found it quite urgent that I get started on my training program right away.

It has taken a little over a week to get myself "broken in" again to running, but now I am ready to start training in earnest. The MiniMarathon website has a good training program laid out (I'm behind on it, but am catching up), and I am going to try and follow that as best I can. More importantly, however, is the real reason why I am doing this anyway: to pray for holy vocations to the priesthood, religious life, marriage and single vocations. I'll admit, in my earnest, I forgot to offer my first couple of training runs for vocations, but now I am remembering to do it on each run. I'm even offering when I run as a prayer. For example, last night I was not sure when I would have time to run, but I prayed that God would make time for me. When I woke up before my alarm this morning, I remembered my prayer and thought, "I'll bet I have time to run." Sure enough, it was 5:30, a half hour before my alarm would go off at 6:00 and I had a 30 minute training run to make today. So I got up, got dressed and did my run, offering it for those who are searching for their vocation.

I need more help! If you are reading this and feel called to do so, you can "pledge" to pray along with me as I train. This could be anything from an extra Our Father or Hail Mary for each training run I make to a Rosary or Chaplet of Divine Mercy. Perhaps you could offer to give something up (a fast or abstinence, like a cup of coffee or a dessert) on the days that I train. For those ready to go the extra mile (pun intended), you could offer to match, minute for minute, the amount of time that I spend training in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, praying for vocations. The best part is that you will be doing something great for yourself while you are doing something great for someone else! That's how good God is!
Those who are interested in pledging prayers for vocations in conjunction with my training, send me an e-mail and I will keep you up to date on what my training schedule looks like week-to-week, so you can keep your prayers in line with my training.
(Perhaps even right now God is nudging you to step up and run, yourself. Don't be shy! Click here and find out how you, too, can join the Race for Vocations!)

Thanks in advance to all who will pledge their support. Verso l'Alto!

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, pray for us!