Misericordes oculos

There is nothing on this earth that can fully prepare a man for becoming a priest. There is nothing else that is quite like it. Even while I was a deacon, I didn’t expect such a clear distinction between my life before priestly ordination and after. My expectations were very wrong: My experience of life changed at priestly ordination as I began to experience my vocation. The priest stands in persona Christi capitis (in the person of Christ as head of the Body of Christ) during Sacraments. He is the instrument chosen by God to speak Christ’s words and transform bread and wine into his Most Precious Body and Blood, the instrument chosen by God to stand in the breach as both judge and dispenser of merciful forgiveness in the sacrament of Confession, the instrument chosen by God to prepare people for their last moments on this earth as they go to their eternal reward. We are there for God’s people in their moments of greatest joy and their moments of deepest, soul-wrenching sadness. Though this is often painful, it is a great privilege for us priests to walk with God’s people in these moments. In these moments, we are permitted to see God’s love for his people in a way that nobody else does.

Because of our unique view of God’s love for his people and the life-changing experience of being the instrument of God’s sacraments and the ministers of his grace, there is a deep fraternity amongst us priests. We call each other “brother” because through our ordinations we have become brothers in a way that transcends material reality. One way this common brotherhood is visible is what happens when one of us passes to our eternal reward. We make every effort to go to the funeral of our brother who has died, even if that brother died 70 years ago in a Korean prison camp.

I wasn’t sure what to expect during the week when we held the liturgies for Fr. Kapaun and his funeral. In addition to the Rosary, Vigil, and Funeral Mass, the priests had a private gathering for Vespers for Fr. Kapaun. Each one of these events brought me to the brink of tears multiple times. This man who has inspired so many is one of us. And he’s finally home. Even now, it’s hard to contain the tears that well up. I’m so proud of my brother for saving so many lives. I’m overjoyed that so many people have recognized his impact on their lives and that so many continue to be inspired by him. I’m sad that I never met him in person and that his family suffered so much. I feel a sense of wholeness now that our brother is back home, finally laid to rest and accounted for.

Many moments during the week struck me right to the heart. I would like to share two with you.
The first moment was Monday night at the Vespers service. Fr. Eric Weldon, in his homily, pointed out that Fr. Kapaun would have not been able to say Mass on the last Christmas and Easter of his earthly life. I can’t imagine the pain in his heart on those two days. I remember the strangeness and pain I experienced during the first Easter of my priesthood, when COVID regulations forced us to say Easter without parishioners in attendance. It was terrible, and yet, at least I still got to say Mass. How must his heart have ached! It is an important reminder to me that the Mass is a gift, and any time we get to celebrate Mass together, it is a privilege.

The second moment was during the committal service at the Cathedral following the funeral and procession. After we laid Fr. Kapaun’s mortal remains into his tomb in the cathedral, one of the brother priests started singing the Salve Regina, as is tradition when we lay one of our brothers to rest. The sound of our unaccompanied voices echoed loudly through the cathedral, and I don’t even have words to describe it, but it was a perfect and fitting culmination to everything we had all experienced over three days. We brought our brother home, prayed for him, laid him to rest, commended him to God, and pleaded that Mary look at Fr. Kapaun with her misericordes oculos, her eyes of mercy, and show him the way to the fruit of her womb, Jesus Christ.

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Chaplain Kapaun, pray for us.

Suffering Reveals Reality

The eternal priesthood of Jesus Christ allows us to give meaning to our suffering, and reveals us to ourselves in the process.

Homily for October 17, 2021

Remember…

If we dig into the history of worship, way back beyond the coming of Jesus Christ and even farther back than the Old Testament takes us, we see a few trends. We see that human being are innately religious. We see that the first human communities were formed around worship sites to help care for them so that people might come to perform and observe rituals to the gods. If the rituals were not done correctly, the people feared that the now-displeased deity would inflict punishment of some sort upon the people. As a result, a specialized group of people with the knowledge necessary to ensure that rituals were performed correctly developed. This priestly class became the people tasked with mediating between humanity and their gods. The priests were responsible for ensuring that their idols were fed and clothed properly and expected the worshippers to provide the necessary goods and materials to care for their gods.

When we look at the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and his followers, we find something different. Yes, we see holy sites and a specialized class of priests, and on first glance it looks very similar. But the priests act very differently. Our God specifically prohibited the making of images. Our God specifically tells his people that he does not eat the flesh of animals offered to him. The priests of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are not there to provide for God. Our worship of God adds nothing to his greatness, but our worship of God is valuable for a very important group of people: us. By worshiping God, we express our desire for his closeness to us and his presence in our life.

In the liturgical celebrations commanded by God in the first reading tonight, the most important command is to remember. God says that This day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all generations shall celebrate with pilgrimage to the Lord, as a perpetual institution. What must we remember? God comes to our aid. When his people cry out to them, he is not a passive observer. This is why he sent his Son: to save us from the mess we got ourselves into. But these things are easy to forget. So we must memorialize these events. We must remember.

The Priesthood of Jesus Christ, in which Fr. Drew and I participate, assists us in remembering God’s love for us. The pinnacle of the worship of our God is the celebration of our Eucharistic Liturgy, and the pinnacle of the priesthood is the celebration of the Eucharistic Liturgy, which in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church we call Mass. In the Mass, we do this in remembrance of Him by making those events ritually present through the actions of the priest. When we celebrate the Mass, literally make the events of our salvation present, and even more so tonight. Tonight is not simply a night in which we remember the Last Supper. Tonight is the Last Supper. Tonight we do not simply remember Christ feeding his apostles with his Body and Blood. Tonight Christ feeds us with his Body and Blood.

When we receive the Eucharist, we receive God, and we receive his love in our hearts. Love is not a gift that can be hoarded. It must be given. In this great Sacrament of Love, God gives us the ability to love our neighbor. Tonight we are fed with the Body and Blood of God. We share in a Communion of all believers who have been similarly united with God. This is the glory of the Eucharist, a glory which our human senses fail to see. By faith alone can we behold this mystery, which enables us to follow the commands of Christ: to love God and to love our neighbor.

Today’s Readings
April 1, 2021
Thursday of the Lord’s Supper
Exodus 12:1–8, 11–14; Psalm 116:12–13, 15–16bc, 17–18; 1 Corinthians 11:23–26; John 13:1–15

Reflection for the Second Saturday of Easter

“Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task [of service], whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:3)

These were the instructions that the apostles gave for selected the very first deacons. The widows were being neglected, because the apostles did not have the time to care for all the widows and to pray. The apostles addressed the problem by choosing seven men for their wisdom and love of God and ‘laying hands’ on them for the purpose of doing this service.

It seems to me that even in the early church there was a tension around whether service to those in need or worship was more important. The apostles decided that they would create a special office in the church—the deacon—to perform and supervise the charitable works of the church. If we had to name the difference, I think it would be fair to say that the deacons devoted themselves to the temporal affairs of the church: allocation of resources, distribution of alms, etc., while the apostles remained devoted to the spiritual affairs of the church. In modern times, these roles are a bit different; however, the focus still appears. Deacons are ordained to serve, and priests and bishops are ordained to teach and to lead. This is an over-simplification, but I think it can help shed some light on things for us.

Because I am in the process of priestly formation, this passage takes on a special importance for me. I am only a year away from ordination as a deacon, God willing. (Remember that every bishop has already been ordained a priest, and every priest has already been ordained a deacon.) At that ordination, I will make promises to live my life in a unique way. While I already practice that now, making a public promise of that is a very big deal. Occasionally, the gravity of these promises can seem overwhelming, which is why today’s Gospel is a perfect fit with the first reading. In today’s Gospel, Jesus walks on water, and this scares his disciples. Jesus knows this, and he tells them “It is I. Do not be afraid.”

Let us always remember the love that Jesus has for us. When we do, how could we possibly be afraid?

Today’s Readings: Acts 6:1-7; Ps 33:1-2, 45, 18-19; Jn 6:16-21

Holy Week

Hi everyone! Last week and this week (Holy Week!) are pretty full for me. I won’t be able to update as regularly as I would like, but I will try to post a couple of times!

Instead of a reflection, today I will share a bit about myself and about the process involved in preparing for the priesthood.

Tonight I will be installed as a Lector. Last year I was installed as an acolyte, and I received candidacy a few months before that. This is the last ministry I will receive before I become able to receive ordination (God and Bishop willing) to the diaconate in May 2018!

Vatican II abolished the minor orders and tonsure as the process for becoming a priest, and put in place a simplified system. Lector and Acolyte were retained as a sort of office within the church, and every candidate for ordination must have served in the roles for a “suitable” amount of time. The Rite of Candidacy, which makes one a candidate for ordination, is similar in many ways to tonsure, but without the fancy haircut!