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.

Reflection for the Sixth Thursday of Ordinary Time / Year I

Today’s Readings: Gn 9:1-13; Ps 102:16-18, 19-21, 29 & 22-23; Mk 8:27-33

God makes a covenant with Noah and his sons. But the parties to the covenant are not just Noah and his family—all of creation is party to the covenant. This is a theme that appears later on through the Bible: humanity acts as a priest of creation. By our works, we can sanctify and make holy all of God’s creation. No other creature can do this. This is something uniquely human. Even angels are only referred to as “ministers” in the Bible.

Humanity is in a unique place in creation. We are material: we have bodies; however, we are also spiritual: we have souls. It is because of this very fact that we can act as the priests of creation. We can make ourselves holy, and we can shape the material world around so that it too gives glory to God.

In the Gospel, Jesus is preparing his disciples to make a new covenant. It starts with the disciples seeming that they maybe finally get it. Peter replies “You are the Christ!” But this hope is quickly dashed. Jesus tells his disciples that he will have to suffer and die, but Peter rebukes him. He is not ready to accept that Christ’s death and resurrection might fundamentally transform humanity in a new way.

As humanity acts as the priest of creation, so Christ acts as the ultimate priest of humanity—most especially in the Passion, Death and Resurrection. By dying and rising, he destroyed death and allowed us to rise again. This is why what we do in this life is so critical. Our decisions don’t simply have an effect on us now, but when we die they will continue to affect us: every day we make choices that have consequences on our eternal souls. Because we are the priests of creation, the ones who are supposed to take all of the gifts that God has given us and use them to make all things holy, our decisions also affect the entire universe. Every sin that we commit, every good deed that we do, changes everything.

Our choices matter. They matter a lot. This cannot paralyze us, but we must always remember that each and every person has a unique role to play for all of reality. We should do our best to ensure this is a positive role! We also must make sure that every person who is conceived is allowed to be born, to grow, and to take on their unique role in the universe.

St. Norbert

Note: I promise that I’ll eventually get back to my series about Love, but there is much work for me to do before I continue. For now, I am trying to simply update the site more frequently. I’m hoping to improve my writing skills and simply get in the habit of writing things that are meant to be read. I spend so much time at work writing computer code and technical documentation that I fell this is necessary.

Also, you should go see For Greater Glory. It’s about the Mexican Revolution, and I’m told that it is very powerful. I haven’t had a chance to see it yet, but hope to soon.

Optional Memorial; June 6

St. Norbert was a bishop to Germany a few hundred years after St. Boniface. St. Norbert was especially devoted to the Blessed Sacrament. I could regurgitate his life story here, but the Catholic Encyclopedia and Wikipedia have already done a pretty good job of that.

What strikes me about St. Norbert is his complete devotion to God, as shown through what he said at his ordination:

O Priest! You are not yourself because you are God’s. You are not of yourself because you are the servant and minister of Christ. You are not your own because you are the spouse of the Church. You are not yourself because you are the mediator between God and man. You are not from yourself because you are nothing. What then are you? Nothing and everything. O Priest! Take care lest what was said to Christ on the cross be said to you: “He save others, himself he cannot save!”

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