Future Priests of the Third Millennium

A little insight into the life of seminarians from various dioceses preparing for ministry as Roman Catholic priests, including daily activities, personal interests, special events, the spiritual life, news from the seminary, and almost whatever comes to our minds!

Friday, November 30, 2007

New Encyclical!

God bless the Church and our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI. Today at noon in Rome and at about 5:00 AM our time, he released and published a new encyclical. Its title is Spe Salvi, i.e., "Saved in Hope" (coming from Romans 8:24)

It is published online on the Vatican's website.

Multifaceted Formation

It is very interesting to field questions from family members, friends, parishioners, and other acquaintances in regard to priestly formation. At the end of this summer, I stopped by to see my grandparents before returning to school and my 93 year-old grandpa asked me, "So what do you guys do up there, at the cemetery [sic]? Take classes in the bible all day?" Oh, grandpa, if only it were really that simple.

Of course, as can be gleaned from even a quick glance at the foundational document on priestly formation, Pastores Dabo Vobis, there are four main pillars of formation: Human, Spiritual, Intellectual and Pastoral. I'm not exactly sure under which pillar it falls, but there are a number of events which come up throughout the year (and will continue to come up throughout the priesthood) which are apparently non-essential and superfluous, but in all actuality really quite essential and fundamental.

One such event is the episcopal ordination of Father Michael Hoeppner as the seventh bishop of the Diocese of Crookston, MN. Bishop-elect Hoeppner, until his appointment by the Holy Father, was the Vicar General of the Diocese of Winona, MN--my diocese. It is fairly commonplace for seminarians and priests of the bishop-elect's previous/home diocese to attend the ordination of the bishop-elect. In a very real way, attending such an event shows our continued support for not only the bishop being ordained, but also the diocese to which he's been appointed.

Even more importantly (and this is how events such as these are specifically formative for the life of the priest, under the spiritual and pastoral pillars), this is a way of evidencing, showing and living the universality of the Catholic Church. As Catholics, we have all are a part of, foster and serve the faith not only in our local parishes and local dioceses, but also the wellbeing of the faith all throughout the Church. We do not become possessive of priests, programs, practices, beliefs, in our own locality but rather always direct our efforts and resources to the good of this local community inasmuch as it benefits Church universal.

For this reason, I am more than happy to lose some time for doing my homework or sleep because of travel and catch-up on homework.

For those of you who might have an interest (and the time!), the Diocese of Crookston will be broadcasting the ordination over the internet (high-speed connection required). It can be watched at 1:00 pm CST at www.NewBishop.com. Also interesting, another Catholic Blog has picked up on this story and posted an interesting commentary.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


The content of the following discussion begs some very serious and sometimes difficult questions. While I cannot presume to answer the questions in a thorough sort of way, I present the following to offer some insight into some of the topics that my classmates and I are encountering in the classroom. Because of the vast implications of this topic, it is likely that this post will be the first of a series that will try to present the questions as we have examined them in the classroom. I hope that my brothers and classmates will assist me in demonstrating the many facets of this question. This first post may seem obvious, but one must start somewhere. The (well-grounded) assumption from which I begin is the principle that hatred of particular races, classes, or groupings of people is not acceptable.


I expect that almost anyone can recall the profound controversy that surrounded the production and release of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. The film's detractors accused Gibson, for the most part, of promoting an anti-Jewish agenda inasmuch as the film assigned culpability for Jesus' death to "the Jews."

It is not my aim to suggest that Gibson was or was not guilty of the accusations leveled against him and his film. In fact, I was little interested in the buzz associated with the film. I was some surprised to realize, however, that these accusations are not new nor are they unique to Gibson's Passion. In fact, since the Second Vatican Council, and in a particular way, since the pontificate of our Pope John Paul II of happy memory, there has been a great deal of ink spilled concerning how Christians are to understand themselves in relationship to Judaism. This should come as no shock. The world still struggles in trying to appropriate the atrocities committed against the Jews in the Shoah. Documents on the topic of Christianity and antisemitism abound. The following are only a few of the documents which refer specifically to Jews:

1) Nostra Aetate: Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions

2) Criteria for the Evaluation of Dramatizations of the Passion

3) We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah

4) God's Mercy Endures Forever: Guidelines on the Presentation of Jews and Judaism in Catholic Preaching

Each of these documents presents some very clear principles, at the heart of which are what one might assume are obvious assumptions of Catholicism. First, Jews, indeed all people, are entitled to be treated according to their fundamental human dignity. To treat them otherwise is a sin. Second, Jesus Christ was a practicing Jew. Thus, because Christianity is rooted in Christ, it is also necessarily tied to Judaism. Third, the Jews, as an ethnic group, are not responsible for the death of Christ. We may say that some Jews, long ago, pressed Pilate to have Jesus crucified. However, that they approached Pilate and that Roman soldiers actually carried out the crucifixion necessitates that some Romans were also complicit in the death of Jesus. It is more accurate to understand that it was human sinfulness that sent Jesus to the Cross. We are all responsible in that respect. Finally, Judaism may not simply be dismissed as irrelevant in light of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Like us, the Jews are still bound by the covenant God made with his people as recorded in the Old Testament, and while we believe that Jesus Christ fulfills that same Covenant, he does not annul it.

With these principles in mind, we may then make the following conclusions. Antisemitism is unacceptable in any manifestation. It is a grave sin both personally and socially. Every effort must be made to eradicate it from our society and from our own hearts. This is no easy task when one considers the long history of antisemitism in Western culture. The delicacy of that topic, however, demands its own post.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Following Mike's Footsteps...

So I was back home this weekend. Coming from a rather small town (2200 people), it so happens that my mother is on (what they simply call) "the Music Committee"--she helps select the music to be sung at Mass. Though this doesn't necessitate that she have a key to the church, it bears the privilege of having a key to the church. So, I often take advantage of this and use her key to pay visits to our Lord in the Eucharist while home on breaks.

When I was home this last time, I noticed the beauty of the stained-glass windows with which I grew up, though they never particularly stuck out to me before. I wanted to photograph them, so I grabbed my parents' digital camera as I headed up to church one afternoon. While photographing, I also decided I would photograph the statue of St. Michael the Archangel in the same parish. This piece of art I did notice whilst growing up. I don't remember having any reflection too profound on the image in my childhood years, but I recall believing that he was a powerful creature, slaying that nasty serpent who is always trying to wreck havoc. I also remember thinking that if I could have designed him, I wouldn't have made his upperbody so cocked to the side, but rather, more straightforward (go figure--a critique of art from one who was later to become a seminarian!).

I post the pictures for your own enjoyment and devotion.

To understand the title of this blog post, click here

Monday, November 26, 2007

There and back again

This past week I was able to be at home with my family. I enjoyed the time with them and the absence of classes during the time off, but on the return trip, as I got closer to St. Paul a certain amount of excitement came. I was excited because I knew that I would be hearing about what the other seminarians did over the weekend. I was also looking forward to having a chapel in the building where I live. It's nice to be able to go there whenever I want to be with our Lord.

Nevertheless, there is a certain amount of excitement when I come home too. I know that there is time for rest and relaxation. I spend most of the time around home is at my parish, reading books (that I will not be evaluated on), and spending time with my family and friends. This time at home is what gives me the energy to get through the next three weeks of classes and then finals week. I have got some big inspirations to work my tail off this week so that the weekend is not spent stressing. There will be plenty to create stress. The next few weeks are filled with a teaching parish weekend and the ordination of one of the Archdiocesan seminarians to the priesthood.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

No Night Prayer

It is a tradition at the Saint Paul Seminary that on Sunday evenings the house spends an hour in adoration of the blessed sacrament (with a liturgy of either the Hours or the Word, with a homily at either) followed by a short social in our lobby area, concluded by Night Pryaer (the last of the Liturgy of the Hours for the day).

I have always enjoyed these celebrations for they give us a chance to catch up with the guys and meet some new students from on campus who come to pray with us. Usually, we will have a number of undergrad students come from campus to join us for Night Prayer.

I particularly enjoy Night Prayer because it is a great way to end the day. We examine our consciences and confess our sinfulness, sing a hymn, pray a psalm (or two), and hear a reading. Each day the hymn, psalm and reading differ. After these, however, the prayer becomes much more repetitive. Every night of the week we use the same Responsory and Gospel Canticle. The last thing the Church provides for our meditation, however, is a Marian hymn, which traditionally changes with the liturgical season. It makes me think of many fond memories of hearing a short bedtime story, kissing my mother goodnight or having her lull me with her beautiful voice as I was growing up. The Marian hymn is the Church's own way of having us bid goodnight to our Mother--and allowing her to lull us into the darkness of the night.

Tonight, however, we will not be having our Holy Hour, social or Night Prayer. Many men will still be on the road, returning from their distant homes and so it seems fitting that we wait until Morning Prayer tomorrow--allowing everyone sufficient time for travel--until we have our first liturgy as a house. So for tonight, I will suffice myself with my solo voice, singing that beautiful hymn, "Salve Regina..." "Hail, Holy Queen."

Friday, November 23, 2007

Joyful Noise

I doubt that I am alone is believing that the vocabulary of the King James translation of the Scriptures has a way of capturing truth more accurately than do the perhaps more literal but less emotive translations that are more familiar to us Catholics. I am thinking, in a particular way, of Psalm 81 and its exhortaion to "make a joyful noise unto the God of Jacob." Our more sanitary New American Bible translation tells us to "shout in triumph," and the New Revised Standard Version, "shout for joy." Make a joyful noise. It need not be words. It need not make sense. It need only be joyful. Laugh! Ululate! Yodel!

Make a joyful noise! This exhortation has come to my mind more than once as I have been home with my family for the last few days. My two siblings with their children (each under the age of three) have increased the volume of the household a good deal. Life here at home is louder than it is at the seminary. The men play guitars and sing. The kids play or demand to hear stories. The moms are cooking. I sit here, typing in the midst of this din, and I smile. The noise is joyful.

Heart of Gratitude

The turkey's gone. The dishes are clean and put away. The friends/relatives have gone back to their homes. Christmas sales and decorations have appeared. Turkeys and cornucopias give way to reindeer and snowmen. But has our Day of Thanksgiving gone too?

Not for this seminarian.

Indeed what a blessing to spend time with friends/family ... especially when the seminary schedule makes this difficult to come by. Indeed, what a blessing to have "recreation" -- to be 're-created' in order to face but once again all that awaits me back at the seminary. It almost seems providential that there is an element of seminary life that feels as though we are in a 'pressure cooker' because it makes me appreciate even more so those times when the pressure of life is temporarily suspended. It makes watching a late-night movie, a pool game with the siblings, listening to music while writing a blog entry or doing yard work with the rest of the family much more precious.

Moments like these teach this slow learner what it means to enter more deeply into (or to abide in) God's rest. Herein lies the secret to the Sabbath day of rest. Built into our weekly schedule is a day to do just this. God seems to give us a small glimpse into the eternal rest that awaits us as we persevere here on earth to reach our eternal home. Yet oftentimes we don't know what to do with this gift of rest. We busy ourselves with activities that give us pleasure, but don't necessarily recreate our weary souls and bodies. We find ourselves more and more tired as the break gives way to the demands of life.

So this Thanksgiving weekend, I find myself repeating the mantra, "Thank you," hoping that these words penetrate more and more deeply into my heart. I figure that so many people can complain better than I can ... so I won't bother. I can try and be as grateful as I can for everything that Providence will see fit for me. This heart of gratitude becomes my daily prayer such that the truth of Neh 8:10 becomes a foundational truth in my life: "Do not grieve this day, but let the joy of the Lord be your strength."

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

On Monday evening, the Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity celebrated Thanksgiving as a community. Seminarians, lay-students, faculty, staff and family members of these gathered in Saint Mary's Chapel for Evening Prayer. This was followed by dinner at the Binz Refectory, a meal of cranberry relish, fresh fruit, asparagus spears, alla caprese tomatoes and mozzarella cheese, mashed potatoes, stuffing and, of course, turkey--all alongside camaraderie and conversation at the tables with friends and new acquaintances.

One of the priests on faculty presided over Vespers and gave a rousing homily on the Eucharistic theology of Saint Paul (from Colossians 3:12-17; the Greek "eucharistein" meaning "to give thanks") and then encouraged us to expand one aspect of what we do in the Eucharist (give thanks to God) to the rest of our lives. Along these lines, he mentioned the third section of Pope Benedict XVI's Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (Sacrament of Charity), the section entitled "The Eucharist: A Mystery to be Lived."

That was Monday, and now it is Wednesday. The house is nearly vacant, the Binz is no longer serving food, liturgies as a community have ceased, the doors are locked and we are all dispersed back to our dioceses, back to our homes (for those of us able to get home) to celebrate this national holiday, giving it its fuller meaning that we as Catholics can bestow it.

In this spirit, I give thanks to God for all the many blessings he has bestowed upon me, my loved ones, and the Church. I give thanks to you, our readers, for any and all support you give to us seminarians and to the Saint Paul Seminary--your prayers are always very much needed. May your Thanksgiving be one filled with God's graces.

Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:12-17)

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Promised Land

Thanks be to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for Teaching Parish Weekends. For some of us from dioceses nearby, we travel out to the Teaching Parish not weekly for an afternoon or evening but rather monthly for a weekend. This I did this last weekend. No offense to those of you from the cities or other urban areas, but allow me to explain part of my love for the Teaching Parish weekends.

Unbeknownst to me, not having lived in the cities for some time (my last time living in the cities was my freshman year of college at the University of Minnesota, six years ago--my goodnesss, it's been six years!) I had forgotten what the steel, concrete and, ultimately, the whole urban experience does to me. As I drove south to my teaching parish in Rochester, MN, for the first time in Theology I after the first couple months of seminary, I finally reached the edge of the cities such that there was no industrial building in sight. Rather, what broke through was the horizon--the reality in which my vision and perception couldn't perceive anything farther. The limitation was finally not something obstructing my view but rather that my power of seeing is limited. And suddenly the majesty of God's creation began to melt my heart, tears rolled down my face and I prayed, "Oh, thank you, Lord."

I know. It is only the horizon. It is only the countryside. Yet, as I travel out to the parish month after month and leave the city behind, I cannot cease to appreciate--at least for a moment--the fact that I am returning to the land which is far less cluttered with man's doing but rather flourishing in the simplicity of God's natural order. Each time I return home to my diocese it truly is for me, a return to the promised land.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Teaching Parish Committee

At St. Paul Seminary, the pillar around which the Pastoral Formation is structured is the Teaching Parish. John Paul alluded to this fact in a previous post. Among other things, seminarians are asked to develop a teaching parish committee of five to twelve members with the help of their pastor. These groups are composed of a people from within the parish, and ideally, represent a cross-section of the of the parish population. For instance, my committee is composed of a retired woman, several parents (men and women) and a young man who is a senior in high school. This committee meets on a monthly basis with their seminarian. They discuss any variety of topics. With my committee, I have discussed issues of Ecclesiology, liturgy, methods of prayer, models for youth ministry and religious education, the historical developments of the Sacraments of Initiation, and a variety of other topics. The committee is useful to the seminarian for a variety of reasons. First, they bring a certain element of reality to the mostly theoretical discussions of the classroom. They provide a context in which the teachings of the Church can become embodied in the lives of real people. It gives the seminarian a chance to try to teach groups of people with wide varieties of experience and expertise. The teaching parish committee is also provides a place where the seminarian can practice preaching to real people as opposed to seminarians. For me, this committee has been one of the most fruitful parts of my pastoral formation experience. They provide a keen insight that supplements into my classroom based knowledge. They tell me when I am reacting foolishly to a given situation, and they affirm what I often am able only to presume about married and family life. I am deeply grateful for the men and women on my committee. So, thank you to all of you who participate in the teaching parish committees around this archdiocese.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


A venerable Catholic Tradition, the men living on the third floor of the seminary dorm hosted a party for the community on Friday evening that included a meal with Bingo afterwards. Prizes included tickets to a Gopher football game, parking in the priests' garage stalls, books by C.S. Lewis and Archbishop Fulton Sheen, and various gift certificates from businesses around the community, as well as a variety of other gifts donated by the seminarians themselves. I think that every player won a prize of some sort or another, and everyone had fun. Who would have thought that Bingo would be so attractive to people? This led me to do a little research (and by "little" I mean about 70 seconds on Google) and I discovered the following about bingo from about.com.

(Bellis, Mary. The History of Bingo. <http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blbingo.htm>. Accessed 17 November 2007.)


In the U.S., bingo was originally called "beano". It was a country fair game where a dealer would select numbered discs from a cigar box and players would mark their cards with beans. They yelled "beano" if they won.

The game's history can be traced back to 1530, to an Italian lottery called "Lo Giuoco del Lotto D'Italia," which is still played every Saturday in Italy. From Italy the game was introduced to France in the late 1770s, where it was called "Le Lotto", a game played among wealthy Frenchmen. The Germans also played a version of the game in the 1800s, but they used it as a child's game to help students learn math, spelling and history.

When the game reached North America in 1929, it became known as "beano". It was first played at a carnival near Atlanta, Georgia. New York toy salesman Edwin S. Lowe renamed it "bingo" after he overheard someone accidentally yell "bingo" instead of "beano". He hired a Columbia University math professor, Carl Leffler, to help him increase the number of combinations in bingo cards. By 1930, Leffler had invented 6,000 different bingo cards. [It is said that Leffler then went insane.]

A Catholic priest from Pennsylvania approached Lowe about using bingo as a means of raising church funds. When bingo started being played in churches it became increasingly popular. By 1934, an estimated 10,000 bingo games were played weekly, and today more than $90 million dollars are spent on bingo each week in North America alone.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Saintly Knowledge

One of my favorite stories as regards the lives of the saints comes from the patron saint of parish priests, Saint John Vianney. He was stationed in the very small village of Ars, France, and was a keen confessor--many came from miles and thousands of miles just to have him hear their confession! He often had the grace of reading men's souls, so as to provide for their consolation and conversion. Here's one such motivating story about the holy "curé" [priest] (from The Curé d'Ars: St. Jean-Marie-Baptiste Vianney by Abbé Francis Trochu. Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers. 1977.):


One day the Abbé Guillaumet, for many years Superior of the Immaculate Conception at Saint-Dizier (Haute-Marne [in France]), was on his way to Ars. It was in 1855 or 1856. The only subject of conversation in the compartment was the marvels that were taking place in the blessed village; M[onsignor]. Vianney's name was on the lips of all. Seated beside the priest was a lady in deep mourning, who was listening with rapt attention. On reaching the station of Villefrance, M. Guillaumet was about to alight when his neighbour opened her lips to ask: "Monsieur l'Abbé, will you allow me to accompany you to Ars? I may as well go there, as elsewhere. . . . I am travelling to distract my thoughts."

The priest consented to act as guide to the stranger when once they had reached the village. The carriage which they took at Villefranche set them down right in front of the church. The eleven o'clock catechism was drawing to a close, so M. Guillaumet led the lady to a place between the church and the presbytery [rectory]. They had not long to wait. Suddenly the Curé d'Ars appeared, still wearing his surplice. He stopped in front of the lady in black, who, following the example of the crowd, had gone down on her knees. He bent over her and whispered into her ear: "He is saved!" The woman started. M. Vianney repeated: "He is saved!" A gesture of incredulity was the only reply of the stranger. Whereupon the saint, stressing each word, repeated: "I tell you he is saved. He is in Purgatory, and you must pray for him. Between the parapet of the bridge and the water he had time to make an act of contrition. Our Blessed Lady obtained that grace for him. Remember the shrine that you put up in your room during the month of May. Though your husband professed to have no religion, he sometimes joined in your prayers; this merited for him the grace of repentance and pardon at the last moment."


With great joy, I learned this morning that I am an uncle anew. My next younger brother and his wife are the proud parents of a second son, whom they have named Elijah. He was nearly eight pounds and twenty inches long. I am thrilled. My brother and sister-in-law are as well. What a great sign, as the natural world around us enters the long death of winter, that this tiny person's life is still at its beginning.

Here is a link to one more photo from the hospital.


Monday, November 12, 2007


Before I entered college seminary about four years ago one of the things that I was looking forward to was the fraternity that I was going to encounter. This fact is true now as I have begun my time at the St. Paul Seminary. Yesterday after Mass the third floor south wing were able to go to brunch at a local restaurant. It was a great time to spend with the brothers and joke around and take a break. We as a group are thankful to the benefactors of the seminary for giving us an opportunity to have times like these. I am so thankful to the men I have encountered in my time at seminary especially the first few months at a new place. I am no longer a college freshman and I have been around the seminary system long enough to know that each of us needs support from one another. I think all seminarians can attest to the importance of a support system and how vital it will be when we enter into our ordained ministry in our respective dioceses.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Father or brother?

Seminary is an interesting time for the Catholic man pursuing the Lord's will in his life. I myself entered seminary only after two years at state universities--the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, and Minnesota State University, Mankato (studying Physics at both). Then, I entered seminary formation at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary (which is associated with Saint Mary's University, Winona). I squeezed a Philosophy Major into two years at the college seminary (IHM) and then continued on in Theology School at the Saint Paul Seminary.

College seminary is more focused on acquiring the necessary human maturity (emotional, intellectual, social, spiritual). It attempts to make the seminarian a good Christian, a man who is responsible, faithful, discerning, courteous and chivalrous. Theology school, on the other hand, is focused not simply on the foundational elements of living a life of Christian manhood but furthers this formation by helping him to appropriate Christ's own life of priestly service as his own. Theology school attempts to form the good Christian man into one who is present, advises, directs, administers, presides, forgives, sacrifices, prays in the name and person of Christ.

Anyhow, why am I writing all of this? Well, it hearkens to a previous blog post which touches on the difference in age and level of formation in priestly formation. I've been thinking recently about our own interaction with the priests here at the seminary. Recently, many of my classmates went out to dinner with one of the priests on faculty and had a good time, trying new beers, ordering some very interesting yet tasty foods (check out the menu at The Happy Gnome) and chatting about whatever came to our minds. While in college seminary, at the more fundamental levels of priestly formation, the appropriate and ordinary interaction with priests is more formal in tone. However in theology school, the interactions progressively become less formal and more fraternal; appropriately so! After all, if we are to be trained to live the life of the priest, our interactions with those who will sooner and sooner be our brothers in the presbyterate ought to take on a more and more brotherly character.

Obviously, these priests at the seminary are still my formators. Some of them still have me in class. They still have to make a rather disinterested judgement regarding my suitability for priestly ministry and ordination. Having too close of a friendship with one or several of the formators would detract from and harm the formation which ought to take place for myself and the other men around me. Yet, as I continue on the path to ordination, there are little bits and pieces of the life I will live after ordination (like the recent dinner) which I experience now and only serve as catalysts, impelling me to more fervently complete my training and accomplish the will of God in my life.

Friday, November 09, 2007


I will never understand the Minnesotan fascination with snow. It is just white frozen water. Its beautiful, they tell me. I am not convinced. All it takes is one person to walk across it, and the pristine purity of the dreadful stuff gives way to the much more practical realization that it is cold, wet, and has a tendency to stick to your shoes when entering a building, thus creating slip hazards and the potential for wet feet when not wearing shoes.

For some, I am told, snow has a nostalgic value. They are put in mind of childhood sledding days, hot chocolate, and novels read in front of the fire. This is not my experience. I am reminded, rather, of hurried efforts to bring cattle to more protected pastures, calves freezing on the ground, and one too many trips made between town and home on slippery roads whose icy reflections seemed to mirror the anxiety ridden silence inside the vehicle.

"Snow represents peacefulness and purity," they say. Nonsense. Snow means backbreaking work. "It is pretty," they say. "Until they plow it," I respond.

"You're in the wrong state," they tell me. "I don't intend to stay," I return.

In case you missed it, I don't like snow. Nevertheless, as I sat in class this morning and a few large white flakes began to drift down, I couldn't help but become mesmerized by them. It was brief, perhaps ten minutes, and then they were gone. But they were beautiful.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

An Interesting Quote

I read the following quote (Pope Paul VI, Octogesima Adveniens) in my Catholic Social Teaching class. It was read in the context of discussing the various injustices that were seen in Latin America in the 1970's and 80's. I wonder if it doesn't also have implications for our own personal lives.

Revolutionary ideologies lead only to a change of masters; once installed in power, these new masters surround themselves with privileges, limit freedom and allow other forms of injustice to become established.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Reflections on the Catholic Worker Movement VI

This is the final entry of my series on the Catholic Worker Movement. Let me know if you enjoyed the idea of a series (content aside). We spend a lot of time writing papers around here. All of us have plenty of them that we could share if you, our faithful readers, would like to see them.


In the end, the most striking similarity between the Catholic Worker Movement and the Apostolic Church described in the Acts of the Apostles resides in Luke's comment that “every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” In Acts, this saving was a very spiritual reality. Men and women were joining the Church and becoming believers. As a result, they were assured the benefits of the death and resurrection of Christ. I am convinced that this must also have been true of the Catholic Worker Movement. Surely men and women were converted to Catholicism due to the witness of the Catholic Worker Movement. Nevertheless, much more practically, every day men and women whose lives were held in the balance were being saved from fear, cold, starvation, and death. Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement exemplified the place where Revelation and human experience are unified in a concrete action that aids in realizing the Kingdom of God. Just as the Apostles, as described in Acts, were instrumental in bringing the faith of the Church alive and well to the rest of the world, so too did the Catholic Worker Movement continue that mission in the twentieth century, and continues to do so today.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Liturgy is Dangerous

Here is a brief experience with which all of you old Altar Boys out there can resonate:

This morning, as the forty hours of adoration came to a close, I joined the community in praying Lauds. As you might know, this is a form of prayer that involves the recitation of Psalms, a Canticle from Scripture, a short reading, and the recitation of the Canticle of Zachariah. It is common practice, especially on days of great solemnity, to incense the altar as the Canticle is being chanted. Thus, I was assigned as thurifer this morning. It was my duty to ensure that the thurible with its charcoals was brought to the priest at the proper time. Now, anyone who has served for very long will tell you that the top of the thurible whereby one opens it allowing for the imposition of the grains of incense gets extremely hot if the thurible remains closed for very long. Apparently it was closed for too long today.

I suppose that it is in this way that the test of one's liturgical mettle occurs. Can you grasp the little nob without gasping? Can you lift it, and hold it as the priest, with devilish deliberateness, scoops one, two, then three tiny spoons of incense onto the burning coals. Can you avoid grimacing as you grow more and more convinced that part of the rising smoke must be originating from your own fingers. Can you resist the temptation to wave your hand in the air or put your fingers in your mouth when the priest finally relieves you of the thurible?

I didn't gasp. I think I might have grimaced. I'm certain I didn't wave my hands in the air.

On a related note, what is the best way to remove wax from the top of one's head?

I was also a candle bearer for Mass this morning. It was all pretty straightforward - nothing out of the ordinary for a Sunday Mass here at the seminary. We use these tall torches that sit at the four corners of the sanctuary. Each is perhaps seven feet tall, made of metal, and atop each is a simple beeswax candle. I carried mine in the entrance procession and was then assigned to take one of these torches and lead the Deacon of the Word from the Altar to the Ambo for the Proclamation of the Gospel. It was all going fine until I started up the steps into the sanctuary. I stepped high to avoid tripping on the hem of my cassock, and as I did so, I heard a splatter at my feet - I had sent wax all over the floor. That in itself isn't so bad. It happens with a certain regularity. Call me paranoid, but it can be difficult to walk in procession when the candle burning over your head promises to send a shower of hot wax into what remains of your hair at any moment.

So, liturgy can be dangerous. But this story does illustrate a point: Jesus, in his great love, comes to us and becomes immanently accessible to us in the midst of very ordinary, sometimes very messy, circumstances.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

What a difference a few years make...

With the seminarians from SJV around this weekend, I have been reminded about how much difference a few years can make. I am a decade older than many of my classmates, and about fifteen years older than most of my brothers at SJV. When I find myself a little out of touch, I find it helpful to review the current Beloit College's list of things about which incoming college students may think differently. My classmates who came almost directly out of college would be on this list. I find these differences interesting and helpful to remember; theology does not always stand apart from the time in which it was written. Context sometimes prevents one from crossing the thin line between heresy and orthodoxy.

For example, in my Ecclesiology class this semester, we've been reading Lumen Gentium (the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church) and Gaudium et Spes (the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World), both of which were written and approved by the Council Fathers in the early 1960s. One of the interesting things about these documents is how much they are informed by the social/political concerns of the 1960s--particularly the bipolar world which existed during the Cold War because of the United States and then Soviet Union. The council documents are full of explicit and implicit references to communistic atheism, nuclear annihilation, and the lack of harmony and unity among human beings. My section of Ecclesiology (the MAT section) has many lay students in it, many of whom remember the Cold War even better than I do, but many of my fellow seminarians (who are in the MDiv section of Ecclesiology) were born just four years after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, so many of them have no personal experience of the Cold War, the Berlin Wall, or the hair trigger threat of Nuclear War.

And before you think this is exaggerated, I ran across this article [hat tip to Dale Price] which describes how in September 1983, a then-young lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Strategic Rocket forces (who was on unscheduled duty covering for someone who couldn't make it into work) made a 'risky judgement' that the computers were giving him wrong information as they reported incoming U.S. nuclear missiles. [For the movie-goers out there, this reminds me of the conclusion of War Games with Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy, which may date me even more than remembering the Cold War.] As a result he did not order the programmed response of a full-nuclear response--which presumably would have triggered an American response, and perhaps the end of the world as we've known it.

When we recognize the events that surrounded the writing of the Vatican II documents, we also understand more deeply the real concerns the Council Fathers intended to address. In recognizing these concerns, priests and theologians of today are better equipped to apply the teachings of the Council to our contemporary situation.

So during the 40-hours devotion (see below) this weekend, we thank God for the gift of life and of our vocations. We pray for peace among nations. We ask God to give us wisdom to understand more deeply the movement of the Spirit in the Church, even when it is sometimes hidden in the shadow of historical context.

St. Charles Borromeo, patron of seminaries & seminarians, pray for us!

A JPII Generation

What do you get when a dining room is filled with 210 seminarians and priests, a handful of guests, and the founder of one of the fastest growing and most popular religious communities?

Today, we were treated to a lunch-time presentation from Fr. Benedict Groeshel of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. He spoke simply, about the state of the Church before and after the Second Vatican Council. In so doing, he focused on the nature and development of Scripture scholarship over the years. He comments were candid, and his insight sharp for he spoke to us as a man who has been around the "latest trends" in the Catholic culture for the past 43 years.

St. Charles Borromeo comes to St. Paul, (part 2)

to read part one, click here.

The practice of Forty Hours Devotion originated in Milan about the year 1530. Granted, prior to this time, the Church did have exposition and benediction, Eucharistic processions, and devotions to the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the tabernacle. In 1539, Pope Paul III
responded to a petition from the Archdiocese of Milan asking for an indulgence for the practice:

Since our beloved son the Vicar General of the Archbishop of Milan, at the prayer of the inhabitants of the said city, in order to appease the anger of God provoked by the offenses of Christians, and in order to bring to nought the efforts and machinations of the Turks who are pressing forward to the destruction of Christendom, amongst other pious practices, has established a round of prayers and supplications to be offered by day and night by all the faithful of Christ, before our Lord's Most Sacred Body, in all the churches of the said city, in such a manner that these prayers and supplication are made by the faithful themselves relieving each other in relays for forty hours continuously in each church in succession, according to the order determined by the Vicar... We approving in our Lord so pious an institution, grant and remit.
While this pronouncement seems to be the earliest official approval by the Church of this devotion, the Forty Hours Devotion spread rapidly.

By 1550, both St. Philip Neri and St. Ignatius Loyola had also instituted this practice, especially for the reparation of sin. Recognizing the tremendous graces offered through this devotion as well as the dangers threatening the Church, Pope Clement VIII in his letter Graves et diuturnae (November 25, 1592) proclaimed,
We have determined to establish publicly in this Mother City of Rome an uninterrupted course of prayer in such ways that in the different churches, on appointed days, there be observed the pious and salutary devotion of the Forty Hours, with such an arrangement of churches and times that, at every hour of the day and night, the whole year round the incense of prayer shall ascend without intermission before the face of the Lord.
He also issued regulations for the devotions, which were later collected and promulgated by Pope Clement XI in 1705, and known as the Instructio Clementina.

In our own country, St. John Neumann (1811-60), the fourth bishop of Philadelphia, was a strong promoter of the Forty Hours Devotion. While the practice had already existed in individual churches throughout the city (as well as in other places in the country), no organized, cohesive diocesan schedule for it had ever before been attempted. St. John had an tremendous devotion to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, and desired to foster such a spiritual life in his people.

Unfortunately at this time, a strong anti-Catholic sentiment plagued Philadelphia. During the Know Nothing riots of 1844, two churches were burned and another was saved simply by the threat of gunfire. Some priests, therefore, advised St. John that the introduction of 40 Hours Devotion would only flame the hatred against the Catholics and expose the Blessed Sacrament to desecration. St. John was left in a quandary.

A strange incident occurred which helped St. John decide. One night, he was working very late at his desk and fell asleep in his chair. The candle on the desk burnt down and charred some of the papers, but they were still readable. He awoke, surprised and thankful that a fire had not ignited. He fell on his knees to give thanks to God for protection, and heard His voice saying, "As the flames are burning here without consuming or injuring the writing, so shall I pour out my grace in the Blessed Sacrament without prejudice to My honor. Fear no profanation, therefore; hesitate no longer to carry out your design for my glory."

He introduced the practice of 40 Hours Devotion at the first diocesan synod in April, 1853, and the first devotions began at St. Philip Neri Parish, an appropriate place since that saint had initiated the devotion in the city of Rome. St. John himself, spent most of the three days in the Church praying. No trouble ensued. St. John then introduced the program for the whole diocese, so that each parish would have Forty Hours Devotion during the course of the year. He composed a special booklet for the devotions and obtained special indulgences for the faithful attending them. The Forty Hours Devotion was so successful it spread to other dioceses. At the Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1866, the Forty Hours Devotion was approved for all Dioceses of the United States.

In time the purpose for celebrating Forty Hours Devotion started to be transformed. This change is witnessed in 1560 by the bull promulgated by Pope Paul IV. He states that the devotion is an imitation of the forty days of fasting of the Lord in the desert, and the time of unceasing prayer called for in scripture and by the early church. This transformation continued such that by the time of the eighteenth century this devotion became primarily Eucharistic in nature and centered on thanksgiving for the mystery and gift of the Eucharist.

An Odd Time to Blog

We in the Saint Paul Seminary are always very busy - from before sunrise to long after sunset. Our early rising in the morning requires us to get to sleep as soon as time (and homework) will allow . . . but not tonight.

What makes tonight different from every other night? The Saint Paul Seminary, in collaboration with Saint John Vianney minor Seminary, is hosting a Borremeo 40-hour adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. We began this evening Friday, 02 November 2007 at 7pm at the Saint Vianney minor Seminary. We opened with Mass and processed - through the University of Saint Thomas campus, accross Summit Avenue, and down Grand Avenue - to the Saint Paul Seminary Chapel where the adoration will continue through Sunday morning.

Back to the point, why is this an odd time to blog? Even on a Friday night in the seminary, we normally are not late-night owls. During these forty hours, we seminarians are taking turns being awake and being in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Indeed, this is not a burden; I could not be happier but to be in the presence of Our Lord. I would go back even this very moment but with restful sleep I will better serve my God when I awake.

The two seminaries had a brief opportunity to socialize following the procession; though we rarely see our brothers from the minor seminary there is a family-familiarity that seems to be present in the air.

Friday, November 02, 2007

All Souls Day

Today is the day on which all Catholics remember their beloved dead. I think this day is difficult for most because they dwell on the lives of their loved ones whom they miss. One of the people that I miss the most is a priest by the name of Fr. Todd Reitmeyer. He was a priest for my diocese and was tragically killed in a jet-ski accident a couple of years ago. He was a great example for his parish and those who knew him best. This day is not to be one of sorrow but it is a day to rejoice that the ones we love are on their way to the heavenly banquet. Here at the seminary we are commemorating the dead through a Mexican custom. On this day many families spend the day in the cemetery with those they love. There are a few quotations from today's office of readings (written by St. Ambrose) that stand out to me. "Thus his death is life for all. We are sealed with the sign of his death; when we pray we preach his death; when we offer sacrifice we proclaim his death." "We must not reject the natural rights of the body, but we must desire before all else the gifts of grace." May all the holy men and women pray for us.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


I wrote earlier about my trip to Iowa for the ordination of one of the men from this seminary, but I failed to comment about the trip, other than to note where I stayed. I intend to remedy that oversight with this post.

I left Friday morning with two other men. After a brief stop in Lake City to collect a fourth who was visiting his parents there, we proceeded down the Mississippi River Valley toward LaCrosse. We stopped for lunch in Winona, and then, if my memory serves me right, we did not stop again until arriving in Dyersville. While in that town, we visited a toy store (I have nephews to help spoil, after all) where I purchased a miniature of a South Dakota Highway Patrol Cruiser. It now sits proudly on my window sill. All in all, it was a pleasant drive down.

The return trip was a bit more crowded as we added a fifth person to the car. To the great dismay of one of the car's passengers, we decided to stop at the "Field of Dreams" (the field about which the movie was made) to have a look around. It is a small field surrounded by corn. That particular day, it stunk like mad as the local farmers were fertilizing their fields. As we walked in the stench, I was struck by a quote from the movie (USCCB Rating, A-II):

Shoeless Joe Jackson: "Is this heaven?"
Ray Kinsella: "No, it's Iowa."

That night, we stopped in Winona again, this time to see our younger diocesan brothers at the minor seminary. We spent the night there, joined the community for Mass and a meal the following morning, and then made our trip back to St. Paul. In total, it was a restful, enjoyable weekend that helped prepare me to return to classes and continue my studies for the greater glory of God.