Monday, December 24, 2007
Saturday, December 22, 2007
"... there is a tendency to minimize sins against purity to the advantage (often only in theory) of attention to our neighbour. It is an illusion to believe that we can put authentic service to our brothers – which always demands sacrifice, altruism, forgetfulness of self and generosity – together with a disordered personal life, entirely directed toward gratifying ourselves and our own passions. We end up, inevitably, instrumentalizing our brothers, just as we instrumentalize our own bodies and the other sex. He who does not know how to say no to himself does not know how to say yes to his brothers.
One of the "excuses" that contributes most to encourage the sin of impurity in the popular mindset is the discharging of any responsibility, the claim that it hurts no one, that it does not violate anyone's rights unless, it is said, we are talking about physical violence. But apart from the fact that it violates the basic right of God to give a law to his creatures, this "excuse" is false even in regard to our relations to our neighbour. It is not true that the sin of impurity ends with those who commit it.
In the Jewish Talmud there is an apologue that illustrates quite well the connection that exists between sin and the damage that every sin, even personal sin, does to others: "Some people found themselves on a boat. One of the passengers took a drill and began to make a hole beneath his seat. The others seeing this said to him: 'What are you doing?' He answered: 'What is it to you? Am I not making a hole under my seat?' But they replied: 'Yes, but water will come in and we will all drown!'" Is this not what is happening in our society? The Church too knows something of the evil that can be done to the whole body by personal mistakes of the clergy in this sphere."
Young Fogeys out there, take heed.
Friday, December 21, 2007
Friday, December 14, 2007
"It is simply not for us to decide who should live and who should die," said Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden).
If only they kept that thought in their heads when they voted for embryonic stem cell research.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Monday, December 10, 2007
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Today's daily bulletin from the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict, in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of Our Lady's appearance in Lourdes (which will be celebrated in February of 2008), is allowing Catholics to receive a Plenary Indulgence.
My Italian is not super good, but essentially here's what the decree says: "On the occasion of 150th anniversary of the manifestation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Cave of Massabielle, neighbor to Lourdes, a Plenary Indulgence is granted daily to the faithful from the day of December 8, 2007 until the day December 8, 2008, when devoutly and in the conditions established, they will visit the Cave of Massabielle, and, from February 2 to 11, 2008, they will visit, in whichever temple, oratory, cave, or decorated place, the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lourdes is solemnly exposed for veneration by the public."
Now, not everyone can jump a plane and go to France, but the second part of the decree is key: From February 2-11, 2008, anyone will be able to receive the Plenary Indulgence daily at any church, shrine, outdoor grotto, etc., anywhere in the world (as long as it's an image of O.L. of Lourdes they're venerating). Your parish doesn't have a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes? Get a few people together and offer to buy one for the parish.
Start talking it up in your parishes. Some pastors will see the words "Plenary Indulgence" and immidiately resolve not to mark the occasion.
Monday, December 03, 2007
Sunday, December 02, 2007
By the way, with my diocese deciding to put Catholic radio evangelization on "hiatus", my last episode of Proclaim the Good News had Fr. Guy and I reminiscing about our years of hosting the show. You can listen to that last episode by clicking here.
Saturday, December 01, 2007
It's me, your favorite (just kidding). I've got a problem and I'm hoping you can fix it for me.
For the past year or so, I've been bringing your book, Jesus of Nazareth, into the confessional on Saturday mornings. It's phenomenal. It's great. Thank you for writing it. But my problem is this: it's got so much "packed in" it, that it's taking me longer than I ever expected to read it. More than a year later, and I just began chapter eight today! Now I know I'm not the brightest bulb in the lamp, and thankfully there have been weeks when the number of penitents coming for Confession have made it impossible for me to read more than a page or two, but still there's so much there to devour. Now you've got me wanting to read the books you mention in your book, like Neusner's A Rabbi Talks With Jesus from Ch. 4!
Now, to add to my reading, you've written this brand new encyclical on the virtue of hope (which means I'll probably want to skim through your last encyclical on the virtue of love just to "bring myself up to speed"). Plus, I keep hearing that there's more volumes of Jesus of Nazareth coming down the pike. Finally, I've still got loads of Ignatius Press stuff of yours that I either read years ago and forgot, or haven't read yet.
Holy Father, please, can you slow down a bit? You name it: I'll buy you a Playstation 3, Nintendo Wii, boxed sets of past seasons of CSI, whatever. You like Sudoku? I bet you'd be great at it. I'll get you enough Sudoku puzzles to fill your free time, just give me a chance to catch up!
This is what I wanted to tell you when I met you last October. However, as you probably recall, I was a nervous mess who couldn't put words together in a sentence. So if you lay off the writing for a while, I promise to send you a big, hefty gift card for you to spend on yourself.
Fr. Jay Toborowsky
Friday, November 30, 2007
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
If you know of any place that sells them, let me know. If not, and I gave you the idea that you'll make a small fortune off of, then give me like 25% of the profits or I'll start praying those cursing psalms against you.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Asked in an interview with the Muslim lifestyle magazine Emel, if he [Dr. Williams] thought the United States had lost the high moral ground since the 9/11 attacks, he replied "Yes".
Really? Well, if anyone would know what the warning signs are when a world power loses their moral authority, I suppose he's the man who knows what to look for.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
However, at the last minute with fears of an impending downpour, the ceremony was moved from an outdoor event in the Piazza San Pietro, to inside the basilica itself. Kudos to those who made such a change at the last minute seem so flawless (on television, anyway). I understand that there was no way to fit everyone in the square into the basilica, and so many people watched the event on the jumbotron monitors placed throughout the square (if only Bernini could see his square today). But anyone who has been invited to a high school graduation knows there's always that chance that a June thunderstorm will move the ceremony into a cramped gymnasium without advance notice. Romans have a great attitude about such things: they show contempt, then shrug and deal with it. But I can imagine the "wails and gnashing of teeth" that must've been coming from the foreigners who came specifically to watch that event. Especially, I'm thinking of the Americans, because we can have a sense of, "How can something like this happen to someone as important as ME?" I mean, put yourself there: The announcement has been made that the ceremony is moving indoors, and each Cardinal can have, let's say, 125 tickets to gain someone entrance. Who gets in? More importantly, who doesn't get in? Here I'm also thinking of my brother Priests, because some of us can get awfully cliquish and elitist when we want to be. I'm sure there were plenty of clergy who said, "It's OK, give my ticket to someone else." But I'm sure there were also plenty who said, "I HAVE to be there. Don't these people know who I am? How many committees I'm on? If I'm not in there, what will people say about me?" Hehehehehe, ah, the "high school lunchtable drama" of it all.
Getting back to the ceremony, it was nice to watch Cardinal Foley receive his biretta. I've met him a few times through his work for the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and my work in radio. He was even kind enough to come on my show as a guest. I saw him last month during my Rome visit, and he was kind enough to sit and chat for about a half hour at the headquarters for the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre. He never let on that he was about to be named a Cardinal, though I'm sure by then he knew it was going to happen. He put in a lot of years in service to the universal Church, and his creation as Cardinal is a well-deserved reward for his work (despite the fact that some bloggers are acting as if it's something "long overdue"). Congratulations to him, as well as Cardinal DiNardo. I wonder if Stetson makes a hat in red watered silk?
(thank you Reuters for the photos)
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
As I did with the other two letters, let me give you a taste without spoiling your appetite for the meal:
- "The priest presides at the Eucharist in persona Christi. The priest is the servant of the Liturgy."
- "Priests, as well as deacons, are not free to change the rubrics or substitute their own words for the prescribed texts. Such fidelity expresses true love for the people we serve."
- "Only when there is a necessity may extraordinary ministers assist the Priest celebrant in accordance with the norm of law."
- "It may take a child-like humility to do as the Church asks in the celebration of the Liturgy. However, true love is never proud."
To quote "The Great One", mmmmmmm how sweet it is!
Monday, November 19, 2007
I first met the Archbishop when he was just Monsignor Broglio, one of the Priest-Secretaries to the then-Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano. My seminary class was in Rome for a pilgrimage during Christmas of 1996, and one of the Priests who accompanied us was classmates with Msgr. Broglio at the Pontifical Gregorian University. One evening during the trip, Msgr. Broglio took us on a tour of the public rooms of the Apostolic Palace. We saw it all: from the Bronze Doors, past the statue of Constantine up the Scala Regia stairs, into the Sala Regia, and into the Sala Ducale. Absolutely amazing. But two parts of the tour were, in particular, the "kickers":
- We were walking through the Sala Ducale, and honestly none of us were looking out the windows since we were so busy looking around the rooms we were being shown. So at one point, Msgr. Broglio stops, pulls a huge floor-to-ceiling curtain aside, and says, "and THIS is the central balcony of St. Peter's." Here we were in the spot where the Popes not only appear at Christmas and Easter, but standing in the spot where they all passed following their elections. I found some photos I took of the moment:
- As we were walking back from the central balcony, Msgr. Broglio waved at a maintenance man as if to say, "have a good night". The man walked over, said something in Italian to him, and Msgr. B. turned towards us and said, "Oh, this is neat, I wasn't expecting this. Follow him and I'll be right with you." With that, he walked away, and we followed the man to a closed door. He reached into his coat, pulled out a set of keys, opened the door, and gestured for us to go in. There we were, only 17 of us, in the Sistine Chapel. We had it all to ourselves, and what I remember was the quiet. All of us were shocked into a stunned silence as we looked at the walls and ceiling. Now I've been in there a few times before whilst visiting the Vatican Museums, but there's always a crowd and always noise. This time it was all ours, if only for 10 minutes or so. Sorry, no pictures allowed in the Sistine Chapel.
So that's my Msgr. Broglio story. Following that trip he eventually because Apostolic Nuncio to the Dominican Republic and to Puerto Rico, and now he becomes the spiritual father to our Catholic military personnel. Ad multos annos! Thanks again for the tour.
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Picture it: You're a Priest helping out at one of these penance services that are about to spring up all around, now that Advent is around the corner (I know this because I'm getting the requests to help at them!). You get that person who treats the Sacrament with that casual indifference that secretly causes you to have the desire to go all "Old Testament wailing and gnashing of teeth" on them. But you ignore their "blah" attitude, talk to them, give them a penance, and then ask them for an Act of Contrition. And what do you get? "Oh my God, I am hardly sorry for offending thee and I... and I... uh, I... [giggle, giggle] I can't remember it, Father. Oh, well." [giggle, giggle]
Just once, I'm dying to say, "Oh, that's O.K. God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son, has reconciled the world to himself, and sent... and sent... [giggle, giggle] Well, what do you know, I can't remember the absolution, either! Well, I guess you're not getting forgiven!" [giggle, giggle]
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
No, it couldn't be. Impossible. On November 14, someone already has their Christmas tree up and lit in their house for passers-by to see.
Instantly, I knew what had to be done. I had to call in the Church's elite squad dedicated to preventing the premature celebration of Christmas: the Advent Traditionalist Force (or ATF, for short). This little known corps of ecclesiastical agents give a whole new meaning to "The Church Militant". Surprise is their best weapon, and so they're not too keen of gathering publicity for themselves or being photographed (I was lucky enough to sneak this photo a few years ago while I watched them on a raid). Any of you thinking about stringing up some garland early? YOU'VE BEEN WARNED!
I tell you this because Joan Lewis' blog today tells the story of her meeting with Jeanne Perego, the book's author, who was in Rome to meet Pope Benedict for the first time. The whole story is here, but the tagline is the best part:
She happily recounted her Wednesday meeting with Benedict XVI – Chico’s friend Joseph. Then she came to the punch line. At the end of their conversation Pope Benedict looked at her, smiled broadly, and said, “You know, I always wanted to write a book about cats, and now a cat is writing a book about me!”
For the last year, I've been getting an amazing amount of confidential e-mails from more than a few widows of foreign despots, as well as lawyers for dozens of deceased distant relatives (I never knew I had) who named me as the sole beneficiary in their wills. They all want to give me millions of dollars, if I'd just send them my name, mailing address, bank and credit card account numbers.
Now, nothing would be more fun than to spend the $1.9 trillion dollars I'd have in my bank account by now, if you add up all the money these e-mails wanted to give me. But the truth is that I need to remain humble, and so I have forsaken these opportunities for easy wealth in favor of staying simple.
However, being the kind of guy who doesn't mind "sharing the wealth", if you think you can handle "instant wealth", please send me your name, address, bank account and credit card numbers, and I'll pass them along the next time I get one of those e-mails.
The first one was in today's Star-Ledger (our state newspaper). Right off the bat, it annoyed me with the headline,"A limited American visit for an older pope" (italics added by me). You can hear the undertone, "Here we go again, another John Paul II. A feeble old man who can't do much. He'll be dead soon, so no point is listening to what he has to say." I mean, the Dalai Lama is 72, but the press never prefaces their stories about him with comments about how he's not getting any younger! Soon we'll be getting the stories about how "Pope Benedict comes to visit a flock largely divided on issues such as abortion, birth control, homosexuality, the ordination of women, 'less filling' or 'tastes great', Ginger or Maryann, Darren 1 or Darren 2, Sean Connery or Roger Moore, etc." The bottom line is that Pope Benedict has shown himself not to be a traveller. So the very fact that he chooses to make a visit to the United States, when you can only count on one hand the other countries he has visited, says something about how he perceives a need for a visit.
The second article was an AP article that appeared in the Express-Times (our local newspaper). In the section called "Teen Scene", talking about how the ever-ambiguous "many people" feel that school nurses in middle schools should be able to dispense contraceptives (without parents' knowledge, of course). Unfortunately it's not posted on their website, so I can't give you the link so you can share my rage. When I was in 6th grade, our school nurse gave vision tests, scoliosis tests, and handled nosebleeds from schoolyard fights. My, how times have changed!
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Baltimore, Nov. 9, 2007 (CWNews.com) - Baltimore's Archbishop Edwin O'Brien has removed a pastor who invited a female Episcopalian priest to join him in celebrating a funeral Mass, the Baltimore Sun reports.
Father Martin was removed from his parish assignment at a meeting with archdiocesan officials on November 8. The priest, whose unorthodox liturgical practices had prompted several prior complaints, said that the Episcopalian priest had not participated in the Consecration during the October funeral liturgy, although he had invited her to read the Gospel. There were conflicting reports on whether or not the Episcopalian cleric had received Communion; Father Martin said that he could not recall administering the Eucharist to her.
On the orders of the archbishop, Father Martin resigned his parish assignment and issued an apology for "bringing scandal to the Church," the Sun reports. A spokesman for the Baltimore archdiocese explained that the pastor's removal was called for because "he has repeatedly violated Church teaching."
Father Martin was serving as pastor of three different parishes in south Baltimore, where he had worked for 5 years. His removal comes just 6 weeks after Archbishop O'Brien was installed as head of the Baltimore archdiocese.
Evidently, a Jesuit Priest at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia used the Sunday evening Mass to announce to everyone in attendance what he called one of the "worst-kept secrets on campus": that he is (in the words of New Jersey's previous governor), a "gay American". Thankfully, though, he didn't get into specifics about what went on on campus that made his homosexuality such a badly kept secret.
Well, Fr. Tom Euteneuer of Human Life International has written an open letter to the priest, in part, saying, "Holy Mass is not a forum for your self-expression.", and, "Not only do you owe them an apology, you owe them a better example of priesthood,".
Amen! If the start and the end are like that, imagine the middle. See Fr. Euteneuer's whole letter by clicking here.
PS - once Homiletic & Pastoral Review updates their website to post the articles in this month's issue, check out an article on Priestly narcissism. Also included in the article: what's behind the growing phenomenon of the "obligation" to applaud the choir at the end of Mass. Stay tuned.
Thursday, November 08, 2007
"Religious leaders"? Why, whomever could they mean? Read further:
"Supporters failed to grasp an unintentional alliance of two forces: public discontent with the state's borrowing, and the work of conservatives and religious leaders who opposed the ballot question's passage."
"Last month, Catholic bishops in the state sent letters to all churches explaining the Catholic position against embryonic stem cell research. Pastors read the letters at Mass and put them in church bulletins, said James Goodness, a spokesman for the Newark Archdiocese. The dioceses also produced a 14-minute video with the Knights of Columbus.
'I think that certainly a number of people did hear what the bishops had to say about the Catholic Church's position and were moved by that,' Goodness said."
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Today's Newark Star Ledger has the story about how, yesterday, Garden State voters rejected a ballot question which sought permission to spend $450 million of taxpayer money to fund Stem Cell research. Research which would have been heavily dependent stem cells obtained through the destruction of human life.
The politicians were pushing "big time" for the passage of this question. Our governor even held a "groundbreaking" for a stem cell research facility at Rutgers University which, I believe thanks to the election results, now has no funding. The State of New Jersey has some serious fiscal problems, which are the result of some serious political problems. Their great hope was that one of these state-owned research labs would find a cure to some major disease (they tried "selling" this proposition to voters by giving them a litany of things that they guaranteed Stem Cells will cure: diabetes, paralysis, Parkinson's Disease, Alzheimers, global warming, rising oil prices, etc.). The state would then cash in on a healthy commission for bankrolling the research and development of the cure.
Here let me inject the fact that it's not all stem cell research that is morally wrong. Research using adult Stem Cells, including from adult fat cells? Fine; in fact, here I am. Research using Stem Cells obtained from umbilical cord blood? No problem. Research from fetal Stem Cells that have come from an unborn child that has tragically died in the womb of natural causes? Okay. After all, experience has taught us that these are the only Stem Cells that have produced any successful results. The problem is when human life will be intentionally destroyed in order to obtain the desired Stem Cells that we've crossed the line.
Also, separate from the ethical issues, pharmaceutical companies just aren't willing to cough up the bucks to fund the research themselves. Why not? A 2006 report on the cost of drug development noted that, "For drugs entering human clinical trials for the first time between 1989 and 2002, ... the cost per new drug [was estimated] to be $868 million. However, our estimates vary from around $500 million to more than $2,000 million, depending on the therapy or the developing firm." Isn't the $450 million being asked for a bargain, comparatively speaking? If science is "so close" to a breakthrough, shouldn't New Jersey's pharmaceutical companies be in open competition with each other to throw money at the project? Why are they keen on taxpayers footing the bill?
That's where the politicos erred. They thought they had promised enough cures to enough people to get the project approved. Believe me, I know that New Jersey voters weren't all suddenly struck with a "crisis of conscience" yesterday. But winning ugly is still a win, and I'll take it.
Sunday, November 04, 2007
How can the Church "get involved" in the discussion? His Eminence said, "I don’t understand the Internet, but especially young religious ought to enter blogs and correct the opinions of the youth, showing them the true Jesus.”
There's the challenge! The aereopagus of today is no longer a physical place, but a "cyber location". Young people (and not so young) thrive on the anonymity the internet offers to ask the deeper questions that they fear secular society would ridicule them over, should they ask them "in person". Clergy and religious should make themselves available on the internet so that these people with genuine questions have a place they can go for answers.
Friday, November 02, 2007
And now, the "close up" view:
In all, there were the relics of 33 Saints of the Church: Agatha, Agnes, Albert the Great, Ambrose, Anselm, Anthony of Padua, Augustine, Bonaventure, Catherine Laboure, Charles Borromeo, Elizabeth Seton, Gregory the Great, James the Greater, Jerome, John Chrysostom, John Neumann, John of the Cross, John Vianney, Josemaria Escriva, Laurence, Leo the Great, Lucy, Maria Goretti, Monica, Philip Neri, Pio of Pietrelcino, Pope Pius V, Pope Pius X, Robert Bellarmine, Theresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, Thomas Aquinas, and Vincent DePaul. Add to that the relics of Saints Clement and Perpetua which were encased in the altar on the day of their dedication in 1961, and a white zucchetto worn by the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II, and it was a great reminder of the "great cloud of witnesses" who spur us on to holiness.
Remember back in July when the town of Ave Maria, Florida, had a community "open house" to show prospective residents and merchants the residential and commercial properties available for people who wish to live amongst committed Roman Catholics?
If you're a late-comer to the world of Young Fogeys, or if you forgot, I wrote about it in a previous blog entry.Remember the journalistic cynicism as they spoke about the town they labelled, "Bibleland"? Evidently, in the world of mainstream media, you can be an orthodox Jew, but not an orthodox Roman Catholic. Remember how the ACLU said they were going to be "watching this town very carefully"?
In the end, it is a tale of two cities. Two cities inhabited by people who want to live their lives following God in the way they believe He asks them to do so. They should both live and be well, no matter what anyone thinks.
Thursday, November 01, 2007
For the "hockey ignorant", Daniel and Henrik Sedin are identical twin brothers who play on the Vancouver Canucks. Also, at the end when they talk about how much money they made, a "Looney" is a Canadian one dollar coin (because it has a Loon on it), and a "Tooney" is the Canadian two dollar coin (probably because it rhymes with "Looney" and has the obvious connection to "Looney Tunes").
Monday, October 29, 2007
Father,This line of thinking is nothing new: The "phobia" defense. It presumes that, if I disagree with someone or something, I must be against it because deep down inside of me I'm really afraid of it. I'm too shallow and incapable to disagree with something on an intellectual basis, so therefore any dissent from their beliefs must be rooted in some irrational fear.
Yeah, well, prejudice has caused folks to leave places and institutions before; this isn't the first time, you realize. (Think about white flight in previously stable urban environments; white folks who had a streak of bigotry moved out when the first black family moved in. Same thing in many schools in the south and midwest; many whites started looking for private schools for their kids when the local public school integrated.) Fear of another group increasing in power or prestige (the priesthood does have prestige, in Anglican as well as Catholic culture) is nothing new. You can be against women's ordination all you want, but I don't see the point in patting people on the back simply because they're fearful of women having an important role in the Anglican church.
My best friend from high school/college is in seminary now to become an Episcopalian priest, and she will be a wonderful priest, a gifted priest, a priest who serves God as well as any man I know. And though you don't know her, I can assure you that there's no need for anyone (including those 300 soon-to-be former Anglicans) to be afraid of her. She's a woman. She'll be a priest. May God be served always. (Be not afraid!)
Of course, that's nonsense. I can disagree with, for example, the civil government recognizing same sex unions, but it does not mean that I'm afraid of them (despite the fact that I will be labelled a "homophobe"). The three parishes who have asked for reunion with Rome do not appear to be "bigoted", "prejudiced" (which would be odd, especially since there are women amongst the membership of the reuniting parishes) or "afraid" of women. As the news article says, they feel the vote by the Anglican Church of Ireland to ordain women to the priesthood is "a defiance of scripture and tradition." In the case of the Roman Catholic Church, all three "legs of the stool" (Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterial teachings) point to a male ministerial Priesthood. That's no more bigoted than saying that history, experience, and biology all point to only females bearing children.
When former New Jersey Governor James McGreevey formally left the Roman Catholic Church and was received into the Episcopalian Church because of his disagreement over the Church's teachings on homosexuality, no one accused him of being "fearful" or "prejudiced" against the all male Roman Catholic clergy. Words like "courageous" were used. People applauded his "journey of faith" and wished him well. We should do the same for the "Irish 300".
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Why did they leave the Anglican Communion? They left over their disagreement over the ordination of women. "But wait", you say, "I thought it's only the Roman Catholic Church that loses members over women's ordination?"
Read the story. The membership of these three parishes left the worldwide Anglican Communion because they're against women's ordination.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
My life is getting back to normal after my Rome trip. My formerly dirty clothes are clean and put away. The things that friends asked me to buy for them have been (or are in the process of being) delivered to them. The gifts I bought for people have been handed out. The pile of mail that built up while I was away has been sorted, read, tossed, and the bills paid. I'm just about back to staying up until my normal bedtime and I'm waking up at my normal wake-up time. I suppose I'm as normal as I'm ever going to be. So now I can write this blog.
While I was away, the man who is the engineer for my radio show, Al Femia, had some health issues. He's had some health concerns in the last year or so, but now they're getting serious. The bottom line is that his doctor advised him not to work anymore, so while I was way he decided to leave the diocese's employ. While sad, Al's departure shouldn't have been a major problem, because there's another employee of the diocese who has been working on the radio show alongside Al for about a year. She's at every recording session, and she's become quite the expert in editing and producing the show. So "momentary sadness, but life goes on", right? Uh, no.
When I returned from Rome I was informed that the diocese has decided that, not only aren't they planning on hiring any replacement for Al, but that they are stopping the funding for the airtime we buy on one of the two secular stations the show airs (WCTC 1450AM), and they want to stop broadcasting the show on the other secular radio station (AM1470 WSAN) and the Ave Maria radio network in Michigan. While no one has technically said, "We're ending the radio show", you obviously can't have a radio show without being on the radio. I was told that I could continue to make shows for eventual broadcast when the diocese updates its website to allow for on-demand streaming audio, but I've been begging them to do this for four years, and still it's not accomplished (that's why I purchased the Podbean account last July).
In my humble opinion (to use an analogy), the radio show has been denied nutrition and hydration, and I cannot see continuing the show in a "persistent, vegetative state." So, as best as I can tell, I think the deathwatch has begun for Proclaim the Good News.
I'm proud of what was accomplished in the four years and four months that I served as the show's host. The show aired on both the eastern and western side of the diocese, as opposed to just the eastern side when I began. For that I have to thank my parish's Holy Name Society, as well as the parish itself, for paying for the airtime. When I began, we couldn't do telephone interviews because we didn't have the technology. Starting about three years ago with Father Kevin Lixey of the Vatican's Office on Church and Sport, we used telephone interviews to bring the universal Catholic Church into our local diocesan show. For that, I send a big "thank you" to people like Their Eminences Avery Cardinal Dulles and Josef Cardinal Tomko, Archbishop John Foley (recently named by Pope Benedict to the College of Cardinals, though probably not because of my interview), Fathers Benedict Groschel, Joseph Fessio, and Fred Miller, Catholic apologists Jeff Cavins, Scott Hahn, and Steve Ray, actor Jon Voight, former Florida Marlins manager Jack McKeon, and all the other people who took time out of their lives to be interviewed on PGN.
Early on in my time as host and moderator of the show, I was asked to come up with one of those "mission statements" for the show. While mission statements often make me throw up a little in my mouth, it did force me to read the document "Inter Mirifica", the first decree issued by the Second Vatican Council, on the topic of social communications. Paragraph fourteen says that "Ample encouragement should be given to Catholic transmissions which invite listeners ... to share in the life of the Church and which convey religious truths." Could the Council Fathers, in 1963, have foreseen things like iPods and the Internet? Heck no. I'm sure they thought radio and television were the final frontier, but science and technology have given us a whole "undiscovered country" ripe for the New Evangelization. The potential is endless: on demand Catholic Apologetics; literally getting the Church's message into the ears of people. That's wild.
In 1998, when I was ordained, I never thought I'd work on a radio show. My friend and the show's former host, Fr. Guy Selvester, brought me in because he could call me the night before and say, "Let's do a show tomorrow about what the Pope said in his new encyclical." He'd come up with the questions, and I'd do a "cram study" session in an effort to learn what the Pope actually said! Well, I hope I've done my part to give my listeners shows that taught them something new with each episode.
What about me? Well, I'm still a Priest at a 1,900 family parish, and there's Masses and confessions and funerals and hospital visits, as well as both adult education and RCIA once a week. The more I think about it, the more I like Job's way of handling life's curveballs: "The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the Lord." I'll figure out what to do with the Podbean site, and what to do with the time I used to put into arranging for guests, writing scripts, and taping the interviews. I remember Johnny Carson's exit line on his last episode as host of The Tonight Show: "I hope, in the future, if I find something new to do that excites me, that you'll be as gracious as you've been in letting me into your homes." Ditto.
Monday, October 22, 2007
Hopefully this will open the eyes of those who still persist in thinking that the sexual abuse of minors is "something only celibate males do in an oppressive church". Ladies and gentlemen, this is a cultural, societal problem! What are we doing about it?
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Friday, October 19, 2007
In my last blog entry, I asked for your prayers for "smooth flying". That you did, because it really wasn't a bad flight, as turbulence goes. But to get to that moment, ahhhhh, keep reading.
So Wednesday turned out to be a really great "last day in Rome": New Cardinals announced, a nice lunch with some New Jersey Priests who also happened to be visiting Rome, a package left for me at the hotel front desk that I was sure was not going to happen this trip, a visit with the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist (who work in a few Vatican offices, including the Internet office), and dinner with Joan Lewis, the Rome bureau chief for EWTN. It was a perfect day, until...... [cue the "Jaws" theme]
Thursday morning I wake up at 6am to pack my luggage, and at 7am go down to pay my bill and get a taxi to the airport for my 10am flight. When the Signora at the desk calls for the cab, she tells me, "There are no taxis today. They're on strike today." I asked her what I can do? She gives me the "Italian shrug" and says that I can get to the airport from the Termini train station in the middle of town. So I grab my bags (thank GOD for the man who invented wheels on the bottom of luggage), and haul it the half mile to a bus stop where I know there's an express bus (meaning only 5 or 6 stops along the way) to Termini. Of course, it's raining this morning, and the water on the marble and cobblestones make me thankful I can ice skate. I used up my bus tickets I keep in reserve (who knew I'd be on a bus this morning?), so all the while I'm on the bus I'm expecting to be busted without a ticket. Why? Because that's the way my morning was going so far. Halfway to the bus stop, I see a cab drive past. I wave, he turns and comes to me, rolls down the window, and asks where I want to go. When I tell him the airport, he tells me he can't because there's a strike today [yeah, thanks for that information]. I ask myself, then why is he driving a cab around town? The answer: to SHOW everyone he's on strike.
At 8:05am, I'm in Termini, ticket in hand and waiting for a train to Fiumicino Airport, which is supposed to come at 8:22. The screen announces it's going to be delayed (I thought everyone raved how Italians have the best train system?). It arrives at 8:30 and gets me to the airport at about 9:05am. Remember, 10am flight.
I get to the terminal from the train station and wait on a line just so they can look at the cover of my passport. I get through that line to get to the Continental check in area. Only nobody is there. Closed. I find a man across the way at a Continental desk, and tell him I need to check in. He gives me a shrug (I think he's related to the lady at the hotel desk), and does what I've learned Italians do: they tell you "no", then make a phone call and do what you ask. He gave me a boarding pass, handed me a temporary luggage check in tag (meaning a piece of paper on a rubber band), tells me to attach it to the bag, and send me back to the check in counter to put it on the conveyor belt. I'm totally convinced this is the last time I'll ever see my bag, but I'm wet, sweaty, and desperate to go home, so I play along. It's now about 9:25am.
Now I get to the airport security. My friends, I now know what purgatory will be like, because I waited what seemed like days while a tour group of American Senior Citizens took their own sweet time taking off belts, shoes, and earrings, to put on through the x-ray machine, all the while chatting about how they loved the gelato they had the night before. I get through the security and wait for the shuttle tram that takes you from the main terminal to the terminal where the gates are located. Time check 9:40am.
By the time the shuttle doors open, I'm in a sprint to the gate. I saw the Continental plane with the doors still wide open, so I knew there was still a glimmer of hope. I spun my way past other gates and saw the most beautiful thing I've ever seen: a long, long line of people still waiting to board my flight. Whewwwwwwwww! Plus, when I walked on the walkway to the plane, I saw one of the Continental employees who checked me at the gate and gave me the manual luggage tag. Maybe she brought my bag with her and put it on the plane? I asked her, she pulled out a PDA, checked my name off, and said everything was o.k., to get on the plane. Those of you who read the blog know I hate flying, but you'll never know how happy I was to step on that big ole' Boeing 767.
By the way, as I said above, it was a pretty smooth flight, so thank you for the prayers.
By 1:55pm Newark time (7:55pm Rome time), we landed in the U.S. I went through customs and down to the baggage carousel and waited, and waited, and waited some more. No bag. They told me to make a claim at the Continental lost baggage area. So I shlump my way on the airport tram to another terminal (along with my poor mother, who I'm sure is convinced that I'm homicidal) to the lost baggage desk, figuring this was an exercise in futility. When I handed the lady my claim ticket, she tells me there's a note on the computer that my bag is still in Rome, didn't make the plane ride, and would be sent on the flight tomorrow (Friday). So, as of now, while I'm home from Rome, my bag decided to spend another day and should be, God willing, flying 36000 feet over Nova Scotia as I'm writing this. Once I get my bag (and all the clothing, souvenirs, pictures of me with the Holy Father, travel books, etc., within it), then the trip will be officially "over".
Last night was also the annual fundraiser/dinner for Life Choices, a local pregnancy aid center. Fr. Benedict Groschel was the featured speaker for the evening. So fresh from my journey home (and strengthened by a Starbucks venti iced skim latte), I got the chance to attend the fundraiser and see Fr. Benedict. If you go by east coast time, my day began at midnight on Thursday and ended about 10pm, with catnaps on the plane along the way.
So how was your Thursday?
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
So tomorrow I make my mad dash to the airport, starting at 7am Rome time (1am on the east coast of the U.S.). Please pray for smooth flying, as I become a nervous wreck on airplanes that bump.
- Abp. John Foley, who for years was in Vatican service as the President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, and was recently named Pro-Grand Master of the Equestrian order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.
- Abp. Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. This is the first Cardinal for that Archdiocese and shows the Pope's understanding that Cardinals in the United States have traditionally been bunched in an arch starting by the Great Lakes, heading eastward, and then swooping down the coastline past Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington. Yes, St. Louis and Los Angeles are exceptions to the rule, but now Texas can boast a Cardinal. Do they make Stetsons in scarlet watered-silk?
The Consistory will take place on the Vigil of the Feast of Christ the King. Interestingly, I was here in Rome at the Wednesday General Audience in February of 2006, which was the last time Pope benedict announced new Cardinals. He always waits until I'm in town, hehehe.
Monday, October 15, 2007
Then a walk to lunch at the Casa Santa Maria, the residence for American priests studying for graduate degrees from the various Roman universities. I'm here in Rome without any travel companions, and I don't mind trying to balance a few languages over meals where I'm staying, but it was nice to be able to eat a meal with other people who spoke English.
Following lunch, I hopped a bus with a mission: I was going to find the hotel that my father and stepmother stayed at on their honeymoon in Rome back in the 70s. The bus took me to the street, and I found a hotel amidst the apartment buildings, but with the wrong name. My guess is that it was the place where they stayed, but the hotel had changed hands. Still, it was nice to walk in a quiet neighborhood for a while.
Deciding to be 'adventurous', rather than do the safe thing and take the same bus back to the city center, I found a local commuter train. Deciding to forget my past experience with commuter trains, I got on this one and finally did something right, thereby removing the disgrace brought by myself upon my family name through my being "transportationally challenged" a few days ago. it left me off at the Piazza del Populo, and from there I walked back, doing as the Romans do in great numbers on a Sunday.
Now it's Monday, and my last few days in Rome begin. The sky is a bright blue, but when I go out I'll bring my umbrella (that will prevent any rain, since it only pours when i forget to bring my umbrella). Ciao!
Friday, October 12, 2007
I looked at my directions, and realized I was supposed to get off at a station called "Appiano", not "Aurelia". Ugh, so when's the next train? What track of the 5 of them do I depart from? I don't know because the computer screens which announce the tracks and trains are all flashing "Data Inaccessible".
[Note: at this point, let out one of those Charlie Brown screams, "Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhg!"]
Luckily, God was looking out for me. There at the station, standing at a track, I saw a Legionary of Christ. How did I know? The trained ecclesiastical eye can spot them anywhere: double-breasted suit, french cuffs, hair parted on the side, quiet demeanor; it's a "no-brainer". He offered to take me to the map and set me straight. It turns out that, besides getting a ticket to the wrong place (Aurelia instead of Appiano), I got on a regional train rather than a commuter train. I shouldn't have even been looking for "Aurelia", but "Valle Aurelia" (and now I know there is a difference!). He showed me to a bus that would take me back to the Valle Aurelia metro train station, and then disappeared. Which reminds me, I really need to pray for his intentions today.
So I found the hotel, looked around, had a coffee, and walked back towards the Vatican. The hotel brochure said it was a 10 minute walk to the Vatican Museums, and I thought I'd test it. What I discovered was that, maybe if they cleared the roads and allowed a well-trained athlete to sprint it, he might make it there in under 15 minutes. So I found a bus that would do the walking for me, and made my way back in time for lunch.
I had intended to visit the hotel, walk to the subway stop near the Vatican Museums, and check out the Church of "Santa Maria degli Angeli", which was getting work done to it the last time I was here. Instead, all I could do was check out the hotel, which in the end is the main reason I'm here in Rome.
What's the saying, "Man plans and God laughs"? Believe it.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
On the downside, the cloudy day, the light rain, and the sweat from me being a "man of girth" walking much more than he's used to, meant that I spent the evening coughing and going through a box of Kleenex. So I'll just wait around today to find out whether, besides the book, I gave the Holy Father a cold.
Also, today is the feast of Pope Blessed John XXIII. This morning, his altar in St. Peter's Basilica was lit with extra candles and decorated with flowers. As I said in the last blog entry about St. John Leonardi, one of the great benefits of being in Rome is that you can visit the tombs of the Saints (or, in this case, the Blesseds).
Rome is also a place to practice your languages. The place where I'm staying has visitors from around the world. I've been sitting with two bishops, one from Haiti and the other from St. Lucia. Both speak English, though the bishop from Haiti's first language is French. Yesterday there was a lade from Jerusalem, and before her, two religious brothers from Argentina. This morning, two priests from Holland and two bishops from Brazil were at the table with me. Rome is amazing that way, in reminding you that the Church is not just your parish, or even your diocese.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
St. Paul talks about the Christian being "at war with one's body", and in Rome I understand exactly where he's coming from:
- My eyes ache from the smog and exhaust that comes from cars and the little motorino scooters. Thank God for eye drops.
- My stomach reminds me how much it loves gelati, pastries, pizza, and just about every other food Italy offers. But I walk about 10 miles a day in Rome, so that takes some of the guilt away.
- My feet give me the biggest battle: They're not used to walking on hard cobblestones, so each day in Rome is a battle with blisters and calluses (sp? or is it "callouses"? "Callusi"? Whatever).
But those Romans, they've been fighting these battles longr than I, and every Farmacia has an asorment of pads and gels to help the traveler. On another topic, today is the feast of St. John Leonardi, the founder of what we know as the Society for the Propagation of the faith, and his body is entombed here in Rome. I'm going to pay a visit in the afternoon. I love that about Rome.
Monday, October 08, 2007
Sunday, October 07, 2007
Friday, October 05, 2007
To the Editor:
I am 16 years old, and for the past 11 months I have attended the traditional Latin Mass weekly, while still attending the Novus Ordo Mass during the week. Because of this, I decided to address certain points made by Carroll Sterne in the Sept. 6 edition of The Georgia Bulletin. Mr. Sterne speaks about the type of Mass that someone of a younger generation is drawn to, and I thought that a teenager’s point of view might be helpful.
Mr. Sterne in his letter gives voice to the opinion of many of today’s liturgists when he says that no one from a younger generation would be drawn to the Latin Mass (many take this even further and assume that we would not like a reverent Novus Ordo Mass either). This opinion causes many of those who plan modern liturgies to do veritable back flips in an attempt to draw teenagers and young adults in. Sometimes this works, but it has a side effect: by doing these things, liturgists show that they have absolutely no faith in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to change the lives of those in my generation. My generation knows about this lack of faith, we are able to see it every time we go to a “teen Mass” and experience priests ad-libbing prayers in an attempt to make them more relevant to us.
This lack of faith backfires; it sends us the message that we also should distrust the power of the liturgy, and it also can turn the Mass into something of a joke.
After experiencing this for months, I attended a Traditional Latin Mass and experienced something that I’d never seen before: Here was a priest who expected my life to be changed without adding anything to the Mass in an attempt to bring this change about. This priest had perfect faith in the power of the liturgy, and it showed. It was beautiful. The traditional Mass did more to change my life then any “relevant” teen Mass ever did.
Rock on, Ethan! First and foremost, find your spirituality within the confines of the Church. But once at the table (meant here either metaphorically or in the sense of coming to the "table of the Lord"; take your pick), don't let others force-feed you something you're not hungry for!
Critics of Summorum Pontificum are quick to point out that, in years past, not every Mass celebrated using the "extraordinary usage of the Roman Rite" (to use the terminology given to us by the Holy Father) was done so with reverence and rubrically correct. This is true. But one can also say (and those who do usually do so with direct, experiential knowledge) that neither has, in years recent, every Mass celebrated using what it now called the "ordinary usage of the Roman Rite" been done with reverence and rubrically correct.
The "dirty little secret", I'm beginning to think, is that many of those who are reluctant to see the "mainstreaming" of the older Mass feel they may be a little responsible for its return. Maybe, in years past, with a little less of the "folk Masses", the "give everybody something to do Masses", and the "let's sit around the coffee table and just be relaxed Masses", and perhaps a little more of the "Gloria in Excelsis Deo" or "Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabbaoth", would there be (almost 40 years later) a desire to make "what is old new again"?
This episode deals with the "Stem Cell Research Bond Act" being proposed as a public question on the November ballot in the State of New Jersey. If approved, the State would float a $450,000,000 bond (and N.J. taxpayers will repay for years) to fund experimentation with stem cells, including those obtained from the destruction of human beings in their most vulnerable state. I also spoke with a man who was cured of a form of Leukemia, thanks to the use of adult stem cells.
Click on the "PGN Archives" link on the right to listen to the show, or save it to an mp3 player.
Thursday, October 04, 2007
Let me talk about the homecoming for a while. There's something about going back to the seminary that I love. No, it's not the fact that I don't have any papers to write or that the faculty can no longer affect my future. It truly recharges my spiritual batteries each time I walk back into the building. The bells tolling every quarter hour, the smell of the seminary chapel (a good smell that comes from layers and layers of incense and candle wax), even the hallways and my class' graduation picture hanging on the wall, all make it special.
Each year the homecoming is the same. A Mass on Tuesday night in the college's chapel, this year celebrated by Bishop William Lori of the Diocese of Bridgeport, CT (seminary class of 1977). The seminary schola was excellent, chanting the Ecce Sacerdos Magnus as the Bishop processed into the chapel. His homily on the guardian angels (the Mass was on their feast day) was a mix of humor and catechesis from the Church Fathers. The full choir loft and the full chapel and the benches in the sanctuary full with seminarians serving the Mass tell me that the Mount continues to do well when it comes to enrollment. Following Mass we had a great dinner, during which I sat with the alumni from the class of 1987. As I approach my 10th anniversary, it was great to sit with men who were in their tenth year of ordination when I was ordained to the Priesthood.
It was a refreshing time, and each year I come home thinking the same thing: I really should visit out there more often!
Friday, September 28, 2007
As I wrote about in a previous blog entry, I interviewed Fr. Joe Fessio back at the beginning of this month for the radio show that has made me more popular in Germany than David Hasselhoff: Proclaim the Good News. Fr. Fessio has been on the show before, and his insight into the mind of Pope Benedict come from years of friendship as well as discipleship (Papa Ratzinger was Fessio's mentor for his doctoral degree back in the 1970s).
This episode will air on radio stations this weekend, but it is posted now on the Proclaim the Good News Archive page. Click the link on the right.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Check it out by clicking the "PGN archives" link on the right side of the screen.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Friday, September 21, 2007
St. Louis is an interesting town. The arch, the whole history thing (the Lewis & Clark expedition, Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis, "Dewey Defeats Truman", etc.), perhaps the most beautiful cathedral in the United States, AND AS IF THAT WEREN'T ENOUGH, a professional hockey team. What else do I need?
I happened to be in town for the St. Louis Blues' "Fan Day", in which they open up their arena for a day of intra-team scrimmages, autograph sessions with the players, and games for the kids. It was a pretty neat thing, even with the fact that I knew the names of only one or two players on the team's roster! This year, the team is using "Whatever it Takes" as their slogan. It reminded me of one of the first blog entries I put on this site. Like the New Orleans Saints, "Be A Saint", isn't "Whatever it takes" a great follow-up slogan for our spiritual lives and the ever present quest for holiness?
This "Whatever It Takes" is also a great segue into today's feast of St. Matthew. In his Wednesday audience addresses on the Apostles back in 2006, Pope Benedict said this about St. Matthew the Apostle:
Another reflection prompted by the Gospel narrative is that Matthew responds instantly to Jesus' call: "he rose and followed him". The brevity of the sentence clearly highlights Matthew's readiness in responding to the call. For him it meant leaving everything, especially what guaranteed him a reliable source of income, even if it was often unfair and dishonourable. Evidently, Matthew understood that familiarity with Jesus did not permit him to pursue activities of which God disapproved.
The application to the present day is easy to see: it is not permissible today either to be attached to things that are incompatible with the following of Jesus, as is the case with riches dishonestly achieved.
Jesus once said, mincing no words: "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me" (Mt 19: 21).
This is exactly what Matthew did: he rose and followed him! In this "he rose", it is legitimate to read detachment from a sinful situation and at the same time, a conscious attachment to a new, upright life in communion with Jesus.
Yes, God loves us, created us, calls us to follow him (blah blah blah), but in the end it's up to us to respond to that call. Am I willing to do "whatever it takes" in my response to God's plan for me? "Come, follow me." Yeah, Lord, this week isn't so good. Ooooh, I've got painters coming next week. I'd love to go to confession, really, but now's not a good time.
Be a saint! How? That's easy: Whatever it takes!
Oh, and by the way, to see the Pope's whole discourse on St. Matthew, click here. Or even better, to order a copy of the book of all Pope Benedict's addresses on the apostles, click here.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
The latest issue of "Totus Tuus", the monthly magazine for the postulation of Pope John Paul II's cause for Beatification and Canonization, has a great article about JP2's love for the mountains of Italy's Valle d'Aosta. Two of the photos in the article (taken during his 1989 vacation) are great, and I thought worth showing.
This first one stands out because it's the first one I've seen in which JP2 is not in a cassock. There's plenty of pictures of him out of priestly garb before the papacy, but almost none after he became Pope in 1978. Not that I was questioning whether he actually had legs. He's pictured here during a hike with (on the left) Bishop Alberto Careggio of the Diocese of Ventimiglia-San Remo (where Vale d'Aosta is located), and a mountain guide on his right (no, it's not Karl Rove).
Hey, don't you know that if you write on the wall you'll never get back your security deposit?
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
The truth is that it's a hard thing to remember. Not that the memories don't come back, but that spending time remembering them is not easy. Last week when I was on my way to Alabama, a former parishioner recognized me in the airport and stopped to say hello. I'll be honest, I had no idea who he was (my previous parish, St. James in Basking Ridge, has about 3,000 families, plus it's been over four years since I left there, so give me some slack). But he remembered me and spoke about how me and the pastor, Msgr. Bill Capik, got the parish through 9/11. Six years later, he sees me and that comes to his mind. I admit, I was speechless. Not because of any false and useless pride, but because the moment he mentioned 9/11, all the memories came back at once.
On September 11, 2001, I had been ordained just over three years, and I was is Parochial Vicar (a.k.a. - "the other Priest") at St. James. I remember having the 8am daily Mass that morning, and though I don't remember the readings for the day, I remember saying something in the homily like, "What will it take for people to come to God? What has to happen in their lives to get them to think about God?" I came back from the Mass and made myself breakfast. There were two guests staying in the house that day, Fr. Guy Selvester and a seminarian (now a priest) named Richard Abourjaily (an Australian). Fr. Guy came into the kitchen and together we watched the smoke coming from the World Trade Center. At first we both thought it was a replay of the 1993 WTC bombing, but we remembered that the bombs at that time were in the basement, not in the towers. After a short time, the telephone rang. The parish secretary said there was some unease among the staff at the parish school. One teacher had a brother who worked in the Trade Center, and parents were calling the school asking about whether they should come and take their children home. Then news of the crash into the Pentagon hit. I spent the day over at the school, where we made the decision to not tell the children. All day long a small TV was on in the school library, and faculty peeked in to get the latest information, all the while trying to keep their emotions from showing in the hallways and classrooms. Cell phones weren't working. Rumors were that Camp David was attacked. The White House was evacuated and the President and leaders of Congress were in secure locations. The TV replayed the plane crashes on a constant loop. Even taking the school kids out for recess was tricky (and it just figured that that day was unseasonably pleasant - you couldn't NOT let them go outside) because the smoke from the towers was visible on the horizon. One school family had a husband who worked at the Trade Center, and the wife insisted on coming in and taking her children home (in her heart she already knew something had happened to her husband). I had just performed the marriage of one of my best friends, and I knew he commuted into Manhattan every day, taking the PATH train to the World Trade Center stop; something can't have happened to him, can it? We made it through the day, the pastor in the parish office handling the phone calls and organizing an evening Mass, and me in the school, trying my best to keep teachers calm (and keep the students anesthetized from the world around them) while it seemed that life as we knew it ended on 9/10/01.
At the end of that day we had a Mass; I don't remember what time it was. Now St. James Church has seating for 800 people (the architects said it could seat 1,000, but that's if my butt cheek on the pew begins right where your butt cheek on the pew ends, and we know people don't squeeze into pews like that). That night the church was the fullest I've ever seen. Full pews. Standing in every available space. Standing in the narthex and spilling down the stairs leading from the parking lot. People hugging, crying, praying. People scared, grieving, unsure about the world. We ran out of Communion Hosts, but no one seemed to care (they understood the crowd was just too big). That night I watched in awe as my pastor gave them something to hold on to. God. I spent the morning opining from the pulpit in the daily Mass chapel, "What would it take for people to find God in there lives?", and by the end of the night he was in the main church pulpit telling them, "You've come looking, and God is here." For the next two weeks, it was amazing: lines for Confessions, people who had been away from the Sacrament for years! Weekend Masses had the crowds we normally only got on Christmas Eve or Easter Sunday. Yes, those crowds went away by Halloween (Rudy Giuliani asked people to go back to living their lives as they normally did before 9/11 and sadly for many that meant dropping weekly Mass once again), but God had answered my question: I now knew precisely what it would take for people to think about their relationship with God.
Names were floating around. Names of people from the town. "Has anyone heard from ___?" "Yeah, he called his wife a few hours ago. He's fine.", or, "No, no one's seen or heard anything about _____.", or, "Have you heard? _______ called his answering machine and left a goodbye message for his wife and kids." The cars still parked in the lot at the Lyons train station at 11pm were eerie. How many people went to work that day and are dead? That night was, and still is, the only time in our 24-hour cable TV world that I've ever seen TV channels (sports, food, etc.) stop all programming and go dark. Eventually Msgr. Capik spoke to a parishioner who had been a grief counselor, and we asked families of those who died to give us a photograph of them. They were put in a display in front of the altar, along with a row of vigil candles, one per person. A woman, a parishioner, shyly asked if we'd put a photo of her grandson up there. He wasn't a parishioner, but he was missing, too, and could we light a candle for him? Of course we did. I went back to the school. How do you explain this to kids? The truth was that I used the kids, especially the young ones. When the grief would hit me and I was about to "lose it", I'd go in to visit the Kindergartners for a laugh and some smiling faces. Eventually we had a list of 11 people who had died (12 with the lady's grandson, but the family was obviously making arrangements nearer to his home). Tim Soulas, Kevin Hannaford, Lou Fersini, Ludwig Piccaro, Tom Reinig, Chris Forsythe, Stacey McGowan, Steve Genovese, David Campbell, Stephen Dimino, and a few others. All stuck in my head. Yeah, some we had never heard from (Newsflash: not every Catholic is a good Catholic), but their families and friends and even strangers were here now, trying to make sense out of it all and looking to us Priests to do so (and all the while we're trying to make sense of it, too!).
Two weeks of death. As a priest, you're prepared for a sad death, a tragic death: a young child, a battle with cancer or something like a heart attack. But even if you, as a Priest, deal with that sort of death, as bad as it is, the funeral is over in an hour and you can "escape it" and get busy with some other aspect of parish life. That wasn't possible in this case. These were all the same: a historic, infamous event on the world stage which saw the murder of innocent people who had young families. 9/11 was not abstract to these people; it was personal. It had a face, a name, a voice, a smile. The terrorists didn't kill "people" on 9/11, they killed Steve, or Tim, or John, or Stacey. Death hung in the air like mist on a humid morning, right at your eye level, and for a while it seemed like there was never going to be that moment during the day when the mist would burn off. Their children. Oh, man. Looking them in the face? The teens and college-aged sons and daughters just stunned with grief. The toddlers too young to know they should be sad, who'll have no memories of their dads. The unborn ones who won't even have any photos or video of them with their fathers to look at when they're older. In those two weeks we had one funeral (with the one body that was recovered), and the rest were memorial Masses (remains of these victims wouldn't start to trickle in until about a year later, as they excavated the rubble and DNA analysis would give the families perhaps a piece of bone to bury). Every day we dealt with large, sad crowds mourning the loss of a loved one or a friend. Every night everyone went home and watched it replayed and analyzed all over again on TV. Then every day we'd all come back and do it all again with another memorial Mass for another tragic death.
Each year since 2001, I remember not just that day, but the weeks afterwards. But there's nothing I could ever say as people said "Thank you", or, like the guy in the airport, "I remember you during those days." I was just as much a mess as you were. Maybe I hid it better, that's all. The pastor of the parish did most of the work with his leadership and his priestly presence. If I did anything, it was because God and Msgr. Capik put me in the situation and gave me what to do or say. In some ways, those days are burned into my memory. Other ways, it's all a blur of one memory overlapping into another. And each year on this date, or when someone asks me about it, the feelings all come back.