Reflection at Communion Service, 9/19/2020

Now that we’ve had our homiletics course, we’re preaching at various liturgies outside of Mass for practice, and we’re recording them and sharing them with our brother classmates for feedback. I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to preach reflections in communion services in my parish assignment. This morning, I accepted our deacon director’s suggestion that if we felt comfortable, we try preaching a reflection without a manuscript. Here is a transcript of what I delivered from a rough outline:

Saturday of the 24th Week in Ordinary Time

Traditionally this week, Wednesday, Friday, and today – Saturday – are Ember Days, days of fasting in the Church. After the Exaltation of the Cross there are the fall days of fasting, the Fall Ember Days. And then traditionally, this weekend, in many places, especially where farming is a key part of life, there’s still a Mass of thanksgiving for the goodness, of the fruits of the harvest.

It’s in this time of year that a lot of the Church readings start to turn back to the idea of the richness of the harvest, of the earth – the return from those things that we sow and we hear today the idea of sowing.

We just heard the word “sow” nine times, between the first reading to the Corinthians – the letter to the Corinthians – and this this Gospel.

We actually heard this Gospel about five weeks ago at Sunday Mass, from Matthew, and today, again in this fall season, the church calls it from Luke and we hear it again in Luke’s words.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians was a letter to, what one of our Scripture textbooks called, the “Las Vegas” of the early Christian world. It was a center of trade, a center of great wealth and lavish living, which also made it a center of difficulty of choosing between good and evil and a moral life, and that manifested itself quite a bit even in the the emergent Church in Corinth that Paul had planted the seeds of.

And so he wrote to them, multiple letters, encouraging them in faith, encouraging them to choose Christ and to choose a moral life. In this first reading, he speaks of what is sown looking like one thing, coming up looking different. He speaks of Adam, who chose – and led to death, and our original sin, and he speaks of Christ who rose, and opens the doors for us to new life.

Paul sows Christ, Paul sows new life, Paul sows that message that Christ, the ultimate sower, gave as a gift to his Church, to his apostles, and to us the faithful.

Jesus is the master sower, and in the Gospel, He reminds us of the different types of soil that we might encounter in the world, world that today we might even say looks a little bit like that world of Corinth – a world of great wealth, a world of abundance, and a world where that can sometimes make it difficult to choose between the good and the evil, even in our own lives. Corinth, looking a little bit, perhaps, like today’s culture.

Which begs the question: What do we sow? In the soil around us in the world, the good and the bad. What are the little good things that we sow through the little actions of our daily life?

I’ll say one example that I just saw this morning, as our two servers were getting ready, and we all know how brothers and siblings can be, right? And so you never know as a parent what you’re going to get when your kids are getting ready in the morning. One of these guys decided to share the last little packet of mini muffins. He split it into two and got a bowl and a cup of milk ready for his little brother who was still getting ready. That’s a very simple act of sowing; of sowing God’s grace into this world today.

Last night we all got the news that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice of many decades, passed away, and we can all pray for the repose of her soul. Someone that we know did much to fight for justice, but also did so much damage to the natural law and the good and the sowing Christ brings into the world. While we can be sorrowful for some of the decisions that she helped to lead to, and some of the arguments that she made, we can realize the opportunity that we have still to sow that good seed in the lives of those around us, to try and encourage others to live lives of grace.

I read a beautiful story last night posted by the son of Justice Scalia, who oftentimes argued vehemently for the natural law and the good, against Justice Ginsburg in the court. And his son said that there was a time that his dad had a vase of two dozen roses in his office, and one of his aides was asking what that was for, and he said, “I’m going to take it down to Justice Ginsburg for her birthday.” And the aide made a comment that was like, “Well, I don’t know that that’s going to sway her vote or get her to go the way we would like her to on some of these cases.” And his line was, “Some things are more important than votes.” And I think that’s another example, too, of Justice Scalia sowing the good, regardless of what the outcome might be, regardless of what he thought the type of soil might be, in those situations.

So may God give us the grace to let the little seeds that we plant in our daily life, regardless of how they look at the moment, still be sown by us. May He give us the grace to still make that effort and trust that Christ will raise it into something new, something beautiful on the last day, much like He raises His own body. Much like He gives us the gift of His Eucharist, something that looks very different than what we know that it is, the gift that we come here today to receive.

Favorite Podcasts: September 2020 Edition

I’m a HUGE fan of podcasts. I listen to at least 2-3 a day, sometimes more. When the pandemic stay-at-home kicked in, I fell behind on my podcast consumption for a while (I had mostly listened to them on plane flights and in the evenings in hotel rooms on work trips), but I quickly got into a better routine of carving out time for podcasts at home.

Here are my favorite faith-related podcasts at the moment, in case you want to check any of them out too. (In no particular order)…

The Catholic Man Show
St. Michael Radio, Tulsa
Still one of my favorites each week – Adam & David do a great job of building a community of Catholic men and helping them grow via their radio show turned podcast.Promoting the virtuous life. Adam and David have been best friends for 30 years and love being Catholic, husbands, and fathers. They enjoy whisky, beer, bacon, flamethrowers, St. Thomas Aquinas, virtue, true leisure, and authentic friendship. The show is typically broken down into 3 segments – A drink, a gear, and a topic. We are on the Lord’s team. The winning side. So raise your glass. #CheerstoJesus”

Dive Deep
Diocese of Springfield in Illinois
From our own Catholic diocese, Dive Deep does just that with various aspects of living our faith as intentional disciples.

Every Knee Shall Bow (Your Catholic Evangelization Podcast)
Ascension Presents
I just discovered this one in the last few weeks, but in my role helping lead faith formation in the parish, this one has quickly become invaluable for keeping me centered and sharing good reflections and ideas. “Lay Catholic evangelists Michael Gormley and Dave VanVickle bring you a podcast series that teaches you how to confidently share your Catholic faith with your family members, friends, co-workers, and the strangers you meet on airplanes. Every episode, Mike and Dave give you five steps you can take each week to become an instrument God uses to spread the Gospel, heal hearts, and renew his Church. Be inspired by stories of miraculous conversions and be reminded that God still powerfully intervenes to transform people’s lives.”

Dominican Friars of the Province of St. Joseph
“A podcast featuring contemplative preachers and their contemporary age. Considering topics philosophical, theological, cultural, and beyond, Godsplaining presents ideas from the Church’s tradition and brings them to bear on our lives’ most urgent questions. Each week, join the Dominican friars as they muse on all things Catholic.”

The Liturgy Guys
The Liturgical Institute
“Christopher Carstens and Dr. Denis McNamara, faculty members at the Liturgical Institute, sit down with host Jesse Weiler every week to talk about Catholic Liturgy. At the end of each episode our Liturgy experts will take time to answer listener submitted questions.”

Pints With Aquinas
Matt Fradd
An “old standard” of Catholic podcasting. “If you could sit down with St. Thomas Aquinas over a pint of beer and ask him any one question, what would it be? Every episode of Pints With Aquinas revolves around a question, a question that St. Thomas addresses in his most famous work, The Summa Theologica. So get your geek on, pull up a bar stool, and grab a cold one. Here we go!”

Bioethics on the Air
National Catholic Bioethics Center
I was JUST introduced to this podcast by my moral theology professor, and am already really into it. “Host Jozef Zalot interviews prominent ethicists and medical professionals on the big issues facing health care today”

Catholic Economics
This podcast combines two of my favorite areas of study: our faith and economics! “Improving economic policy is a key component of building a just society. Though Catholic Social Teaching has a lot to say about economic policy, there are relatively few outlets discussing the rich and beautiful tradition of economic theory and policy provided to us by the Church. Join economist Dr. Levi Russell as he discusses economic concepts and current events through the lens of Catholic Social Teaching.”

The Exodus 90 Show
Exodus 90
“The Exodus 90 Show brings realities of masculinity to the light by sharing stories from around the world of people living Christ’s roadmap to freedom in their daily lives. Every show ends with real steps forward to pursue being better brothers, husbands, fathers, and friends.”

Square Notes: The Sacred Music Podcast
Square Notes
“You’ve got questions about sacred music? Here’s your chance to learn what the Church teaches and envisions for music in the sacred liturgy. Welcome to Square Notes: The Sacred Music Podcast with your hosts Peter Carter and Dr. Jennifer Donelson. We address topics of interest both to priests and liturgical musicians, as well as a general audience of Catholics interested in learning more about the Catholic Church’s teachings and treasury of sacred music. Our topics range from discussion of Church documents on sacred music, to the music of certain composers or eras, Gregorian chant, the role of music in Catholic education, and techniques for directing a better choir rehearsal.”

The Vital Masculinity Podcast
Vital Masculinity
“We provide modern men with direction by cutting through the noise and offering insightful commentary on classical masculinity with step-by-step guides designed to direct you on your path to noble manhood. Learn from your ancestors and forebears on what it means to be a man, including ways to forge a strong moral character, foster brotherhood and manly friendship, and pursue a strong and virtuous way of life.”

Bread Alive
(of course I should include my own, right?)
“Weekly Catholic reflection on the Sunday lectionary readings, or some other musing on life, based in my own journey, as a husband and father of four boys, and as a deacon candidate.”

Institution as Acolytes

Last week, my brother formation classmates and I each received letters from our Bishop in response to our recent letters to him.

Mine read, “I have received your letter… petitioning to be instituted in the Ministry of Acolyte and confirming your intention to continue formation for the permanent diaconate. I have also received the letter from your wife, Suzanne, endorsing your petition… After receiving the endorsement of your petition by those entrusted with your formation, I am happy to inform you of my intention to institute you in the Ministry of Acolyte on September 12, 2020.”

We’re excited for this next step in our formation, the formal rite by which we will be instituted as acolytes in service of the church. This is the third and final “minor order” to receive prior to diaconate ordination (the other two minor orders are the Admission to Candidacy for Holy Orders and the Institution of Lector, both of which we have already received.)

What is an Acolyte?

Here’s some relevant information from the Ceremonial of Bishops:

27. In the ministry of the altar acolytes have their own proper functions and should exercise these even though ministers of a higher rank may be present.

28. Acolytes receive institution so that they may help the deacon and minister to the priest. Their proper ministry is to look after the service of the altar and to assist the deacon and priest in liturgical services, especially the celebration of the Mass. In addition, acolytes may serve as special ministers of the eucharist, giving holy communion in accord with the norms of the law.

When necessary, acolytes should instruct those who serve as ministers in liturgical rites by carrying the book, the cross, candles, or the censer or by performing other similar duties. But in celebrations presided over by the bishop it is fitting that all such ministerial functions be carried out by formally instituted acolytes, and if a number are present, they should divide the ministries accordingly.

29. So they may fulfill their responsibilities more worthily, acolytes should take part in the celebration of the eucharist with ever increasing devotion, as the source of their spiritual life and the object of an ever-deeper appreciation. They should seek to acquire an interior and spiritual sense of their ministry so that each day they may offer themselves wholly to God and grow in sincere love for the Mystical Body of Christ, the people of God, and especially for the members who are weak and infirm.

From the General Instruction for the Roman Missal (GIRM):

Additional responsibility at the altar, including purification of the sacred vessels is a key added responsibility as an acolyte.

190. If no deacon is present, after the Prayer of the Faithful is concluded and while the priest remains at the chair, the acolyte places the corporal, the purificator, the chalice, the pall, and the Missal on the altar. Then, if necessary, the acolyte assists the priest in receiving the gifts of the people and, if appropriate, brings the bread and wine to the altar and hands them to the priest. If incense is used, the acolyte presents the thurible to the priest and assists him while he incenses the gifts, the cross, and the altar. Then the acolyte incenses the priest and the people.

191. A duly instituted acolyte, as an extraordinary minister, may, if necessary, assist the priest in giving Communion to the people. If Communion is given under both kinds, when no deacon is present, the acolyte administers the chalice to the communicants or holds the chalice if Communion is given by intinction.

192. Likewise, when the distribution of Communion is completed, a duly instituted acolyte helps the priest or deacon to purify and arrange the sacred vessels. When no deacon is present, a duly instituted acolyte carries the sacred vessels to the credence table and there purifies, wipes, and arranges them in the usual way.

279. The sacred vessels are purified by the priest, the deacon, or an instituted acolyte after Communion or after Mass, insofar as possible at the credence table. The purification of the chalice is done with water alone or with wine and water, which is then drunk by whoever does the purification. The paten is usually wiped clean with the purificator.

Text for the Institution, from the Roman Pontifical:

Bishop: Dear sons in Christ, as people chosen for the ministry of acolyte, you will have a special role in the Church’s ministry.  The summit and source of the Church’s life is the Eucharist, which builds up the Christian community and makes it grow.  It is your responsibility to assist Priests and Deacons in carrying out their ministry, and as special ministers to give Holy Communion to the faithful at the liturgy and to the sick.  Because you are specially called to this ministry, you should strive to live more fully by the Lord’s Sacrifice and to be molded more perfectly in its likeness.  You should seek to understand the deep spiritual meaning of what you do, so that you may offer yourselves daily to God as spiritual sacrifices acceptable to him through Jesus Christ.  In performing your ministry bear in mind that, as you share the one bread with your brothers and sisters, so you form one Body with them.  Show a sincere love for Christ’s Mystical Body, God’s holy people, and especially for the weak and the sick.  Be obedient to the commandment which the Lord gave to his Apostles at the Last Supper: “Love one another as I also have loved you.”

Brothers and Sisters, let us pray to the Lord for those chosen by him to serve in the ministry of acolyte.  Let us ask him to fill them with his blessing and strengthen them for faithful service in his Church.

God of mercy,
Through your only Son
you entrusted the bread of life to your Church.
Bless + our brothers
who have been chosen for the ministry of acolyte.
Grant that they may be faithful
in the service of your altar
and in giving to others the Bread of Life;
may they grow always in faith and love,
and so build up your Church.
Through Christ our Lord.

Each candidate goes to the Bishop, who gives him a vessel with the bread or wine to be consecrated saying:

Take this vessel with bread (wine)
for the celebration of the Eucharist.
Make your life worthy of your service
at the table of the Lord and of his Church.

In your charity, please continue to pray for my brother classmates and me as we enter this final year of formation, and increase our ministry and service.

On Moving…

Our years of formation for the diaconate are focused on four dimensions, or pillars, of focus and growth, which weave together to help us integrate them into our whole selves: Academic (our monthly coursework in various areas of faith, theology, and Scripture), Human (our continued growth in our human lives and relationships and integrated responsibilities), Spiritual (our growth in our spiritual and prayer lives), and Pastoral. The Pastoral dimension is supported by assignments within parishes to get comfortable in various aspects of ministry, help in specific areas, and “grow into” the practice of ministry.

It’s bittersweet to share that after two years at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Alton for pastoral formation, I’m moving to a new assignment at Saint Elizabeth Catholic Church at home in Granite City for my final year of diaconate formation, starting August 1.

I will miss the wonderful, faith-filled people of St. Mary’s, especially the community of Oblate priests & brothers, Deacon Jim, my fellow PSR catechists, Dennis & his wonderful music, and the many, many awesome families. I’ll be forever indebted to my pastor-supervisor Father Jeremy, to Fathers Ben, Paul, Dave, and John, and Brothers Leland and Jay-Ar, for the opportunities I’ve had to learn and grow – from helping lead the PSR program & teaching 7th grade, to assisting at baptisms and marriages, to occasionally helping with RCIA, to scheduling and communicating with those in the various liturgical ministries, to occasional visits to take Communion to the home-bound, and so much more.

I’m excited, though, to return to service in my hometown, in the parish in which I was baptized and began my Christian journey. I know the people of St. Elizabeth so well… I grew up with many of them, and call many of them friends and neighbors. I’ve worked side-by-side with many of them in starting the Koinonia retreat community in town, and in many other joint efforts between them and my family’s home parish.

I don’t start until August 1, but am already grateful for the time I’ve spent with my new pastor-supervisor Father Alfred, understanding the areas in which I’ll be able to help – helping to lead RCIA and PSR, helping with Baptism preparation, forming a bereavement ministry to help with funeral planning and families’ journey of grief, and helping to build up a crew of junior sacristans and recruit and train a new generation of altar servers. I’m so thankful to have such an opportunity 5 minutes from home for this last year of my formation!

Please continue to pray for my brother candidates and me as we continue this journey of discernment and formation, for our families, and for the people of the parishes in which we’re blessed to serve.

On New Pastors

Holy Family Church, Granite City, Illinois

Our home parish welcomes a new pastor today. In fact, all around our diocese, parishes are welcoming new pastors. Today is the “Day of the Big Move” each year, and this year is the biggest in about a decade in our diocese.

The last move ten years ago was tough on us. We deeply loved our pastor at the time, and he had been instrumental in bringing both Suzanne and me back to the church, and led us through marriage prep and presided at our marriage.

But on Day 1 when our new pastor Father Jeff arrived, there was no question that he was our pastor. The Holy Spirit had sent an amazing priest who we also came to love deeply. I still remember that on his very first Sunday, he made a point at the 11:00 Mass that pastors shouldn’t change anything big for their first six months or so, but there was one thing that he absolutely had to change immediately: The tabernacle was tucked away to the side in our church on Mary’s altar, and he insisted that we move it back up to the center immediately. (YES!) Right after Mass, I remember running around the church to gather a crew of the strongest men I could find, and then leading them over to Father and saying, “we’re ready to help you move the tabernacle.” Such is the spirit of our parish.

Yesterday we said goodbye to Father Jeff as our pastor. The last few times our Joseph (3rd oldest at 10 years old) saw Father Jeff, he just wrapped his arms around him, eyes filled with tears. Father Jeff is the only pastor Joseph has ever known, and Father Jeff has fostered a love of serving at the altar in Joseph and my other sons, and the seeds of possible vocations in them. This has led to a lot of great discussions about different priests and pastors we’ve known, and the different strengths and talents they bring, as well as the different memories we have with each of them.

Father Jeff has been such a wonderful priest and extended member of our family. We’re so thankful to God for his time with us, and we’re going to miss him terribly. But we also know that he has gifts that a new parish needs.

Today we welcome our new pastor Father Steve. We’re eager to see what gifts the Holy Spirit is sending to our parish with him! We can’t wait to meet him and welcome him in a special way into our parish and our family.

Whatever you do, remember that these moves are hard on our parish families, but they’re also hard on our priests. Pray for your parish, and pray for your priest and all priests! Introduce yourself to your new priest. TELL them you’re praying for them – and then DO it! Welcome them. Invite them over to dinner. Share with them a gift card to your favorite local quick bite or ice cream shop. Ask what you can do to help – and then do it.

We’re on this journey of intentional discipleship together. The Holy Spirit has worked through our bishop to send these men to new places where they’re needed. Let’s continue to pray and work through how these changes help make us stronger parishes and stronger intentional disciples.