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Saturday, March 29, 2008


By Fr. John Trigilio
posted on his blog The Black Biretta

Pope Benedict XVI washed the feet of 12 priests from the diocese of Rome this year at the Maundy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper at the Basilica Cathedral of St. John Lateran. The pedelavium is a poignant reminder to all in holy orders that each man is called to serve and not be served. Whether bishop, priest or deacon, the ordained ministry is one of service to Holy Mother Church and has nothing to do with personal or self-aggrandizement. This is why celebrants are warned in the rubrics not to insert their own agenda nor are they to introduce illicit innovations let alone proliferate outright liturgical abuses for any reasons whatsoever since they are ordained to serve the Mystical Body of Christ. The People of God deserve valid and licit and reverent Sacraments and they deserve nothing but the best that Jesus Christ gave His Church for the sanctification of souls. Anything less is equivalent to sacerdotal malpractice.

A growing concern, however, is for the orthodox, devout, parish priest who literally says the black and does the red is that he may inadvertently neglect his spiritual NEEDS. Too many good and doctrinely sound priests and deacons burn out or become discouraged, disenchanted and disillusioned. These men have NOT lost their faith, but they are very close to losing HOPE. These men do not leave the priesthood, but they can lose their zeal and their love of what they do IF they do not take care of their own spiritual needs.

Secular progressive bishops who use a corporate business paradigm to run the diocese instill a dangerous mindset among the presbyterate. If BEING a priest becomes less important than DOING priestly things, trouble is not far behind. As B16 (and Fr Z) have pointed out, Catholicism is the religion of the great et ... et (BOTH ... AND) as opposed to the aut ... aut (EITHER ... OR). Hence, the Church needs men to BOTH BE priests AND to DO priestly things (i.e., ACT like priests).

American pragmatism has infiltrated priestly formation, both seminary and ongoing. Many priests convince themselves that they are good priests as long as they spend their entire day, week, month, year, etc., DOING priestly things. Certainly, no one can argue that men are ordained deacon, priest or bishop to serve the Church in that particular ministry. Priests are ordained to celebrate Mass, to hear confessions, to anoint the sick, to marry couples, to baptize babies, to preach and teach the truths of our faith, to solace the sick and dying, et al. YES, YES, YES. We are ordained to do these sacerdotal works of mercy (spiritual and coporal). Each priest is ordained to be an ALTER CHRISTUS so that he can act IN PERSONA CHRISTI when he administers and celebrates the Sacraments. The Sacred Liturgy is the zenith of what a priest DOES.

Simultaneously, the priest must also tend to his own spiritual welfare just as he does his physical. Physiological and psychological health are in the hands of each priest himself. So, too, the SPIRITUAL health of priests, deacons and bishops. We all have our own dentists, doctors, mechanics, and tax advisors. How many ordained clergy still have and use a SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR, however? Seminary forced you to have one and use one. If you missed your monthly meeting, he came looking for you just like if you missed Mass, class or Liturgy of the Hours. Once ordained, however, even those who faithfully pray their Breviary do not always show the same commitment to monthly or bi-monthly spiritual direction. Some priests fool themselves into thinking that they are 'too busy' to take a day off or take a vacation. Yet, canon law and local diocesan policy guarantee and exhort clergy to take some time off. Jesus was no workaholic. He took a nap in the boat; He ate at Zaccheus' home; He frequented the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. He preached in the synagogues and in the streets and fields. He WORKED and He RESTED.

Clergy (deacons, priests and bishops) who consistently ignore or avoid regular days off and vacation are not martyrs for the cause but they will drive others to seriously consider making them a martyr. ONGOING FORMATION of the clergy, as demanded and called by Vatican II (presbyterorum ordinis), Canon Law and the Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests, is not a suggestion or an option. It is a MANDATE. The ordained NEED to promote and facilitate ongoing SPIRITUAL, THEOLOGICAL and PASTORAL formation in a FRATERNAL setting.

Besides days off and vacation, canon law DEMANDS clergy take an annual RETREAT. It also STRONGLY encourages participation in workshops and/or seminars designed specifically for the ordained ministry. Fraternal associations are also given full and enthusiastic support. Sadly, many priests and deacons NEGLECT these important resources.

As President of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, I see the invaluable and priceless worth of ONGOING FORMATION. I also know of priests who only get to confession once a year when they are on retreat or at the annual gathering of priests in their diocese for the Chrism Mass. To be a good confessor, we priests need to be good penitents ourselves. Since we are in the confessionals most if not every Saturday, it is difficult for us to get to confession in comparison to the laity who come to us week after week, month after month.

MONTHLY confession is possible if a cleric is part of an association or group of priests/deacons who meet regularly for an afternoon, morning or evening of recollection. Opus Dei and the Legionnaires of Christ, e.g., sponsor such monthly gatherings as do local chapters of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy. Yet, we often hear from orthodox, pious and dedicated priests that they cannot come every month because they have other commitments to the parish. If he had a cavity, Father MAKES TIME to get to the dentist. If his car breaks down, he MAKES TIME to go to the local garage. If his soul NEEDS regular spiritual direction and frequent confession, then he MUST MAKE TIME.

Visiting the nursing homes, teaching RCIA or CCD or Pre-Cana, preparing your Sunday sermon, attending parish council and finance committee meetings, etc. are all part and parcel of being a priest or deacon in a typical parish in 2008. If the cleric, however, does not spend some QUALITY time (weekly or monthly) with other solid colleagues for fraternal support, he will eventually turn elsewhere, and it may not always be a good place at that.

I ask Bishops to urge their priests and deacons to make their spiritual health a PRIORITY. Just as we NEED a healthy diet of good food and exercise to stay physically fit, we need regular direction and frequent confession as well as our annual retreat and occasional workshops or seminars. We would all love to fulfill the romantic vision of one day falling over dead while celebrating Mass or going on a sick call, i.e., to die ON THE JOB. It is a noble thought but not probable. Most of us will die of disease, accident or old age like our parishioners, late at night. If the priest or deacon or bishop neglects his spiritual need for direction, confession, fraternity and prudent leisure time, then the probability is that he will become mean, nasty, bitter, ornery, cantankerous, obnoxious or completely insane. Burned out, stressed out clergy either leave the active ministry or they stay and become resentful that they are not appreciated; they they have been overlooked; that no one is ever satisfied; that no good deed goes unpunished.

Bad enough diocesan bureaucrats, episcopal sychophants, and other ambitious 'professional' clergymen get good assignments, promotions, honors, recognition, support and appreciation from their superiors, but when the real good guys who defend the Magisterium and celebrate valid, licit and reverent sacraments and who spend their lives in service to their parish, diocese or religious community, get nothing but disdain and grief from their own kind, then a solid foundation is all the more necessary.

A house built on rock rather than on sand, will survive the storm. So, too, clergy who make their spiritual well being a PRIORITY are like the fathers of families who make sure they are physically and emotionally fit so as to live a long and healthy life in order to best take care of their wives and children. Clergy need to BE good priests as well as DO priestly work.

Are two or three hours a month too much to ask to maintain a healthy spirituality? Once a month gathering with brother priests for an afternoon or morning of recollection, with time before the Blessed Sacrament, Benediction, spiritual conference, rosary, Divine Office, and time for confession followed by an opportunity for FRATERNITY --- are not our people worth it for us to be at our best so we can in turn give them our best? If we do not make time now and then for ourselves, we can be tempted to compensate with other avenues. Annual retreats need ongoing sustenance via regular spiritual direction. Frequent confession and participation in theological discussions help to better serve our parishioners. The CCC and Opus Dei have helped FORM me before and after ordination. Sadly, I know too many priests and deacons who are 'too busy' for their own spiritual needs. That is negligence, I hate to say. No different than someone who neglects their physical health.

Imagine a priest who did not bathe for over a month. As Martha said in the Gospel of John, "surely, Lord, there will be a stench." Bishops have had to tell priests who neglected their physical health to go get help. We may need that for the spiritual health as well. Problem is that unlike the stinky cleric who has B.O., the one who has not been on retreat for several years, and/or has not been to confession for over a year and/or who has not read or discussed a theological document since seminary days does not have the same 'odor'.

Parishioners, if you love your priests and deacons, urge and encourage them to remain orthodox in their teaching. Thank them for their daily prayer and for their service every day, every week, every month and every year to the parish. Show appreciation for their time to others BUT also urge them to give their own souls time, too. I had several parishioners from across the nation ask what can they do to help their pastor, parochial vicar or deacon. I told them to give them gift subscriptions to orthodox Catholic newspapers and magazines; offer to help pay their travel expenses to attend a seminar or workshop (like the annual Convocation of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy this July 14-17 in Baltimore). The diocese or parish usually gives them a stipend to pay some if not all the fees to attend retreats, seminars and workshops but not travel expense. An inexpensive bus, train or plane ticket might make an excellent birthday or anniversary or ordination gift for a favorite priest or deacon. There have even been a few laity who drove their pastor to several of our annual gatherings.

Doctors, lawyers, politicians, and teachers network with each other and make professional friendships. Priests and deacons are no different. We NEED to support each other. We need our people to understand Father may not be physically on the property 24/7, so don't wait until someone is on their deathbed to call the priest for the last rites. Call the rectory regularly for someone to bring Holy Communion to the sick and for occasional anointing of the terminally ill rather than wait until it may be too late. And encourage your parish clergy to aggressively pursue regular ONGOING spiritual, theological and pastoral formation in a fraternal setting. It will benefit him and you in the long run. Priests who LOVE the priesthood and love their people must also love themselves enough to take care of and provide for their own spiritual NEEDS otherwise they will not be able nor be around to take care of the spiritual needs of their parishioners.

Friday, March 28, 2008

"In Persona Christi: Holy Thursday, The Priest and Contraception"

From Human Life International's "Spirit and Life"

"In Persona Christi: Holy Thursday, The Priest and Contraception"

By John Mallon

In Persona Christi, the priest stands for the Bridegroom in ministering to His Bride, the Church. In bringing new life to the Bride in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, he acts in a husbanding role and as a father. He cultivates.

The marriage bed is the altar of the domestic Church. Just as the priest brings new life spiritually, (zoe), to the Bride on the altar, the husband brings new biological life, (bios), to his wife on the marriage bed. In confecting and administering the Eucharist the priest brings new life to the family of Heaven, and the husband brings new life to the family on earth. In each case God is directly involved. Only through the Holy Spirit at the hands of the priest can bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ; and in human intercourse, only God can create a soul through the union of husband and wife.

The more one meditates on this Bridal mysticism the more staggering and beautiful it becomes, and the more the horror of contraception comes into relief.

In Genesis, when God set about to create man He said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” (Gen 1:26a). He spoke in plural. God is not a lone male figure, but a family: the Trinity. He went on to say, “Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle, and over all the wild animals and all the creatures that crawl on the ground,” (Gen 1:26b), here also indicating man as family. Man as species, man complete as one flesh. He also shares His dominion with man.

In the image of God, man not only images what God the Holy Trinity is, a family, but also images what God does: love and give life.

Feminist ideology, which often counters our message, doesn’t get this. It thinks in term of separateness, not unity. It is an ideology of despair, especially despairing of love; despair issuing from a failure of love—sin—the despair that comes from being sinned against, and taking refuge in more sin. It is despair buried under generational layers of abuse, exploitation and sin. Whereas, the Church holds up loving union; with love as its path.

Human sexuality and reproduction, as one of God’s greatest gifts, was wrapped by Him in pleasure and love, but too many in our time merely play with the wrappings and throw away the gift, soon finding only emptiness among the shreds.

The priest is a soldier of love, a soldier of beauty, a soldier of truth—a soldier of life. Sin divides. Sin kills. Contraception divides sperm from egg, husband from wife and man from God. Abortifacient contraception divides the embryo from the womb and, in destroying it, divides the newly minted soul from its tiny body.

The priest is tasked with restoring all things in Christ. This is not easy, but soldiers are men who fight wars, get wounded, maimed and even killed in a cause greater than themselves. Those fallen in this war we call martyrs. In fighting this war you may be killed. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have both called for a willingness to be martyred on the part of clergy—and all Christians—in these hostile days.

One may not be physically killed, but standing with Christ on the truth of life and contraception may earn him the smaller deaths of ridicule, mockery, and ostracism—even from his brother priests, who may still be under the misapprehension that priesthood is a nice, comfortable and respectable life where they will be well-liked and popular.

It is plausible that on the first Holy Thursday, in Gethsemane, Jesus underwent another kind of death, or perhaps the beginning of the death He would suffer the next day: heartbreak. It is plausible that in that heartbreak he died for the sins of His friends, the Church throughout history, the betrayals and abandonment beginning that very night with Peter’s denial and the slumber of His sleepy friends who could not stay awake and watch with Him.

It is He whom you serve. It is He in Whose place you stand. To be bland and uncontroversial is a very poor way to imitate Christ. They don’t put you on the cross for mediocrity.

"Pope Benedict XVI on Priestly Spirituality"

The entire post below is from Fr. Mark Kirby, O. Cist. (parts of post that are not italicized are exerpts from Pope Benedict XVI's Chrism Mass Homily)

From Fr. Kirby:

A huge thank you to Sandro Magister for providing readers with the Holy Father's six Holy Week homilies. His homily at the Mass of Chrism on Holy Thursday captivated me. My own comments are in italics.

The Essence of the Priestly Ministry

At the same time, Holy Thursday is for us an opportunity to ask ourselves again: To what did we say "yes"? What is this "being a priest of Jesus Christ"? Canon II of our missal, which was probably composed in Rome before the end of the second century, describes the essence of the priestly ministry with the words that, in the book of Deuteronomy (18:5,7), described the essence of the Old Testament priesthood: astare coram te et tibi ministrare.

Pope Benedict XVI goes to the heart of the question. What is the essence of the priestly ministry? He answers it with words drawn from the Sacred Liturgy itself: "astare coram te et tibi ministrare" — to stand before Thee and worship in Thy presence. The priest is one who faces God and waits upon Him. The priest is the eyes of the world fixed upon God, and the hands of the world lifted up in worship before Him. The priest lives his priesthood most intensely when standing before the altar.

Standing Before the Lord

Two functions, therefore, define the essence of the ministerial priesthood: in the first place, "standing before the Lord." In the book of Deuteronomy, this should be interpreted in the context of the previous dispensation, according to which the priests did not receive any portion of the Holy Land – they lived by God, and for God. They did not attend to the usual work necessary for sustaining daily life. Their profession was "to stand before the Lord" – looking to Him, living for Him. Thus, all told, the word indicated a life lived in the presence of God, and thus also a ministry in representation of others.

The priest lives by God, and for God. A young disciple of Blessed Abbot Marmion, Dom Pie de Hemptinne, O.S.B., said something similar; reflecting on his own priesthood, the young Benedictine said that would live "by the altar, and for the altar." Pope Benedict XVI emphasizes the mediatorship of the priest. The priest lives in the presence of God as the representative of all his brothers; he serves in the sanctuary on behalf of all who, in some sense, stand behind him.

To Keep the World Open to God

Just as the others cultivated the land, from which the priest also lived, so he kept the world open to God, he had to live with his gaze turned to Him. If these words are now found in the Canon of the Mass immediately after the consecration of the gifts, after the entry of the Lord among the assembly gathered in prayer, then they indicate for us the standing before the Lord who is present; it indicates, that is, the Eucharist as the center of the priestly life.

This is brilliant. The priest is a man who "keeps the world open to God." The priest lives "with his gaze turned to God." Underlying these observations is the Holy Father's desire to see restored the traditional position of the priest during the Eucharistic Prayer. The "closed circle" of "versus populum" celebrations is, I think, directly linked to the current crisis in priestly spirituality. When the priest, standing at the altar, faces the crucifix, he offers his own body to "keep the world open to God." By not looking at the people during the Holy Mysteries, the priest exemplifies for them that, "being risen with Christ," they are called to "lift their thoughts above, where Christ now seats at the right hand of God" (Col 3:1).

One Who Watches

But even here its impact goes further. In the hymn of the liturgy of the hours that, during Lent, introduces the office of readings – the office that the monks used to pray during the hour of the nocturnal vigil before God, and for the sake of men – one of the tasks of Lent is described in the imperative: arctius perstemus in custodia – let us be watchful with greater intensity. In the tradition of Syriac monasticism, the monks were described as "those who stand on their feet"; standing on one's feet was an expression of vigilance. What was here considered as the task of the monks, we can reasonably view as being also an expression of the priestly mission, and as a correct interpretation of the words of Deuteronomy: the priest must be one who watches.

Pope Benedict XVI understands that there is no opposition between the monastic vocation and the priestly one. He goes so far as to say that "what was here considered as the task of monks, we can reasonably view as being also an expression of the priestly mission." "The priest," he says, "must be one who watches." How can we not recall the vigils of Saint Jean-Marie Vianney before the altar of the parish church of Ars, the prolonged adorations of Saint Peter Julian Eymard before the Blessed Sacrament exposed in the monstrance, and the passion of Saint Gaetano Catanoso (photo above) for keeping watch before the Eucharistic Face of Christ?

Last October 16th, for the feast of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, I had the privilege of being in Paray-le-Monial. While there I encountered a brother priest who shared with me something of his own experience of keeping watch in prayer during the night. This priest found in nocturnal adoration a spiritual refreshment and an intimacy with Christ that he found at no other time. The priest, like the monk, is a watchman, for the sake of the people entrusted to his care.

Standing Upright

He must stand guard before the relentless powers of evil. He must keep the world awake to God. He must be one who stands on his feet: upright in the face of the currents of the time. Upright in the truth. Upright in his commitment to goodness. Standing before the Lord must always be, in its inmost depths, also a lifting up of men to the Lord, who, in turn, lifts all of us up to the Father. And it must be a lifting up of Him, of Christ, of his word, of his truth, of his love. The priest must be upright, unwavering and ready even to suffer outrage for the sake of the Lord, as shown in the Acts of the Apostles: they "[rejoiced] that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name" (5:41).

The Holy Father is lucid when it comes to the reality of spiritual combat with the powers of darkness. I find the suppression of the Short Lesson at the beginning of Compline in the reformed Liturgy of the Hours most unfortunate. It is a text that every priest needs to repeat and hear nightly: "Brethren, be sober, and watch well; the devil, who is your enemy, goes about roaring like a lion, to find his prey, but you, grounded in the faith, must face him boldly" (1 P 5:8-9).

Pope Benedict XVI dares to close the gap between the so called "monastic" and "priestly" spiritualities. The "monastic" dimension of the diocesan priesthood becomes apparent to all who take the Holy Father's teaching to heart. It was, I think, precisely the evacuation of "monastic" values from priestly spirituality that contributed in no small measure to the present crisis in priestly life and in vocations. "Listen, you that have ears, to the message the Spirit has for the churches" (Ap 2:7).

Pope Benedict XVI's 2008 Chrism Mass Homily

Thanks to Fr. Blake for finding this and Sandro Magister for translating.

Dear brothers and sisters, each year the Chrism Mass exhorts us to return to that "yes" to the call of God which we pronounced on the day of our priestly ordination. "Adsum – here I am!", we said like Isaiah, when he heard the voice of God, who asked him: "Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?" "Here I am, send me!", Isaiah replied (Isaiah 6:8). Then the Lord himself, through the hands of the bishop, laid his hands upon us and we gave ourselves to his mission. Since then, we have traveled down various roads in following his call. Can we always claim what Paul, after years of a service of the Gospel that was often laborious and marked by sufferings of all kinds, wrote to the Corinthians: "Therefore, since we have this ministry through the mercy shown us, we are not discouraged" (2 Cor. 4:1)? "We are not discouraged." Let us pray today that our zeal may always be rekindled, so that it is constantly fed by the living flame of the Gospel.

At the same time, Holy Thursday is for us an opportunity to ask ourselves again: To what did we say "yes"? What is this "being a priest of Jesus Christ"? Canon II of our missal, which was probably composed in Rome before the end of the second century, describes the essence of the priestly ministry with the words that, in the book of Deuteronomy (18:5,7), described the essence of the Old Testament priesthood: astare coram te et tibi ministrare. Two functions, therefore, define the essence of the ministerial priesthood: in the first place, "standing before the Lord." In the book of Deuteronomy, this should be interpreted in the context of the previous dispensation, according to which the priests did not receive any portion of the Holy Land – they lived by God, and for God. They did not attend to the usual work necessary for sustaining daily life. Their profession was "to stand before the Lord" – looking to Him, living for Him. Thus, all told, the word indicated a life lived in the presence of God, and thus also a ministry in representation of others. Just as the others cultivated the land, from which the priest also lived, so he kept the world open to God, he had to live with his gaze turned to Him. If these words are now found in the Canon of the Mass immediately after the consecration of the gifts, after the entry of the Lord among the assembly gathered in prayer, then they indicate for us the standing before the Lord who is present; it indicates, that is, the Eucharist as the center of the priestly life. But even here its impact goes further. In the hymn of the liturgy of the hours that, during Lent, introduces the office of readings – the office that the monks used to pray during the hour of the nocturnal vigil before God, and for the sake of men – one of the tasks of Lent is described in the imperative: arctius perstemus in custodia – let us be watchful with greater intensity. In the tradition of Syriac monasticism, the monks were described as "those who stand on their feet"; standing on one's feet was an expression of vigilance. What was here considered as the task of the monks, we can reasonably view as being also an expression of the priestly mission, and as a correct interpretation of the words of Deuteronomy: the priest must be one who watches. He must stand guard before the relentless powers of evil. He must keep the world awake to God. He must be one who stands on his feet: upright in the face of the currents of the time. Upright in the truth. Upright in his commitment to goodness. Standing before the Lord must always be, in its inmost depths, also a lifting up of men to the Lord, who, in turn, lifts all of us up to the Father. And it must be a lifting up of Him, of Christ, of his word, of his truth, of his love. The priest must be upright, unwavering and ready even to suffer outrage for the sake of the Lord, as shown in the Acts of the Apostles: they "[rejoiced] that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name" (5:41).

Let's continue now to the second expression, which Canon II takes from the Old Testament – "to stand in your presence and serve you." The priest must be an upright, vigilant person, a person who stands straight. Then, to all of this, service is added. In the text of the Old Testament, this word has an essentially ritual meaning: the priest was responsible for all of the acts of worship stipulated by the Law. But this acting according to ritual was then classified as service, as a task of service, and this explains in what spirit these activities had to be carried out. With the inclusion of the expression "to serve" in the Canon, this liturgical meaning of the term is in a certain way adopted – in keeping with the newness of Christian worship. What the priest does at that moment, and in the celebration of the Eucharist, is to serve, and to carry out a service of God and a service of men. The worship that Christ rendered to the Father was that of giving of himself to the end, for the sake of men. The priest must insert himself into this worship, into this service. Thus the expression "to serve" involves many dimensions. Certainly first among these is the proper celebration of the Liturgy and of the Sacraments in general, carried out with interior participation. We must learn to understand more and more the sacred liturgy in all of its essence, to develop a lively familiarity with it, so that it becomes the soul of our daily life. It is then that we celebrate properly, it is then that there emerges on its own account the ars celebrandi, the art of celebrating. There must be nothing artificial in this art. If the Liturgy is a central task of the priest, this also means that priority must be given to learning continually anew and more profoundly how to pray, in the school of Christ and of the saints of all ages. Because the Christian Liturgy, by its nature, is also always a proclamation, we must be persons who are familiar with the Word of God, who love it and live it: only then will we be able to explain it in an adequate way. "To serve the Lord" – priestly service also means learning to know the Lord in his word, and to make Him known to all those He entrusts to us.

Two other aspects, finally, are part of service. No one is as close to his master as the servant, who has access to the most private dimension of his life. In this sense, "serving" means closeness, it requires familiarity. This familiarity also brings a danger: that our constant contact with the sacred might make it become routine for us. Thus reverential fear is extinguished. Under the influence of all of our habits, we no longer perceive the great, new, surprising fact, the He himself is present, that He speaks to us, He gives himself to us. We must fight without rest against this habituation to the extraordinary reality, against the indifference of the heart, recognizing always anew our insufficiency and the grace that is present in the fact that he delivers himself into our hands in this way. Serving means closeness, but above all it means obedience. The servant is under orders: "Not my will, but yours be done" (Luke 22:42). With these words on the Mount of Olives, Jesus resolved the decisive battle against sin, against the rebellion of the fallen heart. Adam's sin consisted precisely in the fact that he wanted to do his own will, and not that of God. The temptation of humanity is always that of being totally autonomous, of following only its own will and of maintaining that only in this way will we be free; that it is only through such limitless freedom that man can be fully himself. But in this very way, we pit ourselves against the truth. Because the truth is that we must share our freedom with others, and can be free only in communion with them. This shared freedom can be true freedom only if through this we enter into what constitutes the measure of freedom, if we enter into the will of God. This fundamental obedience that is part of the human being, a being that is not solely of and for itself, becomes even more concrete in the priest: we do not proclaim ourselves, but rather Him and his Word, which we could not have imagined on our own. We proclaim the word of Christ correctly only in the communion of his Body. Our obedience is believing together with the Church, thinking and speaking together with the Church, serving together with it. This always involves what Jesus predicted to Peter: 'someone else will . . . lead you where you do not want to go'. This being led where we do not want to go is an essential dimension of our service, and it is precisely this that makes us free. By being led in this way, which can be contrary to our own ideas and plans, we experience something new – the riches of the love of God.

"To stand before Him and serve Him": Jesus Christ, as the true High Priest of the world, has conferred upon these words a profundity that was unimaginable before. He, who as Son was and is Lord, wanted to become that servant of God whom the vision of the book of the prophet Isaiah had foreseen. He wanted to be the servant of all. He depicted the entirety of his high priesthood in the gesture of the washing of the feet. With the gesture of love until the very end, He washes our dirty feet, with the humility of his service He purifies us from the sickness of our arrogance. Thus he makes us capable of becoming God's companions. He descended, and the true ascension of man is now realized in our ascending with Him and to Him. His elevation is the Cross. This is the most profound descent, and, as love pushed to the very limit, it is at the same time the culmination of the ascent, the "elevation" of man. "To stand before Him and serve Him" – this now means entering into his call as servant of God. The Eucharist as the presence of the descent and ascent of Christ thus refers, beyond itself, to the many ways of the service of love of neighbor. Let us ask the Lord, on this day, for the gift of being able to say once more in this sense our "yes" to his call: "Here I am. Send me, Lord" (cf. Isaiah 6:8). Amen.

"Family’s three sons called to priesthood"

Strand brothers from Dousman follow distinct paths to same destination in Catholic Church

By KATHERINE MICHALETS - Greater Milwaukee Today
March 27, 2008

From left, siblings, Jacob Strand, Vincent Strand and Luke Strand are seen in this August 2007 photo while in St. Paul, Minn., for Vincent’s vows. Jacob, Vincent and Luke say they have felt a calling from God to become priests.

MILWAUKEE - The path that Luke Strand has chosen to follow is not a common one, nor is it an easy one.

But it is one he feels God called him to take - to become a Catholic priest.

What makes his decision all the more extraordinary is that his two brothers, Vincent and Jacob, have chosen similar paths and are also studying to become ministers of God’s word during a time when the Catholic Church is experiencing a shortage of priests and increased scrutiny.

"I very much fell in love with the church. I think the Catholic Church is beautiful," Luke Strand, 27, said. "In a time when there is a lot of skepticism about the Catholic Church, I feel called to share the joys she brings to the world."

Growing up as Catholics in Dousman, the three brothers considered themselves religious but never seriously considered becoming priests.

"Our journeys are all very unique and each of us have our own gifts to offer the church," Luke Strand said.

Answering God’s calling

Vincent Strand, S.J., 25, was a student at Marquette University studying biological sciences and theology when he began to feel that God was calling him. He said that he began to spend time with people from the Society of Jesus, also called Jesuits.

"I really became convinced that God was calling me to be a Jesuit. I really thought he was asking me to do it personally," Vincent Strand said. "The call was not vague or abstract, it felt very concrete to me and that Jesus was speaking directly to my heart."

In December 2004, he began to apply for admittance to start the novitiate process with the Jesuits. He is currently in New York City striving for a master’s degree in philosophy as part of his education process in the Society of Jesus.

"There was just tremendous peace, joy and freedom," he said about pursuing God’s calling.

Jacob Strand, 22, said he started to think about becoming a priest while a senior at Kettle Moraine High School. After completing two years at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, the desire became stronger.

"This began to occupy a larger area of my life," he said.

Jacob Strand thought going to seminary might help him discern better what he wanted to do with his life.

"When I began to look into this more closely, there was a strong sense of peace and that I was fulfilling what God wanted for me," he said.

In fall 2006, Jacob Strand entered seminary through the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, but because Milwaukee doesn’t have a college seminary, he is at St. Joseph College Seminary in Chicago.

Luke Strand, the oldest and first brother to chose the life of a priest, said he never considered becoming a priest while growing up. He said as a college student at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, he wanted a degree in marketing, to have a large Catholic family and to make money.

But those expectations began to change.

"I had some experiences that really led me to moments of conversion," Luke Strand said.

He said he started to frequent the Newman Center chapel and to help at a homeless shelter, Father Carr’s Place 2B.

"As I continued this journey, priesthood began to seem like something God was calling me to - something that God was putting in the forefront of my mind," he said.

Luke Strand is currently studying at the St. Francis Seminary, where he will be ordained a deacon this May and a priest in May 2009.

Family reaction and support

It hasn’t always been easy for the friends and family of the Strand brothers to understand their decisions.

"It's always surprising. It’s something that parents don’t expect," Luke Strand said, adding "They’ve been very encouraging in the process."

Their dad, Jerry Strand, admits it’s been difficult to accept their decisions at times.

"As parents, you always raise your kids to be independent and sometimes to take the road less traveled," he said. "We just didn’t think all three would make this decision."

Jerry Strand and his wife, Bernadette, have realized how happy their sons’ chosen vocations have made them.

"You get behind them and you give up personal selfishness," Jerry Strand said. "We’re just happy that our boys are able to make tough decisions."

"It wasn’t easy for them, but I’ve been amazed and grateful for how they’ve come to accept it and support us through it," Jacob Strand said of his parents.

The brothers have also received support from their younger sister, Theresa Strand.

Throughout the process, the brothers have been there for each other, as well.

"It’s a great support to have my brothers in many ways walking a similar path. We can understand one another - the struggles, as well as the joys, that our vocations offer us," Vincent Strand said.

The future of the Catholic Church

The Strand brothers see a vibrant future for the Catholic Church despite the recent sex scandals and decline in the number of priests.

"The church is certainly going through the healing process and through this process it will become stronger," Jacob Strand said. "Now I think there is even a renewed sense of integrity and there’s a renewed sense of hope."

Vincent Strand said that when he saw the Catholic Church in need, he wanted to help.

He said the Catholic Church and the Gospel are still relevant in the world and that the Catholic Church is growing globally.

"I think there is a great wave of young people who are zealous for the Catholic Church," Vincent Strand said.

Luke Strand agreed.

"People are searching for truth, and I think that search for the truth has led a lot of young people to the church, to priesthood and to religious life," he said.

Luke Strand feels optimistic.

"I think there’s something really great happening in the the church and it’s exciting to be a part of it," he said.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

"Thumbing their way down God's highway"

In an effort to collect and post articles and stories about the Franciscans of the Primitive Observance, something that is not particularly easy to do since they have no website and no real web presence anywhere, I came across this article. If you don't know anything about the FPO's this article is indicative of what I know about them. Public transportation is not really used by the FPO's. In a conversation with one of the friars several years ago, he told me how they hiked 75 miles to get to a retreat they were leading.

I will be trying to post more items about them and will try to get my hands on some of their "vocation literature". Once upon a time I had it, but seem to have misplaced it. Handwritten and photocopied, their tri-fold vocations "brochure" speaks volumes of their radical committment to poverty. With their permission I will post it online with contact information.

From the Roanoke Times

Friday, June 11, 2004

A pair of Franciscan friars on their way to Nicaragua hitchhiked through Roanoke on Thursday.

By Annie Thompson

On the sun-baked sidewalk near an Interstate 581 entrance ramp, two Franciscan friars prayed for a ride Thursday afternoon as they waited in their woolen robes, thumbs in the air.

They were on their way to Nicaragua from Emmitsburg, Md., where they started their journey Wednesday - without money or food.

They believe God will get them there.

"We just let God provide for us - even for food. And he always does," Brother Patrick Mary Ginty said.

Ginty and Brother Sean Patrick Hurley, both 24, have lived at the Mother of the Good Shepherd Friary in Emmitsburg since it opened last fall. They plan to establish such a community in Nicaragua along with four other friars who are traveling in pairs.

All six left Maryland on Wednesday morning. They will meet near Birmingham, Ala., where there is a community of Franciscans, and again in Laredo, Texas. They expect it will take about a month to get to Nicaragua.

After hitching five rides Wednesday, Hurley and Ginty made it to Roanoke about 7 p.m. That night, the Madonna House on Campbell Avenue gave them dinner, a place to sleep and breakfast because they are clergy members.

"One of our ministries is to clergy passing through," said Beth Ryan, a staff worker.

Wearing habits too warm for a June afternoon, with ropes each containing four knots to symbolize the vows they've taken, and a rosary around their waists, the Roman Catholic friars were not a common sight for Roanokers.

Passers-by honked, gawked and waved, but they didn't stop.

In Maryland, the pair lived with 13 other friars. Nine are left to continue the ministry there. Once the traveling six arrive in Nicaragua, they plan to build a modest house on a coffee plantation, establishing a new friary.

Hurley and Ginty plan to study philosophy in the South American country for about four years and later become priests.

While they waited, they prayed, read from their prayer books, sang songs and "waited for the Lord to show his light," Ginty said. They said it's easier to get a ride in the New England states, where people are more familiar with Franciscan friars, who have taken vows of poverty, obedience, chastity and total consecration to the Virgin Mary.

Hurley is originally from Rhode Island, where his parents still live. He is the oldest of four children and has been in the Franciscan community for four years.

"My family's very supportive. I see them once in a while," Hurley said.

Ginty is a native of Ontario, Canada. He joined the Franciscans three years ago.

"I did nothing constructive; in fact I was quite destructive," before becoming a friar, Ginty said. He said his life before entering the order was marked by the "typical party lifestyle."

"I realized I was seriously lacking something. Unless you have Jesus in your life, you can't have that fullness of joy," Ginty said. "That's what we try to bring to the people who pick us up."

The pair waited 3 1/2 hours on the northbound entrance to I-581 at Orange Avenue until they received a ride.

"The people who stop are always the ones who need it. It's a beautiful thing," Ginty said.

Two women who asked to be called "Quarter Pounder" and "Blondie" gave them a ride.

"The Spirit led me to stop," one said before driving away.

End of year (2004) follow up:

THEN: The friars were picked up by two women, who asked to be called "Quarterpounder" and "Blondie," after standing on the northbound entrance ramp to Interstate 581 at Orange Avenue for 3 1/2 hours.

NOW: All six of the friars from the Mother of the Good Shepherd Friary in Emmitsburg, Md., who were hitchhiking in pairs, made it to Nicaragua safely in about three weeks.
- Annie Thompson

More posts on the FPO's

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"Franciscans of Primitive Observance come to the Mount"

By: Megan Wertner

From Mount St. Mary's "Mountain Echo"
Posted: 12/3/2003

Picture is not from original article, but is a picture of the FPO's from a recent 2008 post on Cardinal O'Malley's blog.

Junior Adam Windsor was approached by a bearded young man wearing a grey robe in Patriot Hall one evening. "For the love of God, could you spare a meal?" the man asked. Windsor gladly used his flex dollars to buy food for Brother Sean Patrick.

Brother Sean Patrick is one of seven Franciscans of Primitive Observance (FPOs) who arrived in Emmitsburg last June. The FPOs came to prepare four of their men for the priesthood at the Mount and currently live in a house off campus. This group includes two priests, two friars enrolled in the seminary, two friars studying philosophy at the college, and another friar who helps care for his brothers.

The FPOs live a simple life in imitation of the apostles, walking where they need to go, begging for food, and sleeping on the floor. They strive to be completely reliant on God's providence and to be "totally emptied of self," explains Brother Sean Patrick. Their physical poverty is a "material expression of a higher spiritual goal."

Brother Sean Patrick, 24, joined the FPOs when he was 20 years old. He was impressed by the friars who had very little, but were joyful and seemed to have "something real, something deep." He is now studying philosophy and hopes to become a priest.

The Franciscans of Primitive Observance began with six friars in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1995 and now includes sixteen members. Their apostolate is evangelization and working with the poor.

Brother Sean Patrick says that evangelization is often "re-evangelization" in today's world. The brothers run retreats for men, women, and children, give talks in local schools, visit people door-to-door, pray outside of abortion clinics, and help parishes who need priests.

The friars also assist other religious orders in their missions, minister in prisons, and help people living in impoverished areas. They remain available to help where needed and "try to be the presence of Christ" wherever they go.

Prayer is the FPOs' "top priority," says Brother Sean Patrick. "It's in prayer that we receive strength to keep up the apostolate." The friars structure their day around prayer. They attend Mass every morning, say or chant the Liturgy of the Hours, pray the rosary together, and have Eucharistic adoration for an hour each day. In addition to daily private prayer, each brother is required to make several solitude retreats a year to different hermitages.

Another essential element in Franciscan charism is penance. The brothers do penance for their sins and for the sins of the world. They try to make it known that people can always turn back to God. The friars' effort is "not just social work, but spiritual work," states Brother Sean Patrick.

The brothers try to serve as a witness to family life as they pray and work together in their community. Windsor enjoys seeing the brothers around campus. He says, "Not only they, but all the different orders are so nice."

Brother Sean Patrick has found Mount Saint Mary's to be "friendly." He hopes that it will become a place where "faith can be nurtured, taught, and upheld and that the college will become known for that."

Where will the Franciscans of Primitive Observance be in the future? According to Brother Sean Patrick, "Wherever God wants us."

Franciscans of Primitive Observance

Small group of monks, nuns brings prayerful, ascetic mission to New Bedford

By Bill McNamara, Standard-Times correspondent
Staff photos by Hank Seaman
Article originally published in 1997

These Franciscans are a group with no baggage. Literally.

They own no radios, televisions or other worldly possessions. Meat, sweets and snack foods are not in their diets. They sleep on the floor and rise in the middle of night to pray. The men's gray habits are their only wardrobe, the big cowls marking them as Capuchins. They have no mode of transportation other than their feet. And they operate with no budget; there's little to account for besides spiritual formation and growth.

Most of their hours, day and night, are spent praying and toiling for the spiritual welfare of the populace.

The seven Franciscan Friars of the Primitive Observance, along with seven Capuchin Recollect Sisters, are radical by today's material standards. Even by the standards of their own larger Franciscan order, the reform group is extreme in its strict bond to an ascetic way of life. Direct ministering to the community is a minor part of their mission.

Invited to SouthCoast two years ago by Bishop Sean O'Malley -- himself a member of the Capuchin (reformed) division of the Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans) -- the New Bedford-based group of monks and "nunks" are fashioning one of the strictest religious communities in this region and perhaps in the Western world.

Clearly, the 14 monks and nuns would prefer prayerful anonymity to any public notice of the self-denial characterizing a lifestyle that hearkens back to their mendicant founder, St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226).

They would rather "turn the other cheek" than look to the lens of a camera or submit to a news interview. (Their superiors, Father Pio Mandato and Sister Theresa May, spoke respectively for the friars and sisters.) They do it now -- the media thing -- at the behest of journalists who believe that more general awareness and understanding of their vocation can have exemplary effects for the community.

The monks themselves would rather think of those spiritual advantages accruing without benefit of publicity but they are all for mutual acceptance and understanding. Indeed, from the time of St. Francis, the Franciscans have been notorious for their jollity, sociability and human relations.
As Father Pio observes, "They have been the authentic Christian humanists of Western society."
Most people who do come to know them and to confront their radical way of life react with shock to the degree of renunciation practiced by the young women at Mother of God Convent on Bullard Street and the young men at Immaculate Conception Friary on Rivet Street, north and south ends of town respectively. (It wasn't a deliberate strategy to keep them apart.)

"I was just stunned when they told me how they lived," said a woman whose household was visited by two of the friars. "They have nothing, not even a radio to turn on for a little music. That seems a bit extreme to me, but they don't seem to mind at all."

Asking not to be identified ("I'm not a critic. I don't want them to think of me as a critic"), the woman said it shook her up to see how dependent society has become on more and more material possessions. "And maybe that's their message. It's a good one but, goodness, denying themselves the pleasure of switching on some music in their life strikes me as a drawback."
She recalled that "they loved the music our radio was playing while they were here; they kept commenting on it."

That's it, says Father Pio. They pick up their arias and overtures and birdsong as they make their rounds of the community, as did St. Francis. Music and other pleasures of life they don't have to make room for in their own cubicles.

"God provides," says Father Superior who has been a Franciscan priest for 12 years.
He and his fellow-reformers in New York sought out Bishop O'Malley when they felt ready for reorganization. After "much dialogue" over the course of about six months, the invitation arrived from the Fall River diocese. Again with the help of the bishop, the friars found a temporary home on Kempton Street, New Bedford, until about a year ago when they moved to Rivet Street and went to work on serious renovations. (The diocese is supporting the group as it gets established.)
There are two priests, Father Pio and Father Pat, who joined the community here in New Bedford. Four friars are studying for the priesthood. Brother Joseph, who was in his final vows at the New York community of Capuchins, will remain a lay brother. An expert carpenter, he led the renovation project.

Reception in the neighborhood has been "very positive," according to Father Pio. "We've gotten to know a lot of the families, kids especially, and more and more people are coming to the door for confession or for spiritual guidance. But we try not to take over any parish responsibilities. We want to complement their work. We often refer people to the parish."
Their ministry involves preaching, conducting missions and retreats, and working with young people.

"Being a small, young community," says the group's leader, Father Pio, "we each have to wear a lot of different hats. We still spend a lot of time perfecting our constitution, going back to the founding principles and to the Capuchin reforms in 1536. The cross is always there. Our willingness to struggle through it is the key to growth."

Above all, says Father Pio, "we have to protect our contemplative life, but we do it in the marketplace. How to respond charitably? We don't want a revolving door, but we do want to respect people's dignity."

A day at the friary goes, more or less, like this: 2 a.m., night vigil, office of readings; 6:30 a.m., morning prayer together followed by an individual hour of prayer and solitude; 8 a.m., Mass; then class, study, work, etc.; noon, midday prayer and recollection, pickup lunch; afternoon work and study; 4:45 p.m., evening prayer in common, followed by one hour of silent eucharistic adoration; 6 p.m., supper (the monks take turns preparing and serving), recreation, followed by Compline (the evening prayer), the rosary and, finally, the Grand Silence (close of the day, normally around 9 p.m.)

"Inside Clear Creek Monastery"

"Tulsa World" has launched a website with articles and a slideshow about the Benedictine Monks at Clear Creek Monastery in Tulsa Oklahoma. The photographs are beautiful, the slideshow is excellent and the articles (posted below) are very good. Enjoy.

Faith rules: Inside the Clear Creek Monastery

3/23/2008 12:00 AM

Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part series about the Clear Creek Monastery. In Monday’s World, part two: “Keeping the faith.”

Some people say the world is slipping into a new Dark Age. Some might say the world has been in the Dark Ages for quite a while already.

In morality, in architecture, in craftsmanship and art and literature, the 21st century is a long way from the Renaissance, and many self-described “traditionalists” would suggest that it’s a long way down.

Less than a generation after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, a growing number of Catholics want to restore Latin as a regular part of worship. But for them, it’s not just about language. It’s about reversing the decline of civilization itself.

In their eyes, the loss of Latin represented a much wider crisis in the modern world — a rejection of tradition, a defiance of history, the severing of cultural roots and a loss of faith in general. In bringing back old-fashioned prayers, they hope to bring back old-fashioned values, too.

In this worldwide effort to “reform the reforms,” Tulsa has stepped to the forefront because of a place called Clear Creek.

For three days in February, the Tulsa World gained unprecedented access to the only contemplative Benedictine monastery in the United States. And it offered a glimpse of what life might be like in a world where . . .faith rules.

The bell ringer comes outside an hour before dawn.

No light escapes from the open door. No stars peek through the cloud cover. The remote landscape offers nothing but darkness for miles in every direction.

Wearing a long black robe with a hood pulled over his head, this solitary monk seems almost invisible, silhouetted like a shadow against the crypt’s bare concrete wall.

In the strict silence of the monastery — so quiet that the monks can lie awake and meditate to the sound of their own heartbeats — his footsteps seem subversively loud, crunching on the gravel path. A few steps from the door, he reaches out with both hands to pull on a rope that dangles down the side of the crypt.

The bell tears through the cold morning air, echoing for miles across the wooded hills that surround the north side of Fort Gibson Lake. Inside, the monks descend into the crypt in a long, solemn line, black robes brushing lightly across the concrete floor.

Heads bowed, hands clasped together, they can see their own breath in this chilly, underground chamber, lit only by a few dim bulbs and candles flickering from the altar.

“Gloria Patri,” the monks begin to sing, “et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto . . . .”

Outside, unseen by the monks, a pair of headlights appears on the crest of a distant hill. Then a second. Then a third.

Snaking along the dirt road and across a small, stone bridge, the outsiders pull into an unpaved parking lot, tires crunching on the gravel louder than any monk’s footsteps.

A couple climb out of the first SUV. Three kids and their mother emerge from a minivan. A second SUV unloads half a dozen passengers, men, women and children.

With the first subtle hint of dawn shading the sky, they all file through a side entrance to the crypt, the heavy door — its hinges squeaking — slamming shut behind them.

The Benedictines came to Oklahoma looking for solitude; to escape from the rest of the world, protected by muddy roads and low-water bridges and the sheer distance from any main highway.

Now the world is coming to the Monastery of Clear Creek.

‘Set a standard’

The iron comes out of the fire glowing red, sending sparks across the cluttered workshop as George Carpenter pounds it with a mallet.

Starting out as a thin strip, the metal twists and folds into the shape of a door hinge for one of the new monastery’s grand entrances.

In a more philosophical mood, Carpenter might reflect on the way religion shapes a man’s life, bending and twisting, folding and turning. A younger man, with a soul that is still red-hot and malleable, might question his faith.

Does he really believe in the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection? Or is it like believing in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny? Is he Catholic because he really embraces the church? Or just because his parents are Catholic?

“I was looking for some kind of spiritual connection,” Carpenter remembers now that he’s approaching middle age. “Something solid. Firm. Something permanent, that didn’t need reformed.”

Part of the first generation born after the Second Vatican Council, Carpenter grew up hearing Mass in English instead of Latin. Since the council in the 1960s, most Catholic services have been in a country’s common language.

Whether the changes sparked a crisis or simply coincided with it, that’s a matter of debate. But church attendance has dropped, seminaries face shortages of new priests and millions of Catholics openly dissent from church teachings.

Now a growing movement is trying to “reform the reforms,” bringing back Latin in hopes of bringing back faithfulness in general. The pope himself recently changed church rules to encourage a broader use of Latin in services.

For Carpenter, “the renewal,” as the movement calls itself, began several years ago when his father-in-law showed him a video of an old Latin service.

“I was drawn to it immediately,” he says, pausing for a moment to pound another red-hot piece of iron.

“It was mysterious. Beautiful. Timeless.”

Using an anvil and his own linebacker-size muscles, Carpenter bends the metal into an “S” shape, forming another part of the door hinge. Blacksmiths used the same techniques in the sixth century, when St. Benedict was alive.

“When the metal is hot,” Carpenter explains, “it’s not much different from shaping clay. As it cools, the shape becomes firm.”

Growing older, Carpenter left his doubts behind and took his family to a traditional Latin parish in Texas. But in shaping his children’s lives, faith had to compete with modern culture.

He worried about the endless pursuit of consumer goods and what he calls “the trivialization of promiscuity,” even in schools and on “family” television shows.

“We wanted to raise our kids in a truly Christian culture,” he says, “a place where the church is the backdrop for everyday life.”

Four years ago, they moved to a small farm just up the road from Clear Creek, where Carpenter works part time in the metal shop.

Others have come from the West Coast and the East, the Midwest and the Deep South. From all across the country, dozens of families have moved to this obscure corner of rural Oklahoma to live within reach of the monastery bell. Like the monks, they want to “be ye separate” from the world.

“The monks set a standard for us to look up to,” Carpenter says, throwing more coals on the fire. “We’re the foot soldiers of the church, so to speak, but they’re the special forces. They’re the Marines.”

In the fight to reclaim traditions, Clear Creek is the tip of the spear.

‘Our cultural home’

The daily Mass ends just after 11 a.m., with each monk pausing in front of the altar and falling to his knees, bowing with his forehead nearly touching the floor.

Two-by-two, they stand up and march out of the crypt in perfect rhythm, left-right-left. Hands clasped, heads bowed, they don’t whisper a word. They don’t even glance at the people in the pews.

Careful not to make the slightest noise, Carpenter and the other laymen wait patiently while the monks pass. The last one out the door hits a light switch, leaving everybody else in the dark.

They must remember — this Mass was not for them.

Catholics usually genuflect before leaving a sanctuary. But here, most people follow the monks’ example — bowing on both knees.

The younger girls struggle with the maneuver, awkward in skirts that reach to their ankles, lacy scarves slipping off their heads. But their mothers make it look effortless.

In the vestibule, laypeople go out the door on the right, to the parking lot. No matter how close they live, no matter how often they come here to worship, they’re still outsiders. The monks never asked anybody to come and now they have to leave.

It takes special permission to go through the door on the left, then up a flight of stairs to a loggia. An arched opening leads to the inner cloister itself, a courtyard that would be strictly off limits if the prior himself was not serving as a personal escort.

Eventually, as construction continues, the monastery buildings will form a giant square with this courtyard hidden in the middle. But for now, the church remains nothing but a crypt, a kind of basement foundation where the monks gather to pray.

Only one side of the square has been finished — a four-story residential hall big enough for 60 monks to occupy.

“It’s an ambitious undertaking,” admits Father Philip Anderson, the prior of Clear Creek and one of the original 13 monks who opened the monastery in 1999. “If I was doing it over again, I’m not sure we would be so ambitious.”

The fundraising and the construction can become a distraction from what the monks came here to do — to pray. And to pray, specifically, the old Latin liturgy.

“You can see that civilization is in a crisis,” Anderson says, his robe fluttering in the breeze as he walks in the courtyard.

“This crisis has, in some ways, infected even the church. There’s a lack of discipline, a lack of clear moral principles.”

Society keeps trying to reinvent itself — political revolutions, sexual revolutions, technological revolutions.

“But every attempt at a solution only makes the crisis grow deeper,” Anderson says, his voice staying meditatively calm. “We’ve had all kinds of solutions — except tradition. We’ve explored many different paths — except turning back, returning to our cultural home, returning to the ancient faith.”

At Clear Creek, the ancient traditions aren’t history. They’re here. Now. And the monks are determined to keep them for the future.

Keeping the faith (part II)
Editor’s note: Tulsa World Staff Writer Michael Overall was allowed unprecedented access behind the walls of the Clear Creek Monastery. Here is part two of a two-part series about the monastery.

Tulsa World

For monks, prayer is path to a brighter future

No one sits down. No one talks. Heads bowed, hands clasped together, the monks wait.

The prior stands just inside the door with a pitcher of water, an empty bowl and a clean white towel. In the sixth century, St. Benedict insisted that his followers wash a visitor’s feet before dinner, but traditions evolve — now the prior washes a visitor’s hands.

Guests eat in the middle of the room, separate from the monks, who surround two long, wooden tables against opposite walls.

“In nomine Patris,” they pray, as always, in Latin before finally sitting down, “et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. . . .”

The food comes with perfect etiquette, dishes served from the left, taken away from the right, and at a brisk pace.

Slurp quickly or the soup will disappear half finished to make room for fresh beets and coleslaw.

The monks resist earthly temptations — but when they eat, they flirt with extravagance.

Tonight, a hearty portion of salmon comes with a creamy tomato sauce, complemented by generous pours of cabmerlot wine.

The third course includes buttered noodles that look bland but taste decadent, with espresso for dessert.

When not needed, the servers stand at attention near the kitchen door, white aprons covering their black robes, ready to swoop down on the slightest crumb that might fall.

Benedictines don’t take a vow of silence. In fact, most Benedictines work at schools or hospitals, talking as much as anybody else.

Clear Creek is the only contemplative Benedictine monastery in the United States.

Nestled on the north end of Fort Gibson Lake near Hulbert, the monastery began operating in 1999.

Even here, a monk might clear his throat to ask for more wine, or whisper a couple of words if necessary. But living a contemplative life includes speaking as little as possible, lest you be distracted from always thinking about God.

Dinner would pass as quietly as the rest of the day if not for the cantor, sitting alone at a small table in the corner with a microphone and a book of saints.

“The sword cut deep into the martyr’s head,” he reads, describing the death of St. Boniface, a Benedictine missionary who brought Christianity to Germany in the eighth century. “And blood spurted forth.”

Every meal comes with a history lesson, and after a few days, a general theme emerges.

As Western civilization slid into the Dark Ages, monasteries became repositories of culture. Indeed, many scholars suggest that the Dark Ages weren’t dark at all, considering the art, literature and philosophy that flourished around the Benedictines, the Augustinians and the Carthusians.

The Renaissance would’ve been impossible without monks, and now some people see the need for another Renaissance.

In fashion, architecture, art and literature — and especially in public morals — hardly anything about 2008 looks like 1908, much less 1608.

And to the monks at Clear Creek, 2008 looks decidedly inferior.

Monasteries have saved civilization before, and monasteries might do it again.


Silence has a way of amplifying noise. The drip of a faucet, the click of a light switch, the breeze tapping against the window. Everything draws attention to itself.

A guest will send footsteps echoing down the long corridors of the residential hall. But somehow, Father Mark Bachmann’s knocking on the door comes as a complete surprise.

“Being quiet,” he explains, “becomes a habit for us, like breathing.”

A guest’s private room measures less than 10 feet by 10, but the tall ceiling makes it seem reasonably spacious. A bed, not much bigger than an army cot, sits against the wall, with a small desk and chair beneath the window.

A separate room includes a sink and shower, but the toilets are down the hall. Each monk lives in a room, called a cell, just like this.

“Except for the sink and shower,” Bachmann says, taking a seat on the room’s footlocker. “We thought our guests might appreciate the privacy, but it’s a luxury we can do without.”

Ordinarily, Bachmann would study Scripture or read devotional texts during this free time between dinner and evening prayers. But the prior has given him permission to visit the guest area, divided from the monks’ quarters by a locked door at the end of the corridor.

Taking vows more than 24 years ago, he’s one of the older monks here. Several are recent college graduates, but the prior hesitates to let the younger ones talk to outsiders.

“It’s the way parents are always more protective of children the younger they are,” Bachmann says. “They need to mature in their vows, grow stronger in their discipline.”

Once or twice a year, family members can come to the monastery to ask for “parlor time” — maybe 30 or 45 minutes in a visiting room downstairs. The prior rarely grants permission for a monk to leave the monastery grounds, which stretch for a thousand acres across Cherokee County.

“The death of a parent, for example,” Bachmann says.

Then a monk might ask to go home for a couple of days.

“What if we get homesick?

Of course, that will happen occasionally,” he says.

“Then that is something we can offer up to God as a sacrifice.”

The separation is usually harder for the families — especially considering that many of the monks are converts, and just being Catholic seemed controversial enough.

“In time, most parents come to be proud of a son for taking vows,” Bachmann says. “They come to understand that we are just being faithful to what God has called us to do.”

The monks understand the high hopes that traditional Catholics are placing on them — that the use of Latin will spread from Clear Creek and reinvigorate the faith as a whole.

Already, Gregorian chant can be heard in more and more parishes across the Tulsa diocese, where ordinary church choirs have learned Gregorian chant from the monks.

And although most of the Sunday Mass is still in English at Tulsa’s Holy Family Cathedral, the congregation slips into Latin for some prayers.

“If it is God’s will for Latin to regain prominence in the church,” Bachmann says, “then it will happen.”

But that’s not what the monks are trying to do. They believe in the power of prayer to change the world — and that’s the only kind of prayer they are trying to make.

“We’ve heard the Lord calling us to this life of prayer,” Bachmann says. “Just as Peter and John and the other Apostles heard the Lord say, ‘Come, follow me.’ They were just being obedient. They didn’t set out to change the world.”

But change it they did.


Sunday morning, the monastery bell echoes across the countryside to announce that High Mass will begin in 10 minutes. But the parking lot already looks full.

Inside the crypt, the reverent silence gives way to a murmuring crowd. Babies cry.

Toddlers squirm. Teenagers pass secrets between themselves.

As the monks come down the aisle, sunlight streams through the windows above the altar and bright votive candles cast a warm glow across the pews.

On most Sundays, latecomers might have to stand in the back.

But the flu has been going around, leaving a few empty seats.

George Carpenter, the blacksmith, arrives with only one son, while his wife and six other children — plus one more on the way — have stayed home.

Around here, that’s not a particularly large family. Some parents count children into double digits.

“If you understand that a child is the greatest blessing that God can give you,” Carpenter says, “well, why would you do anything to keep God from blessing you?”

Last year, Carpenter took an informal census of the Clear Creek community — counting 35 families with a total of 145 people, including 96 children.

There have been several pregnancies since then.

Realistically, most of these children won’t stay in Clear Creek after they grow up.

They’ll go off to college, then find jobs and move to big cities. But their parents expect them to stay devoutly Catholic wherever they go.

“They’ll raise children of their own in the faith,” Carpenter says. “And those children will raise children, and those children. . . .”

After a couple of generations, 145 people can multiply into several hundreds, then a few thousand. In five or six generations, the descendants of Clear Creek might amount to a tribe of their own, taking conservative values and traditional morals with them.

“That’s the way the faith reaches into the future,” Carpenter says. “That’s how traditions survive.”

That’s how the world is changed.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"Boys step up to altar, en Mass"

There is most certainly a vocations connection here...

By Laura Crimaldi Sunday, March 23, 2008 http://www.bostonherald.com/
Photo by Matt Stone

A new generation of young altar servers captivated by the solemn rituals of Latin Mass is mastering the traditional rite in growing numbers in the Boston archdiocese as the liturgy makes a comeback after a four-decade hiatus.

“It’s really reverent. That’s why I like it,” said altar server Brendan MacKenzie, 12, of Marshfield, as he readied for the Tenebrae, or “Spy Wednesday,” service at Mary Immaculate of Lourdes in Newton during Holy Week. “It brings you closer to God.”

Since April, the number of young boys trained to perform Latin Mass in the Boston area has more than doubled, from eight to 18 servers, said the Rev. Charles J. Higgins, pastor at Mary Immaculate, where the old-style Mass is celebrated every Sunday at noon.

There are an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 altar servers throughout the Boston Archdiocese, a spokesman said. Keeping with the tradition, only boys serve at Latin Mass.

Higgins, 46, who is self-taught in the Latin liturgy, said the increase in boys studying the traditional Mass has more to do with his repeated appeals for volunteers than last year’s “motu propio” from Pope Benedict XVI. The Vatican order reversed 43 years of near banishment of the worship service by allowing priests to perform the liturgy without the authorization of a local bishop.

The devoted altar boys agree with this interpretation of how the pool of servers took on a more youthful look after years of just adult men on the altar.

“As Father Higgins says, he wants an army of servers,” said Stephen Farynaz, 12, of Lunenberg, who has been serving at Latin Mass since he was 7 years old.

A minimum of nine servers is needed to perform the highly choreographed rite, which can be traced to the sixth century and is referred to as the Tridentine Mass. The training takes weeks and entails memorizing Latin responses and learning the ceremony’s many rubrics, such as how to walk, genuflect, hold your hands, stand and carry objects.

Frank Doyle Jr., 43, of West Roxbury, a veteran master of ceremonies who has been serving Latin Mass for 17 years, trains new servers in the nuances of the Mass while conveying that they need not be Thomas Aquinas to get the hang of it.

“When in doubt, genuflect. That’s an old MC’s joke,” said Doyle, who studied the work of English priest Adrian Fortescue to learn the Mass.

To teach some details, Doyle conjures up some fire-and-brimstone mnemonic devices. Take how to kiss the thurible, which contains incense.

“You kiss the top of the chain where there is a disc or you will be like the Prophet Isaiah and know what it’s like to have coal purify your lips,” Doyle said.

Angelus Davulis, 13, of Dorchester was first exposed to Latin Mass at age 7 when his uncle, the Rev. Dominic Gentile, performed a High Solemn Mass. Since the 1990s, the Boston archdiocese has offered Latin Mass at Holy Trinity Church in the South End. The Mass relocated to Mary Immaculate last year.

Davulis studies from a booklet titled “How To Serve Low Mass and Benediction” to learn the difficult Latin. He said he prefers serving at Latin Mass to serving at the Novus Ordo, or modern Mass, because he feels more involved.

“I just want to learn it now before it’s too late,” said Davulis.

MacKenzie’s older brother, Cameron, 14, said he resisted when his parents urged him to serve.

“I guess the first time when I served I realized I was serving God. I guess it just took me away,” he said.

Higgins said he is heartened by his new flock of servers and is training five priests to say Latin Mass.

“They have an openness to the religious practice, which is very refreshing,” said Higgins. “I see it as a hopeful sign that when they come of age, that whatever stage of life they choose, that they will be strong Christian men whether as priests or family men.”

Hat tip to Fr. Zuhlsdorf

"Austrian monks win recording contract with YouTube clip"

Read my recent post about the Cistercian Monks from Heiligenkreuz HERE. Youtube video to go with the article below is at the bottom of this post.

Monday, March 24, 2008 12:26 PM CBC News

A group of Austrian monks have signed a major recording contract after submitting a YouTube clip of their Gregorian chanting.

Universal Music put out a call in religious publications for "monks, men of the cloth and sacred singers" in February.

Recording executives were inundated with hundreds of demos but said the monks from the Heiligenkreuz monastery stood head and shoulders above the competition.

Tom Lewis said he was "blown away" by the quality of the monks' singing.

"It was beautiful, beautiful music, and they're using the very latest in terms of communication devices available to them to get their music heard," Lewis told BBC News.

"They're lovely people, they're very passionate about their music and they're very excited about this opportunity."

Universal is hoping to re-create the success of the Benedictine monks of Santo Domingo De Silos in northern Spain, who reinvigorated interest in Gregorian chanting through a CD that sold in excess of five million worldwide in the early 1990s.

The Gregorian chant is a melodic ritual song that has its roots dating back to the sixth century.

There are 80 monks at Heiligenkreuz, a Cistercian monastery located in the Vienna woods that dates back to 1133.

An album, set for global release later this year, will be recorded next month.

The monastery's Rev. Karl Wallner said the album would include about a dozen singers.

"It's a fun experience because I didn't think they would choose us — it was just for fun that we [contacted] them. It's a good thing because Gregorian chant is part of spirituality and our life."

Wallner also said he didn't think his monks were on the level of music superstars.

"We're not Robbie Williams or Michael Jackson, we're just a group of monks who sing every day."

Saturday, March 22, 2008

"Priestly Identity: Crisis and Renewal (Part 2)"

Interview With Father David Toups
Associate Director of the Committee for Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C.

By Annamarie Adkins

WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 19, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Prayer and a deep spiritual life are necessary elements for priests facing the challenges of being overworked, discouraged or alone, says Father David Toups.

Father Toups, the associate director of the Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations of the U.S. episcopal conference, is the author of "Reclaiming Our Priestly Character."

In this interview with ZENIT, Father Toups comments on the challenges of the priesthood, along with the six principles of priestly renewal.

Q: "Reclaiming Our Priestly Character" lays out six principles for renewing the priesthood in general, as well as the life of each priest. Can you briefly describe each principle?

Father Toups: The first principle is the permanence of the priesthood, namely the reminder that the priest has entered into a permanent relationship with Jesus Christ and the Church by virtue of ordination.

He receives, in ordination, an ontological character that cannot be removed or erased. This reality affects the way he prepares for the priesthood in the seminary, the way he understands himself as a chaste spouse of the Church and spiritual father of the faithful.

The second principle is that the priest acts "in persona Christi," assuring both himself and the faithful that the sacraments are efficacious "ex opere operato."

The flip side of this is that, although he has received the sacerdotal character, he is obliged to keep working on his own personal character development as a man striving for holiness in his daily life.

The third principle is a reminder that the priest is not his own, but rather he belongs to and represents the Church "in persona Ecclesiae." Thus, he prays the Liturgy of the Hours, as he promised at ordination, for the needs of the whole Church.

Likewise, he embraces and hands on the teachings of the Church as the steward, not the master, of her truths. He is also proud -- in the best sense -- to be visibly recognizable as a priest, knowing he is called to courageously be a sign and symbol pointing beyond himself to Christ.

The fourth principle is priestly presence, namely that everything the priest does is priestly and has immense value, as Christ desires to work through him at all times. This happens in a particular way when preaching, shepherding, and healing God’s people as their spiritual father.

The fifth principle is the caution for priests to avoid the trap of functionalism or activism. The priest can get so busy that he can forget who he is or for whom he is doing the work.

He must be supernaturally sensitive, grounding himself by being a man of prayer who encounters God through daily, silent meditation, desiring an ever more intimate relationship with him.

Finally, the sixth principle, which has already been discussed, is ongoing formation. These principles all find their basis in the priestly character and serve as a foundation for a priestly life lived joyfully, bearing abundant fruit.

Q: Do your recommendations apply equally to diocesan priests and those priests in religious orders?

Father Toups: Absolutely. In fact, the studies done by Dean Hoge of Catholic University reveal that a larger percentage of religious have greater confusion regarding the exact nature of the ontological character of the priesthood. For all priests, diocesan or religious, a proper understanding of the character of orders grounds them in an ever more fruitful life of ministry and service.

The studies mentioned above confirm that priests who have a clear understanding of this doctrine are more likely to be content in their ministry and joyful in their vocation.

The Thomistic axiom, "agere sequitur esse" -- doing follows being -- is true for all priests; the more they understand their priestly identity, the more they will be able to act and serve in the manner Christ has called them. This proper understanding does not guarantee fidelity or holiness, but it certainly is a strong foundation to build upon.

Q: What are some of the biggest difficulties priests face today?

Father Toups: The greatest challenges today lie in the amount of work required of the parish priest, as well as a sense of discouragement and, at times, loneliness. If these are the challenges, the answer rests in learning how to bring these concerns and frustrations before the Lord in deep, relational prayer.

A lack of interiority allows the burdens of the office to take hold of the heart and obscure the truth of his identity which serves to keep him grounded. The new Fifth Edition of the Program of Priestly Formation -- 115-- states that spirituality is the necessary core and governing principle of the whole priestly life. The other aspects of his life remain focused in as much as the priest is grounded in prayer.

Also, with fewer priests, it is all the more important for him to stay connected with his brother priests. Fraternal groups, such as the Jesus Caritas movement, allow him to express himself and be gently challenged to greater holiness by his brothers who truly understand what is happening in his life; the need for spiritual direction and frequent confession must also be attended to.

Further, healthy relationships with family and friends are a genuine joy for the priest; it is a grave danger to be a “lone-ranger” in the world today.

Q: What are, or have been, some of the major impediments to fostering the “doctrine of the priestly character”? How can seminaries and bishops remove these impediments and help priests foster happy and healthy lives?

Father Toups: The greatest impediment has been “bad” theology.

In the wake of the Council, there were a number of well-known theologians who taught that this doctrine was simply a medieval invention. Because of this, many priests, unwittingly, were simply not given the tools to properly understand the theology of the priesthood.

This has adversely affected a generation in the Church, both priest and laity alike. This is precisely why I go to such pains to show the foundation of this teaching from the sacred Scriptures, the Fathers of the Church, and the Magisterium.

Correcting this misperception was a priority during the pontificate of John Paul II. The priest is not a mere functionary who represents the community but a man called by Christ and consecrated in order to consecrate on behalf of the whole Church. Role clarity has proven to be crucial for the happiness of priests.

Bishops and seminary rectors can foster this by ensuring the teachings of the Church are being faithfully handed on to their men in formation. Likewise, dioceses should foster ongoing formation of the presbyterate so priests are being fed spiritually and intellectually with the mind of the Church.

Cardinal Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, said that orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy; well-grounded men are more likely to lead happy and healthy lives.

Q: How might existing priests cope with the stresses of the priest shortage? Do you see the trend of diocesan priests living in community and sharing responsibilities as a positive development?

Father Toups: As previously mentioned, the spiritual life is of the utmost importance, as well as fostering a balanced lifestyle in which the priest gets the proper amount of sleep, healthy diet, exercise, and recreation.

Priests actually foster their own vocation as they promote vocations in general. There is nothing more life-giving than to pass on one’s own vocation to another. Every priest is called to be a “fisher of men” with regards to vocations.

Eighty percent of the newly ordained said it was a priest’s direct contact that fostered their vocation, but unfortunately only thirty percent of our priests are actively promoting vocations.

Jesus told the apostles, his first priests, “I will make you fishers of men;” the Church Fathers confirm that this apostolic gift was given to those men that stand in persona Christi in order to revitalize and regenerate the priesthood.

If every priest took a little time to foster vocations, we would be well on our way to greater numbers in the seminaries, and the priests themselves would find greater satisfaction and contentment, decreasing their stress and frustration as they see the presbyterate being renewed.

To answer your final question, let me begin by stating that whether priests live together in rectories, the presbyterate as a whole must grow in cooperation, love, and respect for one another. Again, the priesthood is attractive only if lived in communion with others.

I do believe that there are future opportunities for priests to work together in a more communal setting, where multiple parishes might need to be clustered and a number of priests could cooperate in the ministries of these communities. This kind of arrangement cannot be forced, but many priests yearn for a more fraternal life of prayer and communion with their brothers.

It will be interesting to see how this develops in the years to come. Jesus sent the disciples out in twos; there is greater support and effectiveness “when brothers live in unity.”