St Francis Q&A

Friday, June 30, 2006

The Eucharist is Jesus' risen body

This is sort of a repeat post on this site, but it's new to the St Andrew's site. There might be a few of these as I get that site started. It never gets old talking about the most enriching parts of our faith, especially the Eucharist.
When I introduced myself the first weekend at St Andrew's, I mentioned that for the first twenty years of my life, I thought that the Eucharist was just a symbol of the Body and Blood of Christ. I'm sure, at some point, that I'd been taught about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, having been raised in a strong Catholic home and gone through fourteen years of Catholic school. I just didn't get it.

Years ago, a study revealed that about 70% of Catholics believe that the Eucharist is merely a symbol, a representation of Christ's flesh and blood. From where did I get this erroneous understanding? From where do the 70% get it? There are, at least, a few possible answers, but these are more rhetorical questions than anything for my purposes here.

It was pretty much one conversation with a priest that changed my understanding, and changed my life. Fr. Tom Wells was a good friend with whom I played golf regularly (the 19th Hole was our favorite), went on beach trips, and discussed everything under the sun - religion, politics, sports, etc. He was a great priest who was brilliant, funny (probably the funnest person I've ever met), holy, and a 100 % believer in the Eucharist.

One day when I was twenty-one, I was sitting in Fr. Wells' office, shooting the breeze with my buddy. I somehow blurted out, "well, you know, Father, the Eucharist is just a symbol". "What??", he said. "It's a ...symbol?", I said very shakily. He replied in a very casual but firm manner, "Greg, 'this is my body' means 'THIS IS MY BODY'". I was simultaneously dumbfounded, intrigued, inspired, and curious the moment these words registered in my mind and heart. That was the moment the light bulb went on: FINALLY, I GOT IT!

We continued talking about how the Eucharist is really Jesus' Body and Blood. Fr Wells explained to me that Jesus doesn't die over and over again at every Mass; Scripture says that Christ died once and for all (see Rom 6:10, Heb 7:27). The Eucharist that is present on the altar at Mass, in the tabernacle in the Church, and that we receive in Holy Communion is the RISEN body of Christ. This realization changed my life (I will write more about this in a future post).

"The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world" - Jn 6:51.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Do you believe in the Resurrection?

The most fundamental question of Christianity is: "Did Jesus rise from the dead?" In fact, it is the THE question that separates Christians from non-Christians. Quite simply, anyone who answers 'yes' is saying that he is a Christian; anyone who says 'no' is saying that he is not. So, what does it mean to say that Jesus rose from the dead? What does it mean to believe in the Resurrection?

If I say that I believe that Jesus rose from the dead, then I believe that he has power over all things, even death. If I stop and think about what it means for a person to rise from the dead, it is mind-blowing! Jesus died a terrible and cruel death. He hung on a cross for at least three hours, and then died of suffocation. The death of Jesus of Nazareth is an indisputable, historical fact; even the most ardent atheist would admit that Jesus shed his flesh and blood on Mount Calvary.

His life had ended. "He breathed his last" (Lk 23:46). This is confirmed by all of the Gospel writers, as well as the reaction of the disciples: "(they) were mourning and in tears" (Mk 16:10). We can only imagine the tremendous sorrow and grief the disciples felt. Was Jesus not the Son of God? Not the Messiah? Was he a false prophet? Was he a liar and a blasphemer?

As they pondered these serious and somber questions for three days in their mourning, they received startling news from Mary Magdelene on the third day. "He has risen from the dead" (Mt 28:7). Those who went to see the empty tomb where Christ was buried were amazed at what they saw, and believed. He is risen!!

To believe in the Resurrection of Jesus is to believe that He is the Anointed One...He is the Christ. No one has risen from the dead before Him, and no one has done it after Him. He is the Resurrection (Jn 11:25). He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (Jn 14:6). Everything he said is true, and he is God's only Son. He offers us his life, and all those who believe in Him and live the Gospel share in his Resurrection (life after death). Do you believe?

"If Christ has not been raised, your faith is pointless and you have not, after all, been released from your sins" (1 Cor 15:16, 17).

Friday, June 23, 2006

My first priestly assignment

So, I moved from St Francis to my first priestly assignment, St Andrew Apostle, last Friday. I was able to fit all of my stuff in one carload (although it was a tight fit, and I was a bit weighed down - Fr Lee cautioned me about hitting speed bumps!) which made me happy. Right after I moved my stuff in from the car and met the St Andrew's staff in the rectory, I shot over to the school to meet some of the school staff. Some good people work here!

At the pastor's request, I introduced myself at all of the Sunday Masses. I said that I was struggling with one thing by being here: coming up with the right word to describe my experience. I said, "to say that I'm happy doesn't fully do it...I'm excited, pumped, juiced, stoked...I'm PSYCHED to be here!!" People probably thought I had too much coffee or something, but they were getting a kick out of my energy.

I went on to explain what I meant. "The Cardinal gave us our assignments just days before he ordained us. When I heard that he was sending me to St Andrew's, it was like winning the lottery days before getting married!". It is a great parish with an extraordinary pastor, Msgr Mike Mellone, and staff, many young and large families, and an impressive amount of 'lights of the world' (the youth that I love so much).

It was a tremendous honor to celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi my first weekend here. I told the congregations that I have two great loves in my life: the first is the Eucharist, and the second is youth (the third, I said, is the Washington Redskins...yeah, Skins...we're talking Super Bowl!) By the way, Msgr Mellone asked me to make my Eucharist brochures available to folks after the Masses...they took about 200 of them! Woo-hoo!

I mentioned about how it took me twelve years to get ordained (normally, it's six years after college), but didn't explain it further. "The point is", I said, "that I have waited many years to be here with you. To serve you, to pray with you, to break bread with you, to have fun with you, to enjoy life with you. To fall in love with you....with your families...with your marriages...with your kids. This is going to be very good!"

Friday, June 16, 2006

Goodbye, St. Francis

Today, I move on to my first priestly assignment: St Andrew the Apostle Church in Silver Spring. While I am sad to leave St Francis, I very much look forward to begin working in the vineyard of St Andrew's. St Andrew's is located at the intersection of Kemp Mill Rd and Arcola Ave, about 10 miles from St Francis. It is a sizable parish with a large school (over 400 students). Should be a good fit, pray God.

These past nine months have been pretty amazing here in this great parish. It all started in the rectory, where I truly enjoyed my time with Fr Lee and Msgr Ralph. These are two very fine priests who have been faithful for so many years. I learned so much from both of them about service, priesthood, life, and love. They continually showed me Christ and the fullness of his Gospel. They taught me what it means to be a shepherd, mainly through their actions, and also through their words (in the true spirit of St Francis!). What an honor to share a home with these two holy men!

To the staff and parishioners of this extraordinary parish, I say two words: THANK YOU!! Thank you for your warmth, friendship, fun, support, prayers, and love. You helped me so much during some of the most critical months of my life - preparing for ordination. I realized early on that the reason God put me here was so that I would be as ready as I could be, spiritually and personally, for priesthood.

St Francis is a family parish and a parish family!! Christ is truly present in your hearts and His love and kindness are shown regularly here. I had a real experience of His kingdom these past nine months. And, speaking of nine months, it's been like a mother carrying her child to birth. You have given birth to a priestly vocation, and now I am the fruit of your womb. Whatever good I do in my priesthood, it will be through you. You have nurtured a vocation so well; God knew what He is doing in sending me here.

While I say 'goodbye' in my title, this is not goodbye. If we pray for each other, we will see each other in prayer every day. Please pray for me, that I will be a faithful priest! Please know that you will be in my daily prayers. My hope is that you will remain a Christ-centered parish family, focused on Christ in the Eucharist, and living his Gospel of Love. May God continue to bless you abundantly, and thank you, St Francis! I love you all.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Jesus' flying leap

Today, we are in Galway, Ireland, enjoying the town with a day of relaxation. We have been on the road every day, driving about 100 miles each day, going from town to town, B&B (bed and breakfast) to B&B, seeing the impressive (and often breathtaking) views of countryside, mountains, skies, pastures, and towns wherever we go. Two more days here, and then we come home. God is so good to allow me to enjoy such beauty and joy during my time here!
One anonymous blogger wrote about his/her experience during my first Mass of Thanksgiving. Well, I have my own pretty amazing experience...actually, there were a few, but this one stands out. I still don't know exactly what happened, or at least how it happened, and probably never will. It occurred during the Adoration / Procession of the Holy Eucharist in front of the youth after Holy Communion (one of the last of the pictures I posted from my first Mass).

When I put the lunette (the small piece that holds the Eucharist) into the monstrance (the large gold and glass vessel which shows us the Eucharist) on the altar, I struggled to make the door of the monstrance shut tightly. When I finally got it tight, I wasn't entirely sure the lunette was totally secure, but felt that the door was shut, and Jesus was fine in the monstrance.

Then, we had a few moments of Adoration of Jesus in the monstrance while my buddy, Ed Becker, played his song, "Thank you, Jesus" with all of the youth around the altar area. When he finished, I picked up the monstrance and processed with Jesus, as an instrumental song from the movie, "The Mission", resounded throughout the Church, my eyes locked on Jesus in the monstrance the whole time, and noticed no movement from the door to the montrance.

After the few moments of Procession, I brought the monstrance back to the altar, and showed the Eucharist to the congregation, moving very slowly. One time SLOWLY to the left, and then one time SLOWLY to the right. As I moved to the right ever so slowly, all of sudden...the Eucharist made a flying leap out of the monstrance!! Uhhh! There was a huge gasp from those, especially the youth, who could see Jesus come out of the monstrance.

In one motion, the door of the monstrance and the door of the lunette had opened, and the Body of Christ had come falling down towards me. So, I quickly moved my left arm to catch our Lord, and he (miraculously) landed securely on my arm. I caught Him! Whoa! I struggled to get my right arm out of the humeral veil I was wearing, but when I finally did, I used both hands to put the lunette back in the monstrance, and held the Eucharist up for a few moments longer, and then reposed Him in the tabernacle.

The chances of this happening (the monstrance door and lunette opening simultaneously and the Eucharist flying out) are EXTREMELY SMALL. My first thought was that it was the work of the devil. But, it's an even smaller chance that the Eucharist would just land on my arm with all of the slick vestments I had on it. MIRACULOUS!! Whatever forces were at work in the whole experience, they were definitely supernatural, and, in the end, Jesus showed his great power and personal touch in the Eucharist.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Ordination pics

Ireland!! Some friends of mine and I are here in Ireland for a 10 day trip. God's Country! We're taking in some of the amazing sites of this great land, but also here to play some golf! Yesterday, the course was amazing- next to the beach, lots of sun, wildgrass everywhere...Ireland can be a tought place to play golf. But, oh so fun! Oh, and yes, we've been hittin' some pubs.

The best part, though, has been daily Mass...I've been either celebrating or concelebrating each day (2 of my buddies here are priests). Two Masses outside - the one I celebrated was on the mountain where St Patrick fasted for 40 days before he drove out all the snakes. Way cool!!
Here are some pics from the Ordination. Many thanks to Mary Lee O'Connell and her daughter, Kathy, for all of their help!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The experience of Ordination day

Ireland '06!! In the spirit and tradition of our good friend, Msgr Thomas Wells, some buddies and I are going to Ireland today until June 14. Should be a fun trip...lots o golf and seeing God's Country.
It's still hard for me to put into words what happened last Saturday, May 27, at my Ordination to the priesthood and first Mass of Thanksgiving, but I'll try. In general terms, it was an experience of the Holy Spirit...the glory of God...the kingdom of Heaven. It was awesome!!

I was moved powerfully by the Spirit at the Ordination. During the Rite of Ordination, the twelve of us lay prostrate while the Church sang the Litany of Saints. I internally made my promises for my life as a priest to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit. It was intense. I laid down my life as I laid on the floor, and asked the Holy Trinity to help me live out my promises. It brought many tears because it was one of the most profound and serious senses of intimacy I've ever had.

Then, after the laying on of hands (the moment of ordination), all of the priests - about 200 - laid hands on each of us twelve. Tears again! The picture from The Washington Post didn't show them which was probably cool. Again, I really can't put into words why I was crying and was moved so much, other than to say it was the Holy Spirit. What that means is that I was open to receiving the Spirit in the Sacrament of Holy Orders, and was REALLY receiving the Spirit (I remember reading once that the gift of tears is a gift of the Spirit). So, at the Ordination, when I wasn't shedding tears of joy, I was smiling with great joy!!

After the almost 3 hour Ordination, I gave "first blessings" for over an hour. That was intense, too! The coolest and most powerful part was when people kissed my hands. My hands were anointed with sacred Chrism just after the laying on of hands, and now are the hands of Christ (when I perform the sacraments). That was one of the moments that told me things were different, and that now I'm a priest!

The first Mass which was later that evening...I was never really nervous - too happy to be nervous. We had many different things going on in the Mass, and I was very focused on them. Everything went so well, thanks be to God, and it really was a glorious liturgy. It was a normal Sunday vigil Mass with a few things added: a friend of mine coming into the Church, and Adoration and Procession of Jesus in the Eucharist in front of about 200 youth around the altar area.

From what I've gathered, many people at the first Mass had a very powerful spiritual experience. Again, it was an experience of the Holy Spirit. At one point in the Adoration and Procession, I could feel all 1000 sets of eyes on Jesus in the Eucharist. If that's true or even close to being true, then we all had the same experience - a powerful encounter with Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit in the person of a newly ordained priest. Faith is awesome stuff!! It's all about faith!

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