Cheerful Servant

September 19, 2015 — Leave a comment

OA CornerI love this weekend’s readings. The themes in them have long been a big part of my life and character.

In the corner of my home office, I have a little set of reminders of the time I spent as a youth leader and as an adult volunteer in the Order of the Arrow, Scouting’s National Honor Society, which focuses on developing servant leadership in scouting’s best.

In the corner, I have pictures of some of my favorite memories as an Arrowman and scout, with some of my best (and lifelong) friends and Brothers. I have the sash I wore when I served as a ceremonial character, helping to impart some of the Order’s message to new and upcoming members. I have the sash that all of the Arrowmen shared in wearing at the recent 100th Anniversary National Order of the Arrow Conference. There are ashes from my own Vigil fire when I was given the Order’s highest honor by my brothers (and given the Lenni-Lenape Indian name Lilchpin Lekhiket, which translates to Diligent Writer.) There are ashes from the Centennial Fire that burned at the 100th Anniversary NOAC.

There is a pair of #DareToDo sunglasses, reminding me of the OA National Chief’s challenge to do a good turn each day and spread the word about the good we do in the world.

And there is a medal that I was awarded back in 1992, when I was one of our lodge’s two annual recipients of the Founder’s Award (the other recipient that year was my long-time friend and adviser Jim Dedera, may he rest in the peace of Christ).

On the back of that medal are engraved words that embody the spirit of the Order’s founders and are embedded in the ceremonials and the life of the Order and its Arrowmen:

“For he who serves his fellows is, of all his fellows, greatest.”


Sound familiar?

Those words are effectively a paraphrase of a verse from the heart of this Sunday’s Gospel:

“If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all” – Mark 9:35b

I was raised in the spirit of this passage, and I still love and hold onto these words whenever I’m up against challenges in service that I find hard to tackle. Christ himself gave us the example of how the servant is raised up by the Father. He taught that humble service through His own life and actions.

And it gets even better this weekend… In the midst of the second reading is a clip that I read to myself each morning before work as a reminder of how I’d like to spend myself in service each day:

“Fructus autem iustitiae in pace seminatur facientibus pacem.”

“A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” – James 3:18

As I embark on this new journey of discernment and discipleship, exploring and praying about whether this path toward the diaconate is where God wants me to be, it’s heartening to be strengthened by the words of the readings this weekend, carrying messages that have long meant so much to me.

That Gospel? The word used in the Greek actually is: διάκονος – diakonos – servant. That word, meaning waiter, servant, or administrator, and now a form of ordained ministry in service of the Church, appears some 29 times in various forms in the Bible.

This is the self-giving, loving, peaceful service that our Lord exemplified on the very night of the Last Supper, when he knelt to wash the feet of his disciples.

In peaceful, cheerful service, we can bring others to God through our own example and show them how to do the same. We can give to others what they need, sacrificing our own wants and needs for others’ good and the greater good. That idea was instilled in me at a young age and as I grew into manhood, and has played a key part in my entire life.

Harvest righteousness through peace… and serve others.

Am I always good at this? No! I fall short just like we all do. That’s why I surround myself with reminders of these phrases and challenges. And it’s why I’m excited whenever they come up in the readings for the Mass.

How can we serve this week? The lonely person who walks into the coffee shop looking for someone with whom to talk? The teammate who needs some praise and honest feedback on the work they’re doing on the tough project at the office? The person looking for a spare dollar – or one earned in honest work? The friend needing an extra hand? The child needing an extra hug? The coworker who has questions about the Holy Father’s visit to the Americas? The spouse needing a few more minutes of your time and attention? The Spirit sends us forth to serve these, and all the others we run across.


A daily rosary; an intention per mystery

As I’ve gotten back into the habit of praying the rosary each day (a habit I never should’ve gotten out of, but that’s a different story), I’ve developed a “standard” of the intentions that I keep top-of-mind and place before Mary and Jesus during each of the five mysteries.

They’ve come to mean a lot to me and to aid in directing some of my reflections and thoughts as I pray (beyond just the meditation on the subject of each mystery), so I thought it might be worthwhile to share them here. If you’re looking for ideas for intentions as you pray the rosary, perhaps you might find some thoughts, ideas, or inspiration here.

The First Mystery:
My bishop, the Pope, and all bishops

As I reflect upon the first mystery, I also hold especially in my mind the health, well-being, and intentions of my own bishop, Thomas John Paprocki, and of Pope Francis and all bishops.

The Second Mystery:
My pastor, and all priests and seminarians

This one holds a special prayer in my heart, because this structured way of approaching my prayer intentions with my rosary developed when our pastor asked my mother-in-law, when he was blessing a new rosary as a gift for me, to ask me to pray the first Hail Mary of the rosary for him.

As a result, I always remember him, all priests who have served my parish and city, and all priests (especially those I know personally) in mind during the second mystery. I always remember my pastor, Father Jeff, in a special way during the first Hail Mary, but then immediately broaden my prayer to cover all of the priests and seminarians who come to mind.

The Third Mystery:
All deacons, and those in formation

As I pray the third mystery, I am mindful of and pray for the intentions of all deacons, and my brothers in formation for the diaconate. I pray for our service among God’s people in the world. I also take a moment to pray for all religious, especially the religious sisters who have served in our parish and school.

The Fourth Mystery:
My wife, my sons, and our family

During the fourth mystery, I turn my prayer toward my wife Suzanne, my four sons, our parents, and our whole extended family.

The Fifth Mystery:
The intentions of family and friends

At any point in time, if you’ve recently asked me to hold a personal intention in my prayers, it’s in front of my on a slip of paper as I pray the fifth mystery.

In recent days, that mindfulness and prayer has included Madalene and her family, my friend Carol and her son John and their family, and our friend Barbara and her aunt Anita and their family. As time goes on, this one changes the most and brings my mind the freshness of prayer. (Note that I find it helpful to include real names – even if it’s just their first name – if someone asks me to pray for someone, I ask for their name, so that it’s easier to be mindful, personal, and intentional while holding them in prayer.)

As I come close to ending the rosary, this also helps to turn my thoughts outward from the authority and structure that help to solidify and support my faith life, and outward toward the world where our prayer and action are needed.

What about you?

If you have a special way that you structure your mindfulness of the intentions you’re laying before Mary and Jesus as you pray the rosary, I’d love to hear about it in the comments here.

If you have a special intention that you would like me to remember as I pray the rosary, particularly the fifth mystery, please feel free to send me a message and I’d be glad to add your intention to my personal notes and list.


August 31, 2015 — Leave a comment

Thinking about this weekend’s readings and the grace of Confession…


The Pruning

May 3, 2015 — Leave a comment
Bob Jenkins, Pruned Rose (Flickr)

Bob Jenkins, Pruned Rose (Flickr)

“I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit.”

Usually, when I’ve heard or read the parable of the vine and the branches, I’ve mainly been drawn toward and reflected upon the phrases about being part of the vine and remaining in Christ – that is, remaining in Christ’s body by living as he taught and following God’s commandments.

This morning when I heard the Gospel proclaimed at Mass for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, I heard a different part that I hadn’t even noticed before – emphasized in this clip:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.
He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.
You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.
Remain in me, as I remain in you.
Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own
unless it remains on the vine,
so neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine, you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit,
because without me you can do nothing.
Anyone who does not remain in me
will be thrown out like a branch and wither;
people will gather them and throw them into a fire
and they will be burned.
If you remain in me and my words remain in you,
ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.
By this is my Father glorified,
that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
(John 15:1-8, emphasis mine)

I don’t know how I had never really heard that phrase toward the beginning before. I think I was always ready for and anticipating the meat in the middle, about living in Christ as branches on Him, the vine.

But the part at the beginning – about every branch that does bear fruit being pruned by the Father so that it bears more fruit? That part struck a chord for me because of much of my own discernment and reflection in recent years. God prunes us? Yes! He does.

A plant that is pruned, cut back in the right ways at appropriate times, is healthier and more vigorous. Pruning can lead to larger shoots, prolonged and enhanced blooming, resistance to pests and environmental challenges, and even a better root system.

What about our own bring pruned? Let me tell a story of a time this became vivid in my own faith life. It was painful, if for a brief moment, but it was a pruning, and it allowed me to bear more fruit in new ways.

For several years after my two terms on our parish pastoral council, I had held responsibility (and great pride) for our parish website. I knew that I was probably one of the best in the parish for bearing this “fruit”, with my background, skills, knowledge, and access to the tools and technology to do it well.

However, less than a year into a new pastor arriving at our parish, even though we had developed a good relationship and rapport, there was a moment when we had a very abrupt and hurtful encounter. I randomly ran into him one day around the parish grounds while I was preparing music for a retreat that weekend. He pulled me aside and said something like, “Oh, next week I’ll work with you to get the website turned over to [another person]. You don’t need to do that anymore.”

I was hurt – deeply hurt. But all kinds of conflicting emotion were already fighting within me. I wasn’t mad, because at the same time that I was hurt that this came out of the blue, so suddenly, without any discussion or concern for my thoughts or feelings, I also knew deep down that I was a little bit thankful that this responsibility had been taken off my shoulders. I wasn’t certain that the other person could do what I thought was “as good of a job”, but I knew that he would do well and that God would provide for that. At the same time I was grieving having something I took such great pride in swiped from my hands (if it was ever really in my hands, since it was God’s work in the end), I was a bit happy that I could occupy my time, attention, and skills in some new ideas and areas.

I bounced back from that moment fairly quickly. Thankfully, on that weekend retreat, I was able to connect my feelings of hurt with the words of the Lord’s Prayer that remind us to forgive in the measure we hope to be forgiven for our sins. My “pruning” in this situation had resolved itself fairly quickly.

Sometimes these moments of pruning that God gives us in life aren’t as fast or easy to get through or resolve. Sometimes the resolution can take months or years. Sometimes it takes an entire lifetime.

But there it is, plain as day at the start of the 15th chapter of John’s Gospel: We are to remain in Christ’s body, as branches of Him, the true vine; and when we bear fruit, the Father will prune us so that we bear more fruit.

Since the situation with the website that I just mentioned, I’ve become more conscious of the commitments that I have in the Church, in my family, and in the world, and in the ways that I have to try to be careful to not over commit. This is hard, and it’s a process that I am constantly undergoing.

Sometimes when I do realize that I’ve taken on too much, I have to prayerfully step back, take some time, and discern where I’m truly needed the most, and where my own unique talents can provide the most benefit.

Sometimes this leads to painful decisions to step back from things that I care deeply about, to find other people on the vine of Christ who will bear good fruit in these areas and ensure they are well taken care of before I do step back.

In recent months, as I’ve continued to discern what I believe to be a call to the Diaconate formation program in our diocese, I’ve reflected a great amount on the “prunings” that I will have to accept if I’m accepted into the program and take this path. For one, I will have to give up the work with music that I do (and love) in my home parish. That is a pruning that I’ve had to pray and consider deeply whether I’m willing or ready to accept, and there are many dimensions of that prayerful discernment: I cherish my hours in the choir loft, at the organ, with my friends and fellow choir members. I cherish the fact that my sons enjoy being up there with me so much, and that Thomas so enjoys playing the flute with us. I don’t even know yet whether I’ll be accepted into the program and start this new journey, but I know that I have come to peace with the “prunings” that I will have to be open to God making in my own life in order to follow that call.

And so it always comes back to the question: Is it my will or God’s Will that I seek? Do I want to choose to risk becoming the unwieldy, overgrown bush that has resisted the pruning and no longer bears new fruit in abundance? Or do I embrace the risk and the sometimes unknowns that come from accepting God’s Will – God’s pruning action in our lives?

Are there new ways God is calling me to go? New directions in which I am to grow and bear new types of fruit?

God prunes our lives in various ways in due time – new careers, new family and friend associations, new places in which to live, new crosses to bear in our daily walk. But the Gospel tells us that the pruning is for an end: so that we can bear more fruit.

It takes great grace and some pain to “be pruned”; that is, to allow the unnecessary to be removed from our lives. Unfruitful commitments, relationships, and the like are sometimes very hard to step away from. And, truly, it’s sometimes very fruitful commitments or very loving relationships that God takes from us in order to make room for something new, something that may even surprise us.

Leonardo da Vinci was known for referring to sculpture as “the art of removing.” We have to become ready to let God, the master potter, work the clay of our lives and remove the unnecessary, to help us become an even more beautiful work of art.

What are the keys to this from our standpoint? Studying and remaining true to God’s Word and to the truths of our faith is one. The other, critical key is a very strong, committed life of prayer. Taking a break from the busy-ness of our daily lives and our commitments provides the space in which to reflect upon where we can and should be going, and listening for God’s guidance.

A life of reading, reflecting upon, listening to the ministers of the Church teach about, and LIVING in God’s Word, and then accepting the prunings God provides, will bring us to the great glory that God has prepared for each of us from the beginning of time.

May God give us the grace to accept the pains of the pruning, the excitement of new growth, and the joys of bearing fruit in his vineyard.

My favorite gift from the “Easter Bunny”

IMG_20150420_220119Crucifix, “Trinitarian Cross” by Suzanne Young (first discovered at St. Boniface Koinonia 1)

Icon from my sabbatical retreat at Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey in the summer of 2013.


Lent 2015

February 18, 2015 — Leave a comment

Today, Ash Wednesday, begins our season of penance and fasting. My wife Suzanne has been asking, and I’ve been pushing myself, on “What I’m going to do for Lent this year”.

Yesterday, Pope Francis tweeted a suggestion:

Okay – let’s give that one some serious thought.

noun in·dif·fer·ence \in-ˈdi-fərn(t)s, -f(ə-)rən(t)s\
: lack of interest in or concern about something

About what am I indifferent? Not much. I have “interest in or concern” for a lot of things, particularly in current events and issues. Perhaps a better question would be how I might be able to take more concrete action on some of these things, and lead my family in doing so.

It’d be a big step to carve out some time during Lent to do one of more of the following:

  • Write one of my representatives a letter – a real, bona fide letter – about an issue facing our city, state, or nation.
  • Make a significant and sacrificial contribution to a person or an organization that can make a substantial difference in someone’s life.
  • Speak up and share news and information with friends about an important current issue.
  • When the Spirit is compelling me to stop and talk with, or help, another person, actually take a moment and do it.

A more realistic “Day 1 First Step” for me would be to be more diligent and deliberate in keeping my “Prayer Journal” up-to-date with all of the requests for prayers that come my way and the issues and items that cross my mind to pray for, and then actually praying for them a few times each day.

That’ll be Concrete Way #1, and we’ll see where it leads me. Concrete Way #2 should make itself apparently fairly quickly.

Maybe cutting through indifference in any form will help me love other people even more… and, in turn, love God even more.

Yes, I’ll be doing a “Lenten thing” too: The typical give-something-up exercise of self-denial. But I hope that adding this conscious, prayerful effort to “find concrete ways to overcome [my] indifference” yields an even more fruitful Lent for me this year.

“When you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites.”

Here’s to this 40 day journey together. I hope yours is a good one!

P.S.: Gentlemen, here’s another great resource with some ideas for a fruitful Lent.

“I am God’s wheat, and I am to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, so that I may become the pure bread of Christ.” – St Ignatius of Antioch

God’s Wheat

The Tribute Money, Peter Paul Ruben (c. 1612)

The Tribute Money, Peter Paul Ruben (c. 1612)

“Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” – Matthew 22:21b

Pay to the world what is the world’s, and to God what is God’s. It was a big deal for Matthew to write this, as he himself was a tax collector. Surely this moment with Christ touched him deeply, and perhaps even changed him, as it can also touch and change us today.

What is God’s?

Perhaps it’s easier to answer that question with the context of next Sunday’s Gospel, the continuation of this week’s, in which – 16 verses of Matthew after this – Jesus gives “the greatest Law,” and teaches, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

What is God’s? Your heart, your soul, your mind. Your neighbor. And love. God is love, and Love is of God.

Heart, soul, mind, neighbor, love.

If I am to LOVE God with ALL my heart, ALL my soul, ALL my mind, and love my neighbor as myself, when do I do this? When do I fail?

As a husband, if I put some desire of my own over my wife’s needs, am I truly loving my neighbor as myself?

As a physical neighbor of another homeowner, if I quickly and conveniently blow just a few of the grass clippings or the leaves over towards his yard (He’s not looking out his window, is he?) to save myself some time, am I truly loving my neighbor as myself?

If I dangerously disregard traffic laws and speed and weave through traffic to try to get to work faster, neglecting the fact that everyone around me is also trying to get somewhere safely, and I truly loving my neighbor as myself?

If I find it a little too easy to ignore or brush off those in Ferguson reminding me that there are still injustices in my own back yard, regardless of the events that precipitated that plea.

If I forget about those in prison, or in the hospital; if I fear Ebola more than I pray for those who have contracted it and those who are caring for them; if I find it too easy to drive or walk past someone asking for some spare change from my pocket because I’ve been asked and I’ve given or ignored a thousand times before, am I loving my neighbor as myself? If they go to bed tonight with pangs of hunger while I lay, comfortably and well-fed, am I?

God asks for our WHOLE hearts, our WHOLE souls, and our WHOLE minds.

I’m a husband and a father. If I prioritize my kids ABOVE my relationship with God, am I really doing them a service? If getting them to the next soccer game is more important than prioritizing leading them to Mass, to the Eucharist, to the “source and summit” of our lives as Christians and to the very presence of Jesus Christ in the world, am I doing them any favors? Am I showing them that God truly has my whole heart, soul, and mind, and setting the example for them to give Him theirs as well?

Or am I instead teaching my children to give the world what is God’s?

No, as a husband and father, MORE is asked of me. It’s more important than ever before in my life: when i was single, when I wasn’t entrusted yet with children… now it is MORE important to put my relationship with God FIRST, to give him His due FIRST, out of my time, my talents, my abilities, my physical abundance. God gave it to me, and in returning it to Him, I fulfill his command and I deepen my relationship with Him in turn.

Somehow – and I’m always surprised by this – God surprises me by giving back to me in new ways whenever I give to Him. Sometimes it’s a new grace, or a new gift. Sometimes it’s a new suffering to offer up to Him for others around me.

In giving to God what is God’s, I acknowledge the teaching of Isaiah in today’s first reading, “I have called you by your name, giving you a title, though you knew me not. I am the LORD and there is no other, there is no God besides me. It is I who arm you, though you know me not, so that toward the rising and the setting of the sun people may know that there is none besides me. I am the LORD, there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:4b-5)

In “giving the Lord glory and honor”, as in the Psalm, I do find myself “unceasingly calling to mind [my] work of faith and labor of love
and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ,” as Paul wrote to the Thessalonians.

One of my favorite verses of the Old Testament reinforces this – the prophet Micah wrote, “You have been told, O mortal, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

When I do these things; when I act this way in these moments of daily life, slowly, over time, I find myself becoming more fully configured to Christ, serving in love. I find peace in giving to God all that is His, all that He has given to me. Sufferings, pains, struggles; gifts, graces, talents. Giving all. May God give us the grace to continue living out this challenge in our lives and in our world.

For more than ten years – since I re-met my wife, started dating her, realized my vocation to marriage with her, and started a family with her – since I stopped considering what I had thought might have been a call to the Catholic priesthood, I’ve contemplated and discerned a possible call to the diaconate.

It’s important to note that that’s not a “replacement” calling – it’s an entirely different calling. The deacon is not ordained for the same sacramental realities that the priest is; and, in fact, a permanent deacon who is married has other sacramental realities that are priorities in his life as well, by virtue of the Sacrament of Marriage. The diaconate has been ill-served in recent years by our Catholic faithful perceiving it as an “other” calling than the priesthood, though – it is in line with the priesthood, but a lower order; it is charged with helping to preach the Word (in word and action), offering the prayers of the Church, serving (but not as a priest) at the altar, and leading in taking that service and call of the Word into the world.

From time to time, the whisper that I think might be a calling gets louder, or sometimes quieter. But it’s always, undeniably, there. There’s a certain fear that comes along with it – not a fear of what accepting that call might bring, but rather a fear of whether what I’m feeling and hearing is truly a call at all. The simple fear of discerning “incorrectly” is a very, very strong fear.

That said, a few weeks ago, a series of signs happened in my life (again.) First, this – a comment thread when a priest of our diocese posted a link to a study our diocese recently co-released with Benedictine University on why some Catholics stop practicing their faith, and why others remain:


That’s the first time the cat’s truly been “out of the bag”, as they say, other than with my wife.

Then, that weekend, the homily at Mass was very much about not withholding your knowledge, gifts and talents when you’re called to share them.

Then, that same weekend, this appeared in our parish bulletin:

2014-10-10 07.41.16

Then, I had some intense prayer around the time of my own patronal feast, the Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, Archangels.

After discussing with my wife, we decided to attend. As it ended up, another good friend and his wife from our parish are also going. It should be a nice trip to our Cathedral (about 1 1/2 hours north) to find out more together.

I don’t know where this first step on this journey might lead. I don’t know if I’ll apply, if I’ll be accepted, if I’ll go all the way. But I know I’m saying my first “Yes” at this moment.

This Sunday’s Gospel is the Parable of the Wedding Feast. In the parable, the king continued to send messengers to invite his countrymen to the wedding feast for his son. Many repeatedly ignored the invitation. I hope that, if I’m truly being called, that I am aided by grace in knowing what to do and when. Also in the parable, when one man showed up for the feast, he was clothed inappropriately and thrown out. I pray that if I’m truly chosen, I’m able to be, and remain, clothed in grace and a life worthy of this calling.

IMG_20140930_165910By grace, I just recently noticed something interesting about this print that hangs just to the side of my desk in my home office.

Joseph, the dad hard at work in his shop, with his son (Jesus) playing at his feet, bears the sash over the left shoulder of his tunic – the sash of a deacon.

When we talked about the meeting with our boys at dinner last week, it was a great conversation.

The next morning, while driving somewhere in the car, our second, Matthew, said, “Dad, I think you’d be a good deacon, because you love God, you know so much about Him, and you love to pray Morning Prayer every day.”

That sums it up, I think – if this calling is real and true, I feel deeply that it’s in part because God has given me so much love, passion, and knowledge to help serve effectively: the Word, at the altar, and in the world. Such is what I know to be the service of a deacon.

Mary, ask Jesus your Son for grace and guidance for me, please.

Friends, please pray for Suzanne, the boys, and me.


If I tell you I’m going to pray for you or your intention, you should know that more than likely, in my mind’s eye, I see myself praying the Rosary on your behalf, and ultimately, within a day or two, you will be in my intentions as I am praying a daily Rosary. Today – October 7 – is a special day in our Church calendar – the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary (also known as Our Lady of Victory), marking the victory at Lepanto, securing Europe against Turkish invaders (read about it here.)

The Rosary is my personal weapon of choice

Many non-Catholics (and many Catholics) misunderstand it, unfortunately – they see the Rosary as a prayer to Mary and a stumbling block to prayer to Christ Himself and a relationship with Him. However, to me (and to Catholics everywhere), the Rosary is Jesus’s mother’s preferred prayer tool for us to use to recall the major events of Christ’s love and ministry, and pray through her, begging for her intercession before Christ her Son on our behalf.

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