Today’s Office of Readings

I always start my day by offering the Morning Prayer of the church (as I’m obliged to do while in formation, and would promise to do if I am ever ordained.)

I usually don’t include the Office of Readings to start the day (I’m not obliged to do so), but I chose to this morning, and boy was I surprised! I picked a heck of a day to start.

From this morning’s Office of Readings (my emphasis added):

Second Reading: A letter to the Trallians by St Ignatius of Antioch
I wish to forewarn you, for you are my dearest children

Ignatius, also called Theophorus, to the holy church at Tralles in the province of Asia, dear to God the Father of Jesus Christ, elect and worthy of God, enjoying peace in body and in the Spirit through the passion of Jesus Christ, who is our hope through our resurrection when we rise to him. In the manner of the apostles, I too send greetings to you with the fullness of grace and extend my every best wish.

Reports of your splendid character have reached me: how you are beyond reproach and ever unshaken in your patient endurance – qualities that you have not acquired but are yours by nature. My informant was your own bishop Polybius, who by the will of God and Jesus Christ visited me here in Smyrna. He so fully entered into my joy at being in chains for Christ that I came to see your whole community embodied in him. Moreover, when I learned from him of your God-given kindliness toward me, I broke out in words of praise for God. It is on him, I discovered, that you pattern your lives.

Your submission to your bishop, who is in the place of Jesus Christ, shows me that you are not living as men usually do but in the manner of Jesus himself, who died for us that you might escape death by belief in his death. Thus one thing is necessary, and you already observe it, that you do nothing without your bishop; indeed, be subject to the clergy as well, seeing in them the apostles of Jesus Christ our hope, for if we live in him we shall be found in him.

Deacons, too, who are ministers of the mysteries of Jesus should in all things be pleasing to all men. For they are not mere servants with food and drink, but emissaries of God’s Church; hence they should guard themselves against anything deserving reproach as they would against fire.

Similarly, all should respect the deacons as Jesus Christ, just as all should regard the bishop as the image of the Father, and the clergy as God’s senate and the college of the apostles. Without these three orders you cannot begin to speak of a church. I am confident that you share my feelings in this matter, for I have had an example of your love in the person of your bishop who is with me now. His whole bearing is a great lesson, and his very gentleness wields a mighty influence.

By God’s grace there are many things I understand, but I keep well within my limitations for fear that boasting should be my undoing. At the moment, then, I must be more apprehensive than ever and pay no attention at all to those who flatter me; their praise is as a scourge. For though I have a fierce desire to suffer martyrdom, I know not whether I am worthy of it. Most people are unaware of my passionate longing, but it assails me with increasing intensity. My present need, then, is for that humility by which the prince of this world is overthrown.

And so I strongly urge you, not I so much as the love of Jesus Christ, to be nourished exclusively on Christian fare, abstaining from the alien food that is heresy. And this you will do if you are neither arrogant nor cut off from God, from Jesus Christ, and from the bishop and the teachings of the apostles. Whoever is within the sanctuary is pure; but whoever is not is unclean. That is to say, whoever acts apart from the bishop and the clergy and the deacons is not pure in his conscience. In writing this, it is not that I am aware of anything of the sort among you; I only wish to forewarn you, for you are my dearest children.

Today’s Gospel: In the Vineyard

Workers in the Vineyard, Erasmus Quellinius

Workers in the Vineyard, Erasmus Quellinius

Today’s Gospel is deeply meaningful to me. When our initial cohort of our Diaconate formation class was told, in the summer of 2016, that our formation was going to be extended by a year while the diocese opened the door for more classmates to join us, my brother classmates and I were initially swept by a variety of emotions – including some confusion and anger.

That eventually gave way to docility and acceptance.

For me, today’s Gospel was a big part of my own reflection and prayer around our formation “pause”. Today, I’m thankful for the rest of our class – those who joined us in the vineyard later in the day.

The Call is Sacred

Image: © lightpoet, Shutterstock

Image: © lightpoet – Shutterstock

I awoke this morning to the tail end of a dream in which I was sitting in the kitchen of the (three advisers back) lead adviser to the National Order of the Arrow Shows team. It wasn’t really his kitchen (I’ve never been to his house), but it was how I imagine his house to be in the hills of Pennsylvania, and the kitchen was the kitchen at my grandparents’ old house in Sikeston, Missouri (a very special kitchen to me).

In the dream, “Randy” and I were talking about the power of shows and theatre in culture, and why they’re so important in informing and developing the philosophy of a people.

Over the course of the conversation, “Randy” said something to me that stood out to the rest and then became the “soundtrack” of the rest of what I saw, thought, and felt in the dream:

“The Call is Sacred.”

In a moment in my own life and discernment when I’ve started to question “callings” of my own, hearing such an important adviser in my own life say, even in a dream, “The call is sacred“, triggered a lot of thinking and emotion this morning.

Calls are, in fact, sacred. “Small ‘s’ sacred” sometimes, but sacred nonetheless. They convey deep meaning, sometimes (often?) life-changing messages. Calls are special.

“Come, follow me.” – God

“Will you marry me?” – beloved

“Dad!” – child, scared, at 3 AM

“Could you help me with this?” – friend

“We need you to come into the office to talk about your test results.” – doctor

“Come, let us sing to the Lord.” – Psalm 95 (at the start of each day’s liturgy)

Respecting the Call

Sometimes in today’s busy world and culture, with our hectic schedules and distracted device-laden lifestyles, it’s easy to neglect or ignore calls, or miss them altogether.

How can I focus on listening more to the calls coming my way and responding appropriately to them? How can I better respect the call, reflect upon it, and answer well?

Pray. Listen. Discern.

There’s a reason, I think, that the message that, “The Call is Sacred”, came to me in a dream, in my “grandparents’ kitchen”, from an adviser who has meant a lot in my life and who led a team that meant so much in my life. It bolsters the message and causes it to echo in my heart.

Calls ARE sacred, and so are our responses to them.

Class of Twenty-Twenty-Something

Now that the “cat’s out of the bag” and has been officially communicated to the clergy of our diocese, I can say a few words about how our diaconate “class of 2020” is now the “class of 2021” or (as we started to say) “2020-something”.

We started as the smallest diaconate class in the history of our diocese – 7 men – and through the spring, two men discerned their way out of the calling and the program, leaving our class with just 5 men.

Our formation team discussed with us on our retreat last weekend the current situation and their desire to re-open our class for new applicants to become new aspirants. The new aspirants would apply and go through interviews and vetting this fall, start an abbreviated aspirancy in January, and then join with our class entering candidacy next summer.

In the meantime, our class’s academic formation will pause through the fall. We’ll still receive and begin pastoral assignments later this summer, and still meet monthly for spiritual and pastoral formation, and theological reflection.

It means that it extends our formation by about a year, and pushes out ordination a bit for those who end up called to ordination. But it’s a journey, and it’s a good one, and I think my classmates and I have come to peace with this, and are ready to move forward and meet the rest of our class!

So… do you know a possible candidate who might be interested in applying for aspirancy? Do you think you or someone you know has perceived a call to the diaconate? Please grab the announcement letter and the brochure that our director has released… and if you’d like, I’d be more than happy to talk with you personally about it too. I’d even give you a ride to the informational meeting on July 31 if you were interested.

Please join me in praying for my classmates, and praying for some more great candidates for ministry in our diocese.

Seven-Deacons

I Can’t Imagine

Prayers for Matt & Melissa Graves & family

As I read the devastatingly sad news from Orlando of Lane Graves, the 2-year-old boy who was pulled into the lagoon by an alligator and drowned, I’m overcome by intense fatherly sadness, but struck by a single line of the story:

“Demings said he and a Catholic priest relayed the news of the discovery to the boy’s parents, Matt and Melissa Graves, who were on vacation with their son and 4-year-old daughter from Elkhorn, Nebraska.”

This is the second time since entering diaconate formation that my heart was drawn to the fact that a member of the clergy was there to deliver the news and be with the family in that moment. The last time this came up in a story, Suzanne and I talked about it at great length. She was drawn to the sadness of the story itself, and I was drawn to the presence of the sacred minister.

I can’t imagine the pain and sadness that Matt and Melissa Graves are feeling right now, but I join with countless others in prayer for them and for their family. I also can’t yet imagine what it might be like to be there with them and for them, but I’m curious what I will learn as my formation journey continues to prepare me to be of service to God’s people in different ways, that may include moments like this in my lifetime.

Without a doubt, in times like this, I can see the wisdom of the Church in balancing formation between its four core elements: spiritual, human, pastoral, and academic. Surely, all four dimensions are called upon deeply and put to their test in a moment like this.

Prayers for the Graves family.

Diaconate Retreat 2016 (Photos)

Chiara Center, Riverton, IL

From June 9-13, 2016, our class of diaconate aspirants had our annual retreat. These photos are from our time at the Chiara Center (Franciscan Life Center) in Riverton, Illinois, just outside of Springfield.

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Retreat! #ThankfulThursday

Starting this afternoon, I’ll be offline and away through Sunday for our annual diaconate formation retreat. I’m looking forward to this time away with my brother classmates as we prepare to seek candidacy this fall, and as we join with the class ahead of us who are on their final retreat before ordination in two weeks.

After the roller coaster ride that was last weekend… playing music at a funeral, Sacred Heart devotions, and my final two Masses as music director, including a baptism and a first communion… leaving for retreat this weekend surely constitutes a valid #ThankfulThursday!

I’m grateful for the opportunity for this retreat, and for the accommodations that the diocese is providing for us at the Chiara Center (Franciscan Life Center) in Springfield.

I will be keeping you – my family and friends – and your intentions in my prayers during this time. Please keep me in yours.

I have my copy of Coming Down the Mountain (affiliate link, if you’re interested in purchasing a copy) ready for when I return home. I think I’ll get a good run out of it this time.

Our formation team and the class ahead of us kept telling us that the church at the Chiara Center is amazing… one of the most beautiful in our diocese. I can’t wait to see it in person! Here are a few pictures of St. Francis Church at the Chiara Center that members of the class ahead of us posted last night (their retreat started a day earlier):

Taken by Mike Melton two years ago (that’s Neil Suermann sitting in the church):

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Taken by Rick Schnetzler last night:

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Bittersweet

I made it through a really rough last weekend as music director & organist at my home parish. My eyes didn’t water too much (but I’ll admit they did a little) and my handkerchief didn’t get too wet.

There’s a weird feeling of emptiness that I kept feeling. So many thoughts that kept running through my heart and mind… stuff like:

Don’t cry… You’ll be okay… You’re really going to miss this… I’m feeling so empty… Jesus, fill me up… Jesus, please fill me… I need your grace… Help me… Don’t look at them… Now they’re crying… Fill me up… 

It kept coming down to me praying, “Fill me up”, as my chest felt empty, and then a feeling of peace that would wash over me. A few times, I knew I heard a voice speaking to me, “Something greater is in store.”

Then I’d have thoughts like:

Why are you having such a hard time with this? This was never YOURS anyway. This isn’t for you. This is for Him. Thank you. Fill me up… Something greater is in store.

It was a blessing to be joined by so many friends and singers who had been with me through the years… (Art would have been there too, but they had already booked a family vacation through the weekend). This is my music family:

And Suzanne brought the boys up to the loft for both Masses… we got one last picture of me with the boys at the organ:

As it was written, though – as it relates to my music ministry, “It is finished.”

I look forward to my first diaconate retreat this coming weekend.

I trust that something greater is in store.

See You in the Eucharist #ThankfulThursday

A farewell open letter to Holy Family

Appropriate for a #ThankfulThursday, because of how thankful I am for this chapter of my life…

Dear Holy Family parish – Father Jeff, Father Stone, musicians, singers, staff, parishioners, friends…

Music ministry at Holy Family has been at the heart of my life, my faith life, and my family for as long as I can remember. I remember taking my first 16-key Casio keyboard to St. Margaret Mary School in 2nd grade to try to pluck out John Foley’s One Bread, One Body by ear for show and tell. In middle school, Mr. Vizer successfully talked me into playing a duet with him at the school Christmas program.

In 7th grade, I remember John Huff asking me, after seeing me at a piano recital, if I’d come play with the guitar group at the church. Shortly thereafter, he asked if he could put a microphone in front of me. I said, “I only sing in the shower,” and he replied, “I could rig a shower up over you too.”

For six years I played with the guitar groups, and then in my college years I fell away from the faith a bit. Years later, after I had returned to the Church, I heard that a priest that I had connected with was heading to my home parish of Holy Family. I remember calling Jeanne Schnefke and asking if the guitar group was still around and could use a keyboardist again. I remember her immediate and enthusiastic “Yes!”

Within the next year, we had formed an offshoot “ensemble” which started taking on more responsibilities around the parish. I remember when we were starting and Carol Reagan called and said, “We’ll all be there to sing with you. You just tell us when and where.” I remember Frances & Mario Rossi & Rich Koerper’s, “You want to try a youth-oriented group? Let’s try it!” The next 15 years or so, until today, have been a whirlwind of joy, happiness, friendship, and accomplishment in ministry. I remember magnificent Advent concerts joining our adult choir & ensemble. I remember re-meeting Suzanne here after a Wednesday night practice and Mass, leading to our marriage and family. I remember Christmas Eves and Triduums.

You don’t really keep count when starting on a journey like this, but some rough math tells me that in the last 15 years, I’ve had the honor of helping lead our community in song at some 1,500 liturgies – Sunday Masses, weddings, funerals, graduations, Confirmations, Anointing Masses, and more.

Now, I must say “farewell” to this chapter of my life in order to move on to the next to which I believe I am called. As I progress into years two through four of the diaconate formation program, I am excited to go where our diocese chooses to send me to help me grow in my parish experiences and pastoral ministry. This change carries the bitterness of a “goodbye” to my music ministry at Holy Family, but the happiness and excitement of the future that could come.

I will miss climbing the stairs to the choir loft a few times each week. I will miss the friends in the choir loft – and now my own sons playing instruments and singing with the ensemble and choir. I will miss our parish community, and our liturgies, and hearing the sound of you singing along loudly from the pews. (Yes, we can often hear it in the loft!)

THANK YOU to all of those who came and went through the years: Carol, John, Judy, Mario & Frances, Carolyn, Art, Kristin, Katie, Tracy, Jacqui, Suzanne, Leta, Kathy, Steve, Charlie, Jeff & Gay, Jeff, Doug, Maggi, Mary Jo, Richard, Misty, Justin, Joe, Chris, Thomas & Matthew. THANK YOU to Pat, my partner in music and ministry, and the adult choir. THANK YOU to the pastors I’ve had the pleasure of serving. THANK YOU to everyone who has supported us, especially Suzanne and our boys and our whole family.

Holy Family is my home – it will remain our family’s home. I’ll just be away learning more about how to help serve our Church in new ways. I won’t be gone entirely, though, and still look forward to being around from time to time at Masses, events, dinners, school events, and the like.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the opportunity to be a servant – a servant in music ministry – to you for so many wonderful years. Know that you remain in my daily prayers, and I beg you to please keep me in yours.

I recall the words of a long-time friend of mine, Father Steve Arisman, who said something like, “I don’t believe in saying ‘goodbye’ – I say, ‘I will see you in the Eucharist.” Because when we are gathered at Mass, no matter where we are or when it is, we are all joined together in the mystical Body of Christ formed through the ages. I will see you in the Eucharist!

With love and prayers,
Michael

Open My Eyes

Discernment & a song as a sign

Signpost in the Mountain - iStock.com/Mimadeo

Signpost in the Mountain – iStock.com/Mimadeo

Fifteen or so years ago, when I had returned to church and was starting to seriously discern God’s will for my life and vocation, a certain song hit a chord with me and became deeply intertwined with my prayer life and discernment. The song was Jesse Manibusan’s Open My Eyes:

There were nights that I drove around, praying the words. One night in particular, after leaving an evening of coffee and Scrabble with Suzanne, “praying” that song opened my heart to God and helped me clearly “hear” and understand that marriage with Suzanne was my first vocation.

Signs in my Life

I’ve always been fortunate enough to stay keenly tuned into the little “signs” that pop up around me in everyday life, and I act a lot by gut (within reason) based upon those signs. I could list countless examples of signs that came at just the right time to help me understand that something was right, or that I was heading in the right direction, or that I should explore a new opportunity.