The Big Apple

As I rest this evening in a New York Apartment with very good friends, we laugh over a joke. "Day 8 of the pilgrimage, David decides there is no God and resorts to 356 days of debauchery for the remainder of the year." We sit and laugh because today was the first of the "bad days." I dropped and broke my camera today (after my work was done.) and the process is straining my schedule for the next few weeks as I use a loaner camera and await word on what it will take to repair the camera. This is very, very frustrating, not to mention expensive to fix. As my cousin said though… it is a good thing it happened in New York where you can get it fixed. Try handling the problem in Africa. Thank God for insurance!

New York is the delta of American culture. It holds every icon, every culture, and every possibility. Everything in New York is BIG. And so is the principal Catholic Church in the city, St. Patrick's Cathedral.

St. Patrick's is huge. Just huge. One wonders "Why it needs to be that way?" The Church celebrated the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord today, which is one of my favorite Feast days. Normally, this is celebrated on a Sunday, but not this year. It is also one of the oldest documented feasts in the Church (older than the celebration of Christmas and originating in Egypt.)

I can say with assurance that the "celebration" was… well boring. There was a sense of functionalism dominating the liturgy.

"Let's get through it because people need to get back to work and the tourists need to get shopping." seemed to be the attitude.

All the while I thought, "Why? Why does it have to be this way? Yesterday I was celebrating a Mass that was alive and joyous, and now I feel cold, confined, and rushed.

Walking around the city gave me a clue to the nature of the pace of the Mass and the intense size of St. Patrick's.

New York is BIG. Everything is BIG. The buildings are BIG. The problems are BIG (funny story… the nation is hearing stories about New York City today having an awful smell. Apparently the smell of mercaptan, which is used to give odor to gasoline, was found all over the city. Ryan and I walked through Times Square at the time reporters were with their trucks, covering the story, all the while oblivious to the crisis we didn't even know existed.)

In all this BIGNESS, the Church needs to be BIG as well. Christ is to be announced in every culture. So in this culture, the culture that is uniquely New York, the way for Christ to speak is in the REALLY BIG, and that's why St. Patrick's needs to be what it is, a massive monument to the story of a man who death could not contain and at the same time was humble enough to be baptized by fellow human being.

So even if I felt cold, distant, and lonely in St. Patrick's, I also felt something exciting. It is similar to walking around this great city. It is easy to feel cold, distant, and lonely as another hundred people get off of the train, and another hundred people get off of the train, but it is also exciting. In the heart of a BIG city and in the hearth of a BIG cathedral, it is possible to find the communion of friends and merriment as we share the stories and joys of our lives – even broken cameras.

Today's pictures can be seen by clicking here — do I still need to remind everyone that you need to have Google Earth downloaded first?

Sabbatical

I've never been truly "burnt out" but I know many of my peers who are. I never wanted to get to that point and so I pushed myself to take a sabbatical. With out that time, one can become nitter, tired, and unwilling to serve. I know that it is important to refresh and renew the reasons one works for the Church.

Sabbatical is a period of rest (not that I'm resting much rest with this much travel.) The hope would be that I would return recharged in the field of ministry. After a week of pilgrimage and Mass at Church of the Resurrection, I find that I'm more recharged than I have been in years.

What is wondrous is that it came at a time I didn't expect. I knew the Church of the Resurrection would be special. It is the Church that has been built while my good friend Meg Metuska was serving as the music minister. I knew she would do an excellent job, but to be honest, when I walked in the church, it seemed just like any other modern suburban church. Well planned chairs around an altar in the center, lots of brown and neutral tones, and not a lot of excitement. The theology behind such a church building is that "The assembly is the decoration of the Church." I believe in this concept, but honestly, when the task is capturing a space in its use using in photography, it helps to have a few stain glass windows and such.

Was I surprised! The choirs sang beautifully. The congregation filled the room and made it feel like a home. And then the psalm was sung and I found myself near tears….

"Lord, every nation on earth will adore you!" Came the response. How well I knew that it was my mission to bear witness to that! After the responses the words were sung:

Justice shall flower in his days,
and profound peace, till the moon be no more.
May he rule from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.

For he shall rescue the poor when he cries out,
and the afflicted when he has no one to help him.
He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor;
the lives of the poor he shall save.

The words of the psalmist accurately spoke the prayer of my heart and the mission of AD SODALITATEM.

And then Fr. Mark gave what I believe was the pinnacle of a homily for Epiphany. When we realize something, we cannot ignore it. He told the story of his niece who could find the delightful sound of Christmas music even in a noisy bustling shopping mall, or see the joy in a baby, even when it was crying. Wise men from the East saw a star, and knew it was something more. Shepherds responded to the angelic choirs. But what is mysterious is that only these wise men and shepherds responded because it was only these wise men and shepherds that listened. Fr. Mark's niece was like the wise men and shepherds, she could hear and see beyond the noise and distractions of the world, she could listen.

Fr. Mark's point is that God's music in our lives is abundant and constantly playing, but it is our failure to listen that keeps us from hearing it. We pay attention to the noise that gets in the way. This is why we sometimes feel as God is beyond us or abandoned us, and why when we finally hear the music, it is well and Epiphany.

Suddenly, I looked around the room and found amazing beauty in the Church. The people, the gifts of bread and wine, the sound of children, the soft glow of a candle in the Eucharistic Chapel. I would hope you would look at my Google Earth pictorial by clicking here. But in addition, I would hope you would look at a special pictorial about a special artistic work in the parish called the Stations of the Resurrection.

Not only did I wake up to realize the beauty of the people, the music, the architecture, and the art. I suddenly noticed that there was an awful lot of blue in the Stations of the Cross that are typically found in a Church. "That's funny." I said, only to realize that, they weren't the Stations of the Cross at all. Resurrection Parish keeps the Stations of the Cross in an outdoor prayer area. Inside the church building, they started a new tradition in the life of prayer in the community. They commissioned original artwork to be developed off of 15 meditation points found in the Scriptures surrounding the experience of the Lord's Resurrection. This was a brilliant way for a Catholic parish to both honor the tradition of the past and to be creative. The mosaics were created by Helen McLean especially for this parish. I encourage you to look at the pictures. The parish staff will help you with prayer aids should you wish to pray in this experience. The parish website is www.churchofresurrection.org

Finding the beauty in a Church I initially thought was bland was my epiphany on Epiphany. The whole worship experience seemed to reveal why sabbatical is so important. I found myself connected to the mission of the Church in a way I have not felt for years, and I felt great harmony that I am on the right path, and all of that after just one week. Only 51 more to go! What more can I expect from God?

Heroes

You may notice in the background of several of my photos yesterday and today a young woman who often is playing the piano, violin, or conducting. Her name is Meg, and she has been my hostess for these last few days. She and I lived together in a Christian Community on the campus of THE Catholic University of America which went by the name of "The House."

As I walked into my first church (of three) today, St. Stanislaus, which is in a depressed neighborhood in Cleveland known as Slavic Village, I was overwhelmed with the number of relics and images of saints (either in two dimensional or three dimensional representation. Please make sure you have downloaded Google Earth to view my meage attempts to capture a sense of what this beautiful parish looks like and then by click here to view the photos.. While there, I began to ask my self why Catholics have all these saints and my thoughts wondered to the very first class that Meg and I shared in college together. It was a philosophy class taught by Dr. McCarthy. He asked us to name our Heroes.

We rarely stop to think about the nature and importance of heroes. They shape our lives by their very presence. We try to emulate them. They push us to be the very best that we can be. Saints are really heroes, and our commemoration of them in Churches is equivalent to the ways we commemorate secular heroes whether, sports heroes, statesmen, warriors, or others. If saints are not understood of as heroes, then the warnings of many a Protestant writer becomes fact, saints become "false idols," replacing the role of God.

St. Stanislaus parish is full of representation of saints, and they are all heroes. Heroes such as St. Maximilian Kolbe, the only saint statue in the parish that has glasses. He gave his life in a concentration camp in Nazi controlled Poland. Of Our Lady of Czestochowa, the Polish Black Madonna who protected the city of Czestochowa. An invader sliced the image twice, and as he was preparing to slice the image a third time was rendered futile. Of course, there are representations of Jesus Christ… he's a hero too.

Today was clearly about heroes. The statues were the first of many I would think about today. I made contact with Annie McNellis today, a young woman who was a part of my parish these last seven years and whom I hope to see tomorrow morning. She is here in Cleveland participating in a program known as the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. This has grown in popularity in recent years and well it should. Young men and women give a year, and sometimes two, of their life to help those in need. The live together in Christian community, sharing expenses, meals, living, and prayer all while volunteering to work for social justice initiatives. You can find out more about the Jesuit Volunteer Corps by clicking here. I would have to say that Annie is a heroine of mine for having the courage to be a part of the Jesuit Volunteers, as well as her community mates who join her at the house.

Which brings me back to my days of living in community back at THE Catholic University of America with Meg. I reminisce, but those days, shared with 7 colleagues, were special, transformative. We shared everything in common. (Acts 2 gives a sense of our unwritten constitution.) Every one gave what they could and took what they needed. There was a common respect and admiration for the gifts of each member of the community. We treated each other as if each person had something that inspired us about them, and indeed to this day, every member of that community does.  Especially, the last few days, I have been blessed to walk once again walk in presence of one of those heroes, Meg.

Today Meg played music for 3 Masses, and went with me to another Mass and morning prayer before the sun even rose. She brought me to the wedding she played at St. Monica's which you can see by clicking here. I documented this wedding as best I could because it is a great example of the life of the church. First of all, Meg is far more talented as a musician than I. Her dedication is inspirational to me. She and I both began working professionally for the church 7 years ago. She is part of a growing number of men and women in the United States who feel called to work for the Church, and have the same discipline and practice as workers in the Church have had for centuries, but they/we do not take religious vows to a Church governed community. Some have called the choice made by lay men and women like Meg, "the modern day religious" because the work she and others do, is similar to the work nuns and monks have done for centuries. For me, it is inspirational.

And I guess that is the point of today. I find that surrounded by heroes in my life. Living and deceased, I am surrounded by people who inspire me. Heroes are not limited to the chosen few who have passed away and now occupy the towering walls of churches. They do not have be represented in stain glass or oil canvas. When those with whom we walk and with whom we share time challenge us to be the best possible version of who we can be, then we are walking with our heroes. In a way, I think that is what it means to be Christian, to be able to see that everyone you walk with, younger or older, is a hero. I am blessed that today I walked with one of my greatest heroes, Meg.

Oh! Thank you Dr. McCarthy for getting me to think about heroes. I always knew something special would come out of your class.

Familiarity in Cleveland

"You look familiar."
"So do you"
"Hmmm…. Chicago… St. Ignatius Parish…. Loyola University?"
"I go to Loyola! I live on Columbia Avenue."
"I live on Rosemont!"
"We're neighbors!"

This was a chance occurrence at Mass today of two people whose paths have crossed before and only through measured deliberation could this occurrence reveal the power of what it means to be familiar.

It is funny how you can travel across the country and find people you know. This conversation took place right before the funeral of Mary Flannigan, someone I never knew but had the privilege of wishing her welcome into to the embrace of the Eternal.

Sr. Lisa Marie was my familiar friend and to meet her on a pilgrimage is a reminder of the Providence of God. Although it did not come to me, it was Sr. Lisa Marie's familiarity with Latin that helped determine the name of this website and corporation. "Ad Sodalitatem" which means toward solidarity were words that she helped me formulate over the obtuse constructs of a Latin word. That was over a year ago when we both in a class on St. Paul at Loyola University. Now we gathered in a familiar ritual to say good bye to someone in our family of Faith.

In college, I had a teacher who loved to study the roots of words. The root of the word familiar is the same as the root of family. To be familiar means in someway to be family.

At St. Noel's parish, there was a lot that was familiar. But it was familiar in the same way that near strangers have to work through clouded memories in order to remember how they know each other. St. Noel doe not have a steeple. Entering the parish looks like entering a corporate office space, well equipped with a large parking lot. The parish does not have an abundance of stain glass windows. They do not have the traditional arches of a Gothic church as I have seen the last few days. But it was familiar.

Even the ritual had a familiarity that revealed itself only through sluggish awakening. Instead of the Priest sprinkling Holy water over the casket, he invited all the assembled to do so as they entered the church. Instead of preaching from a book, he recited the Gospel verbatim. Instead of a dull drone mumbling through the Eucharistic Prayer, Fr. George Smiga sang the prayer of consecrations. It was all very different from what I have seen the last few days, but it was… familiar.

One of the major purposes of this trip is to highlight the unity and diversity of the Catholic Church. Human persons get very territorial about things that are important to us… especially the Church. I've heard comments such as, a church building should have statues, stain glass, gold leaf on high altars, ascending ceilings. The music should be older than when I was born and played on an organ (not to mention that the Bible calls for us to sing NEW songs and not on organs), there should only be men at the altar, and lots of bells and incense. It is not wrong to have preferences and tradition. The danger is when it reduces us to a form of territorialism is that it separates us rather than unites us as human beings and Christians.

St. Noel's parish, (which IF YOU HAVE LOADED GOOGLE EARTH, you can view the pictures by clicking here) caused my spirit to soar with the same venture that the world's greatest cathedrals do, but it was made out of nothing more than brick and glass. The Saints were not represented in statues, but in the living faithful gathered around the altar. The Stations of the Cross follow a stone path through the church that ask for your imagination to be employed as you pray. The altar, where the gifts of bread and wine are consecrated, remains prominent and dignified.

I am hurt that there are those who cannot see the beauty in a church such as this. It was different. Yes. We all have our preferences and what we like. Yes. We all have ways of praying that work better for us. Yes. But in the end, it was familiar. Yes… familiar.

Football and Faith

There are many who are more scholarly than I, but I as I recall there was a philosopher named Kant who argued that even if the sun has come up from the East consistently for 8,000 years (approximate history of the world according to fundamentalists Christians/Jews), it does not mean that the sun will come up tomorrow from the East.

He argued this point from his critique of reason, which he argued was inherently flawed. I'll ignore the inevitable contradiction that if reason is errant, then you can't use reason to argue that reason is errant, because after all, reason is errant.

The point Kant makes is that at some point we cannot trust our reason and must rely on Faith. What's more, every moment is a miracle because it is willed by God and is to be valued as such. It may be a funny way to start the morning, but such were my thoughts as I watched my first sunrise on this pilgrimage.

For those who were watching. Notre Dame football suffered a huge loss last night. The ninth straight loss of a Bowl game by Notre Dame, which is made easier only by the fact that Notre Dame is still one of the most winning teams in football.

It is an overcast day here in Indiana. I came to Indiana right after getting my visa to India. Didn't realize that they were different places… guess I'll need to do better geography if I'm going to get around the world.

But I digress, as I drove through the dark to the University of Notre Dame, the sun came up, and for about 10 minutes the pink and purple of the sky decorated the campus of Notre Dame. Even on a dreary day after a disappointing defeat, Kant can't be wrong, the sun didn't have to come up, but it did.

I've been to Notre Dame several times. To see football games and to visit my Godmother who worked in the Sacristy of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. It is a pristine campus with architecture and art balancing each other with precision that is otherworldly. You travel through cornfield after cornfield and then come to this oasis of Catholic thought and reverence. With painful jealousy as someone who graduated from THE Catholic University of America, I must admit that Notre Dame is one of the true treasures of American Catholicism. If you don't already know, you can go to their website to find out more.

The Basilica is nothing short of gorgeous, again raising the hearts and minds to something that is beyond our limited experience of life. The famous statue of Ivan Mestrovic sculpture Pietá can be found here. If you have downloaded Google Earth, you can see my pictures of it here.

In the reliquary are the remains of St. Servera, a saint who like St. Crescent in Galesburg (see January 2, 2007) was martyred and found in the catacombs of Rome (OK, I'm counting, if I find more than 10 saints bodies in Church's in America, I'm writing back to Corpus Christi to tell them to update their information). But the most memorable feature is the high altar. My pictures of the campus and basilica can be seen by clicking here.

Why I’m Still Catholic

"Thank you for doing the dishes"

"Well… they are OUR dishes"

Today I was hosted by my first religious community, and this dialogue began our conversation as we participated in a true American Catholic tradition, watching Notre Dame football.

The work of serving one another changes when we change our perspective. It isn't yours or mine, but OURS. Such is the nature of religious community and certainly of the one I have come to visit this evening, the St. Catherine's Convent of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ in East Chicago. The community members do a variety of work, but I am here because of my Godmother, Sr. Magdalene who lives here and works at Nazareth Home with Sr. Barbara. Nazareth Home is a house for infant children who are medically disadvantaged, normally because they are born addicted to drugs or alcohol. Sr. Barbara oversees the house, which employs 11 workers, a host of volunteers, and cares for as many as 6 infants and toddlers at a time until they can be returned to the care of their families or other states systems.

People sometimes wonder why I am Catholic. So do I. The Church is human, corrupt. It is racked with scandal. We have palaces of gold to worship God in neighborhoods where the poor shiver in cold doorways begging for change. It is a frustrating organization. As one of my mentors recently said, "I love the Church, but sometimes she is a whore." I associate regularly with those who have been disenfranchised by the Church because of their gender, their sexual orientation, their marital status. I have friends who remain upset at a church that has abandoned them through annulment processes that seem to favor those who can afford to get a Catholic lawyer to find a loophole. The Church has stood on the wrong side of many situations, including political parties, wars, and inquisition.

So I come to this convent and remember why I'm Catholic, and wish more people could see. Sr. Barbara took care of me when I went to a pre-school in Belleville, IL. Now she takes care of children that have no one else to care for them, and she does so out of a covenant of love. That's the difference.

The government can create homes with budgets that are at the mercy of politicians who change those budgets based on upcoming elections. These homes can function, but they cannot legislate love, and love is what these children need most.

This covenant of love is the citadel of the Church's teaching. This most cherished possession is not the Church itself, and often is overlooked. At Nazareth Home, love for the children who are in need is the active expression of what Catholicism is really about.  The poor are human and deserve others to recognize their dignity. When I come to a place like Nazareth Home, I remember why I am Catholic.

These are not merely your children, or someone else's children. They are OUR Children. And here, the Church lives its mission as they are taken care of.

Please visit the pictures I have taken of Nazareth home by clicking here. The picture are of the house, my godmother Sr. Magdelene, and volunteers taking care of the children at Nazareth Home or visit the Nazareth Home website.

Corpus Christi Parish

Corpus Christi is a parish in Galesburg IL, which was founded by Father Joseph Costa, a member of the Institute of Charity, the Rosminians. The church cornerstone dates to August 4, 1884 and dedicated by Bishop Spaulding. At that time the church was under the diocese of Alton, which is now repressed (no longer a diocese.)

What makes the church unique is the special relic it holds. It holds the body of St. Crescent. To see pictures of St. Crescent in Google Earth click here. Many of us do not know St. Crescent and there is very little to know. St. Crescent is not a saint recognized in the liturgical calendar of the universal church. The only place that you can find a celebration of the feast of St. Crescent (August 27) is here. St. Crescent wasn't even born here. St. Crescent lived in Rome and died at the age of 9 or 10 under the persecutions begun by the Roman Emperor Diocletian. August 27 is the day that St. Crescent's body arrived in Galesburg.

To be buried in those days was a luxury of the rich. So when Christianity furthered the belief that a body should be buried, they resorted to the catacombs of Rome. When the catacombs began to be explored after centuries of being forgotten, a marble slab was found over a tomb which read "Cresces". It also marked the tomb as that of a martyr and gave the dates of St. Crescent's death.

When the body was taken out of the catacombs, it was presented to Fr. Rosmini by the Pope Gregory XVI. The Rosminians were entrusted with the care of the saint's body since that day. When the Rosminians began to do missionary work in the Americas, Fr. Joseph Costa came to Galesburg and founded the parish of Corpus Christi. To see pictures of Corpus Christi parish using Google Earth, click here.

Galesburg is fascinating small town in the heartland. It is surrounded my farming communities, but is not a manufacturing and railroad town. It was a town started around the Presbyterian seminary, Knox college. It is the birthplace of Carl Sandburg, a famous writer. When Galesburg began to boom in population, it was with considerable influence the Irish railroad workers who were shipped in to do work. This led to the need for Catholic church's in Galesburg of which there are now 3.

To promote the welfare of these Catholics, Fr. Costa petitioned that St. Crescent would be moved to Corpus Christi Church. Literature in the church holds the legend that there are only 10 saints whose bodies are laid in churches in the United States. There is no way of verifying this, especially since knowledge of this treasure in the Church is hardly known by many who live in the same state. The important point to be made is that the body of a saint is a rarity in churches in North America. It makes this a wonderful shrine to pilgrim to.

When you visit Galesburg, it is clear why towns like it emerged on the frontier of Western expansion, and how it developed over time with laborers of all kinds. There is a constancy to life here and to the life of the faith. Most of the parish is working class people and talking with Fr. Joseph Presley, and assistant pastor, they share the same challenges of any Church… fixing leaking roofs, fallen plaster, broken windows. They keep the Church beautiful.

The one thing that stands out in the parish's history is the uniqueness of Galesburg since the arrival of St. Crescent. In the heartland, tornadoes are a very common occurrence. But since St. Crescent has arrived, which is the story of journey steeped in providence, Galesburg has not been struck by a single tornado. Some say this is superstitious, some say coincidence. I work in a parish where Peruvians carry an image of Jesus around the streets every October. A tradition which started in Peru as the image was saved from the damaging effects of earthquakes.

For me, a tornado in Galesburg, or an earthquake in Peru would neither lead me to believe in or doubt the providence of God. But if the presence of a saint's body, of someone who laid down their life for their faith, or the picture or statue of note leads us to transcend our thoughts and lead us to God, then it has served well as a vehicle for God's grace.

Leaving

Did you cry o Lord as you left your home?
When you left your father and mother behind?
Your job, your community?

When you went to the north and taught?
You were not going to be accepted or liked…
Perhaps you knew… but you had to go.
Did you cry then?

Or in the south?
You began a journey in which
Your friends would leave you.
Did you cry then?

And on that final voyage to Jerusalem
You spent your life knowing you must make the journey
You surrendered completely.

But as you left everything that was known, everything that was comfortable, everything that was safe

Did you cry? Because I cry now.

A man just came up to me and said "May God go with you… and he handed me $250. "We appreciate all you have done for us. Be safe and my you be blessed" How can I not be overwhelmed?

I start this pilgrimage as I read in the news that Muslims are just finishing the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. We follow a tradition that is ancient to us all. A man named Abraham – which means father- was called to go forth to a land where God would led him. He was to leave everything behind.

That is what it is about, leaving everything behind. It comes from a fantastic impulse to not be defined or confined by the mundane constructions of reality that we generate. I am not my job. I am not my condominium. I am not my car, my bank account, my computers, my education. Yet these things become so ingrained as the measure of what it means to be alive that they confine and define us. To be released from these shackles, one must follow the eternal illusive one, the one who has no name, and so for our sake, we call him many, just to give us a clue as to what we speak about. God. Surrender everything over to God and live as on a journey.

Today I celebrated Mass with a group of people living in Chicago many of whom I know and have gone to Mass with many times before. They celebrated a feast for the appearance of Mary in their homeland. "Virgen de Nube – Our Lady of the Clouds. Many of the children who were in attendance were born here in America. Their parents however, lived in another land, Ecuador, and came to the United States to live. They were called by the providence of God to a new land, a new journey.

They are my send off. My reminder that we must follow our call, even if it is scary, even if the separation from everything that is safe and known,, even if it causes tears.

Today I woke up and realized that I am now a beggar. I have no job. No security. No certainty. But as my Archbishop, Cardinal Francis George reminded me, I have a mission. For those who follow God, whether it be through their spouse, their family, their work, their journeys, their prayer, or through their very lives, they have no real plans that can be counted upon. They only have the mission.

"Go with God!" many have told me. For seven years, God has made a home for me at St. Ignatius Parish. I have renewed my faith in God here. Why do I have to go to find him?

I found part of the answer in Bishop Mans' homily today. "Christ has come to every culture. Mary as Christ's mother is mother to us all in every culture. American, Ecuadorian, Mexican, etc. " It is for this reason, he said, that John Paul II spend so much time visiting the cultures of the world, to give witness that Christ is there. God is not defined or confined. Neither we should be.

It is time to go.