When Love Burns So Much It Hurts – a Poem

It’s not often that I get the chance to write “poetry.” It’s even less often than that, that I share what I write with others besides a spiritual director or close friend.

This Fall, I had a rather unfortunate encounter which led me to a beautiful period of prayer. As I sat with the Lord I wrote this “poem.” It’s mostly free verse with a little bit of rhyme. As I start my retreat today, I share it here in the hopes that it too might speak to you in a similar way that it spoke it’s truth, love, and beauty to me.

When love burns so much it hurts.

The fires of love they burn within this vessel made of clay.

Baked hard and fast with flames of pain, heartbreak, doubt, sadness, hurt, and loss.

This vessel though hard and strong, tried and true feels weak, chipped, lost, abandoned, alone, broken.

The achilles heel, the pressure point, the vessel could not hold.

Stretched, stressed, politicized, berated, worm down by violent use.

This vessel seemed a simple shell, a lonely shell, of what it once had been.

And yet within deep down inside the vessel knew it well.

The loving hands which had taken it, molding it from clay.

It felt the potters hands of love, the tender, gentle hands.

It felt the softness of the hands, the tender touch of care.

It remembered the beauty He saw in it, the joy He had taken in its creation.

It remembered the look of the Fathers eyes, the piercing beauty of His love.

It remembered too the callous hands, scarred, bruised, and torn.

For the Fathers hands were broken too with pain, heartbreak, hurt and loss.

The Fathers hands…the potters hands were the same hands of love.

And in the midst of sadness, hurt, pain, doubt, and loss…

The little vessel remembered the love with which he had been created…

The love for which he had been created…

The hope for which he had been fashioned.

For the vessel was not broken, nor was he even chipped. He had been cast in the fire of the Potters love, so that he might emerge new, beautiful, and strong.

The Father’s love was the fire in that kiln. It was the fire, tried, and true.

The fire which burned so much it hurt, for it was making all things new.

Of O Antiphons, Passionist Nuns, and the silence of Advent…

“Everything that the church gives you to sing, every prayer that you say in and with Christ and his Mystical Body, is a cry of ardent desire for grace, for help, for the coming of the Messiah, the Redeemer.”

– Thomas Merton, The Seven Story Mountain
Passionist Nuns Monastery in Whitesville, KY

The Seven Story Mountain is definitely my favorite of Thomas Merton writings. The above quote popped up on my Facebook Memories this morning from a few years ago. I think that it highlights these final days of the Advent Season in a beautiful way.

Currently, at Mass and Evening Prayer we are hearing/singing/chanting/praying the “O Antiphons”, (See my post from a few years ago here.) today we heard O Clavis David…Key of David. These ancient titles for the Christ, the Messiah, the Redeemer connect us with our Jewish roots and with principal titles for the Messiah and what he will/has/does come to do for us.

This evening, we joined our dear Contemplative/Cloistered Passionist Nuns in Whitesville for a small social gathering, music, a very creative/funny skit, as well as to pray Evening Prayer in their beautiful chapel. The Sisters, like those of us at Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology  have the privilege of chanting the various hours of the Liturgy of the Hours in common. The Nuns used a beautiful tone for tonight’s Magnificat Antiphon:

O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel,
controlling at your will the gate of heaven:
Come, break down the prison walls of death
for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death;
and lead your captive people into freedom.

As the Nuns tend to chant in a higher register than we men (it tests my Tenor voice at times) I was struck particularly during the chanting of this Antiphon with the quote I had reread earlier in the day. As the nuns chanted higher, I envisioned that Royal Power of Israel, the one who commands death and life coming from the heights and leading us forth into freedom from our sin, from our false sense of selves, from the weight of the culture’s-lived-out idea of Advent…

“Everything that the church gives you to sing, every prayer that you say in and with Christ and his Mystical Body, is a cry of ardent desire for grace, for help, for the coming of the Messiah, the Redeemer.”

– Thomas Merton, The Seven Story Mountain

To me this evening, that antiphon spoke light into the semi-dark corners of my spiritual life and helped me to see just a little bit more clearly how much more I needed Christ in my life. How I needed the Key of David to come and unlock the chains that still bind me, how I needed the Key of David to lead me into a deeper sense and lived experience of freedom.

As we have come to the end of the school semester and my mind has been bogged down for the past few weeks with finals, papers, and readings, Advent hasn’t been all that “peaceful.” Tonight, that changed. Tonight I entered a bit deeper into that peace, that quiet waiting with joy, hope, and expectation for the coming of the Messiah, our Redeemer. Tonight, in my heart, in my soul, I was able to cry out in song, chant…for grace…for help…for the coming of Emmanuel…God with us.

May you have the opportunity to sit a while, rest in the silence, the peace, the quiet waiting of these coming days so that we might join the Angels, Singing in Exultation as Christ comes not only in the manger of Bethlehem, but into the mangers of our hearts. May we make him room!

If I don’t preach the Gospel, what can I ever hope to do?

We are bound by love, by the commission of our Baptism to proclaim Christ, crucified, resurrected, and alive to each we encounter! Here’s a great reflection on our duty as Christians from Blessed Paul VI, Pope.

How have you proclaimed Christ today? Have you? What’s holding you back? Don’t wait!

From a homily by Blessed Paul VI, pope

(Hom. Maniliae habita die 29 novembris 1970)

We proclaim Christ to the whole world

Not to preach the Gospel would be my undoing, for Christ himself sent me as his apostle and witness. The more remote, the more difficult the assignment, the more my love of God spurs me on. I am bound to proclaim that Jesus is Christ, the Son of the living God. Because of him we come to know the God we cannot see. He is the firstborn of all creation; in him all things find their being. Man’s teacher and redeemer, he was born for us, died for us, and for us he rose from the dead.

All things, all history converges in Christ. A man of sorrow and hope, he knows us and loves us. As our friend he stays by us throughout our lives; at the end of time he will come to be our judge; but we also know that he will be the complete fulfillment of our lives and our great happiness for all eternity.

I can never cease to speak of Christ for he is our truth and our light; he is the way, the truth and the life. He is our bread, our source of living water who allays our hunger and satisfies our thirst. He is our shepherd, our leader, our ideal, our comforter and our brother.

He is like us but more perfectly human, simple, poor, humble, and yet, while burdened with work, he is more patient. He spoke on our behalf; he worked miracles; and he founded a new kingdom: in it the poor are happy; peace is the foundation of a life in common; where the pure of heart and those who mourn are uplifted and comforted; the hungry find justice; sinners are forgiven; and all discover that they are brothers.

The image I present to you is the image of Jesus Christ. As Christians you share his name; he has already made most of you his own. So once again I repeat his name to you Christians and I proclaim to all men: Jesus Christ is the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega, Lord of the new universe, the great hidden key to human history and the part we play in it. He is the mediator—the bridge, if you will—between heaven and earth. Above all he is the Son of man, more perfect than any man, being also the Son of God, eternal and infinite. He is the son of Mary his mother on earth, more blessed than any woman. She is also our mother in the spiritual communion of the mystical body.

Remember: [it] is Jesus Christ I preach day in and day out. His name I would see echo and re-echo for all time even to the ends of the earth.

Pray God that we might preach our Lord even with our final breath!

Christ should be manifest in our whole life: how to achieve Christian perfection

As I sit here on the shores of Lake Atitlan this morning, the Office of Readings this morning had provided another gem to chew on and mull over.

From a treatise on Christian Perfection by Saint Gregory of Nyssa, bishop

(PG 46, 283-286)

Christ should be manifest in our whole life

“The life of the Christian has three distinguishing aspects: deeds, words and thought. Thought comes first, then words, since our words express openly the interior conclusions of the mind. Finally, after thoughts and words, comes action, for our deeds carry out what the mind has conceived. So when one of these results in our acting or speaking or thinking, we must make sure that all our thoughts, words and deeds are controlled by the divine ideal, the revelation of Christ. For then our thoughts, words and deeds will not fall short of the nobility of their implications.

What then must we do, we who have been found worthy of the name of Christ? Each of us must examine his thoughts, words and deeds, to see whether they are directed toward Christ or are turned away from him. This examination is carried out in various ways. Our deeds or our thoughts or our words are not in harmony with Christ if they issue from passion. They then bear the mark of the enemy who smears the pearl of the heart with the slime of passion, dimming and even destroying the luster of the precious stone.

On the other hand, if they are free from and untainted by every passionate inclination, they are directed toward Christ, the author and source of peace. He is like a pure, untainted stream. If you draw from him the thoughts in your mind and the inclinations of your heart, you will show a likeness to Christ, your source and origin, as the gleaming water in a jar resembles the flowing water from which it was obtained.

For the purity of Christ and the purity that is manifest in our hearts are identical. Christ’s purity, however, is the fountainhead; ours has its source in him and flows out of him. Our life is stamped with the beauty of his thought. The inner and the outer man are harmonized in a kind of music. The mind of Christ is the controlling influence that inspires us to moderation and goodness in our behavior. As I see it, Christian perfection consists in this: sharing the titles which express the meaning of Christ’s name, we bring out this meaning in our minds, our prayers and our way of life.”

Some questions for reflection:

Does my life bear witness to the marks of our Savior, crucified?

Does my life lead others to Christ through my thought, word, deed, and action?

“Our lives are stamped with his thought” we’re created in the very image of the living God. Do our lives reflect the beauty and love of our creator?

“The inner and outer man are harmonized in a kind of music.” Are we healthy? Do we know ourselves? Who we are before God? Who we are before our brothers and sisters? Does our inner life and outer life live in harmony, reflecting the beautiful work of His hands that we are?

Break your Heart this Ash Wednesday

“Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness,
and relenting in punishment. Perhaps he will again relent and leave behind him a blessing” – Joel 2:12-18

Gracious, Merciful, Kind, and Forgiving are not normally adjectives we would use to describe  Ash Wednesday, let alone the Lenten Season. Yet that is exactly how God is described in the First Reading from Joel this morning and I daresay that we can use those same words to describe this Ash Wednesday and this Season of Lenten journey we are embarking on.


Ash Wednesday, like Good Friday is a day of what Canon 1251 stipulates as being a day of fasting and abstinence. With Ash Wednesday falling on Valentine’s Day this year it can be upsetting for some to not be able to celebrate the day of “love” with the love of their life. Yet, this year we have an opportunity to celebrate this day of love with an ultimate act of love toward the one we should love above all else.

Fasting and abstinence help us to deny our carnal passions and desires and take control with our will over what our bodies seek. The hunger in our bellies, growling away all day helps us to realize that we hunger for something, for someone greater than what food can satisfy. Abstaining from meat gives us the opportunity to offer a small sacrifice, to give a small gift to the one we love as a testament of that love.

“Rend your hearts” Joel instructs us. When was the last time that you were heartbroken during Lent? When was the last time that your heart was rent, was broken for love of the one you truly love? How are we to “return to the Lord our God?” by realizing that thirst in our Heart, in our Souls for the living God.

This Lent, this Ash Wednesday, may we turn back to God. May we turn ourselves completely toward the Lord, allowing the growl of our bellies to speak of the thirst and hunger of our souls for Him who can satisfy every longing under Heaven. May our sacrifices, our weeping, our mourning be small gifts to the King of Kings; jewels to be added in our crowns at the day of resurrection.

Let’s make this Lent one of kindness to our neighbor, mercy on ourselves, slow to anger, rich in compassion, an one of forgiveness. For our God is a gracious God and he will surely leave us a blessing for the good we do this Lent.

Celebrate Ash Wednesday and St. Valentine’s Day with the one we truly love above all else this year. May our hearts be broken, rent with love of him, who had his own heart broken, pierced with a lance on a cross because of our sins.

Let’s learn to Love this Lent.

And let’s pray for one another as we continue to walk this beautiful Lenten Journey together!


“Behold Your Mother” – A Lenten Reflection

Below is the video of the Lenten Reflection, which I gave to my brother seminarians at Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis this evening. This is the third in a series of Lenten Reflections, which our senior class gives each year on the 7 Last Words of Christ. May our Blessed Mother intercede for us as we walk the Way of Beauty, and may we accept her into our lives, that she may cooperate with us in our vocations now, and in the future as priests.


The full text of my reflection follows, it draws on the book: “Mary and the Priestly Ministry” by Father Emile Neubert, SM:

7 Last Words Reflection                                                                                        2-23-16

   “Behold your Mother”


+In the name of the Father, and of the Son…


“Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “behold your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” (John 19:26-27).


As his final gift, right before he died, Christ gave His mother to His whole family on Earth. Christ says: “Woman behold your Son. He gives us to his Mother, to be placed under her care. For us who feel called to give our lives to the service of God as a priest, Christ in a very special way through these words, commits us to the School of Mary. He says: “Look, this is your Mother. Go to her! Son, behold your mother!


The Son of God, became flesh in the womb of a little Jewish girl from Nazareth. While we call this the Incarnation, the Council of Ephesus taught that Mary is also “Theo-Tokos, Greek for Mother of God, or God bearer. This is profoundly at its heart a Christological declaration. It depends on Christ in order to be real.


The one whom Mary bore is truly God and truly man. Christ, the high priest received his human nature from Mary. Thus the Blessed Virgin, is involved in making the Son of God our priest. He received his priestly vocation from the Father, who sent him into the World. His priestly anointing is the grace of the hypostatic union, a gift of the Holy Trinity. But it is his human nature, which enables the Son of God to be Priest, to offer sacrifice on our behalf and it was Mary who gave it to him.


The words of Christ from the Cross, “Behold your Mother!” confirm then the spiritual maternity of Mary and they proclaim the culmination of it, at the very moment the mystery of the Redemption itself is achieved. If we notice at the foot of the Cross there are others who would have seemed more likely to be chosen by Christ to care for his mother. Mary the wife of Clopas, the brother of St. Joseph who is the mother of St. James, Mary Magdalen, whom Christ had a special affinity for and John whose mother, Salome was still alive. Nonetheless, it was to John that Christ confided Mary. Precisely because John was a priest and it is to priests, above all, that Christ gives His Mother because He has a great love of them and they have a greater need of her.


Mary, too though needs priests. It is especially through them that she is able to continue to carry out her mission of giving Jesus to the world, of sanctifying souls and transforming them into other Christ’s. Thus, as men in formation for the priesthood Mary has a special love for each one of us. She desires to help us in our Vocation and in the future as priests of the Church.


In his very nature a son carries something of his mother. He receives his body and his very life from her. The nurturing she gives him reflects all that is the best, the noblest, and the most generous in her. All of these make him an extension and a part of her with the consequence that whatever pleases him, pleases her, whatever he suffers, she suffers; and when he dies, something more precious than her own life dies within her.


In Mary’s case, these maternal rights were more intense than any other mother. Mary’s motherhood was uniquely for her only Son. She existed only for him and she alone through the Holy Spirit formed him within her womb. Mary, shares in the redemptive and sacrificial nature of Christ’s death on the Cross. She cooperates with his priestly service. From the moment she presented him in the temple, and heard the words of Simeon she knew of the sorrowful role she would eventually play in his Sacrifice.


She nurtured the Victim in view of the Cross. As Jesus grew in age, the closer the fatal hour came. Yet, still she loved him. Her fiat becoming ever more sorrowful and yet, more determined, became more loving. With every step of Christ in his passion, she renewed her fiat. She gave her yes to God, again and again and again. This time, instead of giving Christ to her, her yes gave him away to the world. It was then at his crucifixion, that Mary, united herself to the will of the Father regarding her Son, and to the intentions of her Son regarding the Father and the redemption of mankind. Her will, her love, and her sufferings were entirely one with those of her Son. She offered him, and offered herself with him.


Mary played a real part in the Sacrifice of the Cross – a part of unlimited suffering and love that lasted thirty-three years. If Christ then was willing to make Mary an associate of his priesthood as Pius X states, then any man who desires to be effective in his future priestly ministry, must allow the Blessed Virgin to be an associate and cooperate in their vocation and their priesthood as well.


The last gift, Jesus gave us before giving every drop of his Sacred Blood on the cross, was His mother.


Most of you know that on the first day of class this semester I was in Chicago for my Great Aunt’s Visitation. I was blessed to get to go and take my Mom and Grandmother to go and spend some time with her a few days before our retreat. While we were there, my grandmother pulled out one of our Schola CD’s and gave it to her. Aunt Carol looked down at the CD and the image of our Lady on the cover and began to cry. She had battled cancer, mourned the death of her husband, and had lost most of her desire to eat. With an infection on her lungs she struggled to breath. Aunt Carol was dying. As she started to cry, Aunt Carol made a statement, which I believe sums up the role that Mary must play in our discernment of the priesthood: “Without her, I don’t know what I would do. Without Mary helping me and giving me strength, I don’t know how I could do this and be able to embrace it….”


Mary, comforted Christ through his passion. She bore his sufferings within her heart, and still she gave her yes, totally, freely, and thus fruitfully back to the Father. I think it is safe to say that Mary helped Christ to embrace his death. She loved him and formed him for 33 years in preparation for it.


If you want to know your vocation, go to Mary. If you want to know Christ, go to Mary. If you want to have strength to say yes to a major decision in your life, whether it is to become a Rector of a seminary or to embrace your death, go to Mary. If you want to be a priest, you cannot do it without her help. We must go to Mary. Mary, our mother always leads us to Christ, she always points us to her Son, and she always helps us in whatever we need. We like John must be willing to take her into our home, we must take her into our hearts. If we want to be like Christ; if we want to be a priest, there is no other way. And so we too must act when we hear Christ say: Woman, behold your son. For brothers, we must behold our mother. Remember O most gracious Virgin Mary…

Seminaries are Full of Death and Dying Men

“Hey Cemeterian Corey!” is a phrase that I will never forget one of the kindergartners in Mrs. Stringer’s class at St. Joseph in Bowling Green shouting at me as they came back inside from the playground when I was visiting them a couple of years ago. Calling a seminary or a seminarian a “cemetery” is more common than you would think. Heck, even I slip up some times and say that I go to the cemetery, when I mean seminary

Fall at Crown Hill Memorial Cemetery

Fall at Crown Hill Memorial Cemetery.

For all the times that I and other brother seminarians have heard that, I wonder if it has ever really sunken in?

You go to seminary to die, in a multitude of ways. Your life is not really about you anymore, and that can really be a hard pill to swallow.

The cross that we encoutner in seminary is often carried and met in very simple ways: breaking out of your old routines, moving and pushing back your comfort zones, and pruning those areas of your life out that are detrimental to grace. The word “seminary” literally in Latin means “seed bed,” for this is where men go to become the fertile ground out of which one’s spiritual life can grow. Thanks be to God you’re not walking alone through this period of purification.

I had friends growing up and ones that I really enjoyed the company of in high school, but in seminary I finally encountered other guys wanting to be men after the heart of Christ, men who had a love of and devotion to Mary. This love of Christ saturated our conversations and guided our activities.

If you will permit me to use another analogy; seminary in a way is like a river. (And now the voice in my head is singing Peace is flowing like a river but replacing it with: “Seminary’s like a riiiivvver.” Such is my life!) IMG_0217The seminarians are the stones and the moving water is community life. Living in close quarters with 40 men is a plethera of purification. In seminary you get to learn a lot about your brothers. You learn their sleep schedule, the times of day (morning) when you don’t say anything to them lest you die. You quickly learn the patterns, peeves, and quirks (smells) of these men who you call your brothers. Like the stones in the river, community life tests and purifies you, hopefully smoothing out your rough spots, though not always. The grace is abundant though and the amazing ways in which the Lord works through your life in community can be incomprehensible.

So yes, you go to seminary to die. Seminaries are full of death. In fact every one of the men there is in the process of dying. But it is a beautiful death. A death which gives birth through Christ to a new life full of love.

In Conclusion:

Seminary life in many ways is like a cemetery. It is like a river. It’s a place where we are in a sense forced to die to ourself and our narcissitc desires and focus on others. It is in seminary that we learn the way we can love as Christ did and be able to give completely of ourself to the church. Priests marry the church. They marry the people of God whom they will serve (everyone else in the world.) As seminarians we start to be betrothed if you will to the people (the church) through our ministry experiences. We “date” the Church and decide if we are called to give of ourselves totally to her. Likewise, the people of God choose us and “date” us. At Ordination, God-willing as in a marriage when a man and woman marry one another and give their consent to marry each other. “I do.” So too, a man at his ordination standing before the Bishop and the people of God, is asked: “Do you know him to be worthy?” After which the Vocation Director responds and the people join in an affirmation of their consent by applause.

Seminary, a seed bed is a place of death. It is a cemetery of sorts, a place where we die to ourselves and our sinful desires so that we may love Christ more. Seminary is a river. It is a place where our rough edgs are made smooth and the good that the Lord has begun in us is finally brought to completion. Please pray for your seminarians. You want to have good priests? Pray for good and holy seminarians! Pray that we might be faithful to our Lord, that we may have the grace to completely surrender our will and ourselves to the process of formation. Pray for all of the new seminarians who are starting this Way of Beauty, that is seminary. Pray for us as we die to ourselves so that through Christ we might rise to give ourselves to you.

Bruté Seminarians attend the Right to Life Dinner - Indianapolis 2014

Bruté Seminarians attend the Right to Life Dinner – Indianapolis 2014

Masquerade (The Masks We Wear)- Reflections from Candletime and Phantom of the Opera


As most of my friends know, my favorite musical is Phantom of the Opera. In it, we find a masquerade ball that is held in the Opera Populaire to celebrate the first year of success by its’ new owners, Monsieurs Firmin and André. All of the cast, workers and patrons come and perform a dance on the steps leading into the theatre. During it they sing the following song, of which I have provided the text from. You can watch/listen to it here:

Last night we talked in candletime about masks. We had learned throughout the day about the masks that we wear, and encouraged to come up with ways to take them off. More after, the following:

Paper faces on parade . . .
Hide your face,
so the world will
never find you!

Every face a different shade . . .
Look around –
there’s another
mask behind you!

Flash of mauve . . .
Splash of puce . . .
Fool and king . . .
Ghoul and goose . . .
Green and black . . .
Queen and priest . . .
Trace of rouge . . .
Face of beast . . .

Faces . . .
Take your turn, take a ride
on the merry-go-round . . .
in an inhuman race . . .

Eye of gold . . .
Thigh of blue . . .
True is false . . .
Who is who . . .?
Curl of lip . . .
Swirl of gown . . .
Ace of hearts . . .
Face of clown . . .

Faces . . .
Drink it in, drink it up,
till you’ve drowned
in the light . . .
in the sound . . .

But who can name the face . . .?

Grinning yellows,
spinning reds . . .
Take your fill –
let the spectacle
astound you!

Burning glances,
turning heads . . .
Stop and stare
at the sea of smiles
around you!

Seething shadows
breathing lies . . .
You can fool
any friend who
ever knew you!

Leering satyrs,
peering eyes . . .
Run and hide –
but a face will
still pursue you!

Read more: Phantom Of The Opera – Masquerade Lyrics | MetroLyrics

It was a beautiful moment watching these young men share their struggles, share their emotions and a little bit more about themselves. Some talked of how they are not very outgoing and ways that they could try to make new friends, others about how they can be less annoying, others talked of hiding behind masks of distrust or failure and how they were planning to build up their self-esteem. It was a beautiful moment of growth for all of us to share a little of our burdens and work toward becoming those better Men, which god is calling us to be.

The group presenting to the campers talked of how we can better realize the simple fact that we are all beloved Sons and daughters of God. Our Program Director, Jessy Bennett, her husband Ethan, and baby daughter, Lillian Rose talked about the love that a parent has for their child. They asked the campers to consider that if their parents love them so much, how much more does their heavenly Father care deeply and love them? If you check out our Gasper River FB page here, you can see the photos of these kiddoes that we are blessed with this week. Look at the close-ups of them. (We take a lot!) They are most definitely beautiful Sons and Daughters of God. The joy in their faces, the smiles upon their faces, the laughter in their eyes, the moments of surprise. God had and did a beautiful job in creating each one of them. He made them in his beautiful image and likeness. Will you join me in praying for these young men and women, as they walk their Way of Beauty? Join me in praying for them as they continue this week and the rest of their life? Pray that they may know of their beauty. Know of the love God and their families have for them, the love that the camp staff have for them. May they come to know that the masks we wear aren’t important, but the beauty that lies underneath (Love Never Dies, reference) is what is important. Let us pray for them that they may come to stop the dance and the masquerade and be true, virtuous, and holy for the sake of the kingdom of God. Amen.

This is from last year, but aren't they just beautiful?

This is from last year, but aren’t they just beautiful?

A light in the Dark – Reflections on Candle Time at camp & the Paschal Candle

Well, tonight we started our first ever duo-camp! We are running two camps at once this week. Expedition (7th-8th grade), and Quest (5th-6th). I’m working the Expedition camp and also being a staff counselor (living in the cabins with the campers) this week.

It’s a camp tradition that every night after campfire we close with candle time, a time to be candle-in-the-dark-reporter_087897with each other as brothers, share a little about the day and encourage each other to grow. In the past we have actually used candles during candle time, normally though due to a problem a few years back we don’t though some staff like myself, do like to pull out a candle every once in a while if a group is doing well.

The boys (still not men or young men, but getting there) did excellent tonight. They shared their Holy Spirit moments from the day, talking of how it was so good to be accepted by other boys their age, when they are not always accepted at school. We talked of how the smiles on everyones face made them want to be here at camp and how they were so happy to see glimpses of the fun we would have together this week. Many of them shared how this was some of the happiest few hours of their lives thus far and how they couldn’t wait to see what would come tomorrow. Others saw the Holy Spirit in the storm which seemed to pass by over us without much thunder and no rain. One said: “a real sign of how God’s hand is protecting us and guiding us here at camp this week.”

Our second question we prompted them with was if there was anything they were nervous or worried about for camp this week. One boy shared of how he worried for his grandmother, recently diagnosed with cancer. Still, another worried about his parents celebrating their 20th anniversary and hoping that they had as much fun as was going to this week. Some worried about what their mom’s would do without them this week. Others were scared for the weather and what we would be able to do if it rained all week.

We closed candle time like we opened it with one of the boys leading us in prayer. The camper who did the honor said a beautiful spontaneous prayer he prayed from the heart. (It’s his first time as a camper too! 🙂 )

As we began candle time I invited the boys to come sit around me on the floor so that they could be close to the candle. It was one of those simple inserts that we use for the Sanctuary lamp, that I had placed in a cut crystal bowl with a clear cylindrical globe. Easter-Vigil-CandleThe light danced across the room and across their faces, which you could tell were filled with wonder, nervousness, and awe. I was brought back to the glorious Vigil of Vigils; that is, the Easter Vigil, where we bring the single lighted paschal candle (a symbol of Christ, the light of the world) into the church for the first time. There in the closed space, the light dances off of the walls and stained glass, as well as the priest, congregation, and other ministers faces. It too is a moment of rejoicing for the church, as we welcome Christ, the risen savior back!

So too, like the Paschal candle being carried into the Church, we, the staff are called to bear Christ into the world, especially to these campers and everyone we encounter this summer. We are to pour ourselves out Eucharistically, give of ourselves in charity, love one another and help each other get to Heaven. I pray that we may continue to be that beacon of light in the dark for the campers, here this week and the rest of the summer. Will you join me in praying that that may be so? May we take the beauty we experience on this journey; this walk, and share it with those who so desperately need it.

Here’s a short poem on the Paschal Candle, I found and thought I would share:

The Paschal Candle
Burns brightly in the darkness
Light conquers darkness.
Death is banished forever.

The Christ Candle
A symbol of the Risen Lord
The victory of life over death
Heaven over the grave.

The Easter Candle
The Alpha and the Omega
The beginning and the end
The omnipotence of God.

The White Candle
Christ, yesterday and today
The Light of the world
Forever present amidst His own.

The Tall Candle
A pillar of strength day and night
All time belongs to Him
All ages under His power and rule.

The Cross bearing Candle
Five grains of incense ingrained on it
The five wounds of our Lord
The sacrifice once and for all.

The Vigil Candle
A celebration of the first Easter
To the one who merits
All praise and glory in every age to come.

Maria Franco


Gasper Summer Staff 2015

Now, if you will please excuse me, I have to go wrangle some of the boys who can’t sleep and keep going to the bathroom. Oh my, I’m so thankful for my parents, (especially my Dad and the priest-fathers in my life on this Father’s Day.)

Let us continue to walk this way of beauty to God together. Oremus pro invicem!

Consecrated and Set Apart – Recognizing our own Consecrated lives through the Consecration of the new Altar at Gasper River

The St. Francis of Assisi Chapel, prior to the Altar dedication.

The St. Francis of Assisi Chapel, prior to the Altar dedication.

This past week we had the dedication of the new Altar at Gasper River Catholic Youth Camp & Retreat Center in Bowling Green, KY. Gasper has been my “home” and summer job for the past two years. (This final round is #3) It was a great joy and blessing to be able to emcee the dedication and serve alongside my friend Sam Rasp, Deacon Matthew Keyser, and my Bishop.

The Liturgy for the dedication of the Altar during Mass is in my opinion one of the most beautiful liturgies. It is one that is steeped in tradition, full of beauty, prayer, and symbolic actions. During the Liturgy there are several main actions that are performed. This movement of different actions in the Mass and ritual for the dedication of an Altar is a wonderful way to look at walking the way of beauty. It is a way in which we can encounter God and his Son Jesus, in unique, beautiful, and meaningful ways. LEt’s look at this Ritual a little further and see how Consecrating an Altar works and how it relates to us as a consecrated and chosen people.

First at the beginning of the Mass, the Altar is sprinkled and blessed with Holy Water, a

The Bishop sprinkles the Altar with Holy Water

The Bishop sprinkles the Altar with Holy Water

sign of the intended use for a holy purpose of the object. (The same reason why we bless medals and ourselves with holy water.) Then after the homily the Litany of the Saints is sung, invoking the intercession of all of the holy men and women of God as well as the angels. The Litany reminds us that we do not act alone in this world or in our faith. The Bishop then prays an extremely long prayer of dedication for the Altar, calling to mind the many different altars that have been erected and established throughout Salvation History. The text for this prayer can be found at the bottom of this post. After the Litany and prayer of dedication the Bishop removes his chasuble and puts on a gremial

Deacon Matthew and I assist the Bishop in binding his sleeves and placing a gremial on him.

Deacon Matthew and I assist the Bishop in binding his sleeves and placing a gremial on him.

otherwise known as a linen apron, to protect his vestments from being ruined by the Chrism Oil. (Hey, Liturgies and rituals are supposed to be somewhat messy!)

The Bishop then anoints the Altar with the Oil of Sacred Chrism, the oil which leaves an indelible mark on a person’s soul and sets them apart for a sacred person. At Baptism, we see that a person is set apart for a life in the family of Christ, at Confirmation, those graces received at Baptism are strengthened and affirmed. At ordination a Man becomes a priest through

The Bishop anointing the Altar with Sacred Chrism

The Bishop anointing the Altar with Sacred Chrism

the imposition of hands and calling down of the Holy Spirit. His hands are anointed to bring Christ to the world in the Eucharist as he acts in persona Christi through his ministry.

It is recommended that the Bishop not just pour Sacred Chrism on to anoint the Altar mensa, but that he anoint the entire surface with Chrism, you can see that Bishop Medley uses both hands and reverently

Bishop Medley spreads the Sacred Chrism Oil across the mensa of the Altar.

Bishop Medley spreads the Sacred Chrism Oil across the mensa of the Altar.

smears the Chrism over the entire surface. His hands are so full of Chrism after the anointing that he normally has to wash his hands several times. You can just smell the Chrism in the air, the silence of all those gathered directing their attention to the ritual at hand.

After the Bishop has cleansed his hands of the Chrism and changed back into his chasuble, a brazier or bowl is placed on the Altar, inside of which are several lighted charcoals. He places incense on the charcoals and inside the Thurible, with which he

The brazier (bowl) of Incense symbolizes our prayers rising to the Father.

The brazier (bowl) of Incense symbolizes our prayers rising to the Father.

will incense the Altar. Incense has long been a staple in Catholic Worship as a symbol of the prayers of those gathered ascending to the Father. I couldn’t help as I watched the incense drift upwards, but  to call to mind the Psalmist’s words: “Let my prayer rise like incense before you.” Catholics use incense like our Jewish forefathers did. Thus, like our jewish forefathers who offered sacrifices on altars, so too Catholics offer the one true sacrifice (the death of Christ on the Cross) on our Altars to the Father, through and with Jesus. The Bishop walks all around the Altar, censing it and and showing through the smoke that the Altar is the way in which we lift our prayers and praise to God. He prays:

Lord, may our prayers ascend as incense in your sight. As this building is filled with fragrance so may your Church fill the world with the fragrance of Christ.

After the Incensation of the Altar, the brazier is removed and the Altar top is wiped. This is probably one of the most beautiful and poignant parts of the Mass. As Bishop stated,

Olivia (left) and Emily (right) bow before the freshly consecrated Altar while Deacon Matthew and I look on.

Olivia (left) and Emily (right) bow before the freshly consecrated Altar while Deacon Matthew and I look on.

while sitting down, this part symbolizes the women who came to the tomb to anoint the Body of Our Lord and wrap him in white linen. There was no music for his part of the Mass, the silence, and reverence with which the two girls wiped the altar spoke for itself. My sister, Emily and fellow staff member Olivia Conder volunteered to wipe the Altar off. They came forward and reverently bowed to the Altar, showing that it was consecrated. They were the first really to bow to it, as during the other parts of the Liturgy such as the procession, we did not bow, rather just go to our places in the sanctuary. This made me recall that Mary Magdalene was the first to recognize our Lord after his resurrection from the tomb.

Olivia and Emily wiping the Altar under Deacon Matthew and my instruction. (we had to point out any missed spots)

Olivia and Emily wiping the Altar under Deacon Matthew and my instruction. (we had to point out any missed spots)

She went to the Tomb and saw that it was empty, and after mistaking Jesus for the gardner, recognized him as the Lord. For the two girls to have the opportunity and joy of being able to recognize our Lord’s presence in the Altar had to have been a blessing. Emily and Olivia wiped the mensa (top) and sides of the Altar with such care and reverence. I actually teared up after the Bishop reminded us of what it symbolized and as I watched with what care and devotion the two ladies took as they attended to their task.

I thought back to that early morning Mass in the Tomb of Christ that we were blessed to celebrate on our pilgrimage to the Holy Land and with the silence and reverence that accompanied our Mass then and the Altar dedication now. After the Altar had been

Sam and I vesting the Altar

Sam and I vesting the Altar

thoroughly wiped off, Sam and I placed the White Linen Altar Cloth on it, vesting it for the Eucharistic Prayer to come. I’m excited for when we will get our new Altar Cloth at camp this summer, so that we do not have to use the simple white tablecloths anymore.

After vesting the Altar, or I should rather say: “While,” Mason and Ian came and carried the candlesticks over to the sides of the Altar. They forgot that we would be vesting it,

Ian (left) and Mason (right) place the Candlesticks by the Altar

Ian (left) and Mason (right) place the Candlesticks by the Altar

so they came a little early and were stuck holding them for a time. The candlesticks probably weigh a good 40 pounds  each. I felt sorry for them! Haha!

After the Candlesticks have been placed there comes the ceremonial lighting. The Deacon recieves a lighted candle from the Bishop who instructs him to light the candles that as the light shines from them, so too shall those gathered shine with the light of

Deacon Matthew lights one of the Altar candles.

Deacon Matthew lights one of the Altar candles.

Christ. This part of the ritual reminds us of the Easter Vigil, with Christ the light of the world coming and setting us free from the darkness of sin, releasing us into the marvelous light of his Father’s kingdom.

After the candles are lit, the Mass continues as normal with the Liturgy of the Eucharist, Communion, and the final collect and blessing. The final collect (prayer after communion), which collects all of our prayers together and helps draw the Liturgy to a close says:

Keep us, O Lord, ever close to your altar where the Sacrament of sacrifice is celebrated, so that, united in faith and charity, we, who by Christ are nourished, into Christ may be transformed. Who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen

Bishop Medley reminded all of us present that although this Altar is now consecrated, we must never forget that we too are a consecrated people. We are consecrated by and anointed with the same Oil of Sacred Chrism used to consecrate the Altar at our Baptism into the family of God, commissioned as we are anointed at our confirmation to go and preach the good news, the priest’s hands are anointed at ordination to make present the Living mysteries of Christ, and the Bishop’s head is anointed at his ordination to receive the fullness of Holy Orders and be able to consecrate others (including Altars) to a sacred purpose.

One of the things which I am really excited for about the summer is that we got to keep the towels with which we wiped the Sacred Chrism off of the Altar. I plan on cutting them into a few pieces, so that we have one for each week of camp, and then sharing with the campers that week not only about how we dispose of blessed items (Something I think I’ve done for the past 2 summers), but also about the Altar and how we too are a consecrated people. Our universal vocation is to that of holiness. We are called to offer ourselves on the Altars of our lives to God. Sanctifying our work, asking for our Lord to help us, giving ourselves over to the movement of his Holy Spirit. We must never forget that we are consecrated for a purpose, one which might have a rough road, but in the end will be very rewarding. We are a consecrated people. May we always be ready and willing to answer and act for the task for which we have been consecrated. . . Heaven. Amen.

After the Consecration of the Altar

After the Consecration of the Altar

Bishop Medley, preaching during the Mass.

Bishop Medley, preaching during the Mass.

Like the Consecrated Altar, so too are we consecrated for a Sacred Purpose

Like the Consecrated Altar, so too are we consecrated for a Sacred Purpose

The following is the text for the Consecration of an Altar, calling to mind the many Altars throughout human history. How does it help us to see the need to recognize our own consecrated lives?

Father, we praise you and give you thanks, for you have established the sacrament of true worship by bringing to perfection in Christ the mystery of the one true altar prefigured in those many altars of old.

Noah, the second father of the human race, once the waters fell and the mountains peaked again, built an altar in your name. You, Lord, were appeased by his fragrant offering and your rainbow bore witness to a covenant refounded in love.

Abraham, our father in faith, wholeheartedly accepted your word and constructed an altar on which to slay Isaac, his only son. But you, Lord, stayed his hand and provided a ram for his offering.

Moses, mediator of the old law, built an altar on which was cast the blood of the lamb: so prefiguring the altar of the cross. All this Christ has fulfilled in the paschal mystery: as priest and victim he freely mounted the tree of the cross and gave himself to you, Father, as the one perfect oblation. In his sacrifice the new covenant is sealed, in his blood sin is engulfed.

Lord, we therefore stand before you in prayer. Bless this altar built in the house of the Church, that it may ever be reserved for the sacrifice of Christ, and stand for ever as the Lord’s table, where your people will find nourishment and strength. Make this altar a sign of Christ from whose pierced side flowed blood and water, which ushered in the sacraments of the Church. Make it a table of joy, where the friends of Christ may hasten to cast upon you their burdens and cares and take up their journey restored. Make it a place of communion and peace, so that those who share the body and blood of your Son may be filled with his Spirit and grow in your life of love. Make it a source of unity and friendship, where your people may gather as one to share your spirit of mutual love. Make it the center of our praise and thanksgiving until we arrive at the eternal tabernacle, where, together with Christ, high priest and living altar, we will offer you an everlasting sacrifice of praise. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. R. Amen.

Pictures courtesy of Elizabeth Barnstead via the Diocesan FB page: