Category: priests


The glistening tabernacle silently greeted me, sending forth an arch of gold, yellow and bronze light. I sat down and opened my book of hours. Nothing could be heard, no birdsong outside nor distant lawnmowers roaring,-not even the shuffle of feet as others entered the church. Periodically I glanced up at the abode of my Lord, perhaps nervously but more likely, full of thoughts. Sally, one of our sacristans, approached. Her neatly cropped hair and white shirt shone like silver beneath the bluish stained-glass window. Seeing me paused, with the open book, she said:
“Sing.”
And so I began chanting as she slowly opened the tabernacle, retrieved a golden container of already consecrated hosts. Beside it, was placed a small silver monstrance holding a larger, exposed host. She knelt down in reverence before closing the tabernacle and bringing the container to the sacristy. Immediately, I realized that a priest wasn’t available to say Mass today, that we would be holding a communion service led by the deacon instead. Anxiety gripped my heart as I thought of our parish priest and the sickness in his family that kept him away at this time. Ringing out the psalms, I asked God to watch over him. A thought suddenly came to mind. I stopped chanting and turned to Sally who now sat behind me. My heart thudded. The odd request lingered on my lips. Nervously, I asked:
“If it is allowed, can you open the tabernacle so that we can adore the host?”

~ ~ ~

“We can do that as long as I’m here,” Sally answered.
I didn’t check the expression on her face, whether it was joyful, eager- or baffled but gladly knelt down when the heavy metal doors were opened again, revealing the silent little host in its silver casing. Feelings of littleness and aggravation at my sins hit me full force. I really was no one and nothing compared to Our Almighty God who deigned to descend from heaven and dwell with us. I finished my prayers and remained kneeling on the floor for several minutes as love gently emanated from the small host, washing over everything like the sunlight, making cold places grow warm again. And at that moment, love was enough. He was enough.
Shuffling emerged behind us and glancing over my shoulder, I saw a man with sparse hair, glasses over his bright eyes and a white collar. Slung over his arm was a long, white garment. A priest! Rather flustered, he asked about the time of the Mass, explaining he got lost on the way to the church. Sally instantly sprang up to help him and followed him down the aisle. Hurriedly, not considering propriety, I closed the tabernacle, dropped upon one knee and said farewell to my Jesus, knowing I would see him again in just a few moments. My mind leaped and ran in circles as I absentmindedly followed them into the sacristy.
“Is there anything I can do?” I blurted out.
The priest was already throwing on vestments and I eyed the floor, worried I’d interrupted him somehow. I always worried about this. However, relief flooded my heart as Sally answered,
“Yes, you can take these hosts, put them in the tabernacle, lock it and bring me the key.”
As she placed the round, golden container in my outstretched hands, I bowed down and closed my eyes like a samurai receiving his sword in some epic movie. I walked gingerly, like a chemist carrying concentrated acid. I shivered expectantly, like a young, virgin girl pregnant with the Savior of the world. The thing in my hands was infinitely more precious than gold, jewels, the finest spices, more weighty than the universe. Every instinct in me wanted to loudly start singing: “Pange lingua gloriosi.” I sang it in my heart instead.

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The church seemed all but empty. Lined up like sentries, the pulpit and candlesticks kept silent watch. I knelt at the wooden altar rail before the tabernacle, my nostrils took in lingering, sweet incense and my eyes fell upon the wooden high-altar, where our sacrifice was just offered. Jesus truly was in this place. I felt in my very bones. He gazed upon me as I gazed at Him. No, this was not my parish church but oddly enough, it seemed more like home than the parish church. So different, yet oddly familiar. Here amidst silence, the carved wood, the tall candlesticks and lace, remembering a simple, beautiful liturgy marked with chanting, bowing and many signs of the cross, I felt I finally belonged. Moreso, I felt fed, heavy with the fat things of the earth, lavished by the gifts of heaven.


Something moved from behind me and I caught sight of a figure in a sweeping, black cassock.

“Father,” I called out, “When you have a chance, may you please bless my scapulars?”

Wasting no time, he took the three, blue scapulars from me, strode to the altar and set them down. He faced the crucifix, speaking prayers under his breath. Immediately, the memory of him, up there in flashing, red vestments, burned through my mind. He who offered the greatest sacrifice for me, now said this small blessing. He who entered the heavenly courts now did what seemed, a very earthly thing, tracing a cross in the air and sprinkling holy water.


Returning to me, he set the scapulars down on the altar rail, put an arm on my shoulder and said, “Try to imagine that you are like the Israelites in exile. I know that it’s hard being where you are, where your soul doesn’t feel fed, where at times it’s debilitating, but He will pull you through this.”
This priest and I weren’t strangers. Every time my friend Leo brought me to this church in Orlando, a good hour away, I’d told him about my parish. I mentioned how barren and dead it indeed seemed compared to this lively place of wood, candle-wax, reverent song, of silk, linen, lace and black. Yet I didn’t need to say anything today. The tears in my eyes during the Mass said enough. My trembling as I approached the altar showed the pining of my heart.


“Thank you, Father,” I replied, looking directly at him.
A twinkle showed in his eye. Here was a man who knew what he was talking about, who perhaps tasted bitter exile himself. On his way from the sanctuary he passed the crucifix. I stared at the heavy beams, carrying their sweetest burden, suspended between heaven and earth.

The Priest

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“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” –John 14:18

A discussion on the Mass cannot be separate from a discussion on the gift of the priesthood. Crowing the offering of the priesthood of believers, God’s ministerial priests make the Eucharistic sacrifice present. The word “priest” means one who makes sacrifice. Chosen from among men, he presides over the banquet of love. As “another Christ” his hands, voice and body become the very instruments of Christ, used to pour out every kind of grace. The priest’s vocation is to be steward of all gifts which the Mass imparts. We see clearly that his actions, words, prayers and vesture have something to teach us about the gifts.

Gold in the vesture of the priest is not belonging to the man, but to God’s presence which wraps him as a mantle. We think of how the prophets of old chose their successors by placing their mantle upon them. We think of how Christ elected his own apostles and remember that every priest is enrolled in the apostolic ministry of preaching the Gospel to every nation.

The oil of a priest configures him especially to Christ. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit burns a brilliant seal upon his soul. It is the oil of gladness, of Our Savior’s eternal priesthood. He goes to the wellspring of Christ’s own life and draws out the Eucharist from which we all drink. He gives us the sacrament that heals, atones and saves. During the elevation of the host and chalice, let us imagine that oil is being poured out over the people, cleansing us, strengthening us, making us new.

When the priest prays quietly at the altar, he is praying for himself- and for us. Jesus’s disciples asked him: “teach us to pray” and this is what the priest does. Like the Good Shepherd who leads us, he teaches us a silent way of prayer, of turning our eyes to the Heavenly Father and trusting in Him. He lifts up his children, diligently cares for them and feeds them honey from the promised land.

The priest does many acts of reverence during Mass. He bows his head, lifts his hands, makes small crosses and big crosses. Genuflecting before the consecrated Eucharist, he shows adoration for Christ. We worship with head, hands, feet and lips because Christ became man and worshiped his Father in this way. Watching these gestures and responding to them, our whole being participates in the Holy Sacrifice.

Lastly, the priest works hard to provide for our nourishment. He spends many hours in toil, tending to the sick, weak and spiritually wounded. His celibate fecundity and wholehearted devotion become rich milk flowing in the desert. By laying down his own life for us, he provides us with a model of Christian living. In following self-abandonment, we find true happiness. What a happy sight is a priest wearing his collar amidst a bustling, public place! The priest is a quiet, humble enduring token of God’s presence with us always.

The Honey of the Mass.

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“Know also that wisdom is like honey for you: If you find it, there is a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.” – Proverbs 24:14

There are some things about the Mass that we can just savor. In a sacred place, praying silently, folding our hands, perhaps whispering, we are comforted. Eyes closed, hearing a gentle hymn about the mercy of God, we are given hope. Seeking him, we know he seeks us. This is the honey of the Mass: God’s peace, which the world cannot give. The soft prayers, small gestures and mumblings of the priest are soothing to watch and hear.  A pilgrim people, we are nestled in the arms of God, and there, tell our many petitions.

Honey shows our special relationship with God. Our liturgical gestures reveal a people conversant with God, knowing him as both friend and lover. Every movement is charged with meaning, every word profound. Listening to the Gospel, let us remember that His word is like a honeycomb, beckoning us closer. As the priest recites prayers we may not be able to hear, remember that Jesus often went alone to pray. It reminds us to watch and pray.

You may notice that the words said at Mass have a set text. They are moreso echoed in every Catholic Church around the world. These petitions, handed down in the Church’s wisdom, are the prayer of the universal people of God who intercede for the world.  We don’t just recite these prayers, but enter into them, learning their meaning as we hear them again and again.

And how sweet the words of Jesus that flow from our mouths when we say: “Our Father, who art in heaven”? Our prayers join with those of the whole Church and Christ, who is the Head of the Body, prays with us. In receiving the Holy Eucharist, God becomes our humble guest. In silence, we talk to him, tell him our many needs and the needs of others. At this time, we might say private prayers in our hearts.  Because it is savored so long in the heart, honey characterizes the end of the Mass which is petition.

In our desert lives, it is necessary to seek refreshment. The sweetness of the Mass gives us energy to confront a world that is seldom peaceful. Jesus came to give us peace, to bring good tidings to all men. He taught us how to pray and united with him, we worship the Father. Our lasting union with him, is supreme happiness. In him, is our hope and the Mass reminds us of this time and time again. In his body, he died, rose and ascended. Knowing that Our Lord and God endured the hardships of life, gives us courage to face our own trials. Honey sweetens the vinegar of suffering.

 

The Oil of the Mass.

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“I have found David my servant; with my sacred oil I have anointed him” – Psalm 89:20

We each bring our own offering before God in the Holy Mass. In union with the priest, we lift up our hearts. The oil of the Mass, is our hearts, our prayerfulness, our awareness of who we are, the priestly people of God and what we are doing, offering sacrifice. It is also the crowning delight of the Mass, namely, God working through the priest. In our commingled offerings, a pungent fragrance is released. Spreading upward on our prayers and petitions, it fills the house of God.

A priestly people, we are anointed by God’s presence in the sacraments. In the Mass, our oil runs over. It exalts, it strengthens, heals and saves. This is most apparent in the consecration of the Holy Eucharist where a broken, sinful man calls down all the powers of heaven and cradles Christ in his hands. How awesome, the calling given to us, that we may share this incomprehensible blessing! In union with the priest, we offer the greatest sacrifice!

A zealous priest, in love with this sacrament of sacraments, gives forth finest oil. He has given everything, laid down his life and bursts with joy at being made a sweet oblation. The proper disposition we should carry during the Mass, is of self-sacrifice, being conformed to the salvific sacrifice of Christ. We continually apply the oil to ourselves that we may be healed and brought closer to our original dignity, that of our first parents before the fall. Thus, oil corresponds to the end of the Mass which is atonement for sins. The name “Christ” means “anointed one” and we bear his name as Christians. On our foreheads, is the seal of his kingship.

Oil spreads by virtue of its thick, moist consistency. Therefore, as a community, our oil is gathered and lavished upon others. Our anointing doesn’t run out as soon as we leave the church but rather must be spread onto the entire world. Oil is also a fuel. Filling our lamps with it, we burn brightly. This means that instead of hiding under a basket, we teach the truth. And if our lamps should run dry, we are invited to return to the most holy Eucharist and be refilled. The oil of Christ never lacks. His priesthood, and thus our priesthood, lasts forever.

 

 

 

 

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This weekend was powerful. Yes, that is the word to describe it: powerful. This is the third year in a row where I attended a young women’s retreat with the campus ministry of St Augustine, sponsored by the Universities of Miami and Gainsville, FL. Though I’m long past being a college student, these retreats have been so meaningful, revealing things about God and myself.

Last year was bitter. Bitterness mixed with sweetness in the three days I described as “like holy week” a dismal crucifixion of myself leading to resurrection. This year, praise God, was sweetness, and as I said, power. The goal of this retreat was first, listen to God, be open to his call. This is especially important for my vocational discernment, which has had its fair share of ups and downs, mostly due to my own stubbornness. It seems that even when God puts a good, beautiful thing in front of me, I deny it in my own pride. And this hurts Him more than anything. With this retreat, I vowed no more. No more saying I was too unworthy or not strong enough. We aren’t called because we are worthy or because we can do it. If so, the world would be filled with careless priests, nuns, monks and married couples who are very strong and very worthy but horrible at what they do. There is a certain power in weakness, in saying “No, God I can’t do it but I trust you anyway.”

The second goal of the retreat was to examine my spiritual motherhood of priests. How well have I been praying for the ones God entrusted to me? Have I served their needs selflessly- or used ulterior motives? Unfortunately, along with the selflessness, those selfish motives can trail behind, the awful thought of “Aren’t I so wonderful for doing this?” The first morning reflection coincidentally (or not) was on Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac. I decided to take my spiritual sons and offer them back to God, asking him to even remove them from my care-if it pleased him. The best way we can honor what God gives us is to offer it back to Him.

The retreat had a huge overarching theme that hit me over the head: Behold the Lamb of God. It started at Mass. As the priest lifted up the broken host and chalice, saying “Behold the Lamb of God” I looked into his eyes. Focused on the Eucharistic Lord held up before him, there was longing, anticipation, and excitement. My heart began to pound as I imagine the priest’s excitement. It wasn’t until the second Mass that God led me to understand. This anticipation was Christ’s own anticipation, of communing with us, becoming one with his bride. More specifically, it’s how he feels about me. At last, I could tangibly see and feel the love of God, taste and see the goodness of the Lord and after 6 years in this journey, it led me back to where I began, in the Eucharistic presence.

After the Mass, I drew a picture of what Jesus had conveyed to me. The Ecce Agnus Dei with streams of water pouring out. The book of Revelation (ch 21 and 22) speaks of a spring of water, the water of life, flowing from the throne of God and from the Lamb. In the power of the Mass, the waters of life are opened and pour out upon all creation. We, who are thirsting for God, for life, happiness and meaning, come and drink. It is the only thing that will satisfy us, the only thing for which we are truly made: A glimpse at the face of God. This powerful message is what propels us towards a new way of life and being.

Mixed into the passages about the streams of water in revelation, is profoundly nuptial imagery. At that time, the new Jerusalem is shown to St John, beautiful as a bride bedecked in jewels, free of all stain, lovely to behold! Wherever we hear “behold the Lamb” we should also hear “behold the bride”. Jesus is not only the sacrificial lamb who takes away our sins, he is the Bridegroom who thirsts for us. The great thirst we feel in times of desolation is but a taste of the thirst God has for us. We almost are brought to feel His own passion and thus, it’s in those times, we are conformed to His heart in a special way. The anticipation of Jesus before we receive communion is the same anticipation a bridegroom feels before the moment of the wedding. If we understood how deeply Jesus longed to be in our hearts, we would faint from love! His love for us is unquenchable. He will go to the ends of the earth, through unspeakable torments then to hell and back for us. He did it once before…

 

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”

And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”

And let everyone who is thirsty come.

Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.”

–          Revelation 22:17

 

It has been brutal. For the past year and a half, a struggle ensued for my mind and soul. Constant spiritual warfare wore me down to the point where, on most days, I could barely hold up my head. Going to Mass became a chore. Something was seriously wrong within my soul. All this time, it seemed God was distant. Watching me, yes, but with his back turned the other way. I wandered in the desert like the weeping Israelites, praying and hoping for the streams of life.

During the worst times, I could barely pray. Nothing gave me the joy and consolation I formerly felt. Even throughout Mass, everything remained numb, dead inside. Seeing Jesus in the priest’s hands: the solution to all my ills, I begged Him for deliverance, remembering in my mind the most-dreary verse of Psalm 88: “Friend and neighbor you have taken away, my one companion is darkness.” What the melancholy King David sang thousands of years ago, I felt in my heart this day.  Asking God for His grace, I decided to snub the devil by taking up even more prayer.

Now was not the time to let up. It was time for heavy artillery. Eucharistic adoration. If the local parish didn’t have exposition, I’d go into the church, before the silent tabernacle and voice my complaints and regretfully, not enough thanksgivings. Adoring the sacred host, the Real presence of the Lord is a remedy of peace, a soothing balm on the wounded soul. When you have one foot in the grave, in front of the tabernacle is where you need to be.

Another weapon: The Divine Office. A very ancient and powerful prayer, using the Scriptures, prayed in union with the entire church. It ensures the name of God be blessed at every hour… and the devil hates that! You don’t need to pray all five in a day as monks do. Start with Vespers or Evening prayer, which is easiest. Work your way up. Try chanting, in monotone or with accompaniment. As St Augustine advises: “He who sings prays twice.”

The spirits of despair and anger had encompassed me. There seemed no place to run. Last night, I struggled through my rosary, feeling suffocated by the evil and sin which weighed down heavy. Feelings of worthlessness, weariness and stress hung over my brow. It is no consequence that during the darkest times, Mary came to me, a quiet and serene presence. There is such power in the Mother of Christ, Our Perpetual Help. She crushes the serpent’s head. Wherever a public rosary was offered, I’d try best to make it.

But I am here to proclaim that God does wondrous things, even when we’re on the brink of giving up. We are always ready to give up, but Our Lord, He never gives up on us. Frayed, at the very end of my rope, I attended the rosary and adoration service at a nearby parish in Winter Haven Florida. The priest there is known to be very nice. He once heard my confession on the spot. I asked him before the service if he had time but he was understandably busy. After the service, I approached him and told him about this spiritual warfare I’d been going through, asking for his prayers. Even before we spoke, he could tell something was up. I glanced away, explaining that I’ve been thrown into so much confusion that I wasn’t even sure if I committed sins or not. He offered to bless and then absolve me!!

Taken totally by surprise, I knelt down before him, my eyes on the white stole hanging from beneath his robes. The power to forgive sins. Next to the voice of your husband, saying “I love you,” there is no better sound than a priests voice saying “I absolve you.” To me, it’s Jesus saying “I love you.” Totally beside myself with gratitude, I kissed the priest’s stole, thanked him profusely and skipped out of the church like a giddy fool.

Finally, I knew what it felt like to be that one leper, who showing himself to the priest, found he was completely healed. My heart racing, my face aglow, I ran and told everyone nearby of God’s goodness, of the healing power Jesus Christ gives through His “other Christ’s”, how God always comes through when we least expect it, how His love endures even in darkness. And that is why I wrote this for you today.

Good News.

The Lord is great and so merciful beyond measure! He truly gives good things to those who ask! For a long time, there is something I kept silent, perhaps believing that it was “too good to be true” But my heart has known it for quite some time, the Lord has finally entrusted a priest to me, as my spiritual son.

Last year, I attended a religious retreat during which Our Lord did extensive work on my soul, painful and extensive work within the period of three days. If one looks at a former entry in this blog, dating from June 10, 2013 (https://catholicwvengeance.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/a-retreat/) you will see my thoughts and reflections on this retreat, which I often describe as “like Holy Week” because during this time, I began to crucify the old self and let the new woman be resurrected. And let me tell you, it was long time coming. I met a young priest on this retreat who was newly ordained. He opened my heart to God’s love and after I left, his kindness left an impression in my mind, so much like the kindness of Christ Himself. Well, I went home and promptly took up the Divine Office again. Chanting it it with others, every morning and evening also left an impression, that this rhythmic prayer unified with the whole Church could be a means to taste heaven and intercede for others. Every now and then, I offered Lauds or Vespers for this kindly young priest. Nothing more.

Then came the soft, voice of the Lord saying “Pray for him”. So I started offering more prayers. However, myself being so stubborn in nature and skeptical to an infuriating degree, I grew slack. Let me tell you now, that when God wants something done, He WANTS it done. I learned that quick. He began urging me to pray for this priest, even at night and even in my dreams! If I did not stop whatever I was doing and pray for this priest, anxiety would well up in me so that I could think of nothing else but this poor man stumbling into some sin because of my negligence. So, by the grace of God, I “adopted” our kindly young priest in question, envisioning him as an innocent child yet with the power to call Christ down from heaven, who needs help in this great vocation. Not that I by my own power can help him, but Our Lord, He delights in hearing me ask for His help.

Recently, due to my horrible pride, and the attacks of the Devil (I never underestimate that dirty rat anymore) I nearly rejected my own spiritual son. I said “This is too good a thing to happen to me,” “He doesn’t even know me”, “He probably doesn’t even want my help.” And the worst one: “What use is it?” Going to adoration on a sunny Friday afternoon, seeing my Lord there, sitting silently with me, it made those thoughts go away. For so long, I had wanted God to outright say “Okay, Rachel this is your spiritual son. Yes, I gave him to you, here he is.” Yet, He never used words. The warmth and peace of His presence simply confirmed it.  This priest needs me, he needs my prayers. At last, at last this wonderful thing has happened. A beautiful soul, a priestly soul, has been put into my clumsy hands for special care! It is such good news that I had to tell others! What amazes me that the one whom God gave me at first as a brother and a father, was now given to me as a son, that I may be taught how to love. He truly is a compassionate God who meets all needs for all people! Every moment when I suffer, either from a headache or a hard day at work, I think of this priest and offer it up for him.

And Our Lord is still fond of waking me at night and asking for a few Hail Mary’s on his behalf. Blessed Mary, who is mother to all priests, is such a strong advocate for both of us. I entrust this priest to her because she can watch over him at all times. Such tenderness, that I feel for this spiritual son of mine, she is the one who taught it to me first. The Devil be driven far from him, I pray, and may his priesthood bear much fruit and may every blessing which is given to me, be also given to him.

 

 

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