In 128 days, I will be ordained to the priesthood. That means a world of new responsibilities. Celebrating mass. Hearing confessions. Anointing the sick. Being the person people turn to in times of crisis and need. That is going to be a big step in my life as a pastoral minister.

And it has raised an interesting question: what will that do to my “other” ministries of evangelizing and catechizing through social media, preaching and teaching in various parishes around the country? It is a question that I have thought about for more than two years, a question that, frankly, has caused me to be a bit hesitant with what I started as I didn’t know if it would be able to continue.

We’ve reached the point where that question is beginning to be answered.

Last week, I have a conversation with my provincial and vicar provincial about my future. I shared what I was thinking, they shared what there were thinking, and we came to a pretty good conclusion: they want me to find a way to continue doing this ministry into the future.

What that will look like, I’m not 100% sure. But my guess is that I’ll have a much clearer answer in a few weeks time…

In this week’s vlog, I talk about the story of true and perfect according to St. Francis. Below I have copied the story in its entirety for those who have never read it.

One day in winter, as Saint Francis was going with Brother Leo from Perugia to Saint Mary of the Angels, and was suffering greatly from the cold, he called to Brother Leo, who was walking on before him, and said to him: “Brother Leo, if it were to please God that the Friars Minor should give, in all lands, a great example of holiness and edification, write down, and note carefully, that this would not be perfect joy.”

A little further on, Saint Francis called to him a second time: “O Brother Leo, if the Friars Minor were to make the lame to walk, if they should make straight the crooked, chase away demons, give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the dumb, and, what is even a far greater work, if they should raise the dead after four days, write that this would not be perfect joy.”

Shortly after, he cried out again: “O Brother Leo, if the Friars Minor knew all languages; if they were versed in all science; if they could explain all Scripture; if they had the gift of prophecy, and could reveal, not only all future things, but likewise the secrets of all consciences and all souls, write that this would not be perfect joy.”

After proceeding a few steps farther, he cried out again with a loud voice: “O Brother Leo, thou little lamb of God! if the Friars Minor could speak with the tongues of angels; if they could explain the course of the stars; if they knew the virtues of all plants; if all the treasures of the earth were revealed to them; if they were acquainted with the various qualities of all birds, of all fish, of all animals, of men, of trees, of stones, of roots, and of waters – write that this would not be perfect joy.”

Shortly after, he cried out again: “O Brother Leo, if the Friars Minor had the gift of preaching so as to convert all infidels to the faith of Christ, write that this would not be perfect joy.”

Now when this manner of discourse had lasted for the space of two miles, Brother Leo wondered much within himself; and, questioning the saint, he said: “Father, I pray thee teach me wherein is perfect joy.” Saint Francis answered: “If, when we shall arrive at Saint Mary of the Angels, all drenched with rain and trembling with cold, all covered with mud and exhausted from hunger; if, when we knock at the convent-gate, the porter should come angrily and ask us who we are; if, after we have told him, “We are two of the brethren”, he should answer angrily, “What ye say is not the truth; ye are but two impostors going about to deceive the world, and take away the alms of the poor; begone I say”; if then he refuse to open to us, and leave us outside, exposed to the snow and rain, suffering from cold and hunger till nightfall – then, if we accept such injustice, such cruelty and such contempt with patience, without being ruffled and without murmuring, believing with humility and charity that the porter really knows us, and that it is God who maketh him to speak thus against us, write down, O Brother Leo, that this is perfect joy.

And if we knock again, and the porter come out in anger to drive us away with oaths and blows, as if we were vile impostors, saying, “Begone, miserable robbers! to to the hospital, for here you shall neither eat nor sleep!” – and if we accept all this with patience, with joy, and with charity, O Brother Leo, write that this indeed is perfect joy.

And if, urged by cold and hunger, we knock again, calling to the porter and entreating him with many tears to open to us and give us shelter, for the love of God, and if he come out more angry than before, exclaiming, “These are but importunate rascals, I will deal with them as they deserve”; and taking a knotted stick, he seize us by the hood, throwing us on the ground, rolling us in the snow, and shall beat and wound us with the knots in the stick – if we bear all these injuries with patience and joy, thinking of the sufferings of our Blessed Lord, which we would share out of love for him, write, O Brother Leo, that here, finally, is perfect joy.

And now, brother, listen to the conclusion. Above all the graces and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christ grants to his friends, is the grace of overcoming oneself, and accepting willingly, out of love for Christ, all suffering, injury, discomfort and contempt; for in all other gifts of God we cannot glory, seeing they proceed not from ourselves but from God, according to the words of the Apostle, “What hast thou that thou hast not received from God? and if thou hast received it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?” But in the cross of tribulation and affliction we may glory, because, as the Apostle says again, “I will not glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Amen.”

To the praise and glory of Jesus Christ and his poor servant Francis. Amen.

 

This summer, I did something a little strange. Rather than being assigned to a specific parish or ministry site, I traveled the country on a preaching mission, stopping one week at ten different parishes. It was amazing.

By the numbers, here’s what the summer looked like:

  • 9500 miles (roughly) traveled
  • 85 days on the road
  • 48 Sunday homilies preached
  • 25 hour-long talks given
  • 20 YouTube videos produced
  • 15 beds slept in
  • 3200 miles traveled in a single day flying (Santa Ana to Newark to Chicago)
  • 787 miles traveled in a single day driving (New York to Chicago)

That… is something else. A summer unlike any I have lived before, and one that I probably won’t live again for a while. But I will live it again, I’m sure. That’s just one of the many things that I learned this summer, found in this week’s YouTube video.

In our family growing up, we had a rule: never say that something was the “last” time. Coming about not because of our fear of closure or bringing something to an end but because we had an uncanny ability to run into trouble when we declared something the “last.” For an example, I remember sledding all day once when I was about 10. We must have went down this hill 50 times without incident. But when my dad said, “Okay, this is the last time and then we’re going home,” somehow we forgot how to sled: we went too fast, lost control, flipped over, and banged our heads together. Such was the case for about a dozen things until we banned the word. Never say that it’s the “last” one.

Yeah… about that.

You’ll notice in this week’s video that I forgot our family rule. Not only did I use the word “last,” but I dramatically set it up as the focus of the video from the start. This was going to be the theme that I would run with throughout the vlog, trying to tie the events into a reflection of the trip.

Now, nothing went tragically wrong. I’ll say that. But mistakes were made, and I found myself truly limping to the finish line with this one. Tuesday afternoon came and I realized that I hadn’t filmed anything but the opening 1-2 minutes. What was I going to do with the video? Ugh. The curse of the last one. Even after I filmed on Tuesday to put something together, I realized that I did not once say where I was on this trip. Sorry St. Mary’s of Pompton Lakes. My bad.

Anyway, the mission itself went well and I really enjoyed being with the people of the parish. I hope that the video is fun to watch nonetheless, and that it might serve as a cautionary tail: never declare something the “last”!

Luckily for us, this is not the “last” video of the tour as I’m putting together some fun things from the weekend and plan on wrapping everything up with another video next week. Enjoy!

Last week I was in Raleigh, NC at The Catholic Community of St. Francis of Assisi. And really, to call it the “Catholic Community” is much more appropriate than to call it a church. This place not only has a giant worship space that serves thousands of people each weekend, it’s nearly 5000 families have access to an elementary and middle school, office space, recreational buildings (including a gymnasium, parish hall, library, and meeting spaces), a separate building for a daily mass and prayer chapel, and even two residential houses for special use. This is not your grandmother’s Catholic Church… (unless of course your grandmother lives in north Raleigh, then it might be.)

But beyond the opportunity to see one of the largest parish communities in the country, what made this stop interesting was the proximity to where I went to high school. Just a few minutes from the parish is my old house, high school, church, and a host of other places that offer a trip down memory lane. How did I feel going back? Well, my reaction was not exactly the same as what I felt in Greenville and Durham, we’ll say that.

All of that and more in this week’s vlog! I just arrived to Trinagle, VA where I’ll be preaching at St. Francis of Assisi Church. I hope everyone has a great weekend!

 

I’m in the midst of my summer vacation at my parents so I’ll keep this quick, but I have a great announcement that I would like to share with everyone about my ordination: it’s going to happen! Well, that’s not exactly news, but the date and location are set. On June 22, 2019, I will be ordained a priest at Immaculate Conception Church in Durham, NC by Bishop Luis Rafael Zarama.

At this point, that’s all I know, but I will certainly keep everyone updated as the process progresses.  For now, I’m enjoying a lazy and quite rainy Monday afternoon watching the Office on Netflix, so… I’m going to get back to that! I’ll be up and running again by the weekend where I’m headed to Raleigh, NC for stop number 8 on the Called Mission Tour! Catch you soon!

I’ve been to Rome and I’ve stayed in Assisi. I’ve stood on the top of the Alps in Austria and swam in the crystal clear ocean of Mexico. I’ve prayed in churches all around the country of many different styles. There are certainly some amazing places in this world where God’s presence is all but tangible. But there is none like this place.

St. Anthony’s Church, Greenville, SC.

No, that’s not a punchline. While it may sound strange to put this small Catholic mission to the African American community in the same category as the other places I’ve listed, I couldn’t be more serious: in all of my life, I have never found a place where God’s presence is easier to see and feel. Really.

For a first-time visitor, someone who has no connection with the place, this might not be the case. Unlike St. Peter’s Basilica or the hills of Assisi, there is very little about this place that takes your breath away with its beauty. The church is old and in need of repairs, the grounds are fairly humble, and outside of a new elementary school, most everything is rather small and ordinary.

But what makes this place so holy is not the transcendent views or mind-blowing architecture, it is the people. Here, more than any place I have ever been, you will find a community that understands its call to the be a part of the mission of Jesus Christ. They are in tune with the needs around them and never hesitate to act in building up the kingdom. Whether it be repairing homes in their neighborhood for low-income housing, running a food pantry, educating underprivileged youth, praying for vocations, supporting college students, bringing in speakers for adult faith formation, or helping pregnant women, St. Anthony’s just leads the charge. Despite being a relatively small parish, they raise more money, engage in more ministries, show up to more events during the week, and pack a church better than congregations double their size.

To me, this is what holiness looks like.

When people come to St. Anthony’s, they can’t help but feel the energy of something special. It’s absolutely contagious. In my travels, I have seen many churches in this country, and it sort of goes without saying that congregations are a mix between the super-faithful and those “fulfilling an obligation.” I could be completely wrong, but I never sense a single person in the latter category at St. Anthony’s. No, in watching how people receive communion, seeing their faces during the homily, feeling the fullness of voice in their songs and the joy in their conversations, people come to St. Anthony’s because they have seen the power of the Holy Spirit at work and want to be a part of the mission. People just want to be there.

Which is why I go back. Every year, at least once. It is the place of my college education and where I found my vocation to the Franciscans, but it’s also the place where I am renewed. I go to remember the past, yes, but more importantly to rejuvenate myself for the future. In this community, I get a taste of the kingdom of heaven and am reminded of what is possible throughout the world. Oh how I wish the rest of the world were as on fire as this place! What a world it would be.

And so I share just a snippet of my trip, just a taste of my experience. While it may seem strange to the outsider, and this video may honestly not capture it at all, I truly believe that I was on pilgrimage last week.

Okay, okay! I’m sorry! I’m just one man! I know this video is super late, but in my defense… I just forgot to do it.

Yeah, not a great defense. But better late than never, right? As I prepare to leave Greenville, SC tomorrow, take a moment to catch up on my last stop, Cincinnati, OH, and see how the trip is progressing. I find that even halfway through the trip and having covered more than 6600 miles… things are still seem pretty new! Be sure to check out why this video and be sure to check YouTube on Friday (because there’ no guarantee I’m going to be on time here on the blog!) for the next video!

There are few things that I’ve done in this world that I think are all that unique. While, yes, being a part of a religious order is rare in today’s world, it is a 1400 year tradition that has seen hundreds of thousands (maybe even millions) join. Not all that special. I’ve been to college. Ho hum. Spent a summer in a foreign country to learn another language. Yup, so do thousands of others every year. And, sure, I wrote a book, which is cool. But when there are an estimated 130,000,000 books in the world… it’s not quite as unique.

This past weekend, I feel like I actually did something that very few people have ever done. And for good reason. It was kind of foolish and I don’t recommend it! That thing, you ask? Well, since it’s the title of the post you can probably already see, but I was in Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago—in that order—in less than 24 hours. I mean, I’m sure people have gone from east to west or west to east, but how many people can honestly say that they have gone from Los Angeles, flying over Chicago to get to New York, and then 12 hours later turn around and go back to Chicago?

The better question, really, is WHY?

I hope you enjoy this week’s vlog! Look for a more reflective piece coming up next week as I get back on the road and settled into my routine on the road!

Well, the tour rolls on, and what a stop this last week was! Despite getting to see much of the country over the past 7 years with the friars, one of the places that I have always wanted to go—and had yet to visit—was the Pacific Northwest. Northern California. Oregon. Washington.

Well, not any longer.

Making my second stop of the Called Mission Tour, I spent the week in the Portland, OR area and loved every second of it. What an interesting place! From the beautiful natural areas to the eclectic downtime vibe, Portland was truly a place unlike anything I had ever experienced!

Oh, and I guess I was there to do some work, too… The mission has been going really well. As the title of this week’s video indicates, I misjudged the amount of books that people would buy and ran out just after the last mass. This was great news until I realized that the next parish (where I am as I currently write this post) has about five times the number of families but was ordered the same number of books! Oops! I rush-ordered another shipment that more than doubled the original… and I sit here on Monday morning realizing that it wasn’t enough: we ran out even before the last mass. Man… people are great. And I’m terrible at estimating.

Oh well! Moral of the story is that things are going well and I’m enjoying my travels. I’m currently in Huntington Beach, CA where I will be until Friday. I hope to have another video for you soon enough!

Last weekend was an adventure. Picture this: 40,000 Catholics from around the country all in one place to share their faith, to hear from the best Catholic speakers around, to share in some of the most extraordinary liturgies imaginable and to buy tons of discounted Catholic merchandise. (Okay, not all of the motives were winners!)

Welcome to the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, a place that is almost too overwhelming to fully describe! I had the great fortune of making my first appearance this year, and it did not disappoint. With my camera and a bag full of free books to hand out, I walked around the exhibition hall and attended lectures with the intention of sharing my own mission of evangelization and catechesis, while also learning about everyone else’s.

What I found so amazing was the breadth of personalities and spiritualities present. As Catholics, we truly are a big tent, and I met people at LA REC ranging from traditional to progressive, with everything in between, all sharing the same mission: to love and serve Jesus Christ. In a world so divided and focused on what makes us different, it was so encouraging to see so many people come together with only the most important thing on their minds.

At times, I fear that we can get too wrapped up in declaring which type of Catholic we are—as if that matters—and don’t take the time to rejoice in the glory of our diverse Church. For me, that’s what this weekend was about. I hope you enjoy this video as much as I enjoyed attending the Congress!

Yes… I’ve lost it. (In more ways than one actually!) This is yet another video for the week. Not only am I posted new episodes of Catholicism in Focus on Mondays and Lenten reflections on Fridays, it would appear that I have, for some reason, decided that this wasn’t enough. Yes, this is a mid-week vlog coming at you!

The topic of this week’s video? My recent trip to Florida. Ahh… yes… doesn’t that sound nice right about now for all those who are snowed in? When I left Chicago it was 17 degrees; when I arrived in Florida it was 71 (and got up to 82!) I would say that is an improvement.

But lest you think that this video is about taking a vacation or running from my vocation, think again! Anything but! From Saturday to Wednesday I joined Good Shepherd Parish in Tallahassee, FL for their lenten mission, speaking at all of the masses, joining a few parish community groups for meetings and talks, and giving two hour-long session talks to the parish community.

All in all, it was fantastic, and I had a great time. If nothing else, I think this video offers yet another glimpse into my life as a friar, living an itinerant life of evangelization. I wouldn’t trade it for anything!