Monday, September 21, 2009

Finishing a story

Hello my friends,

This weekend I was spending some time looking through some of papers and things. One of the blessed genes I received from my mother is the inability to throw anything away. As a result, I've been able to find pretty much everything I've ever written. I've always enjoyed telling stories, some of which I've tried, off and on, over the years to write down. Well, finding them this weekend became kind of a stroll through my mindset from years past and for some reason I spent the time to put much of this writing onto my computer.

In doing this I started to notice two themes that seem to thread themselves through most of the stories I've ever written. I thought I would share a couple of them with you and see if you could pick out what I was seeing (if you don't... its okay, I'm going to point them out at the end of this blog... I kind of have to, or else there would be no point this whole entry).

"I was born in the middle of the night, in the middle of the year, in the center of the decade filled with confusion from its own self-discovery; given to a mother who should have been in school and to a father that never wanted to be one. My life has seen many comings and goings, much like all the other lives that have propelled themselves through the countless traces of time; toward whatever Heaven they have envisioned. And like those others before me, with me and those to come after me, the uniqueness of my experiences and the stuff which gives them meaning is not so much in the experiences themselves, but in their singularity of having made a part of my life experiences. In my ability to share them with those people who come to make up the life that I have been given unites my stories with the history of all. This is the story I have chosen to tell. Everyone who reads the story becomes a part of it, allowing my life to become part of their own."

"I sometimes wonder why I recall the events of my life too easily. It seems to me there should be some kind of effort involved, some hidden pain or injustice to be circumvented. And yet, there it is! I think of a time in my life that comes vividly to re-assemble itself in my mind with no problem. Yet again! Another memory with no hesitation right behind the last.

Now, I do not consider myself to be super-naturally gifted in anyway. I just think of anything from my past, like the time when… yeah, that’s the one, and I can’t help but laugh as if it were the first time all over again right now.

I really don’t know why they come with such ease. Maybe I’m just more open with myself? Willing to spend more time with myself, to devolve into my experiences. Like that one right there! Man, that was a good time! Maybe that’s it? After all, a man’s understanding of himself is what he has to share with the people around him…isn’t it? If I don’t know who I am how can I show you?"

"I’ve often wanted to write in the Classic Romantic style. To paint images with words brimming over with the taste of the pictorial illusions created through the well-crafted use of the minds’ eye and my pen’s eloquence. Then could I gaze upon the grandeur of a Cathedral and bring to life the caressing sight that can only be given to the smoothest of stone masonry and the blending of glass stained to prismatic color with the gentleness of refracted light. Or to put into words the melodies of the sweet men who put forth into sacred space their voices which found purchase within the very joints and marrow of the soul. Set there to reverberate again and again as sound through these magnificent walls echoing through the edifice of my spirit. Yet, with my abilities all I can say is that these Monks sing really well for a bunch of guys in a damp and poorly lit church."

These are just three examples, but I think you should be able to start seeing my point. All of these were written when I was much younger and are prime examples of the two issues that seem to have folded themselves into the movement of my life.

What are they you ask? They look like very well thought out, introspective snippets of what we can only assume were marvelous stories!

Well, my friends... if those were your thoughts... thank you. If those weren't your thoughts... good for you!

What I noticed in these stories was that I never finished anything! What you see in this blog was everything I wrote on those story lines. I could come up with the initial idea, but never found it within myself to come up with a full story.

The other thing I noticed was that I was really self-important! Look at that stuff! There was no real introspection going on... just words drooling out of pen left agape.

I bring these up, not to poke fun at my younger self (I was actually a pretty nice person back then), but to remind us all that we've begun stories that we've never finished and, at least in my case, I'm beginning to realize more and more that the only story I will ever find fulfilling is the one I'm not writing, but allowing myself to become more and more a part of with each passing day.

Let's keep praying for each other as we journey together through this great epic that is our life in Christ.


Fr. John

Friday, September 18, 2009

My time in North Carolina

Hey there everyone,

So I'm sitting here next to the St. Charles river and I watching the water flow by. I see some of the leaves on the trees begin to change and the colors on one of them remind me of the color of sand.

Just a week ago I was on the sands of Oak Island, North Carolina. No, I wasn't on holiday, but it was going to be an adventure. An adventure in holiness, because on that Island, surrounded by those grains of sand 200 plus young people came to find Christ and I was there to see Him show Himself to them.

Way back in January the Youth Minister of St. Mary Magdeline Catholic Church in Apex, North Carolina asked me to join her, Chris Padgett, Ike Ndolo, along with the youth from St. Peter's Catholic Church in Greensville, North Carolina for a retreat. I'm always up for a retreat, so i said, "Yes."

The months past and now I find myself, having arrived in North Carolina, driving onto the Ft. Caswell Retreat Center. I know many of you are saying, "Ft. Caswell Retreat Center? That doesn't sound right!" To be perfectly honest, I thought the same thing as we drove in past the walls of this old, Civil War era fort which had been converted into a retreat center back in the late 1940's by a group from the Baptist tradition. Yet, I thought of such things as the great Hymn, "A Mighty Fortress if Our God," or the passage from the Book of Psalms which reads, "You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, say to the Lord, 'My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.'" And then it made so much more sense to me how perfect a place a fort is for a retreat. Here these young people would have a safe place to find Our Lord in the midst of the chaos they live through every day of their lives.

A breeze has kicked up and the sandy leaves from the tree are blowing across the air currents and landing gently in the river where they keep moving away from me. I begin to think of the young people who drifted in from the lives they have in different High Schools, different Parishes, different cities, different parts of a state and yet, they all seem to be landing in the gentle waters of Our Lord's mercy for this weekend.

Like a leaf on the wind they seem a bit tossed about as they arrive, but very soon, they enter into the heaviness of the theme, "Give God Permission." By the end of the first night, I find myself sitting on the floor in the prayer room listening to some incredibly profound Confessions. Watching hearts lighten and breath return to bodies that held the air tight within themselves as they offered their sins to the merciful forgiveness of God. I could tell from this moment on that these young people longed to find Christ in this fortress of faith we had come to.

The next day I was moved by how these young people, and wonderfully giving adults quickly moved themselves from one experience of Christ to another. From periods of listening to speakers, to singing of song, to praying together, to running through the ruins of the fort and along the sands of the beach. With each of these events, they found, whether they realized it or not, that Christ was revealing Himself to them, through moments of intensity and moments of recreation. It was a blessing to be invited to share and celebrate this time.

The last evening of the retreat we processed with the Blessed Sacrament through the compound (I only image what some of our Baptist friends might have been thinking, but I hope is was... "Those Catholic may be a lot of things... but the really do know how to make an entrance!"). And after the time of Adoration I again found myself in the prayer room becoming an instrument of God's grace for these young people as they kept pouring out the gritty sands of their sins and drinking from the river of God's forgiveness. Before I knew it... it was almost 1:00am... I was tired and enthused (filled with God as the word literally means) at the same time.

As we made our farewells the next day and I headed back to the airport I was being pulled back to those moments of Sacramental grace I was a part of during the past few days and I was struck by the fact. I say a lot. I write a lot. I stand before thousands of people at times. Yet, one of the most important things I will ever do will have nothing to do with my words, of literary style, or my performance behind any podium. The most important things I will do will be in the closeness of a small room where I tell someone that their sins are forgiven, and the Lord actually does the forgiving, or in the intimacy of of speaking the words of institution as the Holy Spirit changes bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, or the gentleness of pouring water over someone who is entering the Church through the waters of Baptism, or the finality of being present to someone who is moving from this life to the next as I anoint their head and hands.

This is my vocation!


The leaves have slowed there drifting and the waters have carried away all those that had already fell. I'm filled with a sense of hopefulness. Of what the changing of the seasons mean and the fact that through all the changes of the past, this river has kept flowing.

Thank you to all the young people of St. Mary Magdeline and St. Peter for letting me see the changing of my heart in this glorious life of a Priest I've been called to and I hope you have been able to see the changelessness of God's Love which will flow through the entirety of your lives.

Have a blessed day everyone. You are all in my prayers.

Fr. John

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A moment to reflect

Hello again my friends,

Today is a special day on the Franciscan calendar. Its the celebration of St. Francis' reception of the wounds of Christ, also known as the Stigmata (nota bene: St. Francis of Assisi was the first person in history to receive this gift of the Stigmata). This day remembered for one holy man's desire to share, truly share, in the sufferings of Christ is also a time for us to reflect on how much do we or don't allow ourselves to conform to Christ in our own lives. Is our faith as visible as the wounds St. Francis wore.

As I sat in our little chapel here at the Friary. I could hear the traffic going by (all driving insanely fast for such a narrow road... of course), and I see the clouds moving in the sky with all their threat of rain, and I could feel the tiniest of breezes coming from under the window next to me that had been left open, ever so slightly to along air into this sacred space. In the midst of this two other sights crept into my mind.

The first, was how close the relic of St. Francis and the Blessed Sacrament were to each other in the small glass Tabernacle we have. This stuck me as a perfect moment... St. Francis of Assisi strove his entire life, after his embracing of his vocation, to be as close to Christ in every way possible and desiring for people to see how loving Christ, to allowing each person to embrace an intimate relationship with Christ can truly be a reality. Or as Fr. Murray Bodo wrote in his book, Francis: The Journey and the Dream, that St. Francis would look at the Eucharist as a grace given, a Sacrament offered for the transformation of souls. He had seen its effects in his own and every time he would look upon the Eucharist he would see that possible transformation for all people, "He thought of all who would let Christ transform them into what they needed to become in order to be happy."

So, as I gazed upon an earthly remnant of St. Francis and a Divine wholeness of Christ found in the Blessed Sacrament I could not help but think how He still is calling to be intimate with Him, even to the point of suffering. After all, that's what "passio" or "passion" means, to suffer.

Today, we celebrate one man's bonding himself to the suffering of Christ and in the process becoming a living embodiment of we should strive in our reception of the Eucharist... to become a people who give thanks to God for every moment and long to more intimate with Him as each days passes.

The second thing that caught my heart in this period of reflection was how truly small this chapel is... and yet, in its simplicity and tiny size there was something to be seen as well. St. Francis was not a physically large man (although, after climbing the hills in Assisi, I believe he had calves the size of footballs), yet he gave every ounce of himself in service... to the point of literally wearing his small body out. Would that we all could do that! Then, again, my eyes were brought back to the Eucharist... it too is physically small, yet how many miracles (its own moment of Transubstantiation being counted among them) have flowed out of such a tiny gift from God.

I would ask all who read this is take a moment... look at your hands, your feet, your head and your sides. Those places were St. Francis received the wounds of Christ and reflect with me.
Do we use our hands for His glory?
Do we use our feet to go were He leads us?
Do we use the gift of our minds for His making His Kingdom a reality?
Do we fill our hearts with His love and breathe it out for all the world to see?

Let us all ask to share in a spiritual Stigmata today that the next time we ask those questions our answers will be more profound.

You are all in my prayers.

Fr. J

Monday, September 14, 2009

Getting to know the people of Sacred Heart

Welcome back to all my friends,

In this segment I would like to talk a little bit about some of the people I've met since coming to Waltham.

Let me begin with the Friars I am blessed to be able to live with for these next few months.

First, there is Fr. Dennis... he is a priest of 25 years and a life-long OFM. The vast majority of his ministry has been spent in education. He is a man of great joy and wry wit. I can only imagine what it must have been like to be one of his students. I'm sure I would never know when he was joking and when he wasn't. Still, I would also be confident in saying that he would have ended up being one of my favorite teachers. Since leaving the teaching realm he has spent the last ten years here at Sacred Heart. At first, bridging the transition from one Religious Order (the Stigmatines) to another (the OFM's). Then fighting to keep the parish open during the period in the Archdiocese of Boston when there were many parish closings. As a result, the people of the parish have truly embraced him as a leader and true father to them. He is a good man, and a holy man... an incredible combination.

Then there is Br. Damien... he is, as the title implies, a Brother and has been forever (or least it sounds that way from the experiences he shares... there are times I think he was walking around cleaning up after St. Francis himself). He is a man of great humility. And yet, he has served in some of the most interesting of places. His life as an OFM has taken him to Honduras, Rome, Assisi (obviously), Jerusalem, Boston, other places I've not yet heard about, I'm sure and now to Waltham. He is a man who genuinely cares for people and wants to make them feel welcome... which, in my case he has done. Thank you Brother.

The staff here are all wonderful people who have lived, for the most, here in Waltham for the majority of their lives. They enjoy being together. They enjoy doing things together (like going to see the "Jersey Boys" musically... thanks for taking me). They enjoy getting loud with each other (this will take some getting used to) and they enjoy praying together. As one person has already told me, "Fr. John we have the ugliest Church in the Archdiocese (actually, I would broaden that circle to include most of the known world), but we have the most beautiful parish you could ever hope for." And from what I've seen... he may be right.

See you soon.

Fr. John

Bicycling in New England

Greetings to all my friends,

I know that I promised to write on this blog every day... and if you've been following that sort of hasn't happened. For that I apologize... and will try to do better.

So what has been going on since we've last chatted. Well, quite a bit actually... so hold on tight its going to get fast here!

The other day I asked if there was anyone who had a bicycle and this community here at Sacred Heart in Waltham, MA and immediately I was offered one. What a great gift! Thanks to the good people who made that happen. Because of this, I am now able to start riding around town and getting to know my way through these strange driving habits of New England.

As I mentioned before, the people here are very nice... that is until they get behind the wheel of a car. At that point these nice people turn into demons... plunging their way through whatever is in their way. Whether that is a traffic light, a corner (no directional lights necessary), or even a young (at least in my mind), holy (again in my mind) priest who is trying to get through a cross walk. I have never come closer to death (yes, I am exaggerating, but only a little bit) more often than I have in the last week.

Still, the riding has been a great blessing for me and I'm grateful for everyone who helped me out.

Alright... this ends the first installment for today... the next will be coming in a little bit.

You are all in my prayers.

Fr. John

Saturday, September 5, 2009

I'm here!

Hello my dear friends,

Well, I think this would be considered my first official post.

I arrived yesterday here in Waltham, MA and I'll be living in the parish of (ironically enough) Sacred Heart (I said "Ironically enough," because if you didn't know my old parish back in Pinellas Park, Florida was also called Sacred Heart).

I was greeted by the two Friars who live here, Fr. Dennis (the Pastor) and Br. Damien, as well as Fr. Tom (the Vocations Director for Immaculate Conception Province of the Order of Friars Minor). They were great and made me feel very welcome and at home. They were also very nice in not taking it personally as I began to nod off very early on in the evening. It seems that I am getting older... there was a time when a 23 hour drive would have had little to no effect on me, but not anymore.

This weekend I will introduced to the parish at all the Masses (I hope I don't scare them too much).

Okay, I'm going to sign off for tonight, but as I do I'd like to let all my family and friends that you are in my thoughts and prayers always. Thank you all for your support at this time in my life and I never want to think that I'm taking anything you do for granted. Even when I don't say it... you are all very much loved and often on my mind and heart.

So, stay tuned here for further details in the days and weeks ahead. I will try to update this blog daily, but no promises.

Fr. John

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Hello my friends. Welcome to my new blog. Yes, I have entered into a new era of technology just so that I can keep all of you in the loop on my continued discernment and travels over these next few months while I am living up north.
Please keep me in your prayers as I will keep you in mine. Check back here every so often as I begin to post updates (maybe as early as next week... if I remember my password!).

Fr. J