Seminarian Casual http://www.semcasual.org Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary's Official Blog Fri, 05 Oct 2018 01:52:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 43669390 Now is the Time to Walk on Water http://www.semcasual.org/now-is-the-time-to-walk-on-water/ Fri, 05 Oct 2018 01:51:36 +0000 http://www.semcasual.org/?p=13908 The following text was preached at a Holy Hour in reparation for the scandals in the Church. The Gospel preached that night was Matthew 14:22-33, in which Peter walks on the water. I was 12 years old the first time I drowned. I was down the shore with my family when I suddenly was knocked […]

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The following text was preached at a Holy Hour in reparation for the scandals in the Church. The Gospel preached that night was Matthew 14:22-33, in which Peter walks on the water.

I was 12 years old the first time I drowned. I was down the shore with my family when I suddenly was knocked over by a wave, got caught in the undertow and began being pulled away from shore. I can still remember the feel of the sand as it slipped through my fingers, the taste of saltwater filling my mouth, but, most of all, I remember feeling that I had no control over what was happening to me.

How Peter must have felt the same way in our Gospel tonight! Here he is, in the darkest part of the night, in the middle of a terrible storm, slipping into the icy water beneath his feet, and there is nothing he can do about it. As he began to slide into the dark sea below him, he probably wondered how he got to this point. How had he lost control?

Because he lost focus on the most important thing; he lost focus on Jesus! It was Jesus who called him into the storm. It was Jesus who told him to do the impossible. It was Jesus who told him to not be afraid.

And it was Jesus who saved Peter when he needed him most. Peter began to sink because he was worried about how strong the wind was, how the waves lapped his legs as he walked. Yet, the moment he called out to Christ to save him, our Lord was there.

Brothers and Sisters, we are in one of the darkest moments of the Church’s history. We are in a time when it seems as if all light is gone and there is no reason to go on. But, we do have a light in this darkness. Not just any light, but light from the Son, the Son of God who stands on the horizon bidding each of us to “Come”. In this storm of scandal in which our sorrow, our anger, our frustration buffets our faith, Jesus is here calling us to do what might seem impossible: He is calling us to be not afraid and to come to Him.

I am not here to tell you that your anger isn’t justified; it is. I am not here to tell you that your frustration, fears and doubts aren’t justified; they are. But I am here to tell you to not let these things distract you from Christ and drag you down. Now is not the time to sink! Now is not the time to doubt! Instead, now is the time to cry out “Lord, save me!” Now, more than ever, we must answer Our Lord’s call. Now, more than ever, we must focus on Him, so that we too may do the impossible.

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Read Well and Live http://www.semcasual.org/read-well-and-live/ Tue, 02 Oct 2018 10:41:22 +0000 http://www.semcasual.org/?p=13906 Deacon Koehr delivered a version of this homily for the men preparing to receive the Ministry of Lector this year.  He preached at the Holy Hour for the candidates preceding their Installation Mass. One of the most exhilarating movies in Hollywood history is a film called Ben-Hur.  I’m talking about the 1959 version with Charlton […]

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Deacon Koehr delivered a version of this homily for the men preparing to receive the Ministry of Lector this year.  He preached at the Holy Hour for the candidates preceding their Installation Mass.

One of the most exhilarating movies in Hollywood history is a film called Ben-Hur.  I’m talking about the 1959 version with Charlton Heston. It’s set at the time of Christ and is about a Jewish prince named Judah Ben Hur.  Because he refuses to give up his faith, he is betrayed by his best friend and condemned to be a slave as an oarsman on a Roman war galley. This was practically a death sentence.  Often rowers would die of exhaustion within months.

One powerful scene is when the Roman Consul, Quintus Arius, comes down into the wooden hull of the ship to inspect the oarsmen before going into battle. They are at attention, chained to their oars and sitting in rows.  After inspecting them, Arius pauses and levels with them: “You are all condemned men. We keep you alive to serve this ship. So row well and live.”

This is how many in society see the clergy: condemned men who are chained to the oars of the Roman Catholic Church, men who will go down with a sinking ship.

But you aren’t condemned men. You aren’t chained to your oars. You don’t have to be here. You don’t have to row for this ship. You can walk away.

But you haven’t. You, too, are in rows. Ready at your oars…ready to take the next step in formation for battle…to fight for a wounded fleet.

This is because you know a secret: this ship is never going down. If you don’t row, God will find someone who will because the Word of God must be proclaimed.

With Candidacy and soon with Lector, you are choosing gradually and freely to chain yourself to the oars of the Barque of Peter, which is sailing into battle to save souls. Today you sit in your pews with Jesus ready to take orders from God through Bishop Burbidge.

I remember this reality at my Lector Installation and then, again, at my Diaconate Ordination. The most moving part of the ceremony was after I took the promise of obedience.  I knelt down in front of him and he commanded me under that obedience to “believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.”

Today you are called to new a level of integrity: a new level of alignment in your word, intent, and deed. Today you are being called to align your life with the Word of God that you will be commissioned to proclaim.  You’re not called to report God’s Word.  You’re called to embody God’s Word.

Feel the full weight of your responsibility, and know that you cannot live this integrity on your own. If you try, you’ll die of exhaustion. No matter how great of a guy you are, no matter how good your upbringing was, you can’t. You can only cooperate, and then consider whom you’re cooperating with.  It is not some careless Roman Consul who doesn’t care if you live or die, but God the Father who has planned this for you from the foundation of the world.

So today, you sit at your oar and prepare to take the next stroke in a messy war, a war where the enemy has entered our ranks. Now is not the time to run. Now is the time to row.

Jesus is next to you at the oar as you move deeper into suffering and into glory. You sit at attention as God the Father inspects you and levels with you:  “You are all my beloved sons, destined for eternal life. I have given you this life to serve my ship. I give you all the graces you need for this task. So row well and live.”

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Hope in the Face of Darkness http://www.semcasual.org/hope-in-the-face-of-darkness/ Mon, 24 Sep 2018 01:15:24 +0000 http://www.semcasual.org/?p=13898 The seminary community joined the faithful of the Archdiocese at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul this past Friday, September 14, 2018, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross for a holy hour of reparation.  Nearly all if not all the pews of the Cathedral Basilica were filled.  Most of the seminarians […]

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The seminary community joined the faithful of the Archdiocese at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul this past Friday, September 14, 2018, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross for a holy hour of reparation.  Nearly all if not all the pews of the Cathedral Basilica were filled.  Most of the seminarians sat together on either side of the Cathedral. While kneeling and gazing upon the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and seeing the massive crowd I could not help but think of one verse from the Gospel of Matthew: “At the sight of the crowds, His heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt. 9:36).

 

There was Our Lord, truly present on the altar, looking out at His people, His suffering and grieving children.  And we, feeling troubled and lost, and even abandoned, turned our eyes to Him, seeking consolation and comfort.  How could Our Lord not but be moved with pity for us, sheep seemingly without a shepherd.  The shepherds that should have been protecting their sheep seemed to have fallen asleep, and while asleep the sheep were made vulnerable, put in harm’s way, and left to fend for themselves.  Yet, when I looked out at the crowd gathered in the Cathedral, I saw hope.

 

The sheep as hurt and betrayed as they may have felt still trusted in the shepherds and returned to the fold.  The Christian people are a hopeful people.  The People continue to believe and place their trust in the leaders of our Church, and we cannot let them down.  More importantly the people continue to believe and choose to return because they know that the main Shepherd, the Good Shepherd, there truly present on the altar, will never abandon them, and so they came to be with Him.  We pray that our shepherds will look to the Good Shepherd, whose “heart was moved with pity” for His sheep, for guidance and encouragement.  The sheep deserve it.  Despite the number of shepherds who have fallen asleep, there are many who are vigilant as ever, and we must pray for them.   We must pray that all bishops and priests will be good shepherds who, like Christ, are the gates to the sheepfold, keeping the wolves and all who seek to destroy out, as well as shepherds who will lay down their lives for their sheep, and who will put at the top of their priorities the protection and safety of the faithful entrusted to them.  We must pray that all priests and bishops will follow and remember the mission to which they are called: “…to be with Him, and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons” (Mk. 3:14-15).  Please be close to Our Lord, Fathers.  Evil is here, and you must use the Word of God and the authority given to you by Our Lord to cast evil out and to drive the demons out to where they belong.

 

During this difficult time in the life of the Church we must keep our eyes fixed intently on Our Lord.  We must keep in mind that we are a hopeful people.  We are hopeful because we know that the battle has already been won. Jesus Christ suffered, died, descended to hell, broke through the gates of hell, conquered death, and returned to the Father in glory in Heaven.  Jesus Christ is the Light that conquers the darkness, and this Light will remain with us during these challenging times.  “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, saves those whose spirit is crushed.  Many are the troubles of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him from them all” (Ps. 38:19-20).  The Lord sees our pain and is close to us.  Jesus Christ at this difficult time continues to be the Good Shepherd, and I believe He continues to assume the role of Gatekeeper in Heaven.  Death and evil do not have the final word.  During these turbulent times in our Church let us hold fast to our faith in Christ, knowing that He, the Good Shepherd will never abandon us for He assures us: “When he calls I shall answer: ‘I am with you.’ I will save him in distress in give him glory” (Ps. 91:15).

 

While acknowledging the tremendous pain and grief as well as betrayal by some of our shepherds, gazing at Our Lord on the altar that Friday night, and turning to see the devotion of the people and the faith of the believers, I cannot but be strengthened and encouraged and say that, “Yes, I am still proud to be Catholic.  I am still and even more so now encouraged to, God willing, one day be ordained a priest of Jesus Christ.”  Let us pray for all victims, all seminarians, all priests, all bishops, and the entire People of God, comfort and encourage one another, and most importantly, remain close to Our Lord for His heart is continually moved with pity for us and He will never abandon us.

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Fandoms v Christianity http://www.semcasual.org/fandoms-v-christianity/ Fri, 21 Sep 2018 20:32:31 +0000 http://www.semcasual.org/?p=13875 The notion of “fandoms,” while by no means a new concept, is being defined more recently in a broad manner. There are fandoms for practically — almost literally — every conceivable work of fiction: television shows, movies, video games and game franchises, comic books, and novels. It could be said that there are fandoms for […]

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The notion of “fandoms,” while by no means a new concept, is being defined more recently in a broad manner. There are fandoms for practically — almost literally — every conceivable work of fiction: television shows, movies, video games and game franchises, comic books, and novels. It could be said that there are fandoms for prolific authors, such as William Shakespeare.

Leave us not forget sports teams. The area of NJ from which I come is a crossroads for both the New York and Philadelphia media markets, so my TV screen has been a parade of every single professional, semi-pro, and college sports team for every kind of marketable sport imaginable. The combinations are astounding, and while the mathematician in me would love to post the numbers, I know that anyone reading this would likely not have the interest in the numbers and the math that I do. Besides, this is not about numbers. Although, this is about logic.

And reason.

And faith.

Fandoms and aficionados of athletic teams or events are rather fervent in how they display their love for their teams or fandom bases. As this is the start of American football season, a married couple that I know well posted a picture to social media of themselves and their two children in Oakland Raiders apparel. Personally, I have begun my initiation process into the Husker Nation, as my brother seminarians from the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska have welcomed me into the fold. Being a sci-fi and fantasy nerd, I can tell you from experience that there are a multitude of fandoms — Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Transformers, Supernatural, Doctor Who, various Anime series, comic books and characters from them. There are even subgroups, elements of the sets of fandoms, such as Star Wars fans who love only the original trilogy.

There are several elements that are common to all fan bases:

  • Devotion and loyalty
  • Regular viewing of the shows/events
  • Joining up with larger groups for sharing in the fan base

I would hope that those activities sound familiar…

Fans of sports teams have jerseys, t-shirts, sweatpants, and hoodies, season tickets, and the team’s schedule posted on their refrigerator. Those from fandoms go to conventions, dress up as characters from their respective fandom (“cosplaying”), collect merchandise of all varieties, and eagerly await the return of their favorite shows at the start of the new season. They all invest heavily in ways to support and to show their love and loyalty for that which they cheer. Examples of the real diehards are the ones who wait in line for hours to see the latest movie on opening night, or show up to tailgate hours before the game begins, or arrive at the stadium shirtless and painted in their team’s colors in the middle of a cold December day.

And no one sees a single issue with it. This is normal behavior, socially acceptable, and even applauded.

In mid-January of 2018, a brother seminarian and I headed out for some fraternity in Philly. There was a group that entered the restaurant in full costume for what they called “Game of Thrones.” Now, for anyone who is a true fan of the work of George R.R. Martin, it is really “A Song of Ice and Fire,” with “A Game of Thrones” being the first book in the series and the name adopted for the rather graphic TV show. As he and I struck up a conversation with members of the costumed group, we learned that their cosplaying adventures were a regular thing. Some were decked out in actual metal armor, which could not possibly have been inexpensive.

While not considered nearly as “normal” as compared to sports fans, it is still within the confines of that which is socially acceptable.

Yet often times, people of faith (in general) and we Catholics (in particular) find ourselves under criticism for what and how we invest in our faith. There is a certain amount of ridicule that comes our way. The most popular argument seems to be, “the Church is always asking for money,” while the most profound has to do with actually attending Sunday Mass. Recently after he was brought into the Church, my father encountered one such argument while on the job. One of his coworkers, after learning of Dad’s conversion to the Catholic faith, laid out the argument of the collection basket. Dad, being a smart man who is open to the Holy Spirit, asked his coworker a series of questions.

Dad: “Aren’t you into hunting and fishing?”
Yes.
Dad: “Do you belong to a rod and gun club?”
Yes.
Dad: “So there’s a lodge where you meet, yes?”
Yes.
Dad: “And at the lodge, you have heat in the winter and AC in the summer? Running water and electricity?”
Yes.
Dad: “And when the lodge needs maintenance, that costs money, right?”
Yes.
Dad: “And all of that costs money…”
Yes.
Dad: “So you pay dues?”
Yes.
Dad: “Well, we like to have heat and AC, running water and electricity, the church needs to be maintained. And that costs money, just like your rod and gun club.”
Oh. Yeah, that kinda makes sense.

That is not to reduce the tithing at a parish to a mere matter of facilities. So much more happens with the collections, but Dad got his point across to get his coworker to back off from the Church — at least with regards to money.

As I said, I subscribe to many fandoms and now to the Huskers. I am in no way condemning the fandoms and followings that exist in our world. The issue that I have is that there is a gross imbalance. Catholics attend Mass with the same regularity of a football game. We pay for the utilities and facilities of our church buildings, and for the services that our parishes provide to the poor and needy. Christians meet to worship God Almighty, to thank Him for the sacrifice of His Son on our behalf. Meanwhile, the shirtless football fans and the cosplayers think that we are the crazy ones. None of the fandoms I enjoy  matter in the face of Christ. And while I have spent money on the things that I like, I have spent that much more — in talent and time as well as treasure — for Christ’s Church.

I understand that persecution is our lot as Catholics. It happened to Jesus, and that means that it should be good enough for us to have to endure it. 

I just find it amusing that Catholics do what fandoms do, and yet we are considered odd, in spite of the fact that our points of praise and worship are so much more than particularly talented athletes or imaginary characters from fantastic worlds.

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Seeing is … http://www.semcasual.org/seeing-is/ Fri, 21 Sep 2018 15:14:28 +0000 http://www.semcasual.org/?p=13881 If you said “believing” to fill in the title, you’d be correct!  But when it comes to religious “seeing” as inspired by art, that believing is much more than merely a sensory confirmation of something thought or proposed. Consider statues. Some may see them as relics of a religious past, remnants of a bygone age […]

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If you said “believing” to fill in the title, you’d be correct!  But when it comes to religious “seeing” as inspired by art, that believing is much more than merely a sensory confirmation of something thought or proposed.

Consider statues.

Some may see them as relics of a religious past, remnants of a bygone age of representation.  In today’s world of YouTube videos, live Tweeting, and other active messaging via social media, it seems anachronistic to suggest that a still, silent statue communicates something meaningful.

Still, works of art continue to be commissioned, as happened this week at Overbrook.  An artistic creation of Joe Finisdore entitled “Ecce, Homo” was blessed and dedicated in memory of John Cardinal Foley and now stands temporarily (and somewhat precariously) in the corridor outside the chapel of the Theological Seminary.

It joins the pantheon of other statues on campus that evoke figures linked to a seminary education, including the Blessed Virgin Mary, a few apostles, some angels, St. John Vianney, and this seminary’s patron, St. Charles Borromeo.  Add to this the many stained-glass windows, the architectural arches and columns, and the array of prodigious paintings around the campus – and one can see art everywhere.

Some may wonder whether all this is extraneous to the seminary’s mission, or even too costly for its upkeep.  Wouldn’t the money donated for artistic creations be better invested in operations or financial aid, they might ask.  After all, formation is an interior process and education a costly one.

But true art communicates on another level, one both higher and deeper.

Art is evocative of that which it portrays.  In the case of the “Ecce, Homo” statue, one is invited to consider the central act in the life of Jesus as priest, namely, the humbling and merciful gift of the God who sacrifices Himself for the redemption of all human life.  It’s something worth pondering by all those who enter a chapel to celebrate the liturgical memorial of that sacrifice.

Art like this is also provocative.  The new statue has already generated any number of comments, whether critical or appreciative, some humorous and others wondrous.  That’s what good art does.  It attracts our attention, reaches into our spirit, and draws forth a response.

With religious renderings, that response is found, ultimately, in prayer.  “Ecce, Homo” and other statues intend to draw viewers into the realm of the spirit.  They generate a remembering of God’s magnificent works in the people and the actions they memorialize.  They do so not with the selfie-interest of the vast majority of today’s photos, nor with the historical accuracy of a biography.  Rather, they point us toward a supernatural mystery that transcends both. Beautiful religious art touches upon the eternal.

As St. John Paul II reminds us, in his Letter to Artists, “for everyone, believers or not, the works of art inspired by Scripture remain a reflection of the unfathomable mystery which engulfs and inhabits the world.”  So, too, “every genuine art form in its own way is a path to the inmost reality of man and of the world.  It is therefore a wholly valid approach to the realm of faith, which gives human experience its ultimate meaning.”

Cardinal Foley is remembered for having worked so creatively and faithfully in the world of modern social communications.  To dedicate a statue to his memory may seem old-fashioned or out-of-place.  But as he once preached to seminarians here:  “whatever task you are given, view it as the Will of God for you – as a means of offering hope to a world in which there is so little hope … as a way of expressing your faith and of showing your love and the love of Jesus Christ who gave his life for love of us.”

Ecce, homo – “behold the Man” – indeed.

featured image from www.seeingisbelieving.vision

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Words are not neutral http://www.semcasual.org/words-are-not-neutral/ Fri, 14 Sep 2018 02:47:44 +0000 http://www.semcasual.org/?p=13860 Pope Francis recently wrote the preface to a new book by Bishop Nunzio Galantino called Vivere le parole: Per un vocabolario dell’esistenza (To Live Words: For a Vocabulary of Existence). The book is marketed as filling the “urgent need to penetrate words and live them more deeply,” especially “in times of hyper-information yet scorching non-communication […]

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Pope Francis recently wrote the preface to a new book by Bishop Nunzio Galantino called Vivere le parole: Per un vocabolario dell’esistenza (To Live Words: For a Vocabulary of Existence).

The book is marketed as filling the “urgent need to penetrate words and live them more deeply,” especially “in times of hyper-information yet scorching non-communication between people.”  It seeks to counter today’s tendency to reduce words to non-sense by emptying them of their concrete connection to the flesh and blood complexities of everyday life.

The author has selected 101 words that he categorizes into seven sections:  tending toward the absolute (e.g., God, silence, grace), the essence of man (e.g., body, dignity, action), openness to others (e.g., encounter, promise, listening), social virtues (e.g., optimism, authenticity, tolerance), the way of mercy (e.g., forgiveness, tenderness, gratefulness), social action (e.g., culture, development, work), and the value of limits (e.g., humility, resilience, death).

As a small gift to those at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary who will be instituted as Lectors this weekend, and to all who read the words of SemCasual, here is my very unofficial translation of the preface by Pope Francis:

“Words are not neutral, nor do they ever leave things as they are.  They are not born at a table, or in salons good for closed and self-referential circles.  Rather, they give voice to cultural and spiritual values rooted in the collective memory of a people, to whom they restore new vigor.  Their fecundity is bound to a sharing of life; it is proportionate to the openness with which they allow themselves to be interrogated by and engaged in the realities, situations, and histories of persons.”

“To live words means to overcome suspicions, fears, and isolations in order to assume the liberating courage of encounter.  It is a journey that requires knowing how to rediscover the primacy of silence, from which everything takes its initiative.  This (silence), in fact, remains the womb that, while it makes listening possible and guards it, permits us to go out of and go beyond ourselves.  One then reaches the point of drawing near, of assuming attitudes and styles of proximity, eventually taking to oneself ‘the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted’ (Gaudium et spes, 1).”

“Thus, whoever learns to listen finds himself in the company of men and women, animated by a spirit of dialogue that opens out to the culture of reciprocity, capable of teaching and learning, of giving and receiving, of offering and accepting ideas about meaning, hope, and the future.  In such a dynamism also stands the freshness of words, which – always arising from experience – address the sensibility, formation, and profundity of the person.  Together with the density of the contents, they are spread thanks to the attention given to seeking the most appropriate modality by which to reach the other and to draw forth a reply and response.”

“For everyone who is baptized, this fidelity to man is the necessary condition that opens the way to the mission of announcing to all the Word that saves; it is the soul of discernment, that never tires of scrutinizing the signs of the times to search there for the will of God, reaching to the point of reading, interpreting, and taking positions in history; it is the secret of every evangelizing action, the charming power of the credibility and reliability of the words of the Church, the sign and instrument of the Kingdom.”

“I have already observed that, precisely because of (their) authenticity, such words are weighty: he alone sustains them who incarnates them in life with a clear and impassioned witness.”

“Of such witness this book is a sign, thanks to the ability of Bishop Nunzio Galantino, to arrange voices of a dictionary that helps to re-appropriate the vitality and beauty of daily life.”

featured image from livinggraceomaha.org

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Empathy: Encountering the Heart http://www.semcasual.org/empathy-encountering-the-heart/ Tue, 04 Sep 2018 20:41:45 +0000 http://www.semcasual.org/?p=13851 When I was younger I have often heard my teachers correct someone when they would confuse empathy with sympathy. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines sympathy as “feelings of concern or compassion resulting from an awareness of the suffering or sorrow of another” and empathy as “understanding a person from his or her frame of […]

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When I was younger I have often heard my teachers correct someone when they would confuse empathy with sympathy. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines sympathy as “feelings of concern or compassion resulting from an awareness of the suffering or sorrow of another” and empathy as “understanding a person from his or her frame of reference rather than one’s own, or vicariously experiencing that person’s feelings, perceptions, and thoughts.”

Oftentimes when we hear of some horrible accident on the news or read about an unfortunate tragedy online, those feelings of concern or compassion stir within our hearts, but before too long, those feelings usually and naturally dissipate and go away. It is not because we are horrible people and do not really care – we do, but at the same time perhaps we feel there is nothing we can really do about it and so we promise to say a prayer and move on. Sometimes the same thing happens when an actual human being comes up to us and shares with us some personal struggle or mental distress, but I think we are called to do something more: listening to understand and understanding to respond.

When I was in graduate school I was enrolled in an introductory psychotherapy course that required us to videotape ourselves practicing various forms of “talk therapy” with a classmate. There were two items on the rubric that stood out to me: “empathy” and “advanced empathy.” We were evaluated on the degree to which we were able to show that we had an interest in listening to the other person, and the extent to which we truly did understand and if we did, how we showed it. We showed it by our body language, our posture, our attentiveness, our responses, and more importantly, our presence. Did I slouch in the chair? Were my hands and legs crossed? Were my eyes meeting her eyes? Were my responses in validation of her feelings? Were those responses communicated in a genuine way? Did she feel that I was really there with her and that my mind was not wandering elsewhere? These things communicate so much to the other.

I have come to learn and understand that empathy is an indispensable skill, not just for mental health professionals, but for everyone. When we engage with one another do we truly desire to understand the other? Do we listen to genuinely understand or do we listen simply to say something back? Are we thinking of what to say back while the other is speaking or are we listening to and processing the words, thoughts, and feelings that is being poured out to us? In my experience, when someone comes to me and wants to talk with me, they usually are not looking for a textbook answer or a lecture on how they can improve, they simply want to be heard, to be listened to. They want to know that someone cares. And by empathizing – by our body language, posture, attentiveness, responses, and presence – we can begin to build trust and nurture meaningful relationships with others and with God.

Amidst the noise of this present age, are we willing to have that encounter with the Lord and with one another as Christ Himself had with the Samaritan woman at the well, looking into her eyes, seeing her pain and her fears, and telling her “It’s okay. I’m listening. I’m here for you.” Just as the Lord who waits patiently and listens attentively to us as we sit in the silence and pour out our hearts to Him, let us do the same for one another. Let us encounter Christ in one another. Let us listen to understand, understand to respond, and respond to love.

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Why some church pews are empty http://www.semcasual.org/why-some-church-pews-are-empty/ Fri, 24 Aug 2018 00:14:08 +0000 http://www.semcasual.org/?p=13834 The PEW researchers have once again taken to studying the state of life in the pews.  In a national snapshot released just this month, they presented the findings from a study of why Americans go (and don’t go) to religious services. The most popular reason given for the absence came from those who said, “I […]

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The PEW researchers have once again taken to studying the state of life in the pews.  In a national snapshot released just this month, they presented the findings from a study of why Americans go (and don’t go) to religious services.

The most popular reason given for the absence came from those who said, “I practice my faith in other ways” (37%).  In second place came the admission that “I am not a believer” (28%), followed by those who apparently do believe but “haven’t found a church/house of worship I like” (23%).

Despite an explanatory note, the report boggled the mind a bit in its references to non-believers.  Among those who rarely/never attend because of a lack of faith, 15% still say they pray daily (to whom/what?); 61% say religion is very/somewhat important in their lives (religion without belief?); and 45% self-identify as at least somewhat religious or spiritual or both religious and spiritual (without belief having anything to do with it?).

Those oddities aside, the sad truth is that fewer and fewer people seem to find a home in the church or a place in the pews.  For those who do go regularly, or who at least try to, the primary reason is clear – they want to draw closer to God (81%).  That divine-human connection, we know, is the beginning and end of religion.  Religious faith does have an important notional dimension (concerning what we believe about God), but at its heart faith is a relational phenomenon (focused on the divine One in whom we believe).

But on a more practical level, two tidbits can be linked to the research question, one found in the survey, another drawn from personal experience.

From the survey we learn that “Catholics who attend Mass regularly are significantly less likely than other Christian churchgoers to say that the sermons they hear are what keeps them coming back” (emphasis added!).  Only 36% are likely “to say valuable sermons are a very important reason.”  Is that because the sermons they hear aren’t valuable, or because any sermons is a less important reason?  The problematic of the former explanation I shall grapple with in my new Homiletics courses this year!  The logic of the latter explanation remains the by-product of a Catholic sacramental culture.

From recent experience, though, there may be a rather simple explanation.  Some folks may not go to religious services because it is increasingly (and unconscionably) difficult to find out when Mass is being celebrated!  Case in point – the Assumption holy day that falls during the time when many people are traveling on vacation.

In our online world, most information can be found in a matter of seconds with just a few clicks.  But my digitally-savvy friend struggled to find a scheduled Mass on August 15.  Of the ten Catholic churches located within ten miles of the hotel, only four had a web site.  Of those four web sites, only one listed a “holy day” Mass schedule (even the cathedral’s site had none).  With a few extra clicks, two of the sites that had online bulletins finally gave up the sought-after times for Mass.  But this discovery came only after telephoning one of the parishes and receiving the after-hours message that listed the Mass times for Easter!

Granted, website design has multiple features and functionalities.  Costs for creating and maintaining digital sites might be prohibitive for some parishes.  But if “going” to Church matters, it is incumbent upon parishes to provide the information that makes that going possible, both for believers and seekers.  If we want digital natives in the pews of our churches, then our churches need to be present and more engaged in the digital world.  Having a good web site, and making Mass times easily accessible there, is a simple first step that every parish should take.

featured image from http://www.flickriver.com/photos/itinerant_wanderer/3661184138/
central image from http://revertedmuslim.blogspot.com/2013/06/one-country-two-religions-and-three.html

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Entrepreneurship and Vocation: An Interview with Professor Andreas Widmer http://www.semcasual.org/entrepreneurship-and-vocation-an-interview-with-professor-andreas-widmer/ Mon, 28 May 2018 14:57:33 +0000 http://www.semcasual.org/?p=13824 When a person takes his first job, he may not know exactly where it will lead him one day.  At least such was the case with Andreas Widmer, whose experience as a Swiss Guard for Pope Saint John Paul II (and witness to this pope’s tremendous leadership qualities) guided him to be a successful entrepreneur, […]

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When a person takes his first job, he may not know exactly where it will lead him one day.  At least such was the case with Andreas Widmer, whose experience as a Swiss Guard for Pope Saint John Paul II (and witness to this pope’s tremendous leadership qualities) guided him to be a successful entrepreneur, published author, engaged Catholic businessperson, and committed husband and father.  With a heart full of enthusiasm and wit, this unique leader addressed those gathered at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary for its 181st Concursus Exercises as the recipient of the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.  Drawing on his own vocational story, he inspired this year’s seminary graduates “to draw with broad strokes…to paint and to let God and his saints guide you when you are lost!”

As the seminary’s honorary degree recipient this year, Professor Widmer graciously agreed to participate in an e-mail interview with Seminarian Casual.

Photo Credit: The Catholic University of America

Seminarian Casual: Your experience as a Swiss Guard for Pope John Paul II shaped your life, both as a Catholic and a businessman.  What initially drew you to this specific service to the Church?

Professor Andreas Widmer: I’m embarrassed to say that it was not the faith at all. What attracted me to join the Swiss Guard is that I was very much into the military and wanted to become a bodyguard. I thought that was the coolest thing to do… and I still do. 😉

SC:  Your book The Pope & the CEO: John Paul II’s Leadership Lessons to a Young Swiss Guard chronicles the principles of leadership to be learned from the example of this remarkable Saint. In your estimation, what are Saint John Paul II’s greatest attributes that set him apart as a model for Catholic leaders and businesspeople in the world today?

AW:  John Paul prayed daily to ask the Holy Spirit to allow him to see the people he meets the way God sees them. I think that this accounts for the experience most people had when they met him or saw him: that he focused 100% on them, that he was fully present to the person in front of him.

SC:  Many in our parishes serve the local and global communities as businesspeople.  You articulate an intimate connection between the vocation of business life and our baptismal call to holiness, the way in which work fulfills us as human beings.  How does one begin to integrate the faith with his business life, connecting career and mission?

AW:  In terms of business as a vocation, what I’d like businesspeople to realize is that when we work, we don’t just make more, we become more – more fully human. When we work, we turn thoughts into physical realities. That is something spiritual; it’s a participation in God’s creative power. This creative participation, together with discipline, patience, exercise of skill, and learning to cooperate with others: all these things make us grow. This growth in virtue and perfection makes us more like God.  It’s a path to holiness.  That is why we can say business is a vocation.

SC:  You have compared the entrepreneur to “a person who sees an additional color,” one who has the “talent of seeing patterns where other people see chaos.”  In what ways can parishes cultivate this kind of skill and creativity in the work of evangelization?

AW:  Entrepreneurship in the setting of evangelization is, of course, different than it is in business. In evangelization we are not focused on producing a product or service. We are trying to help create an environment for people to fall in love with God. In order to do that, we aim to have the people we meet experience our love for them first. I think that’s the core of evangelization. It is to a large extent the work of the Holy Spirit, not ours. But just as in other work, we can become collaborators with God. That is where the entrepreneurial spirit comes into play: we can think of ever new ways to reach out to people, to create opportunities for them to experience being loved, experience their dignity. Entrepreneurs are dreamers at a certain level; they imagine how things could be better, they don’t settle into the status quo. So to the extent that a parish forms its members to have zeal, to be constantly looking for ways to reach people, attentive to notice what they need, then that’s where entrepreneurship and innovation can play a role.

But in my experience, it is critical to remember that our effort is more than matched by the Holy Spirit, so it’s key to not try to “outdo” God and get—in a sense—too innovative. The key to evangelization is for us to hear the Word of God and to experience His love.

Catechesis is maybe a place where entrepreneurship can play a larger role because it contains the key part of conveying to someone the teachings of the Church. That can and must, of course, be done in very innovative ways. The attention span of our generation does not seem to lend itself to sitting and listening or reading for an hour. So innovative ways of teaching in all kinds of media are critical here.

SC:  You are described as an avid reader.  Do you have any book recommendations for seminarians?

AW:  More than you have space to print! 😉 but let me recommend three I just recently read:

  •  Benedict XVI: Last Testament with Peter Seewald
  • Unrepeatable by Luke Burgis and Joshua Miller (full disclosure: Burgis is a colleague. But it’s still a terrific read about vocation in the broadest sense).
  • Leon Harmel: Entrepreneur as Catholic Social Reformer by Joan Coffey

… And three of my all time favorites:

  • Love and Responsibility by Karol Wojtyla
  • Introduction to Christianity by Josef Ratzinger
  • The Fulfillment of All Desire by Ralph Martin

SC:  This past presidential election showed that millennials have strong opinions on economic issues.  However, this largely includes a rejection for capitalism and a call to address the issues of wealth inequality in the United States.  How should we respond to this phenomenon from a Catholic perspective?

AW:  Just as Saint John Paul did: and it depends on what you mean by “Capitalism.” I don’t like the term myself. It’s misleading. The Church does not prescribe in matters of Social Doctrine. She only provides a mental model, so to speak. She tells us how to think about issues but does not conclude that we ought to have this or that economic system. That said, my own opinion is that the rule of law-based free market economy would best incorporate the social teaching of the Church in the post-industrialization knowledge economy. But we have to be very clear: we do not have that system currently. What we have now is a kind of crony capitalism run by big conglomerates and big government working together. That is what people currently think of as “capitalism” and to be suspicious of that cronyism is a good instinct, even if the proposed solutions aren’t very persuasive.  

Our economy is not really “free” and most people feel that. The winners and losers are too often pre-determined. I think this is in essence what Pope Francis is talking about when he criticizes the system and calls us to conversion.

  At the same time, it is important to not call the glass half-empty but realize that it’s half full: Our standard of living in any respect greatly exceeds any previous generations. According to World Bank numbers, 37% of the world’s population lived on less than $2 per day in 1990, compared with 9.6% in 2015. That is a 75% reduction in extreme poverty in less than 25 years. You would never guess that based on the news you hear, and no one who wants to see every human being lifted into a life more commensurate with human dignity should want to destroy the system that allowed that to happen. Whatever the flaws we have in the world economy today, it’s important to recognize that we are indeed moving in the right direction where poverty is concerned, even if we could do it better or faster, and even if there are other problems to address.

SC:  Assisting the poor is part of our mission as the Catholic Church.  Many grapple with serious questions about the difference between acts of charity and lasting efforts to reduce poverty.  How should the Catholic community (both at the parish and diocesan levels) work to address poverty relief efforts so to meaningfully make a difference?

AW:  I think it’s useful to make a distinction between how you help in a crisis and how you help in “ordinary time,” so to speak. Aid to people in humanitarian crises is a Christian, even a human, non-negotiable. But a crisis is by definition time-limited, and what is charitable in a given situation is different as a person or community transitions from crisis mode to a stable situation. Then we must make the shift from acting out of sympathy to empathy.   

  When I say ‘sympathy,’ I mean an emotional identification with someone else that leads me to step in and take actions on behalf of another person. “Empathy,” by contrast in my scheme, describes a mutual relationship between people that springs from the ability to see a problem from the other person’s perspective without actually making the issue one’s own.

  It’s similar to counseling, where sympathy is seen as a reaction to be allowed only in the utmost emergency and only for a very brief period of time. Taking action on someone else’s behalf crosses a line. It infantilizes them, making me into a parent. In life and death situations, it can be the only right thing to do. But as the crisis passes, the goal is to enable the person quickly to become self-determined again. Once someone is on his or her feet, the addressing of long-term issues can start. This is where sympathy becomes destructive and demeaning. What is needed in the stable phase is empathy: To feel with the other person, to listen and encourage self-reflection, maybe offer guidance to address long-term issues, and encouragement to change negative patterns of behavior. This only works if the person works out of his own free will and determination.  I am convinced that this same concept holds for societies and nations.

  Humanitarian crises are usually compounded by the fact that they tend to happen in the poorest countries. The initial crisis is usually severe and pressing, but temporary. The economic issues, however, are more profound and linger. 

  I think that the counseling analogy should work very well here too: Emergency humanitarian issues should be addressed in sympathy: the international community should step in and save lives and help rebuild critical infrastructure in the short term. Economic issues on the other hand should be addressed like long-term counseling – with empathy, not sympathy; with self-initiative, not command from the outside.

  But if the last 50 years of transition from disaster relief to economic relief are any guide, that is exactly where we tend to fail in helping people get on their feet. Usually, the same organizations and teams that focused on the humanitarian crisis stay behind to tackle the economic issues. Maybe not the search and rescue teams, but the infrastructure and rebuilding teams.  With a lot of good will and intentions, we will to a large extent continue to act out of sympathy and tackle the issues at hand and make the key decisions. Except that when we cross that threshold, we start to do more damage than good. We become part of the problem, not the solution. What we do in our economic aid efforts becomes parental. It turns into a de-facto neo-colonialism. 

  Local entrepreneurs and business people have to be encouraged, empowered, included in our networks of productivity and exchange. Outsiders can help in pressing the government for the security of property rights, rule of law and open competition, but no one from the outside is going to build another country’s economy. Economic prosperity is always home-grown.

SC:  Through this book, as well as previous writings and addresses, you speak of the leadership examples of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.  What can we learn from Pope Francis’s pontificate these last five years about leadership and business?

AW:  I wrote an article on this very question: “Pope Francis on the Health of your Company” (https://catholicbusinessjournal.biz/content/pope-francis-health-your-company), if I may refer you to that as my answer. A key aspect of his style is seen also in his approach. Francis is not linear in his words or actions. He takes a multi-pronged approach and is in that sense unpredictable. He keeps people on their toes. He can be tough in his evaluation of things, but he has a coach’s heart, as in this quote of his I like: “But always think this: do not be afraid of failure. Do not be afraid of falling. In the art of walking, what is important is not avoiding the fall but not remaining fallen.”

SC:  To meet the demands of diocesan parish ministry, newly ordained men are becoming pastors sooner and sooner.  What is your advice to young pastors as they assume the spiritual and managerial demands of parish leadership?

AW:  Good thing you asked! My friend, and also ex-Swiss Guard, Mario Enzler offers a Pastor-MBA at CUA. (https://www.catholic.edu/academics/online/meam-in-ecclesial-administration-management/index.html) It’s a one-year, mixed in-person/online class for priests that prepares them for effective and efficient parish and diocesan leadership.

SC:  What brings you the greatest joy in life?

AW:  Being with family and friends.

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A Farewell from the Editor http://www.semcasual.org/a-farewell-from-the-editor/ Mon, 07 May 2018 12:06:12 +0000 http://www.semcasual.org/?p=13819 Transitions are messy. Let’s face it, transitions are messy. Someone told me that in college, and my life experience before and after has confirmed the truth of this remark. They can be physically messy, as in when one must physically move items from one place to another. They can be emotionally messy, because people – […]

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Transitions are messy.

Let’s face it, transitions are messy.

Someone told me that in college, and my life experience before and after has confirmed the truth of this remark. They can be physically messy, as in when one must physically move items from one place to another. They can be emotionally messy, because people – even those who characterize themselves as “progressive” or “change-agents” – actually are quite averse to change of any kind – whether for the good or not. Transitions force us to examine our lives, to look back on memories – some of which may fill us with joy, others which may require healing. They also present us with a future, yet one about which more is unknown than known.

After six years at St. Charles Seminary – and four and a half as the editor of this blog – I am transitioning to something new. It is, of course, a happy transition, as it means that I am preparing to be ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and assigned to one of our parishes as a parochial vicar. Nevertheless, it is always difficult to say goodbye to the familiar routine, to friendly confines, and to people you know – even when they drive you crazy from time to time!

The Apostles must have had a similar experience. The real beginning of their own ministry took place not with a grand Cathedral Mass and party with family and friends, but in the Upper Room, where the Risen Lord had said “Peace be with you,” and where his Holy Spirit descended upon them in the form of tongues of fire. At some point, they began to disperse – how else could they have fulfilled Jesus’ command to “teach all nations”? There came a point – and the early martyrdom of James is the latest this could have taken place – at which all twelve would never be in the same room again.

And yet, were they not always in the Upper Room? Didn’t their intense, three-year formation at the feet of the Master unite them in a bond which transcended physical time and place? Didn’t their fortitude in the face of opposition derive from that experience they had together at the Last Supper? Wasn’t the eloquence of their words a result not merely of their own learning, but of their encounter with the Word-made-flesh?

Because of those experiences, those twelve men – and others who joined them and others who eventually succeeded them – transformed a world and an empire. And while what used to be called “Christendom” is facing its own transition point – one 500 years in the making, in my opinion – the barque of Peter, which Christ built on with the planks of their lives can never fall into ruin, despite the significant challenges she faces internally and externally.

Hopefully, we’ve been able to express some of our own experience of the moment, this moment in history and this moment in our own lives as seminarians in formation. We’ve covered the visit of Pope Francis to our beloved city and seminary and major events in the Church and in our country. We’ve commented on sports and politics, culture and Scripture. We’ve profiled fine people – including our own seminarian brothers – who, in one way or another, participate in Christ’s mission.

Thankfully, all of that will continue. David Buffum – soon to be Deacon Buffum – has agreed to take my place as editor, and Matthew Kuna will take on the newly re-created role of assistant editor. Both are frequent contributors to this blog and will lead it well. For those who are curious, I will begin writing regularly – probably once per month – for CatholicPhilly.com. It will be a joy to write for that great website, the worthy heir of the Catholic Standard and Times.

It has been an honor to be at the helm of this publication for these years. I am grateful to all of my collaborators on this project, and all who wrote, edited, advised on, read, critiqued, inspired, and enjoyed the articles I was lucky enough to publish – and the few I authored myself. And if this transition has made me a bit more grateful for the journey we’ve been on together – and the pilgrimage which will continue – well, then it’s worth the mess.

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