Weekly Photo Challenge: Reflection

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This week’s photo challenge from dailypost.wordpress.com is “Reflection,” an interesting topic to be sure:

Reflect: to consider where we’ve been in life, where we are now, and where we’re going.

It was a busy week, so I don’t feel like I did this topic much credit, but here are a few shots that I’ve taken in the last 6 months or so.   I find them ‘reflective’ in the sense of an inner conversation that the bring to me, but that may not be obvious to you.

The most recent of the photos is this one:

madonna reflection

 

This caught my attention the other morning.  At Christmas I was collecting some pretty Christmas cards that I intend to frame someday.  This one of the Madonna and Child has been sitting on my breakfast table for months when I noticed it’s reflection in my camera’s display.  I thought it was interesting as a reflected image ON the camera, rather than one taken THROUGH the camera.    What do you think?

Here’s another one that I like.  It’s taken over the bay adjacent to St. Fidelis Seminary on the north coast of Papua New Guinea, where I taught.  I did my best to capture the beauty and mystery of the clouded full moon over the water, but I lacked a proper tripod to really do it justice.  Still, it’s an image that I can lose myself in, both with memories of the past  and questions of the future.

SONY DSC

 

 

 

“Son of God” Movie

This afternoon I had the chance to see the film “Son of God,” with my sister.   From what I understand, much of the footage came from last year’s “The Bible” mini-series.   While I was in Papua New Guinea, Archbishop Stephen Reichert of Madang lent us his copy of the mini-series (probably one of the few  in whole country), but I was only able to watch the first two episodes before we had to return it.  Therefore, I don’t know first hand if the film is just a re-edit of that footage or not. Continue reading

Feast of Saint Stephen – My Name Day

Carracci,_Annibale_-_The_Stoning_of_St_Stephen_-_1603-04

When I was younger, I never really liked my first name – Steven.  It seemed ordinary to me.  No pizzazz, not a name that anyone would think was cool.

I didn’t really have any other name in mind, but for awhile I thought I could go by my middle name – Craig.  I didn’t know any other Craigs so, it seemed like an option, but I knew I probably couldn’t make it stick.  My older sister was Christine.  Growing up everyone called her Tina, but in high school she managed to make the switch to Cris, with the intriguing missing ‘h’.    It only half worked though.  All the family older than her still called her Tina, but her siblings and friends all called her Cris, so she was even more intriguing by being one of those dual-named people.

According to my dad, I was supposed to be called Sean. That’s what my mother wanted, but somehow my dad, who didn’t like the name, pulled a switcheroo and had Steven written on my birth certificate. So let it be written, so let it be done!

Today is December 26th, the Feast of Saint Stephen, and so I’m celebrating my Name Day.  Almost like another birthday, those lucky enough to be named for a saint can celebrate their namesake’s feast day and revere him or her as a patron saint and an example for their life.   It’s a very cool tradition so I love it when parents pick traditional saint names for their kids.

I’ve known for quite awhile that the day after Christmas (also called Boxing Day) is Saint Stephen’s Day, but I really never gave much thought to why he was important or why his feast day would be placed where it is.   Now that I’ve learned more about our faith, I can really appreciate Saint Stephen and the very important role he had to play in the early Church.

Here (Acts 6:1) you can read how Stephen was chosen as one of the first deacons of the early Church, to assist the Apostles in their work within the community of disciples. You can also read here (Acts 6:8) how Stephen was debated by some of the people in the outer community, falsely accused and eventually brought before the Sanhedrin (the local Jewish court responsible for religious matters), accused of blasphemy.

Before the people and the court, Stephen gave a brave discourse on the history and stubbornness of  the Jewish people to see and accept the presence of the Holy Spirit among them.   They became so infuriated with him, that Stephen was cast out of the city and stoned to death, becoming the protomartyr, or first martyr of the Church.

During his homily today, Msgr. Gregory Gier, rector of Tulsa’s Holy Family Cathedral, made some very interesting points about why Saint Stephen, besides the fact of his martyrdom, is important to the history of the Church.

Saint Stephen, much like Christ, as he was dying, turned his soul over to the mercy of God, and prayed that his persecutors would be forgiven (Acts 7:60):

“Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”; and when he said this, he fell asleep.”

We know from Scripture, that one of persecutors of Saint Stephen was Saul, who would later be known as Saint Paul.  We also know that he was present at Stephen’s stoning; and,  was thus one of those whom he prayed for.    Saul, was not an evil person.  He was a very well educated and learned Jew.  He had dedicated himself to serving God, and because of that was a zealot against anything that went against current Jewish teaching.   He thought he was doing the will of God by persecuting the followers of Jesus.  It took a direct intervention by God to convert him and to convince him that Jesus was the Messiah.  You can read about the conversion of Saint Paul in Acts Chapter 9.

According to Msgr. Gier, it’s not wrong to attribute some of the grace from Saint Stephen’s death as a martyr, and his final prayer, to the conversion of St. Paul.  The answered prayer of the Church’s first martyr is the forgiveness and conversion of Saul and the creation of the Church’s apostle to the Gentiles, St. Paul.

There’s so much to take from the story of Saint Stephen:

  • The power of the Holy Spirit passed from the Apostles to Stephen by the laying on of hands when he was made a deacon.
  • The example of Stephen as he served the community of disciples.
  • The example of Stephen as he confronts his accusers in the Sanhedrin.
  • The power of the Holy Spirit as Stephen dies, asking for his persecutors to be forgiven.
  • And how that prayer is answered in the conversion of Saint Paul.
  • The Church wouldn’t have had Saint Paul without the martyrdom of Saint Stephen.

What else can I say but I think it’s pretty cool to be named for Saint Stephen and I wouldn’t change it now that I understand what an honor it is.

If you get a chance to visit Rome, I urge you to visit the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.  It’s the main shrine to Saint Paul and is said to be the site of his tomb.  As you stand before the altar, to the left you will see a side chapel dedicated to Saint Stephen.

St. Paul Outside the Walls is one of my favorite places to visit because, with that side chapel of Saint Stephen, you are constantly reminded of the role that he played in Saint Paul’s life and how any life can be redeemed and converted by the Holy Spirit.  I’ve been to that basilica three or four times and have been in all the other chapels and even the sacristy, but I’ve never been inside the chapel to Saint Stephen.  Someday, I’ll go there and find it open.

I also encourage you to visit the Basilica of Saint Lawrence Outside the Walls, in Rome.  There you can visit the tombs of the deacons and martyrs St. Stephen and St. Lawrence, as well as the tombs of St. Pope Hilarius and Blessed Pope Pius IX.  What I love about this basilica is that they allow you to descend into the crypt where you can actually lay hands on the tombs of these great saints.  It’s such a blessing!

 

StStephenIconForWebThanks for reading all this!  I hope you take some inspiration from the story of Saint Stephen.

Saint Stephen, pray for us!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Unexpected

 

wall of cameras

I’m back with another entry in the Weekly Photo Challenge from dailypost.wordpress.com .  This week it’s all about the “unexpected” things that we encounter as we’re out and about in the world.

The photo above was taken in the small vestibule of Chuy’s Mexican Restaurant, a new place on Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza.  The small entry to the restaurant, a transition zone between the outer and inner doors of the restaurant, was decorated with hundreds of old cameras.  Mostly Kodak Instamatic cameras from the 70’s, it was completely unexpected, not to mention just a little bit spooky.

Stepping inside from the frigid air of a cold November morning, I’m suddenly faced by all these silent witnesses of times past.  I thought it a fitting entry for this week’s challenge.

Moreover, it gave me pause.  Like the abandoned toys from a “Toy Story” movie, these old gadgets could certainly tell stories of their former lives as recorders of events from decades ago.

Alas, there’s no way to recover the glory or the usefulness of their former time, relegated now to curious decorations, hardly noticed except by one caught in the lens of the unexpected.

 

 

Pope Francis Scares Me

(source: Catholic News Agency)

Yes, I said it.  Pope Francis scares me – but in a good and challenging way.

You’ve probably seen the photo of Pope Francis embracing the man with neurofibromatosis, and you may have read some of the articles written about that truly touching moment.  You may have even read some of the critical commentary that implies that this has all been overblown, over sentimentalized, over emotionalized.

Those are all good discussions.

For me, it’s all been about the internal dialogue that has been occurring inside me.

When I see some act like that of Pope Francis, I can’t help but try to put myself into the shoes of those involved.

The nameless man with the disease put himself forward to meet Pope Francis.  I have no knowledge of why he did this.  I don’t know what he was hoping for, but it took guts to do it.   I don’t want to make any assumptions about that.  It’s a bit of a stretch, but his act reminds me of the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) which we heard recently in Mass.

Zacchaeus was a tax collector – an outcast in his society because of it.  He was “short in stature”, that is, different when compared with those around him.  When Jesus was passing through Jericho, Zacchaeus wanted to see him, so he climbed a sycamore tree – essentially “going out on a limb” for a better view.  Jesus, noticing Zacchaeus’ efforts to be closer to him, reaches out to him and treats him as a normal member of the community.

I see some parallels between this story in the Gospel and what Pope Francis did.

In his time, Pope Francis has constantly shown me in visible and humble ways how much higher the “love your neighbor as yourself”  bar is than I usually think.

I know I shouldn’t look for affirmations about my own faith and conduct only from the people I’m around.  It’s too easy to be complacent.   That’s why the examples of the saints and the saintly behavior of people like Pope Francis are important to consider and reflect upon.

Why does Pope Francis scare me?  Because in his simple actions, he shows me just how far off the mark I am.  How much more I could do.

How much more is being expected of us.  Of me.

Pope Francis makes it look so simple, but I struggle with the question:  “Can I do {THAT THING} that Pope Francis just showed us?”

When I try to put myself into his shoes, would I have been able to show love to that man, or would my instinctual fear, and yes, revulsion, have won the day?

And the next time I’m faced with a chance to show true love and charity, will I be brave enough to answer the call placed before me???

+++++

I was going to leave this post like that.  A hanging question in the ethereal air.

But then, providentially, this new article pops up on www.news.va as I’m editing this post and shows me what I was missing.  A marvelous story, called “An act of love for Noemi” , really should be read in its entirety.

But here’s the part that got to me.  Here Pope Francis is talking about a “communion of charisms”, which reminds me that the gifts I need to carry out what I’m called to do, what I will face each day, are freely given by the Holy Spirit and I needed not worry too much if I’m up to the task:

A second aspect of communion in holy things is the communion of charisms. The Holy Spirit distributes to the faithful a multitude of spiritual gifts and graces; the “imaginative” wealth, let us say, of gifts of the Holy Spirit is ordered to the building up the Church. The charisms — that world is a little difficult — are gifts that the Holy Spirit gives us, talents, possibilities…. Gifts given not to be hidden but to be shared with others. They are not given for the benefit of the one who receives them, but for the use of the People of God. If a charism, one of these gifts, serves instead as self-affermation [sic], then it is doubtful that we are dealing with an authentic charism or one faithfully lived out. The charisms are special graces, given to some for the good of many others. They are attitudes, inspirations and interior promptings that are born in the consciences and experiences of certain people, who are called to put themselves at the service of the community. In particular, these spiritual gifts further the sanctity of the Church and her mission. We are all called to respect them in ourselves and in others, to receive them as serving the Church’s fruitful presence and work. St Paul warns: “Do not quench the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess 5:19). Let us not quench the Spirit who gives us these gifts, these abilities, these very beautiful virtues that make the Church grow.  (source: www.news.va)

Pope Francis also reminds me that none of us is alone.  The Church as a community itself receives charisms from the Holy Spirit and if we work together, we can accomplish all those saintly acts, which we see in others, and more.

 

UPDATE:  I recently learned about the awesome cartoons of Jason Bach.  This one  is just right for this post:

http://www.jasonbachcartoons.com/catholic-11.html 

Oklahoma

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Home

I didn’t mention it here on the blog, but you might have picked up on the fact that I spent most of the month of May back home in Oklahoma.

St. Fidelis Seminary had a break between school terms and because of some family issues, I decided to spend that time in Tulsa.

My aunt, the only member of the older generation left in my immediate family, suffered a fall during Easter and has been recovering at a rehabilitation facility ever since.  My sister Stacey is currently the closest relative (100 miles away) and has been managing her care and financial issues pretty much by herself.

I decided to use my break time to come home and help out as much as I could.  I’m not sure how much good I really did, but I was able to visit with my aunt on a daily basis which I hope was a comfort to her.

My brother Kevin and his wife Maureen came to town one weekend too, which was awesome.  We don’t all three get together that often and it was unlikely to happen at all while I’m working in PNG.

 

Friends

My friends in Tulsa really took care of me while I was home.  It seemed like someone was always willing to have dinner,  go to a baseball game, throw the frisbee around, see a movie, or just hang out in a coffee shop for awhile.

I thought I might suffer from some reverse culture shock when I came home, but I don’t think I experienced anything of the sort.  Dropping into my home city, driving the familiar roads and visiting the familiar faces was just like putting on a glove.  Of course, I really hadn’t been gone all that long anyway.

What surprised me was how much bigger my friends’ children had grown in the past 5 months.  I should have expected it, I guess, but they’ve all grown up so much.  Cuter and more precocious too!

 

Storms

If you’ve read much of my blog, you won’t be surprised when I say that I have a strong attachment to my home state of Oklahoma.  I’m sure others feel the same way about their states, but as far as I’m concerned, there’s just something special about the people there.

I left Tulsa to return to PNG just after the terrible tornadoes struck Moore, Oklahoma.  It brought back memories of the devastating 1999 storms and actually surpassed them in destruction.  I knew people who lost their homes in 1999, and once again I learned that a college friend and his family lost their home this time.

Oklahoma, for all of its good attributes, does seem to attract more than its fair share of tragedy.  Storms, earthquakes, domestic terrorism, economic depressions, droughts, dust storms, wild fires, and flooding seem to happen with some regularity.

What I find interesting is that the people always seem to rise to the challenge.  It would be hard to find a more giving or more generous people, united by both the blessings and challenges of living there.

Sometimes so many people want to help their neighbors in need that organizers don’t know what to do with all of them. As I was heading to the airport, I heard a story on the radio about a Moore area church asking for volunteers to help clean up their property so they could have a memorial service.  Over a thousand people showed up to help on a Tuesday afternoon.  Incredible.

SinceI left Tulsa, there have been even more devastating storms.  One in Broken Arrow, a neighboring city to Tulsa, was only about 5 miles from my home.  The one in El Reno, west of Oklahoma City, killed 20 people, caused massive flooding after 11 inches of rain, and at one point was making a beeline for Stacey’s house in Edmond.

You would think that many people would be making a run for the border after so many storms in such a short time.  I’ve learned though that this only seems to endear Oklahoma to the people and just makes them roll up their sleeves and work all that much harder to repair the damage, try to learn something from the storms, and be just that much better prepared for the next one.

I know it sounds crazy, but being away from the mayhem is hard.  I’d rather be there in the thick of it, ready to help if I can.  I know there would be people to help me if I was the one needing it.

(Note:  the photo slideshow on this post is just some pasture shots that I took in Craig County near Grand Lake.  Nothing special but they do remind me of home and its wide open spaces.)

Eleven Days An Ordained Man

I just have to share this, it’s too good not to.

My friend Bryan Ketterer, a student of the St. Philip Neri Newman Center at the University of Tulsa while I was campus minster there, was recently ordained to the transitional diaconate.  He’s currently studying at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver and is expected to be ordained to the priesthood next year.

During much of his time in the seminary, now-Deacon Bryan sent out almost weekly emails to his friends with updates about his studies and what seminary life is like.  Almost all of them began with a pretty cheesy limerick, but knowing Bryan you would agree they fit perfectly with his personality.

Although I missed his ordination while I was traveling back to PNG, I read with great interest all the accounts of his ordination, along with the priesthood ordination of Tulsa’s newest priest, Fr. Todd Nance.

This morning, I received the following email from Deacon Bryan and knew that I would have to share it with you.  I know he won’t mind.  He’s said I could post his missives before.  It is wonderful to see such a joy of vocation!

Eleven days an ordained man,
This feels so right; I trust God’s plan.
I’ve much to learn,
And yet I yearn
That God complete what He began!

I’m still trying to make heads and tails of this whole deacon thing, but it has been really profound as much as it has sunk in so far. I really see and think about things in a different way knowing I have been consecrated specifically for carrying out Christ’s mission on earth. It seems odd that this is the case having been a seminarian for six years and basically always thinking in this way, but it’s a significantly noticeable difference. It still feels a little foreign when I act as a deacon liturgically or give blessings, but it also just feels so right. Preaching has been a crazy experience too, knowing that in some way the Holy Spirit is moving through my gift of self in preaching and changing hearts and lives. And at this point preaching really feels like I’m just throwing myself out there and hoping the Holy Spirit’s got me covered.

It’s actually been a little hard appreciating the order I received since now I can’t stop looking ahead in excitement. Priesthood seemed so far off two weeks ago, and almost a distant hope at times, but now my heart has a little taste of what’s to come and I just can’t stop longing for it. I feel so limited in how I can serve God’s people and the world for that matter as a deacon, even though a whole new world has just been opened up to me. I think I have a beginning sense of the insane restlessness Fr. Todd Nance was going through in the few days before his priestly ordination on May 25.

 I know I have more musings rumbling around in my head and heart, but I’ll save them for another day and another limerick 😉

 Blessings!

-Deacon Bryan

 

(Photo credit:  David Crenshaw – Eastern Oklahoma Catholic)

Facts and Features

 

With four months in Papua New Guinea under my belt, I thought I would offer up some facts and features about life at St. Fidelis Seminary and some of the things that I’ve encountered here on the campus.  So here is St. Fidelis, by the numbers and such.

Staff

  • 3 Capuchin Friars:  Fr. Cyril, Br. Jim and Br. Alois
  • 2 Franciscan Sisters:  Sr. Ofelia and Sr. Helen (who hasn’t actually arrived yet, should be here in May)
  • 2 CapCorps Lay Missionary Teachers:  Nate and Steve
  • 1 PNG National Teacher:  Michael
  • 2 Cooks:  Marcus (friary) and Victor (students)
  • 1 Carpenter:  John
  • Family members of the staff:  12 (approximately)
  • Propaedeutic Seminarians: 23
  • Spiritual Year Seminarians: 10

Major Facilities

  • 1 Friary
  • 1 Convent
  • 1 Campus Chapel
  • 1 Student Dining Hall
  • 1 Student Kitchen
  • 2 Student Dormitories which also house the school offices, infirmary, assembly hall, computer lab, class rooms, library, and storerooms.
  • 2 Ablution Blocks (showers, toilets, sinks for the students)
  • 2 Classroom Buildings
  • 3 Workshop/Maintenance Buildings
  • 4 Staff Houses
  • 1 Basketball Court
  • 1 Volleyball Court
  • 1 Tennis Court
  • 1 Soccer/Rugby Field
  • Several vegetable and fruit gardens

Miscellaneous Campus Features

  • 3 Japanese anti-aircraft guns (WWII relics)
  • 14 Stations of the Cross made from WWII-era boat propellers. (Sadly, they are very neglected)
  • Several cisterns and tanks which collect rain water from the buildings – our main source of water.
  • 1 Marian shrine (Mary’s Point)
  • 1 St. Fidelis shrine (campus patron saint)
  • 1 wooden jetty along the seashore
  • 1 car, 1 pickup truck and 1 Dyna (a large flatbed truck with a canvas enclosure – used for hauling and carrying students)
  • 1 large farm tractor – used mainly for mowing
  • 4 lawn mowers of the usual type

Flora and Fauna

Since this is a tropical environment, there are many different types of plants and animals here.  I can’t identify too many of them, but here’s what I have seen on campus:

Trees:  coconut, betelnut, banana, papaya, mango, frangipani, and enormous rain trees.

Edible Plants:  bananas, pineapples, papaya, mango, cabbage, peppers, kaukau (local sweet potato), green beans, carrots, brocoli, tomatoes (some of these have been planted but not harvested yet).  There are also several different kinds of local fruits and vegetables that I just don’t know the names of.

There are also lots of flowering plants and bushes, including orchids.

Creatures:   Last week we saw a 7-foot snake, a brown constrictor of some type.  Other snakes include a black snake that got stuck chasing a mouse into the wall of a dormitory a few months ago, and a “lazy snake” that hides in the bushes looking like a stick.  None of these are poisonous.  I still don’t like them.

Other creatures include millions of red ants (they are very aggressive and bite), and several other small types of ants that invade the food pantry;  wasps, termites, spiders,  daytime mosquitos, night-time mosquitos (the malarial kinds), tree frogs, toads, wild pigs, random 3rd world dogs, small bats, large “flying fox” bats, sand crabs, brown eagles, willy wag tails (a black and white bird that has several really annoying sounds), and a wide assortment of barking geckos.   There are numerous types of birds around that we can always hear but never see.  They hide in the trees and brush and call loudly to each other.

Estimated # of Clergy That I’ve Met in PNG

  • Number of archbishops & bishops that I’ve met:  7
  • Number of Polish bishops/priests that I’ve met:  6
  • Number of American bishops/priests that I’ve met:  8
  • Number of American priests that I’ve met who have been in PNG for more than 30 years:  6
  • Number of Australian bishops/priests: 2
  • Number of PNG National bishops/priests:  5
  • Number of bishops/priests of other nationalities:  4

Estimated # of Religious That I’ve Met in PNG

  • Number of religious men (mostly Capuchins, but also SVDs and 1 Dominican): approx. 20
  • Number of religious women (various orders): 8  (there are quite a few here, but I have not met too many yet)

Miscellaneous Other Stuff

  • Average High Temperature:  96 degrees F
  • Average Low Temperature: 80 degrees F
  • Average High Temperature in My Room: 90 degrees F
  • Most Important Feature of My Room:  1 Ceiling Fan
  • Average number of rainfalls per week:  6
  • Average number of power outages per week: 4
  • Average number of hours of TV watched per week:  3
  • Number of TV channels available: 4  (2 from Australia Network, 1 BBC World News, 1 EWTN)
  • Total number of restaurant meals since arriving in PNG: 3 (BBC news and EWTN)
  • Total number of fast food meals since arriving in PNG:  0
  • Approximate number of mosquito or ant bites:  75
  • Approximate number of Masses attended:  117
  • Usual number of Digicel bars on my phone: 2 on a sunny day
  • Weight lost:  >25 lbs (if the scale here is to be believed, which I don’t)
  • Number of notches lower on my belt:  3
  • Number of times we’ve been swimming in the ocean: 4
  • Number of new popes since arriving in PNG: 1
  • Number of American football games watched: 1 (ND / Alabama)
  • Number of Aussie Rules football games watched: 1
  • Approximate Number of Books I’ve Read (Hardcover or Paperback): 3
  • Approximate Number of Books I’ve Read (Kindle iPad app): 14
  • Approximate Number of Books I’ve Read (iBooks iPad app): 22
  • Most read genre: Science Fiction
  • Best beer I’ve had in PNG:  SP (South Pacific).   It’s also the only beer I’ve had here.
  • Local name for Kellogg’s Rice Krispies (made in Australia):  Rice Bubbles  (that makes me laugh)
  • Local name for Kellogg’s Corn Flakes (also made in Australia):  Corn Flakes  (was that so hard?)
  • Best thing that our cook Marcus makes:  homemade bread  (It’s really good – much better than I make)
  • Biggest danger on campus:  Falling coconuts – seriously!  Once one lands near you and you realize it could have hit you in the head, you take notice where you stand.

 

Problems with Doors

One thing here in Papua New Guinea that always catches me by surprise is the trouble some people have with doors.   The Sunday Mass at St. Fidelis is often attended by people from the nearby villages and quite frequently, a first time visitor from one of these villages will have trouble identifying the entrance doors to the chapel.  If you look at the photo attached to this post, you will see the outside doors to the chapel.  The solid brown door on the right leads into the chapel’s sacristy.  This door is locked during Mass to avoid any problems with theft.  The double doors on the left, with louvered windows, lead directly into the chapel.

Villagers will most often try the sacristy door and when they find it locked some will become confused and stand outside the chapel not realizing that the double doors are actually doors and not windows.

I am not being disparaging when I write this.  It is simply a problem of experience.  Living in the primitive villages of Papua New Guinea doesn’t give one much experience with all the different types of doors that one usually encounters growing up in America.  At some point in my life I had to learn to distinguish different types of doors and how to use them.

Seeing this confusion as an educational issue has lead me to a new perspective on many things, including how we approach evangelization.  There is much talk of a “new evangelization” in the Church, but I know from the work I’ve done in Catholic new media that I’ve made assumptions about what people know about God and know about the Church.  Are we approaching people from the right starting place?  I know it hasn’t occurred to me that some people would have no knowledge or experience of God at all.

When we approach people, are we saying, “Open this door and come in!” without first asking “Can you recognize this as a door?”

As each generation becomes more and more secular, and their family’s experience of faith becomes more and more remote, are we saying, “Come experience God!”, before asking, “Do you know what we mean when we say ‘God’?”

It’s something I’m thinking about, but I’m sure those with real theological and philosophical education are probably laughing at my naiveté.

What do you think?  Have you thought about the assumptions you’ve made when sharing your faith with others?

Some Thoughts on Teaching

 

I’m teaching seminarians!  Me! (Gulp!)

What an enormous responsibility this is.  I don’t know if any of these men will ultimately be ordained to the priesthood but if some are, I will have had a tiny part in their journey.  It seems so weird to be called to this after all the other things that I’ve done, but here I am.

I’m sure most of them will little remember me when they reach the point of ordination, many more important instructors will have come their way by then, but still, to know that I had a part is incredible to think about.

These men have a very long way to go.  Right now, they all have a basic Grade 12 education, which in PNG, can vary  quite widely in quality and content.  For most, English is a third language and not the one that they prefer to use.  All will have learned their village language first, along with Tok Pisin (Pidgin).    English would have come into their school curriculum about the 4th grade.

Neither Pidgin nor their village language is suitable for their future studies in philosophy or theology, so they must build their English reading, writing and comprehension skills to a workable level if they have any hope of progressing in the seminary program.

This is where St. Fidelis comes into the picture.

The 2-year Propaedeutic Program is designed with two main goals:  building up their English skills enough to move along in seminary program, and to catechize them more properly in the faith of the Church.

The students arrive at St. Fidelis from really varied backgrounds.  Some of them are exploring their vocations to the priesthood with very little actual knowledge of the faith to work from.  In some cases, knowledge of the faith is almost non-existent or downright wrong.

If you read my previous post “Classes Begin,” you may have noted the rigorous daily schedule that the students follow. The curriculum of classes that goes with that schedule is also pretty strenuous given the situation.

Each week, the Propaedeutic students attend the following:

  • 13 hours of English grammar, writing and reading
  • 2 hours of Bible Instruction
  • 2 hours of Church History
  • 2 hours of religious education using a Melanesian Catechism
  • 2 hours of religious education using the Baltimore Catechism
  • 2 hours of religious education using “I Believe – A Shorter Catholic Catechism”, by Aid To The Church In  Need
  • 2 hours of religious education using the YouCat Catechism
  • 2 hours of general religious education using a series of books entitled “Call to Faith”

I teach the last two classes on that list and help guide some of the reading exercises.

A great deal of English and a great deal of Catechism.  This is specifically what the bishops of PNG asked for, to prepare their seminarians for the next phase of their education, philosophy.

Why so many different catechisms you ask?  Repetition of the same concepts and information, but from different types of catechisms, one designed for their culture, one designed for young adults, an old-school yet proven one, etc., is desired so they can quickly learn what they’ve missed, fill in the gaps, correct any misconceptions and gain some skills for processing a lot of information.

Tenets of the faith are bound to stick, one way or another.

It makes teaching interesting because when you ask a question, you may not get the answer back the same way you taught it.   Hopefully, we won’t confuse or contradict each other.

What I struggle with is finding the right level at which to teach.  Ideally, I would like to teach at a college freshman level. However, at least for the guys in this first year of the Propaedeutic Program, I have to aim at something that’s more like a junior in high school.

This is a good lesson for me too.  I have to reflect seriously on each lesson I give and try to strike just the right level.  Some of the men are really trying their best to do well and to learn all the information that’s coming from the fire hose pointed at them.  Some are struggling, not at all accustomed to the lifestyle or what is expected of them academically.

The second year of the Propaedeutic Program, which we hope all will progress to next year, will have even tougher classes including more English, Salvation History, Apologetics, more Church History, more Catechism, a priesthood class, and other classes still to be determined.

We’ve just finished the first three weeks of teaching, so the first round of tests is coming up soon.  I guess we’ll see how successful we’ve been when those are graded.

The school operates on a trimester schedule.  The first term will end on April 27th with a two week break following.  We’re all going to need it.

 

The Sky! The Sky!

I was expecting this to happen.  I knew that sooner or later I would get a little homesick and I would start to crave something.

When I was in Guatemala for a long time, I would crave Southern biscuits and honey.  While walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain it was an old-fashioned American hamburger.   Dr Pepper is another favorite  thing on my wish list when I know it can’t be found.

Here in PNG, I knew I was missing something but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.  At first I thought it was the wind we have at home, you know “where the wind comes sweeping down the plains.”  It’s never windy here, only managing a breeze every now and then, at least where we are.

Then I thought it was sunsets.  If you follow me on Twitter or have read some of my pre-PNG blog posts, you know that I love to take HDR photos of sunsets, especially the ones with a wide spectrum of colors, blues, purples, reds, etc.  The sunsets here at St. Fidelis are blocked by hills and the lush overgrowth of trees and I have yet to see a single one.

The last couple of days I’ve been reading “Death Comes For The Archbishop”, a truly great novel by Willa Cather.  Published in 1927, it seems to deftly captures the essence of the Church in mid-19th century New Mexico.  If you like historical fiction about the American Southwest, you should definitely pick this up.

Even though I feel very patriotically for Oklahoma, I was born in New Mexico and spent some years there during high school and college.   I knew what I was missing when I read this in Cather’s novel:

 

“The ride back to Santa Fé was something under four hundred miles. The weather alternated between blinding sand-storms and brilliant sunlight. The sky was as full of motion and change as the desert beneath it was monotonous and still, — and there was so much sky, more than at sea, more than anywhere else in the world. The plain was there, under one’s feet, but what one saw when one looked about was that brilliant blue world of stinging air and moving cloud. Even the mountains were mere ant-hills under it. Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth was the floor of the sky. The landscape one longed for when one was far away, the thing all about one, the world one actually lived in, was the sky, the sky!”

 

This coastal area of PNG is lush and beautiful.  Most people would call it a paradise, or at least one of the most beautiful parts of the South Pacific.  For me though, it just hasn’t touched me yet.  This is not what I long for.

Long ago I was captivated by the wide open plains of New Mexico and West Texas, full of places where one can see 30 miles in every direction.  Horizon to horizon in a full circumference.  What I’m craving are the open sky and the grand vistas with colorful sunrises, sunsets and fleets of clouds that go with them.

I’m sure I’ll find something like that here in PNG at some point, but for now I’m left wanting and I have to satisfy myself with some of the photos I have  here on my computer, and now share with you.    I hope you enjoy these, taken  in Oklahoma, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Ireland, Guatemala and Haiti.

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Divine Office

I first learned the basics of saying the Divine Office (or Liturgy of the Hours) when I was an undergrad at Oklahoma State University.  My friend Dan Mueggenborg (now Msgr. Mueggenborg!) and I would make the short trip from campus to Stillwater’s St. Francis Xavier Parish for evening prayer, a few times during one of our semesters.

I didn’t learn it well then and I wasn’t all that committed in those days, but I guess a small seed was planted.   I don’t recall ever doing it again until we started offering it for students of the St. Philip Neri Newman Center, while I was campus minister there.

Some of the students would meet for Morning Prayer, but I was present more for Evening Prayer as students ended their classes in the late afternoon and were on their way home for dinner.

Here at St. Fidelis, I’m learning much more discipline in this than I’ve ever had before.    Although I’m a lay volunteer, the friars have invited me to participate in their daily prayers, meditations and Mass.  I have to say the regularity and consistency of this has helped with my transition into this foreign environment.  There’s nothing like the universality of the Church to make you feel at home anywhere in the world.

Here’s the daily schedule:

6am:   Morning Meditation
6:30 am:  Morning Prayer
6:45 am:  Mass
Breakfast follows

12:15pm: Lunch

5:00 pm:  Meditation
5:30 pm:  Evening Prayer
6:15 pm:  Dinner

The schedule will change somewhat when school starts.  Right now, we do prayers and Mass in the friary chapel.  When the students arrive, we’ll move down to the campus chapel with some slightly different times.

I’m still getting the hang of the meditation parts.  For now, I usually do some reading in the morning, and say a rosary in the afternoon.

BTW, here they use the British/Australian version of the breviary.  It’s quite a bit different from the one used in the US and I’m of the opinion so far that this one is much better organized.

What about you?  Have you ever prayer Liturgy of the Hours on a consistent basis?  Any tips on how to be more disciplined with it or to appreciate it better?

(I know my SQPN friends are laughing because of the early schedule I keep every day now, and how I used to complain about our “early” board meetings at 7am.)

Fr. Joseph

By happenstance, I had lunch with Fr. Joseph, a priest of the Archdiocese of Madang.  It was a chance encounter, but I’m glad I had this opportunity.

When Fr. Joseph learned that I was new to PNG, he made the effort to tell me what it’s like being a priest with responsibilities for far-flung mission stations.

In particular, he told me about a group of parishes and mission stations that he’s only able to visit once every 3 months.  It requires taking a boat down the coast, being let off on the shoreline, and walking 8-9 hours to the farthest station, and then taking several days to work his way back.  He visits the faithful at the various stations, bringing them the Sacraments and performing numerous baptisms and weddings along the way.

It’s starting to dawn on me that almost every priest here has similar responsibilities and similar stories to tell.  Long treks into the backcountry, many different cultures and tribal situations to negotiate, being the true faces of the modern missionary priest.

As I ponder the rather cushy nature of my previous parish experiences, I wonder if I’m brave enough to go and visit some of these mission stations.  I wonder if I’ll have that opportunity sometime while I’m here….

 

(PS:  I borrowed the photo attached from this post from the Capuchin website.  It’s Bishop Don Lippert, OFM Cap.  of the Diocese of Mendi, but it should give you a bit of a hint of what priests like he and Fr. Joseph are tasked with.)