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Archive for March, 2012

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit (John 12:23-24).”

Those words from Sunday’s Lenten Gospel moved me to recall the life of one of my favorite priests, Fr. Vincent Capodanno. Born on Staten Island in 1929, Vincent was, by the world’s standards, a rather shy and unremarkable young man. Nonetheless, he loved the Lord and resolved to become a Catholic priest. Fr. Vincent entered the Maryknoll missionary society and for seven years served the people of western Taiwan. In 1965, as American participation in the Vietnam War was increasing, Fr. Vincent enlisted in the Navy as a priest chaplain. Assigned to the Marine Corps, Chaplain Capodanno arrived in Vietnam during Holy Week of 1966. His work with the Marines there resulted in a tremendous respect and admiration from the men toward their spiritual father. Because he did what they did and went where they went – even into combat zones – the Marines called Capodanno, “The Grunt Padre.” His readiness to love and sacrifice for those men reached its fulfillment on September 4, 1967.

Knowing that battle was imminent, Fr. Vincent joined a battalion of the 7th Marine Regiment as they travelled by helicopter into the Que Son Valley. When the fierce fighting began, Capodanno was on one side of a small hill, a place of relative safety, but he could clearly hear the cries of wounded and dying Marines coming from the opposite side. Oblivious to his own safety, he ran, under fire, over the hill and onto the battlefield. Moving from Marine to Marine, he gave medical assistance and offered the sacraments to those who were dying. Witnesses recalled their chaplain speaking such words as, “Have faith. Jesus is the truth and the life,” and, “God is with us all this day.” Severely wounded by mortar fire, his right hand nearly severed, he refused to leave the field and continued to aid the wounded and dying. Spotting a wounded corpsman, he made a heroic dash to save the man from enemy fire, but as he arrived, the burst of machine gun killed the chaplain instantly. Fr. Capodanno died in an effort to give life to another.

Our Lord and Savior also died so that another could have life. That other person is me. That other person is you. Jesus, the grain of wheat which produces much fruit, shielded us from death by dying on the cross. He took the bullet on our behalf. He paid the price for our sins. We live, only because he has died.

Like Fr. Vincent Capodanno, and especially in imitation of our Lord, we too are called to live for others, to sacrifice our own desires for those of others. If we live just for ourselves, when the day of judgment comes, we will have just ourselves. That’s not much of a prize. But if we live for others, when the end comes, not only will we receive ourselves, but we will also receive the fellowship of all the saints and the friendship of our Lord forever. We, as our Savior, will be grains of wheat which have produced much fruit. And that is a prize worth dying for.

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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Saint Joseph

Today, the Church throughout the world celebrates the Feast of St. Joseph with great solemnity. In some countries this is a Holy Day of Obligation. Here in the United States, although attending Mass is not obligatory, the Liturgical Feast goes all out by providing three readings, a Gloria, and the Creed. And as my mother never hesitates to remind me, back in the day, when she was attending St. Bernard School and being taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph, today was a vacation day!

Although Scripture says little about St. Joseph in terms of the number of verses, the words that do describe St. Joseph speak volumes. Indeed, every Christian can learn much from St. Joseph, but that is especially true for Christian men, and maybe doubly so for Christian teenage guys. Consider the following:

1. St. Joseph was dedicated to following God’s will. We know that this is the case because Joseph obeyed God even when it was ridiculously difficult to do. I mean, here’s a guy, engaged to be married, whose wife declares that she’s pregnant, but he’s not the dad, and the law of his people dictates that his betrothed should be stoned to death. Tough situation. Joseph wants to divorce her quietly, and quite possibly, he just wants to leave the whole deal behind. But God says marry her, and he does. God says take her and the child to Egypt, and he does. Joseph wasn’t wedded to his own plans and dreams, he was committed to God. There’s a lot to learn there.

2. St. Joseph was a man of chastity. In a million different ways, our culture says this to teen guys: If you’re not having sex, you’re a loser. But less we be deceived, and in whatever manner that message is delivered, be assured that it is a lie from the very depths of hell. Not only are a lot of teen guys not having sex, the majority of teen guys are not having sex. And those guys are the real men, the men of integrity and self-control, the men who are ready to make a difference in this world. St. Joseph was such a man. He remained a virgin his entire life because God requested such a gift and was glorified through such a gift. St. Joseph was a man of incredible integrity.

3. St. Joseph loved Mary. So many saints have said the same thing through the centuries: You cannot love Jesus well without also loving his mother. As her husband and protector, St. Joseph loved Mary in a powerful way. As Christians, men or women, boys or girls, we too should do everything in our power to love Mary well. She leads us to Christ. She prays for us. She looks out for us. She will be there at the hour of our death. Probably, if we ask nice, she’ll make us a homemade pie on our first day in heaven. St. Joseph loved Mary with all his being and we should strive to do no less.

As we continue down the Lenten road of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, let’s pause today and consider St. Joseph. Here was a man who loved Christ fully. Here was a saint who gave everything to serve God. In the person and life of St. Joseph there’s a lot for us to learn and emulate.

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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Not too long ago, I was in the sacristy after having preached a vocations homily at a diocesan grade school. As I was hanging up my vestments, two eighth grade boys suddenly appeared before me.

“Father sent us here to meet you,” said the more outgoing of the two.

“And why is that?” I replied.

With a huge smile, serious conviction and no small amount of joy, the first boy answered, “I’m going to be a priest!”

I looked at the other one and asked, “You too?”

Confidently, he responded, “Yes.”

That encounter made my day. Not just because two young men were considering God’s call to the priesthood, not just because their holy, zealous assistant pastor was encouraging vocations by word and example, and not just because I had seen again how alive and young the Church in Erie really is. Most of all, that encounter made my day because of the excitement the boys exhibited in desiring to serve Christ. Excitement for Christ is a wonderful thing.

Maybe you and me once had a similar excitement to give everything for Christ. It’s the excitement of young Andrew upon first meeting Jesus. It’s the excitement of Mary Magdalene at the Risen Lord’s tomb. It’s the excitement seen in Francis as he leaves Assisi for a life of holy poverty. It’s the excitement of a newly baptized adult in the light of the Easter candle.

Sadly, as we become more mature in the living of our Christian life, the initial flush of excitement can be dulled or even destroyed. The wounds of sin, failure and disappointment can begin to weigh heavily upon our backs. Maybe we no longer feel Christ’s nearness, but instead, we feel the siren call of the world. We might begin to question ourselves, the Church, and even God. But let us remember, especially during Lent, that the cross must always precede the joy of Easter. Discouragement doesn’t come from God, it comes from Satan and our own pride. The Christian life is not a sprint, but a challenging slog. But a life in Christ always ends in victory.

Have you lost that initial flush of Christian excitement? No need to be afraid or worried. “I am with you always,” promises Christ, even “until the end of the age (Mt 28).”

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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The foundations of Lenten observance are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. But keep in mind, they are not an end to themselves. We pray, we fast, and we give to fulfill the great commandments, love of God and love of neighbor. We pray, we fast, and we give to open our own hearts to the presence of God and to be that presence for others in need. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving as end to themselves leads us to the sin of pride. But as we were reminded on Ash Wednesday, it’s our turning away from sin that is at the real core of Lenten observance.

Imagine fasting on bread and water for an entire week, kneeling on broken glass for three hours of prayer per day, giving our entire savings to the homeless man on the corner … but then on Saturday night … after this wonderful week of Lenten devotion … getting drunk at the local tavern, disparaging everyone from the pope to our mother-in-law during the barstool conversation, beating up an immigrant in the parking lot because we don’t approve of “those kind of people,” and then ending our night of debauchery by having a fling with the waitress or waiter who served us our shots and beers. Seems pretty ridiculous, doesn’t it? But maybe it’s closer to the truth than we’d care to admit.

If we pray, fast and give alms, but then miss Mass on Sunday or gossip or practice unchaste behavior or hold on to prejudicial attitudes or tell “white lies” or view pornography or steal from storeroom at work or fail to give time to our spouse or children – and a million other sinful activities – then our prayer and our fasting and our almsgiving are pointless. Remember, the primary goal of Lenten observance is to grow in love of God, but we cannot do that if we are disobeying his commands. Remember, the secondary goal of Lenten observance is to grow in love of neighbor, but we fail to do that when we fail to treat our neighbor with kindness, patience and self-sacrifice.

Do you think God is more concerned that we give up chocolate or that we cease making nasty comments about our rival at school or work? Do you think God is more pleased with us when we say an extra Rosary or when we say no to another hour on Facebook with friends and yes to reading a story to our little sister (despite the fact that she is sooo annoying)?

This Lent, let’s do it all. Let’s continue to pray and fast and care for the poor, but let’s also make sure that those devotions lead us to less sin and more love of God and neighbor. After all, that is the goal.

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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