Deacons & Seminarians

Jesus said, "Come After Me"

When my brothers and I were in college, we had the opportunity to work as dockhands for three summers at a boat marina in Okoboji, Iowa. Our labor at the local lake wasn’t nearly as grueling as fishermen in ancient Israel, yet I still find myself relating to Simon, Andrew, James, and John… slightly. These four men were so convicted by the simple calling of Jesus when He said, “Come after me,” that they immediately abandoned everything to follow Him. How strong the divine gaze must have been from Jesus and how confident His tone must have sounded to compel these men to leave their livelihoods behind! The Letter to the Hebrews (4:12) mentions that “The word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.” If I truly lived and believed that passage from scripture, how much more seriously would I let the words of Christ influence my life? Would I be ready to abandon the world and come after Jesus instead? My trust is sorely lacking compared to the fishermen!

It is likely that most of us are not being called to physically leave our families, homes, and occupations behind to follow Jesus, but I think there are spiritual lessons to learn from this Gospel passage, especially in this year of St. Joseph that runs until December 8, 2021. When Jesus invited James and John to follow Him, the Gospel specifically mentions that they left their biological father, Zebedee, in their fishing boat to pursue Christ. With that emphasis, I think this offers us an opportunity to contemplate how we are cultivating a relationship with the foster father of Jesus (and hence our spiritual foster father), St. Joseph. We know he must have been compassionate but strong as he helped raise the Son of God. He wants to show that same love to us that he showed Jesus. Let’s look to Joseph this year to help us fulfill today’s psalm and teach us the way to God.

Following Jesus

As I sat in the doctor’s office the other day, I couldn’t help but listen and watch one of the TVs blaring some twenty‐four‐hour news network and see how the craziness of 2020 has bled right into 2021. I yearned to turn it off and block it out, but it followed me everywhere—on my phone, at the airport, even newsbreaks during the Bears game. The world imposes upon us and won’t let us alone.

That’s why today’s Gospel is so refreshing. It’s all about Jesus proposing to , not imposing on, his future disciples. ““What are you looking for?” he asks, not telling them what lifestyle they should be living or products they should be buying. He gives them room to share their own desires, which is to be with him (“Where are you staying?”) Really, they are asking Jesus, “What are you all about? Why is everyone talking about you?” Jesus doesn’t tell them, “Well you see, I’m the Son of God come to save you. You’re lucky I’m even speaking to you.”

Instead, he offers the simplest of invitations: “Come, and you will see.” Come, and experience what fullness of life is. Come, and your life will never be the same. The only promise that Jesus makes is that we will see, we will experience. He’s not locking us into a contract with carefully constructed clauses, but offers nothing less than himself. This doesn’t mean an easy or comfortable road. It does mean beholding things that those who came before waited entire generations to witness.

Following Jesus isn’t escapism from the world, but following the One who will guide us through the chaos that threatens to overtake us at any time. It may feel sometimes that being a disciple of Jesus is even more chaotic than the world. In my three‐and‐a‐half years as a seminarian, I’ve found myself in situations I’ve never dreamed of, but they were never terror‐inducing or constricting. Instead, Jesus was with me to open myself up in ways I never though possible. “Come, and you will see,” may sound scary, but it’s a call to be drawn into something instead of that something being dumped into your life. Leave the exhausting world of the news aside and see what Jesus is offering freely.

Kevin Gregus

Understanding Grief As Catholics

For many people, Christmas time is filled with happiness. However, some experience sadness when remembering the loved ones who departed from this world. How do we understand grief as Catholics?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church ([CCC] par. 1021) states that “Death puts an end to human life,” allowing the beginning of the eternal life (heaven, purgatory, or hell). We are told that the “Church commends the dead to God’s mercy and offers her prayers, especially the…Eucharist” (CCC, par. 1055). By doing this, the militant church (those living on earth) and the triumphant church (saints, souls in heaven) pray together for those who are purifying their souls in purgatory. Therefore, we are called to pray for the repose of our loved ones.

When in grief, it might be helpful to go to Jesus and Mary, who also experienced bereavement. In the narrative of Lazarus’s rising, we are told that Jesus wept (see John 11:1‐44). At the foot of the cross, the Virgin Mary coped with her grief in silence. One of the most helpful ways to manage grief is to ask Christ and Mary for their guidance and support.

Let us remember that God is always with us, “Do not fear: I am with you; do not be anxious…I will strengthen you…help you…[and]…uphold you with my victorious right hand” (Isa. 41:10). It is good to remind ourselves that we will rise and participate in Christ’s resurrection. “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thess. 4:14).

Amidst the suffering of grief, let us care for our departed loved ones with our continuous prayers, always trusting God and his mercy. We cannot avoid emotional pain, but we can soothe our souls when we pray. Please, know of my prayers for all of you.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Christian Melendez‐Cruz

Hello 2021!

In last week’s reflection, Deacon Tom said goodbye to 2020.  I would like to say, “Hello, 2021!” As we welcome the New Year with open arms and much hope for better things to come, we need to stay focused on God in our lives. Today we celebrate Three Kings Day, the Feast of the Epiphany. The Epiphany is a time when Christians remember when the magi first saw Jesus. The three kings had the revelation of God’s presence, as seen in Jesus, God’s incarnate son; meaning that Jesus is both fully human and divine.   

As the three kings honor the Christ Child and recall the wonderful deeds of God our Father, we must also look to the Lord and trust Him. Trust Him with our future, for we do not know what 2021 will bring. Hopefully, it will bring an end to this pandemic, an end to both the physical and mental suffering that many of us have experienced, and an end to our isolation and loneliness.   

An Epiphany can also be an enlightening or realization of understanding about a particular situation or experience from which one can gain a deeper perspective. We need to open our eyes and our hearts and recognize the Christ Child in our lives.   Christ brings hope, peace, joy and love as promised by God the Father.  Like the three wise men, we too can have our own epiphany, our own awakening and see God in our everyday lives and see Him in 2021.   

Soon we will be able to rejoin family and friends, together, whether it is sharing a cup of coffee or a meal; but until then and while we wait, we can see God in our lives everywhere. God is present in all of us. He is with us during the best of times, these trying times and especially during this pandemic.

Whatever our hopes, dreams and expectations for the future, for 2021, I hope that we can include God in our everyday life and that we can all feel His presence.    

Marie Dombai

His Yoke Is Easy

As the year 2020 draws to a close, a number of thoughts come to my mind. The first one is: good-bye and good riddance! The emergence of the COVID virus and resulting pandemic has had a profound impact on our daily lives. It has kept us more cooped up in our homes and has interfered with our ability to spend time together with family and friends. For too many, the loss has been far greater, as loved ones have become seriously ill or have died from the virus and its many complications.

On the other hand, this year has brought much that I am very thankful for. My son, Tim, and his girlfriend of many years were married during the summer. We found out that another son, Will, and his wife, Laura, are expecting their first child, a daughter, in April, 2021. And, after many years of study and several COVID-related delays, I was ordained a deacon and assigned to serve in the parish where I have lived my entire life!

Participating at Mass as a deacon on a frequent basis has been another wonderful gift for me this year. I have gained much from the messages I receive from the daily readings of scripture. During Advent, I was especially encouraged by a very short gospel reading (from Matthew 11:28-30) where Jesus calls the people to “Come to him” saying that he will provide rest to those who feel overburdened.

Jesus offers to teach us and invites us to take on his yoke and follow him because his yoke is easy and the burden is light. Why is that? Because he is there to shoulder the yoke with us and to help us along the way as we strive to follow his law of love. We are called to love God and to serve others, but we work and serve with the strength that the Lord provides. As long as our trust in the Lord remains strong, we can count on his mercy and his help to assist us.

We all experience times of weariness and disillusion in our lives. In these particularly trying times, we may have a sense of feeling lost or alone, and separated from our loved ones. We need to remember these words of the Lord which offer so much consolation. Keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus allows us to understand how far we still have to go, but at the same time it fills us with the joy of knowing that we are walking with him and we are never alone.

Deacon Tom Dombai

Watch, Prepare, Testify, Ponder

 

It has been a tremendous privilege to assist with the 3rd through 6th grade religious education classes this semester led by Patty Collins as part of the Tolton Teaching Parish Program. Practicing some teaching skills via Zoom has brought back unique memories of helping with Insect Biology classes (yes, that’s really a thing!) in Wyoming. Now, instead of setting up quizzes including praying mantids, butterflies, and grasshoppers of all sorts, I find myself aiding with lesson plans that aim to pass along the Catholic Faith to others, which has been a decent upgrade (no offense to our six-legged friends). Not only do these classes help me look ahead at Sunday’s Gospel, but I also find myself learning just as much as the students as we talk about prayer, the lives of the saints, and asking the question: how do we be Jesus for others?

This Advent has allowed our classes to home in on key parts of the Gospels that develop a pathway for our hearts to follow. Making this pathway precise is allowing us to ready our hearts for the arrival of our Lord in the flesh so that He can fully redeem us. For the first Sunday of Advent, our classes focused on the word, “watch!” The following week, the key word was “prepare,” as we transition to a more active sense of participation in getting ready for Jesus. In the third week of Advent, the main word that stuck out to us was “testify.” It is our responsibility as Christians to proclaim the Good News of God’s birth, life, death, and resurrection!

This final Sunday of Advent, the word “pondered” stands out as Mary reflected on the message of the angel Gabriel. It is a huge blessing that we still have days ahead of us this week to complete the journey of our hearts, culminating in Jesus’s arrival on Christmas. My prayer is that we all take time this week to watch, prepare, testify, and finally ponder in silent prayer the message of hope and joy that the birth of Christ promises.

The Beauty of Golf

Given the current trajectories of the Bears, Cubs, and Blackhawks, I’ve decided to make golf my sport of viewing choice. Yes, I know these teams will be competitive at some point, but I don’t need to sit and be frustrated with them. Maybe I’m just inspired by the first Masters Tournament in November and geƫng to watch the majority of the rounds with some of my fellow seminarians.

What draws me most to golf is that it’s a beautiful sport. Courses are oŌen some of the most beautiful pieces of land we have. Some of those courses are elevated above the rest, almost like cathedrals— Augusta National, Pebble Beach, and Medinah to name a few. It’s a game that can be played by anyone in any generation, even if you don’t do it well (I am a testament to that). It’s game of competitiveness, leisure, stress, fun, and emotion as we strive toward perfection. Really, there is just some unspoken allure to the game.

Beauty, and the pursuit of it, has long been a key driver for human action, behavior, and culture. Because it draws perceivers closer to the truth and reality, beauty inspires us to want to explore more deeply and know that truth. We want beauty, especially in our church. I’ve heard so many positive remarks about some of the renovations to St. Juliana, like the new statues, paint, or bells. This physical beauty reveals something to us about the glory of heaven and the authenticity that we are called toward.

When I watch golf in its beauty, I find myself rooting for the game being played instead of loyalty to a team. Sure, I have some favorites, but at the heart of it, I root for good golf that can be played in a variety of styles. Is this not like the saints? Men and women who have played the game different ways but have found perfection, all within the rules and fundamentals of the game.

Finally, golf has a beauty precisely because it is so difficult. Even the pros struggle in rounds, finding that there are some things outside of their control. As one pro remarked, "Golf is a fascinating game. It has taken me nearly forty years to discover that I can't play it." If we didn’t know it before, 2020 has reminded us how much control we lack. Yet we remain close to God and the beauty of our faith expressed in buildings, actions, and people as we move toward heaven.   

Kevin Gregus

Our Lady of Divine Providence Patroness of Puerto Rico

Coming from a devoted Catholic family, the Christmas season started for us on November 19, the day of a liturgical feast in Puerto Rico Our Lady, Mother of Divine Providence. It was a day of celebration and gratitude for God’s providence to us through the intercession of our beloved Mother. I want to share with all of you a brief history of our devotion.

The devotion to Our Lady of Providence, the patroness of Puerto Rico, is rooted in Scripture and attributed to the Blessed Mother’s intervention at the wedding at Cana. Known to have originated in Italy in the 13th century, the devotion was brought to Spain where a shrine is built in Catalonia.

It was Catalonian Bishop Gil Esteve, who was named bishop of Puerto Rico, who brought the devotion to the island, putting his work in the hands of “divine providence,” after finding the cathedral and the finances of the diocese in terrible shape. Through his faithful devotion, the cathedral was fully restored in less than five years a remarkable feat.

Since then, devotion to the Virgin of Providence was established there. Soon after, Bishop Esteve ordered a carved image of the Blessed Mother holding a sleeping baby Jesus in her arms from Barcelona, Spain, that graced the cathedral for more than 65 years. It was replaced in 1920 by another image carved out of wood that remains that is what most Puerto Ricans are familiar with a sleeping, trustful baby Jesus on the lap of his devoted mother.

Source: Our Lady of Providence Patroness of Puerto Rico

Christian Melendez‐Cruz

First Sunday of Advent

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, a time devoted to preparation for the coming of our Savior. As we wait, we recognize that Jesus was born to save us from our sins, for our salvation, and understand that God is with us always.

My favorite picture, that I’m sure many of you are familiar with, is the picture of Santa kneeling before baby Jesus.  For many of us, as we prepare for the coming of Christmas with a hectic month of trimming a tree, baking cookies, sending out cards, buying and wrapping presents, and spending time with family and friends (maybe not much this year), we need to STOP. We need to take time to see the real reason we celebrate this holiday‐the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Seeing Christmas through the eyes of a child oftentimes is all about Santa and receiving presents.

This picture helps remind us that on Christmas morning it is not just about boxes with pretty paper tied up with bows but, the biggest, greatest gift we receive is Christ. This picture also helps us put together the make‐ believe of the season and the real reason for Christmas. We need to put aside all the commercialism of the holiday and make room, take time for the Christ child in our lives.

In today’s gospel Mark says that we should be “watchful,” “stay awake,” and be ready. We can do this every day year round, but especially during Advent as we prepare for the Messiah, the anointed one, who comes to take away our sins and the sins of the world. We can ready ourselves by doing our best to live lives of love, compassion, forgiveness, honesty, and integrity with those closest to you. Through prayer with the help of God our Father, we welcome the coming of Christ in our lives and in our world.

What are you doing during this Advent season to prepare your heart and soul for the birth of the Christ child?

Marie Dombai

Symbolism of Advent

In the Middle Ages, the Christians adopted the tradition of the Advent wreath as part of their spiritual preparation for Christmas.  Advent is a season of waiting. We light candles on the Advent wreath to put ourselves in the spiritual place of the Israelite people, who, through many long centuries, waited for the coming of the Messiah. The wreath and its light is a sign of Christ's promise to bring us salvation. 

The wreath is a circle of evergreen branches, signifying continuous life, the passing of time, and eternal life. It also symbolizes the eternity of God, the immorality of the soul, and the everlasting life found in Christ. The wreath having no beginning or end reflects the complete and endless love that Jesus has for each one of us.

The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent. Each Sunday in Advent, one of the four candles is lit. The three purple candles are a sign of royalty and recognize a time of preparation and repentance symbolizing prayer, penance, sacrifices, and good works undertaken at this time. The single pink candle is a symbol of joy. The progressive lighting of the candles symbolizes the expectation and hope surrounding our Lord’s first coming into the world and the anticipation of His second coming to judge the living and the dead. The light signifies Christ, THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD.

Traditionally, families light the Advent wreath at dinnertime after the blessing of the food.

On the First Sunday of Advent, the first candle, the prophecy candle or the candle of hope, is lit. We bless the wreath, praying:  O God, by whose word all things are sanctified, pour forth your blessing upon this wreath, and grant that we who use it may prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ and may receive your abundant graces. Amen. The prayer continues for each day of the first week of Advent: O Lord, we beg you to come, and that with your protection we can be rescued from the threatening dangers of our sins and saved from all evils. Amen.  Then we light one purple candle.

During the Second Sunday of Advent we light the second candle, the Bethlehem candle or the candle of peaceWe pray: O Lord, stir up our hearts that we may prepare for your only begotten Son, that through His coming we may be made worthy to serve you with pure hearts and minds. Amen. Then we light the purple candle from the first week, plus one more purple candle.

During the Third Sunday of Advent, the third candle, the shepherd candle or the candle of joy is lit. We pray: O Lord, we beg you, incline your ear to our prayers and enlighten the darkness of our minds by the grace of your presence. Amen. We then light the two previously lit purple candles, plus the pink candle.

Finally, on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, the fourth candle, the angel candle or the candle of love, is lit. We pray: O Lord, stir up your power, we pray, that with the help of your mighty grace, your merciful forgiveness may hasten what our sins impede. Amen. Then we light all of the candles of the wreath. 

Since Advent is a time to stir up our faith in the Lord, the wreath and its prayers provide us a way to strengthen this special preparation for Christmas. Moreover, this good tradition helps us to remain vigilant in our homes and not lose sight of the true meaning of Christmas, that CHRIST IS THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD.


—Marie Dombai

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving

I would imagine that for most of us, our Thanksgivings have usually centered around a large gathering of the extended family celebrating the occasion with a wonderful hearty meal, lots of desserts, and time set aside to recall the many blessings in our lives for which we are most thankful. For many of us, due to the ongoing surge in coronavirus cases, this year’s Thanksgiving celebrations will be limited to much smaller gatherings. While the pandemic has dramatically affected people throughout the world and brought substantial changes to our daily lives, we still have much to be thankful for.

My family is one of the blessings I am most thankful for. Even though several of our family members will be absent from our table and setting down to share a meal separately this year, we have plenty of ways to let them know how much we love them and how special they are to our lives. We have our hi‐tech phones to call, text, and FaceTime our loved ones. For those who handle technology far better than me, there are Snap Chat, Instagram, Zoom Gatherings, and Facebook Pages. There also is email, or even sending a card or a note in the US mail (or “snail mail” to some). The important thing is that we take the time to tell those close to us how thankful we are for their loving presence in our lives. Even if we need to stay socially distant for the time being, we can always remain in close communication with our loved ones.

Our faith and God’s loving presence in our lives is the other great gift for which I am most thankful. This time of year always reminds me that the word “Eucharist” itself has a Greek root meaning of “Thanksgiving.”   While our churches were closed during the Spring lockdown, we became accustomed to participating in weekly Mass remotely through livestreamed masses. Since June, many of us have been able to return to attending Masses in church and celebrating the Eucharist in person. Even at those times when we are not able to receive Jesus in Holy Communion, we can also encounter Him in other ways in our daily lives though prayer, reading of scripture, contemplating the beauty of creation and the gift of our very lives. No matter how we are celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday this year, we all should carve out some time to say “thank you” to the Lord for his many blessings.

Deacon Tom Dombai

Contemplative Prayer

As Christians of any vocation we are called to love Christ through a deeper union with Him through the sacraments and prayer. Probably the biggest blessing of attending seminary (outside of Confession being offered frequently and attending daily Mass) is learning different prayer techniques and then being given the space and time to implement them. Last week Fr. Larry Hennessy taught us about “the prayer of contemplation,” and we can link that method to this weekend’s readings to cultivate a deeper relationship with Christ.

Mary was the first person to contemplate Jesus, so we can always turn to her for guidance on how to pray. When the shepherds visited the nativity and shared their prophetic messages from the angels, St. Luke (2:19) writes that “Mary treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart.” Her example of simply pondering our Lord and His love is perfect… and easy for us to implement! As St. Teresa of Ávila wrote in her autobiography: “Contemplative prayer, in my opinion, is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.”

This weekend, St. Paul tells the Thessalonians that they are “…children of the light and children of the day.” What better way to bring the light of Christ into our lives through peaceful moments of silent prayer? Lastly, Fr. Robert Schoenstene, a priest for the Archdiocese of Chicago, commented that the “talents” mentioned in the Gospel were “large measures of weight in the ancient world… possibly, one talent was equivalent to 50 pounds!” He continued: “the ‘weightiest’ thing we can be given is the mercy of God, and the more we practice and use God’s mercy, the more mercy we experience in return. But if we selfishly bury it, it will be taken away from us.” Similarly, our prayer life only grows if we put it into practice. When we become contemplatives in action and take quiet time for Christ, then we will begin to feel His calming presence more in our hearts and deeper in our souls.

Christology

One of the most intense classes we take in seminary is called Christology, which is simply the study of who Jesus Christ is. After Mass, I’d suggest quizzing Fr. James on what he remembers from the class. I sweated through an oral exam recently in which I was tested on several heresies and councils from the early Church (think years 325 though 600 AD). In these councils, bishops, theologians, and representatives of the pope got together to combat some challenges to Christ’s divinity and his humanity. As you know, Jesus is fully God and fully man. This has been well defined since those councils, so why spend a whole semester diving into them?

You’d be surprised to know how often these heresies (aka wrong teachings professed publicly and persistently) pop up even in our own day. You may not realize that we fight off heresy every time we pray the Creed at Mass, which came from these early councils. Heresy is often the result of relieving some tension between these two truths: how can one person be both 100% God and 100% man? Those who we now label as ancient heretics were arguing to protect one of the two, but in doing so, they fell into a wrong view of the other and compromised belief in who Jesus really is.

It’s fair, right? Tension is uncomfortable. And at the heart of this discomfort is the scandal of the cross. Many of the famous heretics, like Nestorius, couldn’t deal with the idea of our all‐powerful God dying in the most humiliating way possible. And yes, it is scandalous, but no less true. God’s love for the world and humanity did not allow him to stand aside and watch, but drove him to enter into the very messiness of sin and pull us out. In becoming fully one of us, Jesus saved every part of us because he is also God. Now you see why it’s so important to hold this tension, and why it’s important to learn about what tempted Christians in the past. So next time you say the Creed, give yourself a little pat on the back, you’re a champion of truth!

Kevin Gregus

Dei Verbum

Dei Verbum is the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation document published in 1965 and included in the Vatican Council II—Constitution Decrees Declarations. It was created to explain the relationship between the Scriptures and Sacred Tradition. It emphasizes the absence of errors in God’s self revelation to the world. The document clearly states that God reveals himself to humans in their reason and knowledge capacities.

God’s divine mysteries are transmitted and gifted in a plausible way for humans to understand what transcends the human mind. As Catholics, we believe that God’s Word is revealed in human words through the Scriptures and Tradition. Out of love and free will, God decides to “translate” himself to human language, communicating himself to his rational creatures. God reveals himself to us because he loves us and wants us to spend eternity with him. The invisible God speaks to men and women as friends.

As revelation unfolds, we experience an increase in awareness of how God is above all things and how he is complete in himself. With his word, God creates and, because he loves, he remains in his creation. The transmission of Jesus Christ’s message started early in the formation of the Church, where the apostles preached and taught his gospel orally to their successors. Here, the beginning of the apostolic Tradition was formed.

As a gift of faith, the Word is freely given to men and women of all races, generations, and cultures through the Holy Spirit. Here lies the association between the Sacred Scriptures and Sacred Tradition. They are connected and unified by the same flowing of the divine wellspring, orientated towards the same end. As the Word of God, Sacred Scripture is an inspiration of the divine Spirit who communicated to the authors the message to be written. Sacred Tradition takes the Word of God revealed by Christ and hands it over to their successors by the Holy Spirit’s movement.

Let us celebrate the richness of our Church and embrace the scriptures and tradition that form our faith.   

Christian Melendez‐Cruz