Wednesday, September 30, 2015

ROMEWARD BOUND - A personal reflection on the visit of Pope Francis

Many have asked if I was able to see the Pope during his visit to New York.  I was fortunate to have attended vespers at St. Patrick's Cathedral and the Mass at Madison Square Garden.  The Mass at MSG was particularly special because it was the first time that I concelebrated mass with a Pope.  As a seminarian I attended 4 masses with Saint John Paul II, three of them in Rome and one here in the U.S.  One of the masses with him in Rome was in his private chapel with the opportunity for a personal audience after the mass.  I had the honor of distributing Holy Communion at Yankee Stadium during Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's visit in 2006.  But the mass with Pope Francis was a unique gift, joining my brother priests in the section behind the altar and sharing in the offering of the sacrifice of Christ with the Vicar of Christ himself was truly one of the most sacred moments of my life as a priest. That being said the most personal moment of the Pope's visit was vespers at St. Patrick's on the evening before.

When I was a new college graduate, I worked for a time in New York City.  During those months, I would go to St. Patrick's Cathedral and pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament in the Lady Chapel.  As I was asking God to me help to understand what I was called to do, I was mindful of the din of the city noise outside.  In that chapel, I found comfort in the peaceful presence of our Lord and clarity in my discernment.

Almost one week ago,  I sat in that same cathedral awaiting the arrival of Pope Francis. With the assembly gathered, I prayed the rosary using beads given to me by Saint John Paul II. Unlike my visits long ago, there was no noise emanating from outside the cathedral. All I could hear was the peaceful prayer of God's people awaiting our Holy Father. When the Pope arrived, he processed through the cathedral and went directly to the Lady Chapel, and then he prayed before the very same altar, my altar, where I first prayed about my vocation.  How incredible this was.

The words Pope Francis spoke that night were powerful and encouraging to me.  The Holy Father took me back to where it began for me. Having now the perspective of 18 years of priesthood, it was an incredible reaffirmation of the discernment that began right there, 25 years ago.
During the homily, Pope Francis said
We can get caught up measuring the value of our apostolic works by the standards of efficiency, good management and outward success which govern the business world. Not that these things are unimportant! We have been entrusted with a great responsibility, and God’s people rightly expect accountability from us. But the true worth of our apostolate is measured by the value it has in God’s eyes. To see and evaluate things from God’s perspective calls for constant conversion.

Those words articulated the reasons I sought the sabbatical experience that begins for me this week.I depart this Sunday afternoon to participate in the Institute for Continuing Theological Education, at the North American College in Rome.  I will spend a little more than the next 7 weeks there.  I am grateful, humbled and a bit anxious about these weeks ahead.  At the institute, I will be engaged in coursework dedicated to preaching and evangelization in the modern era.  In addition, the city of Rome provides both a symbolic and tangible experience of returning to the roots of personal faith as well as the mission of the church. I look to this immersion as a means of strengthening my faith and deepening my encounter with Jesus Christ and His Church. 
I am a person who feels most comfortable at home.  I desire to be close to my family and my ministry.   It is with  some anxiety that I take this time. It is truly hard for me to let go.  But I am eager to follow Pope Francis, back to Rome and along the path of priestly ministry that he is leading us.
I anticipate that I will find opportunities  to share the experience via this blog in the weeks ahead. I ask you to pray for me.