Serving for the Pope II - God's Generosity

This is a write-up I did for the Quincy Herald Whig about a month ago (they surprised me by requesting a reflection on my opportunity to serve for the Pope, so I wrote this up for them).  They published it back then in part, but here is the entire reflection (kind of a different angle than my previous post about the Mass).  In other news, I finished my oral final in Fundamental Theology, which went really well - as far as I could tell - even though I ended up taking it in Italian, as well as the one in Hebrew, which also went well (good to be done with a couple more!)  Christology is tomorrow, and is said to be one of the harder ones, so I'll be studying a good bit today and praying tomorrow!
The patience of God” – God’s immense love and generosity towards us – was a point that Pope Francis returned to again and again during his homily for Christmas. It was also the idea that was running through my mind as I knelt there – in Rome, in St. Peter’s Basilica, in the first row of chairs behind Bernini’s immense baldacchino, serving Christmas Mass for the pope,– as the Holy Father pronounced the words of consecration, “This is my body… This is my blood…”, repeating the words that Our Lord pronounced so long ago, transforming, as Jesus promised, the host into Our Lord’s body, and the wine into His blood. It was an incredible moment!

Before my eyes flashed past the last several years of my life. My moving from being homeschooled, to attending community college in Quincy, to finally getting up the gumption to enter seminary and follow His “call”, discerning whether the desire in my heart to become a priest was also God’s will. I entered Bishop Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis, studying for the diocese of Springfield, IL, in August of 2012, and Our Lord immediately made that patient, generous, love immensely evident to me. He graced me with tremendous growth in prayer, and my personal relationship with Him, with a sincere enjoyment of, and progress in, my philosophy studies, with the friendships, and fun, of being surrounded by dozens of other excellent, joyous, and eager seminarians, as well as so many other moments of excitement and happiness (sports, youth-rallies, skydiving, bar-b-quing, and so much more). God, though, has continued to amaze and astound me with His generosity because now I have been given the marvelous opportunity to study theology in Rome, here at the North American College. It’s as if Our Lord has “upped the ante”, drawing me into even deeper prayer through the magnificent churches, beautiful art, and proximity to the saints that one finds here, putting me in phenomenal, interesting, and edifying classes, surrounding me with another outstanding group of friends, classmates, and brothers, and – like this past evening – filling my days with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities of all sorts.

Washing the Pope's Hands!

At the end of the ceremony, as the choir triumphantly sang “Adeste Fidelis” during the procession out of the packed basilica, and the Pope carried the statue of the Baby Jesus to the crèche, my mind was distracted with the growing fatigue of my arms. Those processional candles were beautiful alright, but they were also heavy, and not being the tallest of the group, I had to hold mine at an uncomfortably high position, further hastening the buildup of lactic acid in my muscles... But then I glanced around and realized for the umpteenth time during that Mass that I was in St. Peter’s Basilica, mere feet from the Pope, Christ’s vicar, and celebrating the beautiful and awesome feast of Our Lord’s birth. It was a situation that reminded me, again, of everything that had happened over the last several years. It hasn’t always been easy – those philosophy classes were tough, and the theology ones in Italian are even more difficult, prayer hasn’t always felt fruitful, and so often I’m too tired to truly raise my mind to God, sometimes those other guys got on my nerves, and saying goodbye to come over to Rome certainly wasn’t easy – but in every moment, fun and stressful, easy and hard, exciting and exhausting, I can see God’s providence constantly guiding me down the way He wants me to take, making me the individual He wants me to be. Getting drawn closer to Jesus, and His joy, means being drawn closer to the cross, and further away from my own selfishness, laziness, fears, and desires. Those shepherds got to meet Christ their savior, but only after getting over there fears and trekking down into town, out of their way, to find Him. I got to serve Mass for the Pope, but only if I sweated a bit and carried around that heavy candle. As Pope Francis emphasized, God is immensely patient: this is what Christmas is all about! God humbly, innocently, without coercion, becomes one of us, to show us His love and draw us to Himself. All those incredible blessings, and difficult struggles, that I have experienced, have been His gifts – sometimes humble, sometimes frightening, sometimes small, sometimes big – and through them, God continues, ever so gently, to direct me towards his will. As it turns out, life as a seminarian here in Rome is very much like that Mass: an incredible, awesome, fun, and life-changing experience, but requiring a little soreness and trepidation as part of the process.

Not only was it incredible to be there – serving Mass for the Pope – but it was even more incredible to realize God’s love present constantly in my life. Every year, billions of people celebrate Christmas – the coming of Christ, as a man, into the world, 2000 years ago – but we forget that He wants to enter our lives at all times, not just on December 25th. So often I get distracted by the problems and struggles of life, and forget to step back and notice how much He gives me, not only in the overtly blessed, exciting and joyful moments, but also in those times of weariness, fear, and difficulty, when He desires that I return and trust in Him. So many times I forget to thank Him, or forget to have faith in Him. Yet He continues to give Himself to me, and to all of us, humbly lying there in the manger, in the Sacraments, in the Scriptures, in the encounters of daily life, patiently awaiting our approach and acceptance of Him.

“The patience of God” – it’s something God has generously shown me time and again in my own life, and it’s a gift that He gives all of us. The extraordinary, unlikely, and wonderful experience of serving Christmas Mass at St. Peter’s, for Pope Francis, has reminded me yet again of the profound truth in the saying “God will not be outdone in generosity”. You don’t, though, need to serve in a Papal Mass to see that: at Christmas we celebrate the even more extraordinary, unlikely, and wonderful event of God becoming man, of Jesus being born. That event, the coming of Christ into our world, also requires a bit of sacrifice on our part (to open ourselves up to Him), but it, even more than Mass with Pope Francis, or living in Rome, is totally worth it! 

I have ordered some "official" pictures of the Mass so hopefully in the coming weeks I can get those up here - they're a lot better than a screen-grab from the YouTube video...  Still, the experience is more important than the pictures, so I wanted to get this post up here.