To Be, Or Not To Be: A Seminarian

A blog by the Diocese of Brooklyn


Countdown to Ordination: Day 31

Posted by on May 27, 2014 at 6:15 pm | Seminarians

Countdown to Ordination: Day 31


Today the men from Brooklyn spent the day at 310 Prospect Park West, the main offices for the diocese.


Honestly, it wasn’t so bad for a day full of meetings. We received all sorts of helpful information about the different head of different organizations within the diocese. We filled out a bunch of paperwork. But most importantly we had a better recognition that “the powers that be” down at the Diocese’s office are less like powers and more like people.


It’s a great supportive team backing up the priests to make sure we do the best for the people in the parishes. The highlight was having my chalice officially consecrated by a bishop. Bishop Chappetto, the Vicar for Clergy took a little time out of his full schedule to consecrate my chalice and paten, signing it with the sign of the Cross, using Chrism.


The Chalice and Paten were given to me as a generous gift from the Parish of St. Clare in Rosedale where I spent pastoral year. My home parish, Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Jamaica payed for it to be re-covered in gold and polished.


Everyone who sees it is amazed at its beauty and age. When I told one girl that it was over a hundred years old, she remarked quite purely, “can you imagine how many times the Blood was made in it?”


Wow, now that is wisdom from the mouth of babes. I was really struck by her comment when I realized that in a hundred years, the chalice might no longer exist (being lost, broken, or destroyed).  In a hundred years the Diocese’s main offices might no longer exist. In fact the priest who owned the chalice a hundred years ago, Fr. Joseph Traenkle, went to a seminary upstate and served in four parishes in Brooklyn . That seminary and those parishes no longer exist. The buildings of most of them aren’t even on the map.


Yet one hundred, or one thousand, or one hundred thousand years from now I will exist, and so will that precious young girl at the parish, and all the great people at the diocesan offices. We will exist because of how many times the Precious Blood was consecrated for us and taken in by us with faith and love.


Let our hearts be like pure consecrated chalices and patens. Let us thank God for the gift of priests who make Christ’s body and Blood present for us to receive as food and drink. And let us pray for the priest who will come up in a hundred years and those to come in less than a hundred days, that they may be whole-heartedly consecrated to service until the end of all time.


Countdown to Ordination: Day 58

Posted by on Apr 30, 2014 at 6:00 am | Seminarians

As days rush passed, occasionally we experience an event that makes us pause and wonder, “How on earth did I get here?”

If you’ve got bad friends, an exceptionally strange life or are stuck in a bad movie you might find yourself in a jail in Tijuana, Mexico with a crude new tattoo and ask yourself the same question.

But if you’re like most people, even in a “normal” life you’ll find yourself at certain crossroads. If you’ve got good friends and family, even with difficulties, many times you’ll find yourself so blessed that you can’t really fathom it all.

In the Gospel according to Mark: Chapter 4, we read today that “this is how it is with the kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how.” (verse 26-27)

It might seems to the man to be almost a miracle. We “sophisticated” moderns who have a better natural sense of the growth of seeds and plant life than Jesus’ audience. And we think we have a better understanding of cause and effect, climate changes, human nature, the passing on of genes from on generation to the next.

Yet, even if we add up all of the individual tiny events that brought us to this day. Even if we could remember every detail of every moment since our births, some events show us how miraculous is the world around us.

Could we really explain the point of graduating from high school, dating the cutest person with exactly the personality that compliments yours, landing a new job, getting married, or ordination to the priesthood, by simply adding up many little events? It’s something so much more! The whole possibility of start and growth and life and achievement is charged with something miraculous.

The kingdom of Heaven is more than our efforts, more than the total of our good deeds. It is a the greatest miracle we will ever experience. And it begins by recognizing and thanking God for the little miracles of every moment. Let us pray in thanksgiving for every miracles which is recognized and those which are not.


Countdown to Ordination: Day 63

Posted by on Apr 25, 2014 at 6:00 am | Seminarians

We’ve been away fro a few days, enjoying a little hiatus for Easter break.

For those who are still up to reading a chapter of the Gospel each day, today’s passage will sound familiar. The Gospel according to Matthew: Chapter 27 is the same that was heard two weeks ago on Palm Sunday. What struck me in my reading today is the fact that Pontius Pilate offered the crowds a choice between Jesus and Barabbas.

You might remember that Simon Peter is sometimes referred to as “Simon Bar-Jonah,” that is, son of Jonah. And Abba is what Jesus asked His followers to call God. So “Barabbas,”  is a Hebrew name meaning “son of the father.”

It’s so ironic that at the end of this Gospel, the crowds are given the choice between the Son of the Father and the son of the father. Jesus is obviously the right choice. Barabbas we don’t even know. The only fact about him we have is that he is a criminal. Perhaps the Jewish crowds recognized his name and popularity for some other reason and so they chose him (a criminal) over Jesus (the innocent one).

In our own lives, we often choose the fake promise, the imitation hope, “the Splenda Jesus” instead of “the raw sugarcane Jesus,” I guess you could say. I suppose at times we’re afraid of “counting calories”  because we know they cost more work, more exercise, more discipline. It’s easier to take a substitute.

For our priests and future priests, the true choice might need to be making the difficult decisions  of changing schedules, correcting employees and parishioners, re-assigning workers, and preaching on difficult issues that cost the priest his popularity. Let us pray that they always make the true choice, even if it be more difficult, lest they should betray the Son of Glory for the hometown boy.


Countdown to ordination: Day 70

Posted by on Apr 18, 2014 at 3:00 pm | Seminarians

Countdown to Ordination: Day 70

Here are some highlights from last night’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper. Thanks Deacon Carlos C. Velásquez.

Don’t forget: if you’ve taken the opportunity to read the Gospel passages with me throughout preparation for priesthood, today we’re up to Matthew chapter 20. If you fell off the wagon and forgot a few days, don’t worry; just saddle up with ch. 20 and keep going. Slow and steady…just one chapter a day.

Below are a couple of pictures taken by seminarians and guests.

Chapel Full for Tenebrae _ Photo credit: Deacon Carlos Velasquez

After Tenebrae, Good Friday ____ Photo credit: Magdalen Ross


Countdown to Ordination: Day 71

Posted by on Apr 17, 2014 at 11:00 am | Seminarians


Our Brothers from the neighboring diocese of Rockville Centre went out to serve at the Chrism Mass for their diocese. When the deacons returned, they found their official call to the order of presbyter in their mailbox.

Tonight we celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. Liturgies during Holy Week are very beautiful in any parish. But at the seminary, we really “do it up.”

Here is what Palm Sunday looked like this year. Somehow all the parts with me ended up on the cutting room floor. Thanks to Seminarian Ralph Edel and Deacon Carlos C. Velásquez.


Countdown to Ordination: Day 72

Posted by on Apr 16, 2014 at 6:00 am | Seminarians

We’re in full swing to prepare for the Scared Triduum.

Here are a couple of pictures from the prep.

On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday mornings will will celebrate Tenebrae services. They are a combination of Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, and a few “Lamentations” which mourn the memory of Israel’s sinfulness and our Lord’s captivity, scourging, and death.

Here is the setting.

Then tonight, the priests of the seminary will serve the seminarians dinner in humble emulation of Christ’s service to the Apostles, washing their feet. After the festive dinner we will celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s supper. At the Mass enough Sacred Hosts are consecrated for the following day (when there will be no Mass). The the Blessed Sacrament is brought to an altar of repose after Mass where seminarians can adore the Lord until Friday morning.

Every church will have a beautiful altar of repose. But several seminarians led by third-year Brooklyn men Jose Henriquez, Raphael Perez, did a spectacular job on this one.


Countdown to Ordination: Day 74

Posted by on Apr 14, 2014 at 6:00 am | Uncategorized

We come to that wonderful passage in the Gospel according to Matthew: Chapter 16.

In it Jesus asks, “who do men say that the Son of Man is?”

I love this because Jesus, after sending the Apostles out in Chapter 10, takes an opinion poll to see what men in the world think.  He’s mildly interested in the popular opinion but only so that he can hit home and ask “Who do you say that I am?”

What’s the difference?

In the first question, I can imagine Jesus looking off into the distant sort of asking the question while He’s musing on something else, thinking out loud in a way.

The Apsotles give their responses, having collected this information from their interactions with various people in different cities. And then Jesus turns from looking out into thin air to squarely focus on the Apostles themselves, “but who do you say that I am?”

It is as if to say, “you guys, who have been with me for so much time, do you have the same false opinions and rumors as everyone else? Do you know about Me or do you know Me as I truly am?

Peter starts out with a good answer. But when Jesus congratulates him and decides to reveal more about Himself, Peter gets a little excited. The suffering One that Jesus was describing is not who Peter thought He should be.

Many of us have grown past the simplistic view of Jesus and His mission that we knew when we were children. But what more does Jesus want to reveal to  us about Himself, about His mission, about our own personal role in helping others grow closer to Him? If your understanding of Jesus has developed in some way over this past Lent, what was it and how was it? Feel free to post a comment below.

Pray for the men to be ordained. May they not impose their own ideas on Jesus but daily receive from Him their mission flowing from an intimate knowledge of who He is.


Posted by on Apr 13, 2014 at 8:13 pm | Uncategorized

Countdown to Ordination: Day 75

Everyone is probably tired out from reading Scripture today. If you had a solemn procession for Palm Sunday, you heard two Gospels. So I’ll go light on the meditation this evening.

Consider this in reading of the Gospel according to Matthew: Chapter 15, today: So many of those who cried out Hosanna in the highest on Sunday as Jesus entered Jerusalem where the same folks who cried out “crucify Him” only five days later. What happened? That’s a quicker turn around that Miley Cyrus fans!

The difference is, though, if I can make a comparison: Miley Cyrus suddenly changed from what she was. But Jesus, in speaking to the crowds throughout that great and holy week showed the people of Jerusalem who He truly was and what was his teaching. But they didn’t want teaching, they wanted miracles, healings, and cool tricks. Thanks Jesus, but you can leave the conversion on the side.

Brothers and Sisters, let’s consider how well we’ve lived this Lent. Have we only observed or lenten penances strictly like the Pharisees would want us? Or have we used or Lenten penances as an opportunity to grow closer to our Lord and closer to our neighbors, even our enemies through external acts or deprivations? If we haven’t been too faithful or consistent, let’s make a real push during this last week so that our blessed Lord never says to us “Why do you transgress the commandment of God for your tradition?”


Countdown to Ordination: Day 77

Posted by on Apr 10, 2014 at 6:00 am | Uncategorized

I love blessings. In my opinion, the more blessings the better. Blessings ask for God’s favor to increase the good of a person either directly or through the use of an object. Among the persons and items we can have bless are our families and homes. This Easter week, my parish will have a campaign of blessings homes in the neighborhood and consecrating them to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary.

By the blessing and consecration we ask more intensely for Jesus and Mary to watch over our homes and increase the Godly good within them: love, obedience, self-sacrifice, understanding, listening, sharing, etc. All of these are possible without a blessings. They even exist to a certain degree in family which have no faith background. But we know they are that much more possible when the family shares faith especially a truly Catholic faith.

Today we read from the Gospel according to St. Matthew: Chapter 12.

In it, Jesus makes a few more enemies because He heals on the Sabbath. Multitudes of people praise Jesus and wonder “Is not this the son of David?” And certain Pharisees accuse Jesus saying “This man casteth not out the devils but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils.”

These two phrases side-by-side are very striking to me. The people ask whether Jesus is the Son of David, that is the long-promised man who would be from King David’s family line who would one day rule Israel. The Pharisees claim Jesus is a part of another “royal family,” in cahoots with the prince of demons.

While the multitudes of people are right, they don’t realize just how right they are. Jesus is a greater king than even the messiah they were expecting. Truly He is King of the universe, King of every nation,  King of every home and heart. He comes down to be our very own personal king. This doesn’t mean He’s out to tax us and hang over us, showing us His superiority. But by healing the sick, teaching the ignorant, correcting the misguided, loving the poor, Jesus shows us that true royalty serves, true kingship gives honor and respect, true leadership is self-sacrificing love.

For these reasons it will be an honor to “enthrone” the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the homes of the families I visit. I say “enthrone” because that’s the traditional language associated with consecrating the home to the two hearts of Jesus and Mary. It emphasizes His and her royal presence and authority over them home. Let the husband not believe that he has the last say in the house. Let the wife not believe that she is the wisest mother. Instead, let both of them look to Jesus and Mary.

May their pictures hung prominently on the wall or standing on the mantle, coffee table, or dedicated home altar be a reminder to the parents and children the home is like a little church and should be loving, clean, and kind (like all churches) even if there are occasional disagreements, budget woes, and juicy gossip (like all churches). Lol. Afterall, they are all human. But more than that. They are Christian. And the enthronement is a helpful reminder especially during those times when you feel like “changing parishes.”

As my last word I’d like to point out what Jesus says about expelling demons from the soul. He says that even if it is kept neat, a demon may return and bring with it six others to cause even more havoc. The Catholic family should well know that the Evil One does not want them to remain united, in love, or focused on God. Satan loves a mess. So hanging religious pictures, blessing the home, nor even an official enthronement of the two Hearts can make much of a difference if the home isn’t blessed by a continuous prayer life, frequent confession, Sunday Mass attendance.

A famous and popular priest, Fr. Patrick Peyton, used to say “the family that prays together stays together.” And I can guarantee you from personal experience in my home and from the dozens of good solid families I’ve met, nothing has been more effective at growing in holiness than sharing prayer. It doesn’t have to be a two-hour rosary, Divine Mercy chaplet and Bible study. But perhaps a Hail Mary every night and morning, slowly and devoutly prayed. Perhaps reading one chapter of the Gospels (hint, hint) before or after dinner. Five minutes go a long way. Trust me. Your domestic church will be solidly fortified and the sweet incense-like aroma of Christian love will pour out of every window. In this way, we ourselves will be a blessing unto others.


Countdown to Ordination: Day 78

Posted by on Apr 9, 2014 at 6:00 am | Uncategorized

Countdown to Ordination: Day 78

I’ve been away for a few days trying to getting some papers done. Thankfully, the men of Fourth theology have less academic work than in previous semesters. What seems even more daunting in the practicum sessions for Sacraments. All of us have been practicing in class sessions to celebrate Mass and the Sacrament of Confession. Some of us have had to practice on our own in other languages such as Spanish and Creole. Still some of us have even been practicing to celebrate the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (sometimes called the Latin Mass).

While meditating on the rites I’ve been practicing and even during the practices, I’m moved by how the Church draws us to prayer. The liturgies really pull us in to reach a level beyond our individual selves, our pleasant community, or even the church community that makes up our nation.

The liturgy of the Church draws us up to heaven outside of time and local space. That’s why I think it’s so crucial for priests to perform the same actions, reading the words exactly as the Church wants them to do: so that the people of God can see that even though one individual priest is celebrating the sacraments in front of them…they (the priest and the people) belong to something greater than their personal desire to act in this way or that, to do this gesture or another one which is more pleasing or eye-catching.

This is also why I suffer so much when I see a priest or a congregation decide to “do his own thing,” forgetting that they belong to something greater and instead focusing on themselves.

As we read today from the Gospel according to St. Matthew: Chapter 11, we read:

As they were going off, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? Then what did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine clothing? Those who wear fine clothing are in royal palaces. Then why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written:

‘Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you.'”

It’s interesting to me that Jesus acknowledges that the people didn’t go out to the desert to see anything ordinary but something extraordinary, a prophet of God. And that prophet, St. John the Baptist, necessarily pointed toward something that was greater than he. Yet, there might have been the temptation to only see a strange man with strange clothes eating strange food. For some, St. John the Baptist might have just been a freak show or, worse, purely entertaining.

There’s a thin line to balance on: God will attract men and women to Himself using our natural talents, aptitudes, and individual charisma. Every Christian and every priest has his own. But we can’t let the attraction stop at our personality. In our individual lives and especially at the liturgy, our goal is to move others to see Jesus in our actions. We are called to be prophets like John the Baptist, messengers preparing the way for others to encounter Him.

So one of the worse things a priest can do is to draw people to himself. There are certain celebrity priests who had amazing skills at preaching, teaching, and hearing confessions:  Venerable Fulton J Sheen, Padre Pio, St. Jean Marie Vianney. God was their focus and the goal toward which they drew everyone around them.

And then there are other priests, Alberto Cutie in the U.S., Kevin Lee in Australia, Arius in Libya who drew others toward their own personalities and misconceived ideas, their own one-man act. Just recently I ran across a video online of a priest who “stole the show” at a wedding, singing his rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

I can’t condemn him. That is to say, I don’t know that he’ll go to hell for being more concerned for performance than prayer. But his jarring schtick does shock me into considering how I will celebrate the sacraments and catechize. Will I ever grow so bored of the Church’s liturgy or so narcissistic as to start adding my own elements and self-defined doctrine? Even worse, have I already begun to do that and, thereby, draw people away from Jesus and to my broad way play (Matt. 7:13)?

Please pray for priest-performers, for the 2014 class of priests and for all priests that they may worthily and dutifully celebrate the sacraments as the Church intends and as Jesus expects. May their administration of the holy mysteries of God draw us all to realms higher than our own selves to where Christ is all in all.


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