To Be, Or Not To Be: A Seminarian

A blog by the Diocese of Brooklyn


Countdown to ordination: Day 70

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

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 | Uncategorized


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 | Uncategorized

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.


Countdown to Ordination: Day 82

Posted by on Apr 5, 2014 at 6:00 am | Uncategorized

As we wrap up Jesus’ sermon on the mount today, reading the Gospel according to St. Matthew: Chapter 7, I don’t have my own reflection for you today.

This morning I will have the grace to lead the RCIA Candidates of St. Bonaventure and St. Benedict the Moor parish in a morning of reflection. Then tomorrow I will offer for the Rosarian society of the same parish my first annual “Last Seven Words of Christ.” So I’m going to be a little occupied with last-minute study, prayer and preparation for the next couple of days.

But in the mean time, allow me to share with you a moderately long blog post from a consciously Catholic politician Oklahoma state representative Rebecca Hamilton. In the post, she is lamenting the fact that the Church seems to lack string, bold teachers and leaders especially among the clergy. I thank God I didn’t write the article. I might be kicked out of the seminary for presumption and pride. And while I don’t have enough learning and experience to say that her observations are universally true, I have to admit that I’ve seen a good deal of clerical weakness where instead strength was required.

Jesus, Himself, is very bold and challenging throughout the sermon on the mount (Matt. ch 5-7). Let us pray that the new class of priests may (while always being respectful) may never sacrifice Truth.


Countdown to Ordination: Day 83

Posted by on Apr 4, 2014 at 6:00 am | Uncategorized

Bishop DiMarzio’s visit yesterday was a great benefit for the seminary. It seemed that all the men had a fruitful meeting with him. He had a long day, meeting with men at ten minute intervals from 11:00AM straight through to 4:00PM with only a break for Mass.

At Mass, he used a rare chalice which was given to the seminary as a gift from Blessed Pope John Paul II. It is certainly  a beautiful, expensive and noteworthy chalice. It was brought out of a special safe. While I was purifying the chalices after Mass, I quickly stole a snap shot before the chalice was whisked away back to the secret safe.

It’s funny for me to ogling this extraordinary chalice while reading the Gospel according to St. Matthew: Chapter 6

In verses 24 and 25 of this chapter we read “You cannot serve God and mammon.  Therefore I say to you, be not solicitous for your life, what you shall eat, nor for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than the meat: and the body more than the raiment?”

Mammon is another name for worldy riches. I say: hey, Jesus said not to worry about food and drink. But he didn’t say not to worry about the vessels!

I’m joking of course. But, in truth, there is something to be learned here. How can Christ tell us not to worry about food and drink? Won’t I starve to death while I’m waiting for God to just give me food?

No, we shouldn’t simply wait for food and drink, and all the necessities of life to be handed to us on a silver platter. But God has given us talents and skills which naturally come for human being to do the work they need to gain what they need to survive.

In the birds of the air, which Jesus uses as an example, don’t simply sit around to be fed magically. The fly around and use their bird sense to get what they need….but they’re not worried about it. They simply carry out their business as they should. Our Lord teaches us today to do what we can, what we should, as best as we can and the whole shall be taken care of.

And since this chapter begins with a reference to alms giving, we must not that some people aren’t always able to work; they aren’t able to make ends meet. For them, we pray that a kind stranger, a beneficiary, sometimes even the state government can step in to help them with their needs.

There will always be opportunities to give form the extra we have to others who have less. And there will always be opportunities to use of gifts and talents (given by God) to help us to fulfills the common needs we have.

But the best way for us to remember those opportunities to give, and the best way for us to live a life in union with God, appreciating all His gifts and using them wisely is to united with what the Douay-Rheims translation calls “supersubstantial bread.” That Supersubstantial bread is the Eucharist, the Bread of Life which helps us to live now and in the future with God in heaven. The drink which gives us the power to find new ways to alleviate the world’s pain and to assure mankind of God’s presence and care for us is the Precious Blood held in the Chalice.

Jesus doesn’t tell us to get rid of all “nice” things like shiny chalices in churches or laymen with well-made cars. But we must always revisit our priorities and remember a genuine, generous spirit when giving to the poor. The priest, in a spirit of poverty and simplicity must always remember that Christ’s Body and Blood, the priest’s own soul, and the souls of his people are infinitely greater than any chalice, altar, building, or or man-made thing -because all of these have come directly from God. The Eucharist itself comes from God to man to help man return to God. And that must always be our priority.

Let us pray for priests, especially this new class, that they may remain faithful to their priorities, seeking for the Kingdom of God in all things. Let us pray for young men, that they may find in their talents, possessions, and education wonderful gifts given by God and always at His service. May they have the courage and confidence to lay aside even their most prized possessions or life-plans, if they have the sense that God is calling them to be priests.


Countdown to Ordination: Day 84

Posted by on Apr 3, 2014 at 6:00 am | Uncategorized

Today the men from Brooklyn will meet with Bishop DiMarzio. Every year around this time, he makes his official visit to the seminary.

I think it coincides well with our readings of the Gospel according to St. Matthew: Chapter 5.the Gospel according to St. Matthew: Chapter 5.

Jesus is the High Priest of the world. He lifts up His body, together with every created thing in the universe and offers them to the Father as a sacrifice of love. Jesus is also the supreme teacher. By His words in the Gospel, the unwritten Traditions which He handed unto and entrusted to the Apostles, and Teaching Authority He left in the hands of the Church to live with, breathe, and use the Holy Spirit is the Church’s decision-making, Christ teaches us every day. In this section of the Gospel, we find the image of Christ as teacher made very clear since He goes up a mountain (like Moses) and instructs the people.

This chapter is admittedly long and there are many elements which I could touch upon for today. But I’ll simply note the wonderful grace it is to have Christ, the Son of God and Son of Mary teach us. Many people wonder “what am I supposed to do with my life,” and “why am I on this planet.” They seem to throw their questions out into the air as if no one would hear them or care. And yet two thousand years ago, God came down to earth to show them, speak to them, and assist them tangibly to figure out their goals in life and the reason why they are here: to live heaven on earth –to make this planet as much like heaven as they possibly can– and still yet to prepare themselves for the true heavenly kingdom that is infinitively better than we can even imagine while still on earth. That’s the goal. And Christ teaches us along the way.

So too, it’s a great grace to have the bishop visit us. Not only is every bishop the High Priest in his diocese, he is also the principle teacher in the diocese: he warns against the elements in the local and global society that can harm our faith, he corrects the misjudgements of the culture around us and encourages new projects and efforts to bring Christ into the world, making sure that they conform with the Gospel teachings and the Magisterium (the supreme teaching authority) of the whole Church throughout the ages! It’s a significantly important position and one that our Bishop takes seriously.

On this day Bishop DiMarzio will celebrate Mass for the house and meet individually for ten to fifteen minutes with each man. He finds out their concerns, encourages their good efforts, and (occasionally) give them the spurs to do better where they’ve been slacking in their formation. I remember on one such occasion, I remarked to the Bishop: “I don’t find the academics challenging enough.” Rather than critique the faculty or the formation system, he replied to me pointedly, “that means you’re not working hard enough.” Very true. I learned from that brief interaction a truth that has stuck with me throughout formation for the priesthood: The man who waits to be given more work is a slave. The man who takes more work upon himself is a servant.

We may not think that ten to fifteen minutes is much. But when the moment is graced by the presence of the Holy Spirit, ten  to fifteen minutes with such an important person can profoundly change a person’s perspective on himself and on the world. With the presence of the Holy Spirit, even five minutes in the confessional with a priest or in the audience as a priest preaches can be extremely transformative.

Please pray for all the Brooklyn men meeting with the Bishop today (especially the deacons). May they receive a word of encouragement and ,where necessary, a spur to do greater things. Pray as well that these future priests may always live united to the Holy Spirit and the Church in order to give the same heavenly teachings of Christ to the faithful people of God from the confessional and the pulpit.


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