Special Memories from my 4 years of ministry

When people ask me if I am going to miss the school, or my previous assignment, I wouldn’t immediately shout yes. It is not for dislike. I work in a high school. Every year is different. From year to year an entirely different group. Missing someone or something just wasn’t part of that experience.

However, there have been a number of memories, so I thought I would write in tribute. Out of respect for the privacy of my students, I will omit full names.

  1. In my first year, there was Joshua. He was a character, he took over a conversation, his charisma took over a room. His parents were really cool, and his super chill Hawaiian Dad told me never to go easy on Joshua. When I gave Joshua a detention, I actually imagined his dad giving me a round of applause! But this isn’t about Joshua, but his friend Bradley. Bradley was Joshua’s sidekick. He didn’t say as much, and somewhat agreed with Joshua. When we did the Living Stations of the Cross, Bradley stepped out of Joshua’s shadow so that he can play Jesus. Despite his loser goofball buddies chuckling during the Stations, Bradley was very prayerful.
  2. A teacher kept wondering what got into Aubrey. Why did he keep hanging out in the Campus Ministry Office. He didn’t have a filter, and got on people’s nerves. I was quippy enough to stay a few steps ahead of him. His younger brother struggled to find his place there. Had Aubrey not made such an impression on me, his younger brother Lane may have gone under the radar. Despite being very distinct personalities, I was impressed by their artistry and creativity. At the core of their lives, something special was happening, something that neither of them really put into words. It does amount to having students you wouldn’t expect being impacted by Campus Ministry.
  3. In my second year, Kevin, and many of his friends took over my office. Kevin had a way of snapping back at myself and the other campus ministers. This was always appreciated, as many young men in high school don’t get sarcasm. He advocated for himself to be a leader in campus ministry. Despite his overly biting humor around me, as a retreat leader, I watched him listen and lead with care & sensitivity that rare among the young men at the school. After graduation, he came back to lead some retreats as an alum.
  4. East San Diego has become one of the largest diasporas of Iraqi Christians, or Chaldeans. Over four years, the amount of Chaldean students drastically increased. I attended the large Chaldean Liturgy at St Peter’s in El Cajon numerous times. In my first year, a Chaldean junior, Arman, was on the fringes of the school. It is perhaps a common story, being from a tightly knit ethnic community, you might feel out of place in the larger American Culture. For whatever reason, selecting him to be involved as an alternate for a retreat actually helped him to start taking more steps to be involved around school. I was very moved by his faith. His freshmen brother would follow in his footsteps by comfortably being involved. However, Cameron, unlike Arman, was accompanied by some of his Chaldeans in his classmates who turned out to be the biggest group of comedians. Sometimes I hope that our Order is blessed one day to have a vocation from the Chaldean community.
  5. Kraussy-poo, as I jokingly called him, stood out during my first year as one of the daily announcers. I found him involved in his youth group, and his dad was in preparation for the diaconate. I took Krauss as a leader, I teased him for drinking chocolate milk, asking if he needed a straw to blow bubbles. While away at another retreat, I found him upon my retreat saying that he missed me calling him a loser. At another retreat, I turned around, my coat and sunglasses were missing, and I see him wearing my stuff, taking selfies. Happened a few times.
  6. I stepped away from my desk during lunch. I returned to find my whole computer moniter, keyboard, and speakers completely covered in sticky notes. George Thomas, this cackling little leprechaun of a man announces that he got me, laughing and running out of my office. I actually laughed out loud. But I also laughed knowing that he would remove it all if I asked. He did. Georgington was a very gifted creative musician. I never let his mischief get to me, and always found ways to make sure he felt like he was valued in campus ministry.
  7. On his way to his Junior year, Andrew started feeling like he could become a leader in Campus Ministry. He had a massive amount of school spirit, loved being at a Catholic School, and was always very helpful in motivating his teammates on the football field. Although he showed leadership across campus, he didn’t do much in Campus Ministry before his senior year. Starting the year, I was having a bit of difficulty getting a skit together from the students involved in drama. Andrew stayed up, and wrote something fun, easy enough to act out, and perfectly appropriate. As a result, I felt more confidence in letting him use the microphone to wake up the freshmen the next morning. He kept his upbeat vibe in our group, knew when to step up in leadership, knew when to step back in a supportive role. When I talked to the coaches, we usually laughed talking about him, because he was unbelievably positive and self-motivated.

I tried to capture some of the moments. There could be another 50 or more students that did a variety of little things that impacted other students in a variety of ways. I tried to capture some of the amusing moments, but also some of the special moments. Perhaps I could brag briefly to others, but couldn’t write here. Some things involve personal struggles of students, and how they overcame them, but I didn’t feel comfortable writing here. It is there story to share, not mine.

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2017

20171222_224029.jpgand personal update

I haven’t posted regular updates, because there has not been much to update.

I say Masses at various parishes. I try cover Masses at different Catholic Schools (mostly girls schools), but there are so few and far between. I have had good experiences here and there. Perhaps me not being frantically busy all the time is a gift from God.

Over the past few years, much of my leisure has been dedicated to a few things: Catching up on sleep, Drinking Craft Beer, and taking care of my dad (which includes hours of sitting in traffic).

This year I made a trip to Denver as I suspected my time in San Diego would be coming to an end. I remember the sadness of knowing my hopes in SD would be unfulfilled. During my Easter vacation trip to Denver involved me being a tourist, eating delicious food, drinking beer, and of course visiting a museum & botanical garden. Over the summer I planned a trip to Minneapolis and visited Chicago, which included some more museums.

While I travelled I found books of poetry my companion. I let my perception carry itself away in gazes of wonder and delight. When my dad got West Nile Virus, lost his home, and independence, I also lost a lot too. I quit hip hop music, but more significantly my creative artistic expressive impulse died.

As much as some people can find athletics life-giving, being in an athletic heavy school didn’t help me find revivification. Although it is true that I may never make hip hop music again, and the creative impulse I had was gone, I think that I am finding a brand new one. I don’t have a hold on it, or enough of a grasp to say what it is.

I ask for your prayers for 2018. There is a lot of ideas I have for future ministries in the Church, that I cannot publicly post, but am in need of your prayers.

Keeping the Sabbath & Lady Gaga

In 2011, I watched a 60 minutes interview, Lady Gaga & The Art of Fame. It gave me a lot to think about.

A few weeks ago, Lady Gaga posted a photo explaining her tour cancellation. Last year there was another photo from Church. Both posts have caused a lot of controversy, which I don’t intend to dissect today. I do not know Lady Gaga’s heart, and am not really a fan of her music. Although I do agree with Mark Shea’s recent response Jesus founded a Church, not a club. However, in this interview from several years ago, she did give me a lot to think about.

That is, Lady Gaga talks about “Mastering the Art of Fame.”

I am not famous. I am not trailed by paparazzi. When I walk outside of the monastery, I am gladly unknown and irrelevant to every pedestrian and passerby. When I was at a high school, surrounded by adolescents, from Monday through Friday, I had a certain amount of authority and influence. On Sundays, or at other Catholic Young Adult Events, I might even carry a degree of authority or influence. Sometimes I experience this alarming fascination with Fr Mark the young priest…

Between 2009-2011, Facebook’s peak empowered people to have access to every nook and cranny of their contact’s personal life. I often felt pressure to do things, merely to have Facebook posts.  Instead of attempting to capture moments, sometimes we create moments. This moment in Facebook’s conquest over my personal life accompanied a pastoral year at a Parish School. (It was expected that you add everyone on FB). Students didn’t need to see photos my friends tagged me, neither my personal friends need me to take pictures of parishioners and students. Things were tricky to say the least.

As a young priest, I experience an alarming amount of undeserved fascination. I have been monitored by students curious for my reactions to a billboard, or wanting to witness the manner I bit into an apple. In Church settings, I get stopped by women, who request access to something very personal: My vocation story. Although it is very nice for people to see that I am a human being, whether from FB, or RL, people imagine that my mundane trivia is somehow less mundane or less trivial.

Anderson Cooper reports: “They’re not just attention getting, they’re attention directing, To keep the public focused on her work, as opposed to her personal life.”

After Lady Gaga spoke on the craving of the public to see the public meltdown of the superstar, she was very conscientious and deliberate, at least according to this interview.

Even though I don’t have to bat off paparazzi, I don’t feel that I should have to answer for my day off, or answer for my vacation. Although some young people find me fascinating, it didn’t make sense for me to be constantly plugged in and accessible. (Remember when we used to say brb. We don’t anymore, we no longer leave, we live here). To some extent it is important to remind those in your pastoral care that you are a human being that does imperfect normal human things. Likewise, it is my responsibility to carve out time away from those under my pastoral care for my own well-being.

The simplest and easiest example I can name is this. I take a vow of poverty. Some older friars, or perhaps lay people have imagined that I can use the student weight room for free. I shouldn’t for liability reasons. However, I shouldn’t even want to. The community can cover a health club plan so that I have a space for my self care that doesn’t involve students or parishioners. I shouldn’t have to be limited to be with students in the weight room when I am with them the rest of the day. On a funny note, I once saw two of my students outside of my gym, interviewing pedestrians with a camera and mic. I went to the other side of the gym, simply because they would have loved to record footage of me exercising.

Although many young people might have an awkward sense of appropriate boundaries that would keep them from intruding on my private life, there are enough who won’t. I have changed my number, as it has been distributed without my permission. (Here’s Father Mark’s number in case you have a spiritual crisis in the middle of the night? He’s a priest he would never turn someone down right?) This kind of thinking can put me in risky situations. There is an office to screen calls.

People may love to see photos on social media of priests and nuns doing very silly human playful things. The thirst for a privileged behind-the-scenes view of a priest’s life, perhaps, is not too different from the public’s desire for photos of celebrities at the coffee shop. Our desire for an exclusive encounter with the divine is often replaced with a desire for a chance encounter with a celebrity at their favorite paparazzi spotted coffee shop.

So when Lady Gaga makes the difficult decision to cancel a tour, it is not too different from many priests that have seen, ready to take a vacation. Lady Gaga is being consistent and guarding her private life, and I have to hand it to her for sticking to her principals on this one. There is something very holy about sneaking away into the deserted place to speak to the Heavenly Father in secret. It became a noteworthy characteristic of Jesus, perhaps Lady Gaga this time, and I hope to God, me too when I need it.

Birthday Post & Update

One Mile Directly South of my current church there is the Hospital of my birth. I point that out specifically on my birthday today. This isn’t a new discovery for me, but is a nice piece of information to people in the area. It makes us all feel like things are full circle for me.

Over the past month, I have been working on settling in. After selling my dad’s house, we kept some of the nicest furniture in storage. In addition to all the practical things, like new furniture, or healthy food (because apparently the friars here only consume fruit, milk, and meat).

In trying to describe my ministry, I have found the best term. “Freelance.” In the Church, it is called Supply ministry, meaning a Priest in good standing, that supplies sacramental ministry at a parish upon request. Most parishes cannot afford multiple priests, and so, will only need an outside priest to help on a few Sundays a year. Supply, or “Freelance” ministry will bring me to dozens of parishes in the area. It is unlikely that you will actually find me at a weekend Mass at Our Mother of Good Counsel, where I live.

Having come from ministry in a Catholic High School, I realized that many of the Catholic High Schools in the area lack any priestly presence. I don’t think I want to work at a Catholic High School again. Somehow there is something refreshing about being with youth, and not having to be a coach. Having been at a Catholic High School that loves it’s sports, its a contrast to be around a school that doesn’t have a football team, or that can push performing arts.

The additional thing that I will be working on, is being on Call at a Hospital. For 2-3 days a week, even through the middle of the night, if a patient, or patient’s family requests a priest, I make arrangements to be there. The request can be for the Anointing of the Sick or Last Rites. Although I can spend a few moments talking with them, or hear a Confession, I am not a chaplain. The hospital has an interfaith chaplain who is supposed to be present to patients for spiritual counseling. This is primarily a Sacramental Ministry. It is very draining, and incredibly inspiring all at the same time.

The downside to this: You don’t develop lasting professional relationships with others. You are in, then you are out. The upside to this: You do not deal with unlocking countless doors and gates, spending an hour setting up and cleaning up. You are in, then you are out.

Because I am an additional priest assigned to a community, that means that the budget cannot sustain me. As I mentioned earlier, most parishes can only afford one priest. Being priest number 3, I am doing several Masses at other parishes and institutions to make some compensation for my community. I have had to reach out to others relying on their generosity to offset the expenses of me joining the community. If you have any interest in making a small donation, please be in touch. You will likely have a private Mass said for your requested intention.

As for the proper celebration of my birthday, My younger brother and I have wanted to revive our childhood tradition of going to the LA zoo (as my dad used to have a membership and take us regularly). On his part, he has wanted to bring his wife and daughter. To make it easier for them we will go the day after my birthday for an earlier adventure.

New Assignment

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy new assignment will be the Augustinian Community of Our Mother of Good Counsel Parish in Los Angeles, CA.

OMGC was the parish of my Augustinian Vows (Aug 4, 2007), and my Priestly ordination (June 15, 2013). It is the closest parish to my pre-Augustinian, and is the closest Augustinian community of my dad. (It shouldn’t be neglected to say that I have family in San Diego as well).

I have enjoyed living in San Diego, and thought a ministry opportunity might be available outside of our High School. Perhaps there are a variety of opportunities inside and out of OMGC. No Augustinian Priest on the current staff will be reassigned. It might free me up to seek out a variety of opportunities throughout the Archdiocese and Beyond.

I love Los Angeles, and having been away from LA in the Midwest, my yearning for that strange place I call home. There is so much about LA that is unique, inventive, cutting edge, and exciting in ways incomprehensible to the rest of the country. Sometimes to the extent that they call us eccentric, then wait a year to mimic us. For all that makes it lovable, there is nothing that has replaced LA in my heart. As much as I will miss SD (and especially my friends there), the only advantage SD had was that getting around was more convenient.

During the course of my new assignment, I hope to pick up where I left off 3 years ago before my family crisis took over. For the past 3 years, many days off have cost me 6 hours on the road going to and from LA. I have to figure out what I am going to do with this free time. Before this happened I had two goals, more blogging (I still have posts written from 3 years ago that were never published), and learning music production. I had used an incredibly amateur music production software on an old computer, and was struggling to learn something more adequate.

I also have had some serious health concerns. I have had a few friends bold enough to say that they can see I no longer go to the gym. My waist only looks bigger when my muscle mass is deteriorating. All that San Diego craft beer isn’t helping… But of course, all the youth ministry food, carbs, junk food, pizza and burritos has been doing wonders on my mid-thirty something physique.

This new assignment won’t be in full tow, as I am need to move, and need to figure out how to fit in a vacation after a near burn out. I suspect a real personal update will not be in tow before Christmas, as I have learned you can’t jump to conclusions about a new job in the first four months. I am also hoping that I have more tedium, monotony, and boredom, as opposed to the sensory stimulation overload I was getting with kids. More than my body has deteriorated, it feels like my spiritual focus is very messy. If I write, it will actually be thoughtful and topical blog posts.

4 Underrated Catholic phrases I use in my homilies

fr-mark-menegatti-osa072In our Catholic Tradition there are several phrases that are opted out of. For some, it may be illiteracy of Church Documents and Tradition. It could be a lack of articulation. It could be a recent trend in our faith that dismisses any use of jargon in favor of a more user-friendly approachability (ie people who think consubstantial is bad). It could be for an opposite demographic, in favor of strong catechetics, imagining that a revival of Tridentine era phrases, will fix everything wrong in the modern church.
I often feel that a is a lot missing with all of these approaches. I think that illiteracy with Church Documents and Tradition is a great tragedy in our contemporary Western Church, and requires more critical adult faith formation. I believe that watering down our language is as equally harmful as overbearingly beefing it up.

  1. Encounter with Jesus Christ: I am not opposed to the fact that many Catholics refer to the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I believe is essential to the Western Christian Tradition (bearing in mind that Eastern Rite Christians never had the Tradition of Adoration, the Feast of Corpus Christi, or Eucharistic Processions.) I believe that many Western Catholics are stuck on “Real Presence of Christ.” Not mutually exclusive, I sense that Encounter with Christ is a more dynamic way to express what we experience. The Real Presence of Christ is a dogma, a theological idea, that fails to capture the way in which we relate to it, or the way that it effects our lives. An Encounter with Jesus Christ encompasses the Real Presence in the Eucharist as well as the Word, the Minister & Gathered Assembly. Catechetical Settings might be more appropriate for the term “Real Presence.” (By the way, if we, as a Church, could do a much better job with Catechetics, there wouldn’t be individuals that insist that every Homily become a Catechetical Instruction).
  2. Christian Discipleship: Faith Formation is radically underdeveloped in our American Church. The Scriptures refer repeatedly to disciples. It is presumed that Christian Disciples can no longer exist. Discipleship happens at Mass, it happens at Faith Formation, it happens at Social Gatherings. Were I in a parochial setting where I had a say in what happens, I would primarily find ways to concretely promote Christian Discipleship. Since I am not, I would rather speak of it often. I would rather hint at what it is, rather than wag a finger. I would rather entice them, to ask the critical question, “Why is this the first time that I am hearing about Christian Discipleship?” Instead of pointing fingers at particular faults of a parish community (or generic faults of the American Church), I would rather throw this phrase out there haphazardly, so that more people might think about it. I hope that I may send the signal, so that people might say, “Well, Father Mark seemed to do a lot of this discipleship stuff in his life (which I did), it may not be some exotic thing way out of our reach.”
  3. Paschal Mystery: This refers to Jesus saving act in our lives, by becoming Incarnate, living among us, doing great deeds, dying on the Cross for our Sins, and Rising that we may have life with him forever. There has been a lot of emphasis on how Christ’s crucifixion is expiation for our sins. The Catechism, the Second Vatican Council, and the Council Fathers, have wanted to recapture the ways that the Incarnation, the Perfect Moral Life of Jesus & His Resurrection also contribute significantly to our salvation. We are called upon to participate in the Paschal Mystery, and this also means that our suffering is effected by uniting to Christ. It also means that suffering is transformed, and we too become transformed. Many devoted and involved Catholics are aware that Mass brings us closer to the moment where Christ died for our sins. It also brings us very close to his Real Presence (Incarnation), his live (In the proclamation of the Word), and the Resurrection and coming again in glory.
  4. Evangelization: The New Evangelization as a term has been picking up momentum, at least among young Catholics. I rarely preside at Liturgies in which there is an exclusively young group. There are still many devout Catholics, who attend Mass weekly, who are involved in the parish life, but who have no idea that they can or should be sharing their faith. Many of them grew up in an insulated Church where they believed everyone non-Catholic was somehow damned, and were surprised to find any goodness outside of it. Many of them still don’t know what it means to have a relationship and living faith in the person of Jesus Christ. Many of them do not even have the basic vocabulary of faith to describe it. It does not mean that their Catholicism or faith is insufficient. They may not even have anybody in their life that they can evangelize to. It is my experience that many older people don’t quite get it, and probably need to hear me say it more. On the flipside, there are still many younger Catholics who might be at a Sunday Mass, who might still need a little evanglizing to themselves.

Confession: Common things I say

Recently, Sr Teresa Aletheia asked for a quote for me on the topic of Confession. I had returned from World Youth Day, and was a month behind preparing for the new school year, I could only come up with a sentence.

It is important to bear these things in mind:

  1. The Sacrament of Penance may be therapeutic, but it is not a counseling session.

Although I am open to give practical advice, or helpful perspective, I believe the grace of God that they receive in that Sacrament is more important than anything that I can say. I also believe that people would be happy for there to be advice or perspective that is not merely practical, but explicitly  spiritual. Finally, bearing in mind, that many people don’t want or need any advice whatsoever (often this is how I feel going to the Sacrament), I merely need the grace that the Sacrament offers.

  1. People may need moral clarity, but it is not primarily a catechetical session.

I have had a difficult time with older priests assuming that I am paralyzed with guilt over sins. Catholic guilt is not something I suffer from. In fact, I wish my contrition was deeper and more heartfelt. I don’t think a person needs to be explained that they did not in fact sin according to the theological moral criterion and definition of sin. The peace that forgiveness grant’s is more important. That doesn’t mean that the questions of a penitent ought to be disregarded.

  1. People are not forced into the Confessional these days.

Involved Catholics gripe that there is not enough talk of sin in the pulpit. I am sure there are some who would want to know that I am scolding & castigating every last sinner who comes in. The fact is, nowadays, there are no social pressures to go to Confession. Whether or not there should be is another question. What that means, is that whoever shows up, has done so freely, set aside time from their busy life, because they know what they did is wrong, and they know that they need the help of God and the Church. They don’t need moral lessons, they need God’s grace.

  1. Catholics are not encouraged to grow spiritually

I find that most of their regular sins are their own personal spiritual plateau. Faith Formation ends at 14 for most Catholics. Catholics have mistaken holy darkness for atheism or agnosticism. Sometimes a one-on-one session with a Priest is an opportunity to teach them that God’s plan for them is satisfying beyond their wildest dreams.

Now when they show up, I keep these things in mind, and it informs the advice that I give them. As I have advised often, I find that there are a things that I turn to often. People think that they are so alone and unique in their sins and struggles.

  1. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is an Encounter with Christ and his mercy.

I know I can get legal minded, and I do encounter this with others as well. This is how relationships are made whole, by communication, by apologizing, by receiving forgiveness. It is personal, not just legal. Sometimes the remorse of the sin, or the preoccupation with the ritual can make people forget that Christ stands at the center of this.

  1. Strategies are not as effective as God’s grace.

I get a Confession of a sin, followed by a lengthy explanation of what they are doing to work on that sin. Maybe they are used to priests scolding them, or challenging them to think about ways to overcome that. Any strategy we make to overcome sin is entirely ineffective if we are not praying, not going to confession, not receiving the sacraments. I often find that the practical advice is inadequate. The most that I often do is ask them to find a mentor or few friends who can help with advice and accountability.

  1. Read the Scriptures

I know Catholics suck at reading or studying the Scriptures. I am not comfortable giving this out as a penance to many people, because many people look at the bible like operating a complicated and elite piece of machinery. I remind them that the Psalms are a good source of prayer, and the Gospels are how we can know about Jesus. This is also very dangerous. It can provoke them to love God and others more.

  1. The Holy Spirit seems to be working in their life

I can’t count how many times, someone enters Confession, after having to traverse many internal challenges. I really admire so many people boldly crying out to Christ in their brokenness. I am moved. As they are their wallowing, imagining that God wants to lunge and hurl condemnations, that the opposite is very true. The courage that to show up is probably an indication of the Spirit’s guidance in their life.

When Penance time comes around I usually assign a few non-traditional penances

  1. Read the Sunday Bible Readings

Every once and a while, I find that someone wants more. They have no legitimate mentors in their life to steer them in the direction of mature faith. One simple thing anyone can do is spend some time in prayer with the Readings for Mass. I started doing this my Senior Year of High School, now it’s my job to do it.

  1. Gratitude List

If someone doubts, they need to see evidence of God’s loving activity in their life. If someone sins, they need to see evidence that God will care for their needs. A gratitude list is a practical way for anyone to look with their eyes, and read aloud, the good things God does for them. Then they can thank them in a Litany. I tell them, as a penance, that they are required to do this once within 3 days, and that I encourage them to do it regularly 1-2x/week. This is very much rooted in Augustine’s Confessions: Writing down exactly how God has been good and generous in your life.

  1. Jesus Prayer

This is one of the ancient practices of our faith. Catholics are trained to see encountering God as a tedious, and often emotionally exhausting exercise, instead of seeing Christ as the source of all our new life. I find, over and over, Catholics are astounded that we have had this simple quiet meditation prayer for centuries, and that they are only hearing about it now.

  1. Offer a Mass Intention / Offer a Holy Hour

I save this one for Catholics that I have indication to believe that they are involved in their faith. I charge them to offer a Mass intention or a Holy Hour (it depends on the circumstances), in reparation for their sins, and in reparation for others who have struggled with the same sin. Sometimes I hear confessions before Mass, or during a Holy Hour. I also trust that they might be happy to bring their bibles, rosaries, and prayer books to adoration, and be set.