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.

 

Enter Clever Title, Personal Update Sept ’16

I just noticed that my blog was still titled hiphoppriest, even though I also announced that I retired from making hip hop music. This is something of an update of a number of things. It is worth rereading that hip hop retirement post, because I left something out.

I have also had I number of things happen that have turned my families life upside down nearly two years ago. You can read the first post about my dad’s health issue here, a second update about the ongoing health crisis here, and the last personal update of spring 2015 here. Two years later, I may have finally adjusted to this new situation.

If you were to backtrack on my posts, In the summer of 2014, I had nearly a dozen posts that I was working on. I had been invited to speak at a Theology of the Body session, and I talked about Augustine’s Sermons. I developed a post on that that went viral. I had 5-6 posts as saved drafts on WordPress, and 10 others on my computer. All this stuff happened with my dad, and the WordPress drafts were all published, BUT I STOPPED WRITING NEW STUFF until my spring 2015 update.

About my dad.

In summary, after 8 months of my dad not getting stronger after his recovery from West Nile Virus, we had to sell his house, and attend to finding a permanent solution to his care. He could no longer walk, etc. Two years later, he is not any stronger.

What positivity can I speak about my dad’s condition? I will be honest, all the Christian people in my life have the obnoxious manner of asking about my dad, but not asking about the burden I now carried. Sometimes they glibly responded with something about how everything will get back to normal. It was challenging trying to be honest with the sobering reality that despite my dad’s recovery, he was now permanently incapacitated and unable to take care of himself.

As a widowed 69 year old man, he may have not been taking care of himself. During my visits home, there were things that concerned me. He avoided social invitations to go to bed early, to wake up early, to go back to bed for a morning nap. He looked forward to his pets, and TV. He didn’t seem to have good nutrition habits (which is not unique to men his age). His house was falling apart, over forty years of cosmetic repairs, the plumbing and gas had catastrophic failures. After my dad’s condition, the electricity in the house broke down as well. With my brother’s marriage impending, I was concerned about him living alone in this broken down house.

Now that he’s living in a facility, he is cared for and attended to. He is more social here than he ever was at home. He is also provided meals and medicine. Although I anticipated more than a decade of quality life for him before West Nile, I have to wonder what would have happened without the West Nile. Perhaps he would be skipping his medicine, perhaps skipping more meals, perhaps too disinterested in getting a new dog after his current dog passed. Perhaps he is better off.

Myself

 

Ask about myself? Yes, it was very frustrating for myself to have to talk about my dad not getting better. Meanwhile I had all the normal struggles of a young adult adjusting to his new professional career, of adjusting to his family at home, etc. A new provincial was elected. A new prior was appointed. Our cook retired, and our meal situation was in flux. I was adjusting to a working relationship with my bosses. I was sometimes surprised to find that I was often alone in my responsibilities. I was spending more time YELLING at students who were revolting against me, than actually doing much pastoral care.

I spent all this time preparing to be a priest, learning about theology, sacraments, preaching, presiding, and counseling. I ended up spending most of my time ordering burritos for student retreat planning meetings. That, and yelling at kids. It’s an all boys school, it’s what the coaches do, it’s what they want! I am not being sarcastic. Sometimes it hasn’t suited my temperament, but I have gotten a lot better at what I do.

I found several ways to use technology to make my life easier. I found better ways to communicate with students via Remind (an app that sends text msg reminders to students so I don’t have to keep chasing and yelling). I use Google Drive for all sorts of collaborative documents and databases, instead of spending half the time passing a flash drive. I made it easier for the others in Campus Ministry to collaborate with me, and I with them. I developed our resources, and diverted most of our funding to better equipment rather than junk food. Although a minor amateur former artist, I have been able to develop graphics to help brand some of our retreats.

There has been a lot of good stuff going on. I don’t anticipate having a long term assignment here, and I am happy about that. But I know that I have done a lot to impact the campus ministry department at the school so that it functions as a better professional environment. I should also note that I the people in my Campus Ministry department have been one of the best parts of my job/ministry.

At home in the monastery, things finally settled after the Transitions. We are fixing up all the guestrooms, but are bursting at the seems with younger friars and new vocations. This year, I am designated with assisting the Prior with our Student Friars. These are a different sort of students than the adolescent boys in the high school. I had been the youngest for a while, now there are more than half a dozen younger than me.

More blogging?

Well yes. My 10 year old computer needs to be replaced. Programs no longer work, or take 10 minutes to load. My computer is burning up my fingers as I type, and the processor is loud and exhausted trying to process the software. I can no longer stream videos on here, they just look ugly. I have all these blog posts that I am dumping on the internet.

I had a few good ideas two years ago, and I want to include them, in addition to the small handful of new ideas of blog posts. I have, for now, had to title my blog with something transitional. After publishing a series of posts, after observing any possible interest, I might change it. Of course, I am more inclined to let it set on this webpage for a while even if I don’t update it. I haven’t decided if I am really going to devote myself to blogging.

At this time, BLOGGING WILL NOT SUPPLEMENT MY CURRENT MINISTRY. The students can barely do the reading they are assigned in the school, let alone looking at a blog (kids don’t read blogs). The kids get excited about my music, but don’t look at it. This blog is of no use to my ministry.

I will post the remainder of my blog posts, with a few additions. If I am reassigned soon, I may consider blogging.

Church Teaching & Homosexuality

Reeling from the Supreme Court ruling on ‘gay marriage’ American Christians are quick to react by explaining the biblical teaching on marriage. Practicing Catholics are keen on clarifying the ignorant public on Marriage, a public that often views it as a mere contract of individuals and state. Even if people view human rights as bestowed on the state, the constitution defines rights as protected by the state and endowed by the creator. Likewise Catholics want people to see this isn’t something that the state does.

Yet, I wanted to write something a bit different. I decided to wait for a day that American Catholics were not feeling as if they have lost to the cultural tide. I also wanted to wait for a day when proponents of Gay Marriage were not also feeling as if they have lost to the reactions of the issue dearest to their heart. I do not endorse, nor propose to defend Gay Marriage, this post has a lot more to do with the public perception of the Catholic Teaching of Marriage.

An explanation in defense of marriage, by your average passionate young Catholic typically falls on deaf ears. These Catholics have felt liberated from the oppressive over-sexualized culture by a beautiful Church teaching. They have been instilled with profound personal and spiritual meaning in a way that secular materialism never has. They are then befuddled by how it this beautiful and liberating Church teaching on Sex and Marriage can be ugly or constricting on others. For example, that the Church teaches that I am created in the image of God, I am free from a life of uselessness. Since the Church teaches that I have a life of unique and profound meaning, I am free from a life of meaninglessness. Since the Church teaches that God sent his Son into the world, I am free from a life of loneliness. I could go on.

Each of these profound truths demands that I take responsibility for them, and that responsibility is sometimes scary (because I am a feeble sinner). However, it is still ugly, it is still constricting, it still feels wrong to many people. I could go on about putting aside one’s feelings, but still the truths of our faith make me feel wonderful. (Too many Catholics put feelings aside, but being Catholic FREAKING FEELS GREAT!!!) I am really putting aside the sort of canned cliche response you see on all the Catholic blogs everywhere all the time, that your feelings, gay people, are not important because TRUTH!

See, people do know that the Church opposes Gay Marriage. Forget that we are for families, forget that we are for all the good stuff we uphold, it is Vividly clear to people that we are not for gay marriage. Maybe people misunderstand why we are against it, but they have no doubt that we are against it. So… they are very certain that we are against gay marriage because we “hate” gay people.

When the Supreme Court Ruling passed, the official hashtag is #lovewins. Meaning, were gay marriage not recognized, it would be #hatewins. Such was the case when Prop 8 passed in California, the tagline became No H8. Putting aside the fact that this ignores the many nuances and varieties of opinions which do not favor gay marriage, it is simple enough to be deeply convincing.

It is as clear as day to the world that Catholics hate gay people, that we do not want them to experience love, that we do not want them to experience freedom, that we do not want them to be! (Catholics please re-read that out loud) This is what the world is deeply convinced of at the core of their being. People outside the Church are so profoundly certain of this, that it makes any dialogue impossible. People outside the Church are so profoundly certain of this, that they feel they must do a good thing and prevent the further hurt they experience from all this hate and evil, by outlawing us, etc. People outside the Church are so convinced of this that they must rescue all gay people everywhere from the oppressive and hurtful Church teaching.

Let’s face it, at this time, there are no Secular Liberals locking up Catholics, and subjecting them to electro-shock therapy to cure them from their Catholicism. At this time, there are no Catholics dying of AIDS in a hospital bed, while their entire family believes that they deserve to suffer and die for the lifestyle that they chose. Perhaps Gays are not going through the same sort of physically traumatizing suffering, but American Catholics are not (Just for the sake of focusing on a unique and particular issue, we can talk about Catholics persecuted elsewhere in the world).

The big misunderstanding of the world may not be that they don’t understand marriage. The big misunderstanding of the world is that we actually don’t hate gay people.

Before you, Catholic reading this, want to react with the canned cliche response that we love them, by correcting them, stop, stop for a second, stop for a minute, stop for a good while, and let this sink in.

The world is convinced that we HATE gay people. The world is convinced that we are commanded by the Bible to hate gay people. The world is convinced that the Church, and Popes, and Priests have mandated that we hate gay people. The big misunderstanding of the world: They think we must hate gay people, but we don’t.

The fact that we believe that every person is made in God’s divine image with a wonderful dignity is completely overshadowed by this malignant lie that the “Church hates gay people!” I mean, it is so bad, that people literally think that Pope Benedict, word for word, would tell his bishops, or tell priests, “go hate gay people!” Most people have not the mental acuity to distinguish the Catholic Church from the Westboro Baptist Church.

So, before any explication on the Church’s true teaching of marriage happens, it needs to be made clear that the Church does not teach us to hate gay people. Just as any discussion with scientists needs to begin that the Church not only doesn’t require us to disregard science, any discussion about homosexuality needs to begin with the fact that we believe that they have a profound and wonderful dignity.

Any Catholic that I have talked to, has found that citing the Catechism on this issue human dignity to be eye opening for everyone in the room. People start off with the idea that the Church teaches us to hate gay people, and are stunned to discover that we do not. This is a fact, try it. Try to do this, without making all sorts of sublte remarks about that the Church does not accept gay marriage, or why we do not. If you put this aside for a moment. They know that the Church does not accept gay marriage. They do not know that the Church accepts them as human beings.

I know, it seems risky to let them walk away without a correct understanding of marriage. The fact is, they already have an incorrect understanding of marriage before talking to us, and we have never done anything to contribute to it. There is so much noise out there bogging them in, entrenching them in their error. Rarely do they ever hear the very true Church teaching that each person is invaluable for being made in God’s divine image. It may be worth the risk for people to know the truth, that God loves gay people.

For a person who is gay, lesbian, transgender, etc, some claim to experience a high degree of identity confusion which is itself frustrating. Many, further, have always felt left out, have always felt different &unaccepted. I am convinced that there is a specific degree of pain, unique to a person who experiences a homosexual attraction or inclination, that would, and will be there regardless of what the GOVERNMENT does about marriage. I believe that there is a unique sort of suffering that is not experienced by people who are not gay, lesbian, or transgender, just as there is a unique sort of pain for having a loved die, for having your parents divorce, by being betrayed by a lover, or by being abused as a child.

They only have two things in common, that in this life, they may never experience a full and complete alleviation of this pain. Gay Marriage can’t fix this hurt in the same way that Heterosexual Marriage won’t fix the hurt of child abuse or post traumatic stress. I believe that is only in heaven. Likewise, none of them are beyond redemption, all who experience any suffering, are united to Christ abandoned, rejected, and suffering on Calvary for all of our redemption. That in itself is near to some sort of relief.

This is why straight marriage cannot even be a right created by the state, complete happiness, and freedom from suffering in this life are absolutely futile. Yet, Christ’s response to those who suffer is not simply a demand that they take up their cross, he often relieves them of their suffering. How does he respond to the leper, to the demoniac, to the adulterer, to the sinner, he does not tell them “Pick up your cross, suffering is redemptive!” He saves the comment about taking up the cross for those who are public disciples of the Gospel. Neither does taking up a cross mean that one deliberately seeks out unreasonable suffering, but only accepts the sort of reasonable suffering that may (or may not) happen.

A young person with a homosexual inclination, ashamed that they are not like any of their friends, seeing all the important people in the Church campaign to save marriage from the homosexuals, watching his friends straight parents get a divorce without a bat of the eye. He feels alone, he probably will use drugs, self abuse, unhealthy sexual relationships as a way to alleviate that loneliness. Because he knows that the Church hates people like him, and because even a mild addiction is still weaker than the self-shame in his heart, he would rather wallow in his addiction than experience redemption. It probably felt great for him to acknowledge that he is gay, to tell that to people, to feel some sort of acceptance. An intellectual knowledge of the Truths of the Catholic Faith may not be the first place to go if you are talking to him.

And it may not be this sort of young person that you are talking to, it may be someone who has gone through something similar, it may be someone who has watched a close friend go through that sort of spiritual alienation.

If you are unwilling to enter into the messiness and complication and suffering and terror that a Gays and Lesbians experience, it might be impossible for you to make a breakthrough with clarifying Church teaching on Marriage. One reason that St Theresa of Calcutta is so reputable is that she unflinchingly lived by charity.

For those of us not immersed in the thick messiness of it all, the very true Church Teaching, that they are created in God’s image make take ourselves very far, and may bring them a lot closer to God.

I retired from making Hip Hop music.

I have already been retired for a long time, but have gotten away with it, until now.

Recently, several Augustinians were asking during an International Augustinian Youth Encounter in Prague, immediately preceding World Youth Day in Krakow. Previously, I had a hip hop presentation. Although, on the planning commission this year, I did not put my name forward. The easiest thing to say is that I am retired. The harder thing to say is that this gift and passion just doesn’t seem to be relevant. This is one thing that I have had to discern and pray about, and it is a sobering conclusion.

Before describing this conclusion, it is important to note: I have no shortage of meaningful ministry in people’s lives. As a campus minister, without using any hip hop music, I make an impact on young people’s lives and connect them to the love of God. I know that I am doing a lot of good.

Is Hip Hop relevant to young people? Not really.

The brand of Hip Hop culture that set me on a positive path in life, is not something that kids connect to today. 33 years ago, I was born during Hip Hop’s first decade, an unstoppable pop culture phenomenon for the first half of my life. Hip Hop music is still cherished among adults my age and older. Adolescents listen to a sort of Rap derived from this, that sometimes seems like something else entirely. I know nothing about that.

When adolescents see a full grown adult immersed in adolescent pop culture, they scratch their heads, perhaps they get creeped out. It is why I refuse to do Snapchat or Vine. Adults that try too hard just don’t connect. Hip Hop and Rap are very wide and diverse things, it is a bit simpleminded to associate the music of a 33 year old priest with that of a 20 year old popular rap artist.

I came to this conclusion after reflecting on how it worked out form me between 2011 & 2014. I believe that the irrelevancy of Hip Hop may help one understand why it just didn’t work.

Before I joined the Order, I really wanted to rap exclusively at secular venues to the unchurched. Between 2001-2004, I found myself increasingly unwelcome. This did help me look in the right direction for my vocation to Religious Life.

Although I only rapped in my bedroom, I requested to give a demonstration to my community of Friars. This was 2008, I was a Theology student in Chicago. I included a brief history of Hip Hop Culture. In 2010, I was asked to give this presentation at an Augustinian Youth Encounter in London. During my next year in ministry as a Student Friar, I was asked to give this presentation in high school and elementary classrooms.

I was influenced by positive Hip Hop music that was not suitable for children. This had nothing to do with vulgarities, or inappropriate content. It had to do with mature subject matter, much the same way that the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquianas is not on your kindergarten teacher’s shelf. My music was not suitable for children, but they clapped and danced a long with it.

Over the course of these presentations, I developed a few songs to educate young people on what Hip Hop was about. I found that I needed to make two albums; Revolution of the Heart would collect all the songs that I had written since entering Religious Life. Thematically, these songs were more spiritually focused. Along Babylon’s Streets collected several songs dealing with Hip Hop culture in general.

Little fan followup

In 2012 I released Revolution of the Heart, and a year later I released Along Babylon’s Streets. These two albums were available online. The music seemed to connect with people as I performed and they claimed to want to listen. I tracked the listens on SoundCloud & Bandcamp, I tracked the follows on Twitter & Facebook. Over the next few years, ~10% of people who listened to my music would follow up.

So I have to do a measurement. During the school year, I minister to 700+ young people. I am there to guide them, mentor them, listen to them. Maybe 50 of them would have gone online to listen to and download. I really have to wonder what kind of impact this music is doing? I was clearly motivated to write this music to deal with life. It was for me. It did not seem to make a difference in people’s lives? This kind of thing is hard to measure. But when I spend this much time working on music, the payoff is not worth it.

Friends don’t ask me about my Hip Hop Music

The exception being the Augustinians or perhaps two friends who contributed to my album (either by rapping or by artwork). It should be made clear, at no time has any Augustinian ever told me I need to give up rapping. That has never happened. At no time, has any authority in the Church, ever challenged the fact that I rapped.

I cannot recall any conversation with a friend that indicated that they listened to my music. Perhaps they thought one song or other sounded cool or catchy. It is clear that I have friends that care about me, or have been there for me. Whether I rap or not goes by unnoticed. I should say, that a handful of generous friends have paid money for my music, knowing that I have something to show the brothers. It would be even more powerful if I heard someone tell my community that my music changed their lives.

My music updates on Facebook and Tumblr did not show up on people’s news feeds because I didn’t pay to advertise.

I released two albums, posted frequently on Social Network feeds, and most of the people I knew never even saw the posts. These were people who willingly subscribed to my public Facebook page. After doing a little research, I realized that Facebook expected independent musicians to pay.

As Facebook and tumblr started using the algorithmic newsfeed, this helped personalize your newsfeed. It put your preferred interesting items at the top. However, this also removed all of the public pages from your newsfeed, unless you paid a price. Considering that I was making so little money in donations, I couldn’t feasibly sustain paying regularly for advertisements.

No practical support from other Catholic Hip Hop artists.

I rapped on stage with Righteous B (a Catholic Rapper), who passively snuffed me on stage at a Steubenville San Diego after I rapped.

Phatmass attempted to gather Catholic Hip Hop artists. Despite giving my music to a few of the artists, I never heard any positive (or negative) feedback. After a thanks for sharing a link or a download, I was completely ignored. Despite follows on Twitter or Facebook from other Catholic Hip Hop artists, It was not clear that they listened or supported. Despite posting links to the albums and songs of other Catholic Hip Hop artists, I never once received any sort of promo from any other artist ever.

I thought that, maybe, some of these artists in Southern California, would see a Catholic seminarian, and support. They had better recording and production equipment. Maybe they would give someone with a vow of poverty some instrumentals to rap over, or some studio time.. My attempts to connect were typically ignored.

I was basically in this Hip Hop thing completely by myself with no practical support from other Hip Hop artists. It was just not the way to go.

Add to the list, Catholic Underground LA, and other Catholic venues which were not interested in providing me an opportunity.

Advancing Technology and my life

The production software that I used was limited, and was amateurish. I purchased professional quality software after my ordination in 2013. The software, and accompanying hardware were difficult to learn. I spent several hours with minimal results. I had just finished and released my album, Along Babylon’s Streets, and creatively needed plenty of time to work before the next one.

I was in my first year of ministry. That took up a lot of time. I was looking forward to my second year of ministry, where I might have more time to develop and learn how to make music with this new software. Within that first month of the school year, my dad got West Nile Virus, It completely and irrevocably turned my entire family’s life upside down. This required so much attention from me for the next 18+ months. School, and ministry were not waiting for me to help my dad get better.

When it comes down to looking at all the things in my life that matter, Hip Hop was only a parlor trick to the kids. They said, Fr Mark rap for us! As if I was doing a quick 10 second card trick. They were impressed for a full 30 seconds, then quickly moved on. I may have poured my blood, sweat, and tears into a song, I may have spent 7-12 months crafting the lyrics and the sound of a specific song, it did not seem worth the effort. My dad had been suffering. Many times, the kids I was ministering to were suffering. Rap didn’t help them or inspire them. Considering how much life needed my attention, Things may have been very different if I had practical support (I am not talking about donations) from the Catholic community. There was none. All that was left was Fr Mark rap for us! Come here monkey and dance!

Having written it all out here, makes it sound sadder than it has felt in actuality. I get annoyed that people want me to rap, but don’t open their minds to the music. It has often felt like a burden. The music that I have made has not made an impact in people’s lives. I have been dealing with that reality for 10+ years. It made an impact in my life, and perhaps that was enough for God to give me a reason to create music.

In a few months, another school year will start. I am going to help this senior class cope with life. I am looking forward to it. My campus ministry team has also changed, and I am going to be working with a much younger group, a group more interested in offering practical support in my campus ministry. I am looking forward to working with them. I am going to be helping our prior with the formation of several student Augustinians this next year, and I am also looking forward to that. I might be doing more for my community this next year to help support our student Friars.

Even if the music or songs that I make have not done much for people’s lives, the fact that a young aspiring Hip Hop artist felt a call to the priesthood has impacted people’s lives. I could go the rest of my life without ever creating another song, and the reality of my vocation is still more impactful. Perhaps it is enough that this positive driving passion in my life was nothing compared to the love that God has shown me.

4 unusual, although typical priestly encounters

When random people encounter a priest, they are often ready to open up about their entire life. I find, that when I visit different parishes to preside at Sunday Masses, there is always a person or two who will briefly tell me their life story, or want to know mine.

As I am a “young” or “cool” priest, or perhaps a priest without grey hair or a gut, somehow they find me strangely fascinating. My actual ministry is to high school students at an all boys school, and so these sorts of encounters don’t happen at all where I work. Most adolescent boys like to hear stories from their teachers. Myself included. Yet, they never ask me for my vocation story, quite like the adults or elderly people that I encounter at parishes.

Just yesterday, I literally had 4 encounters that I think could virtually sum up what all such encounters.

Some context: The sophomore class had their retreat at a Catholic Parish. During the day, we used the Parish Hall, the Church, and one of the annexed parking lots for all the activities. We had over 100 students that I was responsible for throughout the day. These encounters were with people who were around the parish, and not any of the students (or faculty members involved with the retreat). It is also worth mentioning, that I was in the Augustinian habit, and that probably had them begin to open up to me.

  1. There to open the Parish Hall, there was a man who quickly asked me to pray for him. He was there the previous day, and I had a chance to interact and greet him. This day, he probably thought he could seize the opportunity and ask me to pray over him and bless him. It often amuses me, that after mass, after the priest has just given everyone in the congregation a blessing, sometimes a person will come up to me for a blessing. I have blessed people after a young adult event, and a line of very young adults come up to me for a blessing. I think sometimes they mistake youth for sanctity, but often I have to remind them that they just received a blessing. In this case the man didn’t. The man, that morning of the retreat, ready to open the Parish Hall, asked me to pray for his family to return to the faith. As an Augustinian, I thought of St Monica. So I prayed with him on the spot for a minute, and asked for the intercession of Saint Monica.
  2. Later in the morning, a woman shouted to me from across the parking lot. She asked if I was a monk, and what kind of monk I was. I had stepped outside of the hall of 100+ students, to move my car. It was near the entrance to unload supplies, and I wanted to keep the entrance wide open. Before I could get to the car, she was already within a foot in front of me, ready to spill out her entire life story. Interjecting her attempts to tell her life story, and how she ended up in San Diego, she wanted to know what kind of priest I was, and if there was an association with the priests that staffed a St Augustine school where she was from. She continued opening up about her life, on several random tangents. I was unsure if she was going to stop to catch her breath. As a pastoral minister, I realize that many people expect me to drop my entire life on the moment of their need. She wasn’t terribly needy, she was obviously a devout Catholic. I had to remind her that I was overseeing an event (I was not just the chaplain there to say mass, I was the man responsible for the retreat, meaning if a student got injured I had to contact parents, I had to ensure they got to the hospital, etc). She literally followed me around to the door of my car, as I was apologizing to her for not being able to set aside the retreat to hear her tell her life story. It is sort of amusing when you think about it. These sorts of encounters do happen at least once at every single parish or Catholic place that I visit, they either want to tell their life story, or want my life story.
  3. During Lunch time, I had just finished saying Mass for the students in the Church, and a Fire Dept inspector was checking the extinguishers. He was ready to open up not so much about his life stories, but about some of his faith experiences. He was the sort of person, who probably rarely has an opportunity to talk about those sorts of things. As he was looking over the extinguisher, and I was cleaning up the sacristy, he was telling some of his story. He was kind of excited to meet a young priest, I don’t think he ever met a priest younger than him, which probably also made him more excited to talk about faith, religion, church stuff, sacraments, etc. Often I will meet people who are somewhat unchurched, but go to Mass with some kind of regularity. They typically favor their religion, but don’t talk much about their faith. Seeing a young priest often gets them expressing their faith. Sometimes I am told (more often by women), that I am too young to be a priest. When I meet men like this Fire Fighter, I wish that there were more young guys in the priesthood that are easy for him to open up about.
  4. Okay, this guy probably wasn’t Catholic, he probably wasn’t there for Church. He saw me in habit on the street as we went between the Parking Lot and the Parish Hall. He wanted to know who we were, and what we were doing. He seemed disturbed by the fact that we were an group of students that were all boys (almost the complete opposite of most people that I encounter). When I explained that we were an all boys school, and that we were on retreat, he responded “Retreat from what?” I could scientifically explain to him the value of single sex education from a secular perspective, and there are enough secular retreats out there. I sort of felt bad for him.

Anyways, that about sums up the four encounters, fourth being a bonus, and not your typical Catholic encounter.