Advice to Graduating Seminarians & New Priests

For the purpose of this, I tried to think of things that I wouldn’t typically find elsewhere. I could write a whole article about how important it is to celebrate the Mass with reverence, so that older casual Catholics can see your sincere devotion as a witness to the love of Christ. I am assuming that you have had decent spiritual direction to help you keep Christ as your focus, and what that entails. So my focus wavers between Spiritual, and practical.IMG_6556 - Copy

I also desired to be as complete as possible, realizing that listed pieces of advice may be less critical. Since I wanted to dig up as many things as I could that nobody told me, I hope my readers will find some surprises.

  1. Love the Church: During my first few years of campus ministry at an all boys school, the image of the Church as the Bride of Christ wasn’t very helpful. However, what can I say about love? To some extent, as a young priest, you should be very concerned with befriending others, showing them the charity of Christ, to your best ability. You will have lay Catholic leaders in your parish who have been doing their best to follow Christ since before you were born. They will be happy to welcome you, but you are also a shepherd, and you must show them hospitality. If being with adolescents has taught me anything, unless you can prove to them that you care, they will not care about anything you say. Love the Church, before you speak to them.
  2. The honeymoon: I was told that the people of God would be so happy to have a new priest, that they tolerate countless small human mistakes. However, in my case in a school, as for a teacher, adolescents magnify their new teacher’s imperfections. Sometimes parishioners do thoughtful things, often boys mean well but the best of them aren’t too thoughtful. When I say masses at parishes, the people can’t get enough of me, and seemed to think that they own me. It was often a ridiculous contrast. Priests and other leaders might refer to the honeymoon, but that isn’t why you became a priest. As someone who didn’t necessarily experience it, despite what people tell you, the honeymoon might be disappointing.
  3. Get into a classroom: It is unlikely that you will be assigned as a teacher as a new priest. Being in a classroom enhances your ability to notice how quickly people lose interest in you when you are talking. Being in a classroom, helps you give more structured engaging presentations, and eventually to the point homilies. If there is a parish school, approach the 7th & 8th grade teachers, and offer to engage their students 2 or 3 times in the Fall Semester. I have seen way too many priests that turn their congregation into a classroom. They should quit doing that, and instead go into a classroom.
  4. Change Nothing, Change Everything! 15 years ago there was a stereotype of the “Young Conservative Seminarian” wanting to “rescue” the Church from V II. Hence, I received generic advice: “Please do not steamroll through a Church community.” Steamrolling meant being insensitive about making changes. Erring on the side of caution to the status quo. On the contrary, my experience on a high school campus lead me to believe that they expected me to make quick and decisive changes. The church-going faithful are interested in a fresh take on things, certainly more than I was told, even if they will take some time to get behind those changes.
  5. Say No, Say Yes. The tendency of a young man to put himself at the service of the Church, desires to do more rather than less. I was often warned to not over commit. Ironically, some people received the impression that I was not a generous person. Sometimes you have to find ways to say no, leaving open a possible yes in the future. Sometimes, people will accept a yes (Father, I get it, you’re busy), and others who need more of an explanation. If you are cautious, take the risk and immerse yourself, if you are a workoholic, learn to set boundaries.
  6. Your Boss and Colleagues are not your Spiritual Director or Formation Staff. I found that my formation directors wanted me to be acutely self-aware, candid about weaknesses and shortcomings, and emotionally vulnerable. Your Superiors, Boss, and often colleagues have no interest in your own human and spiritual growth. If you made a rookie mistake in a ministry scenario, and meet your Formator to discuss openly, you are doing well. If you make a rookie mistake as a priest, your boss (Pastor) is interested in a positive report. If your mistake is noticeable, he probably needs a report on your plan of action to overcome that in the future. This is a very necessary professional boundary that you need.
  7. Pick your battles: When entering a new professional community, one has to pick their battles. Anyplace you work, in and outside of the church, will be fraught with disagreements. Picking your battles is a caution of making too many enemies. Be prudent when you must stand your ground, however, as a newcomer you will need to be ready to concede on many things. When you can work with others, people will be more interested in hearing you out when you do not want to compromise on something. Be sure to not allow yourself to be taken advantage of, and avoid making a case to get out of responsibilities.
  8. Reach out to the local Catholic High School: If there is a Catholic High School within 10 to 15 miles of your parish, call them up, let them know you are just ordained, and would like to be scheduled for one Mass during the year. You will find a campus minister, who repeatedly receives declines from local priests. If you want to do extra, meet the campus minister in advance for a quick tour of the school. Boys schools seem to have no difficulty with Mass, however, many girls schools, and sometimes co-ed schools, cancel Masses because of a lack of priests.
  9. Stay connected to Priests: Priests talk a lot about their day off to each other. It is rare that they actually go and do fun things with other priests on their days off. During your first assignment, a family of parishioners will probably adopt you and become a very healthy support system. However, if you quickly play favorites, you will alienate members of the community. In your first year, it would be more prudent to keep connected to other priests, and nearby family or longtime friends.
  10. Your Pastor / Boss might also be nervous around you. He might be 30-40 years older than you. You might be the only 20-30 something that he talks to on a regular basis. He won’t want to be your best buddy, he may have had difficult working relations with other associates in the past. Yes, your role is to defer to him. He may imagine you to be judging him. Tell him some jokes and funny stories. Let him ramble about things that he thinks are important. You will learn a thing or two if you let him ramble. Humility is key. How many years did Jesus spend with Joseph, or with rabbis without causing a stir?
  11. Volunteering for middle aged adults vs. young adults: I find that older generations of Catholics relied on a few people to do all the things. Young Adults are over extended, and over committed. If you expect the same reliability you will set yourself up for disappointment. I believe, for young adults, instead of expecting a few of them to do all the things, expect a lot of adults to do a few of the things each. Young Adults want involvement, but if they are expected to give every morning of their weekend (their free time), especially holidays, they will be resentful.
  12. Awkward adults: Although people will be incredibly happy that you gave yourself to the Church, there will be Church-going Catholics and unchurched peers alike who will feel awkward around you. You will meet these people through friends. You will meet these people at the Parish School or at Funerals. You are a living contradiction to everything they know about life. I have been told repeatedly by middle aged Catholic women that I am too young to be a priest. Although comfortable with a white haired old priest, they have a hard time accepting a young man who gives up marriage or sex. They can never conceive how anybody would be happy if they weren’t married. Celibate Chastity, living like the angels, according to Jesus, won’t make sense to some.

Twelve rounds up too exhaustive of a list. I imagine that some of these will be relevant to others. I wanted to be very complete. In your first month, many of these might not make much sense. So, I do recommend, that if you are a new priest, to return to this within your first year. If you know a priest within the first 18-24 months of his ministry, this may also be worthwhile sharing.

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Spring 2018 update

For all my family and friends that have been praying for me, sincerest thanks. I ask that you may continue to pray for me. I thought about posting a lengthier update here, as some of you may have been redirected from an email. I thought it worth being more comprehensive here.

  1. I will stop blogging this summer. I have seen this go nowhere, and don’t see much of a future for it. Looking at site traffic, I know that few of my most loving and supportive friends actually look at this page. Since I moving from tumblr, I have no evidence of anybody positively effected by this blog. Also, people that I encounter in ministry show no interest in reading. I have a handful of drafts in my queue that will be posted over the next few months. Because I have seen this go nowhere, I am not expecting a game-changer, I just would rather get them out of my draft box.
  2. I am posting memes on my twitter and facebook. However, this is a short term gig. I will probably stop posting by the end of the summer, unless I see a reason to keep posting regularly. Some of this is a burst of creative expression with original content. Just like every other form of expression, it does me a lot more than anybody else. I am not getting much, if any, traffic or feedback.
  3. What I really need help praying for. I am aiming to create a part time preaching ministry. It seems to be the only thing I do that God moves hearts. Right now I am stuck in an odd place. The province has no assignment for me (None of our parishes have openings, and I cannot be an associate pastor in a parish where there is no Augustinian). I need to be available part time for the parish, and need to find gigs to supplement our community income. When our Order began, there were typically a community of friars living together around a public chapel, where they publicly prayed the Liturgy in Common. Many of the friars would go around and preach. I aim to do this in three ways: 1) filling in at Catholic High Schools, 2) leading parish retreats (or parish “missions”) at local parishes, and 3) filling in for priests when they are absent, which may involve their youth ministry events. Because I do not have enough of a reputation, I need your help in praying for people to give me an opportunity.
  4. As far as rapping & hip hop, nothing for now. I have said a lot about this previously here. I sometimes think that it will make it easier to get people’s attentions, or to get gigs, but my experience is, much like blogging, much like all other digital ministry, over the past 8 years I have not found God moving in this ministry. I have only found it be a parlor trick.

Being assigned to Los Angeles seems to be a good fit for my Augustinian Community (being the community of four priests, including me). I am only 34, the next youngest priest is closer to 60, and the remaining are 75 or older. I am not helping frail elderly people get around, but I am instrumental in facilitating a genuine community life. Whether that means getting our bachelor pad a little more organized, preparing meals, or suggesting new ideas for common life. Since most people don’t realize how significant this is for an Augustinian, it can be glossed over, and somewhat difficult to explain. With little else to recognize, my Augustinian Community benefits from me being here.

 

 

If I were married, I would have a sad, lonely, unhappy wife: A reflection on priestly celibacy.

Over the next few weeks, I have numerous posts about the priesthood. This is perhaps the most difficult one, and it has been challenging to post it. It has waited among my drafts for over a year. The following posts won’t be as difficult. Take this as a warning.

I was ordained in June of 2013. In a hypothetical scenario, were I not ordained, but married a woman at that time, would perhaps present a case for priestly celibacy. Let us imagine that every other aspect of my life mirrored my life save the priesthood.

My position of campus ministry is not specifically a priest position. I manage a budget. I book retreats and event centers. I book catering. I train student leaders for retreats. I manage programs, resources, supplies. I say mass at these retreats. Except for a Mass at a retreat, there was literally nothing about my actual job description that required a priest (Saying Mass at a retreat is not in this description, I could book a priest). I am held accountable by well qualified lay people who run the school.

For the sake of this reflection: I finish grad school, move across the country to San Diego, get married, and begin the same campus ministry job. My mom is deceased. My dad lives ~130 mi North in Los Angeles. My younger brother eventually get’s engaged. My sister is an artist, student, bartender and waitress. Instead of saying Mass in local parishes, I find a local parish to get involved in (helping youth ministry, lectoring etc). All normal things for a 30 year old to do after being hired as a full time 9-5 minister in a school.

My first school year goes somewhat well. I am held closely accountable with a great amount of practical support from numerous colleagues. Occasionally, I have 10 hr days. I have over a dozen overnights away from home. I typically feel unsatisfied with my job, yet have many new ideas for improvement. I have new teacher blues: no lesson plans, too much grading, uncooperative students, needing years of experience to earn respect, being an outsider.

In real life, I never finished sending out thank you cards for my ordination. I moved out, planned a big ceremony, and immediately traveled around the world to Rio 2013 World Youth Day. Were I to conjecture this episode, I would spend months moving in, and not attending Rio 2013 (The Order sent me. Neither the Order or the school would have sponsored a brand new staffmember). My poor wife would take the lead on sending out thank you cards, as I am still transitioning from moving and taking a new job.

A 20-something new wife would be uncharacteristically patient, perhaps on an emotional honeymoon. She would reason excuses for her tired overworked husband who ministers at an all boys school, with a campus ministry team made up entirely of men. It is not uncommon for women to put up with a husband’s work-load this early in the marriage. Like any normal woman, she could stretch this to a point. I would leave for work before 7am, return between 4p-5p. Spend a few hours grading, organizing files etc, want to veg in front of  a tv screen, and soon crash. On a good day, I would be so overwhelmed from all the sensory stimulation and socializing I couldn’t even talk. In my first year, I went to bed at 9am, then woke up at 5am.

I ended the first year looking forward to a greater degree of control. I knew that I was to be held accountable and expected to improve. That goes with any professional career. I was only successful in surviving, not in thriving. The most exciting thing about the beginning of my second year would be to put the new ideas into effect. Perhaps some of this cheer and summer availability would bring a second wind to my marriage.

I would find myself immediately challenged in my second year. After 14 months in San Diego, I still had not settled in. The old priest’s in my community were not interested in meddling with my possessions. A wife would have had some ownership, but perhaps found it difficult to deal with my inability to smooth everything out. The rubber meets the road, the free ride of feelings screeches to slow down for the expectations of life.

In September, two days before my birthday, my dad is brought to the hospital. He remains in and out, near coma for almost a month. After two weeks of trips to LA, I discover that my dad has West Nile Virus. He will need a feeding tube. He will need a few months of rehab. It is possible that he may never fully recover. I cancel several of my scheduled commitments at a local parish. I cancel my birthday plans. The staff at my school is reasonably frustrated that a lackluster employee is 130 miles from his office, unable to get his job done.

The next month and a half does not see my dad return to normal. My newly engaged brother gets stuck with my dad, as I have no more time away from work to get help my dad with this ongoing crisis. I cancelled all weekend volunteering over the next month, in this scenario, I cancel all commitments outside of my job. Everyone sickly imagines that my bedridden feeding tube, medicine wired dad is magically going to return to normal while I frantically catch up on my workload. No substitute is available. If I am not there, the retreats cannot happen.

Perhaps this unpleasant birthday might rally my wife behind me. I did receive a lot of support from the friars. They weren’t the one’s disappointed in my job performance. Eventually my brothers asked about my dad, without asking about me. The hope of my dad’s recovery diminished each day. I suppose my wife might have been more perceptive to my feelings. She would have had to put up with me, yet again, having ten hr days at work, an inability to contribute around the house, weekend trips to Los Angeles, returning every time more beat up than the year before. She would watch my absence, as I was too psychologically exhausted to give her attention. The support I received from the friars did not leave them feeling rejected. I imagine it would take a greater toll on her. This absence might mirror the local Priest who could no longer book me for any Masses. I could not take a weekday off, as the school did not require me on the weekends. All my parish commitments get cancelled. Perhaps my wife would see that I was not the cause of her loneliness, but it would take a toll on her during this second year of my job.

My spring and summer would be consumed with cleaning and selling my dad’s house in Los Angeles, moving him to an assisted living facility, organizing his possessions, trying to find rehab after insurance gave up on him. I finished my year, as all my colleagues convinced that my dad’s situation settled quickly after it began, and believed every flaw in my job was not connected to my dad loosing everything overnight. Perhaps they would be more frustrated, that I was the only second year male teacher at an all boy’s school that couldn’t coach sports. I had less and less to offer the school, and I don’t know that this current situation can sustain itself at work, let alone motivate me to want to continue. Would the school even want me to continue?

Everything in my life was precarious, who is to say that my wife would even want to stay with me? I would certainly sympathize with her. Concretely, being married to me would not be of benefit to her. Catholic marriage is about more than personal benefit. It would be a lot of work for her for three years, only for things to spiral downward for her husband and his family.

Things improved much my third year, but I still felt that I needed more concrete support than I received. I still had to cease doing weekend ministry in parishes, in this case, I could not take any commitment outside of my job description. Now, in my third year of ordination, I was receiving more pleas from parishes in need of priestly support. I repeatedly said no. My dad was still stuck in wheelchair in LA, asking me daily about my next visit. Sometimes I had to say no, so I could get some sleep after chasing insomniac kids at a retreat, after waking up at 5am regularly to setup for other retreats. I was saying no to the parishes, I was saying no to my dad, I probably would have been saying no to my wife when she asked for a favor. My Campus Ministry intern was doing a spectacular job. My colleagues were probably not thrilled about my lack of involvement. However, My Campus Ministry student leaders were willing to do a lot more work, and probably had a lot more respect for me than the previous two classes.

The obliviousness, however, continued. During Christmas and Summer, all my colleagues would ask me if I was going “home?” For one, just because I am not married doesn’t mean that I am a college student who needs to spend weeks at a parent’s house for Christmas, and secondly, My parent lived in a facility. No such idyllic “home” existed.

I do not know the situation in a parish. When my mother was sick, I found the parish rally behind me. However, as I learned being a priest in a school, that many people cannot conceive of a priest having anything less than a perfect personal life. What is the new priest supposed to do? Take a leave, as rumors of crimes and scandals abound? West Nile Virus is rarer than scandals in this church.

Perhaps the wife of this reflection becomes a sad and lonely woman who has to dig deep for a reason to stay with this husband of hers. Disappointment. She would be much better off without him. Three years of her life tied down to a man that was incapable of offering anything to her.

Perhaps this should give us something to think about when we see a priest leave in their first five years. A new employee out of his depth is not disimilar. There are plenty of workoholic men, who learned to sell out the risk of being vulnerable and affectionate at home, and letting the demands of work consume them. Divorce is rampant in our western consumer culture, so why is a sad, unhappy lonely marriage a bad analogy for a new priest’s ministry?

When I try to use the image of marriage for my first three years of priesthood, I find it circle right back to celibacy. Many lay people, who are not called to celibacy, often accept the priesthood simply as a marriage to the Church, or to God. They also accept religious life as marriage to Christ. I found that my marriage, from a purely legal perspective, was more of a marriage to the Order, rather than the Church, per se. Yet, even with all the similarities, there are so many differences. I lived with a group of men, I worked at a boys school, The image of Christ’s marriage to the Church was very unhelpful for me in my first few years of ordination. This image did not help me as a priest to love or serve the Church that I was ordained to serve. In fact, this image was more of an obstacle, and were I to stick with this image, the only place for me would be is divorce, and subsequently quitting the priesthood.

Perhaps the image of marriage bears more relevance to the assembly of the people of God in the Church. In this, they can expect service and support from their priest, but also realize that they have a responsibility of service to the Church alongside the priest. Perhaps there are other images that may inspire lay-persons to respond to God’s call to follow Jesus Christ in discipleship and service.

As I wrap up this reflection, I do not propose a full alternative to this overused nuptial image that I have found unhelpful. I realize that there may come a day when not-only protestant converts can be married and ordained, but the reality and challenges of ministry should allow us the thoughtfulness to look critically at proposals to dismiss celibacy. Although lay Catholics may be comfortable with the idea of a married priest, the practical reality would require every single priest’s wife to have the holiness and resolve of the Mother of God herself. Perhaps the major takeaway is the indispensability of priestly celibacy.

For those who do not read this blog, I have done plenty of personal updates elsewhere, like here, here, here, here, and here. My dad stabilized years ago, but can never live on his own again. My dad’s permanent condition, in addition to my place in the school effected my discernment to leave. I found sources of support, almost entirely outside of my ministry. That is what every young adult needs to learn. I found stories and images from Scripture and Tradition that motivated me. I dug into my past experiences of God’s work in my life to continue to inspire me. But this post is not about how I got through this, or had to get out of it. This post is about how naive it is to discredit celibacy amidst a divorce addicted culture.

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.

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.