Monday, January 6, 2014
For this blog post, I thought I would write a little bit about the down-to-earth, human aspects of seminary life. Perhaps this is not true for life-long Catholics who grow up seeing priests their whole lives, but for me as a convert, when I first came into the Church I saw priests as idealized, larger-than-life figures. It was through getting to know several priests and religious, including the priests at my parish and the Dominican student brothers that visited for the summer, that I realized that priests and religious are actually normal people! It may seem obvious to many of you, but for me it was a revelation to understand that they are human beings just like the rest of us. That was an important step for me to begin considering the possibility that I too - as ordinary, flawed, and human as I am - could be called to be a priest or religious.
It's no different here at seminary. We're all human, with all that entails. We laugh, joke, and tease one another. We often encourage, support, and watch out for each other. We also sometimes annoy, frustrate, and get bored with one another, the seminary administration, or our professors. We have fun events like our Halloween party. We hosted a soccer tournament a few weeks ago: four teams from Catholic seminaries in the area competed, and lots of fun was had by all. One of my classmates has started organizing a movie night on Saturday nights - we've recently watched such classics as "Ghostbusters", "Cool Runnings", and "Monty Python" and the "Holy Grail." There are also the days when there's not anything exciting or unusual going on, just the mundane everyday tasks of studying, doing laundry, going to class and prayer, or taking a much-needed nap (although hopefully not during class or prayer). We also make friends: I've not yet been here for three months, and already I've formed several friendships that I know will last beyond my time here at seminary.
We are a community here. We are a community of men with all kinds of backgrounds from mechanics to meteorologists to mathematicians. But we are all men who feel that God may be calling us to the priesthood. And when God calls someone, he calls the whole person, with all of their background, their talents, their weaknesses, and their personality.
All of these aspects relate to what the Church calls human formation, and it is one of the most important parts of what seminary is about. Human formation deals with forming who we are on a human level: our appearance, our emotions, our personality, our sexual identity, how we interact with others. It is one of the "four pillars" of priestly formation, along with spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral formation. The goal of human formation is to shape and understand these aspects of our self so that our human personality becomes "a bridge and not an obstacle for others in their meeting with Jesus Christ," as the Program of Priestly Formation puts it (PPF 75). My favorite class this semester has been Human Development and Christian Maturity, because it deals with precisely these issues. The main thing our professor, Br. John Mark, wanted to impress on us at the beginning of the course was that "there are no spiritual idiot savants," meaning it is impossible to progress in the spiritual life without also progressing in personality development, emotional development, psychosexual development, moral development, etc. Another key idea of the course, again taken from the Program of Priestly Formation, is that "human formation happens in a three-fold process of self-knowledge, self-acceptance, and self-gift;and all of this in faith. As this process unfolds, the human person becomes more perfectly conformed to the perfect humanity of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh." (PPF 80).
Every vocation, indeed the Christian life in general, involves making a gift of our self: offering our lives, our plans, our desires, and putting them at the service of another. One of the most beneficial aspects of my being at seminary so far has been for me to realize that in order to make an authentic gift of myself, as I long to do, I must first know and accept myself: I must know who and what it is that I am giving. The whole structure of the seminary creates an atmosphere that is conducive to thinking and wrestling with these important questions: through the Human Development course, celibacy formation workshops, counseling and spiritual direction, prayer and Adoration, and simply forming friendships with other guys who are or have been wrestling with the same questions.
Thank you for your continued prayers for me and my brothers as we persevere in our formation "until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13).
Monday, December 9, 2013
"Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will proclaim your praise."- Psalm 51:15
Since I've come to seminary directly from graduate school, the academic part of seminary hasn't been as much of an adjustment for me as it has been for some of my classmates who have been out of school for over 20 years. The structured prayer life we have here at seminary, however, has been a bigger change for me. Having Morning Prayer, Mass, Evening Prayer in common every day is very different from what I had been used to: namely, praying on my own whenever I found time and getting to daily Mass a couple times during the week. I like having the consistency of praying at the same time every day, and I hope that I am forming a strong habit that will last after I leave seminary, God willing, as a priest. Of course, there are some times that I don't feel like praying or that my mind wanders during prayer, but it still good to develop the discipline of regular prayer.
The prayers we use when we gather as a community are the Liturgy of the Hours, also called the Divine Office, and the book they are printed in is called a breviary. The Liturgy of the Hours is, as the name implies, a liturgy just like the Mass. They form the "official" prayer of the Church. While we can pray in almost any way we want when we are in private or with a group, the Liturgy of the Hours is a prayer of the entire Catholic Church, and so it has a set structure like the Mass. The basic outline for each "hour," as the sets of prayers are called, is a hymn, three psalms or other scriptural canticle (fancy word for song), a short reading from Scripture, a Gospel canticle, intercessions, and a closing prayer. It usually takes between 10 and 20 minutes to pray one hour.
Since I first started praying parts of the Liturgy of the Hours a couple of years ago, I have grown to appreciate it more and more. I love that when I engage in this prayer, I am joining in the prayer of the universal Church. Pope Francis, religious men and women, priests and deacons, and lay men and women all over the world are praying these exact same prayers along with me. I also love that I am praying Scripture - almost all of the Liturgy of the Hours is taken from the Bible, especially the Psalms. These 150 ancient songs are our divinely-inspired hymnal, and they express every emotion and situation we go through in our relationship with God. Rejoicing, praise, anger, suffering, sorrow, mourning, thanksgiving - they are all there. In addition, here at Saint Meinrad we are blessed to participate in the monastic tradition of chanting the psalms. Occasionally the beauty of the words and the chant can be almost overwhelming.
Probably my favorite time of the week is Sunday night, because it is then that the beauty of these prayers comes through the clearest for me. After dinner on Sunday, there is a Holy Hour. Sitting in the presence of Jesus in the Sacrament always fills me with peace, life, and confidence. It is easiest for me to pour out my heart to Jesus when I can talk to him eye to eye, as it were, through His Body present on the altar in front of me. Then, at the end of the Holy Hour, we pray Night Prayer together as a community. Out of all the chant melodies we use, my favorite is the one we use for the Canticle of Simeon with its beautiful antiphon: "Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake, we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in his peace." Then comes Solemn Benediction, where Christ himself blesses us as the deacon holds up the monstrance containing the Eucharist. Afterwards, the rector sprinkles us with holy water as we sing the Divine Praises, and we end by chanting the Salve Regina (Hail, Holy Queen). The whole thing fills me with a feeling of rest and comfort: that Christ and his mother are with me, watching over me, and protecting me. Afterwards, I leave refreshed and confident, ready to wrap up any tasks I still need to accomplish before Monday morning, then relax and sleep trusting in God's watchful care.
I say all this not to try to show how holy or prayerful I am, but to show how the structure of the Liturgy of the Hours is helping me to improve my prayer life. Of course, if all I am doing is simply reciting or chanting words without really meaning them, I am accomplishing very little. Prayer is not about what or how much we say, but about being honest with God. Jesus makes this point crystal clear in today's Gospel, the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). I can say to God, "Thank you, God, that I am not like other men. I pray three times a day, I say rosaries and light votive candles," but if that is all my relationship with God is - empty words and gestures - then it is worthless. What God wants is honesty: "Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner." I still have a long way to go with that.
If you are looking for a way to deepen your own prayer life or to become more regular in your prayer, I would encourage you to consider praying some part of the Liturgy of the Hours. There are websites like www.DivineOffice.org or smartphone apps like iBreviary that have the texts available for free and put everything together for you. The monthly Magnificat booklets also have a simplified form of Morning and Evening Prayer for each day, along with the daily Mass readings and prayers. Start slowly: pick just one hour (morning, evening, or night) and try to stick with that until you get the hang of it, then you can try adding more. There's no need for you to buy the full four-volume set until you have some experience with the Liturgy of the Hours and are convinced you want to make it a permanent part of your prayer.
The most important thing, though, is simply to pray, period. How or when doesn't matter nearly as much as whether you are doing it or not. Don't get caught up about trying to find the right way or the best way to pray: if you're talking to God, and you're being honest, then you're doing it right.
"May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil, and bring us to everlasting life."
- Conclusion for Morning and Evening Prayer
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
In October, I attended the Dinner with the Archbishop. This was my first time attending this event, and I was very impressed. It was exciting to be with 350 Catholic middle and high school students along with parents, teachers, youth leaders, men and women religious, deacons, and priests from across the archdiocese. It was also great to reunite with some of my brother seminarians who I hadn't seen since the summer. And, as the name implies, Archbishop Kurtz was there as well, having just returned from his trip to Rome with Cardinal Dolan in which he got to meet with Pope Francis. In his homily during Evening Prayer, Archbishop Kurtz said that Pope Francis specifically asked about seminarians in the United States. It's humbling for me to realize that Pope Francis is thinking about and praying for me and my brother seminarians!
|Photo courtesy of The Record (Jessica Able)|
After Evening Prayer we moved to the gym where a wonderful dinner was prepared for us. (By the way, our archbishop is a trooper: a day after a transatlantic flight, he didn't even sit down to eat during the dinner, but instead made sure to visit with every table.) There were also tables set up by representatives of various religious communities so they could introduce themselves to students and give out information (and candy!). At the end of the dinner, Bishop Chuck Thompson from Evansville, formerly a priest of the archdiocese, talked about his call to the priesthood and to become a bishop. I was struck throughout his talk by his obvious humility. Several of his former brother priests were in the gym listening to him, and he said that he would never understand why he was chosen from among them to become a bishop.
But that seems to be how it always is with our vocations. Recently my mom told me that the smartest thing she ever did was to marry my dad. Many priests have told me that God does not call the qualified, he qualifies the called. We often don't understand why we are being led to a particular path. It takes a step of faith to trust that God knows what he is doing with us, even when we don't see any way it could possibly work. For my own part, I remember asking God, "God, are you sure about this? You want ME to consider being a priest? You do know how messed up I am, right, God? I can give you a dozen reasons off the top of my head why I think this is a bad idea that will never work, but you still want me to do it?"
We also see this throughout Scripture whenever God calls someone to a special task: Moses (Exodus 4), Samuel (1 Samuel 3), and Isaiah (Isaiah 6) all questioned God: they all felt unworthy of the role God was asking them to accept. Even Mary asked the angel Gabriel, "How can this be?" (Luke 1). We have to trust that God is fully aware of our inadequacies, but he also knows our strengths, including some we might not even know we have. One of my favorite Scripture verses deals with this: Jesus says in a vision to Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9)
God sets a very high bar. He calls every one of us to do more than we could ever do on our own: he calls us to be saints! Thankfully, though, God gives us the grace that enables us to do what seems impossible. By his grace we can bring Christ to others in our families, schools, and workplaces. By his grace we can say yes to his call to marriage, religious life, priesthood, or to generous single life. By his grace we are saved. "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." (Matthew 19:26)
That night, I made sure to remember all of the young people who attended the dinner while I prayed Night Prayer. I prayed that they would take time to seriously ask God what vocation he might be calling them to, and that they would have the courage to respond with trust and faith. Please keep the youth who attended as well as our seminarians, in prayer, as we discern God’s call in our lives.
Thursday, October 31, 2013
Not very long ago, I could not imagine that I would ever write those words. I was born in South Carolina, but moved to Louisville with my parents and younger brother when I was seven years old. My parents are Southern Baptist, and that is the faith in which I and my brother were raised. I was baptized shortly after we moved, and I began to take my relationship with Jesus seriously as a result of summer camps I attended with my youth group in middle and high school.
I attended the University of Kentucky pursuing a degree in mathematics. After a period of doubt and struggling with my faith during my freshman year, something happened which, although not evident at the time, began to change the direction of my life in a radical way. I turned on the TV, and saw on the news that Pope John Paul II was dying. For a reason I could not explain, I found myself greatly moved by the events that played out in Rome during April 2005: the crowds keeping vigil outside the dying pope's window, then lining up for miles to pay their respects; the shouts of "Saint now!" during his funeral; and the conclave to elect his successor, Pope Benedict XVI. Seeing those historic events created a longing in my heart for something: it was longing to be united to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, although I didn't yet know that. To make a very long story short, five years later I was received into the full communion of the Catholic Church in 2010 during the Easter Vigil at St. Louis Bertrand Church in Louisville.
Even before I became Catholic, though, I began to feel a call to the priesthood. I had resolved to enter the Church and begin RCIA in the fall, when one night the thought of priesthood popped into my head. Try as I might to dismiss it or ignore it, it just kept coming back. I've never been one to rush into things, though. After teaching high school math for two years and returning to UK to get a master's degree in math, the thought of priesthood still hadn't gone away, and in fact was sometimes more of a desire or longing. So at the beginning of this year I contacted the vocations director for the archdiocese, Fr. Jeff Shooner. And now, here I am, studying first philosophy at Saint Meinrad Seminary in southern Indiana, at the beginning of a journey that, if it is God's will, will lead to my ordination as a priest.
It's amazing to look back over my life and see all the people, places, events, and circumstances that God has used to bring me to where I am today. It reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite books, The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien. As Frodo Baggins is beginning a long journey, he recalls the advice of his wise uncle Bilbo: "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door. You step into the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to." I feel like the Holy Spirit is like that. If we let him, God will sweep us off our feet and carry us to places we would never have thought to go. It can be very hard for us to let go of our own plans for our life, but God's plans for us are far greater than our own. He wants to sweep us off to heights we could never reach on our own. So open yourself up to the Holy Spirit's promptings, and be willing to let God sweep you off your feet! As now-Blessed John Paul II, the man who started my own unexpected journey, proclaimed so many times: Do not be afraid!
I'm excited to have this opportunity to share with you some of my seminary experiences through this blog, and I hope that it will be helpful to whoever is out there in Internet-land reading this. I'd also love to hear any comments, questions, or suggestions for future posts. Please pray for me and my brother seminarians that we will always remain open and obedient to the will of God for our lives.
Thursday, April 11, 2013
In Rome, we were lucky enough to be staying at a hotel about 2 minutes walk from St. Peter’s Square. Walking into the square for the first time will be a memory that will stay with me forever. I’m not ashamed to admit it; I got teary-eyed again when I walked into the church for the first time. It is so large, so magnificent, and so full of beauty and history, it’s almost indescribable. Over the course of the 10 days we spent there, we saw all of the major churches and sites. St. John Lateran, St. Paul Outside the Walls (which ended up being my favorite), St Mary Major, the Coliseum, etc. Of particular mention for me were the Catacombs of San Callisto, as well as seeing the tombs of St Monica, Blessed Pope John XXIII, and Pope Paul VI, three people who I am especially fond of.
Thursday, March 7, 2013
My name is Deacon Nick Brown and I will be doing a few blog posts over the next few months as I prepare for Ordination to the Priesthood. I thought it would be good in this first post to simply tell you a little bit about myself and then later on, I will write about some other things including my recent trip to Rome and also my thoughts about entering Priesthood.
I grew up in the city of Louisville. Until I was 25, I lived about a mile away from St. Barnabas Parish. During the eight years that I went to grade school there, I was lucky enough to have Fr.Gary Davis as my pastor. Although I wasn’t thinking about priesthood back then (at all!), I still remember really liking him and as time went on, he became my model and image of a priest. After I graduated from St. Barnabas in 1996, I went through a period of about ten years when I got involved in pretty normal activities such as working full time and then getting my own apartment. When I was 23, in 2005, I became very interested in Jesus. This initially led me to start attending various churches (Pentecostal, Baptist, etc.) and even to do a year of studying at Louisville’s own Southern Baptist Seminary. But while I was there, I quickly became interested in Catholicism once again and found myself wanting to really delve into it. I wanted to discover what God was calling me to in my life. After some months of discerning, I began the process of joining seminary for the Archdiocese.
In the fall of 2007, I was accepted into the seminarian formation program and started at Bishop Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis. After completing my Bachelor’s in Philosophy, I entered Saint Meinrad Seminary in the fall of 2009. Since that time, I have served in some wonderful parishes of the Archdiocese including Good Shepherd in Portland, St. James in Elizabethtown, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Okolona, and St. Francis Xavier/All Saints in Mt. Washington and Taylorsville. It’s been amazing to be in these parishes. Along with these, I also spent a summer working as a chaplain at Kosair Children’s Hospital in downtown Louisville as part of the CPE (Clinical Pastoral Experience) program.
As I write this, I am just a bit over 80 days away from Ordination, along with Deacon Chris Lubecke. I am very grateful and excited each and every day waiting for this wonderful privilege and calling. I look forward to posting again in the near future.
Friday, February 15, 2013
I do not know what the political solution to America’s immigration difficulty is, and I would not even pretend to address that issue in this forum. But God clearly wants us to both care for ourselves, and for one another. I hope that during this Lenten season, we might take some time to prayerfully consider how best to do that.