March For Life 2013

I was in the crypt church under the main sanctuary at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. All the deacons were putting on their albs and stoles on one side while the priests and seminarians were vesting on the other side. Basillica 21The beauty of the crypt church was breathtaking, but it was hard to move around due to the large number of people. The anticipation was building as the clock approached 6:30pm to begin the Vigil Mass. The massive organ started playing upstairs and instantly everyone in the crypt church went silent. 500 seminarians lead the procession up the stairs to the main sanctuary. The 80 deacons (myself included) slowly followed behind them but in front of the 395 priests, 42 bishops and 5 cardinals. We were lead up a dark, narrow staircase. I knew the main church would be full of people, but coming up from those stairs into the main sanctuary literally took my breath away. Wall to wall people…

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…all looking at us with smiles on their faces and many with tears in their eyes. As I ascended the steps up to the altar, it felt like I was walking straight up to heaven. The beauty of the high altar…

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…the gorgeous artwork on the walls…

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…and ceiling…

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…along with the 13,000 people singing in unison was a moment I’ll never forget. I couldn’t help but get a little emotional as I tried to take it all in and realized we were all there to show our support to the Gospel of Life.

The next day we started with a Youth Mass at George Mason University. 6,000 people (mostly young adults) packed the Patriot Center…

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…while my favorite musician Matt Maher sang the processional song…

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Although the procession wasn’t as long as the Vigil Mass, it was equally powerful. I’ve never seen so much excitement on the faces of all those young adults at a Mass before. It’s like they knew God had called them to be present at that moment in time to spread the joy of the Gospel to others.

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After Mass, we boarded the bus, got our Chick-Fil-A sandwiches and headed downtown for the March For Life. When the bus arrived downtown, we unloaded and immediately saw a sea of people and pro-life signs everywhere. It was a chaperone’s nightmare to realize I had to keep track of 18 people in a crowd of 650,000! Youth n41Once we got on the street and joined the March, all my fears went away. It was a true moment of joy to join together with so many people for the Pro-Life cause. We slowly, but cheerfully made our way up Capitol Hill to the steps of the Supreme Court with snow blowing in our faces. We then made it back to our bus, headed to the Youth Rally and ended the day with the most powerful Eucharistic Adoration I’ve ever experienced.

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After experiencing such a powerful March For Life pilgrimage, my prayer is that I’ll never have to do it again…because the entire country will catch the passion I shared with so many others on that pilgrimage and we will end abortion forever!

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Watching The Pendulum Swing…

Deacon Brian Wentz, Deacon Tom Kaldy, Fr. Denis Robinson, OSB,and Deacon Michael Lynch

Christ the King Cathedral was the location of the annual diocesan conference on vocations this past Saturday, August 4, 2012. The keynote speaker was the Very Reverend Denis Robinson, OSB who is the president-rector and assistant professor of systematic theology at St. Meinrad Seminary. He also taught one of my deacon formation classes about two years ago. If you ever get a chance to listen to him lecture, GO…you will not be disappointed! His sense of humor definitely can keep anyone’s attention.

The conference gave us a chance to learn and reflect on how can we best support vocations to the priesthood and religious life in our local church. Fr. Denis focused his discussion on the characteristics of those called to the priesthood and religious life in the 21st century. In other words, how do different people think and how does this relate to how they worship.  He broke it down into four different generations: pre-Vatican II, Vatican II, post-Vatican II and Millennials. Each generation had a different “church experience” and processes things in a different way.

The pre-Vatican II group tends to have a lot of visual cues to their worship experience. During that time religious wore habits, the churches were full of stained glass windows, statues and high altars and the clergy had more education than the people sitting in the pews. The Vatican II group experienced a total opposite shift. The habits were tossed out along with the statues, artwork and such. This was done because people didn’t want to be told how to worship because their worship experience occurred mainly in their own mind. Much of the visual stuff that was removed was seen as a distraction. The post-Vatican II generation, unfortunately, had the joy of trying to combine both experiences. However, as Fr. Denis pointed out, what resulted was more of a division. Half the people wanted the visual “traditional” church while the other half wanted the more whitewashed “progressive” church. People during this time were also becoming much more educated on church and religion and often had more education than the pastor. Now enter the Millennials. This younger generation is made up of people who don’t want to be told what to do and how to think. If they don’t agree with something, they tend to leave and join a protestant church. However, the ones still remaining tend to be very passionate and lean towards the visual experience similar to the pre-Vatican group. They are highly educated, very energized about their faith and are the current seminarians of our diocese (your future priests).

Hopefully you’re still with me! Fr. Denis described these different generations or movements as a pendulum swinging. At one point the pendulum is on the far left then it swings to the far right. If you are standing on one side and refuse to budge, the other side seems very far away and scary. Blessed John Henry Newman said, “to live is to change and to grow perfect is to change daily.” We must all be willing to change to some degree. An evolving, changing church is one that is alive! Obviously there are some things that will not and should not change. But we will all get a better church experience when we realize that one group is not more right or wrong than another. They are just different experiences. So matter what side you are on when that pendulum is swinging, remember that the common place for all of us to meet is at the altar of Christ!

Need help discerning your vocation in life? Click here for the Vocations Office!

Catholic Heart Work Camp 2012

I had to sit on a crowded bus filled with teenagers all night long, sleep on an air mattress in a room with smelly teenage boys, eat school cafeteria-style food and work in the hot South Carolina sun for an entire week. However if I had a chance to do it again, I would do it in a heartbeat! I am referring to Catholic Heart Work Camp 2012. I had the joy of taking 13 of the high school students and 3 adults to Hardeeville, South Carolina for a faith-filled and work-filled week. This was my second year going to CHWC and I pray it won’t be my last! As the youth leader, I was proud of every one of the students that represented St. Andrew’s at CHWC. Not one of them complained or slacked on their job sites. The biggest fear of being in charge is having to deal with disciplinary problems and I was thankful to have such a great group of young men and young ladies representing our parish.

The best part of the week from my perspective was watching these young people come out of their shells and get excited to be Catholic as the week went on. When we first arrived, it took awhile to get settled in to our rooms and unpack. Then we had the joy of trying to find out where everything was located (bathrooms, showers with ice cold water, cafeteria and snacks, etc). The first night is every teenager’s favorite part (sarcasm intended)…ICEBREAKERS! All +300 kids were broken up into groups of 6-8 along with 1-2 adults. There were roughly 48 different groups and 1-3 groups per work site. Most of the sites involved painting or cleaning residential houses. We would spend the next 4 days working from the morning until the late afternoon at these sites.

The thing that really made the week special was that every morning we opened with Mass and then ended the day with a program that engaged the teenagers. It really energized you in spite of working in the hot sun. Even the adults leave CHWC with a renewed Catholic spirit. The two most powerful nights were when we had Eucharistic Adoration one night and then Four Corners the next. Adoration was in the gym and all 350 in attendance kneeled in silent prayer around the Eucharist. Hearing the emotion coming from many of the kids made me realize they understood what a special gift we Catholics have in the Eucharist. Four Corners was equally powerful. I had the opportunity to sit down and listen to teenagers pour out their heart to me about their fears and problems and then we just sat there and prayed together for God’s help. Powerful and emotional are the two words that come to mind when I reflect back on those events.

I believe every Catholic youth should participate in something like CHWC. It gets them excited about their faith, makes them appreciate what they have and encourages them to go out and spread the Gospel to others. If all the Catholic teenagers are like the ones I met at CHWC, our Church has a bright future!