Thursday, September 11, 2014

Reflection on Fr. William Carmona's priesthood

I went to San Antonio for Fr. William's ordination with Fr. John Hammond. Actually, he mentioned to me that he was going, and I realized that I could -- should -- go too. Fr. Hammond was ordained this summer in the record setting ordination class of 2014 for the Diocese of Nashville, now up to 10 with the ordination of Fr. William. Fr. Hammond asked me to preach, not at his first Mass but at his second: a Solemn High Mass at St. Mary's. It was a votive Mass of Our Lady. Anyhow, it struck me that the homily that I preached for this Mass of Fr. Hammond, my companion to the ordination, would actually serve just as well as a reflection on Fr. William's priesthood. Here it is in the previous post, if you care to read it.

homily

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

Two days in a row, and I find myself bringing up predestination in a favorable light! Don’t worry, I am certainly no Calvinist, but the theme of predestination is clear in the texts of our Mass. Today’s Mass is a votive of Our Blessed Lady and a Mass of Thanksgiving for the ordination of Fr. John Hammond. Yes, in that order. The fact is that Mary’s Fiat and Fr. Hammond’s Adsum were both predestined by God. They were no surprise to Him, and to the extent that they surprise us betrays the extent to which we are seeing things not as God sees them but as man does.

Things are destined to go well. How else can God’s perfect creation go? And in Mary’s case and so far in Fr. Hammond’s priesthood, they have gone well. Of course, Father hasn’t had much time to mess it up. But even if he has messed it up and even when he will – and he will (That’s one of the heaviest crosses of the priesthood: to mess up God’s work) – we know that all is for good, omnia in bonum. Even the Blessed Mother, although she never sins, seems to need a nudge from God from time to time: those occasions, for example, when she ponders in her heart.

The Lesson at Mass today prefigures of Mary’s predestination, and the Gospel shows it working out practically. God’s “dwelling place” among His people that He has prepared as described in the Lesson is recognized and honored spontaneously by the woman in the Gospel: “Blessed is the womb that bore Thee and the paps that gave thee suck.” Even though this woman in the crowd has rightly recognized Mary as the predestined dwelling place of God, the Lord has to correct her as to why His Mother should be honored.

The woman in the crowd misunderstands Mary’s role in the history of salvation. Or at least she gets it out of order, and that is almost as bad! Fr. Hammond and I had a professor at Sewanee – God rest his soul – who assumed a false and funny modesty in translating references to feminine anatomy that would come up reading Latin poetry. He would refer to the heroine’s or the goddess’s “machinery” rather than to refer to body parts. Well, that is what this woman is praising about Mary: her "machinery," the fact that she physically gave birth to Jesus. Yet that is not what is special about what Mary did. Any woman had the “machinery” for that. Don’t get me wrong: the physical aspects of Mary’s maternity are worthy of honor, but not first. Remember order matters.

The interior is first: “blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it.” Jesus is constantly turning us to the interior. This interior receptivity is what Mary did uniquely, and of course it did have its physical manifestations. The Word actually became flesh in her. Nevertheless, her hearing and keeping the word is primary. And it is for us as well.

Mary had a unique way of hearing and keeping God’s word that was very literal. She actually heard the Ave Maria, and she actually responded Fiat. And it was indeed done unto her according to the Word. There are likewise specific ways that a priest is destined to hear and keep God’s word. The ordination ceremony is full of them! There is most importantly the silent gesture of the laying on of hands. There are the spoken promises. There is also the acquisition of a lot of the “machinery” of the priesthood: the things that can be seen, heard, and touched. The challenge and struggle of the priesthood is to hear and to keep interiorly all of these words and signs of ordination.

The very laying on of hands is the most powerful of these words, although silent. The power of the priesthood is conveyed in this silent word: the power to confect the Holy Eucharist, the power to forgive sins, the power of Holy Anointing, and so much more. These powers sounds like something in a super hero comic book with lightning bolts and other special effects. What keeps them from being something merely flashy is the cross that comes with the power, the requirement to drink from the Chalice from which the Lord Jesus drinks in His Passion. And this was conveyed in Fr. Hammond’s ordination in the very hands that rested on his head, the hands of our beloved Bishop which themselves manifest the burden that he carries for his flock at every moment. Those hands that he painfully flexes again and again so that he can lay them on the heads of those he ordains, so that he can receive from them their vows of obedience. Those hands, said to be healing hands, have reached out as the hands of Jesus Christ to so many in want or need, to so many seeking welcome or encouragement. To make a promise of obedience into such hands demands so much more than accepting one’s assignments. Obedience to such a shepherd requires a very generous heart that does everything to help this shepherd feed and protect his flock.

In his ordination, the priest also promises to be a man of prayer, especially for his people. Certainly he is to do what is expected of him liturgically praying the Divine Office and celebrating the sacraments, but he must pray interiorly until his heart breaks. I have spent most of this month at the Monastery of St. Benedict in Norcia, Italy. Sometimes I despaired of praying in the Basilica of the monastery because there would be so many noisy tourists coming to see the birthplace of Sts. Benedict and Scholastica. Fortunately, there was a small church just around the corner that was open most of the day. I grew very fond of praying there. First, because it was built as a church of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, for whom I have great devotion and whose heart literally exploded with the love of God. It is also dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows – the Adolorata. The image above the altar has, not little daggers, but rather a huge sword piercing Mary’s heart. I don’t know Italian, but I could make out the description of a miracle associated with this image. It seems that at a certain point, the image shed tears, and if that were not good enough, the tears caused miraculous healings. This became for me an image of what the prayer of a priest for his people must be: prayer offered with tears and groans from the heart for healing and salvation of souls, especially those most difficult to reach.

The chalice, paten, and vestments presented to the priest at ordination are definitely the “machinery” of priesthood – as well as so much other fun stuff! It would be impossible to imagine the priesthood without this machinery, in some form or another. They are as essential to priesthood as a womb and breasts are to motherhood, and yet they are secondary. As we uses these vestments and vessels, we are invited as priests to enter in the mystery signified by this “machinery,” the mysteries, for example, described in the vesting prayers: the amice as the helmet of salvation, etc. What we do not see at Mass is, after all, infinitely more important than what we do see. In the best case, what we see leads us beyond itself to what we do not see. With priority on the interiority of priestcraft, we behold the mystery, as St. Thomas so paradoxically has us sing.

As I frequently tell couples on their wedding day, this is a glorious day. But more glorious days are coming. The day, for example, 50 years from now when you will have done these things that you said you were going to do and when you will love each other so much more even than you do today because and not despite the struggles of married life. This is a glorious day for the Church in this Mass, one of the first offered by Fr. John Hammond. We are certainly being drawn into the mystery of our salvation in this Mass. But for Fr. Hammond, even more glorious days are coming, glorious days that are already present to God, that are no mystery to Him although they are to Fr. Hammond. The glory of “saving a thousand souls,” as St. John Vianney said was true of every good priest. The glory of the inexplicable reconciliation of a hardened sinner. The glory of fidelity to prayer. The glory of beginning again in the face of his own human failure or error. Those moments when he is driven inward because no outward explanation remains. It is the only reason for old priests! And finally on that day when perhaps he can do nothing outwardly priestly at all, when all the "equipment" fails, that will be the day when his predestined glory is fulfilled, hidden in the lifeless body of the Lord held by His Blessed and Sorrowful Mother. It will be accomplished.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Fr. William Carmona, RIP

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon him.

Fr. William died this afternoon. There will be a funeral Mass in San Antonio before his remains are taken to Colombia. Details are incomplete at this time.

Fr. William Carmona hangs on

As I understand, Fr. William Carmona is hanging on in a stable but very fragile condition. Please continue to pray for him.

Fr. Ed Steiner, the rector of the Cathedral here in Nashville where I live, pointed out the significance of yesterday's saint: St. Peter Claver. You see, Fr. William is from Colombia originally, and St. Peter Claver is a great saint and patron of that country where he exercised such zeal and charity towards all, especially to the slaves brought from Africa.

In light of this saint's life, I was reflecting further on Fr. William's ordination in San Antonio. I have always been impressed by that city's diversity that seems to work. The ordination was a splendid example of everyone working together for something good and beautiful, in harmony despite lots of differences. There were no turf battles or other signs of pettiness. The hospital administration and the seminary, the Texans and the Tennesseans, the bishop and the archbishop, words in Spanish and in English, faces and hands of many colors, all working for the glory of God and to serve Fr. William. I was struck by the diverse harmony in Fr. William's room following the ordination. The archbishop prayed the prayers of the dying at the invitation of Bishop Choby, songs and prayers were offered mainly by Fr. William's brother seminarians in Spanish and in English, the more demonstrative Latino style mixed with the more restrained Anglo, the spiritual and the human needs of the visitors being catered to by the hospital as Fr. William's medical care continued. It was the way things ought to be...and can be.

Viva San Antonio!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Fr. William Carmona -- My Father!

Yesterday was a beautiful moment of grace as William Carmona was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Choby of Nashville in Christus Santa Rosa Hospital in San Antonio, in the presence of the archbishop of San Antonio, many priests and seminarians, and a surprisingly large congregation. So many things and people had to work together to bring this ordination about. The hospital, in particular, deserves credit for extraordinary efforts to accommodate the ordination and keep Fr. William comfortable. And credit goes to Deacon Jim McKenzie on many fronts. In an amazingly dignified ceremony, given the circumstances, these rites were carried out. Fr. William immediately following the ceremony returned to the ICU where he seemed to take another step in the decline in his health. Thank you for your prayers.

I call William, "my father," because that is how he would always greet me in his enthusiasm. Father, my Father, William, may God speed you on your way!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Prayers for William Carmona

I am breaking my long silence to ask for prayers for William Carmona, a seminarian of the Diocese of Nashville. William is dying of cancer, which was discovered to have spread all over. Bishop Choby has gone to San Antonio, where William has been in the seminary and now is in the hospital in order to ordain William to the priesthood tomorrow, if his health permits. Let us entrust William to the intercession of the Blessed Mother, whose birthday is tomorrow. What a wonderful ordination day.

William spent a time with us here at the Frassati House when I still lived here. He was always so joyful and zealous. Let's pray that he makes it to priesthood -- a priesthood which is forever.

Monday, June 30, 2014

About time

Well, sorry for not posting for so long, and just a heads up that I probably won't be posting much while I am away. I am in Norcia now, a little and ancient -- and beautiful -- city in central Italy. It is not far from Assisi, if that is any help.

Norcia is the birthplace of Sts. Benedict and Scholastica. I am staying at a monastery built over the site of their home. I have friends in the monastery, and it is just the place for peace and good prayer.

My time with the seminarians on the Rome Experience ended well, but Rome was hot. It must be at least 10 degrees cooler here so it is much more pleasant for walks, etc.

Although this is an out of the way place, all kinds of interesting people come through. This will be a good time in many ways. But I think I will not distract myself with posting much. Let's pray for each other!