Saturday, September 2, 2017

Thanking God for 10 Years of Joy

with my family shortly after professions
Dear family and friends,

Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of my perpetual profession of vows. That's when I made lifelong vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. It was also the sixteenth anniversary of my first profession.

Joy—that sunny September day in Connecticut—it was a day of pure joy. I had spent the last two years preparing for it. 

“I, Kevin, promise and vow to Almighty God to live in poverty, chastity, and obedience…”

Joy, powerful joy. During the professions mass, I had spied my family out of the corner of my eye—all eight of my brothers and sisters, mom and dad too. I couldn’t help but smile and cry all at once. After the mass, we all just couldn't stop hugging each other and laughing. I remember the bright blue sky and the puffy clouds… and this overwhelming, overpowering sense of joy. I don't think I stopped smiling for a week.

Joy for something many people would think a not-so-joyful occasion. I, along with the young men at my side, was giving up wealth, a wife, and my will after all. Yet we were so happy. I am so happy as I relive it now.  I have been so happy as I have lived my vows these last sixteen years.

visiting Sweet Claude's recently yesterday
Joy too, after the reception when, for the first time, I had donned a “clergyman”, the clerical collar worn outside the seminary. My parents asked me where I wanted to go and my choice was… you guessed it, Sweet Claude’s Ice Cream on Main Street in Cheshire.  My dad still thinks their strawberry is the best in the country, and I must agree. We went there as a family first thing each time I professed my vows, and to this day I consider getting ice cream there something akin to a pilgrimage.

Joy, yes, that's the word. A foretaste of heaven, really. I'm not saying the ride has always been as smooth as Sweet Claude’s Ice Cream, there have been and are tough moments. But that day, this anniversary, the living of these vows… yes, they are joy.

last year at Sweet Claude's
The joy of poverty, not owning anything, but really having everything. At times I’ve had to beg, and the people of God have treated me like their own son. Poverty has not been a lack, it has been fullness, freedom, peace. What do I have to worry about losing if I own nothing? Yes, there are times when I would have loved to have bought even just a cheeseburger from McDonald's, only I didn't have any money. But I have never lacked what I truly needed.

The joy of chastity, perhaps what I thought back then would be the hardest, for I dearly wanted to marry and have a family of my own. But I do have a family now, a family larger than any earthly family. I am a “Father” and my spiritual children number not two, or even ten, but hundreds. I haven't given my heart to any earthly spouse, but a heavenly one, a spouse who never has even so much as a bad hair day!

The joy of obedience, perhaps the vow that demands the most, but also the one that blesses the most. I can't count how many times I came up with what I thought was a great idea, only to have holy obedience stop me from doing something catastrophic. It is hard, but when we are obedient, God replaces our weakness with his strength. It is wisdom, divine wisdom.

Joy, yes, joy. That's the only word language provides that comes close to describing it all. Joy with a capital “J”!
the newly-professed brothers

This morning thirteen young men took their first vows, just like I did sixteen years ago. I was there at the mass, renewing my own vows in my heart as they made theirs. I ask you to pray for them and me, and I will carry all of you in my heart in prayer.

And please share in our Joy!

May God bless you,

Father Kevin

PS: It's so funny, every year we just assume that the day of professions will be a sunny day. Even if the forecast is rainy, we set up our reception outside. And the sun comes! As far back as I remember, there's never been so much as a drop of rain. It's like the heavens are joining us in our joyful celebration. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Being a priest is fun!

What I've been up to - Camp Tekakwitha Girls Camp!
Dear family and friends,

The other day I was celebrating mass at a local parish while outside it rained and thundered. The storm grew steadily in volume until at the consecration, as I held up the host, lightning struck the church and the power went out. We were plunged into complete darkness. Complete, that is, except for the altar, where the candles still glowed undimmed.

There were several gasps from the congregation, and it took my breath away.

After mass, the confession line was extra-long. An hour and a half later, I stood up, hoping confessions were over and I could slip out the back door. Then someone walked in.

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned, it has been… ten years since my last confession.”

Boy was I glad I had stayed!

After that, In walked a little girl.

“How long has it been since your last confession?” I asked.

“This is my first confession,” she said, “and that was the most exciting mass I’ve ever been to!”

“Expect the unexpected,” would be good advice to anyone thinking about becoming a priest!

Another time recently I was running errands and decided to stop inside a parish to go to confession. (priests go to confession too!) The line was huge, wrapping halfway up the side of the church. And there was only one priest hearing confessions.

Noon Mass was due to start when a man came to the lectern. “I’m sorry folks,” he said, “but the other priest hasn’t shown up for mass. I’m going to ask the priest hearing confessions if he wants to do the mass or if we should just have a communion service.”

I had been doing yard work and was wearing shorts and a t-shirt. And I figured all those people needed to go to confession. So I went up to the front and offered to celebrate the mass. The man was overjoyed.

It wasn’t till the gospel that I realized I had only put 20 minutes on the parking meter by my car out front.

So I began my homily with an SOS. Sure enough, some kind soul slipped out and took care of it, because when I finished mass and went to confession and walked out, there were still 20 minutes left on the meter.

Being a priest doesn’t make you any better, or worthier, or holier than anyone else. But it is a great gift, and it certainly is fun!

I just finished the first summer camp I'm helping at this summer, Camp Tekakwitha. It was fun, and then some!

Praying you have a blessed summer!
Leatherworking at Camp Tekakwitha - making mystery bracelets with the girls


Thursday, March 16, 2017

how to become a patron saint

Saint Jose's New Altar
Dear family and friends,

Ever wonder how a saint becomes the “patron saint” of something?

What did Anthony find to become patron saint of lost things? Or Jude, the patron saint of lost causes – what did he lose to claim his title? And Christopher, what feat did he perform to become patron of travelers and athletes?

I’m not sure about all of those saints – though I have my ideas – but I do know about one. In my opinion, he’s the patron saint of opening churches. His name is Saint José Sánchez del Río.
 
our school chapel
You see, I’m chaplain at a catholic school here in Cincinnati. One day almost two years ago, the building inspectors showed up and told us that our chapel wasn’t up to code. They lowered the maximum occupancy of our school chapel from 200+ to 60.

Which meant we couldn’t have all-school masses there anymore.

Mega bummer.

For starters, we’d have to add another exit door. Not only that, but the inspectors informed us we would have to rip down the whole wall behind the altar and replace it with fire-resistant materials. Which would cost us about $33,000 – money we just had sitting around. Right!

Like the people of Israel, we were forced to worship in the desert - in this case, the school auditorium. Ok, well, it wasn’t quite so bad as a desert. But I missed our chapel! As you can see, it’s a beautiful, prayerful place.

Fast forward two years. We had lost our chapel so long ago, that “mass in the auditorium” was now the new normal.
 
outside with new chapel exit door on bottom right by Mary
Then one of the moms at school rallied behind the project. She worked with the city to figure out a way to make the chapel up to code without spending $33,000. She found someone who put in the second exit door on our shoe string budget, and another man who had some extra concrete to pour a ramp up to the door.

So the other day when she told me the inspectors were coming, I hunkered down to pray. And glory be, they moved our occupancy back up to over 200.
 
First Mass back in our Chapel, yours truly loading on the incense
That was at about 10:30am. All school mass is at 2pm on Fridays. So we scrambled to set everything up, and it was beyond-joyful for us to celebrate mass there again. I, for one, felt very much like dancing down the aisle.

And smack dab in the middle of the mass, it struck me: Saint José had worked this miracle. How did I know?
Saint José, the little Mexican martyr I wrote a book (“Blessed José”) about, is one of the patrons of our school. Not only that, but February 10th is his feastday, and our first mass back in our chapel was the first all-school mass after celebrating his feast day as a saint. And there’s more. In the back of the chapel, we have a small side altar. Before, it was dedicated to Saint Miguel Pro – an awesome saint. But as soon as José became a saint, we felt the altar should be dedicated to him – a young saint for a school full of young saints-in-the-making. So two of the faculty swapped out Saint Miguel’s image for Saint José’s. That was early February.

What really struck me was this: if little Saint José is patron of something, what is it? Opening up churches, of course! That’s what he gave his life for – to reopen the churches of Mexico. And he had reopened our church! Wow!

So pray to Saint Anthony when you lose something – and he’ll help you find it. Pray to Saint Jude when you feel like a lost cause, and he’ll come through. Pray to Saint Christopher when you’re on a big trip, and he’ll keep you safe. But when your church is closed, be it due to country-wide persecution, or even just fire code, pray to the little fourteen-year-old Mexican boy, José. He’s just getting started

Saint José, pray for us!!!
Father Kevin

PS: You are invited to come to Rome with me December 7-16, all the information is at www.rcpilgrim.org 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

going on the radio


Dear Family and Friends,

Tomorrow (Friday) is the first feast day of Saint José Sánchez del Río, the Mexican boy I wrote my book, “Blessed José”, about.

EWTN radio asked me to go on live tomorrow morning at 6:35am EST to talk about Saint José. Should be fun!


Happy feast of Saint José!
Father Kevin
www.blessedjose.com 



Friday, December 2, 2016

3 Hidden Treasures

My Community - Yours truly, Brother Vinh, Deacon Lucio, Father Louis, Father John, Father Matthew, and Brother Thomas
Dear Family and Friends,

Sometimes the greatest treasures are hidden in plain sight.

Mary's Poinsettia
Take Brother Thomas. A few days ago I had bought a mini poinsettia for the statue of Mary in our chapel. After a few days, it started to wilt. Now I love plants, but they’re often mysterious to me. I water them and they die. I don’t water them and… they die! Then yesterday as I was cooking breakfast out of the corner of my eye I saw brother Thomas carrying the little poinsettia around. He did something by the sink with it, then set it out in the hallway for a little, then a few hours later, there was the poinsettia back by the Blessed Mother, just like new. Now, maybe he made some little side trip to the florist, but I think he actually has some kind of special power over plants. You’d never have thought!


Brother Thomas meets his match
Or Father Louis. We all take turns cooking – and sometimes things turn out better, sometimes worse. I was in a rush the other, so my plan for lunch was to scarf down a sandwich and jump in the car. But as I entered the kitchen, tempting aromas drifted from the pots and pans Father Louis had bubbling on the stovetop. It made me pause. But I still made my sandwich and, after we had prayed, started gulping it down. “Would you like some?” Father Louis asked. He had put together an alfredo shrimp pasta with zucchini and mushrooms and other delicious mystery ingredients inside. I took a little dab on my plate. And then some more. And then some more. Pretty soon I had given up hope of speeding away, and was neck-deep in a plateful of his pasta masterpiece. I canceled my appointment and spent lunch enjoying his good food and the conversation with my brothers.

Father Louis
Or there’s Brother Vinh. I’m running out of hair, but while I still have some, I’m the kind of guy who goes to Great Clips and gets the $10 haircut. Usually I look like a hedgehog for about two weeks afterwards, and then things even out. But Brother Vinh cuts hair. So I asked him the other day to cut mine. He agreed, sat me down, and then went to work. Afterwards I was shocked: gone was the usual itchy-icky-I’d-better-take-a-shower feel! I’m no judge of haircuts, but I got plenty of compliments and definitely skipped the hedgehog stage this time. Brother Vinh’s haircut made me feel good.

Brother Vinh
You see, these men I live with don’t just do work. They pour their hearts into what they do. I’ll never forget the time I asked my mom what her secret was to her always making utterly scrumptious and delicious food. She simply replied: “As I cook, I love everyone who I’m cooking for.” And that’s it! That’s the secret! That’s what makes her food different, as well as Father Louis’, that’s what makes Brother Vinh’s haircuts so different, that’s what makes Brother Thomas caring touch so amazing. Love. I consider myself blessed to have a mother who is so steeped in it, and to have brothers who incarnate it.

Sunday I head to Rome with 13 pilgrims, please send any prayer intentions you may have my way.

Also, as Christmas approaches I wanted to let you know my own needs, in case you feel called to support me. Would you be willing to help my ministry? I receive a part-time salary ($12,000), which pays for a little over half of my yearly expenses. Healthcare, transportation, clothes, food, and other supplies cost me about $22,000 a year. Would you please ask our Lord if he would have you do to support my mission as a priest and missionary?

You can make a tax-deductible donation to my religious community here in Cincinnati via our website http://www.ohiolc.org/donate.html , or send a check to:

LC Pastoral Services
8162 Chestershire Drive
Cincinnati, OH 45241

My Amazon wishlist is here. I can always use Amazon gift cards for books and the like.

I also would like to purchase five bible commentaries for software I use called Verbum. They each cost about $40. You could donate here.

You will be in my prayers this Advent!

God bless you,
Father Kevin

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Padre Pio does it again, and again, and again

Dear family and friends,

So literally minutes after I sent out the last cobblestones about Padre Pio, he did it again.

I was kneeling in our chapel doing night prayers with the other priests. Ever since I wrote a book about a young Mexican Martyr, Blessed José, I’ve had a special devotion to him. When I first started writing the book in 2004, he wasn’t even “Blessed”. Part of my hope in writing his story was to spread word about him and maybe help in the push for him to be canonized – named a “Saint”. But that seemed like such a huge hurdle, that I didn’t really think it would happen.

Fast forward to last January, when Pope Francis suddenly announced that he would canonize Blessed José.

He set the canonization for October 16th.

Guess who really really really wanted to go?

But I’m a religious, took a vow of obedience, so I can’t just up and decide to go to Rome. I had to ask for permission.

With the date getting close, this last week was painful. I hadn’t heard anything either way. I kind of assumed it was a no-go.

So I’m kneeling there, just having written the story of Padre Pio’s getting me to visit San Giovanni Rotondo, just having reread my journal and realizing that he had given me all the graces I asked him for (like letting my little brother talk), and it hit me like a ton of bricks: I had to ask Padre Pio. To get me to Rome.

And so I did. I told him – and even wrote it down – “Padre Pio, if you obtain for me the grace of visiting Rome for Blessed José, I will do my utmost to visit you!”

Bam. As I wrote those words, I knew he had answered my prayer. Have you ever felt that? I did. I just knew it. I wanted to check my email right then and there… but decided to wait till the next day.

Sure enough, after Breakfast when I opened my inbox, the message was sitting there. “APPROVED”. Hurray!!!

So I’m going! God is so good! And Padre Pio is awesome!  (And I’d better make it over to San Giovanni Rotondo while I’m there :) )


Please let me know if there’s anything you’d like me to pray for during my pilgrimage. 

And may God bless you,
Father Kevin 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Padre Pio does it again

Padre Pio taking the place of Simon of Cyrene in the Stations of the Cross in San Giovanni Rotondo
Dear family and friends,

Not again! Why was someone knocking at my door? Another broken light switch, no doubt. I ignored the knocking and continued my studying.

I was nearing the end of my time in Rome. Electrical work always came easy to me, but my talent had become something of a nuisance as more and more of my fellow seminarians asked me to help them with their electrical woes at all hours of the day. I was studying to become a priest, not a handyman.

And I was focused. I had to pass all my theology exams. And, well, only a week before I had taken store of my time in Rome. I remembered with satisfaction my many visits to Assisi, the home of Saint Francis. And Siena, Saint Catherine’s hilltop hometown. Some dear friends and I had visited Loreto, where the Holy Family’s house was. Monte Cassino and Subiaco had been beautiful, truly Benedictine places. And I had visited every single holy place and Church on my list in Rome many, many times.

Only Padre Pio remained. Back when I first joined the seminary I had read a book about this humble, holy, Capuchin priest who bore the wounds of Christ – the stigmata – in his body. And ever since, I had wanted to visit the town where he had spent the last 52 years of his life. It was called San Giovanni Rotondo, and unlike most of the other holy places I had visited, there was no easy way to get there. It lay on the other side of the snow-capped peaks of the high Appenines, four hours by car, if you were lucky enough to have a car. And I wasn’t.

So I pleaded with Padre Pio, “Come on Padre Pio, get me to San Giovanni.”

I had learned that trick from an old Italian friend in Milan. Whenever she walked by the framed picture of Padre Pio in her house, she showed me how she would grab Padre Pio’s beard and give it a playful shake, telling him, “Don’t forget about us, Padre Pio.”

Fast forward exactly a week after I had made my request to Padre Pio. I had ignored the first knock on my door and continued my studies. Then came a second knock. This one was tenacious!

Reluctantly, I pushed my chair away from the desk and made my way across the room. Ever so slowly, I cracked open my door and peered into the hallway.

And what a surprise, it was Father Timothy, my Vice-Rector.

“Brother Kevin, do you know how to drive manual?” he asked.

I shook my head a little, trying to get my head around his question. “Yes, uh, yes I do,” I replied hesitating, still determined to defend my study time, even if it was the second-in-charge priest asking.

“Father Alex and I had planned a trip to San Giovanni Rotondo, you know, the Shrine of Padre Pio, and the rental car we got is a manual, and neither of us can drive it.”

My head was spinning.

“Can you?” he asked, hopefully.

I moved my lips a little, not believing what I was hearing. I had spent the last five years of my life in Rome, and only now, precisely a week after I had asked Padre Pio, I was being invited on a fluke to visit his shrine! And I had told no one of my request!

“Sure, when do you want to leave?” I asked, hardly believing this was really happening.

“Oh, in ten minutes would be nice,” he replied.
hospital founded by Padre Pio

In ten minutes we were pulling out of the driveway, headed for San Giovanni Rotondo. The drive was beautiful – you spend about half your time in tunnels under the Appenines – and the little town itself was definitely a holy place. I always tell people how much I was shocked by the condition of the hospital there. I had been to many hospitals in Italy, and most left much to be desired. But this hospital, founded by Padre Pio himself, was clean and well-run, and truly cutting-edge.
praying in the crypt church

The same little church where Padre Pio heard up to as many as a hundred confessions a day was there. We visited the choir loft where he received his stigmata, and his monastery room to which hundreds of letters would arrive daily. The new Shrine there was a bit skate-parkish, but the crypt where Padre Pio’s body is was a wonderful place to pray.
visiting Padre Pio's tomb

And mine was a prayer of gratitude. I asked Padre Pio’s blessing on my theology studies, and on my future priesthood.

It pays to have friends in heaven!

Happy Feast of Padre Pio,
Father Kevin


PS: Ok, this might sound crazy, but I just looked at my journal for that day. There I listed the requests I had made of Padre Pio. One of them was that my little brother John Paul would be able to talk. He can now.  I hadn’t even made the connection. Wow! Read about my brother talking here.