Monday, December 30, 2013

baby priest

laying on of hands
Dear Family and Friends,
It’s been about two weeks since ordination. Here is a 3 minute video with highlights from the ceremony.
I want to thank you for your prayers. I really mean that! During the retreat before ordination and during the ordination itself, I felt a tremendous peace, a peace that I knew couldn’t come from my own efforts or merits. So many people had told me that they would be praying for me, and I know that’s where the peace really came from.
I’m still just a baby priest now, but I must say it’s totally incredible holding Jesus in your hands and forgiving sins in his name. I wake up every morning, still sometimes on the wrong side of the bed, but then I think, “Hey, I’m a priest! What a gift!”
Right now I’m in Rolling Prairie, Indiana, at Sacred Heart Apostolic School, a school for boys open to the priesthood. I’ve always loved it here, and it’s great to be back as a priest!
Have a happy new year, and may God bless you!
Father Kevin

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

a priest for ever

with Mom and Dad after the ordination
Dear Family and Friends,

I just made it back to the US and will be spending Christmas in Wisconsin.

Words are just words, and the gift God has given me this Christmas is beyond them. I can only thank Him, thank my family, and thank all of you for your prayers and support.

Know that you will be in my prayers in a special way during midnight mass this evening, and have a very Merry and Blessed Christmas!

God bless you,
Father Kevin

Thursday, December 5, 2013

this is it

Dear Family and Friends,

Tonight we go on retreat. Please blanket all of us 31 deacons with your prayers, especially on the 14th! I will be praying for you.

God bless you,
Deacon Kevin

Thursday, November 28, 2013

back in Rome and all is well

Dear Family and Friends,

Happy Thanksgiving!

It’s great to be back in Rome and in the old stomping grounds. Almost all of my fellow deacons have arrived.

Today the brothers here made pumpkin pie from scratch for all of us – yum! As well – surprise, surprise – we had turkey!

after the football tournament
In the afternoon there was a football tournament. My team was made up of two Mexicans, three Americans, one guy from Vietnam, and one New Zealander. After some pretty tough games, we went undefeated and took away the trophy.

view of some cobblestones and the Pantheon from a religious goods store
I’ve been spending these days zipping around Rome, meeting up with old friends, reserving Churches for masses, looking for a chalice and vestments, and trying out new gelato shops. And praying!

sunset in Saint Peter's Square
Tomorrow begins our “How to be a priest” course. I guess we’ve been learning about that for a long time, but this course is kind of like a very practical review of everything.

Saint Peter's Square today
Then a week from today our 8-day-long silent retreat before ordination starts. Can’t wait!

You are all in my prayers, please keep me in yours.

God bless,
Deacon Kevin

Thursday, November 14, 2013

a month away...

Dear Family and Friends,

Ordination is one month away. Wow!

At my seminary the whole month before an ordination, we all pray a special prayer together. It’s called the “Litany of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim”. Pope John Paul II used to pray it at his seminary too.

Praying this prayer over the years has been a good reality check for me. It’s helped me see that becoming a priest isn’t some kind of promotion, rather it’s signing your life over to the service of God and his people, 24/7. It’s a giving up of your life, a becoming Jesus for those you meet each day. That’s a tall order, certainly, but I trust that God is the One who called me and he knows what he’s doing. He gives the grace that makes you a priest.

The prayer is below, and also attached in leaflet format for printing. I invite you to pray along with me for the 31 of us who will be ordained December 14th!

God bless you!
Deacon Kevin

Litany of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim
 Lord, have mercy
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy
Lord, have mercy.
God our Father in heaven Have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world
God the Holy Spirit
Holy Trinity, one God
Lord Jesus, both priest and victim Have mercy on us.
Lord Jesus, you are a priest forever in the order of
Lord Jesus, the priest sent by God to proclaim the good
news to the poor
Lord Jesus, the priest who, at the Last Supper, instituted the
liturgy of the eternal sacrifice
Lord Jesus, the priest who lives forever to plead on our behalf
Lord Jesus, the high priest anointed by the Father with the
Holy Spirit and power
Lord Jesus, the high priest chosen from among men
Lord Jesus, the high priest made the representative of
humanity before God
Lord Jesus, the high priest of the faith we profess
Lord Jesus, the high priest worthy of greater glory than
Lord Jesus, the high priest of the true tabernacle
Lord Jesus, the high priest of the blessings that were to come
Lord Jesus, the holy, innocent, and undefiled high priest
Lord Jesus, the faithful and merciful high priest
Lord Jesus, the high priest burning with zeal for God and
for souls
Lord Jesus, the high priest made perfect forever
Lord Jesus, the high priest who entered heaven through
your own blood
Lord Jesus, the high priest who opened a new way for us
Lord Jesus, the high priest who loved us and washed away
our sins with your blood
Lord Jesus, the high priest who gave yourself up to God as
offering and victim
Lord Jesus, victim of God and man Have mercy on us.
Lord Jesus, holy and unblemished victim
Lord Jesus, appeasing victim
Lord Jesus, gentle victim
Lord Jesus, victim offered in atonement and praise
Lord Jesus, victim bringing reconciliation
and peace
Lord Jesus, victim giving us confident access to God
Lord Jesus, victim living for ever and ever
From rashly going on to ordination Keep us, Lord.
From the sin of sacrilege
From infidelity to the spirit of priestly celibacy
From using the ministry for sordid personal gain
From the slightest taint of simony
From administering the Church’s goods unworthily
From loving the world and its vanities
From celebrating your mysteries unworthily
Through your eternal priesthood Purify us, Lord.
Through the holy anointing by which God the Father made
you a priest
Through your priestly spirit
Through the ministry by which you glorified your Father
on earth
Through your self-immolation in blood, made once and for
all on the cross
Through that same sacrifice, renewed every day on the altar
Through the divine power that you exercise sacramentally
in your priests

Keep all priests holy and faithful Lord, hear our prayer.
Give your people shepherds after your own heart
Fill them with the spirit of your priesthood
May the lips of your priests preserve the knowledge of
your teaching
Send faithful laborers to your harvest
Increase the number of the trustworthy stewards of your
Help the m to persevere in their service in accordance with
your will
Make the m gentle in ministry, capable in action, and
constant in prayer
Through your priests promote devotion to the Blessed
Sacrament everywhere
Welcome into your joy the priests who have served you well

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world
Have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world
Have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world
Have mercy on us.
Christ, hear us
Christ, hear us.
Lord Jesus, hear our prayer
Lord Jesus, hear our prayer.

V/ Let us pray:
Father, you guard your Church and make her holy.
Through your Spirit, raise up suitable and trustworthy stewards
of your sacred mysteries. Help them, by their example
and ministry, to guide Christ’s people under your protection
on the path to salvation.
Father, while the disciples were offering worship to
the Lord and keeping a fast, you told them to set Barnabas
and Saul apart for the work to which you had called them.
Listen once again to your Church gathered here in prayer,
and since you can read everyone’s heart, show us whom you
have chosen to receive the office of ministry. We ask this
through Christ our Lord.
R/ Amen.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

the eucharist

Dear Family and Friends,

The other day I was assisting as deacon at mass at a local parish. Before communion, I helped the priest divide the communion hosts between all of the vessels so we could give communion to the people. This can be a tricky procedure, because it’s always difficult to transfer the hosts with none falling out of your hands. But usually you just take your time, and there are no problems.

But this mass was different. As soon as we started moving the hosts, one fell to the floor. This is no small matter, since as Catholics we believe that a consecrated host is the body of Christ, as Jesus explained in the Last Supper. Father quickly stooped and picked it up. Then another host fell, and another. I picked up one that rolled behind father and put it back on the altar. “This is getting really hard!” Father said. I agreed. It wasn’t like we were being overhasty or disrespectful. It just seemed that the hosts wanted to roll away for some reason.

Anyway, communion afterwards went as normal. Mass ended, and everyone went there ways. I had to help at another mass, so I sat in the front of the Church to pray a little as I waited.

But I couldn’t really pray and I thought to myself, “I wonder if we found all the hosts. I better double-check.” So I went up and looked around behind the altar. No hosts. I was about to go back to the pew when a little flap of carpet caught my eye. It was a service panel for the microphone. I fidgeted with the handle and managed to pull it up. There, in the bottom of a small electrical box I saw something white covered with dust. I reached down and fished it out. It was a large piece broken from a big host, maybe 2 inches across.

I was kind of flabbergasted. When you find a host like this, there’s a very specific set of rules you’re supposed to follow out of respect for Our Lord. And first I decided to check with Father to see what he wanted to do.

Father raised his eyebrows a lot when I told him my story. As I held the host up for him to see, he raised his eyebrows even more. “That’s the kind of host that was used before I got to this parish,” he said.

It turns out that was over four years ago. The host had been there for at least four years, if not longer.  And it was definitely a consecrated host, because you don’t break the host until after the consecration.

No bugs or mice had gotten to it, miraculously.

It was like Jesus was jumping off the altar so that we’d know he was also trapped in the floor. Like he was saying, "Rescue me!" Wow.

Makes me grateful that he still wants to stay with us even after all he’s been through!

May God bless you, and come into your life,
Deacon Kevin

PS - Here are some photos of the kind of thing I'm doing a good bit of now - running weekend retreats for boys. We had one last weekend at a family's ranch in southern Indiana, and it was a blast. The boys played all kinds of sports, including some we've invented, and there was time for the sacraments and spiritual talks. I love these retreats, not only because I get to play capture the flag, but because you can touch how God works in the lives of these boys. In one of the pictures I'm giving Benediction ( a blessing with the Eucharist) to the boys. It makes me feel so little to be able to serve our great God in this way.
getting to know eachother
tug of war
team pyramids
playing the game of civil war
prayer before benediction
giving benediction

Monday, November 4, 2013

learning to preach

Dear Family and Friends,
This weekend I had the opportunity to preach all four masses at a local parish.
Phew! Four is a lot!
assisting at the 8am mass
But it sure was a learning experience. Preaching in large churches is no easy task – you have to speak slower and louder.
All in all, it made me understand a little what Jesus must have felt like after preaching that Sermon on the Mount of his – tired, but energized too!
Thankfully, there were donuts after each mass. That kept me going.
preaching at the noon mass
Happy feast of Blessed John Paul II. He was such a great gift to all of us. I’m hoping to take a group of fathers and their sons to his canonization (when he becomes a “Saint”) April 27th next year. Can’t wait!
May God bless you,
Deacon Kevin

Monday, October 14, 2013

deacon for the pope... again?

Dear Family and Friends in Christ,

The other day an email caught my attention so much that I just about choked. It was one of the Pope's masters of ceremonies inviting me back to be deacon for Pope Francis again. Wow! What an honor!

the invitation

The only problem was that he was inviting me to be deacon for Pope Francis October 13th. I would have had to fly to Rome and back just for this. Worth it? In my book yes, especially since I had recently received a few airline vouchers that would have just about gotten me there for free.

But before replying immediately with one big "YES!" I double-checked with my Father Superior. You see, 12 years ago I took three vows - poverty, chastity, and obedience. Obedience means that everything I do has to have the blessing of father superior, not because he's better than others but because he represents God for me. That's not the easiest thing to live by, especially in this case. He recommended I just tell the Monsignor that I couldn't help this time and let it go.

The Monsignor who invited me is to the right of Pope Francis
I should have taken his advice right away, and if this were Saint Deacon Kevin McKenzie, I would have. But I didn't send that message for a few days, hoping against hope that he would change his mind, or that another Father would see things otherwise… Until one evening I finally realized that God was really just asking me to let this one go and trust. I felt a wave of peace flow over me as I pressed "send" and saw my reply message disappear.

What was my surprise when a few days later I received another message from Monsignor. In it he asked me to let him know when I get back to Rome so he can propose another date.

I guess this obedience stuff isn't so bad after all, huh? God seems to bless obedience. Even Jesus was obedient. Of course in my case, I've usually fought tooth and nail the whole way through, but once I call "uncle!" and give up, he sends his blessings in abundance.

The ways of God are amazing. I don't know if I'll get to be deacon for the Pope again in the end, we'll see. But I sure am grateful to have been taught this life-lesson.

May God bless you all!
Deacon Kevin
PS - It's exactly 2 months to the day I'll be ordained a priest along with 30 of my classmates. Please say a prayer for us - it's hard to believe it's so close!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Deacon Stoles!

Dear Family and Friends,

One of the hardest parts about being a deacon is finding the right things to wear at mass! Especially the “stole”, a long band of cloth that both priests and deacons wear. Deacons wear it diagonally, but priests wear it draped around the neck. There are always plenty of priests’ stoles lying around in sacristies and churches, but deacons’ stoles are few and far between. Most of the time I just carry a safety pin with me and jerry-rig a deacon stole out of a priest stole.

Deacon Stoles!
Which is what totally surprised me when I was cleaning out the basement of our house in Cincinnati the other day. I found seven stoles tucked away on a hanger. Seven deacon stoles! Wow! Jackpot!
After Mass with one of the stoles
Shortly before leaving Rome, I remember reminding myself, “get some deacon stoles, get some deacon stoles while you can” but I never had the chance. Fast forward a little, and here, in the very place where I was sent, was one of the biggest collections of deacon stoles I’ve found! Red, green purple, white, gold…. You name it. It’s like God was saying, “stop worrying, I’m in charge here!” No more safety pins for me!

Our Cincinnati Community - Deacon Me, Father Timothy, Father Matthew, Father John, and Father Daniel


Some of the stoles appear in the pictures. One of the pictures is of the four priests I live with here in Cincinnati, Fathers Timothy, Matthew, John, and Daniel. There’s also a picture with the altar servers after mass at Royalmont Academy. One of the pictures is of a group of 90 Dads and sons at our recent Father-Son Campout at Camp River Ridge.
With the servers at Royalmont Academy after Mass

At the Father-Son Campout
It’s now about 3 months away from my ordination as a priest December 14th. It’s good to have something to wear in the meantime. You will be in my prayers this weekend!

God bless you,
Deacon Kevin

Thursday, September 5, 2013

more on mass with Pope Francis

Dear Family and Friends,

Directly behind Pope Francis setting his chalice on the altar - it was quite heavy!
I got some more photos from the mass with Pope Francis, and wanted to pass them along. I’ve already told you about meeting him before mass on the 7th, but I’d wanted to tell you about Pope Francis during the mass itself.
I'm the center one of the three deacons in dark green slightly behind and to the left
Like I’d said, before Mass Francis was all joyful and talkative and smiling at everybody. But once the mass started, it was like he became a different man. As we processed in, people were hanging over the rails trying to get a picture or touch the him. But Francis didn’t wave or walk around greeting people like he does out in the square at audiences. He walked straight down the aisle. And once he started the mass, his voice dropped and became quiet, almost “dreamy” I’d say. He spent the rest of the mass like that. When he met you before mass, he looked you right in the eye, but during mass, he was focused on something else. It was as if before when he met you, you were everything for him, but during mass someone else was everything for him, and you were just looking on.

Heaven on earth - kneeling before Peter's tomb, the crucifix, the Eucharist held aloft by the Pope, and in the back the Holy Spirit window - I'm the one in dark green towards the bottom left

During the consecration, I got to do the incense. Six altar boys and I processed to the very middle of the basilica, to directly in front of Saint Peter’s tomb, where we knelt down. When Pope Francis said Jesus’ words: “This is my body… do this in memory of me”, he held up the Eucharist for a good while so that everyone could adore our Savior present in the bread and wine. From where I knelt, the vista was tremendous. I could feel the whole congregation of thousands behind and around me in prayer, everyone hushed in silence. Just a few steps down in front of me rested the bones of the prince of the Apostles, Saint Peter, the rock on which Jesus said he would build his Church. Next in my line of sight was the altar, with the golden crucifix on top. Behind the crucifix was the Holy Father, holding Jesus aloft. Directly behind him was Bernini’s alabaster window of the Holy Spirit, with wings outstretched, encompassing the whole scene. It was more than unearthing. In that moment, as I swung the incense-laden censer before our Lord present in the Eucharist, I realized a few things. First of all, we weren’t adoring the man in white, we were adoring the white host. The Pope is a really important person, we’d even call him Jesus’ vicar on earth, but he’s not God. In John chapter 6, Jesus told us he was the bread of life, and that whoever would eat this bread would live forever, and that this bread is his flesh for the life of the world. The host in the Holy Father’s hands was way more important than the Holy Father himself. We were kneeling because of God present there, not because of the man. Second, like never before I felt united with all of heaven and earth. All the angels and saints are present at every mass, but in Saint Peter’s, at that moment, swinging that censer, the intense reality of it all struck me like an avalanche. And that was the third thing. Each mass is a re-living of Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary. Each mass makes his one sacrifice present again, and makes us present at Calvary. So this tremendous moment I was sharing was not something that would just pass and never come again and which I would just have to be nostalgic about in the future. No. It was, is, something I will live again and again, in every mass I attend, in every mass I assist at as deacon, in every mass I hope to celebrate in the future as a priest, no matter where or when. There is really just one mass. This is all hard to explain, but at every mass ever since that moment under the dome of Saint Peter’s I’ve felt truly present there, “one in spirit” with the Pope and all believers.
Another view during the consecration - I'm the one in green on the bottom right between the 7 altar boys

 Pope Francis only gave communion to us five deacons, and as he gave me communion, I tried to remember, “the important one is in the host”. And it wasn’t hard to remember, because as Francis laid the host on my tongue, he wasn’t looking at me, he was looking at the host, continuing his adoration of Jesus present in the Eucharist.
Receiving Communion

As we processed out, Francis seemed to open up and he greeted the people as he made his way down the aisle. He was his normal cheerful self again.

Reaching for Francis' Hand
I’m so grateful for the chance to have been able to be there and to witness firsthand how our Holy Father celebrates the most important moment of his day, the mass. He’s a great example for future priests, and for every one of us! Let’s all try to live this special moment like it should be lived. Just try it! – try to enter into your own prayerful recollection like our Holy Father does.
Kissing Francis' Hand

I just got back from Cheshire, Connecticut where I assisted as deacon at our professions ceremony. 11 young men took their first vows, and 3 took their perpetual vows. It was quite beautiful to be there in the same spot where I taught CCD for so many years and took my own vows 12 years ago, and to be able to meet so many old friends
Asking him for his blessing

Today is the 19th anniversary of my going off to the seminary. What a leap of faith that was, especially for my parents! (as a twelve-year-old, I just assumed they’d be fine with it!) But I think God knew well why he was moving our hearts, and the experiences of every day just seem to reaffirm for me that I’m right where he wants me.

Enjoy the photos, and God bless you!
Deacon Kevin

Sunday, August 18, 2013

first time as deacon at my home parish

Dear Family and Friends,

Last week I had a wonderful visit with my family back in Missouri. The highlight for me was standing on the other side of the altar at the parish where I was baptized, received my first holy communion, and received my calling: Saint Mary Magdalen in Brentwood. Father Jack Siefert, the Pastor, graciously asked me to assist as deacon at mass and give the homily. It was quite overwhelming – this is the same place where I learned how to be an altar boy way back when (taught by Deacon Lee, who’s still there faithful as ever!). Lots has changed, but the same joyful welcoming spirit pervades the parish, and it’s still the perfect place to pray. After mass, Father Jack organized a brunch in the parish hall, and I got a chance to meet many old friends. It was a joyful Sunday for all of us.

I spent the rest of the time with my family, just visiting with my mom and dad and aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews. We had a blast! Here are some photos.

Being a deacon is as great as ever. It kind of feels like walking in Jesus’ shoes a little – your relations with everyone are changed. Yesterday I got a haircut and the stylist poured out the story of all her woes. Seemed to me a bit like Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well. People really trust you, and it’s not because of you, it’s because you represent Someone else. It’s tough getting my head around that!

You all are in my prayers, enjoy the rest of this beautiful summer!

God bless,
Deacon Kevin

Saturday, August 3, 2013

my new assignment

hockey time
Dear Family and Friends,

I’ve spent the last two weeks holed up in my room, studying for the very last of my exams. It was an oral and written exam on the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and you have to pass it to hear confessions once you’re ordained a priest. They asked me every question in the book, but thankfully the study paid off, and now I am exam-free. Hallelujah! I felt like running off into the sunset afterwards, but instead went to play ice hockey with some old friends. In the photo you see, from right to left, Brother David Barton, who I met on the soccer field in 1995 when he gave me a firm kick to the shin, thus igniting a long friendship. (I still have the bump on my shin!) Then there’s yours truly in gold, followed by Father Daren Weisbrod, who used to be the brother who watched over us back in High School Seminary. He still wields a pretty mean hockey stick, and has lost none of his humor and good cheer. On the far right is Father Jason Huynh. Father Jason and I joined the seminary together in 1994, so needless to say, we’ve been through a lot together. Let me just warn you, in a snowball fight, you don’t want to be against Father Jason!

Father Ronald, Deacon Zachary, Father Juan, Deacon Kevin, and Father Jason during mass at Sacred Heart Apostolic School
I’ve been spending most of my time in Cincinnati, Ohio, where I’ve been assigned for my first three years as a deacon and priest. I’ll be helping out with youth work in the area and at a Catholic school here, Royalmont Academy. I remember back in 2004 when I first came here as a brother and walked into Royalmont, just being overwhelmed by the special something that you breathed there. The students and teachers and parents radiated a joy and peace that made me want to keep coming back. So I’m happy to return, and help in any way I can, first as a deacon, and later as a priest. Back in 2004-2007 I also helped direct weekend retreats for boys at Camp River Ridge near Cincinnati. Each retreat was a combination of sports, crazy competitions, prayer, great food, and fellowship, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed. Being in Rome was awesome, but many times when I was poring over those theology books, I’d get a hankering for a good old game of capture the flag or some of Mrs. Weisbrod’s (She and her husband, Tom, graciously host the retreats) biscuits and gravy. So I’m sure you get the picture: it’s great to be back!!!! I had thought this was the only place they wouldn’t send me, since I had been here before, and so it was a total surprise when I received the assignment. Surprised and overjoyed, those are the two words that describe it best. And grateful to God for bringing me back.

Giving homily August 1st to Mission Corps Missionaries
This afternoon I head over to Saint Louis, Missouri to visit my folks and assist as deacon for the first time at my home parish, Saint Mary Magdalen in Brentwood. Over the years I received all of the greatest gifts of my life there, starting with baptism, then my first holy communion, and my call to be a priest. (not to mention the time I won the cake walk and got to eat a whole cake!) My heart is full of gratitude to God for his guiding hand and protection on this journey, and I pray that he’ll guide me safe and sound to ordination as a priest in December, so I can come back home and celebrate mass in the place where it all started.

Please say a prayer I have a safe drive over, and know that you are in my prayers these days. When I pray the Liturgy of the Hours, there’s a moment for intercessions, and I always toss in a “For everybody who reads those cobblestones message too!”. I was thinking about whether I should change the name “cobblestones” since I’m not in Rome any more, but a friend told me that downtown Cincinnati has some cobblestone streets too, so it will do for the mean time.

Take care and God bless you!
Deacon Kevin

Monday, July 15, 2013

meeting Pope Francis

just as I meet him, about to kiss his ring

after I kiss his ring, making my request - with my intense look!

making my request

Francis' reply

Francis' hand in the air as he's patting my hand

Francis patting my hand

Listening to the Pope!
Dear Family and Friends,

Just a week ago I had the grace to meet Pope Francis. Every time I see the picture it gives me a little shock and I think, “This really happened?” “That’s me!”

After our first practice on Saturday the 6th, they had given us special tickets and told us to meet at the Pieta by 8am the morning of the mass. Nice meeting place! Once all of us deacons and the acolytes were together the morning of the 7th, we had our second and final practice. Then we went back by the Pieta to put on our vestments. I had only been a deacon for a week at the time (and even two weeks now is really just starting!), so I was still trying to figure out how you were supposed to wear everything.

There was a little four-foot-tall nun manning a table with a lot of vestments. Us deacons waited in a line, while the Bishops would come and just grab things, but she fought them off bravely. There were something like 100 deacons all told, but there were two types: “deacons” and “deacons of the Pope”. Somehow, I had made the cut and was one of the five “deacons of the Pope”.(how that happened is another story!) The first vestment she had to give everyone was the alb, the white garment that covers you from neck to feet. She asked each one what type of deacon he was. She quickly handed out  some albs to the “deacons” , but when the five of us “deacons of the Pope” arrived, she stopped for a moment to size each one up. When she came to me she said “155 or 160” – meaning centimeters. She decided on 155 and reached way back on the table and brought out a bag with an alb inside. As she slipped it out and held it up to me, I realized that it was brand new. It was simple yet beautiful, with a special trim on the cuffs and hem. That’s what “deacons of the Pope” wear!

Then another nun herded us over to a large table. It held the “dalmatics”, the vestments deacons have worn for centuries, which originally was the garment Imperial Roman messengers used. But before the dalmatic you have to put on the cincture, a rope belt. Sister wouldn’t let me put it on myself, she insisted on doing it with her own special knot. That was a hard one to get undone later! Then we very carefully put on the heavy green dalmatics. I quickly realized that the gold trim on mine was not your typical imitation gold thread. It was gold, and heavy. Wow. With all the vestments on – cassock, alb, cincture, stole, and dalmatic, I felt wrapped up like I was wearing the cowardly lion costume in the Wizard of Oz.

Once vested, sister shooed us over to behind the protective glass in front of the Pieta. Everyone in Saint Peter’s had started praying the rosary together, and there, in front of Michelangelo’s masterpiece, the five of us deacons and the acolytes prayed along with the Pope’s Master of ceremonies. As we entered, I saw all of the acolytes against the glass, as far from the Pieta as they could be. I thought to m yself, “Kevin, why not?”, and walked right up to the Pieta, maybe 4 feet away. I had seen it once before from up close, but not like this, for twenty minutes. It was marvelous. As we prayed, I spiritually placed each of my family members and friends in our lady’s lap, one by one. When you’re that close to the greatest religious sculpture of all time, praying along with 10,000 people, and about to meet the Pope, praying isn’t all that hard!

After the rosary, we waited there before the Pieta. All of Pope Francis’ vestments were laid out on the altar. I didn’t know where Francis would come from, but everyone’s attention seemed focused on a door to the right of the Pieta. When flashes started coming from within, I figured that Francis was near.

It was 9:18am, 12 minutes before mass, when he appeared. We all formed a kind of horse shoe-shaped semi-circle so that he could greet each one. First he greeted the altar boys, then the acolytes. Then he came to us deacons. The night before I had been wondering if I’d be allowed to say anything to him, and if so, what I’d say. I figured that asking him for his blessing for my family and friends would be the best thing I could do. When he got to me, I kissed his ring and he looked me in the eyes. I said “Santo Padre, su bendición para mi familia y mi sacerdocio”, “Holy Father, may I have your blessing for my family and my future priesthood?” He smiled and patted my hand, saying, “Claro, pues claro que sí,” “Sure, why of course”. That was all.

But goodness, there was a lot more going on in that little room between the Pieta and the Pope. I had thought I’d be tongue tied when Francis came into the room. I mean, he’s the Pope for heaven’s sake! I was expecting my heart to start thudding in my chest, to start sweating, to be struck silent by his presence. But none of that happened. I felt perfectly at peace, not a bit nervous. Francis is not a power-personality. He is what he is, a simple and joyful man. He was in no hurry. My friend Deacon Ricardo talked to him for about a minute, no problem. When you talk to him, it’s as if you are the only person in the world for him. And he doesn’t make you feel scared or overwhelmed, he’s more like a kind uncle with a twinkle in his eye and surprises up his sleeves.

A good friend got me a whole bunch of the pictures of meeting Pope Francis. Here’s the series. After we all greeted him, we went out and got in our places for the procession in. It was just then that I remembered I had a letter I had meant to give to the Pope. It was in my chest pocket, and it took a good bit of wriggling to get my hand past sister’s special knot and grab the envelope. But I managed to reach it, and slipped back by the Pieta. The Pope wasn’t there anymore, but I found his personal secretary, and entrusted my letter to him. I’m sure he’ll give my letter to the Pope. We’ll see what Francis replies!

Right now I’m in Wisconsin with a bunch of brothers and fathers for a week of vacation. This morning we went canoing on Lake Koshkonong, and then we headed over to Culver’s for some ice creamover a game of Monopoly Deal. Great fun!

As I waited yesterday for my connecting flight at Dulles airport, I got a burger at Wendy’s, and it was gloriously good. It’s great being back in the USA.

God bless you all,
Deacon Kevin