The Reverend Father Daren J. Zehnle is the Episcopal Master of Ceremonies and the Associate Director of the Office for Vocations for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.
A few days I read an e-mail from the Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Roman Pontiff to the rector of Bishop Simon Brute College Seminary, where the college seminarians study. Several of the seminarians, as I mentioned earlier, are in Rome for Christmas.
The rector had requested that the nine seminarians "attend the Mass." This morning my suspicions after the response to his request were confirmed: they are serving this evening for His Holiness Pope Francis when he celebrates the Christmas Eve Mass.
They are still a bit shell-shocked, but happy and excited, as well.
One might say that's not a bad Christmas present.
When Saint Paul wrote to the early Christians in Corinth, he exhorted them with a brief and profound statement: "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ" (I Corinthians 11:1). So closely did the Apostle to the Gentiles imitate the Lord Jesus that he could rightly say, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). When see in these two sentences that who seeks to imitate the life of Saint Paul will, through imitation, come to imitate Jesus Christ and to become united with him.
This is the theological principle at work whenever Holy Mother Church presents certain lives of the saints to us, whether by means of the liturgical calendar or through another means. We know that Saint Paul is not only follower of the Lord who imitated him to the point of conformity and so others can make his words their own. In this way, we can also imitate Christ by imitating them.
In most every area of life we need guides or models to follow to learn the ropes, as it were. We have teachers and tutors to help us with our academics; we have colleagues who train us in a new position at work; we are friends who teach us new hobbies. The Christian life is no exception.
His Holiness Benedict XVI explained this aspect of life simply and well in his encyclical Spe salvi (Saved by Hope):
Life is like a voyage on the sea of history, often dark and stormy, a voyage in which we watch for the stars that indicate the route. The true stars of our life are the people who have lived good lives. They are lights of hope. Certainly, Jesus Christ is the true light, the sun that has risen above all the shadows of history. But to reach him we also need lights close by—people who shine with his light and so guide us along our way (49).
Each of these lights reflects the light of Jesus Christ, but each one does so with its own subtlety, a point Benedict XVI highlighted in his many catecheses on the saints by concluding them with several things (usually three in number) we can learn to do from each one of their lives.
For this reason, while continually turning our attention to the saints of old, the Church presents new such lights to us and is constantly on the lookout for new lights, as in the person of the Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton.
|A picture on my wall in Rome|
I mention all of this simply because I read a short ago a little article by Dr. C. Vanessa White in U.S. Catholic that serves as a brief introduction to the life of Father Gus in which she mentions she has learned from him:
His sense of hope in the midst of overwhelming challenges has guided me to “keep on keepin’ on” when despair appears to be knocking at my door.
I know very well what she means. Because he was also raised in Quincy, studied in Rome, and served in (what is now) the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois - three things I have in common with him - I find myself frequently calling upon his intercession. I see in Father Tolton what Benedict XVI said about the saints: "The saints were able to make the great journey of human existence in the way that Christ had done before them, because they were brimming with great hope" (Spe salvi, 39).
If you haven't yet found such heavenly light, intercessor, and companion the coming season of Lent would be a perfect time to pick up a book on the lives of the saints. Spend a few minutes each day reading about one or two of their lives and seeing what you might learn from them better imitate Jesus Christ and so become a light for others.
On Sunday Bishop Paprocki will run his nineteenth marathon - this year in St. Louis - to help raise funds for charitable causes. Since 1995, His Excellency has raised more than $330,000 for a variety of causes, including Pro-Life organizations and the Chicago Legal Clinic. This year, he will be running for vocations.
Writing in the Catholic Times, Bishop Paprocki explained the need the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois has for additional funds for the formation of seminarians:
Since my installation as your bishop on June 22, 2010, I have spoken frequently in our parishes and on various other occasions about the need to pray for and promote increased vocations to the priesthood and religious life. God has so far answered our prayers with an increase from 11 seminarians in 2010 to our current number of 25.
While the growing number of candidates for the priesthood is most welcome and needed for the future of the diocese, it also comes with a cost. At the college level the diocese splits the costs of tuition, room and board with the seminarians and their families, giving loans, if needed, that the diocese assumes if the men are ordained priests. At the level of the major seminary, the diocese pays the full tuition, room and board of the seminarians, plus health insurance and a monthly stipend. If you have ever sent a son or daughter to college, you know how expensive higher education is. We are sending 25 of our diocese's sons to college and major seminaries, so you can see that training our future priests needs more than prayers, but some real revenue as well!
Bishop Paprocki invites those who are able and willing to "consider donating a dollar or more per mile to support my 26.2 mile Run for Vocations. If you are able to 'go the extra mile' and underwrite the full cost of one year's education for one of our seminarians, please contact me or our director of vocations, Father Christopher House, by telephone at (217) 698-8500 or by e-mail at ."
Please, pray for our seminarians every day, that will be formed after the heart of Jesus Christ.
On August 15, 2012, thirteen women made their Final Profession and three women made their First Profession in the Community, even as two women entered the Novitiate. Somehow, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George remain one of the best kept secrets in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.
Yesterday, the diocese learned some very good ndews in regard to their community: three women entered the Community as Postulants last week, four entered this week, one will enter this week, and there are several more women who will enter as Postulants before the end of the year.
The Holy Spirit is moving in the hearts of the young people of this Diocese and across the country in very clear ways; we have seen this also in the increasing numbers of our seminarians.
Let us continue to pray that more young men and women will continue to respond with courageous and generous love to the call of the Lord to dedicate themselves to his service.
On Wednesday I traveled with Bishop Paprocki to St. Anthony Hospital in Alton for a Mass and luncheon with the Serra Vocations Club of Madison County. The Serra Club meets at the hospital the second Wednesday of every month, beginning with Mass at 12:05 p.m. If you are in the area and would like to join the Serra Club, I will be happy to put you in contact with the group.
The chapel, I was very happy to see, was filled both with members of the laity and with the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George. The fourth degree of the Knights of Columbus provided an honor guard for the Bishop, who was assisted by two deacons. Four priests also concelebrated the Mass the vocations to the priesthood, the diaconate, and the consecrated life.
Bishop Paprocki received a very warm welcome at the luncheon from all in attendance. He used the occasion to speak of the dual importance of prayer and personal invitation in the work of vocations. The group must have enjoyed the Bishop's remarks, which they interrupted with applause at least three times.
As always, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George were very gracious in hosting us.
When the Bishop and I arrived in the Bishop's Conference Room to vest for the Mass, I was surprised to find a small gift for me:
Against my better judgment, I didn't look inside until after the luncheon; one of the Sisters gave me a can of Dr Pepper (I love those Sisters!).
Inside were also two cards from two of the Sisters. The first was from one of the Sister Karolyn, who helped us on the recent Catholic Leadership Institute. I particularly enjoyed the back of the envelope she used:
If you can't make it out, she wrote: "Because otherwise this poor letter never gets good use!"
The second card was from Sr. Alexandra, with whom I have been coordinating for their Feastday celebrations next week:
The next few days for her will be tremendously busy as she sees the final preparations for the Mass in which 13 Sisters will make their final profession, 3 will make their first profession, and two will be received as postulants.
Those making their final profession are:
Those making their first profession are:
Those being received as postulants are:
Please keep these Sisters in your prayers as the continue their retreat leading up to the Feastday on Wednesday, which will be a glorious and happy day!
Prior to the Easter Vigil Saturday night, the deacon, the pastor, and I went out to where the fire would late be lit in the courtyard between the Cathedral and the school. It is a perfect space for the fire and for the congregation to gather around it, but it was rather windy at the time.
We still had just over an hour before the beginning of the mother of all holy vigils, but I wanted to be sure we could move the Paschal Candle into the Cathedral without the blessed flame being blown out by the wind. I suggested that we could have the Bishop light the Paschal Candle and then light a small votive candle that could be shielded more easily and snuck into the vestibule of the Cathedral before the Paschal Candle, just in case we should need it. My idea was nixed.
As I returned to the sacristy pondering the situation and still envisioning the sneaking of a holy flame into the Cathedral, these words ran repeatedly through my mind:
I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor.
Neither the deacon nor the pastor knew the reference, but the servers did and so did the Bishop (who enjoyed it).
The words come, of course, from Gandalf the Grey in J. R. R. Tolkien's great trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. Gandalf speaks the words on the bridge of Khazad-Dûm to the Balrog. He contines, saying to the "dark figure streaming with fire," "You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass."
As the lines ran through my mind again and again,I wondered ifsome connection might be made with the Easter Vigil, so I pulled out my Tolkien books to have a look.
"Anor" is a Sindarin word for the Quenya word for "sun," coming from "Anar." The "Secret Fire" of which Gandalf speaks is the Flame of Anor, which is also called the "Flame Imperishable," the divine life-force of the world and of the universe.
In The Silmarillion, Tolkien describes the coming of the light of Anor:
Then Anar arose in glory, and the first dawn of the sun was like a great fire upon the towers of the Pelóri: the clouds of Middle-earth were kindled, and there was heard the sound of many waterfalls. Then indeed Morgoth was dismayed, and he descended into the uttermost dephs of Angband, and withdrew his servants, sending forth great reek and dark cloud to hide his land from the daystar ([New York: Ballantine Books, 2001], 112).
In Part One of The Book of Lost Tales, we learn that Melko "fared often alone into the dark places and the voids seeking the Secret Fire that giveth Life and Reality (for he had a very hot desire to bring things into being of his own)" ([Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1984], 53). It is this Secret Fire that burns "at the heart of the world" (The Silmarillion, 55).
It is to this Secret Fire that the Order of the Istari (the wizards) gave their obedience and it is this Secret Fire they wield.
Tolkien was, as we know well, a devout Catholic, and his Catholic faith lies as something of a hidden foundation supporting the world of Middle-earth. Consequently, it is right for us to examine the Flame of Anor and to look for possible connections to Christianity.
During the great night of Easter, our attention focuses upon Jesus Christ, whoreferred to himself asthe "light of the world" (John 8:12) and who is symbolized by the light of the Paschal Candle.
Lit from the newly blessed fire which we pray will bestow "upon the faithful the fire of [God's] glory" and incised with the Cross, the Alpha and the Omega, and the calendrical year, and marked by grains of incense symbolic of the stigmata, it is held aloft in procession to "dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds" (Roman Missal, The Easter Vigil in the Holy Night, 10-14).
As he sings the Exultet, the Deacon praises "the power of this night" that "dispels wickedness, washes faults away, restores innocense to the fallen, and joy to mourners, drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty."
This night is embued with such power because it is the night during which Christ rose from the dead and salvation history is brought to its fulfillment. On this night, the Lord Jesus, whom the Exultet calls "the Morning Star who never sets," shows himself to be "the light [that] shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5). Christ is the Flame Imperishable.
What is more, "all things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race" (John 1:3-4). Not only is the Flame Imperishable; Jesus also gives life and reality to the world.
When at last he came into the world and took on our human flesh, "he came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him" (John 1:11). His identity was made secret and not everyone recognized his light.
The connections between Jesus and the Secret Fire are easy enough to make, but what of a possible connection between Gandalf - and, through him, the Order of the Istari - and priests?
Writing to the Corinthians, Saint Paul said, "Thus should one regard us: as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God" (II Corinthians 4:5). A servant must pledge obedience to his master and a steward safeguards what is entrusted to him.
We saw above that Gandalf and the Istari pledged their obedience to the Flame of Anor; before their ordination, priests promise obedience to their Bishop and his successors. At the same time, they promise to be faithful to the teachings and discipline of the Church, which is the Body of Christ. As Saint Paul says, priests are "servants" of the Light of the World.
At the same time Gandalf serves the Secret Fire, he also wields it. The same can be said of priests.
Jesus said, "I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing" (Luke 12:49)! When he wrote to Saint Timothy, Saint Paul urged him, saying,"I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands" (II Timothy 1:6). It is this flame that a priest wields, the Light of Christ himself, which is entrusted to priests at their ordination when the Holy Spirit is called down upon them, the same Spirit who descended upon the Apostles in "tongues as of fire" (Acts 2:3).
Priests wield this gift, this flame, through the Sacraments. Priests are principally ordained to celebrate the Eucharist and to hear confessions and absolve sins. These two Sacraments of Eucharist and Penance each "dispels darkness, washes faults away, restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners, drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty," as the Exultet sings of the Light of Christ.
Through his priests, his servants, Christ the Lord "shed[s] his peaceful light on humanity" (Exultet) and those who follow him "will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12).
It seems, then, that when the words of Gandalf came to me quite randomly - "I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor" - I wasn't too far off.
The Quincy Herald-Whig has a good story today on "Austin's Army," a group of retired men in Quincy who see to the physical needs of St. Francis Solanus school in Quincy:
Austin's Army is a group of about 15 retirees who come to the school at 1720 College once a week to tackle whatever fix-it projects need to be done.
These aren't ordinary volunteers, either. In many cases, they are skilled tradesmen willing to lend their expertise at no cost to help keep one of Quincy's Catholic institutions flourishing.
"They have all kinds of skills," Principal Lee Hoffman said. "We've got plumbers, electricians, bricklayers, carpenters and others. It's phenomenal what they have done around here. They do everything."
Every Monday morning, Hoffman produces a list of projects for Austin's Army to carry out that day. The group's leader, Tom Rakers, reviews the list and assigns members to different tasks.
Then everybody gets busy [more].
In my home parish of St. John the Baptist which was about a mile or so away from St. Francis, we had a similar group of retired men who called themselves the Over the Hill Gang. Their service was invaluable!
I haven't encountered such a group outside of Quincy. Do other parishes have similar groups?
Yesterday morning the Bishops and their accompanying priests concelebrated Mass in the Basilica of Saint Peter at the altar at the tomb of the Prince of the Apostles. It was a profoundly moving experience and during the Mass I prayed for my friends and family, for the many people who have asked me to remember them in my prayers here in Rome, and for you, the readers of this blog.
After the Mass we returned for breakfast and the Bishops then left for their meeting with the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization.
The priests and seminarians accompanying the Bishops met up with them after their meeting to go with them to the audience with the Successor of Saint Peter, Pope Benedict XVI to discuss the states of their Dioceses and factors common among the concerns of the Bishops (the Bishops of Wisconsin will meet with the Holy Father tomorrow).
We passed through several magnificent rooms, each one more splendid than the previous one and filled with beautiful furniture, paintings, tapestries and even books. Each room also had a throne for the Holy Father, but each of them were in a somewhat different style. This one is my favorite:
If I ever get to build a church, I'd like to incorporate colors like this into it.
The window looked out toward the Porta Santa Anna and gave an excellent view of the city.
After several minutes passed, we were ushered through two additional rooms where we were given a few brief pointers on how the audience and pictures with the Holy Father would proceed.
Finally, when the Holy Father was ready to receive us, we were brought into the Papal library and were introduced to Pope Benedict XVI. After greeting the Holy Father, we posed for a picture before he gave us a rosary.
Pope Benedict XVI is a small man and his age is beginning to show. Still, his smile - which is not always captured on film - is genuine and his interest in those he meets is sincere.
Afterwards, the priests and seminarians were escorted back to the room in which we had been waiting while the Bishops of Illinois met with His Holiness for about one hour (the Bishops of Indiana met with him after the Bishops of Illinois). When the Bishops emerged from their meeting with the Pope, we returned for lunch.
It was a morning I will not soon forget. Yesterday a great dream was fulfilled and I am deeply grateful.
This was originally posted on Father Daren Zehnle's personal blog on February 8, 2012.
Greetings from the Eternal City!
Today Bishop Paprocki and I arrived in Rome after several setbacks and delays.
As we waited yesterday in the terminal at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, we were happy to see that Their Excellencies the Most Reverend Joseph L. Imesch, Bishop Emeritus of Joliet, and the Most Reverend Dale J. Melczak, Bishop of Gary were also on our flight.
Everything seemed in order until it was announced our flight was delayed thirty minutes because of a mechanical difficulty. After the thirty minutes were up, it was announced that the plane on which we were to fly was unserviceable. We were placed on a later flight in a different terminal to make our connecting flight to Rome. However, that second flight was also delayed and we missed the first connecting flight upon landing, and the next flight, as well, because we didn't make it to the check point in time.
This did afford us a visit with a very kind man who has worked at Heathrow for some sixty years and will only retire when his wife tells him he can. Many years ago he played cricket at the Vatican against a team of priests and monsignors.
As we made our way through the airport we kept asking him which way we needed to go next. He simply repeated, "Just stick with me and you'll get there." He took us through several lines that on our own we could not have used. May the Lord bless us for his kindness!
We did finally manage to board a flight to Rome but as the plane began to taxi down the runway to take off it returned to the gate for another thirty minute delay due to a technical issue. The issue was resolved and finally we arrived in Rome, somehow only five hours later than originally planned.
Since we missed the initial overview meeting for the ad limina, we were briefed during dinner.
Tomorrow the Bishops of Illinois and Indiana will meet with the Holy Father and yours truly will be introduced to Pope Benedict XVI.
Tomorrow afternoon His Eminence Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I., Archbishop of Chicago, will ordain eleven men to the Sacred Order of Deacons in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception at the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary. One of the men to be ordained, Scott Snider, is a seminarian for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.
A former Protestant minister, Scott entered the full communion of the Catholic Church in 2003 with his wife Pam and has been working as a Pastoral Associate at St. Gregory the Great parish in Chicago since 2004.
After Scott completed his studies and formation for the priesthood at Mundelein Seminary, Bishop Paprocki requested the permission of the Holy Father to ordain Scott to the priesthood under what is known as "the pastoral provision."
Last week the Holy Father granted his permission; the timing of the response did not allow time to publicize the announcement.
When Scott learned of the affirmative response of the Holy Father he asked to be ordained by Cardinal George, who was already scheduled to ordain ten men tomorrow to the diaconate; Bishop Paprocki granted his permission.
Please keep Scott in your prayers.
I will attend the ordination and hope to be able to provide a few pictures.