Some of you know that I was gone to Cincinnati, Ohio and Covington, Kentucky two weekends ago. I was there as section prior (chaplain) to the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. The Order of the Holy Sepulchre is order of Catholics, rooted in the time of the Crusades, that now provides spiritual and financial support for the Christians in the Holy Land. The Order supports schools, orphanages, hospitals, youth camps, and gives direct assistance to the Patriarch of Jerusalem, providing almost 80% of the income for the Church there, which is crucial, since the Christian population is squeezed between the Muslims and the Jews. The Popes have specifically entrusted us with the duty to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” There are about 30,000 members of the Order in the world and about just under 60 members in our diocese.
The Order of the Holy Sepulchre is primarily a lay association admitting both men and women. Its aims are (1) to strengthen in its members the practice of the Christian life, (2) to sustain and aid the charitable, cultural, and social works and institutions of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, (3) to support the preservation and propagation of the Faith in those lands, and (4) to uphold the rights of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land. The Order is the only lay institution of the Vatican charged with the task of providing for the needs of the Latin Patriarchate (Diocese) of Jerusalem and of all the activities to support the Christian presence in the Holy Land.
In 2016, I was appointed by Bishop William P. Callahan to be a member of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, promising to be a witness to the Faith, to lead a Christian life of continuing charity in support of the Christian communities in the Holy Land, to practice the true charitable commitment of a Christian, as well as to pray for peace in the Holy Land. On October 23, 2016, I was invested as a member of the Order at St. Isaac Jogues Church in Hinsdale, Illinois. Members of the Order—lay men and women and priests—witness to the kingdom of Christ and the spreading of the Church, as well as work for charity with the same profound spirit of faith and love as the medieval knights of old.
Last Spring, Bishop Callahan endorsed my appointment as prior, or chaplain, to members of the Order in our diocese after the death of our previous chaplain, Msgr. Matthew Malnar. I was happy to accept this appointment. On September 25, at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington, Kentucky, I was promoted to the rank of Commander in the Order. The following day, at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Peter in Chains in Cincinnati, new members of the Order were invested by Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee, including our diocesan Vicar General, Father William Dhein. It was a wonderful weekend attending the ceremonies and the annual meeting of the Order. I ask all of you, as Psalm 122 asks: Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem!
I recently came across a little saying online that struck me when I read it. It states: “Having a good day? Thank God for it. Struggling through a bad day? Invite God into it. Just another ‘ordinary’ day? Find God in it. And—every day—praise God, for life is a gift never to be wasted.” When I was ordained a priest, I had a holy card made on the occasion. At the top of the card was a verse from the Book of Hebrews (13:15): Through Jesus then let us continually offer God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips that confess His name.
The notion of a “sacrifice of praise” has always moved me. While in ages past, a sacrifice was usually an animal or sometimes grain or cereal, we do not offer such sacrifices to God. Rather, we offer a “sacrifice of praise”—the sacrifice of our praise to God. As a priest, I pray the Liturgy of the Hours daily (the breviary or Divine Office). The sacrifice is not the slaughter of an animal but rather the sacrifice of my time and the “fruit of my lips” praying the prayers. In all things, we ought to praise God.
This reminds me of the hymn Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow written by the eighteenth-century English Congregational minister and hymn writer Isaac Watts and later adapted by the Anglican Bishop Thomas Ken. Two of the lines in this hymn go along with this notion of offering a sacrifice of praise: To Him shall endless prayer be made and endless praises crown His head. We ought to constantly make prayer to God and praise Him in all things.
Nonetheless, it’s not always easy to praise God at all times. As the saying that I come across online noted: some days are a struggle. Others seem rather ordinary. It might be easy to praise God when things are going well. It can be rather difficult to praise God in the midst of trial and turmoil. Regardless, we are called to praise God in all things and at all times. Why? Because He has made us and He is good. God always wants what is best for us: we cannot always understand why things happen; we cannot always understand why our prayers are not answered in the way we want. And yet we must praise God, just as the hymn says: Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice. Come ye before Him and rejoice!
A priest-friend of mine sent me this anecdote: One Sunday morning after Mass, the pastor noticed young little Alex standing in the foyer of the church staring up at a large plaque. It was engraved with names and small American flags mounted on either side of it. The six-year-old had been staring at the plaque for some time, so the priest walked up, stood beside the little boy, and said quietly, “Good morning, Alex.” “Good morning, Father,” he replied, still focused on the plaque. “Father, what’s this?” he asked. The pastor replied, “Well, son, it’s a memorial to all the men and women who died in the service.” Soberly, they just stood together, staring at the large plaque. Finally, little Alex’s voice, barely audible and trembling with fear, asked: “Which service? The 7:30 or the 10:00?”
I was quite saddened to hear of the August 26th terrorist attack at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan that took place during the US withdrawal and subsequent airlift. During that attack, 11 Marines, one Navy Corpsman and upwards of 70 Afghan citizens lost their lives. I have spent many a day in the cemetery, burying veterans of our nation’s armed forces. I am always moved by the military honors performed in the cemetery. Both of my grandfathers served in the US Army during World War II. We must pray daily for our troops and service personnel, both living and deceased. May those who have lost their lives be given eternal rest.
This reminds me of my favorite painting of St. Francis of Assisi. The painting is titled St. Francis in the Desert and it’s painted by the Italian painter Giovanni Bellini. St. Francis is seen outside of his cave, looking up towards the heavens, perhaps receiving the stigmata. I actually saw this painting in my first-grade religion textbook and was mesmerized by it. I was able to see the original in person at the Frick Collection in New York City. One of the details in this painting is a skull sitting on St. Francis’ desk. I was always intrigued by that skull.
A skull sitting on a desk is called a memento mori—“remember death” in Latin. It’s a reminder that one day we all will be called home to God. We know not the day nor the hour. In the crypt chapel of the church of Our Lady of the Conception in Rome, there is a chapel made of hundreds of bones of deceased Capuchin Franciscan friars. The inscription reads: What you are now, we once were; what we are now, you shall be. Those persons who lost their lives in Kabul on August 26th did not know they were to meet God that day. We need to always remember death and live each day as if it’s our last. This is, of course, not easy; but as Christians we strive to live in such a way. While I wouldn’t normally look to Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise for spiritual advice, he does wisely remark: “Better to not know which moment may be your last. Every morsel of your entire being alive to the infinite mystery of it all.”
When I was in college at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, I decided to take a course in Biblical Hebrew as part of my studies as a seminarian. I thought it would be a good thing to be exposed to the original language of the Old Testament of the Bible. I had already taken Latin and I knew I would have to take Greek in the future so when Hebrew opened up, I thought ‘why not?’ and signed up. It was an eye-opening experience.
Biblical Hebrew is a fun language to learn but one that comes with its own set of difficulties. First you have to learn the Hebrew alphabet and then you have to get used to reading right-to-left. Finally, the vowels are written above and below the letters and usually left out altogether! While all this took a while to get used to, I ended up enjoying my study of Hebrew—I did okay on the final exam, thanks to a very large curve on the grading. I decided against taking any further classes but I was thankful for my introduction to Hebrew.
One of the first passages that I was able to translate and really read looking at the Hebrew itself was from our First Reading last weekend, from the Book of Joshua: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” I remember being so happy to be able to read that verse in Hebrew and, somehow, reading it in the original language really made an impression on me. The Hebrew word abad that is translated as “serve” in the verse means “to serve, to work, or to labor.”
A nineteenth century commentary on the Bible remarks on Joshua’s command to choose which gods they will serve. It says, “Here speaks the sturdy old warrior, who had led them to victory in many a battle. He invites them to make their choice between the false worship and the true, between the present and the future, between the indulgence of their lusts and the approval of their conscience.” But what about Joshua and his house? “But as for himself, his choice is already made. No desire to stand well with the children of Israel obscures the clearness of his vision. No temptations of this lower world pervert his sense of truth. The experience of a life spent in His service has convinced him that God is the true God. And from that conviction he does not intend to swerve.”
Joshua says that “he and his house” will serve the Lord. Yet in the genealogy present in the First Book of Chronicles, Joshua’s name is the last in his own line. It only makes sense when we read it together with Hebrews 3:6 which states that we are God’s house. When Joshua says that he and his house will serve the Lord, he is speaking for us too—in a way, the house of Joshua embraces all the faithful servants of the Lord. Remember that abad means “to serve, to work, to labor.”
That old commentary on the Bible goes on and says, “In days when faith is weak and compromise has become general, when the sense of duty is slight or the definitions of duty vague, it is well that the spirit of Joshua should be displayed among the leaders in Israel, and that there should be those who will take their stand boldly upon the declaration: ‘But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.’” Times haven’t changed much since Joshua’s time, have they? Let us serve the Lord!