Tag Archives: Ministry

Why My First Funeral as a Pastoral Associate Made Me Nervous


By Brian Romer Niemiec

In the Newton Catholic Collaborative there are between 200 and 250 funerals per year. As a result, it is often the case that one of the pastoral associates will lead the wake service, be present at the Funeral Mass, and lead the service at the cemetery. I have been shadowing my colleagues over the last month, and this past week I was deemed ready and handed my first funeral assignment.

I arrived at the wake service a little nervous and worried about making small talk, and about what I was going to say during the reflection. After all, I’m an introvert. I hate small talk. I’m not good at it and I never will be. What am I supposed to say, “Sorry for your loss, but at least the Patriots won…?” I don’t even route for the Patriots!

But, before I knew it, I was through the door, meeting the family, and starting the prayer service.  As I worked my way through the beginning of the service, I realized that some of the family members had started crying. For some reason the raw human emotion of the moment took me by surprise, and then I started to get really nervous. I had been planning to talk about salvation, resurrection, and all the great cheery theology that we believe in as Catholics during my reflection, but that wasn’t what this family needed. They missed their sister/mother/grandmother.

Continue reading Why My First Funeral as a Pastoral Associate Made Me Nervous


The Catholic Wedding Liturgy: A Sprint Through the Sacrament?

Gang Like A Wedding

**While we’re talking a bit about annulments, it might be fun to talk a bit, as well, about weddings.**

I read an interesting graphic several years ago which noted the steady growth in “inter” marriages across young couples in the US. Differences of creed, race, and ethnicity no longer present the same obstacle to love and life-long commitment they once did. The only outlier in this category, unsurprisingly, was a deep decrease in inter-political marriages. Red and blue, it would seem, mix as well as water and oil. Continue reading The Catholic Wedding Liturgy: A Sprint Through the Sacrament?

CatholicHow Author Featured on FaithND

This was originally posted at FaithND, which provides daily Gospel reflection from Notre Dame alumni.  Check it out and sign up if you’d like!

(Luke 6:12 -19)

**Jesus went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, and James, and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Simon, who was called the Zealot, and Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.**

I often fear for the children that my (non-existent) wife and I have not yet brought into this world. Children imitate their parents. They take on their mannerisms, their habits, and their language. This means I have a lot of cleaning up to do. It means I have to embark on my own journey of imitation—an imitation of Jesus.

This call to imitation, however, does not just apply to my future status as a parent, but as today’s Gospel indicates, to any and all vocations to ministry.

While it is tempting to focus on this “Choosing of the Twelve” scene as the pivotal moment in this Gospel passage, it might be more fruitful focus on the bracketing actions: Jesus praying and Jesus healing.

When we see the choosing of the Twelve in the light of Jesus praying and healing, we realize that Jesus is up to something far greater than simply selecting his followers. He is teaching them, giving them a model for their lives of ministry after he returns to the Father. Jesus’ actions in this Gospel are showing them that they must pray before they serve.

As Luke indicates (and Mark elsewhere), the healing and reconciliation of God’s people has a tangible, draining effect on Jesus: “Power came out from him.” Jesus knows the Twelve will not be exempt from this experience of being drained, nor will any who come after them (I envision a lot of heads nodding here).

Thus, when Jesus calls us to serve, whether as parents, priests, educators, or whatever—he calls to a life like his. He calls us to begin in prayer, to build a real and robust relationship with God. Only then can we bring healing—only then can we ourselves be worth imitating.

Javier Soegaard ‘10

A Response to Self: The First (Practical) Principles of Ministry

First Principles
First Principles

By Javier Soegaard

After editing two lengthy discourses on the heart of ministerial spirituality I thought it would be helpful to respond to myself with a carefully-thought-out take on the First Principles of Ministry:

Dear Speaker,

I thank you for your attempt to unveil some of the spiritual and theological ground that underlies ministry. Prayer is indeed very important.  However, I think your approach might be too divorced from the real, practical world.  Here are some principles that might precede your “praying with” and “praying for” criteria:


Number 1 – Don’t Waste People’s Time: Simon Peter famously said to Jesus, “You have the words of everlasting life.” He did not say, “You have the sermons of everlasting length.” People will rightly disregard our thoughts about the Economy of Salvation unless we ministers employ a proper economy of language. This does not mean our talks, conversations, and homilies must all be cut after 5 minutes.  It does mean, however, we need to be more conscious of our audience when we prepare.  A particular Sunday’s readings only require one homily, not five. Keep it simple and your language will be far more Spirit-filled. Continue reading A Response to Self: The First (Practical) Principles of Ministry

Married with Children…and Ministry

married-with-children1 (1)

By Ellen Romer

Have you checked out Boston Globe’s new all-Catholic-all-the-time new site Crux? More specifically, have you read their piece by the married priest? Well go ahead and read it right now. I’ll wait a minute…

This personal reflection bursts with rich themes – power and authority, responsibility and accountability, faith and conversion, and the role of celibacy in the priesthood. I admit I initially clicked on the headline because a married priest had written it and I find the married/celibate priest conversation fascinating and important. I did not expect to come out of it realizing I have a lot more thinking to do about my own vocation to ministry and to marriage.

Rev. Duncan writes about priesthood and marriage/fatherhood as ‘two all-consuming vocations.’ While he focuses on his vocation of priesthood, I found that a lot of what he said rings true for myself and probably for many lay ministers. Ministry, in all its many forms, can be all-consuming. As I begin my fourth year working and studying at the School of Theology and Ministry, I see over and over again the great passion that lies in our lay and religious students.  The work our students and many others go into is not the kind of work that you can simply leave at work. Beyond explicit ‘church’ jobs, people in many fields – whether medicine, social work, counseling, and others – see their work as a vocation and more than simply a job. When faith deeply affects why and how you do your work, it also affects how you live your life. Little space exists between life at work and life at home; all of it grows out of convictions grounded in faith, remaining ever intertwined.

Continue reading Married with Children…and Ministry

Eucharistic Ministry and Ministerial Spirituality: Part 1


Adapted from a talk given to parish Ministers of Communion.

LUKE 7: 1-10

When he had finished all his words to the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave who was ill and about to die, and he was valuable to him. When he heard about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and save the life of his slave. They approached Jesus and strongly urged him to come, saying, “He deserves to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation and he built the synagogue for us.” And Jesus went with them, but when he was only a short distance from the house, the centurion sent friends to tell him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof. Therefore, I did not consider myself worthy to come to you; but say the word and let my servant be healed. For I too am a person subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him and, turning, said to the crowd following him, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” When the messengers returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

Theologians are fond of petty arguments. Not least among these is the debate whether to use the term Eucharistic Minister for laypersons who distribute Holy Communion, or the more specific, but linguistically clumsy Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. We are not here today to engage or settle this debate. What we are here to do is focus on the common denominator of both of these terms: MINISTER.

No matter what we call it, the Church is very clear about those who distribute Communion at Mass and after Mass to the sick and homebound. They are ministers—not functionaries, not an extra set of helping hands—real life intermediaries for the Almighty: ones through whom God is working and coming to be with His people. Since this is the case it deserves constant reflection, constant prayer, and constant growth on our part in understanding what it is we do as Ministers of Communion. Hence we are here tonight. And I thank you for being here.

(Slightly relevant, self-deprecating anecdote omitted for sake of time/space. Please contact author if you’d like to know more about this middle-school peccadillo.)

Eucharistic Ministry, especially in an American liturgical setting is not an easy task. Well it’s easy to hand people hosts or hand them a chalice, but to do it well—to do it as a minister—requires a tremendous bit of preparation and focus. How many times have we perhaps felt like Holy Gumball Machines?—just dispensing the Lord to whomever waddles their way to us in the Communion conveyer belt. This mindset certainly cannot be what the Church asks of us when we are commissioned to be Ministers of Communion.

Continue reading Eucharistic Ministry and Ministerial Spirituality: Part 1

Guest Post: Of John the Baptist and Theological Education


By Sam Sawyer, SJ

Editor’s Note: These are the notes used by Sam Sawyer, SJ for his homily at the mass he celebrated during orientation for the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.

Without Christ, John the Baptist’s life and death become unintelligible. This is not necessarily a profound observation — all I’m really trying to point out is that calling John the greatest of those born of women, calling him a prophet, and calling him a martyr for truth and justice, all depend on reading his life through the prism of the incarnation, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ. And indeed that is how we read John, as the precursor of Christ in life as in death, in proclamation of the coming kingdom and in martyr’s witness to its cost.

I would like to suggest two points of reflection for us today, about what we may learn for our own discipleship by reading our lives in light of John’s life, this life that is wholly interpreted by and unintelligible without Christ. The first point comes from the intersection of the gospel and current events; the second from the intersection of the first reading and our being here today at orientation for the STM.

At the intersection of the gospel and current events: I don’t know if I have ever really considered what the beheading of John the Baptist must have been like; I think the actual reality, for me, was often whitewashed by the word “martyrdom,” or by the fact that it was simply part of a larger narrative from which we quickly moved on. The past few weeks, however, have made that kind of ignorance of beheading at least temporarily impossible. We’ve all been exposed, if not to the images, then to the description of the images of James Foley being beheaded by ISIS terrorists. And while I don’t want to enter any debate about whether or not James Foley as a man of faith ought also to be considered a martyr, his death has made me take a second look at what we call the passion of John the Baptist. Put simply, this is not a noble death, either in its physical details or in its context. Foley was murdered by terrorists bent on hate whose ideology distorts and defaces their claim to faith in the God of Abraham. John the Baptist was murdered by a two-bit vassal king afraid of his own wife and enthralled with a dancing girl. Not a heroic death, not on its own. And even in the Gospels, it does not by itself achieve anything, except perhaps to show Jesus, in John’s last prophecy, what the proclamation of the kingdom would ultimately demand of him. This death can only be celebrated — as indeed we do celebrate it today and in this Mass — when it is incorporated and redeemed in the death and resurrection of Christ. And while John’s example, and Jesus’, call us to struggle for truth and justice in the world, they call us equally to a profound dependence on God. Truth and justice can be put to death by the powers of the world, and when they are, only God can raise them up again, which is the only way they can ever be fully realized.

Continue reading Guest Post: Of John the Baptist and Theological Education

What We Have Here, Is a Failure to Communicate


By Matt Keppel

The Church of today is one that suffers from maladies spanning a spectrum of finances to scandal to empty pews; problems which cannot be addressed adequately short of a dissertation. Yet one problem which is harped on by pundits, parishioners, and anyone who has one eye on Rome is that of vocations. It is generally accepted as a Catholic’s calling to priesthood and/or religious life (gotta throw a bone to the editor). However, this term “vocation” means so much more than what we give it credit for.

If you ask most Catholics about their vocation, most will get this glassy look in their eye if as though you asked the most hallowed of all questions. The rest will have the fire of a thousand suns in their eyes, which is certainly caused by one or a number of ills. No matter who you ask, it is a topic that is sure to cause a reaction… but should it really? Or, are we actually failing to communicate?

Continue reading What We Have Here, Is a Failure to Communicate

An Ambassador in Chains: The Danger of the Impostor Syndrome


Because so much of my life is centered around writing (I’m an English teacher, graduate student, blogger, etc.), it’s hard to ignore the different responses I have to my different writing milieus.

Writing with my students is easy; let’s face it – they just don’t know any better and there is something liberating about being in front of twenty people who generally believe you are the authority on whatever you’re talking about. We often conduct workshops in class in which we critique each other’s writing and offer suggestions for improvement. My writing is always featured heavily within the students’ as well and the sessions are usually enjoyable and often accompanied by food (which, to be honest, is probably the real source of their joy).

Writing as a graduate student is a little trickier. There’s a different voice, tone, purpose, strategy – the entire endgame is different. Confidence becomes an issue in graduate studies in a different way than it does in my life as a teacher. Am I even remotely close to a “right” idea? Have I researched enough? Have I read enough? Am I going to pass unnoticed through the boundary line of intellectual approval without being found out? It’s this fear of “being found out” that has plagued me through most of my academic career. Come to find out, many others feel the same way and it’s such a big deal that there’s even a Wikipedia page devoted to the “Impostor Syndrome” and the Chronicle of Higher Education featured a piece on the subject just last year. The implications of the Impostor Syndrome are, for me, not very far-reaching, at least in my academic experience, but I bring the issue to light to talk about another way in which the Impostor Syndrome does take hold in a far more dangerous way.

Continue reading An Ambassador in Chains: The Danger of the Impostor Syndrome

The Saviors are Leaving! What do We do Now?

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about Hispanic Ministry in America. After Br. Matt showed me the stats from that post, it is clear that Hispanic Ministry is not nearly as interesting for readers as other subjects I have written on. Well, what can I say, I’m eclectic… But in reality, Hispanic Catholics have been the saviors of the American Church. They stabilize the numbers in the pews, and have resulted in the slight overall increase of Catholics in the U.S., despite the droves of people leaving the Church for other Christian denominations, or for nothing at all.

Since that post, two major studies have been released that narrate a disheartening trend in this segment of American Catholicism. Dr. Hosffman Ospino of Boston College released a study in which he surveyed 4,368 Catholic Parishes regarding Hispanic Ministry. Of the many bright and dark realities that were revealed in this study, two are worth mentioning here:

1)      9 percent of the parishes surveyed thought that the segments of the Latino/a population were fully integrated into the life of the parish community.

2)      Parish communities whose mass attendance is at least 75 percent Latino(a) have an average budget of $404,000, while parishes whose mass attendance is less than 25 percent Latino(a) have an average budget of $870,000.

Continue reading The Saviors are Leaving! What do We do Now?