November is Black Catholic History Month

Time to reflect, learn and celebrate

In my school, we have a small display board dedicated to Black Catholic history. One of the items on the board is the biography of the Pope Victor I. Pope Victor I was the 14th Bishop of Rome and the first from Africa. In fact, there are three popes who are African, the other two being Pope Militiades who reigned from 311 to 314 A.D. and Pope Gelasius who reigned from 492 until 496 A.D. Out of all of the facts on this board, the fact that there have been Black Pontiffs seems to gain the most interest – and sometimes, disbelief.

Black Catholic History in the Archdiocese of Washington

I was blessed to grow up in the Archdiocese of Washington. We have had a strong and vibrant Black Catholic culture here for generations and thus, the  ethnicity of Pope Victor I is not incredible to me. We have parishes dating back to before the Civil War such as St. Augustine Roman Catholic Parish, which was founded in 1858. We have the examples of pioneering Black priests such as Rev. Patrick Healy, SJ (pictured above) who served as the president of Georgetown University from 1874 until 1882. Even the first Black permanent deacons where ordained for the Archdiocese of Washington as part of the inaugural class in early 1970’s. Growing up here, I knew that there had been Popes of African decent, parishes where our culture and style of worship is integrated into the Mass and priests, deacons and religious that continue to serve our community with passion and love.

More to come

For the next few posts, I hope to share some of these facts and stories with you. I may also share how these stories have helped me to celebrate the diversity of the Roman Catholic Church.

Believe in God? You’re never alone!

In downtown Washington, I noticed this sign on the side of a bus stop. It seems that a group of atheists has purchased advertising space throughout the Washington Metro system with this depressing message.

“To spray paint or not to spray paint?”; That was my question.

I had immediate thoughts of how I could possibly blunt this foolish message.  Though I would never actually do such as thing, the use of spray paint came to mind. I was outraged to say the least. But, the most comforting part of my reaction was that I was not alone in my anger.

Don’t believe in Atheists? Join the Club!

I do not exactly have a poker face so my disgust was fairly obvious to others at the bus stop. Immediately, another of my fellow Washingtonians shared his disgust. Soon enough, several people at bus stop were praising God by talking about the ridiculousness of such an ad campaign.  It should be noted that not one atheist was in sight to defend the sign.

“No weapon formed against you shall prosper!” – Isaiah 54:17

Here is the irony. A sign designed to insult our faith in God and turn others further away from Christ prompted a bunch of strangers to share our testimony of the goodness of God. It was almost like we were having church while waiting for a Metro bus. Now, admittedly, most church services don’t start with a deacon exclaiming, “Can you believe this mess?!” but, it was church nonetheless.  This experience was proof to me that God’s prophecy to Isaiah was true – “No weapon formed again you can prosper.  Every tongue you shall prove false that launches an accusation against you. This is the lot of the servants of the LORD, their vindication from me, says the LORD.” – Is 54:17.

The weapon in this case was a sign at a bus stop insulting our faith.  The result was a group of Christians exclaiming their faith.  When something like this happens, how could you NOT believe in God?

The New Evangelization”

The Archbishop of Washington recently released a letter entitled “The New Evangelization.” As the title suggests, it concerns itself with the need to spread our faith as well as strengthen the faith of those who already call themselves Catholic. The need for evangelization takes on a new urgency when one realizes that the enemy is hard at work doing the exact opposite – just read the signs.  And remember, if you don’t believe in God, you are more alone than you think!

Check out Cardinal-designate Wuerl’s letter at

Catholicism is fun

My wife is very much a fan of everything horses. So last weekend, we went to see part of the World Equestrian Games in the horse capital of the world, Lexington, Kentucky. Being a “Horse Capital” Lexington is covered with horse statues decorated with various themes and motifs. It reminded me of the panda bears that dotted Washington a few years ago.

“The Run for the Rosaries”

On Saturday evening on our way out of church, we discovered a horse whose motif was a play on the nickname for the Kentucky Derby. Instead of the “Run for the Roses” this horse was entitled “The Run for the Rosaries.” As you can see from the picture, the horse is decorated with Marian symbols and has an actual rosary painted around its torso. After having seen so many of these horses during the day, this one caught our attention, made us laugh and turned us into obvious picture-taking tourists.

Catholicism is fun

We were so animated in our amusement that two parishioners easily tagged us as tourists.   They were equally amused at our reaction to the artwork. They eagerly explained the history of the painted horses in Lexington and the history of the horse we were admiring. Additionally, they readily admitted that they walk by the horse every week but never really appreciated it. We laughed about the horse and about the pride it showed in our faith as well as their town. In the middle of our conversation one of the two parishioners exclaimed, “You know, Catholicism is a lot of fun, isn’t it?”

If you are Catholic, have a little fun today

I can’t remember that last time I have heard someone describe Catholicism as “fun.” I have heard it described as fulfilling, enduring, influential, essential and even complicated – but fun?
In front of a Catholic Church is Lexington, Kentucky, four Catholics from different parts of the country discovered that Catholicism is indeed fun. This equestrian tribute to Our Lady and her Rosary is a reminder that our faith can bring laughter and joy as readily as it can bring comfort and security.

I pray that you have fun being a Catholic today. My wife and I sure did last week in Kentucky!

I am having a "Fifth Station Moment"

When they led Him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, coming in from the country, and placed on him the cross to carry behind Jesus. – Luke 23:26

Many Catholics have a devotion to a saint or a particular prayer. Over the past ten years or so, I have developed a devotion to the 5th Station of the Cross. In fact, I refuse to have a “bad day.” Rather, I chose to call those times “Fifth Station Moments.”

Simon the Cyrene is pressed into service

The Fifth Station recalls the moment Simon the Cyrenian is pressed into service to carry the Cross of Christ. Simon was a bystander who probably had no interest in helping. In fact, he probably thought of Jesus as a common criminal and was angry when the Roman soldiers forced him to carry the Cross.

At times, we are all pressed into service

I have a special devotion to this station because in my life there are many times I feel like Simon. In others words, there are times when I feel like a relatively innocent man who has unwillingly and unfairly had a Cross thrust upon his shoulders. Sometimes it is the Cross of one of my students, fellow parishioners or teachers. Other times it is the Cross of another member of my family. I have even had a Cross of two that was purposefully thrust upon me by the calculated and sinful actions of another Christian. Finally, I must admit that very often, it may a Cross of my own making that I am forced to carry.

When this happens, I try hard not to lament my circumstances, though I often do exactly that! Rather, through prayer, I try to turn to the Fifth Station and the example of Simon. Simon is mentioned only briefly in Holy Scripture but he is mentioned by name in the three synoptic Gospels. Therefore, his example is worthy of some contemplation.

Simon was clearly a reluctant participant during this pivotal moment in salvation history. If this were not true, he would not had been “pressed” into service. Nonetheless, it is easy to imagine that Simon eventually realized that he had been given a privilege to carry the Cross of Christ. Furthermore, in carrying the Cross he did not walk away or go ahead. He was still following Christ. And, more profoundly, maybe only after Simon recognized Jesus as the Redeemer, Jesus eventually took the Cross back and proceeded up Calvary on his own.

Bad day? No, just a “Fifth Station Moment”

When I am having a “Fifth Station Moment” it helps me to remember that in the end, the Cross is always taken away from me, by God himself no less! I have to bear it for a while but it is Christ alone who died for my sins. He still has the hardest part of the deal. The Fifth Station also helps me to recognize the redemptive power of suffering. Christ said, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” – Luke 14:27.

Let us remember that all of our burdens can and will be carried by Jesus, but only as we too recognize Him as our Savior.

I hope you have a good day today.  But, if not, I pray you have a “Fifth Station Moment” instead.

More on”Spiritual Cross Training”

Getting into Spiritual Shape

About two months ago, I did a blog entry on “spiritual cross training.” I made an analogy between my goal of training for a 5K and training for spiritual fulfillment. I also mentioned that the friend I was training with rarely went to church and when I invited him to a Mass, he went once and commented that it did nothing for him. At that time, I told him, “Neither of us had run a yard in 10 years. What if we tried to run 3 miles in 24 minutes, failed miserably and then concluded ‘running does nothing for me?’” Really, if I haven’t run in years, how can I expect to be able to benefit from the sport in the first workout? Can I run around my neighborhood for five minutes and get on a scale and lament – “I haven’t lost any weight yet!”? I analogized that, “the practice of our faith is a spiritual workout. If you only go to church on Easter and Christmas, how could you possibly expect to be in good spiritual shape? If you don’t make prayer a habit, how can you expect to benefit from the exercise?”

3.1 miles in 36 minutes

Well, yesterday was the race for which we had been training and I am proud of this rather unflattering picture of me approaching the finish line. I am proud because four months ago, I was really out of shape. I was proud that my friend and I stuck to our training. But, I was most proud because one week prior, I had strained my back severely (I am not the twenty-something-blogger named Laura!). My physician said I would be in pain but running wouldn’t exasperate the injury. I was determined to do this race. My friend knew I was in pain as the race started but keep encouraging me to run through the pain.

So that his affliction may glorify God – John 9:1-41

We finished the race – I trailed him by a few minutes and we felt euphoric having finished with respectable times. Since the race was on a Saturday I asked him, “So, what are you doing tomorrow?” hoping the word “church” was somewhere in his answer. Glory to God, he said he was going to Mass adding, “You did not let a lower back strain get in your way, I shouldn’t let a boring homily get in mine.”

Staying motivated

Training for and running in a road race is not always fun. But the reward of crossing the finish line eclipses all of the pain and setbacks. The true reward comes in overcoming all of the obstacles that get in the way, including a lower back strain. Frankly, attending Mass regularly can have its setbacks as well, such as a boring homily or two. But, if you can see past the occasional disappointment, the reward that awaits, namely the worship of God in the form of the Eucharist, certainly eclipses all pain, suffering and sin.

Staying committed

We are now committed enough to running that we have already entered in a race scheduled for September. Next time, our goal is not to simply finish but to improve our time. Let’s pray that my friend finds that same commitment to God‘s command to keep holy the Sabbath. Also pray that he and others who have fallen away from the Church not only attend Mass regularly but that they integrate Christian spirituality into their entire lives, despite an occasional disappointment.

Eucharistic Adoration – It’s not just for Easter anymore

The Gift of the Eucharist

My parish has a gift that I must admit, I never really appreciated until recently. This is how God opened my eyes.

Last month, a young, newly ordained priest was celebrating his first Mass at the parish. I did not know him at all but, he grew up in the parish and was a product of the school there. Therefore, the parish community was very excited for this big event.

So many priests from one parish

One reason for our excitement is that the parish has a reputation for producing vocations to the priesthood. Noting this remarkable characteristic of the parish, this young new priest shared that he is often asked what is it about St. Mark’s in Hyattsville, Maryland that helps so many men find Christ in the priesthood.

His answer was extraordinary. He dutifully cited the school, its teachers, the people of the parish and the many priests that helped him hear that call. However, he pointed out that many parishes have these things and no priestly vocations to show for it. What was the difference then?

“Come worship him”

St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church has an Eucharistic adoration chapel that is open most of the day. Eucharistic Adoration has been a tradition at the parish for many years and this new priest cited its availability as the MAIN source of his vocation.

This is truly the greatest gift God gave us – The real presence of Christ is the Eucharist. Since that testimony, I have found more time to spend in the presence of the Eucharist in our adoration chapel. In the peaceful presence of the Body of Christ, I have found my prayers more fruitful, my problems more conquerable and my faith deepened.

Thank you Father Charles Gallagher for your vocation to the priesthood and for leading at least one deacon closer to Christ in the Eucharist.

Deacons – Heralds of the Gospel!

“Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you have become”  – From the Rite of Ordination of a Deacon

This morning, 20 men were ordained as permanent deacons for the Archdiocese of Washington. Only two years removed from my own ordination to the diaconate, this was my first opportunity to witness a diaconal ordination that wasn’t my own. As these men were called from the congregation, prayed over, made a promise of obedience to the Archbishop and received the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands, I was in a state of perpetual awe and joy.

Though we are clergy in every sense of the word, deacons are not “mini priests.” We have a vocation that is uniquely our own. We are ordained to the service of God’s people rather than to the service of the Sacraments. This is most visibly symbolized by the fact that we wear our stole in such a way to keep our right arm free to serve the people of God.

In most dioceses including Washington, those admitted to the Order of Deacon do so after at least five years of prayer and theological study. However, for these men, the hard work has only begun. Please join me in praying for my brother deacons as they begin their careers as “Heralds of the Gospel”

The Archdiocese of Washington Diaconate Class of 2010

Deacon Alfred Manuel Barros
Deacon Thomas Dwyer
Deacon Dan Finn
Deacon Barry Levy
Deacon Don Longana
Deacon Stephen Maselko
Deacon Albert L. Opdenaker III
Deacon Gerard (Stephane) Philogene
Deacon William (Bill) Stevens
Deacon Brandon Justice
Deacon Patrick Christopher (Chris) Schwartz
Deacon Desider Vikor
Deacon Francis Edward (Ed) Baker, Jr.
Deacon Joel Carpenter
Deacon David Divins
Deacon Richard Dubicki
Deacon Robert Leo Martin
Deacon Ammon Ripple
Deacon Kenneth Lee
Deacon Timothy E. Tilghman

Happy Fathers’Day, Father

As we bring the year of the priest to a close, I wanted to bring to your attention a habit that I have had since I was a child.

Happy Fathers’ Day, Father

On Father’s Day, I make it a point of wishing every priest whom I encounter a Happy Father’s Day. I must admit that I enjoy the mix of reactions I get when I do this. The priests who know me have come to expect it and welcome my lauds with grace. Others – in their humility I suspect – are more reticent to except my compliment because they are not biological fathers.  To these priests, I love explaining the importance of spiritual fatherhood.  Even more remarkable, some parishioners overhear my Father’s Day wish and invariably add their own.

Spiritual Fatherhood

Father’s Day is a wonderful celebration and biological fathers who are faithful to their vocation as parents are certainly deserving of special recognition on this day. However, I submit to you that spiritual fathers – namely our priests and bishops – deserve a thank you as well.

Thank you!

In my life, these men we call priests have been guides, supporters, cheerleaders, teachers, mentors and now, as an adult, friends. I may not go out and get them a card, I may not buy them a gift but, I certainly enjoy wishing them, and all priests and bishops, a Happy Father Day!