Storm Journal – Grace in the Storm

It’s not lost on me that I started out my seminary semester last year driving to Louisiana to help with flood victims a state over (I wrote about that here: http://colbyjackson.me/baton-rouge-mission/). A year later I’m doing the exact same thing in my own backyard.

One of the most moving experiences of last year was the generosity of the people we served. In particular, the grandmother who refused to let us leave without a gift. Laura and I both left with blankets handmade by Granny. Her house still had water in it, but she sent us away with her work of her own hand. I still use the blanket daily and it reminds me to pray for the people who were, and still are, affected by the tragedy.

So, yesterday I had the most surreal, grace-filled experience. Laura texted me earlier in the morning and mentioned that she was going to give the blanket away to help these new flood victims in Houston – “I’m about to give away our flood blanket from the little old lady… I wonder where it will end up… I hope someone else appreciates it.”

So it’s 4am, I’m working at the evacuee shelter, and I see a guy walk in front of my food table with a blanket wrapped around his shoulders. “Not possible!” I’m thinking to myself, while I run to chase him down.

I ask and he tells me that he arrived at the shelter late at night and they gave him that blanket. “I know lots of other people didn’t get one, so I’m glad this is super warm.” On closer inspection, I confirmed that it was the exact blanket that Laura gave away earlier in the day. So we talked for a while, I told him the story, and he was overwhelmed and incredibly gracious. These things don’t just happen. Moments of grace are meant to be shared, to rejoice, inspire and teach.

Storm joy

Jim

This is Jim. Jim’s house is flooded and he was evacuated with no belongings. He arrived at the convention center with nothing and is going to spend an unforeseen amount of time in a building with strangers and nothing to do. He (and many others like him) is going to need a lot of support from a lot of people in the upcoming days, weeks, and months.

But, Jim is receiving that support. Jim slept warm last night because one year ago a heart burning with charity and inspired by Dorothy Day’s radical love of neighbor invited me along to drive to another state and help flood victims. He slept warm because those flood victims overflowed with gratitude and gave away a small token of appreciation. He slept warm because one year later that same heart, still burning with charity, gave away a precious gift to help people that needed it more, and because other people were there to receive the gift, sort it, and give it away. From one flood victim to another. Grace upon grace.

When the Church talks about habituated virtue and living a life of conversion, this is exactly what she is talking about. Charity abounds in a grateful heart. You actions – big and small – affect others. The body of Christ is made manifest in human interactions.

Christ’s offering is meant to bring us back together in communion. Thus, holiness is not for you alone. It has an end – lived and rippling out in communities near and far. No man is an island. Praise God for the saints in our midst that continue to inspire me to holiness and greater love for my (literal) neighbor.

Storm Journal: Experience at GRB Shelter

Hurricane Harvey is raging hard and we’re all looking for ways to help. After hearing calls for help on TV a few nights ago (Monday 8/28), I went out with a group of seminarians to volunteer at the Red Cross shelter downtown (George R. Brown Convention Center). It took us 1.5 hours of attempting to drive the 10 miles in the middle of pouting rain, but we managed eventually.

Seminarian, Harvey, Relief

Calm before the storm

 

What did we find:

1. There were an incredibly large amount of people, I’ve heard estimates between 5k-9k, but it was well staffed and organized. No chaos, everyone is calm (relatively given the circumstances). Props to HPD and Red Cross staff for creating a safe environment.

Main Room – People entered in here, picked up clothes and food, then claimed a space.

2. There are an incredible amount of small tasks that need to happen. I served from 10pm-6am. In that time I vacuumed carpet, picked up and took out trash, served food, sorted clothes, made beds for refugees, visited with medical patients, distributed blankets, and simply talked to people as they processed the experience.

3. On top of the stress of not being in your house, it’s doubly difficult to sleep in a room with half-dim lights, people talking, and thousands of strangers all around you. More – we ran out of cots and blankets so lots of people were sleeping on a sheet of cardboard. Watching everyone attempt to sleep away the terror of their past and upcoming days was a sight of marvel. After the initial shock passes, life is going to be terribly difficult when these people are stuck in the shelter for week(s) without anywhere else to go.

One of the 5 “sleeping” halls. If you got there early enough you landed a cot and a blanket.

4. There are people there from all backgrounds and situations.
The stories are endless. Majority boat evacuations. Very few came in cars. Families with boxes of supplies. Families with only a backpack. Poor families. Well-off families. Tons of babies and infants. At one point I saw a girl on a cot with a macbook. This thing cuts across all boundaries.

5. There was an groups of nurses and doctors serving an endless stream of patients with various needs. I spent a lot of time talking with med patients. Those medical personnel are incredible.

A tiny portion of the total food we had ready to give out. MREs for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

A few stories:

  • One couple got on a boat intending to head to the hospital for dialysis. The boat misunderstood and took them to a central location and eventually to the downtown shelter. Their house is fine but they have no way to get back. He just needed a hospital. Still, the doctors at GRB provided the service.
  • One woman was displaced with her daughter and granddaughter. She’s diabetic and hadn’t received insulin in 3 days. The doctors went through her medicine, replaced her stock, and patiently gave ongoing advice.
  • One woman was volunteering because 10 years ago she had been displaced herself in Ike. She was giving in the same way she had received at that time.
  • One 80 year old man in a KofC shirt was pushing himself across the floor in a wheelchair. He couldn’t find his cot, so I pushed him around and we searched the hall. His house was totally underwater, he had to be saved by boat with his wife, and his kids don’t know where he is.We ended up talking about his Knights initiation, “Some things you never forget. I can close my eyes and remember the room… I don’t think I’ll ever forget this either.”
  • One homeless guy was great spirits, “I’m used to this. I sleep outside every night. They’re treating us super well in here.”
  • One guy was visiting on work from London when his temporary apartment flooded. He had nowhere else to go

Overwhelming and humbling. Devastation and hope. Desperation, yet somehow moments of hushed calm and peace.

Prepping for breakfast at 5am. Notice the chairs. Most people in the last halls came late and didn’t get cots. So we made beds out of chairs and cardboard.

Grace:

The psalm from yesterday’s morning prayer could not be more appropriate. Psalm 29 rings out:
“The God of Glory thunders.
In his temple they all cry out: “Glory!”
The Lord sat enthroned over the flood
The Lord sits as king forever.”

Donations and Volunteers:

Honestly, direct money is the best bet. Pick you’re favorite group. It feels impersonal, but its It’s easier for them to buy the goods they need in the moment rather than dedicate space and manpower to sort through donations. Please no more clothes, there’s an overabundance and it’s only taking up space and man hours to sort.
I’m personally recommending Adore Ministries or Catholic Charities of Central Texas.
http://adoreministries.com/harvey/
http://www.ccctx.org/donations-form.html

At the time, Red Cross was taking anyone they could find. Now they’re is turning away unregistered volunteers downtown, but specifically looking for night shifts and people with medical or counseling experience – the grief ministry is very real. I’d recommend trying another shelter in the area, but some of those are hitting volunteer capacity as well. If you can, directly helping a neighbor or friend is always the most effective work. But don’t feel the need to do something immediately. This is going to be a long haul recovery effort.

GRB Clothes Donation Shelter

Clothes mountain

 

My recommendation: Take whatever you want to give away today and store it in a closet – food, paper towels, cheerios, shampoo, towels, etc. In 3 weeks, drive down the street and give it to a random person working on their house. I guarantee they will appreciate it and need it just as much as people do today. Sustained generosity is key.

Seminary during Harvey

This is the first of a series of posts about experiences in Houston during Hurricane Harvey.

1. We’re totally safe at the seminary. Rain was nonstop and heavy, but our buildings are on very high ground and water never came close to the buildings. Most of the roads around us have been un-passable, so we’ve been holed up and waiting. As of Wednesday morning the clouds are gone and sun is up. Pools of water are drying up and the bayou directly behind us is going down. We’re still waiting for the waters to recede before real disaster relief can begin, but we’re preparing for outreach effort.

Water stayed far from the buildings

This was the highest I saw the bayou, its easily 30 feet high right here. But our buildings are another 10 feet up.

 

2. Because we can’t leave, the seminarians of St. Mary’s Seminary spent the entire storm in perpetual eucharistic adoration praying for those suffering around us. This constant vigil will remain until classes resume next week. We collected intentions on our facebook page and received over 60 (last count) replies. I know hundreds of other silent petitions are also being offered. Be assured of our prayers for you – those suffering, those suffering for others suffering, and those trying desperately to help. At one point power went out for about 12 hours, so we continued on in candlelight.

 

Mass by candlelight

 

3. Roads are clearing around us and we’re beginning our outreach. More info to come on my experience at a Red Cross relocation shelter downtown and our seminary effort at a private shelter up the road. More on that to come, but I’d simply like to reassure people that there is a very large group of people working very hard at ground-zero to keep dislocated families safe and comfortable. A lot more help will be needed, but it’s a marathon not a sprint. 

Thanks for all the support. More stories to come.

Priest of Christ, Priest Like Christ

Last night I locked Jesus away. Along with the whole Church, I sat at table with him, partook in the new covenant established in his body and blood (Eucharist), processed with him to the garden, prayed, and kept watch through the night. Then at midnight, as commanded by the Church (delegated to me by my pastor), I took him away and abandoned him in a cell. Literally, I took his body from the altar of adoration, reposed him in a hidden place, turned the key, locked the door, and left him alone. Empty Church, Empty Chapel. Empty Me.

Procession

Procession – (via Aggie Catholic)


That was a reflection from Good Friday morning that I never got around to posting. It was profound enough to inspire a lot of thoughts about the nature of Christ and the nature of priesthood. Here I hope to share some general teachings on the subjects and reflect on the way I’m being challenged to live them out.

On Holy Thursday we celebrate the institution of the priesthood and the Eucharist. If I’m called to be a priest like Christ, it’s important to understand how he lived his priesthood. Who is Jesus? What is a priest? How does it relate to the Eucharist? How do I be a priest like Christ?

The Suffering Servant

Holy Thursday begins the paschal mystery in which Jesus’ true identity comes to be known. People all throughout the Gospels have different answers and opinions to the question, “Who is Jesus?” There is great power in applying Jesus’ questions to ourselves, and Fulton Sheen uses Matthew 16 as a model for us to learn from.  Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do the people say I am?” They respond, “John the Baptist… Elijah… Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (Mt 16:13-14). All incorrect. He asks Peter (and us) “Who do you say that I am?” Peter responds correctly, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Mt 16:15-16). I know I constantly return to this question in prayer and ask God for the grace to affirm Jesus’ identity with conviction.

But, we would be in error to stop there because Jesus doesn’t stop there. After affirming the recognition of his divinity, Jesus continues on and answers his own question. He is not simply the Christ, the God-Man. He is also a man who will “go to Jerusalem, suffer many things from the elders… be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Mt 16:21). Jesus clearly reveals his identity; he is the suffering servant who will be abused and abandoned for the sake of those he comes to serve (see Isaiah 52-53). The Hebrew word ‘doulos’ (servant) refers to a slave. Jesus is one who will toil, serve, do dirty work, and ultimately die. All of this is for the sake of those he loves – each of us.

Suffering Servant

Suffering Servant – (via Aggie Catholic)


Priests Offer Sacrifice. Jesus Offers Himself

Jesus is also a model for priests, but we need some nuance when we say that the Last Supper is the institution of the Priesthood. There have been priests throughout all of history. Most religions have priests of some sort. Classically, a priest is simply “one who offers sacrifice.” All throughout the Old Testament there are priests of foreign gods and Israel had a priesthood in the line of Aaron and Levi. The Levitical priesthood offered sacrifices in the Temple and still existed in Jesus’ time. Jesus did not descend from Levi’s line. His priesthood is something new.

What exactly is new about Jesus and his priesthood? What was instituted? For the sake of reflection today, the most important “new” is the newness in the thing (aka the ’victim’) being offered for sacrifice. Old Testament priests offered lambs, bulls, etc. At a Passover meal, the Jews offer an unblemished lamb as God commanded (see Exodus 12, the first reading at HT Mass).

At the Last Supper, Jesus offers only himself. He says at the offering “this is MY body… this is MY blood.” He himself is the sacrifice being offered up to God. Jesus is both the priest, the one offering sacrifice, and the victim, the one being offered. He gave himself in the Eucharist on Holy Thursday, right before giving himself up to abandonment, loneliness, suffering, and death on Good Friday. His priestly sacrifice consists of the total surrender of self and union with the Father. He let himself be locked away – 2000 years ago and still today. He is a suffering-servant; Priest-Victim.

This is my Body

“Behold the Lamb of God” – (via Aggie Catholic)

Priest Of Christ. Priest Like Christ


“Unlike anyone else, Our Lord came on earth, not to live, but to die. Death for our redemption was the goal of His sojourn here, the gold that he was seeking. He was, therefore, not primarily a teacher, but a Savior. Was not Christ the Priest a Victim? He never offered anything except Himself. So we have a mutilated concept of our priesthood, if we envisage it apart from making ourselves victims in the prolongation of His Incarnation.”
– Fulton Sheen, The Priest is Not His Own

I heard it a few weeks ago, but this understanding of priesthood has deeply affected my understanding of the priesthood I am called to live. Fulton Sheen makes the point that it’s “easy” to be a priest “of Christ”. A priest simply has to be ordained, show up, follow instructions, say the words, and do the actions. A priest “of Christ” can be used by God for sacramental ministry, be an administrator, build buildings, run meetings, etc. He can fulfill all the outward functions without truly sharing the identity of Christ.

Simply being a priest is not the true call. The call is to be a priest “like Christ” – to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and give oneself as a sacrifice for the people of God. This priest sacrifices his freedom, his comfort, his time, and his very self in the service of his flock. A priest like Christ must be a suffering servant; a priest-victim.

In the Mass he offers up the sacrifices of others as he unites them to the one sacrifice of Jesus – “Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God…” In his life he offers himself up as a sacrifice for others. This isn’t so much an external function as an internal disposition. A priest’s deepest identity is to be like Christ and everything else flows from there.

What Sacrifice Am I Offering?

So here I am, preparing myself for Jesus’ priesthood. This idea is one I have been praying about all semester. In seminary we spend a lot of time talking about the things that a priest “does”. We learn that a priest needs to be a good leader, preacher, administrator, teacher, counselor, apologist, etc. and gain the skills necessary to grow in those areas to the best of our ability. All important. All necessary. But not enough.

Before I perform any ministry, run any program, preach any homilies or pay off any debt, it’s essential that I embrace the essential core of what a priest “is”. A priest is one who stands in the place of Christ and offers himself as a sacrifice. He is a suffering-servant; a priest-victim.

I often receive well-intentioned comments from people I meet, “You’re giving up so much. It’s such a sacrifice.” The things they refer to are generally external – money (poverty), family and sex (celibacy), freedom to do what I want (obedience). Those are real and I’ll readily admit that they’re still a bit daunting, but I don’t think they truly encompass the greatest sacrifice a priest makes. Those sacrifices are mostly framed in a passive, negative sense… what I won’t have. In contrast, I’m being challenged to embrace a life of active, positive sacrifice – the willful giving away of myself. That’s a whole different ballgame. It’s surrender, not destruction; a “yes” not a “no”. It’s an absolutely intimidating, but simultaneously thrilling, prospect.

Thrilling? Isn’t self-sacrifice awful? Why on earth would I want to do it?

I suppose in one respect I can simply trust Christ’s words, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24). Beyond that Joseph Ratzinger speaks about the essence of sacrifice being about healing – it transforms my broken self-centeredness into a pure identity. In this sense, the total offering of myself in the “therapy” of sacrifice is what will ultimately allow me the satisfaction entering into communion with others.

“Such sacrifice has nothing to do with destruction. It is an act of new creation, the restoration of creation to its true identity” – Ratzinger, Spirit of the Liturgy

Pray for me?

I have 4 years to go until I’m called to Orders and this change in identity truly occurs, but now is the time to prepare so I can give a free, total, faithful, fruitful “I do” to the Church. My prayer has increasing been focused on asking God to give me the grace to embrace this radical call of self-sacrifice. I pray I will be prepared to embrace the identity of suffering-servant and priest-victim. He let me lock him away; I pray I’ll be ready when he asks the same in return.

“May God, who has begun this good work in you, now bring it to fulfillment”

Renewal of Priestly Promises

Today I had the chance to attend the annual Chrism Mass in the diocese. Every Tuesday of Holy Week the priests of the diocese (100+) gather with the Bishop to renew their priestly promises and receive newly consecrated oils which will be used for annointings and sacraments. This is my first year attending and it brought great consolation to be in the presence of all the priest’s I’ll eventually be serving alongside. It was a powerful ceremony.

 

Chrism Mass Austin 2012

Chrism Mass 2012 (couldn’t find one from today) – Via Diocese of Austin Facebook

The most moving part of the Mass was the renewal of promises. At ordination each priest makes promises of poverty, chastity, and obedience. He gains the right to celebrate sacraments but also incurs the obligation to serve the Church and her people. Ordinations are exciting because you see the starry-eyed guys who’ve spent 7+ years in formation and are eager to “get out there” and get to work for the Kingdom. The zeal and desire is inspiring.

The renewal of vows is inspiring in another way. The priests span the range – old and new. Some priests are there for the 25th time. Some for the first. All have experienced the reality of priestly ministry (As a visiting priest at the seminary recently said – “It’s not a rainbows and waterfalls of grace…. sometimes it’s black and bruising”). These men have seen hard times, fought good fights, endured difficulty, and persevered through it. They’ve moved past the priestly honeymoon and continued in ministry. They’ve celebrated thousands of confessions, marriages, baptisms, and seen many of those people walk away, but they’re not giving up the good fight. They’re publicly declaring that they want to go back into the ring. They went through the ringer last year and showed up today to commit to another one. They’re not committing to an imagined future; they’re committing to a future they know well. That moves me.

More than the eloquent speeches among seminarians, or soaring words of writers, or text of Church documents… seeing these priests united with the Bishop in promises to love the Lord and serve his people was a moment of power. In the seminary we learn a lot of tools and techniques of priestly ministry. Today I witnessed a renewal of the heart of the priesthood – Union with Christ, celebration of Sacraments, and zeal to serve the people of God.

Words have power. They manifest the will and change lives. Priests’ words manifest God’s power in the world – effecting the change of bread into Christ’s body and forgiving sins. Today their words declared to the world that God will provide, His call is real, and they desire to serve Him to the end. I pray for the grace to do the same in the future.

The renewal of Priestly Promises:

Bishop: Beloved sons…
are you resolved to renew
in the presence of your Bishop and God’s holy people,
the promises you once made?

Priests: I Am

Bishop: Are you resolved to be more united with the Lord Jesus
and more closely conformed to him,
denying yourselves and confirming those promises
about sacred duties towards Christ’s Church
which, prompted by love of him,
you willingly and joyfully pledged
on the day of your priestly ordination?

Priests: I Am

Bishop: Are you resolved to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God
in the Holy Eucharist and the other liturgical rites
and to discharge faithfully the sacred office of teaching,
following Christ the Head and Shepherd,
not seeking any gain,
but moved only by zeal for souls?

Priests: I Am


Life Update:

This year, the Seminary released us back to our dioceses for Holy Week. So, I’m back at St. Mary’s Catholic Center for a third round of MC’ing Triduum liturgies. With two years under my belt now, I’m ready to actually offer constructive help. Growth happens in small ways, but I see definite progress when I return more confident to situations I’ve experience before. Apparently something is working.

The Ninth Station – Weakness and Surrender

The Social Media team at St. Mary’s in running a series of reflections on the Station of the Cross. Mine recently went up, so I’m sharing here. The spiritual theme of my semester has been ‘surrender’. God is asking me to surrender, give up control, and draw my strength from Him. The ninth station is an opportunity to reflect on the ways Jesus models this for me.


 

The team has also run a few other videos of me this year. Here’s a brief vocation story and a reflection from Advent.

 

For more media and reflections from seminarians, check out the St. Mary’s Facebook page (link) and Youtube channel (link).