Monday, November 25, 2013

Unum est necessarium

Sometimes you begin to wonder - day after day and month after month - what can make sense of our lives…what can make sense of everything. Sometimes if we stop and examine our lives, if we stop long enough to hear the stinging silence we find ourselves confronted by some real questions. Where do we go to satisfy, to find answers? Unum est necessarium – Only one thing is necessary…Faith.

"Here at the altar of Corpus Christi on 09.22.1823
in the early morning was the first Mass of Servant of God
 Frederick Baraga, Missionary Bishop to the Native Americans.
Ven. Bishop Frederick Irenaeus Baraga (1797-1868) took this phrase from the Gospel according to St. Luke (10:42) as his motto when he was made the first bishop of Marquette. I don’t know how many of us are familiar with the life and ministry of this great and heroic pastor who lived and ministered in northern Michigan so many years ago. However, one could surmise that this great pastor was struck to the core by Jesus’ words to Martha in Luke’s Gospel. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Lk 10:41-42). Maybe he heard these words addressed to him or maybe he knew in his heart that Jesus’ was inviting him to go deeper in faith. As he traversed northern Michigan in snow shoes in the dead of winter this phrase must have strengthened him to put one foot in front of the other regardless of any doubt…by the power of faith. Unum est necessarium – Only one thing is necessary.

Main altar of the cathedral where Ven. Baraga was ordained.
Many of us have been moved by the pastoral ministry of Ven. Baraga and left with the question: Where does faith like that come from? So, we decided to go and find out. Msgr. Gallagher, Dcn. Matthew Cowan, Chris Jarvis and I, priest and seminarians of the diocese of Gaylord, decided to make a pilgrimage to end the Year of Faith by going to Slovenia and tracing the footsteps and discovering the roots of Ven. Bishop Baraga. We wanted to set out to not only pray for the diocese, to pray for our new bishop, whomever it may be, but to ask the Lord to strengthen our faith so that we with Ven. Bishop Baraga could say… Unum est necessarium – Only one thing is necessary.

Corpus Christi altar where Ven. Baraga
celebrated his first Mass
We started our pilgrimage setting out from Rome by plane to Trieste in the northeast corner of Italy. From there we drove an hour and a half to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. Msgr. Gallagher has a priest friend from the Vatican who made arrangements for us to stay with the Jesuits in Ljubljana. They were most hospitable. The next morning the four of us celebrated Mass in the small but beautiful chapel of the Jesuit house. Then we walked around the town in the wind and the rain. Just on the natural level, the town was striking. There was an ancient castle built on the hill overlooking the convergence of two rivers. We weaved our way through the cobblestone streets to the largest church in the city town which we discovered was the cathedral of the archdiocese. Ven. Baraga was ordained a priest there on September 22nd 1823, and then the next day he celebrated his first Mass at the Corpus Christi altar which is the first side altar on the left. We stayed there for a while to pray until the sacristan who was busy preparing the church for Sunday jingled his keys and signaled for us that is was time to leave. It was powerful to pray there. It was a real gift to be able to see the place, to be able to pray at the altar where Ven. Baraga was ordained from where his gift of service to God’s people flowed. 

Our Lady of Consolation - Brezje, Slovenia
After visiting the cathedral we walked a few paces to the seminary where we had been invited to have lunch. The rector invited us in, showed us the seminary, and introduced us to the seminarians. A few of the young seminarians spoke to us about their devotion to Ven. Baraga and his example of priestly zeal. Praise God, their seminary is full to the brim.

Bishop Frederic Baraga, missionary among the
Indians in North America was active
in the church as a chaplain
during the following years 1824-1828
After lunch we got back in our tiny Fiat and headed north along the highway. We stopped at two important sites in Baraga’s life: Brezje and Kranj. Brezje is an important pilgrimage site where one finds a beautiful image of Our Lady. You can imagine that Baraga would have stopped there sometime on his travels, maybe when going to Vienna for university. The town of Kranj is where the young Fr. Baraga first served as an associate pastor in St. Martin’s parish from 1824-1828. In the dark and in the rain we managed to find the parish just as the priest was reading the Gospel during Mass. We stayed for the remainder of the Mass. The church was full and the choir was made up of little children singing like angels in the choir loft. It would have been children of that age who Fr. Baraga taught catechism as a young priest. We drove back to Ljubljana and enjoyed a good meal in a quaint mom-and-pop restaurant.

The house where Ven. Baraga was born.
Sunday morning, we celebrated Mass for the Solemnity of Christ the King at the Jesuit’s chapel. Dcn. Cowan served as deacon, which was pretty awesome since he was just so recently ordained. After packing our bags and saying our thanks and goodbyes we went east further into Slovenia. This time we headed out to discover where Ven. Baraga was born. First we went to the village of Trebnje. We’d read that his family, who were of lower nobility, had some sort of castle or villa in Trebnje. It was apparently destroyed in the world wars and the foundation was made into a park and war memorial. However, the parish was still just down the road. Again we stumbled upon a packed church during Mass. 

Statue of Bishop Baraga outside
 the parish church of Trebjne,
While waiting outside we discovered a statue of Baraga and a few other plaques. After Mass I went into the sacristy to talk to the priest. He was older and I doubted he spoke English, but I tried anyways. He didn’t speak English or Italian so we weren't able to communicate very well. However, as a last effort I said. “BARAGA” with a more pure open ‘a’ vowel sound as the Slovenians say it. Sure enough his face lit up and he smiled and responded nodding his head “BARAGA”. Luckily, Msgr. Gallagher came around the corner and tried a few more languages until they spoke to each other in German. He expressed surprise and excitement that we had come from Michigan to Slovenia.

The baptismal font where Ven. Bishop Baraga was baptized
on June 29th, 1797 - the day of his birth.
We loaded back into the car and went five kilometers down the road to Dobrnič. Along the way we saw the childhood home of Baraga where he was born. In Dobrnič we found the church, rebuilt in 1777, where Baraga was washed in the waters of Baptism. In the rite of Baptism, the minister asks the parents, “What do you ask for your child?” and they respond, “Faith”. So there we were. We traced our way back to the very moment where Ven. Baraga was given the supernatural gift of faith in the sacrament of Baptism. From that font the living waters of eternal life flow in the sacrament. From there Ven. Baraga received the gift that made is possible for him to serve God and his people as a pastor of souls and as a missionary in a foreign land and in a foreign tongue. From that gift of Faith he later could hear the verse from the Gospel, “Unum est necessarium” , and know and believe that the one necessary thing in our lives, no matter the hardships, is Jesus Christ. Unum est necessarium

Irenaeus Frederick Baraga born in the castle Malavasi 29.Jun.1797 and baptized the same day in the parish church. After very fulfilling time in Vienna and the seminary in Ljubljana he was ordained a priest on 21.Sept.1823 chaplain in Šmartnem and Metliki. From 1831 he was a missionary to the Ottawa and Ojibwa Indians in Michigan, N. America. He was ordained a bishop on 1.Nov.1853. He fell asleep in the Lord 19.Jan.1868 in Marquette.

Friday, November 15, 2013

I believe...Credo

It is the last few weeks of the Year of Faith, which was announced by Pope Benedict XVI and carried forward by Pope Francis. These last few weeks it may be good to ask ourselves: How has the year born fruit in my life? What graces have I received? How has the Year of Faith prepared me to continue on my journey?

Last Sunday, I had a pretty cool experience. Pope Francis has asked all the parishes of the Diocese of Rome to make an Act of Faith by making a mini-pilgrimage to one of the four major basilicas in Rome and as a parish community profess the Creed. The parish that I help out in went to St. John Lateran, the cathedral of Rome to make their profession of faith. I was impressed by the number of people from the parish who made the trip from Santa Galla parish to St. John's (especially considering it was raining and there was a major soccer game on the TV). 

We all met outside the doors of the cathedral and the pastor explained the significance of what we were doing. The associate pastor began chanting the Litany of Saints as we processed into the church all they way to the main altar. From there we heard a reading from the Gospel, prayed the intercessions, and then together prayed the Apostle's Creed. 

Afterwards the associate pastor led the parishioners on a tour through the basilica. But instead of focusing on the history of the architecture he used passages from scripture to highlight the meaning behind the building itself. 

I was really moved by the experience. It's powerful to profess our One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic faith in one of the most important churches. And to think for everyone else there, they were just a 10 minute bus ride from their local cathedral. One lady even asked me if my cathedral is like theirs. I smiled and said, "It may not be as big or as old as yours, but it sure is important for all of us!" 

The whole thing just highlights the universality and the vibrancy of our faith. God is good!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Barbarati Victores!

The theology house here at the Josephinum has a trivia night every semester, an event usually taken seriously by only a handful of seminarians (and faculty ringers).  The rest us of us play for the fun of it, many with our brothers from our home diocese.  This year, shockingly, diocesan teams dominated the periodic score updates, led by your very own, the Barbarati (Bearded-Ones) of the holy and venerable Diocese of Gaylord.  A one point lead, fiercely defended over the course of the evening turned into a decisive victory in the final round!

The noble few: Rob Pahlkotter. your humble scribe, Brad "the Movie Man" Nursey, Mitch Roman, and Ben Rexroat.