Exploring the Eastern Catholic Church awakens a vocation to the priesthood

NOTE: This is my front page article in this week’s Catholic Free Press (November 11, 2016).

st-ann-melkite-catholic-church
St. Ann Melkite Church, Waterford, CT.

Dennis McCarthy drove by the same church each day on the way to work in Hartford, CT. The sign read “St. Ann’s Melkite Catholic Church” and it looked like no Catholic Church Mr. McCarthy had seen before.

“[I] always wondered what it was,” said Mr. McCarthy in an email interview. “One Saturday, I was driving by on the way to do some errands, and I saw the priest coming down the driveway to get his mail. I stopped and asked him what a Melkite Church was. He said if I had a few minutes, he would explain and show me the church. He did and he invited me to Liturgy the next day. I went that day and kept going!”

The priest gave a generous gift of his time; the fruit of that gift was a reawakening of a vocation in Mr. McCarthy. He began attending St. Ann’s in 1995 and was ordained a deacon in 2003.

Mr. McCarthy grew up Roman Catholic. He was attracted to the liturgy (called the Divine Liturgy in the Eastern Catholic Church) because it reminded him of his time as an altar boy serving at the Latin mass (especially the high mass) – “it was something that was familiar to me – the incense, the icons. It seemed familiar although it was a completely different rite.”

st-ann-melkite-church-interior

His wife Lisa, also Catholic, was taken aback at first as the Eastern Catholic Church is not well known to Roman Catholics. Mr. McCarthy invited her to come to Divine Liturgy with him as she was curious about it, and she came to understand better her husband’s attraction. “It was an education process,” he said.  They maintain an ‘East-West’ home as Lisa has remained Roman Catholic.

“A priest told me, ‘People pray in different ways, they are comfortable in different rites; there’s nothing wrong with that,’” he said.

Deacon Dennis McCarthy

Mr. McCarthy served for several years in the military before settling in CT. A change of jobs brought him to the Worcester area where he now serves as deacon at Our Lady of Perpetual Help on Hamilton Street in Worcester, MA with the Rev. Paul Frechette.

Deacon Dennis has a BA from the University of Connecticut in Economics, an MA in Human Resources Management from Pepperdine University, a Juris Doctor from the University of Connecticut School of Law, and an MA in Theology from Providence College. He is currently enrolled in an advanced Theology Certificate program at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.

The Eastern Catholic Church contains twenty-three different branches including the Maronite and Melkite communities. The Eparchy of Newton, led for the last five years by Bishop Nicholas Samra, oversees the Melkite Church. The Eastern Church celebrates the liturgy using the Byzantine rite. In 2014 Pope Francis lifted the restriction on Eastern Churches ordaining married men into the priesthood as had always been their tradition. Through aggressive and effective outreach to men, Bishop Nicholas has ordained several priests and deacons: “Eleven priests and eight deacons. Two [are] celibate eparchial priests and one religious. The other eight are married priests,” he said.

Bishop Nicholas, aided by Deacon Dennis, ordains Rich Bailey as subdeacon at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Worcester, MA.
Bishop Nicholas, aided by Deacon Dennis, ordains Rich Bailey as subdeacon at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Worcester, MA.

The Melkite Church is experiencing much growth in the last several years. “Requests for new missions have increased,” said Bishop Nicholas through an email interview. “One of the reasons is the horrific war in Syria and the economic problems of the entire Middle East. We have received many newcomers from the Middle East and we are trying [to] locate as many as possible to keep them attached to their Melkite traditions.”

Many non-Melkites are choosing to join the church because of their attachment to eastern spirituality and liturgy.

As a result of this growth, Bishop Nicholas made an extraordinary appeal to the Pope. “I requested from Pope Francis to name a second cathedral in the USA – the parish church of St. Anne in Los Angeles. He consented graciously and we celebrated this naming with the presence of Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches and delegate of the Pope to proclaim the cathedral.” It is hoped that a second eparchy can be created in California.

Bishop Nicholas Samra celebrates liturgy at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Worcester, MA.
Bishop Nicholas Samra delivers his homily during the Divine Liturgy at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Worcester, MA.

Deacon Dennis McCarthy is part of this growth by making the decision to explore his vocation more deeply.

“I always felt a desire to perhaps be a priest growing up, but focused on other things. The interest was awakened after I had been a part of the St Ann community in Waterford for a few years,” he said.

The priest at the time, the Rev. Damon Geiger (now stationed at St. Jude Melkite Church in Miami), encouraged Mr. McCarthy to consider becoming a deacon. “I was so new I didn’t even know if you could be married and be a deacon. He’s the one who asked me and asked me to pray about it. I talked to my wife about it and decided to try it to see if it was the right thing to do, which it proved to be.”

When the path was opened regarding married priests, Deacon Dennis knew it was time to pursue his vocation as a priest. Bishop Nicholas’ support and encouragement has been a key factor in Deacon Dennis’ spiritual development.

“Bishop Nicholas has been a really good leader. Having been born in the United States and growing up [here] while having the Middle Eastern background, he is the perfect bridge between the United States and the Patriarch. He’s really got a plan for the church; he’s got a very practical approach to the practical, everyday necessities of the church to have it survive. He’s done all the right things. He’s got a mission and a vision and he doesn’t veer from that. That’s comforting to know to have someone like that at the helm of the church. He’s been very supportive of me since I became a deacon,” said Mr. McCarthy.

Despite logistical hurdles, Bishop Nicholas is committed to ordaining married men to the priesthood.

“The church is still struggling with it because you have the issue of health insurance for the spouse — if the spouse doesn’t have health insurance and you have to cover the spouse now along with the priest. And what about the kids? There are financial concerns that the eparchy is still struggling with. It’s been a bold move on his [the bishop’s] part,” said Mr. McCarthy.

Deacon Dennis is both excited and at peace about his future. “It is very humbling to think about the possibility of celebrating the Liturgy as a priest,” he said.

Note: Susan Bailey’s husband, Deacon Elias (Richard Bailey) served with and was mentored by Deacon Dennis while serving at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church on Hamilton Street in Worcester. He aided in the writing of this piece.

 

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Little things mean a lot to Mary — offering music for Our Lady

In honor of the birthday of Mary, the Mother of God, here is my September column for The Catholic Free Press. I have an exciting announcement at the end of the post.

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madonna-and-childRecently while driving to work I listened to a song about Our Lady of Gaudalupe, I felt a surge of emotion and recognized a feeling I had not experienced in a very long time – Mary’s special touch of peace. I felt elated quickly followed by regret that I had been so negligent in my devotion to our Blessed Mother. It’s so easy to rattle off a “Hail Mary” without a thought! Continue reading “Little things mean a lot to Mary — offering music for Our Lady”

Nice, Baton Rouge, Dallas, Orlando, and your own life: When you can’t find the words during desperate times

There is no doubt that we are in the midst of a violent storm, in the world around us, and in our own private spheres.

We wake up to another terrorist attack or senseless shooting. We face a crisis of trust in our leaders.

Our faith is under siege. Believers face ridicule and rejection, and for some, martyrdom.

Sickness and death surround us. We witness children in poverty dying of starvation around the world. We encounter suffering, death and grief among our own families and friends.

In the midst of these storms,
do you find it difficult to pray?

Continue reading “Nice, Baton Rouge, Dallas, Orlando, and your own life: When you can’t find the words during desperate times”

Reaching my weight loss goal through the toolbox of Grace

My latest Catholic Free Press column (June 17, 2016)

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Grace is invisible.

We feel its power pushing us forward, carrying us as does a river’s current. It takes us many places both serene and chaotic. It molds and shapes us. Yet there’s nothing concrete to grasp onto. We cannot dip our hands into its waters nor physically feel that current.

Or can we?

Continue reading “Reaching my weight loss goal through the toolbox of Grace”

New book to announce! The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion: A Book of Daily Reflections

I have an exciting announcement!

Last year I was asked by Ave Maria Press (the publisher of River of Grace) to be a contributor to a wonderful devotional project that will be part of the Catholicmom.com book series. I am privileged to be one of eighty distinguished writers for this work known as The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion: A Book of Daily Reflections. Continue reading “New book to announce! The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion: A Book of Daily Reflections”

Hiding ourselves in the wounds of Christ – a post-Easter reflection

This is my April column for the Catholic Free Press.

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The gospel reading for the first Sunday after Easter features the doubting Thomas as depicted in John 20:24–29. I have always been moved by his story. In my book, River of Grace, I wrote the following:

“When the others told him that they had ‘seen the Lord,’ he refused to believe. He treated their story with skepticism that bordered on rejection. He was provocative in his declaration that he would not believe unless he placed his hand in the side of Jesus and probed the wounds with his fingers. Thomas deliberately pushed away any semblance of hope that Jesus was alive. He did not dare to believe. Reading that passage I understood the bitterness in his demands and the refusal to face his pain. When Jesus appeared to all the apostles several days later, he invited Thomas to do as the others had done: touch his wounds.”

Death is a traumatic experience. In the case of Jesus, it came as a total shock to the disciples despite the fact that Jesus had warned them many times of his impending death. He also promised them hope in the aftermath. Yet as we have witnessed in the readings following Easter, even when Jesus was right in front of them, they could not believe. Continue reading “Hiding ourselves in the wounds of Christ – a post-Easter reflection”

Thinking of passing judgment? Look in the mirror: Gospel reflection by Father Steven LaBaire

father-steven-labaireI am pleased to present this guest post from
Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

This Sunday we will hear a story that centers on the need to change our own hearts before we demand the conversion of others.

Jesus is confronted by some religious leaders who bring before him a woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:1-11).

They start quizzing Jesus. “What should we do with her?”

Ted Women caught in adultery, Flickr Creative Commons
Ted Women caught in adultery, Flickr Creative Commons

But the quiz has a “catch” to it.

They are testing Jesus “so as to bring a charge against him.” They want to be rid of him.

If Jesus answers that the woman ought to be stoned to death, which was the penalty for adultery under Mosaic law, he would be challenging the Roman authorities. The Romans had banned executions without their authority or approval.

If Jesus answers that she not be punished under the penalties imposed by Mosaic law, then Jesus sets himself up in opposition to what Moses prescribed.

So it’s a trap.

But Jesus uses the trap to unmask the hypocrisy of these pious frauds.

These guys are using this woman as a pawn in their scheme to discredit Jesus.

They don’t care about her, or about justice or the even well-being of whatever marriage has been violated.

The leaders are using the woman as a chess-piece.

If they had even a modicum of interest in justice wouldn’t her male accomplice be under scrutiny too? (It did say, she was caught in the act of adultery, didn’t it? The law required the same penalty be meted out to both. But this guy is nowhere to be found. How convenient!)

So Jesus says, “Hey, put down your stones!”  Start scrutinizing your own heart before you throw stones of condemnation at others. This whole situation you’re presenting is corrupt and rotten to the core.

Jesus must have really hit a chord.

John 9:25 Easier To Codemn Sins Than Mortify Them (Romans 2:1), Fickr Creative Commons
John 9:25 Easier To Codemn Sins Than Mortify Them (Romans 2:1), Fickr Creative Commons

The gospel tells us that the religious leaders went way, beginning with eldest.

(Maybe the older ones realized that with the accumulation of years, they had more “scrutinizing” and soul-searching to do.)

The woman is left alone with Jesus. He tells her to stop sinning. “Don’t do this again.”

Just as importantly he tells her: “Neither do I condemn you.”  In doing so, he saves her life. And, he gives this woman a new lease on life.

Let’s pray that Jesus’ provocative and courageous actions would inspire us:  and accept the simple truth that God, and only God, will be the ultimate judge of every life and of every heart.

In the meantime we can put down the stones of condemnation and redouble our efforts at healing and reconciling whatever is broken in our lives and the lives that cross our path each day.

Marufish Stone, Flickr Creative Commons
Marufish Stone, Flickr Creative Commons

For more aids to your Lenten journey, visit the Lenten Resources page for posts, podcasts, music and videos.

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The Prodigal Son–the rest of story: reflections by Father Steven LaBaire

father-steven-labaireI am pleased to present this guest post from
Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

This Sunday’s gospel is the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32). Most folks are familiar will this parable about a Father and his two sons.

OZinOH Prodigal Son IMG_0599, Flickr Creative Commons
OZinOH Prodigal Son IMG_0599, Flickr Creative Commons

The younger son asks for his inheritance and then wastes the money to the point of starvation. The Father compassionately welcomes him back. The “dutiful” stay-at-home elder son protests the welcome given to the younger son. At the end of the story, one wonders whether the older brother will be reconciled with the merciful Father.

Jesus addressed this parable to religious people who disliked Jesus’ table fellowship with “sinners.”

Here are some details about the story
that might help to hear it with ‘new ears”
this coming Sunday. *

  • In Jesus’ time, fathers were discouraged from distributing inheritance during their lifetime. But if he did , a father was still entitled to live off the proceeds while he lived. The younger son acts shamefully, effectively wishing the father were dead. That the father did not explode and discipline on the spot testifies to the depth of his love. The elder son is no better. Instead of protesting the inappropriate property division and refusing his share, he accepts it (v. 12). And he makes no effort to reconcile his father and brother as culture demanded he should. His behavior is equally shameful.
  • pastorfergus.wordpress.com
    pastorfergus.wordpress.com

    The younger brother sinks deeper into shame. Losing his money to non-Judeans through wasteful spending makes things worse. He begins to starve. He tries to leech on to a wealthy patron who assigns him a repulsive job of feeding pigs. (Remember, pigs are considered unclean animals in the Jewish tradition.)

  • Still he starves. The carob pods fed to the pigs were the wild variety with bitter berries, nauseating and insufficiently nourishing to humans.
  • Coming to his senses, the younger son resolves return home to become a “hired servant” of his father.  He is willing to accept the shameful fact that the village will disown, reject and physically abuse him for taking his dad’s inheritance and before his death and then losing it to Gentiles. Nonetheless, the younger son judges this a small price to pay for life and food.
  • Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. Return of the Prodigal Son
    Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. Return of the Prodigal Son, Flickr Creative Commons

    The father acts in a way that is shocking for the culture of the time. He runs (very inappropriate for an elder) the gauntlet the village has prepared for the returning wayward son. He publicly forgives the son by kissing him on the cheeks, and heals the broken relationship between them. The best robe is certainly the Father’s. It will guarantee the son’s acceptance by the community at the banquet. The signet ring indicates enormous trust. The sandals are a sign of being a free man in the house, not a servant. (Servants and slaves did not wear sandals.) Killing the calf means the entire village will be invited and prodded toward forgiveness. This size animal can feed over 100 people.

  • Instead of honoring his father by accepting his  brother and playing his appropriate role as chief host at the meal, the elder son publicly insults and humiliates his father (vv. 28-30). The insults are jarring: he addresses his father without a respectful title; he speaks of himself as a “slave” and not a son (v29); he accuses the father of favoritism (him a calf, me not even a goat!); he refuses to acknowledge his brother (“this son of yours”; he invents the claim that his brother lived with prostitutes.
  • In effect, this elder son’s heart has always been elsewhere. He too wishes his Father were already dead.
  • Once again the father replies to the wayward son with love and acts of self-humiliation. He returns insult with an endearing “my child…” He assures him that his inheritance remains intact, and he invites the elder son to join the festivities.

Here the parable ends rather abruptly. What will the elder son do? That is the question the Pharisees and scribes and the modern believer must answer. This is really the story of two lost sons. One was lost, but found. The other… well, we just don’t know…

So, what would you do?

*Much of the background for the remarks in this reflection was found in The Cultural World of Jesus by John J. Pilch and in the Jerome Biblical Commentary.

Liturgical notes for Sunday:

This Sunday is called LAETARE SUNDAY. It is the Fourth Sunday of Lent, we reach the mid-point of the Lenten season. The Mass vestments this Sunday are rose colored, rather than the usual Lenten purple.

catholichotdish.com
catholichotdish.com

The custom dates back to the Middle Ages when the Pope carried a single rose in his right hand when returning from Mass on this Sunday. At the time, the rose was a symbol of Christ due to both its being beautiful and yet being covered with thorns. The Pope’s carrying a rose was a visual reminder that the celebration of Christ’s Passion is not far off. Soon we will experience the beauty and the suffering (thorns) of Christ’s love for us.

While the Pope’s custom was abandoned, the symbolism continues through the rose colored vestments worn at Mass.

Holy Week and Easter are not far off. But it isn’t too late to make this Lenten season a time of personal renewal. Remember, the word “Lent” comes from the old English word for” springtime.” During this season, the liturgy invites us to experience a “springtime” from within, a new beginning within our souls. How will your spirit be renewed to embrace the joys and challenges of 2016?

For more aids to your Lenten journey, visit the Lenten Resources page for posts, podcasts, music and videos, plus a stay-at-home mini retreat.

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Can’t go away on retreat? Try this stay-at-home multi-media retreat for Lent, “A Journey Within”

Jesus in the desert

Welcome to this Lenten Mini Retreat of self-examination and discovery:
“The Journey Within: Seeing Ourselves in the Eyes of God by Following the Path of Jesus”

This retreat consists of an hour-long presentation of word and song. It is broken up into sections and features several short videos. You do not need to do the entire retreat in one sitting. In fact, I recommend that you do a portion each day over several days so that the lessons really sink in.

You will need three additional items in order to participate in this retreat:

Following the example of Jesus

I present this retreat to show that by following our Lord’s example we find that the journey of self-discovery is not a self-indulgent act but one of love, towards ourselves and our Creator. It is an act of humility where we come face to face with the ugly truths and weaknesses in our lives and give them over to God. It is a fruitful action, empowering us with the confidence and vision to carry out the wonderful life plan that God has given to us.

This presentation is drawn from chapter 6 my book, River of Grace. You will be led on a rich journey where you begin to see yourself as God’s beloved child, fearfully and wonderfully made with a glorious mission to fulfill.

Let’s begin.

  1. Listen to Part One of this retreat–it is the longest segment, lasting approximately 34 minutes:

a. Watch the video:

2. Listen to Part Two (3 minutes, 55 seconds):

a. Watch the video:

3. Listen to Part Three (6 minutes, 35 seconds):

a. Watch the video and sing along:

4. Listen to Part Four (1 minute, 50 seconds):

a. Watch the video:

5. Listen to Part Five (1 minute, 41 seconds):

a. Watch the video and sing/pray along:

6. Listen to the last portion, Part Six (13 minutes, 1 second):

I hope you have enjoyed this mini retreat–perhaps it will lead to a lifelong habit of self-discovery. Remember always to keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and follow every footstep of his path.

Citations:

  • 00 cover smallThis retreat quotes extensively from Chapter 6 of River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times
    by Susan Bailey and published by Ave Maria Press. Flow Lesson handouts also come from this book.
    Copyright 2015 Susan W. Bailey
  • “Lead Me to the Wilderness” copyright 2016 Susan W. Bailey
  • “In His Eyes” sung by Mindy Jostyn; written by Mindy Jostyn and Jacob Brackman, available on the album In His Eyes. Song used by permission.

Share with your friends

Going on a retreat with a friend can make it extra special. You can easily share this retreat with your friends
on social media – just click on the links below:

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Share on Facebook

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For more aids to your Lenten journey, visit the Lenten Resources page for posts, podcasts, music and videos.

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Keep up with news and free giveaways regarding Susan’s new books, River of Grace
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Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
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Find Susan’s books here on AmazonPurchase Susan’s CD.

Patiently nurturing–the nature of God’s mercy: a gospel reflection by Father Steven LaBaire

father steven labaireI am pleased to present this guest post from
Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

I had a theology professor who would often say, “When preparing your Sunday homily, you should have the New York Times in one hand and your Bible in the other.” His point was that good preacher connects his message with what is happening in the world around us.

Good preaching addresses the issues that people are thinking and talking about.

This Sunday’s gospel is presents Jesus as an outstanding preacher (Luke 13:1-9). He uses recent events in the news to help illustrate his message about God.

Apparently there had been a deadly massacre near the temple in Jerusalem. Also, some workers at a construction project were killed when the tower they were building collapsed. (In today’s terms we might think of a mass shooting or of the recent crane collapse in New York City.)

Many people in the time of Jesus believed that disasters and tragedies were signs of God’s anger against sinful individuals or people. They thought that these terrible events were “punishments” sent by God.

Blue Mountains Local Studies Granville Train Disaster
Blue Mountains Local Studies Granville Train Disaster, Flickr Creative Commons

“Nonsense!” Jesus says. Neither good fortune nor calamity are indicators of one’s favor or disfavor with God. In other words, good and bad things can happen to anyone. However, in the future, God will judge the hearts of every soul, regardless of their situation in life.

(Some people aren’t going like this Sunday’s gospel. People who like to believe that tragedies that befall individuals are “punishments” from heaven might get a bit uncomfortable. Jesus’ words will challenge their thinking. Hopefully they won’t walk out of Mass.)

Jesus then tells a story about a fig tree—a fig tree that doesn’t bear any fruit. Stubborn tree!

Nonetheless, the vinedresser patiently nurtures, waters and cares for the tree—patiently hoping that it will bear fruit.

The point of the story is that God is merciful. And God never stops planting, in our lives, opportunities to start over, to try again, to rework things, to move beyond our hurt and pain and make things right.

Santi Fig tree - Higuera
Santi Fig tree / Higuera, Flickr Creative Commons

Every day, God’s mercy is constantly giving us a “second chance.” God is the patient gardener waiting for every “fig tree” to harvest.

Mindful that our life in this world is brief, will we accept the Divine Gardener’s daily grace?

The ultimate tragedy would be to have rejected all the opportunities.

For more aids to your Lenten journey, visit the Lenten Resources page for posts, podcasts, music and videos.

00 twitter profile 400x400both books river first-640Join my Email List (special surprises just for you!)
to subscribe to this blog.
Keep up with news and free giveaways regarding Susan’s new books, River of Grace
and Louisa May Alcott: Iluminated by The Message!
Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read Susan’s blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

Find Susan’s books here on AmazonPurchase Susan’s CD.