Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Yankee Stadium Mass (in detail)

So I finally have a moment to share some thoughts from Sunday's Mass at Yankee Stadium. So, I'll give you the play-by-play (pardon the pun) from the day. Hey, that reminds me, did you hear about the controversy about what Pope Benedict was going to wear at Yankee Stadium? In the end, they let him wear his red shoes, but they would not let him wear Red Sox! (Sorry, again.)

So, Saturday after the Mass was a day of just basking in the glow of having concelebrated the Mass with the Pope and roughly 2,000 other priests, bishops and cardinals in the morning. Their is something so special about the shared ministry of the Priesthood of Jesus Christ when concelebrating. Usually our only experience that even approaches that during the year comes during the Chrism Mass each year at Holy Week, when all of the priests of the Archdiocese concelebrate together. But, concelebrating a Mass with the Chief Shepherd, the Vicar of Christ, is absolutely amazing. You just feel so connected to something so much bigger than you. The only thing better than concelebrating with the Pope and thousands of other priests - doing it two days in a row!

Saturday night we had a wonderful fraternal dinner with a bunch of friars in the city, and went to bed early to rest up for Sunday. Luckily we didn't have as early a start since Mass was at 2:30 p.m., but we got moving at a decent hour. Since Fr. Mike and I don't know the subways of NYC too well, we hooked up with our local Franciscan parish, St. Anthony of Padua on Sullivan Street (www.stanthonynyc.org). The pastor there is Fr. Joe Lorenzo. I don't remember if I mentioned this yesterday, but Fr. Joe was vocation director (along with Fr. Mario) when Fr. Mike and I entered the Franciscans - so he is responsible for bringing us in (blame him!). Fr. Joe was also pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Derry, NH (www.stthomasderry.org) where I made my Solemn Vows in 1997, was ordained in 2000, and was stationed there from 1997-2004. So, we go way back!

This is Sr. Dolores who is stationed in Brooklyn where she has worked with the poor for the last 28 years. I am always so humbled and impressed by these holy women who so quietly devote their lives to the service of God and the Church. God bless you Sister!

Our ride in was uneventful - it was even a bit weird that there didn't seem to be too many people on the train. We expected more. We found "more" when we got to Yankee Stadium. Suddenly the subway was packed and there was tremendous excitement in the air.
Security was, of course, tight and it took us more than an hour to get into the stadium. But a cool thing was while waiting in line with literally tens of thousands of other people, I ran into two people below that I know. In the picture is John Campbell, a youth minister I've known probably for about 10 years now. With John, was Brian Jones from St. Joseph's in Winsted, another of our Franciscan parishes. It was great to see them.
We finally got to our seats and there was Bill Byrd, a member of our parish who was able to get us our tickets to both Masses (thank you Bill!). Bill got there early, he'd been in the park since about 9:15 a.m. It was after noon by the time we got in. Bill had such a youthful exhuberance about him during the whole experience, it was contagious - like a kid on Christmas morning!

While waiting in line for a Nathan's hot dog, I met this woman below. I think her name was Denise. It is the first time anyone has ever recognized me from my blog! She came up to me and said, "Are you Fr. Tom? I read your blog!" My first brush with web-celebrity! Oh my! She was very sweet!

There was a wonderful concert called a Concert for Hope that really made the waiting go by quickly and enjoyably. The concert just added to the excitement that built throughout the morning and early afternoon. The highlight for me was a long time favorite of mine Harry Connick Jr. But, it was all awesome! Then, on cue at about 2:20 p.m. the Pope arrived and rode around the park in the Pope Mobile. It would be an understatement to say that the crowd went wild!

One of the images that was so powerful both days were the large number of religious women who were everywhere. You can see in the photo below an entire section of habited women (in white) in the upper deck across from us. But, these women were everywhere. We really need to pray for and encourage young women to embrace the life as a consecrated religious. Do you know any woman who might make a good sister or nun? Do me two favors today - first, pray for them; secondly, tell them!

The Mass of course was beautiful - even surprisingly so given the challenge of celebrating Mass with 60,000 people. I know how difficult it can be to find a solemn silence in our church with 500 people - how we did that with 60,000 was surely a grace.

Just one snipped of the Pope's powerful words in his homily:

“Authority” … “obedience”. To be frank, these are not easy words to speak nowadays. Words like these represent a “stumbling stone” for many of our contemporaries, especially in a society which rightly places a high value on personal freedom. Yet, in the light of our faith in Jesus Christ – “the way and the truth and the life” – we come to see the fullest meaning, value, and indeed beauty, of those words. The Gospel teaches us that true freedom, the freedom of the children of God, is found only in the self-surrender which is part of the mystery of love. Only by losing ourselves, the Lord tells us, do we truly find ourselves (cf. Lk 17:33). True freedom blossoms when we turn away from the burden of sin, which clouds our perceptions and weakens our resolve, and find the source of our ultimate happiness in him who is infinite love, infinite freedom, infinite life. “In his will is our peace”.
You can read all of the Pope's words during this journey (plus video and photos) at: www.uspapalvisit.org

One of the most beautiful moments was when the "official" concelebrating priests came out onto the dais with their ciboria. What an image of the Church - this was the Church, is the Church - bishop, priest, deacon, people - united around the altar in prayer, in Eucharistic prayer. I wish Fr. Mike and I could have been among that group, but we were not able to get those particular tickets. We were graced, none the less, to be where we were.

At the end of the Mass, the Holy Father departed. You could tell there was a sense in the crowd, like that of St. Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration - "It is good that we are here. Let us set up tents!" We didn't want to let him go.

Pope Benedict came to this country last week as somewhat of an unknown quantity, still a bit in the shadow of his predecessor, John Paul the Great. While no one could fill those shoes, Benedict has put on a pair of his own and filled those just right. I am awed and amazed at the grace through which the Holy Spirit continually selects the right man for the right time.

Benedict this week became Our Pope, and I think we all fell in love with him. I saw a newspaper in New York that said it well. I paraphrase, "Pope Benedict does not have the kind of charisma that John Paul had, but he has a charisma of sincerity." I think that names it well, a Charisma of Sincerity. He loves the Church, he loves us, his flock.

Today, I think each of us loves him and the Church even more. Let this be a renewal, a new springtime, a new beginning for the Church in America and the world.

Viva Il Papa!

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