Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Aliens and evangelization

"Father, do you believe in aliens?"

The question caught my attention, especially because the student (of chemical engineering) asking it claimed to be a fallen-away Baptist now-turned atheist.

I thought, "Well, that's enough of an opening right there!"

A lively conversation went back and forth on the topic, but soon turned to matters of more existential import--life in general, specifically the purpose of human life. Avoiding anything too explicitly "religious" for the sake of my young but unconvinced atheist, I sensed an opening at one stage and said on a whim:

"We were created to be loved--do you think this?"

Instead of a philosophical response, this time the answer was awkward silence and eyes filling with tears.

The conversation ended abruptly and uncomfortably after that, and I thought, "Way to go, Father Clumsy...you'll never see this student ever again."

As I said goodbye, I couldn't think of anything to offer accept a house blessing for her and the new place she just moved into with her six guy roommates--none of whom are Catholic. "Uh, okay. Bye," she said, and left.

Should I have been suprised when the phone rang the next day, and she said that her household wanted me to come and bless the house?

Well, I was surprised. But I also marveled at the strange ways of God, who took me from aliens to booking an improbable house blessing with seven students who had probably never talked to a Catholic priest before.

Soon I was whispering "Wash me O God, and I shall be clean..." and walking around the most typical college house you've ever seen, sprinkling Bob Marley posters and lacrosse sticks with holy water, as slack-jawed and wide eyed college students stumbled nervously in tow behind me as we marched from room to room.

I can't think of another time in my three years as a priest when I have been more conscious of the fact that priests are ordained and sent not just to Catholics, but to the every human person, to the whole world.

Kind of like aliens.

Go Devils!

There's nothing quite like a night in the desert in late August. A mild monsoon breeze accompanied the rising moon this past Sunday night as I stood gazing up at the old steeple on the red-bricked St Mary's Church at Arizona State Universitsy in Tempe, AZ.

As I bid goodnight to the last of many students after the late Sunday Mass, I caught my breath and thought with joyful astonishment: "I can't believe I'm here!"

My second pastoral assignment as a priest in the Diocese of Phoenix has taken a few months to sink in. Joining Fr Rob Clements as one of two full time priests at the All Saints Catholic Newman Center, I find myself with an assignment that didn't even exist for diocesan priests in Phoenix for decades.

In April of 2000, before I entered seminary, I interviewed for a position with an organization dedicated to Catholic evangelization. With a gut sense that it just wasn't time back then, I didn't accept the position. But apparently the good Lord just wanted to give me a good ten years of preparation for such a noble task--ministering to college students and all others at the University level.

Somewhere between 15,000 and 18,000. That's an estimation of the number of "Sun Devil" Catholics at Arizona State University. It's Notre Dame and Georgetown rolled into one.

People occasionally ask me if I feel overwhelmed by the immense task that lays at our feet at the Newman Center. The answer is, "Yes!" How many young persons at ASU don't know God! How many are imprisoned in one of the countless counterfeit promises of happiness that our culture imposes!

But like the warm refreshing air of an evening Arizona monsoon breeze, the grace of God blows from the deep lungs of the Church--especially when we humbly beg the Holy Spirit to come to us, and to renew the face of the earth.