Monday, April 28, 2014

The Canonization of John XXIII and John Paul II

view all of my pictures here:

Fr. michael Denk Canonization

Today was defiantly a historic moment in our church and certainly a day I will never forget.  I am truly grateful that God has brought me here as a priest to be with these four popes that have shaped me so much.

We left our hotel at 6:30 am to begin our trek to the Vatican.  It was normally only a fifteen minute walk, but we were informed by another priest that we had to enter on the opposite side near the entrance for the scavi tour.  Most people know this entrance by the Swiss Guards at the gate.  If you are standing right at the doors of the Vatican facing the Vatican and go to your left that is where we had to enter.  

As you know we had gotten our tickets a few days before and we had to hold them in the air as we passed through each check point.  It was standing and waiting in line with a thousand other priests that Fr. Terry gave me his classic look and said: “Priest shortage… What?”   It was great to see priests from all over the world but I found myself anxious to try to talk to them because I had no idea what language they spoke.  When we got in to the seating area it was funny to see that priests are just as excited as the people to see the Pope.  Even the older priests were scrambling to get the closest seats.  

I had been thinking and praying for my group all night.  Because they were not issuing tickets (other than clergy and dignitaries) most people, if they wanted to get into the square had to spend the night outside waiting.  It turned out to be a very difficult experience for them but for those that found a spot and made it through the night they had a wonderful time, met some great new friends from Texas and found it an experience they will never forget.  I have to say, though I am truly grateful for the sleep and having a ticket, I wanted to be in that crowd overnight anticipating this gathering.  

I learned a lesson from the last time I saw Pope Benedict that it’s better to have a seat by the side even than to be closer up, because if he comes in procession you’ll be right there.  

Fr. Terry and I found some seats right along the edge… well  as close to the edge as we could get because it was lined up by large tough looking polish priests.  One of the Monsignor’s next to me seemed more like a bouncer than a priest.  We had a couple of hours to wait to mass.  I was glad Fr. Terry was with me because I was able to go to Confession on Divine Mercy Sunday ust before mass with the Pope.  I love going to confession and that was a great image of two priests in the midst of all of these others being immersed in the Father’s Divine Mercy.  

The crowd was surprisingly subdued, maybe because I was in the midst of 5,000 priests.  There wasn’t the cheering and chanting and singing and applause like I was used to at World Youth Days.  Maybe it was because everybody was so tired.  I think everyone was so confused because they wanted to cheer for John Paul but didn’t want to neglect John XXIII.  As I reflected before I think John XXIII had just as much warmth and Charisma as John Paul, but John Paul is obviously more known and celebrated maybe because he was more recent and was the Pope for so long.  

We had nothing but time so I prayed the Rosary as well as the Divine Mercy Chaplet and then rested and dozed as I meditated on the wonder of being there with these four Papas that I loved so much.  

As mass was about to begin the Bishops and Cardinals filed out and then the screen showed Pope Benedict for the first time.  I was so glad that he was there as he had worked all of those years under John Paul II and though he is spending his final years in prayer and solitude it was so good of him to be present at this event.  He was the Pope at the time I was ordained and I handed him my Ordination Card seven years ago when I was there in the audience and he drove by in the Pope Mobile.  

It was so exciting and heart warming to watch as Pope Francis greeted him.  The mass began with the Litany of the Saints.  I have always been moved by this ancient chant which invokes all of the Saints to be with us, to intercede for us, and to be present especially at the Mass when we are surrounded by all of the angels and the saints and united with everyone else who is in communion with Christ.  

The prayers for the mass were powerful.  Everyone in the square was given a booklet that has the prayers, biographies of the two popes to be canonized, and the official pictures of Sts. John XXIII and JPII.  They really are a treasure of this wonderful and historic occasion. 

There were three petitions directed to the Holy Father at the beginning of mass:


The First Petition 

Most Holy Father,
Holy Mother Church earnestly beseeches Your Holiness to enroll Blessed
and John Paul II
among the Saints, that they may be invoked as such by all the Christian faithful.
Dear brothers,
let us lift up our prayers to God the Father Almighty through Jesus Christ, that through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all his Saints he may sustain with his grace the act which we now solemnly undertake.

 We ask you, Lord, graciously to accept the prayers of your people, that our de- voted service may be pleasing to you and contribute to the growth of your Church. Through Christ our Lord.

Second Petition

Most Holy Father, strengthened by unanimous prayer, Holy Church more earnestly beseeches Your Holiness to enroll these, her children, among the Saints.
Let us, then, invoke the Holy Spirit, the Giver of life, that he may enlighten our minds and that Christ the Lord may not permit his Church to err in a matter of such importance.

Third Petition

Most Holy Father,
Holy Church, trusting in the Lord’s promise to send upon her the Spirit of Truth, who in every age keeps the supreme Magisterium immune from error, most earnestly beseeches Your Holiness to enroll these, her elect, among the Saints.
 For the honour of the Blessed Trinity, the exaltation of the Catholic faith and the increase of the Christian life, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and our own, after due deliberation and frequent prayer for divine assistance, and having sought the counsel of many of our brother Bishops, we declare and define 


and John Paul II

be Saints and we enroll them among the Saints, decreeing that they are to be venerated as such by the whole Church.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Most Holy Father,
in the name of Holy Church I thank Your Holiness for making this proclamation and humbly request that you decree that the Apostolic Letter concerning the act of Canonization be drawn up.

The Holy Father, Pope Francis responded: “Decernimus."

We so decree.


The music was beautiful with instruments in harmony, the organ, and beautiful cantors singing.  The homily was rather brief but what I understand and remember is that Pope Francis was talking about how important “the family” was to John XXIII and we all know to John Paul II and they made the Church feel like a family.  Every year the Church promotes a teaching or a motto (Remember the year for Priests, the Year for Marriage, the Year for St. Paul, this past year was the Year of Faith).  This upcoming year will be dedicated to the Family.  

Communion even amongst the priests was a little organized chaos.  We did get to see one of our priests from Cleveland, Fr. Chris Trenta, distributing communion.  He is over here in Italy studying Liturgical Theology.  I think the time of mass that I felt God’s presence the most was after communion they announced a moment of silence.  It was deeply profound to be there with a million people, having received the Body of Christ, taken part in the Canonization of these two Saints in the presence of our two wonderful Popes.  

At the end of mass Pope Francis spent about an hour greeting every single dignitary and letting them take “selfies”, then he got into the pope mobile and drove right by us.  We were right at the fence and I stood on a chair shouting “Papa Francisco… Papa Francisco… Papa Francisco…’  by the time he looked over the car was past us.  But now I can say that I have seen this pope and got as close as I could to him.  In hindsight I wish I would have jumped over the fence and begged him for a  hug, but you just never know how that is going to go over.  

After mass we spent an hour or so just waiting for the crowds to clear out.  Fr. Terry and I decided that we might as well head back into the Vatican for one last time.  The Basicilica was only open for people to walk quickly by the tombs of the two Saints.  John Paul II’s tomb had already been changed to say “Sanctus” for St. John Paul II.  John XXIII’s tomb was beautifully decorated with dozens and dozens of fresh red roses to match his red garment and shoes.  He looked pretty good for a dead guy.  Really, though, it was very beautiful and I got to kneel and spend some time at his tomb just thanking God for the opportunity to once more be so near the body of a Saint.  I also thank St. John XXIII for the influence that he has had on my me and my priesthood.  

I grew up knowing John Paul II.  The first time I ever got to see him was at World Youth Day in Denver in 1993 the summer after I had just graduated 8th grade.  I also got to see him at World Youth Day in Toronto.  My favorite memories of him at both events were when the millions in the crowd would chant "JPII we love you... JPII we love you... JPII... we love you..."  He would just smirk and and wait for a moment of pause and respond "JPII loves you too!"  I was most specifically shaped by him during my seminary time especially by the papal document that he wrote for the formation of Priests.   "I will give you Shepherds."  PASTORES DABO VOBIS.  He also has a series of books that are a reflection of his Priesthood on his fiftieth anniversary entitled "Gift and Mystery" and "Crossing the Threshold of Hope."   His personal maxim "Courragio" "Be Not Afraid!"  Gave me the courage to answer the call to the priesthood.

The next pope I would be introduced to in the Seminary was John XXIII.  While taking Fr. Tifft's Church History Class we had to choose one event or church figure and read 500 pages and write a 15 page paper.  Fr. Bob Stec told me I should look at John XXIII.  I wasn't sure who he meant but when I came across a book which referred to him as how many of you knew him "The Good Pope."  I remember going through the seminary library and seeing that book, picking it up, reading a few paragraphs and falling in love with him instantly.

J. D. Salinger once said:

"What I like best is a book that's at least funny once in a while...
What really knocks me out is a book that,
when you're all done reading it,
you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours
and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.
That doesn't happen much, though."

...but it does!  I found this to be true when I read John XXIII's Journal of a Soul.  I felt like after reading that and a number of biographies my favorite by Thomas Cahill.  I found that I had this "Good Pope", this father figure, that I could relate to.  As I read his journal all the way from his time of growing up, to the seminary, to the priesthood... I was edified by his spiritual life and the kind and caring man that he was.  I wanted to be like him.  What I've found is that through the communion of saints (and now that he is one!), unlike J. D. Salinger's quote ending... it does happen much!  John XXIII has become one of my nearest and dearest friends, a father figure to me, a brother priest, a bishop, and the "Good Pope".

Saint John XXIII helped me see that one of the most important things of being a priest is to be a joyful one.  He had an inscription that he put above his wall in his study... As a youth he greatly admired his parish priest.  On his wall in his study was a maxim that read "“Peace within the cell; fierce warfare without. Hear all; believe a few; honor all. Do not believe everything you hear; do not judge everything you see; do not do everything you can; do not give everything you have; do not say everything you know. Pray, read, withdraw, be silent, be at peace.”  John XXIII took this to heart and entered it into his journal.  I have a painting that I made while I was in the seminary with the script "Pray, read, withdraw, be silent, be at peace."  It hangs to this day in my sitting room at the rectory reminding me of the importance of solitude.  You can read my Church History Paper on John XXIII.  

Pope Benedict has also been influential on me.  As Cardinal Ratzinger he was kind of known as being the Church's "Pit-bull" as the defender of the faith.  When he became pope I found him to be such a kind and gentle man.  What really reveals this is his writing.  I think that the greatest gift that he will leave us are the Trilogy that he wrote: "Jesus of Nazareth".  These are absolutely profound and beautiful writings that showed me the importance of experiencing the Person of Jesus.

After I was newly ordained I was able to make a trip to Rome with some priest friends, family, and seminarians.  Two of my favorite memories were both in the Vatican.  The first was actually getting to celebrate mass on the Altar of John XXIII where his body lies in the glass casket.  I felt like I was finally able to meet him and be with him especially as I celebrated the Eucharist and received the Body of Christ.  The Second memory was the last day of the trip.  We took the scavi tour and at the end of the tour Fr. Ireland had arranged for me to say mass in the Clementine Chapel.  This is a tiny golden chapel just below the altar in the vatican.  You can see down if you look through the grate in the vatican.  Below this altar are the bones of St. Peter.  It was amazing to be newly ordained and saying mass at the very place where Peter's bones are buried.  After mass because we were already in the crypt I was able to walk directly to the place where John Paul II was buried (this was also the place John XXIII was buried before he became as Saint and was moved up into the Basilica in the glass casket.)  I vividly remember walking over to John Paul's tomb and kneeling down and thanking him for helping me to the priesthood and forming me into the priest that I am today.


Click here to view the official program which has wonderful pictures, biographies and all of the prayers from the Mass Rite of Canonization.

view all of my pictures here:

Listen to my homily here: 

Here are some of the official videos:

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Pilgrimage to Italy for the Canonization of Pope JPII and John XXIII

We arrived here in Roma safe and sound.  Since we got here at 6:30 am we were unable to check in to our Hotel so we went directly to one of the four major basilicas in rome.  The Basilica of St. Paul "Outside the Walls"  According to tradition, the Apostle Paul linked to a Roman soldier, who assured the guard during surveillance at home, waiting for his trial, while he continued to teach and write: "Remember my chains!" ( Letter to the Colossians 4:18).  The tomb of St. Paul as well as his chains are here.

I think it is also providential that we start here as we prepare for the Canonization of two Saints on this Divine Mercy Sunday as we reflect on Paul's words to the Thessalonians

For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the holy Spirit and [with] much conviction. You know what sort of people we were [among] you for your sake.  And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the holy Spirit,7so that you became a model for all the believers. (1 Thessalonians 1:5-7)

"Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us."  (Hebrews 12:1)

 What I most love about this church is that it contains the icons of every pope that we have ever had.  The icons are ordered chronologically all the way from Peter until our Current Pope Francis.

Since we are here for the Canonization of John Paul II and John XXIII I've included their pictures as well.

(Pope Francis)

(Pope Benedict)

(Pope John Paul II)

(Pope John XXIII)

The Basilica also has the Chapel of St. Lawrence so I made sure to say a prayer for my Pastor, Fr. Larry Martello.

To watch the event live or learn more click here you can also get the app at the Apple Store and Google Play Store!

Please know that I hold all of you in my hearts and prayers during this sacred, special, and historic time for the church!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Erica in El Salvador. She will be remembered by the flowers! Easter Homily 2014


Last year our parish took it's first ever mission trip to El Salvador.  One of the most cherished things that we do is visit the families in their home.  Last year the leader of the group called "Obras de Caridad" ("Works of Charity") led our group.  She allowed us to deliver sacks of beans to the people that lived along the hillsides of the mountain of Teotepeque ("God's Mountain").  When we finished visiting all of the sick, the elderly and the disabled she wanted us see her home.  That is when we met Erica.

I remember being in the house with a number of people from our group and as we looked around at the pictures of family and Holy images of the Sacred Heart and Mary... Dr. Ohliger (who is a parishioner of St. Joseph and family doctor) came up to me and said: "Fr. Michael, you need to come here..." he brought me over to Erica who was a twenty year old mother holding her daughter.  He said look at her shoulder.  I could see a bulge by her neck.  He gently moved her neckline to reveal a large cyst about the size of my fist.  He said: "Fr. Michael this is bad, she's got cancer."  I was stunned and didn't know what to say or do. Again, Dr. Ohliger, this family care doctor from the states said: "We need to pray over her and you need to bless her."  He pulled out his Holy Water which he had been carrying discreetly in his pocket and handed it to me, this clueless priest.

photo (2)
(Erica, on the right, holding her daughter)

Our group gathered around Erica and laid hands on her and then I blessed her and made the sign of the cross with holy water on her tumor and asked God to heal her.  As with many people that we meet on a mission trip we left never knowing what would happen to her.

Last week we took our second mission trip to El Salvador, it was just one year later.  The first thing we experienced after arriving from the airport was the party we threw for them in celebration of the Academy that we helped to start.  There was singing, dancing, food and laughter.  There were familiar faces, and memories from a year ago.  There was a birthday party planned for one of the nuns.

It was on our second day that the priests mentioned to me that they had someone in the community who died midmorning.  It was Erica.  Fr. Johnny O. and Fr. Stalla had both been to see her and care for her many times.  Earlier that morning Fr. Stalla was with her to administer last rites.  Fr. Stalla, though saddened by her loss expressed a great deal of excitement on his face because he was there before she died to give her "The Apostolic Blessing with the Plenary Indulgence."  This is a special privilege that we as priests are granted for people "in danger of death."

The priest says:

Through the holy mysteries of our redemption,
may almighty God release you
from all punishments in this life
and in the life to come.

May he open to you the gates of paradise
and welcome you to everlasting joy. R. Amen.*

We were informed that her wake would be that night and the funeral the next morning.  I found it hard to believe that I was there in El Salvador one year later grieving with the family at the loss of their daughter.  I have to believe that God in His great providence brought us back here for some purpose.  

In poorer countries he wakes are often held in the home.  When we got there Erica's father just broke down and cried in Fr. Stalla's arms.  The mother remembered me from last year and I held her while she cried.  We crowded into their tiny one room house and the people spilled out into the walk leading there and onto the street.  I recognized her face through the glass opening of the casket.  She was dressed in pure white and looked very much like one would picture a saint.  

The next morning I realized as I distributed communion to her loved ones was that it is only through the Eucharist that we are able to remain connected to those whom we love.  It really is only through our union with Jesus as we receive him in communion "I am in my Father and you are in me and I am in you." (John 14:20)  If we want to stay close to Erica then we must stay close to Jesus.  If she is with Him and we are with Him, then we are together.... Especially in the Eucharist.  I realized too that when I received the Eucharist that day I was with all the people throughout the world receiving.  I realized too that I would continue to be in union with the people of El Salvador even when I return home, whenever I receive the Eucharist we are one.... "I am in you and you are in me."
After the funeral mass the casket is carried in procession to the cemetery.  It was then that I realized the sheer number of people as they left the church and crowded into the streets.  This young girl, who was rarely able to leave her home had touched many lives.  

When we got to the cemetery there was a deep hole already in the ground, the rite was prayed and her body was lowered into the earth.  And something I've never seen before.  The family began to shovel dirt together.  There were three shovels and one by one the men began to shovel the dirt, her brothers, her father, her relatives and friends all releasing their tears with each movement of dirt.  When they got tired and had cried enough they passed the shovel until the hole was filled and the soil shaped a mound on top of her body.  At some point Erica's mother had disappeared and was being comforted by her other children.  That was the worst part... the silence at the end of the shoveling.  

But then something wonderful began to happen.  The ladies stepped forward with flowers planting them one at a time into the mound of dirt.  Before you knew it there were a dozen and then two dozen and then dozens and dozens of flowers.... one of the ladies watered the earth while more and more brought forward flowers until hundreds of flowers transformed the once dirt mound into the most beautiful vision of life.  It was then that I saw a transformation in the faces before me. Their tears had subsided, the once bare mound of dirt was now radiant with beautiful flowers.  There was a softening to the grieving and joy began to appear on the faces as they looked upon their arrangement reverencing her final place of rest.  The mother was brought forward for one last goodbye and that will be the last moment we all remember... the flowers, the colors, the smell of life and the ease of the tension of the faces that carry so much pain.  This is an image of the Resurrection.... the flowers that cover the earth.   

A few thoughts remain with me after this experience that relate to the mysteries we celebrate on Easter. 

We believe "We were indeed buried with him though baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life."  Erica shares in eternal life now with Jesus because of her baptism.  It was in and through her baptism that she already began eternal life.  This Easter all around the world people are being born into everlasting life through baptism.  It is by our very baptism when we are freed from lives of sin that we can finally hear clearly the Father's voice: "You are my beloved daughter... You are my beloved son with whom I am well pleased."  If you are reading this and you have never been baptized you are not only welcome to, but you are being called summoned by Christ to life eternal.  

Bishop Pilla often says at funeral masses: "If you want to stay close to your loved one, stay close to Jesus."  The only one that has ever risen from the dead is Christ.  And our rising from the dead, your loved ones rising from the dead is completely and totally dependent on him.  This is why in the Eucharist Jesus gives us His very Body and Blood to eat and drink, so that He can be in us and we can be in Him.  

If you've been away from the Sacraments or away from the Church maybe now is the time to come back.  Divine Mercy Sunday is celebrated on the octave, the eighth day after Easter.  As St. Augustine says that these next eight days are "the days of mercy and pardon".  In the year 2000 Blessed John Paul II (Who will be canonized next Sunday at the Vatican) declared that the octave day of Easter be declared from now on "Divine Mercy Sunday".  If you have been away from the sacraments you are missing out on eternal life... and there's opportunities at every Catholic Church this week to confess your sins and be reconciled to God and to the Church. 

It in the Celebration of the Eucharist that we are joined with the Communion of Saints, surrounded by all of your loved ones who have gone before us in Christ to the Resurrection.  And if they are with Christ and we are with Christ, and if we receive Christ and He is in us and we are in Him then in a very deep and mystical way we are with them.  

This is eternal life.  Being born anew by baptism and becoming one with Christ in the Eucharist.  It is these sacred mysteries that transform a pile of dirt, death, the wood of the cross, the empty tomb... into the Risen Christ in all his glory.  It is through the Sacraments that we experience life and are no longer trapped in the horrors of sin and death.  It is because of eternal life that Erica will be remembered not by a pile of dirt but a beautiful bouquet of flowers.  We use flowers to imagine it because it is the flowers that first bud after the long and cold dead of winter.  Erica, alive in Christ, surrounded by the bright beaming joyful faces of her loved ones and flowers.


(Click below to see the pictures)


(Watch the Videos)

To see all of the pictures from the Mission Trip click here
And to see last years pictures click here.  

Sunday, April 6, 2014

El Salvador - At Night the Light is Red

El Salvador Bell Tower
(Our Mission Team of 2014 at the Adoration Bell Tower Project started by Mission Team of 2013)

We arrived in El Salvador today safe and sound.

I'll repeat again if you've ever heard me say it, the Ukulele is absolutely the best investment I've ever made.  On the first leg of the journey the gate attendant asked me if I could play her a song.  I figured I'd give her a verse... she liked it so much she invited me behind the counter and put me on over the loud speaker.  It was fun to watch all the faces in the wing go from slightly irritated what is that noise to "is this really happening."  Before you know it they were singing along "I see friends shaking hands saying 'how do you do?' They're really saying... I... Love.... You..."  It didn't get me bumped up to first class but wouldn't you know it on the way from Houston to El Salvador they were overbooked and this time they bumped me up to first class because they were overbooked.  Now I have to be honest the Roman Collar hasn't gotten me out of speeding tickets before, but this time it did get me bumped up to first class!  I have to tell you the ironic thing is I've only ever been bumped up to first class flying in and out of El Salvador.  It is just a reminder of how much God abundantly blesses me with and how much I get to share.  I actually wanted to let somebody else have my seat, and I did give it a slight try, but the Stewardess was getting a little annoyed with me so I finally sat down and tried to enjoy it.  I mean really that's the way to travel: the stewardesses are actually nice to you, there's leg room to spare, a big cushy seat, the movies are free, they bring you food, drinks, and oh... the hot towel.  

Now on to the real luxury.  The experience to be back here in El Salvador with my brother priests, a whole new group of parishioners, and some of the friendliest faces I know.  Remember the little boy from last year Juan Jose?  He was the one who wants to be a priest and serenaded with my red ukulele.  He still has those same eyes, gentle demeanor, and gave me a big hug.  We will make sure to record another session for you.   

(Picture from last years mission trip with Juan Jose)

You'll notice in the picture at the top, the group has reunited with Fr. Johnny "O" Ostroski.  We got to see the finished product of the "Bell Tower" project that we worked on last year.  The old bell tower of the Church has been converted into a Eucharistic Adoration Chapel.  Fr. Johnny told us with great joy and satisfaction "It is a wonderful place for people to pray and adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and people are really finding that to enrich their Spiritual Lives.  It's a quite place.... and there really is not too many quite places around here.  People feel like they are getting away and the walls are so thick that it is like they are.  It really is the perfect Chapel for here."  

Walking back to the rectory at night after the day was done I noticed that the Chapel was glowing from the inside tabernacle light.  It poured out this blood red color from all of the windows and Fr. Johnny O said: "It really symbolizes the blood of Christ poured out for us on the community of Teotepeque."  Truly a powerful sight and am so glad that in such a noisy culture there is a place of silence, refuge, and solitude with the Body of Christ.

This year we will literally get to build up the Church as we help to put on a new roof, new windows, and of course paint the Chapel for the Community of San Francisco.  (See the picture below).  I love driving around late at night on the dirt roads in the back of a pick up truck.

Good night my friends, May the Blood of Christ pour out not only over the people of El Salvador but all across the word and especially upon you who read this.

Fr. Michael

san francis
(Our Project his Year - Iglesia San Francisco)