Year for Priests: Longing to be comfortable

By Basilian Father Chris Valka
One in a series

This past week, I began my new assignment teaching at Detroit Catholic Central High School. Therefore, I have been reflecting recently on “all things new” — new city, new house, new confreres, new job, new friends and new students. Though I feel I should be used to the “newness” brought about by moving from one assignment to the other, I think the only aspect which I have mastered is how to pack.

Of all the things listed above, it is the students that have impacted my thoughts the most for I see in them what I myself feel. In their eyes, I see the fear of the unknown; in their nervous habits, my anxiety; and in their attentiveness, my commitment to excel. And, I imagine just about any parent or teacher feels the same thing.

The difference between my students and myself lies in the past. Quite simply, the more past we have, the more we try to hold on to, and the harder it is to live in the present moment. In the new rigor of a high school classroom, I am all too aware of the independence I once knew as a university chaplain. I miss my old friends, familiar food and the quiet habits that made up my days. I miss the expected and the benefit of the doubt that only comes when you have established yourself.

While I recognize that my students do not the miss things, people and places I do, I believe we are both longing for the same thing:  to be comfortable. We long for a routine and the fulfillment of expectations. We long for the bank of good friends and good will that comes with establishment. However, the priest in me knows that comfort and the Gospel do not have a lot in common.

If God makes “all things new,” then one could argue that God makes all things uncomfortable. It is the kind of position that I believe many people hold, and the kind that keeps many on the fringe edges of religion. However if I am honest, my discomfort comes from the difficulty I find letting go of what has been. Just I have told all my new students this week, “learning is not meant to be comfortable,” so I believe God is asking me to be comfortable in the newness and to live always in the present moment. Thus, herein lies my prayer for the first few weeks of school:  May all of us — teacher, student and parent alike — find comfort in the newness and excitement in the routines that are soon to follow.

As always, I welcome your thoughts, comments and perhaps your own addition to a prayer for students and teachers beginning a new school year.

valkaFather Chris Valka, CSB, was ordained a priest for the Congregation of St. Basil in May.

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Catholic advocates get specific on health care reform

Town hall meetings across the U.S. have stirred the passions of protesters opposed to health care reform in general or opposed to certain aspects of bills currently before Congress. Here’s a story about Catholic efforts on the health reform issue, including the viewpoint of  Catholics voicing their support for universal health care.

The Catholic Courier, newspaper of the Diocese of Rochester, N.Y., reports that many in that group are calling for a government-run health-insurance plan that would compete with private insurance, and mandate that all Americans have health insurance.

New Italian book features then-Cardinal Ratzinger on liturgy

Pope Benedict in Jerusalem 2009


VATICAN CITY — Our Italian colleague, Andrea Tornielli, today published two texts written by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on the liturgy. The pieces — one a letter translated from German into Italian and another from a speech — are contained in a new book, “Davanti al Protagonista: Alla Radici della Liturgia” (“Before the Protagonist: At the Roots of the Liturgy”).

The letter by the future pope was written in 2003 to Heinz-Lothar Barth, a classics professor at the University of Bonn, Germany. The text — in German, in English and even in Italian — has been available on Web sites for years.

The letter expresses support for Catholics attached to the older form of the Latin Mass. One of the most interesting paragraphs (our translation from the Italian) states:

Nevertheless I believe that in the long term the Roman church once again must have only one Roman rite. In practice, the existence of two official rights would be difficult for bishops and priests to ‘manage.’ The Roman rite of the future should be one, celebrated in Latin or in the vernacular, but completely in the tradition of the rite that was handed down to us. This could include some new elements that have been experienced as valid such as the new feasts, some new prefaces for Mass, an extended lectionary — with more choices than before, but not too many — a ‘oratio fidelium,’ that is, a fixed litany of intercessions that follow the ‘Oremus’ before the offertory, which is where it had been placed.

Of course, all this has been superseded by history. Pope Benedict in 2007 relaxed restrictions on use of the Tridentine rite as an alternative to the post-Vatican II liturgy. Rather than speak of this as two coexisting rites, the pope has described it as “two usages of the one Roman rite.”