Saturday, December 31, 2011

Archbishop Dolan's Response

Hello All! After a long wait, I have received a response from Archbishop Dolan!! I was so excited when I opened the package and I remembered that I needed to post his response so that those who wanted know whether or not he had written back can see his letter. In short, I have scanned the letter so that all of you may read it if your desire. I am so grateful that he took time out of his very busy schedule to write me and answer my questions. He even sent me two of his most recent publications, Called to Be Holy and Advent Reflections-Come Lord Jesus! Thank you so much Archbishop! You are the best! Happy New Year Everyone!

The above letter says as follows:

Dear John,

Thank you most sincerely for your letter of November 3, 2011. Your thoughtfulness is deeply appreciated.

John, I am so sorry that it took so long to respond to your letter. Yes, I remember you fondly from Saint Matthias Parish. How happy I am to learn that you are a senior at Nathan Hale High School and, more so, that you are contemplating a vocation to the priesthood. If I had any part in this, I thank the Lord for using me as His vessel.

As to your questions, I did experience a number of temptations: Is the priesthood what I really want to do? Is the Lord calling me to serve as a priest? Am I worthy? Wouldn't I rather marry? What kind of priest would I be? However, I entrusted my worries, doubts, fears, and questions to Jesus. I also remained faithful to the Mass, prayer, good friends, and Sacrament of Confession. In the end, it all worked out-as I hope it does for you, too.

Enclosed are two of my publications that I hope you will enjoy.

Be assured that you and your loved ones will have a special remembrance at my Masses and in my prayers, particularly at Midnight Mass in the cathedral.

With prayerful best wishes for a blessed Christmas and a holy, happy, and healthy new year, I am,

Faithfully in Christ,

Most Reverend Timothy M. Dolan
Archbishop of New York

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Letter of Inquiry

Just a few short weeks ago, my Effective Composition class was assigned to write and mail a letter of inquiry to someone that had affected us in a particular way whether it was positive or negative. The purpose of this letter was to write to someone who inspired us to listen to our heart and follow our dreams and hopefully receive some sort of response back with some sort of advice. Many people in my class chose to write to rock stars, politicians and even to the President of the United States of America. I chose to write to Archbishop Dolan. I would be absolutely thrilled if I get a response back! Below is my letter to the Archbishop.

Dear Archbishop Dolan,

My name is John Bender and I am a senior at Nathan Hale High School in West Allis, WI. I am writing to you today because you are a huge inspiration to me and countless others who follow the Catholic faith. My family and I have been life long members of St. Matthias Parish in Milwaukee, and loved getting to meet, talk with you and receive an occasional bear-hug or headlock from you. It was so awesome just to be able to approach you with questions, talk briefly about sports or simply just say hello. I remember having breakfast with you at the first annual vocations seminary summer camps that were held at St. Francis De Sales Seminary, which had been coordinated by Father James Lobacz. Just the way you were always smiling, making jokes and praying so hard during Mass all made a huge impact on me and my own vocation.

For my Effective Composition class I was assigned to write a letter to someone that inspires me and encourages me to follow my dreams. Many of my classmates are writing to professional athletes, rock stars and politicians. I chose to write to you. Ever since I was in in 5th grade, I have felt a call to the Catholic priesthood. I have been attending Mass regularly, participating as an acolyte, lector and cantor. I have also attended discernment groups and vocation camps offered by the seminary. I am also thinking off enrolling at St. Joseph’s College Seminary Program in Chicago as a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee next year.

The reason why I am writing to you is because I am seeking words of wisdom and answers to questions that I have while I am still discerning. I couldn’t think of a better person to ask. I am wondering if at any time during your discernment process you felt temptation, and what you did to overcome it and continue on your path to priesthood? I’m also wondering how your prayer life was during your discernment and if you had a special saint in particular that you prayed to as you continued on the path that you were going. Any other additional advice you would have for someone who is discerning the priesthood would be really appreciated. Thanks so much for your time and for reading this letter. I know that you are extremely busy but I would really appreciate any advice or help you could give me.


John Bender

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


It seems that every time someone looks like they have everything together, does the right thing or seems holy beyond measure, it seems like at that moment that the Devil will come after you hard. He will try to tempt you, try to exploit your weaknesses, trying to get you to let go just once from God and what he wants you to do.

This is something that I'm sure everyone has experienced, and unfortunately its something that I'm going through right now. At this point in my life, I feel under attack, then again doesn't everyone feel this way once in a while? Still, this feeling really bothers me. It bothers me that people look at my blog, write to me asking for advice, telling me that I will make a great priest someday and look at me as someone who is surely on the right path. It bothers me that I write back emails answering questions, counseling fellow friends, trying to give away words of wisdom, all while I struggle with very same things. I feel like a complete hypocrite.

It's easy for me when things are going right to say: "Lord, give me a cross to carry, and let me bring others closer to you and lead by example," but then as soon as a little temptation hits me, I'm done and I give up. On the outside I may look like I persevere through temptation and sin but on the inside when no ones looking over my shoulder, at that moment, that's when I give in to temptation. People tell me that I am strong in my faith, but in honest truth, my faith is weak. The quote, "How do you live your life, when no one is watching?", makes me think of myself every single time.

This may seem like a dark and depressing blog post, probably one that many of you will pass over. Some of you maybe thinking to yourself, "He used to have strong faith, and now it looks like he is no longer faithful to God. He has lost all hope and trust." But isn't this true for all of us? Isn't this something that we all face? Everywhere we look there are distractions, traps, bad decisions and sometimes they do get the best of us, but the challenge is making sure that no matter what we do, no matter how far down in the dark we feel, that we still stretch out our hands toward Jesus and His loving mercy.

Jesus loves us no matter how many bad things we do or say, but its up to us to make an effort towards Him. If we even so much as take a step in God's direction, we know that He will run a million miles to where you stand. We all have ups and downs, we all have difficult challenges that we face, but no matter how many times we fall, no matter how many times we feel worthless and down and covered in sin, we must remember how important it is to get back up and continue on the path to forgiveness. Christ will meet us there, guaranteed.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

"The End is Just the Beginning"

Well the end of a long beautiful summer vacation is slowly coming to an end. It felt so good to sleep in a little bit and not worry about homework and tests and grades for a while. Unfortunately school starts up this Thursday! To tell you the truth, I am not ready to go back to school, then again who really is ready for school to start?

This summer was an extremely busy one for me. I had the unique opportunity as many of you may know, working two jobs; one as a maintenance assistant at my parish and the other as a dietary aide at Heritage Assisted Living Complex. It was definitely an interesting and rewarding experience.

My job as a maintenance assistant began with a brisk five mile bike ride at 5:30 in the morning. It definitely helped me work up a sweat. I learned a lot this summer; I learned how to fix broken desks and chairs, how to strip and wax church and school floors but most importantly, the importance of hard work, taking initiative and never giving up when things get hard or difficult.

My second job as a dietary aide at Heritage Assisted Living gave me an excellent chance to meet and work with all different kinds of people. I am so fortunate to be able to create relationships with some of the residents, being able to talk to them, ask them how their day is going and just being able to put on a smile on their faces. These are things that I am so grateful for everyday. We are all called to live and show Christ to others, so I am so happy that I can bring just a little bit of joy and happiness to some of the residents with just in a simple "hello".

Since this is my senior year, it is also a year of continued college searching, continued studying for ACT tests, writing papers and doing homework, but also a year of making memories with my friends at Nathan Hale High School. It will be a different year with different teachers and different classmates but all in all, it will be a lot of fun! Starting something new is always great! I am anxious about beginning my last year of high school this year. I know that it will be a lot of work so you can bet that I will be leaning on God for help so that I can finish my high school career strongly and will also depend on Him as I move on to a new stage in my life. I ask you to please keep all students who are returning to school this year in your prayers.

"The end is just the beginning!"- From the movie "Soul Surfer"

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Congratulations Bishop Hying!

This Wednesday I was given the tremendous honor of being able to attend Bishop Donald J. Hying's Ordination as the new Auxiliary Bishop for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee! After all, it isn't everyday that you see an Ordination of a Bishop, not to mention that of a close friend.

My Mom, Dad, and my friend Jerry and I were lucky to be a part of the 700 invited guests at this wonderful occasion. We were also able to get great seats, close to the front so we could see all the action up close. It was very cool to see the hundreds of priests, the 18 Bishops from both our Archdiocese and neighboring diocese, and the seminarians and seminary summer campers all present.

One of the things that really stood out for me on that great day was Bishop Hying's personality and attitude. Having a special celebration in your honor can be overwhelming. You can be sucked into pride; feeling like your on top of the world! I for one would probably feel this way. Bishop Hying was the complete opposite however. Throughout that entire day, and the days leading up to his ordination, Bishop Hying remained humbled, full of humility. He often stated to Archbishop Listecki, in a joking manner of course that "he was probably the most unqualified person to ever be ordained a Bishop." This is one of the special traits and characteristics that he possesses; total self-abandonment to God and perfect submission to His will.

To be an Auxiliary Bishop means to serve the Archbishop, priests, and the whole church community to the best of his ability. Bishop Hying will indeed have his work cut out for him as he will travel across the Archdiocese ministering to each and every person he meets.

To me, Bishop Hying is a role model for me during my own discernment. If I do indeed become a priest I should look to him as a mentor as to how I should serve others with the same love, care, and humility that he does each and every day. Bishop Hying truly inspires me and reminds me through his episcopal motto, that even throughout hardships and trials during my life, "Love Never Fails."

Thank you Bishop Hying, for teaching me how to love and care for the church through simple acts of kindness and compassion, which you demonstrate day in and day out. I want to thank you for everything that you have done for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee both now and in the future.

May God bless you always!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Seminary Camp Reflection "What is "Your" plan for me?" Part 2

The ride down the tree lined drive of St. Francis De Sales Seminary usually gives me a sense of peace and tranquility, but on this day, the day of the fourth seminary summer camp things were different. I was still feeling upset about my grades, about my ACT test and how that all played into my future. For me there is nothing I want more than to serve God as a priest. I am sure that this is what I want to do with the rest of my life, but those marks on the college entrance tests left me feeling down.

On the the way to the seminary, my mom suggested that I talk to Father Peter Berger, the Vocations Director, and Deacon Ryan Pruess who will be ordained a priest in May of next year, about what I should do. Could this really be a sign that I am not meant for the priesthood? Talking to them was probably the best thing that I could have ever done. As it turns out, Deacon Ryan attended a two year technical college and then transferred his credits he earned over to Cardinal Stritch University for his final two years of college. This path that lead him to the Seminary allowed him to avoid the ACT tests needed to enter into many colleges. Deacon Ryan is one of the smartest and friendliest people I know.

Father Peter Berger also provided words of wisdom and strength. Father Peter reminded me that God is in control and if he has a plan for me He will make it happen, regardless of what obstacles I face. Father Peter also told me that I should take the ACT test at least one more time, and advised me to pray and don't worry.

These meetings and talks with Father Peter and Deacon Ryan were definitely what I needed that day. Their words of wisdom kept my doubts at bay and gave me new hope for the future and what the Lord has in store for me. I am so happy to have such great friends and mentors who have been through everything that I am experiencing and can give me advice.

My time at the camp this year was just as relaxing and enjoyable as they had been in the years past. It certainly gave me the opportunity to continue to reflect on God's will for me and my vocation. Thank you Father Peter, Deacon Ryan and all who have kept me in their prayers each and every day. Know that you all in my prayers as well!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Seminary Reflection- " What is "Your" plan for me? Part 1

The next few posts that will be uploaded are my own reflections on my past seminary summer camp. They contain thoughts that crossed my mind and things that I struggled with while there. These posts have been divided into parts, each part being posted on a different day to create suspense, allow time for reflection and prayer for those who are also going through some of the same things I am currently undertaking, such as being in high school and also discerning a call to the priesthood. I hope that you enjoy each and every part of this story and share it with others who are dealing with similar feelings and thoughts in their own discernment processes.

Discernment processes for those thinking of certain vocations, particularly the Catholic Priesthood, provide an opportunity to grow in your faith in God, to expand your love for our Mother Church whom you will ultimately give your entire life to and lastly, to learn how to trust one another. You also learn how to help and guide one another on your own individual journeys.

Despite all of the positive influences and opportunities that you gain while discerning a possible vocation to the Catholic priesthood; There are in fact a few things that apply unneeded pressure and negative impacts for someone discerning. Lately there has been a one thing that has been pressuring me, my current education.

One of the things that I have learned in discussions and talks at my local seminary is that education is extremely important. You need four years of college and at least a philosophy major and theology degree. This is my final year of high school coming up, so my life is busy with researching colleges and programs, taking ACT tests and working full time to save money for tuition. I'm realizing real quick that life is hard.

Before I even enter a college, I need to meet requirements. I need to match grade point average scales, ACT test scores and cumulative grade scores to the colleges that I am interested in. Lets just say that school has always been tough. To be honest, I am a horrible test taker. It certainly shows on my ACT scores, which were well below the requirement for a number of colleges I had wanted to attend. This has certainly made me start rethinking my vocation and filled me with doubt. After all I have taken the ACT test twice already, each time coming out feeling very confident, so sure that I had such a great score only to find out two weeks later that I had not met my expectations.

Thoughts began filling my head with, "How can I become a priest when I can't even get out of high school? What is wrong with me that no matter how hard I study, things just don't work in my favor? God does not want a dumb, uneducated man to become his priest! How can God lead me through all of these summer camps that I relish each and every summer while placing seminarians, priests and even bishops in front of me to inspire, teach and guide me, just so I can fall short of expectations and realize that the priesthood is no longer a possibility?" I became angry at God... What is "Your" plan for me?

-To be continued

Monday, July 11, 2011

Guest Post By Michael Lawinger "Go, take your faith! Ignite the World!"

This is the fourth guest post that has been sent to me by a fellow seminary summer camper. Michael Lawinger has attended the summer camps held at St. Francis De Sales Seminary all four years that it has been offered. I am so happy that he wrote a post on his overall review of the camp, showing how it has grown and truly shaped vocations in the many teens that have attended over the years. Thank you so much Michael and all that have written guest posts for my blog. Know that I am praying for each and everyone of you. No matter if we become priests or not, I am still so grateful for your friendship throughout these years. Michael's wonderful post is below.

This year was my fourth time at seminary camp, and I am proud to have made every camp to date. There was one thing you noticed when you saw the first camp four years ago; it was small. The junior high camp only had 5 campers, but even then I saw something I never thought I would realize. I was not the only one discerning the priesthood in the whole state of Wisconsin! It was a great thing to see that, and even greater was the sight of next year’s camp. Over tripling in size it was now at 16, and it swelled with new energy and personalities. Yet again the bond became stronger as the camaraderie grew, seeing and meeting new people, as well as catching back up with the group from the previous year.

I was very proud of the second year camp, as I dragged a friend, his brother, and my brother to camp that year, and I was not the only one who did. More and more the camp grew with people drawn in. The truth is attractive, and no matter how much the world and the devil want to change it, some men are called to become priests. I have always felt a gut feeling ever since I was about 6 that the man behind the altar should one day be me. The call grew and grew, and when Bishop Elect Hying, then just Fr. Don (at the camp we affectionately named him the late Fr. Don) asked if I wanted to go to the first camp I jumped at the chance. The camps have definitely deepened my outlook on the priesthood, and what a priest actually does. The camp also helped me understand the gravity of the priesthood, for no man without the aid of God can have such an impact on others lives.

The spiritual camaraderie was astounding. We all understood there was something that made us feel we would be happy in the vocation of priesthood, and this common bond resonated throughout the camp. From playing monopoly till 2 in the morning, or deriving a logical proof from scientific evidence that God exists, we knew we were one in the same.

God looks out for us, Deus providebit, God will provide; He just asks we trust him. Not even the deepest dark can put out a candle, and every single person that attended seminary camp is a candle, and it is their choice to light others. Putting all 21 candles together this year only made us burn brighter, and created a holy bonfire. You could almost visibly see the holiness jumping from person to person giving energy and light to any situation.

From mass to confession, the sacraments were fuel to the flame, and during adoration we were scorched with the true presence of God. We knew we all had the same goal. Priesthood or not we were alive with the fire of the Holy Spirit and nothing was going to stop us. For we are the burning ones and we will not be contained!
Go, take your faith. Ignite the world!

Michael Lawinger

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Totus Tuus "Totally Yours"

I am very pleased to announce that this is newest guest post that I have received from one of my fellow campers from the Seminary Summer Camps at St. Francis De Sales Seminary this year, Jay Egan. This past Seminary Summer Camp was Jay's first! Hopefully it will not be his last. It was so fun having Jay as a roommate and to be able to talk and pray with him. God bless you Jay and may He continue to guide you on your path of discernment. Know that I am praying for you each and everyday! You can read Jay's awe-inspiring post below.

This was my first time attending the 2011 seminary summer camp. I was really impressed, the whole experience was really illuminating. There were a couple of things that really stuck with me. First was the fact that I'm not alone. Satan likes to isolate and divide people, and build up a pride in their apparent uniqueness. This was an illusion that was instantly shattered. It was very easy to see that many of the boys there were very serious about discerning God's call, and genuinely desired to do the will of God, and the people there were equals. Second, the immense common bond and instant camaraderie shared by all the guys by virtue of their potential vocation. The community there felt like the Church Militant, and I got the sense that a number of boys were considering priesthood as a sort of zealous rebellion against the devil, the flesh, and the world. Most of the guys all seemed to be altar boy geeks like me. I expected something watered down, which is usually the fare teenagers get at things like this. This wasn't at all what I got. I had expected the talks to be basic, as if none of us had a regular prayer life. But the talks on prayer really addressed in many ways where I was at in my own spiritual life. We would talk about prayer, and it genuinely got you excited to pray (beyond just being emotionally enthused), and then we would go pray, and live out what we just talked about. It was all about living the theological truths we discussed. There was a great focus on hearing the voice of God and sitting in His presence. And then we would go pray before the Blessed Sacrament, pray the Liturgy of the Hours, go to Mass, and meet Him right there. It was a very contemplative experience for me, seeking silence to hear the voice of God and encounter His living reality and presence. I feel further convinced that His Majesty is calling me to serve Him as a priest, and the desire for this really takes my breath away. It's frustrating being unable to express one's gratitude to God, because He's so much bigger than anything you'd ever imagined. But I guess that's His will, to take your breath away and fill with silence and the breath of life – the Holy Spirit. This camp made be inexpressibly grateful for His goodness and the fullness of truth in His holy Church. One day I earnestly desire to say those infinitely precious and beautiful words: this is my body, this is my blood, and hold the fullness of truth Himself in my hands.

I was impressed by the service project, in which we helped the elderly and mentally disabled. I think I really was able to glimpse a manifestation of God's being there among the mentally disabled. They seemed really just so human. I could really feel God present there among them, amused and delighted by His creations simply enjoying themselves, even if they themselves might have been absolutely oblivious to His existence.

In this camp, Our Lord continued to open my up to the desire to do His will, and to abandon myself more deeply into His hands. Meeting the people there and growing closer to them impressed on me a lot of hope for the future of the Church and the world. His Majesty has a perfect plan, and the fulfillment of that plan is absolutely fantastic. One of the first things mentioned in the first of the talks was the literal translation for “fiat”, Our Lady's response to the message of Gabriel: do it. I guess this is the essence of sanctity. Abandon yourself to God, freely surrender everything you've got to His will, and let Him do it. In the words of the motto of Bl. John Paul II: totus tuus. Totally yours.

Deus tecum,

Jay Egan

Saturday, July 2, 2011

"The Least of His Brethren; A Conversation with God" By: Kenny Urlakis

This is the second guest post that I had promised to upload, once again about the Seminary Summer Camp that I attended. This guest post is written by a good friend of mine, Kenny Urlakis, who has also attended past summer camps. Kenny is a wonderful writer and even maintains his own blog! To visit it please click here. Thank you Kenny for writing this wonderful masterpiece and also for your continued friendship. Kenny's post is below-

Hello. My name is Ken. I was one of the campers who attended “Is it I, Lord?”- the camp/retreat at St. Francis De Sales Seminary. I have attended this camp for two years in a row and plan to attend in the future as long as they keep up this awesome experience.
My most fond experience at “Is it I, Lord?” this year was the service project at the St. Ann’s Center. When we departed from the Seminary, I must admit I did feel a little nervous. I had heard from the seminarians that we would be working with everybody-from the nursery and children’s day care to the mentally disabled and the elderly. A combination of my own human pride along with a sentiment of uncertainty left me feeling a little on edge. I kept this emotion in the back of my mind as I hiked along with the other guys, cracking jokes and doing other boy things (i.e. pulling little pranks, playing with sticks. . . you get the picture).
When we arrived at our destination, we were split up into small groups and sent to different units. I and two other guys were picked to go to the Alzheimer’s and dementia unit. As soon as I heard in what unit I would serve, the same emotion came over me. However this time, I decided to conquer it, and saying a quick prayer for humility, I fell in rank with the other two as we marched on to where we would serve. As we marched, I called to my memory my Grandma, who died of Alzheimer’s seven years ago. When we arrived at the unit, I found out that the patients were not as scary as my human pride had made them out to be. We all had a nice game of bingo while watching a movie. Then came the time to take the patients for a walk around the building.
I was paired up with a peaceful older man. He was tall and with his long with beard he looked like a Jewish Rabbi. He looked like God. God walking along with me in blue jeans and a white polo shirt. As we walked along he spoke almost nothing. Finally as we passed a sign that read “Aquatic Center,” he turned to me and said slowly with great difficulty, “I went swimming yesterday.” I, unsure of what to say, blurted out “really, was it fun?” Almost as soon as the words were out of my mouth, I thought of the stupidity of my response. However, he still continued the conversation by responding – again, slowly and with great difficulty - “Yes.” This was all he said to me. Yet, as I reflected, I realized that this was not just a conversation about a dip in the pool – no, this was a conversation with God. The Second Person of The Blessed Trinity says in Matthew 25:40: "Whatever you did to the least of my brethren, you did it to me."
On our hike back to the Seminary, instead of cracking jokes, we talked about our experiences serving God in the "least of His Brethren."- Kenny Urlakis

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Guest Post by John Orgovan

In my last post I mentioned that I would be posting guest posts from fellow seminary campers writing about their overall experience of camp this year and things that they participated in, that impacted their own discernment processes. Who better to start off the guest blogging than John Orgovan, a camper who has attended the camps for three years straight and was my roomate this year. I am so happy that he decided to write a post and perhaps try to stir up further interest in the Seminary camps. I am so grateful and so happy for his friendship.

" Seminary Camp has been an opportunity for me to truly "be me". This year's camp was amazing because we had a total of 22 guys! That is a huge step up from the first two years of the camp. Just getting to hangout with guys my age who share my faith is truly a blessing.

If any guys who have ever even wondered about the possiblity of priesthood are reading this, I really encourage them to get involved at their local seminary, become involved in your parish if you aren't already, and finally pray for an increase for vocations. Thank you Father Peter Berger, Susi Kurek, Deacon Ryan Pruess, and all the seminarians and staff for once again, making this summer camp one of the best experiences I have ever had."

-John Orgovan

Please pray for John and for all those who are discerning a call to the priesthood and for an increase in vocations.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Highlight of Summer

It is said that summer is a time of relaxation, fun and getting away from stresses of school, homework and tests. But this year my summer has been the complete opposite. I have been hired to work two jobs; one at my home parish, St. Matthias, and the other at Heritage Assisted Living Nursing home as a dietary aide. This is my second year working at my parish as a maintenance assistant. Even though it is only a seasonal job and considered part-time, I work a full day, Monday through Friday, from six in the morning until two in the afternoon.

Sometimes I leave one job and directly go to the other. Even though working through the summer is not something that people usually look forward to, I consider myself very blessed to be able to have not only one job, but two.

With that being said I am pleased to be able to take some time away from work and return to the Seminary Summer Camps for the fourth year in a row. I treat every year that I go as a small retreat. Each camp brings special opportunities to relax, to meet new people who share the same interests and thoughts that I do, to be able to grow in my prayer life, and also to gain further insight into what God wants me to do with the rest of my life. I can easily say that it is the highlight of my summer each and every year. Each camp truly sets me on fire with the Holy Spirit, to continue to seek what God has in store for me in the upcoming months and years.

As I have done in the past, the next few posts that I write will be sharing some of the experiences and highlights of this year's camp: sessions and talks about subjects that influence both my own discernment process and those of my fellow campers, service projects and the impacts that they had, and I also will include guest posts from fellow discerners who camped with me this year and who want to share how they were inspired or influenced by the things that they participated in over the past few days. And so I invite you to continue to visit this blog to read, learn and discover the many ways God calls us to vocations (particularly to the priesthood) and how he constantly works in us and influences us to do His will.

Stay Tuned!

Monday, June 6, 2011


The last few days of school are suddenly upon us! This Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are each filled with final exams, warm weather, and excitement for the upcoming months of summer. For some, studying for finals is the last thing on their minds. Afterall, who wouldn't want to be outside on a beautiful sunny day?

In some sense, final exam week can be seen as a rollercoaster. The weeks leading up to exams are stressful and intimidating, forcing a student to study long and hard into the night hours. Pressure to score the highest you possibly can, trying to remember everything you learned during the year in each class builds up. Finally, the day arrives and you are on the top of the rollercoaster. Time seems to stand still as you go through every question, sometimes going back and erasing answers you thought were right, only to find out were completely wrong. As you make you way through the last exams, it seems as if you are flying down the steep track of the rollercoaster toward the bright and beautiful light of summer vacation.....And suddenly......the rollercoaster ride of the year slowly comes to an end.

In a way, final exams and the rollercoaster ride you partake in, teach you a lot about life. Final exams are not very enjoyable, but isn't it true that the toughest things that we go through, the things that we do that we feel are unimportant to us at that time make us stronger? It is in these times, when I am feeling stressed that I turn to Christ. Jesus, to me, was a warrior. Even when at times of anguish and sadness, at times when we wanted to give up on what he was called to do, He still continued on, never complaining. Jesus never complained as he took up His cross and took upon himself the sins of the world. If Jesus can do that, than enduring final exams should be no problem. I only pray as I enter into the days of final exams, when the beautiful weather tempts me to slack off and become lazy in my studies, that I will have the strength to take my exams to the absolute best of my ability and then enjoy the wonderful months of summer!

I ask for your prayers for me and all students who are taking final exams in these next couple days. Thank you so much!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

"Make a joyful duty our sacrifice of praise."- Ordination Weekend Wrapup

This weekend I had a wonderful opportunity to attend the Ordination Masses for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and celebrate with five of the most influential and holiest men that I know, who were ordained to the priesthood. Fathers Christopher Klusman, Kevin Barnekow, Kevin McManaman, Javier Guativa and Hugo Londono I offer my congratulations to you and pray that your priestly ministry is one filled with joy, excitement, and ever increasing love and zeal for God and his continued mission for you all.

Even after ordination, it seemed that the celebration was just beginning. Only a few hours after being ordained, Father Kevin McManaman celebrated his Mass of Thanksgiving; his first Mass as a priest. It was such a joy to see him in his beautiful vestments, standing along with his fellow brother priests and celebrating his first Mass in his home parish, Nativity of The Lord Church. Father Kevin frequently helped with the Summer Camps and the Remnant Basketball Camp that my brothers and I attended. He was always so welcoming, so easy to talk to and always seemed ready to serve. It was such an honor to be able to journey with him through each year of the seminary leading up to now and I am so grateful for his friendship. May God continue to bless you as you are now His holy priest, and may he help you to love and serve His people with the same readiness to serve and enthusiasm that you so often showed during our times together.

Sunday was also a special day as Father Christopher Leonard Klusman celebrated his Mass of Thanksgiving at our home parish St. Matthias. Before the Mass at 11 o'clock in the morning, Father Christopher held a breakfast at a banquet hall filled with over 350 guests and my family was invited. It was a great honor and privilege to be able to eat with him, pray with him and celebrate with him, this beautiful day in his life. Father Christopher's Mass of Thanksgiving had to be one of the most beautiful Masses I have ever attended. Everything from the music, to the prayers and liturgy, the meeting new people and seeing old friends was absolutely fantastic and I felt blessed beyond words to be a part of it.

Although Father Christopher has many special qualities, one of them that really stands out is hard of hearing. Father Christopher has been deaf from birth but it certainly has not hindered his being able and willing to serve and love others. He always seems to have a big bright smile on his face and that has become his trademark. Father Christopher is one of only five priests who are deaf in the nation. We have a deaf community in our Archdiocese of Milwaukee, a large part of it at my parish St. Matthias. Father Christopher will be working with the Archdiocesan Deaf Community along with St. Romans Catholic Parish in Milwaukee. Please pray for Father Christopher and all those recently ordained that they may serve God to the very best of their abilities as his Holy priests and be filled with the joy and happiness of Christ as they become like Him for the rest of the world. Know of my prayers for all of you!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Be Sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit

Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit! These words are still ringing in my ears, engraved in my heart; a trace of the chrism is still on my forehead, in my hair and hands. What a wonderful spring break it was, to be able to celebrate the Triduum in a special way by cantoring to thank and praise God, and then be confirmed the next week!

This past Saturday was my Confirmation. My sponsor, Father Matthew Widder, and I were both fired up and excited. This was the day we had both eagerly awaited for 8 months. All candidates and their sponsors began the celebration of Confirmation in the back of church so that we could process in. Auxilary Bishop Richard J. Sklba, the presiding bishop at our Confirmation, tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to Father Matthew, "Is this your sponsor? You couldn't find anyone better?" he joked as he put his arm around me and shook Father's hand saying, "Good to see you Matthew." Father Matthew had just been ordained one year ago.

For me the coolest experience I ever had was being anointed with the sacred chrism. It smelled so wonderful! I chose to keep the name John Paul, my baptismal name, for my confirmation name. I wanted to keep my real name because my birthday was on the same date that Pope John Paul II was elected to the papacy, October 16th. It is for this reason that I was named after him. What made it even more special was that Pope John Paul II's beatification was on the following day. Father Matthew presented me proudly, "Bishop Sklba, I present John Paul!" Bishop Sklba then turned to me with sacred chrism in his hands and lifting them up to my forehead said, "John Paul, be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit!" Then he proceeded by taking more chrism and rubbed it in my hair, on my hands, and on Father Matthew's hands. It was such a beautiful sight. He then took my hands into his and said, "Peace be with you." After I responded with, "And also with you," Bishop Sklba looked into my eyes and said quietly, "And best wishes for continued discernment." At this my eyes began to fill up with tears of joy. I thanked the Bishop and then walked back to my pew with Father Matthew and we were both beaming and grinning. It was the happiest time in my life.

After the Mass, my family, Father Matthew, and I all went down into the church basement for a reception and a chance for a picture with Bishop Sklba. When it was my turn for a picture with Bishop, my sponsor and mom and dad joined me. Bishop Sklba put his arm around me again as we smiled for the camera and said, "John Paul, I really enjoyed your letter that you wrote." ( In the Confirmation sessions, one of the assignments we had was to write letters to the presiding bishop). "The priesthood is a wonderful life," he continued. "It is life-giving, fulfilling, and energizing. It is never dull or boring. It is a beautiful life. I'll be pulling for you during your discernment. Know of my prayers." When we were done taking pictures I shook his hand and thanked him for everything he had said. That was definitely a memory that I will never forget. What an honor it is to be told personally by the bishop that he would be praying for me!

The next day my family held a party for me at my house and had invited over 50 guests. I had not seen some of the guests in years, so the fact that my being confirmed had brought family members back was awesome and definitely moving. One of the highlights of that day was the fact that we had invited six priests to my Confirmation and all of them came either to the Mass or to the house for the party. It was cool to be able to sit down and eat lunch and talk with each priest. Each of them have impacted my faith and my views on priesthood and are very special to me.

The whole weekend was the most amazing experience I have ever had and I will never forget it as long as I live. I would like to thank everyone who was holding me close to their heart in prayer as I made my way up to my Confirmation and was sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. It really means a lot to me how much everyone cares for me and is keeping me in their daily prayers. I really appreciate that. Thank you for all that you do and have a Blessed Easter Season!

Also on the top of the page is my Confirmation picture with my parents, my Sponsor Father Matthew, and Bishop Sklba. It is kind of blurry but I still love it!:) -John

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Easter Sunday Weekend Wrap-Up

Happy Easter! The weather is warming up, my confirmation is coming up in a few short days and our Lord Jesus Christ is risen from the dead! I don't know how it can get any better that this. The triduum is always so beautiful, filled with such wonderful music, prayers, homilies and inspiring gospel stories of our Lord's Last Supper with His disciples, The Crucifixion of Jesus and finally his rising from death back to life again. Each one has a different and special meaning for me each year.

This year's triduum brought forth a new experience for me, as I was given the honor of singing the intercessions at both Holy Thursday Mass and the Easter Vigil. It was very exciting for me, standing in front of the congregation at the ambo. Some of you reading this might be wondering, "Why is this such a big deal? After all he does cantor and lector regularly at Mass." The extreme honor that I felt when I was singing, was having the privilege to sing the prayers of the entire community. Some of the prayers included the prayers for those who had been baptized and brought into full communion with the church at the Easter Vigil, the prayers for those who feel abandoned in their afflictions and the faithful departed whose life-long vigil had ended. I felt truly blessed to sing the prayers of the people of our parish up to God. It was the experience of a lifetime.

On Easter Sunday my family was invite for breakfast at the house of the rector of St. Francis De Sales Seminary, Father Don Hying. His beautiful loft overlooked the huge seminary forest and the paths below. It was so peaceful and extremely quiet. I felt blessed to be able to spend time with Father and talk with him. While we were there, Father Don presented to me his rosary that was blessed by Pope Benedict XVI on his latest trip to the Vatican. It was his early Confirmation present for me as I am set to be confirmed this Saturday! I am so blessed to have a friend like him.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Weekend at the Seminary

Its hard to believe that two weeks have come and gone already. Time sure flies when you're having fun! A couple of weeks ago my brothers, Justin, Joe and I went to the Remnant Basketball camp at the Cousin's Center in St. Francis, WI. The Cousin's Center is a former minor seminary that was once filled with high school students working their way up to St. Francis De Sales Major Seminary next door. A lot of time has passed since then and the Cousin's Center now stands nearly vacant with the exception of a few Archdiocesan offices; so it was great that our camp was held there, bringing some life to the building.

The Remnant Basketball camp was created and led by several seminarians with whom I have become good friends. The weekend involved: staying overnight Friday and Saturday, going on morning runs, lots of opportunities for pick-up games of basketball, working on skills, listening to spirituality talks by guest speakers and also included time for Adoration and Benediction. For me, the highlights of the weekend had to be the talks on spirituality by seminarians Ryan Pruess, Kurt Krause and Archbishop Listecki. They have so much wisdom and knowledge that I really took to heart.

In one of the talks, Kurt Krause talked about how,"people always tell us that we are the future of the church. We are called to be active members in the church. What we fail to realize, though, is that we are no longer the church of tomorrow, but the church of NOW! We are called to be active in the church NOW! The church doesn't needs wishy-washy Catholics, but instead strong active members, fighting for the faith." This talk really struck me, and invited me to continue being an active participant in my church and in the various groups that stand up for the faith.

Archbishop Listecki's talk also inspired me both as a ballplayer and as one who is discerning a vocation to be a priest when he said, "The same skills that you use in basketball, the team building and motivating your teammates; use those skills in your day to day life." In the different aspects of life, we need these skills in all that we do, whether it be as a student in the classroom, an accountant in a business office or a priest in a parish. This talk with the Archbishop was a great way for me to look at life and how we all should live it.

After camp my family and I attended the St. Francis De Sales Seminary Open House. It was beautiful to see so many youth in attendance! The seminary itself was bursting with excitement. That weekend was truly an awesome experience. I loved every minute of it. I would like to offer an word of thanks to everyone at St. Francis De Sales Seminary for inspiring me and other teens, inviting us to deepen our relationship in God. I would like to thank seminarians Ryan Pruess, Kurt Krause and the Vocations Office at St. Francis for creating a wonderful camp that not only helped my basketball skills, but also taught me that these same skills can be used to help others and build the kingdom of heaven. Thank you for all the wonderful things that you do!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Lenten Struggles

Hi everybody! I haven't posted anything in a while. I have been under a lot of stress lately. I try not to let others know how I am feeling, but it seems like everything overwhelms me. School has been rough for me trying to keep grades up and improve the ones that are not so great. I have become very lazy and often I pass on doing my homework right away, in order to do the things that I consider more important. I know that school is very important and that in order to get into colleges I need to put forth all the effort that I have into my school work. Everything seems to bother me and overwhelm me.

My Lenten promises that I made, small sacrifices meant to strengthen my relationship with God and give me a small taste of what it feels like to give up something you love and exchange it for a deeper bond with Christ are hard to give up. It is hard for me to stick with them. I feel like my relationship with God is sort of faltering. I feel so far away from his presence and his love. Perhaps I might be feeling this way because of the church season? Lent after all, is often viewed as a sad reflective church season.

Although I feel far away from and unworthy of God's love, I realize that even though this season of Lent is a sad and reflective season because we reflect upon the death of our Lord Jesus, but it can also be seen as a season of joy! We can see this as an opportunity to deepen our relationship with Christ by looking on what we are struggling with and then going to God with our arms wide open and trusting in him to take complete care of us. This season may seem to be sad, but it does not have to be our mindset. We can have a happy and joyful Lent, one that can deepen our relationship with our God who loves us despite our struggles and problems.

A Blessed Lent Everyone!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Catholic Priest: The Image of Christ

Hi everyone! Just recently received an email from the author of a world-renowned book, Mr. Steen Heidemann, entitled The Catholic Priest; The Image of Christ asking me if I would be so kind as to write a small book review to promote his book on the website that I currently work on A Place to Explore Your Calling to be a Catholic Priest. I told him that I would. So here is my final review, on the wonderful masterpiece that surely will influence vocations to the Catholic priesthood for years to come. This review can also be found on our website under the news page. God Bless!

As a means of honoring the priesthood, Pope Benedict XVI declared last year to be the “Year of the Priest” but these heroic men need more than just one year of honor, and Steen Heidemann who worked tirelessly for eight years, has produced a timeless source of honor for priests with his masterpiece, The Catholic Priest; Image of Christ which reflects the true beauty of the Catholic Priesthood. Mr. Heidemann took an interest in presenting the faith and the priesthood in current art with alternatives to what is termed ‘contemporary or financial art’. According to Mr. Heidemann, “Works, to quote the Holy Father, do not copy previous centuries, but are made in a continuation with the past. The ordination picture here by American artist Neilson Carlin is an example.”

This 319 page book printed in six different languages (English, French, Italian, German, Portuguese and Spanish) is filled to the brim with the most stunning and inspirational pictures of the Catholic Priest in the different aspects of his life. Each of the works of our period shown by Christian artists in this book, reveal a continuation with the past rather than-a- simple echo of it. For those who are contemplating a vocation to the priestly life, this book truly will inspire you in your discernment.

As I read through the book, I was amazed by the many breathtaking images which portray how wonderful and beautiful it is to be able to work in the name of Christ, bringing others closer and closer to Him. While reading and admiring the beautiful artwork, it really struck me that in each painting, it is evident that Christ is depicted in each priestly image.

As a priest, men are called by God to be just like Christ, to be Christ himself. The term for this is to become an “alter Christus”. We men are called to love people, to care for them, counsel them, pray with them and for them, just as Christ did. This is the image that this book successfully portrays through the use of many beautiful portraits of the priesthood.

According to the author, the book is arranged with “the first and principle part of a sermon by the Holy Father given in Poland and texts by Cardinal Medina and the Institute of Christ the King, the main collaborators on this book. This describes not only what the priest does, but moreover who he is. This is then followed by several chapters on the holiness and charity of the priest, and after two inspiring texts on the Mass, and one on the priest as a monk, several examples are given such as St Bernard, St Jean-Marie Vianney, along with outstanding priests like St Maximillian Kolbe and Bl. Ivan Ziatyk, one who died at the hands of Nazism and the other during the insane years of Stalin in Ukraine. Finally, the question of what is a vocation is answered just before the conclusion written by Cardinals Canizares and Burke.”

Every picture depicts the Catholic priest giving his entire being to Christ during the different stages in his life, as well as in the lives of the people he serves. Each picture is so masterfully depicted that is hard for me to pick a favorite. I will hold all of these paintings, produced by artists from all over the world, close to my heart, as they inspire me to discern my own vocation, and draw me into a deeper respect and love for the priesthood.

Receiving this book was so wonderful and I will always treasure it, and turn to it again and again. I encourage any one who is discerning a vocation to the priesthood to purchase this book. I promise you will enjoy it as much as I did. This book would make a wonderful ordination or anniversary gift for a special priest in your life. It may also be useful instrument in teaching the Catechism to children and young adults. Owning The Catholic Priest; The Image of Christ and perusing the many fine works of art depicted within would make one feel that every year should be the year of the priest.

The Catholic Priest; The Image of Christ is printed in Italy by Grafiche Flaminia, a company run by priests, and is available for purchase online through the following points below-

English: US+ Canada: Ignatius Press with Liamar:

Rest of the English speaking world: Gracewing:

French: L’Oeuvre:

Italian: Cantagalli:

Soon to be released in Spanish, Portuguese and German.

This review is (c) John Bender 2011 and may not be reproduced or duplicated without prior permission

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

True Compassion

I recently got a new job at Heritage Assisted Living, a nursing home near my house. I work as a dietary aide, so my responsibilities include helping prepare food and then delivering it to the many different dining rooms around the home. After the meals are done being served, then I make my rounds again and take the dirty dishes back to the kitchen in order to wash and return them. It is not a very challenging job, and it can also be very fun and very rewarding.

One of the things that I love about my job is being able to work with people. Many of the people at the home are very sad. They feel helpless, no longer independent. They are no longer able to do the things that they like to do. They feel depressed and lonely, hardly getting to see their family except for a couple of times a year. When I bring food to them, I can't help but feel sorry for them. Here are people that worked hard all of their lives and now are being deprived of their independence.

When I prepare the food for the next days meals, I pray for each and every resident that lives their. I pray that they may remain healthy and do not become sick. I pray that they have a little joy and happiness in their lives, that they are not overcome with loneliness and boredom. I pray that they might see God in their lives each and everyday and know that he is right beside them always.

After preparing the food, it is now time to deliver it. When I do this, I make sure to put on a big smile and be friendly to the residents when I make my entrance in the dining room. As I make my way to each table, presenting them with their food I make a point of asking everyone how they are, how their day has been going or maybe throwing in a couple comments or questions about the latest Green Bay Packers score.
At work my job is to prepare food, but I think that it should also consist of spreading a little joy and laughter into the residents hearts. Perhaps some of them have not had or experienced any in a long time.

I like to look at my job as a great ministry opportunity. A priest makes hospital visits and house calls, visiting with people and showing them the love and peace of Christ. If this is what God truly has planned for me, then I think I am on the right track with what I am doing at Heritage. This job can be used as great practice for my future vocation. We all need a little happiness and love in our lives, and I am happy to give it to all.