All second-year seminarians participate in two full-time internships: one in a parish of their home diocese and one in a hospital setting.
In the second semester, our seminarians return to their home diocese to intern at a parish, where they are fully immersed in the life and ministries of the local Church, learning from an experienced mentor pastor.
The late winter wind wails wisps of Sunday snow scurry across the parking lot as the bitter chill bights at my face. Ephrata seems normal this morning. The gloom sobers my thoughts as I drive to church. I am there simply to turn on the lights. Father Mauricio Muñoz exposes the Blessed Sacrament with one elderly parishioner kneeling in a pew behind us. The church sits as a current paradox: peaceful yet unsettled; quiet yet loud with uncertainty, empty yet full of hope.
After an hour of turbulent prayer, I hop in my Corolla again for the five-minute drive up the hill to the rectory. Gazing through my windshield, life seems normal. But it isn’t. Entering the simple, sublime chapel, I find solace in the familiar preparations required for Mass. I light the candles. I count the hosts. I pour the wine. Less wine than usual, but I still pour the wine. We are going to have Mass.
In comes Deacon Johnny Reyes, the consummate servant. He carries a tripod and a portable speaker. We are about to livestream Mass. I barely know what that means. But these are new times. The choir arrives, a married couple with their two daughters and one of their sons. They sit in the back pew, ready to sing, ready to serve. We perform a few sound tests with the handheld microphone. Johnny jokes that he is always loud and so won’t have to make any volume adjustments. I lack that gift. We move the speaker and the camera closer to the ambo. The phone is ready. The camera is recording. We are ready to roll.
The intimate nature of this chapel populated by a handful of people reminds of the day before, a frigid lonely Saturday afternoon. A line of people took turns frequenting the confessional in the main church. With the lights dim and Gregorian chant exuding peace, I felt a sense of solidarity with the people in centuries gone by. They huddled in churches to take refuge in Jesus from persecution. In a way, we are being persecuted. But we have each other. We have the Church. We have Jesus.
Father rings a simple glass bell to start Mass. The choir sings “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say.” In this cozy, aesthetically pleasing chapel, with its calming brown and cream hues, I can clearly hear each thread of the five-part harmony. It is our humble, earthly angelic choir reaching up to heaven from little Ephrata.
The procession from the sacristy to the sanctuary is just a few strides. The choir finishes their hymn. Mass begins. Father Mauricio references previous homilies about how people need to fast from Facebook. Sensing the irony, he meekly admits “now Facebook is saving us.” I wryly smile behind Father, having similar feelings about the social network. But God bless it today. Mass continues on as normal, or at least the new normal. As Father holds out his hands for the opening prayer, Johnny holds the missal and I hold the microphone. New normal.
This shouldn’t be happening. We shouldn’t be in this chapel. We should be in the main church. We should have five Masses. We should be hugging. We should be shaking hands. We should be together. Should, should, should. That word implies entitlement, privilege, rights. We have taken our “should” for granted. I know I did. Now we are realizing how blessed we were, how blessed we are. This has never happened before. Not the virus, but this reaction. We are all together in these unchartered waters. We’ll be telling kids about this forever.
New normal. That phrase keeps rattling around in my head. What was wrong with the old normal? Maybe we were too complacent. Maybe we needed to refresh our gratitude. Maybe, no scratch that, ABSOLUTELY God is bringing something beautiful out of this situation. Imagine how grateful we are going to be after this. I do believe there will be an after. Yes, we’ll be grateful. To celebrate Mass. To eat at a restaurant. To shake hands. To be together again.
While Father delivers his encouraging homily, the deacon whispers to me. He’ll ring the bell during the consecration and I’ll hold the mic. Moments later, we are at the altar. Father holds his hands out as he reads the prayers. I am supposed to be kneeling at this point, but I’m standing, trying to concentrate on holding the microphone in the right position.
Then, there he is.
Gazing upon the Body of Christ, I am reminded of what is important. The Lord is with us. We should not be afraid. In this small chapel, we are celebrating Mass for and with the entire parish. Thanks be to God.
The Lord constantly encourages us as in John 16:33 when he says, “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” Often as Christians, it is hard for us to take Jesus at his word. Now is the time to do so. Now is the time to take courage. Now is the time to renew our trust. We feel frustrated. We feel annoyed. We feel helpless. Whether you think the world’s overreacting or you believe every last inch of the hysteria, we’re all in this together. We are the Body of Christ.
Father gives the final blessings. The choir again works their magic. As we process out, my heart and spirits are uplifted by the quintet’s hauntingly beautiful words:
“May the Lord bless you and keep you.”
Now that we are halfway through the semester, I look back on the first half of internship with gratitude for all that God has done for me. I am stationed in the Spires of Faith Cluster which includes five towns (Dyersville, Earlville, Petersburg, New Vienna, and Worthington) in eastern Iowa. Most people in this area are Catholic which is rare in most parts of the US. They also have some of the most beautiful churches around with beautiful Spires, paintings, stained glass windows, a basilica church, etc. My pastor here is Fr. Dennis Quint and the associate pastors are recent Mundelein graduates: Fr. Jim Goerend and Fr. Tyler Raymond. I have spent most of my time accompanying Fr. Quint but have also spent a good deal of time with the associate priests as well. The people here have been nothing but warm and welcoming toward me. They are hardworking people and have good Catholic and “small-town Iowa” values. I am from Cedar Rapids, IA which is a relatively bigger city for Iowa, and after a month and a half here I have come to appreciate the goodness and the beauty of rural Iowa more and more. Some highlights of this have been having coffee with parishioners after Mass at the local gas station, community events and fundraisers at the local dance halls, and simply living in a place where everyone knows your name. I have definitely struggled trying to get to know all of their names as this cluster includes around 2800 families!
I have learned a great deal and most of it has come from making mistakes and from observing the priests and the people here in the cluster. One thing that I have learned more concretely is that any vocation will involve great joys and great sacrifice as well. The key is love. If a priest or any other person in their vocation truly loves God, these joys will be increased, and these sacrifices will be more tolerable.
In light of the virus, things are much slower at the Cluster. We are now unable to have public Masses, funerals, meetings, or weddings with more than ten people. Thankfully, we have had some graces in the midst of all of this as well. One is that the priests and I have been able to spend more quality time together with meals and hanging out in the living room together. I am continuing to learn how to live in a holy and healthy solitude as well when no one is around. Additionally, we are trying to reach out to our parishioners through livestream Masses, phone calls, and videos. Some videos that we have made have been with Fr. Tyler teaching on how parishioners can enter into and participate in Masses through livestream and Fr. Tyler and I introducing a new practice to encourage families to pray in their homes. Additionally, we are dropping off a “flat Fr. Tyler” (paper image of Fr. Tyler) in the homes of different families since he can’t be there in person so that families can post videos with “flat Fr. Tyler” on how they are praying as a family. I also hope to post some videos that teach the parishioners different prayer forms that they can practice, such as praying with Scripture, The Examen Prayer, and how to pray the Rosary in a fruitful way.
God is still with us and he is offering this opportunity to go deeper in our relationship with him through silence, personal prayer, and generally loving and being patient with our family members who may drive us nuts being together 24/7!
Seth Arnold from the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas is serving at the Church of the Magdalen. In this video interview, you can learn more about what lies ahead for Seth’s internship experience and a little bit of his own journey to get to this point in seminary.