Archive of August 25, 2012

Peace for a restless heart

Emmitsburg, Md., Aug 25, 2012 (CNA) - Some people know from a young age exactly what they want to do with their life. As children, they pick a path for themselves and they stick with it through high school, college and beyond.

Seminarian Jason Burchell, now in his third year of theology at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., was not one of those people.

A born and bred “Virginia boy,” Burchell was born Feb. 1, 1980, and grew up in Charlottesville where he attended Catholic middle school. While in high school, he played basketball and competed on track and cross-country teams.

Burchell attended James Madison University in Harrisonburg, where he continued his love of sports by studying kinesiology and sports management.

“My dream was to work in the big leagues as a trainer or sports agent,” he said. “I was really into sports, it was always a very big love of mine.”

After graduating in 2002, Burchell realized he had other interests he wanted to pursue so he began looking for a job that would completely fulfill him.

“I was always the type who had numerous things planned out ahead of time,” he said. “My dad and I had a conversation that, ‘You’re young, you can do anything you put your mind to, so try (those ideas) out.’”

With that, Burchell began to explore his options. First, he wanted to work by the water, so he took a job as a lifeguard in Nags Head, N.C. From there, Burchell wanted to travel, so he took a job working on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, touring the Mediterranean Sea.

After visiting 35 countries in only five months, he decided to change paths again. This time, he took a job working for his father in the family business, a Chevrolet dealership. Though he was successful at selling cars, Burchell was still not happy. After trying out so many dreams, he finally began to consider a different option for the first time: the priesthood.

“From the time I was 12 to the time I was finishing the job with my father, I think I was running away from the priesthood,” he said. “I always thought, ‘That’s not for me, I want to get married.’ I kept saying to myself, ‘I’ve just got to try something else, I can’t do that.’”

Still not ready to take the leap, Burchell went back to school. For the next two years, he worked as a graduate assistant at James Madison, eventually earning his master’s in athletic administration and coaching. While there, he continued dating. He dated one woman for more than two years, but with the priesthood still in the back of his mind, he found he couldn’t make a commitment.

After finishing school, Burchell began working as an aquatic director for the YMCA in Richmond. He and his girlfriend broke up and Burchell finally took the time to hear what God was telling him. He began attending Holy Hours and daily Masses and, through his job, he found a love for counseling.

“I started to notice people coming into my office and sitting down and talking to me and letting me listen,” he said. “I always realized that I felt fulfilled when I was driving home from those nights.”

Finally, Burchell began to put the pieces together. He realized all of the things he had enjoyed about previous jobs — working with people, helping others, counseling — were key aspects of the priesthood. Then, out of the blue, he received an email from a friend he hadn’t spoken to in years, inviting him to a discernment retreat for the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services.

Burchell decided to bite the bullet and attend. There, listening to seminarians talk about their discernment, he felt a peace he had never experienced before.

“After it ended, I went into the parking lot and started the car and just sat there for an hour and a half, thinking, ‘This is what I need to do,’” he said.

Burchell was accepted into the seminary in 2006 at age 26. The past six years since then have been some of the best of his life, he said.

“While it’s tough, I feel like in the past six years, I have learned to love God in a completely new way and it has really prepared me well.”

Burchell is co-sponsored by the Arlington Diocese and the military archdiocese. When he is ordained to the priesthood, he will spend his first three years in Arlington before being released to the military archdiocese, where he will serve as an active duty Navy chaplain. Following his retirement from the Navy, he will return to Arlington to serve as a priest.

This plan suits Burchell perfectly, appeasing his love of service, physical challenges and adventure. And, unlike his previous jobs, he has never had any doubts.

“There’s a huge piece of me that knows this is what I was made to do and it makes me very happy to know that I’m doing the Lord’s will,” he said. “Even though it’s going to be a tough job, I know that I can do it with the grace of God.”

Looking back, Burchell is grateful for the strong relationships he has with his family, all of whom have been great cheerleaders along the way. For his year in the transitional diaconate, he is most looking forward to serving the parishioners of his new parish. One of his first acts will be baptizing his nephew next month.

“I’m ready to work, ready to give my life for the Lord, ready to work for the salvation of souls, and I can do it especially this year as a transitional deacon,” he said.

Now that he has found the fulfillment he has always yearned for, he takes great inspiration from St. Augustine, who said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Him.”

“My heart was restless for all those years and it was only when I said, ‘OK, Your turn, I’m going to stop running,’ that I was fulfilled,” he said.

He urges other men discerning a vocation to take a similar path.

“Your life will not be as fulfilled until you’re doing God’s will,” he said. “No matter what you choose, if you are only doing it for yourself, you’re not going to be nearly as happy as you would be if you were doing the will of God.”

Posted with permission from Catholic Herald, official newspaper for the Archdiocese of Arlington, Va.

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Thousands of Christians trapped in Syrian village

Damascus, Syria, Aug 25, 2012 (CNA) - Syrian rebel forces have trapped over 12,000 Greek Catholics in a village near the Lebanese border, causing shortages of food, medicine and other urgent supplies.

For over 10 days the village of Rableh in the area of Homs has suffered under a strict blockade from armed opposition forces that have surrounded it, Fides news agency says. Snipers have killed at least three men of the village, including a married father of four.

Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gergorios III Laham has appealed to men of good will to ensure that “Rableh is saved and all other villages affected in Syria.” He has asked “for peace to be reached in our beloved country.”

Archbishop Mario Zenari, the apostolic nuncio to Syria, has asked both sides of the conflict to adhere to “the strict observance of the international humanitarian law.”

Rebels began an armed revolt against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in March 2011. Since then, more than 200,000 people have fled the country. Government forces drove out rebels from a Damascus suburb of Daraya on Friday.
The international pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need is helping an unnamed Syrian village in a situation similar to Rableh’s.

The destruction of bridges, the cutting of power lines and road obstacles have cut off the village from food and other basic necessities, the charity reports.

“We have organised ourselves so we could stand by each other and we are sharing everything so we could survive,” a local priest said. “We need every help we could get. Please help us.”

Those who have fled to Lebanon say that residents are suffering hunger and milk for children is running out. The village lacks canned goods and children’s diapers as well.

Motorcyclists trying to carry bread into the village have been shot at.

Aid to the Church in Need has made an emergency grant of $62,000 for food, medicine and baby milk.

“The fighting is reported to be fierce between the Free Syrian Army and official armed forces loyal to Assad,” Aid to the Church in Need journalist John Pontifex told CNA Aug. 24.

A government helicopter intending to attack rebel groups recently bombed the Greek Catholic monastery of St. James the Mutilated in Qara, which dates back to the sixth century. None of its 25 residents and 20 refugees were hurt but parts of the building were damaged.

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Hispanic Catholics could play 'definitive' role in election

Washington D.C., Aug 25, 2012 (CNA) - Political changes in recent years could mean that Catholics play an important role in the upcoming presidential election, but in a new way, say political analysts.

Dr. John Kenneth White, a political scientist at The Catholic University of America, explained that Hispanics – many of whom are Catholic – could be a “definitive group” in deciding the 2012 presidential election.

The 2012 election is unique, he told CNA on Aug. 23, noting that not only are both contenders for Vice President Catholic, but that neither candidate from either major U.S. party is a white Protestant.

The unprecedented situation has led to an unexpected amount of attention on Catholics, he said.

However, he explained, “it’s very hard to talk about the Catholic vote in generic terms” because the vote of Catholics is “incredibly diversified.”

White observed that in 1960s, Catholic self-identification was high and the faithful largely voted as a single bloc.
In recent elections, however, the Catholic vote has looked more like the national vote, he said.

Catholic identity has decreased, he added, and it is “not necessarily the first identity people bring with them into the ballot box.”

Rather, Catholics tend to think of themselves by their race, gender and other distinguishing factors, he said. The voting habits of the faithful can therefore be better analyzed by carving out groups based on factors such as Mass attendance and ethnicity.

A blog post issued by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate agreed with this observation, adding that membership in a union, unemployment and military service also factor into the way that Catholics cast their ballots.

An Aug. 3 blog post on the research center’s website noted that while Catholics have made up approximately 25 percent of the total electorate in recent elections, they make up about 19 percent of the total voting age population in the 16 states that remain the most competitive this year.

Catholics account for “the largest share of the voting age population” in the competitive states of New Mexico, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and they could also be a significant “swing vote” in Florida, Nevada and Ohio, it said.

While polls indicate that Catholics are split in their candidate preference, it is difficult to make predictions about the election so far out, especially since both national conventions and the candidates’ debates could still be key in swaying voters, the blog post noted.

However, it suggested, “the votes of those without a religious affiliation may be more decisive to the election outcome” than those of Catholics.

Nevertheless, White believes that both national campaigns are actively trying to court the Catholic electorate.

“They both see the Catholic vote as being important,” he said.

Republican candidate Mitt Romney recently announced that Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York would be offering the final benediction at the Republican National Convention on Aug. 30.

The announcement drew national attention, particularly since Cardinal Dolan – who leads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops – has been a vocal opponent of the Obama administration’s contraception mandate, which requires employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and early abortion-inducing drugs.

White believes that the controversial mandate, which has drawn strong criticism from Church leaders, will have an impact on the vote of Catholics, “especially among frequent Church attendees.”

But the Obama campaign is “absolutely” trying to reach out to Catholics as well, in an effort that “takes on many different forms,” White added, explaining that a big part of this is the campaign’s outreach to Hispanic voters, which tend to overlap with Catholics.

And as a “leading minority” in many areas, Hispanics could be “a decisive number” in some swing states, he said.

White thinks the Hispanic vote will be “absolutely critical” in determining the outcome of the election.

 “At the end of the day, that vote seems to be a lot more unified,” he said.

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