By STEPHEN O’KANE, Staff Writer | Published March 6, 2008
Father Brett Brannen, a Georgia native who currently serves as vice rector at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., spoke at two events the week of Feb. 10 to encourage Catholics in Atlanta to use Lent as a means of transformation.
During this liturgical season, Father Brannen felt it appropriate for Catholics to understand the importance of suffering as a means of growing closer to God. Through personal stories, jokes and a litany of biblical references, the priest captured and held the attention of those present at both events.
The first gathering that featured the inspirational and compassionate words of Father Brannen was Holy Grounds, a Lenten speaker series sponsored by the archdiocesan Office of Young Adult Ministry. Approximately 70 young adults gathered in the library of Holy Spirit School, Atlanta, on Feb. 13 to listen to the priest’s message.
The evening began with a Mass celebrated in the St. Mary chapel of Holy Spirit Church by Father Ricardo Bailey, a parochial vicar at the parish. Following the liturgy, young adults were briefly exposed to the cold, blustery weather as they followed signs from the chapel to an academic building where the event was held.
The young Catholics were greeted by warm temperatures and faces as they entered the library building of Holy Spirit School. A light Lenten dinner of sandwiches and salad awaited them, and the young adults took their seats and enjoyed the good food, and even better company.
John Huynh, a middle school Catholic formation and Latin teacher at Pinecrest Academy, Cumming, served as the emcee, welcomed those present and, following a prayer, introduced Father Brannen.
Father Brannen immediately set a comfortable tone as he opened with a joke to the delight of the young adults. He quickly moved to more serious matters, however, claiming that the Catholic journey is not supposed to be easy or fun. But it is meant to be joyful, he said.
“Tonight we are going to be talking about our hearts,” said Father Brannen. “The heart has a lot to do with our following Jesus.”
The priest then spoke about joy and sorrow, and why they are so closely related in Christianity.
“To make our hearts like Jesus, we have to do some suffering,” he said.
Through his encouraging witness, Father Brannen helped inspire the young adults to appreciate and accept their suffering, especially during this time when Catholics relive the Passion of Jesus.
After Father Brannen completed his talk, a list of questions was passed out to all present, and small groups were formed to dissect and digest the material presented.
“I really appreciate coming together with a bunch of Catholics to discuss our faith, and to grow in holiness,” said Alison Batley, an art teacher at Pinecrest Academy.
The evening ended with night prayer followed by coffee and dessert, giving another opportunity for fellowship.
“I enjoy getting to meet a lot of people that are in my similar circumstance,” said Amber Daprano, who is currently going through the RCIA program at Holy Spirit Church. “ And I really enjoyed Father Brett’s message a lot. It was very realistic and down to earth, and I feel he knows how to speak to people and reach their hearts.”
The Wednesday night event marked the first of five Holy Grounds, each scheduled to feature a different speaker.
The following morning, on Feb. 14, Father Brannen spoke to a different group of Catholics, but built on the same message. Directors of religious education for the Archdiocese of Atlanta gathered in the Ministry Hall at St. Jude the Apostle Church, Atlanta, for a Day of Reflection.
The group of Catholics came together over coffee and tea as Father Brannen addressed them. “What a privilege to be with you, my fellow proclaimers,” he began.
After a couple of amusing personal stories, Father Brannen quickly got to the message of the day.
“Bring people to Jesus, and get out of the way,” said the priest with a smile as he encouraged the religious education directors not to interfere with the work that God is doing.
But, he said, we have our own work to do.
The work God has for us depends on our situation; however, everyone has a cross to carry. Father Brannen then gave a poignant definition of “peace”: the ability to carry our crosses well.
“Our cross is our ticket to heaven,” he said. “Everything that happens in this life can make your better or bitter, and you choose.”
Following Father Brannen’s first talk, a hearty breakfast was available to those present, and as the directors ate, they discussed a few questions he left them with at the end of his talk.
Alan Brown and Lisa Eberhardt brought the assembly back into the spirit of the day with music as Father Brannen addressed the group again.
Here he discussed the importance of presenting the Catholic faith with joy.
“We have to present the faith in its fullness,” he said. “It is easy to be religious and not holy.”
The priest also spoke of Lent and how this season of the Church is a great opportunity to seek holiness. He then took a moment to thank the religious education directors on behalf of God for all the positive work they do with the formation of young minds.
“So, thank you,” he said. “Please do not be afraid, do not be discouraged. … He is going to take care of us. Trust him.”
The tables of directors then took a few minutes to speak with each other about another set of questions given by Father Brannen. Following a brief discussion, the assembly walked to the church, where Father Brannen celebrated Mass to end the day of reflection.
“It is nice to take some time and just be the person ministered to, instead of the one ministering,” said Bernadette Flowers of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta. “To hear thank you, not from any specific office or person, but from the Lord, was special.”
For more information on Holy Grounds, visit www.yam.org.