Friday, November 9, 2018

Veterans Day: Honoring Those Who Serve

Note: This reflection was originally published at

In anticipation of Veterans Day, a student friar who spent 12 years in the military reflects on the importance of the holiday and of recognizing men and women who have served in the armed forces.

Each year on Nov. 11, our nation honors the men and women who served in our armed forces. This tradition dates back to Nov. 11, 1918, the final day of World War I. In 1918, this day was referred to as Armistice Day, as the word “armistice” is an agreement made by opposing sides in a war. It wasn’t until 1954 that the Nov. 11 holiday was referred to by its current name, Veterans Day.

Perhaps you are asking yourself who these “veterans” are and why we honor them each year. According to the 2014 U.S. Census Bureau, there are 21.8 million veterans in the United States. This population includes all the men and women who served in the military at one time or another. This is a striking number, given that the population of the United States is approximately 323 million people. These statistics show that veterans make up nearly seven percent of the entire U.S. population. Most likely you know someone or many friends or family members who are veterans. My experience is that most veterans who are on active duty or previously served go about their lives with quiet professionalism. One might never be aware of the responsibility to service that veterans display.

Now, onto the second part of the question: why do we honor these men and women each year? From 2003 to 2015, I served in the United States Navy alongside some of these men and women. I consider it a great honor to have worked with individuals who selflessly dedicated their lives to a central mission.

I saw people make great sacrifices; whether it was having to leave loved ones behind during extended deployments or standing watch through the middle of the night, these veterans have gone to great lengths to protect and defend the rights of this great nation. And veterans are not just the ones who we read about going to war and into battles. Many veterans serve or have served in roles that may primarily have included hours and days of tedious training to be prepared should some action be required of them.

I want to share briefly the lives of two individuals who have strongly influenced me during my time in the military. These men are Lt. Brendan Looney, USN, and Capt. Owen Thorp, USNR. Unfortunately, both of these men have passed on to eternal life, however, during their life here on earth, they both had a strong impact on many people. Lt. Looney was a fellow lacrosse player at the United States Naval Academy and went on to become a Navy Seal. His genuine spirit of kindness along with his commitment and perseverance always stood out to me.

Capt. Thorp was a kind, compassionate leader who strongly valued his faith. As a submariner, I don’t believe he ever had to serve in any hostile combat. However, as a long-serving engineering instructor at the academy he used his strong Catholic faith and belief in the development of young leaders to provide immeasurable care, counsel, and encouragement to many midshipmen he met while serving there. On one occasion, he mentioned to me that he thought I might have a vocation to religious life. While I distinctly remember wrestling with this idea, it turns out that he had some wisdom there.

You all probably know some veterans as either family or friends. Let us remember all of those individuals even the ones we don’t know on this Veterans Day in gratitude for their selfless service.

Peace & all good.  I wish you a happy Veterans Day!

Friar Steve Kuehn is a member of the Holy Name Province. A 2003 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, he grew up in Annapolis, Md., where the academy is located. He is the youngest of four children. His father, Leo Kuehn, was a Commander in the Navy and served in aviation as a naval flight officer onboard P-3C aircraft.  Steve now lives at St. Joseph’s Friary in Chicago and studies theology at Catholic Theological Union.

Franciscan Friars
Office of Vocations
1500 34th Ave.
Oakland, CA 94601
Phone:  (408) 903-3422 or (510) 821-4492

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

A Diaconate Ordination: Behind the Scenes

It was 4 o’clock in the morning. I was wide awake and could not go back to sleep. It was the day of my diaconate ordination. In about 6 hours the bishop would be laying his hands on me, invoking the Holy Spirit to empower me to assume this ministry that has existed since the time of the apostles. Although I had been a Franciscan friar for almost 10 years by this time, and had professed my solemn vows two years prior, I was still filled with trepidation. The clerical status (that of priests and deacons) is such a highly visible, public ministry in the Catholic church. I wasn’t sure I could take on that tremendous responsibility. I doubted my worthiness of such an important, holy office.

I tried watching something on TV. It did little to ease my anxiety, so I decided to walk out of the house. There was a meditation chapel next to the friary on the grounds of the Franciscan Renewal Center. I was starting to walk over there when I noticed a cozy, peaceful-looking ramada. The sky was softly lit up by the early light of dawn. Beautiful desert vegetation surrounded the ramada. The birds were chirping. The early fall air felt cool on my skin. I had always prayed better when i was out in nature. I made a turn and started walking toward the ramada.

I sat there in quiet for awhile, taking in all the beauty around me. Then I started saying my prayer. I could only mutter one sentence, over and over again: “I’m scared, Lord.” Plus the sobbing. For the last few days I had been so busy preparing for the ordination. I also had to introduce myself to the community, which meant lots of smiling and shaking hands. Little did I know that I had been suppressing all the nervousness, anxiety, and other unpleasant emotion. It was only then that I could open the flood gate and let all the raw emotion come out.

Then the sun started to appear in the horizon. I could feel its warmth on my face. I paused my lamentation. Suddenly I remembered one of my favorite songs, Rawn Harbor’s rendition of Psalm 27: The Lord is My Light and My Salvation. Finding a new strength, I started walking back to the house. There, I pulled out my Bluetooth speaker, searched for the song on my phone, and played it in full volume. I jumped in the shower and sang along. The belting out of the cantor, along with fresh, warm water, gave me a bit of energy.

After I got dressed, I went out go get coffee. A friend of mine sent me a Starbucks gift card with a generous amount of credits. I decided to finally give Pumpkin Spice Latte, that great American fall tradition, a try. I splurged and ordered a grande. Then I sat there for awhile and did more reflection. I looked back at my past life, of all the things that had been helpful to my vocation, and some that had served more as a distraction. When I checked my watch, it was time to get back.

Around 9 AM, I walked into the church. The choir was practicing and the sacristans were preparing the space. A couple of guests who had come early greeted me. I still had a little anxiety and didn’t feel like greeting a lot of people. So I went into hiding in the Blessed Sacrament chapel. It also always felt cooler there than in the church. I knew I was going to sweat a lot. I naturally do anyway, but this time it was further exacerbated by my nervousness. I thought sitting there would calm and cool me down.

That sense of calm and cool didn’t last very long. I had to go back to the seemingly warm church. The bishop was already there, so my anxiety went up. Then it was time to line up for the entrance procession. In my nervousness I neglected to say hi to my brother friars who had come to support me and were lining up in front of me. I only remembered making a special request if one of them, who had been a good friend to me, could sit next to me during mass. Maybe he could catch me if I fainted.

Somebody gave us the sign to start the procession. I forced my legs to move. As I stepped into the worship space, the choir was still singing the prelude. It was Chris Muglia’s “You Are Welcome Here.” 

Come all you wounded and weary
Come all you heavy of heart
Come with your fear and your burden
Come with your pain and your scars

You are welcome here, come as you are
You are welcome here with open arms
Bring your burdens, bring your pain
Bring your sorrow and shame
You are welcome here, come as you are.

I choked back my tears. I looked away from the assembly in an attempt to hide them. I cried because at that moment I really felt embraced lovingly by God. It was as if the words of that song were directed specifically to me. I was the one with the heavy heart. I was the one filled with fear, sorrow and shame. How could a man like me be a deacon of Christ? Yet God was saying to me, through the community in their song: “Come as you are!”

I wiped my tears and turned my head back toward the assembly. My heart, my steps felt lighter. I found it easier to crack a smile. The rest of the mass seemed like a breeze, despite problems with the AC and trying to keep my stole in place. As I laid prostrate during the Litany of Saints, I tried to imagine all the saints mentioned surrounding me, especially Oscar Romero and Pope Paul VI who had just been canonized a week earlier. But somehow it also came to my mind all the migrants that had died on our southern border. I vividly remembered a photo of  one of them, a 14-year-old girl from El Salvador named Josseline. I also remembered Richard Purcell, a friar who helped me a lot during formation and died not long after I finished novitiate. Again, I felt a little strengthened knowing that all these people, on earth and in heaven, were supporting me.

Some of my old friends from my years with the Indonesian Catholic young adult group in Los Angeles traveled the long distance to be with me. Their presence reminded me of what prompted me to walk this path into priesthood for the first time. It was the time I had spent with them, praying, singing, sharing our faith, feasting, serving, and laughing that inspired me to want to dedicate all my life to the Church. We can barely call ourselves young adults now. Some of them even have already had kids.

A couple of days later I finally had time to open all the congratulatory cards. One of them had a piece of paper attached. On it was something scribbled by one of my friends' kids. My friend told me that on that long road trip from California, his kid had been busy flipping through the pages of his Bible, trying to find something to write for me. My tears began to flow as I was reading it. It was the perfect prayer for what I experienced that morning of my ordination. Through a 7-year-old, I was reminded that God had been with me throughout that very special day, and all my journey that got me this far.

Friar Sam Nasada joined the friars in 2009, professed solemn vows in 2016, and received his Master of Divinity degree from the Franciscan School of Theology in 2017. He was ordained to the diaconate in October 2018 and currently serves at the Franciscan Renewal Center, Scottsdale, AZ.

Franciscan Friars
Office of Vocations
1500 34th Ave.
Oakland, CA 94601
Phone:  (408) 903-3422 of (510) 821-4492