Croisé challenges men to live according to God’s plan
December 5, 2019
Father James Buckley is a man on a mission.
Though that can be said of all priests, for him there’s a greater sense of urgency – for he knows his time is short.
Father Buckley has incurable cancer, but that’s not stopping him from continuing and even expanding his priestly ministry while serving as senior associate pastor at St. Cecilia Parish in Omaha.
Every Monday evening at St. Cecilia Cathedral, he leads 25-40 men in a “Challenge Hour of Prayer,” including eucharistic adoration, Scripture readings, vocal prayer and spiritual reflections.
These sessions are part of a larger ministry called Croisé (pronounced kwaa-zay). Founded by Father Buckley in 2018, it offers spiritual formation for men to help them shape their lives and the world around them according to God’s plan.
For Jim Elliston, a member of St. Cecilia Parish, the Monday sessions are helping him deepen his prayer life.
“I feel closer to our Lord and savior, and I now pray on a daily basis,” he said, “finding that 15-20 minutes to share what’s on my heart with our Lord.”
Elliston said the sessions help him refocus after a stressful day at work. “I walk out of here feeling refreshed.”
Father Buckley deepened his devotion to the Holy Eucharist by embracing the spirituality of St. Peter Julian Eymard, founder of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, a religious order dedicated to eucharistic adoration and service to the poor.
“After the French Revolution, when things were in turmoil, he was one of the figures in France who rose up and drew people back into the sacramental life,” Father Buckley said. “He’s called the apostle of the Blessed Sacrament.”
Eucharistic devotion is front and center during the Monday evening sessions, as Father Buckley exposes the Eucharist for prayer and adoration.
“I just want to share that with all people, but specifically with men, because they need it so much right now,” Father Buckley said.
“I very much appreciate the eucharistic-centeredness of the whole format, and I think it’s very good as an outreach to men,” said Michael Montag of St. Cecilia Parish.
“We live in a society that is really having a crisis of manhood at this time, and I think anything we can do for our men is a wonderful thing, especially in the realm of spirituality,” he said. “We need a role model for what a man is, and that man is Jesus.”
Father Buckley grew up in St. John the Evangelist Parish in Valley, and originally planned to pursue a business career. But a suggestion by the mother of a fraternity brother planted a seed that eventually led to the priesthood.
He attended seminary and was ordained in Philadelphia in 1990, serving one year as an associate pastor before returning to the Omaha archdiocese in 1991 to be near his mother who was experiencing health issues. He was incardinated as a priest of the archdiocese in 1994.
Since then he has served as associate pastor, pastor and administrator at numerous urban and rural parishes, was president of St. Francis Elementary and High School in Humphrey, and served as a consultant with the archdiocesan Family Life Office.
Now, with Croisé as an additional focus of his ministry, Father Buckley writes numerous reflections for the ministry’s website, croise.org. Subjects include spiritual topics such as the existence of God, as well as down-to-earth observations and advice concerning the challenges men face in living a virtuous life.
Father Buckley is at peace with his prognosis and has ambitious plans for his remaining time.
Despite his short life expectancy, he is actively pursuing a new goal for Croisé – to obtain a house where single men can live for six or 12 months of spiritual formation while still attending school or working. He hopes to make that a reality in the next six months.
“No matter what you’re going through, even if you’re approaching death as a new life, I want people to order their lives and their goals based on the life to come, and store up treasure in heaven,” he said.
Father Buckley shared some additional reflections on his own spirituality and the Croisé ministry in email responses to the following questions from the Catholic Voice.
Q: You’ve said that years ago you had a sense that you would get cancer. How did you get that sense?
I only revealed very recently that about 10 years ago I came to a sustained exact conclusion that I would die at a young age of cancer even though there is no history (of it) in our family. This was striking and odd, but I held it with certainty. Then about five and a half years ago I often found myself in prayer telling God that I was ready if he wished to use me to glorify belief in the Resurrection by facing death with no fear in front of God’s people.
Q: What is your current prognosis?
The cancer has recessed twice and is currently active. Most cancer patients experience the inexact nature of treatment and its predicted results. I think death will come in one to three years.
Q: What was your first reaction to receiving your diagnosis, and how did you begin to process it?
Two and one half years ago I had severe physical symptoms which begged testing. The doctor came into the room with the results and I knew in my mind that this could be the moment of fulfillment. He boldly told me that my cancer was incurable, malignant and one in a hundred cases in severity. I experienced zero anxiety. He noted that most people do not react this way. I merely asked what the next step in pursuing good health would be. It took a while to realize that the reason I had no reaction was because I had reconciled myself to this reality years earlier. Through chemo, which had no effect and numerous side effects, I always kept in mind that I was on a mission which helped me always look beyond my current circumstance.
Q: Describe your spiritual journey with respect to your health challenges.
When you live with the inevitability of death ahead, it is easier to detach yourself from material things and earthly goals. When you see your body degrading at a rapid pace you must mourn it by replacing your desolation with a graced intensity of the promise of the life to come and your sense of obligation to make the future better for others if you can. God’s forgiveness comes in a new light because you must abandon any plans to make up for your past failures because there is no time to give restitution. The only choice is surrender to the path of mercy which lies ahead.
Q: Does the Catholic view of suffering help you cope with your illness? How?
Each Catholic has a vocation from God. All suffering must be seen in light of that vocation. The suffering helps the individual accomplish their mission. If one does not realize this, the meaning of the suffering will remain hidden and probably be resented. The Cross of Christ is the ultimate teacher of this. Our baptism is into his death. He suffered first. So must we. My suffering must be applied to the vocation of priesthood, to which many different sufferings are attached. When I anoint the dying, especially cancer victims, there is no doubt that in addition to the sacrament there is a unity and healing in both of our souls when they are aware of my condition.
Q: What words of advice can you offer to others facing a similar situation?
Let your confidence in God’s providence rule the day. Learn quickly to not surrender your peace of mind and happiness to an unknown test result. The drudgery of treatment must be met with determination from the depth of your soul by your free will. Many squalls of depression can be calmed through the direction you choose to take. If you can bend over, grab your bootstraps. If you consciously stand against the devil and sin in the pursuit of holiness you will be very prepared to handle illness.
Q: What led you to found Croisé (pronounced kwaa-zay)?
Ever since I lived in Manhattan and prayed daily at the Church of St. Jean de Baptiste at 76th and Lexington Avenue, run by the religious order founded by St. (Peter Julian) Eymard, I have been proactive and tried to promote devotion to eucharistic adoration. Since 1985 I have studied and followed his teachings almost daily.
I wanted to establish here in Omaha an opportunity to share Eymard’s sainthood with men because they need to hear God. Eymard said if we ignore God, we will not hear him. With the decline in religious orders, many more are ignoring God. Men do not know how to pray or where to go to find God. Therefore, most men do not form the goals of their life based on the Gospel but rather on the way of the world. Last year I felt a little better physically and knew that it would be my last chance to try this. My past is stone but my short future is still up to God.
Q: Describe this ministry and its goals.
Croisé teaches men how to pray through example and offers life lessons from St. Eymard and the (book) “The Imitation of Christ” (by Thomas à Kempis.) Through the website croise.org we are a constant source of ordered Christian thought presented in succinct, easy-to-read articles. Setting life goals that are obtainable is our prime offering. But one must pray to accomplish this. Establishing fraternity at our Challenge Hours is beginning to bind many together in their quest.
Q: How does it address the spiritual needs of men in today’s culture?
I call our culture a Frankenstein society. We have sewn together the dead body parts of materialism, atheism, paganism, mythological religions and nihilism to create a monster with activity but no soul. All men are attached to this in some way. We must work to reinstall a mentality which focuses on God’s design and not our own. Croisé does this for those who are willing. I was lost and then found, why not others?
Q: Croisé ministry is going to expand to include a house where single men can live while deepening their spirituality. What are your plans? What are you trying to accomplish?
We are looking for a building which will hold 12 men and have a chapel. We want to provide a middle ground between religious life and secular life. We want a place where men can come to learn to pray through a house rule which will pull out of them the desire for holiness and nobility which is hidden within. No vows will apply but merely a commitment to pursue an ordered Catholic life. They will stay for six or 12 months and then head back into the world to pursue being better (future) husbands, seminarians and public servants.
Q: How has your own devotion to the Holy Eucharist helped you through your journey, and how can it help today’s Catholics?
If we look at each other very long we soon glance away. When we look at the exposed face of Christ in the Eucharist, he never looks away. No matter what happens in our lives or what we bring to him, he lets us be near without reproach. Patience, wisdom and unity of suffering come hidden in bread, which has almost no earthly value on its own. We come like St. Francis because we know what has been hidden in the simplest of things. We no longer ignore. We now listen.
Q: With recent Pew research showing that nearly 70% of Catholics view the Eucharist as only a symbol, what can the church do to restore belief in the Real Presence?
Firstly, probably most of that 70% also do not believe that Jesus the man was also divine. They do not believe that he was God while walking on earth. If you do not see the divine in Christ, you will never see it in a piece of bread.
Secondly, we must treat the Eucharist as though it is Christ. The Eucharist is not a pill. It is the person of Christ. If we make no demand to be worthy to receive it, or do not surround the presence with proper respect and awe, then many will pass by it just as many passed by Jesus on the streets of Nazareth, for they knew not who he was. Eventually they rejected him, too. Dependence must grow in the church upon the great gift of the Eucharist. This is why we must come before his face as communities and groups. This has been the great attraction of Croisé. We treat the sacrament as the worthy object of sacrificial love that it is.
WANT TO GO?
Who: Men age 18 and over
What: Challenge Hour of Prayer
Where: St. Cecilia Cathedral, Our Lady of Nebraska Chapel, 701 N. 40th St., Omaha
When: Mondays, 7-8 p.m.