Monday, August 24, 2015

The Beautiful Wounds of Priesthood

Deposed Christ Embracing St. Bernard by Francisco Ribalta
A few weeks ago I received a note from a young woman. It began, "Thank you to everyone at the Catholic Center who helped me grow in my Faith." I've never met this woman because I arrived several years after she graduated. Also contained in this note was an announcement of her taking simple vows as a Little Sister of the Poor. In the past fourteen years or so, approximately seven women and one man connected to the Boston University Catholic Center have entered religious life. They represent four religious orders. During that same period, two men from the BU Catholic Center have been ordained diocesan priests and six others are currently in various stages of seminary formation. In fact, the entering class at St. John's Seminary this year will have three recent graduates from the BU Catholic Center.

That's a lot of vocations! It is not only a source of joy and pride to me and--more importantly--to my predecessors (who did all of the work in cultivating these vocations), but also to the students and alumni from the Catholic Center. The BU Catholic Center is a family. There is a real sense of joy and awe present in our community--both students, alumni, and ministers--over the many beautiful things that the Lord is doing in our midst. There are many factors, I think, that account for why vocations spring up in various communities. But, the bottom line is that they are always a gratuitous gift from the Lord. If a community follows the Lord, I think that He will bless it with vocations. But, this gift of priestly and religious vocations, is still a pure gift from the Lord. The minute we think that we can manufacture vocations because of our ingenuity is the minute that vocations will dry up in a Catholic community. My experience in parish life and at the BU Catholic Center is that all of us are just standing around and wondering, "How is this possible? Why is God blessing us like this?" None of us feels as though we somehow created this. Instead, all of us are simply grateful that God chooses to work so powerfully in our midst. We--students, alumni, and campus ministry team--all feel a part of this, but not like we caused it. We just feel so grateful that Jesus allows us to be caught up in something like this. We feel like what was happening in the early days of the Church is happening still . . . right in our midst!

Oftentimes when people ask me about priesthood, they talk about it in terms of how much a priest is asked to "give up." I understand why they think that. But, to be honest, the greatest suffering as a priest doesn't come from what you are asked to "give up." The greatest suffering is how much you are given. As a priest, I have encountered my share of "giving up." And, the most painful "giving up" has come in the most unexpected and most disappointing of ways. But, I'd say that in my priestly life, it is not what I have "given up" that has been the cause of the greatest suffering. The greatest suffering is in what I've been given. 

When you hear a confession of a woman who has carried the guilt of abortion around with her for decades . . . you suffer. But the suffering is not that of loss. It is the suffering of love. It is the suffering of knowing that God is using you to be an instrument of healing in a way that is totally beyond what you deserve. God has given you something beautiful in this moment.

When a young person confides in you about their struggles in life and seeks your help, you are pierced. You are pierced by a recognition that nothing you have ever done in your life deserves such a privileged encounter. God has given you something beautiful in this moment.

When you find yourself standing at a bedside offering absolution to a dying man--providing him with the hope of eternal life--you suffer. You recognize that you've been given a power that is completely beyond anything that a man like you should be able to exercise. God has given you something beautiful in this moment.

When you help a couple prepare for marriage or assist at their wedding or help them at a moment of difficulty, you suffer. You realize that God has entrusted into your hands the responsibility of mediating his pastoral love to them. God has given you something beautiful in this moment.

When you are given a family who has experienced some traumatic loss and they are clinging to your words and presence, you suffer. You suffer because God has decided to use you--despite all of your weaknesses and failures--as His instrument. You suffer because God has given you something beautiful in this moment.

When you look around you and see how Jesus is calling the young men and women whom you serve to "Follow Me," you suffer. You suffer because such awesome love is too much to comprehend! You suffer because God has given you something beautiful in this moment.

As a priest, you hold the Gospel in your hands. You hold the Eucharist in your hands. You hold the people whom Christ suffered and died for in your hands. Sometimes, you feel like your heart is going to explode from being entrusted with so much love. Sure, at times as priests we suffer the pains of betrayals, rejections, calumnies, and insults. But, I think the greatest suffering comes, not from what is ugly and base, but rather from what is beautiful and lofty. It comes not from what we give up, but from what we are given. Into our hands are placed the mysteries of salvation. Into our hands are placed the Book of the Gospels. Into our hands are placed the Eucharist. Into our hands are placed the sheep of His flock. It is the beauty of these realities that cause our hearts to burn within us. We suffer because we are taken by Christ and drawn into a love that far surpasses what we could ever accomplish on our own.

As the Boston University Catholic Center begins this new school year, we do so with a certain suffering. This suffering does not come from thinking about all that we've given up. It comes from complete awe at all we've been given. Christ has given us everything. We know that we don't deserve what he's given to us and this knowledge causes us to be wounded in a very beautiful way. We begin this year wounded by a fact: He loves us. This wound is the cause of a joy that our hearts are incapable of containing.

While the priest is called to "give up" his life for Christ and for service to the Church, this giving up is nothing compared to what he is given. The real suffering of priesthood is living every day overwhelmed by how much we are given. The real suffering is spending your whole life being drawn up into the love that surpasses everything we ever thought possible.


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Please Don't Bet Your Souls On Planned Parenthood and Its Politicians

Sometimes when I read the Gospels, I wonder whose side I would have been on when the crowds were calling for the crucifixion of Christ. Would I have been on the side of those condemning Jesus or the side of those following him? Would I have been in the small minority of those who stood near him at the end, or would I have fled to safety and abandoned the Lord? At other times, when I think about significant historical events, I wonder what I would have done. Would I have been as brave as the men who landed at Normandy? Or, when the Nazis were dragging people from their homes to the crematoriums, had I been a priest in Germany, would I have preached in such a way that I would have risked offending the Nazi powers? Would I have risked everything in defense of the defenseless or would I have tried to avoid confrontation, or find a happy medium? Had I been a priest during the Civil Rights Movement, would I have preached on the evils of racism knowing that my congregation might find it upsetting?

There is no way for me or for anyone to know the answers to those questions. Those were not the times in which I lived. My time is now. What matters is what I do today, not what I may have done at some other point in history. When I am summoned before the Throne of Jesus Christ and am asked to give an account for my life, He will not ask me what I would have done. He will ask what I did and didn't do, what I said and what I didn't say. 

During the past week, I have been thinking about writing a blog post, but have been uncertain how to phrase it and whether it was too strong. But I received an answer this evening when I offered Mass. Today is the feast day of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of priests. At Mass, I used the optional reading provided for the memorial. Here is what the reading from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel said:
Mortal, I have made you a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, “You shall surely die,” and you give them no warning, or speak to warn the wicked from their wicked way, in order to save their life, those wicked persons shall die for their iniquity; but their blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and they do not turn from their wickedness, or from their wicked way, they shall die for their iniquity; but you will have saved your life. Again, if the righteous turn from their righteousness and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before them, they shall die; because you have not warned them, they shall die for their sin, and their righteous deeds that they have done shall not be remembered; but their blood I will require at your hand. If, however, you warn the righteous not to sin, and they do not sin, they shall surely live, because they took warning; and you will have saved your life.

Over the past several weeks, videos have appeared that have shown, in graphic and horrific detail, the dismemberment of aborted babies. Despite the gruesome and grotesque footage of the films, dozens of US Senators refused to defund Planned Parenthood. Still, in the face of horrific footage, President Obama defends Planned Parenthood, making it clear that there is no depravity possible that will move him or his party's leaders to act against the abortion industry. It is no longer possible for anyone--especially our elected leaders--to pretend that they do not know what is happening. They know. They just choose to participate in it. They are financing--with our tax monies--the dismemberment of the most defenseless persons there are, infants. 

The abortion industry is wicked. The abortion industry is about the deliberate destruction of the most defenseless human beings. You cannot be a "good" politician and knowingly support the deliberate destruction of innocent human life. It is not possible to say that somebody is a good leader "except for his/her active support of the destruction of innocent human life." The abortion industry is evil. Those who support--financially and politically--the abortion machine are supporting an evil and a wicked enterprise.  Once you see doctors and executives from Planned Parenthood pulling baby's severed limbs and organs out from a dish while joking around, you cannot in good conscience claim this is all about "women's health." The "women's health" euphemism is a grotesque lie. 

The Lord told Ezekiel, "If the righteous ("good") turn from their righteousness and commit iniquity . . . they shall die' . . . and their righteous good deeds that they have done shall not be remembered." There is no scale that says, "Well, this person voted for and supported the destruction of human life on this side, but he also got the economy back into gear and improved the roads." No, if we give ourselves over actively to supporting the abortion industry, we have given ourselves over to supporting evil. If we do nothing, if we turn a blind eye, if we pretend like it's not really our concern, we are supporting an evil. 

Are you supporting Planned Parenthood? Are you supporting politicians who refuse to defund Planned Parenthood? Do you contribute to the campaigns of such politicians? Do you help on their campaigns? Do you justify it by saying, "They do other good things?" Remember, what the Lord himself says in the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel: "Their righteous good deeds that they have done shall not be remembered." Are any of us prepared to stand before the Judgment Seat of God and give as our defense as to why we did nothing to stop the dismemberment and destruction of human life, "Well, I liked that politician's foreign policy positions?" 

None of us can know the condition of someone's soul. That is the purview of God alone. But, we can know when someone is supporting something that is evil. Politicians who support Planned Parenthood are supporting a particularly grotesque and vile evil. They do not deserve our contributions, our accolades, nor our votes.  

For too long, many Catholics have been lulled into a sense of inevitability and politeness. We attend the cocktail parties of these politicians, invite them to our neighborhood gatherings, and have them speak at our Catholic universities. If they supported the KKK, we would not do that. (I hope). If they supported genocide, we would not do that. But, when it comes to the destruction and dismemberment of human beings in the womb, we MAY politely state our "difference of opinion," and then it's "Please have a seat of honor at our banquet." 

None of us knows what we would have done 2000 years ago in Jerusalem, 75 years ago in Nazi Germany, or (if we weren't born yet) 55 years ago during the Civil Rights Movement. We don't know what kind of people we would have been. But, we do know what kind of people we are now. There is an unparalleled evil occurring in this land. We are either for that evil or we are against it. There is no "balanced" position. There is no middle ground between good and evil.

If this blogpost sounds strong it's because I really love the people who read my blog.  If you're in danger, I want you to know it clearly. If you're supporting the abortion industry and it's political proponents, you are in danger. The good news is that you can change that. You can change that right now. Change it and you will surely live. Change it and you may not only save the lives of innocent babies in the womb, you may save your own life.  This is serious business. It's as serious as it gets. Don't think that you can throw your lot in with the likes of Planned Parenthood and their political cronies and somehow come out of it okay. Your soul is far too valuable for such a risk.


(If you have had an abortion, please know that the Church loves you and wants you to find healing. Please visit http://hopeafterabortion.com for more information. There is always hope.)

Friday, July 31, 2015

The Institutions of the Church Need an Infusion of True Youth

During the summer months, I offer Mass each evening at 5:30pm with a handful of students, most of whom are here working at Boston University for the summer. These young men and women are living something beautiful together. They are living a friendship in the Church. For about 30 minutes before Mass, we banter back and forth, and then we make our way upstairs to the chapel. They argue over who will read (the winner is the one who doesn't read), they set up the altar, and light the candles. We pray the Angelus together, offer Mass, and then spend a few minutes in thanksgiving after Mass.

More and more I realize, that it all depends upon them. It all depends upon them and young people like them. They're young and maybe do not yet grasp the full import of their calling. But, it all depends upon them! The future of the Church in the United States depends upon them. Obviously it depends upon Christ, but Christ calls us to share in His work.

When I look at the young men and women whom I see each day at Mass at the Catholic Center, I am encouraged. They are evidence of the relentlessness of Christian Faith. Everything is against them. They have grown up and live in a culture that is against them. And yet, here they are attending Mass, coming to confession, praying the Rosary, going to adoration, living true friendship, growing in the virtues, witnessing before others, and living a life of charity. They live joyfully, charitably, and faithfully. When confronted by tremendous opposition, they are relentless in their fidelity, charity, and joy. Nobody seems capable of robbing them of their joy.

At times, I suspect that they might become frustrated by their elders in the Church. So often, because they are devoted to the sacraments, faithful to the teachings of the Church, and joyful in their friendship, they are opposed by their elders. This is the experience of many young, faithful Catholics. If I could offer a suggestion in this regard: their elders--instead of studying young people and opining about them--should take time to hang out with them, go out for dinner with them, and enjoy their company. The Church would be better served if bishops and priests spent more time actually engaged with faithful lay men and women rather than operating out of preconceived notions about them. They might discover that these young people are filled with a joy that is severely lacking in many who criticize them. If I were to give some advice to their elders, I would say that they should take the opportunity to hang out with these young people, hear their confessions, and enjoy their friendship. They would discover that these young people have a strong and healthy faith life. They'd find them to be joyful, faithful, and normal. They'd find kids who have become joyfully proficient in navigating and living all that the present culture has to offer with an evangelical joy. They know how to be normal kids and Catholic. They know how to bring the joy of the Gospel into the culture. 

The Church is depending upon them. Jesus is depending upon them. The Church needs young men and women who are unapologetically faithful to her teachings, devoted to the Sacraments, culturally adept, and joyful. What's beautiful to me is that, with very little theological training, they are doing precisely what the Church needs. They are living a joyful friendship. They are living in the present culture as seeds! They do not run away from those who disagree with them. Instead, they've become an open invitation to experience the joy of Christ. They are living the joy of the Gospel in the midst of the culture.

St. John Paul II knew how to reach out to young people. He recognized that young men and women are not attracted to a bland, compromised, chicken soup for the soul type Christianity. He knew that young men and women want to live the full challenge of the Gospel. Will every young person who hears the call of Christ to "Take up your cross and follow me," do it? No. St. John Paul II knew this, but he nonetheless relentlessly put the challenge to young people to follow Christ, to go out into the deep, to lay down your life for your friend. He did this because while some seed may fall on rocky ground or on the path, some seed would fall on fertile ground and would take root and produce a hundredfold. St. John Paul knew that this hundredfold is the future of the Church. 

Somewhere along the line, the young men and women I meet at the Catholic Center heard the clear invitation of Christ: "Come, follow me." They heard it from a parent, a teacher, a parish priest . . . they heard it somewhere. They have continued to be faithful to that call and their fidelity to Christ is producing a hundredfold. 

When we look at many of the Church's institutions--its parishes, dioceses, chanceries, schools, hospitals etc--we see that they are foundering and have become sterile, incapable of sustaining and producing life. In many instances this is because these institutions have abandoned the youth of the Gospel. The Gospel is always young, always new, always the same. When its members and institutions forget the youth of the Gospel--forget the directness and challenge of the initial encounter with Christ--they grow stale and lifeless. It is only when these institutions rediscover the young gospel, the gospel of "Come, follow me," that they can be renewed. Only the full gospel can restore the joy of our youth. There will be no meaningful renewal of any of the Church's institutions unless we are willing to risk everything on Gospel of our youth...the Gospel that demands everything of us.

I'm holding out hope that these young men and women who have accepted the Gospel in their youth will remain faithful to this initial encounter with Christ. Although time passes, there is no distance from the initial call of Christ. When we live in close fidelity to this initial encounter, it becomes a spring of youth, renewed daily in the Mass. The perpetual temptation is to substitute this youthful encounter with programs, bureaucracies, fads, and ideologies. When the Church's institutions become overly attached to these things and become forgetful of the encounter with Christ, they detach Christianity from Christ. And when the branches become detached from the vine, they wither and die. 

As I look at these young men and women who are living the joy of the encounter with Christ, I hope that fifty years from now, they are still living this encounter, still living the joy of their youth. The Church in the United States depends upon it.




Wednesday, July 29, 2015

When Catholics Are Too Polite to Confront Evil

Over the past few weeks, a series of videos showing doctors and executives from Planned Parenthood discussing the sale of body parts of aborted babies has appeared online. One such doctor, as she sips wine and munches salad, discusses how she will crush the baby in such a way so as to preserve the organs that she will later sell. Another doctor says that if she knows in advance that organs are to be harvested, she'd use a less "crunchy" method. In the most recent video, a woman who was hired by a company who traffics aborted baby parts, shows video footage of doctors standing around a dish, picking out legs, spinal columns, and kidneys of aborted children. They discuss how they would prefer to sell by the part and not just accept a flat fee for everything.

It is true that when we try to evangelize others, fighting over moral issues isn't always the right place to begin. I agree wholeheartedly that in one on one evangelization, the starting point shouldn't be controversy and antagonism.  But in the face of horrific crimes against humanity, the Church (and individual Christians) do not have the luxury of standing by the side of the road. It would be scandalous if, in the face of atrocities, the Church and her members remained silent. Sadly in places like Massachusetts where I live, many of the movers and shakers of society are supporters and beneficiaries of the greatest ongoing atrocity in the history of the world. Very few of the people elected to political office in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are pro-life. Many of the most ardent supporters of Planned Parenthood have been and are Catholic. 

There are many political issues upon which reasonable men and women can disagree. The best way to defend our country, the best economic, immigration, and job policies are all matters upon which reasonable men and women could offer differing opinions. Good people can disagree on many practical issues. But, there are certain issues that define what kind of person we are. They are game changer issues.  If a candidate had a perfect record on 99% of one's concerns, but declared that he were an ardent supporter of the Ku Klux Klan, the Westboro Baptist Church, or ISIS, nobody would ever say, "Well, that's just one issue. You can't make everything about one issue." The second we knew that this person supported such an immoral and vicious organization, that one issue would be enough to stop supporting him or her. We would never say, "Well, I disagree with him on the whole KKK thing, but I like his position on jobs, immigration, and foreign policy." If you said that, people would rightfully think that you are warped.

So, this week we saw videos of an organization that takes babies from their mothers' wombs, crushes them in such a way so as to preserve their organs intact so that they can be sold for a profit. While they discuss these things over wine and salad, the people laugh, make jokes, and discuss profits. If somebody can't see how evil this is, they are either willfully blind or their moral conscience has been completely compromised and numbed. The videos have stirred a hornets' nest because those who hide behind the euphemism of "women's health" have been called out. It's hard to argue "women's health" while a bunch of doctors are standing over a bowl full of body parts discussing how much money they can make from it. 

Because many of the rich and the powerful in the United States are often the biggest supporters of abortion and Planned Parenthood, many in the Church are hesitant to speak and to act. We attend their cocktail parties, invite them to speak at our Catholic universities, and politely talk about all of the other good things that they do. "Sure, they support, defend, and promote an organization that dismembers babies and sells their organs for profit, but they pledged ten million to our scholarship fund." Really? Is that what we want the Church to be?

If the Church speaks out more vociferously on this issue, it's true that some prominent leaders in society will be made uncomfortable. Some politicians might not answer the phone when the Church calls looking for a favor. But let's be honest. Trying to cozy up with these people hasn't made the Church stronger. It has made the Church weaker. When it comes to playing the political game, the Catholic Church in the United States has proved itself woefully inept. The Church may still have enough juice to get a building permit approved for affordable housing or help an immigrant get his visa approved, but on major societal issues, the Church has been outmaneuvered and outsmarted by the same people whom she keeps trying to appease.

But even if we calculated correctly and were able to achieve substantial political benefits for taking a less confrontational path, do we really want to do that? Don't some things demand confrontation?  The recently produced videos are indeed hideous. They ought to make us squirm. But, they also ought to make us more bold in our condemnation of the abortion industry and its supporters. It's really not a very hard sell to make: Crushing babies--be the process more or less "crunchy"--picking their body parts out of a dish, and selling them is atrocious, despicable, and evil. If we cannot speak convincingly about this, we should close up shop.

Those who benefit from the abortion industry should no longer be allowed to hide behind their euphemisms.  There are politicians who today are coming to the defense of Planned Parenthood. They are fighting on the side of people who crush and dismember babies and sell their body parts for profit. If we can't convince Catholics to withdraw their support from politicians who promote such heinous and inhuman acts, then the Church in the United States really has failed. You don't need to be a moral giant to know that dismembering and crushing babies and selling their organs is despicable. 

The abortion industry is engaged in monstrous activities. Politicians who support the abortion industry are supporting monstrous activities. For too long, the abortion industry has survived on the refusal of people to treat abortion as the evil that it is. Catholics, to our shame, have allowed this to continue. Nobody wants to look at or talk about baby parts being picked out of a dish in order to be sold. Planned Parenthood and its political team know this. They depend upon silence. Their political allies survive on this silence. And when we Catholics--bishops, priests, religious, and lay people--remain politely silent, we become part of their conspiracy of evil. 



Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Boston University Catholic Center's Witness of Love

One of the projects that I've wanted to see accomplished at the BU Catholic Center is making the first floor of our building even more inviting than it already is. My hope is to give more of a coffee house feel to it. Of course, on a shoestring budget, we can only do what we can. But, some good friends of the Catholic Center all chipped in and raised approximately $7000 to help get us started. Now, anybody who knows me would say that I come up with some great ideas, but the "dreaded details" of my masterful plans always falls on the shoulders of others. Thankfully, the BU Catholic Center has a woman who is all about the details.

Fran is the Office Manager at the Catholic Center. What does "Office Manager" mean? She does the bookkeeping, does the ordering, pays the bills, keeps the student workers on task, and deals with all of our vendors and contractors. That's pretty good for someone who drives over an hour to and from work and who only works a few days a week, right? If that's all she did, she'd be doing a lot. But Fran also does all of our fundraising, writes personal notes to donors, keeps the database up to date, and keeps in touch with alumni. Oh, she also does food shopping every week for the Catholic Center, keeps the coffee and snacks ready for the students, constantly is picking up after everybody, waters a zillion plants, does all of the altar linens, and runs errands whenever something has to be done. Twice a year when we go on retreat, she cooks three meals a day for three days for about 80 people. If there's an event at the Catholic Center and I think about ordering food, Fran says, "We can save money if I do it myself."

Over the past few weeks, Fran took it upon herself to paint the entire first floor of the Catholic Center, so that we could use the money we raised to purchase furniture, carpets, and other things. She's been a woman on a mission. Sure, I've helped, but Fran--not surprisingly--has been a force to be reckoned with. She just never stops. Nobody who knows Fran would be surprised by any of this, but it's been a sight to behold. It reminds of one of those movies where they film a project being done and then play it in super fast speed so that you see a two month project happen in one minute. That's what Fran looked like during the past few weeks. Up and down ladders, moving furniture, cleaning, vacuuming, trim work, the walls, on and on and on. She would no sooner climb down from the ladder after completing a room and she would be vacuuming the carpets, paying bills, and shopping for furniture. 

Today we went shopping for carpets. Upon our return, we took a brief lunch break and then we were lugging the old carpets out, laying down new carpets, and moving furniture. After hours of this, I collapsed in a chair. Fran went upstairs to do bookkeeping. 

Why does Fran do all of this? She loves the students at the BU Catholic Center. She really does. They, of course, love her too. She does all of what she does because she believes in the mission of the Catholic Center. She keeps the place going. She's never the center of attention. In fact, this blog post might be my last one because she may kill me after reading this. Fran will say, "Everybody helped to get the first floor done." But the truth is, Fran got the first floor done. 

St. Paul says that the greatest of the virtues is charity. There are many great things about the BU Catholic Center. One such great thing is the extraordinary example of charity that is lived out daily in our midst by Fran. She never stops pouring herself out in service to everyone else.  If the mission of the BU Catholic Center is to help form young men and women in the Catholic life, one way that is accomplished is through Fran's example. When we see her arriving with her carload of groceries, stocking the snack bar, standing on a ladder in 90 degree heat painting the walls, cooking for 80 students on retreat, and the list goes on, we are seeing love in action. 

For showing us Christ's love in action, we thank you Fran. I thank you.

(She's going to kill me).

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sometimes Priesthood Feels Like Barley Loaves and Fish

Throughout the centuries there have been extraordinary acts that are truly noteworthy, events that have drastically altered the course of human history. None of us would think to include among those great moments the offering of five barley loaves and two fish. And yet, today in Catholic churches throughout the world, we heard the account of a young boy who did just that. He had five loaves and two fish and he offered them to Jesus. 

Some might say that the young man offered a great sacrifice because he offered all that he had. Perhaps they are correct. At the same time, however, one could argue that in the greater scheme of things, five loaves of bread and two fish are not all that extraordinary. It really is something that should be passed over quickly and without much fanfare. It was cute at the time. He had these loaves and fish and he offered them. It's a nice story to tell for a few weeks, and maybe people for a few years would remember that he was the nice kid who offered his small amount of food so that others could eat. It's a nice good news story that the local newspaper could pick up or that somebody could post on Facebook as a feel good moment.

The young boy, however, placed this offering into the hands of Jesus and this changed everything. Two thousand years later, we are still talking about it. Two thousand years later, we are still being fed from this story. There were twelve wicker baskets left over and we are still being nourished from them. When we place something into the hands of Jesus it takes on an eternal value. He takes our relatively small and finite sacrifices and multiplies them thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold and he makes them of infinite value. This is what he did to those five loaves and two fish. It is what he does when we offer to him our sacrifices.

Several times this week, I was reminded of what a true grace it is to share in the priesthood of Christ. For the young man who is thinking about priesthood, the sacrifices that are demanded may seem daunting. Lifelong celibacy and obedience, on one level, seem like huge sacrifices. At the same time, they can also seem like a few barley loaves and fish. When you look about and see the Church so weak, one could reasonably ask how one man being celibate and obedient is going to make any difference at all. When there are thousands of people hungry, how can five loaves and two fish make any real difference? When parishes and dioceses are foundering, when pews are emptying, and when secularism and atheism are expanding, how can one man offering his body and his will to Jesus make much of a difference at all?

Today there are crowds who are spiritually starving. They are dying. Jesus wants to feed these people. He wants to feed them with His Word and with His Body and Blood. He wants to nourish them and save them from death. To accomplish this, Jesus asks certain men to offer something. He asks them to offer their bodies through the promise of celibacy and he asks them to offer their wills through the promise of obedience. From one perspective, these offerings can appear to be too demanding. But from another perspective, such an offering can seem useless. In the face of all the problems confronting the Church; in the face of so many people starving for the Truth; in the face of all of the Church's internal weaknesses; in the face of all this, how can one man's celibacy and obedience accomplish anything meaningful? 

In the end, Catholic Faith is Eucharistic Faith. In every Mass, we offer to God some bread and some wine. God takes that offering and transforms it into His very Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. We all come to Mass--and even when we offer to God, to the best of our ability, all of our heart, mind, body, and soul, we recognize that what we offer is very small when compared to what He gives in return. We begin by thinking that our offering is grand. But then we receive God in exchange! 

For the man who is considering priesthood, sometimes the offering that is demanded seems too much. But at other times, the offering seems too small to really matter. I can only speak from my experience. If you are a young man who has seen the face of Jesus as he looks with tenderness on the hungry crowds and if you have heard his voice asking you to offer something, do not be afraid. Do not be afraid that Jesus is asking too much and do not be afraid that you have too little to make any real difference. Jesus will never take from you without giving you a hundredfold in return. And, what he takes from you, He transforms into a hundredfold for the life of others. There are times when we feel like Jesus is asking too much! There are other times when we think that no matter how much we give, it can't solve the problem! But it is the hands in which we place our offering that makes all the difference! In His hands, five barley loaves and two fish feed over 5000! When we place the promise of celibacy and obedience into His hands, He transforms that sacrifice and uses it to feed the people whom He loves with His Word and with His Body and His Blood.  

The serious problem of spiritual starvation confronting the world will not be solved by human ingenuity or by ecclesiastical policies. It will be solved in the same way that it was two thousand years ago. Jesus will ask someone to offer the little that they have. He will accept that offering, bless it, and use it to feed the crowds. This is what Jesus did two thousand years ago, what He is doing today, and what He will do tomorrow. We know what Jesus will do. If you are a young man who has heard Jesus calling you, the question is, "What are you going to do?"





Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Joy of Seeing Promises Lived

When I first became a pastor, a neighboring parish to mine was being closed. Among those who found their way to my parish was an older couple named Neil and Mary Helen. Although they found it difficult to see the parish that they had dearly loved closed, they made the best of it, found a pew at St. Mary's Church, and became a fixture at our Saturday 4pm Mass. Over the years, I've discovered that I describe people in terms of where they sit at Mass. Neil and Mary Helen? Halfway up, middle section, St. Joseph's side.

Last weekend, I attended a party that celebrated the 70th anniversary of Neil and Mary Helen. It was a beautiful celebration where I ate with great friends and had the privilege of helping Neil and Mary Helen renew their marital promises. Married in 1945, Neil and Mary Helen have lived and seen a lot together. The have lived to see their children's children's children. They have known the joys of new life and the sorrows of burying some of their own children. 

Neil and Mary Helen's family turned their parent's anniversary into a celebration of marriage itself. All of the guests were asked--if they were married--to send a photo of their wedding day. They compiled these photos into a book beginning with Neil and Mary Helen's photo and going from 70 years of marriage to the most recent weddings. Each couple was asked to write a little blurb next to their photo of what they think is necessary to live a good marriage. It was a beautiful tribute to marriage. We need to see good examples in our life. We need to see good Christians, good priests, good religious, and good married couples. The good example of others spurs us on.

On the day Neil and Mary Helen were married, the priest probably read to them a beautiful exhortation on marriage. I shared an excerpt of it before they renewed their vows 70 years later. I did so because standing in front of us were a man and a woman who have lived those vows for 70 years. When they first uttered them, everything was hidden from their eyes. But they said them. Now 70 years later, they can look back and see the road that they have travelled together. When I was driving home from their anniversary celebration, I thought to myself, "I want to be as faithful to my priesthood as they are to their marriage." I want to look back decades from now and see how the promises made on my ordination day--even though the future joys and sufferings were hidden from my eyes--were the beginning of something good and true and beautiful. I hope that my priestly life helps my married friends to live their vocation better. I know that the example of Neil and Mary Helen help me to live my priestly vocation better.

I include that exhortation here. I highly recommend it--especially to those who are married. To all of us who have made promises before God, let us be encouraged to hold fast. When we see the example of those who have lived their promises, we know it was all worth it.

Exhortation Before Marriage

My dear friends: You are about to enter upon a union which is most sacred and most serious. It is most sacred, because established by God himself. By it, he gave to man a share in the greatest work of creation, the work of the continuation of the human race. And in this way he sanctified human love and enabled man and woman to help each other live as children of God, by sharing a common life under his fatherly care.

Because God himself is thus its author, marriage is of its very nature a holy institution, requiring of those who enter into it a complete and unreserved giving of self. But Christ our Lord added to the holiness of marriage an even deeper meaning and a higher beauty. He referred to the love of marriage to describe his own love for his Church, that is, for the people of God whom he redeemed by his own blood. And so he gave to Christians a new vision of what married life ought to be, a life of self-sacrificing love like his own. It is for this reason that his apostle, St. Paul, clearly states that marriage is now and for all time to be considered a great mystery, intimately bound up with the supernatural union of Christ and the Church, which union is also to be its pattern.

This union, then, is most serious, because it will bind you together for life in a relationship so close and so intimate, that it will profoundly influence your whole future. That future, with its hopes and disappointments, its successes and its failures, its pleasures and its pains, its joys and its sorrows, is hidden from your eyes. You know that these elements are mingled in every life, and are to be expected in your own. And so not knowing what is before you, you take each other for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death.

Truly, then, these words are most serious. It is a beautiful tribute to your undoubted faith in each other, that recognizing their full import, you are, nevertheless, so willing and ready to pronounce them. And because these words involve such solemn obligations, it is most fitting that you rest the security of your wedded life upon the great principle of self-sacrifice. And so you begin your married life by the voluntary and complete surrender of your individual lives in the interest of that deeper and wider life which you are to have in common. 

Henceforth you will belong entirely to each other; you will be one in mind, one in heart, and one in affections. And whatever sacrifices you may hereafter be required to make to preserve this mutual life, always make them generously. Sacrifice is usually difficult and irksome. Only love can make it easy, and perfect love can make it a joy. We are willing to give in proportion as we love. And when love is perfect, the sacrifice is complete. God so loved the world that he gave, his only-begotten Son, and the Son so loved us that he gave himself for our salvation. "Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
No greater blessing can come to your married life than pure conjugal love, loyal and true to the end. May, then, this love with which you join your hands and hearts today never fail, but grow deeper and stronger as the years go on. And if true love and the unselfish spirit of perfect sacrifice guide your every action, you can expect the greatest measure of earthly happiness that may be allotted to man in this vale of tears. The rest is in the hands of God.

Nor will God be wanting to your needs; he will pledge you the life-long support of his graces in the Holy Sacrament, which you are now going to receive.