Wednesday, October 19, 2016

No Feast Day for Judas

Of everything that I learned in eight years of seminary, the most helpful piece of advice was this: "Always give the penitent something to love." In other words, instead of keeping the penitent's eyes fixed on the sin to be avoided, give him or her something to love. I have found this advice invaluable in the ministry of the confessional.  While the attention of the penitent is often fixated on the sin or the vice, the good confessor can turn the eyes of the penitent towards what is good, true, and beautiful. There are so many good things to be loved! The fact that the penitent is there at all is a sign of God's grace at work. Whatever sin has been committed, there is a virtue to be loved that can overcome that particular vice. There is also the fact that the Good Shepherd has been seeking out this lost sheep and desiring to bring him back to the fold. Without ever dismissing the seriousness of sin or its consequences, the confessor can direct the gaze of the penitent away from the sin and onto the true, the good, and the beautiful.

This pointing to the presence of the true, good, and beautiful is present also in the Church's liturgy. Almost daily, the Church directs our attention to the example of the saints and martyrs. In doing so, the Liturgy places before us something encouraging: Holiness is possible. In the lives of the saints, we see men and women who followed Christ and radiated the beauty and goodness of the Christian life. There is, however, no feast day for Judas.  Of course, we would not honor Judas with a feast day, but it's interesting, I think, that we don't have a day in the liturgical life of the Church that commemorates or directs our attention to examples of failure in the Christian life. Sure, we acknowledge our sins at every Mass, and on Ash Wednesday, penitential days, and penitential seasons we sorrowfully acknowledge our sinfulness and seek pardon. But, we don't have a day set aside to ponder and dwell upon the betrayal of Judas. Judas' betrayal is placed before us during Holy Week and is offered to us for our consideration. But, it becomes so small and petty. It is seen for what it is. In the face of Christ's magnificent love, Judas' betrayal becomes even sadder because of its pettiness. When we look upon Christ, the Eucharist, the Cross, the Resurrection, the Ascension, the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and the Acts of the Apostles, it is difficult to spend much time on poor, petty, Judas.

I mention all of this because there is a perpetual temptation to spend too much of our time focussing our eyes (and the eyes of others) on bad examples and upon the presence of sin and evil. Are there bad priests, bishops, religious, and lay people? Yes! When a Catholic politician supports abortion, should he be corrected? Yes! When a priest or a bishop undermines the true doctrine of the Church--either directly or by subterfuge--should he be corrected? Yes! But, spending all of our time pointing out everything that is wrong in the life of the Church isn't going to build the Church up.  Are there priests who probably are unkind, greedy, or who preach falsely? Yes!  But, why spend too much time talking about them? Doing so directs people's attention away from Christ. Instead, we ought to follow the example of the Liturgy and direct people's attention to what is good, true, and beautiful.

All around us, Jesus is doing beautiful things in the lives of his disciples. There are tremendous conversion stories, stories of great generosity, stories of great mercy, stories of men and women striving for holiness, living devoutly, chastely, mercifully, and humbly. There are people living the beatitudes. There are great priests and bishops who are teaching and shepherding after the heart of Christ. There are great Catholic families in our parishes. There are great Catholic young men and women on our college campuses. There are Catholic politicians who are willing to sacrifice their political careers in order to be more dedicated to Christ than to their political party. 

A good confessor is not going to dismiss or make light of the reality of sin. But, neither will he keep the penitent's eyes fixed upon the sin. A good confessor points towards the good, true, and beautiful.  Similarly, as a Church, we should not ignore the presence of sin and evil, but we should not dwell upon it. Are there glaring failures among the bishops, priests, and laity of the Church? Of course there are! There always has been. It's fine to acknowledge that, but we are not called to direct people's gaze onto them. What helps people to grow in holiness is to give them something to love, something beautiful to contemplate. And in the Catholic Church, there is plenty to love and plenty of beauty to contemplate.  Judas existed, but he has no feast day. Let's keep it that way.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Catholics For Child Trafficking?

Dear Child,

I do not know your name because you are mostly anonymous. For all I know, over the years you have had many names. Although I do not know you personally, I feel as though I have had some hand in your unfortunate life and want to write to you so that you understand where I was coming from. I am basically a good person. I go to church frequently, give to charities, and recycle. I have provided a good life for my children, sent them to good schools, and have always encouraged them to treat others with respect. 

Some years ago, a political candidate ran for office. His positions on many issues were in sync with what I personally believe. He was against the death penalty, pro-environment, in favor of healthcare for everyone, had excellent economic plans, and wanted to strengthen the security net for those living in poverty. While I did not agree with all of his proposals, I liked almost all of them. One thing I was opposed to was his position on child trafficking.  

His position was that a mother should be able to decide for herself whether her child should be sold as a slave. He said that while he personally thought that doing such a thing was unfortunate, and that in an ideal world nobody should sell their own child to be used like that, we just don't live in an ideal world. Sometimes people are confronted with very difficult choices. There are many reasons, he said, why somebody might choose to sell their own child into an unfortunate life like that. Perhaps the woman might have other children and could use the extra income gained from selling one child to help her other children have a better life. No matter what the reason, whether or not to sell a child into slavery is a very personal decision and, in the opinion of this candidate, the government should not interfere. He was personally opposed to selling children into slavery, but felt that this decision must be left to a woman to decide for herself. It was, after all, her child.

I want you to understand that I am totally opposed to selling children into slavery. But, I hope you understand that I could not be so small-minded as to vote just on one issue alone. I had to think about the bigger picture.  Yes, some children would be sold into a terrible life. I understand that. But, if this candidate were elected, he would provide a much better life for so many other children. These children would enjoy clean air, better healthcare, better and safer schools, and higher wages. When voting, I had to take into account the big picture and not focus on just one issue.

Now, I understand that you would never enjoy those schools, receive any wages, or have much of a life at all. Honestly, the life you have probably lived has been so horrible, that I try not to think about it. It's just too painful to think about it. I know that some people will say that by voting for that candidate, I share some responsibility for your horrible existence. But, I think they are being very narrow-minded.  I think you have to take everything into consideration and not just focus on one issue

I am proud to have supported that candidate. We have accomplished so much for our country. The quality of life for millions of people has improved dramatically. It honestly infuriates me when people continuously drag up the whole child trafficking issue as though that was the only issue! Am I in favor of child trafficking? No, of course not. I simply voted for someone who favored it, promoted it, and made it easier to do. I am still a good person. I go to Mass almost every Sunday, give more to charity than most people, and do a lot of volunteer work.

I truly am very sorry that your life has been so hard, but please know that I am a very good person.


A Very Good Person 

(And, by the way, if you refuse to vote for a candidate who supports something evil, that doesn't mean you have to vote for that candidate's opponent. And, nothing requires a person to vote for either major party candidates). 

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Church and the Lost Art of Belonging

Students Apple Picking Together
This past Sunday morning, a group of college men gathered for breakfast at the BU Catholic Center and began our semester long discussion based on the HBO series, "Band of Brothers." The basic idea for the semester is to watch segments of a great series and to draw lessons from it to help us in our own Catholic life.  One thing immediately strikes me about that series.  While the men who fought in the Second World War certainly had noble ideals, what probably inspired such heroic acts from them were not the result of the politics of the day or the inspirational speeches of their leaders. What gave them the courage to fight and to risk their lives was their love for their fellow soldiers.

Since arriving at the Newman Center at Boston University a few years ago, I've been consistently impressed by the Catholic formation of our students. Devotion to the Sacraments, a prayerful spirit, hunger for understanding the Faith, and a zeal to share that Faith with others are all part of our life together.  But recently, something else has struck me as being one of the most important aspects of our community.

We live at at time when we are relentlessly bombarded by images, tweets, posts, updates, and are virtually connected to everything and everyone. Although our virtual connections seem limitless, our real connections are disappearing. We all know what Donald Trump said ten years ago on a bus, but we don't know the person next to us. We know every off the cuff comment that the pope makes, but we don't know about the lives of the people sitting next to us at Mass. We know what Hollywood stars are having marital difficulties, what factions are fighting in the Vatican, and every "breaking news" story all over the world.  We are "connected" to things far away, but we are increasingly disconnected from the reality right in front of us.

At the Catholic Center, students learn how to live friendship. Once a week, we have a pasta dinner where scores of students enjoy a
meal together. During the nice weather, we set up tables on the sidewalk in front of our building. It is a great sight seeing dozens of college students eating and engaging in long, joyful conversations together.  They meet in small group bible studies, a weekly women's group, and a men's group. They feed the homeless together, go on mission trips together, and worship together. They meet up to play sports together, go to the movies together, hang out, and have coffee together and today, about forty of them went apple picking together.

It seems that increasingly people don't have a sense of belonging. For most of history, people learned how to belong by being part of small communities.  People belonged to their families, their parishes, and their towns. People's experience of "the Church" was usually related to their local parish, and their experience of government was mostly local. Today, instant news and communication gives us the illusion of being connected, but it doesn't teach us the art of belonging. Nothing is required of us. We hit "like" or "share," or we watch a clip of a news story, but then we move on. The sense of belonging is slipping away from us. The Church, the government, and now even our friends are more like entertainment (and not always even good entertainment) that we tune into when we feel like it rather than communities to which we truly belong. 

Belonging requires commitment and work. It requires feeling an obligation to the others. It involves doing things together, spending time together, and true communication. It means working together and relaxing together. It involves serious conversations and not merely banter or complaining. Belonging builds up the individual and, in turn, builds up the community. Today, even those in the Church are losing that sense of belonging. Too much focus on ecclesiastical politics turns the Church into another distant news category that people can tune in and out of as they see fit. Instead, we have the opportunity to provide something that is desperately missing from people's lives. We have the opportunity to provide a way for people to belong, and there is nothing better than belonging to the Body of Christ.

At a moment in time when the world is more virtually connected than ever, people are starving for real connections. So many people feel alone and isolated. They hunger to belong. One of the things that has so impressed me about the men and women at the BU Catholic Center is that they help one another to belong to our community. They belong well together and they welcome others into this belonging. I'm more committed than ever to my conviction that the way to build up the Church is to live a friendship together. If we want to build up the Church, we cannot underestimate the importance of particularity. People are hungering not for "community" in some vague way. They need a particular community. They need particular faces to whom they belong, people who love and care for them, who visit them when they are ill, who know them, and live life with them. People who have ever shared this joyful and grace-filled experience of living the friendship of the Church together would look around and gratefully say, "We belong together."

Friday, October 7, 2016

Man the Lifeboats, Pray the Rosary

Each year on October 7th, the Church celebrates the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.  The Feast was instituted by Pope Pius V as an act of thanksgiving to the Blessed Virgin Mary for the Christian victory over the Turks in the great naval battle of Lepanto. On this day in 1571, Christian Civilization was saved from utter destruction when the Turkish fleet was decimated. Pope Pius V credited this amazing victory to our the Blessed Virgin Mary who had been invoked through the recitation of the Holy Rosary both by sailors aboard their ships and by the entire Christian population of Italy.  Had things turned out differently, the invasion of Italy by the Turks would have been a most likely outcome. With that invasion, Rome could have fallen and Islam could have spread violently across all of Europe.

Originally, the feast was dedicated to "Our Lady of Victory."  It was later changed to "Our Lady of the Rosary." I am kind of partial to the "Our Lady of Victory" title. So many things in life seem impossible and dangerous. I like knowing that we have in our possession a secret weapon that assures victory. Although many things have been written about the Rosary (e.g., how to say it, how to mediate upon the mysteries, what are its promises etc), what continues to amaze me is simply this: It works! The Rosary brings victory. Struggling with some temptation? Pray the Rosary. Have a difficult  family situation? Pray the Rosary. Desire the conversion of sinners? Pray the Rosary. Want to transform the world? Pray the Rosary.

The defeat of the Turks at Lepanto saved Western Civilization.  We live at a moment in time when Western Civilization is quickly disappearing. What the Turks were unable to do with their ships and weapons, we ourselves have done by voluntarily surrendering our Christian heritage. We live, it seems, at a moment in time when one age begins its sorrowful and rapid decline and when nothing noble stands ready to take its place. It is like a ship at sea, taking on water and quickly slipping beneath the waves. The passengers have manned the lifeboats and are now floating in the darkness left to wonder what will happen next? Are there rescue ships steaming towards us? Will the dawn reveal to us a horizon of welcoming coastlands or, having scuttled the great ship of Christendom, will we be left to float aimlessly and precariously, tossed about by every wind and wave?

In moments of great import and danger, it has always been the Catholic inclination to turn to the Holy Rosary. Lifeboats are a good place to pray the Rosary. Eventually, as we drift in the darkness and see the remnants of a great culture disappear from sight; as we realize that the civilization we worked so hard to destroy was what protected us from the pirates and sharks who now surround us; when we realize that we sunk ourselves and that the vaporous speeches of our captains will not save us; then from one of the lifeboats a small voice will begin and will travel from boat to boat. These lifeboats will become the beginning of a new armada, an armada whose victory is certain for their battle cry shall be: Hail Mary, Full of Grace.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Boston University Catholic Center: How Is This Possible?

Dear Friends in Christ,
Each year, the Catholic Center holds its annual Phonathon Fundraiser when we write and call to many of our alumni, families, friends, and benefactors.  Tomorrow morning the initial letter will go out.  This year, I aimed for brevity and directness.  Please                    consider supporting us if you are able.

                                                                                                                      October 4, 2016

Dear Friend of the BU Catholic Center:

A few days ago, we at the BU Catholic Center finished our Fall Undergrad Retreat entitled “Who Are You?”. The priest who spoke at the retreat sat next to me during the student witnesses with a look of amazement on his face. It was that look of, “How is this even possible?”. When I thanked the priests who helped with confessions, they all told me how privileged they felt to be involved with such an amazing group of faithful young people. They too had that same joyful amazement on their faces: “How is this even possible?”.

The genuine, beautiful faith of the students in the BU Catholic community is only possible because of Jesus Christ and His Loving Goodness. Yet the community would also not exist without people like you who generously support us. This year the Catholic Center has experienced significant setbacks in funding. To our disappointment, the Student Allocations Board for the University denied us any funding, and thousands of dollars upon which we had depended are now gone. The success of our 2016 Phonathon fundraiser is imperative.

Allow me to provide just one example of how dependent we are on your generosity.  The total cost of our Fall retreat per student is roughly $250. Since no student can afford such a price, we ask them to pay $80 and the Catholic Center subsidizes the rest. (There are always students who cannot afford even the $80. We turn no one away.) The Catholic Center yearly budget is approximately $207,000. That includes the salaries for a part-time Office Manager, a part-time music director, and a full-time chaplain.  It also includes all programming, weekly pasta dinners, utilities, building upkeep, supplies, administration costs, and two undergrad retreats that cost approximately $20,000 in total. That’s a lot for $207,000! At the same time, however, we run a $60,000 loss each year. Such a loss is not sustainable over the long term, and to continue our ministry we will either need to increase contributions or cut programming significantly. 

I hope this snapshot of our finances helps you to understand our situation and inspires you to give generously to this amazing place. Our Phonathon will take place from October 22-25th. It is our major fundraiser and we depend upon its success. If you would like to avoid a phone call(!) please consider donating now and we will not call you during those days. You can mail your donation or give online through ParishPay or Paypal by going to this link:
Alumni can also donate through the BU Development Fund. Simply tell them that you want your donation to be directed to Account Number 9300000342. This method of donating also allows for Matching Gifts!  
We thank you for your generous support! When people see what happens at the Catholic Center, they immediately wonder: “How is this even possible?”. The answer is obvious: Because of Christ and because of you.

In Christ,

Fr. David Barnes 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Real Campaign, My Dear Wormwood

My Dear Wormwood:

Your most recent report concerning the humans and their pathetic elections was most promising. I do not think I am speaking out of turn when I tell you that our Father of Lies and Prince of Darkness is most pleased by your efforts. It is critical, however, in moments such as these, not to become too blatant or overly confident. When it comes to destroying the wretched humans, it is always better to lure them by subtlety than to propose evil directly.

In this way, we have been masterful in the use of euphemism. While many of the wretched humans remain squeamish about defending the direct killing of the unborn, they are only too happy to defend euphemisms such as "reproductive health" and "right to choose." It brings our Dark Lord particular pleasure to watch as these humans, who pride themselves on their devotion to the scientific, become so willing to suppress this devotion in favor of euphemisms devoid of any scientific basis. Even after millennia of promoting evil, the success of this particular strategy still surprises and pleases us immensely.

Your use of social media also merits commendation. Social media has become the temple of the political gods. It keeps the humans occupied, angry, and distracted. It keeps them from being receptive to the voice of the Enemy. They feel compelled to comment, like, and share everything positive about their political party or candidate and everything negative about the opposing candidate and party. This is of invaluable assistance to us. If they were recollected and silent, they might hear the dreaded voice of the Enemy and be drawn towards Him. They might also become aware that we are their true enemy and then be moved to resist us. Were they not worshipping at the altar of social media, they might be worshipping Him. If they weren't addicted to sharing the talking points of their political masters, they might be sharing the Gospel. It is much better to pit them against each other and to convince them that their salvation will come from political victory and that the greatest tragedy would be the loss of their candidate. Anything that we can do to keep them distracted from caring for their putrid souls, the better. 

To our tremendous fortune, those most concerned with the protection of human life have a candidate whose language is coarse and disdainful towards large segments of the population. This, even we could not have predicted! This scenario leaves many of the Enemy's followers hesitant and confused and it emboldens those who are adherents of the culture of death. At the same time, the perfect cynicism of one of the candidates simultaneously boasting of his Catholic Faith and of his pro-abortion stance is absolutely delicious. We could not have devised a more sinister and perfect plan!

Before you become too complacent, however, let me offer some serious words of caution. As you know, from the very beginning our project is built upon sand and is always at risk of being washed away. The more we build on lies and deception, the more at risk our plans become. It is a treacherous business. It requires that you act with subtlety but also with decisive action when necessary. 

In terms of subtlety, whatever you can do to advance the notion that abortion is just one issue among many issues is critically helpful. This provides a reasonable sounding cover to those who like to consider themselves "good." Remember, the humans always want to consider themselves to be "good." The more you can get their opponents to say and support other evils, the more you will help us in this endeavor. You must convince them that there are only two possibilities: 1. Be against abortion and be uncaring towards the poor; or 2. Be for abortion and care about the poor.  Keeping them caged in this system is to our distinct advantage.

At one of their conventions, a woman spoke about how she was proud of her abortion. This was a risky strategy and one that should not be repeated. Even the most depraved among the humans are hesitant to boast about killing innocent babies. Our previous method of shame and guilt is far more effective. So many of the humans who have had or participated in an abortion are devastated for life by the guilt and shame. This is where we want them. For some, this will manifest itself in an obstinate support for abortion (because they are unable to admit their guilt). For others, it will result in silence and despair. Both of these are to our advantage and are eminently pleasing to our Most Evil Father.

As in any battle, we must be aware of our own vulnerabilities. It is clear that our greatest vulnerability would be the unexpected appearance of some saintly person. The Enemy has consistently thwarted our most brilliant campaigns by raising up saints. The conversion of one sinner and their growth in heroic holiness has cost us many victories. Time and again, just when we were within reach of catastrophic victory, the Enemy has placed some saintly personality onto the field of battle and visited ruin upon us.

To prevent this, we must be vigilant in weakening his army, the Church. The less it focuses upon the Mass, Confession, and the Word of the Enemy, the better. If its priests and bishops are too convincing in preaching the dreaded Word of the Enemy, souls might be converted. Do not underestimate how powerful a weapon the Enemy's Word is. We saw what happened with Saul. His conversion continues to wreak havoc upon us. And, his warning to the Galatians that "Even if an angel from heaven come down and preach to you a different Gospel, let him be accursed," is something we do not want anyone to hear. Instead, we desire Catholics who preach a different gospel and who appeal to our allies at Planned Parenthood. We want to cultivate among Christians a smugness that makes them feel superior to the Word of our Enemy. We also want priests and bishops who are worldly and who desire acceptance among those who oppose our Enemy. 

Remember also the immense suffering caused to us by the Polish Pope. We continue to feel the sting of his putrid commitment to truth. Again, we were not sufficiently prepared. We did not expect that an old man would be so influential with generations of young people. It is another example of why the danger of holiness and commitment to truth--no matter who is involved--must be taken seriously by us and be crushed mercilessly. While we want the humans distracted, we must be vigilant not to become distracted ourselves. It only takes one of them to slip through our sights to cause us immense misery. Only one of them kneeling in adoration, confessing his sins, receiving the Body and Blood of our Enemy, listening to His Word, imploring His Mother, or sharing with others the Truth can undo decades of our destructive hard work.

My Dear Nephew Wormwood, continue the work of our Hateful Father and do everything possible to keep the humans from conversion and holiness. Never forget, my Dear Wormwood, the real campaign is against the Enemy and the humans he loves so much.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Sex Is Like Eating Pizza: The Pathetic Alternative to Truth, Beauty, and Goodness

This morning, I was sitting in the Catholic Center when a student came in and said, "I'm so glad you are here because I've got to tell you this."  The student proceeded to tell me about a training that he attended at BU.  The speaker for the training told students that sex is like eating pizza.  The trainer then went on to give examples.  "Can you eat pizza only with one person ever or can you eat pizza with whomever you like?"  "Can you eat pizza with just one person at a time or can you eat pizza with several people at a time?" Apparently, the examples continued.  Happily, this particular student has enough sense to realize the total depravity of what was being taught.  One would hope that many students have enough sense to understand that whatever exactly the point of this "training" was, it arises from a very sad, distorted, and pathetic view of the human person.

As the student was conveying this pathetic story to me, I wondered whether the trainer would agree that a 65 year old man could eat pizza with his 6 year old granddaughter? And I wonder if it would be okay to pay someone to eat pizza with you? I wondered whether it was okay for a married man to occasionally order delivery? Would it be okay for your spouse to occasionally have pizza with someone else in this analogy? The student said to me, "Father, I was sitting in this room and I was thinking, 'Even if you didn't have Catholic Faith or morals, wouldn't you have some sense that sex is something considerably more significant than eating pizza?'" It made me very happy that this student has been given the grace and wisdom necessary to realize the emptiness of what was being proposed in this training.

If this student's portrayal of the "training" that he attended is accurate, it is certainly a very sad reflection on the proposed view of the human person and of human sexuality. The view being imposed upon students by the "trainer" is that sex is really insignificant and is not an investment of the entire person. It reduces sex to a cheap form of pleasure and nothing more. What a very sad thing it is to require students to attend a training that takes one of life's greatest gifts and reduces it to something so base.

In case you were a student subjected to this kind of "training," and felt the inclination that what you were being told was faulty: Congratulations! That means that you have not been completely desensitized to the truth. You have not bought into the lie that what we do with our bodies is somehow extrinsic and meaningless.  It means that you still have the sense that you are created in the image and likeness of God and that you (and others) possess intrinsic dignity. If you listened to that training and thought, "This is sad," then you have reason to rejoice because you have not been enslaved by an agenda that seeks to brainwash you into thinking that sex is about cheap thrills and not about lifelong and life-giving love. 

St. John Paul II wrote beautifully on the meaning of the human body and the Theology of the Body. He wrote about how sex is the mutual self-giving between a man and a woman, ordered toward the pro-creation of children. He wrote so magnificently and urgently on the beauty and holiness of sex because he saw what the absurd and pathetic alternative was: Having a professional trainer teach young men and women that sex is like eating pizza.

So there you have it my young friends.  The Church lays out a vision of human sexuality that says that sex is an act created by God's loving plan, which enables a man and a woman who are united in a life-long union, to give themselves entirely to each other and become co-creators with God.  On the other hand, you have the "sex is like eating pizza" philosophy.  I hope that you think enough of yourselves and of other human beings to see which is truer, better, and more beautiful.