Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Angelus and Our Friendship in Christ

The Angelus (1857-1859) by Jean-Francois Millet
One of the things that I inherited when arriving at the BU Catholic Center a couple of years ago was their custom of praying the Angelus before Mass.  For me, this prayer is always a moment of profound gratitude.  

There are approximately forty thousand graduate and undergraduate students on the move here.  They are moving from lecture halls to labs, from freshmen year to senior year, from the present to the future, and from academia to careers.  They are also moving from belief to unbelief,  from one political ideology to another ideology, from confusion to clarity, from clarity to confusion, from all kinds of (healthy and unhealthy) relationships, and from one emotional state to another.

Every day at 12:29 (a minute before our Mass) our students come to a profound pause and live together the memory of the Incarnation.  "The Word became Flesh and dwelled among us."  Friends of mine from the ecclesial movement, Communion and Liberation, always say "And dwells among us," and I prefer this.  It makes clear that what happened in that moment of Mary's "Yes," is not imprisoned in the past.  Instead, her "Yes" still echoes in the lived experience of the Church.  He dwells among us.  Through Mary's obedience, something new has entered into the experience of time.  In our life together as the Church, we encounter the presence of the eternal.  Were it not for her "Yes," we would be the prisoners of the ephemeral and the slaves of existential loneliness.

Our memory of this moment two thousand years ago is not something that simply acknowledges a fact that happened.  It indeed does that.  But, it acknowledges with profound gratitude and humility that this fact in history is lived now in the experience of our friendship together.  Her "Yes," to Christ gives us the freedom also to say, "Yes."  In a sense, we are living together the memory of that "Yes."  We are caught up in that moment when time and eternity meet.  We pause before the great Mystery of our salvation and this lived memory allows us to see that every minute of the day is now a moment with Christ.  All time belongs to Him and all time is now saved by His Presence.  

This brief moment together of awe before the Mystery fills me with gratitude.  Gratitude, of course, for the "Yes" of Our Lady, but also for how that "Yes" continues to live in the experience of the friendship of the Church.  Without this pause each day, the Church risks becoming a business, a corporation, an ideology, or a club that has no real purpose or impact on the lives of its members.  It is this pause that awakens in us a certainty that something new has happened and is still happening.  It is this pause that causes me to see that Christ is present here in this place.

The memory of the Annunciation daily renews in me an affection for the people with whom I live this memory.  These young men and women who stand with me in awe before the "Yes" of the Blessed Virgin are an assurance of something truly beautiful and something that daily saves me: "The Word became Flesh and Dwells Among Us."

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A 12 Word Summary of the Priesthood

Psalm 16 says, "He has put into my heart a marvelous love for his faithful . . . ."  For me, this is priesthood.  Today, on the Solemnity of St. Joseph, this marvelous love was renewed in me.  Tonight, as I go to bed and think about the faithful, I'm just humbly grateful.  He has indeed put into my heart a marvelous love for his awesome people.  We had a great day today at the BU Catholic Center; prayerful, educational, and fun.  God pours into the hearts of His priests a marvelous love for his people.

St. Joseph, Pray for Us1

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

To Be Catholic Is To Be Surprised

My German Shorthaired Pointer, Finbar
For the past two evenings, I've been preaching a parish mission at St. Mary of the Annunciation Parish in Dedham, Massachusetts.  My reflections were based upon the Stations of the Cross.  For me, preaching the mission provided me the opportunity to spend a lot of time reflecting on the Lord's Passion and Death as I prepared to preach.  But it also provided me the opportunity to see two good priests--the pastor and the curate--doing such great work.  The parish itself has always had a great reputation in our Archdiocese and it was great to be with the people there.  In a particular way, the parish is known for its excellent youth ministry program.  

The students at BU are on break this week, but I've been there getting work done AND enjoying the quiet building!  Two of the students who are hanging around Boston this week have been joining me for Mass each day.  We've also found ourselves engaged in some solid theological discussions.  For me, the true face of the Church is discovered in moments like these.  We've attended Mass, eaten burgers, discussed theological questions, and have bantered back and forth a bit.  Not that I need convincing, but I do need continually confirmation that friendship is the key to the life of the Church.  This week, such confirmation was given in seeing a brother priest thriving in his pastoral ministry and in praying, dining, and hanging around with these students.  

One of those students and one of our staff at the Catholic Center have generously offered to watch my dog from Wednesday until Sunday so that I can go on retreat.  I am the beneficiary of their charity.  I am grateful that their generosity allows me to go and pray for a few days.  I hope that five days at the monastery will make me more charitable in return!

In any event, these days I am reminded (all over again) that the Church works best when we live it as a friendship.  If the Church is lived merely as a bureaucracy, as a series of programs, or as a superficial series of planned social events that never deal with the truly profound questions of the human heart, then it withers and becomes lifeless.  The Church has to meet the human heart and cause it to awaken. 

I'm feeling grateful for the people who reveal the face of Christ to me through the friendship we share in the Church.  They continue to allow me to be surprised by Christ.  And, it gives me joy when through our communion together, they also experience the continual surprise that is life in Christ.  This week, I once again experienced the newness of Christianity.  

(There's no real reason for putting a picture of my dog here except that I mentioned him in this post and I felt like posting his picture.  Several times a day, he appears before me with a ball and stares me down until I yield and start throwing the ball.)

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Want to Be Purified During Lent? Listen to Jesus

It's Sunday.  

This morning I drove into the BU Catholic Center with a seminarian who is staying with me this week while he is on Spring Break.  He graduated from BU last year.  Our first event for the day was Men's Group.  The Men's Group that is run by a couple of students and under the direction of our intern Bobby meets on Sundays and Thursdays.  On Thursdays they hang out, eat burgers, play video games, and do fun stuff.  On Sunday mornings, after eating doughnuts, they have a short talk and then pray together.  Today, one of the students gave a talk based on something that Pope Benedict XVI had written on the Eucharist.  It was solid food.  After that, we all prayed the Rosary together.  It was impressive to glance around the chapel and see 16 young men praying the Rosary together.

After Men's Group, we headed over to the 12:30pm Mass.  Although God obviously is always doing something awesome at every Mass, sometimes that awesomeness is more palpable.  Today was one of those days. I just had this tremendous sense that God was touching us today, revealing his Glory, and helping us to follow Him.  Yeah, something was happening today.  There was just an outpouring of grace happening.  

The Gospel for today was the Transfiguration.  I mentioned at Mass how a few months ago, a young boy from my previous parish emailed me with a good theological question.  "If baptism washes away sin, why do we still sin after we're baptized?"  That's a pretty good question coming from a seven year old!  His question is a fitting one for today's readings.  Although the guilt of sin is washed away in the waters of baptism (and through Sacramental Confession), the wounds caused by sin still remain.  The wounds of sin hinder us from seeing and judging reality properly.  This is, in part, why we are attached to transient things and why we forget about God.  Our wounded intellects hinder us from judging things properly.  How do we heal the wound left in our intellects?  

Today's Gospel shows us and tells us.  The disciples were about to see some horrible things.  They would see Jesus humiliated, scourged, beaten, crucified, and killed.  He would appear to be a complete failure.  But, in the Transfiguration, his Divine Glory shines through his humanity.  Jesus is not just another good guy who ends up in a bad way.  He is God.  To help the apostles to see and judge Christ's suffering and death appropriately, Jesus reveals quite powerfully his divinity.  And, God the Father testifies, "This is MY Beloved Son.  Listen to Him."  How do we heal our intellectual blindness?  By the purifying light of Faith.  And how do we grow in Faith?  By listening to Christ.  Our wills and passions all need to be purified and healed.  But, today is a good day to focus on our need for intellectual healing.  The more we profess Christ's divinity, listen to him with humility, and judge our life according to his Word, the more our spiritual blindness is lifted and we see and know the world as God sees and knows the world.  We can grow each day in Faith and this growth in Faith heals the blindness of our hearts.  The more we grow in Faith, the more we come to recognize a very fundamental truth that spiritual blindness often hinders us from seeing: Jesus is God.  I am not God.  

After Mass, I returned to the Catholic Center and am now sitting in my office listening to a couple of dozen students meeting downstairs with our FOCUS Missionaries.  One of the students is giving a witness about how God is working in his life.  

At a university this size, I certainly wish that there were thousands more involved in our Catholic life together.  But, one thing is certainly true.  The grace and life contained in one mustard seed is more powerful than all of the evil in the entire world.  The fact that 16 guys show up to pray together on a Sunday morning is awesome.  The fact that students show up for Mass, desire to grow in holiness, seek the Sacrament of Confession, pray, and witness to one another . . . pure awesomeness.  Today, all of us climbed up the mountain with Jesus and He has revealed to us His Glory.  He has reminded us that He is God.  He has shown his divinity to me today by the outpouring of his grace into the humanity of these young people.  

I find it very moving that these young people have a desire to grow in they're discipleship.  They are hungering to learn how to pray, to deepen their Faith, to go out into the deep.  It's also a great blessing that the Church is responding to the desires of these young people by providing a Catholic Center and a Catholic liturgical life on campus.  

Thanks to all of those who support us through your generosity to our ministry and through your prayers.  God is doing something beautiful among the young people here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Priest's Day: Wonderment and Unworthiness of the Three Great Gifts

I know that "What is a priest's day like" is a topic of interest to probably a very small number of people.  Even smaller in number are the people who are interested in what this priest's day was like.  But, today was a particularly happy day for me.

This morning I woke up and prayed.  This alone is a privilege.  Sometimes we can treat prayer as though it were an inconvenience or a burden.  But, when I'm thinking clearly, I realize that prayer is such an awesome gift.  There are people who never pray.  Maybe no one ever taught them or they don't even know anything about God.  There are other people who wake up in the morning and have babies crying or they have to get breakfast ready for their children. They don't have the privilege of praying first thing in the morning.  The best that they can do is squeeze in a brief prayer when they awake.  There are other people who are in hospitals or nursing homes.  Among them, some are too weary to pray and others have perhaps forgotten how to pray.  But, I have the capacity, the knowledge, and the freedom to pray when I wake up.  How privileged am I?

Having finished prayer and driven to work, I spent a good amount of time talking to our Office Manager, Fran (a model of charity). On my way up, upstairs to pray a Holy Hour, I ran into a student.  I asked him, "What's going on?"  He mentioned something about his life and said, "So, I'm going upstairs to the chapel to pray."  When we got there, there was already another student there praying.  It is a privilege to see young people praying.

During my prayer time, I was struck by the intensity of this young man's prayer.  Kneeling, eyes closed, still as can be.  It was moving to me.  Soon, the three of us who were there were joined by two or three others.  During the Holy Hour, I was reading a little bit from a great spiritual book and the author was speaking about the active purification of the memory.  His point was basically that we often allow our memory to be filled with things that hinder us from growing in the spiritual life.  We remember our past sins and the ways that others have hurt us.  These memories can often lead us to a forgetfulness of God.  The author says that the way to purify the memory is continuously to call to mind the great things that God has done, most especially to ponder the Eucharist.  It's a blessing that I have the opportunity to spend this hour with God and to read such holy things.

After Holy Hour, we had Mass.  For some reason or another, today was one of those days that I wished Mass could just continue forever. I was in the zone.

After Mass, one of the students and I had lunch together.  I'm blessed that my congregation lives, eats, works, and prays in the same place.  I see a lot of them every day and not just once a week. We live the life of a strong Catholic community, sharing not only the sacraments together, but life in all of its aspects.

When I returned from lunch, I checked my email and found an unexpected and beautiful email from a former parishioner of mine.  I've been blessed along the way that lay people have really encouraged me in my priestly life.  Her email reminded me of how blessed I am to be a priest, to live a closeness with lay people, and to have the joy of sharing the Word.  

I took an hour's nap.  (I gave up feeling guilty about taking a little nap a long time ago)!

This evening, a young priest--Fr. Tom MacDonald--came and gave a talk to the students on how to discern your vocation.  Although I knew that he would do a great job, I was really struck by how excellent it was.  The students loved it.  Their questions were wonderful and Fr. Tom did a great job responding to their questions.  My heart really was filled with a certain pride because this priest who is a friend of mine was giving such an awesome presentation and because the students were so engaging and articulate in their questioning.  It was beautiful to witness this.

At the end of the evening, as all of us were just conversing, I was also struck by the two Jesuit seminarians who work with us at the Catholic Center.  These two guys are really solid and I have really come to appreciate their spirituality, generosity, presence, and friendship.

On my way home, I drove two of our FOCUS Missionaries home and enjoyed giving one of them a hard time. Some day, when she's in heaven and I am still in Purgatory (I hope), she will have the last laugh.

As I was pulling into my driveway, I received a text from one of the students.  The text reminded me again of what an awesome privilege it is to be a priest.  Who am I?

God places three very beautiful gifts into the hands of a priest.  He places his Word, His Body and Blood, and His People.  I have the privilege of spending my whole life holding these three gifts.  There's an intimacy that develops between the priest and these gifts.  The more this intimacy grows, the more unworthy of it you feel.  To be chosen by God to hold these sacred treasures is a cause for pure wonderment.  Paradoxically, the more this intimacy increases, the more incomprehensible the whole thing becomes.  It is nearly impossible to believe that tomorrow I could feel any less worthy of  this vocation or any more filled with wonder by it.  But, this is the nature of Divine Love.  When it manifests itself, we are filled with wonder and humility before it.  I suppose that this is a foretaste of what heaven must be like. The saints must gaze upon the Blessed Trinity and wonder, "How is it possible that I am here?"  For me, this is what priesthood is like.  How is it possible that God loves me this much to place into my hands, His Word, His Body and Blood, and His people?  

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Seeing the Church at Her Best

It's awesome to see the Church work like it is supposed to work.  This weekend I was on retreat with the students at the Boston University Catholic Center.  I'm completely wiped out (but am trying to keep myself awake for the 10pm Mass tonight!).  Here's what I witnessed:

  • Mr. Michael Lavigne who is the Director of Lifelong Formation and Parish Support for the Archdiocese of Boston gave four excellent talks and was loved by the students.  For me, the two most outstanding things about Michael is 1. He's a believer and 2. He's a husband and father of seven children.  It's great to have lay people like Michael working at the Archdiocese of Boston.
  • The students organized the retreat, developed the theme, provided witness talks and some very awesome skits, and kept the whole thing going.  They picked "Proclaim" as the theme.  The overall idea was that they want to know how to bring Christ to others and to do so by meeting people where they are at.  In particular, they want to be able to engage common human experiences--like suffering--with the truth of the Gospel. In other words, we all suffer.  So, that's a place where we can introduce the Gospel to others. (This is particularly necessary on a college campus that is increasingly secular and where religion is often pushed aside or reduced.  Instead of just bemoaning the fact that it is increasingly more difficult to attract other students to the Catholic activities on campus, they                                                                                                      want to know what we can do better and how to do it better.)
  • Bobby LeBlanc, one of our interns (and a BU Catholic Center alumnus) kept the whole retreat organized.  Need an answer?  Ask Bobby.  Need something done?  Bobby already did it.  Bobby has volunteered here for the past two years and it kills me that the BU Catholic Center doesn't have the funds to pay him a salary to keep him here.  If you're a pastor looking for someone to work in your parish, I'd steal Bobby in a heartbeat.  Or, if you're a wealthy person who wants to give me money to keep him at BU, even better!!!
  • Danny and Camille are a young married couple who are also alumni of the BU Catholic Center.  They play music here, direct the RCIA, and help out in a thousand different ways.  They led the music for the retreat.  It's pretty impressive to see the music program they pull together for the retreat.  (And, after a very long weekend, they're downstairs right now teaching RCIA).
  • We have two Jesuit scholastics working with us this year, one of whom is a transitional deacon.  Besides assisting in the liturgies, they spent most of the weekend slaving away in the kitchen cooking meals, preparing food, and cleaning dishes.
  • Fran, our Office Manager, does everything.  She was head chef for the weekend.  Along with her friend Dolores, Fran kept us alive.  Cooking for approximately 70 people for an entire weekend, is a big task.  They are awesome and generous.
  • Our FOCUS Missionaries also helped man the kitchen, provide spiritual support to the students, and help us with logistical needs.  Wesley, one of our missionaries gave a wonderful witness talk during the retreat.  
  • Some priests made a long trip up to hear confessions for everyone on retreat.  
  • While some students were running the retreat, they all participated in the retreat.  I was struck--yet again--by the way in which the people in this community help one another to follow Christ, to pray with one another, and to love and encourage one another.
  • I often say that I am clearly the beneficiary of those who were here on staff before me.  Over the years, the BU Catholic Center has had some people who really knew what they were doing when it came to Campus Ministry.  I am totally indebted to them.
If I forgot anyone . . . remember, I'm wiped out!  Sorry!

I need to be surrounded by witnesses.  I look at all of these people and am grateful for the opportunity to see the Church at her best.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Fasting, Prayer, and What's the Other Thing?

It's a problem. Whenever I think about what to do for Lent or preach about fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, I easily come up with long lists of possible ways to fast or to pray.  There are a million things to sacrifice, a ton of ways to fast, and a zillion possible ways to add to the life of prayer.  But, that whole almsgiving thing . . . .  So many of the suggestions out there seem cheesy. You know what I mean.  "Change your light bulbs to the energy efficient type." I'm not saying that's a bad idea.  I'm just saying that it's not exactly what I really need.  Sure I can give money--which is important--but even donating until it hurts seems like it happens and then it's done.  (But . . . I should still give money!)

Today's reading from the Prophet Isaiah is tough.  It gets to the heart of the matter.  It literally gets to the heart.  These prophets had it tough!  God commands Isaiah to go tell the people of their wickedness.  And, God doesn't say, "Go and try to persuade my people that they really ought to try harder."  He says, "Cry out full-throated and unsparingly."  God means business!

And what exactly seems to be the problem?  The Lord says that on these fast days, "you carry out your own pursuits."  It's as though the people are doing all of the external things, but these things are not changing their hearts.  They are concerned about appearing to be fasting, but they are completely blind to the suffering of those around them.  Surrounding them are the hungry, the oppressed, the homeless, the naked, and those bound unjustly.  Those who are fasting have reduced their actions merely to external appearances.

Our fasting, works of penance, and prayer are only acceptable if they open our hearts and our eyes to those in need.  Today, we will all encounter persons who are in need.  The question is whether we will see them or not?  Will we recognize their need and be moved to alleviate their suffering?  Fasting and prayer are vital to the Christian life, but only if they open our hearts and eyes.  Today is D-Day Plus Two (Ash Wednesday Plus Two). It is already a good moment to step back and ask ourselves about Lent: Will I carry out my own pursuits today or will I do the work of the Kingdom?

May our fasting and prayer today not lead us toward a stagnant, self-congratulatory satisfaction with the appearance of a good fast day.  Instead--by the grace of Christ--may our eyes and hearts recognize the material and spiritual needs of others and respond in kind.


This afternoon the BU Catholic Center leaves for a retreat weekend.  Our retreat director is Mr. Michael Lavigne, the Director of Lifelong Formation and Parish Support for the Archdiocese of Boston.  Please pray for him, for the students, and for the staff.  These retreats are primarily organized and run by the students, and they've been working for months putting it all together.  May the Lord touch all of our hearts so that we might proclaim Him with our lives.