Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Boston and My Friend St. Philip Neri

Today the Church celebrates the Memorial of St. Philip Neri. Whenever I read anything about Philip Neri, I get the sense that, had I met him, I would have joined up with him. I would have been moved by his example. I would have thought, "Whatever that guy has, I want it. I want to be around it." He strikes me as the type of man who was totally faithful to the Church, zealous in his ministry, and joyful. In many ways, Philip Neri--a man who lived in the 1500's--is a good patron for the New Evangelization. He did something that many posit (albeit, falsely) to be a contradiction. He was a faithful and orthodox preacher of the Gospel and was a warm, joyful, and fun human being. He knew the human heart and lived his own humanity in such a way that he attracted others to Christ.

Today there are priests who follow St. Philip Neri in what is called, "The Oratory of St. Philip Neri." Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman was an Oratorian. These priests are not religious order priests. They are secular priests who live together in a stable community. They do not take vows. Instead, they are bound together by charity. For most of my priestly life, I've tossed around the idea of having an Oratory of St. Philip Neri in the Archdiocese of Boston. I have always figured that if it is meant to be, God will make it abundantly clear. He will send a handful of other priests who will say, "Yeah, I've been praying about the same thing!" 

Whether God wants an Oratory of St. Philip Neri in Boston or not, I am convinced that all of us who are diocesan priests could learn from St. Philip Neri. He understood the human heart. He understood what a human heart truly is. He knew how to attract the human heart to Christ and how to form the human heart in Christ. 

As I'm sitting here on the rectory porch typing this, I'm thinking how beautiful it is that five hundred years after he lived, I feel St. Philip Neri's presence as though I did meet him and enjoyed his company. He is right here with me. This is the Church! This is the Mystical Body of the Church! I said above that had I met Philip Neri, I probably would have joined up with him. The fact is, through the communion of the Church, I have met him. He's a friend of mine. Christ is still working through him!

St. Philip Neri, Pray for Us!

Monday, May 25, 2015

On Memorial Day, A Homily Delivered for a Soldier Killed in Action

For Memorial Day, I am reposting a homily that I delivered for a soldier who was killed in action in 2008.

"We hold these truths to be
self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
At the very founding of this Nation, our forefathers recognized and acknowledged what was — in their words — self-evident. Namely, that every human life is sacred. And, that these inalienable rights — of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — are given not by an act of law or by man made decree, but rather are given as a gift from the Creator. The Founders declared that it is the role of government to secure and protect these inalienable and self-evident rights. Today — at home and abroad — the sacredness of human life is everywhere under attack. Today, what was self-evident to those who came before us is often obscured by ideology, by a culture of death, and by evil.

Today we mourn the death of Stephen. Stephen was a soldier. The soldier does not primarily exist to take human life, but to protect human life. What inspired Stephen to enlist in the Army was when he saw the inalienable rights of his fellow Americans threatened in the terrorist attacks of September 11th. In order to defend and to protect the life, liberty and happiness of others, Stephen voluntarily surrendered his own freedoms. He gave up the right to be with his own family and friends so that others could enjoy that right. He gave up the warmth of home and familiarity, so that others could enjoy such things. He gave up the right to come and go as he pleased so that others could enjoy that right. And last week, on a roadside in Afghanistan, he made the supreme sacrifice and surrendered his own right to life in order to secure and to protect the lives of his countrymen. Our Lord tells us that there is no greater love than to lay down one's own life for a friend.

On an October morning in 1983, it was actually October 2nd — the Feast of the Guardian Angels — a baby boy was carried by his family into this church and he was baptized. In that moment, Stephen Fortunato was given the promise of immortality; the promise of eternal life. From that moment on, he belonged to Christ. Christ, the Good Shepherd, was forever at the side of Stephen.

Today, we — who live half a world away — cannot help but wonder what the last moments of Stephen's life were like. Perhaps you wish that you could have been there with him as he breathed his last; with him to comfort and console him; with him to express your love and affection; with him to say goodbye. But this was not possible. In this way, Stephen's sacrifice is also your sacrifice. You have given a husband, a son, a brother, a grandson, a friend to a grateful nation. That nation and its citizens owe you and Stephen a debt of gratitude. Stephen was rightly outraged when others attempted to steal the God given rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness from his countrymen. Stephen's response to that outrage was to sacrifice his own rights to protect and defend the rights of others. All of us who are gathered here today might well learn from his example. Imagine how much our nation would benefit if there were more persons who — like Stephen — were dedicated to protecting the inalienable rights of others — the right to life, to liberty and to the pursuit of happiness.

Although you are undoubtedly consoled by the military honors that Stephen deservedly receives today, our gathering here in this church reminds us that when the volleys have all been fired and the sound of the bugle has faded, there is something that lasts forever — something that remains.

When Stephen entered into the valley of the shadow of death on a roadside in a faraway land, he was not alone. You — his family — made sure of that. You gave him something that lasts forever. When you carried him into this church 25 years ago, you introduced Stephen to the Good Shepherd. And Christ has never left the side of Stephen. "Even though I should walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me. With thy rod and thy staff, thou givest me comfort." Christ, the Good Shepherd, has led the way through the valley of death and in his resurrection, he has conquered man's greatest enemy — death itself. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, went ahead of Stephen to prepare a place for him in the Father's house. When Stephen closed his eyes to this world, Christ was beside him. And it is our Christian hope that when Stephen opened his eyes again, the Good Shepherd welcomed him to life eternal.

On an October morning 25 years ago, you carried your son into this church, and entrusted him to Christ the Good Shepherd. You trusted that Christ, the Good Shepherd would stay forever at his side and guide him beside restful waters and would refresh his soul. This morning, your family, your community, your parish, your country, carries your son again into this church. We ask God to have mercy on the soul of Stephen and to purify him. We give thanks to Almighty God for Stephen's life and for his devoted and complete service. We also ask God to give to each one of us a deep and abiding friendship with Jesus Christ — for he is the way to the Father's House. And, apart from him we can do nothing.

Stephen began his journey to eternal life here in this church — dedicated to Mary, Star of the Sea. Today marks the end of Stephen's mission; of his journey. May Mary, Star of the Sea, now guide him from the troubled waters of Earth to the safe harbors of heaven. May Christ, the Good Shepherd, now open to Stephen the doors of the Father's House, and may Stephen discover within its halls what he so willingly and valiantly sacrificed for others — true life, true liberty and everlasting happiness. Amen.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

A Marriage: Destiny and Mission Impossible

I Think It is Safe To Say That They are Happy
Two years ago at the Easter Vigil,  I received a young man into the Catholic Church and confirmed him. A year later, he left a good job and became a FOCUS Missionary, serving at MIT. A year after that--yesterday, in fact--he married his high school sweetheart. It was a beautiful Nuptial Mass and a wonderful reception. Both the Mass and the reception were notable for their dignity and their beauty. At their request, the Mass was chanted. Friends of the couple sang in a choir. Ready for this? The congregation made all of the responses! 

The Mass was ten minutes late, but not because the bride was late. She was right on time. The Mass was late because all of the groomsmen piled into a tiny side sacristy along with myself, the Deacon, the Altar Boy, the Groom, and the Best Man. There, they all placed their hands upon Michael and began to offer prayers for him and Julia. One by one, they thanked God, praised God, and begged God to pour down abundant blessings upon the soon-to-be married couple. It was awesome. 

The eight year old Altar Boy, Peter, is the bride's nephew. The kid was an all-star.  

The couple prayerfully chose readings that had as a common theme dependence upon God. Sometimes when I preach at a wedding, I use the saint of the day or the liturgical feast as a starting point. Michael and Julia happened to be married on the feast day of St. Rita, a woman who wanted to be a nun, was forced into an arranged marriage to a wicked man, and prayed continuously for his conversion. After being stabbed by one of his enemies, the man died, but not before repenting from his sins. The prayers of St. Rita are credited with her husband's conversion. Thus, Rita is the Patroness of Impossible Cases. I enjoyed mentioning all of this in the homily. 

In the eyes of the world, marriage does seem like an impossible case. The words that Michael and Julia would speak to one another sound impossible. "I will love you and honor you, in good times and bad, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part." Some days, that will seem impossible. Isn't it great that the Lord provided them a special patroness to help them when they become deceived into thinking that it is truly impossible to live that vow?

Additionally, Michael and Julia were married between the Solemnity of the Ascension and the Solemnity of Pentecost. In the Ascension, our Lord shows us that He has bestowed upon us a destiny and a mission. He has destined us to live with Him forever--body and soul--in the Glory of Heaven. This sounds too impossible to be true! It also sounds too impossible for us to achieve! And it is! None of us can achieve this destiny on our own efforts or natural goodness. We are entirely dependent upon the Lord and His Grace. In addition to this destiny, the Lord bestowed a mission. He calls Michael and Julia to go out and make disciples of all the nations. By the way that they love one another, they will be witnesses to Christ's Love for His Bride, the Church. Michael and Julia reminded all of us yesterday of our destiny and our mission.

To achieve this destiny and to live our mission, God pours forth the Holy Spirit upon us. The Holy Spirit makes what is impossible, possible. He makes sinners into saints. He transforms bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. And in the Sacrament of Marriage, He takes a man and a woman and transforms them into an icon of Christ and His Bride, the Church. Michael and Julia entered into something magnificent yesterday. The Sacrament that they received will help them to do the impossible. Through the Sacrament of Marriage, they will be able to help one another to attain their God-given destiny, eternal life. And through the Sacrament of Marriage, they will help each other to fulfill their mission of drawing all souls to Christ.  Praised Be Jesus Christ!

So often in the Scriptures, heaven is described in terms of a banquet. Michael and Julia's reception was most definitely a reflection of what the Nuptial Banquet of Eternal Life must be like. It was so striking to walk around that room and meet so many good people. The room was filled with men and women of extraordinary goodness. There were FOCUS Missionaries, young college students who have met Mike and Julia through FOCUS, seminarians, and hosts of young couples who are raising their children in the life of the Gospel. There was a holy joy that marked the entire reception. Really, I kept thinking, "This must be what heaven is like." When people love one another in Christian love, God does something truly magnificent.

Along the way, Michael and Julia met FOCUS Missionaries and, as Michael once told me, "They changed my life." And Michael and Julia are changing the lives of others, drawing them towards their destiny, and setting them afire with the mission of making disciples. Evangelization MUST begin in friendship and in love. It is sustained through friendship and love. It is ordered towards friendship and love. Heaven is eternal friendship and love. If we depend upon ourselves, our destiny and mission are truly impossible. But with God, all things are possible. I am grateful to FOCUS and to Michael and Julia for giving us all a glimpse into what our destiny is and why our mission is such a joyful one. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Solomon's Portico: Friendship is a Proposal to the Human Heart

A Photo with Some of our Catholic Center Women on Graduation Weekend
There are times in life when we read a passage from a book and it becomes a moment of recognition. "Yes, this corresponds precisely with my experience!" Several years ago, I had such a moment when I came upon a passage from Luigi Giussani's "Why the Church?" Giussani, the founder of the ecclesial movement Communion and Liberation in commenting on a scene from the Acts of the Apostles writes:

"Try then to imagine the scene: it is around the Paschal season, when Jews throughout the world would be intent, as far as possible, on traveling to Jerusalem as pilgrims. Try to imagine the reaction of one of these pilgrims, who, on going to the temple for a few days in a row, would have noticed, each time, a little group of people under the portico. The first day he would have proceeded on his way, without wondering why, and on the second day, he might have done the same. But at some point, he certainly would have asked someone: 'Who are those people I always see together here?' And they would have replied: 'They are the followers of Jesus of Nazareth.' And so we can see how the Church began: it literally allowed itself to 'be seen' under Solomon's Portico, it proposed itself through the mere sight of it, through a first perception which can only be described as community."

There's a danger in the Church of becoming too frenetic. In the face of recent studies showing a significant decline in the number of Catholics in the United States, there can be an alarmist response that creates lots of hype, but offers very little depth or substance. When this approach is taken, it is often self-defeating. If people are looking for community in their life, they are not looking for a community that appears to be in panic mode or that is seeking to save itself from extinction. They are looking for a community that is attractive. They are looking for a community that proposes itself as an answer to the deepest desires of the human heart.

If the Church in the United States wants to grow, it first has to look at what works. The problem oftentimes in the life of the Church is that people are too insistent upon their own opinion of what "should work" and become unwilling to look at what actually works. Where are people loving each other? Where are vocations flourishing? Where are people receiving the Sacraments with devotion? Where are people growing in their prayer life? Where are people striving to become virtuous? Where are people practicing the works of mercy? If these things are happening in places where there is Lifeteen or a Charismatic Group, where there is an ecclesial movement like Communion and Liberation, the Neocatechumenal Way, Focolare, or Opus Dei, or where there is a Latin Mass community . . . wherever these things are happening, we shouldn't try to kill them with our particular agenda. Instead, we should encourage them and imitate them. Too often, we try to replace what actually works with what we want to work and this . . . never works.

If looking at what is actually working and encouraging it is the first thing we should do, the second thing we need to do is to share the joy of this experience. A person doesn't need to be a theologian in order to share the good news. A person can share the good news by telling his own experience. This, however, should not arise not from a scheme, but rather from a culture. It must be something that is natural and not from something that feels coerced. If people discover a community where they feel loved, experience growth, and become more truly human, then they are going to share this with others. Instead of trying to sell the Church, we can just share our experience of being part of the communion of the Church.

Do I have a Solomon's Portico in my life? I have several. My Solomon's Portico is wherever I live the friendship of the Church with others. Oftentimes, this seems to be at restaurants or at dinner tables. When we live this friendship together, it is attractive to others. It becomes a point of interest. It's been my experience that people are fascinated when they see a priest and his people loving each other and living a friendship together. It surprises them to see lay people and priests enjoying one another's company. In friendship, our humanity deepens. When people witness this deeper humanity, they desire it for themselves. When I go to my Solomon's Porticoes, it is not so that I can solicit business for the Church. I go because I need these places for my own life. The community of the Church--the friendship of the Church--saves me and moves me toward Christ. It is something for my life. And because it is something for my life, I am able to share that with others. But, it is firstly something for me.

Sometimes, especially clergy and people who are close to the Church, act as though we were mere commentators upon the Church or just professional organizers of Church events. But, to be convincing witnesses, we have to be moved ourselves by the encounter. The community of the Church has to be firstly something that moves us. When we love being together and growing together, this becomes an instant proposal to others. It draws them because they see the new humanity emerging in and through the friendship. But this kind of evangelization is humbling because it begins with an admission of my desires. I desire to experience love. I desire to experience mercy. I desire to experience the friendship of the other. I desire to be educated. 

There are great programs in the Church. I've used lots of them. But, my experience is that the most effective tool for evangelization is Solomon's Portico. When we gather together and live the friendship of the Church together; when we love each other and stay close to one another, this attracts others. And little by little, we draw in those who pass by the Portico and who see the way that we love one another and stay together.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Thoughts on My Priestly Anniversary

For me, priesthood is lived as a friendship
If I had to pick a day that holds the most meaning for me in my life, it would be May 17th, the day of my ordination to the priesthood. For the vast majority of my priesthood thus far, I was "the young priest." But, eighteen years after ordination, although still well below the median age of priests, I no longer get the response so common in my earlier years, "You look too young to be a priest."  In fact, now I'm surrounded by college students who tell me that I'm just like their father.

I live in a rectory in a nearby parish to my university. This evening, the pastor and I had supper together and the entire time I was sitting there, I was thinking how privileged I am to know a priest like this. He's been a priest for 49 years, most of them spent as a missionary in Peru. He's almost twice my age (which makes me feel pretty good considering everyone I serve is half my age) and as we conversed, I felt this overwhelming sense of gratitude for the gift of his example and friendship.

By God's grace, I've had the opportunity to work with a lot of young priests and seminarians. I've also lived and worked with priests who were substantially older than me. This past year at the BU Catholic Center, I worked with two young Jesuit scholastics. When I was a parish priest, I often had seminarians stay with me, serve with me, and come from my parish. I've had young priests work with me and I've had senior priests work with me. This opportunity to live and to work with great priests and seminarians has been a true grace in my life.

One of the things that has surprised me as a priest is that even after eighteen years of priestly life, I still feel as though I am new. I am surprised every day by the gift of my vocation. The seminary sends a seminarian to me and I am struck by what I learn from him. I live with a priest ordained almost 50 years ago and his mentorship is something entirely fresh and rejuvenating. But, it is not only the clergy with whom I am assigned. It is the people with whom I serve.

I live in a rectory where the example of the pastor is a constant source of education for me. But, I go to work with young men and women who are half my age (okay, a little more than half my age) and they educate me too. (By the way, those of them who read this blog will be sure to remind me that I just wrote those words). But, it is true. One of the great graces of priesthood is being surrounded by people--young and old--who educate me. These people move me. They confirm within me what I already believe and they encourage me to be a better Christian and a better priest.

This year, on the eve of my priestly anniversary, I am particularly grateful for one thing. During these last eighteen years, despite my abundant sins, faults, and weaknesses, God has surrounded me with men and women--priests, religious, and laity, young and old--who have caused my heart to leap with joy. These people awaken within me a continued awe at the beauty of the Church. In fact, last night--out of the blue, a man texted me whom I had not heard from in several months. In the text he told me that he goes to Mass every Sunday now. After all that he's been through in his life, the fact that he goes to Mass really caused my heart to rejoice. And, as I write these words, a student just texted me to ask, "Do you want to hang out on Monday?"

Priesthood continues to surprise me. I am surprised to hear how a particular seminarian discovered his calling. I am surprised to see a conversion. I am surprised to witness the generosity of the young men and women with whom I serve. I am surprised by their missionary zeal and I am surprised by the way that they themselves are surprised by God's movement in their lives. I am surprised by the faith of our students and by the depth of their humanity.

I am surprised by all that God has done during these eighteen years. In my life as a priest, I have been loved and cared for by so many good people. I have lived so much of my priesthood at dinner tables with parishioners or at lunch tables with students. It's all been quite surprising. I think one of the great gifts of priesthood for me has been that the people whom I have encountered--be they priests or lay people--have educated me in living a more human life. Even now, I'm twice the age of the people whom I serve. But, they educate me. I hope that I educate them too. But, I wake up every day and am filled with surprise by our communion.

Eighteen years ago I became a priest. Eighteen years later, I can testify that I am more surprised today about the priesthood than I was in my first few months. I am surprised by the love and friendship that has been such an integral part of priesthood. As a priest, I hope that I am able to move others. If I can, it is only because I myself am moved by Another. I discover within the friendship of the Church a life that makes me more human.

Whether it be a 73 year old priest or a 20 year old student, a couple married for 50 years or a first year seminarian, a lifelong Catholic or a recent convert, a young person who dedicates himself to serving the Church or an older woman who cares for her ill husband; all of these people move me. They educate me. They encourage me and spur me on towards holiness.

After eighteen years of priesthood, what most surprises me is that every day, I am joyfully surprised by the people who surround me. I am surprised by the love that marks our life. Christ has blessed me by surrounding me with people who have cared for my vocation and nurtured it. I'm surprised by the love I've experienced since the day of my ordination. I hope that all of those who have shown me this love know that I love them too. Yeah, I love them.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Death Penalty and Our Enemy

"Christ and the Adulteress"
Today as the jury in the Marathon Bombing Trial sentenced Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death, many Catholics who oppose the death penalty lamented that we were becoming murderers "just like Tsarnaev." Such hyperbole is detrimental to the Catholic case against the use of the death penalty. Overplaying our hand on the death penalty ultimately undermines the Church's position. This is so because people have an innate understanding that a society has a right to protect itself from particular crimes. Since civilization began, society has recognized the unfortunate necessity of meting out the ultimate punishment for certain crimes. While the Catholic Church teaches that the circumstances that may require the imposition of the death penalty are practically non-existent in our present day society, it does not affirm that these circumstances will never exist again in the future. The state still possesses the authority to protect its citizens by imposing the death penalty, even if this authority--due to favorable circumstances--exists in a purely theoretical way and is never actually exercised. We should, as the Church teaches, work towards eliminating the death penalty.

Those who champion the abolition of the death penalty, and who wish to do so from a Catholic perspective, ought to resist hyperbolic and theologically weak arguments that tend to equivocate the execution of a criminal with the cold-blooded murder of the innocent. These types of arguments simply do not ring true to human experience and weaken the Church's position. Instead of arguing that the death penalty "makes us like them," we ought to show how mercy distinguishes us from them and is the better way.

During the past few months, I've been somewhat intrigued by the alternative punishment that could have been meted out to Tsarnaev. The prison where he would have been sentenced would have placed him in a tiny cell that would be furnished with a cement desk, an immovable cement stool, a cement bed, and a toilet with a sink attached. Twenty-three hours a day would be spent in that cell, quite possibly for the next 60 years or more. It would have been a life of complete isolation. In many ways, this punishment actually seems more severe than death. This punishment seems like Tsarnaev would be dead without the benefit of actually dying.

What Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother did was horrific. Reading accounts of what they inflicted upon their victims and their families fills us with righteous anger and with profound sorrow. I've also found that I've had the same feelings when I think of Dzhokhar. He was given the gift of life and opted to throw that life away by committing such a heinous series of acts. He is his own victim and his own perpetrator. Although he didn't die two years ago like his brother, he nonetheless took his own life. He threw away what could have been.

Tsarnaev deprived others of life. He deprived society of whatever good these people could have accomplished. In doing so, he forfeited his own right to live freely in that society. But, as I've reflected upon the potential punishments that could have been imposed upon him, I've come to think that neither is suitable. Both the death penalty and the total isolation and entombment of Tsarnaev would allow evil to have the last word. 

Should Tsarnaev be punished? Absolutely. Should he be deprived of liberty and luxury? Certainly. Should he spend the rest of his life securely behind bars? Yes. But, society should strive to find a way to make that lifelong punishment a time for Tsarnaev to contribute to society. I say this not just for his sake, but for the sake of all of us. Tsarnaev finds himself in this situation because he chose evil. That evil thrives upon ruin, death, and hopelessness. In opposing the death penalty, we would prevent evil from taking another life. What Tsarnaev contributed to the world was viciousness and destruction. Society has the opportunity to introduce mercy and hope. Whether he is capable of embracing that mercy is unknown, but we have the opportunity to extend it.  And, in extending it, we strike at the heart of evil.

While the world may not believe that evil or the demonic exist, we who are believers know that we have enemies who are not flesh and blood but are principalities and powers. In becoming complicit with evil, Tsarnaev became an instrument of death and destruction. To Satan, Tsarnaev was always expendable. I would spare Tsarnaev's life in order to deny Satan the pleasure of achieving another victory. 

Executing Tsarnaev doesn't make the state a murderer "just like Tsarnaev." To say so, I think, does a disservice to the Church's teaching. But, in showing mercy toward the guilty, society would show how vastly better we are than those who hate us.  They kill the innocent, but we show mercy even to the guilty. Satan hates mercy. That is reason enough for us to be merciful.

Chosen By Christ

Recently a friend sent me a book that has completely engaged my attention. It is one of those books that I suspect will have a profound effect on the way that I pray, preach, and read the scriptures. Even though I've been reading it for a couple of weeks, I've only managed to get through three chapters. At the end of almost every paragraph, I find myself saying, "I need to read that again." Entitled, "God and His Image: An Outline of Biblical Theology," the book, thus far, has offered innumerable points of meditation. 

This evening as I was reading, I came upon a line that really struck me. In discussing why it was that the Hebrews chose Yahweh to be their God, the author writes, "Yahweh is not a God you would choose; He is a God who chooses you." God chose Abraham. God chose Moses. God chose David. God chose--most especially--the Blessed Virgin Mary. Jesus chose the apostles. God chose the Hebrew people. He chooses us.

From the time I was a young boy, I always had the sense that I might someday become a priest. But, I can recall vividly the moment when sitting in the Our Lady Chapel of Sacred Heart Church in North Quincy during adoration, I had this overwhelming sense that God was choosing me to be a priest. Being chosen by God is an essential and irreplaceable element of the Christian life. This election by God is always a total act of gratuitous mercy. When we lose the sense of being chosen, we lose the flavor of Christian life. When we recognize that we are chosen, there arises within us a desire to respond with zeal and with generosity.
Before Holy Thursday Mass 

This past year, during the Sacred Triduum, I had a renewed wonder at the mystery of being chosen. Something happened during Holy Week among our community. It was not something that we created. I had this same experience as a parish priest. We all of a sudden realize, for reasons unknown to us, that God has chosen us. He begins to work wonders among us--perhaps producing vocations to the priesthood from us, drawing people to the sacraments among us, forming a people who love one another and who worship God. The specific wonders differ in each individual and in each community. If asked to, you couldn't write down a formula for how it happens. Sure, you can say things like, "We pray for vocations," or, "We offer frequent confession times and have adoration." You can say that we host social events and share meals together. True as these things might be, they can't account for what actually happens. 

How did the Red Sea part? Well, Moses held out his arms. The explanation kind of falls short. The Red Sea parted because God had chosen the Hebrew people. The Hebrew people are called to live constantly the memory of their being chosen. Similarly, the more we live from the memory of our own election by Christ, the more God works his wonders in our midst. Without this sense of wonder at God's merciful and gratuitous gaze upon us, we attempt to make our own miracles. We try to stir up enthusiasm for our projects, but these projects become modern towers of Babel. All of us, at one time or another, want to build our Tower of Babel. It is our perpetual temptation to accomplish something miraculous with our own hands. We want to be great by our own making. So did Adam.

Our true greatness comes, however, from the fact that the God who created the heavens, the earth, and all that they contain has chosen us as His own. He has chosen us to be His people. He has chosen us to be his disciples, his friends, His adopted sons and daughters. We are His people. 

As I write these words, in my mind's eye I see the faces of so many people with whom I have shared the experience of suddenly realizing, "He has chosen us." Whether it is during the Mass or sitting at table together and enjoying each other's friendship, there are these beautiful moments when you know that everyone is suddenly aware that we have been chosen by Him. We didn't make anything. He just chose us and is working His power and glory among us. 

When we gaze together with humble and awestruck hearts upon the great mystery of our being chosen by Christ, amazing things happen among us. If we fix our gaze upon ourselves--our plans, our strategies, our possessions, our strengths, our sins, our enemies, our ingenuity--we lose everything. Instead, when we turn our eyes to meet His gaze upon us, we discover that He looks upon us with love, and this love alone is what builds a Kingdom that lasts forever.