Monday, April 6, 2015

A Word of Gratitude to Our Benefactors

A Scene from Our Live Stations
Dear Friends in Christ,

The Boston University Catholic Center survives through the generosity of our benefactors.  Our benefactors include alumni, parents of former and current students, a couple of faculty members, priests, current students, parishes, and friends of the Catholic Center who simply support us because they believe in our mission.  I am also indebted to friends of mine who support the Catholic Center at Boston University because they want to support me in my ministry.

I am writing this blog post not because I'm looking for more money!  I'm writing in the hopes that many of our benefactors will read this letter and will be able to see that their generosity is supporting something awesome.  What I write here is not intended to be exhaustive.  It is just a glimpse of what I  witnessed during this past week.

On Palm Sunday weekend, six men from the Catholic Center and one recent graduate attended the discernment retreat hosted by the Vocations Office of the Archdiocese of Boston.  The retreat was led by Cardinal Sean. In the past five years, two men from the BU Catholic Center were ordained.  There are currently three recent graduates from BU studying at the seminary and it is likely that those numbers will increase next year.  And, just the fact that these young men are willing to attend a discernment retreat and be open to the possibility of a vocation is a beautiful thing.

On Tuesday evening of Holy Week, somewhere between 125-150 students came to confession.  Additionally, our confessional was busy all week!  On Good Friday, I heard 90 minutes of non-stop confessions.

There are no words to describe how stunningly beautiful and moving the Sacred Triduum was at BU. It was one of those moments in life when I felt like the heavens opened and God was pouring down grace upon grace on us.  I mean "BIG GRACES."  We were taken up during those liturgies.  It was so awesome to see all of these students living the Sacred Triduum together!  

On Holy Thursday we processed with the Eucharist from the main chapel to our Catholic Center a few blocks away.  After that, a large group of students visited a Eucharistic Shrine and then walked several miles to the Cathedral to have Night Prayer with the Cardinal at 11:30pm.

On Good Friday our students performed a live Stations of the Cross on the plaza in front of Marsh Chapel.  Many bystanders stopped by, watched, and prayed with us.  It was very moving.  This event--like so much of what happens at the Catholic Center--is organized and totally run by the students themselves.  In the evening, we had the Service of the Lord's Passion.  It is particularly moving to watch all of these young men and women approach, genuflect, and kiss the Wood of the Cross.  
Our Triduum Team

On Holy Saturday I met with a few of our students who served all of our Sacred Triduum in order to rehearse for the Easter Vigil.  These students along with our Jesuit deacon and Jesuit seminarian who serve at the CC, Fr. Rick, and Bobby, our intern, did an outstanding job making our liturgies gloriously beautiful.  Additionally, our choir was at the CC practicing.  The music for the Triduum was prayerful and moving.  At the Easter Vigil, I baptized five men and women, received two others into the Catholic Church, and
Right After Baptizing Five New Catholics!
confirmed them all, and confirmed a young woman who had been baptized Catholic but was never raised in the Faith.  All of them attended our RCIA this year.  It was awesome!

A Photo with Some of Our Seniors After Easter Sunday Brunch at the CC

On Easter 400 people filled our chapel at the 12:30pm Mass.  After Mass, we had a brunch for about 50 people who signed up ahead of time.  The brunch was organized by Fran--our Office Manager (who does everything)--and PJ, one of our students who is a man of service.  PJ and a bunch of other men from the Catholic Center got up early on Easter to come in and prepare the whole place and the food.  I was impressed that one of the men who came to help out is a man who graduated last year and is now in the seminary.  That was great.  

This whole week was indeed "Holy."  Our staff--missionaries, interns, music ministry, and Office Manager glorified God by their efforts.  Our students lived this week with extraordinary generosity and charity.  I was really moved to see how devoted to God and to the Church they are.  On Monday nights, after Mass we have an hour of adoration.  As I looked around the chapel tonight and saw these kids praying, I was filled with gratitude for what God is doing in our midst.  I'm telling you, something really beautiful and spectacular is happening.  I was also happy because after adoration, one of the guys said to me, "Wow, I'm wiped out after this weekend!"  To me, that says that someone lived the Triduum well.  I think we are all wiped out after this weekend!  We lived something very intense and something very moving together.

And now that we are all exhausted, we are preparing for one more big event this week.  This coming Saturday, a group of students will lead a confirmation retreat for a local parish.  Just another example of how these students are living a generous life.

What I just wrote about is what's happened during one week at the Catholic Center.  All of that is just one week!  I hope that you see all of that and feel great about your decision to be one of our benefactors. You are supporting something that God is truly blessing.  I am fairly confident that our community would echo what I am about to say.  This past week was a bit overwhelming.  I don't simply mean exhausting.  I mean overwhelming like God revealing Himself is overwhelming.  Like we were part of something that was totally beyond where human beings can rightfully set foot.  We were taken up into something where we could never presume to go on our own.  We touched the Glory of God.

Thank you for being a friend to the Catholic Center.

He is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed!

Fr. David Barnes

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Were Not Our Hearts Burning Within Us?

Road to Emmaus
St. Luke tells us that on the evening of the day of the resurrection, two of the disciples were walking along the Road to Emmaus and were discussing all of the things that had transpired during the past few days.  This evening--Easter Sunday evening--I find myself turning over in my mind all that has transpired during these past days.

During the past week, so many things have occurred.  The beautiful liturgies, the music, the live Stations of the Cross prayed in the public square, baptisms, confirmations, receiving men and women into the Catholic Church, and first communions.  Scores upon scores of confessions.  Visiting churches together on Holy Thursday, night prayer with the Cardinal, and praying together.  Processing on Holy Thursday evening down Commonwealth Avenue with the Blessed Sacrament.  Exhausted students preparing Easter Brunch for fifty or so students.   Witnessing the love that these young men and women have for one another.

So many things have transpired over these past days.  Beautiful things.  Human things.  (:-)) Exhausting things!

As evening falls on this first day of the week, it is obvious that Jesus has been walking with us and speaking to us. I echo the sentiments of those two disciples who were traveling along the Road to Emmaus.  I say to all of those who traveled in our company, "Were not our hearts burning within us?"

Friday, April 3, 2015

Good Friday at The BU Catholic Center: The Spectacle of the Cross

Just some scenes from the Stations of the Cross that our students do each year in front of Boston University's Marsh Chapel.  It is a spectacle to all who pass by on Commonwealth Avenue--a major road in Boston--and a good number of folks stop and pray.  It was well done and quite moving.

Holy Thursday Mass--We Were Caught Up in Being Loved to the End

John Placing His Head on the Heart of Christ
There have occasionally been moments in my life when during the Sacred Liturgy I feel like we have been taken away into someplace beyond.  A sensation that we have been lifted out of time and placed into the realms of eternal glory.  A profound experience of being no longer separated from the events of the Gospel by the passing of centuries.  A realization that we are not looking back at these events, separated from them by time and space, but rather living them from the inside.  That these events are present now.  

Last night, this was my experience during the Mass of the Lord's Supper.  Gathered with the BU Catholic community in our chapel, I knew that what we were doing was way beyond what were capable of doing.  It was as though we had closed our eyes for the briefest of moments and, having opened them again, discovered that we were in the Upper Room.  His Divine Presence was heavy upon us.  

He took our little offerings.  He took our vestments, candles, incense, our voices, our bodies, our bread, and our wine and used these to manifest his Divine Love.  We offered what little we could.  He accepted and gave back to us His tremendous and awesome Love.  We offered ourselves to be used and He filled us with His Glory.

As we live our life together at the BU Catholic Center, I am often aware that there is something bigger going on than we realize.  In our daily life together, I am aware that we have been brought here by Another.  I am aware that He is at work among us.  But, last night at Holy Thursday Mass, it was as though the veil had been lifted for a moment and the full weight of His Glory and Love was made known to us.  There was a profound sense of coherence.  The life that we live together--in all of its beauty, joy, and friendship--was born in the Upper Room.  It was born in the Heart of Christ and lives within that Heart even now.  We live our life together on the inside of the Heart of Christ.

Christ loves us.  Christ loves in us.  Christ loves through us.  

I do not think that I was alone in this experience last night.  Something happened.  Heaven--the Heart of Christ--opened and as the words of the Gospel said, "Having loved those who were His own in the world, He loved them to the end."  Last night, we were loved by Christ and were shown the depth of this love.  He loves us to the end.  

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

What's the Best Part of Being a Priest? I Can't Tell You.

In the Archdiocese of Boston, Tuesday of Holy Week is the day when all of the priests gather at the cathedral for the Chrism Mass.  Today, I attended the Chrism Mass and was grateful to spend that time in the company of some great priests.  Also, one of the students from the BU Catholic Center attended the Mass as well.  His effort to attend the Mass and his presence there was something joyful for me.  After the Mass, I had lunch with a few brother priests and again was joyful for their fraternity.  Afterwards, I came back to the BU Catholic Center and had Mass with our students and then had supper at our weekly spaghetti dinner.  

The best part of the day, however, was this evening.  Four priest friends and I heard confessions.  There were lots of confessions.  Non-stop confessions.  As I looked around, I was really happy for everybody.  I was happy that these students were receiving the grace of the sacrament and encountering the Divine Mercy.  I was also grateful that they were encountering great priests.  I always feel like I am doing a tremendous service to the Church when I expose people to priests who are truly great.  It makes me really happy when lay people tell me how much they love the priests whom I introduce to them.  

But, I was also happy for the priests.  Hearing confessions in a situation like that is simultaneously exhausting and life-giving.  It is in these moments that you feel most like a priest.  You feel like, "Yeah, this is why I am a priest."  And, despite the fact that trying to find parking near Boston University is a total pain, these priests keep coming to help out.  They brought to the students what only they can bring.  No one else can do that!  And the students . . . it's just great.

As I was hearing confessions and scanning the chapel, I saw Camille playing the piano.  Her job is to make sure the music is prayerful and sufficiently loud enough so that the confessions can't be overheard!  She played for 90 minutes straight and made it obvious that her playing is also her praying.  Also in the chapel was Bobby--our intern--who directed people to the priests and--as he does with everything else--kept everything running smoothly and joyfully.  At the back of the church was Wesley, one of our FOCUS Missionaries.  He is a master of making people feel joyful and welcomed.  He warmly greeted people as they came in and practically congratulated them when they left!  The Lord says that there is more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner than 99 who have no need of repenting.  Wesley brings that heavenly reality down to earth every time we have an evening of confessions at BU.  He truly rejoices.  

We heard a lot of confessions tonight.  I've never thought about this before, but what a priest does in the confessional is a beautiful sacrifice.  How so?  The hours spent hearing confessions are some of the most amazing, beautiful, and powerful moments that a priest will ever experience.  But, they are moments that will never be shared again.  In fact, those graced moments are left there in the confessional once we take off the purple stole and step out into the world again.  On nights like this, when priests are saying goodnight to one another, there is just a profound gratitude and silence.  Perhaps we say things like, "What a great night," or, "This was really beautiful."  That time in the confessional--the time when we often feel most priestly, most used by God, most profoundly astounded by our vocation--is offered totally to God and for the salvation of souls.  The very best moments of our priesthood will not be recorded in our memoirs, shared in confidence to even our closest friend, or even revisited in our own meditation.  This is what I mean by it being a sacrifice.  That time is given over completely to being used by God for the salvation of souls.  It is time that is never ours again. And, isn't it beautiful that it is the time that is totally sacrificed that becomes the most fulfilling time in our priestly life?  It goes to show that what we offer to God in sacrifice never takes happiness away from us, but rather brings us to true happiness. 

The Sacrament of Penance . . . it is totally awesome.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Priesthood Is to be Constantly Moved by the Wonder of Christ

When I first started writing this blog, it was for the purpose of sharing my experience as a priest.  My experience does not occur in an abstraction, but rather in particular places, at particular times, with particular persons.  I don't want my witness to Christ to be theoretical because my experience of Christ is NOT theoretical. I've mostly looked at this blog as an opportunity to share my concrete experience.  If this witness is of help to somebody else, I am happy for that.

When I write glowingly about my previous parish or about the young people here at BU, I don't do so not to suggest that they are better than anyone else. I do so because it is in the midst of these particular people that I encounter Christ.  I write about them because this is where Christ has placed me and this is where I am moved by Christ.  If, for instance, one met the Man Born Blind from the Gospel or Lazarus, we would not really want them to tell us about the theology of miracles.  If we met them, we would say, "Tell us about the day you got your sight!"  "Tell us about the day you got raised from the dead!"  So, though not quite the experience of going from blind to sight or from death to life, I nonetheless want to share what my experience of Holy Week is going to be this year.

On the eve of Palm Sunday, I drove to a retreat house where forty-one young men were attending a discernment weekend hosted by the Archdiocese of Boston Vocation Office.  Cardinal Sean O'Malley was leading the retreat.  Six of the attendees were from our Catholic Center at Boston University.  Although I met a few of the other attendees, I really only know the BU guys well.  What struck me about them is the fact that they went on this retreat together.  They have a friendship together.  They are growing in their Catholic manhood together.  They encourage one another.  There is a joy in them.  I was touched by this. My encounter with Christ does not occur in the abstract.  It occurs in the friendship that is lived in our community together at the BU Catholic Center.  I am moved by what Christ is doing in our midst.

I have been and will be moved this week by the great desire for holiness that will fill the hearts of the people entrusted to my pastoral care.  It's a beautiful gift as a priest to have the privilege of encouraging those who are struggling with sin and temptation.  Their desire for holiness moves me to desire greater holiness. Total gratitude.

This evening, I joined our RCIA for dinner at the Catholic Center.  They've been meeting all year and are now at the threshold of the Sacraments.  At the Easter Vigil I will baptize and confirm five of them and will receive several others into the Catholic Church and confirm them.  How awesome is that?!  What is particularly moving to me about these numbers is that we can't claim credit for them.  Somehow, these people just found their way to us.  In other words, their presence here is not because "we've done something."  Their presence is just a total grace and a sign that Christ is doing something.

Last night when I went to that discernment retreat, I was really happy when I looked around and saw the great priests who were there helping out.  Again, these guys are evidence that Christ is doing something.  On Tuesday of this week, I will attend the Chrism Mass with all of the priests of the Archdiocese of Boston.  I will see a priest with whom I lived for three months when I was just three years ordained.  He's the pastor of a great parish called St. Agnes in Arlington.  He is a GREAT priest.  I don't see him as often as I would like, but I will be moved--once again--just to talk to him and recall his priestly friendship and example.  I will see priests who I knew when they were seminarians who are now setting the world ablaze.  I will see . . . well, I could go on and on with this.  Basically, I will be moved by the example of some wonderful priests.

On Holy Thursday, I will be moved by the example of the Eucharistic Procession from the campus chapel to our Catholic Center.  Then, I will be moved as we process several miles to the Cathedral to join the Cardinal for Night Prayer.

On Good Friday, I will be moved as Fr. Rick (a Franciscan priest who assists us) and Deacon Chris (a Jesuit scholastic who serves with us) lead our students and me to the adoration of the Cross.

For the past few weeks, one of our students has been home because her father is gravely ill.  Tonight, I was moved by the great love that her friends in the Catholic community have for her as they pray for her and her father and as they worry about her.  

My experience of the priesthood and of the Christian life is an experience of continued surprise.  I stand in awe at all of the beautiful things that Christ is doing in our midst.  You can't really plan for a man born blind to receive his sight or a man to be raised from the dead.  You can't really plan for a sinner to come to repentance and being transformed.  You can't really plan for someone hearing Christ calling him to be a priest.  You can't plan for people to love one another.  As a priest, what I can do is be faithful to the movement of God.  When I see Christ doing beautiful things in our midst, I can allow myself to be moved by them.  And, in being moved, I can attract others to be moved.  

In the end, it is all very humbling isn't it?  We don't build anything.  God does something awesome and it moves us.  It moves us so much that we talk about it, live out of it, and share it.  Then, others are moved and talk about it, live out of it, and share it.  This is how the Gospel was first preached.  This is how the Gospel is still preached.  

This week, this priest is encountering Christ in the friendship of our Catholic Center Community.  This encounter moves me and fills me with conviction in Jesus Christ.  In many ways, priesthood for me means that I am the one who is filled with the greatest wonder at what Christ is doing.  I am the one who is the most surprised, the most moved.  God calls his priests to be men filled with wonder.  He calls us to echo the words and disposition of Mary, the Mother of Priests: "The Almighty has done great things for me and Holy is His Name."

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."