Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Shepherds Shouldn't Abandon the Sheep

An integral part of being a shepherd is knowing your sheep and having them know you. I remember one time mentioning the Church's teaching on artificial contraception during a homily. Some weeks later, while having dinner with a married couple, they shared with me that they use artificial contraception and they told me about their struggle. My preaching about it did not get me uninvited from dinner and their sharing their struggle with me did not make me love them less or cause me to go running from their home. The whole thing made me love them more. When shepherds and flocks truly know and love one another, there is a great freedom that arises. For me, this freedom is experienced not simply in being unafraid to preach and to teach, but even more in knowing that the people entrusted to your care earnestly expect and desire you to preach and to teach--even if they do not yet fully accept what the Church teaches.

During the past few days, many bishops and priests have commented upon the Supreme Court's ruling legalizing gay marriage. In many instances, the focus has been almost entirely placed on explaining why Catholics need to be respectful and not engage in hateful behavior. I honestly have to ask, do these shepherds really know their sheep? Maybe they do. But their sheep are vastly different from the people that I know.

Who are the people who have been entrusted to my care? The vast majority of them are not people whose inclination is to resort to hateful language, beliefs, or actions. Many of them actually don't believe the Church's teachings about marriage. Some are far more likely to say something hateful about the Church than they are to say something hateful about somebody who has same sex attractions. 

Some of them have same sex attractions and are opposed to gay marriage. Many of them have children or family members who have same sex attractions. They don't hate their family members. For the most part, many of the people I know do not have this on their priority list. They want to go to work and do their job, come home, and care for their family. But, they are made to feel uncomfortable when they go to work. If they aren't overjoyed at the rainbow flag that appeared in their office, they are made to feel like they are a bigot. They are looking for help from their shepherds on how they are to live and respond in this situation.  

When bishops and priests, however, continually harangue them about not being hateful or oppressive, these people feel abandoned by their shepherds. They are being told everywhere that they are bigoted and hateful. Do they really need to be piled on by their shepherds as well?  These are just good people who, in my experience, love their neighbor. But, when their shepherds continually warn them about "not being hateful," they are actually made to feel and appear like that's exactly what they are. The shepherds of the Church are perpetuating a myth that Catholics are prone towards hating people with same sex attractions. In perpetuating this myth, they are doing a disservice to a lot of good and faithful Catholics.

One of the first calls I received after the Supreme Court ruling was from a friend with same sex attractions. This friend is not in favor of the Supreme Court ruling. What this person really does not need is a lecture from the clergy about not being hateful towards people with same sex attractions. This person needs to know the closeness of the Church and its shepherds. This person needs encouragement to remain firm in heart and needs to know that the shepherds of the Church will not run away and leave this person alone.

When families gather at the Fourth of July party this year, perhaps the whole Supreme Court ruling will come up. In many instances, there will be some poor Catholic man or woman there who will be in the minority. She will be made to feel like her objection to gay marriage is a sign of ignorance or hatred. It can be very lonely for that person. Even though that person loves her friends and family members who have same sex attractions, because she opposes gay marriage, she will be treated poorly. The Church's shepherds should be standing by this person and not throwing her to the lions.

I cannot speak for other shepherds. But, in my experience, I meet very few people who are hateful, bigoted, or mean. Maybe they avoid me. I do meet many people who struggle with the Church's teachings or who struggle to articulate the Church's teachings. I meet many who feel kind of alone. I meet many who are frustrated because they oppose gay marriage, love their friends and family members who have same sex attractions, but are made to feel like they are mean or hateful. Instead of finding shepherds who are protecting them from the wolves of false accusation, they sometimes feel as though their shepherds have run away, leaving them to be devoured.

Most of the Catholics I encounter are people who love one another and strive to grow in that love. They are not bitter ideologues filled with hate. To keep insinuating that they are is to perpetuate a calumny that undermines the Church and disheartens the faithful.  I am grateful that in my priestly life the people whom the Lord has placed in my path are people who abound in charity.  I'm not sure I have met even one person in my priesthood who has said anything hateful about people with same sex attractions.  In fact, it has been just the opposite. 

More often than not, people need encouragement in the Christian life. To my friends who struggle with same sex attractions and who want to be faithful to the Church, keep up the fight! You are an inspiration! To all of you--same sex attracted or not--who feel isolated in the culture right now and who are made to feel like you are being hateful for not supporting gay marriage, you're not alone. Don't get discouraged. Keep on doing what you've been doing. Keep on loving. You're doing great.

After I wrote the paragraph above, I had to go to the hospital to visit a friend. As I was leaving the hospital, a man got on the crowded elevator with me. I don't know why, but I sensed that he was suffering. I said a prayer for him. At some point during the long elevator ride down ten floors, I noticed him glance at me. When we got to the First Floor, we got separated in the crowd, but I  caught up to him and said, "I just prayed for you." He thanked me and we conversed for a few moments. He said, "My husband is very sick." I asked for both of their names and said that I would pray for them both. (Maybe you could offer a prayer for both of them as well). It was one of those great moments where you know that God was at work. The experience drew both of us closer to Christ and His Church.

My guess is that is exactly how 99% of the Catholics I know would have reacted in that situation. Let's stop addressing the very small percentage of Catholics who are nasty as though they are representative of the vast majority. Instead, let the shepherds of the Church encourage Catholics to remain faithful to the truth and to do what they do so well already--love their neighbor. 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Could You Say a Prayer for a Little Baby Named, Ned?

During the summer months, our daily Mass at BU is fairly small. Just a handful of us gather each evening.  Tonight, however, as I began Mass, there were several visitors with us. Then, after the Mass began, a large crowd of people arrived.  There were older folks, a lot of young adults, and several small children. 

After Mass, this very happy and clearly faithful group introduced themselves to me. They are a family from Texas and about 50 (!) of them travelled up to Boston this week because Ned, a beautiful one year old baby who was with them at Mass, will be undergoing serious surgery tomorrow morning at Children's Hospital.  I was really moved by the fact that fifty family members made the trip to support one another and that they came to Mass together.  How beautiful!

Could I ask you to stop and say a prayer for Ned right now? Please pray that his surgery is successful and that his family is given whatever they need to live through this moment. Let's pray together:

Remember O Most Gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known, that anyone who fled to Thy protection, implored Thy help, or sought Thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, we fly unto Thee O Virgin of Virgins our Mother. To Thee do we come, before Thee we stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not our petitions, but in Thy clemency hear and answer them. Amen.

Thanks everyone.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Why the Gay Pride Flag Is Unwelcoming To Many Christians

Having grown up in Boston, I have never really thought much one way or the other about the Confederate Flag. When I see it, I suppose I probably think about "The South" or maybe about the Civil War. It doesn't evoke a visceral reaction in me like the NAZI flag would and it doesn't evoke in me a sentimental attachment to the South. It really means very little to me. If African Americans living in the South do find that flag offensive and intimidating, I can certainly understand the reasons why. If I were a pastor in the South and it became clear to me that the flying of that flag made people feel unwelcome, I would certainly not fly it in front of the parish church. I'd also be opposed to it flying in front of civic buildings. Every citizen should feel welcome in civic buildings, and Catholic churches should be a place of welcome for all.

This week, the Confederate Flag has not been the only flag that has received national attention. Plastered all over social media, buildings, churches, and even the White House has been the Gay Pride Flag. For many years now, the Gay Pride Flag has found its way in front of Civic buildings and churches. Often it is accompanied by a statement that reads, "All Are Welcome."  But that statement is not true.  When that flag is flown, it does not make everyone feel welcome. It only welcomes those who support gay marriage. That flag is a definitively exclusionary emblem.  It says, "All are welcome here if you support gay marriage."  Certainly, the Gay Pride Flag does not offer a hospitable welcome to those who adhere to the traditional and Biblical definition of marriage.

Despite knowing where the culture was heading, I was nonetheless shocked by the vitriolic reaction evident on social media by those who support gay marriage. Almost instantaneously, those who dared to question the Supreme Court's opinion were labeled as bigots , ignorant, and hate mongers.  The fact that so many Catholics were among those who joined in the chorus of rejoicing that the God-given definition of marriage had been summarily dismissed by five justices of the Supreme Court and that these same Catholics labeled their own brothers and sisters who uphold Catholic teaching as being ignorant and bigoted, was and is a real source of sorrow for me. In some ways, as I look upon the reaction of these brothers and sisters in the Faith, I wonder how I failed them. Did I fail to teach and preach effectively?

While it may not be popular to say, I find the Gay Pride Flag flying from civic buildings and churches exclusionary. When I was pastor of a parish where I saw 1500 people every Sunday, there were men and women there who were attracted to people of the same sex. There were men and women there who were divorced and remarried. There were men and women there who struggle with every sort of temptation. As a university chaplain, I encounter young people every day who struggle with every sort of temptation. I love all of these people and I also hope that they love me despite all of my faults, failings, and struggles. The Church has and always will be a place where struggling men and women find refuge. Indeed, all are welcome. I presume that if I am welcome, everyone else certainly is.

The Gay Pride Flag, however, does not suggest to me that "All Are Welcome." It suggests just the opposite. It is not about welcoming people no matter what their sexual attractions are. (The Church has and always will consist of people whose sexual attractions run the gamut). The flag, for many, is rather a declaration that gay marriage is the deciding factor on whether you are welcome here or not.

If churches and civic buildings want to be a place where all feel welcome, they ought to remove the Gay Pride Flag from their doors. Until they do, they are really saying that all are welcome as long as they don't hold on to the Biblical understanding of marriage. I've been a priest for 18 years. I hope that wherever I've served and whomever I've served, I've been found to be a priest and a Christian who loves the person in front of me whatever their particular circumstances may be. That does not require a flag. It requires a love for the human person and a love for the Gospel. There are people who love their same sex attracted brothers and sisters but who do not support gay marriage. The Gay Pride Flag does not take that into consideration.

For Christians, the sign of love is not the gay pride flag. The sign that all are welcome is the Cross of Jesus Christ. Upon that Cross, Jesus suffered and died for all of us who are sinners. All of us are filled with weakness and temptation.  We do not need flags on the front of every church that identify the particular situation of every passerby. We need the Cross of Jesus Christ upon which the Savior of the World--with pure love--took upon Himself each of our weaknesses in order to save us.

The Gay Pride Flag suggests to many Christians that they are not a welcomed part of society because they adhere to traditional Biblical morality. The flag itself becomes a lie because it purports to suggest that "all are welcome" when in fact that is not true. To be clear, I love all of my brothers and sisters in Christ whether they be attracted to people of the same sex or the opposite sex. A person's  sexual attractions makes no difference to me in how I love him or her. I hope that those who know me would defend me in that assertion. But, the gay pride flag says to everyone who does not support gay marriage, "You are not welcome." So, if the true goal is to tell everyone, "All Are Welcome," let's get rid of the flag that has become an insult to Christians who sincerely believe that God intended marriage to be between a man and a woman. Are all welcome? Prove it.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Adoring God Together

There are so many aspects of the Eucharist that deserve our meditation on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. This year what is on my heart is how our worship of the Eucharist makes clear our nearness not only to God, but to one another. When we direct our gaze upon God, we discover just how close we all are to each other.

Whether it is in a beautiful church filled with one thousand people all kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament, or if it is just two or three of us gathered in the small chapel at the BU Catholic Center for a spontaneous Holy Hour; whether it is the Pope and Cardinals in St. Peter's Basilica or an elderly lay woman stopping in for a visit to an adoration chapel; when we kneel before Him, we recognize that we are in this together. We see our life as it really is. We are all His creatures. We serve Him alone. We all look to Him to find the true meaning and value of our life. We all depend entirely upon Him. 

There is something comforting in this. Before His Majestic Love, we come to truly know ourselves. In front of this great mystery of love, it is impossible for us to despise our neighbor or to hate our enemy. When we adore the Eucharist, we are astounded by the immensity of His Love. We see that He looks upon us with mercy. And then, we realize that it is with this same gaze of mercy that He looks upon our friends and our enemies.

Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is something so profoundly and beautifully Catholic. We all kneel before Him in our weakness. There is no distinction. There is no reserved section for VIP's and another for common folk. No, in His Presence, we are all worshippers and He is the Lamb who is owed worship. As we kneel there together, we feel our own smallness and we feel the greatness of His love. We are moved with gratitude for His love. 

Worshipping the Blessed Sacrament together unites us. In that moment of humble adoration, I see MY sins and weaknesses. I do not think about the sins or weaknesses of my neighbor. Or, better put, I look with total compassion and with eyes of mercy upon the sins and weaknesses of my neighbor. And, he looks with mercy and compassion upon my sins and weaknesses. As we gaze together at the One who gazes upon us with mercy, we cannot help but to look upon each other with this same tender gaze. 

In Eucharistic Adoration, each one of us is reminded that there is a God and none of us is Him! Even the saints in Heaven--especially the saints in Heaven--cast down their crowns before Him. Sometimes, the weight of our own sinfulness and the weakness that we carry about in ourselves can tempt us toward discouragement.  But then, we turn and see our brother or sister kneeling there beside us and we recognize that all of us are in this together. We are the sheep of his pasture. We are strengthened by the communion of the Church. We kneel together, Popes and bishops, priests and deacons, religious men and women, married and single, young and old, saints and sinners. He looks upon us with mercy and He loves us.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Is God Calling Me To Be A Priest?

These Friends Recently Got Married and I Love this Picture! To Me, It
Says So Much About the Church, Marriage, Priesthood, Love. Awesome!
Dear Friend,

Perhaps you stumbled across this blog post because you were searching for some clarity as to whether God is calling you to be a priest. If so, welcome! Before you read any further, please be assured that I am praying for you. Whether God is calling you to be a priest or not, your openness to this possibility is itself something for which we should all be grateful. Without having any surety as to what your vocation in life is, you already have a sense that God has a plan for your life, that God speaks to your heart, and that your life is caught up in the drama of salvation. I am happy for you.

Each man's vocation story is different. Some, like St. Paul, had an earthshaking experience whereby they were knocked over and underwent an immediate and profound conversion. This conversion also brought with it a call to priestly ministry. For me, and for many others, our call came rather gradually. Somewhere along the way, we encountered Christ. Perhaps like Peter and Andrew, James and John, we saw Christ. We heard him speaking and were attracted by his words. Perhaps in front of him, we felt an intense love or a bond that seemed impossible. When he looked at us and held us in his gaze, we suddenly realized that our life was changed. We could never forget this look upon our life. No matter how we would respond, our whole life going forward would be judged by this gaze. Whether we turned away, refused, or ignored this gaze upon us, our whole life would be forever hounded by its memory. This gaze, unmerited and undeserved, simple and pure, opened our eyes and made us experience life as something far more dramatic than we had ever known before. There is no going back.

This is the first thing I would like to say about your vocation. If you have experienced this look upon you, there is no forgetting it. To ignore, run away, refuse, make excuses etc, all do violence to our heart. It's a little maddening actually. There are some really good excuses not to follow. Just to mention a couple: 

1. "Leave me Lord for I am a sinful man" (LK 5:8). These words were spoken by Peter. As Jesus looked upon Peter, Peter felt the weight of his own unworthiness. To say, "Yes," to our priestly vocation is to say, "Yes" to the lifelong suffering of knowing that, as St. Paul says, "We hold this treasure in jars of clay" (2 COR 4:7). We will spend our life wounded by the superabundant love with which Christ has looked upon us. 

When you listen to the humble confession of a contrite sinner and utter words of absolution, you will intensely feel your own unworthiness. When you stand at the bedside of a dying person and commend his soul to God, you will intensely feel your own unworthiness. When you look into the chalice and say, "This is my Blood" and see your reflection there, you will intensely feel your unworthiness. When you climb into the pulpit and preach the words of everlasting life, you will intensely feel your unworthiness. To walk into tragic situations knowing that you are the presence of Christ the Good Shepherd to a flock scattered, wounded, and afraid--you will intensely feel your unworthiness.  When--in the name of the Church--you witness a man and a woman become united through the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony or you live a friendship with your flock (a friendship that you know is beyond anything that any of you could create)--you will intensely feel your unworthiness.

Yes, if you have experienced Jesus looking upon you and calling you to share in his priesthood, you probably also feel like this gaze of love has pierced your heart. If you say, "Yes" to this call, this wound will not heal. This wound will only deepen. You will never become accustomed to this gaze. You will never arrive at a moment when you will say, "Ah, yes now it makes total sense why Jesus called me." No, you will spend the rest of your life increasingly surprised that he chose you. The wound of his pure gaze upon you will continually deepen and its sweetness will also increase. If you are considering a vocation to the priesthood, one question that might be good to ask is this: If in my heart I have already felt this gaze upon me and experienced its wound and its sweetness, will there ever be anything else that could possibly replace this? In the words of Peter, "Lord, to whom else shall we go" (JN: 6:68)?

2. "He went away sad, for he had many possessions" (MK 10:22). These words were spoken by the Rich Young Man. We are told that Jesus looked at him with love, but the Rich Young Man's face fell because he had many possessions. Before the call of Christ, we can find countless possessions that will cause our face to look away from his gaze. None of these possessions is in itself evil. In fact, they are good. They are countless. Our bodies that could be given over in love to a woman and for the  propagation of new life. Our intellectual gifts and human skills that could be used to make a better world. Our future, our youth, our aspirations, our plans, our ideas. All of these and so many other magnificent possessions make us rich!

St. Mark tells us that Jesus looked at the Rich Young Man with love and told him, "Go sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." Christ looked upon him with love. In that moment, the young man must have experienced that wound with all of its sweetness and with all of its infinite meaning. But, his face fell. He looked away from the gaze of Christ and instead looked upon his many possessions. He looked upon all of his options. He looked upon his plans, his youth, his future, his dreams and aspirations. He looked upon what he could build. These many good and noble possessions were his. They were not clay. They were not fragile or dependent upon another. In comparison, the gaze of Christ was entirely dependent upon another. What if one day Christ no longer looked at him with love? What if one day this adventure promised by Christ fell flat? What if one day this gaze was not enough for him? Wouldn't it be better to take the safe bet? Wouldn't it be better to go with the sure thing rather than to risk everything on Christ's call? He could still do good things, but take a safer path.

As we know, the young man who earnestly desired to do what was good and to be good, nonetheless went away sad. All of the good things which he possessed ultimately became the cause of his unhappiness. Perhaps in your prayer life, you have felt the Lord Jesus looking upon you with love and, in your heart, you know that he is calling you to follow him as a priest.  In the face of this, perhaps you are tempted to take out the pen and the paper and start writing a list of pros and cons. If I may, let me suggest that this is not how to go about it. This is what the rich young man did. He looked away from Christ in order to make an inventory of his possessions. This led to sadness. 

If I were to offer some advice to a young man who is in this position (and by "this position", I do not mean one who is simply and honestly open to whatever God is calling him to, but rather one who has had this very personal and powerful experience of Christ gazing upon his life and extending the invitation to "follow me,"), I would say this: keep your eyes on Christ and follow him. Don't try to talk yourself out of what you've encountered. The memory of that look is never going to depart from you. If you've experienced this look, no matter what you come up with to explain it away, deep down, you're always going to know. 

It's all a bit maddening, isn't it? It would be easier if it were all spelled out in advance. It would be easier if you could have some safety net to fall back upon. It would be easier if you knew that you were deserving of it and well-qualified to carry out. But, you are not going to get any more than Peter and Andrew and James and John got. They got a look and a call. They left their safety nets behind and brought all of their weaknesses and failures with them. They followed and lived life entirely dependent upon the merciful gaze of Christ.

And you, what are you going to do?

Friday, May 29, 2015

Ireland, St. Edmund Campion, Privy Parts, Entrails, and Sacraments

St. Edmund Campion
Recently I read Evelyn Waugh's biography of St. Edmund Campion, the 16th Century Jesuit who at 41 years of age, on December 1st 1581 gave his life for the Catholic Faith. In his younger years, such an outcome would not have seen likely. Campion had found favor with Queen Elizabeth I and was even ordained a deacon in the Anglican Church. Campion's career in the Anglican Church seemed secure and promising. But, fidelity to the truth compelled Campion to be reconciled to the Catholic Church and eventually to join the Jesuits.

Campion, like so many of his contemporaries, was a man marching toward martyrdom. His mission--like so many of the priests who trained in Europe for the purpose of returning to England, was solely for the purpose of ministering to the faithful remnant of Catholics who hungered for the Sacraments. Their mission was not about making converts, but about tending to a flock besieged by wolves. Traveling in disguise throughout the English countryside, they lived a life of constant risk. All it would take was one spy to bring them to an horrific end.  But, Campion risked it all.

The persecution of Catholics wasn't initially so bloody. Catholics were still considered good neighbors and--even if many of their Catholic practices were outlawed--the punishments were often warnings, fines, or short imprisonments. There were obviously also certain positions that could not be held by Catholics. But, things could be worse. In fact, things could be much worse. And so they became.  Only a few decades earlier England had been a Catholic country. In a very short period of time, to confess your sins to a priest or to assist at Mass had become treasonous acts bringing with them horrific punishments.  When Campion and his companions clandestinely crossed the English Channel and began their travels throughout the English countryside, hearing confessions, offering Mass, and offering spiritual counsel, they were well aware that they were now hunted men.

While there are many spiritual, temporal, and political realities that contributed to the rapid dissolution of the Catholic Church in England, one cannot overlook the collaboration of the clergy with the government. In their efforts at self-preservation, those who were ordained to be shepherds after the heart of the Good Shepherd instead acted as hired hands when the wolf appeared. Who knows, maybe they thought that it was the best course of action? Maybe it wasn't out of self-interest and self-preservation that they went along. Maybe they thought that in cooperating a little bit, they'd save something of what was essential. I don't know.  But that's not what happened.

Last week, the people of Ireland voted in referendum to redefine marriage. In response, there has been a lot of hand wringing by Catholic commentators--clergy and lay alike--that this is a lesson to the Catholic Church that she needs to change the way she communicates. While I agree with that, I suspect that what they mean by that is different than what I mean by that. Some act as though every Sunday, priests all over Ireland and all over the world, are climbing into their pulpits and berating people about abortion, contraception, homosexuality, fornication, and adultery. With all due respect, where exactly is that happening? Maybe my sense of Ireland is mistaken. (I truly mean that perhaps I am wrong). But, I suspect that while there may have been such activities in the past, the vast majority of priests and bishops have not spent an inordinate amount of pulpit time, taking about any of these things. There's a good chance that many of them have never uttered a single word from the pulpit about any of them.

But, what if priests and bishops in Ireland and throughout the world had spent the past several decades discussing St. John Paul II's Theology of the Body? What if they had spoken from the pulpits on occasion about the full truth about marriage? What if they had spoken about the beauty of the Church's teachings on the permanence of marriage, the beautiful, anthropological and theological reasons why marriage is between a man and a woman? What if they had spoken about why openness to life was actually something helpful to marriage and not a punishment? What if bishops and priests had spoken about the struggles that every human being experiences in living the virtue of chastity, how to combat temptation, and all of the magnificent gifts that the Lord gives to us--including, most especially, the sacraments--to aid us in our struggles? What if priests and bishops occasionally explained why every human life is sacred?

To yield to the caricature that priests and bishops are daily lambasting the faithful with ominous threats of eternal damnation is not only absurd, it is also playing into the hands of the enemies of the Church. When we admit to such things as though they are factually common and true, we become members of the enemy's propaganda machine. Are there priests and bishops who daily preach about going to Hell? Probably. But, come on. They are undoubtedly a very small minority. If anything, the clergy have utterly failed to preach positively about those things that might actually help people live a holy life. We live in a moment, for instance, when pornography is rampant, a constant source of temptation, and responsible for the destruction of countless marriages. But, how often do we hear a bishop or a priest acknowledge that? Wouldn't the People of God be better served if--on an occasion--they heard this mentioned in a homily? Does it need to be an entire homily? Not necessarily. But, it could be something as simple as, "Today Jesus healed a leper. Lepers were ashamed of their disease and were forced to be set apart from the rest of the community. Undoubtedly, someone here at Mass today is struggling with pornography.  Perhaps you feel all alone in this struggle, unclean, and beyond help. Jesus wants to heal you too." Instead, many bishops and priests are afraid to talk about these realities.

Edward Campion's mission to England was not to re-establish the Catholic Church's dominance. He was sent to provide the Sacraments to the remaining faithful. In her solicitude for the Faithful, the Church sent shepherds--as the Book of Revelation says--"to strengthen what remains and is about to die" (Rev. 3:2). In the end, it comes down to the Sacraments. 

I'm not intelligent enough to predict where things go from here. But, I can imagine. Right now, in the United States, it appears as though the Church is desperately attempting to cling to some last remnants of influence and power. Wherever there is some agreement between the predominant culture and the Church's teachings, the Church seems to be like a little kid running behind the big kids saying, "I'm a big kid too! I'm a big kid too!" It seems rather desperate. As long as the Church keeps its place, those in power are fine with pretending that the Church actually matters. So, even as the Church is compelled, little by little, to violate its conscience, we still dress up and play the court jesters to those who seek to destroy her. This means that ecclesiastics still might get invited to a cocktail party, get the local politician's backing for a building permit for the new parish center, or get to say the opening prayer at the mayoral inauguration. Catholic laity will still be able to attain political appointments. Of course, it is fine and good for the Church to participate in civic events and to work well with the political establishment.  The Church and its members should always cultivate a strong relationship with civil officials and work with them in building a just society. But, the price of admission should not be our silence or the appearance of cooperation with evil. 

Eventually, those who hate the Church and its Gospel, will expect more concessions. Some will be willing to play the court jesters forever. They'll be willing to concede more and more until the Church is indistinguishable from the predominant culture. But, there will be some who will quietly seek to live their Catholic Faith. They won't really make much of a scene. They won't be the ones writing letters to the editor or railing against the government. They will know that the time for that has long passed.

No, they will desire simply to have a priest come to their home and offer the Mass for them. They will seek opportunities to kneel and beg for absolution. They will call for a priest to come to their deathbed and give to them the Last Rites. They will be people who love the Sacraments. They'll be the people who lost jobs and friends because they refused to go along with the crowd. They will be the people who worshipped God every Sunday. 

Who will be sent to care for these sheep? Who will cross the channel of radical secularism, moral relativism, and visceral hatred for the Church and Her Gospel in order to bring the Sacraments to these faithful?  Firstly, let us hope that there will be faithful who still long for the Sacraments. And then, let us pray that the Lord will raise up holy priests filled with Faith and Fortitude; priests like St. Edmund Campion whose trial ended with the following decree:

"You must go to the place from whence you came, there to remain until ye shall be drawn through the open city of London upon hurdles to the place of execution, and there be hanged and let down alive, and your privy parts cut off, and your entrails taken out and burnt in your sight; then your heads to be cut off and your bodies divided into four parts, to be disposed of at Her Majesty’s pleasure. And God have mercy on your souls."

Upon being sentenced to this horrific death, Edmund Campion and his companions sang a hymn of praise to Almighty God for being deemed worthy to suffer martyrdom for God's Glory. Will the persecutions that we see be like the bloody persecutions of 16th Century England or 21st Century Syria and Iraq? Probably not. But, it is clearly becoming more counter-cultural to practice and live the Catholic Faith. For some, the answer is to conform the Catholic Faith to the whims of those in power. But, this approach is doomed to fail. 

At this moment in time, the Church in the West ought to redouble its efforts to emphasize the Sacraments. That's what will save us. A good question for our Catholic people to ask is whether they love the Sacraments so much that they'd be willing to die for receiving them. And, a good question for us priests to ask ourselves is: "Am I willing to be drawn through the streets, hanged, taken down while still alive, having my privy parts cut off, and my entrails cut out from me and burned in my sight, my head cut off and my body divided into four in order to care for the sheep?" I doubt that any of us could answer that question with complete and absolute confidence. But, we should cultivate in ourselves that kind of love and devotion to the Sacraments. The point is not to say that those things are on the immediate horizon, but it is to say that we should all love the Sacraments with that kind of devotion because that kind of devotion is what saves what is dying. I need to read biographies like that of St. Edmund Campion. I need to learn daily how to love the Sacraments and the Flock with that kind of total love. Whether the complete cultural collapse is now inevitable, I do not know. But, it's probably a good time for us all to learn from the lives of the martyrs and to love anew the Sacraments.

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!