Sunday, November 24, 2019

Under the Cover of Darkness and Evil These Days

When I was a young boy, I remember telling a lie. The years have caused my memory to forget the content and context of that lie, but I viscerally remember the feeling. After I told that lie, I felt defined by it. I felt disgusting, gross, and slimy. It was as though a dark cloud enveloped me and kept announcing, "Liar!"

As a young boy, I somehow had the sense to know how to fix the situation. I went up to Sacred Heart Church, entered into the confessional, and said, "Bless me father, for I have sinned." I remember hoping that it would not be Fr. Heery, the pastor, not because he was unkind or anything of the sort. I just figured that it would be all too shocking to him to know that a boy of maybe  eleven or twelve had told a lie. Sure enough, it was Fr. Heery. I cleverly inserted the "I lied," amid the usual list of "fighting with my brothers, disobeying my parents etc." I figured if I couched it amid all the other things, it wouldn't even be noticed.

When I finished my confession, Fr. Heery said, "Why did you lie?" It cut me to the core. In retrospect, I realize that he knew that the lie was the reason some boy came to confession. I forget what I answered him, but he advised me to always tell the truth. Then he absolved me and I left the confessional free from the grossness that I had felt since the lie had been uttered.

Those who know me know that I love to share the joyful experience of being a priest. Being in the midst of the flock--whether in times of joy or sorrow--the priest is privileged to stand close to holy realities. After twenty-two years of priesthood, I suspect that the awe will never wear off. Priests enter into the Holy of Holies. They are privileged to pass beyond the veil. Their people pull back the veil and allow the priest to enter into their spiritual lives. They trust him to see their sins, their sufferings, and their intimate prayer. The priest is privileged to preach the Word, to absolve sins, and to offer the Holy Mass. There is something inexplicably beautiful about the relationship between a priest and his people.

Like every other priest, I've had to minister to people in the midst of terrible suffering and horrific sadness. Even--and perhaps, most especially--in these moments, the priest can feel the most useful. He knows that Christ is using him as an instrument in these moments. Christ is making His own presence felt in these moments. And so, even though these moments can be (what I often call) existentially draining, they are awesome in the sense that the priest knows that God has brought him as close to the Cross as was St. John on Calvary. They drain us, but they fill us with a peaceful recognition that this is exactly why we were ordained.

Recently, however, I had a rather unusual experience. It has been a totally unexpected moment in my priesthood. I'm sure other priests have experienced this, but it's a first for me. Many times in my life, I've been with people at the Cross. Those moments--even though painful--have always left me confident that I had been near the holy. But this most recent experience has left me feeling as though I have been to the abyss, to a place of no light and no grace. I feel as though I was left slimed by the whole thing, and instead of feeling existentially drained and fulfilled, I feel disgusted, repulsed, and gross. What's worse is that it is not just one bad part of a situation. It is the entirety of it. It is filled with lies and deceit, politics and grudges, weaknesses and faults, betrayals and distrust, gossip and detraction, hatred and anger, pettiness and immaturity, confusion and chaos, pain and sorrow.

For me, the worst of it is seeing the seeds of distrust that it has sown. It undermines ecclesial communion and love. It has caused people to lose trust in one another, to deepen old wounds, and to create new wounds. It blinds people to the goodness of others. It's not the fault of any one person or persons. It's like an evil pall has settled and covered everything in darkness. It's not like one person did one bad thing. It's like evil itself was unleashed and allowed to wreak havoc and destruction. A great darkness seems to be moving across the landscape. 

And then I remember that from twelve until three darkness covered the whole land. Beside Jesus was a man who asked for mercy. "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." When we feel overcome by evil and crushed by the weight of darkness, the only place to go is to the Cross. It is the place of mercy. We must ask for mercy and be willing to give mercy. None of us must allow ourselves to be like the unrepentant thief, obstinate and accusatory. In the face of gloom and terror, he  allowed himself to be swallowed up into the darkness. The good thief repented. He turned to Jesus. He would have to wait through several more hours in the thick of darkness before he would experience the fruit of his prayer and repentance, but he was sustained by the promise, "Today you will be with me in Paradise."

As a boy, I knew how to shake the weight of evil. I found it at the Cross, in the confessional. In recent years, there has been a lot of darkness surrounding the Church. Occasionally, we see that darkness up close. We can deceive ourselves into thinking that we will fix what's wrong, that our ideas, our actions will defeat evil. To think in this way is to be the unrepentant thief. It is to be blind to the presence of the Savior. To think that we will defeat evil by our sheer will is to make ourselves Lord and King. 

I think the right path forward is to submit ourselves humbly to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, to turn towards Him and to humble ourselves before Him. The only answer is to turn to Jesus. The only thing for me to do is to seek the grace of Christ, and to be converted in my own life. The evil that I mention is not about any one thing or one person. It is more a destructive force, making itself felt and experienced in a thousand different ways. It's tempting to study the darkness, attempt to understand it,  try to fix it. But to do so is to be overcome by it. The answer is the same as it always is. It is the same as it was when I was eleven. It's the same as when Jesus hung upon the Cross. The answer is that of the Good Thief. The answer is to turn to Jesus. We all need to turn to Jesus. Everyone needs Jesus. 

Friday, November 22, 2019

The Devil is in the Details

The Devil is in the details, they say. He sure is. It's why we confess our sins in kind and in number, because the Devil is in the details of our life. He inserts himself into the very particulars of life. He inserts himself into the particular jealousies, particular lusts, particular angers, particular vanities. He's not vague. He's in the details. He's in particular places and particular situations. Evil wants to ruin particular persons, particular virtues, particular institutions, and particular relationships. He's in the details. 

The Evil One seeks to destroy particular goods. There is a meticulous viciousness to his warfare. He's not trying to randomly and sporadically cause problems. He's engaged in an epic battle to destroy vocations, destroy souls, and to destroy the Church. He's tireless and he's detail oriented. He's in the details.

Sometimes, if we're not careful, we can be drawn into one of his traps. He leads us unawares into the snare. We see this in the Church all the time. He turns brother against brother, sister against sister. His ways are cunning. He allows one person to wound another, then he convinces the other to retaliate, and then that one to retaliate. And in this way, he takes the beauty of the communion of the Church and twists it into a battle of factions. He sows suspicion, deception, and viciousness among the Church's members. And he convinces each one that if he or she does not retaliate against the evil perpetrated, then the others are "getting away with it." He hands out the weapons of this world to us, weapons like vengeance, vanity, and gossip. He supplies us with the arms and sends us off to destroy each other. The Devil gleefully provides us with weapons that are powerful enough to destroy each other, so that we don't take up the weapons that are sufficient to defeat him.

In the midst of this kind of evil, one has to remember something important: The Devil is in the details. He is at work wherever communion is attacked, wounded, or severed. In these moments, it is so important to remember that the true enemy is not our brothers and sisters--no matter how much they have wounded us. The true enemy is the Devil. And the only way to defeat the Devil is to put on Christ. It is to refuse to play the Devil's game. Victory is found--hard as it seems to do--in laying down the devil's weapons and taking up the Cross of Christ. It is to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. It is indeed a painful price to pay. But, it is the only way to win.

The way to defeat the Devil and his malice is to turn to Jesus. To win the battle, we must all be willing to humble ourselves, confess our sins, and to love each other. The details have to be surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The Devil takes grotesque pleasure in turning Pope against cardinals and cardinals against pope. He takes grotesque pleasure in turning Bishop against priest and priest against priest. He takes grotesque pleasure in turning clergy against laity and husband against wife. And when we are wounded, we are all too susceptible of enlisting into his army of hatred. 

True victory does not come from defeating those who have hurt us. True victory comes from defeating the Evil One. And we as Catholics know that that victory happens only upon the Cross of Jesus Christ. When confronted by the Devil in the details of our life, let us not become his enslaved soldiers, fighting against one another at his command. 

                                                      Rather, we should 

"be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.  Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,"(Eph 6:10-18).

Making supplication for ALL the saints. Even those who have wounded us. Especially those who have wounded us. This is how we defeat our common Enemy. Let's remember who the real enemy is.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

How About Helping Someone Who Helps Others?

Dear Friends,

I ask you to read below and consider joining me in supporting Drew who is currently giving a year of service to the Catholic Center. He's helping others. Please help him to help them.

Dear Friends,

My name is Drew Faria, and I work at the Boston University Catholic Center. I am a recent graduate of BU whose life has been profoundly transformed by this community and Christ’s presence in it. As a campus minister, I am responsible for keeping the projects and efforts of our community running.

Hundreds of students come for sacraments and more than fifty lead or participate in bible studies. We host events for BU students with pasta dinners, sports outings, men’s/women’s groups, service projects, retreats, and talks from visiting Catholic speakers. I play an administrative role by organizing retreats, outreach events, and bookkeeping efforts for our community. On a personal level, I lead bible studies and minister to those feeling burdened by the challenges of balancing a college and Catholic lifestyle. My work supports the faithful growth of BU students. Communities like the CC have never been more important in a time when the Church suffers from a lack of participation, and college students fall to despair, anxiety, and a sense of worthlessness. I have seen Christ renew hope and love in students who enter the CC, including myself.

My mission is not one I undertake alone. I invite you on this mission of prayer and service with me to build faithful leaders like never before. My position does not come with an established income, thus I humbly ask for your support with a monthly donation towards my work’s monthly expenses. I would love to get in touch with you and meet to explain my ministry in more detail. Meanwhile, pray for the spiritual growth of the BU students and their commitment to the Church. Feel free to send any prayer requests or intentions to
our community as well.

I am honored to be a leader in this group that has provided greater meaning to my life and continues to do the same for others. We foster friendships that last far beyond graduation. Our alumni are active in their faith and parishes. In the last nine years, eight graduates have entered seminary in preparation for the priesthood and nearly twenty have worked in full-time ministries for the church.

I hope you will consider joining my mission at BU. You are in my prayers.
God bless,

Drew Faria
__________________________________________________________________ How to Donate
  1. Online:
    Go to Donate through Paypal or monthly through Church Giving at the bottom of the page. If Church Giving, select the option that applies best to your experience using Church Giving, then choose “Regular” donation. Be sure to write “BU Intern” in the section for additional notes. If Paypal, make sure to click the “Add special instructions to seller” or “Add note” and write “BU Intern”.
  2. Mail:
    By mail with a check made payable to the Boston University Catholic Center, with “BU Intern” written in the memo line. The check may be mailed in the pre-addressed and stamped envelope enclosed.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Evangelization: Friendship, Not Rocket Science

One of my favorite places to be is on the steps of church before and after Sunday Mass. It's where I encounter, albeit briefly, the most students. A lot of times it is just a quick hello, but it is also a time for students to ask questions, request prayers, go to confession, or have some brief conversation. 

Today after Mass, as I was talking to a couple of students, I noticed that there was a guy waiting to talk with me. He introduced himself, mentioned that he is friends with another student that I know, and then said that this other student has been inviting and encouraging him to come to Mass. That's why he was at Mass today, because a friend invited him. He and I will meet up soon, but I was really struck by the simplicity of the whole thing. A friend invited him to Mass. I had the sense that the friend has been inviting him for a while. And then, today, he agreed.

The world "evangelization" can seem daunting and complicated. My encounter with that young man today reminded me that evangelization is not rocket science. Evangelization is friendship. One person discovered something good and beautiful and true. Moved by this discovery, he wanted to share it with a friend, and so he invited his friend. He repeatedly invited his friend. And then, his friend said, "Yes."

Who knows what happens next? Freedom is always at play. Evangelization is risky. It's a gamble. Maybe someone will say, "Yes." Maybe they'll say, "No." Fear of failing, fear of being uncomfortable, fear of being rejected can hinder us from evangelizing. But what kind of friends are we, if we let fear hinder us from loving our friends? 

A young man came to Mass today. He came because his friend invited and encouraged him. We should all hope to be that kind of friend. We should all hope to be that kind of evangelizer. 

Sunday, October 27, 2019

I Love Getting Into Where I Don't Belong

Icon of the Pharisee and Publican as they enter the temple and as they leave the temple. One was justified the other was not
I've often thought that if I won the Powerball (which I rarely play), I'd like to buy a nice house near to the ocean. But then, I don't think I would. There's something in me that prefers when somebody else let's me use their house. Owning my own would give me the sense that I belong in this  house, that it was rightfully mine. It's hard to explain, but I like being in places where I don't have a right to be. I enjoy things more when I realize that they're only mine because of the generosity of another. I can think of many examples of places I've been that make me feel like, "Who am I that I should be here?"

I've been to several Red Sox World Series games. I'm not a season ticket holder. Somebody else invited me to those games. I've been to nice restaurants here and there because somebody took me. And one of my favorites is being at the dinner table with families that aren't my own. The family members are all at that table because they rightfully belong there. When I'm there, sitting among them, I know I'm there because they invited and welcomed me into their home. I don't have a right to be there. I love that feeling. I love working with people or serving people whose goodness awakens within me that sense of, "How did I get here?!"

If I should be welcomed into heaven some day, it won't be because I belong there by right. I will be there because the Lord took pity on me, invited me, and welcomed me. If heaven were a place that I possessed by right, I think it wouldn't be nearly as enjoyable. I imagine that heaven will be the penultimate experience of, "Who am I that I should be here?" 

Today in the Gospel, we are told that two men went into the temple. One acted as though he belonged there. He kind of owned the place. He went right up front, and basically had the attitude of, "Of course, I'm up front. I do everything right. I've earned this place." The other fellow, stayed in the back. He knew he didn't belong there. If he were even in the Temple, it was because the Lord took pity on him. He kept his head down. Ever snuck in someplace where you don't really belong and are trying to keep your head down so that somebody doesn't come throw you out? (I have!) That's what I imagine the tax collector felt like. "I'm in here, but I sure as heck don't belong in here."

The other thing that I love is when I'm able to get others in with me. Over the years, for instance, when somebody has given me tickets to a Sox game, I like being able to invite someone else into that experience. It's great seeing their faces as they realize that we are going to be in some great seats. Or, when I've become close to parish families, I've always wanted other priests and seminarians to be welcomed into their home as well. The experience of being invited and welcomed is even better when I can extend it towards others. 

And this to me is the life of the Church, the life of the Sacraments, the life of heaven. It's the joy of experiencing a taste of a life that doesn't belong to me as a right or as something I've earned. It's humbly acknowledging that I'm really a guest at a banquet. And the host is so gracious that even though I myself am a guest, he allows me to bring whomever I want with me. "Invite as many others as you want. And we're going to treat them just as well as we treat you."

The great masters of the spiritual life teach us that the foundation of the spiritual life is humility. It's a constant recognition that if I find myself in the Church, it's not because I'm holy enough or virtuous enough that I've deserved the right to be there. It's because the Lord is merciful enough to invite me. He gives me not what I deserve (thanks be to God) but rather what I don't deserve. He gives me entrance into his Divine Life. He welcomes me into the Eucharistic Banquet. He seats me where I don't rightfully belong. Then, he becomes even more ridiculously generous. He allows me the privilege to be a giver of his own generous gifts. He says, "Even though you don't belong here by right, I want you to go and invite people as though you were inviting them to your own banquet."

Heaven must be a perpetual state of amazement that the Lord is so good and merciful to allow us to be there. The best way to prepare for that heavenly amazement is to live in humble amazement here and now. The one who is justified before God is not the one who claims it for himself. The one who is justified is the one who receives the mercy of God. The invitation to eternal life is engraved in the Blood of Christ. The RSVP to that invitation is, "O God, be merciful to me, a sinner."

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Forming Amazing Future Leaders for the Church . . . And How You Can Help

The BU Catholic Community at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross
They teach in Catholic schools, study in the seminary, are ordained priests, enter religious life, lead parish young adult groups, serve as FOCUS Missionaries on other college campuses, generously support their parishes, are devoted to serving the poor and needy, joyfully evangelize those who have not heard the gospel, provide a warm point of contact for those who have stopped practicing the Faith, and are beginning new Catholic families. These are just some of the things that the alumni of the Boston University Catholic Center are doing to build up the Church. They are living their Faith and they are living it with joy, zeal, and charity. 
Seminarians and Recently Ordained priests from BU

The young men and women who walk through our door will only be here for four years. Something special happens during that time. They grow in their Faith, form life-long Catholic friendships, and are formed to be leaders in the Church. This year, I've been really struck by the great fruit produced by the life here. This summer, I helped out on Sundays at a parish in a suburb of Boston. As I looked out into the congregation, I saw a beautiful family. The husband and wife met at the Catholic Center. Now, they are raising their beautiful family and are making their parish stronger by their presence. 

This October, I travelled to Rome for the ordination of a recent BU Catholic Center alumnus. He is one of five recent alumni who is studying for the priesthood. Several BU alumna have entered religious life, several recent grads serve as FOCUS Missionaries, others use their work vacation time to serve as counselors at Catholic camps during the summer. 

A Newly Married Couple from The BU Catholic Center
Once a year, I make a pitch asking for people to consider donating to the BU Catholic Center. We depend entirely upon the generosity of others. Your donations go to providing a seed of hope in the midst of a very difficult environment. We provide a home where young Catholic men and women can resist the pressures of a very secular environment. Here, surrounded by other young, joyful, and faithful Catholics, students are able to experience the joy of living a Catholic life. They meet friends here; friends who truly love them and friends who help them to grow in virtue.

It's a amazing to me that every year, I have the privilege of baptizing and welcoming into the Church new college age Catholics. One young man who I baptized last Easter doesn't even attend BU. He attends another school in Boston, but travels here almost daily because he finds in the midst of this community a place of welcome and a place to grow in his new Catholic Faith. 

Fall Retreat
They're only here for four years. Then, their heading out to make a difference in the world by being Catholic leaders and missionary disciples. They leave here and go out to all of the world. They leave here and bring the Gospel and the Catholic life with them. I promise you, we're doing our part to form Catholic leaders for the future. If you'd like to help us, please consider making a donation.

One way you can do that is by  going to this link Donate Now

I am very grateful for any support you might offer. It's an awesome place and it is producing amazing fruit for the Kingdom.

Fr. David Barnes

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

My Friend, Pope John Paul II

John Paul II was a friend of mine. Other than briefly meeting him once in his later years, I never personally spoke to him, corresponded with him, or spent time with him. He didn't know my name. But he knew me. He was my friend. He has been a lifelong friend.

In the early 2000's, a newly ordained priest and I were walking through St. Peter's Square very late at night. We stopped for a few moments and were looking up at the Apostolic Apartments where John Paul II resided. I said to my friend, "It's amazing to me that whenever he speaks, I feel as though he is speaking directly to me, like he actually knows me. And that everyone else who hears him feels the same way. How is that possible?"  My friend thought for a moment and said, "It must be because he knows the true man--Jesus Christ--so well, that he is able to speak directly to the heart of every man." 

John Paul II was a friend of mine because he always pointed me to Jesus Christ. He spoke convincingly about Jesus. He spoke to my heart and appealed to my youth. He was an old man, but his soul was young. He presented the challenge of the Gospel in a way that invited me into something epic, consequential, and exciting. He didn't nag or harangue his listeners. Instead, he proposed to them a new way of life, a possibility of following Christ and of laying down one's life for something greater. John Paul II was a friend of mine because he invited me to walk together with him in following Jesus Christ. He invited people everywhere to follow Christ. He inspired countless young people to give themselves to Christ. We were living something special together. We were all part of something together.

John Paul II was a friend of mine who encouraged me. He knew how temptation, sin, and evil could weigh upon a person. He was not afraid to speak about how destructive sin was. But, he did so in a manner that made it clear that sin was the enemy, not the sinner. He encouraged me by reminding me that the path of holiness was always open to me. Jesus was always extending his hand, reaching out, and inviting me to "Come, follow me." 

John Paul II was a friend of mine. He was a friend to everyone. He didn't simply speak about the poor. He spoke to the poor. He didn't simply speak about the sick. He spoke to the sick. He didn't simply speak about priests. He spoke to priests. He didn't simply speak about the lonely. He spoke to the lonely. He didn't simply speak about sinners. He spoke to the sinner. He spoke to the married, the single, the religious, the elderly, the young. He spoke to those who were afraid. He spoke to the prisoner. He spoke to the heart of the human person. He spoke to me.

One of the students at the BU Catholic Center approached me last week. She said, "Father, is it okay if next Tuesday we have a party to celebrate John Paul II's Feast Day?" This request really struck me. Most of the students I work with were only small children when John Paul II died. Yet, they too are his friends. Young people are still moved by his example, his teaching, and his love. John Paul II--the friend of Jesus Christ--is still speaking to the hearts of young men and women. He is still calling out to them, encouraging them, and assisting them to follow Christ. They see in John Paul II a shepherd who challenges them and who loves them. They find in him a shepherd who appeals to their youth. He is their friend too. 

I recall one time tens of thousands of young people chanting, "JP2, We Love You."  John Paul II replied, "And JP2, he loves you." I knew those words were true. He did love us. He was our friend. I am grateful today to spend his Feast Day with a new generation of young people who consider John Paul II to be their friend. I am grateful that we can live this extraordinary friendship together, a friendship that begins and ends in the One who alone answers the desire of the human heart, Jesus Christ.

John Paul II is a friend of mine.

Thanks for the Friendship, JP2. We love you.