Sunday, July 8, 2018

To Seminarians on the Way to Failure

The Crucifixion of St. Peter by Caravaggio 

To Seminarians on the Way to Failure:

Quite often, the passages of scripture that most strike me are those that I might easily pass over without much thought. At first glance, they seem to be a throwaway line or an unimportant detail.  One such line appears in the Gospel for the Mass of 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B).  Since it is a brief passage, I include it in its entirety here:

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.  On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offenseat him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”  And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.  And he was amazed at their unbelief. (Mark 6:1-6 NRSV)

The line that most struck me was, "and his disciples followed him."  Of course, that is what disciples do, is it not? And yet, it is striking to me because he was leading them into an apparent failure. When the disciples followed him to Nazareth, they were not aware that it would end in disappointment. What amazes me more is that immediately after this failure, the Lord commissions the Twelve to go out two by two and announce to people that they should repent. He sends them to heal the sick and to cast out demons. One would think that the Lord could have chosen a better time to commission the apostles. Wouldn't it have been better to send them out right after they had witnessed a big success story? 

As I prayed about this passage, the thought occurred to me that I have always felt particularly blessed in my priestly assignments to be sent to places where--for the most part--the Gospel is welcomed, the Church is loved, and where conversions and vocations have flourished. It is very easy to follow the Lord into places such as these. But disciples follow the Lord wherever He goes, and sometimes, He leads us directly into seeming failure.  Of course, there is no better example of this than the Cross itself. Nobody looks at the Crucifix and immediately thinks, "What a great success story." The Cross is a scandal.  The martyrs who followed Christ to their gruesome deaths certainly did not appear to be successful. They looked like utter and complete failures.  This is where the Lord led them.

A few years ago, I read a biography of St. Edmund Campion written by Evelyn Waugh.  Campion was a Jesuit who was sent to Reformation England to provide the Sacraments for the Catholics who were clinging to the Faith. He attended a seminary in Douai (now France) where he was prepared for what was to come. The rector of the seminary there realized that they were forming future priests for a dangerous mission and he wanted them to be ready. He recognized that it was not enough simply to train them like every other priest had been trained before. These seminarians had to know what they were getting into. Ever since reading that, I've wondered (for I do not really know) if our seminarians are being trained for what lies ahead.  In Campion's case, the rector basically wanted these men to know the following: "You will be ordained. You will go to England. If you actually make it there without being arrested, you will be a hunted man from the moment you step foot on English soil. You will bring the Sacraments to Catholics. Eventually, you will be caught. You will be arrested, tortured beyond anything you can imagine, and then you will be executed."

In other words, they were being sent out--in a sense--to fail. As I think about the young men who these days apply to seminary, I realize that what was still around when I was first ordained has quickly dissipated. These men have been chosen by Christ to follow Him into towns where they will be rejected. This will require a lot of Faith on their part. It is so much easier to follow Christ into the towns where the crowds cheer for Him and welcome Him. It is difficult to follow the Lord to the places where He is rejected. 

We live in the shadows of great church buildings that were built at times when the crowds welcomed the Lord with great enthusiasm. Those church buildings now are often empty or converted into condominiums.  All around, the culture is rejecting the truth about God and about morality. If I were to give advice to a seminarian today, I would say that they should be prepared to be rejected and to appear to be a failure. Sure, there are still towns--parishes, colleges, various New Movements--where the Gospel is received with joy and with love. The present trajectory of things, however, suggests that increasingly there will be an ever growing number of places (academia, businesses, courts, etc) where Christ is rejected. 

When things get oppressive, there could be two possible temptations. The first would be toward discouragement. The other would be towards capitulation. Capitulation would be to try and water down the Gospel and its demands in order to make it more palatable to others. If this temptation comes, we should remember that right after Christ was rejected, He sent his apostles out to preach repentance. In other words, fidelity to the Truth of the Gospel is more important than being successful in the eyes of the world. The priest of the future will be ministering to a flock who themselves are experiencing rejection in their families, businesses, and culture. The flock will need to have a shepherd who is willing to lead them into unwelcome pastures.

Discouragement, on the other hand, would be to surrender and consider yourself beaten. "What's the point in preaching Christ if everybody says, 'No' to the message?" This is where the future priest must have a profound relationship with Jesus Crucified, to be conformed to the Mysteries that he celebrates. In those places where the Gospel is preached and rejected, the future priest will have to always have before his eyes the Crucified One who was spurned and rejected. Success in the priesthood will be measured not by statistical successes, but by conformity to Christ. When Christ was rejected, he did not quit. He continued. He continued all the way to the ultimate failure--the Cross. 

Seminary formation today can (and should) teach sound and creative methods of evangelization, but it also needs to place before future priests the possibility that they will be sent out into a largely unwelcoming world that is increasingly antagonistic to the Catholic Faith. They should know that if they remain faithful to Christ, they still might "appear" to fail. This, however, should not disturb them. In fact, it should be their boast. Jesus' mission trip to Nazareth appeared to be almost a complete failure. But the disciples followed Him. We should definitely rejoice when Christ is warmly received, but we should not fear rejection. 

"Follow me." This is the call that every seminarian and priest has heard deep within his heart. This profoundly personal and deeply penetrating invitation of Christ is at the core of our life. For most of us, I think we first heard it as a call to a great adventure, a laying down of life as we once knew it, for some great purpose. But, as we grow in that call, we realize that this "Follow me," is spoken to us from the Cross. "Follow me." "Follow me into the places that you do not want to go. Follow me into the towns that will reject me. Follow me to Calvary." To follow Him in the places where He is warmly welcomed and revered is awesome and encouraging! The invitation to follow Christ to the places where He is rejected, however, is a special sign of his esteem and his love for us and His confidence in us. We need not avoid them nor fear them. He has preceded us and has already secured the Victory. He has conquered. The path to victory is the Way of the Cross.  The path to resurrection always passes through Calvary. 

May the Lord give every priest and seminarian the grace to do that which He first asked of us at the beginning of our vocation: "Follow Me." Our glory (our true success) is to follow Him.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

What Is the Kingdom of God Like? Like This.

As I was driving home this evening, I had one of those wonderful moments when you suddenly see something that you didn't see in the moment itself.  

Earlier this past week, a BU Catholic Center seminarian was in town and we met up for lunch. Today, another BU Catholic Center seminarian, his family, and I had Mass together. This afternoon, I found out that a man who was part of the BU Catholic Center in 2011 is now entering religious life. Another man who graduated this year is also entering religious life. This evening another BU Catholic Center seminarian who has been studying in Rome for the past two years came for Mass and dinner. When I dropped him back at the seminary, I ran into another BU Catholic Center seminarian.  It wasn't until  I was  driving home that it dawned on me how amazing all of this really is!

Today, in the Gospel of Mass, Jesus spoke about how the Kingdom of God is like a man who sows seeds, but then he really doesn't know what happens after that.  They take root, grow, and are fruitful. But the fruitfulness is all God's work.  As I was driving home tonight, I thought about how all of these men who are in the seminary are signs of the fruitfulness of the Kingdom. In each of their lives, various persons--priests, brothers, sisters, lay men and women, fellow students, all scattered seeds. The BU Catholic Center community is a place where people scatter the seeds of the Kingdom. None of these people knew what the result of their labors would be. They just scattered the seeds because that is what the Lord asks of his disciples.

There are many things that a parish or community can do to promote priestly vocations, but none of those things--or even ALL of those things--will produce the fruit. All we can do is to sow seeds and hope that the Lord will make them fruitful. No priest, parish, vocation director, or community produces priestly vocations. But, every priest, parish, vocation director, and community can sow seeds. 

It would frankly be kind of boring if priestly vocations arose from a program or from a clever plan. There would be no surprise to it. What is beautiful about the Kingdom is that we scatter seeds, but we don't really know how those seeds become fruitful. The seed sprouts and grows, but we know not how. It is a work of Divine Grace. The Kingdom of God is so extraordinarily beautiful because we can't make it happen. We are servants of the Word, not masters of the Word. It's always a surprise when the fruits of the Kingdom burst forth in our midst. The Kingdom of God can't be managed, bureaucratized, or programmed. We scatter seeds. God makes them fruitful. Part of the joy of the Christian life is the recognition that we have been permitted to participate in something so much greater than ourselves. 

I am filled with gratitude as I end this day. I have always loved today's parable, but today I saw it play out before my eyes. Day in and day out for years, people at the BU Catholic Center have been scattering seeds, and those seeds have taken root, sprouted, grown, and have borne fruit. But, none of us is able to take any credit for it. If we could take credit, then we could be certain that it is not the Kingdom. What is so awesome is that we all have the privilege of seeing God produce fruit from our meagre efforts. He is so faithful! God takes the little that we offer and he transforms it into something spectacular. 

Tonight, I am grateful for those who scatter seeds and for the Lord who causes those seeds to take root, sprout, and bear fruit.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

The Church, Andy Bernard, And The Good Old Days

Some of our community after the Easter Vigil Mass
The other night, I was watching reruns of a television series that I find particularly funny, "The Office." In the show's final episode, one of the characters--Andy Bernard--ruefully says, "I wish there was a way to know you're in the good old days before you've actually left them." Andy regrets that oftentimes we don't realize just how good things are until those things have passed away. 

I don't feel the way that Andy did. I think one of the joys of living the Catholic life is knowing that you are living the "good old days." In fact, what makes the Catholic Faith attractive to others is when Catholics live with an awareness that they are living something extraordinary together. They are living in Christ and Christ is living in them. Evangelization doesn't happen because we say the word "evangelization" enough times. Evangelization happens because we are living something extraordinary together and this moves us to share the joy of this experience with others. Evangelization happens because we ourselves are moved by the awareness that we are part of something extraordinary.

In my life as a priest, I constantly feel like I'm in "the good old days." As a parish priest, I knew I was in the good old days when I was sitting at the home of parishioners for dinner, leading the Corpus Christi Procession, or sitting at Finance Committee meetings. When our rectory was filled with priests and seminarians, I knew we were in the good old days. Every day, I knew that we were living something extraordinary together. We were living something that was given to us, not something that we created. We all knew that we were living in that moment, "the good old days."

As a college chaplain, I know that I'm living in "the good old days." I know it in the morning time when I sit and have coffee with our staff and with the students. I know it when we hang out and do crossword puzzles together. I know it when I sit on the bench outside of the chapel and hear confessions. I know it when, on a day off, I have Mass with one of our seminarians. I know it when I see students bring their friends to be baptized at Easter. I know it when I hear students give witness talks at retreats. I know it when we joke with one another, pray with one another, and worship with one another. I know it when we go out for lunch together. I know it when students share with me that they are considering a call to the priesthood or the religious life. I know it. I know that we are in the good old days. 

I'm grateful that the Lord has given me this gift, the gift of knowing that I'm in the good old days at the very moment that I'm in them. And I'm grateful that this gift is something a community shares together. It's a shared amazement. This has been my experience of parish life and of college chaplaincy. I feel like we all stand together in wonder and awe,  asking, "How is this possible?" No matter how much work or skill we might put towards our endeavors, it is not a tower of Babel. It is not our accomplishment. It is something beyond us. Something that carries us and moves us. 
We can't create the good old days. The good old days is the eternal day of Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. 

Do we want to draw others into the Church or back to the Church? Do we want to see priestly and religious vocations flourish? Do we want to see families attending Mass? The answer is found not in our projects and slogans. The answer is found in our being moved by Christ. It is found when a community--priests and people--stand in awe together by what Christ is doing, and realize together that we are in "the good old days."

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Acts of the Apostles Continues at the Boston University Catholic Center

Today--Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter--the Acts of the Apostles mentions that on the Sabbath, Paul and those with him "went outside the city gate along the river where we thought there would be a place of prayer." Those words struck me before Mass this evening when, at the BU Catholic Center thirty-four young people gathered for the daily Mass. Our Catholic Center, located just outside the heart of Downtown Boston sits along the Charles River. Like the Church at its beginning, so today, disciples found a place by the river to pray. I love each year during the Easter Season that we read the Acts of the Apostles and observe the Church in its seed form. What we live as the Church today must always remain faithful to the original seed. Whenever I witness the life of the Church today being faithful to that original moment in the life of the Church, I find consolation.  "Ah, we are doing it right."  So, two thousand years after Paul sought a place to pray by the river, young disciples are doing the same.

One of the options for the Easter Season is to use "Alleluia," for the Responsorial Psalm. At the Catholic Center, we use that option every day of the Easter Season.  We try to fit in as many Alleluias as possible during the Easter Season.  At every daily Mass, we conclude with the Regina Caeli which is filled with Alleluias. Today, the psalm for Mass (Ps. 149) began, "Sing to the Lord a new song of praise in the assembly of the faithful."  It was another affirmation to me that we are deeply inserted into the Mystery of the Church. St. Augustine says, "We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song." Throughout the Easter Season, our daily Mass community lived the life of the Church by being an Easter people whose song is "Alleluia." Occasionally we have a guest come for Mass.  I think they are always moved by hearing thirty or so young people chanting the Regina Caeli.  They see in these young people the joy of being a disciple. They see what it means to live as an Easter people. They see and are attracted to the new life that Christ brings. To be a Christian is to carry within us the new song of Christ.

Lastly, in the Gospel today, Christ speaks of the coming of the Holy Spirit who is given so that we might not fall away. He will remind us of Christ and all that Christ has spoken.  We celebrated this evening's Mass in the midst of Final Exam week when students are expected to remember many things about many topics. Jesus did not abandon us to our own efforts. He sends us the Holy Spirit as a living memory of the presence of Christ. When He dwells within us, He establishes us as the Body of Christ.

Today, as I looked about our daily Mass chapel, I saw young Catholic men and women, who love each other, pray with each other, and who help one another grow closer to Christ. We walk together towards the conclusion of the Easter Season and towards the great Solemnity of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit leads us to places of prayer, most especially to the Holy Mass and to the Eucharist. The Holy Spirit fills us with joy and establishes us as a new people, an Easter people. The Holy Spirit places in our hearts the joy of youth and makes us sing together a new song: Alleluia. 

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Alfie Evans--Love Never Fails

When I woke up this morning, the first prayer I said was for Alfie Evans and for his parents. I prayed that through the intercession of Blessed John Henry Newman, if it be God's will, that Alphie have a miraculous cure. Alas, no such cure was possible because Alfie--that beautiful little baby boy--had already shed the bonds of his earthly chains and had gone to the house of the heavenly Father.  

Over the past few weeks, Alfie's plight has played out in hospitals, courtrooms, and on social media. Much has already been written (and will be written) criticizing many of the institutions involved (especially the hospital, the courts, and even the religious authorities in Britain) but, I want to say a word about those who did not let Alfie down, namely his parents.

In the midst of such tragedy, the world witnessed something beautiful in these last days. We saw a father and a mother love their dear baby boy. We watched as they tried everything possible to keep their son from being deprived of food, water, and oxygen. We watched as the father flew to Rome to beg Pope Francis to help them. What a beautiful thing--that in today's world--it is still possible for a humble man to find an audience with the Pope.  We watched this mother and father hold their son, caress him, and fight for him. Alfie wasn't a cause, a moral issue, or a legal case. Alphie was a human being, a human being with a mother and father who loved him. 

Today, I am grateful for Alfie's parents. In my life, I need to see people like them. I need to see people love with that kind of love and fight with that kind of strength. They didn't waver. They kept loving their son and fighting for him. They are a testimony to fortitude and to hope. They kept fighting for what was good and true and beautiful. They kept fighting for their son. To love their son required them to fight. 

We live in a culture where people like to argue but not to fight. It is easy to post a provocative comment here or there, but that is arguing, not fighting. Fighting means being willing to get bloodied. It means being willing to suffer for the truth, to suffer out of love. It means standing fast in the truth even if all the powers of the world were lined up against you. Alfie's parents loved and acted out of love. Their love for their son--while unable to move legal institutions--was able to move our hearts.

I don't know if the publicity of Alfie's life and death will bring about change in the medical and legal fields or whether it will cause the UK to reevaluate its approach to these situations. I don't know if Alfie's situation will cause religious leaders in Great Britain to examine their response to situations like this. I don't know if Alfie's situation will bring about a large scale conversion of minds and hearts about the value of human persons who are suffering.  What I do know is that I have been moved by Alfie's parents. Their love for their son makes me want to grow in charity. Their love for their son makes me want to stand fast in love and in truth no matter the consequences and no matter the price. I want to love with that kind of love.

This morning, I did an internet search for "Alfie Evans" and the fist thing that came up said, "Alfie Evans is a legal case . . . ." Alfie's parents made certain that the world knew that Alfie Evans wasn't a legal case. Alfie Evans was a little baby, a human person who was loved. Alfie Evans' parents did not fight such an exhausting fight in order to win a legal case. They fought because they loved their son. 

I thank this young man and woman for their witness. They didn't win the legal case. They didn't win the argument. But, they loved their son and fought for him. And in the end, love never fails.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

A Believing Thomas And An Evangelizing Joseph Reali

"Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written down in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name" (JN 20:31)

People often like to say, "I'm a doubting Thomas."  They say it a bit boastfully as if to say, "Believing it all is good for simpletons, but I'm an intellectual. I'm a doubting Thomas."  But this isn't good.  The Gospel today isn't encouraging us in the least to be "doubting Thomases."  It is encouraging us to be "believing Thomases."  Being a doubting Thomas is not something which we should boast about. It is something we should humbly confess and repent of.  St. John tells us today that the whole reason that he wrote his Gospel is so that we would come to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that we could come to life through that belief.  

Now St. Thomas wasn't in that upper room when the Lord appeared, but see what happens.  The moment he returns, the other apostles announce the good news to him. "We have seen the Lord!" This is what disciples of the Lord do. They announce the good news to others. Why? So that others could come to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that through that belief they could have life in his name. Now Thomas tells them, "I won't believe until I see him myself."  Now, if belief and what we believe wasn't so important, Jesus wouldn't have come back to that room a second time. But, in an act of great mercy, Jesus returns to the upper room. Why? So that Thomas would not remain unbelieving but would believe.  

We can kind of think, "Well, it's easy for Thomas. He got to see the risen Lord."  And that's fair. Now, I would have settled for just seeing the Lord's wounds.  I really wouldn't want to be sticking my hands in his wounds.  Kind of gross.  But, and this is important, Thomas sees one thing, but he believes something more. Thomas sees his old friend Jesus risen from the dead. Let's remember that Thomas had already seen a lot of extraordinary things. He saw Jesus raise Lazarus. He had seen him raise a young man and a little girl. So he had seen people raised from the dead. So, when Thomas sees Jesus, he doesn't exclaim, "Hey, it's my old friend Jesus who has been raised from the dead."  That's what he saw. But, he professed faith in Christ's divinity. He said, "My Lord and my God."  He came to faith in Jesus' divinity.  He saw one thing and believed something else.

St. John records this event so that we can come to believe. This is what Christians do. We announce to others the good news that Jesus is the Son of God so that they can come to believe and have life through that belief. Sometimes we hesitate to announce the gospel to others because we think of it as an imposition or something that is going to make their life difficult. But this good news brings life! And you are in a better position than I am to reach people who haven't heard the good news.  I spend most of my time in the upper room. I tend to interact mostly with people who have already heard the good news.  But you, you're engaged with people "out there." You study with them and work with them. You eat with them and socialize with them.  Jesus wants them to believe. He wants them to have life.

Recently, I heard of a young man named Joseph Reali.  (Write it down and look him up.) Joseph grew up in New York and was, from all accounts, an amazing young man. He lived and breathed football. But, at a certain point his grandmother was diagnosed with cancer and his family needed to take care of her. Without ever looking back, he gave up playing football so that he could help take care of his grandmother. He was a young man filled with charity.

Later on, his friends would say that he would go out to bars with them on a Saturday night, but on Sunday morning, he'd be knocking at the door inviting them to Mass with him. His motto was, "Eucharist, Confession, and Pray the Rosary." He was constantly inviting others to live a life in Christ. Sadly, he died suddenly at 26 years old from a heart condition. His family was shocked when thousands of people attended his funeral. They have been inundated with stories from strangers of how Joseph changed their life by sharing the good news with them.  This is what it is to be a disciple of the Lord.  It is to tell others, "We have seen the Lord!"  Why? So that they can come to believe in the Son of God and have life through that belief.

Today is referred to as Divine Mercy Sunday. It is an opportunity for us to receive mercy, but also to extend it. A great act of mercy is to share with others the good news.  St. John doesn't tell us why Thomas wasn't in that upper room the first time. Maybe he was out doing something important.  Or, maybe he decided that Sunday is his only day off and he didn't want to spend it in the upper room with the other disciples. Maybe he had a midterm to study for or a paper to write. Maybe he wanted to watch the Masters Tournament so he couldn't come to the upper room. Whatever the reason was, the other apostles announced the good news to him. "We have seen the Lord." And, the next week, Thomas was in the upper room with the community of disciples. And because he was there, he encountered the Lord.

There are many people outside of these walls who are not here today. They all have there reasons, but they need you to tell them, "We have seen the Lord." Don't abandon them or be cowardly. Share the good news with them. Be like Joseph Reali and invite them. Why should you do that?  You should do it so that they might come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and through that belief may have life in his name."

(If you are interested in seeing a short video about Joseph Reali, click the link below. I think I will be asking him to intercede for me).

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Some Photos of The Easter Vigil at The Boston University Catholic Center

The Easter Vigil was such a joyful and beautiful moment for the Boston University Catholic Community. I thought I'd share some photos from the Mass that were taken by Evan Kristiansen, a Grad Student. Unfortunately, the patience it takes to get these in the right sequence on my blog is more than I can muster. So, they are out of order, but still very beautiful. There are a lot more photos, but this gives a sense of the evening.  I'm very proud of our community for their dedication to giving God fitting worship. What a great Holy Week!

Blessing of the Easter Fire

Reception into Full Communion with the Catholic Church

Renewal of Baptismal Promises

Michael Professing His Faith Before Baptism


John Professing His Faith Before Baptism



Blessing of the Easter Font

The Newly Baptized, Received, and Confirmed and their sponsors. At the far left is Matthew Baugh, SJ who led the RCIA this year and did a fantastic job.

The Consecration

Baptizing Michael 

Our Easter Candle was painted by one of our students, Mai.

Baptizing John

All of Us Singing the Litany of the Saints

Sponsor Lighting the Baptismal Candle from the Easter Candle



Nellie and John were two the newly Baptized. At the end is Domenica who was John's sponsor and a classmate

Nellie Being Baptized