Monday, September 15, 2014

The Cross and the Triathlon Witness

This evening before the 10pm Mass I was standing on the stairs at the front door of the Boston University Marsh Chapel and welcoming students as they arrived for Mass.  I asked one young man how his day was and he said, "I did a triathlon today in New Jersey.  I just got back an hour ago."  And there it was.  God had just sent a witness to help me.

I often tell people at Mass that we never know how our witness helps others.  If we're ever thinking about skipping Mass because, "I don't feel like going," we're not only hurting ourselves, but we are hurting others.  We are depriving them of our witness.  And when I say, "others," I mean, "me!"  I am encouraged when I see other people at Mass.  It builds up my Faith when I witness the example of others worshipping God.

Today we celebrated the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.  When we look at Christ Crucified, we see that God so loved the world--that He so loved me--that He gave His Only-Begotten Son so that I might have eternal life.  Catholics begin everything and end everything with the sign of the Cross.  Why?  Because everything begins and ends with God's love.  The Cross is the sign of God's love.  While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  This is love.  The more we contemplate and exalt the Cross, the more we live our life as a response to that love.

When we are loved by another, rarely does any of us say, "Well naturally this person loves me.  I mean, I'm so awesome they'd be stupid not to love me."  No, we feel humbled by their love.  And, we seek to return that love.  We seek to respond to that love.  The Cross reminds us that we are loved by God and the more we are convinced of that love, the more we want to pour ourselves out in loving Him and our neighbor in return.

One college student did a triathlon today, then drove hundreds of miles home, and went to Mass at 10pm.  This example really touched me.  It built me up in my own Faith and encouraged me.  God so loved this young man that He gave His Only-Begotten Son for him.  And having been loved by God--as revealed by Christ's sacrifice on the Cross--this young man (undoubtedly exhausted) opted to love God in return by coming to Mass.  

And now, I'm telling you about it and maybe some of you will be encouraged and strengthened as well.  This is the power of witness.  This is the power of the Cross.  When we are convinced of God's love and respond to that love, something truly beautiful happens.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The BU Catholic Center Flock

A typical Sunday at the BU Catholic Center:

At 9:15am, we had our Pastoral Board meeting.  The Pastoral Board is a group of students and staff who meet in order to direct planning and programming at the Catholic Center.  The only time we could find this semester that worked for everyone is Sunday morning.  Our first meeting began with one non-early riser announcing, "I already hate this time for a meeting."

While it hasn't started yet, on most Sundays the Men's Group will meet at 10:45am.

Today, after the 9:15am meeting, our FOCUS Missionaries met with a large group of students in order to help them grow in leadership skills and in order to bond together.

At the same time, the choir was practicing.

Then, there was 12:30pm Mass.  Students serving, singing, playing instruments, setting up for Mass, cleaning up after Mass, manning tables to get people to sign up for our retreat that comes at the end of September, and welcoming people to Mass.

After Mass, a group of about 20 of us went out for lunch to celebrate the birthday of a young man who graduated this past May and who is now in the seminary.

Another group, led by one of our FOCUS Missionaries went kayaking on the Charles River.

I heard confessions throughout the day.  Students just coming up and asking.

I tried to take an hour's nap.  Didn't work, but it was nice to take a break.  For some reason, I woke up this morning at 4:30am.

This evening we had the 6pm Mass.  At that Mass, offered by a Franciscan priest who helps us out, there were two Jesuit seminarians who also help out here.  Again, the musicians practicing, students setting up, cleaning up, welcoming, and inviting.

While that Mass was going on, I hung out with one of the students and talked about life and different aspects of the Catholic Center.

After the 6pm Mass, we had our retreat planning meeting.  The retreat is planned by a group of students in coordination with our interns.  They're doing an impressive job.  The young people here are very responsible.

From the very moment I pulled into my parking spot this morning, I have been encountering Christ in the faces of the people who live the life of this community with me.  Their example, dedication, commitment, prayerfulness, joy, and Faith move me to desire to adhere more to Christ and to grow in my own Faith.

And now, having used writing this blog post as a way of keeping me from dozing off, I have to go get ready for the 10pm Mass.

Grateful to Christ for putting me in the midst of something so beautiful.  May it not only be sustained, but may it grow and multiply.  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Spiritual War: On Whose Side Will You Fight?

Each Tuesday night at the BU Catholic Center, we host a presentation/discussion on various Catholic topics.  Last night was entitled, "Spiritual Combat," and our presenter was young Jesuit scholastic who has been part of our community for the past year or so.  While I think the students enjoyed the evening, I definitely know that I did!

Among other things that really struck me about the evening was his emphasis on the fact that evil does not want us to draw close to Jesus Christ.  It is always at work, attempting to undermine each of us in our relationship with Christ.  At the same time, I've recently been reading a bit about the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and have been struck by its clarity in terms of knowing our own heart and knowing the "usual tactics" of Satan.  Being attentive to these realities is important because if we know the common tactics that Satan uses to undermine us, then we are better able to fight them.  

Consideration of these types of things are obviously good for my own spiritual life, but they are also helpful for my pastoral life.  The Devil seeks to destroy what is good, holy, and fruitful for the salvation of souls.  There is nothing better, holier, or more fruitful than the Sacraments.  And so, the Devil revels when he gets people to stop attending Mass, from receiving absolution in the confessional, and from receiving the Eucharist.  

Sometimes, the Devil sows dissension and rivalries in order to weaken the Church.  People begin to focus on their disagreements, hatreds, and injuries in such a way that, little by little, they are dragged away from the altar of God towards the gates of Hell.  Little by little--one disagreement at a time--the Devil lures people away from the beautiful communion of the Church.  This not only brings harm to the individual.  It has much wider implications.  In weakening the communion of the Church, the Devil weakens the witness of the Church.  People are drawn to the Catholic life when they look at Catholic communities and say, "See how they love one another."  If a Catholic community is marked by division and turmoil, its focus is no longer on Jesus Christ.  Turning our gaze from Christ is the work of the Enemy.  

Sometimes in the life of the Church, we focus so much on the mundane, practical, ho-hum realities that we forget that we are about the work of salvation.  I've seen disastrous things happen because we've taken our eye of the spiritual ball and become absorbed in silliness.  In moments like this, what we don't need is to arm ourselves with staplers, pens, and paper in order to fight a war of middle-management bureaucracy wherein victory leaves us almost as empty as defeat.  Instead, we need to remember the end game of our Enemy.  He seeks to destroy.

If he is drawing people away from the Church, from prayer, from the Sacraments, from the communion of saints, then he is reveling in his tactics.  But, the Devil is a fraud, a liar, and a marauder.  He comes only to destroy.  If we succumb to his tactics by surrendering our spiritual lives, by giving up the Sacraments, by becoming discouraged and downcast, we are now working and fighting for him.  We're just too stupid to know it!

If you're feeling discouraged about the Church or if you find yourself drifting away from a life of prayer and from the sacraments, it is time to remember the cold, hard facts:

"Finally draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power.  Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the Devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood, but with the principalities and with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.  Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the Evil Day and, having done everything, to hold your ground.  So stand firm with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace.  In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God" (Ephesians 6:11-17).  And, of course, "Over all of these, put on love" (Colossians 3:14).

Monday, September 8, 2014

You Forgot "International Buy a Priest a Beer Day?" Fear Not. There's A Way Out!

I am sure that it came upon many of you as much as it came upon me, a total surprise.  These things have a way of sneaking up on us.  Probably many of my family and friends are in a total panic right now.  It is "International Buy a Priest a Beer Day" and many people just didn't have it on their radar.  And now it is here.  Today.  Now people are in total panic.  "I can't buy Fr. Barnes a beer today!  I already have plans.  How could I have been so stupid?  How could I have let this happen?"

Please, I hate to see you in such despair.  I want to provide you a way to satisfy your earnest, sincere, and altogether appropriate desire to buy me a beer on this most solemn of feasts.  It grieves me to think of you spending this whole day--understandably--inconsolable by what appears to be an impossible situation.  You did not plan well and now feel as though you've done a terrible thing, abandoning me on this incredibly important day.   It is true, right, and just that you feel this misery right now.  Fortunately, the Church is a fountain of mercy.  There is a way out of this self-imposed situation in which you have placed yourself.

In lieu of buying me a beer today, you can make a donation to the BU Catholic Center.  You can go to BU Catholic Center or click on the box at the top right hand side of this blog.  We are currently at 52% of our goal.  You could help us move the needle and help us in our work of serving some great young people.  If not, please let me know what time you will be coming by today so that I may plan accordingly.  

I know that you probably feel yourself completely unworthy of such a merciful opportunity.  After all, it is completely your own fault that you did not plan accordingly.  All one can do in a moment like this is to stand in complete gratitude and make a donation.

God Bless!

Fr. Barnes

Friday, September 5, 2014

Why I Love the Church

The Call of Peter--"Depart from Me Lord for I am a Sinful Man"
Sometimes people think that priests stand by the Church because that's their job.  They kind of have to protect the company, no matter what.  Not for me.  Look, people in the Church (of whom I am one) do all manner of sinful, stupid, and sometimes downright mean things.  But, the reason I love the Church is not because it gives me the big paycheck.  I love the Church because Christ reaches me and touches me through the Church.

It's an interesting thing being a 43 old priest assigned to work at a University.  I spend all day with people who are mostly half my age.  It would be kind of natural to presume that in this situation, I would not have anything to gain from the people whom I serve.  I could see how someone might think that since I'm the 43 year old priest, it's all about me teaching them.  But, that presumption would be wrong.

When I think about my relationship with the Church, I always think that Christ is putting me in the place where I am going to be sanctified.  In other words, the Church is FOR me.  I NEED to grow.  I need to be made holy.  I need to experience a constant increase in Faith, Hope, and Charity.  I need to be instructed.  I need to hear the voice of Christ, to be touched by His healing Presence, to be drawn into His embrace.  I love the Church not because of company loyalty.  I love the Church because Christ embraces me with the hands of His Body, the Church.  

Today, I'm mindful of various ways in which Christ has used His Body, the Church to help me and to encourage me.  Some of this may make no sense to anybody, but some of it will.

* How beautiful it is when a young person asks, "Father, do you have time for a confession?"
*Seeing a chapel filled with young people for daily Mass.
*Witnessing a person who drives 1 1/2 hours to and from work three times a week and who never stops working for the young people at our Newman House.  She shops, irons, does the books, cooks, cleans, welcomes visitors, hounds the chaplain to get things done, and treats everyone with love.
* Young people who have graduated from the University but who volunteer for one or two years to serve the Catholic Center.
* When people showed up for the Catholic Center Barbecue after all the food was gone and one of the students scrounged together whatever he could find to welcome them and feed them.
* The kid who took the trash bag out of my hand and who said, "I'll get it."  He does stuff like that all of the time.
*The people who cleaned up after the Barbecue tonight.
* Yesterday when young people who had something else to do went upstairs to the chapel to pray with a new person who happened to stop by and who asked, "Is there some sort of Evening Prayer now?"
*When I walk into the chapel and find a young person there praying.
* The text message from a young man who asks me what time we're going to do our Holy Hour tomorrow.
*The young people at the Catholic Center who do so many good things in secret.
*The friends I've made along the way who donate to the Boston University Catholic Center.
*Making fun of my Boston Accent.
*Saying Mass at the seminary the other day and seeing the beautiful things that Christ is doing in these young men.  And, seeing the goodness of the priests who shepherd them.
* After the Final Blessing at Mass each day, seeing these young people kneel down and offer a prayer of Thanksgiving.
* The joyful experience of being educated in the Christian life by people younger than me.
*Praying together.
* Hearing Confessions.
*Talking about vocational discernment with young people.
*Meeting a group of exchange students who want to live the Catholic life while they are here.
* Meeting new Undergrad and Grad students who have been formed well by their families, parishes, and priests.
*Dinner with families and friends
* Receiving funny text messages.
*The calls I receive from people about their sufferings and burdens.

I've worked with parishioners, seminarians, and college students.  Honestly, I'm not good enough or holy enough to do this kind of work simply out of some magnanimous gesture.  What keeps me attached to the Church is that Christ touches me through these people.  He reaches me through them.  In some ways, it is a humbling thing to acknowledge that Christ didn't put me among these young people because I'm some sort of spiritual genius.  Instead, he puts me with them so that we can mutually help each other.  They help me to be sanctified and I hope that I help them to be sanctified.  These young people draw me to a deeper prayer life and to a deeper life of charity.  Don't get me wrong.  Some of them-ahem, ahem, --and they know who they are--are real pains.  But, they're the pains that Christ has given to me.

The reason that I love the Church is because Christ embraces me through the Church.  And, through the life of the Church, he uses me to embrace others.  I love the Church because it is through the Church that I experience the Love of Christ.  I am compelled to encourage others to strengthen their attachment to the Church because the Church has given me everything that I have. 

I can't defend everything that has ever been said or done by some dopey Catholic in some particular place at some particular time.  But, I can testify that I encounter daily young men and women who help me to follow Christ.  Their example fills me with gratitude and wonder.  Through them--and through the example of so many faithful Catholics--I encounter the person and love of Jesus Christ.  

At the Heart of a Priestly Vocation Is Living the Memory of a Call

(This week, I had morning Mass one day at the seminary and preached this homily).

We have all been asked at one time or another the question, "What made you become a priest?" or "What made you go into the seminary?"  It's interesting to me that as the culture has become more secularized, the question more often takes that form.  But, I am always impressed and moved when somebody phrases the question by asking, "When did you get the call?" 

This latter way of phrasing the question arises from a beautiful and profound recognition on the part of faithful Christians that, at the root of every priestly vocation, is a call.  The vocation of the priest is not the result of a personality quiz or a career diagnostic test.  A priest's vocation doesn't begin with an assessment of his particular skill set.  When the faithful ask, "How did you know that you were called?" they are revealing something beautiful about our vocation.  It began with a personal call from Christ himself.  He spoke to us; "Come and follow me."  He asked us to follow him, to walk in his path, and to share in his pastoral mission.  

Today's Gospel (Luke 5:1-11) provides to us a profound and penetrating paradigm of the call to the priestly vocation.  Jesus came to Peter and entered into Peter's boat--into Peter's experience, his life, into his concrete reality.  Once in Peter's boat, Jesus speaks his word. This word moves Peter towards the obedience of Faith.  "It doesn't make sense to me Lord, but at your command I will do it."  When Peter obeys the Lord, he experiences the "hundredfold."  Whenever we act in the obedience of Faith to Christ, he does more with us than we think possible.  In the face of this, Peter recognizes his smallness, his unfitness for such gratuity, his sinfulness.  "Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!"  But then the Lord tells Peter, "Do not be afraid.  I will make you more."  And Peter leaves everything to follow Christ.

Peter's life is defined and shaped by this call.  How often in his life Peter must have recalled the incident.  His friends and companions must have heard it countless times. "Oh no, he's going to tell the story about the nets again."  For all of us, our vocation began with a call from Christ.  But, we can sometimes live our life detached from this call.  We live as though that were simply a matter in time.  But it is so much more than that.  To live our vocation, we must live with profound attachment to that initial encounter where Christ called us.

When we live our life detached from that calling, our life lacks consistency.  It lacks any unifying principle.  Our life devolves into moralism.  We have "trying to be chaste" over here and "being prayerful" over there, and "being obedient" over here.  But nothing holds our life together.  But, when we live the memory of our call from Christ--when everything is lived from this call--then our life is given consistency.  When we do not live in the present the memory of this call, we live as though God were shouting down instructions from heaven.  

How do we live the memory of this call in the present moment?  Through the life of prayer.  Each day, when we enter into the life of prayer, we recall with profound gratitude that Christ has entered into our boat.  His has stepped from the shores of heaven into the boat of our life.  He has entered into my experience.  And into my experience, he has spoken his word.  A Word that moves me.  A Word that draws me into the deep of the Trinitarian life.  A Word that gives my life depth and abundance.  In obedience to this Word, I experience the hundredfold.  Whenever we encounter this experience, like Peter, we are overwhelmed by God's love. We feel intensely our own weakness and sinfulness.  "Depart from me Lord.  This love is too much for me!  I am a sinful man." But, the Lord does not abandon us.  Instead, he asks us to go deeper.  He invites us to sacrifice something more.  He leads us away from our selfishness and sin and leads us towards a life filled with greater abundance.  He invites us to leave behind our nets.  Yes, daily in the life of prayer the memory of this call is awakened within us and we live again the newness of the call of Christ.

It is interesting that the question about our call most often comes from lay people.  To our shame, priests rarely inquire of one another about their call.  And yet, this call is at the very heart of our life.  Today, the Gospel reminds us of the centrality of this call.  It invites us to stand daily vigil by this call and to live the memory of this call.

As we now approach God's holy Altar, we see this mystery most perfectly fulfilled.  We see that God has stepped from Heaven and entered into our experience.  In the Eucharist, Christ who calls us does so from "the inside."  He enters into us.  He enters into our boat.  In the Eucharist, we receive into our boat the One who calls us.  The one who calls us enters into our souls and he calls us from the inside.  And more than this, not only does he enter into us and call us, but he accomplishes within us what he calls us to be. He calls us to share in the image of the Divine Shepherd and through the reception of the Eucharist, he brings the image of the Divine Shepherd to perfection within us.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

That Stinking Sheep

This morning I was up early because I had the morning Mass at the seminary and then a full day at the BU Catholic Center.  Around 7pm, one of the students asked me if I was going to attend the BU Catholic Center's "Glow in the Dark Dodge Ball" event that was taking place that evening.  I told him that I was tired and was going to head home for the night.He sniffed and then said, "Not really into smelling like the sheep anymore, huh?  No stench on you anymore."  

Ah, I have to give credit where credit is due.  He knew just where to stick the knife.  It was masterful.  I admit it.  Oh, and he knew as soon as the knife went in that it struck a vital organ.  Satisfaction was written all over his face.  Checkmate.  I went to "Glow in the Dark Dodge Ball."

From being at the seminary this morning to being at BU all day and evening, I spent the whole day with young men and women in whom Christ is doing something beautiful.  If ever you find yourself discouraged, you should remember that Christ is doing something beautiful in these young people.  Their witness and example is inspiring to me--even when it cuts like a two-edged sword.  Stinking sheep.