Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Good Shepherds Die

In the Gospels, Jesus reminds his disciples that they would be hated because of Him.   And, Jesus tells them that they will be blessed because of it.  We have to be cautious, however, that we do not put the cart before the donkey.  In other words, sometimes, I've met people who presume because everyone hates them, that qualifies them as a good Christian.  Sometimes, people hate us, not because we are Christian, but because we are simply pompous, arrogant, rude, selfish or whatever.  Ultimately, what defines us as Christians is not how others look at us.  What defines us as a Christian is our union with Christ.

Similarly, in the Gospels Jesus says that the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  All priests are thus called to lay down their lives in imitation of Jesus.  But, we too must be on guard against the cheap imitation.  In some ways, the increasing demands upon priests can be a cheap substitution for a true offering of one's life.  We who are shepherds have to be certain that when we give up our life, we are doing so for the sake of the flock and in imitation of Christ.  There are subtle forms of imitation that definitely will take our life, but are not authentic pastoral charity.  Not every dead shepherd is a good shepherd.  Some are just dead shepherds!  The good shepherd is the one who dies in union with Christ for the sake of the sheep.

I recently read a quote by Pope John XXIII on promoting priestly vocations.  This is what he said:

"Finally, may priests be careful not to give themselves totally to activism and exterior works of their ministry. By acting with such imprudent behavior, by slowly impoverishing the soul, one is incapable of working for the good of the parish and of the diocese. This also causes grave detriment to the vocations to the priesthood. For how will young men understand the seriousness of the priestly office if they do not see in priests an example of perfection which they may want to imitate?
For which priests must remember, in order to give example of perfect behavior, that the most important activities in their mission are: [1] to offer the Sacrifice of the Altar worthily; [2] to announce the word of God; [3] to give the Sacraments; [4] to be near the infirm, particularly the dying; [5] to teach the faith to the ignorant. All the rest that is not pertinent to these activities must be put aside or, at most, tolerated."

One of the ways that a shepherd needs to learn to die properly is to be willing to forgo things that are not essential to his mission.  From a worldly perspective, the things Blessed John XXIII lists above are not particularly glamorous and they often require saying, "no" to other things that appear in the eyes of the world to be more important.  Pastors of parishes know that much of our life is taken up with all sorts of things that are not always helpful to the Mission.  Well, at least this pastor knows that much of his time is sometimes given over to things that are not primary to the Mission.  Not that these things are bad.  In fact, many of them are very good things.  But, if they require an activism on the part of the priest that impoverishes his soul, then Blessed John XXIII says that they make the priest incapable of working for the good of the flock.  So, these things cause the priest to die--but not to die like a good shepherd.  This type of death leaves the flock still in danger.  The priest has to be on guard against this activism which can arise from the culture, the common mentality, from parishioners, the chancery, and the priest's own ego. 

We are approaching what I think is going to be a magnificent period in the life of the Church--the Year of Faith.  Learning to die like a good shepherd requires faith.  It requires the priest to believe if he offers the Mass worthily, announces the Word of God faithfully, gives the Sacraments zealously, cares for the dying generously, and teaches the faith ardently, that Christ will provide all other things too.  It takes Faith to do things that seem on the appearance level to be a waste of valuable time. 

The other day, Pope Benedict spoke about a recent scandal in the Vatican where private letters of his were stolen and published.  Benedict said, "The events of recent days involving the Curia and my collaborators have brought sadness to my heart. However, I have never lost my firm certainty that, despite the weakness of man, despite difficulties and trials, the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit and the Lord will ensure she never lacks the help she needs to support her on her journey."

One of the things that most strikes me about Pope Benedict is his indomitable joy.  He acts with confidence and with decisiveness because he has a healthy sense that, while his mission is of the utmost importance, the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit.  Benedict sees himself in the context of the whole history of the Church.  His job is to do the little he can in this particular moment.  His demeanor always strikes me as one who is caught up in the joy of his mission and in the joy of knowing that he will labor in the vineyard until another takes his place. 

Benedict is a fantastic model for priests and bishops.  He exemplifies pastoral maturity and a joyful faith.  Not every financial matter will be solved.  Not every building will be fixed. Not every dissatisfied parishioner will be made happy.  Not everyone will like you.  Not every committee will be successful.  Not every program will be well attended.  Not every meeting is necessary. Not every issue will always get addressed.  Not every correction will always be made.  Pope Benedict XVI provides to us a beautiful example of a true shepherd.  He joyfully carries out the mission entrusted to him all the while knowing that it all won't get done.

If the shepherd lives in such a way as to make extrinsic things the mark of success, he will die not for the sake of the sheep but for the sake of a worldly view of the Church.  If, however, the shepherd dies to this worldly view of the priesthood and gives himself over primarily to what is essential, then he will have died like a good shepherd should . . . for the sake of the sheep.

Monday, May 28, 2012

More Than A Handout: A Place at the Table.

Because our church is one of the more beautiful churches in the area, we get an intersting assortment of requests for weddings.  A few years ago I remember taking a phone call from a woman who wanted to schedule a wedding at our parish.  "Sure," I told her.  As I often do, I told her that she and her fiance should introduce themselves to me after Sunday Mass so that we can schedule an appointment.  This often takes people by surprise, but I've decided that expecting couples to be Mass attendees is not unreasonable (unless, of course, one of them isn't Catholic or they live somewhere else).  The woman said, "I'm not getting married.  I'm calling for my son."  "Why isn't he calling himself," I asked.  She informed me that the couple has a lot of things to take care of for the wedding--flowers, receptions, invitations, a band, etc--so they are dividing up the responsibilities.  So, the mother of the groom will "be taking care of all of the church stuff."  If there are any future grooms or brides reading this, I suggest that you do not have your mother call the priest to schedule a wedding.  We're kind of funny that way.  We actually prefer to talk to the two individuals getting married. 

Whenever I meet with couples, I stress to them my expectation that I am going to see them at Mass each Sunday.  I have found that almost all of the couples respect that.  And, despite the awkwardness that I sometimes feel when I make that clear, I have found great success.  Every Sunday I see at Mass couples who were not coming to Mass before they came to get married.  Now, married three, four, nine years later, I happily greet them as they make their way across the street for Mass.  The same holds true for couples who have brought their children here for baptism.  Is there a 100% success rate?  No, not even close.  But, the grace of God at work in one couple far outweighs a hundred couples who do not respond to the invitation. 

About a year ago, a young couple came to me and asked me to fill out the paperwork for their marriage.  The marriage is to take place out of country.  Both persons are from different countries and one of them was not Catholic.  It is a paperwork disaster for a priest!  They suggested that the man who is not Catholic might become Catholic, but I had the sense that maybe they thought he "had to" become Catholic in order to get married.  But, he said he wanted to attend our RCIA classes to see if it was something he wanted to do.  To my delight, they attended RCIA together for the past year and were at Mass here each Sunday.

Yesterday, on the Solemnity of Pentecost, I received this young man from Africa into the Catholic Church and confirmed him.  After Mass, when I came back into church after greeting the people outside, this couple was surrounded by parishioners who were congratulating them.  The Holy Spirit confirms us in the faith so that we might become more apt witnesses to the faith.  Yesterday, probably without fully appreciating it, this young man became a great witness to a congregation of Catholics.  We saw a young man joyfully embracing the Catholic life.  It was a great way to live Pentecost!

Without doubt, one of the greatest aspects of a parish's life is the RCIA.  This year, our parish baptized several new Catholics at the Easter Vigil and received into the Church and confirmed several others.  This is a great sign of life. Their immersion into the Christian mysteries benefits not only them but the whole Church.  People yesterday in my parish were filled with such great joy when they saw that young man confirmed.  Alleluia!

It is true that all some people need is an invitation.  Others only need somebody who will welcome them when they themselves approach with curiosity or interest.  But, sometimes a little pressure might be needed.  "Okay, you are asking the parish and me to provide a place for your marriage and for me to meet with you regularly.  So, I'm asking you to be just as committed to the parish by attending the Sunday Mass.  Is that reasonable?"  Anybody with any sense at all appreciates that the priest should be encouraging them to attend Mass on Sunday.  Besides, the Holy Spirit himself comes as fire on the feast of Pentecost.  Nothing gets us moving in the right direction more than the sublte pressure of a few flames!

Some people come to the Church and knock on the door and want desperately to come in.  They're the easy ones!  Others come to the Church, knock on the door and want a handout only.  They want their wedding on this particular day at this particular time and that's it.  They expect the right answer and feel that they owe nothing in return.  A pastor has to figure out how to get those persons off the porch and into the door.  For some, all it takes is a warm smile.  But, for others, they may need a little more.  What I've discovered is that the vast majority of couples--even if they are not practicing the Faith--are happy for the opportunity to discuss it and are grateful that there is somebody reminding them about Mass.  When years later I see these couples holding hands and coming to Mass together, I never regret having put them a little bit on the spot one day. 

Welcoming (and gently encouraging!) people into the Church and into the practice of the Faith is a great joy as a priest.  This Pentecost, I looked about my congregation and was struck by how beautifully the Holy Spirit is still at work in the life of the Church.  I could see all sorts of individuals who were away from the practice of the Faith at different moments in their lives, people who were trapped in some sort of sin and who have been set free, people who were lost and have returned home.  The Holy Spirit is still moving souls and animating them.  He breathes new life and renews us daily and is making all things new in Christ.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Pentecost Isn't Just for Kids

When I was little boy, the story of Pentecost always intrigued me.  Rooms shaking, tongues of fire hovering, and apostles speaking in different languages is all kind of cool stuff to an eight year old.  But as I've grown older, I like Pentecost even more!  Pentecost isn't a story about some awesome event that happened 2000 years ago.  Well, it is.  But that is not ALL it is.  What I love about Pentecost is that it is an event that happens today.

I think every Catholic child leans that Pentecost is the "birthday of the Church."  But, it is not merely a commemoration or an anniversary of some long ago event.  The birthday of the Church is today.  The Church is being made new today through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Everywhere the Church is preaching the Gospel, celebrating the Sacraments, living in holiness, she is being made new all over again.  It is the Holy Spirit that fell upon the apostles 2000 years ago that is the same Holy Spirit who is at work in the Church today.  Pentecost is happening now.

When we see news stories that involve intense winds or fire, we also hear how these forces moved people from one place to another; hurricanes cause evacuations and fires cause people to flee.   On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit comes in the form of fire and wind to move us from one place to another.  There is no stability in the Christian life.  We are either moving toward God or moving away from him.  The Holy Spirit comes to us to keep moving us forward, moving us to evangelize, moving us to leave sin and moving us to embrace virtue.  St. Paul says all of this in the Letter to the Galatians.  Left to ourselves, we become immersed in idolatries, impurities, factions, and dissensions.  But, the Holy Spirit moves us away from these things and moves us toward love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

The Holy Spirit is at work already in us.  He is already moving us from one place to another.  He is like the pillar of fire that moved the Israelites out of Egypt.  The Holy Spirit wants to make the Church young again.  To be the Church, we have to be a people on the move.  The Holy Spirit wants to move us out of the locked room and out onto the dangerous streets.  Sometimes, I think we spend far too much time in committee meetings and far too little time being like Peter who was a man on fire that first Pentecost.  The Holy Spirit fills rooms with winds and fires in order to get us out into the world! 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Some of What this Priest Saw Today

The beautiful things that I was part of today:
This morning, I offered the 8:15 Mass.  At that Mass was a man whose wife I buried this past week.

 At that Mass was an Anglican priest whom I hope will soon be received into the Catholic Church and be ordained a Catholic priest.  We had breakfast together afterwards.

At the 10:30 Mass, there were at least 10 members of the congregation who either are current Episcopalians or who were Episcopalians who became Catholic.  One of them also was an Anglican priest at one time.

After the 10:30 Mass, one attendee asked if she could speak with me for a minute.  Although I was rushing to get inside for the baptisms, she told me that several years ago she became upset with me about something.  Quite honestly, I have no recollection about any of it.  But, she was obviously bothered by it.  She wasn't telling me to complain.  She said that she didn't want to carry this resentment around anymore.  I apologized numerous times (even though I don't recall it) and she seemed genuinely relieved.  She doesn't live in this parish, but she comes occasionally.  I'm glad for that moment of grace today.  After fifteen years of being a priest, i know that I can say or not say, do or not do the right thing at any given moment.  I'm glad that this woman didn't carry that around any longer and I'm glad I had the opportunity to apologize. 

Also after that Mass was a great young family whose father was baptized Catholic but who never received any of the other Sacraments.  He is there at Mass every week with his family.  We talked today about getting him squared away.  I'm happy about that.

After the 10:30 Mass, I baptized three children.  I met the parents of two of the children when I was called to the hospital late one night several years ago.  They were a very young couple who had lost their unborn baby.  I immediately loved this young--yet to be married--couple.  I offered a funeral Mass for their little baby, prepared them for marriage, and have since baptized their three children.  I don't see them quite as often as I would like and they always look sheepish when they show up for Mass.  "Father Barnes, we promise we will try harder to get here."  I really love them and they know that.  And I know that through me, they know that the Church loves them.

The parents of the other baby that I baptized were also a couple that I married.  And, I baptized the mother of that child too.  I am grateful that our parish always has converts and newly received Catholics.

After the baptisms, I stopped by quickly to the first birthday party of one of my parishioners.  I married his parents, baptized his mother, and baptized him.

And now, I'm off to Confirmations for our high school students.  I haven't been here long enough to have baptized these students, but I likely gave them all their First Communion. 

When I think of all of these things that I've seen just today, I feel greatly privileged to be a priest.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I Love Being A Priest

Fifteen years ago on May 17th, I woke up early, got dressed, and drove to Castle Island in South Boston.  It was a beautiful morning and I took a walk, prayed the Rosary, and then went to the Cathedral and was ordained a priest.  I often meet married couples who have celebrated their 25th, 50th, 60th, and 65th anniversaries.  So, in the greater scheme of things, fifteen years is not such a long time, but for me it is a small milestone. 
For some, these last fifteen years in the history of the Church in the United States, will be viewed entirely in terms of the darkness that seemed to defeat the Church.  Whether it be the revelation of priestly scandals or the aggressive secularist (and government aided) attempts to silence the Church, these have not been easy days.  And yet, I can say that I have loved every second of being a priest.  I can think of no life that could possibly bring greater joy.
The history of the Church is replete with Christians living through difficult moments with great Faith.  That is what most strikes me about these past fifteen years.  What the memory of the Church will hold centuries from now is not all of those who abandoned the practice of the faith during these difficult times.  It will recall the witness of all of those whose faith stood firm.  Last Sunday at the Five O'clock Mass, I looked out from the pulpit and saw a young family who had just arrived home that day from vacation.  Parents and children all looked exhausted.  That act of fidelity on their part—coming to Mass despite what must have been a long day of travel—is how I think about these past fifteen years.  In the midst of so much darkness, God has surrounded me with a cloud of faithful witnesses; people who have kept and lived the Faith, even when they were exhausted from the battle.
When I think about this time period of my life, I am filled with great joy.  In the midst of all that has happened during these years in Boston, my rectory is often crowded with young priests and seminarians.  These men are a sign of the continuous newness that Christ’s presence brings to life. 
There is an abundance of joy in our rectory life.  Of course, even if the rest of us were all miserable, the priest with whom I am assigned contains enough joy that we would still have an abundance of joy.  Our home is a very happy place and I think the people are served well by our fraternity.  Psalm 133 says, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity.”  This is my experience of our rectory life together.  Dwelling with these brothers is indeed good and pleasant.  And of course, this unity is not confined to the walls of the rectory.  It is lived in our experience with all of our brothers and sisters in the Faith.
Fifteen years ago, I went for a walk around Castle Island and had a great joy in my heart as I considered how I would soon be a priest.  Fifteen years later, we’ve all seen and lived through a lot, but, I can testify that the joy in my heart fifteen years ago has not yielded even an ounce.  It is constantly renewed and has grown a hundredfold.  I wake up every day and think, “Who am I that I should be so blessed?”  As we age, we sometimes think that the joy and enthusiasm of our youth dissipates.  But that is not how it works when it comes to our life in Christ.  He continuously restores and renews the joy of our youth and fulfills his promise, “Behold, I make all things new.”

Friday, May 11, 2012

God Is Opening A Door For Us

Peter Preaching to Cornelius and His Household

As I was praying about this weekend's readings, a line from the Acts of the Apostles touched my heart.  To give some background, Cornelius--a gentile--had received a vision where he was told to send for Peter.  At the same time, Peter had a vision telling him that Cornelius would be sending for him.  Now, Peter is in the home of Cornelius and he begins to preach the Word of God.  The line that struck me was, "As Peter was still saying this, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word" (Acts 10:44).  The Holy Spirit didn't fall before Peter spoke and it didn't fall after he spoke.  It fell upon those people while Peter was still speaking.  In some way, this line from scripture provides a balanced view on how we approach our preaching of the Word.  The fact that the Holy Spirit didn't descend before Peter preached is an indication of the importance of our instrumentality.  The fact that the Holy Spirit didn't wait until Peter was done speaking indicates that we are only servants of the Holy Spirit and not masters of the Spirit.  The Holy Spirit fell on those people and they became believers and were baptized.  How awesome is that?

Pope Benedict XVI recently wrote a beautiful letter entitled, "Porta Fidei" ("The Door of Faith") in which he declared that beginning on October 11, 2012, the whole Church will enter into a Year of Faith.  In it, he writes that we all need to rediscover the journey of faith, the joy of faith, the content of faith, the Word of God, and the zeal to be credible witnesses before the world.  I read his letter the day it came out and--once again--through the preaching of Peter, the Holy Spirit fell.  Immediately, I felt convicted that I need to make this Year of Faith my central pastoral activity from now until it ends in November 2013.  To the best of my ability, I want to spend this year preaching the Faith and implementing pastoral initiatives that will help me and my people rediscover the Faith.  I really believe that if I and my people dedicate ourselves to listening to the Word of God, the Holy Spirit is going to fall upon us in splendid ways.  That will happen not because we can manipulate the Spirit into doing our bidding, but because when we are faithful to the movement of the Holy Spirit and do His bidding, He gives Himself and brings newness and joy.

Two thousand years ago in a place called Caesarea, Peter got up and preached Jesus Christ.  While he was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon his listeners.  Two thousand years later, the Successor of St. Peter is speaking.  He is telling all of us that we need once again to return to the content of the Faith (and the content is ultimately a Person).  He is inviting us to rediscover the joy of our Faith in Jesus Christ and once again to live the encounter with Christ and to bear witness to this encounter.

Peter is speaking and already the Holy Spirit is falling down upon his listeners.  But, I trust that we haven't seen anything yet.  If we spend this year attentive to the call to Faith, the Holy Spirit is going to do something amazing.  For me and my parishes, that means that we need to plan and get ready because He is about to do something new.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Parish Priesthood: Living Where the Wolves Hunt

The Healing of the Man Born Blind

When I was in seminary, I was able to spend some time in the Navy Reserve.  Having spent assignments in Florida, San Diego, Newport, and the Coast Guard Academy, I definitely could have been convinced to stay on board as a chaplain but, as often happens, life kept getting in the way and I never had the opportunity to serve on the front lines of any great military campaign.  I do often boast, however, that while I was on duty, neither San Diego nor Newport were ever overtaken by the enemy.

Parish priests, however, do stand on a front line.  We stand right where the Gospel and the culture meet and where they often clash.  We stand where the Gospel and the complicated lives of people often slam right into one another.  In the fog of war, it is necessary to execute the theoretical plan in the real time situation.  It all sounds good on paper, but when the boots are on the ground, it doesn't always go according to plan.  If you are really going to win, a leader has to know the plan and the ground he's on, and be able to adapt to the particular situation.

In parish priesthood, this means that we have to arrive with a clear understanding of the Gospel and of the Tradition of the Church.  I always cringe a bit when I hear a parish priest basically dismiss some authentic teaching of the Church as being "too academic" or as "fine for a classroom but not going to work in the real world."  We are sent by Christ (and the bishop) to serve in the parish as one who carries the Gospel and preaches it. We are sent with the Book of the Gospels, not with a white flag of surrender. 

At the same time, we are sent with the Book of the Gospels, not with a tank.  We are sent to preach the Gospel and win souls to Christ.  We are not sent to search and destroy.  Parish priests are required daily to engage in situations that are complicated, ambiguous, and just plain messy.  It is the parish priest who regularly encounters the divorced and remarried, the man who thinks he has found true love in a woman other than his wife, the parents of a same-sex attracted person, the family of a dying patient that wants to know what the moral obligations for treatment are, and the couple who want to know why the Church says that artificial birth control is immoral.  The question isn't whether we should pretend that Church Doctrine doesn't exist or that it isn't important.  The question is how do we effectively present the Gospel in all of its beauty and radiance in the midst of very difficult situations and in the midst of constantly changing battlefields?  How do we effectively communicate the Gospel so that we win this person over to the Truth?
Today, President Obama apparently issued some statement concerning his support for same-sex marriage.  It is rather easy to understand how and why this position contradicts scripture and the constant tradition of the Church.  It is also easy to see how it contradicts natural law.  And, all of those things should be articulated by theologians, bishops, and parish priests in their preaching.  But, parish priests are on the front lines of these discussions.  We are the ones who stand face to face with parishioners.  We are the ones who deal with families.  We are the ones who sit at a counter in a coffee shop and are asked direct and pointed questions by the person sitting next to us.  "You a Catholic priest?  Why does the Catholic Church hate gay people?"  And, I should say honestly that at least in my experience, these questions are not usually asked explosively or with disdain.  But, they are asked.

There is no single way to address any of these issues.  We can certainly talk about the societal concerns and those are real.  But, those ways of discussing things always seem to move them back into the universal.  And, for the theologian and the philosopher, that's where they ought to be.  But, for the parish priest, we deal with particulars.  It is a real person suffering in that bed.  It is a stressed out mother in front of us.  It is a man who somehow really thinks that taking off with the gal from work will make him happier than he is with the wife and kids he presently has.

I'm not dismissing the universal discussions and the societal discussions.  I think that they are really important.  But, I've found that I'm more persuasive when I don't argue about the universals.  I prefer to talk about how God has a plan for us and that He loves us.  I find that when I love the person in front of me and present the Gospel to him in a way that says, "The Church says this because she loves the human person and wants all of us to be truly happy," then there is an opportunity for grace and conversion.  I've had some success stories and I've had some failures.  In the end, everybody is left in their freedom, but I hope that they walk away from the experience with the conviction that the Church loves them.  For some, that conviction will lead them to accept the truth of the Gospel.  For others, it will be maddening because it will nag at them.  They can no longer dismiss the Church's teaching as being mean or hateful.  They can dismiss the teaching, but it would be dishonest if they tried to call it uncharitable. 

There are people who do not believe that Jesus Christ is Lord.  I disagree with them.  I love them.  And, I would love to share with them the Gospel; not to be argumentative, but to let them know that God loves them and has a plan for their life that will make them truly happy.  Similarly, there are people who choose to do immoral things in their life.  I disagree with them.  I love them.  And I would like to share with them the Gospel; not to be argumentative, but to let them know that God loves them and has a plan for their life that will make them truly happy.

The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing
Every Christian can say with the man born blind, "Look, all I know is that I got up one morning and I was blind.  Then, I met Jesus and now I see."  We can bear witness to something new and beautiful that has happened in our life.  In some ways, without the introduction of Christ into these discussions, the only thing somebody has is "their situation."  But, when Christ is introduced into this situation, they are set free from the confines of their isolation and are able to see with new eyes.  Living contrary to the Gospel will never make anyone happy.  And all of us--in some way or another--are tempted to live contrary to the Gospel.  Encouraging people to live contrary to the Gospel is to inflict serious damage to the person.
The two great weapons with which we are armed are Truth and Love.  We do great harm if we mistake Truth to be a tank.  And we do great harm if we mistake Love to be the white flag of surrender.  Parish priests--and all Christians--are in an epoch battle.  The enemy is not the sinner.  The enemy is the one who seeks to destroy the sinner.  The enemy often lures people away from God and from their happiness by disguising lies in the clothing of truth and disguising lust in the clothing of love.  These are the wolves in sheep's clothing.  In the midst of this battle, is a sheep who needs to be rescued from the jaws of the wolf and led to the true green pastures.  Exposing the wolf and attempting to lead an individual to the pastures of truth can be rather treacherous. Learning how to communicate the Truth and doing so in a way that convinces others that this is a complete act of love is a never-ending task.  Thankfully, priests are given the best of models; the Good Shepherd who is Incarnate Truth and Love.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Georgetown and the Prom. Anglicans and the Faith.

Cardinal John Henry Newman

Last week, Georgetown University invited Kathleen Sebelius to be one of its commencement speakers.  I've read numerous headlines concerning the event, but none of them have produced in me the result for which those responsible for the invitation had likely hoped.  In inviting Sebelius, the University hoped to present itself as being "edgy" or as a standard bearer against Catholic Doctrine.  But instead, it has portrayed itself to be rather pitiable. The University has become like the rebellious daughter who picks as her prom date the person who she thinks will most upset her parents.  The master plan for the daughter is to ruin all of the pictures by having her date show up looking like Charlie Sheen in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.  Georgetown's choice of a speaker is less a declaration of intellectual independence as it is a declaration of adolescent rebellion.  This doesn't evoke anger as much as it does pity.

While Georgetown seems determined to place itself in opposition to the Church, this past weekend I had the privilege of witnessing the incremental growth of the Church.  On Sunday, in a small parish on the North Shore of Boston, three members of the Anglican Communion were received into the Catholic Church and confirmed by Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson, head of the newly established Anglican Ordinariate.  This is the newly established structure for welcoming Anglicans into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.  These three individuals were among a larger group who are still investigating whether they will seek full communion with Rome.

Ever since the introduction of this Ordinariate, I've had the privilege of meeting numerous Anglican priests.  Some are interested in the possibility of joining the Ordinariate.  Others perhaps are just seeking a closer relationship with their Roman Catholic counterparts.  For me, it has been a new and truer ecumenism.  These Anglican clergy and laity are interested in serious conversations about the Faith.  The questions that they have do not arise from a desire to sound provocative.  They arise from hearts that love the Lord and that are genuinely seeking Him.  In many instances, they've lived the Georgetown experience already.  They've seen what happens when ecclesial realities try to rebel against the Gospel and the Tradition.  They've watched with sorrow as institutions that they've loved have played the role of the rebellious daughter.

Sometimes, people ask what is the "new evangelization" that the pope keeps talking about?  The newly established Anglican Ordinariate is, I think, a good example of the New Evangelization.  For decades, so much of ecumenical discussions has lingered in committees, crises, and bureaucracy.  Pope Benedict boldly introduced something new into the equation.  In the Ordinariate, he has made it easier for Anglicans to have union with Rome.  And, he has done it in such a way that these Anglicans can bring into the Catholic Church all of the beauty and goodness that marks their present life.  Oddly enough, it might well be that it is the Catholic Church that ends up being the sole preserver of the Anglican heritage.

Pope Benedict provides to us a model and an indication of what the New Evangelization is all about.  Being enslaved by methods and structures that have proven again and again to produce no significant fruits, the Holy Father has opened up a new way of engaging with fellow Christians.  And he has done something on the universal level that has had an immediate impact on the local level.  I've had more engagement with other Christians in the past year than I have had in the previous fourteen years of my priestly life.  The introduction of the Ordinariate has infused new life into ecumenism on the local level.  I have seen firsthand what these Anglican brothers and sisters bring with them into the life of the local Catholic community.  Already, in my conversations with their clergy, I have found myself increasingly educated and renewed in my own priestly life.

I do not know what the answer is to Georgetown and all of the other silly attempts to rebel against the Christian Faith.  Pope Benedict's establishment of the Ordinariate, however, is a good model.  In establishing it, he did not abolish the former methods of ecumenism, but he introduced something new.  When it comes to dealing with certain of our Catholic institutions--be they universities, health care systems, religious orders etc--it may be necessary to engage them with some of our energies, but we should not let those institutions become the only option.  They should be seen as just one option.  Our attention should also be placed on doing new things.  The new movements and the new religious orders that are flourishing are part of the new evangelization.  They are where growth is occurring.  Directing our energies and our resources towards building up these realities will likely produce good and lasting fruit.  And in the meantime, we patiently try to help institutions that are still rebelling to outgrow their adolescence and become part of the new evangelization.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Facebook and the Good Shepherd

There is in all of us a desire to know the other and to be known by the other.  This desire is what made the inventors of Facebook rich.  Or better put, they recognized and skillfully capitalized on this desire and that is what has made them rich.  All day long, people are posting and reading the posts of others.  That's because deep down, there is an innate desire to know the other and to be known by the other.

Facebook, however, will never completely satisfy this yearning for knowledge of the other because this desire is really a desire for God.  Ultimately, the Other we want to know is the Eternal and Infinite Other.  And, (although I'm sure somebody has done it for Him), this Other has no Facebook page.  God, however, did not wait around for Facebook to be invented.  And he doesn't reveal Himself in a post here and a post there.  He doesn't reveal Himself in snippets.  Instead, He revealed Himself in a person, the person of Christ the Good Shepherd.  He knows the Father.  And the Father knows Him.  And the Shepherd knows His Sheep.  And the Sheep know the Shepherd.

People want to know God.  They are thirsting to know Him--whether they know it or not.  We Christians are privileged to know the Shepherd.  And yet, we are hesitant to share this good news with others.  In a sense, we are God's Facebook page.  Christ feeds us with the solid food of doctrine and the Eucharist.  He finds us when we are lost, carries us when we are wounded, and lays down his life for us when we are in the clutches of the wolf.  When we bear witness to our encounter with Christ; when we share with others our joy at being sheep of his flock; when we live in holiness of life, all of these help others to come to know the Other.  Christ is the perfect revelation of the Father.  When we live our life in union with Christ and when we share with others what Christ has done in our life, then we help them to come to know God. 

God has sent something far better than a post or a link.  He has sent His Son.  And we are His witnesses before the world.  Facebook figured out that people really are hungering to know the other and look how well they've done. 

Maybe we Catholics need to do a better job remembering that people are looking to know the Other and we need to be more joyful and zealous in sharing the good news of what Christ has done in our lives.  We have a Shepherd who feeds us, protects us, restores us, loves us, lays down His life for us, and leads us to eternal happiness.  All of the people on Facebook are looking to find just that.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Rediscovering the Joy of the Urgent Love of Christ

Eight years ago when I became the pastor of St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish, it was in the midst of an urgent financial crisis.  I can remember the finance council convening weekly for meetings that would extend past 11pm.  I won’t bother listing all of the problems that hit us all at once, but they were many and they all seemed to be “urgent.”  While I have no desire to re-live those days, valuable lessons can be learned from them.
The urgency that all of us felt in those days became a common responsibility.  We experienced a remarkable increase in the weekly offertory and the Grand Annual.  We experienced an extraordinary generosity in terms of people giving their time and their expertise to the parish.  And we experienced a taste of what the infant Church was like when St. Luke described it: “The community of disciples was of one mind and one heart.”  In short order, we accomplished a lot.  We grew as a parish, we stabilized our finances, and vocations began to flourish.  We did some amazing things—like painting the entire interior of the church.  It all began with a sense of urgency.

Interior After Painting

Once again today, there are certainly urgent matters before us.  One of my parishes confronts serious financial burdens and the other has seen an offertory that has stagnated.  There are considerable capital projects that are on the horizon that are are becoming urgent.  There are urgent moral issues confronting the culture and society that require a response. But, I would like to propose a more urgent task.  In order to feel the urgency of this task, one needs truly to be rooted in Christ and in the Faith.
There is an urgency of mission.  All the other urgencies, I think, would be more easily resolved if we felt more urgently the mission of the Church to “go and make disciples.”  And to feel this urgency, we ourselves must be convinced of the Faith and filled with love for Jesus and the Church.  When our faith is weak, we become lukewarm in fulfilling the urgent mission that is ours to dedicate ourselves to the proclamation of the Gospel.  When our faith is strong, we experience in our very bones the necessity of living the mission of the Church.  Like Jeremiah the prophet, when we truly know and love the Lord, then we are compelled to speak about Him and to dedicate ourselves to serving Him.  Simply put, either God is the most important part of our life, or He isn’t.  Either we are fully committed Christians, or we are not.
  In every Christian and in every Christian community, there is an urgency built in.  The motto of the Catholic High School that I attended--Archbishop Williams--was “Caritas Christi Urget Nos.”  It is taken from the Fifth Chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians.  “The Love of Christ Urges (drives, compels) Us On.”  One determining factor of the spiritual health of individual Christians and of Christian communities is their level of commitment to spreading the Gospel.  And of course, if this level of commitment is missing, it might well be that the underlying faith of the individuals or the community is in need of strengthening.
This coming October begins the Year of Faith.  It is given to us by the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI for the purpose of deepening our own faith and rediscovering the urgency of proclaiming the Gospel and evangelizing others.  As a shepherd, I want my parishes to rediscover the beauty of our Faith and to feel more urgently the task of evangelization.  Our parishes need priests and people who know and love Jesus Christ more and who are compelled by that love to announce Him to others. 
May the Love of Christ Urge Us On to be more faithful believers, more generous givers, more steadfast defenders of the Faith, more ardent heralds of the Gospel, and more authentic witnesses of Jesus Christ.  Together—one in mind and one in heart—let us rediscover the joy of being caught up in the urgency of the love of Christ.