Friday, December 18, 2015

Without the Friendship of the Church, I Forget What Matters Most

One of the things that I do pretty well is remembering texts, especially hymns. I can remember verse after verse of most Catholic hymns (the good ones, anyways).  Today, at the beginning of our daily Mass, I began singing one of the easiest hymns there is: "O Come O Come Emmanuel." I mean, everyone knows that one. It's like the national anthem of Advent.  

I began the song and the fifteen or so students who were with me joined in. But, around the third line, it all just suddenly stopped. It was like all of us forgot the words at the same moment. So, I just started it again. And sure enough, we got to the same line and everyone faded out!  But finally, one student softly sang the words we were forgetting and we all immediately remembered and went back to singing.

This small, comical event reminded me of something. It reminded me of why I need the Church and why the world needs the Church. Alone, we sometimes forget what is most important. Sometimes, caught up by our own anxieties and distractions, sins and failures, sorrows and pains, and responsibilities and efforts, we forget the greatest song ever written; the song of God's nearness. Emmanuel--God is with us.  What could be more important, consoling, or life changing than this central truth of the Christian Faith--God is with us in the person of Christ Jesus? But alone, we can forget God's nearness.

This is why we need the Church, why we need each other. So that the song never dies out. Even if everyone else around us forgets that God is with us, there will always be someone in the communion of the Church to remind us. The friendship that we live in the life of the Church is like a fellowship that guards a valuable treasure--the treasure of God's nearness. Through our communion with one another, we constantly remind each other that something amazing has happened, God has come to dwell among us.

The world also needs the Church. Our mission is to announce to a world that has forgotten God, "God is with us." The world has forgotten the words of the song that has the power to save it from its sorrow, sin, and death. Wherever Christians live the communion of the Church together, we become like a small voice that reintroduces the beautiful notes of the Incarnation into a dreary, cold, and empty existence. When we build a world that excludes God, we build a world that destroys man. It is the Church's mission to remind the world that God is with us.

As another semester comes to a close, I am grateful for the friendship that we share together in Christ. Together, in our friendship, we ensure that the song of the new creation continues: God Is With Us.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Christmas Bells Ring For Those Who Feel Excluded From Christmas Joy

This week, the students at the Boston University Catholic Center have been in lockdown mode as they study for and take the Final Exams of the semester. Amidst the studying, however, they have still remained faithful to the Daily Mass and to loving one another. In fact, during this time of stress and anxiety, you might think that nerves would have grown short, but instead they've outdone one another these past couple of weeks in loving each other.

The other day, a senior who is graduating at the end of this semester stopped by to see me. She hasn't been overly involved in our community, but she's been part of our extended family. She stopped by to tell me how much she wished she had been more involved. She said, "Father, I just wanted to say thank you. It's so beautiful to see how the people here are all friends with you and with one another and that you love each other so much. I just felt like I had to say that." She didn't know it when she told me that, but she made my week. 

When we live the friendship of the Church in a deep and profound way, it touches others and awakens in them a recognition that the Catholic life is truly beautiful. Every year around Christmas, I remember those who feel as though they are on the outside. The shepherds were on the outside. They were the people who dwelled in darkness and lived on the outside--both figuratively and literally. At Christmas time, there are many who feel on the outside. The experience of suffering or the effects of sin leave them feeling as though they are peering in the window watching others seated by the warmth and glow of the fire, enjoying the Christmas Feast while they remain in the darkness and cold outside. 

So many people feel this way. Some partially and others feel it almost completely. There are those who have lost loved ones, those who suffer loneliness, despair, hunger, war, betrayal, grief, illness, economic hardship, anxiety, broken relationships, the memories of past hurts, the regretting of the past, the weight of sin, and the list goes on. These experiences can make one feel as though Christmas  does not belong to them, that they are excluded from the graces that Christmas brings; that peace and joy cannot be theirs.

What a beautiful truth it is that it is precisely to these persons that Christmas truly belongs. It was to them that the good news of Christ's birth was first proclaimed. Christmas does not belong to those on the outside as by some exception. Christmas belongs to them firstly and by design. 

One way that we can announce to others the good news of Christmas is to live our Christian friendship with fidelity, joy, and love. When others see us living it together, they are drawn to it and feel included. We who live the Christmas Mystery do so not because we were always insiders. Those who live Christmas best are those who know that they are the people who dwelled in darkness and in the land of gloom, and to whom a light has appeared. When we live our friendship together, we become a sign to the world that no darkness, pain, sin, or suffering can defeat the grace that has appeared in Christ. When we live our Christian friendship together, it is a relentless, beautiful, and indefatigable song that announces that love is stronger than death.

In 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow felt the weight of heavy sorrow. His wife had recently died from injuries received in a traumatic fire. Shortly afterwards, he received word that his son, Charles, an officer serving in the Union Army, had been seriously wounded in a Civil War battle. In the midst of so much pain and suffering, Longfellow penned a poem entitled, "Christmas Bells." later made into a hymn entitled, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." In the poem, Longellow struggles with how it is possible to live Christmas in the midst of so much pain and suffering. 

In our midst, there are many persons who feel as though they are on the outside. When we live our friendships together, we become like the bells of Longfellow's poem. Our love for one another becomes the indefatigable messenger of peace on earth and good-will to men.

CHRISTMAS BELLS
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.




Thursday, December 10, 2015

Jesus and Catholicism Are Way Better Than Afternoon Television

Today I had to take a family member to the doctor's and found myself confined in a small waiting room for several hours. I didn't know it was going to take that long, so I didn't bring a book and my phone battery died. So, in this tiny waiting room with about twelve other people, I was forced to endure something horrific. For approximately three hours, the waiting room was filled with the sound of afternoon television. I had no idea that civilization had collapsed to the degree that it has!

It was awful. Most of the shows had four or five individuals sitting around a table, drinking coffee and discussing drivel. The humor was almost entirely sexual innuendo that sounded like something out of the Seventh Grade. At one point, they even discussed prayer and religion. They were solemn in their declaration that God is everywhere and you don't need to go to church to pray. One of them boasted that she is a lapsed Catholic. Then, after this fleeting moment of coming to some approximation of a serious discussion, it quickly returned to juvenile banality. Did I mention that it was awful?

Now, it was interesting because as all of these discussions were progressing, I was sitting in the waiting room dressed in clerical attire. I had the sense that some of the people in the room who were so absorbed in the television shows were also a bit uneasy because there was a priest sitting across from them. They, however, probably thought that I was uncomfortable because the only guys on the show kept referring to their "husbands." Or, they thought I was uncomfortable because of the constant sexual references. But, what was really bothering me was how foolish it all was. It was boring and empty.

It really bothers me to think that this is what passes as life for people. It was pathetic. What's worse is that in some of their discussions, they acted as though they were uttering profound things. Look, I don't mind someone making an argument on television that I completely disagree with. A good intellectual debate is great. But this stuff was just all nonsense. I felt like I was getting dumber by the second.

As I watched this garbage, I wondered how the Church is supposed to respond to this reality. How do we evangelize the people who spend their life watching this stuff? One response is to imitate this method in its totality. Sometimes, well-meaning people think that in order to attract folks to the Church, we basically have to baptize the trite. Efforts are made to imitate the culture and make Catholicism look and sound just like the world. The problem is that Catholicism is not trite. So, if you try to outdo the culture by making Catholicism into a super cool form of triteness, it doesn't work. Either you wind up being really bad at being trite or you wind up providing really bad Catholicism.  

Catholicism calls us to greatness. Catholicism calls us to a love that isn't shallow, but deep. It calls us to a Truth that isn't a soundbite, but rather a banquet. Catholicism engages the mind and the heart in a serious way. It takes life seriously. It takes humanity seriously. These programs that I endured today all seemed to give the impression that nothing really matters, that life is just a series of disconnected moments. 

I suppose the one thing that these shows realize is that people have a desire to feel connected. They want to feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves. This is a good reminder to those of us who are Catholic. People want to feel loved and connected. Evangelization ought to help people feel loved and connected.

At the same time, the Church should evangelize though living out its greatness. We shouldn't fear greatness. We should strive for and call each other to greatness.  Our worship ought to reflect the majesty of the One whom we worship. Our music ought to be of the noblest kind. Our preaching ought to be eloquent and serious. Our love ought to be big and convincing. 

There's a lot of triteness in the world. And, people seem okay with that triteness. But, the Church is not trite. The Church is about God and God is not trite. If we want to draw people to Christ and to a life of discipleship, we have to call them (through our words and example) to greatness. If we try to compete with afternoon television shows, we will always lose. We will lose either because we stink at being trite or because we stink at being Catholic. Instead, we need to show people that life is something much greater than juvenile silliness and cultural emptiness. 

People like fast food, but fast food doesn't make them healthy or nourish them. Similarly, we can all be drawn towards triteness. It's easy, requires no effort, and fills up empty time. But, such things never respect our humanity. They always leave us empty. They do not respect our intellectual capacity nor our capacity to love in a profound way. Christianity has the ability to nourish the mind, the heart, and the soul with a goodness, beauty, and truth that is substantial and profound. 

Sometimes, we can make the mistake of thinking that effective evangelization means becoming gimmicky and trite in order to win people over. But, I think that the culture is always going to win in the battle of triteness. Instead, our evangelization ought to reveal a humanity that is bigger, greater, and deeper. Our humor ought to be truly funny and not juvenile. Our intellectual conversations ought to be deeper and not shallow. Our love ought to be greater and broader. Our worship ought to engage the human person on the deepest levels and not just on the surface. Our parties, our art, our music ought to be of the highest quality. 

Where should we begin? I have two thoughts: the Liturgy and Friendship. If we celebrate the Liturgy well, we put before people the Mystery. Even if they do not fully comprehend it, the heart is drawn towards it. And, if we live our friendships well, people encounter a love that is real and true. People are starving for true friendship. True Catholicism provides a life that is filled with joy, meaning, and greatness. The people watching those shows on television want more in their life. We shouldn't give them more of the same. 

When Jesus wanted the disciples to make a great catch of fish, he told them to "Go out into the deep." He did not say, "Go shallow." Apparently, afternoon television is catching a lot of people by staying shallow. Although that is their method, it cannot be ours. Our method has to follow the command of Christ, "Go out into the deep." 


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Fallen World And The Antidote of Mercy

Today we celebrated the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary and it was also the beginning of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. I was out of bed early this morning, ready to begin the Holy Year well! Yesterday I went to lunch with our FOCUS Missionaries, but made a quick stop with them first at a local shrine so that I could go to confession and be ready for the Holy Year.

This morning when I woke up, I was determined to obtain the Holy Year Indulgence. I arrived to work early and immediately went out to find someone who was hungry. I bought some food and combed Kenmore Square, looking for someone to feed. I went through the bus stop, the train station, and the streets searching for just one person. It should have been easy, but everyone I saw was well-dressed and hustling to work or to school. I came back to my office defeated.

The rest of my day was spent doing the usual priestly works of saying Masses (extra for the Holy Day), praying a Holy Hour with our staff, and hearing confessions. At Masses, I preached about how in the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the new creation was begun. When we look around us and when we look at ourselves, we have a sense that this is not how God intended the world to be. So much sin, death, and sorrow cannot possibly be what God intended for us. But in Mary, we see the new creation. We see what God really intended for us. She is without stain of original sin. We all have a desire for the world to be the way it was meant to be. When we look at Mary, we see the beginning of the great restoration. 

While Mary was preserved from sin, all of us too can be saved from sin. She was saved in a unique way, by being preserved. But, what God began in the Blessed Virgin, He offers also to us, albeit in a different way. What God gave to Mary in a unique way, He offers to us through the Sacraments. While Mary was preserved, we can be restored. Through the Sacraments, God is restoring the Divine Image in us and bringing it to perfection within us. 

Although this is what I preached today, my entire day was punctuated with reminders that the old creation with its imperfections and sorrows is very much still at work. In the morning time, I spoke to a young couple whom I married whose young son suddenly died this week. In their anguish, I felt the heaviness of the fallen creation. A couple of hours later, I communicated with a friend who informed me that he has been diagnosed with a serious illness. Later in the day, a medical emergency in my own family once again reminded me of the heaviness of the fallen creation. And, just as I was leaving tonight after a long day, a student asked me to pray with him about a member of his own family who today was given only a short time to live.  This entire day put in front of me the suffering of the world.

In so many ways, the world feels very ill and heavy these days. Violence, political nastiness on all sides, divisions within the Church, disease, death, and so much sorrow . . . it all just seems like the world is screaming out, "It is all broken!" And yet, we Catholics went to Church today and honored the Blessed Virgin Mary and her being conceived without sin. In her, we see that the New Creation has begun and that all is not lost. All WAS lost, but all is being made new again by her Son, Jesus Christ.

I went out this morning searching high and low for someone who needed to encounter the Mercy of God. I failed. Instead, I was shown that it is the people whom I encounter every day who are in need of knowing that they are embraced by God's Mercy.  There are a lot of people who live right in front of us who at this very moment are feeling the weight of the old creation's fallen state. On this day, we turn our gaze to the beginning of the New Creation. We turn to the Mother of Mercy and through the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, we are able to offer a glimmer of hope to those who dwell in the darkness of sin and death.  In a world that seems crushed by the weight of so much darkness, the Immaculate Conception reminds us that the antidote has already been administered. Mercy not only rolls back the advances of sin and death, it also defeats them. In the face of so much suffering, sin, and darkness, we are called to live the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Mercy is the antidote that God administers to a fallen world.

My takeaway from Day One of the Year of Mercy? The fallen world desperately needs Mercy. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Christ, The King of Refugees

Today at the BU Catholic Center, we will do something that almost never happens. We will baptize a baby! Every year at the Easter Vigil, we have the opportunity to baptize students who are coming into the Church, but we do not do infant baptisms here at the University. Our music ministers--two alumni of BU--recently had a daughter, Kateri, and since this is where they are every Sunday, we will baptize her today on the Solemnity of Christ the King.

In recent weeks, there has been much discussion about refugees from Syria and what the United States should do about them. Today, I am reminded that I too was a refugee. All of us who celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King today do so as persons who are refugees.  Sin reigned over us and we were terrorized by the hopelessness that belongs to those who are surrounded by snares of death. We could not save ourselves. We were subject to the power of Satan and had no place to go.

To save us, God himself became a refugee. He descended from Heaven and became a man like us in all things but sin. He came to be close to His own, but St. John tells us that His own "received Him not." He was rejected. But to those who did receive Him, He gave power to become children of God. Those who accepted this voluntary refugee from heaven, were given power to flee the Kingdom of Death and to become citizens of Heaven.

Through Baptism, we have become children of God. We have no right to that title. It has been bestowed upon us by pure grace. Our citizenship is in heaven, not by natural generation, but by supernatural adoption. Being citizens of the Kingdom of God brings with it responsibilities. More and more each day, we must allow Christ to reign over us. Our thoughts, our words, and our actions must more and more conform to the thoughts, words, and actions of our King. When people come to America, we want them to assimilate into our culture, to become "American." So too--and far more--is it the case that we who have been saved from utter destruction by being welcomed into the Kingdom of God, must become more and more like Christ. 

As citizens of His Kingdom, we are called to submit ourselves more and more to his reign. We were once slaves, but now we are free. The more we subject ourselves to Christ and His commands, the more we experience true freedom. We are being made, by grace, into new creations. His thoughts are to become our thoughts, his words to become our words, his actions to be our actions. Every day, we are to die to our old self and to put on the new man who is Christ Jesus.

Today--in the waters of baptism--Kateri is to become a citizen of the Kingdom of God. May her baptism remind all of us to every day welcome the Refugee from Heaven into our hearts to reign over us more and more. For when Christ reigns in us, we become truly free. When Christ is welcomed into our hearts, he gives us power to become what we never could have become on our own: children of God.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Better Start Praying Because the Internet Is Not God

St. Augustine of Hippo
To continue with my last post's question about the Church needing to be a place of serenity and refuge amid so  much stress and conflict in the world, I want to say something about prayer and the Internet.

I'm old enough that I lived over half of my life (so far) without the Internet. I can still remember the first email I got and being amazed by it. I love the Internet. I love being able to keep in touch with people, read articles that I might never have otherwise seen, and learn about things that I would never know otherwise. The Internet and social media provide what appears to be an infinite amount of ideas, thoughts, articles, opinions, and opportunities to engage in discussions and debates (arguments?). But, it is only the appearance of the infinite. In actuality, it is still a finite reality.

In the end, our desire is for that which actually is infinite. Our desire is for God. We should be careful that we do not become imprisoned by the Internet and social media. The only way not to be imprisoned by the finite is to live a friendship of prayer with the Infinite. Have I prayed today? Have I read the scriptures or some spiritual reading, like the life of a saint? Or, have I become imprisoned by the cycle of news stories, political ideologies, and demagoguery? 

Sometimes, we forget that we have the privilege of living a friendship with God. Pause and just think about that. We can engage in a conversation with God! As great as the Internet and social media are, they can become inimical to a strong spiritual life. They appear to satisfy our inner hunger but, in the end, they cannot satisfy the soul's desire for God.

Social media and the internet can also imprison us in the present moment, detaching us from a sense of belonging to a culture that has been built up over centuries. We lose our sense of belonging to the communion of saints.  Snapchats disappear instantaneously, newsfeeds rapidly update, and everything becomes about what happened in the past five minutes. Reading the scriptures and the lives of the saints reminds us that we are part of a people that has a history, a foundation, and a destiny.

When you opened your eyes this morning, did you pray first or check your emails? Did you read God's Word today or did you only read words written by mere mortals on the Internet? Did you pray for others today or did you only "like" their status? Did you give God glory today or did you only glorify the political candidates of your choice? Were you more passionate today about building up the Kingdom of God or building up your fantasy football team? Were you really present to the people you were with today or were you really with your iPhone? 

This Internet examination of conscience--which should also include such things as pornography and uncharitable comments about others--is just something that might be helpful to all of us. Advent is fast approaching and so is the Jubilee Year of Mercy. It is a fitting time for us to remember that our heart desires the Infinite and that at Christmas, the Infinite became flesh and made His dwelling among us. It is a good opportunity to fix our gaze on the person of Jesus Christ. 

I'm not bashing the Internet and social media. I really enjoy them. But, this is just a reminder that the Internet is not God and social media isn't either. We need to nourish our souls through sacred reading and through devout prayer. Our heart is made for God. No amount of articles, debates, friends, followers, or likes is going to satisfy our hearts because, as St. Augustine discovered long before the Internet was discovered, "You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you."

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Catholic Church: People Have Enough Stress As It Is, So Knock It Off

Rembrandt's Storm on the Sea of Galilee 
People are under a lot of pressure. All day long, people are subjected to enormous stresses. People are worried about their health, their job, their marriage, and their children. Students are worried about grades, student loans, and future employment. People are worried about war, terrorism, and their safety. People are looking for a place where they can feel comforted, safe, and on sure footing. At a moment in time when families often collapse suddenly and easily, when a concert can turn into an occasion for a terrorist attack, and when social media becomes a method of driving people apart rather than uniting them, people are pining for a place of refuge, a place where they can find certitude and familiarity.

Many people have found such a refuge in the Church. Even while not always understanding fully her teachings or even the internal logic of her Liturgy and Sacraments, people have a sense that within the Church there is contained a mystery that is not subject to fads, whims, or circumstances, or even to the frailties or sins of its ministers or people. I think of many of my ancestors who traveled from varied parts of the world to the United States. So much of their life had changed. Languages, cultures, and environments were completely different, but, amid all of this, they were able to find comfort in their Faith. They were able to discover within the Church, the stability, serenity, and solace that escaped them everywhere else.

At this particular moment in the life of Western Civilization, when so much of society is shifting and destabilizing, the Church and its pastors ought not to become yet another source of confusion and stress. Instead, the Church has the opportunity to become a refuge, a rock, a stronghold, a place of rest. There is already so much division, controversy, and confusion in the lives of so many people. The Church will not win them over to Christ by turning Christianity into another place of division, controversy, and confusion. Why is it that so many people love the 23rd Psalm? It is because it provides a sense of security, stability, and nourishment. In Psalm 23, one realizes that no matter how stressful the circumstances, the Shepherd is leading, feeding, giving rest, reviving, and restoring hope. This ought to be the model of the Church's pastoral life.

Several years ago, an older man who was a construction worker came to me. He said that the priest in his parish was upset at the archdiocese and would begin every homily by asking the people, "Are you angry? It's okay. I'm angry too. We should be angry." The man said to me, "Father, I have a hard job. I  am angry six days a week. I go to Mass on Sunday because it is the one place all week that I'm not angry, and I have this priest telling me I should be angry there too!"  

These days, there are many people seeking to stir up controversy, chaos, and uncertainty within the the life of the Church. I agree that some of the Church's structures and bureaucracies are inimical to the living out of a healthy ecclesial life. So often, these structures and bureaucracies become the place where new life is smothered and the Church's growth is stunted. It is the structures and bureaucracies that ought to be reinvented, not the Church's doctrines nor its familiarity and fraternity. 

Provoking a false war between truth and mercy, doctrine and pastoral practice, or the Holy Spirit and Revealed Truth, will not draw people to Christ. They have enough controversy, chaos, and stress in their life as it is. My experience is that people are really searching for communion, serenity, and certainty. They are searching for something that, amid so much change and instability, is dependable and enduring. What is so beautiful in my experience is that at first glance, many people cringe before such doctrines. "This is the Body of Christ." "Marriage is a permanent union." "You must forgive your enemies." "You have to go to Confession." "Jesus died for you."  And yet, although they might cringe the first time they hear these or any other number of truths, they come back. They come back because in the midst of a life filled with insecurities, anxieties, and fears, they hunger, thirst, and pine for something that doesn't shift according to the latest popular meme on Facebook.

This is beautifully expressed in the liturgical life of the Church. The liturgy is stable, familiar, and not subject (at least in theory) to the whims of a particular person or congregation. This stability and familiarity provides to the person who goes every week, and the person who has been away from the Lord for a long time, a sense of peace that only the Lord himself can give. Amid so much chaos and anxiety in the lives of so many people, the Church can be the place where each of us can echo the words of the Psalm 62: "In God alone is my soul at rest." There is plenty of chaos, controversy, contention, and anxiety in the lives of people as it is. If the Church wants to draw others into her fold and into life in Christ, she ought to provide people what they are really searching for: truth, goodness, beauty, and communion. It is truth, goodness, beauty, and communion that continually win me over to the Church and draw me closer to Christ. 

Bottom line, people have enough stress as it is. Let's not add to it  by concocting theological controversies or by doing the Devil's work of sowing doubt into the hearts of the Faithful. Instead, let's provide people with the only antidote to being tossed about by the waves of controversy: Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Catholic Radio, Vacuum Cleaners, Pope Francis, and Nuns--For Love Alone


This past weekend I had the opportunity to speak at an event commemorating the fifth anniversary of Catholic Radio in Boston. The topic was Pope Francis' visit to the United States. What follows below was my attempt to offer an interpretation of what his visit means for the Church in the United States. If you would like to learn more about Catholic Radio in Boston, you can go to http://www.1060catholic.org Also, they have a mobile app that allows you to listen 24 hours a day, seven days a week to great Catholic programming. If you'd prefer to view the talk itself rather than read it, here is a link to it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SN4k_pzFAyo&feature=youtu.be

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Twice a year the Catholic Center at BU goes on retreat, and last year the students put together a retreat centered upon the theme of evangelization. Among other things, the retreat had a series of five minute skits which, I have to admit, the older I get, the more I enjoy.


One skit--written by "The Skit Guys," was entitled, “The Vacuum Salesman.” It involved a door to door salesman--played by one of our students, Rachel. Very excitedly, she went to her first home, knocked on the door and launched into her speech, but after only a few words, she looked behind the potential customer and said, “Lady, your house is disgusting. How do you live in such a pig sty? I don’t even think I’d be able to demonstrate this vacuum in there until you move some of that stuff out of the way.”  To her shock, Rachel found the door closed in her face.


Seeing the need to readjust her sales technique, Rachel went and diligently studies everything she could about her vacuum cleaner. When the door of the next home opened, she was fully prepared to share her knowledge.  Rachel didn’t even notice that the person she was speaking to was a child. She immediately launched into her newly refined sales pitch and in what seemed like one long breath she said:


“This is the one and only Super Sucker DC-8000-Z. Basically, you have your intake port and your exhaust port. We’re talking 1400 Watts, here. You got your LGS telescopic wand, plus KS-5 allergen filtration. Oh, and it comes with HEPA filters and multiple LGN9-R rotating brushes. Well, actually, I think this model comes with LGN9-V rotating brushes. The LGN9-R brushes were actually on the DC-7000-Z model. And if you look here, it’s obvious that…” At which point the child yells, “Mom, there’s a crazy woman at the door!”


That skit came to mind when I was asked to give this talk.
When Pope Benedict XVI came to the United States in 2008, he gave a beautiful homily at St. Patrick’s Cathedral where he explained various features of a cathedral and how those features teach us about the Mystery of the Church and our own vocations within the communion of the Church. He pointed out how the stained glass windows flood the inside of the church with mystic light. But from the outside, those same windows can appear “dark, heavy, and even dreary.” It is only from the inside of the Church that one can experience their beauty.  


Honestly, whenever I read or hear a commentary on Pope Francis and what he is trying to accomplish, I have a sense that the author is just making it up. We all have a desire to get a handle on what exactly Pope Francis is saying and doing. We want a coherent, easy to read manual that doesn’t have any loose ends.  I think it is highly unlikely that we are ever going to get that. With some popes, if you want to understand their program, all you have to do is carefully read their writings and you can assemble rather quickly a pretty good outline of what their pontificate is all about. I think Pope Francis’ pontificate is less definable by his written words than it is by his gestures. When I think of Pope Francis’ pontificate, what jumps to mind is not a quote, but an image: Pope Francis leaping out of a moving car with his security detail hurriedly trying to catch up to him. He leaps out of that car because he is moved at the moment to embrace a child, a person in a wheelchair, someone who is suffering etc.


I think one possible key to understanding Pope Francis’ pastoral visit to the United States is that he is primarily focused upon the people standing outside of the cathedral who see the Church as being dark, foreboding, and even dreary. Those of us on the inside, bask in the radiant and mystical light that illuminates the Church’s life. But, what is going on in the inside of the Church is often incomprehensible and even uninteresting to those on the outside. Like the vacuum cleaner salesman, we sometimes talk too much like vacuum salesmen attending the vacuum salesmen convention. We use a language that has become almost entirely foreign to the world outside.


To be clear, I love the language of the Church. But, some of our language and way of doing things is not easily accessible at first. These things come later. They cannot be disposed of or ignored. But, first, we need to get the person in front of us to step over the threshold of the Church and enter in.


I regularly hear from Catholic students about how they are made to feel uncomfortable for their Catholic beliefs. Perhaps a professor dismisses the Catholic Church or mocks it in a class.  In one instance, a student who had become friendly with a professor, one day wore his Catholic Center T-Shirt to the lab.  The professor was flabbergasted and asked, “Are you Catholic?” He said, “Yes.” The professor said, “Like go to Mass on Sunday Catholic?” He said, “Yes.” The professor asked, “So, you hate gay people then?” The young man was surprised by the question.


While questions and comments like that might anger or annoy us (because we know that they are based in falsehoods and misrepresentations) they come from people who stand outside of the Church. They see the Church as irrelevant, dark, and dreary. The population of people who stand on the outside of the Church and feel this way is not shrinking. It is growing. And sometimes, we fall into the trap of playing the character role assigned to us from the outside. In other words, in reaction to being characterized as people who are incomprehensible, foreboding and dreary, we react in a way that is . . . well,  incomprehensible, foreboding, and dreary.


In his address to the US Bishops, Pope Francis said “Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor, it has no place in his heart; although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing.” Those of us who  find ourselves daily fighting the good fight, can sometimes feel strangely self-satisfied when we’ve won an argument and gotten the upper hand on our opponents. But, at the end of the day, the question really is about whether we have done anything to draw that person inside of the Church or have we simply left them outside, angrier than ever?


I think a key component of Pope Francis’ visit is what I quoted above: “Only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing.” Many of those who commentated on the Pope’s visit did so in terms of major issues, moral battles, and political agendas. But I think we should not allow ourselves to be lured into that trap. Instead, I think that we should see his visit to the United States in terms of Pope Benedict’s image of the Cathedral. Pope Francis is trying to meet the people outside of the Cathedral and speak to them not in a language that turns them away, but with a language that they can understand: the allure of goodness and love.


He speaks to them about unemployment, worrying about a sick relative, loneliness, drug addiction, and many of the other hardships that afflict them and their families. He doesn’t do this as a way of dismissing all of the beautiful truths that are central to the Catholic Faith, but rather as providing an invitation to draw closer to these truths.  In his address to the bishops in the United States, Pope Francis said, “To this end, it is important that the Church in the United States also be a humble home, a family fire which attracts men and women through the attractive light and warmth of love. As pastors, we know well how much darkness and cold there is in this world; we know the loneliness and the neglect experienced by many people, even amid great resources of communication and material wealth. We see their fear in the face of life, their despair and the many forms of escapism to which it gives rise.”


I am certain that there are any number of ways that people have interpreted Pope Francis’ pastoral visit to the United States. Mine is just one interpretation among many others! I do think, however, that if you are looking to understand his visit, this image of the cathedral is helpful. Francis’ visit was intended to teach us how to draw others into the Church.
Each year during Holy Week, the bishop of every diocese gathers with his priests for the Chrism Mass. At this Mass, the Holy Oils that will be used to administer the sacraments for the coming year are consecrated by the bishop and during that Mass, the priests of the diocese renew their vows.


The Gospel for that Mass comes from the Fourth Chapter of the Gospel of Luke. Jesus, as was his custom, entered the synagogue, and then he was handed a scroll from which to read. Jesus read from the 61st Chapter of the Prophet Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord" (Lk. 4:18-19; cf. Is. 61:1-2).  Having read those words, Jesus handed the scroll back to the attendant and, St. Luke tells us, “The eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently upon him.” And then Jesus said, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”


This Gospel passage describes the first and most important pastoral visit ever made, the pastoral visit of Christ the Good Shepherd to the human race. He came--by the power of the Holy Spirit--to preach good news to the poor, release to captives, to grant recovery of sight to the blind, to free those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Every pastoral visit and, in fact, the entire mission of the Church finds its origin in Christ’s own pastoral mission. Our mission is to draw others into the beauty and radiance of life in Christ.


Those who often stand outside of the Church and who are shaped by current secular influences are people who can be very moved by the plight of the homeless, the victims of drugs and violence, and the loneliness experienced by so many. While we may disagree with their perception, these people often perceive Catholics to be uncaring, cold, and judgmental. What often wins them over--or at least opens them to not dismissing us as irrelevant--is when we outdo everyone else in loving those who, as Pope Francis says, are on the peripheries.


If this were all a theory, I think it would be a waste of time. We need to see real life examples of this taking place. I want to point out one place where I think we can see this method of witnessing to the love of God and remaining completely faithful to the Church’s Magisterium evident.


Recently, the BU Catholic Center screened a short film entitled, “For Love Alone.” This film is produced by “The Council of Major Superiors of Religious Women,” an umbrella group of some amazing orders of religious sisters in the
United States. These orders--like the Missionaries of Charity, Little Sisters of the Poor, the Sisters of Life, the Daughters of St. Paul, and many others are completely faithful to the Magisterium of the Church AND are filled with such joy, goodness, and love. These sisters, in my opinion, are a perfect example of how fidelity to the Church and “the allure of love and goodness” are not mutually exclusive realities. Unfortunately, some people set up a false dichotomy which suggests that one cannot be doctrinally solid and be loving at the same time. The sisters highlighted in this film are an unstoppable powerhouse of truth and love.


These beautiful sisters--who live within the radiance of the Church can teach all of us how to live in such a way as to attract others to Christ. They are leading the way in living the joy of the Gospel.


In the gospel that I quoted earlier, St. Luke tells us that “the eyes of all looked intently upon him.” Pope Francis’ visit to the United States--much like the visits of John Paul II and Benedict XVI--drew the attention of the American People. The eyes of the nation looked intently upon him. In looking at Pope Francis, they were looking at the Church, and in looking at the Church, they were looking at the Body of Christ. They were looking intently at Christ.


All of us on the inside of the Church who bask in the radiant light and warmth of Jesus Christ, do so not because we are good, but because God is good. We find ourselves inside of the Church because God loves us--the sinner, the poor, the oppressed, the blind, and the captive. He loves us so much that He sent His Only Begotten Son on a pastoral visit--a visit that led us from slavery to freedom, from blindness to sight, from the outside of the house of God to the inside.


Pope Francis’ pastoral visit is a reminder to all of us who are privileged to live within the household of God that through the “allure of goodness and love,” we can draw others to experience the joy of the Gospel--the joy that comes from knowing and experiencing the supremely good news that God has visited his people and set them free.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Day in the Life of a Priest

Priesthood is a pretty good life, I'd say. Over the past few days, I've just had a lot of small experiences that make me really happy. 

On Sunday morning, our Men's Group gathered and one of the college students gave a talk on mental prayer. He spoke about reading St. Theresa of Avila and learning from her how to do Christian meditation. Afterwards, all of the college men who were gathered there prayed the Rosary together. 

Also on Sunday, I was asked many times throughout the day, "Padre, do you have time for a quick confession." Whether sitting in my office or standing outside of the interdenominational chapel before Mass, hearing that "quick confession" is always a joy.

On Sunday afternoon I met with a couple preparing for marriage and with someone who wants to be baptized.

In the afternoon on Sunday, our FOCUS Missionaries met with probably 20-30 students for a monthly formation meeting.

In the evening, I had supper with a Jesuit scholastic who does his pastoral pastoral formation with us at the BU Catholic Center. I am edified by his example and friendship.

On Monday night, after Mass and Holy Hour and Benediction, I went out for a bite to eat with our FOCUS Team and our intern, Joe. We were celebrating Joe's birthday. We live something good together.

And that brings us to Tuesday, today. Today Joe--our intern, Fran--our Office Manager, and I spent the first part of the morning just debriefing after our major fundraiser for the year. Then, our team had its daily Holy Hour together with Adoration, Morning Prayer, and Benediction. Then, I heard confessions and had Mass. After that, Joe, Fran, and Bobby--our former Intern and now seminarian--had lunch together. Again, I found myself thinking how blessed we are to live such a beautiful friendship together. When I find myself at table with these people, with students, or with our FOCUS Missionaries, I am always aware, "We love each other."

This evening, we had a full house for our weekly spaghetti dinner. I was really happy to see that several of our neighbors from the Hillel House next door joined us. It was great to have them there! 

After dinner, the BU Catholic Center screened a new short film entitled, "For Love Alone." This film, put out by a wonderful umbrella group of sisters--The Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious--was truly excellent. We were joined by numerous consecrated women religious who shared with us their experience of religious life. I think it is safe to say that everyone who attended was really grateful for the presence and vocation of these women. It was a great night!

In the midst of all of these varied "big" events were a thousand far more subtle moments: seeing two friends pray together, a conversation about prayer, a discussion about vocational discernment, a student returning from feeding the homeless, a lot of joyful exchanges, and a lot of friendship. (And the all important nap).

I know that none of the things I mentioned above sound all that momentous. But they are moments packed with a tremendous joy and with profound depth. Priesthood is lived in these moments. You live with a constant sense of awe and wonder that you have been drawn into a Mystery far beyond anything you could ever invent or achieve. You live your whole life caught up into something far beyond what you deserve.

After eighteen years of priesthood, I am still surprised by how beautiful a life it is. It's never boring or stale. It remains something constantly new and surprising. What we live together at the Catholic Center is for me an assurance that Christ continues to faithfully fulfill his promise that those who follow him will receive the hundredfold.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Presence of the Poor and the Presence of Christ

Melvin (Photograph by Eileen Clynes, New England School of Photography)
On a door stoop in Kenmore Square near Boston University and Fenway Park, one could almost always find Melvin. And if he were gone for a little while, his stuff might still be piled up there, neatly folded and organized. Melvin has been a fixture there for at least the few years that I've been at BU. 

Sadly, I never had much of a conversation with Melvin. I'd pass by, drop some money into his donation cup or provide him with some leftover pizza. The other day I went out for pizza nearby to Melvin's spot and the person I was with said, "Did you see that? There's a sign on the stoop that says, RIP Melvin." I regret now that I never took the time to know Melvin. 

On more than one occasion, I was touched to see students from the BU Catholic Center sitting with Melvin, conversing with him, laughing with him, arms around his shoulder, and having a great time. For many of us who passed him by on a daily basis--busy going to lunch or home from lunch--Melvin was an opportunity to give to the poor. But for some of the students at the BU Catholic Center, Melvin was a person. He was a sign of God's presence in the world. In taking time to talk to Melvin, those students encountered Christ. Perhaps some of them never gave Melvin money. But, they gave him love. And, from the looks of them as they conversed with him, Melvin gave them love too. Melvin seemed to love that door stoop. It makes me wonder now if his main reason for being there was not to beg for money or food, but to beg for love, for human contact, and for friendship. Perhaps what he was truly begging for was to be part of our lives.

Come Monday morning, students will be hustling to and from classes, buses, trolleys, and taxis will be making their way through Kenmore Square, and people on their way to and from lunch will rush by the stoop where Melvin sat and greeted people. A presence will be gone. Whenever I saw Melvin, I thought about him as being "the poor." But with his passing, I have a sense that Melvin was the rich one and those of us who didn't take the time to know him were really the poor. 

Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." The Gospel this Sunday is about a man named Bartimaeus who sat at the side of the road, begging. I will offer my Mass for our Melvin and pray that he who only possessed a small door stoop in this life will now be housed in the mansions of heaven. I will also pray that more of us become like the students at the BU Catholic Center and will not be blind to the persons whom God places in our path.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Mercy: Someone Died for Me. Now What?

Ever since I was a young boy, I loved movies about World War II. Even though I loved so many of the great black and white movies made long before I was born, one of the truly great films about World War II has to be, Saving Private Ryan. The scenes covering the D-Day invasion itself are captivating. You will recall that the film's plot revolves around an Army unit sent to find and bring to safety a young man named, Private Ryan. Private Ryan's three brothers have all been killed in action and the Army is determined--even in the midst of all of the chaos of the D-Day invasion--to find Private Ryan and return him safely home so that his mother does not lose all of her sons.

In the process of saving Private Ryan, almost the entire unit is killed. Towards the end of the film, the commanding officer of the unit is mortally wounded and his dying utterance to Private Ryan is, "Earn this." In other words, "All of these men lost their lives in order to save your life, so live a life that is worthy of such a sacrifice." This scene came to mind as I thought about the words from the Prophet Isaiah today. Isaiah, in foretelling Christ's death, said that he was "crushed in infirmity" as an "offering for sin." Christ died for me. Do we think about this every day? Do we think that someone died for me? Someone gave their life for me so that I could live? Do I think about that?

It is true that none of us ever could "earn" what Christ did for us. None of us will ever pay him back or be deserving of his sacrifice. But, at the same time, his sacrifice for us deserves a response. I should constantly be aware that a man died for me. And not just any man. The Son of God himself died for me. Do I live in a way that respects that fact?

I often wonder if many of us hear the language of mercy and misunderstand it. I think when many people who were raised in my generation and after hear about mercy, we think that it means that God looks down and sees our sins and chooses to ignore them. We act as though God is way up in heaven looking down and saying, "Yeah, that David Barnes is a total mess, but out of mercy I will just leave him being a total mess and kind of look the other way." But, this is not mercy! God reached down to us in mercy. He reaches down and lifts us out of our mess! Mercy means that someone died for me! Christ did not die for me so that he could leave me in my sins. He died so that he could reach down and pick me up from my sins. He reached down so that he could lift me up. Mercy means someone died for me. Mercy means that Christ carries our humanity into the sanctuary of heaven.

In the opening prayer of today's Mass, we asked God to "grant that we may always conform our will to yours." This is what Christ's grace and mercy do for us. His grace and mercy lift us out of our sinfulness and enable us to conform our will to the will of God. They make us able to live a life worthy of our calling. Certainly we don't earn what he gives to us, but his mercy and grace do not leave us in our sins, but rather lift us up. Christ didn't die for us so that we could safely lead a life of sin. He died so that he could lead us from sin and bring us to God. 

This week, let us keep constantly before us the image of Christ on the crucifix. This is true mercy. A man--the Son of God--died for me. He gave his life for me so that I could rise above my sinful way of life and have union with God. Christ is a priest. He enters the sanctuary of heaven robed in our flesh. He is robed in our wounds and weaknesses. He enters victorious into heaven because he has conquered everything that holds us down in the mud.

Each of us has our own weaknesses and struggles. Pride, Anger, Lust, Envy, Gluttony, Avarice, and Acedia are the usual suspects. As we remember Christ crucified, it's true that we can't "earn" what he's done for us, but we can respond appropriately to so great a gift. This week, let's choose one thing that we will do that will allow God's grace to help conform our will to his. If we are prideful, maybe we can hold back our opinions this week. It always comes as quite a shock to me that when I don't offer my opinion, somehow the world still manages to go on! Or, if Anger is our affliction, let's practice patience this week with the people close to us or give up blowing our horn in traffic! If lust, let's practice maintaining custody of our eyes--not looking at impure images and not looking at others as objects. If envious, let's practice saying kind things about the people of whom we are envious. Gluttonous: give up various foods each day or limit alcohol consumption. If greedy, make sure that each day I am generous with my resources. And if spiritually lazy, wake up fifteen minutes early each day and pray or make sure that your first conversation each day is with God and not with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, email, or texts!

Okay, just seven suggestions. Pick just one and practice it for a week! Or pick your own. You've got the idea. Someone died for us. He died not to leave us dead in our sins, but to lift us up from them.  He died so that we could come home safely to heaven. So, let's allow His Mercy to pick us up and to carry us all the way to the Father's House.




Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Synod, Doctrine, Pastoral Practice, and the Good Shepherd

As the bishops gather in Rome for the Synod on the Family, there is a phrase being used that can sometimes be interpreted incorrectly.  It is said that this Synod is not about "doctrine", but rather about finding "pastoral solutions." For the outside observer--and even for many within the Church--this can make it sound as though doctrine exists exclusively way up in some unattainable cloud and that the "pastoral" exists down in the weeds of every day life, unaffected by doctrine. Pastoral solutions, however, are not the opposite of doctrine. Pastoral solutions are about helping persons to live the truth of the doctrines, not creating safe havens from those doctrines. If the Synod intends to provide pastoral solutions, it needs to do so by helping people to live the doctrines. The doctrines are not oppressive. They are beautiful! 

We all fall short of living the full Catholic life. The good pastor is not the one who finds creative ways around living the full Catholic life. The good pastor is able to find the best way for the particular wounded person in front of him to live the Catholic life in all of its fullness. While the current situation has been focused upon the pastoral care of the divorced and remarried and their reception of the Eucharist, I'd like to offer another example. I realize that every analogy necessarily falls short. I offer this example not to equate it with the issue of the divorced and remarried, but simply as an analogy.

The Gospels teach that we must forgive our enemies. Every pastor has been approached by persons who have acknowledged that their heart is filled with hate. Perhaps the person hates a politician or perhaps the person hates his spouse, a parent, family member, priest, bishop, friend, acquaintance, or stranger. Perhaps when we hear the person explain the situation, we can easily understand why he or she has reacted so strongly. We hear the story and feel a closeness to this person. Perhaps they were unjustly or viciously treated. We can totally appreciate why they feel the way that they do. 

The reason that the person is in front of us in this moment is because the Scriptures are filled with admonitions, teachings, and instructions stating that the disciple of Jesus must forgive. The person in front of us might be filled with a hatred and an unwillingness to forgive. They know that there is a gap between what Jesus demands and where they presently are. In that moment, the good pastor is the one who is able to assist that person to move from hatred to love. Sometimes it would be easier to tell that person, "Hey look, that person was a jerk to you. God can't possibly expect you to love that person after what he did to you." But, that is not a pastoral solution. A pastoral solution that is detached from the doctrine or seen as an alternative to the doctrine is not a pastoral solution. A pastoral solution is one that leads the person to live the fullness of the doctrine.  In this example, the true pastoral solution will be to help the person move from hatred to charity, from bitterness to forgiveness, from anger to peace. 

Separating the pastoral from the doctrinal is to surrender hope that the person in front of us is able to live the full truth of the Gospel. In the example above, separating the pastoral from the doctrinal would be to say, "This person has been so wounded that it is best to leave him in hatred, bitterness, and anger. After all they've been through, it is impossible for them to live a life of charity, forgiveness, and peace." But this is not a true pastoral program. A true pastoral program does not leave the patient hopeless of ever regaining health.  A true pastoral program acknowledges the deep wounds that are present, diagnoses the causes, and prescribes the best possible method to restoring full health. 

Those who draw too much of a distinction between doctrine and pastoral care should exercise great caution. The two are intimately linked. The doctrine has to shape our pastoral practice and our pastoral practice--to be worth anything at all--must lead to a fuller living out of the doctrine. The joy of the Gospel is not only discovered in the doctrine itself, but also in the amazing truth that by grace, we--wounded and weak--can live in accord with that doctrine! The Good Shepherd--the one who provides true pastoral solutions--loves us so much that he takes the wounded sheep upon his shoulders and carries him to the green pastures of solid doctrine. 




Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Priesthood Is Lived As a Constant Surprise

Joe and I Praying at the Relics of St. Maria Goretti (Photo by George Martell)
After an exhausting retreat this past weekend with 70 BU students, I thought that our intern, FOCUS Missionaries, and I needed a day off, so the Catholic Center was closed on Monday. Around Noon, I met up with Joe, our intern and we had Mass together before walking to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston in order to venerate the relics of St. Maria Goretti. If you do not know the story of St. Maria Goretti, it is a beautiful testimony to purity and to the power of mercy. While kneeling there, I especially prayed for all of the young people (and especially young women) I've encountered at the BU Catholic Center and in my previous assignment. I also entrusted some vocations to her intercession.  In the evening time, the parents of one of our FOCUS Missionaries treated all of us to dinner. It was a great evening with a lot of laughs. 

At the heart of our First Semester events is our Fall Retreat. The retreat is put together by six students along with out intern, Joe. They not only organize the theme of the retreat, but they also attend to the million details that are part of such a huge undertaking. One of the best parts of preparing for this retreat was seeing our FOCUS Missionaries, retreat team, and intern all on their phones reaching out to students whom they have met or students who had mentioned on their registration cards that they'd like to go on a retreat with us. I think one of my favorite moments on retreat was when one of the new students said, "Father, thank you for making me come on this retreat." Occasionally I apply a little bit of pressure to help people make the right decision about coming on retreat . . . . 

The Fall Retreat takes place in a beautiful location in New Hampshire. It is beautiful, but it is freezing cold! Built as a summer camp, the cabins are unheated and in October, that means it is very cold! A week before the retreat, the weather was predicting massive rain storms. That would have been a disaster! We, however, were saved and while cold the first two days, we were spared the rain. On Sunday, the sun was shining and 55 degrees felt like a warm summer day!

The retreat was great! The talks were given by Fr. Eric Cadin who is a relatively newly ordained
Among the saints Fr. Eric focused upon during our reteat
was Fr. Damien of Molokai. Here is Fr. Eric kneeling at the grave of Fr. Damien
priest in the Archdiocese of Boston and is currently assigned to the Vocation Office. He gave some wonderful talks, provided a prayerful example, hung out with the students, and spent a couple of hours of free time playing football with some of the retreatants. One of the great joys of priesthood for me is introducing great people to one another. I felt very proud to introduce Fr. Eric to our community and to introduce our community to Fr. Eric. I think it is safe to say that by the end of the weekend, there is a mutual love between them all.

In addition to Fr. Eric's conferences, two students and one FOCUS Missionary gave witness talks about how Christ has worked in their life. These witness talks--that are a staple of our retreats--are always amazing. It is so encouraging to hear people share their testimony.

The Faithful Four
At the end of the retreat, one of the busses transporting students broke down. All but three of our students and one FOCUS Missionary were able to squeeze into one bus. Those four volunteered to remain behind and wait for a couple of more hours to be picked up.
Their example of joyful generosity and service to others is typical of these four and a great witness.

For the most part, I tend to use this blog as the place where I offer my witness.  It is the place where I am able to point out specific examples of living the joy of being Catholic and living the joy of being a priest. The specific place where I encounter Christ today is among these university students and our small staff who serve here. If the Church is supposed to be a place where people are welcomed and experience Christ's love, then the Church is alive and well here at Boston University. If every parish in the United States had just a fraction of what these young men and women are living together, the Church would be growing exponentially.  I am privileged to live this experience with them.  I hope that you are encouraged by what you see here. I wish I could explain it better, but there's just too much to say and too few words to say it. 

As a priest, I feel like it is my responsibility to be the first one who is surprised, moved, and awed by what Christ is doing. My repeated experience is that when great things are happening in the life of a Catholic community, it is not because we caused it or figured it out. It is because we have obediently followed where the Spirit moves us. As I survey what God is doing among us here, I am surprised, moved and awed. After eighteen years of priesthood, it makes me so happy that I wake up every day and am still constantly surprised by God's goodness.