Monday, September 18, 2017

Evangelization: There Is A Clear Choice

St. Paul wrote in his First Letter to the Corinthians, "But we preach Christ Jesus, and Him crucified; a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles." One would think that if Paul were trying to win people over, he might change up the message a bit. How about re-brand the product in order to increase market share? Shouldn't his pastoral and missionary plan be more consumer friendly? And, let's not forget that there were lots of issues going on in the communities to whom Paul was writing and preaching.  There were issues of sexual immorality, factions, lack of attention to the poor, and community members jockeying for position. If St. Paul was trying to build up the parish collection and increase numbers for the parish census, perhaps he should have found a more attractive message than saying everything depended upon one, crucified man. But St. Paul was not trying to convince people to attend his parish. He was trying to save them. He was not afraid to place before them a clear choice.

Two thousand years after St. Paul preached, another saintly apostle arrived on the scene. Pope John Paul II preached all over the world and, in a remarkable way, he powerfully touched the hearts of young people. John Paul's preaching moved the hearts of young people because he trusted Christ and he trusted the desire of young people to be challenged to greatness. He knew that some would reject the Gospel, for thus has it ever been so. He also knew, however, that some would hear this Word and leave everything to follow Christ. John Paul was not afraid to tell the world that there was a choice to be made. There was a choice between life and death. There was a choice between selfishness and true love. There was a choice between light and darkness. There was a choice between Christ and the world. He held out this choice to all. He made it clear that the choice for Christ and His way of life was the most important decision a human being could make. John Paul II was unafraid to announce that this choice had consequences.

To choose Christ--to take up the Cross and follow Him--means that your life will never be the same. It means laying down your life. It means saying no to many things. It means dying to self. Some, like the Rich Young Man in the Gospel, will walk away from this call. And this is truly a source of sadness. For those, however, who accept this call, they become new creations. No matter how many times they may fall along the way, those who follow discover that only in Christ is the true way to happiness.  He makes all things new and leads man to the Father.

It is difficult to put my finger on it, but it feels as though so many current "evangelization" efforts are falling flat because they do not make any definite proposal. They do not offer a clear choice. Instead, it sounds like, "We are trying to keep our parish open and need you to come. Keep doing whatever it is you happen to be doing, but do it here at our parish." This is a long way from "Take up your Cross and follow me." Our efforts often sound more like membership drives than they do the proclamation of the Gospel. Yes, parishes need to be places where people feel welcomed, but they also need to be places where the clear and unambiguous proposal of the Gospel is proclaimed. Evangelization has to be about Jesus Christ more than it is about our parish. Of course parishes and Church institutions should be welcoming, engaging, and friendly. And, of course, we should always be working on those things. But, parishes and other Church communities have to be more than just social clubs. They have to stand as a constant proposal and invitation to people to follow Christ.

The same is true about priestly vocations.  "Do you like to work with people and have a sense of adventure?" is not a helpful vocations promotion. The way to promote healthy vocations is to say, "Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Are you willing to lay down your future and your life in order to be his priest?" Some will say no. Others will say yes. The choice, however, is clear.

When it comes to the moral life, ambiguity does not make the Catholic Church more attractive. In fact, it makes it far less attractive. It is far better to be a Church that proclaims the full truth of the Gospel, than to be a church that appears to hide its moral teachings in the hopes of attracting more members. The Catholic Church is at its best when it clearly teaches the Truth. Part of that truth is that we all are weak and we all stumble and fall. We all struggle. Part of that truth is that when we fall, the Lord is ready to pick us up and put us back on the right path. But, part of that truth is that there is, in fact, a right path. There are many wrong paths. There is only one right path. That path is Christ and Him crucified.

In the Garden of Eden, the serpent attempted to sow ambiguity in the relationship between God and man. "Did God really say this?" Where before there was utter clarity, "You shall not eat of that tree or you will surely die," now there is ambiguity. "Did he really say . . . ?" The serpent attempts to convince man that God's clarity is somehow unloving and untrustworthy. God placed before man a clear command. The serpent introduced ambiguity.

What made John Paul II such a great evangelist is that he trusted Christ and he trusted the human heart. Proposing to others the Truth of the Gospel in a clear and unambiguous way is an act of love. And people--especially young people--respond to this clarity. We can know the Truth because the Truth has revealed Himself. The Truth calls us to greatness. The Truth is the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ loves each human person and calls each person to eternal happiness. The path to happiness, however, demands a response. It requires a clear "yes," or "no." It requires the Cross.

Whenever I heard John Paul II preach, I knew two things. Firstly, I knew that Jesus Christ loved me and secondly, I knew that Jesus Christ--and Him crucified--was the path to eternal life. Both things were crystal clear.

Ambiguity is a fog that leads people astray. What we need in our evangelization efforts is to announce Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. 






Tuesday, September 12, 2017

To Some Friends Who Aren't Going to Mass: I Love You and You're in Danger

St. Charles Borromeo
One of the saints of the Church for whom I have devotion is St. Charles Borromeo (1538-84). Recently for my meditation time, I've been reading a newly published collection of his orations, homilies, and writings. St. Charles lived during turbulent times in the life of the Church, and he met those times with pastoral brilliance. He was a true shepherd after the Heart of Christ. He loved his people, was close to them, and was an exemplary pastor. St. Charles was serious about renewal in the Church, and he saw that renewal in the Church had to begin with the interior renewal of individual Catholics, most especially bishops and priests.

In his pastoral advice, St. Charles implores the shepherds of the Church not to become mere observers of their flocks. The shepherds of the Church are men on the watchtower whose duty it is to warn the flock of dangers. Like a true pastor, Charles mentions a common fear that can be present in the shepherds of the Church. He says that we can become hesitant to fulfill our pastoral duty of warning of dangers when, "we see the aroused irritation of mind" of those to whom we are preaching. He says that we can cower from warning them, lest we be rejected and hear them say, "This is how we have been living for a long time, thus did the previous generation live and behave. There is no need to change anything in our way of life."

St. Charles warns that pastors who fail to warn their flocks of such dangers will eventually stand before the "irate judge" who will reproach them and ask, "If you were the watchmen, why were you blind?" "If you were the apostles, why did you forgo apostolic strength and instead do everything for the eyes of men?"As I prayed over these words today, the faces of people whom I love came to mind. Some of them, I know have stopped going to Mass on Sundays. Some of them, I suspect no longer attend or do so only on occasion.

Their faces brought two sentiments to my heart. The first was a great affection. In His goodness, the Lord entrusted these people, at one time or another--now or in the past--to my pastoral care. He appointed me as a watchman to serve them and to warn them of danger. Priests are not like hired hands who have no regard for the sheep. Priests are conformed to the Good Shepherd, and so they love the flock. The flock is not just a job to the shepherd. The shepherd knows his sheep and they know him. There is a beautiful and indescribable affection that the priest has for those whom he is called to shepherd.

The second sentiment that came to my heart when these people came to mind was guilt. I realized that some of them I've just allowed to wander away. I stopped seeing them at Mass (or suspected that they were no longer attending Mass ) and I didn't call out. I may have hinted. I may have opened the door to a conversation, but I didn't say to them, "I'm worried about you. I'm afraid that you are in danger."  Such a dramatic remark risks irritating someone whom I love. Such a remark could spoil the friendly pleasantries that we exchange when we run into one another in person or on social media.

But, God wants more for me than to have pleasant acquaintances. He didn't call me to be a barber or a bartender. He called me to be a shepherd, a watchman. The friendly pleasantries that I share with them are only good if they are instrumental in me being a better shepherd to them. The friendly pleasantries are not an end in themselves. Sometimes, in order to save the friendly pleasantries (which I enjoy), I hesitate to warn the wandering sheep. And not warning the sheep when they are in danger makes one a bad shepherd.

So, as a first step in better fulfilling my priestly obligations, I am writing this post. If you've wandered from the Sunday Mass, you're in serious danger. I tell you that not to burden you, but because I love you. I am offering a warning. (I hope I'm not coming across as a person who harangues or yells at someone for "being a bad Catholic").  In fact, the very first sentiment that my heart feels when I think of you is pastoral love. I'm not judging you or condemning you. I'm just concerned for you. Not worshipping God is serious. Being deprived of the Eucharist is serious. Wandering away from Christ's Church is dangerous. The longer you are away, the more difficult it is to return. The farther away you wander the more precarious is your situation. 

Perhaps at first you felt some guilt or some trepidation? But now, the longer you've been away you think, "Well nothing terrible has happened. I sometimes feel regret, but no lightning bolt has struck me."   What the person in this situation doesn't understand is that the catastrophe has already occurred. The wolf has already attacked. The catastrophe is to be away from the Lord. Gradually, little by little, the sheep is led away. Away from the Lord--away from the Mass--they forget the sound of the shepherd's voice. Soon, they listen to the voice of strangers who only seek to destroy. They listen to the voice of wolves dressed in sheep's clothing. They are seduced by lies....lies which eerily sound like the ambiguous serpent in the garden, "Did God really say . . . ?" 

I am certain about two things. Firstly, if you've been away from the Sunday Mass, you are in serious danger. Secondly, the Good Shepherd loves you and is asking you to return. Oh, one more thing I know: I love you too and if I can help, let me know.

In fact, I love you so much, if I don't see you, I'm going to give you a call.







Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Joy of the Gospel Preached to a Priest


"First Week." That's what everyone at the BU Catholic Center calls the first week of school. It means much more than just "the first week of school." It means an all-out offensive to reach out, meet, and welcome new students. Every day is filled with events designed to allow new students ("new" meaning first time students and also students who have never been part of the community) to discover the beautiful friendship that exists among the Catholic community at Boston University. It is amazing how much work the Catholic Center students put into "First Week." This year, we had a particularly great First Week. It's completely exhausting (and the next few weeks will be more of the same), but it is that good kind of tired. It's the kind of tired that comes from knowing that the Holy Spirit is at work in our community.

Today (Sunday) kind of marked the end of First Week--even though it really is the beginning of a new week. Our Masses had that "something great is happening" feel. I want to share just one thing that transpired this week.  It was basically the very last thing that happened during First Week. I don't have experiences like this very often, but it really stopped me in my tracks. And, I know that when I try to write about it, it will fall short and not sound all that impressive!

Tonight after our last Mass of the day, I was leaving the church and noticed a young man (a graduate student) whom I had met last Sunday. He was kneeling in prayer. As I passed by, he came over to say hello. We chatted for a few moments about how his first week at BU was going, and then I said, "You always looks so happy."  (He was smiling and just had a very joyful expression on his face.)  He said, "Really?" I said, "Yeah, you're always smiling." What he said in reply was spoken with such purity that it actually made my eyes fill up. Smiling away, he said, "Oh, well I just received Holy Communion."

He didn't say it in a way that sounded "Holy Roller." There was a beautiful purity and sincerity to it. In that moment, I knew that I had just heard the Gospel proclaimed to me. It was like a homily, a retreat, a theological course on the Eucharist all in one brief sentence and in one smile. "Oh, well I just received Holy Communion." These simple words spoken with such joy and purity were a total surprise to me. In that brief moment, I realized that God was speaking to me. God wanted me to love the Eucharist more. God wanted me to believe in the Eucharist more. God wanted me to be filled with greater gratitude and joy for the gift of the Eucharist. That brief encounter was filled with the joy, freshness, and newness that are hallmarks of the Gospel. The Gospel never is old, and its newness and power are never exhausted. 

Although we went on to speak about a few more things, my mind and my heart were still in that moment when he testified to the Eucharist. Even now, a few hours later, I am still struck by that beautiful encounter. The purpose of First Week is to reach out to new students and to evangelize them. This year's First Week culminated in a new student evangelizing me. When we gather--two or three in the Name of Jesus--He is in our midst. He speaks to us and teaches us. We encounter the beauty of truth.

All true Catholic Evangelization begins from and leads to the Eucharist. I bet our churches would be filled if all of the Catholics who received the Eucharist on Sunday had joy and happiness written all over their faces on Monday. People might ask us, "Why are you so happy?"  All we would have to say--with simplicity and purity--is, "Oh I just received Holy Communion yesterday."






Monday, August 21, 2017

Follow the Good Shepherd. Ignore and Unfollow the Ambiguous.

My social media feeds are often filled with replies and responses to the musings of a rather popular social media priest. Many times, the responses are from faithful Catholics who are angry about something this priest has written. His posts are designed to bait faithful Catholics. On cue, they respond harshly to his posts, which then allows him to say, "Look how unchristian these supposed Catholics really are."  

He usually won't come right out and contradict Catholic doctrine, but he masterfully undermines it. Sometimes he says things that are outright false. Either way, he provokes people into responding and, by doing so, stirs up publicity for himself and cleverly gets his message out there to more people.  In other words, the people who do most of his work in spreading his harmful musings, are the people who are arguing with him online. He provokes them into becoming angry so that he and his message appear like the victims, and those defending the Catholic teaching appear (sometimes rightfully so) mean and angry.  

Mystery and ambiguity are not synonymous in the theological life. In the Christian dispensation, Mystery reveals Himself. Mystery is a Truth that we can come to know and to love.  On the other hand, those--especially those entrusted to be shepherds in the Church--who sow ambiguity about God, the Church, and the moral life obscure the Truth. They do not help people to walk in the light. Rather, they lead them deeper into the darkness. The shelf life of such ambiguity is short. Ambiguity does not create converts. Ambiguity does not create vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. Ambiguity does not lead to repentance and the Sacrament of Confession. Ambiguity abandons the Cross, the Sacraments, and doctrine.  Ambiguity is the drunk guy at a bar trying to be a philosopher, "But do we really know that we are here right now?  Maybe we are somewhere else or maybe we don't even exist." Such statements are intended to sound profound, and maybe if you are drunk at 2am, they sound that way. But, if you're sober, they sound absurd because that's what they are.

Undermining the Catholic Faith and sowing ambiguity is not intellectual. Frankly, it's boring, lifeless, and going nowhere. When faithful Catholics take such ambiguity seriously (getting upset and arguing), we give it way too much credit. It's so much better to ignore it. Mystery communicates new life. Ambiguity brings death. Is it upsetting to watch a shepherd lead others astray? Of course it is.  But, perhaps the best fraternal correction that we can offer such a shepherd is to refuse to be his publicity agents.

The Catholic life is truly beautiful. We can defend it best by showing how that life is beautiful and filled with grace and holiness, not by anger and bitterness. The Good Shepherd leads his flock to life giving pastures and He feeds them. Follow Him. Unfollow those who lead astray.





Thursday, July 6, 2017

Give Me Jesus

The passing of time intensifies within us the tendency to romanticize the past and to become nostalgic  for a time that never really was. Today, however, I had the opportunity, in a sense, to travel back in time and to discover that the "good o'l days" were, in fact, just as good as I recall. 

This morning, I attended the funeral for a wonderful woman who lived across the street from the house where I grew up.  Despite the fact that every time I saw her over the years she would say, "Call me Simmy," she was always, "Mrs. Koch" to me. During summer evenings the adults would sit out on their porches and yell across the city streets to one another as dozens of neighborhood kids would play games until the street lights came on. Mr. and Mrs. Koch were kind of the patriarch and matriarch of the street, overseeing things from their second floor porch. They were a couple who raised their large family to become men and women who were dedicated to helping others. One of their sons is the mayor of our city now.  He still finds time to shovel my parents walkway when a winter storm comes.

Today at the funeral, Mrs. Koch had maybe a dozen concelebrating priests in the sanctuary and the pews of Sacred Heart Church in North Quincy (pronounced "Quinzee!) were packed. But what most struck me was not the numbers of people in the pews, but the faith that filled that church. Mrs. Koch had the funeral of a believer.  The priest who preached at her Funeral Mass was one of the priests who lived at that parish for decades.  Nearing eighty, he climbed the pulpit steps a bit more slowly than in the days when I was his altar boy.  Once he settled into that pulpit, however, out came the lion of yesteryear, his voice rising and lowering in a style of preaching quickly disappearing from the Catholic landscape. He was masterful in the pulpit . . . just as I recall him being decades ago. 

As he preached, I recalled the many other priests--some present at the Mass and others gone home to God--for whom I served as an altar boy. Before the Mass, one such priest reminded me of the different jobs that I worked in middle school and high school.  He's been gone from that parish for well over 25 years, but he remembered those things.  It reminded me that I grew up in a parish where the priests were close to the people. They knew one another. There was a friendship among the people there.

I ran into many people from my youth there. Many of them didn't recognize me. (I chalk that up to a decline in their eyesight rather than to my aging.)  But there they all were, people who have spent their lives together in that parish. Some have moved elsewhere, but for a moment, it was the old Sacred Heart again. These were the people who sang and danced in parish shows, the kids whom I'd spent weeks with hanging Christmas lights on all the exterior trees around the church when we were in high school. There was the charismatic prayer group of which Mrs. Koch was a leader. There were the people who reminded me that I was a brat as a kid and how I would torment the nuns in the school. 

At the end of the Mass, Mrs. Koch's son, Tommy (the mayor) spoke some words.  He began by saying that when his mother was dying, she told him that he better not use her eulogy to say, "She made great cookies."   He said, "I told her, don't worry, I won't. To be honest, your cookies weren't all that great."  He said that his mother would want him to talk about Jesus.  And that's the truth.  If all anyone had said about Mrs. Koch was that she was a believer, that would have been enough.  In the end, Mrs. Koch was a believer. She loved the Lord. She loved the Eucharist.  I always say that there can be no greater consolation to a family when a loved one dies than to know that the person for whom they mourn loved the Eucharist.  Jesus himself says that whoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood has eternal life.  Everyone in that church today was consoled because none of us can give himself eternal life.  But, for the one who believes and loves the Lord, for the one who loves his Body and His Blood, we have the consolation of His promise. 

After Communion, some of the singers sang a song that I imagine was dear to Mrs. Koch. It simply repeated, "Give Me Jesus." "In the morning when I rise, give me Jesus." "When I am alone, give me Jesus." "When I come to die, give me Jesus."  "Give me Jesus. Give me Jesus. You can have all this world. Just give me Jesus."  Mrs. Koch loved Jesus. There can be no greater consolation to her family than that.  She wanted Jesus. 

I often tell the students who attend Mass at Boston University that their presence at Mass serves as a great witness to me.  You can have a big funeral, but if it isn't about Jesus, it doesn't much matter. What matters is Jesus. Only He is the Resurrection and the Life. Today, as I returned to my home parish and prayed for Mrs. Koch, I saw what happens when people live the Faith together down through the years. Faith means walking when it doesn't always seem so clear.  The church today was filled with people who did just that. They remained faithful over the decades, even when they didn't feel like being faithful. They remained faithful to their vows. They remained faithful to the Lord. They remained faithful to the Church. In the end, fidelity pays off. 

Mrs. Koch had many accomplishments in her life, but her greatest accomplishment was living her life as a faithful disciple of the Lord. If you want to live life well and if you want to end life well, then let your prayer be that of Mrs. Koch's, "Give Me Jesus."

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

"Come, Follow Me" Is As New Today As It Was Then

It's been a long while since I've blogged.  Between a pinched nerve and some laziness, I haven't had the discipline to write recently, but I encountered such beauty during the past few days, that I wanted to share the experience.

Each summer, the Vocations Office for the Archdiocese of Boston hosts a retreat for the Boston seminarians up at the Franciscan Guest House in Kennebunk, Maine.  The retreat is more of a relaxed atmosphere and strikes a healthy balance of prayer, talks, sports, and fun.  This year, I was the speaker for the retreat. The general path that my talks took were: 1. The Seminarian and the Priest need to be faithful to the purity and certitude of their original encounter with Christ; 2. Fraternity and living the Evangelical Counsels of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience, help us to live the memory of our encounter with Christ; 3. Living in the Gaze of Christ makes us able to be Good Shepherds who better prolong the presence of the Good Shepherd in the midst of the flock; 4. And lastly, just some practical advice about being a parish priesthood.

The focus of my talks was that the priest's humanity is critical to being a good shepherd and that we should help one another to live our humanity more fully.  Although that was what I spoke about, of far greater import was the visible witness of the seminarians themselves.  The few days were an extraordinarily beautiful testimony to what fraternity ought to look like.

The retreat was for men studying for the Archdiocese of Boston and included seminarians studying at St. John's Seminary in Brighton, St. John XXIII in Weston, the North American College in Rome, the Redmptoris Mater Seminary in Boston, and Our Lady of Providence College Seminary in Providence Rhode Island.  Since the men attend different seminaries, they have few opportunities to be together.  Several of them commented to me about how great it was to be all together.  The priests from the Vocations Office, Fr. Daniel Hennessey, Fr. Carlos Suarez, and Fr. Eric Cadin did a tremendous job making the retreat a time of true fraternity. Being vocation directors can often be a thankless job.  They deserve to be thanked.

There were other people staying at the Guest House during these days.  This morning, as I was sitting on the porch, a woman came outside and asked, "So, was that you singing last night?"  I asked if we had kept her awake.  She said, "Yes. I went to bed at 9 pm, and I could hear all of those voices singing and instruments playing, and I thought, "Isn't it great to be young? Isn't it great that these seminarians are so joyful?"  She was referring to the fact that last night, all of the seminarians were playing instruments, singing songs, and having an amazingly beautiful and joyful time.  Somebody should have filmed it because it was the best vocation promotion possible.  In front of my eyes were young, joyful men living a true fraternity.

Another joyful part of the days together was hearing the seminarians share their testimonies.  There really is something so moving about hearing them testify to how the Lord called them and how they are responding to that call.  Repeatedly over the past few days, other guests staying there commented how wonderful it was to see such good and joyful men studying for the priesthood.  

It has been my experience that when people see joyful, healthy, intelligent, normal seminarians and priests living in friendship together, they are really moved by the experience.  It is encouraging.  For the readers of this blog who are from Boston, let me assure you that you have some really extraordinary men preparing to be your priests. God is answering your prayers! You will LOVE these guys.

I went to the retreat with the intention of conveying the critical importance of priests being men with a deep humanity and living that humanity in friendship. My words, however, were really just an affirmation of what these men are, in fact, already living and doing.  The retreat was filled with men praying, surfing, fishing, playing soccer and frisbee, singing, and living their calling with a profound humility and sincerity. I'm telling you, what I saw was extraordinary! I went to this retreat hoping that I might impart some words of wisdom. Instead, I simply stated what was already entirely obvious to these guys.

I am very grateful to the priests from the vocations office and to the Boston seminarians for the privilege to be with them these past few days.  In these days together, they allowed me to stand once again in front of Jesus Christ, to see his eyes upon me, to be moved, and to hear once again his invitation, "Come, follow me."

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Surprising Joy of Priesthood on the Road to Emmaus

I had an amazingly fantastic day today. I don't even know how any of it happened, but it was a great day. 

In a few weeks, I will celebrate the twentieth anniversary of my priestly ordination. When I arrived at work this morning, the BU Catholic Center was in a flurry of activity. The place was decorated, food was cooking, students and staff were busily setting up chairs, and parishioners from my thirteen years in Beverly were among the workers.  Two BU alumni who are now seminarians were also there with big grins on their faces.  Both of them served as interns at the BU Catholic Center after their graduation and before entering the seminary. They looked eminently pleased with themselves. As usual, Fran, our Office Manager, was running around doing everything and, in charge.  Turns out, about 200 or so friends (and family) from BU, the Seminary,  St. Mary Star of the Sea in Beverly, and some priest friends managed to surprise me by coming to Mass and then having a reception at our Catholic Center. It's been a whirlwind of a day, and I don't even understand what exactly happened or how it happened. I've heard that it was just word of mouth.  

It was great to all be together for Mass, and I couldn't have asked for a better Gospel!  Today, the Liturgy proposed for our consideration, the Gospel of the Road to Emmaus. Several years ago, Pope Benedict XVI preached at the Cathedral of St. Patrick in New York.  He said that the Church is a lot like a cathedral. From the outside, the windows look dark and foreboding. But, when we step inside, we experience their radiance, their warmth, and their transcendent beauty.  Similarly, if we only look at the Church from the outside--as objective observers--we can be left feeling cold and unmoved. But, if we step into the life of the Church, then we encounter the Risen Christ and are warmed by his joy and love. So much of priesthood for me has been the experience of walking together with others and encountering Christ together in his Word and in the Breaking of the Bread. When I read the Gospel of the Road to Emmaus, I do not feel like an observer. I feel like a participant. Their experience on that road is my experience. As I've walked along, Christ has come to my side and spoken to me and fed me.  

The Easter readings are filled with joyful surprise. "He is not here. He is risen!" "Although the door was locked, he came and stood in their midst." And today, he breaks the bread and vanishes from sight. Earlier in the Gospel, the disciples begged Jesus "Remain with us!" When Jesus vanishes, he is not abandoning them. He vanishes after the Breaking of the Bread because in the Eucharist, he responds to our earnest desire for his presence to remain with us.  

As a priest, it is a joyful privilege to be at the continual service of the ways in which Jesus remains with us.  He remains with us in His Word....as he speaks to us along the way. It is a privilege to be a preacher of the Word.  He remains with us in our companionship. One of my favorite parts of being a priest and one of my favorite parts of this day, was that people were brought together.  People from the seminary, people from my old parish, people from BU, and brother priests.  They were all together and experiencing the communion of the Church. The communion that only Christ can establish.  And lastly, and most importantly, as a priest I have the privilege of being the minister of the Eucharist.  I have the privilege of feeding Christ's sheep with his Body and Blood.

I'm wiped out after an exhausting day of rejoicing with some amazing people. I often say that one of my favorite lines from the Psalms is, "He has put into my heart a marvelous love for his people."  Tonight, my heart is filled with a marvelous love for his people; people whom I have met along the journey for the past twenty years.  People who have worked with me, people who have studied with me, people who have been my parishioners, and people who have been part of the BU Catholic Community; people who have shared in priestly ordination with me.  People who have invited me into their homes, into their confidence, on their vacations, into their vocational discernment, into their suffering and joys. People have prayed for me and with me. I absolutely loved watching people from different parts of the Church meeting one another and growing in friendship together. I think another favorite part of today was that not only were there friends present, but there were people who became friends through other friends. In other words, I could see how the circle continues to grow.

There was a lot of goodness present today. There was a lot of surprise. The room today was a reminder that the surprise of the Resurrection is not something relegated to the past. It is still happening. As I looked around at Mass and at the reception, I knew that I am living Christianity from the inside. In the extraordinary friendships that Christ has blessed me with during these past twenty years--friendships with people of all ages and all vocations--I can join my voice to those of the two disciples in today's Gospel: "For the past twenty years, my heart has burned within me as we've walked upon the road together."

Thank you to all of those who had a hand in putting today together and to all of those who came. Your friendship and communion restore the joy of my youth, make my heart really burn within me; burn with the surprising and loving presence of Christ, and you make me want to live the joy of priesthood with greater holiness and zeal. You make me love the priesthood. 




Saturday, April 29, 2017

The New Life of Christ at Boston University

Confirmation Today with Cardinal Sean O'Malley (Photo by George Martell)

I gave up social media for Lent and that kind of turned into a fasting from blogging as well, for the most part.  It came as a great shock to me that the world could go on without my opinions.  At the end of Lent, just as I was ready to start posting again, I wound up with a problem with my neck that really knocked me through a loop.  It's been a tedious (and, thus far, incomplete) process getting back to normal. It meant that for Holy Week, I mostly had to take a back seat. Thankfully, friends of mine came to my rescue.  Even though I haven't posted much, I thought I'd share with you some great photos from our Holy Week and from a Confirmation Mass that Cardinal Sean did for us today.  

Unfortunately, I don't have any photos from our Good Friday Service or from our Live Stations of the Cross that takes place in the middle of campus.  Because I was out of commission, two friends of mine who work in the Vocations Office covered much of the Triduum for me. Fr. Hennessey did  Holy Thursday and the Easter Vigil, and Fr. Eric Caden did the Good Friday Service.  Additionally, Fr. Hennessey helped me out hearing confessions on Good Friday. We both heard confessions for 90 minutes non-stop.  Additionally, five other priests helped me on Tuesday hearing confessions for two hours.  One of my great joys as a priest is introducing great Catholics to one another. So, although I was not able to lead most of the Holy Week events, it gave me a lot of joy to facilitate the encounter between our great students and these great priests.  
                                                           

Holy Thursday

Reading






Washing of the Feet
Fr. Daniel Hennessey Elevating the Host 

TheAltar of Repose
The Easter Vigil



Fr.Hennessey Blesses the Fire





Deacon Michael Wegenka, SJ  Holding the Paschal Candle










Exultet



The Epistle






I got to come off the bench for the homily and for the Baptisms and Confirmations




Catechumens Approaching the Altar

Blessing of the Easter Water


Catechumens Rejecting Satan and All His Empty Show



Professing the Catholic Faith


I Baptize You . . .




















I got to Baptize seven new Christians!


The Newly Baptized Sharing the Light of Christ!

I Received this man into the Church and heard him profess that he holds and believes all that the Catholic Church teaches!


Then I got to Confirm Ten Young Men and Women!






This young man was baptized Catholic but never received any of the other Sacraments. I Confirmed Him.  The following Sunday, I saw him in the Communion Line with a huge smile on his face!




The Culmination of the Easter Vigil is the Reception of Communion by New Catholics




Our New Catholics and Their Sponsors





Our FOCUS Team

One of the things that has really amazed me about College Ministry is how organized the students are.  We had a magnificent Triduum and, in large part, that was due to the generosity of our musicians, servers, and Liturgical Committee.  They really amaze me. I am also grateful for how our Office Manager, Fran, who does EVERYTHING.  She had a box for each day, filled with whatever I needed for the Liturgy for that particular day.  Every priest needs a Fran.  And, I am grateful to Evan Kristiansen who took the majority of these photos.



There Better Be Some New Vocations From This Crew.....that's all I'm saying.


Lastly, a couple of weeks after Easter Sunday, Cardinal Sean has a Confirmation for colleges in the Boston area.  Two of our students were confirmed and a group of their friends showed up to support them.  





I am grateful this Easter that I am blessed with good priest friends who helped me out.  I am also grateful for the students and staff at the BU Catholic Center who really are beautiful examples of Christian discipleship.  I hope that you all enjoy these photos and can sense from them that something beautiful is happening in the Church.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

St. John Vianney and The Annunciation

Many of the older parishioners who gathered in the parish church that day could remember a time when their parish was spiritually dead and the confessionals of the church were home more to cobwebs than to penitents. They likely could recall their parents and others whispering about the peculiar new priest who had recently arrived and how he would be spotted praying in the church at all hours of the day and the night.  Now, decades later, their saintly priest lay dying in the rectory, and their once empty church was filled with souls whose lives had been converted through his ministry.  At the conclusion of the Mass, the church bell began to toll and a procession made its way to the rectory in order to bring--for the last time--the Eucharist to Fr. John Vianney.  

As he heard the bell tolling, John Vianney began to weep.  His tears were not the tears of sadness or fear. They were the tears of a man who was completely taken up into the Sacred Mysteries. They were the tears of a believer. They were the tears of a saintly priest who had given his entire life to preparing souls to receive the Sacraments and preparing the for heaven. His tears are best interpreted by his very own words.  As the priest carrying the Blessed Sacrament arrived at the threshold of John Vianney's room, John Vianney said in his typically pure and penetrating way, "How good the Good God is! When we are no longer able to go to Him, He Himself comes to us."

John Marie Vianney was a man who lived the Mystery of the Annunciation. When, through sin, man was no longer able to go to God, God Himself came to us. Through the instrumentality of the Blessed Virgin Mary, God entered into the home of humanity, bringing with Him all that is needed to bring man back to God.  Mary was filled with wonder at such a proposition, "How can this be?"  John Vianney--the patron saint of priests--spent the entirety of his life living from this exact same wonder. "How good the Good God is! When we are no longer able to go to Him, He Himself comes to us!"

Whether it was daily at the altar, offering the Holy Sacrifice or whether it was in his daily imprisonment in the confessional where he would spend most of the day hearing confessions, or whether it was in his teaching catechism, bringing the Sacraments to the dying, or long hours of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, John Vianney was caught up in wonder at the Mystery of the Incarnation. God had come in search of those whom he loved.  

In the Mystery of the Incarnation, the Blessed Virgin was filled both with profound wonder and with profound humility.  John Vianney was a true son of Mary. He shared in her wonder and humility.  How could God be so good to us? How could this thing happen? Why would he choose me to be his instrument? How is this possible? How could this poor young girl become the Mother of God? How could this simple man command bread and wine to become the Body and Blood of Christ? How could this sinful man absolve the sins of others? 

Today, on the Solemnity of the Annunciation, I think of those whom the Lord is calling to be his priests. He is calling them to be men who are caught up in the Mystery of the Annunciation. He is calling them to be like the Blessed Virgin Mary who put her whole life--body and soul--at the service of her Son. Through her, God drew close to man. Through the priestly ministry of St. John Vianney, sinners were visited by the mercy and love of God. They received healing, strength, and forgiveness.  In every age and in every place, God draws close to man through the Sacraments. All of those who are lost, who are immersed in the darkness of sin, who experience profound alienation from God, all of those who are unable to go to God because of the weight of their sins; to them, God draws close to them through the ministry of the priest. 

Today, as we rejoice on the Solemnity of the Annunciation, we do so because we recognize our desperate was humanity's plight. We were unable to go to God. But He Himself came to us.  For any man considering a vocation to the priesthood, I hope that this calling fills you with profound humility and with wonder. We are servants of the Incarnation. What pure joy it is to think that our whole life could be completely placed at the service of such a great Mystery: "How good the Good God is. When we were no longer able to go to Him, He Himself came to us."


Monday, March 20, 2017

Freedom Is To Leave Your Water Jar Behind

Every day the woman from Samaria went to the well to draw water. Every day, she thirsted. St. John tells us that she came there at around Noon. Presumably she went there at that time because she could avoid others. She had lived a scandalous life. Already she had had five husbands and the one she was living with now was also not her husband. She went alone to the well. She was ashamed. While others probably went to the well during the cool hours of the day and maybe socialized a bit, she avoided others. But, she was still thirsty.

We too are like this woman. All of us are wounded. We search for love, for meaning, for respect. We thirst to be satisfied. On this particular day, the woman of Samaria was confronted with the truth of her life. Like her daily trips to the well, her whole life had become a constant search for happiness.  These many "husbands" of hers, were they not a desperate search to be loved? A search for respect, a search for someone who cared deeply for her? A search for someone to satisfy her profound desire for someone who loved her in truth?  Every day, she went to the figurative well of sin. Hoping that this man might finally be the one to love her the way she desired to be loved. 

All of us are deeply wounded. Every day, like the woman of Samaria, we bring our bucket to the well. Typically, there are four wells from which we tend to seek to satiate the wound within us. We drink either from the well of pleasure, power, possessions, or prestige.  Daily, in our emptiness--our loneliness--we travel to the same wells, hoping that they will give us what they never do: the healing of our spiritual wound.

Some are inclined towards going to the well of pleasure. Whether it be through food, alcohol, drugs, pornography, fornication etc. People bring their empty buckets to this well in the hope of being satisfied, but they always leave emptier than when they arrived. Their wound only deepens. They feel more lonely, more used, and less loved.

Some take their bucket to the well of power. Forcing their will upon others. Their life is marked by antagonism and anger. They drink from the well of control, manipulating others and caring only about getting their own way. It is an exercise in total frustration. One only need look at the political climate of our day. People who drink from the well of power are never satisfied until everyone holds their political beliefs. They are willing to sacrifice civility and even friendship in order to win the argument. But, they will never be satisfied. The well of power lacks the power to heal the wound.

Some go daily to the well of possessions. "If only I buy this one more thing, then I will be happy." People arrive daily at the well of possessions with their empty buckets. The ability to buy things without ever leaving our homes certainly has its benefits, but it also leads people to seek to satisfy their longing for love through the acquisition of things. Online shopping, cable stations dedicated to home shopping etc, are all designed to convince wounded people that possessions will make them happy. How many profoundly lonely people become increasingly more isolated and lonely buried beneath amidst an endless pile of worthless possessions? They keep filling their buckets with "the thing that will really make them happy," but they are back again the next day, because their bucket is empty again.

Some go to the well of prestige.  They seek happiness in appearing to be successful. They attempt to fill their emptiness by filling their bucket with the esteem and praise of others. Whether it be by their physical appearance, their grades, their talents etc, they thirst for approval and applause. But, like all of the other wells, it is never enough. When others do well, they become sad and envious. They need all of the approval for themselves. The wound only deepens.

The woman at the well, she went there every day. Always thirsty. Always empty. Until this day. Jesus told her that he would give her living waters and that she would never be thirsty again.  One of my favorite lines in the Gospels comes from today's Gospel: "The woman left her water jar . . . ."  All those years that she had come to the well with her water jar. All of those years of emptiness and the exhausting and useless efforts of attempting to satiate her thirst!  All of that had now come to an end. She encountered Jesus and he gave her living waters. She would no longer be thirst again. She no longer needed that water jar. She left it behind. 

What heals the wound in us--what heals our profound thirst for love and for meaning--is what St. Paul says in today's Letter to the Romans: "The Love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."  It is the Holy Spirit who heals our wounds and frees us from the drudgery and slavery of going to the wells of sin. Our desperate search to heal our wounds, to satisfy our thirst, is over. It is only in Christ and in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that we are free to surrender our water jars.

I propose that this week, we all spend some time asking the Lord to show us our wound. What are the wells that we go to day after day, hoping to find satisfaction? What are things that we do day after day that are really desperate attempts to satiate our profound emptiness? Do we see that these trips to the wells of pleasure, power, prestige, and possessions are only deepening the wound within us and making us even emptier?  Then, invite the Holy Spirit to enter these wounds. The Holy Spirit--the unction of God--heals the deep wounds that are present in all of us. There is good news today. If you've been going to the well of sin repeatedly day in and day out--feeling increasingly ashamed, lonely, isolated, empty etc--there is a way towards freedom. Christ came to pour the Love of God--the Holy Spirit--into your heart. And when he pours the Holy Spirit into our hearts, we are free to leave a water jar behind.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Five Helpful Hints for Lenten Mountain Climbers


Dear Friends in Christ,

Tomorrow. as ashes are placed upon our foreheads, we begin the holy season of Lent. Admittedly, I am always way more enthusiastic about Lent a few days before it begins than I am in the days after it begins! The initial enthusiasm can devolve rapidly into a sloth like slog. So, as we step off from the Liturgical season of Ordinary Time and begin the ascent known as Lent, let's keep some helpful things in mind.

1. We have a destination. We are climbing a mountain. We are on our way to a more perfect union with God. We are not going in circles. We are going up! Being invited to such a lofty destination is a privilege, not a curse! God is drawing us up to Himself. Climb with Hope! Climb with your heart fixed on the destination. Yes, at times the road and the path will be difficult, but remember the destination! 

2. Pack light.  Many of us when we travel, pack way too many things. Any experienced traveller, however, would recommend traveling light. Climbing the mountain with a heavy pack can quickly discourage us. Similarly, in the ascent to union with God, the things that we are asked to surrender are  meant to help us travel more easily and more quickly. As we make our way up the mountain of Lent, perhaps we will discover that we have packed too much.  Too much food, too much drink, too much entertainment, too much vanity, too much pride, too much envy, too many possessions. As we make this ascent, let's not fear lightening our pack. Fasting and almsgiving can help make the climb easier. What are the things in life that are weighing you down from going more quickly towards perfect union with God? Is keeping them really worth the cost? Whatever we take out of our pack, replace it with more humility. Paradoxically, the more we fill our pack with humility, the lighter we become and the easier is our ascent.

3. We are in this together. We support each other with our prayers and with our friendship.  When we are tempted to give up the ascent or to cut corners, remember that the others are helped by our perseverance and by our example. I know that there are some folks who are able to ascend more easily on their own, but I'm not one of them. For me, having the companionship of fellow travelers spurs me on towards the goal. I'm depending on you. 

4. The Holy Spirit is working within us. This is really the most important thing about Lent. Let the Holy Spirit do most of the work. Stay in the state of grace! Go to confession, receive the Eucharist worthily and devoutly, and pray, pray, pray!  More and more, let the Holy Spirit do the climbing for us. The supernatural virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity, the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the Sacraments are the indispensable fuel of the Christian mountain climber. 

5. No discouragement! If you fail, fall, or stumble, don't get discouraged. Sometimes, when somebody stumbles in the spiritual life, they think that it puts them down at the base of the mountain where they have to "start all over" and this discourages them.  It is unusual for someone to stumble on a mountain and to go back to the very bottom. If we stumble on the spiritual mountain, we should  go to confession, humble ourselves, and then be picked up by the grace of God. Then, we pick up where we left off.  In a sign of God's extraordinary goodness to us, if we stumble and have a profound contrition, God can even place us higher up the mountain than the place where we fell. How awesome is that?!  So, no discouragement . . . ever.

I am grateful to be making this climb with you.

(Among my Lenten disciplines this year, is a fast from Facebook. Since I won't be putting my posts up on Facebook, feel free to share them yourself if you think anyone will benefit from reading them).

Friday, February 24, 2017

Divorce, Remarriage, the Gospel, and a Leaking Roof

(Today at daily Mass, the Gospel concerned the question of divorce and remarriage. I was preaching to our students and here are some of the general ideas that I spoke about.)

There are certainly times when we hear our Lord utter words in the Gospel that cause us to say, "I wonder what he means by that?"  The parables are a good example of this.  One parable finds Jesus praising a man for cheating his boss out of money. Since we can trust that Jesus is not inviting his disciples to become embezzlers, we know that there must be some deeper meaning to be found in this parable.  Oftentimes, parables are effective because there can be layers of meaning.

Today's Gospel from the Gospel of Mark (10:1-12) does not lack in clarity. It would be difficult for anyone to honestly find ambiguity in this reading. Jesus is asked about whether a man may divorce his wife.  He says that it was only because of the people's hardness of heart that Moses permitted divorce but that divorce was not something allowed by God.  He says, "What God has joined together, no human being must separate."  Hmmm.....what does he really mean though?  Maybe we shouldn't be too strict in our interpretation of this passage. Maybe he meant to convey that "In an ideal world, somebody wouldn't cause a separation of a marriage, but that we have to take into account real life situations."  I guess we will never really know what Jesus meant. It seems just too ambiguous.

Oh wait! There's more!  It seems that the disciples were a little shocked by this statement of our Lord, so when they got away from the crowds they were like, "Hey Lord, back there it sounded like you were almost suggesting that marriages cannot be ended by divorce. What were you really trying to say, because it isn't too clear to us?" So Jesus clarifies it.  "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."  It seems to me that looking for a "deeper meaning" or a "more nuanced interpretation" would be a bit of a waste of time here.  Jesus is crystal clear.  

Now, when we hear these words, perhaps our minds immediately think of people whom we love who are in situations like what the Lord describes. Maybe even in our own families. And this can be upsetting to us, right?  Okay, let's not panic and let's not start looking for a way out or around Jesus' words. Let's not think that the best solution must be in finding a loophole.

Last week, somebody came and told me that the ceiling on our top floor was leaking.  I immediately had this annoyed feeling when they told me that.  I remember when I was a pastor, sometimes people would report to me that they found something broken or a pipe leaking and I'd feel annoyed at this person for telling me.  Now that's silly right?  It's better to know that the roof is leaking than to pretend it isn't.  I could decide, "Hmmm...maybe I will just shut the door to that room and pretend that it isn't leaking," but that is really not accomplishing anything.  

So it is better for us to know the truth about marriage and divorce than to try to "shut the door" and obscure the truth.  We love to look for loopholes.  I remember once feeling particularly betrayed by someone.  And when I'd get angry about it, I'd think about all those things that Jesus said about loving those who hate us and praying for those who persecute us.  I'd go through the bible trying to find that loophole!  I was hoping I'd find the passage that said, "You must love those who hate you and pray for those who persecute you unless they are really a mean person. Then you can do whatever you want."  Alas, Jesus was crystal clear.  No loophole.

I know that these days we see a lot of confusing headlines in the news about the Catholic Church and marriage.  Just to be clear, the Catholic Church cannot change its teaching on marriage because it is not "the Catholic Church's teaching on marriage." What we believe is "God's teaching on marriage." That teaching is revealed to us--crystal clearly--by Jesus Christ.  

So what about people who are in these difficult situations?  Not to be glib about it, but they have a leaky roof.  Knowing that is not a bad thing.  The only way we know how to act is if we first know the truth of the situation.  I wouldn't know how to fix the roof if I didn't know it was leaking in the first place.  All of the Christian life involves looking at the objective truth and conforming my life to that objective truth.  For example, on this hand I see that Jesus says that I must love those who hate me, forgive those who harm me, and pray for them. That's the objective truth. I have to look at my life, on the other hand, and determine if I'm doing those things or not. If not, then I have to conform my life to those things.

We all do this regularly in confession, right?  Here's the objective truth and here's my life.  There are a lot of leaks in my spiritual life. It is better for me to know that so that I can set about fixing them. This is called, "conversion." When Jesus tells us things that seem difficult like, "love your enemies," he's not doing it to make our life miserable! The Truth sets us free.  The Truth helps us to live in the world in the way that God made the world to be. If there's a leaky roof, it's better to know it than to ignore it or to find some philosophical argument that says, "It's really not leaking." That would just be silly.

We're not alone. God gives us all the graces we need to fix the leaks in our lives. We can help each other by supporting and encouraging one another to live in the Truth. All of us have leaks in our spiritual lives caused by our sins. It's tempting to close the door to the room that is leaking and forget about it, but that only makes the damage worse. Instead, let's allow the power of the Gospel to show us our leaks and allow God's grace to move us into action.  That's true for the divorced and remarried, but it's also true for all of us.  There is no need to fear the Truth or to desperately search for loopholes.  We have Jesus and He is infinitely better than any loophole.