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.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Perfect Love of God, Thermostats, Water Heaters, and Red Buttons

(This past weekend I was on retreat with the students of the Boston University Catholic Center. It was such a great weekend. Here's what I preached on at the Sunday Mass.)

When I was a pastor, I was responsible for a lot of old buildings and that means things would break all of the time.  Occasionally, the rectory where I lived would get some water in the cellar, and when that happened, it would extinguish the pilot light of the water heater.  I have to admit, it was the only thing I really knew how to fix, so it always made me feel a bit manly to go down to the cellar to fix the water heater.  But, I also have to admit that all of the warning signs on the water heater scared me.

Of course, they don't put the warnings and instructions up at eye level where you can read them. Instead, they were almost at the bottom, so I practically had to lay in this puddle of water to read the instructions.  They had all of these pictures which basically gave you the sense that if you did anything wrong, you would burst into flames.  I'd read all of those instructions very carefully and even do a run-thru.  (Yeah, I'm not very mechanically inclined).  Then, after I turned all of the knobs to the right place, I'd have to push THE RED BUTTON.  Now, having viewed all of the warning signs and pictures of explosions, pushing this red button made me feel both exhilarated and terrified. I felt as though I were authorizing the release of nuclear weapons. When I'd push that red button, there would be this "Whooshing" sound as the gas and the spark met. Again, both terrifying and exhilarating.  Another successful mission without blowing up my house.

Today, in the Gospel, Jesus instructs us to do some difficult things. It boils down to loving our enemies.  I don't know if you've ever had an enemy. I have. Loving my enemy and praying for my enemy is not something that comes naturally. I mean, maybe if we tried really, really hard, we could arrive at some willingness to allow our enemy to exist on the same planet as us. But, praying for him, loving him, willing his good?  Come on.  That's not happening. Truth to be told though, forget about our enemy for a minute. We couldn't even love God on our own. And God is infinitely lovable. On our own natural capacity, we cannot have this kind of Divine Love in our souls. 

The fire of charity was first placed in our souls at baptism.  This fire comes from outside of ourselves. It is infused by God himself. This is so cool, right? In baptism, our souls are set aflame with Divine Love. In a sense, God begins to love himself in and through us.  Now, when we sin in a serious way, that fire of Divine Love is extinguished in our souls.  This is why we want to avoid sin. We want to protect that flame of divine fire and allow it to burn within us.  But, once that flame is extinguished, we are incapable of rekindling it.  We are like that water heater in my old house. We are incapable of re-starting ourselves.  We need something to happen to us.

Last night, we all went to confession. Perhaps, some of you felt like I did when I'd go and push that red button. You felt as though maybe you'd confess your sins and you'd blow up! We are always a little bit afraid when we approach the Majesty of God. We are worried that this Divine Fire might obliterate us. But, unlike my water heater which very well could explode, there is no risk in going to confession that we are going to be harmed. The fire of God's love only obliterates sin. It doesn't harm us! As we all experienced last night, confession is the place where that Divine Fire of Charity is re-kindled in the soul that had grown cold and dark. Or, for those whose charity may have gown small, confession can be an opportunity for it to receive an increase in fuel.  

Now, in today's Gospel, Jesus is not asking us to just keep trying really hard to do the impossible. He is telling us that this Fire of his Love that is in us is capable of loving so much that we can even love our worst enemies.  I don't know why, but heating images or on my brain today.  The rectory where I live is this huge building, and my room is on the third floor in the corner. The thermostat for the rectory is on the second floor. I've noticed that when it is really could out, my room can can sometimes be freezing.  I think what happens is that the heat turns on, rises to the second floor, and then the thermostat says, "It's warm enough. Let's shut down for a while." But, that means that the heat doesn't always get to the third floor.  

Sometimes, in our Christian life, we think, "Okay, I'm at this level. As long as I don't mess up too seriously and drop down a few levels, I'm good."  But this is not the right way to think. If we were climbing a mountain, we would not say, "Well, we made it a quarter of the way up. This is good." We want to get to the top. When we only love those who love us, we are like that heat stopping on the second floor.  We want the fire of God's love to permeate every part of our lives.  Last night in confession, we asked that the fire of his love permeate those parts of our personality that are embarrassing to us or that seem impossible to change. We want God's love not to stop at the second floor, but to reach to every nook and cranny of our souls. This means that we want that love to extend even to our enemies. We want the house of our soul to be completely filled with the radiance and warmth of Charity.

If baptism and confession are like the red button that ignites the spark of charity within us, then the Eucharist is like the fuel of charity. The more devoutly we receive the Eucharist, the greater is the intensity of Charity within us.  In other words, when we come to receive the Eucharist in a few moments, let's really be mindful of what is happening and stir up within ourselves true devotion and hunger for this great gift. Let's ask Jesus to stoke the fires of charity within us, eliminating all lukewarmness or coldness of heart. With this Eucharist that we receive today, let's ask Jesus to heat our whole house. Whatever things we've hidden away in the attic--our prides, lusts, resentments, envies--whatever part of our souls are cold and dark, let's ask Jesus (and trust that he will do it) to make this reception today of Holy Communion a moment that will fill those places with the warmth of his love.  The warmth of his love can fill our whole house.

At the end of the Gospel today, Jesus commanded us to be perfect as our heavenly father is perfect. How is that possible? It is possible because of grace. It is possible because through the sacraments, the fire of his love can burn within our souls and can purify us of all that is unholy. This fire--that can continuously grow as we make strides in the Christian life--can reach every part of our house and fill it with the warmth of Christ's presence. We can be perfect when the house of our soul is filled with the love of God.  Don't settle for the second floor of love. Be perfected by the Love of God.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Social Media Junk Food and the Substantive Food of the Word

There are things I like about social media. I enjoy keeping in touch with people and hearing about their lives, their families, their jobs, and their vacations. I really enjoy the humor. And I enjoy posting articles that I've read and thoughts that have come to me in prayer or from reading. That's why the thought of giving social media up for Lent is a bit daunting to me.

Recently, as I've been praying about Lent, I've thought a lot about what I consume. I consume too much. The more I indiscriminately consume food, the less I appreciate and enjoy good food. But, I also consume too much information. In many ways, social media has become for me like the consumption of intellectual junk food. I munch on a post, an article, or some political or ecclesiastical commentary and, for a few moments, I feel full. But I quickly become empty again. It takes greater effort to eat good food than it does to consume fast food. It takes greater effort to read a good book than it does to read a tweet. It takes greater effort to have substantial conversations with friends than it does to have brief online exchanges over some recent social media post.

Social media does expose me to more information, but as one spiritual author that I've been recently reading mentions, this type of information is like having too much wood on the fire. Instead of stoking the fire, it smothers it. Like the Gospel of Martha and Mary, I've been wondering if the Lord is asking me to be less attentive to the many things so that I can be more attentive to Him--the one thing that is necessary.

I don't want to know the President's daily thoughts or the opinions of everybody else on the President's daily thoughts. I don't think it is always helpful for me to know every word the Pope uttered (or reportedly uttered) today, or what some priest, bishop, news organization or website thinks about what the Pope uttered (or reportedly uttered) today. These things can be helpful, but they also can distract from living a recollected and serious life. They can become junk food that replaces the solid food of slow, deliberate, and reflective meditation.

So, two weeks from today begins Lent. The big question for me is whether giving up social media is a good thing or not. Social media definitely has its plusses, but it also can have negative consequences upon my Christian life. I gain information and opinions from social media, but I'm not sure I gain much wisdom. It distracts me by providing me a barrage of information that is more or less interesting, but it hinders me from pondering the deeper mysteries.

I wonder when I write a blogpost if I'm too concerned about how many people will like or share it. Blogging without the benefit of social media would mean that it is out there for the reading, but that it is not there simply for "likes and shares." 

Lastly, I wonder if social media is helping me to love my neighbor more. I don't think that it does. Knowing everyone's unreflected and instantaneous thoughts and reactions to EVERYTHING doesn't always make me love and respect them more. In fact, sometimes it causes me to judge them solely according to some knee-jerk "share," "like," or comment. God is able to look at each one of us in all of our multiplicity of thoughts, actions, feelings, and words and judge us justly.  I'm not quite so gifted. I sometimes seem only capable of judging others on their latest tweet. Perhaps taking a break from the social media scene will help me to love my neighbor more by not having to see their every waking thought about everything.

Who knows if I will pull the trigger on this one? No matter what, it seems that spending more time being fed by the True Food that comes from heaven is a much better source of nourishment than munching on the junk food that is often the fare of social media. Lent is a good time to draw closer to the Lord by going into the desert with him.  And maybe, in the desert of Lent, there is no wifi connection. There is only the Word.


Monday, February 13, 2017

Priests Are In This Together

Every year, I write to the pastors of our students and ask them to consider donating to our Newman Center. Since our Campus Ministry is funded solely by the generous donations of our supporters, fundraising is a constant part of our life here. Whenever I read that somebody has donated 10 Million Dollars to have a coffee nook named after them in a dining hall or something, I think, "When are we going to get a Catholic to donate big to the BU Catholic Center?!"

Sometimes fundraising can be a bit of a drag, but writing to my brother priests has been something I've come to enjoy. Truth to be told, when I was a pastor, had I received a letter from some priest asking to help support his cause, I probably would have thought, "Hey buddy, I've got my own problems."  Oh how I think differently now!

One of the reasons I really enjoy writing to priests is because I feel as though I've inherited the fruit of their hard work. The vast majority of young people who involve themselves in the Catholic life on campus do so because they come from a good Catholic family and parish. Sure, we get some students who are seeking, but many of those who come to us do so because they received solid formation before they arrived at college. When I see students praying in the chapel, hear them making a good confession, or joyfully sharing their faith with others, I am very mindful and grateful for the priests who formed them. In many ways, my work on campus is simply to build on the solid foundation already laid by others.

The other reason I've enjoyed writing to priests is because many of them have written back.  In fact, today I received the first batch of replies. The replies are always so fraternal and supportive. Something else struck me today.  Of the four replies that I received today, two of them were personal checks from the priest himself.  In fact, one of the priests wrote, "I'm not longer the pastor. I recently retired so you may want to write to the new pastor." Then, he included a personal check. It really moved me that these guys are so generous. 

College ministry is very different from parish life. For a parish to be strong, it needs stability. They require a stable community and stable leadership.  Newman Centers have entirely new communities every four years. The transitory nature of college chaplaincy means that we really exist as a bridge. We exist to help people go from one place to the next. My hope is that the students who come to us from great Catholic parishes will eventually go out from here and build up Catholic parishes. 

Most of the priests who will write to me, I will never meet. Their support, however, helps me to experience the fraternity of the priesthood in a deeper way. These priests and I not only share a common bond in the priesthood, but we also share together the pastoral care of these young men and women. I've been a priest for twenty years, but always feel like I'm brand new at it, still learning and discovering something great. One thing I've gained from college ministry is a deeper sense of the fraternity of priesthood. We priests are in this together.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Don't Make Your Soul the Junk Drawer for Vice: Gospel Minimalism

Recently I've been praying about what I should do for Lent this year.  The more I've prayed about it, the more I feel the need to simplify my life, to "Unlclutter" my life. Yes, in terms of all the accumulated  junk, clothes, and stuff that seems constantly to spread everywhere.  But also to free myself from the clutter that occupies my time, my energies, and my thoughts. I'm not sure what it exactly means, but I have this sense that in order for me to hear God's Word more clearly, I need to be freed up from so much physical and spiritual clutter.  

So, last week we had a snow day and I decided I would use the time to clean out some of the physical clutter in my drawers, shelves, and closet. When I mentioned that I was doing that, someone suggested that I watch a Netflix documentary called, "The Minimalists."  It's about this movement of people who are trying to live more simply.  So, given the choice between cleaning my room or sitting down and watching a 90 minute Netflix show, I obviously chose the show. But it was really interesting.  Know what really struck me about it?  The people were saying stuff like, "You know we live in a culture that is constantly trying to convince us that the more we buy, the more own, the more we possess, the happier we will be. So we just keep buying more stuff.  And the truth is, this stuff does not make us happier."

This really struck me because they were saying these things as though this was a new idea.  I don't mean that as a criticism of them. I just mean that it really fascinated me.  Now, if I gave a homily today about how we live in a consumer society and how possessions won't make us happy, everybody would be like, "Oh, here we go again. The Catholic Church is so negative." And it's true in a way. When we talk about stuff like that, it almost sounds like we're saying, "Get rid of stuff that makes you happy, be miserable for your life, and then maybe you can be happy in heaven."  Right? It does sound like this sometimes.  But the people on this documentary genuinely sounded as though they were proposing something that was about helping people experience more happiness now. And they mentioned how when people here them speak, they often start asking questions like, "Can I keep this? Can I keep that?  How much of this can I have?" And these guys were saying that the place you have to begin is not with what external things am I going to throw away or keep, but rather an internal recognition that happiness is not about what I own.

Today, in the Gospel, Jesus sounds pretty hard hitting.  "You have heard it said, no murder, but I tell you no anger. You have heard it said, no adultery, but I tell you no lust."  So often, when we think about the Gospel, the spiritual life, our moral life, we immediately start asking, "Well, what about this?  What if I don't hate my brother, but I have an immense disdain for him? Is that okay?  How long can I stare at that pretty girl before it's technically lust? How close to the line am I allowed to get?"  We do this because we begin with a bad presupposition. We don't really believe that God's will-- that God's law--is actually FOR our happiness. Instead, we think God has laid these heavy burdens on us to prevent us from being happy now.

Can't I just settle for a little less anger, a little less lust, a little less pride?  Wouldn't this be enough?  Can't I just store a little bit away so that I can have some happiness now and again? God doesn't really expect me to be perfect, right?  We ask these things because we think that becoming perfect disciples means we lose happiness.  Think about today. How many people today are thinking about whether they can miss Mass because of the weather. (I'm not talking about people with legitimate safety concerns. I mean people playing the game. Right? There are people today who feel like this snow "got them off the hook" from going to Mass. What presumption is at the foundation of this? "Mass is a drudgery that makes me unhappy, but I have to do it. But today, I'm free because it's snowing!!"  

Deep down, we sometimes do not believe what we repeatedly sang in the Psalm today, "Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord."  God's Will is for our happiness. In His Will is our happiness. This is why Jesus isn't merely concerned with the outward or external living out of the commands. He is concerned with our hearts as well.  Christian life is not just about externally following the God's Will. Jesus says that all of those things are, of course, necessary. You cannot commit adultery. You cannot murder. You cannot bear false witness.  But, Jesus wants to purify our hearts. He wants to remove anything and everything that is not of God. Don't try tucking away a little lust in your heart as though keeping that lust will make you happy. Don't squirrel away some resentments or some pride or some envy and put them away for safe-keeping.  When we do this, when we think in this way, we are acting as though God's law is against my happiness rather than for my happiness.

Today's Gospel is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount which we began reading a couple of weeks ago. That sermon begins with Jesus saying, "Blessed." Jesus comes to bring us beatitude, happiness. There is this temptation to hear Jesus' words today and to try and water them down; to look for exceptions, loopholes, and excuses. But what we really need is an increase of Faith in Jesus Christ. When we look for loopholes, what we are really saying is that we distrust that Jesus can bring us happiness.  We are placing our hope for happiness in these vices rather than in the Lord.

As we approach Lent and as we live the week ahead of us, let us ask Jesus to increase in us a deeper faith in him. Let's ask him for the courage to go through the closets, drawers, and shelves of our souls and to rid of ourselves of our resentments, lusts, vanities, and envies.  Holding on to these things (even small amounts of them) destroys our happiness. Following and trusting Jesus ALWAYS makes us happy.  When we believe that and act on it . . . Blessed are we.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

My Married Friends and Lent

The other night I was out for dinner with some friends of mine and some mutual friends came up in the conversation.  In speaking about these mutual friends, I repeated something that I have said many times over the years: "I loved their wedding!"  Adam and Jen's wedding was so perfect because it was all about the Sacrament.  I remember them asking me, "So, how many people have to be at the wedding?"  I told them that they both needed to be there, I needed to be there, and two witnesses. As it turns out, the wedding was slightly larger than that. Maybe 25 or so people? Adam wore a shirt and tie. Jen wore a light blue dress. They weren't really interested in walking down the incredibly long aisle of St. Mary's Church. Instead, the three of us met in the sacristy before Mass and then walked out the short way to the altar. They wanted a full Mass.  Afterwards, we went to a small restaurant a few doors down from the church for lunch, and Adam and Jen took the train to Portland, Maine for a weekend honeymoon.  It was a GREAT wedding.

There was a big snowstorm in Boston today, and since the University where I work was closed, I stayed home and cleaned my room. Although I don't own much, somehow stuff accumulates. I began the process of throwing stuff away. Wow, for somebody who doesn't own much, I own a lot of stuff! Part of the reason I'm doing this is because I realize Lent is approaching and I feel this need to clear out some of the clutter in my life so that I can better hear the voice of God. Sure, I mean the physical clutter that sits on my shelves, in drawers, and on my desk. But I also mean the things that clutter my time and attention. I don't know what this all means exactly, but I have the sense that my Lent is intended to be one where I remove those things that hinder me from living a deeper spiritual life.

Like I said, I don't know the exact specifics of what this will entail for Lent, but I think it is a movement of grace. And just as I was sitting here and thinking about that, Adam (the groom from that wedding) tagged me in a photo on Facebook from his Nuptial Mass. This photo was like a confirmation that indeed my inclination for Lent this year is correct.  What made Adam and Jen's wedding so memorable to me that I still talk about it so many years later? It was beautiful because it was uncluttered. It was all about Adam and Jen receiving the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.  Their wedding was dignified, simple, beautiful, and holy.  That photograph is like an icon for me for Lent this year. I want to remove the clutter from my life--physical and spiritual--so that I can focus on what is truly important. 

That photo and the memory which it evokes assures me that this Lent, I am called to simplify.  Thanks Adam and Jen.