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.