Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Confessing in an Age of Accusation

"I confess." Although we are accustomed to saying those words at the beginning of every Mass, they are actually rather startling.  I think of all the great detective stories when, clearly outsmarted by the sleuth detective, the suspect is cornered into confessing. "I did it! Yes, yes, it was me!"  Catholicism, on the other hand, teaches one to confess quite easily and willingly. It is an integral part of Catholic life.

Last Saturday evening, I was on retreat with a large group of college students. For a couple of hours, four other priests and I heard confessions. There is something so refreshing about hearing people confessing their own sins and faults. There is a great purity about it. A Catholic enters the confessional not to accuse others, but to accuse himself or herself. At the beginning of Mass, a Catholic doesn't say, "We confess." He says, "I confess." 

"Through my fault." 
Whose fault? 
"Through my fault." 
Are you sure? Maybe it is someone else's fault.  Are you certain that you are to blame?
 "Through my most grievous fault!"

Social media (and the media in general) has become an outlet for accusing others about everything. If somebody gets shot with a gun, then the people to blame are the people who voted for the politician who supported gun rights. If the person was shot by an immigrant who is in the country illegally, then the people to blame are those who voted for a politician who supports the Dream Act. The list goes on and on. We spend a lot of time accusing others about everything!

Even within the Church, social media has become the place of accusation. "He is a heretic!" "She is judgmental!" "They are pharisees!" "They aren't real Catholics!" Catholics--and others--bait one another on social media and then feign shock when the inevitable counter-attack follows.

We live in the Age of Accusation, but not in the Age of Confession. I wonder if we were all more attentive to our own faults by regularly examining our consciences and confessing our sins, if we would be more hesitant to accuse others on social media and in the media in general? Perhaps the current obsession with blaming others is the result of our inability or unwillingness to examine ourselves and accuse ourselves before God?

Is engaging in constant online accusations a sign of spiritual bankruptcy? Are the Twitter wars of accusations an angry substitute for humble prayer before God? Are people more concerned about entertaining their "followers" than they are about following the Lord? The Lord himself warned that we should remove the plank from our own eye before attempting to remove the splinter from our brother's eye. And yet, there are a lot more Catholics on Twitter than there are in the line for Confession. There are significantly more accusations being lobbed against others on social media than there are self-accusations happening in the confessionals of our churches.

The climate in which we live today is all about pointing the finger and saying, "Through his fault, through her fault, through their most grievous fault." The Catholic way is to say, "Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault." This humble admission opens our hearts up to receive God's life changing grace. In humbly and honestly accusing ourselves, we create a space in the world for Christ's grace to heal, forgive, and renew. And the world needs that kind of space more than it needs our accusations.

Accusing others likely only deepens divisions and hardens hearts. On the other hand, accusing ourselves humbly before God heals divisions and changes our own heart. And, our own hearts all need changing.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

JP2 Continues to Draw the Young To Christ

The BU Undergrad Retreat Fall 2017
God is so very good!

This past weekend, the BU Catholic Center undergrads headed off on our Fall Retreat. It. Was. Beautiful.

The students themselves develop the theme of the retreat and organize all of its many aspects.  This year, they chose the passage, "You are the light of the Word," as the theme.  The title of the retreat was, "Illuminate." The speaker for the retreat was a relatively newly ordained priest named Fr. Sinisa.  

One of the great joys in my life as a priest is connecting people. I love introducing great people to one another. This retreat was another such example. Fr. Sinisa was an immediate hit with our community. One person asked me, "How come we haven't had him before?"  He preached beautifully and witnessed to the joy of the Christian life. The Holy Spirit was at work on our retreat.

As is the case on every retreat I've been on over the past nine semesters at BU, I love the witness talks. It is such a moving and incredible joy to hear young people testify to how the Lord is working in their lives. After our first witness talk this weekend, I thought, "Well, we can call the bus now and all go home. God has already accomplished more here than anything else we might come up with."  But, the Holy Spirit continued to work among us.

Not all of the kids on our retreat were Catholic. Some came because they were attracted to the Catholic Faith. Some came because they experienced true and joyful friendship among our community. 

The students chose St. John Paul II as the retreat patron saint. As I prepared to speak about JP2 to the community, something really struck me. As I prayed, I realized that he is the man who has had the greatest impact upon my life. I know it seems strange, but when I pray the Scriptures, I read them in the voice of John Paul II. He became the voice of Christ to me. When I pray, I hear John Paul II saying, "Do not be afraid. Come follow me. Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you. I have come so that you might have life and have it more abundantly."  This is what it means to let our light shine. It is to allow Christ to live in us, to shine through us, to speak through us. What I loved about John Paul II is that he did not sugarcoat the Gospel for me. He told me that the Gospel was demanding. This is precisely what young people today love about him. The love that he extends to them--in the name of Christ--the call, not to mediocrity, but to greatness.

I told the students that I was convinced that the reason they were even on the retreat was because of St. John Paul II. His life and ministry inspired so many young people. He awakened in young people a burning desire to become disciples of Jesus Christ. If today you find young people adoring Jesus in the Eucharist and going to confession, or if you find young people on fire for sharing the Gospel, chances are, you can draw a line from them to St. John Paul II. Wherever there is life today in the Church in America, it is because of John Paul's influence.

Four other priests showed up on Saturday night and heard confessions while our students spent time adoring the Eucharist. The students took turns through the course of the night--an hour each--worshipping the Blessed Sacrament. 

After I came back from retreat, I still had to offer the 6pm Mass at BU. I was exhausted, but it is so edifying to show up for Mass and worship with so many great young people who are striving to grow in the Catholic life. Every time I celebrate Mass at BU, I am grateful for the parishes that formed these young men and women. And even though I was dying to get home, after Mass, I heard the words that kind of give priesthood its meaning: "Father, do you have a minute?"

When I came home to my rectory, I ran into one of the priests with whom I live. He's been a priest thirty-five years longer than I have been. We ate dinner together and had some wine. Then the pastor of the parish returned home. He also had been on a retreat. He joined us and we talked about life and had a lot of laughs.

And now, I still need to say my prayers and pray the Rosary, so I should get to sleep.  The good news for me though is that I am taking the morning off!  But, I am filled with such joy and gratitude. This weekend, I witnessed so many beautiful examples of the Catholic life. People sharing their faith, alumni offering their assistance to make the retreat a success, a young priest inspiring young college students, students who are not Catholic investigating the Faith, students loving one another with a deep and profound love, and a profoundly sincere and joyful group of young people who hear the call of the Lord.

One of the great joys I experience as a priest is the opportunities I have to witness amazing things. I feel really privileged because my priesthood has been lived in a continuous state of awe at all the good things the Lord is doing. Boasting about those things can sometimes feel like I'm saying, "I did these things." But quite honestly, that would be a real disappointment to me. What amazes me, and what fills me with such enormous joy, is that the Lord blesses me with these things. These are totally His gifts. I inherited so much of this from the campus ministers and priests who preceded me here. I am not smart enough to create these things, and I am definitely not holy enough to create these things. I'd say that my contribution to the whole thing is that I have the gift to recognize how amazing it is and how unworthy I am to be part of it. It would be a real letdown if the Newman Center at Boston University were simply something we accomplished. Instead, what is so awesome is that we the result of what Jesus Christ is doing in our midst.

The BU Catholic Center is something worth boasting about. By that, I mean it is something that so many people can boast about. The alumni who shaped this community one year at a time. The parish priests who sent these students to us, so well-formed. The people who support us financially because they believe in our mission. The priests who come to help us with confessions. The Cardinal who supports us and our mission. The Vocation Office who supports us and assists us. The seminary who sends seminarians to help us. The FOCUS Missionaries. Fran, our Office Manager. The long line of interns who have volunteered over the years to our community. The students themselves who take so seriously the call of Christ to share the Gospel with others....

When I got home tonight, I received an email from a former parishioner of mine. She shared with me her own witness of the good things that the Lord is doing. She also told me how happy she was that I am blogging more often about the things that are happening in my life. Her words reminded me that we are all in this thing together. Sharing the Gospel--sharing what Christ is doing in our midst--is so awesome.

I'm the Newman Center Chaplain at BU. I want to tell you something. What John Paul II started . . . it's still happening, and I have the sense that it's only just begun.