|The BU Undergrad Retreat Fall 2017|
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.