Sunday, October 14, 2018

Parish Renewal and the Altar

Our Lady's Chapel at Sacred Heart, North Quincy
Yesterday morning I offered a Nuptial Mass for a couple. By happy coincidence, they chose to be married at my home parish where I received all of my sacraments and offered my First Mass. Before the Mass, I walked from the sacristy, down the narrow hallway to the side chapel. Just walking down that hallway--used for storage of  typical liturgical items (kneelers, chairs, etc) filled me with a great sense of gratitude and nostalgia. I've walked down that hallway hundreds and hundreds of times in my life, passing the very same kneelers and chairs that were there 40 years ago. 

There was something about serving the 7am Daily Mass. It was dreadful to be dragged out of bed as a boy to go serve. During most of the year, you'd probably get assigned to the Seven only every few months. You'd be assigned for four Mondays or Tuesdays or whatever. But during Lent, there was an almost contest to see which of us could attend the most Masses. Some days during Lent there would be seven or eight of us serving a Daily Mass. Most of those Masses were spent less listening to the homily and more plotting how to get to the bells ahead of any of the other altar boys when the time came. In the fight for the bells, there was more than a few instances of bells sounding at the wrong time because two of us were fighting for control. An icy stare from Fr. Reilly brought that to a halt.

The sacristy was quiet in the morning before the Seven. Occasionally before the priest arrived I'd be sitting up on top of the vesting case. If Fr. Heery, the pastor, had the Mass, he'd come in and say, "We're not at the ballgame." That meant, "Get off of the vesting case and sit in a chair." At Seven, we'd walk down that long, narrow hallway, out into the chapel sanctuary, and the Mass would begin. The Seven probably had a good 130 people each morning and many more during Lent.

Sacred Heart Church, North Quincy

That chapel, dedicated to Our Lady, had a significant impact upon my life. "Small" funerals (those with less than a hundred people) were often in the chapel. Being an altar boy meant getting out of school to serve funerals. That was the best thing ever. There was an old sacristan named Stanley who would set up for funerals. After the funerals, as a way of delaying going back to school, we'd offer to help Stanley do various chores. When we'd show up back to school late, we'd explain to the nuns that Stanley had delayed us. 

On Sunday evenings during Advent and Lent I'd serve Evening Prayer and Benediction in the chapel. Whenever I pray the psalm of Sunday Evening Prayer, "You are a priest forever like Melchizedek of old," I hear the voice of our old pastor, Fr. Heery. On Monday nights, I'd serve the evening Mass which ahead of time involved the praying of the Rosary and the prayers for the Miraculous Medal Novena. At the end of the Mass, there was always the veneration of the relic of St. Catherine Laboure. 

A lot happened in that chapel. Among other things that chapel had daily adoration. Located along a very busy city street, walking into the chapel was like walking into a refuge. As the heavy wooden door of the chapel closed, it crushed the noise from outside with incredible silence. That chapel, with it's constant exposition of the Eucharist, became the heart of that parish. All day long, people stopped by for "a visit." 

There were many great things about that parish. A convent full of nuns, five priests, a packed school, parish shows, spaghetti dinners, Christmas fairs etc. It was a place of friendship. It was a normal part of life. The kids I hung out with, played with, got in trouble with, got in trouble with, got in trouble with, were all from the parish. It was a place where we spent a lot of our life. Being Catholic was not something just for Sundays. It was part of everything. All the normal stuff of life happened in relation to the parish. It was a great place to grow up.

When I walked into the chapel yesterday (and happily saw how well the new pastor has beautified it), I was filled with gratitude for all of the formation that I received there. At the time, I didn't really understand that I was being formed. It was just normal life. And yet now, looking back, I realize that Our Lady who looked down upon all of us as we lived our lives of Faith there, was interceding for us and drawing us closer to the Heart of her Son. True renewal of parishes and persons originates at the Altar and leads to the Altar. There were many great things that happened in that parish, but they all began and culminated at the end of a narrow hallway, at the Altar where God saves and renews the world.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Marriage Will Save the World

I have a love for words. Whether it is a clever joke, a poetic phrase, a beautiful song, a brilliant book, or a rousing speech, I enjoy words. Words contain incredible power. Recently, however, I've noticed that words are actually making me anxious. The words spoken about politics--mostly online--are vitriolic, demonizing, and divisive.  Most of what I read fills with me with either disdain for the author or for his opponents. And then there are the words spoken about the Church. I cringe when I see articles about the Church these days, even (actually, especially) when they are written or spoken by people in the Church. Words--which ought to unite persons--are now the weapon of division. 

Yesterday, a young couple that I had prepared for marriage was wedded. As many couples do, they chose the second reading to be from St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians.  "If I speak in the tongues of angels and of men, but have not love, I am a noisy gone or a clanging cymbal." Words. There are so many words being spoken and written these days, but they are all noise. It's like the more that is spoken or written, the worse things become. 

And then, there we were in that sanctuary. A man and a woman held each other's hands and spoke very few words to each other. "I take you to be my wife (husband).  I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you all the days of my life." That was it. Simple words. Pure words. They were not clashing cymbals and noisy gongs. They were noble and dignified. That's because they were spoken in love. And in those words, God united them. It was beautiful. I need to hear and to witness words like that. God was healing the world through this newly established union. We were reminded that this is how God made it to be in the beginning. The union of Holy Matrimony gives us a glimmer of the original plan and it also is a manifestation of that original plan of union for which we have all been created. 

After that wedding, I went to the home of some friends and offered Mass for them on the occasion of their 25th Wedding Anniversary. It so happened that the readings for the Mass this weekend were all about marriage. The first reading spoke about the creation of woman and the union between husband and wife. In the Gospel, Jesus spoke about the permanence of marriage; that it is an unbreakable bond. I told them that the homily for the Mass was really what was right before me: A man and a woman who spoke vows to one another 25 years ago and their beautiful children. The world needs to see families like that; men and women who give over their whole life to the raising of their children. More than ever, the world needs to see what true communion looks like. I need to see and to experience this type of communion. Everywhere we look, things are breaking apart. Words are tearing us apart. The people who are saving the world are those who can speak to one another in love and vow themselves to one another for life. 

Today--Sunday--I have to preach to university students about marriage. It's challenging because the culture in which they live has a very deformed view of marriage. Like everything else, it has become politicized and weaponized. It is also often about "self-fulfillment" rather than about laying down ones life for the other person and for the children of that union. So many couples delay marriage or don't ever get married because they are not willing to lay down their life. Jesus' words in the Gospel today can appear to many to be mean-spirited or antiquated, and they reject his words out of hand. I think the key to understanding the Gospel is the last part. Jesus says that we must become like little children in order to enter into the Kingdom of God. 

Yesterday, as I was leaving the wedding, I saw a man and a woman and their little daughter walking along. The daughter--maybe two or three--was walking carefully on the edge of the sidewalk curb as though she were on the edge of the Grand Canyon. Her face was filled with wonder and awe about everything she saw; buildings, leaves, trees etc. When we hear Jesus speak about marriage being between a man and a woman, that it is exclusive and permanent, or when we hear that marriage is intended to be for the pro-creation of children, it can sound like another political discussion. This is where we need the grace to be childlike. We need to stand in awe of the gift of marriage and have reverence for it. This union, established in the Garden of Eden, is how it was in the Beginning. God creates in order for us to experience communion, primarily with Him, but also with one another. Marriage is something beautiful, pure, and holy. Marriage is a gift from God. Marriage is about union.

I've been a priest for almost 22 years. One of the great joys of priesthood is living my vocation close to those who are married. Today, in the midst of so much division, I think that marriage is the key to healing a world broken and devastated by division. Communion is attractive and pure. We need witnesses of communion. We need men and women to live marriage.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Should I Donate to the Catholic Church? No and Yes.

The Boston University Catholic Center Fall Retreat
Dear Friends in Christ,

A few times over the past months, I've had someone tell me that they are no longer going to donate to "the Catholic Church." I don't donate to "the Catholic Church" either. In fact, I'm not sure who would be authorized to cash a check made out to "the Catholic Church." But I do donate to various parts of the Catholic Church. It is my responsibility to support the mission of the Catholic Church because its mission originates from Christ Himself who said, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations." Not only should I donate to support the mission of the Church, but it is a privilege to do so.

During the month of October, the BU Catholic Center has its annual fundraiser. Recently, I sent out a letter to all of our families, friends, and alumni asking them to be generous in supporting us. Below, I will share that letter with you, but I want to add a few things as well. 

I've begun my sixth year at the BU Catholic Center. This past weekend, I've participated in my eleventh "CC Retreat." The title of the retreat that the student leaders chose was, "Homeward Bound." They wanted to communicate that the Catholic Center and the Catholic Church is a home away from home. The Church is our home--here and in heaven. It was spectacular! Students living their faith together and sharing such great friendships together. I received many messages from former students saying how they are praying for the current students on retreat. There's an incredible bond that exists among the "CC" family. The alumni know that the people on the retreat are going to have a life transforming experience just like they themselves did. 

Those who know me know that I like to throw right over the plate. So, if you're saying, "I'm not giving to the Catholic Church," that's bogus. If you're a Catholic, you have an obligation to support the mission of the Church. The Gospel matters. During the first weekend of school this year, a freshman came into the Catholic Center. She told me her name and said, "I'm not Catholic, but I feel like God is calling me to become Catholic." She has a way of becoming Catholic because the Catholic Center is on BU's campus. The Catholic Center is on on BU's campus because people like you donate. So, I'm not asking you to consider donating to "the Catholic Church," but I am asking you to donate to the BU Catholic Center. The Catholic Church is universal, but it is met and lived in particular places and communities. You live your Catholic life in a particular place and with a particular community. The place and community where I currently encounter Christ and am saved by Him is at the BU Catholic Center. I ask you to support our mission. 

(This is the letter recently mailed to our donor list).

Dear Friend of the BU Catholic Center:

At the end of most summers, I look forward to the return of the students in September. This year, I was dreading it. With so many upsetting stories in the press about the Church, I did not know what to expect when September arrived.

Before our first Sunday Mass of the new year, I sat outside of Marsh Chapel on one of the stone benches. Within a few minutes, the first of several students approached with the request, “Hey Father. Do you have time for a quick confession?” The sincerity, purity, and humility of those requests lifted the heavy pall that I had felt for weeks, and it put into my heart a new courage. A courage to strive for more.

At moments such as these, it is tempting to withdraw and to expect less. Instead, I ask you to join me in striving for more. More holiness, more Faith, more Hope, more Charity. I want the year ahead for the Catholic Center to be about more evangelization, more friendship, and more generosity.

Over the next several weeks, I will be offering the Nuptial Masses of several couples who met and fell in love at the BU Catholic Center. This is what the world and the Church need right now: men and women who are going to re-evangelize the culture by living holy lives, holy marriages, holy vocations. The BU Catholic Community forms men and women to be saints.

It probably sounds crazy, but I want this to be our best fundraising year ever. That’s right. In the midst of everything that is going on in the Church, I want this to be the best year we’ve ever had. I know something. I know that the Catholic Center is awesome. I know that the students who come here are amazing. I know that THIS place is what is RIGHT with the Church. I hope that you know that too, and I hope that you will join me in supporting our mission. If you’ve given in the past, would you give more this year? If you haven’t given in a while, could you please contribute today?

The Catholic Center at Boston University needs to increase its revenue significantly in order to remain present on campus and to grow. I do not want the Catholic Center to offer less and less each year. No, I want more. I’m asking you for more.  I am inviting you to be part of something great.

Our annual Phonathon will run from October 27-30, but if you donate now, we won’t call you!

Please consider using the enclosed envelope to make a donation to the BU Catholic Center or visit to donate to us via PayPal or WeShare.

Alumni can also donate through the BU Development Fund. Simply tell them that you want your donation to be directed to Account Number 9300000342. This method of donating also allows for Matching Gifts!  

In Christ,

Fr. David Barnes

Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Victory of the Confessional

This past weekend the BU Catholic undergrads were on retreat. The best part of the retreat for me happened on Saturday night. After hearing two hours of confessions, the priests who helped me out were all standing around and were just really joyful. They all kept saying how grateful they were to be there. Written all over their faces was the joy of knowing that they had just participated in something extraordinary.

On a Saturday night, most priests have had a busy day and are anticipating another busy day. They're tired. One of the priests who helped me out had just driven from New Jersey and came to hear confessions before he got home to his parish. He was smiling ear to ear and kept saying what a blessing for his priesthood it was to come and hear the confessions of the students. They all remarked how well-prepared and how sincere the students were. Music to my ears! When people are actually prepared for confession, it makes a huge difference!

Although I was delighted to see and to hear how joyful these priests were, I wasn't surprised. It was clear to me from the very beginning of the retreat that the Holy Spirit was powerfully at work. The student led retreat team, the retreat speaker (a young, married man with four small children), and the witness talks were all clearly being used for some powerful purpose. I even noticed something unique about the attendees. There was a charity and an openness about them all that really stood out. It was like God had decided that He was going to do something powerful this weekend and there was nothing that was going to stop that. I knew that the confessions were going to be spectacular. That wasn't "the plan." I could just see it unfolding all weekend. I could see that the Lord was working up to it. 

I told the students afterwards how awesome it was to see all of those priests leaving the night before, after two hours of hearing confessions, filled with joy. Those joyful smiles told me that the priests had felt like they were completely used by the Holy Spirit, and that the confessions were thorough, sincere, and filled with repentance. The "good kind of tired" for a priest is when he is used by God for something like that. It takes everything out of you and makes you feel like, "This is why I was ordained."

The Holy Spirit used all of us on that retreat. He used the priests, but he used the whole retreat team. He used the retreat speaker and witnesses. He used them all so that He could shine light on our sins and to bring forgiveness and healing. The whole time we were there, I knew that the Holy Spirit was like, "This is my weekend and we are going to war."

There is evil afoot in the world, but this weekend, a great battle was fought and the Holy Spirit outsmarted, outmaneuvered, and crushed the Enemy. That was clear by the smiles on the faces of those priests. 

Friday, September 28, 2018

The Entertainment of Demonic Destruction

It's easy to destroy things, takes almost no effort at all. Take marriage for instance. It requires enormous effort, daily sacrifice, and constant vigilance to preserve a marriage and even more to make it flourish. To destroy it takes almost nothing at all. A good reputation is painstakingly built, but can be obliterated in a moment. Building a strong community takes genius, virtue, obedience, and sacrifice. It happens gradually over long periods of time. It takes time to build trust and to strengthen bonds. To destroy a community takes nothing at all. 

Where I presently live, there is a lot of development occurring. Buildings are constantly under construction, and I pass by them every day. Usually, I am more annoyed by the inconvenience that they cause (traffic, noise etc) than I am amazed by the amount of effort and coordination it takes for something to be built. When I take the effort to look at these enormous structures, it's incredible to imagine that months ago, there was only a big hole in the ground. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, day by day, these monuments of human ingenuity arose. 

We get used to them being built. We pass them with hardly any notice at all. But imagine if they were burning down. If they were burning down--even if it were the middle of the night--we'd leave our home to watch the excitement. Helicopters would fly overhead to report the news that a fire was destroying this building. Not to be morose, but we are somewhat entertained when we watch something burn down. It holds our attention. It's entertaining and requires no effort. 

We are living in the age of destruction. We are entertained by the obliteration of persons and institutions. We are becoming incapable of building because we are becoming incapable of effort. How many books have you read in the past month? How many tweets have you read? When was the last time you wrote something substantial? Compare that to how many texts, tweets, and posts that you make. Social media is the smart bomb of personal and institutional destruction. It takes almost no effort at all to humiliate, attack, or calumniate someone. The destructive tweet garners far more "likes" than the thoughtful work. That's because positive things take time to write, to ponder, and to absorb. It takes time to build things. It takes little to destroy them. Attached to the destruction of institutions and of persons is a sinister pleasure, a grotesque satisfaction that mimics the arsonist's satisfaction in seeing a building burn. It's demonic.

Building something is far more difficult. It requires the cooperation of others, is always subject to changing conditions, and involves mistakes. It is never perfect. It is often a mixture of good and bad. It causes traffic jams and it provides a home. It employs some workers and it makes other workers late for work. Building is slow, gradual, and requires patience. Destruction is fast, immediate, and entertaining. Building requires the cooperation and ingenuity of a community. Destruction requires only a madman and a match.

The sick pleasure of destruction leads to a thirst for further destruction. It leads to the destruction of the person himself. St. Paul once warned the Galatians, "But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another" (Gal 5:15). On the contrary, those who do the work of building, build one another up. They encourage one another toward holiness. It's the work of a lifetime, not an instant. It draws one into a beauty and goodness that sustains and strengthens. It draws one into a life that bears good fruit. The parables of Jesus often speak about those things that take time, planting, sowing, reaping, traveling, journeying, building, waiting, etc. They involve patience with weeds, wandering sheep, and bad sons. 

The big institutions are burning these days. There's enough blame to go around. The question for me and for all of us is what are we going to do about it? It seems like the answer is not big. It's small. It's like a mustard seed. For me, it's being faithful to the little community of which I am part. It's in living the life of the BU Catholic Center community. In this small community, people pray, come to Mass, feed the poor, live friendships, go to confession, and love one another. It's in being faithful to the slow, gradual, building up of a community that something beautiful is lived and emerges. It's preaching the truth with clarity and charity. It is growing daily in virtue and repenting from sin. Friendship takes time. Community takes time. Holiness takes time.  If you've ever lived in such a community, you've experienced the mystery of the hundredfold. You realize that you and those with you are being taken up by something beyond yourself; you are being carried by grace. If you've ever been part of such a community, you know that it is True. You know that it corresponds to the deepest desires of the human heart. You know that such a community makes you more human. 

Destruction is for the lazy. Destruction is for those who no longer pray. Destruction is for those who are trying to fill the void present in their own life by destroying what is good, and beautiful, and true. Destruction is demonic. It would be a mistake to read this and see it as addressing the "other." It is addressing me. It is addressing you. It is addressing all of us because the Destroyer attempts to seduce everyone into his web of destruction.

"The thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (JN 10:10). Let us follow the Good Shepherd and not the thief. 

Friday, September 21, 2018

In the Midst of Darkness: Beauty and Goodness

I live a life of privilege. I don't mean wealth, power, influence, or prestige. I mean that I live a life that is privileged by being close to sacred realities. Whether it be at the altar, in the confessional, or by the deathbed, I am privileged to stand in proximity to the most important realities that exist. Praying with the dying, hearing a last confession or hearing the confession of someone who has long been away from the Church, offering the Holy Mass, or walking with a couple as they prepare for marriage, these are all privileged moments. 

I find it hard to believe that I've begun my sixth year as chaplain at the BU Catholic Center. Being around college kids who are living their faith has been a tremendous grace and privilege for me. I've been continuously moved by their devotion, piety, charity, faith, intellectual rigor, simplicity, and their capacity to share the gospel with others. I've also been very moved by the ease with which they have built up a friendship among one another, friendships that continue after college and that are designed to help them each continue growing in Christ. I have also been privileged to hear many of them give witness talks and share their faith with others. 

One of the privileges of working with college students is that there is an easiness about them. They are comfortable and relaxed around a priest. The pastoral relationship is built up rather easily and without much complication or effort. That's been my experience anyways. A good number of the students from the Catholic Center stay around Boston after they graduate. Many of them live together and strive for holiness together. It also means that I get to meet up with some of them regularly.

One of the recent grads, a young man named Connor, posted on Facebook today that he's been struggling for about a year with depression. He decided to write a song about it. As I listened to him singing, I said out loud, "I am so grateful to be a priest."  It kind of came out spontaneously. What I meant by that is that I am grateful because I get to see such beautiful things and meet such extraordinary people. Connor said in his post that he wrote the song and hopes that maybe it might help somebody else. I know that he meant that he hoped it would help somebody who also might be suffering from depression, but it helped me too. It helped me because I need to see beautiful things and I constantly need to see goodness. Connor's song--even though it arises out of a great struggle--is a testimony to the Church. Connor loves the Church and helps build up the Body of Christ. He has a strong love for St. John Paul II. The two of them are good friends. 

I include a link to Connor's song here. Click Here 

There's so much scandal and controversy in the life of the Church these days. Connor's voice, for me, broke through all of it and reminded me (and I hope, you) that this is the Catholic Church. This is what saves me.

Thanks Connor. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Carrying the Corpse to Jesus Is the Only Way

There is perhaps no more sorrowful sight that I have encountered than that of a parent mourning the loss of a child. I recall one Funeral Mass that I offered when the Mother and Father came down the aisle together, the tiny casket of their child in the father's arms. The image says it all. The totality of the loss, the depth of the grief, the utter shock of how tragic life can sometimes be. The lifeless body of a child (no matter what the age) in the arms of a mourning parent touches us at the depths of our being.

St. Luke recounts for us an encounter that Jesus had as he entered the City of Nain. As he approached the city gate, he encounter a funeral procession. The body of a man, who was his mother's only son, was being carried away. Along with the crowd, the woman--a widow--was walking beside the body of her son. In front of this deeply sorrowful image, Jesus was moved with pity. He was touched in the depths of his soul by the pain, the anguish, and the sorrow of this poor woman. I wonder if he saw in her a reminder of what would soon happen to his own mother? Did he see in his mind's eye the hour when his own mother would accompany him to his burial?  Either way, Jesus was moved. Jesus was not indifferent to the cries of the bereaved and broken.

For some time now, many people in the Church have felt as though something tremendous has been lost, something is missing. Life in the city continues. Statements are made, meetings take place, and the humdrum of Church life moves along like it always did. We go about doing the same things we've always done, but it's like the soul is missing. Many words are spoken, but the words ring hollow. In the midst of the city, there has been a death, a loss. In the midst of the city, a procession of mourners walks about carrying the lifeless body of their loved one, but many in the city don't seem to notice or they pretend not to notice. They speak in platitudes. "Life goes on," they say. "Worse things have happened." "We've been through worse." "It's not that bad."

The mourners walk through the streets, but they feel invisible. Their pain seems to be mocked, dismissed, or trivialized. Some intentionally ignore the mourners while others consider the mourners to be rude. They are made to feel as though their grief is becoming an interruption to the city's normalcy. "Nobody," they say "will want to visit this city if these mourners continue carrying on." And yet, in the face of tragic loss and death, mourning and sorrow are the only proper responses. The great miracle that happened in Naim occurred when Jesus saw the mourners and was moved by their pain. It is unlikely that we would have ever heard about that day in Nain if Jesus had ignored the mourners or simply said, "It's not as bad as you're making it out to be." We know about Nain because Jesus raised a dead man. And Jesus raised that dead man because he saw and acknowledged the reality before him.

These days in the life of the Church, it can feel a bit like we are trying too hard to ignore the corpse in our midst. We focus on committees, public relations, and statements, but we ignore the woman carrying the lifeless body of her son. We refuse to acknowledge that some deadly thing has taken the life of someone we love. Honestly, who of us really cares about the new transit system, the new environmental rules, or the newly formed committee when in front of us is a mourning mother holding the lifeless body of her son? In the face of that reality, everything else seems petty and vain. In the face of such sorrow, the only human thing to do is acknowledge the truth of it.

Instead of going about life as usual, let's process around with the dead body and mourn. Let us show Jesus how sorrowful we are that something we loved is rotting and decaying. Jesus is moved by the sorrow and helplessness of those whom he encounters.  No public relations strategy can bring the dead back to life. But, Jesus can. Jesus--who is moved by those who mourn and weep--raises the dead.

Does this mean that we curl up, die, and stop doing the things that are part of the life of the Church? No, but it means that we stop pretending like everything is normal and fine. It means we learn how to mourn and weep. It means that we face reality. It means that we weep firstly for our own sins which bring death to the city of our own soul. We carry the corpse of our soul to the Confessional and receive the life-giving touch of Christ. Then, we weep for the death and destruction that has come into the City of the Church. It means that we live in reality. The stench of the rotting corpse is not going to dissipate simply by ignoring it. Jesus is waiting for us to acknowledge it openly. When we do, he will touch the dead and bring new life. Converts, vocations, and strong Catholic communities will come from those places where people mourn. "Blessed are you who mourn." Converts, vocations, and strong Catholic communities will not come from places that try to be innovative and build a city that covers over the reality of sin and death. 

There has been a death in the midst of our City. The stench is apparent. Let's not ignore it or fear that it makes our City look bad. Instead, let's mourn and weep. And in so doing, we can be certain that Jesus--who looks with mercy on those who mourn--will restore what was lost. Jesus--and Jesus alone--will raise the dead.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time Homily: Don't Believe in Something. Believe in Someone.

"Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything."  It's a catchy phrase. It capitalizes on our desire to do big things, to make a difference, to be heroic. But, it kind of sounds a bit like, "Believe in anything. Just believe in something...whatever it is." But, we know that people have believed in some very bad ideas throughout human history and--on the altar of those beliefs--have sacrificed a great many lives.

Today, Jesus asks the crowd, "Who do people say that I am?" It's a good question. What are the people who've heard about me, seen me from a distance, or read about me saying?  If we were asked that question today, we might tell the Lord, "Some people say that you are a great teacher, a moral leader, or a very kind and accepting person." Basically, the crowds say that Jesus is a really really nice guy. 

Then Jesus asks, "But who do you say that I am?" Now Jesus asks his apostles--a smaller crowd--what they themselves say to this important question. I've often heard it said that if you want something not to work, form a committee. If you really want it not to work, have the committee write a mission statement. The apostles didn't decide to have a meeting about this important question. They didn't form a sub-committee to look into it and arrive at a consensus statement. Instead, Peter blurts out, "You are the Christ!" 

Jesus did not want the apostles to "believe in something." He wanted them to believe IN HIM. Peter did not give that answer because he was so smart that he figured it out. He gave that answer because he was given faith to believe. Faith is not about listening to the crowds around us and adopting the most popular or most attractive belief. Peter confessed Jesus to be the Christ because it was revealed to him. Faith is believing WHAT Christ says because we believe WHO He is. 

In a short while, you're all going to approach the altar and I'm going to hold up what appears to be a piece of flat bread. I'm going to say, "The Body of Christ" and you are not going to say, "Well some people say it's just bread. Some people say its a symbol of love." No, you're going to say, "Amen. I believe." You believe it not because you've done a chemical analysis on it and have seen proof that it is actually the Body of Christ. You believe it not because some really other smart people figured it out and you figure you'll just follow along. No, you believe it because you believe Him. You believe that the One who said, "This is My Body, This is My Blood," is the Son of God Himself. You believe what he says because you believe the One who says it. This the gift of Faith.

Now, as soon as Peter made this act of Faith, Jesus explains that He will suffer, be crucified, and died. Immediately, Peter goes back to a worldly way of looking at things.  He doesn't like the idea of a Messiah who suffers. And so he says that the disciples won't allow such a thing to happen. And Jesus rebukes him. Why? Because believing Jesus means believing Him even when it contradicts our own emotions, wants, or plans. In fact, it especially means that. When we believe Jesus when it requires suffering, sacrifice, and loss, that is a special act of Faith. Our Faith grows through in moments such as these.

I've got to tell you, it is so great this morning to look out and see all of you at Mass. In most parishes, I'd be one of the young people at Mass!  But here, I'm one of the oldest. (I see a few outliers here who make me not quite the oldest, but I'm in the top ten percent!) Here you are though. You're at Mass on this beautiful day.  You could be outside enjoying the sun, but instead you're in here at Mass. Why? Because you believe that Jesus is the Son of God. You believe Him when He says, "I am the Bread of Life. Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you." You believe what he says because you believe the one who says it. 

It's not about "believing something." I mean some people probably say, "I believe in the sun." "I believe in kindness." Blech! The sun might give you skin cancer, but it won't give you eternal life. You're here this morning because you have Faith. Maybe part of you wanted to just lay out and enjoy the good weather. But, you believe in Someone and you believe what that Someone has said.  It's so beautiful today seeing you live out your Faith.

Oftentimes, the greatest challenges to our faith is when it requires sacrifice on our part. We want Faith, but we don't want the Cross. But Faith demands that we take up our Cross. It means sacrificing everything. It means following Jesus, especially when doing so requires us to die to ourselves. 

 We don't just believe in something. We believe in Someone. We believe in Jesus Christ. And we believe Him that if we sacrifice everything to follow Him, He will save us and raise us up.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Unhealthy Ambition and the Crisis in the Church

The current crisis confronting the Church has had no shortage of proposals for reform. Most proposals are administrative in nature, revolving around committees, rules, and meetings. Approaches such as these can be beneficial, but they are not sufficient. One proposal that I would make sounds like another administrative one, but it is more than that. It is a theological reform. It is a very simple proposal: Stop moving bishops from one diocese to the next. 

So often ecclesiastical gossip revolves around which bishop is rumored for a bigger diocese. Smaller dioceses must often feel as though they are mere stepping stones for bishops on their way up the ecclesiastical ladder. A bishop, however, is supposed to be married to his diocese. He is not supposed to be looking for a better wife somewhere else. Unfortunately, at least in the United States, bishops are often on the move. When the possibility of a "bigger and better" job looms large it can (if one is given over to unhealthy ambition) lead to a neglect of proper pastoral care, and unfortunately, to worse.

Unhealthy ambition, for instance, could prevent a bishop from taking a controversial stand, preaching the full gospel, or from making radical and necessary reforms in his diocese. Out of fear of drawing negative press, a bishop might choose silence as the best way of advancing upwards. Fear of getting a bad reputation could prevent a bishop from fraternally correcting a brother bishop. If he's looking to get a "better" diocese, he would be hesitant to rock the boat. Bishops who are looking to advance would likely be on the speaking circuit and constantly traveling outside of their dioceses. The ambitious man might become very skilled at pleasing those who can advance his cause, but less skilled at advancing the cause of the Kingdom. He can seek to serve those who are influential in affecting promotions at the cost of serving the flock. 

Let the man who becomes a bishop know that he will be spending the rest of his life serving this one particular flock. Let him invest all of his talent, energy, and--most importantly--pastoral charity to the care of this particular diocese. Let his total care be about this diocese, not the next one, nor the one after that. Let it be a true marriage, in good times and in bad, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do you part. This is what the Church intends for bishops and their dioceses. Why not make it an actual lived reality?

Of course, such a proposal is not a solution without danger. It's possible that a diocese could be stuck with a bad or ineffective bishop. Solutions, however, can be found for that problem, but it would be far more difficult to find a solution for the ambitious bishop. If he's always got his eye on the next rung on the ladder, then his foot is busy crushing the rung of his own diocese. Obviously not all bishops are unhealthily ambitious, but the system of "promotion" to bigger dioceses and archdioceses does run the risk of rewarding those who are. It runs the risk of weakening dioceses by promoting those who focus less on pastoral care and more upon networking with those who can help their careers.  

Might there be times when a bishop needs to move from one diocese to another? Sure, but those should be exceedingly rare. By eliminating the presumption of promotion, the fraternity of priests with the bishop would be strengthened, the trust in the bishop would be increased, and the bishop himself would be totally free to act according to his best pastoral judgment rather than worrying about losing his chance for a promotion. 

Good bishops wouldn't be looking for the next best diocese anyways, so this proposal would not be injurious to them. And, this proposal would also benefit those who might be tempted toward unhealthy ambition by removing the possibility of "promotion." The best thing for a bishop to become is not an archbishop or a cardinal. The best thing for a bishop to become is a better and holier bishop. And, of course, there would be a great number of good and holy bishops (archbishops and cardinals) who would agree.

These days, the happiest bishops are probably the retired ones! In the years ahead, the men who do say "yes" to being a bishop will certainly be well aware that they are truly accepting a greater share in the Cross. They will know that they are not climbing the ladder of earthly success, the ladder of earthly esteem, or the ladder of earthly power. They will--we pray--be men who know that they are climbing up onto the Cross. The men who wear that Cross over their chest must certainly be feeling the burden of its weight these days. We should pray for all of them, that they be strengthened to carry it well. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Pray For The Average and Below Average Priests Too

The other night, another priest and I were discussing something that we've seen and heard a lot recently. In their kindness, people have commented, "We're praying for all of you good priests." These days, the"good" qualification, it seems, is often assigned to those who haven't abused children, covered it up, or preached outright heresy. But to be honest, that's a pretty low threshold! 

It's not that we don't appreciate the prayers, but we'd be happier if you'd just pray for us period. We're not always good priests any more than any of you are always a good husband, wife, father, mother, teacher, or friend. I hope that we're trying to be good and holy priests, but some days it's easier than others. We don't want you to pray for us because we're good because sometimes we are not. Sometimes we're average, below average, or just plain failures. We want you to pray for us so that we will become more like the One who alone is Good. 

Following the words of St. Paul, "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God . . . "(Rom 8:28). The present crisis in the life of the Church is likely being used by the Lord to purify all of us and make us holier. You would have to be a total spiritual knucklehead not to have examined your own conscience during these past weeks. While the vast majority of priests are not guilty of the serious sins (and crimes) that today fill the headlines, we are all, nonetheless, confronted these days by our own failures, sins, and negligences. Many of us (I don't think it's only me!!) are seeing anew the nobility of our vocation, and we are more aware of our own failures to live out that calling in imitation of Christ, the Good Shepherd. It's a grace that this is happening, but it's not a cheap grace. The Lord is pruning us, removing from us every branch that does not bear fruit, and even the branches that are bearing fruit, he prunes so that they bear more fruit. Pruning is costly, but it is fruitful.

While there was only one Judas among the Twelve, the other Eleven didn't boast and say, "Well, we may have denied and abandoned Jesus, but at least we weren't as bad as Judas." They weren't known as the "Eleven Good Apostles." They were men called by Christ, men who were sinners in need of continuing conversion and sanctification. 

There is nothing more consoling than to hear from people that they are praying for us. So please, pray for us priests. But, don't pray for us because you think we are good. Pray for us because we are called to holiness. Pray because the Church needs holy priests. Pray for us because "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23). Pray that we become not just good, but that we become perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. 

Thank you for praying for us.

Monday, September 3, 2018

How the Sheep Smell Right Now

One of Pope Francis' most memorable phrases is that priests ought to take on the smell of the sheep. Most priests live in the midst of their people. They don't spend a lot of time being advised by lawyers, diplomats, or public relations specialists, unless those persons also happen to be our parishioners. I spend almost all of my day in contact with regular people. As a college chaplain, I hang out with young people, eat with them, pray with them, and evangelize with them. Parish priests see the sheep every day. They meet them at daily Mass, at wakes, in the coffee shop, at the dinner table, in the confessional, and in a million other locations.

The sheep are angry right now. They're disgusted, sorrowed, confused, and bewildered. The sheep are looking for answers. More often than not, the place they come to for answers is their shepherds, their priests. Only the worst kind of priest would want to encourage their sheep towards greater anger or deeper alienation. Good priests--most priests--want to explain things. Most priests want to show the flock that things are more complicated than they sometimes appear. Most priests do not want to add fuel to the fire, but want to put things into context. Most Catholics are not looking for blood. They are not looking for widespread resignations and executions of bishops etc. Certainly if things are egregious enough they might want resignations, but most Catholics just want to hear the plain truth. That's what they want their priests to tell them. 

Priests are out in the field with the sheep. We have the Gospel, but we don't have answers to the questions people are asking about McCarrick, Vigano, and the Pope. The sheep are asking their shepherds, but we don't know the answers. Right now priests feel as though we are in the field fighting off the wolves and mending the wounded sheep, and then, just when we think the pasture is secure and the sheep safe, another attack comes. Sometimes this attack is from those who purposefully try to stir the sheep up and frighten them with half truths or sensationalized rumors. Other times, however, these attacks come from above. They come in the form of Tweets and statements from high ranking priests, bishops, and cardinals. It does not comfort the sheep who feel the gaze of the wolf upon them when an advisor to the Pope tweets out that "the Pope draws energy from conflict." The sheep do not draw energy from this conflict. The sheep are wounded by this conflict. They do not want to hear that the Pope is energized by it. Similarly, Catholic social media personalities who lay claim to the title of defenders of the purity of the Church and then resort to uncharitable, calumnious, or rash judgments about their opponents, are also inflicting injuries upon the sheep. 

Many of the sheep feel as though men who should be their shepherds are in league with the wolves. Bishops and priests in power have insulted them, dismissed them, and abandoned them. The sheep--the ones who come each week to our churches longing to feed on solid doctrine and the Eucharist, the ones who come to confession and bring their children to Mass, the ones who have suffered for the Faith, the ones who are entering the seminaries and religious life, the ones who contribute to the works of the Church and who sacrifice for the Church, the ones who come to Adoration, defend the doctrines, and who evangelize---these sheep, many of them feel as though they've become the enemy of those who exercise power from various offices of the Church. And, with each dismissive and insulting tweet or statement, their confidence in the Church weakens.  They feel abandoned.

I hope that those who seemingly find glee in perpetuating this crisis (those who throw bombs from both sides) know that they are damaging the flock. I know from personal experience that they are hurting the flock. They are wounding the sheep of His pasture. The Pope and the bishops should speak, not because they are being pressured from external forces, but because their sheep are in danger. I'm telling you, the sheep are in real danger. I know this because I--like most regular priests--are among the sheep. We're doing our best, but the attacks keep coming. The snarky tweets, carefully crafted statements, and dismissive silences are leaving the shepherds in the field in a precarious situation. 

If shepherds should take on the odor of the sheep, then the priests of today smell like blood because Christ's sheep are wounded. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Seminarians Amid the War

Today I attended a Mass of the Holy Spirit for the opening of the new year at St. John's Seminary in Boston. Like most priests, I pretty much think that I know everything, so I definitely have strong opinions about certain things that I think should change at the seminary. But I want to tell you what I saw today as I looked around the seminary's beautiful chapel.

I saw seminarians whom I have come to know over the years. Some I know only by sight. Others, I know because they've come to do pastoral work at the BU Catholic Center where I am the chaplain. Some I know through my work as a spiritual director. Some I know because I assisted them as they decided to enter the seminary. I looked around and saw good, strong, holy men. Men who showed up to seminary today in the midst of the worst crisis to ever hit the Catholic Church in the United States. Men who showed up today in the midst of an inquiry into their seminary that many of them consider to be based upon unjust, untrue, unfounded, or exaggerated accusations. Men who showed up despite their families and friends reading all manner of horrible things about the Church. They showed up because they know what their life there is all about. They showed up because they are not cowards. They showed up because they are men who want to lay down their life for Jesus and for the people of the Church. These are men who love the Lord and who love the Church. They are joyful men. They are serious men. They are good men. Can I speak for every seminarian? No, I can't. And, chances are that some of them have a lot of maturing to do. I know when I entered the seminary, I had a lot of maturing to do. When I looked around, I was moved by their goodness, their strength, and their desire to serve. They showed up.

I saw priests whom I know and admire who serve on the faculty. Do I know all of the faculty members well? No, but I know some of them well. Are they perfect? No, they are not, (they'd be the first to admit that). But they are good men who are dedicated to the Church. They are humble and charitable men. They are men of solid doctrine who are generous shepherds. I think of one priest there who, in addition to all of his responsibilities at the seminary, always finds time regularly to say Masses at prison, to say early morning Mass each week for the Missionaries of Charity, and who is always generous in helping out parish priests. I saw new members of the faculty who are serious and joyful priests who are going to be great mentors to seminarians.

I just want people out there to know that in the midst of so much turmoil, vitriol, and scandal in the Church, scores of young men are still filled with the joy of the Gospel. They see how awful things are and yet, they are stepping into the breach and laying down their lives for Jesus. They are striving for holiness, striving for greatness, striving to be shepherds after the heart of Christ. Not knowing exactly what is ahead of them, they nonetheless are acting in Faith. They are charging into the battle because they are men of love and of character. They are disgusted by what they read, by what others have done etc, but they are not surrendering. They are on fire for Christ. 

It's true. The battlefield today is gruesome and shocking. It's easy to understand why some would choose to withdraw from the fight, especially when it appears that so many of the officers have failed. All the more impressive then is the willingness of these young men to charge ahead into the fray. They are not seeking prestige or power. They are not seeking accolades or honors. They are men  who, like their Lord, are ready to lay down their life for their friends. They are seeking a place near the Lord.

I envy these men. At a time when lesser men would flee the field of battle and seek comfort, they march forward under the banner of the Cross. Amid the clouds and chaos of conflict, they cannot see now how it ends, nor may they see it for many years to come. If, however, they remain faithful, how glorious indeed will be their victory.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Devil Whispers in the Night

The Devil wakes me up at night. His arrival is not marked by supernatural events or loud noises. If that were his tactic, I might quickly respond and rebuke him. No, his attacks these days come in whispers and in fleeting images. What he whispers are not complete lies. There's always enough truth in what he says for me to entertain these thoughts.  What has he been whispering? He's been whispering about failure.

"You wasted your time." It's been sixteen years since the scandals first erupted in Boston. Back then, it seemed like everything would completely implode. At night, my mind has been picturing all of the parents who kept bringing their children to Mass during those years. They stuck it out. In my mind's eye, I see them sitting in their pews. Many of their friends and family members had abandoned the Church, but they stuck it out. And, they didn't just show up. They built. They donated. They invited others. They didn't just show up on Sundays. They came to Confession, Forty Hours Devotions, Missions, and Bible Studies. They didn't just weather the storm. They courageously risked everything and sailed into the storm. 

And now? I wonder if they feel like they wasted their time. I wonder if their kids who are now older think the whole thing is a joke. I wonder if these people are mad that they gave so much only to have everything seemingly turn to dust in front of them. Perhaps they don't think of me as a con artist, but maybe they think I was just a hapless dupe who cluelessly sold magic beans, believing that they were really magic. That's what he whispers, but that's not all he whispers.

He whispers to me saying that had I been a priest working in a chancery thirty years ago, maybe I would have typed up memos detailing the diabolical and grotesque facts about abusive priests and then dutifully placed them in a file drawer. It sounds odd because I wasn't a priest back then and I never worked in a chancery, and yet he somehow accuses me. It scares me. Maybe I would have written memos and not done much more. He whispers that to me in the night, but that's not all he whispers.

He whispers repeated reminders to me of all the sins I've ever committed. They're not lies. They're facts. Even the sins I haven't committed, he reminds me that I could have. He whispers that I shouldn't preach about sin because I'm a sinner. He shames me and calls me a fraud. He whispers about how often I've been lukewarm. He whispers that I'm not holy enough to be a priest. He whispers things designed to undermine my confidence, but that's not all he whispers.

He whispers about the priestly vocations I've encouraged. He tells me that I've led these guys into an ambush. That's not all he whispers.

He whispers about how much more difficult it will be for the students at the Catholic Center to witness to their Faith. He whispers that the obstacles to evangelization are much more significant now. That's not all he whispers.

He whispers about all the people whose faith was weak or whose faith was just starting to grow. He whispers how they are gone now. He whispers about the horrible things that were perpetrated upon children and how he used sacred persons to destroy others. He whispers a lot.

One of the readings for Night Prayer says, "Be sober and alert, your enemy the Devil is prowling like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, solid in your faith" (1Pet 5:8)

I share this blogpost today because I know that I am not the only one the Devil whispers to and accuses. People have written to me and told me that they feel shaken and undermined. The Devil doesn't prowl about simply to take a bite here and there. He seeks to devour and to destroy. He tells half truths so that we will listen to him, and then he leads us into his snare. He points out all the evil as if that were the full story. He reminds us of our sins, but leaves out the part about us being forgiven through absolution. He reminds us of the grotesque failures of the Church, but leaves out the part about how the Church is necessary for salvation. He shows us how arduous the road ahead will be, but fails to show us how Christ will be walking beside us the whole way. He whispers to shake our confidence in Christ and in the Church. His whispers are unsettling, undermining, and seductive. 

Be sober and alert. When you hear these whispers, do not yield to them. Remember that these are the whispers of an enemy; an enemy who wants to devour you. Call upon the Blessed Mother and her Son, Jesus Christ. Call upon your guardian angel. Recite some words of Scripture, wherein we hear the voice of the Good Shepherd. Reject the whisperer and listen to the beautiful voice of the Good Shepherd. 

The Devil is not resting. He is prowling, seeking to destroy. Resist him, solid in your Faith.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

A Disfigured Chalice, Church, and The Assumption: Love Your Mother

On the Solemnity of the Assumption, I offered a 12:10pm Mass at a parish where a friend of mine recently became pastor. Even though the headlines for the past couple of days were filled with the horrific and grotesque details of the Grand Jury Report of the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania, the Mass was crowded with devout Catholic men and women and their families. It was moving to witness their example of Faith.

Right before Mass began, I was told that the chalice for the Mass was recently restored. The new pastor had been cleaning out the church basement and found a box with old liturgical vessels in it. Among the vessels was a magnificent chalice that had been given to one of the parish priests by Pope Pius IX sometime in the 19th Century in honor of the parish being the first parish in the United States names in honor of Our Lady of the Assumption. After decades in a box in a church basement, the chalice looked worn and tattered, its original beauty marred and tarnished. 

There is something in us that recoils when we see something noble and beautiful disfigured and marred. We know that that chalice was made in order to hold within it the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ. It leaves us saddened to see it relegated to a dingy basement. Imagine, however, if more than just neglecting that chalice, somebody had purposefully distorted it or broken it. Imagine further that this had been done not by someone who didn't know what the chalice was, but rather by someone who did know.  This would cause us not only sorrow, but profound anger. That which was created to bring honor and glory to God and to be a vessel of God's Presence in the world should not be treated neglectfully, nor viciously. 

All of us who know and love the Church are sickened and angered this week because we see that the Church appears tarnished, marred, and disfigured. The Church--like that chalice--was made in order to carry the Presence of Christ to the world. The Church is the vessel that carries within itself all of the graces necessary for eternal life. The Church carries within herself the Word of God and the Sacraments. And so, it angers us and sickens us that she now appears so disfigured. We want people to know that the Church is not that tarnished vessel laying in a pile of filth. That is a disfigurement of the Church. The real Church is that beautiful vessel that lies beneath the corruption, neglect, and sins.

Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lady of the Assumption. The Blessed Virgin Mary is not only the Mother of the Church, but she is also the Model of the Church. Among her titles is, "Mother Most Pure, Mother Most Chaste, Mother Inviolate." When we look at Mary, we see no disfigurement, no stain, no defilement. We see the human person as God intended. In Mary, the Image of God shines for all to see. When we look at Mary, the Model of the Church, we discover what the Church truly is. This causes us to feel revulsion when its beauty is disfigured by our sins and the sins of others. 

Mary is the Vessel chosen by God to carry His Son. Mary was saved by Christ, but in a unique way. She was saved by preservation. In other words, because she was to be the unique vessel of Christ, God preserved her from the disfigurement of sin. The rest of us are saved from the disfigurement after the fact. We are restored and perfected over time through the grace of the sacraments. 

Newly Restored Chalice
The priest who discovered that chalice hired someone to restore it. We, however, are not restored by external forces. Instead, by grace, God restores us from the inside out. He pours into us His Divine Life and this is what restores and perfects His Image within us.  By cooperating with His Grace, we become fitting vessels of this Divine Image. We become vessels that show forth the Glory of God.

Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven on this day because she was never marred by the corruption of sin. Her assumption provides to all of us who are weighed down by our own corruption and the corruption of others, a taste of hope. She is the Model of the Church. She is the Model of Believers. What God did in the Blessed Virgin Mary in a unique way, He also wants to do for us. By His Grace, she was preserved from the disfigurement of sin and from the corruption of the grave. By His Grace, we too can be saved from our sins and--even after our body corrupts in the grave--share in Christ's bodily Resurrection. 

This week (and I fear for many days and months to come) we may find much that is filthy and disfigured. Whether that filth and corruption is discovered when examining our own consciences (which we all should do regularly) or whether it is discovered in news reports and church files, we should never become discouraged. Repulsed, angry, sorrowed? Yes, but never discouraged. The reason God sent His Son into the world was to restore what was lost. Jesus comes to restore the Image of God within us, to purify us, and to save us from corruption. 

At the moment, while we dwell within the filth, the Church invites us to look up; to look up and to see Mary, the Model of the Church. We see what the Church--in its deepest identity--truly is. Tarnished, marred, distorted, and disfigured by the sins, corruption, and failures of its members and leaders, the Church--beneath it all--is the vessel of Christ. No matter how many layers of rot there may be, we need not fear. Beneath it all, waiting to shine forth, is the unblemished Bride of Christ.  

For all of us who today find ourselves in the valley of tears--in the basement of filth--Our Lady of the Assumption affords us hope and consolation. Look up! Look up and see the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother Most Pure, Mother Inviolate, Mother Most Chaste. Look up and see Mary, the Model of the Church! May Our Lady of the Assumption give us all hope and trust, that beneath the corruption and filth, is the true Church of Christ. May Mary's prayers and examples also encourage all of us to submit to the power of Christ's grace and to be purified so that the Divine Image might shine more brightly in each of us and that our lives--and the life of the Church--might bring God Glory and bring many souls to Christ.

Lastly, as I was distributing Holy Communion during Mass, a man and his toddler daughter came up. The little girl was wearing a shirt that said, "Love Your Mother!" Today's Feast reminds us that we should love our Mother. Yes, we love the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Heavenly Mother. But she is also the Model of the Church who is also our Mother. Disfigured by the sin of her members and leaders, the Church is still our Mother. Let us love her by being holy and by submitting ourselves to the purification of grace that will restore what has been so badly obscured. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Some Important Words for Every Catholic at the Present Moment

St. Paul Writing His Epistles
Whether in conversations, social media posts, public statements, or essays, there are many words being exchanged about the Catholic Church these days. I also would like to share some words. 

These words deserve the serious attention of every Catholic. Every Catholic--bishop, priest, deacon, religious, seminarian, lay man, lay woman--would do well to spend significant time reflecting on these words and examining his or her own life. There is, I would say, something for all of us in these words. They are not my words. They were written by St. Paul and are found in the Fifth Chapter of his Letter to the Galatians.  

"For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another" (Galatians 5:13-26).

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Reflection on The Divine Office and the Changing of Volumes

When the weather is mild and pleasant, I prefer to pray on the porch of my rectory. Most mornings when I arrive, a retired priest who lives in our rectory is already there. We briefly exchange pleasantries and then he returns to his prayers and I begin mine. It is a ritual remarkably consoling and profoundly fraternal. We enter into the Church's Divine Liturgy, sanctifying time and place, offering to God on behalf of humanity the praise and worship that is His due. 

The Divine Office is prayed throughout the day, from morning until night. It marks the passing of the hours, of the days, of the seasons, of the years, and of the centuries. In the praying of the Hours, we enter into and live the memory of Salvation History. Hour by hour, day by day, season by season, we preserve and carry within us truths that save us. 

This evening as I was changing from Volume III to Volume IV of the Divine Office, I felt the significance of the passing of time. This is the thirtieth time in my life that I've begun Volume IV. As my fingers turn its pages, my mind turns the pages of memories. Life has been lived in so many places and with so many companions. Whether it was in chapels or courtyards, on boats or high in the Alps; whether with college students, brother priests, or alone, the hours are all lived near to the Lord. Even when alone, they were prayed with others, especially our companions. Even when physically far away, in the Divine Office, we meet one another in prayer. A passage, a saint, a prayer brings to mind a loved one. Even those who have departed this life who were with us along some part of the way, we meet them in the Divine Office. The hours spent with them in this life are offered to the Lord in our prayers.

The language of the Divine Office shapes us and makes us more familiar with the ways of God. They anchor us and increasingly tether us to Him. The perpetual repetition of the cycle of prayers and psalms gradually frees us from being slaves to the ephemeral. As the years roll on, we become increasingly aware of our shallowness. Words we've prayed thousands of times before suddenly strike us as entirely new and stop us in our tracks. We discover within the pages of these volumes the patience of God. All of these years He has been teaching us to grow in gratitude, to advance in praise, to bow humbly under the weight of our guilt, to confidently seek mercy, to advance steadfastly along the path of hope. 

The words of the psalms and the canticles become the words of our heart. We desire to enter into His rest, to listen to His Voice, to not grow stubborn, but to bow down and worship Him. We long for Him to create within us a pure heart and to have mercy on us. Our heart seeks to join all creation and to bless the Lord. We yearn to live entirely for Christ, that awake we might keep watch with Him and asleep rest in His peace. 

With the passing of time, we also recognize how many hours we have squandered; so many events, be they joyful or sorrowful, that could have been taken up in the Divine Office and offered to God in worship. The passage from one volume to the next can feel as though the record book has closed and what's done is done. And yet, a new volume opens and all that was wasted or squandered before may be added to our offering now. With each new hour, the Lord provides a new opportunity to present not just this moment, but all moments to Him. He is the Alpha and the Omega, all time belongs to Him, and all the ages.

At the end of every day, we entrust ourselves and the whole world to the maternal love of the Blessed Virgin, our life, our sweetness, and our hope. Every moment of her existence has been an offering of praise and worship to God. Her presence beside us as we conclude each day encourages us to offer everything in our life to to the Father, through her Son. She stood by Him in His perfect offering on Calvary. Her standing near to us in the Divine Office gives us hope that our offering will be made acceptable. Her presence at our side fills our offering with a glorious sweetness. Our weak offerings--and even the offering of our sins and failures--become sweet by her presence. As we close our eyes each night, with each passing volume, and at the hour of our death, the presence of Our Lady assures us that a new day and new life always awaits us.