Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Hatred, Buffoonery, and Severed Heads

Today is the Feast of the Passion of St. John the Baptist.  The account of his martyrdom provided to us in the Gospel is so hideous that it could make ones skin crawl.  It is common in martyrologies to detail all of the graphic sufferings imposed upon and endured by the saints.  We read in those accounts of the instruments of torture and the gruesome horrors perpetrated upon these great witnesses.  We hear how they were burned, flayed, grilled, scourged, pierced, dissected, drowned, choked, boiled, crucified, and a thousand other cruelties.  But it is different with the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist.

The Gospel tells us that John was beheaded.  But what is particularly gruesome about John's martyrdom is not so much the death itself, but the evil that surrounds it.  It begins with Herod unlawfully divorcing his wife and marrying his brother's wife.  Because John the Baptist reproaches Herod for this, he is imprisoned.

Rebellion against God and right order never remain isolated.  Rebellion insipidly inserts itself into every aspect of life and becomes a way of life.  This picture is painted for us by the Gospels.  Herod's house is rotting and deteriorating.  We don't simply have Herod in an unlawful marriage.  We have him imprisoning John the Baptist for speaking the truth.  So, Herod's house is not only the home for lust, it is a prison where an honest man is prevented from publicly testifying to the truth.  Herod's lust is accompanied by arrogance in that he not only rebels against the truth, but he thinks he has power to silence the truth.

But it doesn't end there.  This place is seedy.  Herod's home is filled with all of these drunkards who are all jockeying for position in Herod's House of Horrors.  In the midst of this, the daughter of Herodias comes out and performs a dance for these drunkards.  One gets a sense that she wasn't a ballet dancer or a tap dancer.  Now that he's had her entertain the drunken guests, in his grandiosity he promises to give her whatever she wants.    Upon her mother's advice, she asks for the head of John the Baptist on a platter.  This is quite a charming little family.  Soon, John is executed and his head is carried around the party on the appetizer platter.

The martyrdom of John the Baptist shows forth the sick and twisted things that happen when one gives himself over to rebellion against God's law.  It rots everything.  It rots the man from the inside and rots everything associated with him. 

Sometimes, the martyrs are made to appear foolish.  People mock them and make them appear weak and clueless.  The people at Herod's party probably considered John the Baptist to be a fool.  After all, he was the one who was in prison while they were having a good time.  They were free to say whatever they wanted (as long as it didn't upset Herod) while John sat alone in a dark cell.  And yet, we know that John the Baptist wasn't the fool.  The fools were upstairs getting drunk, sucking up to a perverted king who has his step-daughter performing dances for drunken guests, and who has a man's head being carried around on a platter.  The buffoonery of Herod's life was not true joy, but rather a pathetic and sinister imitation.  The buffoonery of Herod's home was the clearest testimony that these persons were not happy.  The buffoonery masked a deep and insipid hatred for the truth.  They were laughing all the way to their own destruction. 

Recently I had an interesting experience for which I am grateful.  Usually, I find that persons who engage me in moral and philosophical debates do so out of a search for truth.  While we might disagree on certain matters, I usually find the discussion is sincere and thoughtful.  But recently I engaged in a debate where it was entirely clear that the Christian position on anything was entirely dismissed, mocked, and hated simply because it was Christian.  The arguments themselves were not debated.  There was no engagement on the level of philosophical principles or ethical standards. Instead, the goal was simply to mock Christians and to dismiss anything a Christian might say not based on any objective facts, but on the basis that the one saying it was a Christian.  I found this fascinating.

The reason I was struck by this is because I realized how difficult it must be for many Christians in the world today.  I spend most of my life dealing with believers or at least non-believers who are respectful in their intellectual dialogue.  This experience made me realize how it might be for many of my parishioners.  These men and women who are students, doctors, attorneys, teachers, tradesmen etc must confront on a daily basis the mockery of their beliefs.  I bet people try to silence them for their beliefs.  Granted, they are not imprisoned, but I bet they are treated like fools, dismissed as religious zealots, and suffer isolation.  If they disagree with the predominant culture, they are categorized as "haters" and as lacking intelligence.  Their opponents won't engage them in true discussions about philosophical and ethical principles.  Instead, their opponents will simply imprison them not in cells with walls, but in cells of small-minded, bigotted stereotypes.  And if you mingle bigotry with a little buffoonery, it can seem like its all good fun.  John the Baptist's head on a platter all seemed like good fun too.

For two thousand years, the Church has taken quite seriously the witness of those who have shed their blood for the Faith.  It does so in order to encourage the rest of us to remain steadfast and unwavering.  It could seem like John the Baptist was the one rotting away in prison.  If only he would have stopped speaking the truth, he could have been released and maybe his body would have been invited to the dinner party upstairs along with his head.  But it was not John who was rotting away.  The memory of John the Baptist's witness continues to spur Christians on in their fidelity to Christ and to the Truth. 

Today there are Christians who perhaps feel excluded and mocked because of their fidelity to Christ.  Perhaps they can hear the music and the laughing in the distance and are tempted to give up what seems to be a pointless and fruitless fidelity to the Truth and to Christ in order to get on the invitation list.  Today's feast should encourage you.  John the Baptist was willing to die for the Truth.  The sickos upstairs were willing to murder in order to justify their vices. 

The next time you are feel imprisoned and mocked for being a Christian, rejoice and be glad.  Things could be a lot worse.  You could be part of Herod's household of buffoonery, laughing away as the bloody head of a righteous man is passed around. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Okay, So You Are a Big Dope. Welcome Back.

There have been times when I've been remiss in sending somebody a "Thank You" note.  It is not because I wasn't grateful for the particular act of kindness.  It may be because of disorganization, procrastination, (often) forgetfulness, or some other reason.  But, it was not ingratitude.  But then, time elapses.  I start to feel like sending a "thank you" now would seem even more pathetic.  So, when I see the person, I feel awkward and I may even come up with some excuses (in my head) as to why sending a "thank you" now after so much time has elapsed will be just too strange. 

Now, I hope that if anybody reading this is one of  those people, you let me off the hook and let this be the "thank you" I never sent.  But, "a get out of jail free" card is not why I'm writing this.  I am writing this because I was thinking how there might be a lot of people in life who stopped going to Church at one time or another not because they were rebelling against God or the Church or because they made some formal decision to abandon their Faith.  Maybe there are a lot of people who because of disorganization, procrastination, or forgetfulness (of God) just stopped coming to Mass.

In the initial days after some act of kindness has been done towards me, I often think, "I need to send that Thank You."  But, as time goes on, the daily reminders are not there quite so much.  The occasional pit in my stomach returns when somebody mentions the person's name or some event reminds me that I never sent that "Thank You," but it is with less and less frequency.

Perhaps, many persons who stopped coming to Mass felt great anxiety about it when those first Sundays rolled around.  But, as time passes, they feel like it is too late to just show up now.  It's not that they are bad people who are choosing to rebel against God.  They're just people (in many instances) who forgot to send the "thank you" and think it is too late to do so.  They just feel like it is too late for them to start going to Mass again.  They've grown accustomed to not going to Mass.  Sure, there are those occasional "pit in the stomach" moments when they wish that they hadn't stopped practicing their Catholic Faith, but they feel too awkward about doing anything to change that. 

In any event, if you are one of those persons who hasn't been to Mass in a long time because you happen to be a total dope (like those of us who sometimes forget to write a "Thank You" note), no worries.  Come on back.  God knew you were a dope all along and still loves you.  We all have done dopey things.  It might be a little awkward at first, but living through awkwardness often yields something wonderful.  So, live through the awkwardness and come back.

I think of the parable of the Prodigal Son.  I always imagining him practicing his big speech along the way back to the father's house.  I bet he went over it a hundred times and practiced it aloud as he walked along.  "Father, I have sinned against you and I have no right to be called your son."  He probably envisioned himself saying the whole thing at the doorstep of the father's house.  But, none of it came to pass.  While he was still a long way off, his father ran out to meet him, embraced him, and started barking orders at his servants to give his son a king's welcome.  The son was willing to risk that moment of awkardness and was rewarded with an avalanche of love. 

There are, I know, all sorts of reasons why people might not come to Mass.  I might well be one of the reasons!  But, I bet a lot of people just kind of got forgetful and didn't know how to deal with the awkwardness of showing back up.  "How am I going to get my kids to start going to Mass now that we haven't been in three years?"  Yeah, that's awkward.  The awkwardness is worth it. 

I'd be really happy to see you at Mass--especially if you haven't been in a long time. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Not Yet Worthy of the Extremist Title? Work On It!

This morning I was reading an article from columnist George Will whom I always find insightful.  In the context of the article, Will quotes Martin Luther King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail.  He writes, "You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. . . . But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love. . . . Was not Amos an extremist for justice. . . . Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel. . . . Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”

Beheading of John the Baptist
Undoubtedly, getting the "extremist" label firmly attached to an opposing politician is a political gain and being stuck with the label of "extremist" is most likely a political liability.  But for those of us not running for office, perhaps we ought not to worry so much about this label.  Calling someone an "extremist" (perhaps I've done it myself, I don't know) is a lot easier than debating the merits of an argument.  Call the other person an "extremist" and you move right to the end of the game.  Attach that label and you are free from any intelligent debate.  "Extremist" equals "that person has absolutely nothing worthwhile to say and is a complete and raging nut."  There, that was easy.

Fifteen years ago when I was ordained, any Catholic priest who sang the "Agnus Dei" in Latin at Mass, owned a cassock, or thought that the pope might be a more authoritative teacher than some trendy university theologian was definitely an extremist. 

There are some folks who think that it is always wrong to go to war.  I think that there are times when war is unfortunately necessary.  But, I don't think that people who always oppose war are extremists--even though their opposition is total and without exception.  But, if you think that the life of an unborn baby ought never to be deliberately killed . . . well, you're an extremist.  For thinking that every human life is sacred and ought to have the full protection of law . . . extremist.  Anyone who thinks that human life is so sacred that it ought to be defended must necessarily be advocating that women be dragged into the streets, beaten, and kept unemployed.  And if the people who are advocating the pro-life position are highly educated women?  Well, pretend that they don't exist or that they are just pathetic victims of . . . the extremists.

Think that the government shouldn't fund Planned Parenthood . . . extremist. 

Do you agree that what Christians held collectively and absolutely to be true about artificial contraception for the first 1900 years of the Christian faith is true?  Nutty Extremist.

Do you think that marriage is a life long union between a man and a woman for the pro-creation of new life and the union of husband and wife?  Total extremist.

Think that a man and a woman should be married before they live together?  Extremist.

Think that it is immoral for a doctor to help a patient kill himself?  Extremist.

Go to Mass every Sunday?  Yep, you're an extremist.  Think that all Catholics have to go to Mass every Sunday and confess all serious sins in the Sacrament of Peance?  Crazy, retroactive, right wing extremist. 

Are you upset by the fact that the government is now compelling religious believers to violate their consciences and threatening to fine them into oblivion if they fail to comply?  You, my friend, are an extremist.  How could it be otherwise?  See, it is not extremist for the government to compel religious believers to violate their consciences if the government tells you that your beliefs are extremist.  And the government has said that opposing abortion, sterilization, and contraception are extremist.  So, you are now an extremist.  You must comply or suffer the wrath of the government.  Extremists like you must be brought into compliance.

Basically, if you are a Catholic--you know, the type of Catholic who is going to believe everything the Church teaches to be Divinely revealed by God--then you are most definitely a nutty extremist.  The history of the Church is filled with such nutty extremists.

St. Francis of Assisi?  He decided to live in total poverty, chastity, and obedience.  Sounds a little extremist.

There was that nutty Thomas More who refused to sign off on Henry VIII's wish to divorce and remarry yet again.  He was such a kooky extremist that they had to cut his head off.

John the Baptist was another extremist when it came to marriage.  Herod cut his head off too.  Herod wouldn't have had to go to such (extreme?) lengths had John the Baptist been willing to be just a little more flexible when it came to morality. 

Then there were all of those women throughout the Church's history who pledged their virginity to the Lord.  When dragged before wicked men who commanded that they submit to being raped, they chose death instead.  Certainly these women were a bit on the extreme side.  They needed to be made an example so that others wouldn't be so extreme in their purity.

There were the early Christians in the catacombs, the Catholic priests of England and Ireland who were hunted down and killed for offering the Sacraments, the clandestine seminaries during the Nazi regime and  then behind the Iron Curtain where seminarians--if caught--could be executed, and the priests, bishops, and lay people in China today who suffer enormous risks in order to remain faithful Catholics.  All extremists.  If only they would just go along with what the culture or the government commanded, then they would not have to be dealt with so . . . extremely.

As the Year of Faith approaches, I wonder if we ought to spend more time learning about the martyrs of the Church.  These men and women who shed their blood rather than deny Christ, deny the Church, or deny what is truly good.  These extremists might have a great deal to teach us.

Heaven is for the extremists.  Heaven is for those who believe all that is Divinely Revealed by God.  Sometimes, in order not to be accused of extremism, people like to point out those doctrines and teachings where they are not in agreement with the Church.  It makes them feel intelligent and . . . well . . . not so extreme.  But, the saints are extremists.  They believe everything that has been definitively taught.  They have an extreme hope that all that Christ promises will be fulfilled.  They have an extreme love for God and for their neighbor.  They are willing to go to the extreme of shedding their blood for the Faith.  Their willingness to suffer humiliation, torture, and death are extreme.

There's a always a temptation to make Christianity more palatable by making it less extreme.  Forgiving and loving enemies, rejecting abortion, contraception, divorce and remarriage, believing that bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, believing "he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood will have eternal life," the resurrection, Hell, believing that God's Son was born of a Virgin and was crucified, and a thousand other things about Christianity all sound pretty extreme.  Making everything sound more like milquetoast is tempting.  Maybe more people will join if it wasn't so extreme.

That is the great deception.  But, the more extreme our faith, hope, and love are, the more the Church is alive.  The more we we sound wishy-washy, the more our numbers decrease. 

Preaching and teaching these truths can be hard.  Defending our beliefs can be dangerous.  Believing extremely, hoping extremely, and loving extremely does not mean that we have to be extreme in our tone or extreme in our words.  We can preach and teach the truth with great patience and joy.  If somebody isn't ready to agree with us today, we can win them over by our extreme love, our extreme patience, and our extreme joy.  But, we can also win others over by our willingness to suffer the accusation of being an extremist. 

To be extremely faithful does not require one to be extremely unpleasant or extremely combative.  That is a caricature that some would like to see painted.  To be extremely faithful means that one believes everything that is part of Christian revelation.  It also means that one is extremely faithful to the method of Christ and receptive to all of the beautiful graces that Christ wishes to bestow upon his disciples.  Extreme fidelity, extreme joy, extreme patience, extreme fortitude, extreme obedience, extreme charity, and all of the other virtues too.

We Catholics are sometimes labeled as extremists.  Let's live up to our name.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

I'm Really Blessed in My Life as a Priest

There's a pretty good chance that I am the most blessed(not bless-ed) priest in the world.  I am given the privilege of being part of some extraordinary things.

This evening, at one of my two parishes (St. Margaret in Beverly Farms), I had the privilege of concelebrating Mass on the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  In the context of that Mass--offered by Fr. Scott Hurd, Vicar General of the Anglican Ordinariate in the United States and a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC--my friend and brother in the Faith, Jurgen Liias was received into the Catholic Church and Confirmed.  The Mass was attended by Anglicans who have been the beneficiaries of Jurgen's Anglican ministry and by Catholics from all over who packed the church in joyful celebration of Jurgen's reception into the Catholic Church.

The church was hot as blazes!  The homily was beautiful, the music joyful, and the party afterwards was filled with Catholics and Anglicans who were joyful to be together.  Something amazing was happening in those moments together. 

I've really been privileged as a priest.  That's not to say that there haven't been difficulties.  I'd have less to worry about perhaps if I won the Powerball.  But, it is so awesome to be in a position where I constantly feel as though God is doing--yet again--something new.  Anglican Ordinariate?  What?  Me?  And yet, not because of any creativity on my part but because all of the right people happened to be in the same place at the same time, God is doing something great among us.  Will there be growing pains?  Sure.  But God is doing something here among us. 

It is difficult to put into words, but I am so blessed to be part of the growing Church.  Anglican Ordinariate, seminarians, converts, parishioners who are just so hungry to become educated in the Faith and grow in the Faith.  The party tonight was filled with people--both lifelong Catholics and new Catholics--who are hungry to evangelize and to deepen our friendship in the life of the Church.

One of the seminarians who is from one of my parishes said to me tonight how blessed he feels to be part of our parish.  As the pastor, it might seem like I should take that as a compliment.  And truth to be told, I kind of do.  But more so, I feel the same way he does.  How did this all happen to me?  How did I get so blessed to witness such amazing things?  The seminarians who came from this parish were not born here.  They all just somehow came here.  The young college students who were at the Mass and reception tonight were not born here.  They just somehow came here.  All of these Anglicans who showed up on the scene?  I didn't hang a sign that said, "Anglicans Wanted."  Pope Benedict invited them at the exact time that these folks started a church down the street from me.  The young and educated Catholics who started showing up here and who are hungering to live the Catholic life in its fullness?  How the heck did that happen? 

Sound like bragging?  It isn't.  It is like Jesus just wants something beautiful to happen and so he keeps blessing us.  It is not only here.  The other night, I was at a cookout at the seminary and as I drove home, I thought about the priests with whom I have had the privilege of becoming friends.  I'm surrounded by these awesome priests.  They love God and they love the Church.  I take a great pleasure in realizing that among my priestly friends, I am the least among them.  I'm surrounded by great priests.

Are we perfect?  Far from it.  But, do I think that the Lord is doing something extraordinary among us?  I've no doubt about that.  For every little act of obedience we make to the Lord and to the Church, Jesus does something extraordinary for us.  I'm surrounded by great lay people, seminarians, and priests.  We are so awesomely blessed!

I want to say a bunch of other stuff, but it will sound like bragging.  But it isn't! I mean it!  I am boasting only in Christ.  As the Gospel tonight said, "He has looked upon his lowly servant and from this day, all generations will call me blessed."

The bottom line is that I'm very blessed to be a priest who has been given everything and then some.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

In God, There Is No Distance

When I was a seminarian, a priest from Korea came and did a sabbatical at our seminary.  His name was Fr. Lazarus You--later to become a bishop in Korea.  You couldn't spend ten seconds with Fr. You (whose name was the cause for many grammar type jokes) without smiling.  He exuded joy.

I haven't seen or talked to Fr. You in fifteen years.  The last time I spoke with him was in the hours leading up to my ordination to the priesthood.  To my surprise, he called me from Korea and told me that he wished he could be with me on the day of my ordination, but that was not possible.  He said that he would remember me that day during the Holy Mass and he said something that I've always remembered (and stolen!).  He said, "And as we know, in God there is no distance."

Yesterday morning, a gentleman called the rectory and told the person who answered the phone that his wife reads this blog every day and that she is currently in hospice care.  He asked if it were possible for me to come pay her a visit.  Since she is one of my few readers, how could I say no?!  The Internet is an amazing thing in so many ways.  Persons who might never hear of one another or who might never know one another can be brought together through the medium of the Internet.  Because of the medium of the Internet, I had the privilege of going to her bedside, praying with her and her husband, listening to her renew her baptismal promises, and witnessing the beautiful faith of this married couple.

But, as great as the Internet is, it is only the "this" World Wide Web.  We don't receive status updates from those who have gone to the grave.  Death reveals the limits of the Internet.  In the Internet, there is distance.  And, even if God had a Facebook page and posted daily about how he was doing, we would still experience the infinite distance that exists between Him and us.  God bridges the infinite distance between him and us not by impersonal status updates, but by giving us his Son.  In the person of Jesus Christ, God and man meet.

I was really touched by the gracious and enthusiastic welcome I received from this couple at the hospice, but as soon as I mentioned that I had brought the Blessed Sacrament with me, the focus immediately turned to the presence of the Lord.  In the Eucharist, we become one with Christ and we become one in Christ.  Death always brings about separation.  It separates body from soul and separates the deceased from their loved ones.  But, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, the Eucharist is the antidote for death.  When we receive the Eucharist, we are already being prepared for the Resurrection of the Dead when our souls will be reunited with our bodies.  In the Eucharist, the separation that exists between God and man is bridged.  And as the preface of the Holy Mass reminds us, in the Eucharist earth unites to heaven.  In every Mass, we pray for the Pope and the bishop--thus binding us closer to the whole pilgrim Church.  In every Mass, we pray for the dead, binding us closer to the souls in Purgatory.  In every Mass, we invoke the Saints, binding us closer to the Church in Heaven. 

Yes, in the Eucharist we experience the truth that in God there is no distance.  I am sorrowful that this beautiful couple and their family will soon experience the pain and sorrow that death brings.  But, having spent a brief time with them, I am edified by their beautiful faith.  And in those few moments of prayer and Eucharistic Communion, I was able to witness the victory of Christ over sin and death.  Already, the antidote is at work.  Already, the old order is passing away and the new order of grace is building the new creation.  Where O Death is your sting?  Where O grave is your victory?  Christ has conquered death and is making all things new.  In God, there is no distance.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

With God, Everything Is Great

The Following is a synopsis of the daily Mass homily today.  It can be heard by clicking on the link to the right of this or by going to

Everything about life with Christ should have a greatness about it.  Our faith, our prayer, our liturgy, our sorrow for sin, our joy, our love, our hope, our witness to the world should all be marked by a depth, a profundity, and a greatness worthy of the One who has called us.

The Gospel reading is included on the Podcast itself.  This is the reading from Jeremiah.

God Bless.

The following message came to Jeremiah from the LORD: For thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Write all the words I have spoken to you in a book.
For thus says the LORD: Incurable is your wound, grievous your bruise; There is none to plead your cause, no remedy for your running sore, no healing for you. All your lovers have forgotten you, they do not seek you. I struck you as an enemy would strike, punished you cruelly; Why cry out over your wound? your pain is without relief. Because of your great guilt, your numerous sins, I have done this to you.
Thus says the LORD: See! I will restore the tents of Jacob, his dwellings I will pity; City shall be rebuilt upon hill, and palace restored as it was. From them will resound songs of praise, the laughter of happy men. I will make them not few, but many; they will not be tiny, for I will glorify them. His sons shall be as of old, his assembly before me shall stand firm; I will punish all his oppressors. His leader shall be one of his own, and his rulers shall come from his kin. When I summon him, he shall approach me; how else should one take the deadly risk of approaching me? says the LORD. You shall be my people, and I will be your God.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

When I was a Stranger . . . Fill in the Blank

The Final Judgment: Jesus Separates the Sheep from the Goats
Several years ago, I had two Ethiopian seminarians staying with me and they needed to adjust their immigration status.  I went with them to the immigration office, waited in a long line, and was given immigration documents to fill out.  The forms, rules, and regulations were entirely indecipherable to me.  After getting through a few pages of the form, it said, "do not use this form if your current status is such and such."  I asked the seminarians whose form it was, "What status are you?"  Sure enough, we had the wrong form.  Back in line again.  I left there with the thought, "It is no wonder why there are so many people staying in the country illegally.  It is nearly impossible to figure out how to stay here legally."

Today, after Mass a wonderful young man in my parish asked if he could speak with me.  He is from Liberia and recently was received into the Catholic Church and confirmed.  He is a citizen of the US now and his wife had a student visa.  They were civilly married but wanted to return home in order to have a Catholic wedding in his wife's home country.  They checked with immigration to see if it were okay for them to leave and then return.  They were assured it was.  The plan was that upon their return they would meet with immigration (an appointment had already been set) and her status would change from "student" to "permanent resident."

On their return this week to Logan Airport, she was detained and deported because she shouldn't have left the country before her status changed.  Even though they had specifically asked whether there would be a problem coming back and were told no, she was told that ignorance of the law isn't an excuse.

So, you have this beautiful young couple who are both hardworking, studious, and dedicated to raising a good Christian family separated for potentially six months to a year.  There's no moral to this story and no political commentary.  But, maybe somebody who reads this blog will figure out a way to help them.  If nothing else, say a prayer for them because they are really quite distraught.

St. Paul Reminds Us that the Gospel is Still Urgent

The Conversion of St. Paul
The longer I've been a priest, the greater my affinity for St. Paul has grown.  Whether it is Paul's preaching of the foundational matters of the Faith, instructing on sexual morality, his own personal testimony concerning his life in Christ and his own weaknesses, or his stern correction of those who are causing division among the various communities, St. Paul really provides a model for the life of a pastor today.  When we look at the early Christian communities, we discover that what they dealt with is still part of the life of the Church today.

The other day, I was speaking with a friend of mine who told me that in one of the Church's where he served, a group of people complained about him because he spoke too much about Jesus!  That made me laugh.  But, we catch glimpses in Paul's letters that people were more interested in talking about other things than in talking about Jesus.  For instance, it seems some of them were more interested in talking about each other or talking about who had pride of place in the community.  Some of them were too busy drawing attention to themselves than to the Lord.  St. Paul had to correct them and remind them that he was there to preach Christ.

Sometimes, I think it is tempting on our part to think that since we live in the year 2012, that we are somehow far more advanced than those Corinthians, Ephesians, Romans, and Galatians.  But if we read St. Paul with any sort of openness, we discover there that we are much the same.  When I read St. Paul, it is like I am reading an instruction manual on how to be a shepherd.  The burdens that St. Paul experienced two thousand years ago are still around today.  The shepherds of today are sent to communities that perhaps lack knowledge of the Faith or who are attracted towards those things in the culture that are contrary to the Faith.  There are still controversies surrounding the well-ordering of the Liturgy just as there was in St. Paul's day.  In St. Paul's day, there were those who liked to stir up division and controversy and this is still the case today.

St. Paul writes to his people with love, but not with weakness.  He preaches Christ and he preaches what is hard, but he does so for love of Christ and love for those to whom he writes.  St. Paul preaches with a zeal, an urgency, and with a sacrifice that is still necessary today.  Jesus Christ is actively at work in the life of the Church today.  We are not living off of some distant memory of Christ.  The urgency of Christ and the Gospel is an urgency for today, not just for yesterday.  The need for the Gospel did not die with St. Paul.  The need is urgent.  St. Paul reminds us--by his life, his preaching, his pastoral zeal, and by his death that there is urgency.

Today, in the Letter to the Ephesians that we will hear at Mass, St. Paul urges the Ephesians (and us) to "put on the new man."  St. Paul wasn't speaking to people who hadn't heard of Christ.  He was speaking to Christians.  But St. Paul knew that there was always a risk present that Christians would return to their former ways of life.  There was always a risk that they would slip back into their old life of sin and slavery.  And this risk wasn't unique to Christians living in Ephesus in the first century.  This risk is present everywhere and at all times. 

In today's Gospel, Jesus says, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst."  "Believes" and "comes" are present and active.  They are not past tense verbs.  As Christians, we have to be constantly and actively believing in Christ.  If we allow our Catholicism to be a mere cultural description of ourselves, then we put our whole life in jeopardy.  The risk to returning to the "old man" is real. 

If we are actively and presently believing and actively and presently coming to the bread of life, then we will not look to satisfy hunger elsewhere. But, if we are not constantly engaged in coming to Christ and believing in Christ, then we will inevitably feel hungry again.  And, we risk returning to the old ways of slavery.  We risk returning to those things that can never satisfy our hunger.  The deadly sins always promise to give us what they cannot.  Pride, Greed, Anger, Lust, Envy, Sloth, Gluttony.  If we do not turn to Christ, then we will turn somewhere to satisfy our hunger and thirst. 

Probably most of us have a little of all the deadly sins in us, but it's likely that there's one that exercises a predominance in us.  It is the one that convinces us most easily that it provides the answer to our hungers.  Wealth, pleasure, food, revenge, drink, drugs, laziness, esteem . . . whatever it might be, this is the way in which we slip back into the old ways of slavery.

So, St. Paul helps us today by warning us that it is entirely possible to give up our freedom in Christ for the slavery of the old ways of life, returning to the ways of the pagans.  We should be cautious not to think ourselves so advanced and so "beyond" the Ephesians that we have no cause to worry about such silly things.  What St. Paul wrote and preached is as necessary and as urgent today as it was then.  Sin is as deadly today as it was then.  The risk of returning to the ways of a pagan culture with its idolatry, impurity, and sophistry is as great today as it was then.  The harm caused by factions, divisions, and sin are as great today as it was then.  And the need for preaching Christ, the Bread of Life and the giver of true freedom is as urgent today as it was then.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Oratory of St. Philip Neri or Not, Priestly Fraternity Builds Up the Church

St. Philip Neri
Off and on for the past ten years, I've given thought to seeking permission to found an Oratory of St. Philip Neri.  Without getting into a long explanation, the Oratory is made up of secular priests who live together in community for life and follow a rule of life together.  They have pastoral duties and they live a common life of prayer together.  Their common life together is meant to help them in their pastoral work and, obviously, in their own call to holiness.

All of this returned to mind again during this past summer.  On a regular basis, my parish rectory has had a constant flow of priests and seminarians spending time here.  Some come for their days off, some are assigned here, and some call this parish their home.  One of the more enjoyable problems I've had this summer is trying to figure out if we had room for one more.  It's nice to have a place where brother priests stop by for their day off and where the Mass might have four seminarians present and one or two more men from the parish who might be applying to the seminary. 

I think the people of the parish really love to see so many young priests and seminarians living a life together.  They enjoy having them over for dinner, hearing their vocation story, and befriending them.  I think the people have a sense that there is something really healthy for their priests to be living a common life together, giving each other a hard time, and seeing them having cookouts in the rectory yard.  It's great for people to see all of these regular guys who are priests and seminarians. 

I think the visiting priests and seminarians are really touched by how much the people love them, pray for them, and support them.  The people here really love priests and seminarians.  In fact, in our adoration chapel there are cards whereby people can offer their Holy Hour for a seminarian.  I hear all the time from our seminarians from the Archdiocese of Boston, studying in Boston and in Rome how grateful they are to receive these cards all the time. 

Who knows if the Oratory of St. Philip Neri is what the Lord wants.  But, what is clear is that when there are priests and seminarians living in charity together, it strengthens the parish and strengthens the priests and seminarians.  It produces priestly vocations in the parish.  This week, a young man who entered the Catholic Church through the RCIA in this parish will take his solemn vows as a Dominican.  One man from the parish was ordained a few years ago to the Salvatorians.  Two other men from the parish are studying for the Archdiocese of Boston and I hope rather soon, another man will join them.  The parish also has a man who will be ordained a permanent deacon in September.  One of the great things about our common life together is that there is a lot of joy.  I think the people who stop by our home discover something really beautiful.

St. John Vianney
Today, August 4th, is the feast of the patron saint of priests, St. John Vianney.  The Church desperately needs more priests and more holy priests.  Today we should ask that through St. John Vianney's intercession, the Lord raise up more priestly vocations.  We should also pray that those of us who are priests become ever more obedient to God's will in our lives.

Oratory or not, it continues to be a tremendous blessing in my life to live in a parish where the Lord gathers these brothers together in a great bond of fraternal charity and where that fraternal charity overflows into a great pastoral charity for the people of God.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Please Indulge Yourself in this Great Gift

I woke up this morning and happily was reminded that today and tomorrow it is possible to gain, what is called, the Portiuncula Indulgence.  See, isn't being Catholic awesome?  You could be standing around today at work and somebody could say, "What's new?"  And you could reply, "Oh, I'm going to try and get the Portiuncula Indulgence today."  And they will look at you confusedly and say, "What?"

That's when, I know, you are going to look at them confusedly and say, "You mean you don't know about the Portiuncula Indulgence?  Well, it is a good thing that I ran into you..  Let me briefly explain it to you:

When we sin and then seek God' forgiveness, we are freed from the guilt of that sin.  But, it's temporal effects remain.  In other words, since my sin has introduced disorder into the world, I need somehow to do penance for that.  It is a matter of justice.  Now, I will either do that penance here on earth through prayer, fasting, and works of charity or, I will do that penance in Purgatory after I die.  Yes, there is a purgatory.

Because the Church has power to bind and loose both in heaven and on earth, the Church sometimes grants what are called "indulgences."  Basically, what the Church is saying is that because there is an infinite amount of merits gained by Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary (who had no need to do works of penance) and all of the other saints, those merits can be applied to us or to the dead.  So, for a little, tiny, minuscule effort on our part, we can gain a plenary indulgence between this evening (August 1) and tomorrow evening (August 2).  A plenary indulgence means that either we ourselves or somebody who has died whom we offer the indulgence for are completely freed from all of the temporal punishment due to our past sins.  How awesome is that?  A clean slate!

This particular indulgence is connected to St. Francis of Asissi.  The Portinicula is a beautiful chapel where St. Francis died and where St. Clare professed her vows.  Because so many beautiful graces were given by God at this chapel, during his lifetime St. Francis asked the pope to grant a plenary indulgence to anyone who visits this chapel and performs certain meritorious acts.  The pope agreed. 

So, if you visit this chapel today in Italy, you can get the indulgence.  Oh, you can't go to Italy today?  Oh, that's too bad.  I guess you are out of luck.  No, no, no.  See, the Church is not the bad guy everyone paints her out to be.  The Church wants people to have new beginnings.  So, she has made this indulgence totally easy to obtain.  Are you ready?  Do you want to write this down?

You have to do the following:

You have to visit either the chapel in Italy or a Franciscan Shrine, OR YOUR PARISH CHURCH with the intention of honoring Our Lady of the Angels.  While there, you pray the Creed and one Our Father and offer some prayer for the intentions of the Pope.  You have to go to confession within 8 days before or after the visit and participate at Mass and receive Holy Communion within 8 days before or after the visit.

You also need to be free from all attachment to mortal and venial sin.  If you are not free from all attachment, then the indulgence can still be obtained, but it might be partial and not plenary (full). 

That's it.  For that little bit of effort, all of the punishments that are due to my past sins will be remitted and I can start fresh.  Or, if there is somebody I know who has died, I can offer it for that person.  So, that's what I'll be doing.  Want to do it with me?"

Yep, that's what I bet your day at work is going to be like today.  You are probably going to have that conversation a hundred times.  Or maybe it would be easier just to email a link to this blogpost to those people or google the Portiuncula Indulgence and send some other link to them.  Might as well share this good news.  No worries.  The merits of Christ, the Blessed Virgin, and the saints are infinite, so you can tell as many people as you want.  They'll still be plenty for everyone!