Thursday, November 29, 2012

Looking for A Dorothy Day Miracle

Sometimes when I offer Mass, I look at the congregation in front of me and am amazed by how much is going on in the lives of the people there.  I know probably more than most and I don't know the half of it.  In a particular way, the parish priest is often aware of the sufferings that afflict his people.  As hundreds of people pass by us on their way out of Mass, there is a constant barrage of requests for prayers for the dying, the unemployed, the addicted, the anxious etc.  In part, this is why I often will pray at Mass "for all who have asked our prayers."  This way, I don't forget any of the requests made to me.

A couple of weeks ago the United States Bishops advanced the cause for sainthood for Dorothy Day.  Quite honestly, I know very little about her life.  I know the basics.  In order to move toward sainthood, there have to be proven miracles attributed to that particular person's intercession.  And, somebody I know really needs a miracle today.  So, this is a match made in . . . heaven.

I cannot really say much about the person except that he needs healing.  So, I thought you might be so kind as to pray for this person's healing through the intercession of Dorothy Day.  I will include at the bottom of this entry, a prayer that can offered for this intention.  Would you help me and this person?

If you knew what the intention was, you would immediately join in.  Let's help a miracle happen.  If God should grant this favor, no worries--I will definitely let you know.  But for now, would you please say this prayer right now . . . and maybe for the next several days . . .maybe even 9 days?

I appreciate it..

Prayer for the Intercession of Servant of God Dorothy Day
od our Creator,
your servant Dorothy Day exemplified the
Catholic faith by her conversion,
life of prayer and voluntary poverty,
works of mercy, and
witness to the justice and peace
of the Gospel.

May her life inspire people
to turn to Christ as their Savior and guide,
to see his face in the world’s poor and
to raise their voices for the justice
of God’s kingdom.

We pray that you grant the favors we ask
through her intercession so that her goodness
and holiness may be more widely recognized
and one day the Church may
proclaim her Saint.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Parishioners, What Do You Think?

Although there is the occasional reader of my blog from someplace other than my own zip code, for the most part, I suspect that my blog is read primarily by my own parishioners.  So, this post is specifically geared towards them.  What is written below will appear in next Sunday's bulletin, but in the hopes of getting feedback sooner, I post it here as well. 

Dear Friends in Christ,
Because of the rather short period allotted to me to provide feedback to the Archdiocese concerning whether St. Mary’s and St. Margaret’s wish to be part of Phase One of the Pastoral Plan, I asked you last week to provide feedback to me.  I did not provide to you a lot of information and perhaps left you with more questions than answers.  Elsewhere in today's bulletin there is a brief outline of the Pastoral Plan of the Archdiocese. 
Understandably, a lot of you have been asking me questions about whether I would remain as your pastor.  I don’t know the answer to that question.  If we participate in Phase One, my guess is that it will be unlikely that I will remain as your pastor.  If we don’t participate in Phase One, I still might not remain as your pastor.  This is completely out of my hands.  
Back in May, I made a decision that I was not going to focus my attention on what my future would be.  I focused upon providing to all of you those things that make a parish strong.  A strong RCIA program that has welcomed converts into the Church for years, a youth ministry program that is growing and touching the hearts of young people, and a college and young adult ministry that provides a place of contact for college students who attend Mass here each Sunday at 10:30, have been part of a concerted effort to draw and keep others close to Christ. 
Last weekend after the Masses at St. Mary’s, the Youth Ministry Program sold Advent Wreath candles.  They only bought 75 sets of them and they sold out.  75 sets of Advent Candles are for me a small sign of the wonderful Catholic life we are living together.  Knowing that at least 75 families in our parish have an Advent Wreath in their home tells me that something good is happening among us. 
Sometimes I hear priests say, “A pastor grows stagnant after a few years in the same parish.”  I can tell you that I never feel that way.  I always feel like we are on the move.  Our friendship is deepening; our evangelization efforts are expanding, our Liturgical life richer, our devotion stronger, our Faith more educated, and our community more diverse.  We have beautiful music, probably more vocations than any parish in the Archdiocese, a strong religious education program and school, a good amount of confessions, Eucharistic Adoration, Bible Studies, Adult Education, and fairly solid finances. Some of you feel as though all of that will be at risk when we enter into the new Pastoral Plan.  Those feelings are understandable.  Sometimes, I’m nervous about that too.  Basically, every day that I wake up here, I feel like we are growing stronger and are beating the odds.  In a decade that saw massive distrust concerning the Church, we’ve not just “hung on,” we’ve become stronger and MORE Catholic. 
So, where does that leave us?  Well, I don’t know.  But, I think whatever opinions you offer to me have to be based upon the supposition that I may well not be your pastor a year from now.  Whether the Beverly parishes are in Phase One or not, it seems that many priests will be moved from one parish to another.  So, I think we have to make a presumption.  We have to presume that when the time comes to name a pastor here, the Cardinal will send someone who will appreciate, preserve, and build upon all that we already have.  And, all of you have to be committed to making that happen.
When I was first assigned to Beverly, I wondered, “Where is Beverly?”  I wound up here because I was sent.  And you know, the whole thing worked out pretty well.  So, I think we have to make an act of faith, and trust that those responsible for making assignments will do so in a way that will have your interests at heart. 
I do not know yet whether we should participate in Phase One or not.  There are good arguments both ways.  But, I think the opinions you offer to me ought to be based upon what you think will work best for your parish, the Catholic Schools in Beverly, and for Beverly as a whole.  I think that your opinion has to remove me from the equation because that is a factor we have no control over, whether we are in Phase One or not.  The question before us is not whether we will participate in the plan or not.  And it is not whether I should stay as pastor or not.  The question is whether we should be part of Phase One or not.  Our goal ought to be to make certain that we act and live in such a way that makes the Pastoral Plan in Beverly a great success.  In a few years, I want it to be reported to the Cardinal that Beverly continues to be a great success story for the Archdiocese of Boston and that it implemented his plan in the best way possible.
The best ways for you to express your opinions are to go to our Facebook Page—“St. Mary Star of the Sea and St. Margaret’s in Beverly” or to email us at
Let us be calm and confident in Christ’s love for us.
Your Brother in Christ,
Fr. David Barnes

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sunday, Exhausting and Awesome

Parish priests get to know their people.  What did I see and hear this Sunday?

In the back of church, was a young father holding his infant son.  That son almost died at birth.  I baptized and confirmed him.  In the sanctuary was one of the lectors.  He went through our RCIA a few years ago and has become a friend and a wonderful parishioner.  Next to him was another lector.  She and her husband are truly remarkable.  They know what it means to be truly Catholic and it is as though they went to some special training class on how to encourage and support the priest.

Seminarian Brian Cullen, Fr. Chateau, Seminarian Phil Scheer, Me,
and Seminarian Tom Gignac.
Just part of our fraternity.

In the congregation was a man and his son.  I went to their home for Thanksgiving.  There was a woman who brings her daughter to Mass most weeks.  She provides total care for her daughter who is bound to a wheelchair.  Bringing her daughter to Mass requires a herculian effort, but she does it with a smile.  She also used to bring her Dad to Mass.  He was in his nineties and she took care of him too.  He died about a month ago.

There was Eda who asked me if I had seen Paul at Mass because he hadn't been feeling well recently.  She and Paul went to the prom together--about 75 years ago.  There was a request to pray for somebody who is undergoing surgery this week.  There was Tyler--an altar boy--who serves Mass all of the time.  I wore beautiful vestments donated by Bill, whose mother was born on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and was married on that day too.  Grace wasn't there.  She used to sit in the second to last row on the Blessed Virgin side of the church, but her husband died last week and she's not doing well. 

The music duirng communion was Gregorian Chant.  People like Gregorian Chant . . . if they are ever exposed to it.  The youth group sold Advent candles in the back of church, Brian--one of the seminarians from the parish helped,--the school sold wreaths outside, Joan whose daughter has Lupus was limping, Mary Helen's arthritis was eased enough to make it to Mass, Juanita is out of the hospital, and before Mass a lot of people came to confession.

On Sunday morning, I talked to a young couple who have a beautiful newborn baby.  I told them that I want to baptize him soon.  He has a beautiful name and was born on October 2nd.  I told the parents that October 2nd is the Feast of the Guardian Angels.  They said that they knew that because they lost twin boys at 13 weeks of age and they often think about them with their guardian angels.  What a privilege it is to be a parish priest and to know these things and to see the faith of these beautiful people.

There were three seminarians here this weekend.  It is a privilege to see them grow in their vocation.

I chatted with one guy about his work and his family.  We were just standing around talking.  He's become a friend.  Friendships don't happen quickly.  They take time.  Being a shepherd takes time.

I spent time after the Five talking with a young woman who has just experienced a tragedy in her life.  She's a convert to the Faith and is such a remarkable witness.  I saw an elderly woman there whose son is very sick.  I celebrated the Funeral Mass for one of her sons and for one of her grandsons.  The lector at one of my Masses is responsible for a lot of employees.  He said that his main goal is to keep everyone employed and not to lay anyone off. 

I saw other people today who probably dislike me.  Some probably have very good reason for that.  Pastors make mistakes, have bad days, and say stupid things sometimes. Others might be mad for silly reasons.

All of that might sound mundane and boring to some.  But to me, they are my flock.  They are not an ambiguous mass of persons.  They are particular persons with particular situations and particular sufferings and particular joys.  Christianity is not about generalizations.  It is about particulars.  Jesus became flesh in a particular place at a particular time of a particular woman with a particular name.  Priesthood is about tending to particular persons.

At the end of the weekend, the priest with whom I live and work and I sat in the common room of our rectory and conversed.  We talked about many things.  We discussed particular parishioners who are ill, suffering, dying etc.  We talked about what we think is best for the future of our two parishes.  We talked about our own lives as shepherds.  And, we laughed a lot too.  Having a great flock is a beautiful gift.  Another great gift for me is sharing the pastoral burden with a wonderful brother priest.  Our fraternity--and by extension, the fraternity of all of the seminarians and priests who come here--serves the people well.  I think that the people can easily see that our fraternity makes us better priests.

Sunday is awesome.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

At the Altar and at the Mall: Thankful to Be a Priest

Thanksgiving for being a priest.

This morning after Mass, I had to go to a local mall in order to run some errands.  While looking for a shirt, a young woman approached and asked, "Fr. Barnes?"  I recognized her (though not her name) as a parishioner.  We chatted for a bit and she helped me.  When I thanked her for her assistance, she said with a warm sincerity, "It is nice to be able to do something for you."  I love being a priest.

She introduced me to another worker there.  The young man turns out to be an evangelical seminary student at a local seminary.  We had a very long chat about all sorts of things.  We discussed the culture, what it is like to be proclaiming the Gospel in a increasingly radical secularist society, and the relationship between Catholics and Evangelicals.  I'm hoping that our conversation will lead to more opportunities to meet and learn from one another.  I love being a priest.

"Did you say that you're Father Barnes," asked an older gentleman looking at some sweaters.  Turns out that he is the pastor of a protestant congregation the next town over.  We've known of each other for a long time, but have never met.  So, we warmly shared a moment of Christian fraternity.  I love being a priest.

I took my dog for a walk this afternoon and a car pulled over.  In it was a young man from my parish who comes to daily Mass.  His mother was visiting for Thanksgiving and he wanted to introduce us.  I love being a priest.

Yesterday, I had lunch with several First Graders at our parish school.  They were trying to outdo one another in "Who is the oldest person you ever met?"  (105 seemed to be the winner).  I love being a priest.

We have a lot of college students who come to our parish.  I love being a priest.

We have a lot of college students who come to our parish for confession.  I love being a priest.

One of our parishioners was ordained a deacon this year.  I love being a priest.

We have three men in our parish who are studying for the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Boston.  I love being a priest.

We have a young man from our parish who was ordained a few years ago for a religious order.  I love being a priest.

We have a young man from our parish studying to become a Dominican Priest.  I love being a priest.

Parishioners have been asking me which seminarians will be staying at our rectory over the Thanksgiving Break because the parishioners have a love for these men.  I love being a priest.

A woman from my parish stopped by the rectory on Tuesday because she was on her way to bring the Eucharist to local nursing home residents.  She said, "Father, I'm here for Bible Study on Mondays, bring Holy Communion on Tuesdays, and have adoration on Wednesdays."  All of this after coming home from work.  I love being a priest.

The other night I walked into our adoration chapel and ran into a young husband and father.  He's an electrician and was just getting back to town after sitting in rush hour traffic.  Before going home to his wife and children, he stopped in to say a few prayers.  I love being a priest.

The other day, a cop called me just to see if I wanted to take our dogs for a walk.  I love being a priest.

Thirty or so kids showed up for Youth Group the other night.  I love being a priest.

I will be with a young couple who lost a baby this week.  They told me how grateful they are to be part of such a caring parish and how certain parishioners have been such a tremendous support to them.  I love being a priest.

People are dropping off food at the rectory and cooking for us.  I love being a priest.

My staff and I pray the Angelus together every day at Noon.  I love being a priest.

Through this blog and through other social media, I have a lot of great opportunities to discuss the Catholic Faith with believers and non-believers.  I love being a priest. 

Advent is coming and I will hear the confessions of all of our school children and a lot of our Religious Education students.  I love being a priest.

On Sunday there will be a parade that passes by my rectory.  Tons of people will stop by to say "hello".  I love being a priest.

Every day I carry to the altar in my heart the intentions of so many people.  Many of those intentions are known only to me.  I love being a priest.

I have the privilege of preaching the Word and consecrating the Eucharist.  I love being a priest.

I baptize infants and adults and am instrumental in their becoming members of the Body of Christ.  I love being a priest.

I feed the Eucharist to the People of God.  I love being a priest.

I am part of many families.  I love being a priest.

I help people get married and help them stay married.  I love being a priest.

I offer absolution to the sinner, consolation to the sorrowing, and hope to the despairing.  I love being a priest.

I share in a beautiful fraternity of great priests.  I love being a priest.

Thanksgiving provides an opportunity to give thanks.  Today, I'm thankful not only to be a priest, but that I love being a priest.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

At the Grave of a Little Boy

I really love being a priest and I am privileged to be a priest.

After the morning Masses today, Fr. Chateau and I went to another local cemetery and prayed for the deceased members of our parish who are buried there. There were many elderly people who attended the event and took us to the graves of their parents and grandparents.  Some of the stones had birth dates in the 1800's.  People were so happy to have us come and bless the graves and pray for their deceased relatives, friends, and neighbors.

As we were just about finished, we noticed a young couple standing at a grave in the distance.  We walked over and looked at the stone.  Buried there was their six year old son.  Because there had been so many graves to bless, Fr. Chateau and I kept things moving fairly quickly as we prayed at each grave.  But here, the only thing we could do is pause.  Suddenly, life seemed so unfair and death seemed to mock us.  "This is our son, Father."  Immediately, my eyes filled up.

We prayed for their little boy and we prayed for them.  When our prayers were ended, I said, "You know that you will see him again."  His Dad said, "He's a good boy."  Then we paused for a few more moments.  As we left, they thanked us for coming.

In recent months, I have encountered a fair share of people who adamantly oppose belief in the existence of God.  For them, there is no ultimate meaning, no ultimate redemption.  Death is just a part of nature and that's it. 

Today, I am grateful that my life is intended to be completely given over to witness to the person of Jesus Christ who conquered death and rose again.  My secularist friends would argue that I am only providing to those parents some fairytale hope in a hereafter.  I feel sorry for those friends.  Because what I am witnessing to is to a love that is eternal; a love that became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  A love that is the antidote for death.

For my secularist friends, they live in a world where the injustice of a little boy's death and the parent's grief has to be greeted ultimately with a shrug of the shoulders or perhaps a yearly memorial walk to raise money for some sort of good cause.  The injustice and pain, however, are just masked.  For these friends of mine--whom I love--the world, despite all of its natural grandeur and beauty, collapses in on itself.  Some would argue that the death of this little boy is an argument against the existence of God.  But, for me, this child's death is an argument against atheism.  A world in which pain and suffering have no ultimate answer does violence to our human heart.  Their answer is that there is not ultimate justice.  The Christian testifies that there is an answer to our hearts' deepest questions.

Today, as a priest, I walked into what seems the trophy case for an atheist.  Don't all of those graves stand in mockery to the notion of an all loving God?  Is not the heartbreaking scene of those two young people standing over their son's grave the ultimate accusation against the existence of God?  As a priest, I walked into the cemetery today and provided something that no atheist could ever provide.  I was a witness to hope.  The atheist could say, "Well maybe some day they will find a cure and nobody else will die this way."  But, the atheist cannot provide hope that takes away the sting of death and the permanence of the grave.  But we could.

In the face of that young couple today, I saw the whole thing plainly.  It actually helped me a great deal.  Without Christ, the whole world is a giant grey graveyard devoid of hope.  This is what atheism and secularism bring to the world.  Their mission is ultimately to lead people to abandon all hope.  The apex of their argumentation is: do not have hope.

My friends who embrace atheism and secularism often attribute blame to Catholics for every evil that has ever been perpetrated.  But, it is the they--the atheist and the secularist--who bring the greatest evil.  They teach human beings to despair and to abandon hope.  The Catholic Faith brings hope.

In an age when we speak so often about the "global community," we are at the same time experiencing a radical eclipse of the vision of the world.  We are closing in more and more upon ourselves.  The light of eternity is growing dim in our culture. To abandon the world into the hands of those who can only offer despair would be a great tragedy. 

That little boy is going to rise from the dead.  His parents are going to see him again.  There is an eternal love that embraces the whole world.  I go to bed tonight sorrowful that a little boy died and that his parents mourn.  But, I go to bed joyful in hope.  I know that my redeemer lives and that on the last day, in our bodies we will look upon God our Savior. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

What's Good for the Pastor is Good for the Bishop

"Father, I pray for you every day."  Whenever somebody tells me that, I feel so relieved and comforted.  Being a pastor brings with it tons of responsibilities.  Traditionally, those responsibilities can be divided into three categories: Teaching, Sanctifying, and Governing.  Under each of those three categories comes a million other things.  Sometimes in my life, one area or another demands more of my attention than the others.  And sometimes, if your eye is on one thing, people become upset that your eye isn't on the other thing.  What do I mean?

I've had the experience of needing to focus say on finances at one time or another.  If you do that, somebody will say, "He only thinks about money."  At other times, I've had to focus on the Catholic School.  Somebody will say, "He never thinks about the children in Religious Education."  If you focus on prayer, then somebody will say, "He never focuses on social justice issues."  If you focus on the youth, then it can be said that you don't focus on the elderly.  If you focus on spiritual things, it might be said that you are not focused on the administration of the parish.  If you focus on those who have left the Church, you can be accused of abandoning the people who are here every week.  The list can go on and on.  Ideally, a pastor needs to balance all of these things and I've been fortunate in my life that almost everybody cuts me a break!  Actually, I really am very blessed because I have found people to be overwhelmingly supportive and even more than that, I have found them to be obedient. 

Yes, I know that obedient is not a popular word.  But, I have found in large part, people have truly been obedient to me.  I don't mean in some sort of fear mongering way.  I mean that they've trusted me as their pastor and have followed.  When I've encouraged them to frequent confession, attend adoration, give to the poor, increase the offertory, deepen their prayer life etc, they've followed.  Sometimes, I'm sure that their personal interests may have wanted to go in another direction, but they chose obedience instead.  And, this obedience has produced in our life something truly beautiful.  We move together in communion of mind and heart.  I have discovered in my people a great sense of communion. 

Sometimes when I look around at my parishes, I am amazed at all that is taking place in this one small part of the Archdiocese.  In my congregation on a given Sunday are people who are dying, lost loved ones, pregnant, going through a divorce, unemployed, have a child who is in trouble, or a spouse who is suffering from addiction.  There are wealthy people and poor people.  There are people who go to confession weekly and people who haven't gone in years.  There are people who love the Church and people who are bitter towards the Church.  There are a million pastoral problems, a million administrative issues, and a million things that we need to do better.  But, they can't all be fixed or addressed at once.  And for the most part, people are patient with that.

All of that takes place in my two parishes.  So, I wonder how it must be to be the bishop of a whole Archdiocese?  Imagine the amount of things that must be on his mind.  I think it is easy for the rest of us to forget how many things must weigh upon him.  Everybody thinks that their priority ought to be his priority.  The bishop should focus on good catechesis, get a pastoral plan together, fix the finances of the archdiocese, correct wayward priests, spend more time with the seminarians, spend more time with this ethnic group, visit sick priests, spend more time in parishes, do more fundraising, focus more on the poor, speak out on controversial issues, know his priests better, be more involved in supporting vocations, crack down on dissent in Catholic schools, be more focussed on administration . . . .  And, everyone of those things is true.  That's what a bishop should do--and a thousand other things as well!  A bishop is a pastor with a very big flock and a very long list of duties. 

I'm very grateful that in the midst of all of my pastoral responsibilities I have people who say, "Father, I pray for you every day."  Their prayers sustain me and help me to endure the rare person who thinks that his priority should be my one and only priority.  How much more must a bishop with far greater pastoral responsibilities need our prayers and encouragement?  I really feel the weight every day of my pastoral office.  It is a weight that I am privileged to carry and is truly a joy.  But, it is a weight.  I am so grateful for those whose prayers and obedience help me to live out my pastoral mission.  Part of the reason that they do so is because I am in front of them every day.  They see me and they know me.

A bishop though is not in sight every day.  It could be easy to forget him or to think of him as somebody remote from our experience.  The Liturgy, however, includes his name every day during Mass in order to emphasize the importance of his place in our ecclesial communion.  This mention of the bishop's name in the canon of the Mass ought to remind us that the bishop and his ministry is at the heart of the local Church.  It is also a moment for us to deepen our communion with the bishop and to deepen our obedience towards his pastoral authority.

If you've managed to read this all the way to the end, then please make it a point to add your bishop to your prayers every day.  I know as a parish priest, the assurance of prayers and the spirit of obedience makes my work so much more joyful and lighter.  Let's also give those gifts to our bishop.  Let's love him with our prayers and with our obedience.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

How Many Divisions Does the Pope Have?

Since the election, I've offered Mass, signed checks, returned phone calls, given my dog his heart worm pill, and done laundry.  Life doesn't seem all that different than it did a few days ago.  But, it is different.  America is changing drastically.  Those who say that such thoughts are over the top should converse with the people with whom I converse.  During the past several months, I've debated and bantered with Catholics and former Catholics who advocate for and support a radical change in the cultural landscape.

These people--many of whom are my friends--didn't simply vote in particular ways because they thought that their candidate would help the poor more or would lead the country away from war.  They told me why they were voting for him.  They voted for abortion rights.  They voted in favor of gay marriage.  They voted in favor of the government compelling religious organizations to violate their consciences.  They voted against the Church's position on contraception.  Many of these folks attribute all of society's woes to the Catholic Church.  They want the Church silenced and to move on to a society governed by secularism and want religious believers to be compelled into silence in the public square.  Again, this is not my interpretation of how I think these people voted.  I am conveying what they've actually told me.  Some of my friends--had they been at the Democratic Convention--would have been among those who booed when they inserted the word, "God" back into the platform.

In Massachusetts where I live, some are rejoicing because a ballot initiative which would have legalized Physician Assisted Suicide failed.  But, I look at that too as a failure.  Yes, we held the line for today.  But the fact that almost half of the population of a very Catholic commonwealth could support the bill is disheartening.  We are changing as a culture. 

For me, the election was not so much about Obamacare and Libya.  It was not so much about jobs and the economy.  Reasonable people can and will always disagree about the most prudent course of action when it comes to those types of issues.  For me, the election was more about what kind of culture we are going to be.  The election was about changing fundamental understandings about the value of human life, fundamental definitions about what marriage and family are, fundamental understandings about human dignity and religious freedoms.  It was about whether religious freedom was going to be interpreted for the first time as merely the freedom to worship or whether it was going to continue to be something much bigger than that.

For me the election means that the voice of the Church has been shown to be feeble and diminished.  Yes, we won the assisted suicide battle this time.  I'm certain that its supporters are already ready for the next round.  The Church seems only capable of rallying to fight battles here and there, sometimes winning and sometimes losing.  But, in the greater scheme of things, the Church is losing ground at a dramatic and alarming pace. 

While it is sometimes necessary for the Armed Forces to invoke a draft and radically increase its numbers to fight a particular battle, this can never replace the value of a regular army.  The Church seems to have lost its ability to maintain a regular army.  We have forgotten about the day to day need to win souls for Christ.  If Catholics were being formed daily in the life of Faith and were growing daily in their friendship with Jesus Christ, then it would be unthinkable that legalized assisted suicide could ever get that many votes.  If Catholics in Massachusetts were being formed by the Gospel, there's no way that political candidates and political parties who support abortion would not do some serious reconsidering of their positions.

One thing I admire about my friends who advocate for a radical secularism in society (this is how they would describe it) is that they have a vision of society and they really pull out all of the stops to advance that vision.  Sadly, the Catholic Church does not do the same thing.  The greatest threat to the advancing of the Catholic vision in society is not society but is the weakness of the Church herself.  There are those who teach in her institutions, who write in her publications, who work in her various organizations, and who stand in her pulpits who do not not advance the Catholic vision but who weaken us by adopting the secularist language and model.  I'm sure some do this with the intention of working against the Church.  But I suspect that most do it because they simply and naively adopt the prevailing language and culture.  Either way, we have met the enemy and the enemy is us.

Pope Benedict XVI's Year of Faith and the renewed emphasis on the New Evangelization is my source of hope and encouragement.  For so long, the Catholic Church--at least where I live--has become anesthetized by the culture.  It often feels as though we are pathetic wimps who have nothing serious to offer.  But the New Evangelization is an opportunity to once again announce the Gospel in all of its radiant beauty and power.  We are the Bride of Christ and our Bridegroom poured out his blood for us on the Cross.  We can know Jesus Christ and experience the power of His love in our lives.  The Catholic vision of the human person, for human life, for the value and dignity of the weak, of marriage, and of civilization is truly beautiful and convincing.  We should be proclaiming it boldly from the rooftops.  When people hear the Gospel, they are often attracted to it.  When the Church simply adapts itself to the predominant culture, she becomes more and more obsolete.

If we adopt a more intense and evangelical approach to our life as the Church, we might be abandoned by the millionaires.  Often, it seems, that the wealthy donors tend to give towards those ecclesial institutions that are less faithful to the Church's mission.  That's okay.  Jesus didn't start his Church with the wealthy.  He started with a friendship.  The Year of Faith and the New Evangelization take as their starting point not any one particular moral issue and certainly not money.  They begin from an encounter with Jesus Christ.  We need to begin from this friendship and remain loyal to this friendship. 

It sometimes seems like we are trying to prove ourselves to the culture by watering down our Christian witness.  We've done that for several decades.  The inaction and silence of the Church on the issue of Catholic politcians supporting abortion has led us to where we are today.  For decades, those politicians basically said, "The Bishops have their view and I have mine."  Now, whenever the bishops speak on any moral issue, the general Catholic population says, "Well, the bishops have their view and I have mine."  Seriously, whoever designed the strategy for the Church in the United States' engagement on public policy matters has done an enormous disservice to the Church and to society. 

We actually have something to say to the culture and something to add to the culture.  Jesus said that we are the salt of the earth.  We should start acting like we believe that.  The culture is collapsing in on itself.  Pope Benedict XVI is a general who is worth his salt.  I'm going to follow his lead.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Priesthood: From the Cradle to the Grave in a Day

Me, Deacon Michael, and Fr. Chateau blessing graves today
During Holy Week of this past year, I received a phone call just as I was about to offer our evening Mass.  A little baby was born at the hospital and was in serious danger.  I offered Mass as reverently and as quickly as I could and then raced to the hospital.  The mother still in surgery, I gathered with the baby's Dad, some other family members, and several nurses.  Everyone was crying as I baptized and confirmed Matthew John.

Today--at long last--we supplied the ceremonies that were missed that night at the hospital.  Matthew received his candle and his baptismal robe at the 10:30 Mass this morning.  Parishioners who have been praying for him all along were filled with joy as they met for the first time this young family for whom they have long been praying.  (Although Matthew's family is here every week, not everybody would know them.)  Baby Matthew's Great, great uncle was there too.  He is a Jesuit priest who is 94 years old.  After the Mass, Matthew's Dad told me once again how much the parish is a family to his family.  And, of course, that is music to my ears.  It was a joy-filled morning.

Immediately after Mass, the deacon, Fr. Chateau (the priest with whom I live), and I went to our cemetery and had a prayer service.  We prayed, sang, and then blessed hundreds of graves in the cemetery.  There were many parishioners who joined us and who were very grateful for the opportunity to pray for their loved ones.  As I walked about blessing graves, I was struck by how many of them I knew and how many of them I had buried.

Then, Fr. Chateau and I went to the party for Matthew John.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to have spent this day with my parishioners.  I was with Matthew who is among the newest parishioners and I was with all of those buried in our cemetery who await the resurrection.  When we prayed for Mathew today at Mass, we sang the Litany of the Saints.  When we prayed at the cemetery, we sang the Litany of the Saints again.  There's something beautiful to be said about this, but I'm totally wiped out and will have to save that for another day. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Priesthood: Heaven and Earth

I know that I'm a priest everyday, but today I really felt like a priest.  I got up early, made my coffee, and prayed the Liturgy of the Hours.  Since it is the Commemoration of All Souls today, as I prayed, I thought about the many people whom I've buried, given the Last Sacraments to, and all of the people in my parish who mourn their loss.  Then, I offered the morning Mass.  I was happy to see that there were more people than usual at Mass today.  Among those who attended was Tyler, one of our Altar Boys.  Tyler started serving daily Mass a couple of days a week.  His Mom, a teacher at the parish school and Tyler's brother were also at Mass.  If Tyler ever stops smiling, it will be a tragic day.  After Mass, I heard a confession.  After another cup of coffee(!) and some catching up with the staff, I offered a second Mass.  (On the Feast of All Souls, priests are able to offer three Masses).  The second Mass--since I was alone--I decided to offer in the Extraordinary Form.

I don't get to offer the Extraordinary Form Mass very often--usually only once ever few months or so.  So, I was forced to do things slowly.  When I was in seminary, if somebody said that they liked the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, they would probably have been sent for a psychological evaluation!  For me, it is a very beautiful form of the Mass.  Having offered the Ordinary and Extraordinary Form, there are things I like about both.  I'm not insistent upon either.  I think probably the older Mass could have been renewed in a much more intelligent way, but, that's way above my pay grade.  I'm not in any camp when it comes to the two forms.  Or better put, I'm in the camp that appreciates them both and sees the need for renewal in both.

Offering that Mass was great because in the Extraordinary Form, the priest is a little bit more at liberty to whisper the names of those whom he wishes to pray for during the commemoration of the dead.  I had asked Facebook friends to send me any names that they wanted prayed for and I was able to honor their request and pray aloud for their loved ones.

The rest of the day was spent doing some administrative chores with my staff (who are great), a nap (which was also great!), and then getting ready for our evening Mass where we especially remembered those who died during the past year. 

I came into the church around 5:30 intending to get some preparation work done.  Immediately in the sacristy appeared Brendan.  Brendan is a fourth grader (maybe fifth?) who is an altar boy here.  His mother was playing the harp for the Mass this evening so they had already arrived.  Brendan is a big personality.  He offered to light the candles.  I told him that since Mass was still 1 1/2 hours away, perhaps we'd wait a little bit.  (Altar boys are perpetually the same.)  Brendan was a great help to me getting all sorts of things ready--and asked every ten minutes or so if it was time to light the candles and when we do light the candles which ones would we be lighting.  Out of the blue, Brendan offered, "I really like coming here and serving Mass.  I like to do all this stuff."

I don't know why, but in that brief moment, as he sat in a chair on one side of the sacristy, swinging his legs back and forth, and I stood at the vesting case going through the Missal, I was struck by the great privilege of being a priest.  Suddenly, I recalled being in the sacristy before Mass when I was an altar boy.  Usually though, I found myself sitting up on top of the vesting case, swinging my legs.  The pastor would remind me, "We aren't at the football field and that is not the bleachers."  I'd slink down the vesting case as if sliding off instead of jumping off would somehow make it less an offense.  But, I'd be back up there again soon.

The other servers soon arrived and so did the lector, deacon, and other priest.  The lector is a convert to Catholicism.  The deacon was born and raised in Germany.  The concelebrating priest was born and raised in Haiti.  The altar boys are three young men who have taken their role seriously.  It's been one of the great things about this parish.  The servers know that they are doing something important and they strive to do it with excellence.  If there were an altar server Olympics, they'd win the Gold.

Right before Mass, one of the high school students who works at the parish and was supposed to be working tonight asked, "Is it okay if I come to Mass tonight?"  Does he have any clue how happy that question would make a priest?  After Mass, he said to me, "That Mass was incredible."

At 7pm, the prelude over, we processed slowly down the aisle.  The music tonight was entirely from Faure's Requiem.  It was magnificent.  I've always thought that Faure's Requiem is pretty close to what Heaven must sound like. When I hear it--especially at Mass--I think that it is like we are standing on the other side of heaven and--although we cannot hear it clearly and completely--we are catching the sounds of heaven.  For instance, the In Paradisum.  When I hear that, I feel like the door of heaven is opening and so the sound is travelling out as the soul of the deceased is being welcomed.  And then, as the door closes behind the person, the sound of heaven returns to being hidden from us.

My brother priest preached a beautiful homily that touched upon everything today's commemoration ought to teach us.  Faith, hope, death, resurrection, mercy, eternal life, and living in preparation for judgment. 

In the congregation were persons whose Faith is likely great and those whose Faith is likely weak.  There were people whose loved ones died by tragedy and by suicide.  There were those whose loved ones died after long illnesses.  There were those who lost young children, those who lost more than one family member, and those who lost parents.  And, for the most part, I knew them all more than anyone else there.  My heart overflowed with love for these people.  I was so grateful to be able to offer this Mass for their loved ones, to help their deceased loved ones, and to provide some solace and consolation to the mourners. 

I started this blog with the simple hope that it might communicate something of what it is like to be a priest--and in my case, a pastor.  Tonight, as I sat in the sanctuary and listened to the Pie Jesu, I felt like a pastor.  The sorrowing were being consoled, the Dead received the aid of our prayers, those whose faith was weak were being built up, God was given fitting worship, a new deacon proclaimed the Gospel, a high school student came to Mass, three altar boys served God faithfully, a choir sang magnificently, a brother priest preached beautifully, and heaven and earth were united.  I have some part to play in all of that.  Each has his or her part to play.  Those altar boys have good parents.  The high school student has a good family and a good youth minister.  The choir is filled with faith filled people and a great director.  My part in all of it is to be the shepherd.  God is very good to allow me to be the shepherd of his flock--the flock he loves so much that he suffered and died for them.  When I think of being a pastor, I often think of what the psalm says: "He has put into my heart a marvelous love for the faithful ones who dwell in his land." 

Tonight, my heart echoes those words.  He has indeed put into my heart a marvelous love for the faithful ones who dwell in his land.

Lastly, do yourself a favor.  This is the In Paradisum from Faure's Requiem.  Listen to it.  That way, you will know what heaven sounds like.