Sunday, February 24, 2013

The People: My Joy and My Crown

During the past few days, numerous priests--some I know well and others, just casually--have sent along messages to me.  They know that I am being transferred and so they have written or called and basically said, "I know how hard it is!"  Their fraternity is greatly appreciated.

St. Paul, the Apostle
Every so often, I meet a priest who approaches assignments with an indifference.  They basically act as though they could say the Nine at one parish, pack the car, leave, arrive at the new parish and say the Eleven, and never look back.  I guess this is supposed to be some sort of spiritual heroism.  For all I know, those guys could be the spiritual giants, but that type of priestly spirituality is definitely not what I would want. 

I'm grateful that my heart is crushed.  As I was looking out into the congregation today, I saw a couple of young men who I think might have vocations to the priesthood.  If they do, I hope that someday, they love a people so much that their hearts feel crushed by leaving them.  Priesthood is a fatherhood and fathers ought to be attached to their families. 

Today I felt that attachment in all sorts of ways.  Some were on the amusing side.  At one Mass, two young children--a brother and sister--came up to communion with their parents.  The children are not old enough to receive.  They looked up at me and each said, "I will miss you Father Barnes."  Yeah, I'll miss them too.

After another Mass, surrounded by all sorts of crying parishioners, a little boy came running up to me and opened his hand excitedly.  "Look what came out during Mass!!"  He was holding his tooth.  I'll miss him.

After another Mass, a woman in her nineties came out.  She was crying and so to comfort her I said, "Well, we still have three months together."  She looked so happy and said, "Oh good, there's still hope."  I said, "No, no.  I'm definitely leaving in three months."  She replied, "No, I meant there's hope I could die before you leave because I want you to say my Funeral Mass."  I'll miss her.

Pastors being attached to their flock is the way it is supposed to be.  The longer I've been a priest, the more I find myself attached to the Apostle Paul.  He really teaches us how to be pastors. He encourages, corrects, admonishes, teaches, and suffers for the sake of his flock.  And, even in today's reading from Philippians, he acknowledges that he sometimes writes to them in tears.  So many times, when I read different letters from St. Paul, I think, "Yes, that's my experience!"  His letters strengthen me and instruct me on what it means to be a pastor.

I've received messages from all sorts of brother priests conveying to me their fraternity.  I even got one letter today that took two thousand years to reach me.  Today, we heard from St. Paul's Letter to the Philippians and when the lector read a particular line, my heart was really struck.  Beautifully, a woman in the pews must have had the sense that what was just read was exactly what was in my heart because she looked over at me with a knowing smile.  It was at the end of the reading.  St. Paul wrote, "Therefore my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord." Yes, these people are my joy and my crown and I love them--and even though still with them, I already long for them!  And, what I most want for them is that they stand firm in the Lord. 

The fact is, if a priest falls in love with his people, he will likely suffer because of them.  He might suffer when one of them goes astray, when one gets ill, when one dies, when a family breaks up, and when he has to leave them.  But, boy am I glad that I fell in love with these people.  In this moment, every ounce of sorrow that afflicts my heart only reinforces in me the conviction that these people are my joy and my crown.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A New Pastor For Beverly

For those of you who read the bulletin online, this letter is not contained there.  It was put in as an insert in this week's bulletin.  I present here for the online readers.

Dear Friends in Christ,
This past week, I received a phone call from the Clergy Personnel Director for the Archdiocese.  He informed me that my assignment as Pastor of St. Mary Star of the Sea and as Administrator of St. Margaret’s will end on June 6th and the new pastor of all three parishes of Beverly will begin on that day.  Your new pastor will be Fr. Mark Mahoney who is currently the Pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Topsfield.  Cardinal Sean told me that he has tremendous confidence in Fr. Mahoney and expects that he will do a superb job here. 
Cardinal Sean is my father in Christ and he is our shepherd. I trust that he has made this decision with great pastoral solicitude for all of you.  I am sure that some of you will be disappointed that I will not be staying with you and I too feel the weight of a great sorrow.  That sorrow arises from a grateful heart.  You know that I love you and that these thirteen years with you have been the great privilege of my life.  While I will no longer be your pastor, I will always be your brother in Christ.  For this, I am truly grateful.
I know if I were a priest coming into a parish under these circumstances, I might feel a bit overwhelmed.  There are so many things that Fr. Mahoney will be expected to do and many of them will likely cause some inconvenience.  When that happens, I ask you to remember that had I stayed, I would likely have been making some of those exact same decisions.  So, please always give him the benefit of the doubt.  More than that, please support and encourage him as you have done for me.  You have a beautiful way of supporting and encouraging priests.  With this new pastoral plan, pastors will need more support and encouragement than ever.  To that end, perhaps you might think of dropping Fr. Mahoney a note in the next couple of weeks and welcome him to Beverly and tell him that you are praying for him.  Please do so with no expectation that he will be able to write you back!  It’s Lent and his whole life is being turned upside down right now.  But, I bet he’d appreciate knowing that there are a lot of people happily expecting him.  And, don’t write to him a list of things he should do when he gets here!  Just a nice card to welcome him. 
So, you might have some specific questions about particulars.  Rather than me having to answer the same questions a thousand times, let me try to answer a few of the most common here:
1.       Why is Fr. Barnes being transferred?  Cardinal Sean and I met together and he said that those advising him thought that 13 years was long enough for me to be at one parish and he decided to take their advice.  I want you to know that the Cardinal has treated me well and kindly and that I trust his decision in this matter.  You should trust this decision as well.
2.       Where is Fr. Barnes going?  I have absolutely no idea and have no idea when I will know anything. 
3.       What about Fr. Chateau? I don’t know what will happen with Fr. Chateau. 
So, these days are stressful for staff members and for Fr. Chateau.  I obviously don’t like to see them stressed.  We have a great staff and, as I’ve told you many times before, living and working with Fr. Chateau has been a great joy.  He has been a good friend and brother.  The life in our rectory among priests, seminarians, and staff has always been quite joyful and I will miss that.
Yes, these days are a bit of a sharing in the Cross for me.  Not only is the act of leaving you a sharing in the Cross, but so too is the fact that I have no clarity about what is the path before me.  All of you have crosses too and some of them are far greater than mine!  So, let’s carry them with the interior joy that only Christians know, the joy of faith in the Risen Lord.
Your Brother in Christ,
Fr. David Barnes

Beginning to Say Goodbye

This weekend, I begin sharing with my parishioners the news that I am being transferred.  I suspect that this experience might dominate my blog posts for a while.  This morning, however, I will let St. Augustine describe the experience I have had here for the past thirteen years:

"There were other things done in their company which more completely seized my mind: to talk and to laugh with them; to do friendly acts of service for one another; to read well-written books together; sometimes to tell jokes and sometimes to be serious; to disagree at times, but without hard feelings. just as a man does with himself; and to keep our many discussions pleasant by the rarity of such differences; to teach things to the others and to learn from them; to long impatiently for those who were absent, and to receive with joy those joining us.  These and similar expressions, proceeding from the hearts of those who loved and repaid their comrades' love by way of countenance, tongue, eyes, and a thousand pleasing gestures, were like fuel to set our minds ablaze and to make but one out of many."--The Confessions

That has been my life as a priest here.  And if some young man thought the Lord might be calling him to be a priest, I'd tell him that there is no greater joy than to be a shepherd for the flock.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The New Evangelization and the Cross

Yesterday, one of my parishioners asked me, "Father, is there something specific you'd like me to pray for?" The question struck me as very beautiful, but at the moment, I was unable to articulate a specific intention.  But during the night, the words from St. Paul to Timothy came to my heart:

St. Timothy
"For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.  For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.  So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner, for his sake; but bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God" (2 Timothy 1:6-8)

Wherever the New Evangelization is present, amazing things occur.  Vocations spring up, young families return to the practice of the Faith, confessions increase, and conversions happen.  Once it starts, it takes on a life of its own. but it cannot be boxed, packaged, and sold in bulk.  The New Evangelization is about an obedience to the Faith and developing a personal friendship with the Lord Jesus and living that friendship among a communion of disciples. 

Like the Hebrew people who complained that they wanted a king so that they could be like all of the other nations, we can sometimes want the New Evangelization to be like every other program. Put it on paper and market it.  While it is certainly possible to put into place structures that might assist in implementing the New Evangelization, the key is not the structure.  The key is an obedience to the Faith, a willingness to preach the full Gospel in all of its magnificence and its beauty.  It is to preach something radical and not milquetoast.  It is to preach about Jesus Christ and him crucified and raised from the dead.  The New Evangelization happens in the pulpit and in the confessional first.  It overflows to other aspects of a parish's life, but it begins in the pulpit and the confessional.  We would like to write the paradigm ourselves, but the paradigm is already written in the scriptures.  The paradigm of the New Evangelization is Abraham acting in obedience.  The paradigm is Moses acting in obedience.  The paradigm is Jesus acting in obedience.  The paradigm is Peter and Paul preaching from their prison cells in obedience.

I've often measured the success of the New Evangelization in my parish by counting the fruits; people praying in adoration, vocations, confessions, conversions, young people . . . things like that.  And, all of those can be helpful measures.  But, more recently I've been thinking of another measure that each Christian--and particularly, each priest--must consider.  It is the measure of the Cross.  The New Evangelization--if it is truly preached and lived--will eventually require that we endure our share of hardship for the Gospel and endure the dishonor of the Cross. 

The obedience of Faith leads to the Cross and the Cross is the paradigm of the New Evangelization.  At times, it can seem as though the Cross were the sign of defeat, but for the Apostles, it was a cause to rejoice.  St. Peter, who was no stranger to suffering for the sake of the Gospel, wrote, "But rejoice inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad with exceeding joy" (1 Peter4:13).  So, I think a good prayer for all of us who are committed to the New Evangelization is that we simply engage the battle as St. Paul advised Timothy and not to become disheartened or discouraged when we encounter what appears to be failure.  Although it is Lent (and thus, the Alleluia is not sung), one of my favorite hymns conveys (especially in its fifth verse) the apostolic fortitude that is necessary for the New Evangelization.

"For All the Saints Who from Their Labors Rest"by William W. How, 1823-1897
1. For all the saints who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confess,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
2. Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress, and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
3. Oh, may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old
And win with them the victor's crown of gold.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
4. O blest communion, fellowship divine,
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
5. And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
6. But, lo, there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of Glory passes on His way.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
7. From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
8. The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon, to faithful warriors cometh rest.
Sweet is the calm of Paradise the blest.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Friends and Witnesses

When The Lord sent out his disciples, we are told that he sent them in pairs.  In his epistles, St. Paul often refers to his companions. The friendship shared among disciples is evangelical by its very nature. In the way that the companions love one another, they testify to the life of grace and to the work of ongoing conversion. Their Christian friendship bears witness to the life that they were sent to preach and into which they seek to invite others.

In a particular way, priestly friendship not only benefits the priest, but also the people to whom he is sent. In these past couple of days, the fraternal presence of a few priest friends of mine placed me squarely in the presence of Christ.  Their friendship and presence allowed me to experience amid life's varied distractions, burdens, and sorrows, the unconquerable presence of Jesus, The Lord. Encountering Christ through their friendship allows me to be a more convincing witness of Christ to others.

Over the years, parishioners have walked into my rectory kitchen to discover a table filled with seminarians and priests. At other times, perhaps there are just one or two sitting there. No matter how many, inevitably the faces of the parishioners light up when they witness the friendship we share.  To them, our fraternity is a consoling sign of Christ's nearness. And that is precisely what it is for us too.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI: A Shell and A Bear

Pope Benedict After His Announcement Today

A friend of mine and I were once discussing the preaching of Pope Benedict XVI and he made an interesting observation.  He said that Benedict didn't preach about anecdotes or stories, but rather about symbols.  Sure enough, some of the most striking homilies I've heard from Pope Benedict spoke about the architecture of cathedrals, stained glass windows, and the meaning of certain vestments.  He is a Pope who uses symbols and gestures as a way of communicating something truly profound.

Today, when I heard the surprising news that the Holy Father had announced his resignation, two symbols immediately came to my mind.  They are two symbols present on Benedict XVI's Coat of Arms; the shell and the bear carrying a pack.

The first image of the shell comes from a legend concerning St. Augustine for whom Pope Benedict has particular devotion.  The legend says that one day while trying to understand the Trinity, Augustine was walking along the beach and found a young boy scooping up sea water with a shell and transferring the water to a hole in the sand.  Augustine understood in this scene that the child's futile attempt to transfer the entire sea into a hole in the sand was like the human mind attempting to understand completely the Blessed Trinity.  The Infinite cannot be contained in a finite mind.

The second image--the bear carrying a pack--relates to a legend about St. Corbinian, the first bishop of Freising, who was travelling by horseback to Rome when a bear attacked and killed his horse.  The legend is that St. Corbinian tamed the bear and compelled the bear to carry his pack to Rome.  The image is apt for Pope Benedict who was also bishop of that diocese and was called to Rome. 

Both of these symbols speak of the Pope's understanding of his entire life.  He is at the service of something . . . someone . . . much greater than himself.  He is a servant of the Truth and not its master.  I've always had a sense when I've heard Pope Benedict speak that he has total confidence in Divine Providence and that he exercises his papal ministry with a sense that "I am the pope today, but somebody else will soon be the pope."  He sees himself as part of the great mystery of Providence and as the servant of Providence. 

It is from this confidence in Divine Providence that Pope Benedict XVI lives his life in such calm joy.  He does not feel compelled to do what is beyond his capacity.  A shell of water can never transfer the entire sea.  Pope Benedict is not frustrated by such limitations.  He does what is possible.  The rest is up to God.  Similarly, he is the bear that has carried the heavy pack of the pastoral office of Pope.  If this pack is now too heavy for his weary body, then the Holy Father is able with a joyful freedom to entrust that pack to another. 

This morning, a young man texted me and asked, "How do you explain Pope Benedict's decision in light of the fact that Pope John Paul stayed in office while suffering so much?"  My answer was that there are many saints.  Not every saint is a Thomas Aquinas or a Francis of Assisi.  Not every saint is a Little Flower or a St. Catherine of Sienna.  Pope John Paul taught one lesson in remaining Pope.  But, Pope Benedict teaches another lesson. 

I love Pope Benedict XVI.  But, part of what I love about him is that he finds great joy in being a shell and a bear.  Pope John Paul II taught us by his suffering that every human life has value.  Pope Benedict XVI's resignation reminds us that we are shells and bears.  We are servants of something much greater than ourselves.  True joy comes not from knowing it all and doing it all because none of us ever will.  True joy comes from serving the One who is above all.

Friday, February 8, 2013

A Blizzard Lesson: The Sabbath Is A Gift That We Should Treasure

I was just looking out the window of the rectory parlor out onto the main street of our city. With the exception of an occasional plow, the street is almost entirely empty. The stores and restaurants are all closed, no cars are parked along the road, and there is a very peaceful quiet over the whole downtown. There's a blizzard and everyone is home.

I'm certain that there is some sense of cabin fever, but I bet most of us are appreciating this momentary break in the flurry (pun intended) of activities that life has become. Stores are closed, people are home making meals, nobody is out driving, and families are together.  This rare occasion used to happen once a week not so long ago.  It was called Sunday.

Sometimes, Sundays were boring. You had to go visit an elderly relative with your family and sit down for dinner.  The only thing on TV was bowling and some community talent show. It was dreadful for a kid.  And it was, I'm sure, a hassle for the adults.  Somebody had to prepare that meal.  Somebody had to put out all of the nice plates and wash them afterwards.  The whole day was wasted doing unproductive things like going to Mass and having a lengthy meal.  And yet, it was a part of life that you appreciate once you get older.  How often I have heard people say after their parents died, "We will never forget the Sunday dinners we would have together."

People are busy. Life is busy. The reason why eventually the stores opened on Sundays and people stopped having Sunday dinners together and started filling up Sundays with all sorts of other activities was because life is too busy to stop everything once a week. Life is too busy to take a whole day to go to church and to spend time with family and friends. I mean setting aside an entire day so that people could spend time with God and spend time with family seemed like such a waste of useful time.

But, a blizzard provides us a little reminder that the sabbath was a gift to us.  Obeying the sabbath is not oppressive or a waste of time. It is the best of time. It was given to us precisely because life is busy and filled with activity. If we are not careful, we can spend our whole life doing everything but spending time with God and with our family and friends. When we obey the sabbath, we become more human and more liberated. We become freer to say, "no" to the external demands that enslave us. Our kid doesn't have to be on every basketball team. The company will survive if I shut my phone off and have dinner. Going to Mass together makes me truly free because freedom is discovered in loving God.

The snow will soon melt. But, we were not made in order to have a sabbath every thirty years or so. We were made to have a weekly sabbath. Not too long ago, we enshrined the sabbath with laws.  Now, we don't have such laws to help us keep the sabbath.  Now, we have to do it on our own.  When we don't live the freedom of the sabbath, our lives become petty and empty. The sabbath reminds us that what is most important in our life is our relationship with God, with His Church, and with our loved ones. When we keep the sabbath, we protect what is most important in life. The sabbath keeps us from losing ourselves. When we keep the sabbath, the sabbath keeps us.  

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Great Example of the New Evangelization

I Am for Life

Today I learned that a young man in my parish along with a friend of his created a youtube video and a Facebook Page  Insted of me telling you about it, I encourage you to go check it out yourself.  Below, I have copied some information off of their Facebook Page.  I encourage you to read it.

For me, besides liking their proposal, I just want to say how happy it makes me when I see stuff like this coming from one of my parishioners.  Jesus is doing great things in the lives of his people. 

Join us in sending a united and loving message by using this group’s profile picture as your own starting at the beginning of "40 Days For Life" - starting February 13th. Let’s join together and collectively say that we love and support every life.
A Message from Mike, a co-admin of "I am for life."

"Thank you for taking the time to read a few words of mine. Now-a-days when we hear the words pro-choice or pro-life we call it a political issue, like raising or lowering taxes. We neatly tuck it away with these other issues and many of us get annoyed when the topic is even brought up, because, to us, it belongs hidden away with those never attack ads for the next election when we have to grin and bear its appearance again.

I'd like to say something. I'm not going to use the term "pro-abortion-ers." I don't believe in spinning the truth of someone else's beliefs just as much as I don't enjoy the term "pro-forced-birth-ers." The guy writing this used to call himself pro-choice. My alma mater was "Everyone should be able to do what they want--whatever makes them happy." To me, terminating a days to weeks old pregnancy was ok. I used to think it was because I believed that what was developing in a woman at such an early stage wasn't significant enough to call life. I later realized, not only is this scientifically justifiable life, but the only reason I accepted abortion in the first place was because I thought of it as aborting the IDEA of having a child. I couldn't see the child inside newly pregnant women, so it wasn't significant enough to feel strongly about. I figured it was ok to have an abortion because a woman or couple were simply deciding on their choice to not become pregnant. The fact is, when a woman is pregnant, she carries life. The decisions about whether to have a child or not should come before having a child, right? Can we justify creating life because it's fun and then discarding the life created afterwards? Old me would respond to this something like, "But a child shouldn't be born to someone who isn't ready or can't afford to give him or her care or life necessities." New me would ask old me, "Would you end the life of your 4-year-old son if you could no longer afford him? 3-year-old? 2-year-old? When is the line crossed that says it's now okay? What can we say about a society that gives no protection to their most defenseless citizens?

I guess I'm talking about this for a couple reasons. For one, the only people we hear from on this issue are women and priests. Well here is an average guy saying something now, and hoping other average guys will come out of the woodwork despite the fear of being "that person on Facebook trying to push an agenda." This is not politics. My father has told me my entire life that a true man is one who takes responsibility. Men: step up and show your girlfriend, wife, family and friends that you will say something, too. A society like ours is proud to be founded upon accountability in the vain of justice. This is justice. Simply saying "I wouldn't, but its not my place to tell others not to" like I once did is a cop-out. There is surely a place for tolerance in our world--we all come from different backgrounds, different religions, different upbringings--but as human beings, isn't it a given that we should all take a stand for humanity? As Americans, if we see injustice, especially pertaining to life or death, we do something. Let's be courageous men and women and stand up for real and true lives being ended. If we ALL wouldn't do it ourselves, then isn't something wrong?"


It is time to come together, It is time to be brave, it is time to stand up even if it seems to go against the popular vote. We are calling all people, young and old, rich and poor, left and right- who believe in love, believe in humanity and most importantly believe in LIFE - to join us as we send a united and yet loving message. Starting at the beginning of 40 days for life (February 13th) we are asking that all those that have a love for LIFE change their profile (a.k.a default) picture to be the picture from this page. Maybe we can only get 20 to join us or maybe even 50 or 100- but imagine the powerful message our world would hear if thousands of us united with this same message - "I am for our Children, I am for our Women, I AM FOR LIFE!". You won't be alone- we can do this together! And we challenge you to keep it as your profile picture for 1 day, 2 days, 10 days or even the for the full 40 days for life ending March 24th.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Bishop John D'Arcy: A Witness to His Steadfast Love

Fourteen years before I was born, Fr. John D'Arcy was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Boston and was assigned to St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish in Beverly, Massachusetts.  Thirty-five years after Fr. D'Arcy left St. Mary's, I was assigned there as a priest.  From my very first days in the parish until now, I have heard constant reminders of how wonderful Fr. D'Arcy was.  "Fr. D'Arcy helped our family when my father died."  "Fr. D'Arcy was the spiritual director of the drum and bugle corps and took great care of us."  "Fr. D'Arcy instructed me in the Faith and received me into the Church."  While priests often have an impact on a parish and the lives of its parishioners, it is rare in my experience to have so many people four decades later talking about a particular priest with such fondness.

Three years ago, our parish invited Bishop D'Arcy to come and give a parish mission.  It was a glorious week.  Each night, hundreds packed into our parish church to listen to Bishop D'Arcy preach the Gospel.  It was a moment of extraordinary grace.  And it was a moment of grace also for Bishop D'Arcy.  He stayed in the rooms where he lived some fifty years earlier.  He walked the streets of our city, heard confessions, and--despite being ill at the time--gave personal attention to all of those who came to speak with him. 

One thing that was obvious was that Bishop D'Arcy was still Fr. D'Arcy.  He had a strong sense of what it meant to be a bishop.  He said on more than one occasion to me that a bishop has always to remember that he has been given "episcopal grace" and that he should not be afraid to make hard decisions and live with them.  But, he also had a great love and awe of "priestly grace."  He loved being a priest. 

It was also a particularly graced moment for me.  I had been hearing about Fr. D'Arcy for years.  It was a blessing for me to spend those few days with him and watch him once again shepherd the flock of his youth.  At one particular moment during those days, Bishop D'Arcy told me that he was going to go in the church for a few minutes to pray.  Since I was supposed to be seeing him off someplace, I didn't want to miss him.  So, every so often I would go and make certain that I hadn't missed him.  He sat in the church for well over an hour.  Afterwards, he told me that he had sat in that very same spot fifty years ago when he was asked to leave the parish to go to Rome to study.  Bishop D'Arcy was a man of prayer.

St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish in Beverly was the only parish to which Bishop D'Arcy was ever assigned.  As such, the people here feel a particular bond to him and they mourn his loss.  But, his beautiful priestly example provides comfort to all of those who mourn today.  Bishop D'Arcy's whole life exemplified to others what he himself chose for his episcopal motto: "His Steadfast Love Endures Forever."  To those who have no faith, death appears to bring an end to everything.  But Bishop John D'Arcy knew otherwise.  He now enters more completely into the Trinitarian Communion and by God's mercy will eternally sing, "His Steadfast Love Endures Forever."

Everyone Wants to Know the Plan

Everyone is looking for the plan.  Especially when we encounter suffering, we want to understand the plan.  There's got to be a plan.  We feel that very deeply within ourselves.  And there are certain things that we know are just not part of the plan.  A child suffering, a tragic death, a disaster, a marriage that falls apart . . . these things can't be part of the plan.  Young people especially want to understand the plan.  "What am I supposed to do with my life?  Why am I here?"  We have a sense that there is a plan, but it doesn't always feel like the plan is happening. 
The People Rejecting Jesus and Attempting to Throw Him Off the Hill
In fact, some people get so frustrated with how much the plan seems to be thwarted, that they give up on living like there is a plan.  They look around and see how much evil and suffering there is and they say, "There can't possible be a plan.  Everything is just random."  They try to suppress within themselves that hunger for order, for a plan.

The Hebrew people knew there was a plan.  And, they knew that the plan seemed to be way off track.  They were waiting for someone who would arrive and put the plan back into motion.  Isaiah the prophet had prophesied that someone was coming who would save the plan.  The spirit of the Lord would be upon him.  He would bring justice where there was no justice.  He would bring good news to the poor and set captives free.  The savior was coming.

In the Fourth Chapter of the Gospel of Luke--which we heard today at Mass--something really striking happens.  Jesus gets up and reads the prophecy about somebody coming who would save the plan.  Somebody was coming to put things back into order.  After he reads the words from Isaiah, he looks around at the people and he says, "I'm the one.  What you have been waiting for?  I'm the one."  The whole plan not only depends upon Jesus Christ, but HE IS THE WHOLE PLAN.

Now, if any of us were God, we'd probably send our savior wearing a cape and maybe some sort of mask.  Instead, God makes the entire plan center on a poor man, raised as a carpenter's son, in a nothing town called Nazareth.  Now, at the beginning of today's Gospel, people were really impressed by Jesus' words and they apparently were impressed by some of the miracles that rumor said he had performed elsewhere.  But fairly quickly, they begin putting up objections.  "Wait a minute.  We've been waiting for a savior and this is what we got?  A carpenter's son?  Impossible." 

This is what it comes down to: Faith is to say that the whole plan is the person of Jesus Christ.  Sometimes when we Catholics talk about faith, we really are just talking about peripheral stuff.  We are very comfortable talking about this issue or that issue.  Or, we are comfortable talking about Mass schedules, what color the pastor painted the foyer, or what priest is going to what assignment.  But, we get nervous talking about Jesus Christ.  But this is the whole heart of the plan!  Jesus is the plan!

Sometimes, people say to me, "You know, a lot of people would come back to the Church if the Church would just ordain women, or change its teaching on birth control, or abortion etc."  No they wouldn't!  There will always be objections.  In Jesus' Day, the issue was "If only he wasn't from Nazareth" or "If only he wasn't a carpenter's son."  Faith is about totally adhering to Jesus Christ.  If I can believe that the carpenter's son from Nazareth is the whole plan, then nothing is going to stop me from being part of his Church.

When I read today's Gospel, something really shocked me.  As the people begin to move from an initial interest in Jesus to an enraged fury with him, Jesus doesn't really debate them.  When they basically say, "You're not the messiah," he doesn't respond, "I am too the messiah."  Instead, something really powerful happens.  St. Luke tells us that he passed through the midst of them and went away.  Wow.  He stood before them and announced to them, "I am the plan."  Or, as St. John tells us, "I am the way the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father (no one gets to the end of the plan) except through me."  But, he doesn't stay there arguing with them. 

I think we all need to live our life constantly in that moment.  We always have to be in front of Christ and be ready to respond to his claim to be Lord and Savior.  In this moment, we must also recognize that Christ may not stay in front of us and debate us and try to satisfy our every objection.  He's not on trial in this moment.  We are.  When he makes this claim to be Lord and Savior, we are the ones who are on trial.  Are we going to be his disciples or not?  We have to live this question with an awareness that if we are obstinate and hard hearted, he may well pass through our midst and go away.  We ought not to waste our lives making petty arguments.  The claim that Jesus Christ makes is that he is the one who saves us for the plan.  He is the one who brings order back to disorder.  He is the one who restores all things.

Today--and every day--Jesus stands before us and announces himself to be the eternal plan of the Father.  Faith is to stake my whole life on that alone.  We constantly stand at this threshold.  Jesus is about to be on the move.  The question for all of us is, "Am I going to follow him?"

Friday, February 1, 2013

Rollerblading and Holiness: A Letter for Catholic Schools Week

The Following is a letter that I wrote to the parents of my parish school during Catholic Schools Week. 

Dear Friends in Christ,
This past week, many of us attended the Culturama at St. Mary School and were impressed by the quality and depth of the projects and presentations.  Whenever I see those projects, I think about what my home would have been like on the days leading up to the deadline.  I expect that there would have been tears and some raised voices.  I also have images of my mother saying, “This is your project, not my project!  I graduated from the eighth grade!”  Perhaps, things were similar in your homes?  After a lot of hard work on the part of students, teachers, and parents, something good was accomplished.  Well done!
Later in the week, I had the opportunity to watch as scores of children roller skated and rollerbladed together.  Some were novices and some were expert.  I’ve always considered myself a good skater.  I just can’t stop or turn around.  Some of your children were being towed by older children or by their parents.  Some were struggling mightily to stay standing.  Others were gliding around as though the next stop was the Boston Bruins.  It was impressive.  All of this was done because it is Catholic Schools Week.  As such, I want to write to you in order to encourage you and (if necessary) to challenge you in your role as Catholic mothers and fathers. 
One reason that Catholic schools began in this country was so that Catholic parents could be assured that their children were learning the Catholic Faith and were not being subjected to anti-Catholic indoctrination.  While our school has many wonderful qualities, the most important thing we can do is to help our students deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ and to become his disciples, not only in name, but also in fact.  This is why St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish has and continues to be so generous in its support of St. Mary School. 
Like the Culturama projects and the roller rink, success in growing in the Catholic Faith depends not just on the individual, but upon administrators, teachers, parents, and the whole community.  The child who falls down in the rink is encouraged by seeing older children whizzing by.  It tells him that what he is trying to do is possible.  Similarly, all of us can help one another to become better disciples of Christ.  When those who are weak in the faith see other families who are living the faith, it encourages them to get back up and start again. 
I know that many of you are doing a wonderful job raising your children in the practice of the Catholic Faith.  I commend you for that.  I know that it is not always easy to get a household up and moving on Sunday morning!  But, you are providing to your children the most important thing they will ever possess, a friendship with Jesus Christ.  I thank you for your faithful example.
I also know that some of you have disappeared from the rink.  At one point along the way, you were out there in the midst of everybody else, but somewhere along the way, you’ve unlaced the skates and have disappeared.  I’m sure there are many possible reasons for your being away from the practice of the Faith.  For some, perhaps you felt pushed off the rink.  Maybe some of you got turned off by the bad example of some of your fellow Catholics (be they priests or lay people).  For others, perhaps you felt discouraged by your lack of progress.  For some, you just don’t know how it happened and you are uncertain how to get back in the rink.
Whatever the reason, I want to let you know that you and your children are missed and we would like to have you back with us at Mass and in living the Catholic Faith together.  I’m not sending you this letter to shame you into coming back or to scold you.  I’m writing because Jesus wants you and your children to be close to him and for you to be his disciples.  Occasionally, I’ve heard people say that they would have come back to the Church if only somebody had asked them to do so.  So, if you have been away, I’m asking you to come back!
The older kids whizzing around the rink the other evening were like the saints who show us that it is possible to live the Catholic life joyfully and with ease.  If somebody stands outside the rink and looks in, they will never learn to skate.  Even if they were to read a hundred books on skating, the only way to learn is to lace up and get in the rink.  Similarly, it is possible for the Catholic life to become second nature to us, but not if we stay on the outside.  It has to be lived from the inside.  The more we live it, the more joyful and easy of an experience it becomes. 
If you’ve left the rink for some reason, I’m inviting you back.  It’s better to be in the rink, falling and struggling to get up than it is to be outside alone.  If there is any way that I can be of assistance to you, please know that I am willing to do what I can.
Your Brother in Christ,
Fr. David Barnes