Sunday, June 30, 2013

Fr. Geary Has Gone Before Us

For seven of the thirteen years that I was assigned to St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish in Beverly, I lived with a wonderful priest named Fr. Edward Geary.  Fr. Geary was a great priest with whom to live and work.  I had intended to write something about him, but the homily at his funeral Mass--given by his good friend Fr. Francis Conroy--was so beautiful and was so accurate a portrait of Fr. Geary, that I will simply provide that homily here instead.  It was a privilege to know Fr. Geary, to minister with him, and to live with him.

Edward Paul Geary
June 29, 2013
Isaiah 25.6a, 7-9 / 2 Corinthians 4.14-5.1 / John 17.24-26
Father Edward Geary was a man of deep faith, sharp mind, and quiet strength. He carried out his ministry quietly and effectively. He never took center stage or promoted himself. He and I lived in the same rectory for 20 years – most of those years as a team ministry in North Reading and Marblehead. We both smiled at the coincidence that our fathers, although unknown to one another, also worked in the same place. We were brother priests, and we were friends. It was a grace to have been stationed with him.

Edward was a quietly remarkable man. He was a totally approachable priest for almost five decades. These five decades have seen great change – through all this change, through all these seasons, he remained priest, servant, and disciple of the Lord. A poet has written,

The awful daring of a moment's surrender

Which an age of prudence can never retract

By this, and this only, we have existed

[T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land]

Perhaps the most public moment’s surrender in Father Geary’s life was on February 6, 1964, when he was ordained a priest. That moment’s surrender has been reaffirmed faithfully for these five decades. Pope John XXIII said, Do not walk through time without leaving worthy evidence of your passage. The worthy evidence of this priest’s passage is abundant. It has been a singular grace for each of us to have known him.

These last few years have been difficult for Father Geary. With the strong and admirable support of his family, he moved through these difficulties with typical dignity and grace. When the effects of the treatment became unacceptable and there was little hope of improvement, he discontinued the treatment and prepared to die. As usual, his preparation was thorough and complete. He did not back into death – he faced it with both deliberation and preparation. He has shown us how to die.

This morning we gather in memory of Jesus and we celebrate Father Geary’s place within that larger and stronger memory of the Lord. It is important to keep this focus in mind. The Church teaches us that we are not the center – Christ is the center. Our greatness is that, beginning in Baptism and continuing in Eucharist, we are more and more oned with Christ – Christ alone is forever. Notice! The Church surrounds Father Geary’s remains with reminders of his Baptism – the white pall, the Paschal candle, the holy water at yesterday's service. In Baptism his life became a pilgrimage to the Absolute – it is our hope that his pilgrimage is now complete. Today the Church celebrates a funeral Eucharist – the Eucharist was his way of life, and is his way of death. The Eucharist is, as one of the prayers after communion in the funeral liturgy tells us, food for the journey. The Church places Edward deeply in Christ. How strengthening that is for this moment. Alone no one of us is a match for death. Oned with Christ we are forever. Father Geary’s deep faith gives us reason for hope that his death marks his transition into eternity. That is our hope, we who have known him, we who continue to walk by faith, not by sight [2 Corinthians 5.7].

The second reading speaks of faith’s courage within suffering.
…although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory....
The Hebrew word for glory is rooted in the notion of heaviness, weightiness. Faith trusts that the weight of affliction will be light by comparison with the weight of glory. Faith looks not to what is seen but to what is unseen for, as Paul tells us, what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal.

The Gospel passage is from that section of John’s Gospel often called The High Priestly Prayer. Within that prayer Jesus says, Father, my disciples are your gift to me. The Gospels clearly show that the disciples are far from being a perfect gift – the Gospels show their flaws and even their betrayal. Even with their flaws and betrayal we call them all, with the exception of Judas, saint – and the Church has ongoing hope for Judas. Jesus says that the disciples are the Father’s gift to him. With all their flaws, with all their limitations, Christ recognizes them to be gift. What does he see in them? Perhaps it is their generosity, perhaps it is their desire to be with him, perhaps it is their openness through which some of the Gospel reaches others, perhaps it is simply that they keep showing up – whatever it is, Jesus recognizes them to be gift from the Father. Today we remember a man whom we know to be a disciple of the Lord. We do not claim that we have seen in him a flawless man. We claim only that we have seen in him one who pointed to Christ. We have experienced in him an invitation, not to follow him, but to be with him in following Christ. That invitation is the greatest gift anyone could ever be for another. Father Edward Geary has been that gift for so many.

More than 900 years ago Saint Bernard said this on the death one of his brothers in the monastery of Clairvaux.

We can never lose one

whom we have loved to the end.

One to whom our soul cleaves so firmly

that it can never be separated

does not go away,

but only goes before.

Father Edward Geary has been respected and loved to the end and beyond. He has not gone away – he has gone before. With faith in Jesus Christ and with hope in the resurrection, we commend him to our good and compassionate God. We give thanks for all the gifts God has placed in his life, gifts through which God has enriched and blessed our lives and our archdiocese so abundantly. We pray for his peace. May God be good to our brother, our brother-in-law, our uncle, our grand uncle, our nephew, our cousin, our priest, our pastor – may God be good to Edward Geary, our friend – for all eternity.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Young Catholics Bearing Witness

Ignatius of Antioch Thrown to the Lions
When I was a young boy, I heard a man in his twenties whom I admired use a racial slur.  It's difficult to explain because at the time, I don't think I had ever heard that word.  Somehow though (maybe because of the context), I knew it was a bad word and I had a sense of who the word was intended to describe.  In that moment, I remember feeling somewhat crushed because this hero said something that made him sound hateful and mean.  Even still, when I think about that moment, it causes an unsettled feeling in me.

It strikes me that one of the reasons that particular incident stands out in my memory is not only because it changed how I looked at that person, but also because it was such a rare occasion in my life.  When I think about the people I hang out with, the friends that I've made over the years, the families, priests, seminarians, young people, older people etc, I can't recall any of them ever saying something hateful about a group of people.  Granted, I travel in a somewhat homogeneous circle of friends insofar as almost all of them are Christians.  But, they are from all walks of life, social strata, and varieties of countries and nationalities.  In their company, it just would never happen that any of us would say something hateful about an entire group of people.  And on the rare occasion that I've met somebody who has spoken like that, everyone else in earshot was visibly uncomfortable and offended.  (I, of course, need to make one exception here: With the exception of the New York Yankees, none of us would ever say anything hateful about an entire group of people).

Recently, I became a college chaplain and have suddenly become Facebook "friends" with scores of college students.  Yesterday, one of them posted a reasonable and respectful objection to the Supreme Court's rulings on same-sex marriage.  The vitriolic and ad hominem attacks against this person from his peers were astonishing.  There is apparently no place for any reasoned discussion on this issue.  This young person was labeled a bigot and a hater and was pummeled with an array of pornographic insults.  The view that he holds--a view that virtually every human being in the course of human history held until ten years ago--is now so toxic that it is permissible to treat him with zero dignity and to threaten him into silence.  And all of this comes at him from those who profess "tolerance."  

This post is not about same-sex marriage.  But, it is about what clearly is the persecution that is underway against the Christian in our culture.  If the discussions that I witnessed are any indicator of the path we are on, then there is little doubt that the toleration afforded Christian believers in our culture will be short lived.  Christians will be permitted to hold their views, but they certainly will not be permitted to express them without serious repercussions.  

When the Christian speaks on moral issues--be they same-sex marriage, the dignity of immigrants, or capital punishment--he does so out of a profound love and respect for the human person.  When the Christian speaks about the moral life--the virtuous life--he does so because he desires the happiness of his brothers and sisters.  When he speaks against, for instance, changing the definition of marriage, he does so out of love for the good that marriage is, the good of families, and the good of all individuals.  But, the Christian is now characterized as one who hates.

In the name of love, Christians are being demonized, mocked, threatened, and silenced.  Certainly, there are those who profess to be Christians who say horrible things.  But, they are uniformly condemned by their own number.  When, however, Christians dare to profess the Gospel or appeal to Natural Law, they are devoured with no remorse.

If what I saw this week is any indication of what it is like for Christians publicly to profess their beliefs, then get ready. The fact that they did so knowing what was going to be unleashed upon them is very encouraging. Their willingness to be treated harshly and accused falsely, all the while speaking respectfully, lovingly, joyfully, and reasonably is a true testimony to the power of the Truth.  Young Catholics don't have it easy these days.  They are living on the front lines and are outnumbered.

These young men and women deserve our support and encouragement.  They are not out picking fights with people, but they are able to present the Christian Faith with joy and with clarity.  And, when they are subjected to an onslaught of vitriol, they are calm, joyful, and loving.  Only grace can produce this.  When you are praying, pray for these young people.  They are in the thick of it.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

To Live the Memory of Christ's Mercy and Affection is the True Witness of the Cross

"Then he said to all, 'If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it."  These words are often quoted.  In the face of our various sufferings, there is always some person who will try to alleviate our sufferings by repeating those words to us.  And usually, when they repeat those words to  me, I'm annoyed.  I'm not annoyed because the words are difficult to hear.  I'm not annoyed because the words are false.  I'm annoyed because--very often--the person quoting them seems to be taking the easy way out of confronting the reality of suffering.  "Oh, you were just diagnosed with cancer, your family all died in a plane crash, you lost your job, and your house  burned down?  Well, we all have to carry the cross.  Hope that makes you feel better.  Have a good day now."  The person speaking those words often seems thoroughly impressed with himself for having offered such sage spiritual advice.  In my experience, instead of being a source of encouragement, I sometimes find these folks (who I'm sure mean well) to be more of a burden.  It's like they're dismissive of the true weight of the other's suffering.

On the other hand, there are those people who are able to put one's sufferings into the context of the Christian life.  These people, I find helpful.  They do not use the "take up your cross" imperative as a means of dismissing the reality of suffering, but rather as a way of consoling the one who is suffering.  These persons are able to help the suffering to know the nearness of Christ.  "Yes, you are suffering and this suffering is truly terrible.  But, be confident that Christ is near to you.  He understands your sufferings and he is loving you in the midst of your sufferings."  

 What are some of the ways that we try to save our life and thus lose it?  We try to save our life by not following.  We try to save our life by adopting a worldly mentality.  How many Christians are ensnared in this trap?  There is the young person who becomes convinced that he cannot be generous with his life because he has to make a lot of money and plan for retirement.  There is the married couple who opts not to have children or to close their marriage off to further children in order to enjoy a more comfortable lifestyle.  There is the priest who is always plotting his next assignment in order to advance himself in the hierarchy or in living a comfortable lifestyle.  In the face of this, we need witnesses who show us that in following Christ--in losing our self-determination--we discover true life.  I saw a witness like this during the past few days.  The example of this young person's generosity was a powerful witness to me.

We try to save our life by trying to save ourselves.  In other words, we try to be perfect without Christ.  In the face of this temptation, we need witnesses who show us that with Christ, we can conquer all things.  Christ himself reminds us that the healthy do not need a physician, but the infirm do.  When Christians show us that they were once in dire straights, but that the Lord reached down and saved them, they provide to us a powerful witness.  They encourage us to trust in God's mercy and to depend upon his friendship.  Persons who live Christianity as though Christ were simply an added bonus to their life, but that they were already fine without him, do not inspire others.  Instead, I find that the person who acknowledges his or her total need for Christ is a source of tremendous encouragement.  I think true Christian witnesses are those who say one of two things: 1. I was at rock bottom and Christ saved me, or 2. I would have been at rock bottom had Christ not saved me.  Either way, it is an acknowledgment that I cannot save myself.

Similarly, we try to save our life by trying to make sense of it without Christ.  We go through great efforts to find another way to make sense of life, to justify our faults, to avoid admitting our sins, to avoid repenting of our misdeeds, and to making Christianity something a little less involved than giving our whole life to it.  In so many ways, this is the tactic of fear.  We are afraid to admit that we have squandered our inheritance.  We want to repair our life first and, instead of going back to the Father's House with a repentant heart, we want to go back and show him how well we did.  Witnesses testify that they tried to save their life without Christ, but only made more of a mess of it.  But, in surrendering to Christ, they found true life.

In all of these instances, the witness helps others to see the wisdom of the Cross.  The Cross for all of these persons involves surrendering the notion that they can save themselves.  It means saying, "I sinned."  It means saying, "I made a mess of my life."  It means saying, "I don't have the power to save myself."  It means saying, "I have to give my life away to Christ and follow where he leads me."  When I meet people like this, they attract me to Christ.  They testify to him not by their ability to quote him, but rather by their conviction that they need him and that he has not rejected them or abandoned them.  When I meet them, I am encouraged to pick up the cross and to trust the Lord.  

The world does not need so much people who can memorize Jesus' words and repeat them.  It needs people who, in their very person, live the memory of Christ's mercy and love. We are all called to live in front of others the memory of Christ's mercy and love.  We are called to be witnesses.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

"I'm Not the Best Catholic in the World. No Kidding. Repent."

"I know that God loves me."  These oft spoken words are far truer than any of us who have uttered them realize.  But, they are often uttered not with truth, but with a heart that is obstinate.  "I know that God loves me," is often uttered as a way of saying, "I have no need to repent."  In reality, only the heart that has true repentance can know the experience of God's love.  St. Paul himself says in Romans 5: "God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us."  We can only know the proof of God's love when we confess ourselves to be sinners.  God's greatest act of love towards us was in giving over the Son to die for our sins.  When I truly know God's love, it brings me to a deeper repentance.  And when I truly repent, I truly know God's love for me.

Fairly often, I hear people say, "Well, I'm not the best Catholic in the world."  Of course, any Catholic could say that.  But, I think there is a problem with that phrase.  Quite often that phrase is not uttered with the humility of a repentant heart, but rather with the pride of an obstinate heart.  Frequently, that phrase is used when the speaker really means, "I'm not the best Catholic in the world, I'm not going to try to be the best Catholic in the world, and I'm a heck of a lot better than most people."  Additionally, this phrase is often used to alert those who don't like the Christian Faith or the Catholic Church that, "You can still respect me because I don't buy into everything the Church teaches."  If this is the position of our heart, then we cannot really be convinced of God's love.  

Today in the Gospel, a woman washes the feet of Jesus with her tears, dries them with her hair, and anoints them with costly ointment.  This is what repentance looks like.  She teaches us what it means to know God's love.  She didn't come to Jesus and say, "I'm not the best person in the world, but there are people who are a lot worse than me."  She humbled herself before Christ.  In that moment, she wasn't comparing herself to all of the other sinners.  She was comparing herself against the love of God.  In this comparison, we all fall short.  Like the jar that she smashes open, she opens herself and pours out her heart to the Lord.  When a person truly experiences the love of God, he wants to give himself completely to that love.  He is convicted in his heart, has tremendous sorrow for his transgressions, and has an ardent desire to avoid future sins.

When we say things like, "I'm not the best Catholic," it can sound as though we mean, "I'm not a great member of this association. I missed some of the monthly meetings and I was late paying my dues."  This is not what God wants for us!  He wants us to to know His love.  He wants us to know that He loves us so much that while we were sinners, He gave His Son to die for us.  A real encounter with God's love causes a heart to become repentant.  Overwhelmed by the magnitude of His love for me, I fall upon my face and repent of living a life so unworthy of such a great love.  And in turn, He who produced that repentance in me in the first place, pours out His mercy upon me and makes me experience His great Love even more.  And then, I repent even more!  The more we know God's love, the more we repent!  The more we repent, the more we know God's love.

The only way we should ever say, "I'm not the best Catholic" is if in our hearts, we are on our knees before the Lord, repenting from past sins and sincerely striving to avoid future sins.  The woman in today's Gospel knows that God loves her.  And in front of that love, she prostrates herself, weeps, repents, and pours out everything she has.  The rest of us sinners ought to learn from her example. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Christ Meets the Brownstones

For the past week or so, I've been taking my hound--Finbar--and walking a couple of times a day along the Boston University Campus. We pass by buildings that house the various schools that make up Boston University.  There is the College of General Studies,  the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Education, and the list goes on.  Each of these schools or colleges represent a portion of the BU community. The young men and women who attend these colleges and schools are bound together by similar interests.  
On the street where the Catholic Center's Newman House is, there are dozens of other old brownstones that house students who have similar interests.  If you walk up my street--Bay State Road--you will see brownstones with signs that read, "Music House," "German House," "Spanish House," and so on.  Again, these houses represent groups of students who have some interest that binds them together. It is all quite impressive.

This past Sunday, St. Luke's Gospel spoke about two groups whose members had similar interests.  Luke referred to them as "crowds."  The first crowd came together because a grieving widow had lost her only son.  She was accompanying his body to its place of burial.  All around her were gathered people who presumably wanted to console her and to grieve with her.  What brought those people together was a very human reality.  

As that particular crowd was making its way along, another crowd encountered them.  This crowd was gathered around Christ as he approached the City of Nain.  As we know, Jesus raised that woman's son and restored him to her.  In so many of Jesus' miracles, somebody makes a request of Jesus.  But in this instance, no request was made.  Instead, Jesus was moved by the woman's sorrow.  

In so many ways, this Gospel is a model for Evangelization.  It is important for the Christian crowd not to be content with its own little world.  Instead, we are supposed to encounter every other crowd.  We are called to meet them in their particular areas of interest.  We are called to meet them in the College of Education and in the College of Communication.  We are called to meet the crowd at the Music House and at the Spanish House.  We are called to encounter every crowd.  And, we don't have to wait for them to beg us to tell them about Jesus.  We have to act like Christ who was moved with a sympathy for their particular interest, a sympathy for what brought them together.  The BU Catholic Center's Newman House is a place where we are gathered by the Lord.  But, it is not a fortress.  It is, in a sense, a staging ground.  From it, students are called to bring what they discover in Christ to every aspect of life and society.  

Every human being--no matter what crowd he is in--has needs, has burdens, and has problems that seem unsolvable.  No matter how wonderful the colleges they attend might be, each of those students is going to run up against a difficulty that seems insurmountable.  The account given by St. Luke about that young man who died is a good reminder to us that Christ is the answer to man's deepest problems.  You think you have problems?  Try being dead.  That's a very big problem.  But, Christ entered into the midst of that crowd and showed himself to be the solution to man's most profound problems.

I have a pulpit and I have the privilege of preaching the Word of God from that pulpit.  But, there are places that I will likely never go.  I will not be in laboratories and operating theaters, in political science seminars and  theater productions.  But, the lay members of Christ's faithful will be in those places.  Sunday's Gospel is a reminder to all of us that the Christian crowd is meant to encounter every other crowd and to bring to them the new life that only Christ can bring.

In his first book on Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict asks what did Christ bring to humanity that none of the other great spiritual leaders before him brought?  The answer: God.  Christ brought God. The Church is called to bring God to every crowd.  We bring something new to every problem.  We bring God.  In the Gospel this past Sunday, Jesus did not look disdainfully upon the other crowd that had gathered.  Instead, he looked with sympathy on their very human situation.  What brought them together was not a bad thing.  It was something good.  They were brought together to mourn and to console.  Similarly, Catholics shouldn't look upon today's other crowds with disdain or with indifference.  Instead, we ought to see in each of those crowds an urgent desire for new life.  We ought to look with sympathy and with affection on these contemporary crowds.  They gather together for good and noble reasons.  In bringing Christ to these crowds, we are not setting out to destroy them.  We are bringing what perfects them: God.