Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Loving Our Brother Priests with the Inefficiency of the Incarnation

The other night, I had dinner with four lay men who are part of the ecclesial movement, Communion and Liberation.  Three of them I know, but one I met that evening.  During our meal together, they asked me questions: "What do you like about campus ministry?  What are the challenges?  Tell me how you became a priest?"  These questions are what I would describe as "human." I left the dinner feeling as though my humanity was somehow deeper as a result of our conversation.  They were interested in my humanity.  In that encounter, I experienced a tenderness for my life.

Oftentimes in Church circles--and especially among the clergy--our conversations revolve around policies, programs, and controversies.  But, we never touch the human dimension of things.  We are interested in things, but not in each other.  We pass over the person in front of us in order to banter or debate about extrinsic things.  (I say this as one who loves to banter and debate).  This sometimes becomes the totality of conversations in ecclesial life.  This is not to suggest that the issues, policies, and programs are not important, but it is to say that we approach them in a stagnant and life-taking way because we pass over the human person in front of us.  The person before us becomes merely an opportunity to express our predetermined opinion on some topic.

This affects the way that dioceses, parishes, and other ecclesial realities operate.  They can become inhuman.  The person in front of us can be reduced to a caricature of a particular ideology ("He's a liberal."  He's a conservative.").  Or, the person in front of us can be reduced to a problem that requires solving, an issue that needs to be dealt with, or even just someone who becomes invisible to us.  

Do bishops and those who work in chanceries know their priests?  Do they ever ask, "How did you become a priest?  What most impresses you about your assignment?  What are the challenges?" If they ask these questions, do they ask them out of a true love for the man in front of them or is it an inquiry to be placed in a file somewhere?  Do pastors know their people?  Do they ask them, "How did you two get married? What is it like raising a Catholic family today?  What are your struggles?"  If they ask these questions, are they asked in order to develop a new parish program or are they asked because the pastor is interested in the person in front of him?

Love is not something that is experienced vaguely.  If love is to be experienced, it is personal and specific.  This is why God became Flesh.  He came to dwell among us in a specific time and in a specific place.  He was interested in those persons.  He engaged them in conversations.  He spoke to specific persons and healed specific ailments.  He ate at specific homes and forgave specific sins.  The Incarnation--in a sense--was not particularly efficient.  God didn't start a blog and write daily posts about his love that could be read worldwide and immediately.  Instead, he became incarnate.  He went for dinner at Matthew's house, cured Peter's mother-in-law, and forgave an adulteress woman.  He entered into a particular place and a particular time.  The Church's method has to be personal and specific.  We have to be interested in the person.

Jesus was interested in the one lost sheep.  This is an inefficient use of the Savior's time!  Of the many things that St. Paul wrote about love, he never said, "Love is efficient."  All of us hunger to be loved infinitely.  In a particular way, I am mindful of newly and recently ordained priests.  They especially need to experience the love of Christ in their life. This hunger is not a sign of weakness on their part.  They are men whose very reason for being is in order to prolong the presence of Christ the Good Shepherd--Incarnate Love--in the midst of the flock.  In order to be convincing witnesses of this love, they too need to encounter this love.  While they can experience it through the love of the lay faithful, they are firstly to experience it through their participation in the priestly fraternity--with their fellow priests and bishops.  

In my own archdiocese, there are a million things constantly going on.  It's a big place with lots of people, buildings, and programs.  Properties being sold, assignments changing, public relations issues, human resource issues, legal issues, financial issues, personnel issues, moral issues, governmental issues, etc etc.  There's a lot going on!  There's just no doubt about it.  But, in the midst of all of this, we need to err on the side of inefficiency.  Diocesan plans and structures need to yield to the inefficiency of love.  In a particular way, young priests need to feel the gaze of Christ upon them so that they can remain strong in their vocation.  Young priests--new priests--need before everything else to experience intensely the gaze of Christ upon their humanity and upon their priesthood.  Bishops and priests can serve their younger brothers in the presbyterate by being interested in their humanity and by loving their humanity and their priesthood.  This takes time.  It takes effort.  It takes interest. It may at times be inefficient.  That's the Incarnation.


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

At the Manger, Together

Dear Friends in Christ,

Tonight, no matter how far away we are from one another, we are near.  Whether we gather under the same roof, at the same table or, whether we are separated by oceans, we are near.  Whether we are separated by time zones or the hurts of the past, we are near.  Whether we are separated by generations, the passing of time, or even death, we are near.

Tonight, all of Christendom makes its way to the manger at Bethlehem.  All of history draws near to the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes.  Angels and men.  Poor shepherds and wealthy kings.  Jews and Gentiles.  Lions and lambs.  Friends and enemies.  God and Man.  In Him, division dissolves and communion is established.

In front of this little baby, we find ourselves together.  Together with God.  Together with one another.  It began with shepherds and wise men, but the procession of pilgrims continues two thousand years later.  All that we have searched and longed for--"the hopes and fears of all the years"--are met in Him tonight.  

We take our places among the shepherds and wise men and gaze upon the child in the arms of  the Blessed Virgin.  As I do so, I am grateful for all of those who are with me.  Tonight, we are together.  To all of you who have accompanied me to Bethlehem and who--by your example, prayers, and friendship--have led me to the Christ Child, I wish you a Blessed and Holy Christmas.  It is a privilege to adore Christ with you.  It is a privilege to be together in Christ.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Pope Francis' Speech to the Roman Curia and Being a Boston Driver

There really is no point in denying it.  I am a Boston driver.  If you are in front of me and don't take the right on red, expect a honk of the horn.  Out for a leisurely Sunday drive in the passing lane?  Expect the horn.  There are a lot of things that you can do on the road that annoy me.  But, I have to admit something.  I'm kind of a hypocrite when it comes to driving.

If I'm behind you, you're going too slow.  If you're behind me, you're going too fast and are driving like a madman.  Occasionally, I catch myself and realize that the stuff that other people on the road do to annoy me, I sometimes do myself.  In fact, sometimes in a span of minutes, I commit the same offense for which I have blown the horn of terror at some other person for doing.  When they do it, it's clearly because they are an idiot who doesn't know how to drive.  When I do it, it's because I'm human and, after all, we all make mistakes.  They should be patient with me.

All of this comes to mind today because there has been a lot of talk about a speech that Pope Francis gave to the Curia at the Vatican.  To read the headlines, he basically blasted the cardinals, bishops, and priests who work there for a host of problems.  It was a long speech, but what made the headlines were criticisms that focus on the sicknesses that he sees as afflicting the Curia.  Careerism, gossip, envy, lack of charity, and things of this nature.  Many will (and have) read the speech and have gloated over it.  They read it and think, "Wow, good ole Pope Francis is really telling those guys off.  Good for him!"  But, if that is our attitude, then we are like that driver going around the city beeping at other people, but doing the same thing ourselves.

I think it would be a mistake for anyone to read that speech and feel gleeful that the "bad drivers" finally got pulled over and were given a Pontifical Citation for Bad Behavior.  There are plenty of citations to go around.  My temptation at this point is to provide examples of things that priests and bishops do that qualify them to be included at the Pope Francis speed trap.  That, however, would mean that I am putting myself as one of those self-righteous drivers who passes by the long line of cars pulled over at the side of the road, and who feels justified that he is not counted among those being shamed by the flashing blue lights.  When that happens to me on the road, it is not usually because I am without fault.  It's just that the cop saw someone else first.

So, if the guys in the Curia just happened to get pulled over first, that doesn't make me innocent or better than them.  The flashing blue lights are a reminder that it could just have easily been me pulled over and cited for any number of offenses.  Pettiness, gossip, careerism, not standing up for what is right out of fear of not being looked favorably upon?  There are very few drivers along the ecclesiastical highway who probably aren't guilty of a some of that.

There are probably any number of bishops and priests who go around blowing the horn when they see  evidence of this in others, but I think the Pope's speech is designed to make all of us pause and recognize our own violations in this regard.  Chances are good that we are all a little guilty of some ecclesiastical moving violations.  The Pope's speech could be for us like one of those little electronic signs you see on the highway that say, "You are going 42 MPH in a 25MPH Zone."  The speech is an opportunity for every deacon, priest, bishop, cardinal, religious, and lay person to examine himself or herself and to make the necessary corrections.  

8 Reasons Not to Go To Confession Before Christmas

This afternoon, I took my seat among two dozen or so other penitents who, in preparation for Christmas, were waiting to go to confession.  The penitents who waited--mostly patiently--were of varied ages and ethnicities.  There was, at least, one priest sitting among them waiting for his turn in the box.  Nothing says Christmas like a long confession line.

It would be awesome if you can get to confession before Christmas, but time is running out.  Try your best to get there tomorrow (December 23rd).  If not, I'm sure you can find some parishes that are offering confessions on the morning of the 24th.  If none of this works out, don't let the week after Christmas pass by without going to confession.  But, if you can, go now!  

Let me offer some reasons why somebody might not go to confession before Christmas:

1.  I haven't been in a long time.
Reply: That's why you should go now.

2. I'm embarrassed.
Reply: Human beings say and do embarrassing things.  All of the time.  Don't let embarrassment keep you from receiving God's grace.  

3. The priest might yell at me.
Reply: I hope that doesn't happen.  The priest is a sinner too.  And, I'm guessing that 98% of the time, priests are just really happy to be able to be hearing confessions.  It's when we feel most like a priest!  So, I think our inclination--especially before Christmas--is to be happy that we are being used in the way that God intended.  If you do get one of us during that 2% cranky period, chalk it up to us being tired and that we are sinners too!

4. I'm afraid the priest will think less of me.
Reply: When I hear confessions, I am grateful for the privilege to be welcomed into the messiness of someone's life.  I'm thinking how great it is that this person is confessing his or her sins.  I'm not thinking any less of the person.  Quite the opposite.  Oh yeah, and the priest is a sinner too.

5. It's been so long, I forgot exactly what I'm supposed to say.
Reply: Say, "Father, it's been so long I forget exactly what I'm supposed to say."  The priest is going to be delighted that you are there.  He's not worried that you don't remember the Act of Contrition.  (And by the way, if you're really stuck on the Act of Contrition, here is a good one: "Lord Jesus Christ, Have Mercy on Me a Sinner.  Amen."

6.  I'd like to go, but there are certain things I really don't want to say.
Reply: "Abortion, gossip, envy, masturbation, pornography, fornication, homosexual acts, adultery, lying, being cheap, refusing to forgive, not praying, not going to Mass, deceiving, looking lustfully at others, using the Lord's Name carelessly or inappropriately, receiving the Eucharist unworthily, sullying the good reputation of another, being hateful, being filled with pride, cheating, stealing, not contributing faithfully and generously to the works of the Church, and at times despairing of God's mercy and at other times presuming too much on God's mercy." If I heard any of that or ALL of that in a single confession, I would think, "Praise God!!  What a beautiful and great confession."  The more honest a confession, the better.  When we open our wounds to the Lord, His grace floods those wounds and heals them.

7. I'd like to go, but I'm really busy.
Reply: Blah, blah, blah.  If you wanted to go, you'd go.  So, go.

8. I really haven't done anything wrong.
Reply: You REALLY need to go!

Friends, Jesus is coming.  Give Him the best Christmas gift;  not gold, frankincense, and myrrh, but your sins.  This is why He came to us.  He loves you and He wants your sins.  He loves you.  Let Him love you through His Mercy.  

Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Church of Encounter: Dinner With the Three Kings

There are times in life when you have the sense that you are part of something far greater than yourself; that a particular moment reveals itself to be a meeting point with eternity.  They are the moments when the Incarnation is experienced not as a theoretical concept, but rather as a fact in history.  God and man--God and me--meet in an undeniable and unmerited encounter.

The photograph above is a moment like that.  The two men pictured with me are priests with whom I lived at one time.  One was a transitional deacon at the time and the other was a priest who served with me.  I once joked that the three of us should have dressed up as the Three Kings, taken a picture of ourselves, and mailed it as the parish Christmas Card.  So, while not dressed as the Three Kings, we still snapped a photo of ourselves tonight as we joined some of our former parishioners for a Christmas party.  All of us together in that room recognize through the friendship that we live together, the Word dwells among us.

The Church--like the Blessed Virgin Mary--is a place where mortals encounter the Divine Presence.  In the friendship of the Church, Christ enters into our midst, walks among us, and reveals to us the consoling truth that God is with us.  These moments come through the sheer gratuity of God's mercy. They come like the Angel Gabriel.  They arrive where we least expect.  Gabriel came to Nazareth.  He came to a poor woman with no societal standing.  It was with surprise that the Word entered into human history and saved it.  In an age when we are tempted to rely too heavily upon our own ingenuity and planning to build the Church, we need instead to be more like the Virgin Mary; simply open to being surprised by God and receptive to His Presence.  This is how the Church grows and draws others into its embrace.

When I think about my life as a priest, I realize that what has been most fruitful in my pastoral life has not been my particular talents or ideas.  What has been most fruitful has been the times when I have yielded to the surprise of the encounter with Christ in the friendship of the Church.  This surprise is lived with brother priests, seminarians, deacons, religious, and lay men and women.  It is lived with people twice my age and half of my age.  These moments are marked with profound simplicity and with a deep and abiding joy.  We don't create them.  They are moments when we realize that God has entered into our history and is taking us up into His eternity.

When the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would become the Mother of the Redeemer, she pondered and asked, "How can this be?"  This question is not a question of doubt.  It is the question of one who stands before the Mystery of the Incarnation?  How can it be that God draws so close to us?  How can it be that God has entered into our life through this particular moment?  How can it be that God allows us to encounter His Presence?  How can it be?

Mary teaches us how to live as a Church of Encounter.  In front of the great Mystery of the Incarnation, Mary acknowledges her wonderment.  God does not look upon our success and grant it growth.  He looks upon the lowliness of his servants.  He looks upon our virginal incapacity.  He looks upon us with mercy and gratuitously grants fecundity to those who are willing to say, "Yes," to his offer of surprise.  To be fruitful priests and fruitful parishes, we must be people who are capable of being surprised and moved by the friendship of the Church.  Sterility comes when we try to create the Church.  Fecundity comes when we are open to and surprised by God's gratuitous initiatives in our lives.  And, these gratuitous initiatives often appear to lack an immediate quality of grand success.  Instead, they are like a little backwater town called Nazareth where the Word became Flesh.  For me, these moments of encounter come sitting at lunch with a young person at Boston University and talking about life, receiving a text from one of them that cracks me up, sitting around a dinner table tonight with friends whom Christ has brought together, gathering with brother priests whose example inspire me, and in a thousand other small--seemingly insignificant moments.  These are Nazareth moments.

These Nazareth moments introduce something new into the world.  These moments are where the encounter takes place: the encounter between God and man.  For some, the photo above are of three people whom they have never met.  So, to them it means very little.  But, for others who do know the three guys pictured above, they will immediately experience the joy of the encounter.  They saw the friendship that we lived together--a friendship gratuitously given by God--a friendship that moved us and caused us wonderment and joy.  Not only did others see this friendship, they lived it too.  When we live as a Church of encounter, others are drawn in.  It is never exclusionary or stagnant.  This is the Church.  It is to live the Incarnation.  It never grows old.  It is always new.  It is to wake up each day even more ready to be surprised, convinced, and moved by a fact: The Word Became Flesh and Dwells Among Us.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Rejoice, Even in the Midst of Sorrow

"Cheer up!"  There is probably no more annoying and trite advice that you can offer to someone who is suffering.  "It's not that bad.  People are worse off than you.  Get over it.  Cheer up!"  I'm not sure there is anyone who has ever suddenly become of "good cheer" because someone else has told him to "cheer up!"  Usually, when somebody is feeling down, the last thing that they want is for some clown to tell them, "Cheer up!"

As we draw nearer to Christmas, the sufferings and wounds of the world become more evident.  Many people find this time of year to be tinged with more than just a little sadness.  People recall loved ones who have died, relationships that have broken, innocence that has been lost, and loved ones who have lost their way.  At Christmas time, we cannot help but recall with sorrow that there are victims of war, children without food, warmth, and housing, unemployed and underemployed men and women struggling to survive, Christians being persecuted, and people struggling with disease, poverty, depression, and addiction.  We cannot help but recall that we are not as holy as we would like to be.

In the face of all of this, we hear St. Paul on the Third Sunday of Advent say, "Rejoice always!"  Is this St. Paul and the Church telling a suffering world, "Cheer up! Things ain't so bad?" In the face of evil, darkness, tragedy, sickness, sorrow, disease, poverty, war, sin, and suffering, how are we really expected to "rejoice always?" 

One beautiful thing about the Gospel is that it never "skips over" things.  The Gospel isn't about "cheering" people up.  It doesn't say, "Things aren't so bad."  The Gospel is real.  It is truthful.  It never tries to whitewash anything.  It doesn't live in a world of make believe.  Instead, the Gospel recognizes the pain and sorrow of a fallen world and says, "Rejoice Always."  The Church is not saying, "Cheer up because things aren't really bad."  The Church says, "Yes, things are sometimes bleak and dark, but there is a Savior who comes to make all things new."  Isaiah doesn't say, "All of you people who think that being poor is a burden should cheer up.  All of you captives: things could be worse.  All of you who dwell in darkness and gloom: look on the bright side."  Isaiah announces that one is coming to those who suffer.  And, the one who is coming will bring justice with him.

The Christian is able to rejoice always because the Christian lives in hope.  We are placing all of our bets on Christ.  We are placing all of our hope in him.  Every valley will be exalted and every mountain will be made low.  The Christian rejoices even in the midst of sufferings, sin, darkness, and evil because the One who loves us is drawing near to us.  We rejoice because we are not alone.  We rejoice because "one mightier than I is coming."  The One who is coming has the power to do what the world cannot do for itself and what I cannot do for myself.  We rejoice because we trust His promise.  

The more we live the Christian life, the more intensely do we feel the brokenness of the world.  And, almost paradoxically, the more the Christian encounters the brokenness of the world, the more he is able to rejoice.  Why?  Because the Christian is filled with hope.  The greater the darkness, the more the Christian places his hope in the light that is coming into the world.  

As we live these final days before Christmas, maybe you find yourself examining life and seeing that things are not perfect. Maybe you find yourself more aware than ever of the world's brokenness. You don't need to cheer up.  But, you do need to rejoice.  Rejoice because "the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light and to those who dwelled in a land of gloom, a light has shone."  We rejoice not because everything is right with the world.  We rejoice because a mighty savior is born unto us and he comes with vindication and will make all things new.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Planning and Training Must Follow Encounter

All day today in Boston, it poured buckets of rain.  It just never let up.  Tonight also happened to be the night we scheduled seven priests to hear confessions at Boston University.  Despite the torrential downpours, five of the seven priests were able to make it.  The other two were called off when it became clear that flooding and traffic just wasn't going to get them there in time.  But, for the most part, five priests heard confessions for a solid two hours.

As I sat in the sanctuary, what did I see?  I saw five priests who worked all day, fought traffic, and got soaked in order to hear confessions.  I saw a young husband and wife team who worked all day, come in to play music in the chapel in order to cover over the sound of confessions.  I saw Bobby, our intern, directing students to the various priests.  I saw Wesley, one of our FOCUS Missionaries, warmly and genuinely welcoming people at the door and chatting with those who were leaving.  I saw members of our liturgical committee praying throughout the the two hours.  And, I saw college students and grad students going to confession.  

Some of the best things in a priest's life are the things for which he can claim absolutely no credit.  This evening was so beautiful not because of anything that I did.  It was beautiful because the priests who came encountered Christ at some point in their life.  It was beautiful because Wesley became a Catholic when he was in college, became a FOCUS Missionary, and loves the students.  It was beautiful because Bobby, Danny, and Camille had an awesome experience when they were students at the BU Catholic Center and then decided to volunteer here after college.  It was awesome because the majority of our students who participate in the Catholic life here were raised by good Catholic families and in solid Catholic parishes.  All of these people encountered Christ.  Perhaps, after that encounter, they were trained to share the good news in more effective ways, but first--primarily--they encountered Christ.

In his Apostolic Exhortation, Pope Francis writes that the first task of evangelization is to announce to everyone that Jesus loves them and remains near to them.  He says that this is "first" not in the sense of being something from which we eventually move on towards other more important topics.  He says that it is "first" in the sense that it is always primary.  It can never be presumed, skipped over, or left behind.

In a particular way, I am mindful tonight of the priests who are laboring in parishes and who are providing solid pastoral care for your people.  While there are certainly young people who are far away from the Church who find their way to the Catholic Center at Boston University, the majority of our young people come from strong Catholic parishes.  They received tremendous formation from their parish priests.  While training priests and people may be important on a secondary level, what is really needed is a greater emphasis on what is primary.  We need parishes where the encounter is primary.  We need parishes where people encounter Christ.  That is something that you cannot manufacture.  It is something that demands a spiritual life.  It is something that depends upon an openness to the Holy Spirit.

Planning and training are good, but they have to follow love.  Planning and training have to follow an encounter with Christ.  This encounter cannot be presumed, skipped over, or left behind.  I've seen planning and training without the encounter. It comes across as statistical, scientific, and inhuman.  On the other hand, when planning and training follow an encounter, they can assist in teach effectively sharing the joy of that encounter.  But, if the encounter doesn't come first--and isn't lived as a continued primary experience--then planning and training become a sociological or ideological experiment.  It actually has the opposite intended effect.  Instead of drawing people closer to Christ, it drives them away because it sounds cynical and clinical.

Tonight, I witnessed something beautiful.  Priests, penitents, and lay men and women sharing the joy of the Gospel . . . the joy of the Sacraments.  They put their training to good use.  But, their training is at the service of something that came first and remains first: an encounter.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Confession: The Best Gift for Christmas

Dear Friends in Christ,

On Tuesday December 9th from 7-9pm, there will be seven priests available for the Sacrament of Confession at Marsh Chapel at Boston University.  Are you looking for the perfect gift to give the Christ Child?  This is it:  Give Him your sins.  That is all he wants.  Are you looking to give a gift to one of your friends?  Invite him or her to come to confession with you.  For so many people, all they need is an invitation.  They need a friend who is willing to accompany them to the manger . . . to the confessional.  There's nothing lost by saying to someone, "I'm going to confession tonight.  Do you want to go too?"

Some might say, "It's been so long, I don't know what to do."  Answer: Don't worry about it.  They will provide an examination of conscience (you can also share this one HERE).  And as far as the format, the priest will help you."

Some might say, "I've done some pretty bad stuff."  Answer: "Yeah, that's why we have confession.  You're not going to say anything that the priest hasn't heard a thousand times before."

Some might say, "I'm afraid to go to confession."  Answer: "Yeah, I always get nervous too.  But, the building has never fallen down after I've confessed, the priest has never flipped out or had a stroke, and I always leave feeling better."

Some might say, "Will the priest think less of me?"  Answer: "Go to confession to Fr. Barnes then.  Out of all the priests hearing confessions, he's the biggest sinner among them.  He's got so many sins of his own, he doesn't have time to think less of you."

Are there things that you are particularly embarrassed about, ashamed of, or afraid to bring to light?  That is exactly what you should confess!  The Devil--who before the sin--tries to convince us that the sin is "no big deal," after the sin tries to convince us that we should be so ashamed that we shouldn't dare try to be forgiven for it.  "Keep it a secret.  Act like it didn't happen."  Don't be blackmailed!  Once we confess our sins--especially those sins which cause us the most embarrassment--we are truly set free.  We realize that this thing that tried to exercise such power over us is really small compared to the infinite mercy of Christ.

Oh yeah . . . and what does the priest think when he hears someone say, "It's been a really long time since my last confession" or when he hears someone confess some particularly serious sin?  The priest thinks, "Who am I to be so privileged to hear this beautiful confession and to be a minister of so great a Mercy?"  

Tuesday December 9th from 7-9pm.  Come.  Bring a friend.  The Manger of Mercy is wide open.

Your Fellow Sinner and Brother in Christ,

Fr. David Barnes

Friday, October 31, 2014

What the Catholic Church Could Learn from an Evangelical With Same Sex Attractions

Nuptial Cross
Every week, the Catholic Center at Boston University hosts a spaghetti supper.  This past week, I found myself sitting next to a gentleman who helps lead the BU chapter of "Navigators," an evangelical Christian group.  He and a few of his friends joined us for dinner, and during our conversation I mentioned that we were having a presentation in a couple of weeks on "Having Same-Sex Attractions and Living the Catholic Life."  He mentioned that his group was doing something similar this week and invited me to attend.

Last night, I attended their weekly gathering, and a young man who works for Navigators gave a great presentation on the beauty of marriage and the Gospel vision of human sexuality.  A couple of times during his talk, he briefly mentioned that he has same sex attractions, but that was not the focus of his presentation.  His focus was on St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians and how marriage is an image of Christ's love for the Church.  He focused upon how marriage between a man and a woman is the beautiful and God-given design for human sexuality.  His presentation was made with humility, joy, and serenity.

Clear and faithful teaching is always a joy to hear, but there is just something more convincing when such clarity and fidelity is accompanied by personal witness.  Publicity surrounding the Synod of Bishops this year made it sound like the bishops were discussing rules, regulations, policies, and loopholes.  In contrast, this young man gave a presentation that spoke of the beauty of human sexuality, the truth about marriage, and the grace that God wants to give each one of us.  He began with the truth and beauty of human sexuality and then he discussed sin, grace, and freedom.  Whereas the publicity surrounding the Synod made it sound like the Catholic Church was pessimistic about the possibility of people living the full truth about human sexuality, this witness humbly testified to the power of grace.  Did he fall short of living the full truth at times?  Perhaps.  But, he is nonetheless fully convinced of the truth, and he is confident that God, who has begun good work in him, will bring it to fulfillment.

A few things struck me about this event.  Firstly, I was just grateful for the opportunity for Catholics (me) and Evangelicals to be together in fellowship and to share in the joy of the Gospel together.  I find moments like this to be encouraging and fruitful.  

Secondly, I was struck by his methodology.  He began his presentation by situating sex within a Divine Plan that is beautiful and good; a plan that is centered in marriage.  From there, he talked about how sin has disfigured our understanding of this original beauty and goodness.  Then, he went on to speak about how grace can restore us and help us to live according to this Divine Plan.  This, I think, is what was missing from so much of the publicity surrounding the Synod of Bishops.  The headlines for the Synod all seemed to focus on the difficulties people confront when it comes to sex, but not upon the beauty of God's original plan nor the power of grace.

Thirdly, I was struck by the fact that this gentleman--who experiences same sex attractions--is a leader in the organization of Navigators.  It seems that the only time we ever hear anything about same sex attraction and the Church is when there is some sort of controversy.  So often we read about or hear about priests and other workers in the Church undermining the Church's teachings on human sexuality.  It's a real scandal.  It's a scandal not because they are "disagreeing with the Church's rules."  It is a scandal because it leaves people in sin and doesn't provide to them the lifesaver of the Gospel.

The guy who spoke the other night was a Christian man.  He was a Christian man who happened to have same sex attractions.  But, his identity was a Christian man.  Like every other man--every other human being--he needs the power of grace in his life in order to become more like Christ.  The presentation made me think about how there are so many people--especially in positions of influence in the Church--who purposefully attempt to undermine the Church's teachings on human sexuality.  And yet, there are men and women who--though they may struggle to live those teachings--believe them and try to live in accord with them.  We need people like this working for the Church.  We need men and women who can witness to Christ, witness to the truth about the Gospel, and witness to the power of grace.

I heard a Christian man give a witness the other night.  It was really beautiful.  He spoke eloquently on the beauty of human sexuality, marriage, and the family.  He spoke briefly on his own struggles to live according to that theological vision.  And, he spoke on the power of grace at work in his life.  He does not want the Church to teach something different.  He is too in love with the Truth to desire something less than the full truth.  A problem in the Catholic Church is that too often there are people put in positions of influence who do not necessarily adhere to the Church's theological understanding of marriage and human sexuality.  We are led to believe that the only alternative to this situation would be to put in those same positions of influence people who foam at the mouth and seek to condemn everyone to Hell.  But, there is a better way.  There is the Gospel way.

There are men and women like the gentleman I heard speak last night.  They are people who have heard the truth and who love the truth.  They are people who love Jesus Christ and want to submit their entire life to Him.  They are men and women who are living the Catholic life, going to confession, receiving the Eucharist, praying daily, and striving to live a life of holiness.  If the Church really does want to welcome people of same sex attraction, perhaps we ought to make an effort to include among our communities and our programs men and women who say, "I have same sex attractions, I believe everything that the Church teaches--including everything about human sexuality--and I am striving to live accordingly."  I don't know exactly how that all would work, but I think it would be fruitful.  I think it would accomplish two things.  Firstly, it would make truly clear that the Church does in fact love and welcome those who have same sex attractions.  Those would no longer just be words, but would rather be made made manifest in real persons.  And secondly, their witness would wield a power that would severely undermine the influence and power of those who seek to advance the ideology of the sexual revolution.  Contained within their witness would be the power of the Gospel and that is a power that sets people free.  The guy who spoke last night was filled with joy, humility, and serenity.  Nothing can defeat that.

Witnesses.  That's what the Church needs.

Monday, October 27, 2014

I Found Love at the Boston University Catholic Center Today

It's Midnight and I'm wiped out after a full day at the BU Catholic Center.  Pardon any grammar errors.  Here's what I saw today.

Fran.  She's one person who does the work of twenty.  She's officially our part-time office manager.  Somehow, "part-time office manager" translates into development director, mother, chef, general, confidant, who does everything.  This weekend was our annual phonathon fundraiser.  Fran basically spent the entire weekend being bombarded with a million questions from students, staff, and me.  She holds the whole thing together.  Oh yeah, and she is also chief cookie supplier to my dog, Finbar.

Bobby.  He graduated from BU two years ago.  He has given two years of his life volunteering at the BU Catholic Center. He arrived early this morning, doughnuts in hand, for the Sunday morning Men's group.  He organizes that, keeps all of the programming at the Catholic Center going, and mentors a lot of the students.  He worked the phonathon all weekend.  He never stops working for the Catholic Center.

Danny and Camille.  Both graduated from BU in the past few years.  They married last year and have a little baby now.  They play the music at our three Masses on Sunday--12:30, 6pm, 10pm.  In between the 6 and the 10, they run our RCIA program.  They also have a choir rehearsal on Sunday morning.  They should be exhausted, but they are joyful the whole day long.

FOCUS Missionaries and students made a couple of thousand phone calls this weekend, asking people to support us.  They worked hard.  It can be draining leaving voicemail after voicemail.  And more exhausting when someone says, "Oh, I loved my time at the Catholic Center when I was a student.  But, I'm not interested in donating."  But, these kids just joyfully endured it.  And, they clung to those joyful calls where people talked about how their life changed as a result of the Catholic Center and then made a donation.  

At Masses this weekend, seminarians came and spoke about their priestly vocations.  One of the seminarians who came was from my last parish assignment.  Two others were recent graduates of Boston University.  They spoke beautifully about how their vocation was born and how joyful they are in their vocation.

The Gospel today said that we must love God with all of our mind, heart, and strength.  Loving God is not just a feeling.  Love is an act.  How do we act when we love someone?  Firstly, we want to show that person that we love him or her.  We do things for the person, speak to the person, desire to be with the person etc.  Secondly, we want to tell others about our love for that person.  We show people pictures of the person, talk about the person, and love introducing the person to others.  We aren't embarrassed by the person.  Thirdly, we sacrifice for the person.  We give until it hurts.  We go out of our way to prove our love.

Today, I witnessed people who love God.  Not just in word, but in deed.  They show God that they love him by their life of prayer, by their worship of him, and by their love of neighbor.  They share that love with others by bearing witness to what Christ has done in their life.  They are not ashamed of the Gospel.  And, they sacrifice for love of God.  They sacrifice A LOT.  

I saw the Love of God today in the great community of the Boston University Catholic Center.  The Word became Flesh and dwells among us.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Catholic Center at Boston University: Friendship in Christ

October 24, 2014

Dear Friend of the Newman Center at Boston University:

This letter is an edited version of the letter that I mailed to our families, alumni, and friends.  I am sharing this letter on my blog in the hopes of reaching as many persons as possible  (not that too many people read my blog)!

The mission of the BU Catholic Center continues to depend upon you!  Thank you for taking a moment to read this letter and for supporting the BU Catholic Center.

In past years, the Newman Center Phonathon occurred in January, but we are moving it to October this year.  Why?  Unfortunately, the Catholic Center does not have any substantial reserves.  What we raise each year just covers our expenses for that year.  We would like to know earlier in the year what our income will be so that we can budget and plan accordingly.

Ideally, the Catholic Center could strengthen its programming and staffing and routinely make necessary repairs and improvements to its facilities.  My goal is to raise more money than we actually spend each year so that when the roof leaks (which it has been doing since I arrived), we have money available to fix it, or when the carpets and furniture need replacing, we have money to do so.  Or, when a student cannot afford to pay even a little bit towards attending one of our weekend retreats, we can make sure she can still come. Remember, the Catholic Center receives no funding from Boston University and we are completely responsible for the upkeep of our building, our utilities, and our extensive programming.

To say that I love the young men and women who belong to the Catholic community here on campus would be an understatement. I love coming to work every day and witnessing Christ at work in the life of these students.  It is my privilege to be their shepherd and to enjoy their friendship.  Many of them come to us from strong Catholic parishes and strong Catholic families.  Others come to us and discover their Faith here.  Our Catholic Center depends upon the gratitude and generosity of many. It depends upon current students and families, alumni and their families, and friends who care about forming young people in the Faith.  It depends upon you!

As a priest, I’ve had to write a fair share of fundraising letters.  I often say that “no donation is too small.”  This is true.  Please donate what you are able to donate.  But, I also want to say, “No donation is too big!”  I would like to build up the Catholic Center and make it financially strong so that it continues to thrive and to provide the very best pastoral care.

I want to share with you something important. There are people on staff at the BU Catholic Center who pour themselves out in service to the students. Some of them do so on a voluntary basis. Some are paid, but you would be shocked to know how little they are paid compared to how much they work. The BU Catholic Center functions because of the generous and selfless service offered by these men and women. I ask that all of us follow their example of generosity.

Since readers of this blog might not have a sense of what goes on at the BU Catholic Center, let me provide a few bullet points:

  • Daily Confessions and Mass
  • 3 Sunday Masses
  • RCIA
  • Intramural Sports Teams
  • Bible Studies
  • Men's Group
  • Women's Group
  • Retreats
  • Adoration and Benediction
  • Spiritual Direction
  • Weekly Dinners
  • Daily Holy Hours
  • Social Gatherings
  • A Coffee Lounge
  • Study Rooms
  • Catholics on Campus (A weekly formation night)
  • Service Trips and Events
  • Vocational Discernment (in the past five years, five men have either entered seminary or been ordained priests from the BU Catholic Center)
  • True Friendship in Christ

If you are a reader of this blog and would like to contribute to the BU Catholic Center, you can do so by seeing a donation to:

The Boston University Catholic Center
211 Bay State Rd.
Boston, MA 02215

Or, you can learn more about donating through PayPal or ParishPay by visiting the following link http://bucatholic.com/donate/

I am very grateful for your consideration of this request. I promise you that the young people whom we are serving are worth the investment.

Your Brother in Christ,

Fr. David Barnes

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Thanks JP2. I Love You

Today I had conversations with several young people, but two conversations stand out because they seemingly contrast with one another. 

In the first instance, a young man said to me that he doesn't often read my blog, "But when I do, I think to myself, 'Fr. Barnes sounds like he's the happiest guy in the world."  That, of course, was nice to hear.  I am, in fact, very happy to be a priest.  I am especially grateful that my priesthood has been lived out in a closeness to real people.  I couldn't speak convincingly of the Church if the Church were for me just a theory.  But, I am able to preach and bear witness to the Church with a certain force of conviction because it is in the context of the Church that I have encountered Christ through the friendship of others; especially the friendship of lay men and women.  In the communion of life that I share with my brothers and sisters in the Faith--especially those to whom I have been called to shepherd--I discover and experience the love of Christ.

In the second instance, I was speaking to someone about the diocesan priesthood.  In the face of questions about the vocation to diocesan priesthood, I said that I have little doubt that the work of a diocesan priest will increasingly become more difficult and that it will face increased opposition.  Is this the wrong thing to say?  In a worldly sense, it is.  But, today is the Feast of St. John Paul II.  Our heavenly friend knew that the real way to get people to follow Christ--the real way to increase vocations to the priesthood--was not to water the challenge down.  He knew that the real way to transform the world was to put before young people the challenge to follow Christ.  He did not say, "Follow Christ!  Take the easy way!"  No, he challenged young people to "Follow Christ!  Take up your Cross!"  St. John Paul II knew that telling young people to take the easy way out is not the answer.  He put his cards on the table.  

Pope John Paul II's way could not have been designed by public relations specialists.  His way is not the way of mediocrity or comfort.  His way is the the Way of the Cross.  His way is the way of the Gospel.  In our youth, many of us thought that the battle to which John Paul II was calling us would be easily won and that victory would soon be ours.  Many of us saw that the Truth which he proposed was so convincing and attractive that nothing could stop it from renewing the culture.  Even if the culture was being lost, there was a new springtime in the Church that would eventually blossom and bring cultural renewal.  The circumstances have not grown more friendly to the Gospel.  They have become more antagonistic.  But, the hope that is born from the Gospel--the Gospel preached by the Polish Pope--is resilient and indefatigable.  

Today, as I offered Mass on the Feast of St. John Paul II with my community at the Boston University Catholic Center, I thought my heart was going to explode with joy.  There in that chapel, I saw the fruits of John Paul's labors; young people who are living the Gospel and fully committed to growing in holiness and to transmitting the full truth of the Gospel to others.  This was the long fought and tireless efforts of an evangelist.  These young people are the fruits of St. John Paul's long-suffering and tireless efforts to preach the full Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I look at them and see John Paul II's smiling and intense face written all over them.  John Paul so often repeated our Lord's admonition, "Do not be afraid!"  John Paul was not afraid to preach the full Gospel to young people.  That fearlessness bore fruit.  Even today--almost a decade after John Paul's death--these young people are proof that the Church shouldn't fear preaching the full Gospel to young people. Young people are starving to hear the Gospel.

One of the reasons I started writing this blog was that I hoped it might be a resource for young men who are considering the priesthood.  I can promise any young man who happens upon this page that I love being a priest and am continuously filled with extraordinary gratitude for what Christ has given me.  But, at the same time, I can also say that fidelity to Christ and to His Gospel, will increasingly bring resistance and opposition.  The priest of the future will have to be willing to preach the Gospel with conviction and with joy and to suffer intense opposition.  

I can say from personal experience that the joy that comes from living close to the people and the joy that comes from faithfully preaching the Gospel is more than enough.  Beige Catholicism (as Fr. Robert Barron refers to it) is not why there are young college students lining up for adoration, Mass, and Confession at Boston University.  They are there because they are the fruits of the Gospel preached by Pope John Paul II.  They have heard the challenge and have taken it up.  Similarly, priestly vocations are not coming from Beige Catholicism.  No right thinking man wants to lay down his life--to give up marriage and children--in order to become a purveyor of Chicken Soup for the Soul niceties.  Vocations to the priesthood will come from men who have been summoned forth to the front lines to preach a Gospel of Christ Crucified.  The front lines are dangerous.  But, the joy that comes from seeing the hundredfold promise of Christ fulfilled is more than enough to sustain one in the battle.

I have loved each of the Popes of my lifetime.  Each for different reasons.  Francis for his capacity to be like a "parish priest"and to be his own man.  Benedict for his liturgical style, homiletic brilliance, and profound humility.  But, John Paul II has shaped my life and my priesthood.  I realize now, more than ever, that I heard what John Paul II had to say and I threw all my chips in.  His words and example said, "Put it all on the line.  Hold nothing back."  No one could ever accuse John Paul II of misleading anyone.  His proclamation was basically, "Risk everything on Christ and on his way of life, no matter what the cost.  To do so means that you will carry the Cross.  And, in carrying this Cross, you will find true life."

If today, a young man were to ask me about becoming a priest, I would say this: "Risk everything on Christ and on his way of life, no matter what the cost.  To do so surely means that you will carry the Cross.  And, in carrying the Cross, you will find true life."

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

St. John Paul II: Heavenly Friend of Families

The other evening, I received a very beautiful email from a friend of mine.  She and her husband, both working professionals and dedicated Catholics, are doing the hard work of raising their children in the Catholic Faith.  In her email, she expressed disappointment that the focus of all the news stories about the Synod on Families had little to offer Catholic husbands and wives who every day do the hard work of raising their children in the Catholic Faith.  The email, in its eloquence and simplicity, reminded me that married couples who are trying to live the fullness of Catholic teaching, do so heroically in a culture that opposes them at every turn.  Bishops and priests need to remember the heroism of these persons and encourage them.  We need to be careful not to undermine them by making their witness more difficult.

In many ways, our culture makes faithful Catholic families feel at best, like anachronistic imbeciles and, at worst, like hateful bigots.  To say that one thinks marriage is a life-long union between one man and one woman is denounced as being bigoted and judgmental.  I hear from people all of the time who say that just saying that they go to Mass on Sunday can unleash a firestorm of criticism.  These are not people who are wearing signs that say, "If you don't go to Mass on Sundays, you're going to Hell."  These are just people who might mention that they were at Mass last Sunday.  That alone suffices for them to be subjected to humiliation.

Tell your children that they can't miss Mass on Sunday in order to go on a little league trip and you are considered a nut.  Couples struggling through a difficult moment in their marriage are surrounded by people who say, "Don't stay in the marriage if you're not happy.  Get out and find someone else while you are still young enough."  Raising your family Catholic in today's culture is a struggle.  

The Church needs to be careful not to cut the legs out from these good people.  They are providing a commendable and necessary witness to the Truth about marriage and family.  But, they are doing so at a cost.  It can be tiring.  At a moment when what the Church teaches about marriage and family is roundly mocked by the culture, these witnesses can feel a bit alone.  They can feel like they are in a desolate outpost without much support.  They can feel like the Church sent them off into battle and then cut off their supply lines.

Sometimes faithful Catholic spouses are accused of being "culture warriors."  But, my experience is that these "warriors" are simply men and women who are just trying to follow the Gospel.  They go to the supermarket and, because they have more than three children in tow, they are subjected to mockery by strangers.  They go to Mass on Sundays and are accused of thinking they're better than everyone else.  They go to the supermarket to buy food.   They're not there in order to fight the culture war.  But, because of their fidelity to the Church, they become targets of a culture that is at war with the Gospel.

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of St. John Paul II.  He was close to families.  He lived a friendship with lay people.  He encouraged them and taught them how to live the fullness of married life.  He understood that the family is the necessary and irreplaceable building block of society and of the Church.  As we honor St. John Paul today and seek his intercession, I want to tell Catholic families that feel discouraged by the news reports surrounding the Synod that St. John Paul is close to you. The Church is close to you.  You are not alone.  Even if news reports about the Synod of Families has left you feeling somewhat abandoned, forgotten, or isolated, you are not alone.  Never become discouraged!  

In his Apostolic Exhortation on the Family, St. John Paul II wrote: "At a moment of history in which the family is the object of numerous forces that seek to destroy it or in some way to deform it, and aware that the well-being of society and her own good are intimately tied to the good of the family, the Church perceives in a more urgent and compelling way her mission of proclaiming to all people the plan of God for marriage and the family, ensuring their full vitality and human and Christian development, and thus contributing to the renewal of society and of the People of God" (Familiaris Consortio 3).

To those of you who are striving to live the married vocation, remember that St. John Paul II saw you and your mission as necessary to the well-being of society and of the Church.  St. John Paul is counting on you.  And, he's praying for you. Keep up the good work!

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Church Welcomed Everyone Before and After the Synod

Pope St. Gregory the Great
On Monday of last week, the headlines exclaimed, "Bishops Welcome the Divorced and Gays!"  A few days later, the headlines read, "Bishops Take Back Welcome to the Divorced and Gays."  While it is unlikely that the secular press is ever going to present well the theological and ecclesiastical subtleties of anything that happens in the life of the Church, these headlines are not entirely (nor even, mainly) the fault of the press.  Responsibility for these headlines--and the confusion that they cause--rests primarily at the door of the Synod itself.

Today is Sunday.  Like priests all over the world, I was standing outside this morning welcoming people to Mass.  I welcomed them not because they were straight or gay, married or divorced, native born or immigrant, in the state of grace or in a state of mortal sin, or even because they were Catholic.  I welcomed them because they were human beings.  They are the human beings whom Christ came to save.  Each one of them is entitled to hear the Gospel of Christ.  Each one of them is embraced by the Church.  Each one of them is called to holiness.

Every Sunday morning for 17 years, I've stood outside of church and greeted people.  I presume in those seventeen years, I have welcomed just about every category of person you could imagine.  "Welcoming" people is not some recent invention.  Jesus welcomed people.  He welcomed sinners and ate with them.  But, this welcoming was not an end in itself.  The welcome that is extended to every person--in the Name of Christ--is also an invitation to turn away from sin and to be faithful to the Gospel.  We are welcoming people to hear the Gospel.  For each one of us, hearing that Gospel is going to be like branches being pruned.  It's going to hurt a bit.

The main storyline presented in the press about the synod was that the Church was debating whether to "welcome gay people and divorced and remarried people."  Frankly, that would be a waste of a synod because the Church does that already.  What alternative does the Church have?  Christ commanded the Church to proclaim the Gospel to every creature.  I think the question that we should be asking is what do we mean when we say, "welcome?"  To what are we welcoming people?

Pope St. Gregory the Great wrote a book entitled, "The Pastoral Rule."  In that document, Gregory describes persons of various temperaments and how properly to give sound pastoral guidance to each of them.  His presumption is that each person needs conversion and growth in holiness.  Like a good physician, the good pastor is able to examine each patient, diagnose his weakness, and provide the proper pastoral medicine.  Sometimes--and I think it would be intellectually dishonest to suggest otherwise--the "All Are Welcome" mantra is a thinly veiled code for, "We Will Never Bring Up Sin." The whole "welcome" language has become divorced from any true pastoral care.  True pastoral care is not simply about welcoming.  True pastoral care is helping people to grow in holiness.

In the Gospel, when Jesus welcomed people, he did so for the sake of bringing them to conversion.   When people complained about Jesus welcoming people, it was always about how he welcomed sinners.  And in response to these complaints, Jesus told parables about the conversion of sinners.  His welcoming was intimately linked to the further step of conversion.  "Welcoming" is not an end in itself.  Getting people to sit in the pews is not an end in itself.  Getting people to follow Christ, turn away from sin, and get to heaven is the reason for welcoming them.  An example of this is seen in the liturgy.  The first time someone is liturgically "welcomed" into the Church is on the path to baptism.  They are welcomed so that they can turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.

Everyone ought to be welcome because everyone is need of conversion.  There are people who go to Mass every week who are attracted to people of the same sex.  Yes, we ought to welcome them, but not because they are people who are attracted to people of the same sex.  We ought to welcome them because they are human persons in need of conversion.  The priest who is welcoming them is a human person in need of conversion.  The married woman who reads at Mass is a human person in need of conversion.  The divorced and remarried woman bringing her children to Mass is a human person in need of conversion.  The single guy who took up the collection is a human person in need of conversion. 

When the secular press says, "Church opens its doors to gays and the divorced," what it means is  "Church says homosexual activity and divorce and remarriage are okay."  No matter what the Synod Fathers intended, that was the message that was received.  What most people took away from the headlines is that the Church was showing signs of signaling that while divorce and remarriage and sexual activity outside of marriage are "not ideal," it's really not too big of a deal.  The other thing that people took away is that "Truth" is not something that is stable and knowable.  Instead, it is subjective and dependent upon how many conservative bishops and how many liberal bishops happen to be on a particular committee.  One prominent Catholic wrote in today's newspaper in Boston, "Fundamental church doctrine does not change routinely," and he described the bishops as having "failed to adopt a more merciful approach to ministering to gays and divorced and remarried Catholics."  If even an educated and faithful Catholic is using this type of language, imagine how we must appear to those who are not faithful or who are not even Catholic.

The language spoken of in that quote suggests that the Church is some sort of club and that we should expand our membership criteria in order to let more people in.  This type of mentality actually contradicts Pope Francis' own image of a field hospital.  In order to get into the hospital, you have to be sick or wounded.  "Welcome" for the Church must always mean, "All Are Sinners in Need of Grace and Mercy."  The Church is most successful in drawing others to herself and to Christ when she proclaims the kerygmatic truth that Christ came to save sinners.

There would be no point in going to the hospital if you thought you were completely healthy.  Equally pointless would be to go to a hospital that had no capacity to offer you healing.  Sometimes, the impression is given that the way to welcome those who are attracted to people of the same sex is to give the impression that there's nothing sinful about same sex actions.  Similarly, sometimes the impression is given that the best way to welcome those who are divorced and remarried is to give the impression that there's no problem with that either.  This is neither evangelization nor is it mercy.  Evangelization is to say that we have a need and Christ is the answer to that need.

Maybe the way to welcome gay people and divorced and remarried people to the Church is to say something like this:  "All of us are sinners.  God loves all of us and wants all of us to be saved.  All of us are called by Christ to turn away from sin and to be faithful to the Gospel.  Sometimes, we find ourselves in very complicated and difficult situations.  Your pastors and your brothers and sisters in the faith are here to accompany you along the path to holiness.  We would like you to accompany us on our path to holiness.  Conversion means dying to yourself.  Dying to yourself is hard.  All of us are in the same boat.  All of us need help."  

I would say those words to them not because they are attracted to people of the same sex or because they are divorced and remarried.  I would say those words because those are the words that every human being needs to hear.  Those words are spoken to all of us.  Those are the words that I need to hear.  They are an invitation to follow Christ, to take up our Cross and to be his disciple.  The call to people with same sex attraction, the call to people who are divorced and remarried, the call to married people, lay people, priests and religious, the call to young and old, rich and poor, sick and healthy . . . the call is the same.  This invitation is filled with love and with mercy.  It is the call that Christ extends to all: "Come and follow me."  

This invitation is filled with love and with mercy.  It contains within it an assurance of Christ's Presence.  It is not a moralistic command.  It is an invitation to a new life in Christ.  This is an invitation that every human heart needs to hear.  The invitation of Christ is filled with promise.  We should not hesitate to extend that invitation--in all of its dimensions, demands and promises--to every human person.  

The headlines were all wrong.  The hospital is open to all who are sick and in need of healing.  Not every patient has the same diagnosis.  Each patient must be treated differently, according to his or her condition.  But everyone who places himself into the hands of this Divine Physician will find healing and life.

The Church would appear more welcoming to others if those of us on the inside of the hospital were more convinced that we are patients and not club members.  The Gospel was spread throughout the world by men and women who were convinced that alone and unaided they were doomed.  We would do well to remember that the healthy do not need a physician.  The sick do.