Friday, February 28, 2014

Lent: Living the Passion from Within and With the Heart of Christ

"What are you doing for Lent?"  This question was the topic of a Facebook discussion between students at the Boston University Catholic Center this past week.  It is an important question.  To ask this question--to prepare to live Lent--says that one is serious about his or her spiritual life.  They are asking this question because they recognize in themselves a desire for conversion, a hunger to be renewed, and a thirst to be more perfectly conformed to Jesus Christ.

There is something intensely personal about living the season of Lent, but there is also something refreshingly communal about it.  Even its very first day--Ash Wednesday--provides us with a sense of both of these.  Individually, we have ashes placed upon our foreheads and are reminded of our individual mortality and of our personal need for repentance.  But, it is something that we do together.  All around us are people who are engaged in the same spiritual battle.

Last year, Lent changed for me.  Perhaps for the first time in my life, I felt close to the Passion.  Lent was marked not simply by the usual sacrifices.  Instead, it was marked by the experience of betrayal, abandonment, and humiliation.  It came like a bombardment of field artillery; relentless, unyielding, and disorienting.  While I was informed that I was being transferred from a beloved assignment, that was not really the source of suffering.  Leaving a parish that I loved was one of those difficult but expected parts of being a priest.  In fact, that kind of suffering has somewhat of a sweetness to it.  The sorrow that comes from leaving a good assignment is the result of the joy of having encountered Christ.  So paradoxically, the greater the sorrow at a moment like that, the greater also is the joy.

The Christian--and more intensely perhaps, the priest--is called to enter into the mysteries of Christ's Passion and Death.  This experience is not only the physical sufferings that we endure, but also the experience of being handed over, betrayed, abandoned, calumniated, and humiliated.  When Jesus says that we must take up our cross, it includes all of this.  This is the Passion of Christ and this is where Lent leads us.

Months before Lent, I had signed up and paid for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  In the days after Easter, because I had already signed up, I went on the pilgrimage.  The very last place I wanted to be was on that pilgrimage.  The only thing worse than being on that pilgrimage was knowing that I paid to be on that pilgrimage!  Each day, as we travelled from place to place together, I felt a more intense sorrow.  In one of our last days on pilgrimage, we went to the home of Caiaphas and went down into the cistern where tradition holds that Christ was held captive before his crucifixion.  It is customary to pray Psalm 88 in this place and to meditate upon Christ.  As we stood in the cistern as one of our members read Psalm  88, I thought, "This is exactly how I feel!"  What the pilgrimage lacked in pleasure, I suppose it made up for in reality.

Last year, I lived Lent feeling close to Christ in his sufferings.  But, simply to experience suffering is not what Christ asks of us.  He invites us to experience the Cross with His Heart.  To follow Christ is not merely the capacity to endure the Cross.  To follow Christ is to conform our heart to His Heart.  It is to look at those who harm us with the eyes of mercy.  It is to forgive the one who injures us, to remain silent before the accuser, to place oneself into the hands of the betrayer, and to look tenderly on the one who abandoned us.  Lent is given to us so that we experience the Passion and its graces from within and not merely from without.  

This year, I certainly hope that I will be spared a repeat of last Lent!  But, it begins with a desire to live the Passion from within.  It begins with a desire to live a closeness to Christ and to His Heart.  Whatever I'm doing for Lent, I'm doing so that at the end, I am better able to carry the Cross with a Heart like His.  And, I take consolation that--like the people who stood by me last Lent--this year I am accompanied to the Cross with fellow pilgrims.  I find strength and joy in knowing that these young pilgrims are approaching the battlefield with me and are readying themselves for battle.  They are asking the question, "What are you doing for Lent?"  Whatever we do, let's do it with the Heart of Christ.
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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Good Samaritan or Clint Eastwood?

Clint Eastwood once appeared in a movie entitled, "Unforgiven."  I vaguely recall that some men had attacked a woman and the rest of the movie is about Clint Eastwood tracking those men down and killing them one by one.  

This past weekend, the students at the BU Catholic Center were on retreat in Kennebunkport, Maine and as part of the retreat, we reflected on the Gospel of the Good Samaritan.  As we were led through a meditation on the Gospel, something struck me about it.  No matter what nice thing the Good Samaritan did for the man who was robbed, he didn't undo the robbery.  The man was beaten, robbed, and left for dead.  If I were writing the screenplay for the Good Samaritan, I think I'd be taking things in a different direction.  Namely, after the Good Samaritan cared for the wounded man and brought him to safety, I'd have the Good Samaritan going on the hunt for the robbers.  If I were writing this story, there would be a little more Clint Eastwood in the Good Samaritan.

Is what the Good Samaritan does for the victim in this story sufficient?  He lost his money, lost his sense of security, and was beaten to an ounce of his life.  It's all well and good that the Good Samaritan comes along and helps him out, but it seems as though justice has not been done.  And, what about that priest and the Levite who passed by and didn't even help the man who was robbed?  Imagine laying in a ditch close to death and seeing a priest and a Levite coming down the road.  It must have been a great relief.  "Surely, this guy will help me," the man must have thought to himself.  Seeing two men who were his countrymen and who shared in his religious faith walking down the road must have been like a man on a life raft seeing the rescue plane appear over head.  But, this man's relief would turn to a deeper sense of hopelessness as he watched his brothers pass by on the other side.  I think I would have the Clint Eastwood Good Samaritan paying those two a visit too.

In the Gospel, Jesus tells us that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  That's a tall order.  While most of us may struggle from time to time with living out various moral teachings of the Gospel, we kind of know that--while difficult--they make sense.  "Worship God, Do not steal, Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Honor your Father and Mother etc," while not always easy, make sense.  But, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you?  That does not come naturally.  At least for me, and I suspect for a lot of others, by nature we are more inclined to go the Clint Eastwood path.

So, why in the world should we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us?  In the Gospel of the Good Samaritan, the man who fell victim was attacked, robbed, and left for dead by the robbers. Additionally, he was ignored and left for dead by his countrymen.  So, while it is all well and good that the Good Samaritan comes along and helps him out, isn't that what we'd expect somebody to do?  It seems like the Good Samaritan only does what we'd expect a halfway decent human being to act in a similar situation.  So, we have one good guy and a lot of bad guys in this story.  

Ah, but that one "good guy" was a Samaritan.  He and the man by the side of the road were enemies.  And this is what makes all of the difference.  The victim had no expectation that the Samaritan would stop to help him.  Similarly, as St. Paul reminds us, "For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly" (Romans 5:6).  While we were laying at the side of the road--helpless--Christ came to our rescue.  "But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).  We were God's enemies, but he loved us and came to our rescue.

Why should we love our enemies?  Why should we pray for those who persecute us?  Is it because they deserve our prayers and forgiveness?  Not really.  We should do these things because this is what God does.  This is how God has dealt with us.  We rightfully expect certain things in justice from some individuals.  And, when they rob us or pass us by and leave us for dead, we are wounded by the injustice.  But, we can make no such claim upon God.  He owes us--who have been enemies to Him--nothing.  And yet, this is where his love for us is proven.  He loved us and came to our rescue while we were his enemies.

To love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us is to be caught up in something far greater than what our unaided human nature is capable.  To love enemies and to pray for persecutors is to be caught up in supernatural charity.  The Clint Eastwood model is a natural response.  The Good Samaritan model is the supernatural response.  Do our enemies deserve our love?  Do our persecutors deserve our prayers?  No, they really don't.  They deserve a visit from Clint Eastwood!  But, Jesus doesn't treat us as we deserve.  Instead, he comes to the rescue of those who were his enemies.  The call to love our enemies is a true challenge.  It is a call to the Cross.  In the Blood that was poured out upon the Cross, our wounds were healed and we were undeservedly reconciled to God.  We who have been bathed in the Blood of Christ are really asked to trust Him and to pour ourselves out in mercy towards others.  This is an act of total trust.  When we forgive our enemies, we set aside our way and trust that God will bring all things to a good end.  We have good reason to make this act of trust.  St. Paul reminds us, "He who did not spare his own Son, but handed him over for us all, how will he not give us everything else along with him" (Romans 8:32)?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

24: The Catholic Version

Among the things that I've discovered since becoming a university chaplain is Netflix.  Who knew that such a thing existed?  And among the shows on Netflix that I find myself enjoying is 24.  In every season of 24, the main character, Jack Bauer, is thrust into some impossible situation.  He is given a mission of critical importance, and despite continuous setbacks and treacherous and sinister forces working against him, Jack is mission driven.

Sometimes, in our Christian life, we forget that we have been given a mission.  We live our Christianity without a sense of moving towards something. It is a "blah" type of Christianity.  We do a good deed here, say some prayers there, attend Mass most of the time, and will occasionally go to a penance service if it fits into our schedules.  But all of these activities can become disconnected from any ultimate purpose or meaning unless we are living our Christian life with a sense of mission.

Our mission is to love God with all of our heart.  The opening prayer for today's Mass reminded us that our hearts are meant to be the place where God abides, but that they must be prepared by his grace. We are called to live our life with a purpose, to love God above all things.  In the readings today, the Lord says that he is putting a choice before us: Life and Death, Good and Evil.  This is unambiguous.  It requires of us to make a decision; to stretch out our hand to one or the other.  Whichever one we choose, that is what will be given to us.

Pope John Paul II often preached to young people about the demands of true love.  Where some might shy away from such clear and unambiguous challenges, John Paul II understood that young people want to be challenged.  They want to know that their life has meaning, that there is some ultimate purpose for which they were created.  They want to know that they have a mission.  They want to know--I want to know--that there is indeed a choice to be made; a choice which, though demanding, will accomplish something truly great and lasting.  This is the choice for Christ and his way of life.

In the Gospel today, Jesus puts before us a clear challenge.  If we are to love God and have him abide in our heart, then we must reject all that is contrary to that mission.  Specifically today, he mentions anger and lust.  He says that these things are obstacles to the true love of God.  We cannot accomplish our mission of loving God if our hearts are filled with hatred and impurity.  If our hearts are filled with resentments, gossip, and hatred, then they are not fit to be the abiding place of God.  Similarly, if our hearts are filled with lust and our lives are filled with impurity, then we not able to fulfill our mission of loving God with all of our hearts.

This is why Jesus is so graphic today.  Cutting eyes and cutting off hands is another way of saying--do whatever it takes to uproot sin in your life so that you are able to love God and fulfill your mission.  Let nothing stand in the way of this.  This challenge can cause us to be somewhat afraid.  This does not mean that we may not stumble along the way.  In the Screwtape Letters, one of the demons is perplexed by God's love for humans and he is perplexed by God's patience with humans.  He says, "If only the will to walk is there, He is pleased even with their stumbles."  God wants to help us complete our mission--and even if we stumble along the way, this is okay.  But, we have to see clearly that we have a mission and we should set out to accomplish it.

I love on 24 when they are about to perform some important mission, they go to the back of their SUV and open a drawer that is filled with all sorts of armaments--handguns, machine guns, hand grenades etc.  They need to go into battle prepared.  We Catholics have our own arsenal of spiritual weapons.  Do we struggle with anger or lust?  Are we tempted to hate our enemies, gossip about those who have harmed us?  Are we seduced by pornography and sexual temptation?  Do these things stand in the way of our loving God and fulfilling our mission?  No problem!  We have everything that we need.  What is in our arsenal?  We have the Eucharist!  When we receive the Eucharist frequently and with devotion, we are strengthened and fortified.  We have the Sacrament of Confession.  In this beautiful Sacrament, Jesus picks us up when we have stumbled.  He lifts us up and restores us so that we can advance in our mission of loving Him.  We have the Rosary. I am always moved when I walk into the chapel before daily Mass and see students gathered praying the Rosary together.  The Rosary is a great weapon!  We have fasting and works of charity.  We should use these weapons and train ourselves how to use them effectively to defeat our enemies.

When I was younger, we'd watch re-runs of a TV show called Mission Impossible.  I'm sure you've seen some of the movies.  There would always be a scene where the agent would receive a message with his mission.  It would say, "Your mission, should you choose to accept it is . . . ." We have also received a message today in the readings.  We have been given a mission--a mission to love God with all of our heart and for our heart to be His abiding place.  We have to accept this mission.  He has placed before us good and evil, life and death.  If we choose life--if we choose love--He will give us everything we need to accomplish this mission.  No more wasting time.  Let's live our life for the mission.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Evangelization: Witnessing, Not Selling

To spend each day with witnesses is what I need in my life.  Although every Christian is called to be a witness, every Christian also needs witnesses.  In my life as a priest, Jesus surrounds me with a cloud of witnesses.  I may have more theological knowledge than some of them.  I may have more life experience than some of them. But, they are witnesses of Christ to me.

This is one of the beautiful gifts of priesthood; to be constantly surrounded by witnesses.  I spent the past two days encountering witnesses to Christ.  Most of these witnesses are the young people whom I am called to serve.  When I see them loving each other as true friends in Christ; when I see them praying the Rosary together, planning a retreat together, going on a Friday night to an evening of prayer or to an evening of Catholic education, spending their Saturday preparing a retreat or serving those with special needs--in these moments, I am educated.  This is their witness to me.
Sometimes Catholic organizations sound more like they are advertising and less like they're evangelizing.  They use language and methods that sound like they were stolen from Dilbert. This approach risks turning the work of evangelization into a merely human endeavor to increase membership, rather than a supernatural initiative to introduce people into Trinitarian Communion.  Jesus doesn't need better sales people.  He needs witnesses.  Evangelization is not about coming up with better and more attractive sales pitches.  It is about forming better witnesses.  It is about people who have encountered Christ and who have been moved by him.  It is about people living the Christian event.

Blessed John Paul II was an evangelizer because he witnessed to Christ.  Young people heeded his message not because he was a good salesman, but because he was a faithful witness who himself could be moved by the very young people to whom he preached.  As a Church, we make a big mistake when we play it safe and adopt the language of corporations.  At this moment in the Church's life, we need men and women like Sts. Francis, Dominic, Theresa of Calcutta, and Blessed John Paul II.  These witnesses did not play it safe.

This morning, I had Mass with the retreat team of BU students who are preparing for next week's retreat.  In the first reading, we heard of how Jeroboam set up idols, created his own priesthood, and set up new places of worship.  His plan led to his destruction.  Too often in our life, we can think that it is our plans and projects that will bring about a successful evangelization.  But, this can lead to us being like Jeroboam.  Instead of listening to Christ and obeying him, we try to do it on our own.  We adopt our own strategies.

In contrast, the Gospel today reveals to us where things really begin.  They begin in the heart of Christ who is moved with mercy for the people.  He knows that they are hungry and does not want them to collapse along the way.  He allows his disciples to participate in this act of mercy by allowing them to offer their limited supply of bread and fish.  Christ then takes this offering, multiplies it, and feeds the crowd.  Evangelization always begins not with us, but with Christ.  Then, we are invited to offer our limited gifts and allow Christ to use them for the sake of others.

Evangelization is always a surprise.  If our strategies do not arise out of a sense of wonder and in obedience to an encounter, then I think it is a good sign that these strategies are not true evangelization.  Evangelization makes us wonder, "How is this possible?"  Evangelization is always the experience of a few loaves and a few fish feeding four thousand.  For me, I look at these young people and wonder, "How is this possible?"  How can these young people have so much Faith, be so committed to Christ, be so devoted to the Sacraments, pray so beautifully?  When you think of the world in which they live and the secularism that dominates the culture, how is this possible?  This is a miracle.

Like the people in the Gospel today, I need to be fed.  I need to be fed by the mercy of Christ.  This mercy reaches me by passing through his witnesses.  It is a tenderness and mercy that moves me. and surprises me.  Slogans and advertisements will not sustain me for the long journey. In fact, these things can wear us down. I need witnesses.  The world needs witnesses to Christ.  In a culture where there is so much opposition to the message of the Gospel, it can be tempting to take the path of Jeroboam who attempted to create his own method.  But, this is not the right path.  The right path is the path of Christ.  It is a path that always begins in his heart, passes through witnesses, and provides everything we need to complete the journey.  I am grateful that Christ continues to communicate his tenderness toward me through the witness of others.  In this way, I am evangelized and am moved to witness this to others.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Priesthood: Living an Affection that Surprises

Sunday Mass at Boston University
Recently, I was asked what has most surprised me in my life as a priest.  I'm not too great at answering questions like that off the cuff, so I asked for some time to think about it.  In recent days, I've realized that I'm surprised a lot in my life as a priest.  This kind of surprise is not the "cliffhanger" type of surprise, nor is it the type of surprise that unsettles the soul.  It is the surprise of an affection that causes a man's heart to leap with a profound joy.

It happens in the confessional before a repentant sinner.  It happens in the parish when you see your people loving each other and caring for each other.  It happens when having lunch with a young person and hearing him speak about how the Lord is working in his life.  It happened tonight as I sat in chapel and observed two dozen college students adoring the Blessed Sacrament.  It happens during the daily encounters I have at our Newman Center.  It is an affection that occurs in the pulpit as I preach and look out upon the faces of those to whom I have been sent to preach.  It is an affection that stands in wonder of the Lord's work in the lives of his people.

It is this affection that most surprises me.  It is an affection that makes me feel close to the experience of Peter and Andrew, James and John whose hearts were moved with an affection for Christ.  It is an affection that is educative.  When I read St. Paul's letters, I do so with a sense of recognition.  There lives in my heart an affection for the people that must have also been in his heart.  This affection is what belongs to the gift of pastoral charity--the virtue that singularly belongs to the priest.

To live priesthood without this affection must be a profound sadness.  Without this affection, people become mere customers.  Without this affection, the Church must suffer at the hands of clerics seeking advancement, hesitant to preach the Gospel, seeking the approval of the world.  Without this affection, there would be no martyrs and no virgins.  Instead, the Church would live solely as a bureaucracy or as a pathetic political or ideological structure.  Without this affection, the heart would no longer leap with a a joy that is easy and buoyant.  Instead, it would drag itself along under the oppression of ideology.

This affection brings with it the Cross.  When you love the people, you suffer with them.  But, in this suffering, one experiences the sweetness of the Cross.  Those who live priesthood without this affection--those whose hopes are placed in power and ideology--do not taste the sweetness of the Cross.  They too live under a weight, but it is a weight that suffocates.

This affection is surprising.  It is surprising like young David moving into position against Goliath.  It is surprising like the woman who reaches out to touch the tassel of Jesus' cloak.  It is surprising like Matthew rising from his table and following Christ.  It is an affection that is trustworthy.  

Without this affection, priesthood and the episcopacy become sheer exercises of worldly power.  But, this affection is like the mustard seed.  It appears fragile and useless, but it contains within itself an enormous power.  To be given this gift--to look with the eyes of Christ's affection upon the people--this is what has most surprised me as a priest, and it is this affection of Christ that makes me look forward to tomorrow.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

A Quick Video by the Boston University Catholic Center

Some of the folks who read my blog are interested in my particular ministry at the Newman Center at Boston University.  One of our interns--a young man who recently graduated from Boston University and who is giving two years of volunteer time to our Catholic Center--put this video together.  I was particularly happy about the love these students expressed for the Sacraments.  I love these kids. It's only a couple of minutes long.  Please enjoy the video by clicking here: Boston University Catholic Center Video

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Evangelization: Choosing Love over "Vibrant"

Sometimes it takes me a while to figure out why something bothers me as much as it does.  During the past few years, a certain buzzword has appeared in the Catholic lexicon: "Vibrant."  All of a sudden, everything is about being "vibrant."  You'd be hard pressed to find a parish bulletin whose "mission statement" doesn't begin with: "St. _____'s is a vibrant community."  We have vibrant schools, vibrant parishes, vibrant liturgies, and vibrant communities.  I sometimes feel like every time the word "vibrant" is spoken, the Church grows a little weaker!  

But, why does this word annoy me so?  Besides simply being overused, the word is often linked with evangelization.  And, I think this is what most annoys me.  Intentionally or not, this linkage suggests that the goal of evangelization is about building a more "vibrant" parish.  In other words, it feels like we are telling others, "Hey, we want you to come join us so that we can call ourselves vibrant."  But this feels somewhat sleazy to me.  It wreaks of a certain mentality that says, "We want you to join us so that we look better.  Our numbers are way down, so we want to reach out to you in order to fix that situation."  In other words, it feels like we are evangelizing because we don't want to go out of business.  

This mentality has led to a type of evangelization that feels more like the used car salesman than it does the messenger of the Gospel.  Certainly, there are many things that we can do in parishes to make ourselves more "user friendly."  But, these things have to be about helping people to encounter Christ and not about making ourselves 
more vibrant.  What's really missing in parishes is not greeters at the door.  What's really missing is love.  Greeters at the door might be a way of loving people and that is great.  But, we can have all the greeters in the world, and if they are not shaped by love, then it is all for nought.

One of the things that I love about the young people at the Newman Center is their appreciation for the challenges of evangelization and their willingness to meet those challenges.  They will say things like, "You know, our goal isn't just to bring people to our Center.  The goal is to bring them to Christ."  They want to do all of those little things that help to remove obstacles from people hearing the Gospel; things like smiling, introducing themselves, and welcoming others.  But, they see all of these little things as an expression of true friendship and not as a marketing tool.  In other words, they love the people whom they encounter and this is why they do all of the other things.

If I were to offer a course on evangelization, I would not begin with a book on marketing or on building parishes.  I'd begin with the Gospel.  After all, isn't evangelization supposed to be about the "evangelium?"  In the Gospel, we see the closeness of Jesus' friendship with others.  He ate with them, walked with them, went fishing with them, and preached to them.  They stayed with Jesus not because of his marketing skills, but because of his love.  They were moved by this love.  Sometimes, when we talk about evangelization, it sounds insincere.  It sounds as though we are trying to mimic love in order to create vibrant parishes.  But, beautiful parishes and communities grow because the people in those communities are close to one another and they love one another.

When I was a pastor, on a few occasions I recall that certain families encountered terrible tragedies.  In the midst of those tragedies, parishioners organized in order to provide those families 
with a dinner meal each night for weeks at a time.  It was a 
beautiful thing.  But, the reason that they did this was not so that we could be a "vibrant parish."  They did this because they wanted to love others.  This love is what moved others closer to the life of the parish.  We can write in a book that "a vibrant parish has families who cook meals for parishioners who are in trouble," but that can simply become another lifeless committee.  Instead, we ought to reflect upon the Gospel and see in those pages how Jesus and his disciples loved one another.  This love ought to move us to make similar gestures toward others.

Evangelization is about sharing the joy of the Gospel with others for their sake.  It is not about building vibrant parishes.  I think this is something that many evangelical protestants do better than those of us who are Catholics.  Sometimes, by the way we speak about evangelization, it sounds like we're begrudgingly agreeing to it because we might go out of business if we don't.  But, it feels like we almost hope we can get the churches filled again so that we 
won't have to keep doing all of this evangelization stuff!   

At the Newman Center, I'm grateful that there are opportunities to teach the tools for evangelizing.  There are always ways that all of us can learn how to evangelize better.  But, these tools can never replace friendship.  What's often missing in parishes and dioceses is a joyful love.  Do people who encounter us know that we love them?  Do they see that we are people who know the love of Jesus Christ and that we are people who love them with the love of Christ?  What's missing is friendship.  

The best book we could read on evangelization is the bible.  Its pages are filled with the encounters that Jesus had with the people of his day.  Its pages remind us of the passionate love that St. Paul had for his communities.  Without the Gospel, evangelization becomes an empty shell.  Without the spirit of the Gospel--the spirit of Christian friendship--evangelization becomes a dead body of 
marketing tools.  If we want strong parishes and strong dioceses, it has to begin with strong friendships.  When people see that we love one another, they are drawn to this friendship--a friendship born from the encounter with Christ.

The tools for evangelization are great if they are preceded by a profound love.  Let's stop trying so hard to make ourselves appear vibrant.  Instead, let's truly love the person in front of us and build the Church one friendship at a time.  You know, like Jesus did.

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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Why Pray When Things Are Dark?

The Gospel for the Feast of the Presentation, provides to us the examples of Simeon and Anna.  Both were of advanced age, but were awaiting the coming of the Savior.  Simeon and Anna are models of patient endurance.  Both of them were approaching the twilight of their life and it may have seemed unlikely that they would live to see the dawn of the New Creation.  But each of them took up the task that was theirs.  They were both found in the temple.  They were faithful to prayer and fasting.   They simply fulfilled their duties, day after day, trusting that the promises made by the Lord would come to pass.

When I was first ordained as a priest in the Archdiocese of Boston, things were much different than they are now.  Even then, it was clear that things were eroding and that the local church was living in an imaginary world.  But, there was still a certain sense of stability.  A few years later, with the sexual abuse crisis exploding on the front pages of the newspapers, things began to crumble with lightning speed.  Beyond the abuse crisis--which was bad enough--the Archdiocese of Boston suffered a wave of parish closings, sold all of its seminary property except for the seminary building itself, and is now in the process of a new pastoral plan that has created a vast amount of uncertainty and anxiety among its priests and its people.  With so much turmoil during the past decade, it can sometimes feel as though the peace of dawn will never arrive.

On the Feast of the Presentation, a poor family showed up at the temple.  It is hardly what one would expect to be the dawning of a new age of grace.  But, here we have Simeon and Anna rejoicing and announcing that God had fulfilled his promises.  Simeon and Anna were able to recognize the dawn because they were prayerful people.  They lived their life devoted to their prayers.  Because they were close to the Lord in prayer, they were able to discern his dawning among us--even though he arrived in a most unlikely manner.

At a moment in time when the Church's influence on the culture is waning, when God is disappearing from man's horizon, and when the infrastructure of the Church's institutions are tottering, it can be easy to be discouraged by the darkness.  So too, in the lives of so many people, they can feel as though the darkness only deepens.  Unemployment, illness, strife, discord, and a thousand other burdens that affect people's lives can seem relentless and unyielding.  This is why Simeon and Anna are so important!  They were simply faithful to their calling. They were faithful to their prayers.  And through this fidelity, they were able to recognize the presence of the Light that comes into the world.

Instead of focusing our attention on the darkness that moves across the land and which places everything in its path in shadow, we must go to the Lord in prayer.  It is through a life of fidelity to prayer that we are able to recognize the Light when he appears.  He appears in the life of those who show up and say, "Father, do you have time to hear my confession?" He appears in the life of a couple who take their young children to Mass.  He appears in the life of a woman who spends time each week visiting the sick.  He appears in the life of young college students who come to pray at adoration.  He appears in the life of a young man who is discerning a vocation to the priesthood. He appears in the lives of young people who give a year or two of their life in service to the Church. He appears in the lives of men and women who are humbly serving the Church in the work of the New Evangelization.  He appears in the lives of Christians living their marriage vows and their consecrated vows.  He appears in the lives of Christians living out the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.  All around us, the dawn is breaking.

Simeon and Anna give us hope. They show to us that if we are faithful to the temple--faithful to prayer--then the Light will be made manifest to us.  If we focus only upon the darkness that surrounds us, we can miss the dawn.  Simeon and Anna teach us to live a life of prayer.  Prayer makes us able to see that the darkness is transitory.  Sometimes, it can seem as though darkness were a permanent wall that impedes us from seeing the dawn.  In prayer, we see that the darkness--no matter how long it endures--is passing.  Prayer enables us to see through the darkness.  Today's Feast of the Presentation beckons us all to live a life of prayer.  Just as the Mary and Joseph carried the Light of the World into that place of prayer two thousand years ago, we can have confidence that they will also carry him into our prayer today.

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