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

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.  

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Priesthood: Closeness to the People

On October 15th the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Teresa of Avila.  I'm not exactly sure why, but I'm pretty good at associating particular events with particular feast days.  In other words, I remember somebody's birthday or anniversary because I think to myself, "Ah . . . today's the Feast of St. Nicholas.  It's Joe's birthday today."

So yesterday when I recalled that it was St. Teresa of Avila, I remembered a young man whose birthday is on that feast.  The photo that I've included on this post is that young man on the day of his First Communion.  He's twenty now.  He's grown since then.  In fact, most of the time that he was my altar server, he towered over me.  On many Sunday nights for many years, I had dinner with him, his parents, his four sisters, and his two brothers.  They are a great family.  From the friendship that I shared with his family, other friendships grew, and our parish grew and strengthened.

I sent a text to his mother and father asking how is it possible that this son of theirs is twenty now?  Seems impossible.  But, I'm grateful that I got to see his parents raise him and his siblings from toddlers to young adults.

Priesthood is lived close to the people.  Without that closeness, it all becomes a theory.  I'm grateful for that closeness.  That closeness teaches me how to be a priest.  I learn how to be a priest from eighty year olds, seven year olds, and twenty year olds.  Wouldn't trade it for anything.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Thinking About the Church--As It is Meant To Be

St. Paul writes in his letter to the Phillippians: "Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worth of praise, think about these things" (Phil 4:8).

As I conclude my day today, I am taking St. Paul's advice and am thinking about these things.  I am thinking about the three men who came to the BU Catholic Center this evening and gave a witness about living their life as Catholic men in the work world.  There was a lawyer, a finance guy, and a doctor.  They shared their experience and their Faith to 40 or so students.  These three men--after a day of work--came to witness to their life in Christ for the sake of their younger brothers and sisters in Christ.

I am thinking about hearing confessions today and about offering Mass for twenty of our students.  I am thinking about the beautiful friendships that I witnessed today among our students and staff. 

I am thinking about the way in which our students and staff pray together and develop programs for the Catholic Center.

I am thinking about hearing one young man say about another young man, "He's the reason I am here at the Catholic Center."

I am thinking about two Jesuit seminarians (one of whom was ordained this weekend as a deacon) who serve the Catholic Center and who fill me with a sense of joy and hope.

I am thinking about how the friendship of the Church is so beautiful.  I am thinking how Christ reaches me through the people with whom he surrounds me.  I am thinking how beautiful it is that even after seventeen years of being a priest, I am still surprised by the love of Christ made manifest in the people whom I shepherd.  I am thinking about how I am moved and educated by people half my age.

I am thinking about the way in which the people I am surrounded with every day love each other and share the joy of the Gospel with one another.

I am thinking of all of the new faces who came to our spaghetti dinner tonight.  I am thinking about people living something beautiful together.  

I am grateful because my need for the Church and its friendship is great.  I would find it impossible to  live priesthood as someone who comes in to do a professional job.  I need to be moved by fellow pilgrims and to live the Christian life within a friendship.  In this fellowship of friends I am the priest, but this priest needs to be moved by the witness of others.  It is in this companionship that Christ continues to move me and to convince me of Himself.  In the face of these witnesses, I recognize again my need for Christ and am filled with renewed gratitude for his saving Presence.

St. Paul advises us to think about such things because they convince us all over again about Christ.  I spent today surrounded by what the Church is meant to be.  I spent today surrounded by what the Church is.  St. Paul is right.  It is good to think about these things.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Church's Media Strategy: Witnesses More than Press Releases

Christ the Bridegroom
It's been a while since I last posted, so this is probably two or three posts combined into one.  

As news stories and commentaries about the Synod of Bishops continue to flood the Catholic world, I have felt myself a little bit sad about the amount of turmoil and contention that has been stirred up as a result.  I'm not sure if it is intentional or accidental, but the flood of leaks, interviews, and commentaries haven't done much to build up communion in the life of the Church.  Instead, so far, it has only caused deeper divisions.  I hope that the end results of the Synod do something about building up the communion of the Church, but right now, if there is some sort of ecclesial media strategy going on, it certainly isn't effectively building up the communion of the Church.

Like most priests, I've dealt with a lot of Catholics who have divorced and remarried.  I hope that they would all say that I've loved them, offered them solid pastoral care, and have treated them with dignity and respect.  

Some of the greatest Eucharistic Faith that I have ever witnessed has come from people who abstain from receiving the Eucharist at one time or another.  When I see a couple who attend Mass every Sunday, but because of their marital status do not receive the Eucharist, I am moved by their devotion and love for the Eucharist.  While I am moved with tremendous sympathy for them, I also want them to know that God is using their suffering to help others.  Perhaps many of us have had moments where we have marched up to communion with no examination of conscience.  When I see these couples who devoutly attend Mass, but who do not come up to receive, my inclination is not to judge them.  My inclination is to judge me!

Similarly, I am often impressed by the students who come to Mass here at Boston University.  Fairly often, various students come to daily or Sunday Mass but abstain from receiving the Eucharist.  When I see this, I am moved by their faith in and their love for the Eucharist.  Their decision not to receive the Eucharist on a given day becomes a beautiful witness to Christ.  They are not refraining because--as some would like people to believe--the Church's pastors are trying to lay heavy burdens upon them.  Instead, these young people recognize that their life needs to be consistent with the one Whom they are receiving.  When I see a young person refrain from coming to communion, I think, "Isn't it beautiful how they love the Eucharist?"  Their example helps me.

Priests are not only asked asked questions about past sins, but also about future ones.  "Father, if I don't go to Mass next Sunday because I want to go golfing, is that a sin?"  In these instances, it is necessary to talk about not presuming upon God's mercy.  Much of the debate about communion for the divorced and remarried centers around those who find themselves already in this situation.  But, let's not forget about those who are thinking about committing adultery or those who are considering abandoning their families.

Let's suppose that those who argue for reception of communion for the divorced and remarried were successful.  What is a parish priest supposed to say when one of his parishioners comes to him and says: "Father, for the past year or so, things have been kind of dry in my marriage.  About two months ago, I met a woman and I think she is really my soul mate.  She's taking a job out of state and I feel like if I don't go with her now, I will never be happy.  I just want to be sure I understand the rules.  If I divorce my wife and leave her and my kids and go marry this other woman in a civil ceremony, I can still receive the Eucharist, right?"

Or, what about the man who decides to have a girlfriend on the side?  He doesn't leave his wife and kids, but feels like having another woman who "really understands" him, will really help him to be happy and will make him better able to remain in his marriage.  Can he continue to receive communion?  He sincerely believes that this approach will actually help him to be a better husband and father.  In this instance, isn't he doing something better than just abandoning his spouse?  In his mind, he's living in two committed relationships.

In my experience of working with a lot of couples who have experienced marital problems, I am struck by how cruelly one spouse can treat another.  The answer to these pastoral situations doesn't seem to be making divorce easier and less painful.  It means reiterating and teaching all over again the importance of the vows.  It means helping people to see that in entering a marriage, they are truly responsible for the other spouse.  

The proposal just to give people communion is not a solution to their situation.  What they need is a friendship, a lived communion, a pastor, a companionship.  Instead of pretending that there really isn't a problem, let's surround these suffering members of our church family with love and support.  Some of our brothers and sisters are carrying a heavy cross.  Let's acknowledge it and walk with them.  Let's stay close to them. That's true mercy.  And maybe, their suffering somehow helps the rest of us who too glibly approach the Eucharist with little self-examination.  Perhaps these witnesses--by not approaching Holy Communion--are doing far more to catechize the rest of us than any bishop or priest is doing.  

Perhaps, we are looking at this situation in the absolutely wrong way.  Maybe these brothers and sisters of ours are turning our attention to the truth and beauty of marriage and the truth and beauty of the Eucharist.  Their suffering is an eloquent testimony to the truth about marriage and the Eucharist.  Maybe in His mysterious way, God is using these suffering friends to strengthen the rest of us in our Faith in marriage and the Eucharist.  If so, God is using these people to show the rest of us mercy.  

In many ways, the public face of the Synod has become another example of the Church attempting--but failing--to become media-savvy.  Pope Francis often refers to the problem of the Church being "self-referential."  I would argue that this problem is particularly evident in a new obsession with media.  Instead of using media as a means to promote the Gospel, oftentimes Catholic institutions seem too willing to employ "savvy" media at the expense of the Gospel and of the Truth.  The use of the media in advancing the Gospel is awesome.  But, too often, we appear as though we are cheapening the Gospel in order to sell ourselves and increase membership.  We sometimes look like we are pandering rather than witnessing.

The Church's first media strategy is worth a second look: "Come see a man who told me everything I ever did" (JN 4:29).  "One thing I do know, I was blind but now I see" (JN 9:25).  "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst (1 Timothy 1:15).  "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever should believe in him might not perish, but might have eternal life" (JN 3:16).  "We are fools on Christ's account . . . we have become the world's rubbish, the scum of all" (1COR 4).

The first media strategy employed by the Church was to send out sinners who had encountered the love and mercy of Christ and whose lives had been changed because of that encounter.  That strategy got Peter crucified, Stephen stoned, and Paul beheaded.  And, the Church grew.  Spending tons of time trying to make ourselves look good in the media is probably a big waste of time.  Christianity is always a personal encounter.  I'm guessing that 99.9% of conversion stories do not begin with, "So, I read this article in the newspaper . . . ." 

As I write this, 25 kids from the BU Catholic Center are spending a few hours together, apple picking.  They'll come back, bake apple pies, and bring them to some homeless shelters.  Later on tonight, those kids will do what they do every Monday night.  They will come to Mass and adoration.  They live a friendship together.  That friendship is lived in mercy, in prayer, in laughter, and in charity.  This is the encounter.  I'm convinced that if the Church spent more time witnessing to who we are rather than trying to appear as others would like us to be, we would be in much better shape.  

There's a young man who comes to Mass every Sunday at Boston University.  If he misses a Sunday, he comes to weekday Mass to make up for it.  Of course, doing that would not make up for missing his Sunday obligation.  But, this young man is not obliged to go to Mass on Sunday.  He is not Catholic.  In fact, he is not baptized.  But, he comes every week to Mass.  What is going on in that young man's soul is--as Pope Benedict said (and as Pope Francis often repeats), "not because of an ethical decision or a great idea, but rather because of an encounter with an event, with a Person, who gives new horizons to life, and with that, a decisive orientation.”  

Instead of spending an inordinate amount of time and energy trying to appear good according to someone else's standards, we ought simply to share the good news of what Christ is doing in the lives of people.  We ought to show forth the friendship of the Church and our communion.  This might mean giving up on the idea of mass media conversions.  It might mean spreading the Gospel one encounter at a time--as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.