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."


  1. We have always known you to be a "happy Priest". Your zeal is contagious, and we will pray that the Lord continues to use you as an example of holiness to inspire many more vocations. We are pleased to see the profound affect you are having on the students at BU. Beverly will always miss you. Keep up the good work! God Bless You!

  2. Thanks for the kind words. The students at BU are great. And, we have a great and dedicated team. And, of course, I love the people of Beverly too! God Bless!