Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Planning and Training Must Follow Encounter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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