Thursday, April 30, 2015

Evangelization? I'd Bet Everything on Friendship.

Yesterday evening I attended a talk given by Curtis Martin, the founder and head of FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students), at the Harvard University Catholic Center.  Curtis' talk on evangelization was excellent.  After the talk, the chaplains at Harvard invited Curtis, the FOCUS Missionaries from MIT, Harvard, and BU, and the chaplains of those schools for a reception.  I was struck by the friendship and common vision that we all share.  You had a room full of lay people and priests who are entirely committed to the same mission.  So often in the Church there are conflicting and antagonistic ideological agendas at work. This impedes evangelization.  But in that room, I was surrounded by men and women of various ages who were filled with joy and love for one another.  I was particularly encouraged to witness the excellent priestly ministry of my brother priests. I felt grateful to be counted among their number. The wider Church could learn a lot from what is happening in college campus ministry.

Sometimes on Thursdays I have part of the day free.  Today was a beautiful day in Boston.  I arrived at the Catholic Center this morning and had a great day.  A friend and I took public transportation down to Downtown Boston and went to "Arch Street" (non-Bostonians would say, "St. Anthony's Shrine") where we went to confession.  This is Catholicism!  Two men who are sinners go get in line with a bunch of other men and women who are sinners.  We wait our turn, go into the box, confess our sins, and receive absolution.  We are all in this together.  

After we went to confession, we grabbed a sandwich.  Although I lost some weight during the Lenten fasts, I apparently observe the Easter feasting with greater zeal than I did the Lenten fasting.  Despite the need to curb the feasting, when I saw pastrami on the menu, I couldn't help myself. After a delicious sandwich (of which I only ate half), we decided to walk through Boston to get back to BU. It was a great day in Boston.  We passed through the Boston Common and the Public Gardens and then made our way down Newbury Street.  When we returned to the Catholic Center, we spent some time hanging out with students who are done with classes and are preparing for exams.

This evening, a priest friend of mine from another diocese came up to Boston for dinner. This guy is the real deal; a priest through and through.  He is simply at the service of the Church.  You can tell that he loves the Church and that he pours himself out in service to the Church.  I really felt like I was being reminded all over again what the priesthood really is.

Interspersed throughout all of these encounters were various interactions with students at BU and text messages and conversations with young people.  We are living something beautiful together.  We live a friendship together.  This friendship involves going to confession together, joking together, eating together, conversing and debating together, praying together, and loving one another. It's really kind of amazing. Something beautiful exists among us.

If I ever have any small amount of success in the work of evangelization, it won't be because I came up with clever ideas, catchy phrases, or successful strategies.  If any success is granted to me, it will be because I was able to go to confession with a friend, have lunch with young people, be educated by good priests ordained before me and after me, and live intensely and intentionally a friendship with the people--no matter what their age or state in life--that the Lord places in my path.  These people educate me and help me to grow.  They move me.  I hope that in being moved, I become an instrument of moving others.

In the people that I encountered during these past twenty-four hours, I've been reminded that Jesus has kept his promise, "I am with you always."  The assurance of his presence sustains me.  Evangelization begins and is sustained by something that is real and that is happening now.  After the past twenty-four hours, I am convinced all over again and with ever greater conviction that the path of evangelization is the path of friendship.  

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Waking Up Every Day in the Acts of the Apostles

Pentecost: The Apostles and the Blessed Virgin 
Somehow, another academic year is coming to its conclusion.  It kind of snuck up on me.  I met with a wedding couple today and I told them that I keep thinking, "Their wedding isn't until May."  I forget that this week  is May.  This afternoon I met with our current FOCUS team leader, next year's team leader, this year's intern, and next year's intern. We did a review of the year and started putting things in place for next year.  The new Pastoral Board has been elected.  The two student leaders for next year's Fall Retreat, the Liturgical Committee chairperson, and the Catholics on Campus (our weekly formation night) team are all in place.  First Week events for September are being planned and students leaders are already getting geared up for next year.  It is shaping up to be a good year ahead.

When I first came to the Catholic Center, the rabbi next door to us asked me how things were going.  I said, "I have these meetings with the students.  They show up, come up with ideas, assign people to implement the ideas, and then . . . then they actually go and do everything that they said they were going to do."  The rabbi said, "Yeah . . . where else does this happen?!"  I had this same sense all over again today as I participated in our meeting.  The young men and women at the BU Catholic Center, the interns, and the FOCUS Missionaries all know what they are doing.  For them, evangelization is not theoretical.  It is something that is happening.  My FOCUS team talked today about how dozens of students are in discipleship.  This is a one on one relationship between a missionary and a student where they discuss growth in the life of being a disciple of Jesus.  Then, those students go out and enter into similar relationships with other students and help them to grow in discipleship.  Additionally, there are approximately 25 Bible Studies being hosted on campus this year by FOCUS  Missionaries and/or students at the Catholic Center.  

During our meeting, the missionaries and interns were interested in making sure that we do a better job advertising our daily Holy Hours and making students feel more welcomed.  They wanted to broaden our use of the Liturgy of the Hours, make sure that a Daily Rosary is part of the Catholic Center schedule, and that confession times are convenient.  They want to encourage students at the Catholic Center to be more involved in other campus activities, to build up strong one on one friendships, and to reach out, reach out, reach out.

Tonight after the Catholic Center spaghetti dinner, a group of students was heading off to play in the intramural softball playoffs.  As two of the players were finishing dinner, they decided to go pray a Rosary in the chapel first.  (I think this was purely for spiritual reasons and not to gain a competitive edge in the game.  But either way, I'm okay with it.)

I wake up every day and go to a place where people love God, love the Sacraments, love the Scriptures, love the Church, love each other, serve others, and intelligently and joyfully evangelize. Evangelization for them is not driven by some external and impersonal program.  It is driven by their own personal encounter with Christ and His Church. During the Easter Season, we read every day from the Acts of the Apostles.  In those readings, we see what the Church was at its very beginning.  We sense that it was filled with love, with joy,  with zeal, and with awe. The Church was exploding with witnesses who were bringing the Gospel to others and were helping others to know Jesus and to become His disciples.  Where I go to work every day, it's still the same. It's still the same.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Evangelization and the Third Commandment

Marsh Chapel at Boston University
On Sundays, I love to stand on the stairs outside of church and greet the people arriving for Mass.  It's an opportunity to have some personal contact with the people, ask about their week, and grow in our pastoral relationship.  On a college campus, time standing on the church steps often leads to a request for "a quick confession."

Yesterday as I was standing on the steps of the Boston University chapel, I greeted one of our students as he made his way across the plaza in front of the chapel.  As he reached the steps, another student who happened to be walking by called out his name and struck up a conversation with him.  As they were talking, she looked in the direction of the chapel (he was standing on the first step) and she asked him, "Are you going in there?"  He replied, "Yes."  She asked, "What's going on in there?"  He said, "Oh, it's time for Mass."  I could see surprise written all over her face.  She asked, "So, you're Catholic?"  Again, he replied, "Yes."  "Do you go to Mass every week?"  Again, "Yes."  She mentioned something about how she was protestant.  After a few more words, the conversation ended pleasantly and they both moved on, he to Mass and she to her destination.

I was struck by this encounter because written all over the young woman's face was surprise, joy, and a look that said, "I really should be living my faith too."  I could tell that she was really moved by the discovery that this young man joyfully and naturally attends Mass every Sunday.  It was as though she discovered something extraordinary.  I know this young man and know that he is a great guy.  So, I think she also had this sense that, "Of course he goes to Mass every Sunday.  That's part of the reason he is such a great guy."  

His walking into Mass yesterday became an invitation to someone else.  His fidelity to Christ--lived in an easy freedom--implanted a question into the heart of that young woman.  In that brief exchange, he joyfully witnessed to Christ and became a challenge to her.  The look on her face was completely obvious.  She saw something in him--a friendship with Christ--that she too wants to live.  She saw goodness in that moment and she desired it.  When we live our Faith, God uses us to encourage others and to draw others.  That young man's fidelity to Mass yesterday encouraged that young woman and it also encouraged me.  

Among the things that we could do to help evangelize others is to teach and better form Catholics to observe and to live the Third Commandment. The young man who came to Mass yesterday was joyfully observing the commandment to keep holy the Lord's Day.  In joyfully observing this commandment, he became a witness to the Joy of the Gospel.  

If we want to evangelize others, we should form Catholics who are fully committed to the Sunday Mass. Such formation takes effort. It requires priests who are willing to teach on the subject and joyfully explain with patience and with love the importance of living the Third Commandment. The effort is worth it.  Yesterday, a young man joyfully observed the Third Commandment and in doing so, he witnessed to Christ.  The Third Commandment, it works.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Good Shepherd Sunday: Discouragement is Not Allowed

If I were to guess, the most oft-repeated counsel that I offer to people is: "Discouragement is not allowed."  Those who really attempt to follow Christ are more aware of how far they fall short of their goal than those who make no attempt.  The longer one walks in Christ's company and the more we come to know Him, the more we see our own faults, feel the weight of our sins, and recognize the breadth of our weakness.  Such self-knowledge should not, however, cause us to be discouraged.  Instead, it should lead us to a great humility and a greater dependence upon Christ.  We should weep over our sins, but we shouldn't be conquered by them.  Let our tears be tears of sorrow, but not tears of discouragement.

At the beginning of the spiritual life, we might find ourselves shocked by our capacity to sin.  But, the more we grow in the spiritual life, the more we become humbly aware of just what we are capable.  A beginner says, "I can't believe that I've committed this sin."  Someone further along the road looks at his sin and says, "Yeah, that's exactly why I constantly need a Savior."  The more we grow in our Christian discipleship, the more we realize how great our need for Christ is.

Today, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, is also referred to as Good Shepherd Sunday.  The readings provide an abundance of antidote to the spiritual sickness of discouragement.  In the Gospel, Jesus declares himself to be the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep.  We are loved so much by Christ, that he lays down His life for us.  He lays down His life for us even though we are sinners.  Jesus doesn't lay down His life for us because we are good and deserve it.  He does it--as St. Paul says--while we were sinners.  

In the Acts of the Apostles today, Peter announces that it is in Jesus' Name--and only in Jesus' Name--that we are to be saved.  We can call upon this Name and be saved.  This is extraordinary.  In moments of danger, temptation, failure, sin, and discouragement, we have a Name that we can call upon and be saved.  All we have to do is call upon Him.

In the Letter of St. John today we hear words that should bring us great comfort: "Beloved, see what great love the Father has bestowed upon us that we may be called the children of God.  Yet so we are."  No matter what--no matter how often or significantly we fall--we are God's children now.  We have God as our loving Father.

He is our Shepherd who lays down His life for us.  He has allowed us to call upon His Name and be saved.  He has made us children of the Father.  Why does He do this?  He does it out of pure love.  The more we come to know this intense and pure love of Christ, the more sorrow we feel for our sins.  But, this love also banishes discouragement.  Discouragement suggests that we rely more upon ourselves than on Christ.  Hope is to place one's confidence in the Shepherd, in the Name, and in our irrevocable status as God's beloved children.

If we find ourselves feeling a bit discouraged by our faults, weaknesses, failures, and sins, let's remember that--as the opening prayer of today's Mass referred to us--we are a humble flock.  We are a humble flock of sinners in need--constant need--of a savior.  We are God's children.  He has sent us a shepherd who lays down His life for us.  His Name brings salvation.  Let's be less shocked about our sinfulness and more astounded by His Love for us.  

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday.  Discouragement is not allowed.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Lay People--Love Your Priests. It Matters

Some of the BU Catholic Community Serving Mass for Cardinal Sean.
The other day while sitting in the coffee room at the Boston University Catholic Center, one of the students said, "I told Denis that if he gets ordained, I want him to marry us, baptize all of our children, and come to our house for holidays."  The Denis to whom he was referring is an alumnus of the Catholic Center and now a seminarian.  I told the young man who said that, "I hope you hold yourself to that."

This evening, I had supper with some former parishioners of mine who met me at a restaurant near my rectory.  Occasionally, when I was their parish priest, I would join them for dinner--especially on Easter.  We conversed tonight about many things, but I mostly enjoyed hearing them talk about their children who are now all college graduates.  It is educational for me to hear about their experience raising a Catholic family.  It's a privilege to know people like them and to be part of their life.  

Occasionally, I've been told by priest friends of mine that I've been particularly blessed by the people to whom I've been assigned.  Throughout my priesthood, I've had people who have made it their mission to love me.  They've invited me to their homes for dinner, treated me like a part of their family, invited me to use their vacation home, joked with me like I was a normal human being and not an alien from some far off galaxy, and confided in me what is most profoundly affecting their lives.  Not every priest has this experience.  I feel sorry about that.  So, I just want to offer a personal witness to any lay people who happen to read this blog.

In my life, one thing that has greatly helped me in my priesthood is the love that lay people have shown me.   I've been invited on vacations with lay people, eaten dinners with them in their homes, enjoyed the twelve pack of beer that they dropped off at the rectory on Christmas, and appreciated their genuine concern for me and my life.  But, not every priest has this experience.  So, I offer these suggestions as a way of helping to build up the Church.  I'm not talking about me here.  I'm talking about guys who have not been as blessed as I have been.

Invite your priest to dinner--either at a restaurant or at your home.  Buy him a bottle of bourbon, a case of beer (good beer!), or a bottle of wine at Christmas.  Joke with him.  Tell him about your experience raising children.  He needs to hear these things.  Let him come to your home and feel totally comfortable about sharing his life.  Make him feel like he's a part of your family.  Allow him to let his guard down and enjoy hanging out.  Love him.

The other day when the student at BU mentioned how "cool" it would be for his future children to have "their own family priest," I wholeheartedly agreed.  Some might say that priests need to be completely disinterested and lacking in any personal or human needs.  Not me.  What sustains me in my priesthood are the people who go out of their way to care for me, to love me, and welcome me into their lives.  Occasionally, I have played some small part in helping other men consider a vocation to the priesthood.  My hope for these men is that they experience the same love and affection that I have experienced from the lay men and women whom I've encountered along the way.  

Love your priest.  Love him not just in some vague and theoretical way.  Love him in practical ways. This kind of love will help him to be a better priest.  It will help him to be a more human priest.  The longer I've been a priest, the more I realize how much I continually need to grow as a priest.  At the same time, I realize that the way I've grown most in my life as a priest is through the experience of being loved by the People of God.

Bottom line: The people who love me, save me.  They make life better and encourage me in my vocation. There are a lot of priests out there.  Love them, encourage them, and save them.

Ronald Reagan and the New Evangelization?

The other evening two alumni of the BU Catholic Center returned in order to give a presentation on the Eucharist.  Their talks were well done and faith-filled.  Their witness, however, is what was most striking to me.  Both of these men currently study at St. John's Seminary in Brighton, one for the Archdiocese of Hartford and the other for the Archdiocese of Boston.  (There is another BU Catholic Center alumnus studying at the North American College Seminary in Rome for the Archdiocese of Boston and I hear another BU alumnus will enter St. John's next year.)

After these two seminarians gave their presentation, we all spent some time in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and after the Benediction, students who are running for President and Vice-President of the Catholic Center next year gave speeches.  It was good to realize that no matter who is elected, the Catholic Center is in good hands.  I was particularly impressed by something that both candidates for President said.  They both--in their own words--said that in a way, it doesn't matter who the president of the Catholic Center will be--because all of us are called to evangelize, to welcome others, and to be disciples.  You got the sense from listening to them that "winning" wasn't what was important to either of them.  Serving is what was important.

I'm guessing that Ronald Reagan isn't often referenced as an expert on evangelization, but he did have an oft-repeated line that can be applicable.  He would say that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help."  Similarly, sometimes in the life of the Church, we can "help" things right into a premature death.  There are clearly times when parishes and ecclesial institutions require immediate attention, but, there are also times when a good pastor knows that what is needed is to build on the foundation laid by others.

There have been times in my life as a priest where I've gone into a situation where there were significant issues that needed to be addressed.  Sometimes those issues were financial and, at other times, more of a spiritual nature.  Sometimes we--especially priests--can act as though every situation that we walk into is a disaster needing our particular expertise.  There have been times in my priesthood when I've inherited various crises.  But, that's not always the case.

Two years ago, I walked into the Catholic Center at Boston University.  My first impression was that there was a strong Catholic community there that was the result of a solid formation over the course of many years.  There was no major crisis affecting the place, no disaster to fix, no huge spiritual, theological, or pastoral issues to tackle.  Two years later, I am confident that my first impression was correct.  Those who preceded me (and who accompany me now in my work) have created a community of young men and women who pray, love the sacraments, study the Word of God, devote themselves to serving others, share the Gospel with joy, seriously discern and are open to a priestly or religious vocation, love one another, and welcome others.  

Do I bring my own particular contributions?  Sure, but I am simply building on what preceded me.  In so many ways, both as a parish priest and as a college chaplain, I have discovered that the Church often thrives most when a pastor knows how to encourage and not interfere with the good that is already present.  At the BU Catholic Center there are young men and women who go to weekly meetings at a local Opus Dei center, others who participate in Communion and Liberation, others who attend Mass in the Extraordinary Form, others who love Praise and Worship, others who host an improv comedy group, host bible studies in the dorms, do homeless outreach, or any number of other activities.  All the while, there is no "us against them" attitude.  These young people encourage one another in their various expressions of faith and nobody tries to impose his or her own particular spirituality or interest on anybody else.  

If evangelization efforts in the Church are going to thrive, the structures that are in place must be designed to encourage all legitimate expressions of the Faith.  The structures must encourage what is good and not begin with ideology and bureaucracy.  Where are vocations flourishing?  Where are people receiving the sacraments with love and with devotion?  Where are the poor being served?  Where are people growing in the Faith?  Wherever this is happening, we should encourage and strengthen it.  We should not try to fix it by imposing our own ideologies upon it.  We should not attempt to chain the Word of God or to make an idol of our own particular biases.  Evangelization needs to encourage the good that is present and not try to "fix" what isn't broken.

The priests, brothers, sisters, and lay men and women who preceded me at the BU Catholic Center built a solid foundation. This is entirely evident.  The place still thrives because of their pastoral and spiritual wisdom.  They left me no crises to solve.  Instead they left a solid Catholic community to shepherd. They make it possible for me to say to the community I inherited, "I'm from the Church and I'm here to encourage you to keep up the good work."

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Evangelized by Love on My Birthday

Evangelization doesn't come out of a box.  It doesn't happen because we meet together and decide to evangelize.  It doesn't happen because we form a committee, write a document, or plan a program.  It happens because of a personal encounter that moves us.  We cannot skip over this or hope that it happens later.  Committees dissolve, documents get shuffled and fade from memory, and programs eventually fizzle.  What remains is the lived experience of the encounter.  When we live and are moved by this encounter, this is where evangelization happens.  We cannot resist sharing with others the joy of what we have encountered.  

Very early this morning, I received a text from one of the students at BU, wishing me a happy birthday.  Attached was a photograph of a chair lift that he proposed installing on the stairs at the Catholic Center in order to help me get up and down the stairs now that I am so elderly.  With that text began a day long flood of well-wishes from a great many people.  They included a billion age jokes, some thoughtful sentiments, a video of a family of little kids all singing happy birthday amid gales of laughter, and many assurances of prayer.

The day began with a Holy Hour prayed with a great friend.  During Holy Hour I began reading a wonderful book sent to me by some dear friends of mine.  Then I had Mass with our Catholic Center community.  After Mass there was cake and a warped conversation that included such topics as: various ways to die, embarrassing times we've fallen asleep, beekeeping, and a psychological evaluation of my dog.  

After that, I drove to my old parish where I had a delicious meal with some wonderful friends.  Pork wrapped with pancetta, salad, and risotto.  My mouth just watered again as I typed that.  I often ate dinner with this couple and their seven children when I was pastor there.  It's been almost six months since I've been able to visit with them, so it was great to hang out, catch up, and have a lot of laughs.  One of the best parts of being a parish priest was being close to families.  One of the best parts of being a college chaplain is hanging out with and being close to the students.

Today, through the friendship of the Church, I encountered the love of Jesus Christ.  I can only be faithful to this love, to this friendship.  When you live something like this, you realize that it is something that is not static or manufactured.  It is something that is living and that is moving.  It moves you to do something.  It moves you to follow and it moves you to announce, to evangelize.  We can only announce the good news to others if we have truly encountered that good news ourselves.  

I need to be evangelized if I have any hope of evangelizing others.  This evangelization happens in my life through the friendship of the Church.  It has been my experience--both in parish life and in Campus Ministry--that evangelization flows from encountering Christ in the friendship of His Church.  If we hope to be better evangelizers, we should focus our immediate attention on loving one another as friends in Christ.  We should focus our immediate attention on how to love one another.  

To all of those who expressed their love today--be it in kind words or through insulting my age--thank you for preaching the Gospel of love to me.  You are my evangelizers. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Wounded Shepherd

Today, a priest that I know reminded me that I wrote this post a few years ago. I didn't remember it, so I went back and read it again.  After reading it, I thought, "Hey, this is pretty good."  Since I haven't been posting much recently, I thought I'd re-post this:

A couple of years ago, I saw on a website called three beautifully designed crosiers.  One of the crosiers is entitled, "Crosier of the Wounded Shepherd."  The website describes the crosier as follows:

"Crosier of the Wounded ShepherdThe good shepherd giveth his life for his sheep.

The shepherd snatches his sheep from the mouth of the wolf, which tears at the shepherd's side. It is a beautiful allegory of the Bishop who defends his flock at the cost of his own life.

Around the volute, fantastic animals symbolize the sins and vices against which the faithful must struggle. Behold I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be ye therefore wise as serpents and simple as doves. "

Every priest--by virtue of his ordination--is configured to Christ as Shepherd.  Every priest, therefore, is called to lay down his life for the sake of his sheep.  Sometimes we think of this laying down of ones life in terms of our time, our energies, or even some sort of notion that we would--if called upon--defend the sheep against the powers and authorities of the world.  I think, for instance, of Maximilian Kolbe or other priest martyrs who were willing to die for the faith.  

But the crosier above fascinates me for another reason.  It is not entitled, "The Crosier of the Dead Shepherd."  It is not a memorial to a one time martyrdom.  It is called "The Crosier of the Wounded Shepherd."  For those who act as Shepherds in the person of Christ can attest, the wolf is not just a theoretical notion.  We who spend our lives as shepherds are entrusted with real members of Christ's flock.  Just as the sheep are very real to us, so too is the wolf who seeks to destroy the sheep.  One does not live very long as a shepherd without having encountered the wolf.

If we go out in search of the lost sheep, quite often we find him in the clenches of the jaws of the wolf.  Sometimes, they are there because they were weak.  Sometimes they are there through sheer stupidity.  Sometimes they are there because they were confused.  Sometimes, they were simply taken by surprise.  It makes no difference how they got into the jaws of the wolf.  The shepherd is called to approach and do everything in his power to save the sheep.  I think it is without fail that in every confrontation the shepherd has for the sake of the sheep, he is wounded in the battle.  The shepherd lives his life constantly being wounded in the work of protecting the sheep.

We experience the wound of rejection, of misunderstanding, and of seeming failure.  Having pulled the sheep from the fangs of the wolf, we sometimes experience the wound of seeing the sheep put himself at risk all over again.  We experience the wound that is caused by the senselessness of sin.  Try as we might to throw ourselves between the wolf and the sheep, some sheep are determined to make themselves prey.  

In some ways, the shedding of blood--once and for all--for the sake of a sheep would be easier than the day to day wounds inflicted by constant contact with the wolf.  It is sometimes said that we have soldiers or weapons in the hope that they never have to be used.  Such is not the case when it comes to shepherds.  Christ gives the Church shepherds not to hold them in reserve in case they are ever needed.  He gives them so that they can be expended for the sake of the sheep.  The laying down of one's life for the sake of the flock is not a theoretical possibility.  It is a day to day reality.  Even in the prayer life of the shepherds of the Church, we experience the wounds of interceding for the flock entrusted to us.  In some mysterious way, when we pray for the sheep who is lost, who has gone astray, who is wounded, or who is locked in the jaws of the Enemy, we experience--even in the silence of prayer--a penetrating wound.  We experience, in union with Christ the Good Shepherd, the wound of pastoral charity.  

To be united by virtue of priestly ordination with Christ the Good Shepherd means that we are united to His Sacred Heart.  This heart is pierced and wounded for the sake of the flock.  There is no other way to be a priest than to love the sheep.  And loving the sheep means that we are daily wounded--in pastoral activity and in prayer--for their sake.  Like soldiers who carry the scars of their battles as badges of honor, the shepherds of the Church who carry within their souls the wounds of pastoral charity do so with gratitude, joy, and honor because these wounds belong by right to Christ, the Good Shepherd.

Monday, April 6, 2015

A Word of Gratitude to Our Benefactors

A Scene from Our Live Stations
Dear Friends in Christ,

The Boston University Catholic Center survives through the generosity of our benefactors.  Our benefactors include alumni, parents of former and current students, a couple of faculty members, priests, current students, parishes, and friends of the Catholic Center who simply support us because they believe in our mission.  I am also indebted to friends of mine who support the Catholic Center at Boston University because they want to support me in my ministry.

I am writing this blog post not because I'm looking for more money!  I'm writing in the hopes that many of our benefactors will read this letter and will be able to see that their generosity is supporting something awesome.  What I write here is not intended to be exhaustive.  It is just a glimpse of what I  witnessed during this past week.

On Palm Sunday weekend, six men from the Catholic Center and one recent graduate attended the discernment retreat hosted by the Vocations Office of the Archdiocese of Boston.  The retreat was led by Cardinal Sean. In the past five years, two men from the BU Catholic Center were ordained.  There are currently three recent graduates from BU studying at the seminary and it is likely that those numbers will increase next year.  And, just the fact that these young men are willing to attend a discernment retreat and be open to the possibility of a vocation is a beautiful thing.

On Tuesday evening of Holy Week, somewhere between 125-150 students came to confession.  Additionally, our confessional was busy all week!  On Good Friday, I heard 90 minutes of non-stop confessions.

There are no words to describe how stunningly beautiful and moving the Sacred Triduum was at BU. It was one of those moments in life when I felt like the heavens opened and God was pouring down grace upon grace on us.  I mean "BIG GRACES."  We were taken up during those liturgies.  It was so awesome to see all of these students living the Sacred Triduum together!  

On Holy Thursday we processed with the Eucharist from the main chapel to our Catholic Center a few blocks away.  After that, a large group of students visited a Eucharistic Shrine and then walked several miles to the Cathedral to have Night Prayer with the Cardinal at 11:30pm.

On Good Friday our students performed a live Stations of the Cross on the plaza in front of Marsh Chapel.  Many bystanders stopped by, watched, and prayed with us.  It was very moving.  This event--like so much of what happens at the Catholic Center--is organized and totally run by the students themselves.  In the evening, we had the Service of the Lord's Passion.  It is particularly moving to watch all of these young men and women approach, genuflect, and kiss the Wood of the Cross.  
Our Triduum Team

On Holy Saturday I met with a few of our students who served all of our Sacred Triduum in order to rehearse for the Easter Vigil.  These students along with our Jesuit deacon and Jesuit seminarian who serve at the CC, Fr. Rick, and Bobby, our intern, did an outstanding job making our liturgies gloriously beautiful.  Additionally, our choir was at the CC practicing.  The music for the Triduum was prayerful and moving.  At the Easter Vigil, I baptized five men and women, received two others into the Catholic Church, and
Right After Baptizing Five New Catholics!
confirmed them all, and confirmed a young woman who had been baptized Catholic but was never raised in the Faith.  All of them attended our RCIA this year.  It was awesome!

A Photo with Some of Our Seniors After Easter Sunday Brunch at the CC

On Easter 400 people filled our chapel at the 12:30pm Mass.  After Mass, we had a brunch for about 50 people who signed up ahead of time.  The brunch was organized by Fran--our Office Manager (who does everything)--and PJ, one of our students who is a man of service.  PJ and a bunch of other men from the Catholic Center got up early on Easter to come in and prepare the whole place and the food.  I was impressed that one of the men who came to help out is a man who graduated last year and is now in the seminary.  That was great.  

This whole week was indeed "Holy."  Our staff--missionaries, interns, music ministry, and Office Manager glorified God by their efforts.  Our students lived this week with extraordinary generosity and charity.  I was really moved to see how devoted to God and to the Church they are.  On Monday nights, after Mass we have an hour of adoration.  As I looked around the chapel tonight and saw these kids praying, I was filled with gratitude for what God is doing in our midst.  I'm telling you, something really beautiful and spectacular is happening.  I was also happy because after adoration, one of the guys said to me, "Wow, I'm wiped out after this weekend!"  To me, that says that someone lived the Triduum well.  I think we are all wiped out after this weekend!  We lived something very intense and something very moving together.

And now that we are all exhausted, we are preparing for one more big event this week.  This coming Saturday, a group of students will lead a confirmation retreat for a local parish.  Just another example of how these students are living a generous life.

What I just wrote about is what's happened during one week at the Catholic Center.  All of that is just one week!  I hope that you see all of that and feel great about your decision to be one of our benefactors. You are supporting something that God is truly blessing.  I am fairly confident that our community would echo what I am about to say.  This past week was a bit overwhelming.  I don't simply mean exhausting.  I mean overwhelming like God revealing Himself is overwhelming.  Like we were part of something that was totally beyond where human beings can rightfully set foot.  We were taken up into something where we could never presume to go on our own.  We touched the Glory of God.

Thank you for being a friend to the Catholic Center.

He is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed!

Fr. David Barnes

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Were Not Our Hearts Burning Within Us?

Road to Emmaus
St. Luke tells us that on the evening of the day of the resurrection, two of the disciples were walking along the Road to Emmaus and were discussing all of the things that had transpired during the past few days.  This evening--Easter Sunday evening--I find myself turning over in my mind all that has transpired during these past days.

During the past week, so many things have occurred.  The beautiful liturgies, the music, the live Stations of the Cross prayed in the public square, baptisms, confirmations, receiving men and women into the Catholic Church, and first communions.  Scores upon scores of confessions.  Visiting churches together on Holy Thursday, night prayer with the Cardinal, and praying together.  Processing on Holy Thursday evening down Commonwealth Avenue with the Blessed Sacrament.  Exhausted students preparing Easter Brunch for fifty or so students.   Witnessing the love that these young men and women have for one another.

So many things have transpired over these past days.  Beautiful things.  Human things.  (:-)) Exhausting things!

As evening falls on this first day of the week, it is obvious that Jesus has been walking with us and speaking to us. I echo the sentiments of those two disciples who were traveling along the Road to Emmaus.  I say to all of those who traveled in our company, "Were not our hearts burning within us?"

Friday, April 3, 2015

Good Friday at The BU Catholic Center: The Spectacle of the Cross

Just some scenes from the Stations of the Cross that our students do each year in front of Boston University's Marsh Chapel.  It is a spectacle to all who pass by on Commonwealth Avenue--a major road in Boston--and a good number of folks stop and pray.  It was well done and quite moving.

Holy Thursday Mass--We Were Caught Up in Being Loved to the End

John Placing His Head on the Heart of Christ
There have occasionally been moments in my life when during the Sacred Liturgy I feel like we have been taken away into someplace beyond.  A sensation that we have been lifted out of time and placed into the realms of eternal glory.  A profound experience of being no longer separated from the events of the Gospel by the passing of centuries.  A realization that we are not looking back at these events, separated from them by time and space, but rather living them from the inside.  That these events are present now.  

Last night, this was my experience during the Mass of the Lord's Supper.  Gathered with the BU Catholic community in our chapel, I knew that what we were doing was way beyond what were capable of doing.  It was as though we had closed our eyes for the briefest of moments and, having opened them again, discovered that we were in the Upper Room.  His Divine Presence was heavy upon us.  

He took our little offerings.  He took our vestments, candles, incense, our voices, our bodies, our bread, and our wine and used these to manifest his Divine Love.  We offered what little we could.  He accepted and gave back to us His tremendous and awesome Love.  We offered ourselves to be used and He filled us with His Glory.

As we live our life together at the BU Catholic Center, I am often aware that there is something bigger going on than we realize.  In our daily life together, I am aware that we have been brought here by Another.  I am aware that He is at work among us.  But, last night at Holy Thursday Mass, it was as though the veil had been lifted for a moment and the full weight of His Glory and Love was made known to us.  There was a profound sense of coherence.  The life that we live together--in all of its beauty, joy, and friendship--was born in the Upper Room.  It was born in the Heart of Christ and lives within that Heart even now.  We live our life together on the inside of the Heart of Christ.

Christ loves us.  Christ loves in us.  Christ loves through us.  

I do not think that I was alone in this experience last night.  Something happened.  Heaven--the Heart of Christ--opened and as the words of the Gospel said, "Having loved those who were His own in the world, He loved them to the end."  Last night, we were loved by Christ and were shown the depth of this love.  He loves us to the end.