Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Gift of Remaining in His Love

We never really know where the Lord will take us in our prayer. Every morning at the BU Catholic Center, our FOCUS team, intern, and I spend an hour together in Eucharistic Adoration. This morning while I was praying with them, it occurred to me how blessed we--staff and students--are to live together in this community. This really is a house of formation in the Christian life.

What most struck me is how love shapes this place and our day to day lives together. All of the things that happen here are not simply programs that we put together or events that we devise in order to appear busy. They are all manifestations of a love that has been placed into our hearts by Christ. 

There are all of the "big" events like retreats, mission trips, bible studies, weekly discussions on Catholic topics, and things of that nature. More importantly, however, are the small things. Meeting up for a meal with one another, hanging out in the coffee room together, a couple of students meeting up to pray the rosary together, studying together, going to the movies together, and a thousand other small gestures of friendship. 

When I was praying today, the thought occurred to me that we are living here a true Catholic community. There are occasional disagreements and differences of opinion, but this is part of any community. But all of those things are totally transformed by the fact that we are all loving one another. 

While this love is something that "happens" to us--something given to us--it also requires a "yes" from us. We are drawn into something that we recognize as a gift from the Lord, but this gift comes with an expectation. It was Jesus himself who said, "Remain in my love."  To remain in His love is a choice for each one of us. This is what was so striking to me today as I prayed with our team. This house is filled with people who walk through our door every day and say, "Yes Lord, I choose to remain in your love." It's as though the very act of entering this building and being part of this community is a response to remain in the love of the Lord. 

It's difficult to put into words, but this community is like a treasure house of love. For years, the people who have worked here and belonged here have endowed this community with their love. Those who continue to pass through its doors are shaped by that history and are moved to invest their love here as well. 

Every Tuesday night, we have a spaghetti dinner at the Catholic Center. During the nice weather, we move our tables out onto the sidewalk. Last night, as I looked around and saw dozens of young men and women engaged in joyful conversations, welcoming newcomers, and sharing the life of faith with one another, I was really touched. This is what a Catholic community is. It is the visible presence of God's love in the midst of the world. This love is joyful and attractive. 

We sometimes think of Jesus' command to "Remain in my love" as being burdensome. But it really is a gift and a privilege. When we see what remaining in his love actually looks like, there's no place else we'd rather be. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Pope Francis' Visit: Has It Changed You? Answer!

The Beggar Lazarus at the Doorstep of the Rich Man
When Pope Francis returns to Rome, what then? The crowds will dissipate, the headlines about him will decrease, and life will continue.  The question, I think, is "what will be different?" When it comes to Pope Francis, sometimes his media perception is that it is Pope Francis pitted against the rest of the Church. There's a perception among many commentators that the Pope is trying to bend the Church into his vision of how things should be. To the outside spectator, Pope Francis could be like a CEO who is trying to change the corporate culture.

I suppose that for those outside of the Church, there is a need to speak about the Church in a language that makes sense to them. But, I think this kind of language or mindset is deadly for those within the Church. It is always tempting to talk about "the Church" as though it were a separate entity from myself. "Oh, the Church teaches that . . ." or "I think the Church should . . . ." But we are not outside spectators. We're on the inside. We are part of the living Body of Christ. The Pope is not a CEO. He is a shepherd. He is a shepherd who exists within the Church, not outside of it. 

Even though he is the Pope, I imagine that when he climbs into the pulpit, Francis is like the rest of us priests. When we go to preach God's word, we are not thinking about how we can change the whole world, bend the Church to our own liking, and force our will upon others. I think most of us climb into the pulpit and wish to preach the Word of God, humbly acknowledging that it is not "my word" that is preached, but God's Word. We hope that what we preach might touch the hearts of the people in front of us and move them closer to Christ.

People of greater intelligence than I possess will write better commentaries on Pope Francis' apostolic visit to the United States. What I write here is just a personal observation. At the heart of Pope Francis' message in the United States is the dignity of the human person. He looks with profound compassion on those who are left behind, forgotten, and isolated. The Pope wants all of us--politicians, diplomats, governments, bishops, priests, religious, lay men and women--to open our eyes and see the Lazarus who lays upon our door step (Luke 16:19-31). This Lazarus is the immigrant, the prisoner, the unborn, the poor, the elderly, the youth without hope, the unemployed, the lonely, the infirm, and those who lack the basic necessities of life. The Pope wants to put before our eyes those whom we might easily not notice because they lack the visibility that comes from power, wealth, and prestige.

When Pope Francis returns to Rome, if all we find ourselves doing is commenting on what "the Church needs to do," then I think we have lost a great opportunity. The Gospel needs to be planted in my heart and it is my heart that needs transformation. If, when I hear Pope Francis' words, I think only of how others need to change, then the Gospel did not penetrate my heart. The sign that the Holy Father's apostolic visit was fruitful in my life is if my eyes are opened to the beggar at my door and if my heart is opened in generosity to those who were once invisible. 

Who is your Lazarus? Is it the immigrant, the unborn, the elderly, the addicted, the unemployed, the person who has been discarded by others, the homeless . . . ? The Gospel is always personal. It is not vague and general. I think Pope Francis' visit would be most successful if all of us were willing not simply to insist that others see the beggar that we see, but rather were willing to open our eyes and see the beggar that we do not see. In other words, if you see the needs of the immigrant but are blind to the unborn, now is the time to be transformed. If you see the need to defend the unborn but do nothing to help the poor, now is the time to be transformed. If you love the poor, but are blind to the lonely and the elderly, now is the time to be transformed. If we see the needs of the people far away from us but are blind to the person right next to us who is wounded, now is the time to be transformed.

All of us who are Catholic should be ready to bear witness to Christ. If asked what struck us about the Pope's visit, I hope that we will all be able to come up with something more than, "I like that he rode around in a Fiat!" It is too easy and too boring to talk about Pope Francis's apostolic visit in terms of politics, issues, and secular categories. Instead, we should be prepared to witness to how this apostolic visit has changed us. Every encounter with Christ is personal. How has this trip personally changed me? How have my eyes been opened? In what way has my love for Christ and others been deepened? Let's all be ready to answer these questions and be witnesses to the transformative encounter with Christ! When we are able to witness to Christ's power in our life, then we are about the work of evangelization.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Boston University Catholic Center Is Alive in Christ

Some of our Catholic Center Community on Ultimate Frisbee Night
During Our First Week Events

The following letter was mailed this week to many of the friends of the BU Catholic Center. It gives a sense of what's going on and asks people to help support us in our mission.

September 25, 2015

Dear Friend of the BU Catholic Center:                                                

One of my “go to” lines in the scriptures is “Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing” (1 Thes 5:11). In these few words, St. Paul identifies what a Catholic community ought to be. I hope that this letter encourages and builds you up and, in turn, convinces you to encourage and build up the Catholic community at Boston University. So many of you have indeed been doing just that! Some of you have been long time faithful donors. Some of you will be first time donors this year! I want to encourage you to be generous. Here are some reasons to be encouraged:

  • This past Easter numerous young men and women were baptized and received into Full Communion with the Catholic Church through our RCIA at the Catholic Center!! What a great joy it is to welcome new young people into the Faith!

  • Four of the Six Men Studying for the Priesthood
    From the BU Catholic Center
    This September THREE recent graduates from Boston University entered St. John’s Seminary in order to study for the priesthood! Currently there are SIX recent alumni from the Boston University Catholic Center studying to be priests!! In the past twelve years, SIXTEEN men and women from the BU Catholic Center have been ordained, entered religious life, or entered the seminary!!! This is amazing!

  • A young man who was President of the Boston University Student Government and who graduated this past May is giving a year of volunteer service to the Catholic Center as a way of giving back for the great experience he had here as a student. The Catholic Center stirs in the hearts of young men and women a desire to serve others.

  • Daily Mass, Holy Hours, Retreats, Men’s Group, Women’s Group, Student led Bible Studies, Mission Trips, Outreach to the Homeless in Boston, Weekly Catholic Formation Nights, Weekly Dinners, and Evangelization and Outreach Efforts on Campus!

  • Our building is filled every day with students who stop by to pray, to hang out, to eat, to have coffee, and to enjoy friendship with one another.

I hope that you are encouraged! I know that I am! I also hope that you would be encouraged to help build up your younger brothers and sisters in the Faith by generously supporting our mission. The Lord is doing GREAT things here.

I hope when you read some of the things that the Lord is doing in our midst, you were “encouraged and built up.” I know that I am encouraged and built up by what I witness the Lord doing in this very special place. And, I am encouraged and built up by the generous way so many friends support this community of young Catholics. The Catholic Center depends entirely upon the generosity of people like you. Without you, we cannot continue to encourage and build up these young Catholic men and women on BU’s campus.

On the weekend of October 24th, 2015  we will be conducting our yearly phonathon. This is our major fundraiser each year and I am asking you to encourage and build up the young men and women here by supporting our mission. You can mail donations directly to the BU Catholic Center at 211 Bay State Road Boston, MA 02215 OR you can visit our website and make a donation through PayPal or through ParishPay.

Thank you so much for encouraging us and building us up. I hope that we are doing the same for you!

    In Christ,

Barnes Signature.jpg

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Living With A Saint

The following is something I posted a couple of years ago and just updated a little bit. It is about a priest I lived with in my first assignment. Today--September 19th--would have been his 96th birthday, I believe. Every year on his birthday, I speak with his siblings who still live in that parish. Today, his priestly example reminded me all over again that I am called to holiness.

A few months ago, a family from my first parish came to visit me.  By family, I mean two sisters and their brother.  All of whom are in the 80's and 90's.  Their other brother was a Maryknoll priest with whom I lived during my first assignment as a priest.  He had retired by that point in time, but did a lot of work in our parish (where he had grown up and where his family still lives).  The reason for their visit was that they wanted to give to me the Mission Cross that was given to Fr. Lawrence Burns before he left for Bolivia in the 1940's.  

Fr. Lawrence Burns was a great priest.  I only knew him long after he had retired from his missionary work.  But, for decades, he served in Bolivia.  In fact, he was the longtime Apostolic Administrator for a diocese there.  I remember he used to say how when he got to Bolivia he didn't speak much Spanish.  They gave him a small boat and told him that he would ride the rivers and just stop at villages along the way.  He said, "I told them that my Spanish wasn't good".  They replied, "Don't worry.  You will pick it up as you go along."  He said, "I asked them what I would do for food?"  They replied, "The people will feed you as you go from place to place."  He said, "I asked them what should I do if I get sick?"  They replied, "Whatever you do, don't get sick."

Every day that I lived with Larry, he would spend an hour in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel.  He was always on his knees praying the Rosary.  He loved the Blessed Virgin Mary.  I often went to confession to him and he never failed to speak of the Blessed Virgin.  He was a great priest.

He had a playful sense of humor. During my first week in the parish, he felt bad that I was going to be alone for dinner. So, he called one of his sisters who lived a few streets away. He would have dinner there each night. He told her that he was going to bring me along for dinner. Maybe 20 minutes later, we showed up at her house. I could tell that she was in a panic over her surprise guest. Fr. Larry looked and saw the dining room table all set. He said, "Well, I am going to have you come for dinner more often. I've never eaten in the dining room before." He loved to tease his sisters. And his sisters adored Larry.

Towards the end of his life, he had an extended hospital stay.  When he was released from the hospital, his doctor ordered him to stay home and rest.  On his way out of the hospital, Larry ran into a parishioner who mentioned that a family member was in the hospital and would love to receive the Eucharist.  Immediately after being dropped off at the rectory by a family member, Larry got the Blessed Sacrament and went back to the hospital.  The only way we know that story is because he got caught by his doctor as he was coming off the elevator.  He was a priest who loved the Eucharist.  He was a great priest.

In the last days of his life, I had the opportunity to spend time at his bedside.  We'd pray the Rosary.  Several times, his sisters and brother were there too.  As they prayed the Rosary together, it was obvious that this was something they did often.  All in their eighties at the time, I could nonentheless see them as young siblings in their family home praying the Rosary.  I could see their parents (whom I never met) raising these fine people in the Catholic Faith.  

Sometimes when Larry and I would be praying the Rosary in his last days, he would fade in and out of consciousness.  He'd say four Hail Marys in the decade or he'd jumble the Our Father and Hail Mary together.  I just ignored that.  When we finished the Rosary, I was sitting there in silence and he opened his eyes and with a big smile said, "Boy, I think I made a mess out of that Rosary."

On one of the last days I visited him, he opened his eyes from an unconcious state and I smiled and said, "Hey Larry."  He didn't even acknolwedge me.  I think he knew that he kept passing in and out of conciousness and didn't want to waste any time.  He immediately asked, "Did you bring the Eucharist with you?"  I had brought the Eucharist with me and he received with such serentity and joy.  He received as one whose sole desire was to be close to Christ.

I was very touched when his family--a decade later--came to give me his Mission Cross.  That cross reminds me of a great priest.  But, it also reminds me that personal holiness in the life of the priest is so very important.  The memory of Fr. Lawrence Burns' holy life, pastoral zeal, and fatherly example continues to call me to be a better priest.  The example of holy priests are not only important for the parishioners.  Priests who are holy encourage their brother priests to be holy as well.  Eighteen years later, one priest's holy example still encourages me.  And, I hope it now encourages someone else.  


Friday, September 18, 2015

When I Pray, Jesus Has a Polish Accent

Recently, a friend posted an article online concerning a group of friends who attended the University of Steubenville during the 1990's and how their experience there together has shaped the life of the Church in the United States in extraordinary ways. Although the article did not mention him, I could not help but think, "Thank you Pope John Paul II."

So often, when I read the Gospels, it is John Paul II's voice that I hear. In my prayer life, Jesus speaks English with a Polish accent! When John Paul II preached, I always felt as though he was speaking directly to me. There was a challenge contained in every word! He pleaded with me not to waste my youth but rather to set out into the adventure of following Christ. 

When St. John Paul II preached, I knew something was on the line. There was an urgency to accepting the call of Christ and I knew Christ was standing right before me offering to me the new life of grace. Truth to be told, sometimes as I drive along in my car, I find myself imitating that great accent and repeating lines from one of St. John Paul II's homilies: "To each one of you I say therefore: heed the call of Christ when you hear him saying to you: 'Follow me! Walk in my path! Stand by my side! Remain in my love!' There is a choice to be made: A choice for Christ and his way of life, and his commandment of love . . . . To all of you I extend--in the name of Christ--the call, the invitation, the plea: 'Come and follow me.' This is why I have come to America and why I have come to Boston tonight: to call you to Christ--to call all of you and each of you to live in his love, today and forever. Amen!"

St. John Paul II made me and many others realize that what happened to the apostles and the early Church was not an event relegated to the distant past and disconnected from our present experience. Through the ministry of John Paul II, our eyes were opened to the fact that Jesus was standing in front of us now, offering to us the invitation to "Follow me." And this invitation touched the hearts of so many. It still touches and moves these hearts.

John Paul II--by his words and by his example--implored us to be faithful to the Gospel. Wherever this fidelity existed in the Church is where the Church would grow, be fruitful, and draw others. John Paul II was able--with great love and conviction--to call us to holiness and to greatness. In large part, wherever we have seen vocations to the priesthood and the religious life flourish, it is because of fidelity. Fidelity to the Gospel and to the Christ produces fruit that lasts. Conversely, wherever there has been an attempt to secularize the Church, make her synonymous with the world, and adopt a relativistic morality, things have continued to wither.

The New Evangelization is not about increasing the parish database. When this is our goal, oftentimes the Gospel gets set aside. The New Evangelization is about bringing people to Christ and bringing them to where they are willing to lay down their life for the Gospel. This is the only thing that works. Everything else is a waste of time. The type of Christianity that sees everything as "grey" and that allows the person to remain completely unchanged is a recipe for disaster because it moves nobody closer to Christ.

Christianity is not a philosophy of life or even a moral program. It is a person. Jesus Christ, as St. John Paul II reminded us repeatedly, is standing in front of us pleading with us to follow him! This invitation is a great challenge. It means dying to self and living for Christ. It means a willingness to stand firm in the Truth of the Gospel despite the awareness of my own weakness. It means standing firm even in the face of tremendous opposition that may come our way. It means giving our life away to Christ, trusting that by giving it away, we will save it.

A month from now, we will celebrate the liturgical feast of St. John Paul II. I feel moved to turn towards him with renewed filial love and beg for his intercession for the Church. Our parishes and dioceses want to grow and be renewed. This renewal and growth begins with fidelity to Christ. I need to be more faithful to Christ and his way of life. I need to hear his voice strengthening me to stand firm in the battle. I need to be daily convinced that I am being called by Christ to a new way of life. We all need this. We all need, once again, to go out into the deep! Today, let's remember that we are being called by Christ! Let's give ourselves entirely to him and take up our Cross! And, if we feel somewhat small in front of the great challenge before us, if we feel the wind against us, feel the weight of the cost, see the army encamped against us, or think the the task is too great, let us hear the voice of Jesus--in his Polish accent--telling us, "Do not be afraid."

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Think of What is Above

Today as I was scrolling Facebook, I came across a photo posted on the page of a priest friend of mine. Apparently he is the godfather of this little boy. When I saw it, I thought, "I've got to post that photo on my blog. So, with the permission of, I'm happy to share a little bit of pure joy and innocence.  Today's Gospel at Mass was from St. Paul's Letter to the Colossians. He said, "Think of what is above, not of what is on earth." This photo makes me think of what is above. The Catholic Faith is beautiful!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Frisbee, Spitting, Loneliness, And Jesus

Our Ultimate Frisbee Night During First Week
There are a host of questions that every priest gets asked on a regular basis. If I go to a wedding reception, some person who is trying to make conversation but doesn't know exactly what to say to a priest might ask, "So uhm, how's the Pope?"  "Oh, he's good, I guess," I will reply.  "Do you have meetings with him and stuff?" "Well, not too regularly."  

But, there are more profound questions that people ask. One question that comes my way fairly regularly is, "Father, are you lonely?" I suppose in some way people ask that question because they presume celibacy must be lonely. But, I think they ask that question for a far more profound reason. I think that all of us have a profound existential fear of loneliness. They aren't just concerned with my well-being when they ask that question. They are communicating their own profound fear of loneliness.  I often answer that question by telling people that some of the loneliest people I've ever met wake up every day laying next to another person. Loneliness and isolation are something that shake the human person.

Today in the Gospel, we heard about a man who suffered from deafness and a speech impediment. In a very real way, he was alone. He could not hear the communication of others and he was unable to communicate his interior life to them. What a great suffering that must have been for him. In fact, maybe he never felt more alone than when he was with others. The presence of others could make him feel even more isolated and closed in. Haven't we all experienced this at one time or another? We can be among others and feel alone?

The people who loved this man brought him to Jesus. Now this Gospel has always grossed me out a bit. Jesus sticks his fingers into the man's ears and spits and touches the man's tongue.  Gross! Jesus could have healed him with just a word, but he sticks his fingers into his ears and touches his tongue. Why? 

Don't Ask
So often, we think of God as being "way out there up in the clouds." We are down here and he's up there. We don't really know him and he's too far away from us to really understand us. We feel isolated and alone. But God sends us his Son, so that he can be close to us. He touches us precisely where we are weak. He doesn't float up in the sky looking down and wondering how his friends are in that far off place called earth. He draws near to us and touches us. In Jesus, God draws close to us and frees us from what isolates us.

This past week at the Catholic Center, I've really been moved by our Catholic Community. Tonight at Mass, so many people coming in told me that they were Freshmen. Welcome! It is so great to have you here. It was great this week to have so many Catholic students coming to our First Week events. We've played Ultimate Frisbee together, eaten meals together, conversed with one another, walked around Boston together, played games etc. And here we are at Mass together.

St. Theresa of Avila has a beautiful prayer where she says:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

This Catholic Community is given to us as a gift from God. We help one another to conquer that fear that affects all of us: this existential loneliness, this sense that we are alone. I want you to know that this place is here for you. If ever during your time at BU you feel the weight of loneliness, if ever you feel distant from others or from God, remember that this place is yours. We are given to one another as a sign of God's nearness. We are not alone.

Now, I'm not recommending that we go around sticking our fingers in each others ears or spitting at each other! But, our closeness to one another reminds us that God has drawn near to us and dwells among us. We are not alone. Even right now, as I look at all of you here at Mass, I'm moved by your witness. You remind me that God is close. I thank you for your witness. I was also moved this week by the way that so many people at our Catholic Center reached out to meet new students and invite them. It was really an awesome thing to witness.

As we live this year together, let's help one another. Everyone experiences--each in his or her own way--this existential loneliness. If you ever find yourself confronted by this reality, draw closer to the Catholic Community here. That's why we are here. Allow Jesus to touch you. And, let's be attentive to others who are also experiencing this loneliness. Let's remember that Christ has no body but yours. Draw close to those who feel crushed and isolated. 

The man in today's Gospel must have experienced such incredible joy and freedom in that moment. He became free to know others and to express himself. This is what our Catholic Community is for each of us. It is an opportunity to experience communion and love and to share communion and love with others. Let's live this year together and be signs to one another of God's closeness. Christ has no body but yours.

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Joy of Witnessing Priestly Vocations

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but I still can't help myself! What you see above is Cardinal Sean O'Malley and four seminarians. Three of them entered this year and one of them entered last year. Not pictured with them are two other seminarians who are studying in Rome. What do these six men have in common? They were all active members of the Boston University Catholic Center. Let me tell you briefly about the men who are pictured.

On the far left is Bobby LeBlanc. The chaplain before me at BU asked Bobby in his senior year if he would volunteer for a year at the Catholic Center as our intern. The word "intern" is an understatement. It is a job whose work never ends. After volunteering for a year at the Catholic Center, to my great joy, Bobby succumbed to my pleading and begging and volunteered a second year. He entered the seminary this year. One of the great joys of priesthood is living friendship with people much older than you and much younger than you. In the two years that Bobby and I worked together, it is safe to say that we became great friends in Christ. When Bobby told me he wanted to apply to seminary, we were sitting at a restaurant in Cambridge. I texted the Vocation Director while we were sitting there and the ball got rolling.

Next to Bobby is Tom Murphy. Tom graduated from BU a few years ago (before I ever got to BU) and was asked by my predecessor to serve as the intern. (Becoming the intern at the BU Catholic Center is dangerous)! After spending a year of service to the BU Catholic Community, Tom became a FOCUS Missionary. He served his first year at NYU and then became the FOCUS Team Director at the University of Maine. 

On the other side of the Cardinal is Aaron Yuengert. Aaron graduated from BU two years ago. After graduation, Aaron did a year of service in NET Ministries. This evening, I read a beautiful blog post from Aaron. I include the link HERE.  (I hope Aaron knows that blogging can be a lot of work!!!) 

Finally, on the far right is Denis Nakkeeran. When I arrived at BU my first summer, Denis was the first kid that I met. On my first day, Denis took me around the campus and helped me get all of my paperwork filled out and my Terrier Card. He was good to me. I remember as we were walking that day, I asked him what his major was. Denis was in the pre-med program. He told me about his classes.  The titles of his classes were over my head! Then I asked him what he was going to do next year and he told me that he was thinking about seminary.  Funny how you remember some things with absolute clarity. When Denis told me that, we were walking up the ramp towards Marsh Chapel. Every time I walk up that ramp, I think about that.

Some of the guys from BU who are now in the seminary, I know well. Others, I know, but they graduated and worked there long before me. But, I love them all. And the students and staff at the CC love these guys and admire them. It fills our Catholic Center with joy to know that these brothers of ours are in the seminary. Something very beautiful and powerful is happening at the BU Catholic Center. It's a privilege to be a part of it.

I encourage you to pray for these young men and the two others who are studying in Rome. Besides praying for them, be encouraged by them. When I look at that photo, I am reminded that the Gospels  are not something relegated to the past. Right now, Jesus is walking among us, calling men to follow him as his priests. Today, young men are hearing the call of Jesus and leaving everything behind to follow him. One of the great privileges of my life as a priest has been to witness this extraordinary event over and over again. Even though I have seen it often, each time it comes as a beautiful and profound surprise. Look at that photo and rejoice!