Sunday, November 22, 2015

Christ, The King of Refugees

Today at the BU Catholic Center, we will do something that almost never happens. We will baptize a baby! Every year at the Easter Vigil, we have the opportunity to baptize students who are coming into the Church, but we do not do infant baptisms here at the University. Our music ministers--two alumni of BU--recently had a daughter, Kateri, and since this is where they are every Sunday, we will baptize her today on the Solemnity of Christ the King.

In recent weeks, there has been much discussion about refugees from Syria and what the United States should do about them. Today, I am reminded that I too was a refugee. All of us who celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King today do so as persons who are refugees.  Sin reigned over us and we were terrorized by the hopelessness that belongs to those who are surrounded by snares of death. We could not save ourselves. We were subject to the power of Satan and had no place to go.

To save us, God himself became a refugee. He descended from Heaven and became a man like us in all things but sin. He came to be close to His own, but St. John tells us that His own "received Him not." He was rejected. But to those who did receive Him, He gave power to become children of God. Those who accepted this voluntary refugee from heaven, were given power to flee the Kingdom of Death and to become citizens of Heaven.

Through Baptism, we have become children of God. We have no right to that title. It has been bestowed upon us by pure grace. Our citizenship is in heaven, not by natural generation, but by supernatural adoption. Being citizens of the Kingdom of God brings with it responsibilities. More and more each day, we must allow Christ to reign over us. Our thoughts, our words, and our actions must more and more conform to the thoughts, words, and actions of our King. When people come to America, we want them to assimilate into our culture, to become "American." So too--and far more--is it the case that we who have been saved from utter destruction by being welcomed into the Kingdom of God, must become more and more like Christ. 

As citizens of His Kingdom, we are called to submit ourselves more and more to his reign. We were once slaves, but now we are free. The more we subject ourselves to Christ and His commands, the more we experience true freedom. We are being made, by grace, into new creations. His thoughts are to become our thoughts, his words to become our words, his actions to be our actions. Every day, we are to die to our old self and to put on the new man who is Christ Jesus.

Today--in the waters of baptism--Kateri is to become a citizen of the Kingdom of God. May her baptism remind all of us to every day welcome the Refugee from Heaven into our hearts to reign over us more and more. For when Christ reigns in us, we become truly free. When Christ is welcomed into our hearts, he gives us power to become what we never could have become on our own: children of God.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Better Start Praying Because the Internet Is Not God

St. Augustine of Hippo
To continue with my last post's question about the Church needing to be a place of serenity and refuge amid so  much stress and conflict in the world, I want to say something about prayer and the Internet.

I'm old enough that I lived over half of my life (so far) without the Internet. I can still remember the first email I got and being amazed by it. I love the Internet. I love being able to keep in touch with people, read articles that I might never have otherwise seen, and learn about things that I would never know otherwise. The Internet and social media provide what appears to be an infinite amount of ideas, thoughts, articles, opinions, and opportunities to engage in discussions and debates (arguments?). But, it is only the appearance of the infinite. In actuality, it is still a finite reality.

In the end, our desire is for that which actually is infinite. Our desire is for God. We should be careful that we do not become imprisoned by the Internet and social media. The only way not to be imprisoned by the finite is to live a friendship of prayer with the Infinite. Have I prayed today? Have I read the scriptures or some spiritual reading, like the life of a saint? Or, have I become imprisoned by the cycle of news stories, political ideologies, and demagoguery? 

Sometimes, we forget that we have the privilege of living a friendship with God. Pause and just think about that. We can engage in a conversation with God! As great as the Internet and social media are, they can become inimical to a strong spiritual life. They appear to satisfy our inner hunger but, in the end, they cannot satisfy the soul's desire for God.

Social media and the internet can also imprison us in the present moment, detaching us from a sense of belonging to a culture that has been built up over centuries. We lose our sense of belonging to the communion of saints.  Snapchats disappear instantaneously, newsfeeds rapidly update, and everything becomes about what happened in the past five minutes. Reading the scriptures and the lives of the saints reminds us that we are part of a people that has a history, a foundation, and a destiny.

When you opened your eyes this morning, did you pray first or check your emails? Did you read God's Word today or did you only read words written by mere mortals on the Internet? Did you pray for others today or did you only "like" their status? Did you give God glory today or did you only glorify the political candidates of your choice? Were you more passionate today about building up the Kingdom of God or building up your fantasy football team? Were you really present to the people you were with today or were you really with your iPhone? 

This Internet examination of conscience--which should also include such things as pornography and uncharitable comments about others--is just something that might be helpful to all of us. Advent is fast approaching and so is the Jubilee Year of Mercy. It is a fitting time for us to remember that our heart desires the Infinite and that at Christmas, the Infinite became flesh and made His dwelling among us. It is a good opportunity to fix our gaze on the person of Jesus Christ. 

I'm not bashing the Internet and social media. I really enjoy them. But, this is just a reminder that the Internet is not God and social media isn't either. We need to nourish our souls through sacred reading and through devout prayer. Our heart is made for God. No amount of articles, debates, friends, followers, or likes is going to satisfy our hearts because, as St. Augustine discovered long before the Internet was discovered, "You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you."

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Catholic Church: People Have Enough Stress As It Is, So Knock It Off

Rembrandt's Storm on the Sea of Galilee 
People are under a lot of pressure. All day long, people are subjected to enormous stresses. People are worried about their health, their job, their marriage, and their children. Students are worried about grades, student loans, and future employment. People are worried about war, terrorism, and their safety. People are looking for a place where they can feel comforted, safe, and on sure footing. At a moment in time when families often collapse suddenly and easily, when a concert can turn into an occasion for a terrorist attack, and when social media becomes a method of driving people apart rather than uniting them, people are pining for a place of refuge, a place where they can find certitude and familiarity.

Many people have found such a refuge in the Church. Even while not always understanding fully her teachings or even the internal logic of her Liturgy and Sacraments, people have a sense that within the Church there is contained a mystery that is not subject to fads, whims, or circumstances, or even to the frailties or sins of its ministers or people. I think of many of my ancestors who traveled from varied parts of the world to the United States. So much of their life had changed. Languages, cultures, and environments were completely different, but, amid all of this, they were able to find comfort in their Faith. They were able to discover within the Church, the stability, serenity, and solace that escaped them everywhere else.

At this particular moment in the life of Western Civilization, when so much of society is shifting and destabilizing, the Church and its pastors ought not to become yet another source of confusion and stress. Instead, the Church has the opportunity to become a refuge, a rock, a stronghold, a place of rest. There is already so much division, controversy, and confusion in the lives of so many people. The Church will not win them over to Christ by turning Christianity into another place of division, controversy, and confusion. Why is it that so many people love the 23rd Psalm? It is because it provides a sense of security, stability, and nourishment. In Psalm 23, one realizes that no matter how stressful the circumstances, the Shepherd is leading, feeding, giving rest, reviving, and restoring hope. This ought to be the model of the Church's pastoral life.

Several years ago, an older man who was a construction worker came to me. He said that the priest in his parish was upset at the archdiocese and would begin every homily by asking the people, "Are you angry? It's okay. I'm angry too. We should be angry." The man said to me, "Father, I have a hard job. I  am angry six days a week. I go to Mass on Sunday because it is the one place all week that I'm not angry, and I have this priest telling me I should be angry there too!"  

These days, there are many people seeking to stir up controversy, chaos, and uncertainty within the the life of the Church. I agree that some of the Church's structures and bureaucracies are inimical to the living out of a healthy ecclesial life. So often, these structures and bureaucracies become the place where new life is smothered and the Church's growth is stunted. It is the structures and bureaucracies that ought to be reinvented, not the Church's doctrines nor its familiarity and fraternity. 

Provoking a false war between truth and mercy, doctrine and pastoral practice, or the Holy Spirit and Revealed Truth, will not draw people to Christ. They have enough controversy, chaos, and stress in their life as it is. My experience is that people are really searching for communion, serenity, and certainty. They are searching for something that, amid so much change and instability, is dependable and enduring. What is so beautiful in my experience is that at first glance, many people cringe before such doctrines. "This is the Body of Christ." "Marriage is a permanent union." "You must forgive your enemies." "You have to go to Confession." "Jesus died for you."  And yet, although they might cringe the first time they hear these or any other number of truths, they come back. They come back because in the midst of a life filled with insecurities, anxieties, and fears, they hunger, thirst, and pine for something that doesn't shift according to the latest popular meme on Facebook.

This is beautifully expressed in the liturgical life of the Church. The liturgy is stable, familiar, and not subject (at least in theory) to the whims of a particular person or congregation. This stability and familiarity provides to the person who goes every week, and the person who has been away from the Lord for a long time, a sense of peace that only the Lord himself can give. Amid so much chaos and anxiety in the lives of so many people, the Church can be the place where each of us can echo the words of the Psalm 62: "In God alone is my soul at rest." There is plenty of chaos, controversy, contention, and anxiety in the lives of people as it is. If the Church wants to draw others into her fold and into life in Christ, she ought to provide people what they are really searching for: truth, goodness, beauty, and communion. It is truth, goodness, beauty, and communion that continually win me over to the Church and draw me closer to Christ. 

Bottom line, people have enough stress as it is. Let's not add to it  by concocting theological controversies or by doing the Devil's work of sowing doubt into the hearts of the Faithful. Instead, let's provide people with the only antidote to being tossed about by the waves of controversy: Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Catholic Radio, Vacuum Cleaners, Pope Francis, and Nuns--For Love Alone

This past weekend I had the opportunity to speak at an event commemorating the fifth anniversary of Catholic Radio in Boston. The topic was Pope Francis' visit to the United States. What follows below was my attempt to offer an interpretation of what his visit means for the Church in the United States. If you would like to learn more about Catholic Radio in Boston, you can go to Also, they have a mobile app that allows you to listen 24 hours a day, seven days a week to great Catholic programming. If you'd prefer to view the talk itself rather than read it, here is a link to it.


Twice a year the Catholic Center at BU goes on retreat, and last year the students put together a retreat centered upon the theme of evangelization. Among other things, the retreat had a series of five minute skits which, I have to admit, the older I get, the more I enjoy.

One skit--written by "The Skit Guys," was entitled, “The Vacuum Salesman.” It involved a door to door salesman--played by one of our students, Rachel. Very excitedly, she went to her first home, knocked on the door and launched into her speech, but after only a few words, she looked behind the potential customer and said, “Lady, your house is disgusting. How do you live in such a pig sty? I don’t even think I’d be able to demonstrate this vacuum in there until you move some of that stuff out of the way.”  To her shock, Rachel found the door closed in her face.

Seeing the need to readjust her sales technique, Rachel went and diligently studies everything she could about her vacuum cleaner. When the door of the next home opened, she was fully prepared to share her knowledge.  Rachel didn’t even notice that the person she was speaking to was a child. She immediately launched into her newly refined sales pitch and in what seemed like one long breath she said:

“This is the one and only Super Sucker DC-8000-Z. Basically, you have your intake port and your exhaust port. We’re talking 1400 Watts, here. You got your LGS telescopic wand, plus KS-5 allergen filtration. Oh, and it comes with HEPA filters and multiple LGN9-R rotating brushes. Well, actually, I think this model comes with LGN9-V rotating brushes. The LGN9-R brushes were actually on the DC-7000-Z model. And if you look here, it’s obvious that…” At which point the child yells, “Mom, there’s a crazy woman at the door!”

That skit came to mind when I was asked to give this talk.
When Pope Benedict XVI came to the United States in 2008, he gave a beautiful homily at St. Patrick’s Cathedral where he explained various features of a cathedral and how those features teach us about the Mystery of the Church and our own vocations within the communion of the Church. He pointed out how the stained glass windows flood the inside of the church with mystic light. But from the outside, those same windows can appear “dark, heavy, and even dreary.” It is only from the inside of the Church that one can experience their beauty.  

Honestly, whenever I read or hear a commentary on Pope Francis and what he is trying to accomplish, I have a sense that the author is just making it up. We all have a desire to get a handle on what exactly Pope Francis is saying and doing. We want a coherent, easy to read manual that doesn’t have any loose ends.  I think it is highly unlikely that we are ever going to get that. With some popes, if you want to understand their program, all you have to do is carefully read their writings and you can assemble rather quickly a pretty good outline of what their pontificate is all about. I think Pope Francis’ pontificate is less definable by his written words than it is by his gestures. When I think of Pope Francis’ pontificate, what jumps to mind is not a quote, but an image: Pope Francis leaping out of a moving car with his security detail hurriedly trying to catch up to him. He leaps out of that car because he is moved at the moment to embrace a child, a person in a wheelchair, someone who is suffering etc.

I think one possible key to understanding Pope Francis’ pastoral visit to the United States is that he is primarily focused upon the people standing outside of the cathedral who see the Church as being dark, foreboding, and even dreary. Those of us on the inside, bask in the radiant and mystical light that illuminates the Church’s life. But, what is going on in the inside of the Church is often incomprehensible and even uninteresting to those on the outside. Like the vacuum cleaner salesman, we sometimes talk too much like vacuum salesmen attending the vacuum salesmen convention. We use a language that has become almost entirely foreign to the world outside.

To be clear, I love the language of the Church. But, some of our language and way of doing things is not easily accessible at first. These things come later. They cannot be disposed of or ignored. But, first, we need to get the person in front of us to step over the threshold of the Church and enter in.

I regularly hear from Catholic students about how they are made to feel uncomfortable for their Catholic beliefs. Perhaps a professor dismisses the Catholic Church or mocks it in a class.  In one instance, a student who had become friendly with a professor, one day wore his Catholic Center T-Shirt to the lab.  The professor was flabbergasted and asked, “Are you Catholic?” He said, “Yes.” The professor said, “Like go to Mass on Sunday Catholic?” He said, “Yes.” The professor asked, “So, you hate gay people then?” The young man was surprised by the question.

While questions and comments like that might anger or annoy us (because we know that they are based in falsehoods and misrepresentations) they come from people who stand outside of the Church. They see the Church as irrelevant, dark, and dreary. The population of people who stand on the outside of the Church and feel this way is not shrinking. It is growing. And sometimes, we fall into the trap of playing the character role assigned to us from the outside. In other words, in reaction to being characterized as people who are incomprehensible, foreboding and dreary, we react in a way that is . . . well,  incomprehensible, foreboding, and dreary.

In his address to the US Bishops, Pope Francis said “Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor, it has no place in his heart; although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing.” Those of us who  find ourselves daily fighting the good fight, can sometimes feel strangely self-satisfied when we’ve won an argument and gotten the upper hand on our opponents. But, at the end of the day, the question really is about whether we have done anything to draw that person inside of the Church or have we simply left them outside, angrier than ever?

I think a key component of Pope Francis’ visit is what I quoted above: “Only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing.” Many of those who commentated on the Pope’s visit did so in terms of major issues, moral battles, and political agendas. But I think we should not allow ourselves to be lured into that trap. Instead, I think that we should see his visit to the United States in terms of Pope Benedict’s image of the Cathedral. Pope Francis is trying to meet the people outside of the Cathedral and speak to them not in a language that turns them away, but with a language that they can understand: the allure of goodness and love.

He speaks to them about unemployment, worrying about a sick relative, loneliness, drug addiction, and many of the other hardships that afflict them and their families. He doesn’t do this as a way of dismissing all of the beautiful truths that are central to the Catholic Faith, but rather as providing an invitation to draw closer to these truths.  In his address to the bishops in the United States, Pope Francis said, “To this end, it is important that the Church in the United States also be a humble home, a family fire which attracts men and women through the attractive light and warmth of love. As pastors, we know well how much darkness and cold there is in this world; we know the loneliness and the neglect experienced by many people, even amid great resources of communication and material wealth. We see their fear in the face of life, their despair and the many forms of escapism to which it gives rise.”

I am certain that there are any number of ways that people have interpreted Pope Francis’ pastoral visit to the United States. Mine is just one interpretation among many others! I do think, however, that if you are looking to understand his visit, this image of the cathedral is helpful. Francis’ visit was intended to teach us how to draw others into the Church.
Each year during Holy Week, the bishop of every diocese gathers with his priests for the Chrism Mass. At this Mass, the Holy Oils that will be used to administer the sacraments for the coming year are consecrated by the bishop and during that Mass, the priests of the diocese renew their vows.

The Gospel for that Mass comes from the Fourth Chapter of the Gospel of Luke. Jesus, as was his custom, entered the synagogue, and then he was handed a scroll from which to read. Jesus read from the 61st Chapter of the Prophet Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord" (Lk. 4:18-19; cf. Is. 61:1-2).  Having read those words, Jesus handed the scroll back to the attendant and, St. Luke tells us, “The eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently upon him.” And then Jesus said, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

This Gospel passage describes the first and most important pastoral visit ever made, the pastoral visit of Christ the Good Shepherd to the human race. He came--by the power of the Holy Spirit--to preach good news to the poor, release to captives, to grant recovery of sight to the blind, to free those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Every pastoral visit and, in fact, the entire mission of the Church finds its origin in Christ’s own pastoral mission. Our mission is to draw others into the beauty and radiance of life in Christ.

Those who often stand outside of the Church and who are shaped by current secular influences are people who can be very moved by the plight of the homeless, the victims of drugs and violence, and the loneliness experienced by so many. While we may disagree with their perception, these people often perceive Catholics to be uncaring, cold, and judgmental. What often wins them over--or at least opens them to not dismissing us as irrelevant--is when we outdo everyone else in loving those who, as Pope Francis says, are on the peripheries.

If this were all a theory, I think it would be a waste of time. We need to see real life examples of this taking place. I want to point out one place where I think we can see this method of witnessing to the love of God and remaining completely faithful to the Church’s Magisterium evident.

Recently, the BU Catholic Center screened a short film entitled, “For Love Alone.” This film is produced by “The Council of Major Superiors of Religious Women,” an umbrella group of some amazing orders of religious sisters in the
United States. These orders--like the Missionaries of Charity, Little Sisters of the Poor, the Sisters of Life, the Daughters of St. Paul, and many others are completely faithful to the Magisterium of the Church AND are filled with such joy, goodness, and love. These sisters, in my opinion, are a perfect example of how fidelity to the Church and “the allure of love and goodness” are not mutually exclusive realities. Unfortunately, some people set up a false dichotomy which suggests that one cannot be doctrinally solid and be loving at the same time. The sisters highlighted in this film are an unstoppable powerhouse of truth and love.

These beautiful sisters--who live within the radiance of the Church can teach all of us how to live in such a way as to attract others to Christ. They are leading the way in living the joy of the Gospel.

In the gospel that I quoted earlier, St. Luke tells us that “the eyes of all looked intently upon him.” Pope Francis’ visit to the United States--much like the visits of John Paul II and Benedict XVI--drew the attention of the American People. The eyes of the nation looked intently upon him. In looking at Pope Francis, they were looking at the Church, and in looking at the Church, they were looking at the Body of Christ. They were looking intently at Christ.

All of us on the inside of the Church who bask in the radiant light and warmth of Jesus Christ, do so not because we are good, but because God is good. We find ourselves inside of the Church because God loves us--the sinner, the poor, the oppressed, the blind, and the captive. He loves us so much that He sent His Only Begotten Son on a pastoral visit--a visit that led us from slavery to freedom, from blindness to sight, from the outside of the house of God to the inside.

Pope Francis’ pastoral visit is a reminder to all of us who are privileged to live within the household of God that through the “allure of goodness and love,” we can draw others to experience the joy of the Gospel--the joy that comes from knowing and experiencing the supremely good news that God has visited his people and set them free.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Day in the Life of a Priest

Priesthood is a pretty good life, I'd say. Over the past few days, I've just had a lot of small experiences that make me really happy. 

On Sunday morning, our Men's Group gathered and one of the college students gave a talk on mental prayer. He spoke about reading St. Theresa of Avila and learning from her how to do Christian meditation. Afterwards, all of the college men who were gathered there prayed the Rosary together. 

Also on Sunday, I was asked many times throughout the day, "Padre, do you have time for a quick confession." Whether sitting in my office or standing outside of the interdenominational chapel before Mass, hearing that "quick confession" is always a joy.

On Sunday afternoon I met with a couple preparing for marriage and with someone who wants to be baptized.

In the afternoon on Sunday, our FOCUS Missionaries met with probably 20-30 students for a monthly formation meeting.

In the evening, I had supper with a Jesuit scholastic who does his pastoral pastoral formation with us at the BU Catholic Center. I am edified by his example and friendship.

On Monday night, after Mass and Holy Hour and Benediction, I went out for a bite to eat with our FOCUS Team and our intern, Joe. We were celebrating Joe's birthday. We live something good together.

And that brings us to Tuesday, today. Today Joe--our intern, Fran--our Office Manager, and I spent the first part of the morning just debriefing after our major fundraiser for the year. Then, our team had its daily Holy Hour together with Adoration, Morning Prayer, and Benediction. Then, I heard confessions and had Mass. After that, Joe, Fran, and Bobby--our former Intern and now seminarian--had lunch together. Again, I found myself thinking how blessed we are to live such a beautiful friendship together. When I find myself at table with these people, with students, or with our FOCUS Missionaries, I am always aware, "We love each other."

This evening, we had a full house for our weekly spaghetti dinner. I was really happy to see that several of our neighbors from the Hillel House next door joined us. It was great to have them there! 

After dinner, the BU Catholic Center screened a new short film entitled, "For Love Alone." This film, put out by a wonderful umbrella group of sisters--The Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious--was truly excellent. We were joined by numerous consecrated women religious who shared with us their experience of religious life. I think it is safe to say that everyone who attended was really grateful for the presence and vocation of these women. It was a great night!

In the midst of all of these varied "big" events were a thousand far more subtle moments: seeing two friends pray together, a conversation about prayer, a discussion about vocational discernment, a student returning from feeding the homeless, a lot of joyful exchanges, and a lot of friendship. (And the all important nap).

I know that none of the things I mentioned above sound all that momentous. But they are moments packed with a tremendous joy and with profound depth. Priesthood is lived in these moments. You live with a constant sense of awe and wonder that you have been drawn into a Mystery far beyond anything you could ever invent or achieve. You live your whole life caught up into something far beyond what you deserve.

After eighteen years of priesthood, I am still surprised by how beautiful a life it is. It's never boring or stale. It remains something constantly new and surprising. What we live together at the Catholic Center is for me an assurance that Christ continues to faithfully fulfill his promise that those who follow him will receive the hundredfold.