Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Slow, Silent Killer of Souls

There are certain sins that kind of shake us in our boots.  The second we commit them, we feel these sins in our very being.  Betray a trust, commit adultery, steal, unjustly destroy the reputation of another . . . sins such as these (and others too) are the spiritual equivalent of some traumatic medical event. When a person has a heart attack or is wounded by a bullet, they know that it is time to "Call 911."  Similarly, when a Catholic commits a grave sin, Catholic conscience kicks in and says, "This is an emergency. Repent immediately and get to confession."

Not all sin, however, presents itself in such a traumatic and forceful way.  Like certain medical conditions, there are spiritual maladies that do not present major feelings of distress. When we commit them, perhaps we do not feel all that different. We've all met people who, for instance, knew that there was something not right in their bodies, but who simply decided to ignore the symptoms.  Since the symptoms weren't killing them outright or causing enormous distress, they learned how to live with them.  Maybe deep down they knew that these symptoms were serious, but it was possible to continue on as though things were fine. 

Similarly, in the spiritual life, there is a silent killer. It is known as acedia or sloth. Unlike the sins that tend to shock us when we've committed them, acedia tends to lull us. When we commit sins of acedia, we might only be surprised by the fact that the result doesn't seem all that bad. A good example of this is failing to worship God on a Sunday. Perhaps a person has been attending Mass his or her whole life, but then decides to "skip" Mass on a particular Sunday.  Perhaps they feel a little bit of guilt over this, but they realize that no lightning bolt has been sent down from heaven. In fact, they remind themselves that, "I go to Mass more than most people and I am basically a good person."

Now, missing Mass on a Sunday without serious reason is already an objectively grave sin which destroys the life of grace in a soul.  The Church clearly teaches that failing to worship God on a Sunday is a grave matter. So, the person who commits this sin already is in a spiritually serious condition. But, acedia acts like a cancer.  It spreads. It begins to weaken a person's entire spiritual life, leading them to abandon his or her spiritual duties.  Prayer, Mass, Confession, all begin to be left aside.  In their place, the person throws himself or herself into one of two possible positions.

The first is to become sluggish and lazy. Sundays, for instance, are spent laying around watching television or surfing the Internet. Hour after hour of doing nothing. While the Sacrifice of the Mass is being offered in parishes, the soul suffering the sickness of acedia is morbidly doing nothing at all.  They know what they should be doing, but each time they ignore that truth, the more difficult it becomes for them to break free from the heavy chain of acedia; a chain whose other end attaches them to re-runs of "Law and Order" rather than to the Eucharist.

The second possible reaction is to become an activist.  It seems counter-intuitive to suggest that a symptom of acedia or spiritual laziness is to become an activist, but it is the reality. Increasingly distant from a relationship with God, the person throws himself or herself into a thousand other things. Aware that they are not keeping their primary obligation in life (to worship God), they come up with other important activities; signing their children up, for instance, for a thousand sports activities or filling their own time up with political advocacy, exercise, or even volunteer work.  None of these things are bad. In fact, they are all good things. But, no matter how good they are, they are not the best thing, nor are they any person's primary obligation.  For the person suffering from acedia, these activities merely mask a serious spiritual malady.

The more one yields to acedia, the more difficult it becomes to overcome it. They might feel some spiritual sadness, but they lose a sense of just how great their peril is. Other sins can shock a person and make them realize that they are in deep trouble. Acedia just draws the person into a spiritual hole from which the person feels incapable of escaping. Maybe they know that their soul is in serious spiritual jeopardy or perhaps they are not aware of it. After all, even though they don't go to Mass or pray, no lightning bolt has struck them down. They begin to think, "One of these days, I will straighten all of this out. There is plenty of time."

If you are a Catholic who is not going to Mass on Sundays (presuming you are capable of doing so), then your spiritual sickness is serious. Don't treat it lightly. The only way to overcome acedia is to act forcefully against it.  Shut the television off and pray. Set the alarm clock on Sunday and go to Mass. Get to confession. The only way acedia wins is by allowing it to win. The only way it is conquered is by fulfilling our duties, no matter how we feel at a particular moment.

As we approach the Solemnity of Christmas, let us not sit in darkness any longer.  Instead, let us go out to meet Him. Let us leave the lethargy of acedia behind and make our way to Bethlehem.  A Savior who is Christ and Lord awaits us.  

Three simple things to be freed from acedia:

1. Go to confession this week. No excuses. Just go.
2. Go to Mass on Christmas Day and be resolved never to miss Sunday Mass again.
3. Spend five minutes each day praying in front of a manger scene. Go to Bethlehem.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Fr. Ragheed Ganni and Nicolas

Dear Friends:

In 2007, Fr. Ragheed Ganni, a Chaldean Catholic priest was martyred in Mosul, Iraq. His heroic witness to the Catholic Faith and his extraordinary example of priestly fidelity remains a source of inspiration to me. Although I never met this priest, I often ask for his heavenly intercession and feel a bond with him. If you would like to learn more about Fr. Ragheed, there is a good summary Here

This morning, somebody sent me a message asking if I would pray for a little boy named Nicolas who is suffering tremendous pain as cancer spreads through his body. Seemingly, drug trials and other treatments have not been successful in stopping the spread of the disease.

Could I ask you to take a moment and pray for Nicolas? Ask that if it be God's holy Will, that the intercession of Fr. Ragheed Ganni might bring about the complete healing of Nicolas and that this miracle be for God's glory and be a confirmation of the heroic holiness of Fr. Ragheed. 

There is no official prayer for this, but this is the prayer I am going to pray:

Lord Jesus Christ, following your example, Fr. Ragheed Ganni laid down his life for the sheep entrusted to his care and in witness to the Catholic Faith. I humbly ask you, that through the intercession of Fr. Ragheed, Nicolas might be delivered from the ravages of this disease and be completely healed. May this miracle bring you Glory and be a sign of Fr. Ragheed's heroic holiness and powerful intercession before your throne. In all things, Lord Jesus, I trust completely in your Divine Will and Providence and have faith that however you answer this petition, you will bring about the greatest possible good. Amen.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Is He the One or Should I Look for Another?

On the Third Sunday of Advent, we hear that John the Baptist, who was imprisoned by Herod, sent his disciples to Jesus to ask, "Are you the One or should we look for another?"  The early Church Fathers say that John did this not for his own benefit, but for the benefit of his disciples.  

John must have intuited that things would not end well for him. Perhaps he was concerned about what would happen to his disciples as they watched him maltreated, humiliated, and eventually executed. They could easily become fearful or discouraged. John sends them to Jesus.  When they pose their question to Jesus, "Are you he One or should we look for another?" Jesus reminds them of all that they have seen and heard. In front of their very eyes, miracles have occurred. They have seen and heard miraculous things!

But it was not enough for Jesus to remind them of what they had seen and heard.  Being mindful of the works of God made manifest in our lives is an important part of the Christian life.  But it is not enough to sustain it.  Equally important is proclaiming those things to others.  "Go and tell John," Jesus commands these disciples.  "Go tell John what you've seen and heard. Go tell John what you've witnessed. Go tell John."  It was really not for John's benefit that the disciples went and reported all that they had seen and heard.  It was for their benefit.  Sharing the Good News is as much a part of being a disciple as is encountering the Good News. Believing is an important part of Christian life, but so too is confessing that Faith before others.

In the heart of every Christian is always a pause, a hesitation: "Is He the One or should I look for another?" In my life, Christ always answers that question by surrounding me with signs of his grace and power. In the lives of the parishioners, families, college students, seminarians, brother priests, and religious who surround me on a daily basis, Jesus says, "Go and tell what you have seen and what you have heard." In the lives and witnesses of these men and women, I am reminded that I do not need to look for another. He is indeed the One. And, these reminders compel me to bear witness to what I've seen and heard. In fact, for the most part, this blog has mostly been dedicated to just that: Sharing with others the great and miraculous things Christ is doing in the lives of those with whom I've had the privilege of living the Christian life.

Even when my heart does not pose the question, "Are you the One or should I look for another?" Jesus answers. For twenty years (almost) he has surrounded me with signs of his miraculous power. He surrounds me with His people, the people in whom His grace is at work in extraordinary ways. But, like the disciples of John, it is not enough for me just to see these things. I need to go tell someone about them.  This blog is one way of doing that.

Today, I spent the whole day in the presence of young men and women in whom Christ is doing great things. So, in case you were wondering, let me assure you: He is the One. You need not look for another.

Advent Patience: Is God Calling Me to Be a Priest?

Patience is definitely an Advent virtue.  Hold out a little while longer; the light is coming into the world! Where there is darkness, light will dawn. Where there is confusion, clarity will come. Where there is sorrow, joy. Advent beckons us--in the face of despair and discouragement--not to lose hope, but to remain firm. What is longed for, will arrive.  Patience.  Wait for the Lord. He is coming.

Fair enough. Advent encourages us to be patient.  But patience, especially when it comes to one's vocation in life, isn't sitting around, paralyzed by fear.  Advent also encourages us to hurry.  We are to set out for Bethlehem. We are to prepare our hearts so that when Jesus knocks, he finds us in joyful anticipation. Our patience is not just sitting around until something better or clearer arrives.  Our patience is not meant to be passive. It is active. Our patience is lived by hurrying to meet the Lord despite the darkness, uncertainties, and fears that envelop us. 

Sometimes when a man thinks that Jesus may be calling him to a priestly vocation, he goes into a position of, "Well, I will just sit here and if God really wants me to be a priest, then He will do something."  This is not Advent patience.  Advent patience moves towards God even as God moves towards us. Advent patience acts on graces that are given even though the end result of those graces is hidden from our eyes. Advent patience is lived by moving forward despite not having absolute clarity. 

During the Christmas Season, we will celebrate the great Feast of the Epiphany.  Yes, the Magi were given a sign; a star.  But, that sign on its own did nothing. These men would have gained nothing if all they had done was looked up and saw the star. They did not look up and say, "Huh, maybe that means something. Let's sit around and see what happens."  No, they followed. Despite all of the adversity that they encountered, they moved forward. They persevered. Signs are given to us so that we can follow.

If a young man has the inclination that Jesus may be calling him to the priesthood, that may well be a sign. If the Church encourages that man to enter seminary, then that is another sign. Signs are meant to be followed.  There is an overwhelming temptation at times to doubt the signs, to demand more signs, and to spend enormous amounts of time trying to discern whether this sign is good enough or not.  Advent patience, on the other hand, does not place someone in perpetual discernment paralysis.  Advent patience teaches us to move forward despite the lack of perfect clarity. 

If you have been given a sign that you potentially have a priestly vocation, I can confidently say that God did not give you this sign so that you can endlessly stare at the sign and wonder whether it is a sign or whether you should just sit around and wait for another sign.  He gave you that sign so that you can pack up your camel and follow. Things will become clearer when you actually move. The sign given to the Magi moved.  They followed it.  Light is meant to be followed. If the light is moving, sitting around is only going to leave you in darkness.

Between the beginning of a priestly call and an ordination, there is a long road to be travelled. The only way to know with certitude what the sign is leading one to is to begin following it. If in your heart, a light has arisen that makes you wonder whether God is calling you to a priestly vocation, yes, be patient.  Be patient, but hurry up and follow. The sign that God has given to leads someplace beautiful. It leads to Christ.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

St. Nicholas and the Pastoral Gift of Stability

Today I had lunch with a young man who, although baptized as a child, never grew up practicing the Catholic Faith, was never confirmed, and never received the Eucharist.  But somehow, by the grace of God, he now comes to Mass every Sunday and desires to be fully initiated into the Faith. It's fascinating that in the very same place that many others are abandoning their Faith, this young man is drawing closer. 

Among the things that struck me about our conversation was that what, in part, attracts this young man to the Catholic Faith is the Church's clarity in doctrine. In the midst of the passing and ever-changing world, there is something attractive about the stability that the Church offers. It is not one thing today and another thing tomorrow.  As we spoke, I was reminded of the common theme present in many of the liturgical prayers during the Advent Season.  Quite often, during the Season of Advent, the Prayer after Communion speaks in a variety of ways about "learning to judge wisely the the passing things of earth, so as to love the things that eternally endure." People are hungering for stability.

Stability is not staleness. Stability is not stunted growth. Stability is not a lack of freshness.  Stability is a condition for growth. When things are stable, they can sustain life. When a patient is in the hospital, we are happy to hear that he is stable. It means that the conditions are present which will enable him to return to full health. We prefer when the earth is stable rather than when the earth is quaking. A stable earth allows us to build cities and homes, to live our lives in tranquility, and to attend to deeper realities. When the earth quakes, cities are destroyed, lives are in turmoil, and we are only able to attend to the most basic realities (food, water, shelter).

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas lived during turbulent times. A terrible heresy had arisen in the life of the Church and was causing incredible disruption. Nicholas was willing to suffer for the Truth. Nicholas knew that the greatest gift he could deliver to the people entrusted to his pastoral care was the firmness of the Truth. Despite being in the minority and being held in contempt by many of his peers, Nicholas held firm. A good shepherd stands firm and defends the sheep from the wolves. 

The Gospel for today's Mass speaks about the Good Shepherd leaving the ninety-nine for the sake of the one lost sheep. Today, there is a temptation in the life of the Church to abandon the one for the sake of the ninety-nine. We can be lured away from the pastoral method of Christ who attended to the one, and instead become salesmen to the ninety-nine. But Christianity is always personal. It is always "heart speaking to heart." When people see the stability that Catholic life offers, they are drawn towards it. They recognize that the profound restlessness that they experience has an answer. People experience so much turbulence in their life, and in the Church they discover a place of peace. In the Sunday Mass, in Eucharistic adoration, in friendship, they experience those things that are not passing but rather endure.

As the Church considers how to evangelize and reach the people of today, we would do well to remember that people are starving for stability.  For many people, their marriages, families, jobs, finances, and homes lack stability. All around them, everything is in flux. There is something of enormous comfort for them to come to the same liturgy, gather with the same people, and hear the same doctrine week after week, year after year. This stability enables them to build something, to grow, and to bear fruit.  

On this Feast of St. Nicholas, we should pray that the Church might increasingly provide true pastoral care to its people by providing them with the stability that sound doctrine, right worship, and true communion provide. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Ten Reasons Not To Go To Confession and Ten Quick Replies

St. John Bosco Hearing Confessions
I am writing this especially to the community at Boston University because we have our Advent Confessions available tonight at Marsh Chapel from 7-8:30pm, but it also applies to everyone else as well.

Reasons why you should not come to confession tonight and my replies:

Reason One: I am really busy because it is the end of the semester.

Reply: Lame.

Reason Two: I've committed some really big sins.

Reply: That is why Jesus gives us the Sacrament of Confession. When we go to confession, God's mercy obliterates the power that these sins appear to exercise over us.  The alternative is to allow these sins to exercise mastery over us. When we go to confession, we experience freedom from the tyranny of these sins.

Reason Three: I'm embarrassed to confess my sins.

Reply: Committing sin is embarrassing. The embarrassment becomes a weapon that sin uses to keep us enslaved.  Confessing the sin is an act of strength and brings an amazing freedom.

Reason Four: The priest might think less of me.

Reply: I'm sorry to disappoint you, but your sins really are not that interesting. Besides, the most privileged thing in the world for a priest is to be entrusted with the ministry of absolving sins.

Reason Five: I really don't sin.

Reply: You definitely need to go to confession. I mean like right now.

Reason Six: I had a bad experience once when I went to confession.

Reply: I had a bad experience once when traveling. I still travel.

Reason Seven: I haven't been to confession in a long time.

Reply: Isn't that a reason to go to confession?

Reason Eight: I don't remember how to begin the confession and/or I don't remember the Act of Contrition.

Reply: I don't remember the Gettysburg Address or the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence, but I still vote.

Reason Nine: I feel confused, lost, or guilty.

Reply: God loves you. He wants to tell you so in the confessional.

Reason Ten: I am dead.

Reply: That's a good reason. When we die, then it is too late. Until then, we should go frequently.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Does the Election Make You Feel Empty? Good.

We spent two years preparing for an election. We've listened, read, discussed, and debated. But even if the candidate you supported won the election, there is still a sense of something missing, something unfulfilled. That is because no human being can answer infinite desires and hopes of the human heart. In comparison, the Church gives us just four weeks of Advent to prepare ourselves for the One who can and does answer the infinite desires and hopes of the human heart. When we elect a candidate, we do so hoping that he or she will somehow live up to their promise to make me happy or to make life better. We hope that he or she will not let us down too much or will provide some improvement for a few years. 

Advent, however, is not about hoping that the One whom we are waiting for will somehow be able to make me happy. Advent is rather a time to prepare my heart--to enlarge my heart--to receive One who far surpasses my hopes and desires. We've spent two years entirely focused on some human beings who will never be the answer to our heart's deepest longing. What if we spent the next four weeks enlarging our hearts through prayer, sacred reading, charity, and sacrifice so that our hearts were ready to receive the One who is MORE than what I hope for?

Do we know our political candidates better than we know Jesus Christ? Do we place more hope in our political candidates than we do in Jesus Christ? Do we prepare more for the arrival of a political candidate than we do for the Coming of Christ? Do we worship politics?

Advent is a gift to us. Let's spend it well. Let every heart prepare Him room.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Hacksaw Ridge: Losing and Saving

My Dad doesn't get to the movies very often.  Actually, the last film he saw in a movie theatre was "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" back in 1975!  I'm not quite that bad, but I can go a year or two without seeing a film at the theatre.  This past week, however, I went to see "Hacksaw Ridge," and boy am I glad that I did.  Although violent (as war tends to be), the film had a wholesomeness about it that left me feeling like I had spent a couple of hours with some exceptionally good and virtuous people. 

The true story of Desmond T. Doss is inspiring.  Doss enlisted in the Army during World War II, but did so as a conscientious objector.  He wanted to serve his country, but because of strongly held religious beliefs, he refused to bear arms, to use violence, or to take human life. Because of his principled stand, Doss was despised, mocked, and brutalized by his trainers and by his fellow soldiers.  They did everything possible to get him to betray his principles.  When that failed, they tried to force him to quit. When that failed, they courtmartialed him. Again and again, attempts were made to get Doss either to compromise his principles or to quit altogether.  He stood firm. Ultimately, he triumphed and was allowed to serve as a medic.  

When one watches the film you cannot help but feel for Doss. He is trying to do what he believes God wants him to do. He is not trying to hurt anybody. He wants to serve and to risk his life like all the other soldiers. The only thing he cannot do is to use violence. But everyone tries to coerce him. Everyone tries to persuade him to back away from his deeply held beliefs "even just a little bit." Or, they try to get him to leave the system. If he would just take his religious principles elsewhere but not try to live them in the Army, then that would be fine. Either his religious principles need to be forgotten or Doss needs to be forgotten.  But Doss doesn't yield. He stands firm. He stands firm graciously and politely, but he stands firm.

Standing firm in religious beliefs is not always easy. Standing firm on principle is not always easy. Sometimes people's reputations, livelihoods, and even their lives are put on the line. It can be made even more difficult when friends attempt to persuade the person to "give in just a little bit." We saw this, for example with the Little Sisters of the Poor and the government mandate requiring them to provide contraceptives and abortifacients to their employees. Even Catholics would say to the sisters, "It's not such a big deal. Just do it and then you can continue doing all the good work that you do." I imagine it must be most distressing when even your friends and comrades attempt to persuade you to give up your deeply held religious principles. I have to be honest, if somebody were shooting at me, I'd want to shoot back! I, however, deeply respect and honor another person being a conscientious objector to all forms of violence. I admire that person, especially when they are willing to suffer such drastic consequences for their beliefs.  It is in the finest of American traditions to respect the deeply held religious beliefs of others and to make every reasonable accommodation for them.

When someone is willing to lose prestige, power, their livelihood, their reputation, and even their life for some deeply held religious belief, we ought to stand up and take notice. If the person has something to gain by doing it, perhaps it makes us more suspicious. But, if the person has everything to lose by standing firm, it ought to merit our attention. It's easy to go along with the crowd. It's easy to go along to get along. Risking everything, however, is very difficult. And risking everything and remaining peaceful is even more difficult. But one thing that often seems characteristic of those who are willing to lay everything down is their equanimity. They are not beating the war drum. Instead, they are so confident about the rightness of their position that they become increasingly more peaceful.

(Spoiler Alert for the Movie) Desmond Doss single-handedly saved 75 men at Hacksaw Ridge. Even after everyone else had fallen back and returned to safety, he remained on the ridge looking for wounded. All night long, he found wounded soldiers, treated them, carried them to safety, and then lowered them off the ridge using a system of ropes and knots.  He was under constant enemy fire. He was ultimately awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Many men would eventually owe their very lives to the man they had previously accused of cowardice. The man who was willing to stand his ground for his religious beliefs was also willing to stand his ground for his comrades. The man who endured the assaults of his comrades became the man who withstood enemy fire to save his comrades.

It can be very tempting to demonize, mock, and punish those who hold firm in their religious beliefs, especially those beliefs that deviate from the popular culture (whatever that may be at a given moment). The life of Desmond Doss, however, ought to serve as a poignant reminder to all of us that the people who are willing to lose everything might just be the ones who will save us.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Real Crisis In America Is Not Political And Neither Is The Answer

On Tuesday nights at the BU Catholic Center we host a dinner for all of our students and then have some sort of formational talk and discussion on some Catholic topic. Topics range from Catholic Social Teaching, Mental Health Issues and how they relate to Faith, Marriage, Religious Life, etc.  Last night, because it was election night, we didn't want to avoid the election discussion, but we didn't want to get bogged down in the usual political quagmire. We wanted to propose something positive.

Since the Enlightenment, society and culture have become detached from their Christian roots.  This detachment leaves us unhinged and basically living a whimsical type of existence.  We bounce from one thing to the next, our morality is fluid, and nothing grounds us. When this happens, we become slaves of the ephemeral. Before long, we place all of our hope in a political figure; a political figure who himself (or herself) is detached from the roots of Christian culture.  If I could provide an image that might be helpful: It would be as though we were swept away in a riptide.  What we should really do to help ourselves is to find away to reattach ourselves to the land. If there were someone standing on shore with a rope and they threw it to us, then we should grab hold of that line.  Instead, we find ourselves in the riptide along with others.  One of the others has a rope and so we enthusiastically grab hold, but unfortunately, we are only attached to that person who is also being swept away.

Is it possible that politics has become increasingly divisive not because people have more deeply held beliefs, but because they no longer have any roots? We are like a drowning person flailing in the water, willing to grab hold of anything. The problem, however, is that what we are holding on to is also being swept away. And so, every two years or four years, we place all of our hope in some drowning candidate who is farther from shore than the previous candidate. Along the way, we might have moments of calm seas or moments of rough seas, but the reality is that we are all drifting further into the abyss.

That's the bad news.  So what can we do?  It's true that the people we elect do have an effect on society and that they have an important job. But, who we elect shouldn't define our whole life. What should define our whole life is who elected us: Jesus Christ. We were chosen by Him and the more we live our lives attached to Him, the more we have something positive to offer to the world and to the culture.  No political candidate, party, or system can save us because they too are drifting out to sea. We need to attach ourselves to the foundation of Christ.

One proposal in recent decades that has been made is called the "Benedict Option."  Without getting into too much detail here, it basically says that instead of investing so much of our time and energy and all of our hopes in the political realm with its ever changing landscape, we should focus on building small, intentional Catholic communities where we can grow in virtue and attach ourselves more firmly to Christ.  The idea is named after St. Benedict who, when the Roman Empire was collapsing, withdrew from it and founded monasteries where monks lived a Christian life together and became the people who preserved western culture.

The Benedict Option is not to say that we should give up on the world, to isolate ourselves in Catholic ghettos, or to stop bearing witness. But, what I think it proposes is that we need to stop thinking that a system that is totally detached from its Christian foundations is ever going to save us.  It is too whimsical and subject to radical change.  Instead, we focus on growing in Christian life.  The Benedict Option (and similar proposals) is about living a more intentional discipleship. It is not about escaping from the culture. It is, in my view, about influencing the culture by first living a Catholic life with others.

Rod Dreher, who coined the idea, proposes various aspects of this option.  Among them are living with the end in mind (the end being loving and serving God), seeing our work as sanctifying, having time for prayer and silence, being hospitable and open to others, having stability (i.e. keeping close to one another and following the same thing together), and being focused on living our community life in Christ and growing in virtue together. I think there is no one model for this. It is something that allows for creativity. It may be a parish in some instances or small Christian communities or one of the new movements in the Church.  It is in these small Catholic communities that we discover friendship, truth, beauty, and goodness, and it is where we learn to become virtuous.

From my experience, the BU Catholic Center is like this for many of us.  The students don't come here in order to hide from the "great big world out there."  They are involved in various clubs, sports, and activities. But, at the Catholic Center, they are anchored to Christ. They learn how to live in the culture as people who are different and free. They are not enslaved by a system that is drifting out to sea. Instead, they are able to immerse themselves in any environment because they are tethered to Christ. They are free.  

Some feel as though Western Civilization is already extinct. Others feel that it is still salvageable.  Either way, the situation is grim. One thing of which I am confident is that neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump are going to be the lifeboat that saves our culture. So much time, money, and energy has been spent on choosing between grasping onto one of two individuals--both of whom are caught up in the same riptide as the rest of the culture.  They are not going to save us. Maybe they will make things more or less bad, but they are not going to save us.  The answer may well be found in the Benedict Option (or in similar proposals). 

It's tempting to think that the empire can save us if only we get the right emperor, but the empire is being pulled into the abyss because it is detached from its roots. It is appealing to think that all we need to do is to get the right emperor and everything will be fixed.  But, the cure is not going to be found in a political election. The cure is found in reattaching the culture to the root of life, Jesus Christ.  In order to do this, we need to start with ourselves and, as one drifting soul after another sees us holding onto the lifeline from the shore, they too will grab hold.  When we are all holding on together to Christian culture, we can elect good leaders. But, we'll do so with the very calm realization that we are electing a leader, not a savior.  Because we don't elect a savior. He elects and chooses us and that is our foundation.

Friday, November 4, 2016

St. Charles Borromeo: A Humble Shepherd Close to His People

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Charles Borromeo, one of my favorites. I love St. Charles!  Known for his zeal, humility, untiring love for the poor and the ill, his pastoral wisdom, urgent renewal of the clergy, and for the formation of seminarians, Charles Borromeo is one of the great pastors of the Church's history. His example inspires those of us who are priests to continue to grow in our vocation.

In the face of the protestant reformation, St. Charles saw the need for the renewal of the clergy, for better catechesis, and for zealous pastoral care of the flock. Many dioceses suffered greatly because their bishops were not resident in their dioceses.  They were absentee shepherds. Charles saw how detrimental this was to the care of the flock.  This temptation is still one that afflicts priests and bishops.  While shepherds are ordained for the whole Church, their primary responsibility is the particular flock entrusted to their care. Quite often, however, bishops and priests can become disinterested in their particular flocks and become immersed in other things. St. Charles probably drove many in his diocese crazy because suddenly they had a bishop who was in residence. He was concerned with everything about his local church. He was involved in the formation of clergy, the catechesis being given in parishes, and the worthy celebration of the liturgy.  A resident bishop meant that corruption within the local church (which was rampant) was no longer ignored.

Despite being a zealous reformer, Charles was also noted for his extraordinary humility. It is no wonder that he is often held up as the model of a good bishop. His feast day provides all of us who share in the ministry of shepherds the opportunity to reflect on our own need for renewal, holiness, and pastoral zeal. While in Charles' day, bishops were often physically absent from their particular dioceses, today we run the risk of being physically present but detached, nonetheless. Pastors (bishops and priests) can be so immersed in extrinsic realities that we become disinterested in the souls entrusted to our care. Despite being called upon to engage in many other responsibilities, Charles never lost sight of the people for whom he had pastoral care. 

Charles reminds us that renewal in the Church is always first and foremost about holiness. It is about teaching solid doctrine, worshipping well, and growing in holiness and virtue. It is often a temptation to think that renewal in the Church is about reordering external realities. But St. Charles reminds us that it is about interior renewal. It is about reordering our lives to Christ. Renewal in the Church requires priests to become holy. Charles challenges us priests to grow in humility and in zeal.

Although Charles died at only 46 years of age, his record of activity is extraordinary. He served the Church zealously and became the model pastor. I'd say the one thing that he did that was most important was he stayed with his people. We live in an age when shepherds can leave their flocks untended, not only because of the ease of travel, but also because the media available to us enables us to become less engaged with the people entrusted to us and more engaged with the world wide web.  Pastors can become more and more remote from their people by creating layers and layers of bureaucracy between themselves and their people. Renewal, however, comes when shepherds know their sheep and are close to them.

St. Charles Borromeo was a great pastor because he could say with Christ, "I know my sheep and mine know me." 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

A Funeral Homily: Christ, Our Peace and Our Way Home

Today, I returned to my first parish assignment in order to offer the Funeral Mass of a 27 year old man. I don't think I've offered Mass in that church in seventeen years.  It was a profound experience to be back. I didn't preach from a text, but this is the general idea of the homily.

In the midst of so much sorrow and pain today, there is nonetheless a sense of fittingness in being here in this church.  The other day when Matthew's parents called me to tell me of Matthew's death, I was struck by a couple of things that they said; things that can help us to make our way through the maze of grief and suffering that today overwhelms us.

Firstly, they told me how grateful they were that Matthew was able to spend the last days of his illness at home.  Again and again, you have repeated how much it meant to you to have him home. This deep desire of yours to have your boy "home" really moved me. It was what a desire that was truly parental. You wanted him to spend his last days at home. I presume that you wanted him home because "home" is where he could feel safe, feel loved, feel comfortable.  This desire of yours is so beautiful. So profound. It speaks so profoundly of your fatherly and motherly love for Matthew. You wanted him home.

This desire of yours, however, is even deeper than that. Our presence here this morning at Mass is a recognition that your desire for Matthew to be home didn't end at the front door of your house. That desire brought you here. You recognize by Faith that Matthew's true home, as St. Paul reminds us, is in heaven. Just as you brought your son home from the hospital so that he could spend his last days on earth feeling comforted, safe, and loved, now you bring him to the threshold of eternity. You know that Matthew was made for to feel infinitely safe, infinitely, comforted, and infinitely loved.

You wanted Matthew to be home.  God the Father also desires Matthew to be home. For this purpose, he sent his Son to suffer and to die for us. Jesus said in the Gospel today, "You know where I am going."  Where was he going?  He was going to prepare a place for us in the Father's House.  And he says that he is the way to the Father.  By bringing Matthew here today, you do so with the serenity of Faith. You trust that Jesus who died and rose did so so that Matthew could go home to the Father's House.

The second thing you said to me that struck me is that Matthew was a peace maker, always bringing people together.  Often when I offer a Funeral Mass, I look to see what feast day the Church is celebrating, thinking that God might want to offer us some word of consolation from the liturgical feast.  Today, the day of Matthew's funeral, the Church celebrates the feast of St. Martin de Porres.  St. Martin was born in Peru and suffered greatly because he was of a mixed race. Eventually, Martin joined a religious order (and still suffered). But, he was known to be a great peacemaker.  In fact, when you see him depicted in art, often at his feet are images of a dog, a cat, and a mouse.  The reason for this is because they'd say that Martin was such a great peacemaker that he could even get the dog, cat, and mouse all to get along.  It is fitting then then we celebrate Matthew's funeral Mass on this Feast of St. Martin.

Of course, you know that true peace comes only from God. God desires all of us to experience the peace of his very life.  For all eternity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit dwell in a perfect communion, a perfect peace. Through sin, we were no longer at peace with God and with one another.  Through our own fault, we became God's enemies.  But God did not abandon us. He wanted to draw us into his Divine life, into his Divine peace. And so, he sent His Son to reconcile us to Himself, to reestablish peace between us. He did that on the Cross. 

On the day of Matthew's baptism, Matthew came to share in the Divine life. God reconciled Matthew to Himself. The peace of the Blessed Trinity came to dwell in Matthew. We are here today because God wants all of us to be reconciled to Himself. He wants all of us to share in his gift of peace.

It is indeed fitting for us all to be here this morning. Nothing I say can take away your sorrow, nor should it. It is right for us to mourn and to be sorrowful. But, as St. Paul reminds us, we mourn differently than the world mourns. We mourn with hope.  The world sees death as the end. The world sees this life as our only home.  For us, we know by faith that our home is to be with God. We know that we are made not for just a passing experience of peace, but for the perfect peace given to the blessed in heaven.

On a personal note, I wish to commend you. You not only provided your son the opportunity to experience peace in his own home during his last days on earth, but you bring him here today and you pray for him and entrust him confidently into the arms of Jesus. In praying for Matthew, you continue love him by bringing him to Christ who is our lasting peace and the way to the home of the Father. May the saints and angels welcome Matthew into the embrace of his heavenly home and may God grant him never ending peace.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Catholics and Lutherans: Cribbage, Friendship, and Communion

When I graduated from seminary college back in 1993, I had the opportunity to be commissioned in the US Navy Reserve as a Chaplain Candidate. For the next few years, I would spend summers doing reserve drilling. It was a great experience.

During my third summer, I was stationed in Newport, RI and attended Chaplain school. Every morning, after physical training, there would be a general Protestant service, Jewish prayers, and Catholic Mass. More often than not, the Lutherans in our group would opt to attend Catholic Mass rather than the general Protestant service. One of those Lutherans--a Missouri Synod Lutheran, to be precise--and I became pretty good friends.  We spent much of that summer hanging out, laughing a lot, and playing tons of cribbage.

That friendship and the experience of that summer is on my mind this week because there has been so much discussion about the upcoming 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. For me, my friendship with Ryan--whom I have not seen in 21 years--has shaped a lot of how I view ecumenism. I understand that there is a need for "formal" ecumenical relations and committees etc, but I found our friendship far more productive and real than a lot of the dialogue that goes on in official circles.

One of the things that I found compelling about Ryan is that he knew his stuff. He understood what a Lutheran is and acted in total fidelity to that vision. He didn't soft pedal his Lutheranism, try to make it more palatable to a Catholic, or become wishy-washy. I found this kind of honesty and integrity refreshing. My guess is that Missouri Synod Lutherans are probably looked down upon by some of the other Lutheran communities because they are kind of immovable on certain things. But, I liked this. I knew who I was dealing with. For Ryan, words, ideas, principles, and theological statements actually meant something. We couldn't just skip over words that made life difficult in solving the divisions that exist.  Words mean something.

When Ryan came to Mass with us Catholics, communion time wasn't awkward. It wasn't awkward because for Ryan and for us, words mean something. We shared some level of communion together, but we were not in full communion with each other. In fact, if someone had told Ryan to come to communion, he probably would have been horrified. He wouldn't want to receive communion unless we were all actually and really in communion. And Ryan would have zero issue telling a Catholic that if he or she came to his service, that they should not receive communion. Is it a punishment that prevents us from intercommunion or misunderstanding? No. It is a real difference.

When communion time came at Mass each morning, I didn't feel awkward in the least. I did feel sorrowful. I was sorrowful because there was a separation. That separation is real. By not receiving communion, Ryan was a visible reminder of the painful and real division that exists.  And yet, by faithfully attending Mass each day, he was also a visible reminder of the real, albeit partial union that does exist.

Over the years, I've watched from a distance as Ryan and his wife have raised a family and as he has been promoted up the ranks of the Navy. I've no doubt that the Sailors and Marines to whom he has ministered are truly blessed. He is a faithful and great chaplain. His friendship remains a reminder to me of the painful division that exists among Christians and how we should work and pray to heal those divisions. But, his friendship is also a reminder that the only way for those divisions to be truly healed is through true friendship and through sincere fidelity to the truth. What I liked about Ryan coming to Mass and praying was that he gave an example of how much unity exists.  But, by not coming to communion, he also showed how much unity is missing. It was truthful. I learned a lot from that experience.

Much of our friendship that summer took shape while playing cribbage. Who won the most hands, I am afraid, is lost to the fog of history. I am positive, however, that neither of us would ever have "let the other guy win" because that would have been false, and friendship is built upon truth. I long for the day that Ryan and I can share at the one Eucharistic table, but that day is not now. To do so now would be false. And true friendships--true communion--is built upon truth. And this kind of truth--one that is admittedly painful--is so much better than a falsehood that is easy and cheap. 

One of these days, Ryan and I will meet up again and I will beat him in cribbage, and that will be our contribution to ecumenism. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Reclaiming the Beauty of the Catholic Funeral

Today the Holy See released a new document concerning the dignity and reverence that ought to be shown towards the bodies of the deceased. In some ways, it seems shocking that the Church should have to put some of the things found in the document into writing.  For instance, it reminds us that if, for legitimate reasons cremation is chosen, it is not permissible to scatter the deceased's ashes, divide them up among family members, keep them in a private home, or place them in pieces of jewelry.  The document reminds me of the warning labels that sometimes appear on various products.  "Warning: Do not drink the bleach in this container."  It strikes me as somewhat sad that the Church needs to remind us that we shouldn't divide Nana up into lockets to be distributed as parting favors to those who attend the "Celebration of her life." But, that is where we are.

Funerals have taken a bad turn for the worse in recent years. I remember watching on television scenes from the funeral of a tragedy that occurred several years ago. The Catholic funeral was the setting, but it wasn't the main show.  The main show was the endless amount of speakers (none of whom had much to say) who occupied way more time than the actual Mass did. Interspersed among the speeches by various politicians and public officials was something akin to a variety show.  Different persons and groups performed various songs.  It was pretty difficult to remember in the midst of all of this that the Funeral Mass was actually about God. Funerals often devolve into being opportunities for someone to have their moment to give the eulogy.  I cannot tell you how many people over the years have begun their eulogy by saying, "The job of giving the eulogy fell to me.  I really didn't want to do it, but somebody had to." I always want to say, "No!  You really don't need to!"  While I have indeed listened to some--some--very well written "words of remembrance," the disasters far outweigh the good ones. I've had people use the eulogy (I know, we say that they aren't eulogies, but that's what they almost always are) to attack family members. I've had people use profanity, deny the existence of God, and reveal the faults of the deceased. In one memorable instance, I recall the eulogist revealing how he and the deceased used to visit a brothel together.  Safe to say, the widow was duly mortified.

Music . . . it's become "These are our five favorite songs."  Whether they have anything to do with the mystery of Christian life, death, and resurrection are not really a concern.  "We just like these songs." Funeral homes often provide a list of the "top ten" songs. Then the family selects them. They are often bad songs or trite.  At a funeral, we have the opportunity to be solemn, reverent, and to provide something so much better than cheap entertainment. We have the opportunity to preach--by the way we worship--that life actually has profound meaning, that death is not the end, and that our prayers are effective. Instead, we settle and promote entertainment.  

The Catholic liturgy is solemn, simple, and sublime. It's true that it takes a little bit of effort to submit ourselves to its beauty and its transcendence.  It can be tempting to flee from such awesomeness and mystery and throw ourselves into balloons, talent shows, and bad poetry. One that always makes me cringe begins, "Do not stand at my grave and cry, I am not there. I did not die."  Sorry, yes you did. That's why we are all at your funeral today. 

Maybe we are working backwards, but the Church's reiteration of its teaching on the proper manner of burying the dead might be a good start to reclaiming the magnificence of the Funeral Liturgy. There is nothing quite so serious as Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. The Catholic Liturgy is able quite beautifully to address the Last Things by its sober, simple, and sublime worship. It reminds us that the deceased's life and death are incorporated into the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. 

Shortly after Pope John Paul II died, I had a funeral where the only mourner in our huge church was the funeral director. I chanted all of the prayers and the cantor chanted all of the propers. I remember thinking, "Doesn't matter if you are the pope or a man whose family and friends have all predeceased him. We all get the same funeral." Convincing people that the Funeral Liturgy doesn't need to be a talent show or a concert of their five favorite songs is not easy. But, we really do need to start turning the tide. Perhaps today's document is a step in the right direction. The body deserves reverence. So do the funeral rites.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

No Feast Day for Judas

Of everything that I learned in eight years of seminary, the most helpful piece of advice was this: "Always give the penitent something to love." In other words, instead of keeping the penitent's eyes fixed on the sin to be avoided, give him or her something to love. I have found this advice invaluable in the ministry of the confessional.  While the attention of the penitent is often fixated on the sin or the vice, the good confessor can turn the eyes of the penitent towards what is good, true, and beautiful. There are so many good things to be loved! The fact that the penitent is there at all is a sign of God's grace at work. Whatever sin has been committed, there is a virtue to be loved that can overcome that particular vice. There is also the fact that the Good Shepherd has been seeking out this lost sheep and desiring to bring him back to the fold. Without ever dismissing the seriousness of sin or its consequences, the confessor can direct the gaze of the penitent away from the sin and onto the true, the good, and the beautiful.

This pointing to the presence of the true, good, and beautiful is present also in the Church's liturgy. Almost daily, the Church directs our attention to the example of the saints and martyrs. In doing so, the Liturgy places before us something encouraging: Holiness is possible. In the lives of the saints, we see men and women who followed Christ and radiated the beauty and goodness of the Christian life. There is, however, no feast day for Judas.  Of course, we would not honor Judas with a feast day, but it's interesting, I think, that we don't have a day in the liturgical life of the Church that commemorates or directs our attention to examples of failure in the Christian life. Sure, we acknowledge our sins at every Mass, and on Ash Wednesday, penitential days, and penitential seasons we sorrowfully acknowledge our sinfulness and seek pardon. But, we don't have a day set aside to ponder and dwell upon the betrayal of Judas. Judas' betrayal is placed before us during Holy Week and is offered to us for our consideration. But, it becomes so small and petty. It is seen for what it is. In the face of Christ's magnificent love, Judas' betrayal becomes even sadder because of its pettiness. When we look upon Christ, the Eucharist, the Cross, the Resurrection, the Ascension, the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and the Acts of the Apostles, it is difficult to spend much time on poor, petty, Judas.

I mention all of this because there is a perpetual temptation to spend too much of our time focussing our eyes (and the eyes of others) on bad examples and upon the presence of sin and evil. Are there bad priests, bishops, religious, and lay people? Yes! When a Catholic politician supports abortion, should he be corrected? Yes! When a priest or a bishop undermines the true doctrine of the Church--either directly or by subterfuge--should he be corrected? Yes! But, spending all of our time pointing out everything that is wrong in the life of the Church isn't going to build the Church up.  Are there priests who probably are unkind, greedy, or who preach falsely? Yes!  But, why spend too much time talking about them? Doing so directs people's attention away from Christ. Instead, we ought to follow the example of the Liturgy and direct people's attention to what is good, true, and beautiful.

All around us, Jesus is doing beautiful things in the lives of his disciples. There are tremendous conversion stories, stories of great generosity, stories of great mercy, stories of men and women striving for holiness, living devoutly, chastely, mercifully, and humbly. There are people living the beatitudes. There are great priests and bishops who are teaching and shepherding after the heart of Christ. There are great Catholic families in our parishes. There are great Catholic young men and women on our college campuses. There are Catholic politicians who are willing to sacrifice their political careers in order to be more dedicated to Christ than to their political party. 

A good confessor is not going to dismiss or make light of the reality of sin. But, neither will he keep the penitent's eyes fixed upon the sin. A good confessor points towards the good, true, and beautiful.  Similarly, as a Church, we should not ignore the presence of sin and evil, but we should not dwell upon it. Are there glaring failures among the bishops, priests, and laity of the Church? Of course there are! There always has been. It's fine to acknowledge that, but we are not called to direct people's gaze onto them. What helps people to grow in holiness is to give them something to love, something beautiful to contemplate. And in the Catholic Church, there is plenty to love and plenty of beauty to contemplate.  Judas existed, but he has no feast day. Let's keep it that way.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Catholics For Child Trafficking?

Dear Child,

I do not know your name because you are mostly anonymous. For all I know, over the years you have had many names. Although I do not know you personally, I feel as though I have had some hand in your unfortunate life and want to write to you so that you understand where I was coming from. I am basically a good person. I go to church frequently, give to charities, and recycle. I have provided a good life for my children, sent them to good schools, and have always encouraged them to treat others with respect. 

Some years ago, a political candidate ran for office. His positions on many issues were in sync with what I personally believe. He was against the death penalty, pro-environment, in favor of healthcare for everyone, had excellent economic plans, and wanted to strengthen the security net for those living in poverty. While I did not agree with all of his proposals, I liked almost all of them. One thing I was opposed to was his position on child trafficking.  

His position was that a mother should be able to decide for herself whether her child should be sold as a slave. He said that while he personally thought that doing such a thing was unfortunate, and that in an ideal world nobody should sell their own child to be used like that, we just don't live in an ideal world. Sometimes people are confronted with very difficult choices. There are many reasons, he said, why somebody might choose to sell their own child into an unfortunate life like that. Perhaps the woman might have other children and could use the extra income gained from selling one child to help her other children have a better life. No matter what the reason, whether or not to sell a child into slavery is a very personal decision and, in the opinion of this candidate, the government should not interfere. He was personally opposed to selling children into slavery, but felt that this decision must be left to a woman to decide for herself. It was, after all, her child.

I want you to understand that I am totally opposed to selling children into slavery. But, I hope you understand that I could not be so small-minded as to vote just on one issue alone. I had to think about the bigger picture.  Yes, some children would be sold into a terrible life. I understand that. But, if this candidate were elected, he would provide a much better life for so many other children. These children would enjoy clean air, better healthcare, better and safer schools, and higher wages. When voting, I had to take into account the big picture and not focus on just one issue.

Now, I understand that you would never enjoy those schools, receive any wages, or have much of a life at all. Honestly, the life you have probably lived has been so horrible, that I try not to think about it. It's just too painful to think about it. I know that some people will say that by voting for that candidate, I share some responsibility for your horrible existence. But, I think they are being very narrow-minded.  I think you have to take everything into consideration and not just focus on one issue

I am proud to have supported that candidate. We have accomplished so much for our country. The quality of life for millions of people has improved dramatically. It honestly infuriates me when people continuously drag up the whole child trafficking issue as though that was the only issue! Am I in favor of child trafficking? No, of course not. I simply voted for someone who favored it, promoted it, and made it easier to do. I am still a good person. I go to Mass almost every Sunday, give more to charity than most people, and do a lot of volunteer work.

I truly am very sorry that your life has been so hard, but please know that I am a very good person.


A Very Good Person 

(And, by the way, if you refuse to vote for a candidate who supports something evil, that doesn't mean you have to vote for that candidate's opponent. And, nothing requires a person to vote for either major party candidates). 

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Church and the Lost Art of Belonging

Students Apple Picking Together
This past Sunday morning, a group of college men gathered for breakfast at the BU Catholic Center and began our semester long discussion based on the HBO series, "Band of Brothers." The basic idea for the semester is to watch segments of a great series and to draw lessons from it to help us in our own Catholic life.  One thing immediately strikes me about that series.  While the men who fought in the Second World War certainly had noble ideals, what probably inspired such heroic acts from them were not the result of the politics of the day or the inspirational speeches of their leaders. What gave them the courage to fight and to risk their lives was their love for their fellow soldiers.

Since arriving at the Newman Center at Boston University a few years ago, I've been consistently impressed by the Catholic formation of our students. Devotion to the Sacraments, a prayerful spirit, hunger for understanding the Faith, and a zeal to share that Faith with others are all part of our life together.  But recently, something else has struck me as being one of the most important aspects of our community.

We live at at time when we are relentlessly bombarded by images, tweets, posts, updates, and are virtually connected to everything and everyone. Although our virtual connections seem limitless, our real connections are disappearing. We all know what Donald Trump said ten years ago on a bus, but we don't know the person next to us. We know every off the cuff comment that the pope makes, but we don't know about the lives of the people sitting next to us at Mass. We know what Hollywood stars are having marital difficulties, what factions are fighting in the Vatican, and every "breaking news" story all over the world.  We are "connected" to things far away, but we are increasingly disconnected from the reality right in front of us.

At the Catholic Center, students learn how to live friendship. Once a week, we have a pasta dinner where scores of students enjoy a
meal together. During the nice weather, we set up tables on the sidewalk in front of our building. It is a great sight seeing dozens of college students eating and engaging in long, joyful conversations together.  They meet in small group bible studies, a weekly women's group, and a men's group. They feed the homeless together, go on mission trips together, and worship together. They meet up to play sports together, go to the movies together, hang out, and have coffee together and today, about forty of them went apple picking together.

It seems that increasingly people don't have a sense of belonging. For most of history, people learned how to belong by being part of small communities.  People belonged to their families, their parishes, and their towns. People's experience of "the Church" was usually related to their local parish, and their experience of government was mostly local. Today, instant news and communication gives us the illusion of being connected, but it doesn't teach us the art of belonging. Nothing is required of us. We hit "like" or "share," or we watch a clip of a news story, but then we move on. The sense of belonging is slipping away from us. The Church, the government, and now even our friends are more like entertainment (and not always even good entertainment) that we tune into when we feel like it rather than communities to which we truly belong. 

Belonging requires commitment and work. It requires feeling an obligation to the others. It involves doing things together, spending time together, and true communication. It means working together and relaxing together. It involves serious conversations and not merely banter or complaining. Belonging builds up the individual and, in turn, builds up the community. Today, even those in the Church are losing that sense of belonging. Too much focus on ecclesiastical politics turns the Church into another distant news category that people can tune in and out of as they see fit. Instead, we have the opportunity to provide something that is desperately missing from people's lives. We have the opportunity to provide a way for people to belong, and there is nothing better than belonging to the Body of Christ.

At a moment in time when the world is more virtually connected than ever, people are starving for real connections. So many people feel alone and isolated. They hunger to belong. One of the things that has so impressed me about the men and women at the BU Catholic Center is that they help one another to belong to our community. They belong well together and they welcome others into this belonging. I'm more committed than ever to my conviction that the way to build up the Church is to live a friendship together. If we want to build up the Church, we cannot underestimate the importance of particularity. People are hungering not for "community" in some vague way. They need a particular community. They need particular faces to whom they belong, people who love and care for them, who visit them when they are ill, who know them, and live life with them. People who have ever shared this joyful and grace-filled experience of living the friendship of the Church together would look around and gratefully say, "We belong together."

Friday, October 7, 2016

Man the Lifeboats, Pray the Rosary

Each year on October 7th, the Church celebrates the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.  The Feast was instituted by Pope Pius V as an act of thanksgiving to the Blessed Virgin Mary for the Christian victory over the Turks in the great naval battle of Lepanto. On this day in 1571, Christian Civilization was saved from utter destruction when the Turkish fleet was decimated. Pope Pius V credited this amazing victory to our the Blessed Virgin Mary who had been invoked through the recitation of the Holy Rosary both by sailors aboard their ships and by the entire Christian population of Italy.  Had things turned out differently, the invasion of Italy by the Turks would have been a most likely outcome. With that invasion, Rome could have fallen and Islam could have spread violently across all of Europe.

Originally, the feast was dedicated to "Our Lady of Victory."  It was later changed to "Our Lady of the Rosary." I am kind of partial to the "Our Lady of Victory" title. So many things in life seem impossible and dangerous. I like knowing that we have in our possession a secret weapon that assures victory. Although many things have been written about the Rosary (e.g., how to say it, how to mediate upon the mysteries, what are its promises etc), what continues to amaze me is simply this: It works! The Rosary brings victory. Struggling with some temptation? Pray the Rosary. Have a difficult  family situation? Pray the Rosary. Desire the conversion of sinners? Pray the Rosary. Want to transform the world? Pray the Rosary.

The defeat of the Turks at Lepanto saved Western Civilization.  We live at a moment in time when Western Civilization is quickly disappearing. What the Turks were unable to do with their ships and weapons, we ourselves have done by voluntarily surrendering our Christian heritage. We live, it seems, at a moment in time when one age begins its sorrowful and rapid decline and when nothing noble stands ready to take its place. It is like a ship at sea, taking on water and quickly slipping beneath the waves. The passengers have manned the lifeboats and are now floating in the darkness left to wonder what will happen next? Are there rescue ships steaming towards us? Will the dawn reveal to us a horizon of welcoming coastlands or, having scuttled the great ship of Christendom, will we be left to float aimlessly and precariously, tossed about by every wind and wave?

In moments of great import and danger, it has always been the Catholic inclination to turn to the Holy Rosary. Lifeboats are a good place to pray the Rosary. Eventually, as we drift in the darkness and see the remnants of a great culture disappear from sight; as we realize that the civilization we worked so hard to destroy was what protected us from the pirates and sharks who now surround us; when we realize that we sunk ourselves and that the vaporous speeches of our captains will not save us; then from one of the lifeboats a small voice will begin and will travel from boat to boat. These lifeboats will become the beginning of a new armada, an armada whose victory is certain for their battle cry shall be: Hail Mary, Full of Grace.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Boston University Catholic Center: How Is This Possible?

Dear Friends in Christ,
Each year, the Catholic Center holds its annual Phonathon Fundraiser when we write and call to many of our alumni, families, friends, and benefactors.  Tomorrow morning the initial letter will go out.  This year, I aimed for brevity and directness.  Please                    consider supporting us if you are able.

                                                                                                                      October 4, 2016

Dear Friend of the BU Catholic Center:

A few days ago, we at the BU Catholic Center finished our Fall Undergrad Retreat entitled “Who Are You?”. The priest who spoke at the retreat sat next to me during the student witnesses with a look of amazement on his face. It was that look of, “How is this even possible?”. When I thanked the priests who helped with confessions, they all told me how privileged they felt to be involved with such an amazing group of faithful young people. They too had that same joyful amazement on their faces: “How is this even possible?”.

The genuine, beautiful faith of the students in the BU Catholic community is only possible because of Jesus Christ and His Loving Goodness. Yet the community would also not exist without people like you who generously support us. This year the Catholic Center has experienced significant setbacks in funding. To our disappointment, the Student Allocations Board for the University denied us any funding, and thousands of dollars upon which we had depended are now gone. The success of our 2016 Phonathon fundraiser is imperative.

Allow me to provide just one example of how dependent we are on your generosity.  The total cost of our Fall retreat per student is roughly $250. Since no student can afford such a price, we ask them to pay $80 and the Catholic Center subsidizes the rest. (There are always students who cannot afford even the $80. We turn no one away.) The Catholic Center yearly budget is approximately $207,000. That includes the salaries for a part-time Office Manager, a part-time music director, and a full-time chaplain.  It also includes all programming, weekly pasta dinners, utilities, building upkeep, supplies, administration costs, and two undergrad retreats that cost approximately $20,000 in total. That’s a lot for $207,000! At the same time, however, we run a $60,000 loss each year. Such a loss is not sustainable over the long term, and to continue our ministry we will either need to increase contributions or cut programming significantly. 

I hope this snapshot of our finances helps you to understand our situation and inspires you to give generously to this amazing place. Our Phonathon will take place from October 22-25th. It is our major fundraiser and we depend upon its success. If you would like to avoid a phone call(!) please consider donating now and we will not call you during those days. You can mail your donation or give online through ParishPay or Paypal by going to this link:
Alumni can also donate through the BU Development Fund. Simply tell them that you want your donation to be directed to Account Number 9300000342. This method of donating also allows for Matching Gifts!  
We thank you for your generous support! When people see what happens at the Catholic Center, they immediately wonder: “How is this even possible?”. The answer is obvious: Because of Christ and because of you.

In Christ,

Fr. David Barnes