Thursday, April 28, 2016

What's A Ten Letter Word For Growing the Church?

It happens the same way all the time. It mightn't seem like much in the beginning. Maybe a meal or some friendly banter. Maybe some Frisbee or a beer. Maybe it's a cup of coffee or a Holy Hour.  This year at the BU Catholic Center, somehow it became the Crossword Puzzle.  At first, it began with two or three of us doing the Wall Street Journal Crossword together.  Nothing official. Not a program. Just a friendly distraction.  Gradually, one copy of the puzzle wasn't enough. Two copies were made.  People looking over shoulders, shouting out answers. People agonizing over an "eight letter word that is blank, blank, L, O, blank, blank, S" or whatever. Each person contributing some particular area of knowledge. Everyone participates in some way, even if some people participate only by mocking those of us who are totally invested in the puzzle. Is it a waste of time? Couldn't we be doing something more productive?  

I'm sure that there are any number of ways to build up a Catholic Community. I don't mean to disparage any of them. I only want to speak from my experience. For me, what seems to work best is friendship. It's slow. It's deliberate. It isn't plotted, planned, or orchestrated. It's human. And, when it is lived within the context of the Church, it is far superior to any natural friendship. Throughout the Easter Season, the Church has been reading through the Acts of the Apostles.  It is clear that the early Church was a friendship whereby the community of disciples was of one mind and one heart. They were living something new together, something transformative, and something supernatural. They were experiencing the love of God in and through the communion of the Church.

What happened in the early Church continues to be present in the life of the Church. I experience it at the BU Catholic Center on a daily basis.  How does it happen? Is it complicated? Is it the result of a strategic plan? Is it the result of a manual?  No. Certainly plans and programs can flow from it. But, plans and programs cannot start it.  It begins in friendship, is sustained in friendship, and grows through friendship.  What do I see on a daily basis?

People meet each other for meals. People meet on a weekly basis in discipleship to help each other grow in their following of Christ and in their evangelization efforts. People attend bible studies together and go to the movies together. We pray Holy Hours, the Liturgy of the Hours, and the Rosary together. People encourage one another to receive the Sacraments frequently and pray together. People come to spiritual direction. People do Crossword Puzzles together, penances together, serve the homeless together, reach out to other students on campus, play sports together, and encourage one another.  Our life together is marked by a lot of laughter and by a profound recognition that Christ is in our midst and doing something tremendous among us. When a Catholic community becomes a place of profound charity and friendship, it necessarily longs to invite others to share in its joy.

I've got to admit, it is a bit maddening because it's not something you can package and sell as a program to other parishes. It's not something we create. It's something that is totally dependent upon Christ and the Holy Spirit. It depends on our willingness to cooperate and to love one another. It depends upon our placing our human capacities into the hands of Christ and allowing him to transform them by his grace.  It requires that we follow. When it happens, you know it. You know it because you feel as though you are living inside the Acts of the Apostles. You experience communion, charity, concern for the poor, a rich prayer life, growth in virtue, increased devotion to the Eucharist, devotion to the Sacrament of Penance, evangelization, joy, and peace.

What's a ten letter word for growing the Church? Friendship.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Making Disciples the Old Fashioned Way: Truth and Love

(From Left to Right--Tim, Sarah, Joe, Wesley, and Courtney.  Joe is our intern and the other are our FOCUS Team)
This week, I had an experience that brought with it a heaviness and a sadness. It's one of those instances where I should have known better, but I allowed myself to get sucked into a conversation that would only suck the life out of me. It was one of those conversations that reduces Christianity to slogans, ideologies, and to abstractions.  Immediately after I allowed myself to be part of it, I knew that by the end of it, I wouldn't feel like more of a human being, but less of one.

Today, in the Acts of the Apostles, we hear how Paul and Barnabas made a considerable number of disciples, strengthened the spirits of the disciples, and then reported to others all of the good things that God was doing.  The reading reminded me of something that I already knew, but somehow am in constant need of reminding: Only the Truth has Grace.  On the Feast of the Epiphany, we are told that the Magi, having been warned in a dream, not to return to Herod, went home by a different route. I was very struck one time when I read a commentary on that passage.  The writer basically said that sometimes we think that we are compelled to go back to Herod and to try to convince him.  But, sometimes, the answer is to go home by a different road.  Sometimes, I want to debate those who may have a skewed understanding of the Catholic life in order to beat them in the debate.  But, more often than not, I have discovered that it is better just to go home by a different route.  Why? Because only the truth has grace.  Falsehoods aren't going anywhere. They don't build anything. Only the Truth has Grace. It is better to encourage, build, and proclaim rather than to keep going back and debating what has been tried and found wanting forever.

So, I want to share with you some beautiful things that I witnessed this week. These various encounters built me up and showed me that God is doing great things.  I am not going to comment extensively upon them. I will just share the highlights.

Last Saturday, I went to a local shrine for Confession. As I neared the shrine, I noticed a student from Boston University, ahead of me. He stopped, opened his wallet, and gave a homeless woman some money. A few moments later, we sat in the line for confessions together. (Later in the week, I bumped into another student as he made his way to confession, and during this week, I had the privilege to hear the confessions of many students).

On my way home from Confession, I bumped into a young woman from Boston University (remember, this is early on a Saturday morning), who was on her way to volunteer at a pregnancy crisis center to help woman choose life.

One of the great privileges of being a priest is walking with people who are struggling in their life. In the lives of these people, I see so clearly that only the Truth has Grace.  These young people are filled with a tremendous sincerity and humility. They are not looking for a priest who will find loopholes for them. They yearn for the Truth and they yearn to live in the Truth. Perhaps one of my greatest joys as a priest is the joy of walking with someone who is struggling. I am so profoundly impressed by the humility, sincerity, and honesty that is present in people. It is almost impossible to express how joyful a thing it is to me to live in the midst of a tension that the world finds incomprehensible. Namely, there are people who come to me, because they want the Truth AND because they want to be loved. There is no dichotomy between the Truth and Love.  This week, I was blessed so many times to be a servant of Christ's Truth and His Love. It is so amazingly beautiful to be entrusted with the care of souls. It is a tremendous privilege to be trusted with the weaknesses and struggles of others and to live a friendship with these very same persons.  Pure joy.

Joe Ferme (pictured above) graduated from BU last year with a major in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.  Happily, instead of going off to work this year, Joe agreed (after some pressure) to give a year of service to the BU Catholic Center as our intern.  The word "intern" is misleading.  At the BU Catholic Center, the intern works non-stop to keep our programming and events on track. Like our FOCUS Missionaries, Joe has to fundraise his own salary.  So yeah, in order to survive for a year and to give himself in service to others, he has to raise his own salary. Joe--like the two interns before him--will be entering seminary in September.

Over the past few years, while I have been at BU, I have worked with missionaries from FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students). There are four missionaries each year assigned to BU. They are young men and women wh
o, after graduating college, wish to serve on college campuses, helping others students to become more involved with the Church.  Two of our missionaries will be leaving at the end of this year (despite me begging them to stay).  Wesley Woods has been with us for three years and Sarah Spencer for two.  This evening, we watched a video presentation honoring Wesley and Sarah. It was basically short video testimonies from dozens of students telling Wes and Sarah how they changed their lives.  If there were two words that were used repeatedly to describe each of them, they would most definitely be "joy and love."  Wes and Sarah are models of what a missionary is.  One student after another said, "Thank you for being so joyful and for loving me." No words that I write could convey the joy and love that Wes and Sarah have brought to so many. 

It has been an incredible joy to watch these two missionaries bring Christ's love to so many people on BU's campus. There are times in life when we know that we have witnessed something special, something that belongs to God. Anybody who has watched Wes and Sarah during these past few years knows that the Holy Spirit was doing something powerful.  Some people can talk about religion and church. Wesley and Sarah made people experience the nearness of God and the love of God. Wherever they were, there was joy.  While Sarah and Wes will be leaving us, their teammates, Tim and Courtney will be remaining and will be joined by two new teammates. We look forward to the Holy Spirt continuing to work in and through them.

What we read today in the Acts of the Apostles is not something relegated to the distant past. God is still doing something. He is making disciples through the work of evangelization and friendship. He is encouraging us through the example of others. He is building up the Church and spreading the Gospel.   All of what I just mentioned happened in the course of one week.  Those are just some of the great things that have happened. There are too many beautiful and Christ driven things going on every day in the life of the Church to get too caught up in boring nonsense.  The Magi met Christ and went home a different way. They didn't go back to fight the same old battles. Only the Truth has Grace. This week, I am grateful that through the example of so many young people, I encountered Truth and that Truth most definitely has Grace.

I hope that your own faith is strengthened and renewed by hearing about some of these great people. The Acts of the Apostles is 28 Chapters long. We are Chapter 29.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Between the Altar, the Green Monster, and a Brick Wall: The Catholic Life

This morning, I arrived at work and spent some time catching up with Fran--our superhero office manager--who took a vacation week last week. Fran's idea of a vacation week is traveling to Florida where she spends every day--from morning until night--visiting her mother who is in a nursing home.  The suntan lotion industry makes no money from Fran.  By the time I got into work around 8:30, Fran had already been there for several hours and had the place looking like she had never left.  Then, Joe, our intern arrived. The three of us spent some time discussing all that has to get done in the next few weeks.  After that, Joe and I went up to the chapel for our daily Holy Hour.  We were joined by a few of our FOCUS Missionaries and one of the students.  After that, came Mass.  

After Mass, I took the afternoon off in order to fulfill what has
The Green Monster at Fenway Park
become a yearly tradition. Through the generosity of a friend of mine, four friends got together and went to the Red Sox home opener.  Despite the Red Sox losing, going to Fenway (which is a ten minute walk from the BU Catholic Center) is always a great day.  And, it was great to spend the day with old friends. We all met each other because of the Church. We stay together because of the Church.

After the Sox game, as I was rushing out of the Catholic Center to get back to the rectory where I live, a student from BU who is not Catholic stopped by to ask for a listening ear. He walked with me to my car and we sat on a brick wall for about 30 minutes, talking.  After that, I went home and had dinner with the pastor with whom I live. He was taking me out for an early birthday dinner.  

At the end of the day, I feel grateful to the Lord because he puts great people in my life. Catholic life is lived while having a cup of coffee together, praying a Holy Hour together, at Mass together, at Fenway Park together, sitting on a brick wall talking together, and at dinner together.  

I know that there's a lot of drama that is sometimes associated with the Church; lots of big and dramatic things happening all over the place.  But today, what the Catholic Church was in my life was coffee with friends, a Holy Hour with friends, Mass with friends, a Red Sox game with friends, an important conversation with someone, and dinner with a friend.  That kind of day won't make any great headlines.  But, it was a beautiful day and it made me want to love God more.  That was my Catholic day. And I'm grateful for it.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Priesthood and Gratitude

Today, I had a great priestly day! It was great, in part, because I was able to offer the Funeral Mass for a dear friend and former parishioner.  But it was great for other reasons as well.  It was great because I saw how we in the Church help one another.

How was I able to go and offer that Funeral Mass? It was because I have an intern at the BU Catholic Center.  This young man, Joe Ferme, decided in his senior year of college, to give up finding gainful employment, and instead, decided to give a year of service to the BU Catholic Center. To do this work, he has to raise enough money to pay his rent and living expenses for the year.  Because he was willing to make this sacrifice in his own life, I was able to leave the Catholic Center today in order to provide pastoral care to others.  While I was gone, Joe kept the Catholic Center open. In September, Joe will enter the seminary.  Joe's sacrifice this year helps me to be a better priest.  I'm grateful.

Attending the funeral today was a young man whom I received into the Church a few years ago. He gave up his job and is now a FOCUS Missionary. I had the great joy of offering the Nuptial Mass for he and his wife last summer. When I saw him and his wife come up for communion today at Mass, I thought of how blessed I am to know people like this.  I'm grateful.

Tonight, after I finished the evening Mass at BU and had our Eucharistic Holy Hour and Benediction, I came home to the rectory and shared a nice dinner with the Pastor of the parish where I live. After a great priestly day, it was a blessing just to share with him all of the great things that I experienced today and to discuss priestly ministry and life. It is always great to share with him and to learn from him. I'm grateful.

Today, I met so many great men and women. Some work for the Church. Some are busy raising their families in the Faith. All of them . . . really . . . I just love them. They fill my heart with profound gratitude.

Today, I encountered great priests, great families, great friends.  I hope that the people I encountered today know how grateful I am to them. Their generosity of life makes it possible for me to contribute my little portion to the life of the Church. I give my share, but I'm able to do that because some other people--some much younger than me--have given a whole lot more and put so much more at risk. I am very humbled and grateful for their sacrifice.

I love being a priest. In part, I love it because I am constantly surrounded by people who truly give everything.  I need their example and I am grateful for their example. Tonight, I am profoundly grateful to be a priest. 

Do You Believe This? Living a Catholic Life and Dying a Catholic Death

This morning I had the privilege of joining four other priests in offering the Funeral Mass for a former parishioner and friend of mine. This was the homily that I delivered.

Dear Friends in Christ,

For two thousand years, Jesus Christ has continued to ask the very same question that he put to Martha in today’s gospel. “I am the resurrection and the life; anyone who believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”  Do you believe this?  Every human being who hears this question must give answer.  Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the risen savior? Do you believe that he died for your sins? Do you believe that he rose from the dead?

Martha replied, “Yes Lord, I have come to believe.” This week, I imagined what Joe’s response would have been had the Lord stood in front of him and asked, “Do you believe this?”  Joe would have straightened up, leaned his head in close as he often did, the twinkle in his eye would have appeared as well as his smile. He’d look down over his glasses, and say, “Do I believe it? You better believe that I believe it!”

There are many wonderful things that could be said of Joseph Boyle, but none more significant than this: Joseph Patrick Boyle was a Catholic. He believed in Jesus Christ.  The first time Joseph was asked that question, “Do you believe?” was on the day of his baptism when others answered  for him.  But that question was asked of him repeatedly throughout his life.  He answered it again and again. He answered it by the manner of his life. He answered it humbly.  He answered it every Sunday when, with his wife at his side, he knelt and worshipped God. He answered it in his generosity to so many; a generosity which he once reminded me was nobody’s business.  “Father, what I give to the Church is between you, me, God, and the IRS man!” He answered that question in the manner in which he so clearly loved and honored his wife, his children, and his grandchildren.  Joseph Boyle was Catholic to the core.

In his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul writes that “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” This is the life to which every Christian aspires. We aspire to become more and more conformed to Jesus Christ, to be shaped by the Faith that we profess. In a very beautiful way, Joe’s life was marked by a transformation where gradually Christ came more and more to live in him.  This is the privilege given to those who accept Christ’s invitation to follow.

So often, when Joe would leave Mass, he would joyfully repeat some particular phrase from the scriptures that was on his mind.  Or, he would recite some particular hymn--none more dear to him than, “Lift High the Cross.”  If an altar server wanted to get a pat on the back from Joe, all he would need to do is to be sure to carry the Cross high.  As Joe would come out of church, he would inevitably say to me, “Father, allow me to compliment you on your crucifer. He did Our Lord well today by Lifting High the Cross.”

Joe’s devotion to the Holy Cross was not simply a devotion to his alma mater. No, Joe accepted the Lord’s invitation to “Lift High the Cross.” He desired that all should come to believe in the One who gave his life for us. He wanted others to know how glorious a thing it is to have a relationship with Jesus.

The Cross for Joe was not an abstraction.  Joe taught us what it looks like to carry the Cross with resignation and with dignity.  A few years ago, I called to your home and Joe answered the phone. I told him it was me.  After we spoke for a few moments, he said to me, “Well Father, I am sure that you are calling to talk to my lovely bride, but I’m afraid she’s not here. So I’m going to write down that you called because if I don’t write it down, in two minutes I will have completely forgotten that you called.”  For a man whose memory was such an important part of his life, the Cross that Joe was given must have been particularly difficult. And yet, he carried it with resignation, with humor, and with joy. As Joe suffered various illnesses and their effects, he did what a Catholic is called to do: He lifted High the Cross. More and more, Joe could say, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

When we renovated the church a few years ago, Joe and Jolyne--as always--did more than their share. Originally they asked if they could sponsor the restoration of the resurrection scene, but
somebody else had already asked.  They graciously settled for the “Agony in the Garden.”  We see depicted in that scene, that during our Lord’s agony, the Father sends to him an angel to comfort him and to tend to him. The Lord did not send an angel to Joe. Instead, he sent him a wife. As Joe entered more and more into the mystery of the Lord’s Cross, at his side, was his Jolyne--or as Joe always referred to her to me, “my lovely bride.” Her fidelity to Joe certainly helps all of us to see more clearly the profound beauty of the words they spoke to each other on their wedding day: “I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”  

It might be fair to say that Joe’s faith was somewhat influenced by his Irish heritage. One hundred years ago this month, an Irish poet named Joseph Plunkett was executed. One of his poems is entitled,”I See His Blood Upon the Rose.”

I SEE his blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of his eyes,

His body gleams amid eternal snows,

His tears fall from the skies.

I see his face in every flower;
The thunder and the singing of the birds

Are but his voice—and carven by his power

Rocks are his written words.

All pathways by his feet are worn,

His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,
His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,

              His cross is every tree.

This poem is so thoroughly Catholic. The author sees Christ everywhere and in everything. This is what I mean when I say that Joe was a Catholic man. Every day, more and more, Joe saw Christ in everything. Every day, more and more, Joe was being conformed to Christ. This is the Catholic life.  When Joe quoted scripture, recited hymns, or spoke about God and the Church, he did so as a man who was being completely taken up into the new life of Christ. He spoke of these things with an almost boyish joy.

Yesterday, at my Sunday Mass at Boston University, I told the kids about Joe. I told them something very beautiful about his last days on this earth.  On the Saturday before Easter, as some of Joe’s family were heading off to the Easter Vigil, Joe called Johanna back to his side. He said to her, “You know, those women will go racing to the tomb, but they’re not going find him. He’s risen.”

Do you believe this?” Jesus asked.  “I am the resurrection and the life; anyone who believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”  In the last hours of his life, Joe had yet again another opportunity to answer this question, and he answered it beautifully: “He’s not in the tomb. He is risen.”

Brothers and sisters, God has placed in our life a man who lived the Catholic life and died professing the Catholic Faith. What a privilege we have been given. Our love for Joe does not end. We continue to love him by offering prayers and sacrifices for him, especially by offering the Holy Mass for him. Our prayers for Joe--today and in the future--help him as he pilgrimages from this earthly dwelling to the eternal dwelling of the Father.

Joe was a Catholic man. He lived his Catholic faith with joy. Joe knew that Christ makes all things new.  Jesus spent 81 years making Joe new. This newness will culminate on the day that Joe’s body is raised in glory and reunited with his soul. It is our Christian hope that Joe--who lived a life of faith in Jesus Christ--will cry out in unison with John the Evangelist, “I have seen a new heavens and a new earth.”

Today, in our sorrow and in our grief, Jesus comes to us and puts to us the most important question we shall ever be asked: “I am the resurrection and the life; anyone who believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”  

Joseph Patrick Boyle believed it. And by his beautiful life and example of faith, he helped all of us to believe it too. In this life, Joseph lifted high the Cross. May he now be lifted up into the realms of heavenly glory and be given a place among the saints.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Priesthood: Finding Treasures, Encouraging, and Building

I'm pretty certain that if I were a husband and father, I would be the type of guy who would sit next to you on the airplane and show you endless pictures of his family. I'd be telling you about how my daughter got a scholarship, how my son is really very bright, and how my wife is the most extraordinary woman who ever lived.  How do I know that I'd be like this?  Because that's pretty much how I am as a priest when it comes to talking about the people whom I encounter. I really love talking about the people whom God has placed in my life.  That man in the parable who found a treasure in a field and then sold everything he had in order to purchase the field so that he could have the buried treasure? That's pretty much me. I love that parable because it feels so much like my life.

I didn't create the treasure.  I just happened to stumble upon it.  Now that it is mine, I want other people to share in the joy that comes from possessing it. So much of priesthood for me is lived in boasting about the people whom I encounter and trying to connect them with one another.  If you are one of my priest friends, you know all about the kids at BU or my former parishioners.  You've hung out with them, eaten with them, and prayed with them.  If you are a kid at BU or one of my former parishioners, you know all about various seminarians and priests with whom I am friendly.  There's such a great joy in connecting people together.  There is great joy in letting the people whom you love share in the experience of finding a hidden treasure.

Last night, a group of BU Catholic Center students came with me to the home of some friends of mine. We had a fantastic dinner and then had a book discussion on Evelyn Waugh's, "Brideshead Revisited."  The age range was 18-80.  There were two married couples there. One couple, a young couple with four children. The other couple, an older couple who carry within themselves the mysterious quality of Christian believers; namely, the older they get, the more youthful and joyful they become. These two couples along with six young men and women from the BU Catholic Center had such a great night, discussing conversion and the Catholic life. 

I think all of us left that dinner feeling built up in our faith and also feeling the joy and excitement that comes from living the faith together.  I came home and felt so grateful that all of these people had the opportunity to meet one another and to benefit from each other's witness. I think everyone was encouraged by each other's faith, but also I think the students were encouraged to see these husbands and wives love each other and live family life together. They were encouraged to see the friendship between these two couples and the friendship between these couples and me.  Similarly, these couples were encouraged by the love and friendship shared among the students and their friendship with me. I was encouraged to see a new friendship begin between all of these people.

There was also a small miracle that occurred on our way to the dinner: there was absolutely no traffic at 6pm on a Friday evening in Boston. Since there was no traffic, we arrived early, so we stopped off at the home of a 102 year old friend of mine, named Sophie.  It was a quick visit, but it gave me great joy to introduce the students to this wonderful and faithful woman and for this wonderful woman to be encouraged by the joy and faith of these young men and women.

I love to boast about the great Catholics that I encounter. I love to bring them together and to see them build each other up. It's one of the reasons that I enjoy blogging. I love to share with people the joy that comes from finding hidden treasures.  There are so many great witnesses to the Catholic Faith all around. I am constantly and continuously discovering hidden treasures. When I meet great Catholic families, I want them to meet other families, meet seminarians, meet students at BU. I really love discovering these incredible faith-filled treasures. I love telling them about each other and I love introducing them to each other.  

The priesthood is given by Christ so that the Body of Christ may be continuously more united. One of the most important ways that I think Christ wants to use my priestly life to build up His Body, is through encouraging others. For this reason, he constantly places amazing treasures in my path. When I stumble upon these treasures, he wants me to share them with others, to speak about them, boast about them, and introduce them to each other. In being together, we are encouraged in our discipleship. In witnessing to one another, we are all strengthened. 

God has very generously placed in my path many treasures: priests, religious, married, deacons, lay, single, young, and old.  It is really a tremendous joy to find these treasures and to bring them together. Individually, they are amazing. But together, they are built up into an edifice that honors and glorifies God and which attracts others to God.