Thursday, December 13, 2018

Immovable St. Lucy: A Model of Constancy

The ancient Roman Martyrology preserves for us the brutal and glorious accounts of the martyrdoms of the saints. Although various legends that grew up around certain saints are often mixed in with these accounts, the legends themselves offer to us profound spiritual nourishment. Today, in fact, would be such an example. 

The Church today celebrates the Memorial of St. Lucy, a virgin and martyr of the Third Century in Sicily. Little is known of this young saint who dedicated her virginity to Christ and sought to give away all of her worldly possessions to the poor. Denounced as a Christian, Lucy--say some accounts--was ordered to be forced into prostitution. The legend goes that when the guards came to take Lucy away, they could not move her. She had become like an immovable column. Even after a team of oxen were put to the task, Lucy could not be moved. Unable to move her from the spot, they tortured and martyred Lucy where she stood. 

The legends surrounding Lucy's exterior immovability offer to all of us a salutary insight into the interior life of sanctity. Lucy was immovable because she possessed the grace of constancy. Constancy is the virtue whereby one is made able to stand firm in some good act in the face of external obstacles. Lucy sought to give herself entirely and solely to the Lord. She was surrounded by the threats of political officials and soldiers, but she remained constant in her determination. In other words, even a team of oxen could not drag her away from her good resolution.

Constancy is connected to the virtue of perseverance. Perseverance is put at risk by two opposing vices. St. Thomas Aquinas says that "soft-living" makes a person less likely to persevere in a good act because doing so might require the person to surrender certain pleasures which they have become unduly attached. Soft-living disposes us to taking the easy way out and avoiding situations that may require effort on our part. For those of us who are in the the clergy, it is easy to see how this is, in fact, quite true. We can be dragged away not by teams of oxen, but by our fear of losing human respect, power, or pleasure. 

On the other side of the equation is obstinacy.  Obstinacy "looks like" perseverance, but it is not perseverance. It is less a holding on to the truth as it is a holding on to one's own opinion. Obstinacy arises from vainglory and seeks to "win" at all costs. We see this, unfortunately, quite often in the life of the Church. Obstinacy can become a cheap imitation of perseverance. But St. Lucy offers us a tell-tale way of determining the genuine article from the cheap counterfeit.  

St. Lucy, a young woman is surrounded by powerful men--political leaders and soldiers. They seemingly hold all of the power--and her fate--in their hands. You can imagine them all brandishing weapons, shouting commands, and binding her to the team of oxen. They are the ones moving in violent contortions and rhetoric. In the midst of that scene, is Lucy, serene, peaceful, and immovable. And in this, I believe, is the tell tale sign of the genuine article. Lucy did not insert herself into a controversy. It was not her own will that she was attached to, but Christ. There was an interior peace in Lucy that was in stark contrast to the violence and chaos surrounding her. 

Those who surrounded Lucy were obstinate and given over to soft-living. They were used to being given whatever they wanted and they refused to be moved by anything other than self-will. Lucy--in her tranquil and peaceful constancy--puts the wicked to shame. Her purity and goodness shines ever more brightly in the midst of their darkness.

On her feast day, we might ask St. Lucy to intercede for us. We are often dragged from Christ and His Will for us--not by teams of oxen--but by the love of pleasure and of inordinate self-love. Through St. Lucy's intercession may we be freed from our attachments to soft-living and to our own wills so that we might always remain--no matter how difficult the circumstances that surround us--constantly and immovably attached to Christ and His Will for us. 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Goodbye to a Great Dog and a Great Character

I often say that there doesn't seem to be as many "characters" around as there used to be; people who stand out for their zaniness, humor, eccentricities etc. Finbar, my German Shorthaired Pointer, he was a real character. Yesterday, unexpectedly I had to put him down. It was and is a real heartbreaker. Pretty much I've spent all day every day for the past ten years with that dog. He came to work with me every day and went home with me every night. 

As a puppy, he ate several phone cords, my glasses, somebody's phone, socks, gloves, those plastic Britta Filters with the charcoal inside, and a fish head that he found on the beach. I thought it would never end. I recall one late December day sitting in my rectory office and hearing people laughing. I looked out the window and saw about fifteen people watching Finbar whip the statue of Baby Jesus from the outdoor manger around the yard. He'd grab an arm or leg and fling it to the other side of the yard and then retrieve it. He was a character.

I swore he'd never get on my bed. But he wore me down. Around 5am each day, he'd appear at the foot of my bed and just stare until I said, "Fine." Then he'd jump up and go back to sleep. Then, 5am became 4am and 4am made it's way to Midnight. He was a character.

He had a knack for charging the rectory fence to scare unsuspecting passers by. More than one he sent into snowbanks as they tried to escape. Then, they'd laugh as they realized that Finbar wasn't a vicious dog, but just a clown. Well, most of them laughed. He was a character.

When my phone rang or beeped, Finbar would wake out of a sound sleep and wait for a cookie. He would whine and bark until I relented. The same thing went for anyone who came to my office to speak. It was a clever tactic. Since I couldn't hear the person I was speaking with--whether on the phone or in person--with Finbar barking, I would always have to give in to his demand. He was a character.

I've never been a fan of dogs at Mass, but the Catholic Center's
daily Mass chapel is more like a room in a big house, so there really wasn't a way to keep Finbar out.  He'd often stay in another room, until he heard us singing the Alleluia for the Gospel. Then he'd make his move. He knew that's when everyone stood up, so he'd sneak in and steal a couple of seats. If you sat in the seats where the sun was, you were going to lose that seat. He was a character.

He was addicted to playing with his ball. If Finbar wasn't by my
side, I knew he would be laying on the ground somewhere staring pathetically at his ball, waiting for someone to give in and throw it. He could chase that thing for hours. He had an endless supply of tricks that he would do. He was a character.

A lot of people who might not ever speak to a priest, stopped and talked to me because of Finbar. I liked to tell people who were nervous about confession that Finbar had heard hundreds of confessions with me and never once revealed anything that he heard. 

On the rare occasions when I actually got to go out without Finbar, I knew that if I looked up into the window, he'd be standing there staring pathetically down at me as though I had betrayed him. Yesterday as I left work and looked up, how I wished that my pal was there looking down at me. 

"Man's best friend," they say, and that he most definitely was. He was a noble dog, a faithful friend, and a real character. Is it a bit crazy to write so warmly and glowingly about a dog? It probably is. Maybe that makes me a bit of a character too. But I needed to say a word or two about my buddy Finbar. 

I'll miss him. He was a character. 

He was a good boy. Thanks Finbar. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Three Great Reasons Why Catholics Can Still Be Encouraged

Dear Friends in Christ,

More than one Catholic friend has expressed to me over the past week how disheartened they are by the state of the Church in the present moment. I'm sorry for that. What I am about to write here won't dramatically change the Church, nor will it restore your confidence in the Church's leadership. What I do hope is that I can adequately convey in words three experiences that I had this week that encouraged and strengthened me. They are not about popes and bishops. They are not about documents, synods, or meetings. They are not wordy statements or press releases. They are just three moments when I knew in the depth of my being, "This is the Church. This is why we are Catholic."

Austin and Rachel
The first was the marriage of Rachel and Austin. They met at the BU Catholic Center over the past few years, graduated a couple of years ago, and were married this past Saturday. The entire weekend was an extraordinary moment of grace. At the wedding reception, as I was preparing to leave, an older gentleman came up to me and said, "If you have a minute, I'd like to tell you something." Admittedly, I cringed a bit. I thought he was going to ruin my good day by blasting the Church or something.  But, I said, "Sure. What would you like to tell me?"  Then he said, "First of all, I'm Jewish. And I just want to say that your heart must be beaming with pride right now." For the next five minutes or so, he spoke to me about how all of these young men and women at the wedding were so free and joyful about their relationship with God. He said, "That's amazing in this day and age." He then went on to say what a wonderful group of friends they all are. That guy made my day!

He hit the nail right on the head. These young men and women, who had all met at the BU Catholic Center (most of whom have graduated, but some of whom are still there) have an amazing friendship with one another. After graduation, they've lived in various small communities together, attend bible
Some of the BU Catholic Center Crowd Before the Wedding Reception
studies together, socialize together, and live their faith together. They love one another. Anyone who attended that wedding on Saturday knew that they were witnessing something truly beautiful; something godly. It's been a privilege living the Catholic life with these young men and women and growing in our Faith together.  

The second of these three moments happened on Monday morning. I returned to my previous parish 
assignment in order to offer the Funeral Mass for a woman whose Marriage I had celebrated several years ago. On All Saints Day--her birthday--she attended Mass. That night, on All Souls Day, she died unexpectedly in her sleep. Her Funeral Mass was attended by hundreds of friends and fellow parishioners. Her Funeral Mass was simple, dignified, and beautiful. She was a woman of Faith. In the midst of so much shock and grief, there was a reassuring peace that only Faith can bring. I was not alone in this experience. Many who were in church for that Funeral had a sense that God was at work in
St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in Beverly, MA is where the Funeral Mass took place
our midst. We were in the midst of something bigger than ourselves, something holy, mysterious, and salvific. 

The third of these moments happened on Tuesday. On many Tuesday nights at the Catholic Center, invited speakers come to address the community on a variety of topics. This week, our speaker was a former parishioner of mine who is a pediatric ER doctor. Many of our students are Pre-Med and have an interest in how their Catholic life and their medical professions will overlap. Kerry, our speaker, gave a beautiful witness about her development as a Catholic and as a doctor. Kerry, her husband, and their family have become dear friends of mine over the years. It gave me great joy to share them with others. And, it gave me great joy to share with them the young men and women of the Catholic Center. While I enjoyed Kerry's talk, what I enjoyed more was watching the young men and women afterwards as they gathered around Kerry and Peter to speak with them. There was a wonderful sense of camaraderie. More than that, it was an experience of profound communion. One of my great joys as a priest is introducing the various persons I've met along the way to one another, allowing good people to meet other good people. Living the Faith together is such a beautiful, life-giving experience. As I watched the students and Kerry and Peter relating to one another, I knew that the Lord was at work in our midst.
Students at the Catholic Center Listening to Kerry's Witness

So, here's my takeaway: There are some really messed up things going on in the Church right now. If you are a faithful Catholic who is struggling, find places where the Faith is alive and strong. Find a good parish. Find a good bible study. Find Catholic friends who build each other up into joyful saints. Maybe some committee, statement, or document might really inspire you, but I wouldn't wait for that. Instead, I'd find places where the Faith is being lived and where Catholics are loving one another and forming beautiful and faithful communities. They exist. These places will sustain you during these difficult moments.

Why should you not be discouraged or disheartened? Because Rachel and Austin got married, and they and all of their young Catholic friends are joyfully living Catholic lives together. 

Why should you not be discouraged or disheartened? Because Lawrie and Dean came to Mass together each Sunday and were part of a great Catholic parish. They grew in the Faith together and received the Sacraments together. Lawrie was given the grace to attend Mass on the morning before she died. While her funeral was a moment of sorrow, it was also a moment of beauty and goodness. It was a moment of Faith, Hope, and Charity. It was a moment of consolation.

Why should you not be discouraged or disheartened? Because on Tuesday night a room filled with Catholic college students listened attentively to a Catholic doctor share her witness and were encouraged by that. They have a desire to live their Faith in the world and to be holy.

These things are the life of the Church. They are real, true, good, and beautiful. Unfortunately, in many sectors of the Church right now, people are being taught that they cannot actually become holy, that it's beyond their reach. The three extraordinary events that I witnessed this week were all the result of people living in communities that strive for holiness together and who challenge one another towards the greatness of sanctity. They encourage one another, lift one another up, help one another. They struggle for holiness together. Those types of Catholic communities exist. It's those types of communities that I'm betting on.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

All Saints Day, the Red Sox, and Being In That Number

Boston University, where I am the Catholic Chaplain, is only a block away from Fenway Park. On October 31st, a million or so people in Boston lined the streets to participate in the Red Sox World Series Win Parade. As the Sox rode down the street, tens of thousands of others joined in, celebrating the Sox win. Some who went to the parade probably never watched a Sox game, but they wanted to be part of the event. Some may have bought a Sox hat and felt that that entitled them to say, "WE won!" Others, avidly watched every game throughout the long series. We like to celebrate when "our team" wins. We like being a part of it. Even though we had very little to do with it, we somehow feel like when they win, we win.

Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints. We celebrate the Win of our brothers and sisters who have fought the good fight and won the victory. The Sox didn't win the world series by lottery. They won by practicing and excelling. The Saints were not spectators in this life. They had a desire not just to watch others be holy. They desired personal holiness. They got in the game. By God's grace, they strove for excellence. They strove to win. They, as that old black spiritual says, wanted "to be in that number when the Saints go marching in." They did what it took and fought the good fight. The way to the World Series is a long slog. The way to heaven is a lifelong pilgrimage. 

The Sox won the Word Series. I can say, "We won," but nobody gave me the money or the trophy. Nobody asked me to be up on one of the trucks today. That's because I didn't actually play in the World Series. Sometimes, we think that we're going to heaven because that's just how it works. We bought a hat that, for instance, says, "Catholic" on it, so that's enough. But it's not enough. We actually have to want to be in that number when the saints go marching in. We have to be in the pilgrimage, not spectators of it. We have to be in it to win.

I want to propose four very simple ways that are indispensable for Catholics who want to be in that number when the saints go marching in.

1. Go to Mass. If you are a Catholic and are not going to Mass every Sunday, there's very good reason to believe that your soul is in big trouble. Yeah, I know: Lots of people go to Mass on Sunday who are bad people. Okay, great. It does not, however, follow that we are now able to excuse ourselves from following the very basic commandment of worshiping God. If you aren't going to Mass on Sunday (unless there is some grave reason), then you are putting yourself in serious spiritual danger. And the longer you don't go, the more difficult it will be for you to repent and to return. Shut the TV off on Sunday mornings, and go to Mass. The Saints worship God. They worshiped Him in this life, and they worship him forever in Heaven. Go TO MASS.  Never miss. Ever.

2. Go to Confession. Confessing our sins is humbling. Staying in our sins is deadly. Baseball players need constant instruction in order to improve. We need constant mercy and grace to grow into heavenly champions. 

3. Pray every day. Again, we can get so absorbed in everything else that we ignore the one most important thing: God. Talk shows, Twitter, sports, politics etc? None of these things are going to save us. If you don't know how to pray, ask someone to teach you. Learn how to read Scripture, how to pray the Rosary, how do mental prayer. 

4. Grow daily in virtue and in the life of charity. Find virtues that are lacking in your life and try to grow in them. Are you negative about everything and complaining about everything all the time? Perhaps attempt to grow in gratitude. Is your humor negative or biting? Perhaps seek to grow in encouraging others. Are you stingy and selfish? Grow in generosity. 

We shouldn't presume that we are bound for heaven. There's nothing inevitable about it. We should be striving to live a holy life. A holy life demands everything from us. The way of the saints is the Way of the Cross.  

On All Saints Day, we honor those in our company who have won the race. Their example ought to inspire and encourage us to continue marching in this great pilgrimage. We are not called to be spectators. We are called to be in that number. We are either playing to win or we are wasting our time. 

Get in the game, so that you can be in that number.

A Great Version of "When the Saints Go Marching In"

Monday, October 22, 2018

Then and Now, the Pope of the Youth. The Pope Who Trusted Us

I was able to meet the Holy Father in the early 2000s 
Some young Catholics that I know are throwing a party tonight. Why are a group of friends having a party on a Monday night?  Because it is the Feast of St. John Paul II.  Most of them were probably under ten years old when John Paul II died, but these young people have a profound affection for him. I love that they love him. I'm sure many of them went to Mass today. Some of them probably went to confession today. Some of them have been praying a Novena for the past nine days to St. John Paul II. John Paul would have loved that. What am I saying? John Paul does love that. And, he would love that these young people are having a party tonight.  

John Paul was my pope growing up. It's difficult to put into words, but John Paul inspired the youth to trust the truth. There was a lot of craziness in those days; people proposing various opinions as Christian Faith that were clearly not. For many of us, while we did not possess yet the capacity to make cogent and convincing arguments, we did have an innate sense of what was true. Standing on the side of truth, however, often came with a cost. Just to give a small example: When I was first in seminary, seminarians who requested to have more frequent adoration of the Eucharist (in those days we had it once a month) would have been looked upon by some as "trying to turn the clocks back." Being young and facing the opposition of those with more knowledge, more power, and more experience was intimidating. 

For many of us, however, we could have faced all of the opposition in the world because we knew that John Paul II was at our side. The Truth was not a battering ram. It was beautiful and attractive. The Truth spoke to the deepest desires of the human person. Yes, it was, at times challenging and required sacrifice, but John Paul exuded a confidence in the human person. We are indeed capable of living the Truth. The Pope, he was on the road with us. He was following Christ with us. He was at our side. He did not give up on us. While others were trying to give us the easy way out, he told us that we were capable of great things, all of us. Christ loved us and wanted to give us everything. And, Christ wanted everything. The Pope told us that we must lay down our lives for Christ, for the Gospel, and for our brothers and sisters. "True love is demanding. I wold fail in my mission, in my journey, if I did not clearly tell you so," he said on Boston Common in 1979. He roused us to greatness. John Paul II trusted us. He trusted that if we heard the full truth, we'd follow. He trusted our freedom. He even won over many of those who had originally feared the new enthusiasm that his pontificate infused into the youth.

John Paul II was an encourager.  Christianity was exciting. It was an adventure of following Christ, laying down your life, and doing great things. It was an adventure that demanded everything from us.  Marriage? It was an adventure of two spouses laying down their lives for each other and for their children. Religious life was to give up everything to follow Christ. Priesthood, was to lay down one's life for the flock. If one were to remain single, it must be so that he or she would give himself or herself away in some noble purpose for the sake of others. He encouraged the young and the old, the infirm and the poor. He encouraged all of us to follow Christ, to open our hearts to Him, and to make something great of our lives.  

John Paul II is still speaking to the hearts of the young. His words still echo throughout the Church. The young men and women who are having some beers tonight and toasting JP2, they are still moved by his example, stirred by his words, and consoled by his prayers. They are still living the Christian adventure. They are not discouraged, disheartened, nor are they afraid. They are men and women who pray together, serve together, go to adoration and confession together, and who evangelize together. They are having a party tonight because to follow Christ is a joyous adventure.

At Mass tonight, I prayed for them and for our whole community. At the altar at Mass tonight, I prayed especially for a few more priestly vocations from our BU family. 

St. John Paul, in this world, you stirred the hearts of young people to greatness. You encouraged us and reminded us that there is nothing greater possible than to open our heart to Christ and to lay down our life for the Gospel and in the service of our brothers and sisters. I pray to you now. I ask through your intercession, that a new wave of vocations, especially to the priesthood and to the Archdiocese of Boston is raised up. I ask you to remove all fear from those whom Christ is calling. Let them be bold and confident. St. John Paul II, Holy Father, let them know that you are walking with them, directing them to Christ. Let them heed the call of Christ. Amen.

The youth of my day would often chant, "JP2, we love you." Tonight, some of the youth of today, are still expressing their love for JP2. And together with JP2, they are loving Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Amen.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Parish Renewal and the Altar

Our Lady's Chapel at Sacred Heart, North Quincy
Yesterday morning I offered a Nuptial Mass for a couple. By happy coincidence, they chose to be married at my home parish where I received all of my sacraments and offered my First Mass. Before the Mass, I walked from the sacristy, down the narrow hallway to the side chapel. Just walking down that hallway--used for storage of  typical liturgical items (kneelers, chairs, etc) filled me with a great sense of gratitude and nostalgia. I've walked down that hallway hundreds and hundreds of times in my life, passing the very same kneelers and chairs that were there 40 years ago. 

There was something about serving the 7am Daily Mass. It was dreadful to be dragged out of bed as a boy to go serve. During most of the year, you'd probably get assigned to the Seven only every few months. You'd be assigned for four Mondays or Tuesdays or whatever. But during Lent, there was an almost contest to see which of us could attend the most Masses. Some days during Lent there would be seven or eight of us serving a Daily Mass. Most of those Masses were spent less listening to the homily and more plotting how to get to the bells ahead of any of the other altar boys when the time came. In the fight for the bells, there was more than a few instances of bells sounding at the wrong time because two of us were fighting for control. An icy stare from Fr. Reilly brought that to a halt.

The sacristy was quiet in the morning before the Seven. Occasionally before the priest arrived I'd be sitting up on top of the vesting case. If Fr. Heery, the pastor, had the Mass, he'd come in and say, "We're not at the ballgame." That meant, "Get off of the vesting case and sit in a chair." At Seven, we'd walk down that long, narrow hallway, out into the chapel sanctuary, and the Mass would begin. The Seven probably had a good 130 people each morning and many more during Lent.

Sacred Heart Church, North Quincy

That chapel, dedicated to Our Lady, had a significant impact upon my life. "Small" funerals (those with less than a hundred people) were often in the chapel. Being an altar boy meant getting out of school to serve funerals. That was the best thing ever. There was an old sacristan named Stanley who would set up for funerals. After the funerals, as a way of delaying going back to school, we'd offer to help Stanley do various chores. When we'd show up back to school late, we'd explain to the nuns that Stanley had delayed us. 

On Sunday evenings during Advent and Lent I'd serve Evening Prayer and Benediction in the chapel. Whenever I pray the psalm of Sunday Evening Prayer, "You are a priest forever like Melchizedek of old," I hear the voice of our old pastor, Fr. Heery. On Monday nights, I'd serve the evening Mass which ahead of time involved the praying of the Rosary and the prayers for the Miraculous Medal Novena. At the end of the Mass, there was always the veneration of the relic of St. Catherine Laboure. 

A lot happened in that chapel. Among other things that chapel had daily adoration. Located along a very busy city street, walking into the chapel was like walking into a refuge. As the heavy wooden door of the chapel closed, it crushed the noise from outside with incredible silence. That chapel, with it's constant exposition of the Eucharist, became the heart of that parish. All day long, people stopped by for "a visit." 

There were many great things about that parish. A convent full of nuns, five priests, a packed school, parish shows, spaghetti dinners, Christmas fairs etc. It was a place of friendship. It was a normal part of life. The kids I hung out with, played with, got in trouble with, got in trouble with, got in trouble with, were all from the parish. It was a place where we spent a lot of our life. Being Catholic was not something just for Sundays. It was part of everything. All the normal stuff of life happened in relation to the parish. It was a great place to grow up.

When I walked into the chapel yesterday (and happily saw how well the new pastor has beautified it), I was filled with gratitude for all of the formation that I received there. At the time, I didn't really understand that I was being formed. It was just normal life. And yet now, looking back, I realize that Our Lady who looked down upon all of us as we lived our lives of Faith there, was interceding for us and drawing us closer to the Heart of her Son. True renewal of parishes and persons originates at the Altar and leads to the Altar. There were many great things that happened in that parish, but they all began and culminated at the end of a narrow hallway, at the Altar where God saves and renews the world.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Marriage Will Save the World

I have a love for words. Whether it is a clever joke, a poetic phrase, a beautiful song, a brilliant book, or a rousing speech, I enjoy words. Words contain incredible power. Recently, however, I've noticed that words are actually making me anxious. The words spoken about politics--mostly online--are vitriolic, demonizing, and divisive.  Most of what I read fills with me with either disdain for the author or for his opponents. And then there are the words spoken about the Church. I cringe when I see articles about the Church these days, even (actually, especially) when they are written or spoken by people in the Church. Words--which ought to unite persons--are now the weapon of division. 

Yesterday, a young couple that I had prepared for marriage was wedded. As many couples do, they chose the second reading to be from St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians.  "If I speak in the tongues of angels and of men, but have not love, I am a noisy gone or a clanging cymbal." Words. There are so many words being spoken and written these days, but they are all noise. It's like the more that is spoken or written, the worse things become. 

And then, there we were in that sanctuary. A man and a woman held each other's hands and spoke very few words to each other. "I take you to be my wife (husband).  I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you all the days of my life." That was it. Simple words. Pure words. They were not clashing cymbals and noisy gongs. They were noble and dignified. That's because they were spoken in love. And in those words, God united them. It was beautiful. I need to hear and to witness words like that. God was healing the world through this newly established union. We were reminded that this is how God made it to be in the beginning. The union of Holy Matrimony gives us a glimmer of the original plan and it also is a manifestation of that original plan of union for which we have all been created. 

After that wedding, I went to the home of some friends and offered Mass for them on the occasion of their 25th Wedding Anniversary. It so happened that the readings for the Mass this weekend were all about marriage. The first reading spoke about the creation of woman and the union between husband and wife. In the Gospel, Jesus spoke about the permanence of marriage; that it is an unbreakable bond. I told them that the homily for the Mass was really what was right before me: A man and a woman who spoke vows to one another 25 years ago and their beautiful children. The world needs to see families like that; men and women who give over their whole life to the raising of their children. More than ever, the world needs to see what true communion looks like. I need to see and to experience this type of communion. Everywhere we look, things are breaking apart. Words are tearing us apart. The people who are saving the world are those who can speak to one another in love and vow themselves to one another for life. 

Today--Sunday--I have to preach to university students about marriage. It's challenging because the culture in which they live has a very deformed view of marriage. Like everything else, it has become politicized and weaponized. It is also often about "self-fulfillment" rather than about laying down ones life for the other person and for the children of that union. So many couples delay marriage or don't ever get married because they are not willing to lay down their life. Jesus' words in the Gospel today can appear to many to be mean-spirited or antiquated, and they reject his words out of hand. I think the key to understanding the Gospel is the last part. Jesus says that we must become like little children in order to enter into the Kingdom of God. 

Yesterday, as I was leaving the wedding, I saw a man and a woman and their little daughter walking along. The daughter--maybe two or three--was walking carefully on the edge of the sidewalk curb as though she were on the edge of the Grand Canyon. Her face was filled with wonder and awe about everything she saw; buildings, leaves, trees etc. When we hear Jesus speak about marriage being between a man and a woman, that it is exclusive and permanent, or when we hear that marriage is intended to be for the pro-creation of children, it can sound like another political discussion. This is where we need the grace to be childlike. We need to stand in awe of the gift of marriage and have reverence for it. This union, established in the Garden of Eden, is how it was in the Beginning. God creates in order for us to experience communion, primarily with Him, but also with one another. Marriage is something beautiful, pure, and holy. Marriage is a gift from God. Marriage is about union.

I've been a priest for almost 22 years. One of the great joys of priesthood is living my vocation close to those who are married. Today, in the midst of so much division, I think that marriage is the key to healing a world broken and devastated by division. Communion is attractive and pure. We need witnesses of communion. We need men and women to live marriage.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Should I Donate to the Catholic Church? No and Yes.

The Boston University Catholic Center Fall Retreat
Dear Friends in Christ,

A few times over the past months, I've had someone tell me that they are no longer going to donate to "the Catholic Church." I don't donate to "the Catholic Church" either. In fact, I'm not sure who would be authorized to cash a check made out to "the Catholic Church." But I do donate to various parts of the Catholic Church. It is my responsibility to support the mission of the Catholic Church because its mission originates from Christ Himself who said, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations." Not only should I donate to support the mission of the Church, but it is a privilege to do so.

During the month of October, the BU Catholic Center has its annual fundraiser. Recently, I sent out a letter to all of our families, friends, and alumni asking them to be generous in supporting us. Below, I will share that letter with you, but I want to add a few things as well. 

I've begun my sixth year at the BU Catholic Center. This past weekend, I've participated in my eleventh "CC Retreat." The title of the retreat that the student leaders chose was, "Homeward Bound." They wanted to communicate that the Catholic Center and the Catholic Church is a home away from home. The Church is our home--here and in heaven. It was spectacular! Students living their faith together and sharing such great friendships together. I received many messages from former students saying how they are praying for the current students on retreat. There's an incredible bond that exists among the "CC" family. The alumni know that the people on the retreat are going to have a life transforming experience just like they themselves did. 

Those who know me know that I like to throw right over the plate. So, if you're saying, "I'm not giving to the Catholic Church," that's bogus. If you're a Catholic, you have an obligation to support the mission of the Church. The Gospel matters. During the first weekend of school this year, a freshman came into the Catholic Center. She told me her name and said, "I'm not Catholic, but I feel like God is calling me to become Catholic." She has a way of becoming Catholic because the Catholic Center is on BU's campus. The Catholic Center is on on BU's campus because people like you donate. So, I'm not asking you to consider donating to "the Catholic Church," but I am asking you to donate to the BU Catholic Center. The Catholic Church is universal, but it is met and lived in particular places and communities. You live your Catholic life in a particular place and with a particular community. The place and community where I currently encounter Christ and am saved by Him is at the BU Catholic Center. I ask you to support our mission. 

(This is the letter recently mailed to our donor list).

Dear Friend of the BU Catholic Center:

At the end of most summers, I look forward to the return of the students in September. This year, I was dreading it. With so many upsetting stories in the press about the Church, I did not know what to expect when September arrived.

Before our first Sunday Mass of the new year, I sat outside of Marsh Chapel on one of the stone benches. Within a few minutes, the first of several students approached with the request, “Hey Father. Do you have time for a quick confession?” The sincerity, purity, and humility of those requests lifted the heavy pall that I had felt for weeks, and it put into my heart a new courage. A courage to strive for more.

At moments such as these, it is tempting to withdraw and to expect less. Instead, I ask you to join me in striving for more. More holiness, more Faith, more Hope, more Charity. I want the year ahead for the Catholic Center to be about more evangelization, more friendship, and more generosity.

Over the next several weeks, I will be offering the Nuptial Masses of several couples who met and fell in love at the BU Catholic Center. This is what the world and the Church need right now: men and women who are going to re-evangelize the culture by living holy lives, holy marriages, holy vocations. The BU Catholic Community forms men and women to be saints.

It probably sounds crazy, but I want this to be our best fundraising year ever. That’s right. In the midst of everything that is going on in the Church, I want this to be the best year we’ve ever had. I know something. I know that the Catholic Center is awesome. I know that the students who come here are amazing. I know that THIS place is what is RIGHT with the Church. I hope that you know that too, and I hope that you will join me in supporting our mission. If you’ve given in the past, would you give more this year? If you haven’t given in a while, could you please contribute today?

The Catholic Center at Boston University needs to increase its revenue significantly in order to remain present on campus and to grow. I do not want the Catholic Center to offer less and less each year. No, I want more. I’m asking you for more.  I am inviting you to be part of something great.

Our annual Phonathon will run from October 27-30, but if you donate now, we won’t call you!

Please consider using the enclosed envelope to make a donation to the BU Catholic Center or visit to donate to us via PayPal or WeShare.

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!  

In Christ,

Fr. David Barnes

Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Victory of the Confessional

This past weekend the BU Catholic undergrads were on retreat. The best part of the retreat for me happened on Saturday night. After hearing two hours of confessions, the priests who helped me out were all standing around and were just really joyful. They all kept saying how grateful they were to be there. Written all over their faces was the joy of knowing that they had just participated in something extraordinary.

On a Saturday night, most priests have had a busy day and are anticipating another busy day. They're tired. One of the priests who helped me out had just driven from New Jersey and came to hear confessions before he got home to his parish. He was smiling ear to ear and kept saying what a blessing for his priesthood it was to come and hear the confessions of the students. They all remarked how well-prepared and how sincere the students were. Music to my ears! When people are actually prepared for confession, it makes a huge difference!

Although I was delighted to see and to hear how joyful these priests were, I wasn't surprised. It was clear to me from the very beginning of the retreat that the Holy Spirit was powerfully at work. The student led retreat team, the retreat speaker (a young, married man with four small children), and the witness talks were all clearly being used for some powerful purpose. I even noticed something unique about the attendees. There was a charity and an openness about them all that really stood out. It was like God had decided that He was going to do something powerful this weekend and there was nothing that was going to stop that. I knew that the confessions were going to be spectacular. That wasn't "the plan." I could just see it unfolding all weekend. I could see that the Lord was working up to it. 

I told the students afterwards how awesome it was to see all of those priests leaving the night before, after two hours of hearing confessions, filled with joy. Those joyful smiles told me that the priests had felt like they were completely used by the Holy Spirit, and that the confessions were thorough, sincere, and filled with repentance. The "good kind of tired" for a priest is when he is used by God for something like that. It takes everything out of you and makes you feel like, "This is why I was ordained."

The Holy Spirit used all of us on that retreat. He used the priests, but he used the whole retreat team. He used the retreat speaker and witnesses. He used them all so that He could shine light on our sins and to bring forgiveness and healing. The whole time we were there, I knew that the Holy Spirit was like, "This is my weekend and we are going to war."

There is evil afoot in the world, but this weekend, a great battle was fought and the Holy Spirit outsmarted, outmaneuvered, and crushed the Enemy. That was clear by the smiles on the faces of those priests. 

Friday, September 28, 2018

The Entertainment of Demonic Destruction

It's easy to destroy things, takes almost no effort at all. Take marriage for instance. It requires enormous effort, daily sacrifice, and constant vigilance to preserve a marriage and even more to make it flourish. To destroy it takes almost nothing at all. A good reputation is painstakingly built, but can be obliterated in a moment. Building a strong community takes genius, virtue, obedience, and sacrifice. It happens gradually over long periods of time. It takes time to build trust and to strengthen bonds. To destroy a community takes nothing at all. 

Where I presently live, there is a lot of development occurring. Buildings are constantly under construction, and I pass by them every day. Usually, I am more annoyed by the inconvenience that they cause (traffic, noise etc) than I am amazed by the amount of effort and coordination it takes for something to be built. When I take the effort to look at these enormous structures, it's incredible to imagine that months ago, there was only a big hole in the ground. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, day by day, these monuments of human ingenuity arose. 

We get used to them being built. We pass them with hardly any notice at all. But imagine if they were burning down. If they were burning down--even if it were the middle of the night--we'd leave our home to watch the excitement. Helicopters would fly overhead to report the news that a fire was destroying this building. Not to be morose, but we are somewhat entertained when we watch something burn down. It holds our attention. It's entertaining and requires no effort. 

We are living in the age of destruction. We are entertained by the obliteration of persons and institutions. We are becoming incapable of building because we are becoming incapable of effort. How many books have you read in the past month? How many tweets have you read? When was the last time you wrote something substantial? Compare that to how many texts, tweets, and posts that you make. Social media is the smart bomb of personal and institutional destruction. It takes almost no effort at all to humiliate, attack, or calumniate someone. The destructive tweet garners far more "likes" than the thoughtful work. That's because positive things take time to write, to ponder, and to absorb. It takes time to build things. It takes little to destroy them. Attached to the destruction of institutions and of persons is a sinister pleasure, a grotesque satisfaction that mimics the arsonist's satisfaction in seeing a building burn. It's demonic.

Building something is far more difficult. It requires the cooperation of others, is always subject to changing conditions, and involves mistakes. It is never perfect. It is often a mixture of good and bad. It causes traffic jams and it provides a home. It employs some workers and it makes other workers late for work. Building is slow, gradual, and requires patience. Destruction is fast, immediate, and entertaining. Building requires the cooperation and ingenuity of a community. Destruction requires only a madman and a match.

The sick pleasure of destruction leads to a thirst for further destruction. It leads to the destruction of the person himself. St. Paul once warned the Galatians, "But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another" (Gal 5:15). On the contrary, those who do the work of building, build one another up. They encourage one another toward holiness. It's the work of a lifetime, not an instant. It draws one into a beauty and goodness that sustains and strengthens. It draws one into a life that bears good fruit. The parables of Jesus often speak about those things that take time, planting, sowing, reaping, traveling, journeying, building, waiting, etc. They involve patience with weeds, wandering sheep, and bad sons. 

The big institutions are burning these days. There's enough blame to go around. The question for me and for all of us is what are we going to do about it? It seems like the answer is not big. It's small. It's like a mustard seed. For me, it's being faithful to the little community of which I am part. It's in living the life of the BU Catholic Center community. In this small community, people pray, come to Mass, feed the poor, live friendships, go to confession, and love one another. It's in being faithful to the slow, gradual, building up of a community that something beautiful is lived and emerges. It's preaching the truth with clarity and charity. It is growing daily in virtue and repenting from sin. Friendship takes time. Community takes time. Holiness takes time.  If you've ever lived in such a community, you've experienced the mystery of the hundredfold. You realize that you and those with you are being taken up by something beyond yourself; you are being carried by grace. If you've ever been part of such a community, you know that it is True. You know that it corresponds to the deepest desires of the human heart. You know that such a community makes you more human. 

Destruction is for the lazy. Destruction is for those who no longer pray. Destruction is for those who are trying to fill the void present in their own life by destroying what is good, and beautiful, and true. Destruction is demonic. It would be a mistake to read this and see it as addressing the "other." It is addressing me. It is addressing you. It is addressing all of us because the Destroyer attempts to seduce everyone into his web of destruction.

"The thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (JN 10:10). Let us follow the Good Shepherd and not the thief. 

Friday, September 21, 2018

In the Midst of Darkness: Beauty and Goodness

I live a life of privilege. I don't mean wealth, power, influence, or prestige. I mean that I live a life that is privileged by being close to sacred realities. Whether it be at the altar, in the confessional, or by the deathbed, I am privileged to stand in proximity to the most important realities that exist. Praying with the dying, hearing a last confession or hearing the confession of someone who has long been away from the Church, offering the Holy Mass, or walking with a couple as they prepare for marriage, these are all privileged moments. 

I find it hard to believe that I've begun my sixth year as chaplain at the BU Catholic Center. Being around college kids who are living their faith has been a tremendous grace and privilege for me. I've been continuously moved by their devotion, piety, charity, faith, intellectual rigor, simplicity, and their capacity to share the gospel with others. I've also been very moved by the ease with which they have built up a friendship among one another, friendships that continue after college and that are designed to help them each continue growing in Christ. I have also been privileged to hear many of them give witness talks and share their faith with others. 

One of the privileges of working with college students is that there is an easiness about them. They are comfortable and relaxed around a priest. The pastoral relationship is built up rather easily and without much complication or effort. That's been my experience anyways. A good number of the students from the Catholic Center stay around Boston after they graduate. Many of them live together and strive for holiness together. It also means that I get to meet up with some of them regularly.

One of the recent grads, a young man named Connor, posted on Facebook today that he's been struggling for about a year with depression. He decided to write a song about it. As I listened to him singing, I said out loud, "I am so grateful to be a priest."  It kind of came out spontaneously. What I meant by that is that I am grateful because I get to see such beautiful things and meet such extraordinary people. Connor said in his post that he wrote the song and hopes that maybe it might help somebody else. I know that he meant that he hoped it would help somebody who also might be suffering from depression, but it helped me too. It helped me because I need to see beautiful things and I constantly need to see goodness. Connor's song--even though it arises out of a great struggle--is a testimony to the Church. Connor loves the Church and helps build up the Body of Christ. He has a strong love for St. John Paul II. The two of them are good friends. 

I include a link to Connor's song here. Click Here 

There's so much scandal and controversy in the life of the Church these days. Connor's voice, for me, broke through all of it and reminded me (and I hope, you) that this is the Catholic Church. This is what saves me.

Thanks Connor. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Carrying the Corpse to Jesus Is the Only Way

There is perhaps no more sorrowful sight that I have encountered than that of a parent mourning the loss of a child. I recall one Funeral Mass that I offered when the Mother and Father came down the aisle together, the tiny casket of their child in the father's arms. The image says it all. The totality of the loss, the depth of the grief, the utter shock of how tragic life can sometimes be. The lifeless body of a child (no matter what the age) in the arms of a mourning parent touches us at the depths of our being.

St. Luke recounts for us an encounter that Jesus had as he entered the City of Nain. As he approached the city gate, he encounter a funeral procession. The body of a man, who was his mother's only son, was being carried away. Along with the crowd, the woman--a widow--was walking beside the body of her son. In front of this deeply sorrowful image, Jesus was moved with pity. He was touched in the depths of his soul by the pain, the anguish, and the sorrow of this poor woman. I wonder if he saw in her a reminder of what would soon happen to his own mother? Did he see in his mind's eye the hour when his own mother would accompany him to his burial?  Either way, Jesus was moved. Jesus was not indifferent to the cries of the bereaved and broken.

For some time now, many people in the Church have felt as though something tremendous has been lost, something is missing. Life in the city continues. Statements are made, meetings take place, and the humdrum of Church life moves along like it always did. We go about doing the same things we've always done, but it's like the soul is missing. Many words are spoken, but the words ring hollow. In the midst of the city, there has been a death, a loss. In the midst of the city, a procession of mourners walks about carrying the lifeless body of their loved one, but many in the city don't seem to notice or they pretend not to notice. They speak in platitudes. "Life goes on," they say. "Worse things have happened." "We've been through worse." "It's not that bad."

The mourners walk through the streets, but they feel invisible. Their pain seems to be mocked, dismissed, or trivialized. Some intentionally ignore the mourners while others consider the mourners to be rude. They are made to feel as though their grief is becoming an interruption to the city's normalcy. "Nobody," they say "will want to visit this city if these mourners continue carrying on." And yet, in the face of tragic loss and death, mourning and sorrow are the only proper responses. The great miracle that happened in Naim occurred when Jesus saw the mourners and was moved by their pain. It is unlikely that we would have ever heard about that day in Nain if Jesus had ignored the mourners or simply said, "It's not as bad as you're making it out to be." We know about Nain because Jesus raised a dead man. And Jesus raised that dead man because he saw and acknowledged the reality before him.

These days in the life of the Church, it can feel a bit like we are trying too hard to ignore the corpse in our midst. We focus on committees, public relations, and statements, but we ignore the woman carrying the lifeless body of her son. We refuse to acknowledge that some deadly thing has taken the life of someone we love. Honestly, who of us really cares about the new transit system, the new environmental rules, or the newly formed committee when in front of us is a mourning mother holding the lifeless body of her son? In the face of that reality, everything else seems petty and vain. In the face of such sorrow, the only human thing to do is acknowledge the truth of it.

Instead of going about life as usual, let's process around with the dead body and mourn. Let us show Jesus how sorrowful we are that something we loved is rotting and decaying. Jesus is moved by the sorrow and helplessness of those whom he encounters.  No public relations strategy can bring the dead back to life. But, Jesus can. Jesus--who is moved by those who mourn and weep--raises the dead.

Does this mean that we curl up, die, and stop doing the things that are part of the life of the Church? No, but it means that we stop pretending like everything is normal and fine. It means we learn how to mourn and weep. It means that we face reality. It means that we weep firstly for our own sins which bring death to the city of our own soul. We carry the corpse of our soul to the Confessional and receive the life-giving touch of Christ. Then, we weep for the death and destruction that has come into the City of the Church. It means that we live in reality. The stench of the rotting corpse is not going to dissipate simply by ignoring it. Jesus is waiting for us to acknowledge it openly. When we do, he will touch the dead and bring new life. Converts, vocations, and strong Catholic communities will come from those places where people mourn. "Blessed are you who mourn." Converts, vocations, and strong Catholic communities will not come from places that try to be innovative and build a city that covers over the reality of sin and death. 

There has been a death in the midst of our City. The stench is apparent. Let's not ignore it or fear that it makes our City look bad. Instead, let's mourn and weep. And in so doing, we can be certain that Jesus--who looks with mercy on those who mourn--will restore what was lost. Jesus--and Jesus alone--will raise the dead.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time Homily: Don't Believe in Something. Believe in Someone.

"Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything."  It's a catchy phrase. It capitalizes on our desire to do big things, to make a difference, to be heroic. But, it kind of sounds a bit like, "Believe in anything. Just believe in something...whatever it is." But, we know that people have believed in some very bad ideas throughout human history and--on the altar of those beliefs--have sacrificed a great many lives.

Today, Jesus asks the crowd, "Who do people say that I am?" It's a good question. What are the people who've heard about me, seen me from a distance, or read about me saying?  If we were asked that question today, we might tell the Lord, "Some people say that you are a great teacher, a moral leader, or a very kind and accepting person." Basically, the crowds say that Jesus is a really really nice guy. 

Then Jesus asks, "But who do you say that I am?" Now Jesus asks his apostles--a smaller crowd--what they themselves say to this important question. I've often heard it said that if you want something not to work, form a committee. If you really want it not to work, have the committee write a mission statement. The apostles didn't decide to have a meeting about this important question. They didn't form a sub-committee to look into it and arrive at a consensus statement. Instead, Peter blurts out, "You are the Christ!" 

Jesus did not want the apostles to "believe in something." He wanted them to believe IN HIM. Peter did not give that answer because he was so smart that he figured it out. He gave that answer because he was given faith to believe. Faith is not about listening to the crowds around us and adopting the most popular or most attractive belief. Peter confessed Jesus to be the Christ because it was revealed to him. Faith is believing WHAT Christ says because we believe WHO He is. 

In a short while, you're all going to approach the altar and I'm going to hold up what appears to be a piece of flat bread. I'm going to say, "The Body of Christ" and you are not going to say, "Well some people say it's just bread. Some people say its a symbol of love." No, you're going to say, "Amen. I believe." You believe it not because you've done a chemical analysis on it and have seen proof that it is actually the Body of Christ. You believe it not because some really other smart people figured it out and you figure you'll just follow along. No, you believe it because you believe Him. You believe that the One who said, "This is My Body, This is My Blood," is the Son of God Himself. You believe what he says because you believe the One who says it. This the gift of Faith.

Now, as soon as Peter made this act of Faith, Jesus explains that He will suffer, be crucified, and died. Immediately, Peter goes back to a worldly way of looking at things.  He doesn't like the idea of a Messiah who suffers. And so he says that the disciples won't allow such a thing to happen. And Jesus rebukes him. Why? Because believing Jesus means believing Him even when it contradicts our own emotions, wants, or plans. In fact, it especially means that. When we believe Jesus when it requires suffering, sacrifice, and loss, that is a special act of Faith. Our Faith grows through in moments such as these.

I've got to tell you, it is so great this morning to look out and see all of you at Mass. In most parishes, I'd be one of the young people at Mass!  But here, I'm one of the oldest. (I see a few outliers here who make me not quite the oldest, but I'm in the top ten percent!) Here you are though. You're at Mass on this beautiful day.  You could be outside enjoying the sun, but instead you're in here at Mass. Why? Because you believe that Jesus is the Son of God. You believe Him when He says, "I am the Bread of Life. Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you." You believe what he says because you believe the one who says it. 

It's not about "believing something." I mean some people probably say, "I believe in the sun." "I believe in kindness." Blech! The sun might give you skin cancer, but it won't give you eternal life. You're here this morning because you have Faith. Maybe part of you wanted to just lay out and enjoy the good weather. But, you believe in Someone and you believe what that Someone has said.  It's so beautiful today seeing you live out your Faith.

Oftentimes, the greatest challenges to our faith is when it requires sacrifice on our part. We want Faith, but we don't want the Cross. But Faith demands that we take up our Cross. It means sacrificing everything. It means following Jesus, especially when doing so requires us to die to ourselves. 

 We don't just believe in something. We believe in Someone. We believe in Jesus Christ. And we believe Him that if we sacrifice everything to follow Him, He will save us and raise us up.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Unhealthy Ambition and the Crisis in the Church

The current crisis confronting the Church has had no shortage of proposals for reform. Most proposals are administrative in nature, revolving around committees, rules, and meetings. Approaches such as these can be beneficial, but they are not sufficient. One proposal that I would make sounds like another administrative one, but it is more than that. It is a theological reform. It is a very simple proposal: Stop moving bishops from one diocese to the next. 

So often ecclesiastical gossip revolves around which bishop is rumored for a bigger diocese. Smaller dioceses must often feel as though they are mere stepping stones for bishops on their way up the ecclesiastical ladder. A bishop, however, is supposed to be married to his diocese. He is not supposed to be looking for a better wife somewhere else. Unfortunately, at least in the United States, bishops are often on the move. When the possibility of a "bigger and better" job looms large it can (if one is given over to unhealthy ambition) lead to a neglect of proper pastoral care, and unfortunately, to worse.

Unhealthy ambition, for instance, could prevent a bishop from taking a controversial stand, preaching the full gospel, or from making radical and necessary reforms in his diocese. Out of fear of drawing negative press, a bishop might choose silence as the best way of advancing upwards. Fear of getting a bad reputation could prevent a bishop from fraternally correcting a brother bishop. If he's looking to get a "better" diocese, he would be hesitant to rock the boat. Bishops who are looking to advance would likely be on the speaking circuit and constantly traveling outside of their dioceses. The ambitious man might become very skilled at pleasing those who can advance his cause, but less skilled at advancing the cause of the Kingdom. He can seek to serve those who are influential in affecting promotions at the cost of serving the flock. 

Let the man who becomes a bishop know that he will be spending the rest of his life serving this one particular flock. Let him invest all of his talent, energy, and--most importantly--pastoral charity to the care of this particular diocese. Let his total care be about this diocese, not the next one, nor the one after that. Let it be a true marriage, in good times and in bad, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do you part. This is what the Church intends for bishops and their dioceses. Why not make it an actual lived reality?

Of course, such a proposal is not a solution without danger. It's possible that a diocese could be stuck with a bad or ineffective bishop. Solutions, however, can be found for that problem, but it would be far more difficult to find a solution for the ambitious bishop. If he's always got his eye on the next rung on the ladder, then his foot is busy crushing the rung of his own diocese. Obviously not all bishops are unhealthily ambitious, but the system of "promotion" to bigger dioceses and archdioceses does run the risk of rewarding those who are. It runs the risk of weakening dioceses by promoting those who focus less on pastoral care and more upon networking with those who can help their careers.  

Might there be times when a bishop needs to move from one diocese to another? Sure, but those should be exceedingly rare. By eliminating the presumption of promotion, the fraternity of priests with the bishop would be strengthened, the trust in the bishop would be increased, and the bishop himself would be totally free to act according to his best pastoral judgment rather than worrying about losing his chance for a promotion. 

Good bishops wouldn't be looking for the next best diocese anyways, so this proposal would not be injurious to them. And, this proposal would also benefit those who might be tempted toward unhealthy ambition by removing the possibility of "promotion." The best thing for a bishop to become is not an archbishop or a cardinal. The best thing for a bishop to become is a better and holier bishop. And, of course, there would be a great number of good and holy bishops (archbishops and cardinals) who would agree.

These days, the happiest bishops are probably the retired ones! In the years ahead, the men who do say "yes" to being a bishop will certainly be well aware that they are truly accepting a greater share in the Cross. They will know that they are not climbing the ladder of earthly success, the ladder of earthly esteem, or the ladder of earthly power. They will--we pray--be men who know that they are climbing up onto the Cross. The men who wear that Cross over their chest must certainly be feeling the burden of its weight these days. We should pray for all of them, that they be strengthened to carry it well. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Pray For The Average and Below Average Priests Too

The other night, another priest and I were discussing something that we've seen and heard a lot recently. In their kindness, people have commented, "We're praying for all of you good priests." These days, the"good" qualification, it seems, is often assigned to those who haven't abused children, covered it up, or preached outright heresy. But to be honest, that's a pretty low threshold! 

It's not that we don't appreciate the prayers, but we'd be happier if you'd just pray for us period. We're not always good priests any more than any of you are always a good husband, wife, father, mother, teacher, or friend. I hope that we're trying to be good and holy priests, but some days it's easier than others. We don't want you to pray for us because we're good because sometimes we are not. Sometimes we're average, below average, or just plain failures. We want you to pray for us so that we will become more like the One who alone is Good. 

Following the words of St. Paul, "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God . . . "(Rom 8:28). The present crisis in the life of the Church is likely being used by the Lord to purify all of us and make us holier. You would have to be a total spiritual knucklehead not to have examined your own conscience during these past weeks. While the vast majority of priests are not guilty of the serious sins (and crimes) that today fill the headlines, we are all, nonetheless, confronted these days by our own failures, sins, and negligences. Many of us (I don't think it's only me!!) are seeing anew the nobility of our vocation, and we are more aware of our own failures to live out that calling in imitation of Christ, the Good Shepherd. It's a grace that this is happening, but it's not a cheap grace. The Lord is pruning us, removing from us every branch that does not bear fruit, and even the branches that are bearing fruit, he prunes so that they bear more fruit. Pruning is costly, but it is fruitful.

While there was only one Judas among the Twelve, the other Eleven didn't boast and say, "Well, we may have denied and abandoned Jesus, but at least we weren't as bad as Judas." They weren't known as the "Eleven Good Apostles." They were men called by Christ, men who were sinners in need of continuing conversion and sanctification. 

There is nothing more consoling than to hear from people that they are praying for us. So please, pray for us priests. But, don't pray for us because you think we are good. Pray for us because we are called to holiness. Pray because the Church needs holy priests. Pray for us because "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23). Pray that we become not just good, but that we become perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. 

Thank you for praying for us.