Friday, March 30, 2018

Good Friday: Do You Live Differently Now?

(Although I did not preach from a text, this is the general idea of the Good Friday homily that I preached this year.)

"Before the feast of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end." 

Last night, at the Mass of the Lord's Supper, we reflected upon those words.  This evening, we come to the foot of the Cross and we see these words actualized in their completion. We see that He loves us to the end. To His last ounce of strength, to his less breath of air, to his last drop of blood. He loves us to the end.

Last week I heard the news report of a policeman in France named Arnaud Beltrame.  When a terrorist had taken hostages, Arnaud Beltrame volunteered to take the place of the last hostage. When I heard that news report, I immediately thought, "Gee, that woman must feel the need to live her life in a completely different way now. She must feel that she owes it to this man who died in her place to live a life worthy of such a sacrifice.  At the moment that I thought of it, I wasn't thinking on a theological level. I was just thinking merely on a human level. I'd imagine that if someone gave up their life for me, took my place, that I'd live the rest of my life in an entirely different way.

Then, almost instantaneously it occurred to me: Someone has given up their life for me.  So often, we say, "Jesus died for our sins." As true as it is, we can often say it in a kind of disinterested way. We say it as though it really didn't mean much for me personally. But the reality is that he died for MY sins. He died in MY place. I was the hostage. I was held in captivity to the powers of sin and death. And into that reality, Jesus entered in and took my place.  His death is not the result of some nebulous notion of sinfulness. No, his death was for MY sins. For YOUR sins. You were held captive and were facing certain condemnation. Instead, Jesus offered himself.

He loves us to the end.  In fact, the very last thing Jesus did in his earthly mission was for us. St. John tells us that after announcing, "It is finished," Jesus bowed his head and "handed over the spirit." At the foot of the Cross was the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. John. There, they were the beginning of the Church. And upon them, Jesus handed over the spirit. He handed over his spirit. He breathed his last breath upon them, the spirit which enables the Church to live a new life. From the Cross, Christ hands on to us his spirit so that we can live a new life, a life marked by profound gratitude for what we have received. 

"If you love me, you will keep my commands." "As I have loved you, so you must love one another." "What I have done for you, so you must do." "Whoever wishes to be my disciple must take up his cross and follow me. "

Tonight, we come to the foot of the Cross to say, "Thank you." To adore the Innocent One who came to save the guilty. We fall on our knees before Him in gratitude for rescuing us from the terror of sin and death. We come to beg Him to breathe upon us His spirit, a spirit of love, a spirit of total gift of self. 

As we approach the Cross tonight, let us do so mindful that standing next to us is the Blessed Virgin Mary. Let us console her by telling her, "I am grateful for the sacrifice which your Son offered. I am the one whose place He took. It was me who was supposed to die, but your Son took my place. In that brief moment when we adore the Crucified Lord, let us assure the Blessed Virgin Mary that we are firmly resolved to live a life worthy of such a sacrifice. We are resolved to live differently because of what Christ did for us. We are resolved to pour ourselves out in union with Him, to live by the spirit which He has breathed upon us. Let us assure the Sorrowful Mother that by the grace of her Son, we are committed to living a totally new life. Let us console her by assuring her, "It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me" (Gal 2:20)

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Dear Brother Priest, Let's Confess Before Easter

Dear Brother Priest, 

During Holy Week, we priests will have the opportunity to attend the Chrism Mass. We will gather with our brother priests around the bishop and will renew our promises. I'd guess that no matter where any of us is in our spiritual lives, there is a sense that we could be closer to the Lord. We could all be better priests. We could be holier than we are.  For some of us, the Chrism Mass is is a reminder that we are part of a great fraternity that has its foundations in the apostles. We are brothers who participate in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ.  For others, the Chrism Mass is a source of some sorrow. It is a reminder that the fraternity that we entered is weak and marred by the sinfulness of its members. For many, perhaps it is a mixture of both sentiments; it contains both joy and sorrow.

No matter whether one arrives at the Chrism Mass filled with joy, with sorrow, or with some mixture of both, one thing is certain: None of us priests (or bishops) who attend has lived up to our noble calling. We are all, as St. Paul says, earthen vessels. In the line of penitents, the clergy ought to be given pride of place. In other words, we who are ministers of the Lord's mercy ought to recognize ourselves as those most in need of that mercy.

One of the many blessings that the Lord has bestowed on me in my life is that I've always been assigned in places that are proximate to shrines and chapels where confessions are frequently offered. Additionally, I've been blessed to be assigned with priests or have had good priest friends with whom I've always been comfortable to ask, "Before we go out for dinner, would you hear my confession?" 

Oftentimes when I preach about the importance of going to Confession, I mention that I go to Confession. I do so because I think it is important for people in the pews to know that their priest knows what it is like to be a penitent. In fact, the other day I went to Confession to a local chapel and I mentioned to someone that I went. They said, "Did you get Father so-and-so?" I said, "Yes! He was a great Confessor."  The young person with whom I was speaking said, "Yeah, I love to get him. He's so good." I'm glad that the people whom I serve know that I preach about the importance of Confession not simply as one who hears Confessions, but as one who needs and receives the Sacrament.

Not every priest lives near a Shrine or a Chapel that offers regular Confession times. Not every priest--for whatever reason--is comfortable confessing to his friends. Not every priest has a regular confessor or spiritual director. Not every priest is going to Confession regularly. And then, like every other Catholic who lets it go too long, even priests can become hesitant to go at all. He becomes embarrassed or afraid. Because he is a priest, he feels even worse for not having gone to Confession. He allows Satan to shame him into silence. This silence becomes an obstacle to the fruitfulness of the priest's ministry. 

I just want to say to my brothers in the priesthood that if this week you go to the Chrism Mass, take the risk. Even if you've been to Confession recently, why not go again? Why not enter into the Triduum with as much grace and purity as possible? And if you haven't been in a long time, what an amazing opportunity! Show up early and ask a priest friend. Or, ask some retired priest who probably doesn't have much opportunity to hear confessions. Or, ask one of the religious order priests who are present or one of the priests from some other country who happen to be present at the Mass. Ask one of the priests whom you know to be a holy priest or one of the priests who you think could benefit from being asked.  

No matter what, we are all showing up at the Chrism Mass and are going to renew our priestly promises. We are at the threshold of the Sacred Triduum. We ourselves are about to hear scores of Confessions, Baptize new Catholics, Confirm new Catholics, and give new Catholics the Eucharist for the very first time. Deep in our souls, we desire to be holy. We want to do these things with as much humility, purity, and charity as possible. So, why not use the opportunity to be recipients of the Sacrament of Penance?

I'll be attending the Chrism Mass in my archdiocese.  Even though I've been to Confession this week, my guess is that I will be asking some priest before the Chrism Mass to hear my Confession. If I do, I'm guessing he would be edified and thankful for the opportunity. I hope that if you're a priest and you're reading this, you might also seize the opportunity to go to Confession during Holy Week. You need it as much as your people do. And, Jesus loves you as much as He loves your people. He loves you, He knows that you are sorry for your sins, and He wants you to share in the riches of His mercy. You will serve your people better if you allow yourself to receive the Lord's forgiveness.

I hope none of what I've written sounds the least bit condescending. It just bothers me to know that there could be a brother priest who, deep in his heart wants to go to Confession, but is afraid. While the banter and conversation before the Chrism Mass is good, we shouldn't allow it to prevent us from approaching one another to receive the Lord's mercy. I write this as a brother priest who also needs the Lord's mercy and as a brother who would humbly kneel before you and say, "Bless me Father, for I have sinned."

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Closeness of the Lord, Magnificat

Mary Greets Elizabeth and Proclaims the Magnificat
As I come to the close of another day, my heart is filled with a profound gratitude to Jesus Christ for all that He has given to me. Let me share the ways that I experienced the closeness and love of Christ today.

This morning I took public transportation to a local shrine for confession, but the train got stuck, so I had to get off. Happily, I was nearby to another chapel, so I went there and prayed for forty-five minutes while waiting for their confessions to begin. The priest who heard my confession was a fantastic confessor! He spoke so beautifully of the spiritual life and offered sound counsel. In fact, I was so struck by his great priestly ministry that I offered my Mass for him later in the day. His priestly ministry reminded me what a grace it is to receive the Sacrament of Penance. It also increased in me a desire to be a better confessor for those who come to me.

Later in the day, I messaged a young man whom I met in my first parish. He was in high school at the time. His dear mother died a year ago tomorrow. I messaged him to let him know that I am praying for him and for his family, and that I would offer Mass for his mother on her anniversary of death.  I had the opportunity to visit and anoint his mother on the night before she died. She was as beautiful a soul on her deathbed as she had been in life. Here she was in her last hours, and when I came into the room she said, "Father Barnes, please tell me about your ministry with the college students."  Sharon was always thinking of others. I told her that she's one of the few people who I really believe when she said, "I pray for you every day!"  I am grateful for her, for her faith, and for her family. 

John Praying Before Mass
As I was praying before Mass 
this evening, I looked over and saw a young man sitting across from me. I will have the privilege of baptizing John and two others at the Easter Vigil this year. (I am so excited about baptizing these three!) John was praying from a popular monthly prayer book entitled, "Magnificat." It brought a smile to my face because the new editor of Magnificat is a priest who I received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil several years ago when I was a parish priest. I thought how beautiful it is that so many things are connected. The people of that parish influenced this young man who entered the Church and became a priest. Now that priest--the new editor--is influencing a young man who is preparing to be baptized at Easter.  God is so very good. I am grateful for the privilege that Jesus gives to me in being a minister of the sacraments. I am grateful for the example that these converts offer to me and to others. 

During Mass tonight, I was struck by the devotion of all of these young people. They are helping one another to follow the Lord and to live the Catholic life. I am always struck by how they spend time after every Mass giving thanks to the Lord. It is a beautiful thing to witness.

A few moments ago, I received word that a former parishioner of mine died this evening. I visited him about a month ago in the hospital. He is a young husband and father of three. Every time that I've prayed for him during the past several weeks, my memory saw him, his wife, and his three daughters at Sunday Mass. They lived the Catholic Faith together. Whenever I saw him, his face made it clear how much he loved his family. I am grateful for Ed's life and for his example of loving his wife and children. I am grateful for his wife's fidelity to him and to her strong faith in the midst of such a difficult situation. I am grateful that Jesus rose from the dead and that tonight Ed's family--though weighed down by tremendous grief--can be filled with the joyful hope of eternal life. I am grateful for the tremendous love and outpouring of prayers and support with which that parish has surrounded Ed and his family during these very difficult months. I am grateful that as a priest, I've been privileged to meet and to serve people such as these.

Today, in a variety of situations, the Lord Jesus made known to me His closeness. In prayer, in the Sacraments, and in the quiet and humble example of so many good priests and laity, the Lord drew near to me today. Tonight, I feel also the closeness of the Blessed Virgin Mary and her maternal love. Her "Magnificat" sings of the greatness of the Lord who looks upon us in our lowliness, comes near to us, and loves us. I hope that all of those who are mentioned in this post and all of those who read this post experience the closeness of Our Lord, the warmth of His love, and the profound and joyful gratitude that filled the heart of the Blessed Virgin.