Sunday, June 17, 2018

What Is the Kingdom of God Like? Like This.

As I was driving home this evening, I had one of those wonderful moments when you suddenly see something that you didn't see in the moment itself.  

Earlier this past week, a BU Catholic Center seminarian was in town and we met up for lunch. Today, another BU Catholic Center seminarian, his family, and I had Mass together. This afternoon, I found out that a man who was part of the BU Catholic Center in 2011 is now entering religious life. Another man who graduated this year is also entering religious life. This evening another BU Catholic Center seminarian who has been studying in Rome for the past two years came for Mass and dinner. When I dropped him back at the seminary, I ran into another BU Catholic Center seminarian.  It wasn't until  I was  driving home that it dawned on me how amazing all of this really is!

Today, in the Gospel of Mass, Jesus spoke about how the Kingdom of God is like a man who sows seeds, but then he really doesn't know what happens after that.  They take root, grow, and are fruitful. But the fruitfulness is all God's work.  As I was driving home tonight, I thought about how all of these men who are in the seminary are signs of the fruitfulness of the Kingdom. In each of their lives, various persons--priests, brothers, sisters, lay men and women, fellow students, all scattered seeds. The BU Catholic Center community is a place where people scatter the seeds of the Kingdom. None of these people knew what the result of their labors would be. They just scattered the seeds because that is what the Lord asks of his disciples.

There are many things that a parish or community can do to promote priestly vocations, but none of those things--or even ALL of those things--will produce the fruit. All we can do is to sow seeds and hope that the Lord will make them fruitful. No priest, parish, vocation director, or community produces priestly vocations. But, every priest, parish, vocation director, and community can sow seeds. 

It would frankly be kind of boring if priestly vocations arose from a program or from a clever plan. There would be no surprise to it. What is beautiful about the Kingdom is that we scatter seeds, but we don't really know how those seeds become fruitful. The seed sprouts and grows, but we know not how. It is a work of Divine Grace. The Kingdom of God is so extraordinarily beautiful because we can't make it happen. We are servants of the Word, not masters of the Word. It's always a surprise when the fruits of the Kingdom burst forth in our midst. The Kingdom of God can't be managed, bureaucratized, or programmed. We scatter seeds. God makes them fruitful. Part of the joy of the Christian life is the recognition that we have been permitted to participate in something so much greater than ourselves. 

I am filled with gratitude as I end this day. I have always loved today's parable, but today I saw it play out before my eyes. Day in and day out for years, people at the BU Catholic Center have been scattering seeds, and those seeds have taken root, sprouted, grown, and have borne fruit. But, none of us is able to take any credit for it. If we could take credit, then we could be certain that it is not the Kingdom. What is so awesome is that we all have the privilege of seeing God produce fruit from our meagre efforts. He is so faithful! God takes the little that we offer and he transforms it into something spectacular. 

Tonight, I am grateful for those who scatter seeds and for the Lord who causes those seeds to take root, sprout, and bear fruit.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

The Church, Andy Bernard, And The Good Old Days

Some of our community after the Easter Vigil Mass
The other night, I was watching reruns of a television series that I find particularly funny, "The Office." In the show's final episode, one of the characters--Andy Bernard--ruefully says, "I wish there was a way to know you're in the good old days before you've actually left them." Andy regrets that oftentimes we don't realize just how good things are until those things have passed away. 

I don't feel the way that Andy did. I think one of the joys of living the Catholic life is knowing that you are living the "good old days." In fact, what makes the Catholic Faith attractive to others is when Catholics live with an awareness that they are living something extraordinary together. They are living in Christ and Christ is living in them. Evangelization doesn't happen because we say the word "evangelization" enough times. Evangelization happens because we are living something extraordinary together and this moves us to share the joy of this experience with others. Evangelization happens because we ourselves are moved by the awareness that we are part of something extraordinary.

In my life as a priest, I constantly feel like I'm in "the good old days." As a parish priest, I knew I was in the good old days when I was sitting at the home of parishioners for dinner, leading the Corpus Christi Procession, or sitting at Finance Committee meetings. When our rectory was filled with priests and seminarians, I knew we were in the good old days. Every day, I knew that we were living something extraordinary together. We were living something that was given to us, not something that we created. We all knew that we were living in that moment, "the good old days."

As a college chaplain, I know that I'm living in "the good old days." I know it in the morning time when I sit and have coffee with our staff and with the students. I know it when we hang out and do crossword puzzles together. I know it when I sit on the bench outside of the chapel and hear confessions. I know it when, on a day off, I have Mass with one of our seminarians. I know it when I see students bring their friends to be baptized at Easter. I know it when I hear students give witness talks at retreats. I know it when we joke with one another, pray with one another, and worship with one another. I know it when we go out for lunch together. I know it when students share with me that they are considering a call to the priesthood or the religious life. I know it. I know that we are in the good old days. 

I'm grateful that the Lord has given me this gift, the gift of knowing that I'm in the good old days at the very moment that I'm in them. And I'm grateful that this gift is something a community shares together. It's a shared amazement. This has been my experience of parish life and of college chaplaincy. I feel like we all stand together in wonder and awe,  asking, "How is this possible?" No matter how much work or skill we might put towards our endeavors, it is not a tower of Babel. It is not our accomplishment. It is something beyond us. Something that carries us and moves us. 
We can't create the good old days. The good old days is the eternal day of Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. 

Do we want to draw others into the Church or back to the Church? Do we want to see priestly and religious vocations flourish? Do we want to see families attending Mass? The answer is found not in our projects and slogans. The answer is found in our being moved by Christ. It is found when a community--priests and people--stand in awe together by what Christ is doing, and realize together that we are in "the good old days."