Monday, July 16, 2018

The Catholic Church is Friendship in Christ

One of the reasons that I began this blog some years ago was to provide some window into the life of a priest. Most especially, I wanted to share the joy of priesthood. The other evening, I had an experience that flooded my soul with tremendous peace and joy, and I want to share that with you.

Peter and Kerry. When I was a pastor, a new family arrived in our parish church one Sunday. They had been looking around for a new parish and stumbled into ours. Happily, they stayed. Each Sunday, they would attend the choir Mass (a solemn and grand Liturgy) with their two (and eventually, four) children. Like many of the parishioners in that parish, Peter and Kerry often invited the priests and seminarians to dinner. They love the Catholic life and are always inviting others to share the joy of their Faith. They love to gather Catholics (of all ages) together to study the faith, share the faith, and grow in the faith.   

(As a total aside, this photo is of a Lego project that their young son, William, proudly showed me the other night at dinner. It is the Garden of Gethsemane (you can see the apostles sleeping,Jesus praying, and the guards approaching), the Crucifixion, and the Tomb with the guard outside)! 

Joe. The summer before his senior year at Boston University (where I am chaplain), Joe met a fellow student and Catholic. They became friends. This friend kept inviting Joe to events at the Catholic Center. Eventually, he convinced Joe to attend a Catholic Center retreat. Well, to be fair, this young man asked me to text Joe and to convince him to go on the retreat. I texted Joe and said, "Joe, I just heard that you are coming on the retreat. I am so glad to hear this. It has made my entire year." So, under pressure, Joe came on the retreat, had a great experience, and became an integral part of the Catholic Center. After graduation, Joe gave a year of service to the Catholic Center, volunteering as our intern. I am very grateful for that year. Besides all of the work he did, Joe became a good friend. We prayed a Holy Hour together each morning which was a great grace. At the end of that year, Joe entered the seminary where he has been for two years now. Tomorrow, Joe boards a plane for Rome where he will study in seminary for the next five years.

On Saturday night, Peter and Kerry hosted a dinner for Joe. It was a magnificent affair. Some of Joe's close friends at the BU Catholic Center attended along with some priests and seminarians. At the beginning of the meal, Kerry spoke about how she and her family love priests and seminarians and how important the priesthood is to their family. She emphasized how priests can really have a tremendous influence on the lives of people. It was a beautiful witness and testimony. Vocations flourish in parishes and communities where the priesthood is loved.

The friends that Joe made at the BU Catholic Center helped him to grow in his Catholic Faith. In so many ways, his vocation was nurtured by his friendships. And, in turn, he helps them to grow in their Faith. It is not, I don't think, an exaggeration to say that Joe is heading off to Rome tomorrow to continue his studies for the priesthood because four years ago, a Catholic friend invited him (repeatedly) to go on retreat. One of the great lessons I've learned at BU is that nothing replaces the personal invitation. You can have great posters, websites, social media accounts etc, but the most effective evangelization is the personal invitation. 

One of the things I love about priesthood is bringing various persons together. For instance, I love introducing former parishioners to the BU students or introducing seminarians to parishioners etc.  The other night at dinner, I was so pleased to have various communities present--former parishioners, BU Catholic Center folks, seminarians and seminary faculty; a variety of ages, married, single, seminarians, and priests. All of us loving one another and encouraging one another in living out the Faith. And what was the common denominator? Jesus Christ. We were all there because--in one way or another--Jesus invited us to walk by his side and to be his disciples. I think all of us who were sitting at that table the other evening had to feel like the apostles who gathered around the Lord in the upper room. We knew that we were living something special together, something that is completely gratuitous. We didn't create it. We received it. We followed the Lord and this is where he led us. 

The other night at that dinner, as I looked around, I was filled with gratitude. Gratitude for marriage, gratitude for priesthood, gratitude for the Sacraments. I was filled with gratitude because--like the apostles before us--Jesus gathered us around that table and once again assured all of us of a truth that never loses its newness and its rejuvenating power: "I call you friends."

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