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.