Monday, December 23, 2019

A Christmas Homily: You Are Wanted, Loved, and Chosen

Dear Friends, although I don't preach from a text, this is the general idea of the homily I will have for Christmas this year. I hope it is helpful to someone. I wish you all a Merry Christmas.

There's a video that makes its way around social media fairly regularly. It's filmed on somebody's phone and takes place in the living room of a family home on Christmas Day, maybe last year. Seated on the floor amid a rather large family gathering, is a young boy (eleven, I believe) who is handed a present to open. The gift is a framed photograph. He's then asked to read the card aloud. The words he reads are something like this: "Dear Carter, we are all so happy that you are in our family photo this Christmas. We would like you to be in our family photo every year. Carter, would you like to be a . . . ." Before the young boy can finish reading, he bursts into tears. The implication is that this family is asking him if he'd like to be adopted into their family for good. 

I find the video moving on so many levels. What really strikes me, however, is that in that moment, you realize how being chosen--being adopted--impacts this young boy's life. His tears express something overwhelmingly human. All of a sudden, you realize that this young boy's hopes and fears are all coming to the surface. You get the sense that deep down, he may have felt like he would never belong, never be really part of a family. Perhaps he had always hoped that someday he'd feel like he really belonged. And now, he finally belongs to someone. He isn't an outsider any longer. His tears reveal that he is no longer alone. He is loved. He is wanted. He is desired and chosen. When he opened that gift, he had no idea how much his life was about to change. He was now part of a family.

Tonight, we come to the manger. Like the shepherds, who dwelled in the darkness of the fields, all of us dwell in some level of darkness. Each of us has these fundamental fears. We are afraid that we do not belong. We can feel left out of God's plan. We can feel like we are on the outside. We can feel alone, afraid, different. Our sufferings, our sins, our pasts, our fears can all weigh us down. Maybe sometime we are not even aware of it. Maybe the party is going on around us and we can lull ourselves into a sense of security. But tonight we are suddenly awakened.

Into the darkness of life, angels appear tonight. They announce to us, "Do not be afraid." They proclaim to us "Good News of Great Joy." Like that moment when the little boy was handed that present, our life is about to change. 

We come to the manger tonight. The Child in that manger is a gift to us. He is a gift that reveals to us something utterly extraordinary. This Child is God. Yes, God has come down from heaven to be part of our family. But more importantly, when we receive this gift, it is revealed to us that God has chosen us to be part of His family. We are not alone. We are no longer relegated to the darkness of our fears, sorrows, and sins. God has chosen us, adopted us into His family.

That young boy, Carter, burst into tears when he realized that he had been adopted into a loving family. Tonight, we are here because in the manger there is a gift awaiting us. He is Christ and Lord. He is given to us so that we can know that we are not alone. You are not alone. Deep down, whether you know it or not, you hope that you belong to someone forever. You hope that you are chosen. You hope that you are loved intimately and infinitely. Deep down, you have fears. You are afraid of being ultimately alone. You are afraid of being unlovable, unforgivable, unredeemable. 

All of us--deep down--have these hopes and these fears. Well, the hopes and fears of all the years are met in Bethlehem tonight. This little baby--this beautiful peaceful baby--is the Father's Gift to You. He is the Word Made Flesh. His Word tonight is that you are loved, forgiven, and redeemed. His word to you tonight is that you belong to the Father. 

I hope that this Christmas, all of us who sit in any sort of darkness might come to the manger and find the child wrapped in swaddling clothes. I hope that each of us can hear the Father speaking to us through this gift. The Infant Jesus tonight is the best news that any of us will ever receive. This gift is God telling us, "You are not alone. You are not unloved. You do not need to be afraid any longer. I love you and I want you always to be part of my family."

The angels were right. This indeed is good news of great joy. And this news is for you.

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Do You See What I See? Catholic College Students Convincing Me of Christ

"Go and tell John what you hear and see." These are the words spoken by Jesus when John sends his disciples to Jesus to ask, "Are you the one or should we look for another?" Jesus doesn't give them an oration. He doesn't provide them with a syllogism, a discourse, or some well-crafted talking points. He simply says, "Go and tell John what you hear and see."  These words are so striking to me.  Can it be that simple?

Twice a year, the Catholic students at Boston University go on retreat together. Although we always have great speakers come, what is always the most moving and memorable part of the retreat are the witness talks by the students themselves. They share how they have seen the Lord work in their own lives, how the Lord has spoken to them in their own lives. These witness talks are always an incredibly powerful testimony to what it means to be a Christian. Months and years after each retreat, nobody will recall anything that I ever said. But, the personal witness of the students is long remembered. 

When I began this blog some years ago, I did so in order to share with others what I see and what I hear in my life as a priest. The experience of encountering Christ is not complete until we have shared with others what we ourselves have heard and seen. As St. John writes, 

"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life--the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and made manifest to us--that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing this that our joy may be complete" (1JN 1:1-4).

On this Third Sunday of Advent, I share with you what I have seen and heard today. I do so that you may deepen your own fellowship with us and with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. I share these quick sights and sounds because to do so also helps my joy to be more complete. Here is what I have heard and seen:

  • Today as I looked out at Mass, I saw young 18-22 year olds who are in the midst of the stress of Final Exams, but who came to  Mass to worship God.
  • I heard the confessions on young men and women who are humbly trying to grow in holiness
  • I saw young men and women from all over the world--different races, cultures, and socio-economic backgrounds--all worshipping together
  • I saw someone in the congregation who was not a Christian last Christmas, but who was baptized this past Easter.
  • I saw someone who had been an atheist, but is now an active and joyful Catholic.
  • I saw people at Mass who had not been practicing the Faith, but were now sitting next to the friend who encouraged and invited them to follow the Lord.
  • I  heard Catholic friends after Mass encouraging one another, laughing with one another, and loving one another.
  • I see and I hear the missionary zeal and love of the young people here. I see their intense desire for others to share in their fellowship and to be close to the Lord.
  • I see and hear young men and women who are in love with Jesus Christ and who love others enough to share their testimony.
  • I see them making sandwiches and delivering them to those living on the streets of Boston.
  • I hear them praying together, talking about serious things together, and participating in Bible Studies together.

To share the Faith, you don't need to be a theological expert. You don't need to be able to answer every single question about the Catholic Church with flawless precision. But, we can do two things. We can surround ourselves with people who are living the Catholic life, who are striving to become truly holy. And when we do this, we hear and see things that profoundly touch us and move us. These encounters--these sights and sounds--deepen our conviction about Jesus Christ and His Church. When we encounter these witnesses, we feel something in our heart that makes us say, "This is all true. I want this for my life."

John the Baptist was sitting in a dark cell. He couldn't see much in there, just the four walls. All he could hear was the party going on upstairs--the drinking, the music, the buffoonery--and perhaps he could hear the executioner sharpening his axe. Many people are sitting in darkness, feeling the weight of gloom, burdened by illness, by a sense of meaninglessness, emptiness, and doubt. They need a friend. They need someone who can share with them the joy of the Gospel.

Do you see what see what I see? Do you hear what I hear? Do you know what I know? If the answer is "No," that's because you are not surrounding yourself with Catholic friends and witnesses. If the answer is, "Yes," then there's only one more thing for you to do to make your joy complete: "Go and tell others what you hear and see."

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Under the Cover of Darkness and Evil These Days

When I was a young boy, I remember telling a lie. The years have caused my memory to forget the content and context of that lie, but I viscerally remember the feeling. After I told that lie, I felt defined by it. I felt disgusting, gross, and slimy. It was as though a dark cloud enveloped me and kept announcing, "Liar!"

As a young boy, I somehow had the sense to know how to fix the situation. I went up to Sacred Heart Church, entered into the confessional, and said, "Bless me father, for I have sinned." I remember hoping that it would not be Fr. Heery, the pastor, not because he was unkind or anything of the sort. I just figured that it would be all too shocking to him to know that a boy of maybe  eleven or twelve had told a lie. Sure enough, it was Fr. Heery. I cleverly inserted the "I lied," amid the usual list of "fighting with my brothers, disobeying my parents etc." I figured if I couched it amid all the other things, it wouldn't even be noticed.

When I finished my confession, Fr. Heery said, "Why did you lie?" It cut me to the core. In retrospect, I realize that he knew that the lie was the reason some boy came to confession. I forget what I answered him, but he advised me to always tell the truth. Then he absolved me and I left the confessional free from the grossness that I had felt since the lie had been uttered.

Those who know me know that I love to share the joyful experience of being a priest. Being in the midst of the flock--whether in times of joy or sorrow--the priest is privileged to stand close to holy realities. After twenty-two years of priesthood, I suspect that the awe will never wear off. Priests enter into the Holy of Holies. They are privileged to pass beyond the veil. Their people pull back the veil and allow the priest to enter into their spiritual lives. They trust him to see their sins, their sufferings, and their intimate prayer. The priest is privileged to preach the Word, to absolve sins, and to offer the Holy Mass. There is something inexplicably beautiful about the relationship between a priest and his people.

Like every other priest, I've had to minister to people in the midst of terrible suffering and horrific sadness. Even--and perhaps, most especially--in these moments, the priest can feel the most useful. He knows that Christ is using him as an instrument in these moments. Christ is making His own presence felt in these moments. And so, even though these moments can be (what I often call) existentially draining, they are awesome in the sense that the priest knows that God has brought him as close to the Cross as was St. John on Calvary. They drain us, but they fill us with a peaceful recognition that this is exactly why we were ordained.

Recently, however, I had a rather unusual experience. It has been a totally unexpected moment in my priesthood. I'm sure other priests have experienced this, but it's a first for me. Many times in my life, I've been with people at the Cross. Those moments--even though painful--have always left me confident that I had been near the holy. But this most recent experience has left me feeling as though I have been to the abyss, to a place of no light and no grace. I feel as though I was left slimed by the whole thing, and instead of feeling existentially drained and fulfilled, I feel disgusted, repulsed, and gross. What's worse is that it is not just one bad part of a situation. It is the entirety of it. It is filled with lies and deceit, politics and grudges, weaknesses and faults, betrayals and distrust, gossip and detraction, hatred and anger, pettiness and immaturity, confusion and chaos, pain and sorrow.

For me, the worst of it is seeing the seeds of distrust that it has sown. It undermines ecclesial communion and love. It has caused people to lose trust in one another, to deepen old wounds, and to create new wounds. It blinds people to the goodness of others. It's not the fault of any one person or persons. It's like an evil pall has settled and covered everything in darkness. It's not like one person did one bad thing. It's like evil itself was unleashed and allowed to wreak havoc and destruction. A great darkness seems to be moving across the landscape. 

And then I remember that from twelve until three darkness covered the whole land. Beside Jesus was a man who asked for mercy. "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." When we feel overcome by evil and crushed by the weight of darkness, the only place to go is to the Cross. It is the place of mercy. We must ask for mercy and be willing to give mercy. None of us must allow ourselves to be like the unrepentant thief, obstinate and accusatory. In the face of gloom and terror, he  allowed himself to be swallowed up into the darkness. The good thief repented. He turned to Jesus. He would have to wait through several more hours in the thick of darkness before he would experience the fruit of his prayer and repentance, but he was sustained by the promise, "Today you will be with me in Paradise."

As a boy, I knew how to shake the weight of evil. I found it at the Cross, in the confessional. In recent years, there has been a lot of darkness surrounding the Church. Occasionally, we see that darkness up close. We can deceive ourselves into thinking that we will fix what's wrong, that our ideas, our actions will defeat evil. To think in this way is to be the unrepentant thief. It is to be blind to the presence of the Savior. To think that we will defeat evil by our sheer will is to make ourselves Lord and King. 

I think the right path forward is to submit ourselves humbly to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, to turn towards Him and to humble ourselves before Him. The only answer is to turn to Jesus. The only thing for me to do is to seek the grace of Christ, and to be converted in my own life. The evil that I mention is not about any one thing or one person. It is more a destructive force, making itself felt and experienced in a thousand different ways. It's tempting to study the darkness, attempt to understand it,  try to fix it. But to do so is to be overcome by it. The answer is the same as it always is. It is the same as it was when I was eleven. It's the same as when Jesus hung upon the Cross. The answer is that of the Good Thief. The answer is to turn to Jesus. We all need to turn to Jesus. Everyone needs Jesus. 

Friday, November 22, 2019

The Devil is in the Details

The Devil is in the details, they say. He sure is. It's why we confess our sins in kind and in number, because the Devil is in the details of our life. He inserts himself into the very particulars of life. He inserts himself into the particular jealousies, particular lusts, particular angers, particular vanities. He's not vague. He's in the details. He's in particular places and particular situations. Evil wants to ruin particular persons, particular virtues, particular institutions, and particular relationships. He's in the details. 

The Evil One seeks to destroy particular goods. There is a meticulous viciousness to his warfare. He's not trying to randomly and sporadically cause problems. He's engaged in an epic battle to destroy vocations, destroy souls, and to destroy the Church. He's tireless and he's detail oriented. He's in the details.

Sometimes, if we're not careful, we can be drawn into one of his traps. He leads us unawares into the snare. We see this in the Church all the time. He turns brother against brother, sister against sister. His ways are cunning. He allows one person to wound another, then he convinces the other to retaliate, and then that one to retaliate. And in this way, he takes the beauty of the communion of the Church and twists it into a battle of factions. He sows suspicion, deception, and viciousness among the Church's members. And he convinces each one that if he or she does not retaliate against the evil perpetrated, then the others are "getting away with it." He hands out the weapons of this world to us, weapons like vengeance, vanity, and gossip. He supplies us with the arms and sends us off to destroy each other. The Devil gleefully provides us with weapons that are powerful enough to destroy each other, so that we don't take up the weapons that are sufficient to defeat him.

In the midst of this kind of evil, one has to remember something important: The Devil is in the details. He is at work wherever communion is attacked, wounded, or severed. In these moments, it is so important to remember that the true enemy is not our brothers and sisters--no matter how much they have wounded us. The true enemy is the Devil. And the only way to defeat the Devil is to put on Christ. It is to refuse to play the Devil's game. Victory is found--hard as it seems to do--in laying down the devil's weapons and taking up the Cross of Christ. It is to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. It is indeed a painful price to pay. But, it is the only way to win.

The way to defeat the Devil and his malice is to turn to Jesus. To win the battle, we must all be willing to humble ourselves, confess our sins, and to love each other. The details have to be surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The Devil takes grotesque pleasure in turning Pope against cardinals and cardinals against pope. He takes grotesque pleasure in turning Bishop against priest and priest against priest. He takes grotesque pleasure in turning clergy against laity and husband against wife. And when we are wounded, we are all too susceptible of enlisting into his army of hatred. 

True victory does not come from defeating those who have hurt us. True victory comes from defeating the Evil One. And we as Catholics know that that victory happens only upon the Cross of Jesus Christ. When confronted by the Devil in the details of our life, let us not become his enslaved soldiers, fighting against one another at his command. 

                                                      Rather, we should 

"be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.  Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,"(Eph 6:10-18).

Making supplication for ALL the saints. Even those who have wounded us. Especially those who have wounded us. This is how we defeat our common Enemy. Let's remember who the real enemy is.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

How About Helping Someone Who Helps Others?

Dear Friends,

I ask you to read below and consider joining me in supporting Drew who is currently giving a year of service to the Catholic Center. He's helping others. Please help him to help them.

Dear Friends,

My name is Drew Faria, and I work at the Boston University Catholic Center. I am a recent graduate of BU whose life has been profoundly transformed by this community and Christ’s presence in it. As a campus minister, I am responsible for keeping the projects and efforts of our community running.

Hundreds of students come for sacraments and more than fifty lead or participate in bible studies. We host events for BU students with pasta dinners, sports outings, men’s/women’s groups, service projects, retreats, and talks from visiting Catholic speakers. I play an administrative role by organizing retreats, outreach events, and bookkeeping efforts for our community. On a personal level, I lead bible studies and minister to those feeling burdened by the challenges of balancing a college and Catholic lifestyle. My work supports the faithful growth of BU students. Communities like the CC have never been more important in a time when the Church suffers from a lack of participation, and college students fall to despair, anxiety, and a sense of worthlessness. I have seen Christ renew hope and love in students who enter the CC, including myself.

My mission is not one I undertake alone. I invite you on this mission of prayer and service with me to build faithful leaders like never before. My position does not come with an established income, thus I humbly ask for your support with a monthly donation towards my work’s monthly expenses. I would love to get in touch with you and meet to explain my ministry in more detail. Meanwhile, pray for the spiritual growth of the BU students and their commitment to the Church. Feel free to send any prayer requests or intentions to
our community as well.

I am honored to be a leader in this group that has provided greater meaning to my life and continues to do the same for others. We foster friendships that last far beyond graduation. Our alumni are active in their faith and parishes. In the last nine years, eight graduates have entered seminary in preparation for the priesthood and nearly twenty have worked in full-time ministries for the church.

I hope you will consider joining my mission at BU. You are in my prayers.
God bless,

Drew Faria
__________________________________________________________________ How to Donate
  1. Online:
    Go to Donate through Paypal or monthly through Church Giving at the bottom of the page. If Church Giving, select the option that applies best to your experience using Church Giving, then choose “Regular” donation. Be sure to write “BU Intern” in the section for additional notes. If Paypal, make sure to click the “Add special instructions to seller” or “Add note” and write “BU Intern”.
  2. Mail:
    By mail with a check made payable to the Boston University Catholic Center, with “BU Intern” written in the memo line. The check may be mailed in the pre-addressed and stamped envelope enclosed.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Evangelization: Friendship, Not Rocket Science

One of my favorite places to be is on the steps of church before and after Sunday Mass. It's where I encounter, albeit briefly, the most students. A lot of times it is just a quick hello, but it is also a time for students to ask questions, request prayers, go to confession, or have some brief conversation. 

Today after Mass, as I was talking to a couple of students, I noticed that there was a guy waiting to talk with me. He introduced himself, mentioned that he is friends with another student that I know, and then said that this other student has been inviting and encouraging him to come to Mass. That's why he was at Mass today, because a friend invited him. He and I will meet up soon, but I was really struck by the simplicity of the whole thing. A friend invited him to Mass. I had the sense that the friend has been inviting him for a while. And then, today, he agreed.

The world "evangelization" can seem daunting and complicated. My encounter with that young man today reminded me that evangelization is not rocket science. Evangelization is friendship. One person discovered something good and beautiful and true. Moved by this discovery, he wanted to share it with a friend, and so he invited his friend. He repeatedly invited his friend. And then, his friend said, "Yes."

Who knows what happens next? Freedom is always at play. Evangelization is risky. It's a gamble. Maybe someone will say, "Yes." Maybe they'll say, "No." Fear of failing, fear of being uncomfortable, fear of being rejected can hinder us from evangelizing. But what kind of friends are we, if we let fear hinder us from loving our friends? 

A young man came to Mass today. He came because his friend invited and encouraged him. We should all hope to be that kind of friend. We should all hope to be that kind of evangelizer. 

Sunday, October 27, 2019

I Love Getting Into Where I Don't Belong

Icon of the Pharisee and Publican as they enter the temple and as they leave the temple. One was justified the other was not
I've often thought that if I won the Powerball (which I rarely play), I'd like to buy a nice house near to the ocean. But then, I don't think I would. There's something in me that prefers when somebody else let's me use their house. Owning my own would give me the sense that I belong in this  house, that it was rightfully mine. It's hard to explain, but I like being in places where I don't have a right to be. I enjoy things more when I realize that they're only mine because of the generosity of another. I can think of many examples of places I've been that make me feel like, "Who am I that I should be here?"

I've been to several Red Sox World Series games. I'm not a season ticket holder. Somebody else invited me to those games. I've been to nice restaurants here and there because somebody took me. And one of my favorites is being at the dinner table with families that aren't my own. The family members are all at that table because they rightfully belong there. When I'm there, sitting among them, I know I'm there because they invited and welcomed me into their home. I don't have a right to be there. I love that feeling. I love working with people or serving people whose goodness awakens within me that sense of, "How did I get here?!"

If I should be welcomed into heaven some day, it won't be because I belong there by right. I will be there because the Lord took pity on me, invited me, and welcomed me. If heaven were a place that I possessed by right, I think it wouldn't be nearly as enjoyable. I imagine that heaven will be the penultimate experience of, "Who am I that I should be here?" 

Today in the Gospel, we are told that two men went into the temple. One acted as though he belonged there. He kind of owned the place. He went right up front, and basically had the attitude of, "Of course, I'm up front. I do everything right. I've earned this place." The other fellow, stayed in the back. He knew he didn't belong there. If he were even in the Temple, it was because the Lord took pity on him. He kept his head down. Ever snuck in someplace where you don't really belong and are trying to keep your head down so that somebody doesn't come throw you out? (I have!) That's what I imagine the tax collector felt like. "I'm in here, but I sure as heck don't belong in here."

The other thing that I love is when I'm able to get others in with me. Over the years, for instance, when somebody has given me tickets to a Sox game, I like being able to invite someone else into that experience. It's great seeing their faces as they realize that we are going to be in some great seats. Or, when I've become close to parish families, I've always wanted other priests and seminarians to be welcomed into their home as well. The experience of being invited and welcomed is even better when I can extend it towards others. 

And this to me is the life of the Church, the life of the Sacraments, the life of heaven. It's the joy of experiencing a taste of a life that doesn't belong to me as a right or as something I've earned. It's humbly acknowledging that I'm really a guest at a banquet. And the host is so gracious that even though I myself am a guest, he allows me to bring whomever I want with me. "Invite as many others as you want. And we're going to treat them just as well as we treat you."

The great masters of the spiritual life teach us that the foundation of the spiritual life is humility. It's a constant recognition that if I find myself in the Church, it's not because I'm holy enough or virtuous enough that I've deserved the right to be there. It's because the Lord is merciful enough to invite me. He gives me not what I deserve (thanks be to God) but rather what I don't deserve. He gives me entrance into his Divine Life. He welcomes me into the Eucharistic Banquet. He seats me where I don't rightfully belong. Then, he becomes even more ridiculously generous. He allows me the privilege to be a giver of his own generous gifts. He says, "Even though you don't belong here by right, I want you to go and invite people as though you were inviting them to your own banquet."

Heaven must be a perpetual state of amazement that the Lord is so good and merciful to allow us to be there. The best way to prepare for that heavenly amazement is to live in humble amazement here and now. The one who is justified before God is not the one who claims it for himself. The one who is justified is the one who receives the mercy of God. The invitation to eternal life is engraved in the Blood of Christ. The RSVP to that invitation is, "O God, be merciful to me, a sinner."

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Forming Amazing Future Leaders for the Church . . . And How You Can Help

The BU Catholic Community at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross
They teach in Catholic schools, study in the seminary, are ordained priests, enter religious life, lead parish young adult groups, serve as FOCUS Missionaries on other college campuses, generously support their parishes, are devoted to serving the poor and needy, joyfully evangelize those who have not heard the gospel, provide a warm point of contact for those who have stopped practicing the Faith, and are beginning new Catholic families. These are just some of the things that the alumni of the Boston University Catholic Center are doing to build up the Church. They are living their Faith and they are living it with joy, zeal, and charity. 
Seminarians and Recently Ordained priests from BU

The young men and women who walk through our door will only be here for four years. Something special happens during that time. They grow in their Faith, form life-long Catholic friendships, and are formed to be leaders in the Church. This year, I've been really struck by the great fruit produced by the life here. This summer, I helped out on Sundays at a parish in a suburb of Boston. As I looked out into the congregation, I saw a beautiful family. The husband and wife met at the Catholic Center. Now, they are raising their beautiful family and are making their parish stronger by their presence. 

This October, I travelled to Rome for the ordination of a recent BU Catholic Center alumnus. He is one of five recent alumni who is studying for the priesthood. Several BU alumna have entered religious life, several recent grads serve as FOCUS Missionaries, others use their work vacation time to serve as counselors at Catholic camps during the summer. 

A Newly Married Couple from The BU Catholic Center
Once a year, I make a pitch asking for people to consider donating to the BU Catholic Center. We depend entirely upon the generosity of others. Your donations go to providing a seed of hope in the midst of a very difficult environment. We provide a home where young Catholic men and women can resist the pressures of a very secular environment. Here, surrounded by other young, joyful, and faithful Catholics, students are able to experience the joy of living a Catholic life. They meet friends here; friends who truly love them and friends who help them to grow in virtue.

It's a amazing to me that every year, I have the privilege of baptizing and welcoming into the Church new college age Catholics. One young man who I baptized last Easter doesn't even attend BU. He attends another school in Boston, but travels here almost daily because he finds in the midst of this community a place of welcome and a place to grow in his new Catholic Faith. 

Fall Retreat
They're only here for four years. Then, their heading out to make a difference in the world by being Catholic leaders and missionary disciples. They leave here and go out to all of the world. They leave here and bring the Gospel and the Catholic life with them. I promise you, we're doing our part to form Catholic leaders for the future. If you'd like to help us, please consider making a donation.

One way you can do that is by  going to this link Donate Now

I am very grateful for any support you might offer. It's an awesome place and it is producing amazing fruit for the Kingdom.

Fr. David Barnes

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

My Friend, Pope John Paul II

John Paul II was a friend of mine. Other than briefly meeting him once in his later years, I never personally spoke to him, corresponded with him, or spent time with him. He didn't know my name. But he knew me. He was my friend. He has been a lifelong friend.

In the early 2000's, a newly ordained priest and I were walking through St. Peter's Square very late at night. We stopped for a few moments and were looking up at the Apostolic Apartments where John Paul II resided. I said to my friend, "It's amazing to me that whenever he speaks, I feel as though he is speaking directly to me, like he actually knows me. And that everyone else who hears him feels the same way. How is that possible?"  My friend thought for a moment and said, "It must be because he knows the true man--Jesus Christ--so well, that he is able to speak directly to the heart of every man." 

John Paul II was a friend of mine because he always pointed me to Jesus Christ. He spoke convincingly about Jesus. He spoke to my heart and appealed to my youth. He was an old man, but his soul was young. He presented the challenge of the Gospel in a way that invited me into something epic, consequential, and exciting. He didn't nag or harangue his listeners. Instead, he proposed to them a new way of life, a possibility of following Christ and of laying down one's life for something greater. John Paul II was a friend of mine because he invited me to walk together with him in following Jesus Christ. He invited people everywhere to follow Christ. He inspired countless young people to give themselves to Christ. We were living something special together. We were all part of something together.

John Paul II was a friend of mine who encouraged me. He knew how temptation, sin, and evil could weigh upon a person. He was not afraid to speak about how destructive sin was. But, he did so in a manner that made it clear that sin was the enemy, not the sinner. He encouraged me by reminding me that the path of holiness was always open to me. Jesus was always extending his hand, reaching out, and inviting me to "Come, follow me." 

John Paul II was a friend of mine. He was a friend to everyone. He didn't simply speak about the poor. He spoke to the poor. He didn't simply speak about the sick. He spoke to the sick. He didn't simply speak about priests. He spoke to priests. He didn't simply speak about the lonely. He spoke to the lonely. He didn't simply speak about sinners. He spoke to the sinner. He spoke to the married, the single, the religious, the elderly, the young. He spoke to those who were afraid. He spoke to the prisoner. He spoke to the heart of the human person. He spoke to me.

One of the students at the BU Catholic Center approached me last week. She said, "Father, is it okay if next Tuesday we have a party to celebrate John Paul II's Feast Day?" This request really struck me. Most of the students I work with were only small children when John Paul II died. Yet, they too are his friends. Young people are still moved by his example, his teaching, and his love. John Paul II--the friend of Jesus Christ--is still speaking to the hearts of young men and women. He is still calling out to them, encouraging them, and assisting them to follow Christ. They see in John Paul II a shepherd who challenges them and who loves them. They find in him a shepherd who appeals to their youth. He is their friend too. 

I recall one time tens of thousands of young people chanting, "JP2, We Love You."  John Paul II replied, "And JP2, he loves you." I knew those words were true. He did love us. He was our friend. I am grateful today to spend his Feast Day with a new generation of young people who consider John Paul II to be their friend. I am grateful that we can live this extraordinary friendship together, a friendship that begins and ends in the One who alone answers the desire of the human heart, Jesus Christ.

John Paul II is a friend of mine.

Thanks for the Friendship, JP2. We love you.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

We Don't Abandon Our Friends on the Spiritual Battlefield

Every Catholic who is striving to grow in holiness finds himself with some frequency kneeling in the confessional, humbly acknowledging his or her sins and faults. The person who frequently confesses their faults is a fighter. They haven't thrown in the towel, resigned themselves to their sins, or made friends with their sins. They are soldiers engaged in an epic battle against the power of evil. Knocked down, they get up again. Sometimes, they feel like they have been traitors or cowards. And yet, they drag themselves to the aid station and then return to the battle. For some, they battle the same faults and sins for years upon years. As long as this has not settled into some sort of routine and empty ritual, they have no cause for shame. If the Lord commanded us to forgive our brother seventy times seven times, will he not also do so for us? 

We live at a moment in time, however, when instead of encouraging one another to fight the good fight, we are tempted to discourage one another. True love--true friendship--doesn't abandon our fellow soldiers on the battlefield. True love demands that we rally them, encourage them towards holiness, and carry them to safety. When we encourage others to sin, to abandon the fight, to yield to the powers of evil, the flesh, and the world, we fail them. We fail them and inflict grave spiritual harm upon them. We expect that an enemy might try to destroy us, but we should be able to count on our friends to aid us. Friendship and love means willing the good for the other. Most importantly, it means willing their spiritual good. It means wanting to do everything possible to help that person attain eternal life. 

When we cooperate in the sin of another, we are not only wounding ourselves spiritually, but we become an enemy to the one who is supposed to be our friend, our comrade in arms. When we cooperate in the sin of another, we take the side of the Enemy. Instead of saving his life, we participate in his destruction. So, it might be helpful for us to review the nine traditional ways in which we cooperate in the sins of another.

By Counsel: In this instance, we advise a person to act in a manner contrary to the Divine Will. "If you really love this woman, I think it is fine for you to cheat on your wife."

By Command: In this instance, we command a person to do some act of evil. "You have to lie to the customer in order for our business to flourish.."

By Consent: In this instance, we affirm the person's decision to act contrary to the Divine Will. "You're going to get blackout drunk tonight? That's wonderful. Have a great time!"

By Provocation: In this instance, we appeal to someone's foolishness or pride to act contrary to the Will of God.  "You should decide for yourself what is right or wrong. You shouldn't listen to some old fashioned commandments. Do you really think you're going to go to Hell for not going to Mass?"

By Flattery or Praise: In this instance, we celebrate someone's sinfulness. We heap praise upon them for doing something that is contrary to the Divine Will. "I think it is great how you cheated on that test and didn't get caught."

By Concealment: "If you take this money that doesn't belong to you, I won't say anything to anyone."

By Partaking: In this instance, you actually benefit from the sin. "I'm glad you stole that money so that we could enjoy this nice vacation."

By Silence: This in some ways is the "live and let live" cooperation. "I know that you are cheating on your wife, but for the sake of peace and tranquility, I won't bring it up. Better for us to stay friends than for me to make things awkward."

By Defending the Sin: In this instance, we argue that the evil act is not evil at all. "You deserve to be happy and if that means doing what is forbidden by God, then that must be okay."

Friends, we are engaged in a spiritual battle. Our Enemy is crafty, sinister, and relentless. We need true companions to be at our side during this war. We need friends who love us and who don't leave us for dead on the battlefield. We need friends who encourage us to fight against temptation, not yield to it. We need friends who help us to repent, not to relent. We need friends who lead us to the Confessional, not traitors who abandon us to the Enemy. We need friends who help us cooperate with grace, not cowards who cooperate in our sins.

Don't abandon your friends on the battlefield. Don't let them get discouraged. Don't let them surrender to the Enemy. Better to fall in battle a thousand times, to repent, and to return to the fight than to be abandoned and discouraged. 

If you love your friends, help them to be holy. Stand by them, love them, and encourage them to never stop fighting for holiness. That's what comrades and companions do.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Come Away By Yourselves And Rest Awhile--The Need for Certainty Amid the Turmoil

There was a sound that I loved when I was a young high school student considering the possibility of going to the seminary. The parish where I grew up was Sacred Heart in North Quincy, Massachusetts. Unusual for a Catholic parish in the 1980's, our parish had daily Eucharistic Adoration. I, along with many others, would often stop by "Our Lady's Chapel" for a visit during the day. The church was located on a very busy city street.

The Chapel of the Parish Church Where I Grew Up

The chapel had a steady flow of visitors. Whenever a new visitor arrived and opened the heavy wooden door, the sound of the world outside would rush into the quiet of the chapel. For a few seconds, the chapel would be filled with the noise of the traffic and the hustle and bustle of the outside. Then, as the door closed, peace and tranquility would once again flood into the pews and arches. It was amazing how medicinal that split second was when it would go from noise to silence. 

In many ways, that experience of praying shaped how I came to understand the Church. It was a place where I could go and figure out life. It was a place free from turmoil, chaos, and confusion. It was a place of refuge. It wasn't an escape, but rather a place where I could taste how life was meant to be. It was a place that allowed me to take all of the disparate aspects of life and unify them. It was a place that prepared me to go back out into the chaos of everyday life and engage it in a new and refreshed manner. What I experienced in that chapel was a peaceful possession of the Faith. As I turn back the pages of the years, I see now that in that side chapel, I was learning to build my house upon the Rock. Yes, winds and rains would come--as they do to every life--but there in the midst of it all, there was something--Someone--who was sure and certain.

That memory of the sound of that door clicking shut came to mind today as I scrolled through social media. We live at a moment when the world and politics are so chaotic and tumultuous. The structures of society are collapsing and so is a sense of unity among Americans. Social media is filed with a never ending bombardment of insults and divisions. Additionally, people's lives (as they always have been) are filled with worries, anxieties, and fears. It would be nice to have a place to find refuge--even for a moment--from the constant noise outside.

And this is where I think the Catholic Church could provide a remedy to a tired and discouraged world. We could be that place of refuge for people, a place where people could come and leave the turmoil and chaos outside for a while. We could be a place where people could encounter something sure and certain. I think people are starving for some tranquility in life. I'm starving for some tranquility in life!

But we are not. Instead, the Catholic Church is herself immersed in chaos and turmoil. Instead of being a place of refuge, the Church herself is engaged in constant interior battles. Honestly, I think it is counter evangelical. People have enough chaos in their life. They are not attracted to a Church that offers more chaos, confusion, and turmoil. Many people--people with family problems, illnesses, emotional difficulties, sorrows, heartaches etc--have enough wind and rain in their life. They are seeking a place that reminds them that there is way to build upon rock.

Over the past two weeks, I've had some beautiful moments of the Church being what it was made to be. Last weekend, the Catholic Center at Boston University had its Fall Retreat. In the midst of the stress and chaos of college life, students took time to go be together, to pray, to receive the Sacraments, and to listen to God's Word. They took time to build their life on the Rock. The day after retreat, I flew to Rome for the diaconal ordination of a recent Catholic Center alumnus. Over the past fifteen years or so, ten or so guys from BU's Catholic Center have entered seminary or been ordained. Currently, there are several BU guys in the seminary, some of whom are in the photos below. I share these photos as a reminder that even though there is a lot of turmoil, angst, and infighting swirling about these days, the Church can still be a place of refuge, a place where people can build a life on something sure and certain. I think that one of the best methods of evangelizing the current culture is to provide to people something that they cannot find elsewhere--stability, surety, safety, and certainty.

I hope that when you look at these photos, you might have that experience that I had when the chapel door would close. The chaos of life didn't disappear, but it would be put in its proper context. I am grateful that I live among a people who provide to me a place of refuge from the chaos, a place to build my life upon Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

The Beautiful Chapel at our Retreat Center

Denis Preaching the Gospel for the first time

This is after Denis's ordination. Pictured here from left to right is Patrick Ryan (seminarian for Providence), Fr.John Gancarz (newly ordained priest for Hartford), Deacon Denis Nakkeeran (Boston), Joe Ferme (seminarian for Boston) and me. All of them are from BU and a couple of others are not pictured here.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Priests Should Talk More About Money! (But Not the Way You Think)

When I was first in the seminary, occasionally someone would ask me, "So, how much does a priest make?" The first time I heard the question, I was dumbfounded. I had never even thought about it. It probably wasn't until I was almost done with seminary that I had any clue what the yearly stipend for a priest was. I think that's true of pretty much every guy I knew in seminary. We were there because we felt God was calling us to be priests. We had the sense that somehow we'd be taken care of, so money wasn't really ever on our minds. 

As I've grown older, however, I find myself thinking more often about money. How much should I be saving for retirement? Do I tithe ten percent before taxes or after taxes? Are the retirement programs that are currently in place for priests going to be there when I am seventy-five? How do I live simply, give generously, and be responsible in saving? What do I do with gifts that people might give to me at Christmas or at other times? Should I simply tithe on those or should I give them completely away? How much is reasonable to spend on eating out? Is this expenditure reasonable or is it luxurious? 

When I was young, I didn't think about money, and I'm glad that I didn't. Had I thought about money when I was in seminary, I might have allowed worries about it to ruin my vocation. The obliviousness of youth was good for me and for my vocation! Of course, another good reason why as a seminarian I didn't think much about money is because I didn't actually have any to think about! 

Recently I read a tweet by a prominent Catholic layman who opined on the scandalous situations of some bishops who have used the monies of the Church to live luxurious lifestyles and to garner influence with higher ranking prelates. This layman wondered aloud whether or not this kind of culture begins not with elevation to the episcopate, but is in its seminal stage among priests. My initial reaction was to object. I replied that most priests whom I know are generous, not living luxuriously, and are often scrupulous about the use of parish funds. He agreed, but, he still wondered if there is a danger among priests of accepting large gifts without much intentional thought about its effects on their spiritual lives. 

That online exchange (which was pleasant and respectful) came back to me recently. I was speaking the other day to someone who told me about a parish that regularly gives visiting priests several hundred dollars to say a Sunday Mass. Honestly, it shocked me. Typically, visiting priests who help out at a parish in Boston for a Sunday Mass would receive a $100 stipend. That stipend is the recommended amount from the Archdiocese. A lot of priests that I know set aside that kind of money and use it for works of charity. I don't help out regularly in a lot in parishes, but that kind of occasional "extra" money makes it easier to buy dinner for a seminarian, lunch for a student at the Catholic Center, or respond to the many requests that priests receive for donations. Like the occasional gift that I might receive from a parishioner, it is a nice extra something. But, I wondered to myself: "What if I were regularly making an extra $400 or $600 a week?"

Would I likely be using that money for works of generosity? Some priests probably would. But, I think that would be a danger for me. I could easily see myself thinking, "Well, I'll give half of that away and keep half."  But soon (and I'm only speaking for me because I know myself), I'd be thinking, "Well, I'll use $100 of it for others and keep $500). The priests that I know who help out in parishes do so not because they are trying to make money. They do it to help other priests out. They are hardworking and generous priests. They do it because they want to serve God and provide the Sacraments to the People of God. And, $100 seems like a reasonable stipend for the extra work; even slightly more than that if the distance is significant. $200 or $300, however, for a single Mass, has the whiff of something seriously amiss. It runs the risk of the pastor of that parish beginning to exercise an undue influence because "he" is so generous. On a priest's stipend, an extra several hundred dollars a week would be a huge increase. That could pose a danger not only for the priest receiving it, but also for the priest who gives it. It can create a sense that the money belongs to the pastor. It can create a sense that "he is generous." Were it his money, he would definitely be generous, but, it's not. It's the Church's money. He should give what is just because the laborer is worth his wage, but excessive stipends to priests can slowly become a poisonous culture. The priest can begin to believe that he is, in fact, generous because he gives away large sums of the people's money. It runs the risk of the priest appearing generous rather than actually being generous. It also sets up the possibility that pastors of wealthy parishes (or even non-wealthy parishes whose pastors decide to significantly exceed the recommended stipend) exercise more influence than the pastor who observes the standard.

I haven't blogged in a few months, and this is probably a rather boring topic for a first post! But, it seems the question of money and scandal is definitely in the headlines these days. Honestly, I think most priests and bishops use the money that they receive to do good works with them. I've had many priests support the Catholic Center where I am chaplain both with their own money and with donations from their parishes. Priests and bishops are mostly very generous men. In fact, when I see the generosity of other priests, I often feel convicted by my lack of it. 

At the same time, harmful cultures grow when we all say, "Well, that's the way it works and there's nothing we can do about it." One thing that we can do to help one another avoid future catastrophes is to talk about the way we do things now. Twice this week, I've had conversations with priest friends about money and the way we think about it, use it, and save it. Simply talking about it is helpful. It forces me to examine my life and to think about my relationship with money and how it is helping or hindering my spiritual life. That's a conversation we should all (priest or not) be having on a regular basis. If we don't, abuses begin to slip in and lure us away from living as we are called to live. Maybe when we talk about things, we conclude that the way things are working is perfectly fine. If so, wonderful. But, if we never talk about them, it can lull us into a darkness that harms us and eventually harms the whole Church. Priests should talk about money with one another and with others. It just helps to keep us all honest and to avoid future scandals. Money is a part of life. It's part of a priest's life. That also means--whether we talk about it or not--it is part of our spiritual life. It's better to talk about it with one another so that we can be sure that we are using it in a way that keeps us virtuous, builds up the Kingdom, avoids pitfalls, and helps us to grow in holiness.