Friday, April 19, 2019

Good Friday Homily--You Can't Stay in the Middle

Our Students Outdoor Stations of the Cross on Good Friday
Oftentimes on Good Friday, I try to focus on one or another of the persons mentioned in St. John's Passion narrative. Maybe the Blessed Virgin or St. John himself. Pilate, Barabbas, Simon Peter, Joseph of Arimathea, Mary of Magdala, or Nicodemus. But today, I want to talk about someone who is not mentioned by St. John.

Earlier this afternoon, Catholic students here at BU did a live Stations of the Cross in the middle of Marsh Plaza. There, in the middle of campus, they acted out the Passion and Death of the Lord. As they did so, I was struck by all of the people passing by. They were busy living life. They were getting on and off the Green Line, getting on the bus to West Campus, making their way to class. Some tour groups passed by. Even though they didn't know it, they too were taking part in the Stations of the Cross.  They were, what you might call, "extras." They actually played an important role.

At the center of everything was Jesus and all of the main characters. Some, like John, Mary, Simon of Cyrene, and the women had definitively chosen to stay with Jesus. Others, like the soldiers and Pilate were clearly against Jesus. On the peripheries, however, were people who passed by as though this event taking place had nothing to do with them. They were busy. They had to get places. Maybe as they passed by, they thought, "Yeah, I should probably be more religious." Or maybe they thought, "Those crazy Catholics." But, for the most part, their role was to pass by. This Jesus and his death had  nothing really to do with them.

Between the main characters and those who didn't have time to stop were the rest of us. We were watching what took place, and it was as though we were suddenly faced with a choice. Are we going to live as though this event has everything to do with our life or are we going to pass by? See, if we're honest, we can all easily forget that His Passion and Death define our life. We can live as passers by. We have a vague sense that Jesus is important, but we have places to go and things to do. 

Today, Jesus cries out from the Cross, "I thirst." A few weeks ago, he thirsted by the well in Samaria. He told the woman that he wanted a drink.  He did not merely want water from her. He thirsted for her Faith. He thirsted for her to put her Faith in him, to trust him; to trust that He could give her what she had been searching for in vain for all of her life. He thirsted for her to surrender to him and to trust that he would bring her the happiness that had long eluded her.  

Today, Jesus cries from the Cross, "I thirst."  He thirsts for our Faith. If we're honest, all of us hold back from trusting Jesus completely. There's a little "passer by" in all of us. There's a hesitancy in us. We are afraid to surrender certain parts of our life to him. All of us can act at times as though what happens on the Cross is not absolutely critical and central to our life. We can be busy about many things. We can pass by hurriedly, but no matter how frenzied life might be, we can hear his voice today through all the noise. He's calling out to us, "I thirst." "I thirst for you. I thirst for your love. I thirst for that part of your life that you are keeping from me. I thirst for that part of your life that you hide from me, that you refuse to surrender. I thirst to be the one who defines your life. I thirst."

In a few moments, we will all approach the crucified Lord and reverence the wood of the Cross. As we do so, let's remember that he is calling out, "I thirst." He's not crying out to some vague or anonymous crowd. He's crying out to you personally. Will you give him your heart or will you be a passer by? He thirsts. And you must  now make a decision.

On the Day Before He Suffered, a Holy Thursday Homily

After Holy Thursday Mass at Boston University, some of our students walked to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross to  pray with Cardinal Sean
The other day, I received a text message from a man who was a high school student when I was a newly ordained priest. He and his family became friends of mine and we've kept in touch over the years. He was texting me photos of the beach in the Bahamas where he and his wife are on vacation. He wanted to let me know that he is enjoying warm, sunny weather and that he hopes I'm enjoying the cold, rainy weather here in Boston. Nice guy.  After we texted a bit, I recalled another time he texted me, about two years ago.

His mother had been sick for quite a while, but she took a rapid turn for the worse and he called to see if I could come visit her in the hospital. As it turned out, I would visit her on the night before she died. I've been at the bedside of hundreds of people at the moment before they pass from this life and go to the next. It can be an extraordinary moment. Being present at the side of this woman on the night before she died stands out in my mind.

When I entered the room, which was fairly dark, I greeted her family members.  They said to her, "Fr. Barnes is here." I was preparing myself to offer some words of consolation to her. Instead, she said, "Oh, Father Barnes! It's so nice of you to come. Thank You. How are you doing? How are the kids at BU doing? Tell me about them?" At a moment when she would fully be within her rights to be concerned about herself, she was thanking me and asking about the people whom I serve. 

There are words that I have spoken daily for twenty-two years.  They have never really struck me because what follows them are the most important words. "On the night before he died." Or, "On the night he was betrayed." Or, "On the night before he suffered." These words never stand out to me because it is the words that follow these that are the most important. "This is my Body. This is My Blood."

But today, these words really strike me. Tonight, we are with Jesus on the night before he died. We are with him in this privileged moment when he prepares to pass from this life to the next. He is the one who is about to be betrayed, to suffer, and to die. And what does he think about in this moment? He thinks about you. On the night before he died, Jesus thought about you.  He loves us to the end. He spends the night before he dies, loving us. He expresses this love by giving us three gifts.

Firstly, he gives to you the gift of the priesthood. True, none of you are ordained priests, but all of you--all of us--are recipients of this gift of Jesus' love. On the night before he died, Jesus gave to us the gift of the priesthood. This gift of his love is given so that the presence of the Good Shepherd can be prolonged in every age and place. Through the priesthood, Christ loves us by teaching us with his Word, absolving us from our sins, and feeding us with His Body and Blood. On the night before he died, Jesus loved you and gave you the priesthood.

Secondly, on the night before he suffered, Jesus gave you the Eucharist. He thought of you in that upper room. He loved you and wanted to remain with you in the most intimate of ways. In this gift, Jesus remains with you and transforms you into himself. He who is Love Incarnate opens a way for us to be caught up into Divine Love. In the Eucharist, Love Himself enters into our soul and transforms us from the inside. The image of Christ becomes more and more alive within us, enabling us to love to the end. On the night before he died, Jesus loved you and gave you the Eucharist.

Thirdly, on the night before he suffered, Jesus gave to us an example. He emptied himself--lowered himself--and washed the feet of his apostles. In doing so, he showed us what love is. And then, he commanded us to love. He showed us how to love to the end. So many people feel trapped in anger, trapped by circumstances, trapped by their past. They feel imprisoned by their faults and failings. They feel as though there is no way forward, no way out.  But Jesus shows us that there is a way. On the night before he suffered--at the moment when fierce enemies were closing in on him, surrounding him, and taunting him--at the moment when close friends were betraying him, denying him, and abandoning him--Jesus loves them.  He loves them to the end. He loves us to the end.  And so, on the night before he suffered, he gave to us an example, a reminder that love makes us free. He loves us to the end and allows us to do the same. On the night before he died, he taught us how to love.

The woman I mentioned earlier died such a beautiful death because she had been transformed by the One who loved her. She knew that Christ, on the night before he died, loved her to the end. She lived a life of receiving the gifts of love that Christ bestowed upon her and she was transformed by this love. She was loved to the end and was made able then to love to the end. This is the Catholic life. 

Dear Friends, tonight we are with Jesus on the Night before he died. What a privilege to be with him at this moment. And as we stay at his side in this sacred moment, he does something that we should never forget.  He loves us. And he loves us to the end.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Chrism, Friendship, and Martyrs

There's a Latin aphorism that says, "Lex orandi, lex credendi," which basically means, "The law of praying is the law of believing." In other words, if you want to understand what we as Catholics believe, one way to do that is to look at the way we pray. The Liturgy instructs us about what we believe.

Even though I entered seminary thirty years ago, I still find myself surprised by the Liturgy of the Church. Every so often, a word, a phrase, a symbol, or part of the liturgical calendar causes me to pause. I love these moments because they are a clear indication that the liturgy does not require innovation on our part or the insertion of novelties in order to teach us something new. I had one such moment at the Chrism Mass this Holy Week.

Each year at the Chrism Mass, the bishop gathers with his priests and members of the local church and he consecrates the Holy Oils that will be used throughout the diocese for the coming year. This year, as my bishop, Cardinal Sean O'Malley was saying the prayer for the consecration of the Chrism, I noticed something that I've never taken note of before. We are all accustomed to hearing the words, "priests, prophets, and kings" linked together. We know that in Baptism we are anointed to share in Christs priestly, prophetic, and kingly offices. We also know that in the Old Testament priests, prophets, and kings would be anointed. What struck me though was this: 

"To you, therefore, O Lord, we pray, that by your blessing you may graciously sanctify the rich substance of this oil that you have created, and permeate it with the strength of the Holy Spirit by means, too, of the power at work in your Christ, from whose holy name is named the Chrism, with which you have anointed your priests and kings, prophets and martyrs." 

 Added to the usual list of "priest, prophet, and king" is the phrase "and martyrs." I was really struck by this. This prayer instructs us that all who have been anointed with Chrism have been anointed for martyrdom. We have been anointed to be witnesses. "Martyr" means, "witness." Inherent with every anointing with the Sacred Chrism is a new configuration to Christ. This interior configuration, however, is given not simply for our own benefit. It is bestowed so that we can witness to Christ. It is given so that our life can bear witness to the truth that St. Paul proclaims: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (Gal 2:20). 

Whether in Baptism, Confirmation, or Holy Orders, the person anointed is strengthened to bear witness to Christ. This witness--this martyrdom--requires and assists us in dying to ourselves. We witness to Christ by dying with Him. We sometimes think of "witnessing to Christ" as an add on to being a Christian, but the prayer makes clear that we are anointed as martyrs, as witnesses. This anointing to martyrdom is not a punishment. It is a privilege. It is also a relief. Why a relief? If we were simply "called" to bear witness to Christ, that might leave us feeling overwhelmed by a task beyond our capacity. Or, such a call could feel a bit like being summoned for jury duty, an unwelcome interruption to our life.

No, we haven't merely been summoned to some unpleasant duty. We've been anointed for a privileged vocation. We've been chosen and anointed to bear witness to Jesus Christ, the Savior. Witnessing to Christ--making Him known by our way of life, by our words, by our love, this is a sacred mission entrusted to us who have been anointed by our Savior.

In an age when the light of Christ is increasingly obscured by the growing shadows of secularism and by ideologies antithetical to Christian anthropology, the world and Christians themselves require martyrs, witnesses. I see this clearly in my work on a college campus. When the predominant culture dismisses, mocks, and is antagonistic toward the Christian Faith, it can be extraordinarily difficult for young people (or any person) to remain faithful. And yet, a witness changes everything. A witness introduces hope into the bleak horizon that the absence of God inevitably brings. The martyr--the anointed witness--awakens in the other a remembrance that beauty, goodness, and truth do exist. The witness enters into the darkness of others and pierces their soul with the warm light of Christ. The witness saves others from the lie that life is empty and lacks meaning. The witness awakens within us a recognition that we have an eternal destiny.

When I see the men and women at our Catholic Center living their life together, I see that they are saving one another. By witnessing to one another, they save each other from the grasp of the darkness that surrounds them. This is true also for parish communities. When we live life together in Christian friendship, we witness to one another and to others that Christ is true. When we are surrounded by friends who are witnesses, we experience the freedom that only Christ can give.

What saves me every day is living life among witnesses. They are witnesses because they have been anointed. They have been anointed with the Chrism that makes martyrs. Thank God for Chrism and thank God for His witnesses, men and women, young and old, who daily allow Christ to live in them and to use them as instruments to save us.