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.