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.