Thursday, August 12, 2021

St. Peter Sometimes Feels Like the Guy Who Asks Questions at the End of Class

Matthew 18:21-19:1 

At the end of a Friday morning Latin class when I was a seminarian, a seminarian sitting a few rows behind me raised his hand and asked the professor, "Father, did you mean not to assign us homework for the weekend or did you just forget?" I whipped my head around so quickly in disbelief that I am surprised my  head didn't snap off. 

I always think of that moment when I read the Gospel passage about Peter asking Jesus, "Lord, how often must I forgive my brother?" We could have been fine, but Peter had to show off and raise his hand at the end of class. Something in me wants to give Peter a dirty look and say, "Nice going, Peter. Now we all have to forgive people seventy times seven times." He didn't just ruin the weekend with Latin homework. No, this is a life-long homework assignment.

Forgiveness is a tough one. Any priest who regularly hears confessions will tell you that a big source of difficulty for many people is forgiving those who have harmed them. And sometimes, even when we think we have forgiven someone who injured us, it sneaks back up on us. Maybe as we are drifting off to sleep, we remember their pettiness, their harshness, or their outright hostility towards us and we suddenly realize that we need to forgive again. Sometimes I find it even happens when I'm praying. Maybe I'm reading this very gospel about forgiveness and suddenly my mind is beginning to relive the injuries of the past.

If our starting point is how we have been injured by others, it is a bit of a dead end. In a way, this was Peter's starting point. He begins with how many times his brother has injured him and how many times he must forgive that brother.  Jesus, however, begins with how many times I have injured God and how God responds to those injuries. Jesus says that God forgave the entire debt. In this way, we are reminded that we were once weighed down by an impossible debt, but God lifted that debt and set us free. If we have any hope of dealing mercifully with others, we must begin with our own experience of being forgiven. We must live out of our own experience of being a person who has been treated mercifully.

If we look at Peter's question from the side of "how much do I have to forgive," it really becomes an impossible moralistic homework assignment. But when we look at it from the perspective of, "God has forgiven all of my impossible debts and asks me to reflect a little of that same mercy towards those who owe me much less than I owe God," it becomes a source of joy and freedom.

God has forgiven me so much in my life. He asks me to show a little of that same mercy towards those who owe me far less. I suppose we all owe Peter our gratitude. His question reminds us that we have been forgiven and that we can be set free from our own pettiness. Today let us recall all that we've been forgiven and ask the grace to forgive others. 

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Looking Around at Holy Communion at Ordination Mass Deepened My Communion


Today I concelebrated the Ordination Mass of five men to the Transitional Diaconate for the Archdiocese of Boston. I had the privilege of vesting one of the newly ordained deacons, a young man from Nigeria who will, along with his classmates, serve the Archdiocese of Boston. It was a beautiful Mass, but I was especially moved during Holy Communion. As the newly ordained deacons were distributing Holy Communion to the Faithful, I looked around the sanctuary as the concelebrating priests received Holy Communion. What I saw was really moving to me.

Firstly, I saw Cardinal Sean O'Malley sitting in the cathedra looking at his presbyterate. For some reason, it was poignant to me. Then, I saw the priests all lined up at the altar. There was the priest who preached at my First Mass. There were a couple of priests whose First Masses I preached at. There were priests that I vested at their ordinations. There were priests whom I've known since I was a kid, priests who taught me in seminary, priests whom I've loved and priests with whom I have had difficulties. There were priests with whom I work, priests who have served for many years, and priests that have only been ordained for a few days. It was especially touching, for me, to see the men who were only recently ordained in the past couple of weeks there among their brother priests. And then, there were all of the seminarians who are drawing ever closer to ordination, serving the Mass.

It was a special grace for me in that moment to see and to love all of these brothers. There we all were, gathered around the Altar, just as Jesus intended us to be.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Overcome with Paschal Joy and Friendship in Christ. A First Mass Homily

This weekend a great friend of mine was ordained to the priesthood, and I had the privilege of preaching at his First Mass. It was such a joyous occasion! I include here my homily, but the real joy of the day was watching this new priest offer a beautiful, reverent, and prayerful Mass. It was awesome.

Overcome With Paschal Joy and Friendship with God 

A Homily Delivered at the First Mass of Thanksgiving 


 Fr. Robert Anthony LeBlanc 

St. Paul Church, Cambridge MA 

May 23, 2021 


Overcome with Paschal Joy! 

For the entirety of the Easter Season—which comes to its completion today on the Solemnity of Pentecost—that phrase has been included in the Preface that the priest prays at every Mass. Today the Church will place those words upon the lips of our brother and our father, Robert LeBlanc.  

“Overcome with Paschal Joy!” These words, perhaps better than any others, give adequate expression to what fills our hearts today. To be overcome with Paschal joy is really to be overwhelmed by the love of God himself. This joy, this being overwhelmed by the goodness of God—by the nearness of God—is a sure and certain hallmark of the Christian life. JoySt. Paul tells us, is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit brings God near to us, and it is this nearness—this closeness—that brings us joy. 

The readings today abound in joy. On that first Easter Sunday the disciples who were locked away because of fear, rejoiced when they saw the Lord. When a friend has gone away from us, we naturally experience joy upon his return. But Jesus did not simply return from a long journey. No, he had passed into death itself, the place from which no one returns. He conquered death and was truly Risen! He did the impossible! This alone would be enough to bring great joy to the disciples, but there is more! Jesus enters that room and brings with him a whole new way of life, a new beginning, and previously unimaginable possibilityHe brings with him a life that is stronger than death. And this new life is not reserved to him alone. He breathes on his apostles, giving them power, power to extend this new life to otherspower to forgive sins in his name.  

Jesus—who was crucified and died—now lives and gives to humanity the hope of conquering sin and even death itself. The old order is destroyed and a new life is now open to all who will receive it. Yes, the disciples rejoice! They rejoice because they are close to the Lord, and today we too rejoice because we can now be friends of Jesus. We also are close to him. Friends who remain with him. Friends who abide in him. And so yes, we are overcome with paschal joy.  

Yesterday, our brother was made a priest by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This outpouring of the Holy Spirit brings us joy, not merely because our brother and our friend received a tremendous gift. We are overcome with Paschal Joy. We are overcome by God’s extraordinary goodness to us. Bobby’s ordination reminds us that God is still reaching out to people in this time and in this place. God is still extending the hand of friendship. God loves us and is still opening a new way of life to us. God is still offering us a way to be free from sin and a way to share in a new life. He poured out his Holy Spirit upon Bobby because God chooses priests to be the ministers of His friendship, the ministers of His joy. Joy comes from being in friendship with God. And the priest is the minister of God’s friendship, the minister of His joy.  

From the pulpit, filled with the Holy Spirit, Fr. LeBlanc—like the apostles—will preach the Word of God. Those who hear him will be filled with wonder and with amazement. They will hear from him the Good News offered to us in Christ. Into the dark clouds of their fears and anxieties, their pains and their sufferings, the Holy Spirit will speak through this priest. They will hear that God’s love is stronger than sin, stronger than death. They will be drawn deeper into friendship with God and yes, they will be overcome with paschal joy. 

At the baptismal font, he will introduce others into friendship with God. In that Font, by the power of the Holy Spirit, those who were once under the condemnation of sin and death will die to sin and will rise with Christ into new life. They will share in the new life that comes from friendship with God. And yes, they will be overcome with Paschal Joy. 

In the confessional, those who have lost friendship with God, those who are weighed down by guilt and by sin will be lifted up by mercy. There they will find Fr. LeBlanc ready to restore them to friendship with God. They will find Good Shepherd who seeks out the lost and who carries them back to Divine friendship. By the power of the Holy Spirit, he will absolve them from their sins. They will enter that confessional heavily burdened. And yes they will leave overcome with Paschal Joy. 

At the deathbed, those who are afraid as they pass from this life to the next, will see Fr. LeBlanc standing by their side, reassuring them of the hope that belongs to the friends of God. He will be there to offer them the Sacraments and to prepare them to meet the Lord. Those who are privileged to have him at their deathbed, they will be overcome with Paschal Joy. 

All of us know that Bobby possesses a special gift—a special talent—for friendship. He shares a beautiful friendship with his parents and with his brother. Their home was really his first seminary. Many of us here today have also come to know and are deeply grateful for the gift of his friendship. But yesterday, God did something more than any of us could have dared to hope. He made Bobby a priest. He made our brother into an instrument of Divine Friendship. He made our brother into a minister of Paschal Joy. Through the priesthood of Fr. LeBlanc, the poor, the lonely, the sinner, the abandoned, the mourner, the weak will all come to know that God is their friend. They too will be overcome with Paschal Joy. 

No place will this ministry be more evident than at the altar. Every day for the rest of his life, Fr. LeBlanc will offer the Holy Mass. He will offer the Paschal Sacrifice. Without the Cross, there is no friendship with God. It was on the Cross that Jesus restored us to Divine Friendship. At every Mass, Fr. LeBlanc will make present—by the power of the Holy Spirit—the Sacrifice of Calvary. He will bring us to God and from his hands, we will receive God Himself. Knowing this, we cannot help but to be overcome with Paschal Joy. 

My brother, we are filled with joy for you today because we love you. But even more, we are filled with joy today because your priestly life is a reminder of the unfathomable truth that God loves usthat He has drawn near to us, and that He has made it possible for us to love him in return. You are now and forever a minister of friendship with God, a minister of Paschal Joy.  

Every day after Mass at the seminary, I would find Bobby kneeling in prayer at the Altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary. One title given to the Blessed Virgin Mary is “causa nostrae laetitiae,” the cause of our joy. By the Holy Spirit, Mary conceived and brought God near to us and, because she brought God near to us, she is referred to as the “cause of our joy. Similarly, through his priestly ministry, Fr. LeBlanc will bring God near to us and thus, he will bring us joy. We can be certain that she who is the cause of our joy will remain close to this minister of joy. 

And so, brothers and sisters, in case you didn’t get the message, today is a day of great joy. This joy—this paschal joy—is not fleeting.  In the Sequence of Pentecost that we chanted before the Gospel, the Church begged the Holy Spirit with these words: “Give them your salvation Lord. Give them joys that never end. Amen. Alleluia.”  

God has seen fit to answer this prayer favorably. In the pulpit, at the baptismal font, in the confessional, at the deathbed, at St. Mary’s in Brookline, wherever Fr. LeBlanc is—and most especially at the altar--by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and through the instrumentality and sacramental ministry of this priest of Jesus Christ—this minister of Divine Friendship—from the very hands of our brother and our Father, Robert)God indeed gives salvation to his people and will lead them into the joys that never end. This, this is why today we are most certainly overcome with Paschal Joy. Amen. Alleluia