Monday, November 28, 2022

Advent: To See Ourselves and Others with Mercy and with Hope

Homily on the First Monday of Advent

I don't post very much these days, but here is a homily for the First Monday of Advent that I preached at Mass today at the seminary. Hope it is helpful to someone.

The other evening, I was watching a World Cup match with a priest friend of mine who is 80 years old. He leaned in towards the TV to read aloud a quote that appeared on the screen. “You Can Be Anything .”  He said, “That’s a lie.”  

Even though it is a lie, marketing experts are bright enough to know something about the human heart. They know that the human heart has infinite desires. Every human heart desires to be more, to possess more, to live more.  And every human heart feels deep within itself the incapacity to fulfill those desires 

The world, the flesh and the devil all try to capitalize upon these desires of oursThey tell us that “You can be anythingor, you can do whatever you want.” It goes right back to the Garden: “You can be just like God.” As we all know, we cannot be anything we want to be.  

But the desires of the heart are still relentless and restless. Advent affords us an opportunity to turn our attention to the crying out of our heart. To pay attention to that ache that exists within each one of us. The ache that comes from longing for fulfillment, but always feeling incapable of achieving it.  

Advent does not tell us we can be anything. But it reminds us that we CAN be what we were made to be. Advent is a season of memory. It invites us—once again—to remember that we were made to be the friends of God. We were made to have union with Him. The Devil, the World, and the Flesh all do their best to distract us from this truth. They cloud our memory and leave us grasping at straws. Advent begs us to remember. To remember that the answer to our heart’s infinite desires is none other than the infinite God who comes to us in Jesus Christ. And that Christ alone can heal the human heart so that it can attain the fulfillment of its desires. 

We all begin Advent wondering, “What should I do?” “What should I do to make this Advent a good Advent?” I’d like to propose one possibility. It is to imitate the centurion in today’s Gospel. He had a look upon reality that was true. He felt things deeply and he acted boldly. 

He looked upon his servant and was moved with pity for him. He didn’t gloss over the situation. Instead, he looked at this man with sympathy. He saw the pain of a man who was made to walk, but was prevented from doing so. This man is an image of every person. We all are made for more, but struggle to move forward. The centurion feels this tension deeply. And see, what he does. He goes to Christ. He does not tell the servant to try harder to walk. He does not give up on the servant. He does not become angry at the servant’s incapacities. He goes to Christ. He puts all of his hope in Christ. 

The gospels are filled with examples of people who seemed incapable of becoming what they were made to be. The woman caught in adultery, the man left for dead by robbers on the side of the road, and Zaccheus. But Jesus entered their lives and healed what was broken.  

Advent is a time to feel once again these infinite and glorious desires that God has placed in our heart. And to feel again the anguish of our incapacity to fulfill these desires. And to renew our confident hope in the coming of the One who alone makes us able to walk towards our Destiny. 

When we live Advent in this way, it transforms us to become bearers of hope for others. It makes us able to look at others with this intense sympathy. Everyone desires more. Everyone desires to be more. Everyone desires to live more. And everyone feels a certain hopelessness. Everyone feels incapable of ever satisfying these desires. 

 Advent affords us an opportunity to look upon everyone we encounter with the eyes of sympathy, with eyes filled with hope. When we look upon someone in this way, we awaken hope within them. Our gaze reminds them that they are not merely an accumulation of their faults, weaknesses, and incapacities, but rather a person called to greatness. Our gaze upon them can awaken within them the hope that Christ will bring to fulfillment the desire of their heart.  

And of course, this all is possible because Christ does this for us. Every day, we come to the altar and we feel deeply our incapacities, our failures, our weaknesses, our sins, our faults. We echo the words of the centurion, “Lord, I am not worthy.” And from this altar, Christ looks at us with sympathy and with love. In the Eucharist he comes under our roof, he brings us healing remedies that make us able to walk again . . . to walk amid the passing things of this world, so as to love the things of heaven and hold fast to what endures. 

Monday, May 16, 2022

Homily on the 25th Anniversary of My Ordination to the Sacred Priesthood

This week, I celebrate the 25th Anniversary of my Ordination to the Priesthood. This past Sunday I offered Mass in the seminary chapel with some family and friends in Thanksgiving to God for the gift of the past 25 years. This was the homily. I do with that I could have invited tons more people, but our capacity was limited.

 Homily on the Occasion of the 25th Anniversary of Priestly Ordination 

 Dear Friends in Christ, 

There’s a scene in the novel “Brideshead Revisited,” where the two main characters spend an afternoon lying out in the countryside, drinking wine. One of them—in a melancholic kind of way—says, “Just the place to bury a crock of gold. I should like to bury something precious in every place where I’ve been happy and then, when I was old and ugly and miserable, I could come back and dig it up and remember.” 

Commemorating the 25th anniversary of my ordination provides me with the opportunity to make a sort of pilgrimage of memory, returning to places where I have been happy, and digging up gold and remembering.  Unlike the character in the book, however, it is not melancholy or misery that makes me do this. (I will leave it to you to decide about whether I am ugly or old). Looking out at all of you—and thinking about many others who, for one reason or another could not be here today—is not a glancing towards the past with nostalgia.  Instead, you are an assurance to me of Christ’s Presence now. You are an assurance that the Lord is faithful. The gold that I have discovered in every assignment is Jesus Christ. The gold that I have left behind in every assignment is Jesus Christ. The gold that I will find tomorrow and the next day is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ yesterday, Jesus Christ today, Jesus Christ forever. 

On the first Easter, the disciples were told to go back to Galilee—back to where it all began. To go back and to see all that had transpired over the previous years in the light of the Risen Lord. To return to Galilee and to begin to make sense of all that had occurred. To see everything in the light of the Resurrection.  To go back and to discover all of the gold that Christ brought into their lives, the gold that he planted into their hearts. They are directed to return to Galilee where Christ will meet them.  

In one way or another, all of you are my Galilee. When I return to you—when I recall what we have shared together, what we have lived together, I am convinced all over again about Jesus Christ. When I return to you, I encounter Christ. When I return to you, the gold that is Jesus Christ is made present once again to me. You convince of me of Christ.  I need to be convinced of Christ every day. And in his mercy, Christ has always placed in my path people—family and friends, parishioners, and students, priests and religious, and seminarians who convince me of Christ. 

In today’s first reading, Paul and Barnabas arrive back in Antioch and they immediately get the whole Church together so that they can share with them all of the amazing things that God had done with them on their journey. This has been my experience during these past 25 years. So much of priesthood for me has been the experience of gathering together with others—priests, religious, seminarians, families, college students, lay men and women—and marveling together about the amazing things that God is doing.  

I am never hesitant to speak about these amazing things because I am completely surprised by them. They are not the result of ingenuity, or a program, or a series of calculated steps. Each one is a miracle of grace. There is no formula. They are all signs of the gratuitous and surprising love of Jesus Christ.  

For example, the Lord tells us that there is more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner than over 99 who have no need to repent. Why? Because repentance is always a surprise. We can do everything well, have excellent programs, beautiful liturgies, doctrinally solid instruction....all of which are important...but when that person comes into the confessional and kneels down and opens himself or herself to the Mercy of God, it is always a surprise. In that moment, no priest thinks, “This is because of what we did.” No, in that moment, every priest thinks, “How is this even possible?” God is so good. Grace is always surprising. 

“This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” “As I have loved you, so you should love one another.” 

For twenty-five years, the Lord has placed me in situations where I could easily recognize his disciples because of the love that was shared among us. This love is always surprising. It is always new. This love poured into our hearts by Christ is the gold. When I was first ordained, I didn’t realize how much I would need that love. But twenty-five years into it (and I still feel new at it), I recognize that this love is what saves me. This love is what I need. This love is what I want to tell others about, so that they too can encounter it. There is enough gold for everyone. 

Brothers and Sisters, Jesus Christ makes all things new. At the Eucharistic Altar, he restores the joy of our youth. At the Eucharistic Altar, he loves us and pours into our hearts a charity for one another that truly saves us. Love for one another is the most effective way to evangelize. It is the gold that every heart desires. 

Like Paul and Barnabas and the Church at Antioch, I am happy to gather with all of you in one place today, so that we can marvel together at the great things God has done. The greatest thing I can tell you about these past 25 years of priesthood is that God has surrounded me with disciples who have loved one another and who have loved me. This love continues to surprise me and to save me. This love of Christ—poured into our hearts is the pure gold, it is the treasure that we hold in earthen vessels. It is a gold that will never run out. It is the gold that is waiting for us every day.  

Today, as I travel back to Galilee, and as the golden rays of Easter—the Light of the Risen Lord—shines upon you, the radiant face of Jesus Christ once again appears to me. The face of Love Incarnate. The Face of the One who makes all things new. Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Praised Be Jesus Christ. 

Monday, May 2, 2022

Priests Surprised by Grace


Every year at St. John's Seminary, in the weeks before priestly ordination, we celebrate "Deacon's Night." It is an opportunity to honor the men about to be ordained. It is a fun night, marked by a lot of joy, humor, and gratitude.  This year, I was one of the speakers, and was asked to share some thoughts on priesthood.


I was really surprised when Third Theology asked me to share a few brief reflections on priesthood this evening. I was even more surprised to learn that my script would not have to be submitted to Fr. Tom for editing and approval. But then I learned that that was only because my talk would have to be submitted to a sub-committee of the Faculty for final approval.  

You have spent many years listening to homilies, conferences, and lectures on the priesthood. You have read innumerable texts on the topic, and presumably, you will spend the rest of your life deepening your understanding of the great gift that you are about to receive. So tonight, I simply want to share something from my heart. Something that is not so much a profound reflection on the priesthood as it is something that I’ve noticed along the way. Something that has grown within me and has sustained me along the way. It is something that I am truly grateful for and it is something that I also hope will be the case for you. It is basically this: I hope that you live your priesthood constantly surprised by it. It is too good, too amazing, and too awesome to live it in any other way.  

Every Thursday at Compline we pray these words: “He has put into my heart a marvelous love for his faithful ones.” I think the greatest surprise of priesthood for me has been just that. The Lord really pours into my heart a marvelous love for his people. It’s not something I did. It’s not something I worked at. It’s not something that I accomplished. In an act of pure goodness, the Lord poured into my heart a marvelous love for his faithful ones. I never thought it was possible to have so much affection and love for people. Whenever I see the term, “Pastoral Charity,” I think, “He has poured into my heart a marvelous love for his faithful ones.” 

You will someday be seated in your chair on Good Friday, and you will watch people whom you love deeply approach the Cross and adore. You will know so many things about them. You will know their heartaches, their worries, their anxieties, their failures, their struggles. As they kiss the Cross, you will know very well the crosses of each of them. You will recognize how close you are to these people. You will look at them with a love that is incomprehensible to yourself. You will once again be surprised by how good the Lord is. You will think to yourself, “He has put into my heart a marvelous love for his faithful ones.”  

This love has been a constant surprise to me, a constant source of joy. It comes in extraordinary and grand moments, but also in little moments. A kid I met 25 years ago when I would go and watch his high school baseball games—he's married now and has a family—a few months ago, at the end of a phone call, he said to me, “Fr. Barnes, I just want you to know that I pray for you every night.” In that brief remark, I was once again surprised, joyful, and filled with gratitude for the gift and grace of the priesthood, for the gift of the Lord pouring into my heart a marvelous love for his faithful ones.  

I am grateful that priesthood continues to surprise me. After 25 years of hearing confessions, I am still surprised by how good the Lord is. I am still surprised that people come and unburden themselves in that way. I am still surprised by that exhilarating exhaustion that comes from hearing hours of heartfelt and painful confessions. 

Sometimes we talk about vocations work as though there were some formula out there that if you do these three things, vocations will happen. But, in my experience, every time someone I know enters the seminary, it is a new surprise to me. Their vocation is not the result of a program or a series of well-planned steps. Their vocation is the result of a grace. And grace is always surprising. I think one of the most effective ways that we can encourage priestly vocations is for priests to live their priesthood as men who are constantly surprised by grace, surprised by what the Lord is doing in our midst.  

I hope that those of you who will soon be ordained will live your priesthood in a constant state of surprise by what the Lord is doing in you, through you, and around you. I hope you spend your priesthood with a constant expression of, “How is this even possible?” When we are surprised, when we ourselves are moved, then we have the capacity to move others.  

Another thing that has surprised me about priesthood is the people that the Lord has placed in my path. I am really surprised by how good the Lord has been to me. He has continuously surprised me—in every assignment—with unexpected friendships. Whether they be young people, married couples, college kids, priests of all ages, seminarians—the Lord continues to surprise me. As you get older, you can kind of settle into an attitude that there can't be any more surprises left. But my experience is that the Lord always continues to do new things, to give new encounters. 

I hope that those of you who will soon be ordained will not be afraid to live your priesthood close to people. The professional priesthood—the priesthood that is lived remotely and at a distance—is a priesthood devoid of surprises. And a priesthood devoid of surprises is a priesthood that gradually becomes inhuman and cynical. My experience has been that when we live closely with people—eat meals with them, do crosswords together, play ultimate frisbee together, share our hearts with them, live our humanity with them—then Christ uses these moments to do surprising things. First of all, he surprises the priest himself. And a priest surprised by grace is a joyful priest.  

The last thing I want to say is that for me, the surprise of priesthood continues right here and right now. Some days, I catch myself sitting in chapel, just scanning the faces on the other side of the chapel. It’s a total surprise to me how good the Lord is. We are not that far from that day on the Sea of Galilee when Jesus called his disciples. He is still doing something new. He is still doing surprising things. What happens in this house is surprisingly beautiful. Every day, in this house, the Lord is preparing the hearts of seminarians so that those hearts will be properly formed to receive on the day of ordination, the outpouring of His Marvelous Love. 

In a few short weeks, the Lord is going to pour into the hearts of these brothers of ours, a marvelous love for his faithful ones. I am deeply moved by that. I am completely surprised by that. I hope that you will spend the rest of your life—every day—moved and surprised by that grace. The lives of the faithful ones entrusted to your care will be all the more fruitful because their priest lived close to them and was a priest always surprised by grace.