Saturday, July 22, 2017

Back from retreat and vacation...

I pray this summer has brought you some well deserved rest and recreation.  The week before last I was on retreat in Assisi with Monsignor Johnson and Father Conn.


This past week I was on vacation in Bar Harbor with Father Busch.


I return to Saint John's today, relaxed and refreshed, and I thank you, dear reader, for your patience with this blog during my absence.

Just a few more weeks and everyone returns to this Holy House!  Pray for them all!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Congratulations Spiritual Direction Graduates

Congratulations to our own Ellen Osterle and six other MAM Graduates who recently completed the  St. Anthony’s Shrine Spiritual Direction Program!  They received their certificates just a couple of weeks ago.

Friday, July 7, 2017

On Retreat in Assisi

Father Conn, Monsignor Johnson and I are on retreat in Assisi this week.  After Mass this morning at the Basilica of Saint Francis, we spent some time at the lovely little Church of San Stefano praying for each of our Deacons by name.  Each of the seminarians and faculty are in my prayers every day.

For the past forty years, Assisi has been something of a spiritual home for me, so it is a great joy to spend a few days here reminding myself of what is most important and re-embracing the call God gives to each one of us to holiness.

Through the Poverello God has always given me the graces I have needed at each stage of my ministry.  These days I am recalling these words of the great Saint as quoted in the Fioretti:

“Go, announce peace to all people; preach repentance for the remission of sins. Be patient in trials, watchful in prayer, and steadfast in weariness. Be modest in your speech, responsible in your actions, and grateful to your benefactors. And know that in return an eternal kingdom is being made ready for you.”

Father Conn, Monsignor Johnson and I would be grateful for your prayers.

SJS in Mexico City

Last week Father O’Connor and I visited our four seminarians studying Spanish in Mexico City.  We attended class with Joe Hubbard, Tim Hynes, Joe Ferme and Brian O’Hanlon, after which they showed us around the Seminary where they are living before heading out for supper.  

Each of them are enjoying Mexico City, where Father O’Connor and I spent a morning praying at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. As we sat gazing in silence and praying before the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I thought back to the words of Pope Francis when he did the same thing last year: “When the image of the Virgin appeared on Juan Diego's tilma, it was the prophecy of an embrace: Mary’s embrace of all the peoples of the vast expanses of America – the peoples who already lived there, and those who were yet to come.”

May each one of us, sons and daughters of the Americas, accept her maternal embrace and seek to do the will of her Son and Lord.

And please keep our four brothers in your continuing prayers during their final weeks of study.  Here they are pictured after serving Mass at the Shrine last week:

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Waiting in Joyful Hope Beneath the Sign of the Nativity

Like a mother, the Church walks with each of us on our earthly pilgrimage and when we die "she commits to the earth, in hope, the seed of the body that will rise in glory." (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction Ad resurgendum cum Christo, October 25, 2016)

 A little over two years ago, as I walked from my father's grave, this profound truth was tangible as I dusted the dirt from my hands.

When I returned to the grave that afternoon, the freshly interred earth was covered with flowers, a beautiful reminder that the seed we had planted would be cultivated by the Lord and some day rise up before him when he returns in glory.

But soon the flowers faded, the grass grew back and, on some days, it was hard to remember where we my father was buried.  In fact, I'm sure that on a couple of occasions I may have prayed over the grave of his neighbor to the left or the right, having never had much of a cemeterial “geo-sense”.

So, in consultation with my mother and sister, I set out to erect a memorial grave stone on my father,’s grave, for the benefit of those of us who would someday rest here beside him in joyful hope.  It would not be about us (although dates of coming and going would be allowed) but would serve as a lasting testament of the Faith that would live on after our lips and our lives had gone silent.

Thus began a long survey of favorite images of the paschal mystery, of suffering, crucifixtion and empty tombs drawn from our long Christian iconographic tradition.  The search soon turned to the Nativity, the moment in which "for us men and our salvation" the Lord was incarnate of the Virgin Mary.  It seemed somehow appropriate that a reflection on birth might lead us to the sure and certain hope of eternal life in the city of the dead known as Saint John's Cemetery.

Mary has ever been a friend of the dying and those who mourn them.  She is the proto-mourner, standing with the beloved disciple at the foot of the cross.  Thus some of our earliest and most venerable prayers for the dying seek her intercession, like the Ave, begging her intercession "now and at the hour of our death."  Another such ancient prayer is preserved still in a hymn from the Roman Liturgy:

"Maria, Mater gratiae, Mater misericordiae, tu me ab hoste protege et hora mortis suscipe."  

"Mary, Mother of Grace, Mother of mercy, Shield me from the enemy and receive me at the hour of my death."

Which brings us back to the Birth of the Christ, who has wonderfully restored the dignity of human nature by humbling himself to Shaw in our humanity and thus restored even for the dead the hope of sharing in his divinity.  (cf. Roman Missal, Collect for Christmas Day)

Perhaps this vision of the Nativity of Christ has nowhere been more beautifully depicted than by the brilliant Giotto Di Berdone when ornamenting the Chapel of Our Lady of the Annunciation Chapel in memory of the deceased Padua banker, Enrico Scrovegni.  There, in 1305 he created a fresco of the Nativity like none before it.  

While incorporating all the traditional elements of Byzantine tradition and the Golden Legend, he gave a lively sense to the story of the birth of Christ, framed not by a cave, but in a rustic stable, as each of the figures appeared as real people, with character, personality and emotion.  At the center of this scene lies the virgin in garment of red (symbol of her humanity), and covered by a cloak of sky blue, symbol of the divinity she carried in her womb.  

According to the ancient apocrypha, the Christ child, newly washed and wrapped in swaddling cloths, is about handed to his blessed mother by the mid-wife. It is this moment which Giotto has captured with power and depth of feeling.  With the deepest tenderness the most blessed among women receives her Lord, accepts the swaddled infant Jesus into her embrace.  It is as if she receives this gift on behalf of a fallen humanity, and in her receiving the child, gives us the first taste of the eternal life he will bring.

Indeed, her receiving of the Christ is an imitation of the reception each of us so desire at the moment if our death, hoping that we will be received into the tender embrace of the son of Mary, when he returns to judge the living and the dead.

But how to turn a two dimensional fresco into a three dimensional funeral monument!?  So I turned to the good offices of Rohn Design: to Rolf and Renate and their master carver, Edmund Rabunser, who personally visited Padua once again to make a careful study of the Giotto fresco.

Over several months Edmund carefully crafted a scale model of the fresco in three dimensions.  The full round sculpture imagined the draping of the fabric of the Virgin's mantle, as well as innumerable other details needed for a three dimensional rendering of a two dimensional fresco.

Sadly, this beautiful wooden model was one of the last works to be completed by Edmund Rabanser, who died just before Christmas of 2016.

His work, however, was then taken up by highly skilled stone carvers in Carrara, Italy, where the wooden statue would become the model for an almost five foot sculpture in white Carrara marble, mounted on four slabs of pink marble into which is carved my parents’ names.

Just below the reproduction of Giotto's Virgin and Child is the ancient prayer described above.  It is the prayer of my father, who body waits in the ground beneath in hope of the coming of the Lord, and it will be the prayer of each one of us, as we are planted like seeds, awaiting in sure and certain hope the resurrection won for us by the Paschal dying and rising of her Son:

"Maria, Mater gratiae, Mater misericordiae, tu me ab hoste protege et hora mortis suscipe."  

Monday, June 26, 2017

Summer Happenings...

As the summer progresses all sorts of events continue to engage the Seminary community.   Admissions interviews are an almost weekly occurrence, and last week's Board of Trustees Meeting is what really marks the beginning of summer for me!  I am SO GRATEFUL to these wonderful men and women who assist us in governance of this Holy House.

Here are some other photos from recent events hither and yon.  I hope you enjoy them!

Our old and faithful friends, the Knights and Dames of Malta met for a Mass down the Cape on the Feast of Saint John the Baptist.  My talk at the luncheon that followed appears elsewhere on this blog.

Among the other speakers was our own trustee Monsignor Denis Sheehan.  Father Mark Hession is in the foreground.

Nancy and Craig Gibson reported on our latest trip to Lourdes.

Newly minted Deacon Michael Rosa presided at  Holy Hour for  the  Boston seminarian retreat.  He looks like he's been doing this all his life!

Fathers Scorzello and O'Connor joined me recently for a visit to our four men at the Institute for Priestly Formation in Omaha, Nebraska.

Monsignor David Toups was teaching a course on Prayer the day we visited.

Finally, we begin moving in to Deacon House tomorrow!  More to come!!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

On Being Sick...

Here are some reflections I am privileged to share with the Knights of Malta tomorrow during their annual Mass on the Feast of Saint John the Baptist in Osterville.

Lourdes taught me many things, among which was how to ask one very important question: What does it mean?  What does it mean to be sick?

I met an orthopedic surgeon in Lourdes, a newly minted Knight of Malta, whose first contact with our Order came from first being a malade.  

A wildly successful and prosperous surgeon he seemed to have life on a string and it was very good….until they noticed the spot on his brain scan.  A few weeks later the headaches would wake him up in the middle of the night.  And all of a sudden he went from being the doctor with the highest success rate in complex hip replacements, to an old man so weak that he could not stand without the assistance of his wife.

He quickly found out what it meant to be sick.  It meant he was not longer in charge.  He was no longer driving the bus, even of his own life.  Someone else was in charge.  At first, it was just aggravating.  Not having enough energy to do what he wanted to.  But it progressed to needing help to get to the bathroom, and sometimes just standing there like an infant, peeing in his own pants.  And then he started to tremble so much that more food ended up in his lap than in his mouth.

What did it mean for him to be sick?  It meant he was in longer in control.

“But you know," he told me one night as we went out for a walk, “that’ss the greatest gift I could have ever received.  Even better than eventually getting rid of the brain tumor and returning to health.  Getting so sick like that was the greatest gift of my life.

Cause the real sickness I had was thinking that I was in control.  That the purpose of my life was being successful, respected and rich.  And I was really successful, and have a whole wall full of awards and diplomas and three houses, four cars and a really big boat.

No the real sickness was not the one that started with the headaches.  The real sickness was the one that tempted me to forget to pray to God and rely on my own resources, seeking my own pleasure and patting myself on the back for all my wonderful successes.  I was a really sick man.  Not in the head, but in the soul of me…way down deep where its only you and God.

I had forgotten what I learned from the Catechism as a little kid:  That the whole reason God made me was to know him and love him and serve him in this world, in order that I might be happy with him in the next.

And it took that cancer…that blessed cancer…to bring me back to what really matters.

“I remember one night,” he told me, “when I was convinced the cancer was going to kill me.  That night I went to bed and, maybe for he first time in my life, I asked myself the question: What’s this all about?  My life.  My career, My religion.  My marriage,  My kids.

“And it all came flooding in…the truth that its all about the cross, about that man up there on the Cross and about picking up my crosses and trying to love like him: a self-sacrificing, self-emptying love.  That life is not about what we take, but what we give.  And that all suffering, all sacrifice and even sickness itself is but an opportunity too love…to respond to Jesus after we nailed him to the cross, when he looked down at us and said: Love one another as I have loved you….just before he gave his last breath for love of us.

He touched me, that malady turned Knight.  And he answered my question.


As George did, probably twenty years ago, as he watched his wife Mary dying of Cancer.  George and Mary were two of the best Catholics I had ever known as a parish priest in Leominster.  They gave their lives for the Church, day in and day out…whenever you couldn’t find someone else to do it you could always call George and Mary.  

Now they were old and George and the kids were gathered around Mary’s death bed, and it was clear she didn’t have too many minutes to go.  True story.  I got there, and we prayed for a while, and then Mary tugged on my sleeve.  She was breathing irregularly and she signaled for me to come closer so she could whisper in my ear.  And with her dying breath, she said, “Father, I want you to do something for me.”  I looked at this dying Saint and said, “Anything Mary, what do you want.”  Everyone in the room was staring at us, some with tears in their eyes.  “In my bedroom, in George’s closet on the top shelf is a white box.  I want you to find it when I die.  Because in the box is a new white shirt that I want George to wear at the funeral, because I don’t want them saying I didn’t do his laundry!”

I stood up and everyone looked at me to hear the profound last words of their beloved mother.  And she looked up and winked at me.  I told the story at the funeral.

Mary, in the face of her greatest trial had learned what sickness was about.  That we are not made to fear the pain which threatens to swallow us up in the darkness of death.  No, God is to be heard in the quiet stillness of the loving thought, the hopeful glance, the wink that says love lives!  It’s not over, it’s just beginning.  I still care for you.  I will walk with you on your road of sorrows and through the door to the other side. 


I need to remember that the next time I get the flu, and loudly lament to the heavens what did I do to deserve this!  Or when I get a cold next week and curse the unfairness of a God who just does not realize how much important work I have to do.  Or on that day when I will hear that the cancer is malignant, the heart valve irreparable or the virus resistant.

For on that day, in the words of Pope Saint John Paul II, I am called to see my sickness as something more than a personal tragedy, but as an opportunity “to release love, in order to give birth to works of love towards neighbor, in order to transform the whole of human civilization into a civilization of love.” (Apostolic Letter Salvifici doloris, n. 30)

So let is pray for ourselves, that we might one day sing with the Psalmist: “You have taught me, O God, from my youth, and till the present I proclaim your wondrous deeds. And now that I am old and grey, O God, forsake me not, till I proclaim your strength to every generation that is to come” (Ps 71:17-18).