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Sunday, May 3, 2015

Thirty-Five Years...

Thirty-five years ago this spring I was ordained a Priest.  I reflected on this anniversary at Mass today.  Here's my homily.

I remember the day I was ordained as if it were yesterday.  And yet it was before most of you were born.  I was a nervous wreck as we walked into the Cathedral Church.  But God knew, and in the first manifestation of his sense of humor turned out all the lights when the procession got half-way down the aisle.  The organ died, the MC got a panicky look on his face and the older priests just smiled knowingly.  And we picked up the song and went on.

A few minutes later I was laying face down on the old yellow carpet as they sang the litany of the saints and, still very nervous, I started to get dizzy, which gave way to panic, until it occurred to me that this was probably the best moment to faint, since I would have the least distance to fall.  At which I laughed to myself and was finally able to relax somewhat and pray.

I have been trying to relax somewhat and pray ever since: to let go of my pre-occupations and plans and just to fall into God’s loving embrace and do the will of his only-begotten Son.  

It is a great adventure, and one which for thirty-five years has brought me more joy than I could ever have imagined.  Sadness, sorrow and tears too, but each tear has been but a promise of the joy that awaits on the other side of the Cross.  It’s always been true.

For thirty-five years I have tried to decrease, that he might increase.  Some days, and many of you were there, I did a pretty good job.  And on other days, and you were there too, I really messed it up.

But on each day, I have tried to take up the cross, as best I am able,and to follow him who is alone worth following. And the thing that’s made it easiest, is I have never been alone. You were there, and so were so many others who were so much better at this task than I was.

And Christ was there, as he ever will be, inviting us to die with him,urging us to rise with him,and ever seeking to ignite our hearts with his own unquenchable love.

Christ, our great High Priest who offers the perfect sacrifice from the cross.  Who invites you in this and every Mass to join the pains, the joys, and the sacrifices of your lives with his Paschal sacrifice as a perfect oblation to the Father.  For each act of holiness, each forgiven wrong, each virtuous act and patient moment are mixed with bread and wine and placed upon that altar as Christ placed his body upon the cross.  And the Father receives our sacrifices and transforms our gifts into his own body and blood, which he feeds us that we might continue to offer the sacrifice of praise in each moment and every struggle of our lives.

As I look out at you my brothers and you our guests from parishes I have served, I am reminded that this sense of Priestly ministry is expressed so beautifully in that ancient prayer of ordination prayed over this head so many years ago (when it had so much more hair).  The final words of that prayer describe the work God has given to me and will soon, by his mercy, pass on to so many of you:

And so may the full number of the nations, gathered together in Christ, be transformed into your one people and made perfect in your Kingdom.

All made one in Christ, all made branches joined to the one vine, all grafted onto him and onto one another.  None separated by pettiness or jealousies, resentments or suspicions.  Ut unum sint!  All made one.

And if I’ve learned anything in these years of Priestly ministry, it is that such unity in Christ is not accomplished by sterling sermons or the latest brilliant pastoral initiative.  Such unity is accomplished only by the offering of the Paschal Sacrifice by which Christ grafted us to himself, root to marrow: this holy Eucharist by which we are so healed of our sin, so utterly transformed that it is no longer we, but Christ Jesus in us, ever becoming the Body of Christ, his own Flesh and Blood.  For only thus is “the full number of the nations, gathered together in Christ,

…transformed into [his] people and made perfect in [his] Kingdom.”

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Sheep Gate and the Doors of Wal-Mart

I went down to look at the doors at Wal-Mart the other day.  I kept walking in and out and watching how the doors worked.  They looked at me really funny, but no one stopped me because I was wearing a collar.

I wanted to see how the doors worked.  What makes a good door.  For those of you who are carpenters or builders this is probably rather elementary, but for me it was a discovery.  What makes a good door?  I drew three conclusions:

First, the door has to be able to open and close.  It’s really cool if it opens like magic, without your even having to push it or pull it. This is especially true if you’re visiting Italy.  I’m pretty fluent in Italian, but I still have to stop and think every time I see the words Tirare and SpingereTirare means pull and spingere means push.  That’s not so much of a problem in this country since by law all doors to public buildings have to open out after that awful fire in Boston so many years ago.  But in any case, every door must open and every door must close.

The second thing that makes a good door is that it is easy to enter and easy to find.  No sense hiding the door to Wal-Mart out by the loading dock.  It must be close to where you park your car and look inviting.

And finally, Wal-Mart executives would approve of a door that leads you into someplace you would like to be.  That’s why that nice lady stands right by the door to tell you where the dish-towels are hidden.  It’s worth walking through the door to hear her answer.

So a good door must open and close, be easy to find, and lead to a place I’d like to go.

That’s what Jesus means when he says that he is the Sheep Gate.  

Out in the middle of a field, every shepherd knows he needs to have a way of keeping their sheep together through the night, so he rolls rocks and logs to form an enclosure.  But what does he do about a gate to this sheep pen?  Most shepherds would lay down across the opening, his head on one rock and his feet on the other.  That way, if a sheep attempted to escape, he would walk over the shepherd and wake him up.

That’s what Jesus means when he says that he is the Sheep Gate.  

Jesus is the door that opens and closes. All who knock, all who are willing to turn away from sin, all who seek to join the flock of God’s holy people can enter through him.  In fact, this shepherd goes looking for sheep. (Lost sheep).  And he is the only way to enter!  He is the way, the truth, and the life.  There is no other way to salvation and to eternal joy except through him  He’s the door that opens.

But Jesus is also the door that closes.  A door that closes when we refuse to be like the shepherd.  Make no mistake about it: there is a road to hell and any one of us is capable of choosing it.  Sin, selfishness and a refusal to love lead as surely to hell, as Jesus the sheep gate leads to the Kingdom of heaven.  Remember the story of the rich man who refused to love the beggar Lazarus: how he called to Father Abraham from across the abyss?  Remember the words of Jesus on the last day to those who refused to clothe the naked, visit the sick and the imprisoned, and feed the hungry? “Depart from me your accursed into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels!” 

Oh yes, the door opens wide for those who approach it on their knees, the but door slams shut for those who refuse to do God’s will.

 And like the door at Wal-Mart, this sheepgate is easy to find.  He is present to us in his word proclaimed.  He is present to us to his own Body and Blood, given to us as food for the journey.  This sheepgate is present to us in the shepherds of the Church: the Bishop and his Priests.  And this Jesus, the way to the Father, is present to us wherever two or three gather in his name, and in the poor and the forgotten.  This door is easy to find and a constant invitation to enter in.

Lastly, this Sheepgate leads to a place beyond all our imaginings.  It is a place, as Saint Paul tells us, which we cannot even imagine.  “What we shall later be, has not yet come to light.”  But we know that even now, those who seek to enter God’s Kingdom, his holy Church, know the peace the world cannot give, the joy of the children of God, and the assurance that keeps us from mourning like those who have no hope.  Inside this door is not the lady from Wal-Mart, But Saint Peter, and Saint Paul and all the angels and saints, and all who have gone before us loving God and his church.  In that place we will know refreshment, light and peace.

Jesus is the Sheepgate which opens and closes, which is easy to find and which leads to joy unimagined.  But one last thing.  This gate is not suspended by hinges that neatly swing open and close. This gate is formed by him who laid down his life, that we might enter.  By his passion, death and resurrection this Sheepgate has been constructed of his Body and his Blood and the wood of the Cross.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

2015 Knights of Columbus Lantern Awards

On Monday I was honored to attend the Lantern Awards with the Massachusetts Chapters of the Knights of Columbus.  This year's recipient of the Lantern Award was Father Joe Bagetta, a Boston Priest who has dedicated his life to helping at risk youth.  It was a wonderful evening with many of the Bishops from across the state in attendance.   

Congratulations to Brian Morris!

Our own Brian Morris completed the Boston Marathon this week, despite the cold and rain! He was inspired to run in memory of his Uncle Greg who passed away last March after a long battle with Lymphoma. Brian's run benefitted the Leukemia/Lymphona Society of Boston. Thanks to all his generous supporters!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

New Resource Published by our own Dr. Hunt

Peter Philips, Baroque Composer
I am delighted to announce that Dr. Janet hunt has just published a major new edition of  the works of Peter Philips, under the title of Peter Philips: 75 Motets for Two Solo Voices and Organ Continuo from Paradisus Sacris Cantionibus (1628).  This is the first modern edition, as the last re-printing of the partbooks containing these motets occurred in 1641, after the composer’s death.

Peter Philips (1560/1-1628) fled Elizabethan England in 1582 “on account of his Catholic faith,” as he stated several years later in a Brussels certificate of residence.   Following a period of time spent in Rome, he settled in Brussels as a court composer and organist to the Spanish Habsburgs, Archduke Albert and Isabella.  

Albert and Isabella were sympathetic to English Catholic refugees, and were supportive of religious societies and their celebrations in town as well as at court.  Philips composed three collections of sacred motets for solo voices and organ in the new Italian style he had encountered in Rome. Paradisus Sacris Cantionibus was the largest, containing 107 motets for one, two or three voices.  The motets for one and for three voices are available in modern editions or as part of doctoral dissertations, but the 75 two-voiced motets were not available until now.

Most of the texts originate from the Bible and/or as antiphons from the Daily Office for various feast days.  There are several Marian and Eucharistic motets as well.    The edition can be purchased by clicking here or directly from Dr. Hunt at the seminary.

Congratulations, Dr. Hunt on the publication of this great new resource.

Friday, April 17, 2015

We Lost a Good Priest Today...

Cardinal George with Seminarians here at Saint John's Seminary 2013.
We lost a good priest today.  He has returned to the Lord who gave him to us and I am very sad.

I was privileged to call Cardinal George my priest and my friend for the past twenty years, since first we met at his birthday party the first year he arrived in Portland and I arrived at the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy.  During all the years I directed the Liturgy Secretariat he served on the BCL, chaired it for three years, and represented the USCCB to the International Committee on English in the Liturgy.  For the entire life of the Vox Clara Committee we served together and he was an indispensible source of wisdom.

It is true that Cardinal George was a brilliant intellect, perhaps the brightest mind I have ever encountered.  I remember how I would present him a briefing paper on a topic which I had explored for months and after a three minute speed-read he would come up with questions I had never entertained and conclusions I had never imagined.  

He had an unwavering love for the Truth, because he was unwaveringly and passionately in love with him who is the Truth.  He never seemed to give a thought to the reaction he would get from his listener, only to the necessity of speaking the truth, in season and out.  As he would stare at you, you had the impression he was looking right into your soul and that he loved you so much that all he wanted was to get you to heaven.  

I remember when he addressed the National Meeting of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions in 2002.  He chose not to speak of translation or any other current liturgical issues, but about authority and the liturgy.  Recalling that the Liturgy is the action of Christ and the treasure of the whole Church, he asked the gathered liturgists, advisors and co-workers with the Bishops in this great work, to seek after humility:

“Your point of reference as diocesan liturgists, then, is not simply the professional or the academic.  Your first point of reference, even though you are aware of the academic discussions, is the Bishop and the liturgical books themselves.  The diocesan liturgist is called upon to do his or her work with great discernment, particularly pastoral discernment.   In two thousand years, everything has been done once.  You can always find a precedent.  But precedent alone is not sufficient reason for change.  Only a true sensitivity to pastoral realities as discerned by the Bishop can serve as a guide in the implementation of the liturgical renewal. This requires a certain humility before the mysteries of our faith, which become real for us in the celebration of the liturgy, and a similar humility before the pastoral realities of our people, who are sanctified by these mysteries.  You, as part of diocesan liturgical teams, are called to participate in the Bishop’s charism of uniting people, and that takes a certain amount not just of discernment, but also of humility.”

Francis George could speak of humility because he himself knew what it was.  During the years he served as chairman of the USCCB Committee on the Liturgy I had the privilege of flying to Chicago to meet with him for an hour or so every month to discuss current liturgical questions.  One day, in the course of our meeting his private line rang.  He looked at his watch and excused himself, saying this would probably take a while.  He then greeted someone on the phone, telling his caller how glad he was to hear from her.  The next twenty minutes consisted of questions about how she was doing, quiet listening to her stories and strong interjections reminding her to “take her meds.”

When he returned, Cardinal George explained that his caller was a woman he had met at random after a confirmation years before.  She has been diagnosed as a schizophrenic and had so enjoyed his gentle and patient listening to her that she asked for his private number, which he gave to her, with the agreement that she would call him only once a month on a given day.  And once a month the Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago sat there like the good priest he was and listened to her struggles, encouraging and shepherding her in the model of Christ the Priest and Shepherd into whose image he had been molded.  

In the coming days praise will be heaped upon Cardinal George for his mighty accomplishments for the Church.  Each of them will be well deserved.  But all I can think of tonight is that priest, humbly and patiently listening to the travails of a troubled soul whom he loved so much that he just wanted to get her to heaven.

So tonight I will pray that prayer from the Order of Christian Funerals for the repose of his soul, that God might forgive whatever sins he might have committed and lead this good priest to heaven.

Lord God,
you chose our brother Francis to serve your people as a priest
and to share the joys and burdens of their lives.

Look with mercy on him
and give him the reward of his labors,
the fullness of life promised to those who preach your holy Gospel.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.