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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Installation of Bishop Coyne

Monsignor Mcrae and I were honored to concelebrate the installation of Bishop Christopher Coyne as the Bishop of Burlington this afternoon. Bishop Coyne, a former faculty member of Saint John's Seminary, reflected on the importance of the New Evangelization in Vermont and in the Church throughout New England. Here is an excerpt from his homily:

The bells still ring out. Not so numerous and not so often, but they still ring out, their meaning captured in the words of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "for bells are the voice of the church and they have tones that touch and search, the hearts of young and old, one sound to all." (The Bells of St. Blas)

Yes, the bells still ring, the bells still search but not many are answering the call. “Come,” the bells say, “Come and worship with us. Come and hear what God has to say. Some to the table and the bath, to the prayers and the Word.” But not many seem to come anymore. Yes, most of churches are still places of worship and communion where folks still gather, but many of those gatherings grow smaller and grayer every year. Folks look out and say, “Where are the young people and the families- Where have our friends and neighbors gone? Why are there so few answering the call of the Church to the life of the Good News?” In response, one could respond with fatalism, with a shrug of defeat, and a kind of long term communal hospice as door after door after door of our churches close and the body is finally laid to rest.

And yet, I like many of you, do not stand here in this cathedral without hope, without the conviction that this need not be. Now more than ever, our community needs to hear the call of the “Good News” proclaimed to a culture that seems to hear so many other voices.

John Henry Newman, now Blessed, once spoke to the wreckage that was the Catholic Church in 19th c. England. After years of being legally banned from public life and worship in England, the Catholic faith was finally a legal religion once again. In the face of continuing anti-Catholic prejudice and in the midst of Church with little to build upon, Newman preached his famous sermon entitled, “A Second Spring.” The very title itself invokes hope. He spoke:

“What! those few scattered worshippers, the Roman Catholics, to form a Church! Shall the past be rolled back? Shall the grave open? … Shall shepherds, watching their poor flocks by night, be visited by a multitude of the heavenly army, and hear how their Lord has been new-born in their own city? Yes; for grace can, where nature cannot. The world grows old, but the Church is ever young…. One thing alone I know — that according to our need, so will be our strength… We shall not be left orphans; we shall have within us the strength of the Paraclete, promised to the Church and to every member of it.”“We shall not be left orphans, we shall have within us the strength of the Paraclete.” Jesus’ promise of the gift of the Spirit to his disciples is our inheritance as well. In this power, we are not left orphans but are sons and daughters, brought into the communion of love that is the sublime essence of the Trinity. This is the Spirit that St. Paul writes in our reading from Colossians that allows us to put on “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience … forgiving one another,” binding it all with Christian love. If we fallible and broken humans can unite in such charity, is that not a sign of both hope and a witness that invites others to join us.

There is cause for much hope here in the gift of the Spirit and our communion with the Father. And yet … this is not something new. The gift of the Spirit and the sublime adoption are realities that we already possess and have possessed throughout the history of the Church. So … how does this answer the present challenge we face here in Vermont and elsewhere, that of declining membership and a cultural trend away from revealed religion to a personal spirituality at best or no belief at worst?

The gospel we just heard proclaimed points the way. Jesus stood in his home synagogue in the midst of his relatives and neighbors and proclaims himself the one about whom Isaiah prophesized to bring healing to the blind, liberty to prisoners and glad tidings to the poor. His voice rings out as both a challenge and an invitation when he says, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” It is a challenge that is immediately rejected by some as he is forced out of Nazareth by those irate at his words, but it is also an invitation that some hear and accept as they follow him on the way. Jesus does not stay in the synagogue but he goes out. His voice does not simply ring out from a place of worship like a bell stationary in a church steeple, calling people to come to him. He goes out to them. He goes out to spread the Good News of the Kingdom of God and the offer of eternal salvation.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

SJS Remains Closed on Wednesday

As of noon today we have about 21.5" of snow on the ground according to the Weather channel and bands of snow are predicted to continue into the early morning hours (Channel 7 thinks we'll top out at around 24-26").  However, west of 495 most communities are reported in excess of two feet of snow (Worcester airport is reporting 33" and still snowing!)  In consideration of faculty and staff traveling in from these areas, as well as the fact that Boston Public Schools are closed tomorrow, Saint John's Seminary and the Theological Institute will remain closed on Wednesday.  The schedule for resident seminarians will be the same for Wednesday as for today with Mass at 11:15am and Liturgy of the Hours and Examen on your own.  All classes and offices will resume work on Thursday morning.

Just a reminder - the Governor's travel ban remains in effect as of this writing.  Safety for our seminarians (both resident and non-resident), faculty and staff is our primary concern.

God keep everyone safe!

Snow and clouds, Praise the Lord!

Snow and clouds, Praise the Lord!

-Psalm 148

Monday, January 26, 2015

Second Annual Benefactors Mass and Dinner

The Faculty and Seminarians were joined by our most generous benefactors at a Mass celebrated by Cardinal O'Malley last night and a festive dinner.  The Archbishop Williams and Saint John's Medals were also presented.  Here are the presentations to our worthy recipients as well as some photos from the night's festivities as well as my homily from the Mass.


Our first award recipient is Secretary of State William F. Galvin, my friend, my counselor and this year’s recipient of the Archbishop John J. Williams Award.  

At just about the same time, a century ago, Cardinal O’Connell was consecrating a new Church off Oak Square and an expanded Seminary which Archbishop Williams had established before him.  Little did the Cardinal know that those two great holy houses would be woven into one in the first years of the twenty-first century.

But that would have never happened without our honorable first recipient, who as chief matchmaker these past two years has skillfully woven together the communities of Our Lady of the Presentation and Saint John’s Seminary.  

It was you who introduced me, Mr. Secretary, to some of the most beautiful Catholic souls I have ever met, whose belief in the Church and love of their Lord have grown deeper and prouder with each passing year.  It was you who helped me to form the inextricable bonds which now exist between the Seminary and the good Catholic community of Brighton not only leading us all closer together as brothers and sister, but bringing us closer to Christ, as well.

For your generosity of time, of wise counsel and for just being such a good man and example to us all, I am honored to present you, Secretary William F. Galvin with the Archbishop John J. Williams medal for 2015.


Our second award is given to two of the dearest friends of Saint John’s Seminary: Jim and Pattie Brett.  Jim and Pattie, I am honored to recognize you as this year’s recipients of the Saint John the Evangelist Medal, in recognition of your extraordinary contributions to the spiritual life of Saint John’s Seminary.  

From the first days I arrived at Saint John’s, Jim and Pattie have been indefatigable supporters of the oldest and largest seminary in New England. Forever imprinted on my heart is the image of Jim, patiently introducing a new Rector to an endless line of new friends and benefactors of Saint John’s, or of Pattie helping prepare yet another event, celebration or fundraiser.

Neither one of them have ever said no to a single request from me and the year they chaired the Gold Tournament realized unparalleled success.  Why?  Because the entire Boston community recognizes their essential goodness, their deep Catholic faith and their dedication to everyone in need.

If I were to read a list of the infinite number of ways in which they contribute to the life of their community, we would be here all night.  Let it suffice to say that their love and support for the Church, the Priesthood and this Holy House make them worthy recipients of the Saint John the Evangelist Medal for 2015.


In the Acts of the Apostles we read of a Jew from Pontus, present day Turkey, near the Black Sea, by the name of Aquila.  A tentmaker by trade, Aquila moved to Rome, where he married Priscilla, where they both converted to Christianity, and were forced to leave Rome when Claudius exiled the Jews and the Jewish-Christians.  The couple eventually settled in Corinth, where Saint Paul had recently arrived from his latest missionary campaign in Athens.  

Paul, a Roman citizen himself, would have been attracted by their stories of the new Christian community in Rome and by the fact that they shared a common faith in Christ.  Pope Benedict once reflected further on their relationship:

“One can deduce that the couple had already embraced the Christian faith …and now they had found in Paul someone who not only shared with them this faith - that Jesus is the Christ - but who was also an Apostle, personally called by the Risen Lord.”

In any case, Priscilla and Aquila invited Paul to move in with them.  Paul, it seems spent most of his time in the synagogue preaching, dependent for room and board on his new-found friends. 

They were such supporters that they left Corinth and accompanied Paul to Syria, following him from town to town.  By the time they reached the seventh or eighth town, Priscilla and Aquila seemed to have become so well acquainted with Paul’s teaching that they were commissioned by him  to correct the great evangelizer Apollos.

At some point, the Apostle parted company with his patrons, but he does not forget them.  Three times he greets them in his letters to the Romans, the Corinthians and Saint Timothy.  In his letter to the Romans he writes:

“Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I am grateful but also all the churches of the Gentiles; greet also the church [that meets in] their house.”

Pope Benedict once reflected on the indispensable role of Priscilla and Aquila in establishing the early Church, recalling that the preaching of the Apostle Paul was foundational, but “the commitment of these families, these spouses, these Christian communities, and these lay faithful was necessary in order to offer the soil for the growth of the faith.”

He continued:

“This couple in particular demonstrates how important the action of Christian spouses is…[for] every home can transform itself into a little church. Not only in the sense that in them must reign the typical Christian love made of altruism and of reciprocal care, but still more in the sense that the whole of family life, based on faith, is called to revolve around the singular lordship of Jesus Christ.”

Looking around this Chapel, I am reminded that without these domestic churches, the Priesthood could not exist.  Not only are priests chosen by God from the sons of such holy families, but in every age, the priest is nurtured, encouraged and sanctified by their supportive love.

Just as the Lord would go back to the house of Lazarus and Martha and Mary for a meal, an extended conversation or just to sit among friends, so we can picture Saint Paul sitting at the generous table of Priscilla and Aquila, talking of tent making or Roman politics, but most of all, about the Lord Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit in growing his Church.

Every priest remembers with fondness the families who have supported him at every stage of his priestly ministry.  The ones who kindly adopt a newly ordained and welcome him into their family.  The ones who notice when he looks a but worn-out and cheer him up with all kinds of support.  The ones who provide a constant example of holiness, generosity and a pure devotion to Christ.  

Such folks are not unlike those who sit between the men in black before me this evening.  You who know the importance of the priest who comes out at 2am to anoint your mother, who hears the confession of your children and who teaches them the mysteries of the faith.  You know the priest who through sacrifice and self-giving love each year comes to look more and more like Christ, so that eventually it is not Father-so-and-so whom you see, but Christ Jesus in him.  And most of all, you know the one who receives the sacrifices of your lives and joins them with the perfect sacrifice of Christ offered upon the Altar and returns to you the very Body and Blood of him who died for your salvation.

Saint Francis of Assisi once said that if he met a priest and a saint on the road, he would be nice to the saint, but he would kiss the hands of the priest, for through this earthen vessel God gives to us the inestimable gift of Holy Communion with him.

And if, indeed, the priest is made holy by this work of which he is so unworthy,  so too the Pricilla's and Aquila's of this world are sanctified by their support of the priesthood.  In today’s Gospel, Christ calls Simon and Andrew and James and John to come and follow him.  Just as today he calls you, our generous benefactors to hear his voice and discern his call.

And because of you, they are able to listen for his voice in the quiet of this chapel, seek his truth in those classrooms down the hall, grow in his ways in the parishes and the prisons and grow into the person whom he has called them to be.

Paul could do that because Priscilla and Aquila prayed for him and supported him in so many ways.  We can do that only because of you.

And so we pray for you, and for all our many benefactors.  That some day you and your families may be greeted by Lazarus, Martha and Mary, Priscilla, Aquila and all the Saints and be given your reward in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Oh the Weather Outside is Frightful...

With the approaching storm, our Seminary and Theological Institute divisions will be closed on Tuesday.  Any further cancellations will be posted here on the Blog.  Stay tuned and stay safe!

A Seriousness of Purpose

The following homily was preached this morning on the feast of Saints Timothy and Titus by Father Romanus Cessario, O.P.   I found it to provide a wonderful opportunity to focus the minds of priests and seminarians alike on the importance of who we are and what we are called to do.

“Stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands (2 Tim 1:6).”  These words should strike the hearts of those gathered in this or any seminary chapel. Priests and deacons receive these words as an instruction from Saint Paul himself. Those preparing to receive Holy Orders should take to heart the injunction that the Apostle gives to his “dear child,” Timothy. All must stir into flame the special graces that they have received.

The priesthood is not an occupation for cowards. Too much rests at stake for the priest to draw back from the fray. Nothing challenges the priest of today more than his achieving a prudential and pastoral engagement with error. Prudence is not a throw-away term; the priest is neither a coward nor a Soldier of Fortune, one who acts impetuously. The priest confronts error of all kinds: moral errors about what constitutes the good of the human person; sacramental errors about how God sanctifies his people; ecclesiological errors about the nature of the Church. The only way that the priest can prepare to respond intelligently to these errors is by study. Bonhomie and facile answers may, for a while, placate the people. Only the truth sanctifies them.  Stir into flame, the flame of truth!

The priesthood is not an occupation for bureaucrats. Administrative responsibilities fall to every priest. They fall on the shoulders of some more than others. Priests learn to deal with them. Bureaucrats, on the other hand, make administration their end. They create administrative protocols, plans, offices, and the like. The bureaucrat cares about smooth operation. He shirks hardship. He eschews sacrifice. The pure apparatchik stands up for nothing. The Church is a communion not a bureaucracy. The Catholic priest serves a communion of people. He cannot be ashamed of testifying to the power of the Lord Jesus Christ. Stir into flame, the flame of love!

The priesthood is not an occupation for the undisciplined of mind or body. Measure marks the life of the priest. He cannot choose to devote himself to the things that please him and to ignore the things he finds unpleasant. The priest prays, studies, works, and recreates. Each activity generates its own reasonable measure. The mistake that undisciplined priests make is to think that, when they slack off, they will find fulfillment and even happiness. Truth to tell, only activity perfects the human creature. If Aristotle found contemplation to be the highest perfection of the rational creature, what should be said of those who have been given “the gift of God”? Stir into flame, the flame of virtue!

Today’s saints encourage both priest and seminarian to sustain a seriousness of purpose. Each is required, by reason of the gift that he has received, to exercise a spirit of “power and love and self-control (2 Tim 1:7).” The seminarian who says, “I can get by” or “I’ll do it my way,” fools himself. He rather invites error into his mind, diffidence into his heart, and vice into his life. These are not the “apostolic virtues” that the Collect of the Mass ascribes to Saints Timothy and Titus.

Remembrances from a Retreat

I just discovered some footage form the retreat preached a few weeks ago by Monsignor Michael Heintz.  Each of the seminarians came back raving about the insights, wisdom and depth of Monsignor Heinz's reflections.  This brief excerpt was from a talk on the Good Shepherd as a model for Priestly ministry.