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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Friday, August 29, 2014

Opening Day

These days we're in Retreat with Bishop Michael Barber, now Bishop of Oakland and formerly Director of Spiritual Formation here at SJS.  In between conferences, however, I wanted to post some photos taken by the great George Martell at our opening Mass and cookout.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Saint John's Seminary, August 2014

Here we are, completely filled with wonderful men seeking only to give their lives to the Lord and to his Church!  May God be praised!

I am little...and God is Big - A Rector's Conference


  The following Rector's Conference was presented this evening on the theme: I am little...and God is Big.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was privileged to preach the summer retreat to the Bishops of New England.  I presented fourteen talks on twelve words from the Roman Canon.

As most of you know, I have spent a good deal of the past twenty years of my life working in one way or another with the translation of the Roman Missal, so twelve words from the Roman Canon seemed a good starting point for a reflection on those spiritual realities which we need to pay attention to in seeking to live a life of holiness, of fidelity to God and to his Church.

Per ipsum

Of all those words, though, the toughest, by a long shot was supplices, as in:

Súpplices te rogámus, omnípotens Deus

In the end, the Bishops rendered supplices with the words “in humble prayer.”

In humble prayer we ask you, almighty God

Supplices is the word of a supplicant, one kneeling, begging, entreating in humble submission…beseeching God.  That’s why its used where it is in the Roman Canon.  There’s a wonderful poetic ballet played out as we bow low saying supplices and ask that Christ bear the gifts we have placed upon this earthly altar to his altar in heaven!  

The supplices of the Roman Canon thus signifies the joining of our sacrifice to his, a union of heaven and earth, and even a glimpse into what we shall know, God willing, in the eternity of heaven.

And it all starts with supplices.  But I’m afraid, we're not very good at it. 

We’re not very good at facing the fact that I am little and God is big: that God is greater and more beautiful, omniscient, omnipotent, all loving…Bigger than I could ever imagine.

The hardest thing for our culture and time (let’s face it, the hardest thing for us!)  is to recognize our littleness and God’s greatness, our utter dependence on his grace.

This was made evident by the omission of so many deprecatory words from the 1970 translation of the Roman Missal, deprecamur, mereamur and supplices, exoramus, suplicitor, just don’t make sense in a universe where we are the center of all things and the arbiter of all power and meaning.

Take, for example, the Prayer after Communion for the upcoming Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

Refectióne tua sancta enutríti,
Dómine Iesu Christe, súpplices deprecámur, 

Having been nourished by your holy banquet, 
we beseech you, Lord Jesus Christ,
to bring those you have redeemed by the wood of your life-giving Cross
to the glory of the resurrection.

We beseech you, O Lord!  A bit archaic, perhaps, but so, sadly, is the very concept of utter dependence upon God.

Supplices implies that I have looked on my own littleness and declared that there is only one God and he ain’t me.  As Mary said in her Magnificat:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
because he has looked on his servant in her littleness.

Which is precisely why Mary can say fiat: Be it done to me according to your word, because she has professed her littleness and God’s greatness.  God knows best.

You may recall how it took Bruce a bit longer to come to that realization.  First he wanted to be God, then he was made God, and then, in the end, he changed his mind:


Supplices means I have to obey, and obedience is not exactly one of my favorite things. I'm not too thrilled by littleness and obedience, and it comes out in the strangest ways sometimes. Ask my best friend, who turned to me one day after a long period of my spouting all knowingly and said, you know James, you're the only one I know who can make me cry with frustration.

We are made for obedient love, and from the moment we went down into those waters of Baptism with Christ were joined to his death, it's all we've been about. A constant conversion to life from death, and to purity from sin, and to light from darkness.

Such a continuing conversion is rooted in a sense of self that emerges from a radical humility, an assuredness that I am not God....the Shema Israel, which heralds and caps every act of Jewish worship, says it all: "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one." It's a takeoff on the first commandment: “I am the Lord your God and you shall have no false Gods before me.”

But we fight against it all the time.  Whenever we don’t get our way, we stomp our feet and threaten God, sometimes even contemplating ending it all.  That’ll show him!  In a painfully ironic scene from Patch Adams, Robin Williams (God rest his soul) contemplates jumping off a cliff because someone he has loved has died.  But then God, at least in the movies, gives him second thoughts:


Would that more movie clips were real life.

Such a conversion to humility, to the constant conviction that I am little and God is big, that I am child and he is Father, results in a radical obedience, not to my self- actualization, but to the plan God has for me and for my life.

Yet is there anything which I fight against more instinctively than the sense that I am not God. I once heard a certain Roman cardinal utter the ultimate sharp rebuke to a staffer who was heatedly trying to convince him of something: Suppose, Father, just for a moment, that you were not God.

That’s the lesson the priest counseling Rudy passed on, when Rudy just wasn’t getting into Notre Dame:


Yet we fight against those incontrovertible truths with our every waking breath.  Just like our first parents, whose sin, ultimately, was not the fruit stolen from the tree, but the disordered conviction that they could be God if they just ate the right kind of fruit.

You see it in every three year old, possessed by the absolute conviction that he is the center of the universe, the ultimate arbiter of meaning, justice, and truth, in other words that he, stamping his feet, screaming and crying is God.

It happens to us all.  We scream and threaten and hold our breath until we turn blue.  But then we reach the point where we stop stamping our feet and find ourselves knocked off of our high horse and on our knees.  It happens so much in life that its a constant theme in the movies, like when it happened to George in Its a wonderful life:


He started to pray!  That’s why those moments in life are such a blessing, because they knock you off your feet and onto your knees.

The follower of Christ is thus repeatedly called to an obedience that does not deem equality with God something to be grasped at...but rather empties itself, taking the form of a slave, and becoming a little child, opening its arms upon a cross in perfect obedience to the Father's will.

We are made for obedient love. It is our dignity. It is our destiny. It is our purpose for being.

Let me close with Saint Benedict's description of the three ways of loving God. You remember it.  At first, Saint Benedict tells us, we love God because we love ourselves. I don't want to go to hell, so I do what he wants.

At the second stage, I love God because he is lovable. I have no choice. I have so deeply fallen in love within him that I want only to do his will.

And then there's the third stage of loving God, the one which few reach but the only state in which true holiness and purity reside, wherein I love me only because God loves me. Only then does my every waking moment seek the will of God. My next breath has value only if it is part of God's plan. My fondest hopes and my deepest desires are but cinder and ash unless they are a part of his plan. In other words, it is not my will but his, not me, but Christ Jesus in me, it is I, like John the Baptist, who must decrease and he who must increase.

That’s the prayer of the man who knows how to say supplices.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sunday in the Seminary

Today the new seminarians celebrate Mass with several faculty and me and then head off for a Trolly Tour of Boston.  Everyone was able to find the Chapel, which is a good sign!  Here's the homily I preached this morning.

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 24th

“In the celebration of the Liturgy,” the introduction to the Lectionary for Mass tells us,  “the word of God is not announced in only one way
 nor does it always stir the hearts of the hearers with the same efficacy. Always, however, Christ is present in his word, as he carries out the mystery of salvation, sanctifies humanity and offers the Father perfect worship.

How evident that is this morning, as you gather for the first time to celebrate these sacred mysteries as a seminarian at Saint John’s Seminary.  Through his word God speaks to you, directly and succinctly, as he will every time you come to this place to worship him in spirit and in truth.

Today Isaiah speaks of clothing a new disciple with the prophet’s robe and girding with his sash.  This new prophet, he tells us, will receive the authority of a prophet and take Isaiah’s place.  He will be called a father by all the inhabitants of Jerusalem and what he opens, no one will ever be able to shut and what he shuts, no one will ever open.

Isaiah is speaking in shadows of the same Priesthood which you suspect that God might be calling you to and which you come to this place to seek.  Let him clothe you in this place with his peace, let him open your mind and your heart to everything that would lead others to him that you might learn to be called father by all the inhabitants of whatever Jerusalem he might choose to send you to.

Now a word of caution, not heard in the Gospel today, but I’m sure you caught it.  In the next verse in Matthew’s beautiful account of Peter’s profound profession of faith, Jesus speaks of the cross, of suffering and of his Passion.  And Peter, Prince of the Apostles and perfect professor of profound faith turns to the Lord and says, “God forbid that you should suffer and die!” AS you will recall, Jesus then looks the best of his Apostles squarely in the eye and says, “Get thee behind me Satan!”

God did not choose the best or the brightest to be his Apostles, and the same is true of the way chooses his priests.  He chooses the weak, as the Preface to the Martyrs says…he chooses the weak and makes them strong in Christ.  

It’s OK to be weak here…in fact its good to recognize the weak spots and let God make them strong.  Trust.  Suffering.  Patient Endurance.  Three of the best tools in the priest’s toolbox.

So here we are.  We who have received or aspire to receive the power of the keys are as in need of repentance and mercy and being saved as anyone whom God has ever chosen

And the discernment and formation to which you today begin to commit yourself is as difficult a task as it is noble.  But nothing, nothing can fill your heart with greater joy.


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Home for the First Time!

Twenty five new men arrived this afternoon, hailing from Rochester, NY, Weymouth, MA, Paris, France, Hanoi, Vietnam and all points in between!  Please keep our brothers and their families in your prayers as they prepare for the greatest adventure of their lives!  

Please pray for 

Matthew of the Diocese of Springfield
Gregory of the Diocese of Fall River
Linh of the Archdiocese of Hanoi
Michael of the Diocese of Springfield
Anh of the Diocese of Dalat
Thomas  of the Diocese of Springfield
Francisco of the Archdiocese of Hartford
David of the Diocese of Rochester
Camilo of the Diocese of Rochester
Joseph of the Archdiocese of Boston
Gregory of the Archdiocese of Boston
Joseph of the Archdiocese of Boston
Daniel  of the Diocese of Burlington
David of the Archdiocese of Hartford
John of the Archdiocese of Hartford
Denis of the Archdiocese of Boston
Hiep of the Diocese of Providence
Duc  of the Diocese of Dalat
Philip of the Diocese of Springfield
Nicholas of the Diocese of Providence
Andrew of the Diocese of Manchester
Sinh of the Diocese of Springfield
Philippe of the Archdiocese of Paris
Nathaniel of the Archdiocese of Boston

Here are some words of greeting I offered in the Chapel a few minutes ago:

Welcome!  God called.  You answered.  

How many different feelings must be running through your hearts right now.  Those of you who are about to become philosophers and theologians, discerning God’s call to a share in the Priesthood of Jesus, his Son must be scared half to death.  Wondering what he has in store for you, will you be up to the task? Will you be happy?

Be at peace, my brother.  For the same God who gave you birth, the same God who taught you to laugh, who is the way, the truth and the life...that God is all this place is about.  He is in the air we breathe and work we do.  He is the reason we rise and we rest.  He loves you more than you will ever know, and he has great things in store for you here!  Things more amazing than you have even dreamed. Like the little kid who has climbed the ladder to the great big slide, just take a deep breath and let go!  He’ll do the rest.

And be at peace, dear parents and friends.  My 86 year old mother has some advice for you.  Trust in God and he will do great things for your son.  He knows how much you love him and God will take good care of him here.  For God has called him and he has answered.  And that is very good.

I welcome you on behalf of an incredible faculty of wonderful priests, who once sat where you sit and once felt exactly as you feel today.  I welcome you on behalf of Cardinal O’Malley and our Board of Trustees.  I welcome you on behalf of our superb staff and our spiritual directors and pastoral supervisors.  I welcome you home.

So relax and enjoy.  You only have one first day of Major Seminary.  Mine was 38 years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth.  That day was, for me, the beginning of a life so filled with joy and beauty and truth that I cannot describe it without tears in my eyes.  And that is just what God has in store for you.

I’m the Rector, which means I’m your pastor.  I live on the second floor in an apartment a little smaller than the city of Providence and my office is at the end of that hallway.  My cell phone is in the student directory and you are my first priority in life.  I want nothing more than for God to do with you what he has in mind, and that, my brothers, is perfect joy.


Tanglewood the Night Before...

Before the new seminarians arrive tomorrow, a number of Faculty members headed out to Tanglewood to commemorate the end of summer.  Shown here are Father O'Connor, Father Conn, Monsignor McRae, Monsignor McLaughlin and Father Briody in the Koussevitzky Music Shed.  The evening included the Pops playing the complete musical accompaniment to a showing of "The Wizard of Oz!"