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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Remembering a good priest...

Many were deeply touched by Jim Brett's eulogy at Bishop John Boles Funeral Mass last week. Through Jim's kindness, we reprint it here for the benefit of our seminarians and all our loyal readers.

There are four important things to know about Fr. John Boles. I will tell them to you in their ascending order of importance.

So, starting with the fourth, he was, all his life, an avid birdwatcher. His interest in birds arose when he was just a child, and throughout his life, it was his only avocation – except perhaps for reading. In his room at Regina Cleri, he kept the best of his life’s collection of books. Every one of them was a book on theology, or philosophy, or pastoral care, or education. Except one: a well-worn copy of “The Birds of North America,” given to him by his good friend, Craig Gibson.

You may think I’m telling you this because it’s odd or quaint. But I’m not. It’s because I think understanding his fascination with birds helps us understand who he was, and how he viewed the world. To appreciate the beauty of birds was for him, I suspect, a way to contemplate the wonders of creation. How do they manage to fly so gracefully? Think of the sheer variety of birds – the sizes, shapes, colors. The flamboyant and the drab. The aggressive and the timid. The noisy and the silent. It begins to sound a little like a description of humanity, doesn’t it?

Being a good birdwatcher builds character, too. It requires a keenness of observation and a careful attention to detail. Was that a tree sparrow or a field sparrow? You’ve got to know the difference, you know. It also requires exceptional patience. Birds don’t just parade themselves by you; they are seen in the distance, partially obscured. Bird watching tends to minimize egotism. It’s not about the watcher, it’s about the bird.

So, yes, I think the fact that he was a birdwatcher tells us that he was man of calm composure and true modesty, alert and observant, who appreciated the beauty of the world.

Third, he was a dedicated educator. In addition to his degree in theology from St. John’s Seminary, he earned a master’s degree in psychology and a doctorate in education from Boston College. After teaching for a while at his own secondary school alma mater, St. Sebastian’s School, he became its headmaster, and remained ever after the School’s most persistent, and most irresistible, advocate. At St. Paul’s Church in Cambridge, he was chaplain to the Harvard-Radcliffe Catholic Student Center. He gave his enthusiastic support to the famous Choir School at St. Paul’s. For fifteen years, he served as Director of Education for the Archdiocese of Boston. It may sound like a committee, but this is one man I am talking about!

For Bishop Boles, a good education was not just a way to get a good job, but more importantly a pathway to living a good life. He wanted to help as many young people as he could along that path, and he did.

Second, he was a devoted brother to his beloved sister, Mary. Their mother, Agnes, was a Brett, which explains my presence here. Agnes and my father, Henry, were brother and sister. They came here from Tubbercurry, County Sligo. So John and Mary were my first cousins – my only cousins. We were very close. We spent every major holiday together.

Fr. John was devoted to Mary, as she was to him. It is impossible to exaggerate; you could not imagine a closer and more loving relationship between siblings. She was like him in many ways, including ministry. She served as a lay chaplain at the Massachusetts General South Shore Hospitals.

Mary passed away suddenly on June 7 of this year. It should surprise no one that John is now to be reunited with her.


And finally, the first important thing to know about Fr. John Boles is that he was a holy priest. In his parish work, in his work with the schools, he was a guiding pastor, a good shepherd. In 1992, he was elevated to the episcopal office and became Auxiliary Bishop of Boston. But even after he was entitled to the excellent title of Excellency, he preferred to be addressed simply as “Father Boles.” That was who he was, a priest. He said to my sister Peg on more than one occasion that he enjoyed being a priest every single day.

(Let me parenthetically interject that every day since Mary died, our sister Peg and my wife Pattie have been with Father Boles to care for him and to pray with him. Their reward will be great in heaven, but we already knew that.)

Here is the last sentence from the mission statement of St. Sebastian’s School: The Ideal St. Sebastian’s graduate will be a moral and just person, a gentleman of courage, honor, and wisdom, a lifelong learner who continues to grow in his capacity to know, to love and to serve God and neighbor.

You could not find or formulate a better summation of John Boles’ life. His life was a lived sermon. May he rest in God's peace.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Fathers Come Home...

We were joined this past week by the Priests who were ordained this past spring from Saint John's Seminary. From left to right are Bishop Kennedy, Father Clemence, Father Riley, Father Sullivan, Father Yoon, me, Father Micale, Father Hocurscak, Father Fedoryshyn, Father Boland, Father Pignato, Father Salocks, Father Peschel, Father O'Connor, Father Fitzsimmons and Father Briody.  Father Chris Peschel was celebrant for the Mass and Father Jim Boland (Worcester) gave the following homily. 

In 1994, while I was still eight years old, the film The Shawshank Redemption debuted in  theaters. It did rather poorly at the box office, but when it debuted on home video and cable  television it slowly became recognized and is now widely acknowledged as one of the great films of our time. At one point, the main character, Andy Dufresne, actually innocent despite his conviction, finally receives from the state a donation of books and records for the prison library which he has been working on for many years. Left alone for few moments, he takes a copy of Mozart' s Marriage of Figaro and plays it for the entire prison to hear.  Almost the entire prison stops what they are doing. We hear Morgan Freeman's character narrate as this stop occurs: 

I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don't want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I'd like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can't be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it....for the briefest moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free...

Two weeks later, after a stint in a solitary confinement cell, Andy returns, saying that despite the circumstances he had just faced, there was that place inside that no one can take from him, a place of interior freedom that gives him hope. 

It's this freedom to which the Lord is trying to call each one of us. To a place of authenticity. Yet, so often, for so many reasons, we don't allow ourselves to go to that place. In the Gospel today and over the last week, the Lord’s admonishment of the Pharisees has been front and center. He has spoken of the need of integration: that the Pharisees must integrate interior purity with what’s one the outside and he criticizes them for focusing exclusively on exterior acts to the point that they themselves have become obstacles to drawing people closer to the Kingdom of Heaven.

We must guard against doing the same. But we can’t do it alone. We need Christ at the center of all that we do, that we might never stop speaking the truth, that we might hold it together with the love of God that is charity. To quote Pope Benedict from Caritas in Veritate:

[Charity] gives real substance to the personal relationship with God and with neighbour; it is the principle not only of micro-relationships (with friends, with family members or within small groups) but also of macro-relationships (social, economic and political ones). For the Church, instructed by the Gospel, charity is everything because, as Saint John teaches (cf. 1 Jn 4:8, 16) and as I recalled in my first Encyclical Letter, “God is love” (Deus Caritas Est): everything has its origin in God's love, everything is shaped by it, everything is directed towards it. Love is God's greatest gift to humanity, it is his promise and our hope.

Charity, the love of God, must be at the heart of all that we do. Our ministry, our priesthood is not for ourselves. We need to stay in that relationship with God always, never severing that love of God through sin. We need to center ourselves on Christ as priests, and this can't be accomplished unless we are constantly confronting those attitudes, those rooms of the world in which we seek refuage, that impede us from charity. 

Your future parishioners need to be led to their Savior alone, and to the degree the authentic love of God is mediated and received through your deepening relationship with Christ, the more your parishioners will come to understand the authentic God who is both love and truth and not just some composite of the media’s latest agenda.

Thus, we are left with a choice in our lives: are we willing to embrace the light that drives away the darkness, that enlightens those areas of our lives that we leave sealed off like a solitary confinement cell?  Are we willing to allow Christ, the divine physician, the ability to heal us so that we can more fully mediate his grace and draw people to the Lord who provides for his people in the gift of the sacraments? 

Only then will we possess the grace to lead others to a place of true freedom, the inner room where we find the Lord giving us strength and peace in a chaotic world. If we allow ourselves to be healed of our infirmities, we will find a place of interior freedom, to be able to do the difficult things, and like Andy, bring hope to those who are in so desperately need of it. 

God bless you

The Last Word on the Extraordinary Synod

After all the commentators and prognosticators have had their turn, the Holy Father addressed the closing session of the extraordinary Synod on the Family yesterday.  Pope Francis’ words should be taken to heart by each one of us.

I can happily say that – with a spirit of collegiality and of synodality – we have truly lived the experience of “Synod,” a path of solidarity, a “journey together.”

And it has been “a journey” – and like every journey there were moments of running fast, as if wanting to conquer time and reach the goal as soon as possible; other moments of fatigue, as if wanting to say “enough”; other moments of enthusiasm and ardor. There were moments of profound consolation listening to the testimony of true pastors, who wisely carry in their hearts the joys and the tears of their faithful people. Moments of consolation and grace and comfort hearing the testimonies of the families who have participated in the Synod and have shared with us the beauty and the joy of their married life. A journey where the stronger feel compelled to help the less strong, where the more experienced are led to serve others, even through confrontations. And since it is a journey of human beings, with the consolations there were also moments of desolation, of tensions and temptations, of which a few possibilities could be mentioned:

- One, a temptation to hostile inflexibility [trans: rigidity], that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises, (the spirit); within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. From the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and of the so-called – today – “traditionalists” and also of the intellectuals.
- The temptation to a destructive tendency to goodness [it. buonismo], that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots. It is the temptation of the “do-gooders,” of the fearful, and also of the so-called “progressives and liberals.”
- The temptation to transform stones into bread to break the long, heavy, and painful fast (cf. Lk 4:1-4); and also to transform the bread into a stone and cast it against the sinners, the weak, and the sick (cf Jn 8:7), that is, to transform it into unbearable burdens (Lk 11:46).
- The temptation to come down off the Cross, to please the people, and not stay there, in order to fulfill the will of the Father; to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God.
- The temptation to neglect the “depositum fidei” [the deposit of faith], not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters [of it]; or, on the other hand, the temptation to neglect reality, making use of meticulous language and a language of smoothing to say so many things and to say nothing! They call them “byzantinisms,” I think, these things…

Dear brothers and sisters, the temptations must not frighten or disconcert us, or even discourage us, because no disciple is greater than his master; so if Jesus Himself was tempted – and even called Beelzebul (cf. Mt 12:24) – His disciples should not expect better treatment.

Personally I would be very worried and saddened if it were not for these temptations and these animated discussions; this movement of the spirits, as St Ignatius called it (Spiritual Exercises, 6), if all were in a state of agreement, or silent in a false and quietist peace. Instead, I have seen and I have heard – with joy and appreciation – speeches and interventions full of faith, of pastoral and doctrinal zeal, of wisdom, of frankness and of courage: and of parresia. And I have felt that what was set before our eyes was the good of the Church, of families, and the “supreme law,” the “good of souls” (cf. Can. 1752). And this always – we have said it here, in the Hall – without ever putting into question the fundamental truths of the Sacrament of marriage: the indissolubility, the unity, the faithfulness, the fruitfulness, that openness to life (cf. Cann. 1055, 1056; and Gaudium et spes, 48).

And this is the Church, the vineyard of the Lord, the fertile Mother and the caring Teacher, who is not afraid to roll up her sleeves to pour oil and wine on people’s wound; who doesn’t see humanity as a house of glass to judge or categorize people. This is the Church, One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and composed of sinners, needful of God’s mercy. This is the Church, the true bride of Christ, who seeks to be faithful to her spouse and to her doctrine. It is the Church that is not afraid to eat and drink with prostitutes and publicans. The Church that has the doors wide open to receive the needy, the penitent, and not only the just or those who believe they are perfect! The Church that is not ashamed of the fallen brother and pretends not to see him, but on the contrary feels involved and almost obliged to lift him up and to encourage him to take up the journey again and accompany him toward a definitive encounter with her Spouse, in the heavenly Jerusalem.

The is the Church, our Mother! And when the Church, in the variety of her charisms, expresses herself in communion, she cannot err: it is the beauty and the strength of the sensus fidei, of that supernatural sense of the faith which is bestowed by the Holy Spirit so that, together, we can all enter into the heart of the Gospel and learn to follow Jesus in our life. And this should never be seen as a source of confusion and discord.

Many commentators, or people who talk, have imagined that they see a disputatious Church where one part is against the other, doubting even the Holy Spirit, the true promoter and guarantor of the unity and harmony of the Church – the Holy Spirit who throughout history has always guided the barque, through her Ministers, even when the sea was rough and choppy, and the ministers unfaithful and sinners.

And, as I have dared to tell you, [as] I told you from the beginning of the Synod, it was necessary to live through all this with tranquillity, and with interior peace, so that the Synod would take place cum Petro and sub Petro (with Peter and under Peter), and the presence of the Pope is the guarantee of it all.

We will speak a little bit about the Pope, now, in relation to the Bishops [laughing]. So, the duty of the Pope is that of guaranteeing the unity of the Church; it is that of reminding the faithful of their duty to faithfully follow the Gospel of Christ; it is that of reminding the pastors that their first duty is to nourish the flock – to nourish the flock – that the Lord has entrusted to them, and to seek to welcome – with fatherly care and mercy, and without false fears – the lost sheep. I made a mistake here. I said welcome: [rather] to go out and find them.

His duty is to remind everyone that authority in the Church is a service, as Pope Benedict XVI clearly explained, with words I cite verbatim: “The Church is called and commits herself to exercise this kind of authority which is service and exercises it not in her own name, but in the name of Jesus Christ… through the Pastors of the Church, in fact: it is he who guides, protects and corrects them, because he loves them deeply. But the Lord Jesus, the supreme Shepherd of our souls, has willed that the Apostolic College, today the Bishops, in communion with the Successor of Peter… to participate in his mission of taking care of God's People, of educating them in the faith and of guiding, inspiring and sustaining the Christian community, or, as the Council puts it, ‘to see to it... that each member of the faithful shall be led in the Holy Spirit to the full development of his own vocation in accordance with Gospel preaching, and to sincere and active charity’ and to exercise that liberty with which Christ has set us free (cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis, 6)… and it is through us,” Pope Benedict continues, “that the Lord reaches souls, instructs, guards and guides them. St Augustine, in his Commentary on the Gospel of St John, says: ‘let it therefore be a commitment of love to feed the flock of the Lord’ (cf. 123, 5); this is the supreme rule of conduct for the ministers of God, an unconditional love, like that of the Good Shepherd, full of joy, given to all, attentive to those close to us and solicitous for those who are distant (cf. St Augustine, Discourse 340, 1; Discourse 46, 15), gentle towards the weakest, the little ones, the simple, the sinners, to manifest the infinite mercy of God with the reassuring words of hope (cf. ibid., Epistle, 95, 1).”

So, the Church is Christ’s – she is His bride – and all the bishops, in communion with the Successor of Peter, have the task and the duty of guarding her and serving her, not as masters but as servants. The Pope, in this context, is not the supreme lord but rather the supreme servant – the “servant of the servants of God”; the guarantor of the obedience and the conformity of the Church to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ, and to the Tradition of the Church, putting aside every personal whim, despite being – by the will of Christ Himself – the “supreme Pastor and Teacher of all the faithful” (Can. 749) and despite enjoying “supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church” (cf. Cann. 331-334).

Dear brothers and sisters, now we still have one year to mature, with true spiritual discernment, the proposed ideas and to find concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront; to give answers to the many discouragements that surround and suffocate families.

One year to work on the “Synodal Relatio” which is the faithful and clear summary of everything that has been said and discussed in this hall and in the small groups. It is presented to the Episcopal Conferences as “lineamenta.”

May the Lord accompany us, and guide us in this journey for the glory of His Name, with the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of Saint Joseph. And please, do not forget to pray for me! Thank you!

Thank you, and rest well, eh?






Friday, October 17, 2014

Rendering unto God...

This weekend I am providing coverage at Our Lady of the Annunciation Parish in Queensbury, New York.  This is my Homily for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time.

   
Who owns money and who owns the world?

In the famous scene from today’s Gospel, Jesus take our a dollar bill and asks, “Who’s picture is on it?”  George Washington, they reply.  “Then give to Washington what belongs to Washington,” he commands, “but to God what belongs to God.”

Now throughout the years, homilists have spent a great deal of time analyzing the first half of that answer: Pay your taxes.  Vote.  Obey the law, as long as it does not violate the law of God.  Be good citizens.  Render unto Washington what belongs to Washington.

But I want to spend a couple minutes on the second half of the Lord’s command: “render unto God what belongs to God.”

Creation
Isn’t it beautiful today?  A perfect Fall day.  And we’re surrounded by leaves and wind and a hint of winter and a bright blue sky.  Well, who owns all that?  To whom does the earth belong?

Look closely. If George Washington’s face establishes his ownership of a dollar bill, it is God’s face which is imprinted on everything else!

On the rising sun, and the blue skies, on the birds of the air and the soaring peaks of the Adirondacks.  On the human heart and a baby’s smile, on a bowl of cereal and a plate of pasta, on a glass of wine and a bottle of milk.  It all belongs to God, for (in the words of the Psalmist) “His is the earth and all its fullness.”  He made it all.  And we, the crowning achievement of his creation, were made to look like him: to love.

From the beginning we were made to love, to participate in the continuing creation of God’s goodness:  making love out of hate….light out of darkness….hope out of despair…life out of death.

Lazarus
That’s why the Lord told the story of the rich man and Lazarus.  You remember it.  Here’s a man just like us, except that he got rich when he won the New York State Lottery.  He buys an Iphone6+, a new Mercedes S-class, and a condo on Center Square.

And outside his condo, leaning against the Mercedes, is the beggar Lazarus, who longs to eat the leftovers from the rich man’s table.  But the rich man looks the other way, gets in his Mercedes, and drives away.  

And eventually, despite all the apps on his Iphone, the rich man dies.  And so does Lazarus.  And, as you may have guessed, Lazarus goes to Heaven and the rich man goes to hell.

And in that story Jesus tells us the secret of life!  That we will be judged not on how often we have prayed, or how well we have preached, or how beautifully we have written about the things of God…But on whether we have used this world’s goods, God’s goods, to love or to be selfish…whether we have opened our arms, our hearts, and our lives to those who need us---or whether we have spent all our time grabbing for all the gusto we could get.

Times like these
It’s a tough lesson to learn, especially in times like these.

In times when we’re worried whether we’ll have enough money to retire on, it’s hard to have sympathy for the undocumented immigrant or the drug addict or the guy who keeps falling down drunk.

In times when parents worry if there’s enough on the debit card to pay for the cart of groceries as the kids run down the aisle, it’s hard to have compassion for the single mother who just had her third baby.

In times when it costs so much to fill the tank to get home, or to heat the house when I get there, it’s hard to worry about someone else’s problems…especially if they act funny or seem crazy or smell.

But all the earth, and all the crazy people on it, belong to him.  And he made me to love them all, just like he did: to bring light out of darkness…hope out of despair…and love out of hate.


In times like these, especially in times like these, we must render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Homily for Pope Saint Callistus

They didn’t like him.  No, that’s not strong enough.  They dispised him.  They thought he was a heretic, that it was a mistake to elect him Pope and they went so far as to elect the first anti-pope in the history of the Church.

The irony is that what we know of Pope Saint Callistus, the martyr pope whom we commemorate today, comes down to us from his enemies, Hippolytus and Tertullian.  They had a lot against him.

First, it was his character.  They tell us that Callistus was a runaway slave had lost the monies he was in charge of for upkeep of widows and orphans, that he jumped off a prison ship, was arrested in a synagogue where he was trying to borrow the money back, and was then sent to the salts mines of Sardinia for being a Christian.  When he returned he was charged with overseeing the catacombs on the Via Appia and was eventually elected Pope.

There are probably some virtuous details missing there, by the way, but I pray that my enemies may not be the ones to write my biography.  But that’s not all.

What really infuriated them was his laxity as Pope.

Up until Callistus, if you committed adultery or fornication, that was it!  Callistus (and Augustine after him) let adulterers and fornicators confess their sins, do penance and be readmitted to Holy Communion.

The same with heretics.  Before Callistus heretics needed to do public penance for their mortal sins.  But Callistus allowed them to do private penance and quietly returned them to communion.

And then there were the Bishops.  Before Callistus, if a Bishop committed a mortal sin (adultery, homicide, heresy) he was automatically excommunicated.  But that was too harsh for Callistus, who declared that mortal sin was not always a cause for deposing a Bishop.

And then there were the disputes about marriage law. Callistus followed the Eastern practice of declaring null those marriages which took place before Baptism (what we now call the Petrine privilege), but Hippolytus and Tertullian loudly protested that he was wrong.

There is ever the temptation to play the role of Tertullian the schismatic or Hippolytus the heretic, to see the Church, her doctrine and her pastoral practices as some sort of a political game by which we gain power or prestige.  

But as entertaining as dueling Cardinals and the kevetching of talking heads can be, the matters before the Church at the beginning of her third century and at the start of her twenty-first are too important to be left to the one with the loudest voice or the slickest media presence.

For, in the end, the Pope alone “is the head of the college of bishops, the Vicar of Christ, and the pastor of the universal Church on earth. By virtue of his office he possesses supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church, which he is always able to exercise freely.” (Canon 331)  And it wasn’t to Andrew or to John or to James that Christ gave the power of the keys.  It was to Peter.

That would have been a good lesson for Hippolytus and Tertullian to keep in mind.  And it might be of some help to us as well.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

New England Seminarians in Rome...

On my last night in Rome last week I was privileged to gather with the PNAC seminarians from across New England.  Pray for this great group of men who are preparing so earnestly to serve Christ and his Church!





Lillian's Baptism

I was delighted to celebrate the Baptism of Lillian Marie Shaw this weekend in West Brookfield.  Just imagine the wonderful ways in which she will grow in Christ for decades to come!