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Saturday, August 29, 2015

August Rector's Conference: Who Are We?

Here's a video presentation of my August Rector's Conference.


Thursday, August 27, 2015

On the Jubilee Year of Mercy

I offered the following reflections on the Jubilee Year of Mercy as a part of my annual address to the Plenary Meeting of Saint John's Seminary Faculty this afternoon.

Last March, Pope Francis proclaimed a Jubilee Year of Mercy for the whole Church, beginning on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and closing next year on the Solemnity of Christ the King.

There are many fascinating aspects of this exciting and much needed year of reflection on the mercy God shown to us through Christ Jesus his Son, and much to be explored in a world where, as one wag put it “nothing is sinful, but nothing is ever forgiven.”

There are many dimensions to be explored in the application of the Holy Father’s Gospel of Mercy, but one I have found particularly helpful comes, ironically, from the American political experience of Watergate.

In his 1975 article “On Executive Clemency: The Pardon of Richard M. Nixon,” Michael McKibbin provides the definitive juridical analysis of this important action by President Gerald Ford, which did, as he hoped, provided an end to “our long national nightmare.”

McKibbin provides a fascinating narrative of the events and legal issues, beginning with Nixon’s denial of guilt and the now famous subsequent events which brought the events of Watergate to the attention of the American people and the judgement of the Senate Watergate Committee, Attorney General, Special Prosecutor’s Office and even the Supreme Court.

He notes that President Ford’s pardon is rather broad in its scope, granting “a full, free, and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from January 10, 1969 through August 9, 1974. (39 Fed. Reg. 32601-02 [1974])

My present point in this extraordinary narrative is that this act of executive mercy had one foundational requirement: “the acceptance of a pardon is an acknowledgement by the grantee that he is guilty of the offenses contained therein. A denial of such guilt by the grantee will be construed to be a rejection of the pardon.” (page 351)

Thus, Richard Nixon was forced to admit in writing that his ". . . motivations and actions in the Watergate affair were intentionally self-serving and illegal" in order to receive a presidential pardon.

The multiple Supreme Court rulings that underpin the establishment of confession as a prerequisite for clemency are rooted in the unwavering insistence by the Church that contrition and confession must precede absolution.

By contrast, the Holy Father’s oft-misquoted “Who am I to judge” has been taken by many as a willingness to absolve without the need of contrition.  

A close examination of the Holy Father’s words and actions, however, reveals a Pope and a Church deeply appreciative of our traditional teachings about the dynamics of Christian conversion.

The famous interview on the plane began with a discussion of the accusations against a certain Vatican employee who was alleged to have carried on sexual relations with men in a nunciature years before. The Holy Father begins by saying that his investigations have turned up no evidence, and then proceeds to lament those who would deny the efficacy of repentance and conversion from the sins of our youth, both real and imagined.  Here is what he actually says:

….if a person, whether it be a lay person, a priest or a religious sister, commits a sin and then converts, the Lord forgives, and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets and this is very important for our lives. When we confess our sins and we truly say, “I have sinned in this”, the Lord forgets, and so we have no right not to forget, because otherwise we would run the risk of the Lord not forgetting our sins.”

He then proceeds to the accusations of a “gay lobby” in the Vatican and says that this particular cleric was found not guilt of the accusation. But, he continues, he seems to have been labeled as “gay,” as someone who has a tendency for same sex attraction.

Now, notice the Holy Father is not talking about a person who is guilty of being part of a “gay lobby” or someone who is actively involved in sexual relationship with a person of his own sex.  He is simply talking of someone who is attracted sexually to people of their own sex.

In that context, listen to what the Holy Father actually said:

If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in a beautiful way, saying ...“no one should marginalize these people for this, they must be integrated into society”. 

Pope Francis’ comments on the plane are not, therefore, very different from the remarks offered by Pope Benedict XVI to Peter Seewald some years before.  

The now Pope emeritus reflected candidly at the time that “It is no secret that there are homosexuals even among priests and monks.”  However, he counseled, “the persons who are affected must at least try not to express this inclination actively, in order to remain true to the intrinsic mission of their office.”

This is not cheap grace.  This is love and respect for all persons, even the sinner, but such a deep love that it longs for the day when “they turn from their evil way and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23)

This is why Pope Francis has declared a Jubilee Year of Mercy.  Because, as reminds us in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, mercy is the greatest of the virtues.  This is so, he quotes Saint Thomas a writing, “since all the [other virtues] revolve around it and, more than this, it makes up for their deficiencies. This is particular to the superior virtue, and as such it is proper to God to have mercy, through which his omnipotence is manifested to the greatest degree”. (EG, no. 37, cf. S. Th., II-II, q. 30, a. 4)

Thus, in this year of mercy, the Holy Father calls on sinners to repent, reminding us that “God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy.” (EG, no. 3)  But, likewise, he urges us never to forget that the Church, like her Lord, ”has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy.” 

So, we must preach mercy.  In our classrooms, by our actions and in our lives.  A mercy that ever calls the sinner to repentance in love, but only in love…not in delectation over my being the virtuous and ‘that one being the sinner,’  but in love. For, as Romans reminds us, “all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God.”  (Romans 3:23)

Let us conclude, then, by praying together, Pope Francis’ prayer for the Year of Mercy:

Lord Jesus Christ, you have taught us to be merciful like the heavenly Father, and have told us that whoever sees you sees Him. Show us your face and we will be saved.
Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and Matthew from being enslaved by money; the adulteress and Magdalene from seeking happiness only in created things; made Peter weep after his betrayal, and assured Paradise to the repentant thief. Let us hear, as if addressed to each one of us, the words that you spoke to the Samaritan woman: “If you knew the gift of God!”
You are the visible face of the invisible Father, of the God who manifests his power above all by forgiveness and mercy: let the Church be your visible face in the world, its Lord risen and glorified.
You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error: let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved, and forgiven by God. Send your Spirit and consecrate every one of us with its anointing, so that the Jubilee of Mercy may be a year of grace from the Lord, and your Church, with renewed enthusiasm, may bring good news to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives and the oppressed, and restore sight to the blind.  
We ask this through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Mercy, you who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.

Celebrating Saint Monica with the New Seminarians

This is the homily I preached this morning with the new men on the Feast of Saint Monica.

It’s a story of perduring faith.  The kind that walks the Via Dolorosa and keeps on going.

She was born in the part of Numidia now know as Algeria, on the edge of the desert.  Early on she married a politician by the name of Patrick. But Patrick had a violent temper, especially when he drank, and Monica’s habits of praying and going to Church and taking care of poor people drove him crazy.    

They had three children, one of whom almost died as a child.  But even when he got better and grew up, this child he turned into a first class rascal.  Lazy and selfish, he refused to go to Church, even when his father died when he was 17.

In fact, not only did he refuse to go to Church, he would come home from school and berate his widowed mother about the foolishness of her beliefs.  But she never stopped praying.  For Patrick, for Perpetus and Navitas and even for Augustine, assured by an unnamed holy Bishop that “no child of those tears could ever perish.”

Married to a violent alcoholic who died when her kids were teenagers, with a lazy, selfish and self-righteous son, she was driven not to bitterness, but to prayer.  Morning and night, going from Church to Church praying for her children, especially the errant Augustine, she would leave offerings  behind her of “porridge, bread, water and wine” for the poor.

And her prayers were heard, as Augustine became a priest and a Bishop and one of the greatest shepherds the Church has ever known.  Saint Augustine, whose holiness is an answer to the prayers of his faithful mother.

Some of your mothers and fathers or other adults were cut from that same cloth.  And you will give thanks for their example, their patient endurance and the gift of faith which they have passed on to you.

And now here you are, on this feast of Saint Augustine’s mother, the beneficiary of all those folks whose faith and inspiration brought you to the front doors of this holy house.

Be at peace!  Be not afraid!  Relax!  You’re home!

Or as Saint Paul said to you a few minutes ago: ‘Be reassured!”   For “in our every distress and affliction, through your faith” you will always look up and see that it is only the Lord.

For the Lord and his Church look upon you with joy this day.  On the longing of you heart for holiness, on the fervor of your desire for God’s way and your willingness to leave all and seek only the Kingdom of God.

For the Lord and his Church and all those who love you give thanks for you…”for all the joy we feel on your account before our God?”  With Saint Paul, your rector and pastor and the whole faculty promise that “Night and day we [will] pray beyond measure for you,” that “the Lord make you increase and abound in love…so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.”

So, welcome to this holy house, where the work of Monica and Augustine and all the saints continue.  Where we strive for holiness, that God’s will might be done.

My brothers, “faithful and prudent servants” all, welcome home!

A Duck Boat Tour of Boston

This morning I joined the new men on a Duck Boat Tour of Boston, with the assistance of Dr. Phil Crotty, who provided his extraordinary insights into the religious history of Saint Botolph's town.  Here are a few shots of our journey on the streets of Beantown and the waves of the Charles River!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Welcoming the New Seminarians....

Here's a picture of the new Seminarians and their families as they begin their tour of the Seminary this afternoon...

And here are the words with which I welcomed them to Saint John's Seminary:

Well, look at you!  You made it!  You fit all that stuff in your room and now here you are in the heart of this holy house.  Where each day we will pray, morning noon and night, only that God might make us holy and we might know his will.

So…. Relax!  Be not afraid!  Be at peace! You’re home!  It’a going to be great fun!

For what could be better than falling daily more in love with Christ and his Church?

What could be better than letting go of everything but that which lasts forever?

What could be better than seeking after perfect joy and eternal happiness?

What could be better than seeking only to grow to full manhood in Christ?

What could be better?  Nothing. Not all the glitzy, shiny little baubles the world offers. Not all the wiles and pomps and pleasures held out by the powers of darkness. Not all that tempts and seduces.

None of it is better than loving the Lord Jesus and serving his Church and growing in him.

Oh, it won’t always be easy.  There will be hard days, with very hard work.  There will be crosses, and some of them quite heavy.  But he will always be there with his sufficient grace.  And we’ll be here too.  We who’ve spent our lives trying to do what you’ve now begun.  And we will pray for you, lead you and share with you the ways that we have learned to follow the Lord and serve his Church and love his poor as his unworthy disciples.

So… Be at peace!  Be not afraid!  Relax!  You’re home! And there’s no place better to be.

It's Moving Day...

The largest incoming class of seminarians on over twenty years arrives today!  Please keep all 32 of them in your prayers!!!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Moving the Conference Room Table...

Today, thanks to the expert movers at Gentle Giants and with a little help from a crane, we moved the large conference table from the basement to the Cardinal Law Meeting Room where the Faculty meets tomorrow for an extended meeting.  Thanks to all who made this possible, especially Armand DiLando!