Friday, March 29, 2013

The Mystery of Life...

Tonight we celebrate the heart of the mystery of life.

Tonight, every question is answered, for those whose ears will hear. Tonight, every doubt is washed away, for those whose hearts will believe. Tonight, every fear and sin is buried, for those who are willing to rise with Christ.

For from the darkness of our selfishness. From the pitch blackness of war and violence, From the blindness of sin and rebellion, there emerges a single light:

That light is the Son of the Living God, through whom this world and time itself were made, in whom we live and move and have our being.

He was made flesh for us, a weak and little baby in the arms of his Virgin mother, He let go of his power as God, and took on our human flesh, to be God and man, and to teach us how to love.

And then he taught us, to always take the last place, to seek out and care for the poor, to pick up our crosses, to seek only holiness and love.

And then, finally, when the time had come, he suffered and died for us, he was nailed to a cross, opening his arms in an everlasting sign of his eternal love.

And when they buried him in the tomb, that cold and scary Friday night, most of them thought the story was over. That he was dead, and would stay that way.

But on the Easter morning, the light pierced the darkness, and we were saved!

Remember your mercies, O Lord...

Remember your mercies, O Lord, and with your eternal protection sanctify your servants, for whom Christ your Son, by the shedding of his Blood, established the Paschal Mystery. Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.
Collect Friday of the Passion of the Lord

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Standing at the Foot of the Cross

They all left him, except for two.  And maybe that hurt even more than the nails and thorns. 

Remember Peter’s words, “even if everyone should desert you, I would never run away!”?  Neither hide nor hair of him.  And what of his brother Andrew, or James?  Surely the ones who Jesus always kept close to him on the Mount of transfiguration and in the Garden would be there?  But no James.  And no Lazarus.  And no Martha either.

Only two stand at the foot of the cross: Mary and John, the mother and the youngest of the Apostles.

Mary, who loved Jesus with a mother’s love, and the devotion of a disciple.  From the very beginning she said “yes” to the Angel Gabriel in total acceptance of God’s will.  And that love was not just for a time, but for all time, even unto death.

Mary’s faithfulness was not without cost…late medieval depictions of the crucifixion always include the “woman of sorrows” collapsing to the ground in mortal grief.  But her love was learned from the heart of her child: a love which was faithful even in sorrow and desperate grief.

And beside her stood young John: the Beloved Disciple, the one whom Jesus loved.  He is the innocent, the one to whom they all went when they wanted to know what Jesus was really thinking.  With Peter and James, he formed the inner circle.  He was the one who last night fell asleep on the Master’s shoulder because the supper lasted so late into the night.

The youngest Apostle is our stand-in at the foot of the cross, catching the grief stricken body of the Virgin in his arms, all the while seeking to be sustained by her unwavering faith.  The young John is us.

Thus does Jesus look down from the altar of the cross and say to his Blessed Mother: “Woman, there is your Son,” and to us: “There is your mother.”

And from that moment she, the Mother of Sorrows, is not only the Mother of Christ, but our Mother as well.  As she stands at the foot of the cross, so she will stand beside us in our agonies and our sorrows: consoling, interceding and weeping for us, ever seeking to unite our sufferings to the Blessed Passion of her Son upon the Cross.

From that moment upon Calvary, the Mother of God is the Mother of the Church and the Mother of all who seek peace.

Through her, let us join all our sufferings and all our sins to the Holy Cross which we will now kiss.  The Cross upon which Christ was crucified for us.  The Cross upon which the perfect sacrifice was offered, by Jesus, by whose wounds we have been healed.  

With Mary and John and all the world let us acclaim: Come, Let us Adore!

Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper

Tonight, the great mystery begins.  For weeks, the Lord has been telling his disciples that the Son of Man must suffer and die at the hands of evil men, but tonight the mystery truly begins.

Tonight, the meal in the upper room is like the meals of so many nights, but it’s different.  
  • Usually the disciples begin a meal by washing their hands of the dirt of the day.  Tonight, the Master takes off his coat, kneels down and washes their feet.  
  • Usually, before they begin to eat, the Master thanks God for the bread and passes it around.  Tonight, he breaks the bread, gives it to them, and says, “take this, all of you, and eat it, for this is my body.”
  • Usually, when they’re finished eating, the Lord takes a cup of wine, blesses God, and passes it around to his disciples.  Today, as he gives them the cup, he says:, “Take this, all of you, and drink from it…this is the cup of my Blood, of the new and everlasting covenant.”
Tonight the mystery begins.  The master washes the feet of his disciples, breaks bread as his body will be broken, and passes a chalice of wine as he will pour our his blood from the cross the next day.

It is a night of fear, of suffering, and of meaning.

The Lord is afraid.  He will cry to the Father with blood and sweat that this cup of suffering pass him by.  The disciples are petrified.  Every time, over the past few weeks, that he has talked about suffering and dying, they have tried to change the subject.  Remember when Saint Peter said to him, “God forbid that you should suffer and die!”  Even after Jesus is arrested, Saint Peter will deny him three times and each of those closest to him will run away for fear of suffering.  At the end, only two will remain his mother and the youngest of the disciples.  They are all scared to death.

Suffering and Meaning
It is a night of suffering.  Of arrest, of humiliation, of scourging, and soon of crucifixion.  Yet it is a suffering so overflowing with meaning that we are invited to join our suffering to his.  For this cup of suffering is a cup of meaning.
  • For after this night, when I get the diagnosis that it is malignant, I will know that I am being handed the same cup of which the Lord drank in Gethsemane;
  • And after this night, when you find out your daughter has begun to use drugs again, you will not weep alone, but with the same tears as the Lord on the Mount of Olives.
  • And after this night, when you lose the job, or can’t pay the bills, or you think you might lose the house, you will not despair like those who have no hope, but join your wounded soul to the heart that was pierced for you;
  • And after this night, when the fears of old age, and a body that just doesn’t work anymore, or approaching death make you tremble, you will know that you have been invited to sit at the table in the upper room, and that Christ is turning to you and saying, “take this and drink from it;”
For from the day that you received communion for the first time, you have not been alone.  For those who eat his Body and drink his Blood, suffering has meaning and life has hope..

He has promised it: that he will live in those who eat his Body, and they will live in him.   Through this cup, the Lord transforms all suffering into the redemptive suffering of his cross, and transforms “a sinful world into a redeemed world, into a world of thanksgiving for the life the Lord gives us.” (St Basil the Great, Homily on Psalm 115,)

Pope John Paul II understood this lesson well.  As that strong body began to shake and falter, as that famous voice became weak and uncertain, he must have suffered so terribly.  So when he spoke in a trembling voice to all the sick of the world, they listened as never before when he said:

Yes, dear friends, Jesus is our strength! He is so especially when our cross becomes too heavy and, as happened to him, we feel anxiety and fear. (cf. Mk 14:33 cf. Mk 14:33) Let us remember then his words to the disciples: "Watch and pray.” (Mk 14:38) By watching and praying with him we enter into his paschal mystery: he lets us drink from his cup, which is the cup of his Passion, but above all, a cup of love. The love of God can transform evil into good, darkness into light, death into life.” (Pope John Paul II, World Day of the Sick, May 30, 1999).

That is the great good news of this night.  That in the Holy Eucharist we are given the bread of life and the cup of eternal salvation.  By his brokenness we are healed, and we will never suffer alone ever again.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Something Profoundly Exciting

Dear brothers, I firmly believe that during this Year of Faith, God is doing something profoundly exciting in our beloved Church.  With the election of Pope Francis, the Holy Spirit has given to the Universal Church a pastor who has already demonstrated to the Church and to the world that he has a humble and tender priestly heart fashioned after the heart of Christ, the Good Shepherd.  But I would also suggest that Pope Francis will challenge us bishops and priests to reclaim with conviction the joy and passion which we possessed on our ordination day.  Allow me to give you an example of what I mean by quoting the words the Pope Francis spoke to the Cardinals the day after his election as Bishop of Rome.  The Holy Father said these words: “When we journey without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are worldly:  We may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but we are not disciples of the Lord.”

Dear brothers, as we lead our people through the Sacred Tridium, from the upper room of the Eucharist where the ministerial priesthood was instituted, to the shadow of the Cross on Calvary, to the wonder and amazement of the Empty Tomb, let us remember that we do so as disciples of Jesus Christ who has claimed us as his own brothers.  On the day of our priestly ordination, Christ made us stewards of his sacred mysteries, committed to bringing a message of hope to a Church and a world that so desperately needs it.  May you and I receive the grace to live out the gift and mystery of our priesthood from our daily celebration of the Holy Eucharist in which we encounter the Risen Christ who has called us by name to be his special friends.  Amen!
Bishop Robert J. McManus
Bishop of Worcester
Cathedral Church of of St. Paul
March 26, 2013

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Wednesday in Holy Week

"They paid him thirty pieces of silver."  (Matthew 26)

"He evaluated Jesus in terms of power and success. For him, only power and success were real. Love didn't count." (Pope Benedict XVI, Easter, 2006)

Monday, March 25, 2013

Tuesday in Holy Week

"So Judas took the morsel and left at once. And it was night." (John 13)

"In effect, the possibilities to pervert the human heart are truly many. The only way to prevent it consists in not cultivating an individualistic, autonomous vision of things, but on the contrary, by putting oneself always on the side of Jesus, assuming his point of view. We must daily seek to build full communion with him."
(Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, 2006)

Monday in Holy Week

"Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair..." (John 12)

"Grant, we pray, almighty God, that, though in our weakness we fail, we may be revived through the Passion of your Only Begotten Son..."  (Roman Missal, Collect for Monday in Holy Week)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

Homily by
Father Romanus Cessario, O.P.


“On this day,” so the Roman Missal instructs us, “the Church recalls the entrance of Christ the Lord into Jerusalem.”1 Thus, Palm Sunday finds the Christian people processing into the churches of the world. They march in pilgrimage toward the place where the Catholic Priest will enact the Sacrifice of the Mass. The natural order of processions usually places the most important person last. Juniors lead. So it happens that Pope, Bishops, Priests customarily come last when they join processions. Ministers and lay people precede them. Not today, however. Today, Palm Sunday, the Church reverses the order.2 The Priest marches first. He takes the place of the junior, the youngest. The Priest does not bring the procession to its climax. Instead, he leads “all the faithful carrying branches”3 in imitation of those disciples who accompanied Christ “as he was approaching the slope of the Mount of Olives” (Lk 19:37).


We should observe closely the significance of this reversal prescribed for the Palm Sunday procession. No detail of the Sacred Liturgy lacks meaning for the worshiper. The first and obvious reason for placing the Priest at the head of the procession finds expression in the prayer used at today’s Mass: “God, who as an example of humility for the human race to follow, caused our Savior to take flesh and submit to the Cross.”4 Christ rode along on a colt in order to show that, as one ancient homily explains, “He is not to be feared for His power, but loved for his meekness; wherefore he sitteth not on a golden car, refulgent in costly purple, nor is mounted on a spirited horse, rejoicing in strife and battle, but upon a donkey, that loves peace and quiet.”5 On Palm Sunday, the Church exhibits liturgically the virtue that characterizes the Savior of the world. The Venerable Bede, Doctor of the Church, expresses it best: “Christ is the Master of humility.”6
In order for us to imitate Christ’s humility, we should first understand what makes his virtue unique. The Christian people need above all to distinguish authentic Christian humility from its secular simulacra, that is, from bogus representations of this deeply Christian virtue. Three come to mind. First, Christ’s humility does not require us to adopt a pathological submission toward all people. “Those who share in God’s blessings,” Aquinas assures us, “recognize that they possess them.”7 Christian humility, then, issues not in that unhealthy submissiveness that critics of the Gospel associate with religious people. True humility neither fosters Nietzsche’s “herd morality” nor corresponds to Hume’s “monkish virtues.” On the contrary. Christ exhibits humility as well as magnanimity. These two virtues can exist together.8 It must be so. Who other than a truly magnanimous, great-souled man, a man who recognizes the blessings he has received, would give himself up, humbly, for the salvation of the world?
Second, Christ’s humility does not impose social egalitarianism. The common good of the polis, the political common good, requires hierarchy: presidents, legislators, judges. Common sense rejects the proposal that societies can achieve radical equality and still function well: colonels are not privates; wardens, not prisoners; supervisors, not clerks. The alternative to political rule brings forth anarchy not utopia. Christ recognizes kingdoms, even as he exclaims to Pilate, “My Kingdom does not belong to this world” (Jn 18:36). There is more. Human nature inclines us to love some more than others: saints more than sinners; the wise more than the foolish; the generous more than the stingy. So the humble person is not expected to lavish equal affection upon all. What if someone seeking humility strove to attain this ideal? The wisdom of the saints is clear: “This [proposal] does not make sense.”9
Thirdly, Christian humility does not mandate ecclesiastical inclusiveness. Christ himself hands over to Peter and his Successors the keys that symbolize the supreme authority of the apostolic office. Humble service within the communion of the Church flows from the manner in which each Christian fulfills the vocation—the blessing—that God bestows on him or her. By his death on the cross, Christ has set down the supreme model of humility. “Christ is Master of humility.” We imitate Christ’s humility in order to become better disposed to receive spiritual and divine blessings. Envisaging a new Church order that contravenes what the Master of humility himself has established smacks of arrogance not humility.


Palm Sunday puts the Priest who represents Christ at the Head of the procession. Truth to tell, other processions also put the principal person up front. For example, victory marches. The triumphant heroes of ancient Rome led their armies, their sons and officers into the City, the Urbs. Or more recently, one may recall seeing photos of Charles de Gaulle, in August 1944, entering liberated Paris at the Place de l’√Čtoile. When they celebrate victory, conquering heroes stand at the head of the parade. Christ enters the Holy City of Jerusalem as a Victor-King: “O gates, lift high your heads; grow higher, ancient doors. Let him enter, the king of glory! Who is this king of glory? He, the Lord of hosts, he is the king of glory.”10 The Catholic Priest marches first in today’s procession. He recalls Christ’s humility. He also represents the victorious King of the universe, whom today Pope Francis called “a shining beacon for our lives.”11
Make no mistake: Palm Sunday reaches beyond Christian believers. Today’s procession heralds the salvation of the whole world. Christ enters Jerusalem to die for all men. Today Catholic Priests enter the churches of the world not to withdraw but to draw all men to the Savior. Catholic Priests want to place a palm in everybody’s hand. They thus show themselves to embody Heads, Shepherds, and Bridegrooms. Shining beacons. Those who follow the Priests into churches everywhere represent the “many” for whom the Eucharist will be offered. They exit their churches ready to take up the challenging task of evangelization. In God’s providence, next Easter more people will come to believe in the Savior of the world. In God’s mercy, next Easter more Christians will take up palm branches. For this to happen, we need more priests to represent Christ in the Palm Sunday procession.
Evangelization is not an optional occupation. The Church needs more priests to preach authoritatively from pulpits “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend. . .and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil 2: 10,11 passim). The Church needs more priests to enact, humbly, the sacred mysteries without which Christian conversion remains inchoative. Of course, the Church needs humble priests. She also requires magnanimous priests. That is, great-souled men capable of accomplishing the arduous works that sanctify our souls. Absolving. Sacrificing. Saint Ambrose offers a complementary interpretation of the manner that Christ arrives in Jerusalem: “It pleased not the Lord of the world to be borne upon the donkey’s back, save that in a hidden mystery by a more inward sitting, the mystical Ruler might take His seat in the secret depths of men’s souls, guiding the footsteps of the mind, bridling the wantonness of the heart.”12 What Saint Ambrose says of Christ happens only when the Catholic priest fulfills the munera or responsibilities that the Church imposes on him. For the mystical Ruler takes his seat deep in our souls only to the extent that the Catholic priest teaches, governs, and sanctifies. Evangelization advances when the Catholic Priest leads the victorious procession on Palm Sunday. Like Christ himself. Humbly.


1 - Roman Missal, Instruction for Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, no. 1.

2 - The Procession on the Easter Vigil places both Priest and people behind the lit paschal candle. See Roman Missal for this Easter Vigil in the Holy Night, no. 15.

3 - Roman Missal, Instruction for Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, no. 9.

4 - Roman Missal, Prayer for Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, no. 20.

5 - Pseudo-Chrysostom as cited in Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea, Vol. 1, St. Matthew (London, 1997), p. 705. Both Apolinarian and Anomoean homilies of the early fifth century were ascribed to Chrysostom. The homilies in the octave of Easter that are ascribed to pseudo-Chrysostom may well be Anomoean. There are also Latin homilies contained in the pseudo-Chrysostom corpus which are probably fifth-century Arian. These Latin homilies, fifty odd homilies on Matthew’s Gospel and known as the Opus imperfectum in Matthaeum were some of the ones used by Aquinas and other Western medieval authors, who accepted them as genuinely from Chrysostom (See “Preface,” p. vii). 

6 - St. Bede, Catena Aurea, Vol III, St. Luke, p. 643.

7 - Summa theologiae IIa-IIae q. 163, art. 3.

8 - For the compatibility of humility and magnanimity, see Summa theologiae IIa-IIae q. 161, art. 1, ad 3.

9 - Summa theologiae IIa-IIae q. 26, art. 6.

10 - Roman Missal, Antiphon for Psalm 24 sung as the Procession approaches the doors of the church.

11 - Palm Sunday Homily, 2013; see VIS, Vatican City, 24 March 2013.

12 - St. Ambrose, Catena Aurea, Vol III, St. Luke, p. 642 (translation slightly altered).

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Year of Faith in Chelmsford

Matt, Kevin, Sister Jeanne, and Callan
As part of the Archdiocesan celebration of the Year of Faith, I was delighted to join Sister Jeanne Gribaudo and three seminarians (Callan Davis, Kevin Leaver, and Matt Conley) at Saint Mary's in Chelmsford for a study of the celebration of the Christian Mystery in the Catechism of the Catholic Church - Liturgy & Sacraments.  While close to two hundred teenagers were led in a dynamic experience of the Sacraments in the Church Hall, more than one hundred adults spent an hour reflecting with me on the Sacraments in the Church.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Blessing for our Saint Patrick Feast

Illustration by Ade Bethune

Bless this Feast, O Lord, we pray.

Bless it by the young shepherd Patrick, as he “prayed before daylight whatever the weather.”

Bless it by the dreamer Patrick, who, hearing ‘the Voice of the Irish’  returned to the land which had enslaved him as evangelist and preacher.

Bless it by the Bishop Patrick, planting his crozier in a bog, pledging to never stop preaching until the Irish were converted.

Bless by the strong Saint Patrick, renouncing comfort and prestige to “cast himself...entirely into the hands of Almighty God.”

Bless it by the dying Patrick, who begged his disciples to remember that all he had accomplished was “according to God’s pleasure...that all [was] God’s Gift.”

Bless this Feast by the love of the Cherubim,
the service of archangels,
the prayers of patriarchs,
the preaching of apostles,
the innocence of holy virgins,
and the deeds of righteous men.

Bless us, the sons and daughters of Saint Patrick,
and the food which we are about to eat
through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Saint Joseph, Saint Francis and the Bishop of Rome

Forty three years ago, by the decree Quaemadmodum Deus, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Pius IX declared St. Joseph to be patron of the universal church.

And this morning, our Holy Father Francis, assumes the chair of Peter and inaugurates his Petrine ministry as Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Christ, and Chief Shepherd of that same universal church.

Saint Joseph is our patron by his example, reinvigorating the life of the Church “with true evangelical virtues."1

 When an angel comes to him in a dream and tells him the will of God, “receptive to God’s plans and not simply to his own.”2
  • Finding the virgin he loves to be with child, he prepares to divorce her quietly in order to spare her whatever shame he can.  But when an angel whispers into his sleeping ear: “Do not fear to take her as your wife,” he does it. 
  • Threatened by Herod’s wrath, he hears the angel yet again, now telling him to take mother and child and flee to Egypt. And, again, he listens and obeys, “discreetly, humbly and silently, even when he finds it hard to understand.”3
He is our patron when he protects us, the same way that he once kept unceasing holy watch over the family of Nazareth, so now does he protect and defend with his heavenly patronage the Church of Christ."4

Picture this holy patriarch cradling the Christ child in his arms as Mary sleeps, sheltering mother and child on the flight into Egypt, and in the home at Nazareth.

Picture good St. Joseph, still interceding with his Son for the beseiged Church of Pius IX, and the church of Francis the first, for “in every period of history there are Herods who plot death and destruction.”5

Up until recently, except for Padre Pio, St. Joseph was the most popular saint in Italy, although St. Francis of Assisi always gave him a good run for his money. 

That’s because St. Joseph is the accessible saint, the quiet father in the background, the good man, achieving sanctity not through mighty deeds but, through “a life lived in the greatness of every day life, but with steadfast faith in Providence.”

He is the one described by Dei Verbum, who “hearing the word of God with reverence”6 manifests “an absolute readiness to serve faithfully God's salvific will.”7

Which is why I suspect the patriarch and the poverello are smiling down on the brand new pontiff today, who styles himself, much like them, as no big thing, just a good and Holy Father, who wants to keep us safe.


1 - Paul VI, Discourse (March 19, 1969): Insegnamenti, VII (1969) p. 1269.

2 - Pope Francis, Homily at the Inauguration of the Petrine ministry, March 19, 2013.

3 - Pope Francis, Homily at the Inauguration of the Petrine ministry, March 19, 2013.

4 - Leo XIII, Encyclical Letter Quamquam pluries (August 15, 1889): loc. cit., pp. 177-179.

5 - Pope Francis, Homily at the Inauguration of the Petrine ministry, March 19, 2013.

6 - Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, no. 1.

7 - Blessed Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Redemptoris Custos, no. 30.

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Busy Sunday at SJS

Bishop Peter Libasci of Manchester celebrated our Community Mass with the Installation of Lectors
Our new Lectors with Bishop Libasci
Father Jason Jalbert (Manchester Vocation Director), Bishop Libasci, and Monsignor Moroney

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Discernment Retreat...Day Two

I presented two more conferences to the more than one hundred young men discerning vocations at Betania II today.  We also celebrated Mass and then had the opportunity to chat with Cardinal O'Malley via Skype.  His Eminence, having just finished the work of the Conclave, shared his experience of the election of Pope Francis I.  Cardinal Sean spoke of the moment when Francis I announced his name.  "Of course, as a Franciscan, I was thrilled...And I think that with that choice he was trying to indicate to us some of the themes of his Pontificate...of being a joyful messenger of the Gospel life...of being a brother uniting all of us in the Church and in the world...Likewise, in the life of Francis, there is Francis' love for the poor...'

The men on the discernment retreat join us tomorrow morning at Saint John's Seminary for Sunday Mass.  We are fortunate that several of our men will received the ministry of Lector at that Mass and Bishop Peter Libasci, Bishop of Manchester, will be the celebrant.

Bishop Peter Libasci (Bishop of Manchester) and Monsignor Moroney with the Vocation Directors of Boston and the men on the Boston Archdiocesan Discernment Retreat joined the seminarians for Mass at Saint John's Seminary on Sunday.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Beauty of the Person of Pope Francis

Thanks to Father Thomas Petri, OP and CNS for this delightful introduction to the beauty of the person who is our Holy Father!

Inauguration of the Petrine Ministry

Join us at 11:00am on Tuesday morning on Catholic TV for live coverage of the Inauguration of the Petrine Ministry of Pope Francis.  You can watch Catholic TV on your local cable system or join us streaming live at

Open your heart...

The following is taken from the opening Conference I gave this weekend at the Boston Archdiocesan Discernment Retreat at the Betania II Center in Medway.

Almost thirty three years ago I was laying down on that carpet, on the same spot where they receive Holy Communion at Saint Paul’s Cathedral in Worcester and the cantor led the gathered Congregation in the Litany of Saints. At twenty-seven I had no idea what God held in store for me, But I did know that the carpet was itchy against my nose, and I remember thinking that with all the anxiety coursing through my veins that I was feeling a bit dizzy. Which is when it occurred to me that at least if I fainted while laying on the floor, I wouldn’t have far to fall.

But I didn’t faint. Rather, I stood up and knelt before Bishop Flanagan and felt his hands upon my head and heard him pray to God on my behalf. The prayer he prayed, has been used by Bishops to make Priests for over a thousand years. It asks God, “the author of human dignity” to draw near, recalling how when Moses and Aaron found it hard to govern the Israelites, God “chose men next in rank and dignity to accompany them and assist them in their task.”

You, Lord, provided the Apostles with “companions to proclaim and carry out the work of salvation throughout the whole world.’ So now, the Bishop continued, “in our weakness...grant us these helpers that we need to exercise the priesthood that comes from the Apostles.”

“Grant to these servants of yours the dignity of the priesthood. Renew within them the Spirit of holiness...May they be worthy coworkers with our Order, so that by their preaching and through the grace of the Holy Spirit, the words of the Gospel may bear fruit in human hearts and reach even to the ends of the earth.”

“Together with us, may they be faithful stewards of your mysteries, so that your people may be renewed in the waters of rebirth and nourished from your altar; so that sinners may be reconciled and the sick raised up.”

“May they be joined with us, Lord, in imploring your mercy for the people entrusted to their care and for all the world.”

So that’s my job description, as it were, first prayed over this head when it was fully covered with hair, on the first day of an adventure I could not then begin to imagine. Since then I have been the happiest of men, an unworthy instrument of God’s grace in the lives of those whom I have been called to shepherd from birth to death.

The life of a Priest is pure grace, seldom easy, but always exquisitely beautiful. I wish I could tell you what it feels like to hear a penitent weep when welcomed home after 35 years of being lost. I wish you could know what it’s like to give viaticum, anoint in faith, and commit a soul to God as she breathes her last breath.

To be and be called “Father,” to so many, to be called to preach the Gospel with conviction and joy, to be invited to bring Christ’s healing presence and truth to the most intimate pains of the human heart.

And most of all, to join the sacrifices of your lives to the one perfect Sacrifice of Christ offered upon this altar, and to receive the power through Christ to transform mere bread and wine into his own Body and Blood. To stand behind that altar before which I was ordained, and to offer the sacrifice which is the source and the summit of each and all of our lives.

In almost thirty years, I have never doubted, even for a moment, that God chose me to be a Priest. Oh there have been good days and not so good days, trials and temptations, fears and exhaustions. But all that goes with being a human, and it is in my humanity, and with my weaknesses, and even with my sinfulness that God has chosen me to be your Priest and to make me strong in Christ.

How did it all start? For me it started with the example of my mother and father, when first I learned to make the sign of the cross, when they, like John the Baptist, would point to the host young Father Reugher was holding aloft at the old Our Lady of Lourdes Church and say, “look! There is the Lamb of God!”

It started when priests like Father Kelly and Father White and Father Lange would ask, “Have you ever thought of being a Priest?”

It started when God began to call my name, just as he called Samuel. And, like Samuel, it took me a long time to answer. But that never stopped God from calling.

It started with prayer. I can remember when I would walk home from Millbury Memorial High School, I’d stop almost every day in Saint Brigid’s Church and just sit there and stare at the little red light over the tabernacle. And no matter what pains or confusions or adolescent angst was coursing through my veins that particular day, that light told me that Jesus was still there, and still calling my name, and still waiting for me to answer him.

So, eventually, and slowly and with stops and starts and plenty of detours, I sought him out, and heard his words: “Follow me...come see where I live.” 

Follow me to green pastures and still waters where prayer will refresh your weary soul.

Follow me to the cross and join all your sufferings to my sacrifice upon the cross. 

Follow me in loving others as I have loved you, without counting the cost and unto death. 

Follow me, and me alone, renouncing the world and all that might keep you from me. 

Follow me, feed my lambs and tend my sheep.

And, you know, it’s funny. For just as he called me, I know he is calling some young man who hears my voice right now. You’ve suspected it for a long time and it’s probably confused you. He is calling you to a vocation not unlike the vocation to marriage and parenthood or the religious life, or even to a lifelong dedication to sanctity.

But with you, it’s different. For when it gets real quiet you can hear his voice calling you to be a Priest. Like Samuel and like me, you’ll probably find all kinds of excuses to avoid him. But he will keep calling you until you listen.

Open your heart, my dear younger brother, and you will never regret it. I pray for you, even before I know your name. For God knows your name and waits for you to follow him, until that day when you too will lay on that carpet and realize that your nose is itchy, and kneel before that altar and begin the most unbelievable adventure of your life.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Rector's Conference V: Seeking Unity

Just about a year ago, Pope Benedict XVI was about to celebrate his 85th birthday and the seventh anniversary of being elected Pope.  He had just returned from Cuba and Mexico, and was feeling his age...from falling in the middle of the night to having to rely on a moving platform to get down the aisle at Saint Peter’s Basilica.

And on top of it all, he was awaiting word from the Society of Saint Pius the Tenth as to whether they would accept his overtures of unity.  It was not an easy time.

Perhaps that is why during that week he chose as the theme of his message on the fifth centenary of exposition of the seamless garment of the Lord to speak about unity in the Church.  

This relic, he noted, may seem to be only a secondary story in the Gospel account of the Passion, but the Fathers of the Church see a metaphor for the unity of the Church, an issue obviously much on the mind of the College of Cardinals in Conclave this week.  

Whether it be divisions in the curia in the Catholic academy or in the blogosphere, disunity in the Church is a major issue for our times and will be a major part of what Pope Francis will have to deal with.

And so will you.  Which is why I’d like to spend a few moments reflecting with you this evening on the question of unity and the Church.

The signs of disunity in the Church are legion.  

Speaking in Ontario late last year, a leader of the Society of Saint Pius the Tenth offered this critique of the Church and her Council:

Calling the Jewish people "enemies of the church," he suggested that Jewish leaders' support of the Second Vatican Council "shows that Vatican II is their thing, not the church's." Those most opposed to the church granting canonical recognition to the traditionalist society have been "the enemies of the church: the Jews, the Masons," he said.  He went on to suggest that the portions of the Second Vatican Council are  “opposed to what the Church has always taught” and must be rejected. 

At the other extreme, a prominent professor of theology and catechetics  has called for a reconstruction of the Catholic priesthood, suggesting that "The presence of women as priests and bishops would be an extraordinary gift to the life of the Catholic Church ... To ordain women would surely hasten the demise of clericalism - the antithesis to priesthood as servant leadership - and catalyse a renewed ministry of 'holy order'."  Also on the agenda for Church reform is the issue of "lay participation in the oversight of the Church, the clandestine way bishops are selected [and] the inflated role of the Roman Curia".

Pope Benedict XVI wrote of this disunity in his last homily for Pentecost Sunday:

"Inequalities continue that do not infrequently lead to conflicts; dialogue between generations is hard sometimes opposition prevails; we see daily events which appear to suggest that people are becoming more aggressive and more unsociable; it seems to be too demanding to try to understand each other and we prefer to be closed up in our own 'I', in our own interests.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Pentecost Homily, May 29, 2012.)

This egoism, which is as prevalent on the left as it is on the right and effects traditionalists as frequently as the progressive wing, is tearing the Church apart.  

So what do we do about it?
So what are the antidotes for this disunity?  Pope Benedict made two suggestions for us, both in terms of the seamless garment of Christ.

Woven from the top down
First, we must always remember that Christ’s garment is woven from top to bottom” (Jn 19:23). 

“[The Church] is the work of God, not the product of human beings and their skills.”  The Holy Father returned to this theme in his final remarks to the Cardinals on the day of his resignation in quoting from the great liturgical visionary Romano Guardini:

“The Church is not an institution devised and built by human beings…but a living reality….It lives still throughout the course of time. Like all living realities it develops, it changes…and yet in the very depths of its being it remains the same: its inmost nucleus is Christ.”

We have a hard time with this, for we are often obsessed with control, and the essential insight here is that we are not in control, even of the Church, Christ is.  It is not one hundred and fifteen men entering into the Sistina who choose a Pope.  It is not a man dressed in white standing on the central loggia of Saint Peter’s Basilica who determines the course of the Church.  It is not you or me who formulate the will of God for a particular people or a particular parish.  Rather, the Holy Spirit steers the Church and we seek only to discern God’s will and cooperate with it.

When our focus shifts from the spiritual to the political we are in deep deep trouble, for we are on a fool’s journey.   The spiritual is best discerned from our knees with a compliant, prayerful disposition and a deep love of God.  THe political is best discerned with a copy of Machiavelli in one hand the right set of media skills in the other.  The first seeks God’s will, the second my own.

Constantly, the Church and we her members must remind themselves that “her unity, her consensus, her effectiveness, her witness can be essentially created only from above, can be given only by God.”

Such discernment requires an enthusiastic embrace of the most unpopular of twenty-first century virtues: the virtue of obedience.  I do not take communion, I receive it, unworthy though I may be.  I do not take the Deposit of Faith, I receive it, unworthy though I may be.  I do not take an assignment as pastor, I receive it, unworthy as I may be.

I receive it from the Church, which makes the Eucharist in fulfillment of her Lord’s command, preaches the truth, despite the howling of the crowds, and sends shepherds into the vineyard not to preach themselves, but Christ crucified, ever decreasing that he may increase.

So, do you want the Church to be one?  Practice humble obedience, embrace the cross, and you will have done your part.  For, as Pope Francis observed this morning:

We can walk as much we want, we can build many things, but if we do not confess Jesus Christ, nothing will avail. We will become a pitiful NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of Christ....When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, Popes, but not disciples of the Lord.

Our Poor Selves
Pope Benedict’s second suggestion for maintaining unity in the Church is to recall that the seamless garment “is not a toga, an elegant robe which expresses a role in society. It is a modest garment which serves to cover and protect he who wears it...”  In other words, the Church is Holy, but she is made up of such as us, constantly in need of conversion and constantly called by our weakness to humility.

In this regard, I almost changed my entire topic for this week’s rector’s Conference after reading reports that a Cardinal Archbishop had admitted that while he served as a seminary spiritual director he had sex with some of the seminarians.

What’s it all about?  And how do you even begin to deal with such a reality?  What is it about this crime which so destroys the fabric of the Church?  Two things:

First, it is the horrendous scandal of abuse.  For the relationship of faculty to seminarian is not a relationship of equals.  It’s not a relationship of friends.  It is, like the relationship of priest to parishioner or of spiritual director to directee an unequal relationship and the introduction of a sexual dimension to such a relationship is just as abusive as the rape of a child.

A seminary faculty member can direct you, judge you and exercise real power over you.  As such, he has special obligations to you.  In his presence you should feel safe, and if you don't there is something very very wrong.

Second, it is the scandal of hypocrisy, which tears us apart.  Perhaps the sharpest of all the arrows in the devil’s quiver of temptations is hypocrisy.  The priest who passionately preaches the devout life, and never prays.  The priest who works tirelessly for reverence for the human person, and then revels in ecclesiastical gossip.  The priest who preaches eloquently against violations of the sixth commandment, and then follows “a second way” in his private life.

Pornography, masturbation and sexual fantasies of all sorts tempt and will tempt in the life of any man.  What God calls us to, in every age of life, is an authentic striving for purity.  And no matter the temptation, the Priest who authentically strives for purity participates in the cross in a very real way.

But it is not the man who struggles authentically who scandalizes me.  Indeed, such a priest inspires me.  Scandal comes when the word authentic is dropped from the sentence.

Perhaps this is what hits the world so strikingly about Pope Francis.  His simplicity, his honesty, his authenticity....He’s like an old parish priest whom you know you can love and trust, and who you know loves you and will never lead you astray.  What you see is what you get.

But by contrast, the day when a Priest strikes a Faustian bargain to say one thing and to be another, to preach purity and to remain sexually active, on such a day, angels weep in heaven and those who wish to destroy the Church are given their greatest weapon.

Innocent III
On the walls of the Basilica of St. Francis, where the little Saint is buried in Assisi are a series of twenty-eight Giotto frescoes depicting the life of the poverello.

One of the frescoes depicts the dream of Pope Innocent III, to whom Francis appealed for the Church’s approval of his order.  For you see the night after Francis and his rag tag bank came to Innocent and asked for his approval, the Pope went to bed.  And as he slept he dreamed of his own Cathedral, the Lateran, cracked and broken, its enormous towers tottering on ruin.

One thing alone kept the Church intact, the efforts of a little man in a brown robe, supporting the structure and keeping it all together.  It seemed by his utter simplicity and shear state of joyful determination that the Church was save from ruin.

The Pope interpreted his dream to mean that St. Francis would be the ideal instrument to rebuild his Church.  And so he did, by living a life of uncompromising authenticity and fidelity to Christ and to his Gospels.

His weapons were piety, poverty and extravagant love.

Which is why God gave us a humble Pope named Francis.  For the antidote to disunity is not for us to be smarter or more clever or more powerful.  The antidote to disunity is for us to be more authentic, more simply, faithful and more real.

Sounds tough, huh?  And it is.  For the devil goes about like a roaring lion seeking to devour good men by leading them astray.

But, as a couple of Popes ago used to say, “Be Not Afraid,” for the God who first planted that call in your heart will not abandon you.  He will give you the grace to perdure.  Amidst temptation to make believe, to live two lives, to forsake purity as arcane, to make believe its all about me, or to use others as playthings for our own entertainment....He will give you the grace, which only you can accept...the grace to be a good and Holy Priest...

Like Father O’Malley, Father McManus, Father Tobin, Father MacDonald, Father Mansell, Father Matano, and even Father Moroney, who on the day of their ordination promised Christ to embrace this life “as a sign of pastoral charity and an inspiration to it...Compelled by the sincere love of Christ the Lord and living this state with total dedication, [to] will cling to Christ more easily with an undivided heart.”  So help us, God.

So help you who aspire to a life whose whole purpose is to make all things one in Christ, an end which is expressed in the doxology of the prayer which consecrates every Priest and it goes like this:

“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. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever.” (Rite of Ordination, Prayed of Consecration of a Priest).

March 14, 2013