Monday, December 30, 2013

From the Sea of Galilee

A number of the faculty and staff from Saint John's Seminary are in the Holy Land these days for a spiritual pilgrimage.  Here are a few pictures from their walk in the footsteps of the Lord!  Please keep them in your prayers.

Sunset on the Sea of Galilee

Armand Delando, Father O'Connor, Father Bennett and Father Scorzello on the Sea of Galilee

Father O'Connor prepares for Mass on the Mount of Beatitudes

Friday, December 27, 2013

May she rest in peace!

This morning I was honored to celebrate the Funeral Mass of Florence Leaver, grandmother of Boston seminarian Kevin Leaver.  Many seminarians and priests were present for the Funeral, at which I preached the following homily:

There’s something strange about this morning.  For, as Mr. Farley will recall, for so many years it was never really an Immaculate Conception Funeral without Flo and Gerry Leaver and Ruth and Ed Horan sitting in the pew by the organ over there. But you know what?  I’ll tell you a secret.  Flo and Gerry and Ruth and Ed are still here, with all the angels and saints, as we celebrate this Funeral Mass and pray that God will forgive whatever sins Flo may have committed on this day of her birth unto eternal life.

In fact, I think we may even have a new image of the Kingdom of Heaven in this season of Newborn love.  It’s the image of Flo and Gerry and Ed and all the saints gathered in Ruth’s fire-proof Christmas room in the Kingdom heaven, each dressed in really gaudy Christmas sweaters, singing Christmas hymns to organ, violin and harp, before the newborn Christ, who smiles on them, and joins them to himself in eternal light and glory.

It all began eighty-six years ago at Saint Peter’s in Dorchester as, Ella and George Hanlon brought their little baby into Church to be Baptized.  The Priest took water in a small golden shell and pouring it over the child’s forehead said: Ego te baptizo, in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sanctus.  I baptize you, Florence, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Thus began a great journey, as Flo was joined to the death and rising of Christ Jesus.  She would learn how to kneel down and pray, to make the sign of the cross, to go to confession and to receive Jesus in Holy Communion.  Gertie was there to see it, as day by day and year by year, she came to know Christ Jesus.  She learned to love, to forgive and to live in the model of her Lord and Savior. 

And then, Flo and  Gerry came to Church and stood before the altar and promised to remain faithful to one another and to God.  And from that faithfulness, God brought forth Janet and Gerry, Jr. and John and Ginnie and George and Paul as a concrete sign of the willingness of Florence and Gerry to cling to faithful love in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, until death.

In fact, on the day they were married, Flo and Gerry knelt before the altar as the priest, extending his hands over them, blessed them with a quotation from Psalm 128: videas filios filiorum tuorum: May you live to see your children’s children.  And so faithful was God’s love for Flo that she lived to know and to love Colleen, Joe, Mark, Kevin, Chris, Julianne, Robert, Corey and even, as great grandmother, little Callie.

In the years to come, Flo and Gerry knew good times, but they also knew bad, facing each day with the same faith which sustained them throughout their lives, as when they buried Gerry and Ginnie with faith that they would see them once again in the Kingdom of Heaven.  

Or when Flo stood by Gerry’s bed without complaint and prayed and nursed him into God’s arms, ever filled with the assurance of the words we will pray at the close of today’s Mass, that she would see him once again in glory.  

Just imagine the scene, if you will, as they all run out to meet one another in the presence of God in the Kingdom of Heaven!  

So we rejoice on this day that Florence’s eyes can once again behold Gerry and know his loving embrace.  Just as we pray that God forgive whatever sins she may have committed and look upon her with his faithful and infinite love.

For there are many heavenly graces even today, which God has granted to this daily communicant.  She died on a Saturday, just like Gerry, on the Blessed Mother’s Day.  She died in the Advent Christmas Season, the same season in which she buried her two children, in the sure and certain hope that those who receive the body of the child born in the manger, will never really die, but will be raised up with him on the last day.  

This is the season of gifts, and the greatest gift is the birth of the Son of God.  And I’m sure you’re remembering today the many gifts which Flo gave to each of you on Christmases past.  

But today she gives you the greatest gift of all.  For today she reminds each one of us of the journey we’re on.  It starts in the arms of our parents…it starts at the font of blessed water where we are first joined to Christ and to his cross.  And then it takes all kinds of twists and turns, sometimes bringing us closer to God and sometimes leading us away from him.

But today Flo reminds us where that journey ends.  It ends in the same place it began: before Christ, who will judge each one of us on the last day.  Christ, who calls us to turn away from selfishness and sin, and cling to faithful love.  Christ, who urges us to forgive, even as we ask to be forgiven.  Christ, who laid down his life for the world, and asks us to do the same.  Christ, who loved us faithfully and then commanded: love others as I have loved you.

For the greatest memorial to Florence Leaver will not be the finest monument in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.  It will not even be the wonderful stories you will tell or even the moments you will recall her wise and faithful words.  No, the greatest memorial to Flo, will be the life of faithful love which you are invited to live with the Son of God and his Church, the same journey she walked and which led to the loving arms of Christ Jesus, her Lord.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

This Most Sacred Night...

O God, who have made this most sacred night radiant with the splendor of the true light, grant, we pray, that we, who have known the mysteries of his light on earth, may also delight in his gladness in heaven. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Homily for a Few Days Before Christmas

We wait for Jesus

Little children wait for Jesus in the manger.  They long for Christmas.  They start even now to dream of twinkling lights and brightly colored presents, of the smell of fresh Christmas trees and incense, of the feeling of trying to stay awake at Midnight Mass, of the food and the friends and the Christmas carols.

Children wait for Jesus to be placed in the manger: for him to be born as a little child, just like them.  

Years ago, when the son of one of my oldest friends had just turned three years old (he was at that age when we first appropriate the idea of time) his mother made the mistake of telling him: Just imagine, Sean...soon it will be Christmas!

An hour passed, and little Sean returned from his play...Is it Christmas yet? he asked. No, Sarah, told him. Not for another four weeks.   It’s not Christmas yet.

Fifteen minutes passed.  And Sean was back, tugging at her skirt.  Is it Christmas yet? he asked a bit more insistently.  No Sean, I told you it’s not for another four weeks.  And then she thought for a moment how she would explain four weeks, but soon gave up the hope.

Fifteen minutes later he returned, tugging and whining and almost in tears.  Is it Christmas now?  he demanded.  No, Sarah told him.  And then she swooped him up in her arms, dried his tears, and asked softly: You really want it to be Christmas Sean.  You want Jesus to come right now, don’t you?  Yes...the words shot out of him as from a canon...I want Jesus to come right now!  So do I Sarah, said softly.  So do I.

Indeed, the further we get into the last half of life, the more we wait for Jesus in a whole other way.  

The actuarial tables project that I will die in 21.48 years.  That’s 7,482 days and 8 hours.  Not that I’m counting.   

But I am waiting.  I’m waiting each time I get a new twinge or something else stops working or I read one more obituary of someone younger than myself.

And how do we wait for him?  We wait with patience, with longing and with the clear conviction that what he has planned for us is greater than our wildest dreams, that nothing can surpass the beauty of his face or the wonder of the dwelling he has prepared for us in the eternity of his love.

But I also have no doubt that the waiting will not always be easy.  The love God offers us as we age is often in the form of a cross, or of sacrifice, or some other imitation of his love for us.  But the great consolation is not that waiting for God gets easier with age, but that we no longer wish to break the appointment.

And so we wait, and we pray.  For "to pray means to wait for the God who comes. every prayer-filled day sees a meeting with him; every night which we faithfully put at his disposal is filled with his presence.”

And what more could we ask for, but to be counted worthy to wait in joyful hope, for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

On a Boat, somewhere on the Atlantic Ocean...

In case you were wondering where our magnificent new tabernacle was, it's on a really big boat somewhere on the Atlantic Ocean, due to arrive in Boston in the next couple of weeks.  Here's a shot of the disassembled marble all packed and crated and loaded on a truck on the way to the boat which will soon arrive in Boston for installation.  (Compare the size of the crates to the men who are securing it in the truck!!!)

Remembering the Festival of Lessons and Carols

On the first night of our Festival of Lessons and Carols, members of the Knights of Malta accompanied our friends from the Little Sisters of the Poor to join us in this great Advent evening of song and prayer.  A Malta video of the evening can be seen by clicking here, thanks to the kindness and skill of our dear friends Craig and Nancy Gibson.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A History of Christmas in the Art of the Latin West

Due to kind and popular request, I have prepared a quick video of my presentation of a few weeks ago on Christmas in the Art of the Latin West.  In order to view this presentation on Vimeo, please click here.  

A Blessed Christmas to you and your Family from the entire Saint John's Seminary Community!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Congratulations Bishop Deeley

Bishop Robert P. Deeley, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Boston and a member of our own Board of Trustees was appointed as the twelfth Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland this morning by Pope Francis. Please keep Bishop Deeley and the people of Portland in your prayers, that, in the words of the Rite of Ordination, God might so “guide the hearts of people and bishop in such measure that the shepherd may never be without the obedience of the flock, nor the flock without the care of the shepherd.”

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Final Exams...

This is the week of final exams for all of our seminarians.  Please pray for them as they complete final papers, cram for that test in the morning, and prepare for a well deserved Christmas break!

"Studying is essential: only thus can we stand firm in these times and proclaim within them the reason for our faith. And it is essential that we study critically -- because we know that tomorrow someone else will have something else to say -- while being alert, open and humble as we study, so that our studying is always with the Lord, before the Lord, and for him."   =Pope Benedict XVI to Seminarians (26 September 2011)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Grateful Prayers for David Castaldi!

Cardinal Sean O'Malley and members of the Saint John's Seminary Board of Trustees present David Castaldi with a small token of our appreciation as he retires from the Board of Trustees after many years of service, most recently as chairman of the Committee on Administration and Finance.  David has been a great gift to the Seminary and his many years of wise counsel have assisted several Rectors in helping Saint John's Seminary to become the wonderful holy house which it is today!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Immaculate Conception

My favorite place to pray in Washington, D.C., where I lived for many years, is the Irish Chapel in the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.  There’s no fancy sanctuary or big mosaic...there’s not even an altar in this chapel.  Just a statue of the Blessed Virgin with the Christ child playing on her lap in the middle of a gurgling fountain. 

But on the wall, not far away, is a 1200 year old Celtic Prayer that boldly states: There is no hound as fleet of foot, nor young soul so quick to win the race, nor horse to finish the course, as the Mother of God to the death bed of one who needs her intercession.  It’s like the line in the Memorare: Never was it known that anyone who fled to Thy protection, implored Thy help or sought Thy intercession was left unaided. 

Two hundred and twenty years ago, sixteen years before the founding of the See of Boston, the first Catholic Bishop of America in his first Pastoral Letter announced the Blessed Virgin Mary Immaculate as the first patron of America and recommended “...a fervent and well-regulated devotion to the Holy Mother of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; that you will place great confidence in her in all your necessities.”  Bishop Carroll went on to recommend “a zealous imitation of her virtues and a reliance on her motherly superintendence.”

And so, as sons and daughters of America, we are sons and daughters of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, and we are bound to an imitation of her virtues.

To seek littleness, and faithfulness and love.

Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent

Repent and believe, the Baptist cries, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!
Repent! Not a very good marketing slogan for the New Evangelization. Who wants to repent? I'm quite happy the way I've arranged things in my life, already, thank you. Maybe take care of a war or a famine or something else more in your job description, God, and just leave me alone to live my little life the way I choose.
Repent and believe....the Kingdom of God is at hand!
But repentance means I have to obey, and obedience is not exactly one of my favorite things. Yeah, it's true, I knelt down and put my hands between those of the Bishop and promised obedience and respect, but that was a long time ago, And I was still a kid, and it was a part of the rite. And plus, I'm not a bad person...I do a lot more than some of those other people...there are a lot worse than me...why don't you go ask them to repent?
Repent and believe!
The Baptist looks right at me and at you...yes you!…..and says it: repent and believe, right now! For the Kingdom of God is at hand!
Repent from what?  Believe in what?  From where do I turn and what do I embrace in this metanoia?
I turn from selfishness and sin, the belief that I am God.  I turn from the conviction that I am God, that I am in charge, a notion I stubbornly cling to like a two year stamping his feet and holding his breath.  I turn from the belief that its all about me and that the only purpose of life is to make me feel good.
And I am called to embrace obedient love, the notion that I am the child, God is God and that is enough for me.  I turn to a belief in the Shema Israel, which heralds and caps every act of Jewish worship, it says it all: "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one."
Such 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.
It is a turn from the first Adam to the second, from the first Eve to the most blessed among women.  For the sin of our first parents was not just the fruit stolen from the tree, but the disordered conviction that they could be God if the just ate the right kind of fruit.
We are made for obedient love. It is our dignity. It is our destiny. It is our purpose for being.
You see, it’s not just a question of doing God's will so I can go to heaven: obey the rules and win the prize. Its a matter of being so much more in love with God that I will do his will not because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but because I love God and I want nothing so much as to be his obedient son.
That's what it means to make straight his paths, to prepare a highway for our God. The highway is me. To repent and believe that the Kingdom of God is at hand is to radically hand myself to God, even unto death, death even on a cross.
It's like what Saint Augustine once preached, a favorite saying of this preacher, too: God does not want your gifts. God wants you. All of you. Your mind, your heart, your entire being.

For he made you for obedient love. The kind of love that’s less interested in being God, than in being his beloved child. The kind of obedient love which is the reason we are and what we were made to be.

Festival of Lessons and Carols

This weekend we were joined by a Chapel full of the friends of Saint John's Seminary for our annual Festival of Lessons and Carols. We were especially honored by the presence of the great folks from the Jeanne Jugan Residence of the Little Sisters of the Poor!  God was well praised and we were all drawn into the wonders of the mystery of this Blessed Advent Season!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Peter Stamm in the New York Times

Cardinal O'Malley called me this morning to tell me that our own
Peter Stamm appears among the letters to the editor in response to a column disparaging Priestly celibacy. Congratulations, Peter! All I can say is, Amen!

To the Editor:

Bill Keller’s column illustrates many of the changes in perspective that have taken place in the recent history of the Catholic Church. He doesn’t mention an important one: most young priests and seminarians these days don’t share his generation’s hang-ups over celibacy.

We understand celibacy to be a valuable expression of our total commitment to Christ and his people, one that enables us to give more fully of ourselves. This is a choice we don’t make lightly; the challenges and exigencies of a healthy celibate life are thoroughly presented over the course of years of seminary study.

Celibacy is indeed a discipline that is open for discussion, but you will find that most of us are in favor of keeping it.

Brighton, Mass., Dec. 2, 2013

The writer is studying for the priesthood.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Honoring Father Romanus Cessario, OP

Former Rector Bishop Arthur Kennedy, Monsignor Moroney,
Father Romanus Cessario, OP, and Former Rectory Monsignor Timothy Moran

This evening the faculty of Saint John's Seminary was joined by Bishop Arthur Kennedy and Monsignor Timothy Moran, former Rectors of SJS, Father David Barnes and Father Jack Sullivan to celebrate the recognition of Father Romanus Cessario, OP upon his reception of the Degree of Master of Theology of the Dominican Order. During the course of the evening, I offered the following toast: 

To be a Dominican means, in the words of the degree by which you have been made a Master of Theology, ‘to hold in great esteem the defense and explication of the Catholic faith, to labor unceasingly and with distinction, by devout studies and religious efforts, for the understanding of Holy Scripture and the discipline of Sacred Theology.’

We, the faculty of Saint John’s Seminary, are honored by the presence of a Dominican and a Master of Theology in our midst. With great affection for our colleague, our brother and our friend.

Ad multos annos!

Back row: Fr. Briody, Fr. Barnes, Father Cessario, Msgr. Moroney, Msgr Moran, Father Sullivan
Front row: Fr. Scorzello, Msgr McLaughlin, Bishop Kennedy and Father O'Connor

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Rector's Conference: Grumbling as a way of life

This evening’s Rector’s Conference dealt with a number of ways in which we respond unconstructively to stress, including the adoption of grumbling as a way of life.  It is so easy for the priest or seminarian to give in to cynicism, sarcasm and complaint as a way of life.  Which is why I offered these brief reflections on the subject:

I would never want to deny or minimize the very real frustrations and trials which are inherent to seminary life.  

Here you are called to discern what God wants for your life and to change in whatever ways are needed to prepare yourself for that design.  I’m not sure whether anything could be conceived as a better prescription for frustration and trial.

These trials often come in the form of wounded egos. Sometimes the trials are in the form of a broken heart.

And often, there are a legion of trials having to do with authority.  Unjustly or justly exercised, our submission to authority is an act of self-emptying, no less trying than the opening of one’s arms upon the cross.  Such submission of mind and will to another is an act of dying to myself, a sacrifice offered to God.

I recall one particularly painful instance of that in my own life when for more than five years I believed that my immediate supervisor hated me.  He disagreed with most every decision I made and gave me annual reviews which would make you blush.  I would get nauseous before meetings with him, having tossed sleeplessly the night before. 

My feelings, as my shrink at the time could tell you, ranged from rage to doubt, from anguish to desperation.  And one of the major ways I would deal (or not deal) with it is by grumbling and gossiping.

Now grumbling, on one level, is not so bad. Venting to a friend, who knows when to just listen with a smile and not to take you seriously, can be an act promoting mental health. It is one of the great blessings of real friendship.

But grumbling as a way of life, or grumbling to those for it might promote scandal, is the exact opposite of kenosis. It is the using of the cross for my own glory and it can verge on the demonic.

Like the chosen people grumbling to Moses that he dragged them out into this Godforsaken dessert with no food or bread or…

Of the workers in the vineyard grumbling that those who worked for just a few hours got just as much money as they did…

Or the older brother of the prodigal son complaining that his Father never put on a banquet for him….

A life of grumbling is the opposite of a life of obedience. When I first celebrated Mass with the new men in August, I reflected on how the job of the priest is to continually offer sacrifice, beginning with the sacrifice of his own life, of himself...of his hopes and his dreams, of his joys and his tears, of his every waking join my life to the perfect sacrifice of Christ, my heart to his, my life to his.

For Christ learned obedience from what he suffered, and thus became our great High Priest, the giver and the gift, the altar and the sacrifice, “emptying himself” even unto death, death on a cross.

But today, obedience is perhaps one of the most unpopular of the virtues. Actually, it’s never been too popular. We want to do our own will, plot our own course. How else could we ever get ahead?

But you will be ordained, God willing, my dear brothers, to conform yourselves to the one who chose to be last, to wash feet, and to be obedient to his Father’s will even unto death, death on a Cross.

Which is why Saint Paul tell us to "Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God, without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation…" (Philippians 2:14-15a.)

For so often we pretend to follow a Lord who says “love your enemies” and “Pray for those who persecute you” and when they beat him and stripped him and nailed him to a cross he prayed “Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing.”

Which does not mean that the Lord never got angry (witness the money changers). He was, after all, fully human and fully divine. But grumbling as a lifestyle, and the assassination of my enemies by words behind their back is not consistent with the life of a holy Priest.

Monday, December 2, 2013

A History of Christmas in Western Art

We had a wonderful crowd of seminarians and folks from Oak Square and around the Archdiocese join us tonight at Our Lady of the Presentation Lecture Hall for my presentation on A History of Christmas in Western Art.  We explored where the familiar images of Christmas came from and what their deeper meaning tells us about the Incarnation of our Lord and Savior.

If you would like a PDF copy of tonight’s presentation, please click here.

You may have heard that a few days ago some teenagers broke through the front doors of OLP Lecture Hall, discharged fire extinguishers and generally vandalized the space.  The good news is that the security cameras caught excellent images of the suspects and the Boston Police Department has spent many hours finger printing the space and working on this case.  

Frank Fulginitti and his crew worked through the Thanksgiving weekend and this evening OLP looked good as new and I am deeply grateful to them.  Tomorrow the installation of our new sprinkler system begins.