Monday, January 27, 2014

First Annual SJS Benefactors Mass


Today we stand with our Blessed Lord at the beginning of his ministry as he went about preaching a Gospel of repentance and joy:  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

But though he was the Son of the Living God, he was also Jesus of Nazareth.  Full God and fully man…a man like us in all things but sin: like us in our limitations, as well.

So he had to call helpers: Apostles and their successors, Bishops, and their helpers, the Priests: helpers to carry his Gospel of Joy to the ends of the earth: to Cappadocia, and Thessalonica and even Boston.

That is why, at every Ordination to the Priesthood, the Bishop prays:

And now we beseech you, Lord, in our weakness, 
to grant us these helpers that we need
to exercise the priesthood that comes from the Apostles.

For over a thousand years, the Church has prayed those words, because she knows that no Bishop can evangelize the Church all by himself.  That is why at every ordination the Bishop looks out over the local Church which God has placed in his care and beseeches God to look on him in his weakness, and give him the priests he need to teach, sanctify, and govern this people whom God has placed in his care.

And that is what this seminary, this holy house is about: helping men to discern a vocation to the priesthood and forming them into the kind of Priests their Bishop needs them to be.  And that is why you love and support this holy work: for without your support this seminary would cease to be, and without this seminary we would have no priests, and without priests the Church would cease to be.

It is a holy work, and one of the most important works the Lord entrusts to the Church to carry out.  And one that finds its fulfillment in ordination.

Like the day of my own ordination.

Almost thirty four years ago I was laying down on the carpet at Saint Paul’s Cathedral in Worcester as 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.” 

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 do these men know if they are called to such a life?  

Sometimes its hard to tell.  That’s why we call it discernment.  For example, I think of John.  John was twenty years old when Father Balley opened a seminary near his home town.  The problem was that John was not very good at academics, having no more than a little arithmetic, history, and geography from his elementary education.  

His early writings reveal that he found Latin extremely difficult and he and his best friend Matthew would sit up late at night reciting declensions, which he never really mastered.
But if this wasn’t enough, a war broke out and John was drafted into the army.  After basic training he lasted less than a week.  You see, in the morning his regiment was due to march into battle for the first time, so John got up before the sun rose and snuck off to Church to pray.  However, he lost track of time, and when he returned to camp his regiment had already left.  While he escaped being punished for that incident, he soon decided that military life for not for him and he joined the resistance, deserting the army and serving as the schoolmaster in a nearby town under an assumed name for over a year.  When he eventually contacted his family, his father, was naturally furious with him.  In the end, his brother volunteered to join the army in his place and no charges were ever brought.

So he returned home to try the Seminary again.  However, his Latin was still so bad, that he failed the entrance exam the first time around, but kept trying and eventually passed.  

Three years later he was ordained a Priest and sent as the associate to Father Balley, the good Priest who first encouraged him before the war.  But Father Balley died within a few years and Father John was sent to one of the smallest and most remote parishes in the entire Diocese.  

And from that parish, John Baptiste Vianney, the Cure of Ars, transformed the Priesthood and revitalized the Church, which is why Pope Benedict XVI  named him the patron of all Priests in the Year for Priests, for Father John “taught his parishioners [not just by words, but] primarily by the witness of his life.”

But if God could work through Jean Baptiste, he can work through these men who sit among you, who need never fear:  for if they listen carefully for his voice deep within their hearts, he will strengthen them and form them and make them shepherds after his own heart.

Pray for these men.  Work for these men.  Support these men.  For God who has begun the good work in them will bring it to fulfillment.

First Annual Benefactors Banquet


Tonight, I am delighted to welcome you to the first annual Benefactors Banquet.  It’s a time for us to say thank you to those who make so much of the work in this holy house possible by their generous financial and spiritual support.

And the truth is that this work depends on your generous donations.  Less than half of the price of educating a seminarian comes from tuition, room and board.  This past year, through the institution of our first ever major development effort, this holy work has been supported by over $200,000 in donations and more than $400,000 in grants.  That unbelievable success is the result of the hard work of our Development Staff, our Development Committee and all the other members of our staff who make it all work.  They’re all here on a Sunday! Please join me in thanking them for all their hard work!

And the truth is that this work depends on your generous prayers.  Without prayer we are just a business, and an educational institution.  But as noble as education is, it is but one of the full pillars of our life here at Saint Johns, as we seek to form men to be the best pastors, the best spiritual leaders, and the best human beings: effective disciples of the Gospel of Joy so needed as we form the Roman Catholic Church in New England for the twenty first century.

So welcome!  I promise no long speeches, just this expression of gratitude, which now takes concrete form in a new tradition we inaugurate tonight in the presentation of two Medals to individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to the support of this holy work: the Saint John the Evangelist Medal given in recognition of an individual's extraordinary contributions to the spiritual support of the Seminary and the Archbishop John J. Williams Medal given in recognition of a person’s extraordinary contributions to the temporal life of the Seminary.

This year we have two very worthy recipients.


Our first award recipient is Mr. Jack Shaughnessy, Sr.   As you know, we present this well deserved honor posthumously, and so I ask  Jack, Jr. to please come forward to receive this medal in Jack’s memory.  

I am grateful to you Jack, and to all the members of the Shaughnessy family present tonight. As you know, your father was an extraordinary man.  His love for the Church and his deep faith were readily apparent to everyone who met him.   Dedicated to his dear wife, Mary and his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, it was Jack’s faith which got him through the Job-like experiences in his life, and that same faith that made him so generous to this Seminary in the years that followed.

Jack was a close counselor of mine and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss him.  Last September when I informed him that he would be the first recipient of the Archbishop John J. Williams medal, he suggested that someone else would be more worthy of the award. But no one, indeed no one person, has ever loved this house more or been more generous.

And so I ask Jack Shaughnessy, Jr., to receive the first John J. Archbishop Williams medal in his father’s name in recognition of the extraordinary generosity by which he supported the work of this holy house.

Jack, please come forward and offer a few words in your father’s name. 

Remarks by Jack Shaughnessy, Jr. in accepting the posthumous awarding of the first annual Archbishop John J. Williams Award to Jack Shaughnessy, Sr.

Your Eminence Cardinal Sean, Monsignor Moroney, Bishop Libasci, Sister Jean, assembled clergy, seminarians, and fellow supporters of St John’s Seminary; it is with great honor and humility that I am here to accept the Archbishop John J. Williams Award on behalf of my Dad, Jack Shaughnessy Sr. I would also like to offer congratulations on behalf of the entire Shaughnessy family to fellow honoree Loretta Gallagher who will soon be accepting the Saint John the Evangelist Medal in recognition of her many contributions to the Seminary.

For those who did not know him my Dad loved to be known as a “cheerful giver”, but at the same time he was a “reluctant honoree”, and it was only when he believed that by accepting an honor that he could help increase support to a particular institution that he would agree to do so. He was also fond of quoting scripture (one time actually borrowing the Sunday Missilette to bring to that night’s Charity event) and one verse that he often used was from Matthew, the first half of which reads: “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret” which is how he tried to live his life. But it wasn’t just his financial contributions that set my Dad apart, it was his never ending donation of time to so many causes over the years that truly distinguished him as a Man for Others in the truest sense of his Jesuit ideals. Countless dinners, fundraisers, tributes and events filled his days and while we all cringed every time he took out his handy pocket calendar to let us know what “events” he had in the upcoming weeks and that he needed to fill a table we seldom said no as we somehow knew that it was what was expected of us.

Knowing that my Dad would have taken this opportunity to speak to the cause instead of speaking about himself, I tried to envision just what he would have talked about today had he been able to do so. I’m confident that he would have first thanked Cardinal Sean for his friendship and leadership as he has steadfastly guided our archdiocese through some difficult times, never wavering in his Faith. Next, he would have said that nothing that he did would have been possible without the love and support of his late wife Mary, who he missed so dearly. And he would have said how proud he was to be the recipient of the Archbishop Williams Award, named after the first Archbishop of Boston, the son of Irish Immigrants. He would have spoken to the seminarians, many of whom are here today, and thanked them for accepting their calling to the Priesthood and how very crucial that was to the future of the church. And more likely than not, he would have worked in today’s Gospel reading and made sure that we understood that just as Jesus had called to Peter and Andrew fishing by the Sea of Galilee and said “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men”, in a similar manner He has called out to the these Seminarians to serve in the same way.
The second half of his oft quoted passage from Matthew reads: “Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you”. And while none of his can ever be sure what awaits us on our Judgment Day, I feel like he knew in his final hours that his own eternal peace was at hand. The grace and serenity that he displayed in those last hours was something that none of my family will ever forget as his final words were in prayer to the Blessed Mother, knowing that he had done all he could not just for his family but for his fellow man in his long and satisfying life.

My Dad spent his entire adult life teaching each of us by his actions how to be better spouses, parents and for some of us grandparents and we will all be forever grateful. We have also learned to live faith filled lives, do what we are able to do to help others in need and will certainly endeavor to carry on the Shaughnessy name as he did so ably and graciously for so many years. 

I know he would be both proud and humbled to be singularly honored as the first recipient of this Award and on behalf of the entire Shaughnessy Family many of whom are here tonight including 6 of his 7 children, their spouses, many grandchildren and even his eighth great grandchild Matthew John I thank you for remembering him in this special way.  As he often said, we have been truly blessed.


Our second award recipient is Mrs. Loretta Gallagher.  Loretta, tonight, you will be the first recipient of the Seminary’s Saint John the Evangelist Medal, in recognition of your extraordinary contributions to the spiritual support of the Seminary.  

From the first day I arrived at Saint John’s, Loretta has been a constant source of encouragement, reassurance and prayerful support.  In a thousand ways, from organizing Carmelite prayer chains and notes and gifts in support of the seminarians, to actively engaging the members of the Serra Club, Loretta Gallagher has witnessed by her prayers and hard work to the importance of what God is doing in the hearts of these young men.

As a member of the Board of Trustees and a personal advisor to me and to my predecessors she has been insightful and unwaveringly generous in her advice and her unflagging support.  In tough times, Loretta Gallagher is God's most optimistic cheer leader.  In good times, she is a sage source of common sense advice.

And so I joyfully present this first Saint John the Evangelist Medal to Loretta Gallagher in recognition of her spiritual support of the work God does in this holy house.  Your wisdom and passion for the Seminary’s mission is a constant consolation and source of strength.

Thank you for what you do and for who you are for each of us!

Pope Francis on the Parish Priest

"The parish progresses because it has many organizations, many things, but it also has a priest, who carries the parish forward. We in history know but a small part – though how many holy bishops, how many priests, how many holy priests have given their lives in the service of the diocese, the parish – how many people have received the power of faith, the power of love, hope [itself] from these anonymous pastors? We do not know: there are so many.”

"The parish priests of the country or the city, who, with their anointing have given strength the people, who have passed on the teaching of the faith, have given the sacraments: [in a word], holiness.”:

“‘But , Father, I have read in a newspaper that a bishop has done such a thing, or a priest who has done this thing.’ Oh yes, I read it, too. Tell me, though: do the papers carry news of what great charity so many priests, so many priests in so many parishes of the city and the countryside, perform? Of the great work they do in carrying their people forward? No? This is not news. 

"It is the same as always: a single falling tree makes more noise than a forest that grows. Today, thinking about this anointing of David, it will do us good to think of our brave, holy , good , faithful bishops and priests, and pray for them. We are here today thanks to them."

Pope Francis

Morning Mass Homily
27 January 2014

Catholic Schools Week at Saint Joseph's Basilica

On Sunday morning I was delighted to celebrate Catholic Schools Week at Saint Joseph's Basilica in Webster.  Here's the homily I gave at the Solemn Mass:

Today we stand with our Blessed Lord at the beginning of his ministry as he went about preaching a Gospel of repentance and joy:  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

But though he was the Son of the Living God, he was also Jesus of Nazareth.  Full God and fully man…a man like us in all things but sin: like us in our limitations, as well.

And so he needed helpers to carry out his ministry to the ends of the earth, disciples who would carry his Gospel to distant lands…to Cappadocia, and Thessalonica and even Webster.

Every baptized person is called to be such a disciple…to witness to the good news that God is love, and out of love has been born as a man, opened his arms on a cross and died and rose for us, defeating death and selfishness and sin.  In others, that Jesus is in our midst and we need never be afraid of anything ever again.

But true love, gratuitously given and generously bestowed, is a hard lesson to preach to a culture so obsessed by consumerism and narcissistic self-interest where children go hungry for anyone to love them.

This is not your great grandmother’s culture or your great-grandfather’s world.  The problems your children will face and incredibly different from the ones which you remember in fourth grade.  Along with a technologically advancing world is a set of moral challenges which changes more quickly than we can often appreciate.

Our Holy Father indicated this recently when recalling “a very sad little girl who finally confessed to her teacher the reason she felt that way: 'my mom's girlfriend doesn't like me.”

Should it shock us that the Pope would acknowledge the struggles of the child of a same sex couple?  No more than it should shock us that more than half of the students of Catholic schools today will experience the searing fracture of a divorce, or that….

All of which is why the Holy Father asks the question:“How do we talk about Christ to these boys and girls?” “How do we talk about Christ to a generation that is changing?”

And the answer to his question is sitting right in front of me: the inheritors of the vision of Father Chalupka and those first Felician Sisters…an answer which was different in the time of Monsignor Cyran and the days of Msgr. Lekarczyk and the years of Monsignor Kubik and the time of Father Stachura, as it is unique today, when Monsignor Czynezski and you, the parishioners of Saint Joseph’s spread the Gospel of Joy in Webster in the first decades of the twenty first century.

For each of these generations have had to discover what Pope Francis has called “a new language, a new way of saying things.”  The message remains the same: Christ Jesus, our Lord.  But the ways in which we proclaim him changed and evolves in each generation.

For example, an essential part of the teaching of Jesus, a necessary consequence of repenting and embracing the Kingdom of God, is working for that unity in peace which comes only from God’s love.

But our culture seems driven sometimes by a lust for dystrophy promoting a loud cacophony of dissonant voices all yelling at each other.  The Holy Father offers a solution:

“We need to resolve our differences through forms of dialogue which help us grow in understanding and mutual respect.  A culture of encounter demands that we be ready not only to give, but also to receive.  Media can help us greatly in this, especially nowadays, when the networks of human communication have made unprecedented advances.  The internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity.  This is something truly good, a gift from God.”

I think the Holy Father must have counted how many computers there are in Saint Joseph’s School when he suggested that the internet and modern forms of technological communication provide great opportunities for Catholic Schools and catholic students in learning the Gospel of Joy.

For the Catholic School to which this parish is dedicated seeks to speak in today’s language to today’s children. With nearly 170 students led by three Felician sisters and eleven teachers, a guidance counselor and reading specialist and three teachers’ aides. Here children learn about civics, history, science and literature.  They learn not only English and Polish, but Spanish and French.

And most of all they learn about Jesus, who is the way, the truth, and the life.

And it is this living out of the Gospel of Joy that we will celebrate this week.  With the presentation of the Partners in Education Award, today’s open house and Book Fair, the service projects and puppet shows, alumni day and parent teach appreciation day.  Even Buddy Bingo and Basketball, both of which might well soon take place in your new gymnasium.


Its a story that started when the first Polish residents of Webster arrived a century and a half ago, starting with Herman Pawlowski and his wife and children.  Joseph and Frances Reglinski were the first to be married here, and to them you could add the Sikorskis, Kruewskas, Janakowskis, Krefts and Reminski.  And the families callled Pokraka, Paradowski, Reglinski, Santor, Buembrenek and Sielinski.  

And all of them heard the Lord’s call, to come and follow him…to lead their children to him and to teach them to share with their lives the Gospel of Joy, the Catholic Faith which has come down to us from the Apostles.

May God bless you for being a part of that wonderful story and give you the grace to continue to make Saint Joseph’s School the shining examine it has been and will be for many decades, pray God, many centuries to come.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Dr. Majeres at SJS

Back by popular demand, Dr. Kevin Majeres, MD of Harvard University gave a wonderful presentation on the psychological and emotional underpinnings of anxiety at a workshop on Monday morning.  After lunch with the faculty, he spent another hour with the seminarians answering questions.  Dr. Majeres website is

Manners Matters at SJS

Theresa Salameno of Manners Matters presented an evening of reflections on the etiquette of dining and the role of manners in the life of a diocesan priest this past Monday.  Her quick wit and great knowledge of the field made it a delightful evening!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

SJS For Life!

At five o’clock this morning, our noble seminarian pilgrims set off by train for our Nation’s Capitol to take part in the Day of Prayer and Penance for Life.  To understand the weather they faced, here’s a view of the snow between the cars as they approached Union Station!

This evening they took part in the Vigil Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception celebrated by Cardinal O’Malley.

Tomorrow will begin with a Holy Hour at 5:00am.  Here’s the homily they will hear preached by Father Riley in those early morning hours:
Jesus called the first of the Apostles with two simple words: “follow me.”  So they dropped their nets, left their old life and followed him down the road. 
 Little did they know where that road would lead.  Little did they know its final destination: the Cross and how their basic job description, like the job description of the Church, would be to proclaim that Cross and he who was crucified upon it for their salvation.

It’s the same job description given by God to Jonah: to proclaim the message God would give him, almost the same message which Jesus gives to his disciples: “Repent and Believe!  For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!

It’s the same message God gives to us.  To repent.  To turn away from all darkness, selfishness, and sin and cling only to the Light, Love, and Purity which we come to know in Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior.

For there is much darkness, selfishness, and sin in our world.  Just forty-one years ago today our country legalized the taking of innocent human life by abortion.  Since that time, fifty six million children have lost their lives before birth by abortion. 

And so we join Jonah and Simon and Andrew in proclaiming to all who will listen: Repent and Believe!  Repent from the darkness which would see the life of another human being as but a disposable problem, repent from the selfishness that refuses to love the innocent and most vulnerable among us, repent from the sin of taking the life of that tiny child. 
And believe!  Believe that God will hold us responsible for our actions, believe that we will be judged on whether we have embraced the culture of death or the Gospel of Life, believe that Jesus meant it when he said “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.” 
Repent, believe, and follow him.  Follow him as you walk the streets of your nation’s Capitol in his patient endurance, in his love even for his enemies, in his prayer from the cross: “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing!” 
Follow him through the cold and the snow in proclaiming the truth in season and out.  Follow him who stood up to the Pharisees, the Chief Priests, and Sadducees and all the leaders of his day and rendered unto God what was God’s.  
Follow him whom they crucified for the truth he lived in love.  Follow him to the Cross and join your suffering to his that it might have meaning and give praise to Almighty God.  “They will treat you as they treated me,” he reminded us.  Let us rejoice in that truth! 
 For as we have followed him to the Cross, we will surely follow him to the Glory of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Where we will see, face to face, all those tiny children who have died at the hands of our selfishness and sin.  Let us work for Justice, defend those whom everyone else forgets about, and with the courage of Jonah, Simon, and Andrew proclaim to all the world that the Kingdom of God is at hand!

The Holy Hour will be followed by a Mass with Cardinal O’Malley at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart and then the March for Life through the very very cold streets of our nation’s Capitol.  All will return to their warm beds in Boston via another long train ride.  All because they believe what Pope Francis taught us just last week:

"Unfortunately, what is thrown away is not only food and dispensable objects, but often human beings themselves, who are discarded as 'unnecessary'. For example, it is frightful even to think there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day; children being used as soldiers, abused and killed in armed conflicts; and children being bought and sold in that terrible form of modern slavery which is human trafficking, which is a crime against humanity."

Thursday, January 16, 2014

An Oath Before Diaconate...

George Fitzsimmons, Karlo Hocurscak and Jiwon Yoon will be ordained as Deacons for the Archdiocese of Boston by Cardinal O'Malley on Saturday. This morning they took the Oath of Fidelity to the Church during Morning Prayer with the Saint John's Community. As they prepared to place their hand on the Bible first brought to Boston by our first shepherd, Bishop Cheverus, each of them made the following profession:

...In assuming the office of Deacon, I promise that in my words and in my actions I shall always preserve communion with the Catholic Church. 

With great care and fidelity I shall carry out the duties incumbent on me toward the Church, both universal and particular, in which, according to the provisions of the law, I have been called to exercise my service. 
In fulfilling the charge entrusted to me in the name of the Church, I shall hold fast to the deposit of faith in its entirety; I shall faithfully hand it on and explain it, and I shall avoid any teachings contrary to it. 
I shall follow and foster the common discipline of the entire Church and I shall maintain the observance of all ecclesiastical laws, especially those contained in the Code of Canon Law
With Christian obedience I shall follow what the Bishops, as authentic doctors and teachers of the faith, declare, or what they, as those who govern the Church, establish. 
I shall also faithfully assist the diocesan Bishops, so that the apostolic activity, exercised in the name and by mandate of the Church, may be carried out in communion with the Church.
So help me God, and God's Holy Gospels on which I place my hand.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Congratulations Deacon Chris Peschel!

This morning Bishop George Coleman ordained our brother Chris Peschel as a Deacon at Saint Mary's Cathedral in Fall River. Fathers Conn and Pignato and I concelebrated the Mass. In the course of his homily, Bishop Coleman preached the following words from the Rite of Ordination of a Deacon:

"Strengthened by the gift of the Holy Spirit, he will help the Bishop and his priests in the ministry of the word, of the altar, and of charity, showing himself to be a servant to all. As a minister of the altar, he will proclaim the Gospel, prepare the sacrifice, and distribute the Lord's Body and Blood to the faithful. 
"Furthermore, it will be his duty, at the Bishop's direction, to exhort believers and unbelievers alike and to instruct them in holy doctrine. He will preside over public prayer, administer Baptism, assist at and bless Marriages, bring Viaticum to the dying, and conduct funeral rites. 
"Consecrated by the laying on of hands that comes down to us from the Apostles and bound more closely to the service of the altar, he will perform works of charity in the name of the Bishop or the pastor. With the help of God, he is to go about all these duties in such a way that you will recognize him as a disciple of him who came not to be served, but to serve."

Thursday, January 9, 2014

RELATIONSHIPS: January Rector’s Conference

For an audio/video version of this conference, please click here.
The text of the presentation follows.

Its all about relationship. Just look at the manger. It's all about relationship. It's all about love. You can see it in the tender gaze of the virgin. You can hear it in the song of the angels. You can embrace it in the devotion of the shepherds.

And most of all you can know it in the love which does not deem equality with God something to be grasped at, but takes the form of a child who opens his arms on a cross and empties himself that we might be saved.

It’s all about relationship.  The love between the persons of the Most Blessed Trinity and the love we have known in him who gave us the command: “love one another as I have loved you.” It’s all about relationship. 

The Loving Celibate
No one agonizes over relationships like a celibate.  Yet, when you are made for the celibate life, nothing can make you more loving.

“Celibacy calls priests to reach toward outward health by sharing a life of compassion, affection, work, and play, with the full range of those with whom they share life and faith, respecting and accepting both genders. It calls them to open up generously so they can share attentively with others their joys and hopes their fears and their sorrows, and so the priest can invite them to share his, too.

“Celibacy calls a priest as well to life-giving creativity and generatively. In all that he is, says, and does. That is to say, priests need a life! They deserve time for self-expression and self-development--from playing the piano and creative writing to gardening and building things, from hunting, fishing, and breeding dogs to the theater, travel, and researching family genealogy. The more creative and generative priests are, as is true for all people, the healthier their attitudes toward all of life, including sexuality.
Healthy sexual attitudes require a lifetime striving.” (“Clerical Culture, Contradiction and Transformation: The Culture of the Diocesan Priests of the United States Catholic Church [Clerical Culture…],” Michael L. Papesh.  [The Liturgical Press, 2004] page 91.)

And its all woven together.  The priest who experiences significant, life-altering problems in one aspect of his relational life is probably neglecting a wide range of other relationships as well to the detriment of his whole spiritual life.  

If my relationship with my close personal friends is a mess, its going to affect my relationship with parishioners and my brother priests and even my staff.  If my relationship with those whom I serve as shepherd is a mess, its going to have an impact on the way I experience my family and my friends and even my Bishop.  It’s all connected, and when one part of my relational life goes kaflooey, I need to pay attention to the whole thing.

So lets look at a few of the many relationships which go to make up the affective life of the diocesan priest, somewhat arbitrarily divided here into Defining,  Primary,  and Personal Relationships.

First, Defining Relationships.

The Bishop
From the moment a priest places his life in the hands of his Bishop and promises obedience and respect, a defining relationship is established with enormous implications for these two ordained ministers and the Church which they will serve together.

The Bishop is the one on whom my entire priestly ministry depends.  Indeed, in the words of Pastores dabo vobis “there can be no genuine priestly ministry except in communion with one's own Bishop.” (Pastores dabo vobis, no. 28.)

So essential is this relationship that the Bishop of a Western diocese has suggested that “the one non-negotiable for the growth of a local church is a sound and vibrant relationship between the bishop and the members of his presbyterate” (Bishop Blaise Cupich, Bishop of Rapid City, in Improving the bishop-priest relationship, by Tom Gallagher in National Catholic Reporter. May. 6, 2009)

This relationship must be characterized by a mutual honesty and trust and a deep and perduring love.  The Bishop cares for each of his priests as a brother and a son.  The priest depends on the Bishop as an elder brother and a father.

When the priest faces a new pastoral challenge for which he lacks the skills, the Bishop and his curia should be his first resort.  Indeed, many have suggested that a chancery or pastoral center is best judged by how well each of the offices serve the concrete needs of the priests.

The Bishop should be accessible and a good and patient listener, attentive to the joys, the worries and the wounds of a younger shepherd’s heart.  He must be willing to readily share from his vast wealth of pastoral experience and do whatever is needed to guide, cajole and support his priests.

The priest, likewise, should be obedient, respectful and hungry for the spiritual and pastoral guidance of the one whom God has chosen to lead him.  Despite the constant temptation to take part in an incessant cycle of clerical jealousies, spiteful jokes, rumors and disparaging remarks, the priest must seek to love, respect and obey more deeply with each passing day.

Even when, and perhaps especially when, the priest finds himself over his head, slipping off a cliff, or with no place to turn, the Bishop is called to be the one who goes out, in this case, to find the lost shepherd and carry him home.

Every case in which a priest has ended up in treatment, in jail or permanently removed from ministry is preceded by an infinite number of moments in which the whole disastrous course of events could have been stopped by picking up the phone and calling the Bishop and uttering those three little words: “I need help.”

We all need help, regularly, and significantly.  And the Bishop is always your first call.

The Presbyterate
And then there are your brother priests.  

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council depicted the preeminent manifestation of the Church as a celebration of the Eucharist in the Cathedral Church “at one altar at which the Bishop presides, surrounded by his presbyterate and ministers.” (Sacrosanctum concilium,  no. 41.)

The relationship of the members of a presbyterate is concretely expressed at every ordination when the priests who are present greet “their newly ordained brothers with the fraternal kiss as a sign of reception into the presbyterate…” (Rite of Ordination of a Bishop, Priests and Deacons [ORD], no. 110.)

The second defining relationship of my priestly life, therefore, is as a member of the presbyterorum Vigornii, the presbyterate of the Diocese of Worcester.  That’s because “all priests … are bound together by an intimate sacramental brotherhood, and in a special way they form one priestly body in the diocese to which they are attached under their own bishop.” (Presbyterorum ordinis, no. 8.)

Just before Christmas, the Worcester presbyterate buried Father Frank Goguen, pastor of Saint Cecilia’s Church in Leominster.  Frank went to the same Seminary as me and I would see him at our yearly reunions.  Once or twice I went to Saint Cecilia’s to give a talk for him, and occasionally we would end up at the same dinner with a bunch of other priests.  

I could tell you funny Frank Goguen stories (including the ones about the darn hat he always wore).  And he was one of our best pastors.  Which is why my brothers and I held him in such great esteem.  He was and is important to me as a fellow priest, a Worcester Priest.  Just as all 137 of the members of my presbyterate are my brothers….with all their faults and all their glories, with their idiosyncrasies and their talents.  They are my brothers and I need them.

When my dad died in February, and so many of you were there…you saw how many of my brother priests showed up to concelebrate…as I have done for the jubilees and funerals, the anniversaries and the annual three day presbyteral assembly down the Cape. Priests of your presbyterate will be your mentors, your friends, your superiors and even, someday, your parochial vicars.  They are your brothers.  

One final quick point on the importance of our relationship to the presbyterate.  I have known a lot of priests who, sadly, have left the priesthood in the Diocese of Worcester, some of their own accord and some due to the painful and extraordinary circumstances of their lives.  But in no instance have I ever known a priest to leave the priesthood who was deeply connected to his brother priests.  

A recent CARA survey reinforced my perception: “priests who perceive a lack of encouragement or support from fellow priests, who have relatively few close friends who are priests, and who view their bishop as unsupportive are more likely than others to express dissatisfaction [with their priesthood].” (“Priests in the United States: Satisfaction, Work Load, and Support Structures,” a 2002 study by Paul M. Perl and Bryan T. Foretell of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.)

Your presbyterate is like your family.  Stay in touch!

Second are the Primary Relationships:

The people
Why did God make priests? The Homily from the ordination of a priest makes it clear: for the “service of the people of God.” (Rite of Ordination of a Bishop, Priests and Deacons [ORD], no. 123.)  Listen to the Bishop as he preaches to the people:

“…they will be consecrated as true priests of the New Testament, to preach the Gospel, to shepherd God's people, and to celebrate the sacred Liturgy, especially the Lord's sacrifice.” (ORD, no. 123.)

And listen to the first question you will be asked, God willing, on the day of your ordination:

“Do you resolve, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to discharge without fail the office of priesthood in the presbyteral rank, as worthy fellow workers with the Order of Bishops in caring for the Lord's flock?” (ORD, no. 124.)

Your relationship to the people in your parish is, therefore, primary and indispensable.  We are not made priests for ourselves, but for the flocks to whom we are sent as shepherds.

That means that the Priest must be, by definition, attractive to his parishioners.  Not so that they might be loved, but so that the beauty of Christ Jesus might shine through him.

People should be made to feel at home with their priest.  He must be seen as an educated man who is popular and fun to be around.  He is articulate and generally perceived to be a good guy.  It is a good thing that “priests are often sensitive, attentive, and decently comfortable about listening to and expressing feelings.

This is what Pope Francis was talking about when, just a few weeks after his election as Pope, he spoke to the priests of Rome at the Chrism Mass. 

He talked about what happens when the priest becomes a part of the lives of his people, when he is imbued with the smell of the sheep: 

“they feel encouraged to entrust to us everything they want to bring before the Lord: Pray for me, Father, because I have this problem, Bless me Father, Pray for me – these words are the sign that the anointing has flowed down to the edges of the robe, for it has turned into a prayer of supplication, the supplication of the People of God. When we have this relationship with God and with his people, and grace passes through us, then we are priests, mediators between God and men….

The Pope continued: 

“The priest who seldom goes out of himself…misses out on the best of our people, on what can stir the depths of his priestly heart. Those who do not go out of themselves, instead of being mediators, gradually become intermediaries, managers. 

“We know the difference: the intermediary, the manager, has already received his reward, and since he doesn’t put his own skin and his own heart on the line, he never hears a warm, heartfelt word of thanks. This is precisely the reason for the dissatisfaction of some, who end up sad – sad priests - in some sense becoming collectors of antiques or novelties, instead of being shepherds living with the smell of the sheep. This I ask you: be shepherds, with the smell of the sheep, make it real, as shepherds among your flock, fishers of men.”

Thus does the Holy Father call priests to go out to “the outskirts where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters.”  The Good Shepherd goes out in search of his sheep: the poor, the sick, the old, the young, the searching, the fearful, the joy-filled, the married, the single, the saints, the sinners and everyone who has been placed in my acre as the pastor of Saint Paul’s Parish.  I am their shepherd and they are the sheep of his fold, placed in my pastoral care!

I remember Bishop Reilly, beloved emeritus of Worcester, once describing the feeling he had as he drove the streets of his first parish.  He looked at the houses and the kids in the yards and the old people on the stoops and the families walking down the street and thrilled that “God has placed them all in my care.  These are the ones to whom I am called to preach the Gospel, to bring to Jesus, to give them his body and blood, to baptize their babies and bury their dead and anoint their sick and teach their kids and console and challenge…”  They will call you Father and you will try to be worthy of their love.

Personal Relationships in the Parish
And many of these relationships will become very personal, and many will warm your heart and you will be profoundly grateful for them for the rest of your life.

Like the married couple who adopts you in your first assignment and the elderly person who is so kind.  The pediatrician who’s intrigued by theology or the CEO who enjoys a good round of golf; the group of guys who invite you to go to the Red Sox with them, and the folks who also have a membership to the MFA.  

All of these relationships can be enriching, but while you are their priest, you are also a professional.

What does that mean?  Perhaps an analogy will help.

I like you.  I like and admire each of you a lot.  In fact, I love you, as my brothers and my sons.  I would love to be your friend, and maybe someday, once you’re ordained, by the grace of God that might happen.

But not while I am your rector, for while I am your rector, I cannot truly be your friend.  As your pastor, I am called to be your shepherd, and to do that I need to maintain a degree of objectivity, a distance if you will, which is neither required nor desirable in a friendship.

I need to be able to tell you the hard things despite your reaction.  I need to be able to do the right thing for you and for the Church without regard to how it affects me or my feelings.  So, I cannot be your friend, for now.  But I can be your Rector, your spiritual father, your shepherd and your priest.

In the same way, no parishioner is ever just your friend.  From their point of view, you are always Father, and they have certain justifiable expectations of you in that role.  You are the one who hears the sins they dare not speak to their friends.  You are the one who counsels them when they see no viable choices.  You are the one through whose hands God gives them sacramental grace.  You bless them, intercede for them and preach to them.  There are many people who can be their friend, but few who can be their priest.

Nor would it be fair to you.  For, like any father, the obligations of your role preclude you from confiding in your sons and daughters as you would your best friend.  Nor can a father expect from his children the same support and challenge he can from his dearest friends.  

Does a priest love his people?  With a unique, deep and perduring love that makes no demands and seeks only to serve, like the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.  But it is a different reality than the mutual, the reciprocal love I bear for my friend.

Challenging Relationships
For if the relationship of pastor and parishioner is a professional relationship, the parishioner should rightfully be able to expect that certain boundaries and expectations will be observed.


Maintaining professional boundaries is often a challenge when a parishioner is in pain and perceives  the kindness, compassion and understanding of the priest as something quite different due to emotional challenges they may be experiencing in their own life or marriage.

For example, the parishioner experiencing nothing but rejection in his own affective life may see in the kind and understanding priest the ideal candidate for a close friendship.  

Or the woman who experiences her spouse as cold and disinterested might see in the compassionate and caring young priest a prospective lover.  

Such transference is a natural phenomenon experienced by a wide range of professionals whose business is understanding and healing the emotional lives of vulnerable people.  But the priest who is so complimented by the attention that he allows proper boundaries to be violated risks his very priesthood.  For the violation of these boundaries is an act of abuse no less serious than the violation of a child.  

In one recent case, a woman went to a priest for counsel when she found her husband to be physically and emotionally abusive.  The priest heard her confession and then helped her to rebuild her life spiritually and emotionally.  He referred her to a counsellor and, after separating from her husband, she began to rebuild her life.

But she kept returning to the priest who had been so compassionate in the first place and began to seek something more than spiritual solace.  Sexually naive, inexperienced in relationships, and under considerable stress in his first assignment the priest responded to her affections and a sexual relationship developed between priest and parishioner, lasting for almost a year.

Toward the end of the year the woman returned to counseling and later wrote of the relationship: “"If he had been a doctor, a lawyer or a psychiatrist, he'd have his license pulled. I realized later that anything short of marriage with a priest is exploitation.”

I am a pastor not to be a parishioner’s friend or lover, but to be their priest… proper professional boundaries are indispensable to my effectiveness in that role.  As one wise priest recently wrote:

“…appropriate professional boundaries, respectful discretion, and congenial restraint in word and action demand continued monitoring on the part of all priests in their ministry setting. Keeping proper boundaries can be tricky; cool aloofness can be as damaging to a community as playing favorites. Nonetheless, healthy, balanced, attentive, and compassionate yet prudent relationship boundaries in power many priests, staffs, and people across the country to remarkable gospel ministry in their faith communities (Clerical Culture…page 90).


And then there are my friends.  As indispensable as the air we breathe, friendships, and particularly friendships with other priests, are essential for our health, our ministry and our life.  They are literally life-giving.

One recent commentator put it well:

“Close friendship is about an intimate mutuality, commonality, people delighting in the same truth, enjoying each others company, and sharing simple affection and fun. Friends are a great boon in human life and an enormous source of support that all human beings both need and deserve. (Clerical Culture… page 95)

A close friend, is one who knows you and loves you anyway.  He is the first one to tell you the truth, even when it hurts.  I always loved the line from Oscar Wilde: “True friends stab you in the front!”

A true friend is the one who listens to your rantings when you are in pain.  He patiently helps you to navigate the waterfalls and rapids of life and just likes to hear your voice.  And you try to be the same for him.

William Butler Yeats understood it well when he wrote:

“think where man’s glory most begins and ends,
  and say my glory was I had such friends.”

True friendships are not exclusive. Indeed, they open you up to others and make you more loving.  True friendships delight in the successes of the other and are not jealous or overly competitive.  True friendships are secure 
and are not out to get anything: not money or sex or attention or prestige.  They are giving with the same kenotic love which Christ exemplified upon the cross.

But true friendships are hard work.  They require constant attention and self-emptying love, patience and listening and caring.  True friendships are formed with the same love which brought Christ to the cross, and they are forged in suffering and sacrifice.

But true friendships, especially priest friendships, are for the celibate priest the pearl beyond all price.  And they will make you more holy, and more priestly and more true to Christ.

Friendships are God’s carving tool, by which he teaches you how to love and to grow in his image and likeness.

My Family
And then there is your family.  And while the stories of priests and their families would make a long running reality show, allow me to say just two  things.

First, Beaver Cleaver and his family was a T.V. show and they were never real.  There is no such thing as the fully functional family, just as there is no such thing as the totally perfect priest.  We are all flesh and blood, and family, famously described by W.C. Fields is the only place where they  always have to take you back.  

Each family is a union of imperfect human beings who love each other for life, just as much as they have been able, and are bound by blood.  And in each family there are easy relationships and there are hard ones, but each of them are as real as they are complex.  In the eyes of a parent you will ever be the child, and even in those latter years, when the role of parent and child is often switched, you will always be defined by the decades which have passed.

Yet despite the complexities, the good memories and the hurtful things, and maybe because of them, we must cling in love to our families and to each of their members with the stubborn patience and absolute conviction that God really meant what he said in the Exodus 20:12 and Ephesians 6:2!

Relationships.  The three hundred names on my Christmas Card list tells you a lot about the relationships of the past thirty four years of priesthood.  Family, friends, parishioners.  All loved.  All loving me.  God, it’s a great life!

It’s like a wise man recently wrote:

“All human beings need healthy relationships of intimate trust, congenial companionship, and just plain affection and fun. We need them with men and women, married and single, young, old, and peers.

“Living within healthy relationships means that priests, like everyone else, need in their lives people who can hear whatever they have to say, accept them as they are, help them stay honest, and hold them accountable. Having healthy relationships means the priest has several people in his life with whom he can be straightforwardly  open, confident that they love him.”

Thank you.