Saturday, January 31, 2015

When it snows, make a ski jump!

Thanks to Kevin Brawley, Tom Eckert and Glen Dmytryszyn for this footage of what to do to have fun in the Seminary when you have three storms in one week!  I had great fun playing around with the video from Kevin's new GoPro, which he uses here as a helmet cam as well as for more conventional shots. Great fun!


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Installation of Bishop Coyne

Monsignor Mcrae and I were honored to concelebrate the installation of Bishop Christopher Coyne as the Bishop of Burlington this afternoon. Bishop Coyne, a former faculty member of Saint John's Seminary, reflected on the importance of the New Evangelization in Vermont and in the Church throughout New England. Here is an excerpt from his homily:

The bells still ring out. Not so numerous and not so often, but they still ring out, their meaning captured in the words of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "for bells are the voice of the church and they have tones that touch and search, the hearts of young and old, one sound to all." (The Bells of St. Blas)

Yes, the bells still ring, the bells still search but not many are answering the call. “Come,” the bells say, “Come and worship with us. Come and hear what God has to say. Some to the table and the bath, to the prayers and the Word.” But not many seem to come anymore. Yes, most of churches are still places of worship and communion where folks still gather, but many of those gatherings grow smaller and grayer every year. Folks look out and say, “Where are the young people and the families- Where have our friends and neighbors gone? Why are there so few answering the call of the Church to the life of the Good News?” In response, one could respond with fatalism, with a shrug of defeat, and a kind of long term communal hospice as door after door after door of our churches close and the body is finally laid to rest.

And yet, I like many of you, do not stand here in this cathedral without hope, without the conviction that this need not be. Now more than ever, our community needs to hear the call of the “Good News” proclaimed to a culture that seems to hear so many other voices.

John Henry Newman, now Blessed, once spoke to the wreckage that was the Catholic Church in 19th c. England. After years of being legally banned from public life and worship in England, the Catholic faith was finally a legal religion once again. In the face of continuing anti-Catholic prejudice and in the midst of Church with little to build upon, Newman preached his famous sermon entitled, “A Second Spring.” The very title itself invokes hope. He spoke:

“What! those few scattered worshippers, the Roman Catholics, to form a Church! Shall the past be rolled back? Shall the grave open? … Shall shepherds, watching their poor flocks by night, be visited by a multitude of the heavenly army, and hear how their Lord has been new-born in their own city? Yes; for grace can, where nature cannot. The world grows old, but the Church is ever young…. One thing alone I know — that according to our need, so will be our strength… We shall not be left orphans; we shall have within us the strength of the Paraclete, promised to the Church and to every member of it.”“We shall not be left orphans, we shall have within us the strength of the Paraclete.” Jesus’ promise of the gift of the Spirit to his disciples is our inheritance as well. In this power, we are not left orphans but are sons and daughters, brought into the communion of love that is the sublime essence of the Trinity. This is the Spirit that St. Paul writes in our reading from Colossians that allows us to put on “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience … forgiving one another,” binding it all with Christian love. If we fallible and broken humans can unite in such charity, is that not a sign of both hope and a witness that invites others to join us.

There is cause for much hope here in the gift of the Spirit and our communion with the Father. And yet … this is not something new. The gift of the Spirit and the sublime adoption are realities that we already possess and have possessed throughout the history of the Church. So … how does this answer the present challenge we face here in Vermont and elsewhere, that of declining membership and a cultural trend away from revealed religion to a personal spirituality at best or no belief at worst?

The gospel we just heard proclaimed points the way. Jesus stood in his home synagogue in the midst of his relatives and neighbors and proclaims himself the one about whom Isaiah prophesized to bring healing to the blind, liberty to prisoners and glad tidings to the poor. His voice rings out as both a challenge and an invitation when he says, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” It is a challenge that is immediately rejected by some as he is forced out of Nazareth by those irate at his words, but it is also an invitation that some hear and accept as they follow him on the way. Jesus does not stay in the synagogue but he goes out. His voice does not simply ring out from a place of worship like a bell stationary in a church steeple, calling people to come to him. He goes out to them. He goes out to spread the Good News of the Kingdom of God and the offer of eternal salvation.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

SJS Remains Closed on Wednesday

As of noon today we have about 21.5" of snow on the ground according to the Weather channel and bands of snow are predicted to continue into the early morning hours (Channel 7 thinks we'll top out at around 24-26").  However, west of 495 most communities are reported in excess of two feet of snow (Worcester airport is reporting 33" and still snowing!)  In consideration of faculty and staff traveling in from these areas, as well as the fact that Boston Public Schools are closed tomorrow, Saint John's Seminary and the Theological Institute will remain closed on Wednesday.  The schedule for resident seminarians will be the same for Wednesday as for today with Mass at 11:15am and Liturgy of the Hours and Examen on your own.  All classes and offices will resume work on Thursday morning.

Just a reminder - the Governor's travel ban remains in effect as of this writing.  Safety for our seminarians (both resident and non-resident), faculty and staff is our primary concern.

God keep everyone safe!

Snow and clouds, Praise the Lord!

Snow and clouds, Praise the Lord!

-Psalm 148

Monday, January 26, 2015

Second Annual Benefactors Mass and Dinner

The Faculty and Seminarians were joined by our most generous benefactors at a Mass celebrated by Cardinal O'Malley last night and a festive dinner.  The Archbishop Williams and Saint John's Medals were also presented.  Here are the presentations to our worthy recipients as well as some photos from the night's festivities as well as my homily from the Mass.


Our first award recipient is Secretary of State William F. Galvin, my friend, my counselor and this year’s recipient of the Archbishop John J. Williams Award.  

At just about the same time, a century ago, Cardinal O’Connell was consecrating a new Church off Oak Square and an expanded Seminary which Archbishop Williams had established before him.  Little did the Cardinal know that those two great holy houses would be woven into one in the first years of the twenty-first century.

But that would have never happened without our honorable first recipient, who as chief matchmaker these past two years has skillfully woven together the communities of Our Lady of the Presentation and Saint John’s Seminary.  

It was you who introduced me, Mr. Secretary, to some of the most beautiful Catholic souls I have ever met, whose belief in the Church and love of their Lord have grown deeper and prouder with each passing year.  It was you who helped me to form the inextricable bonds which now exist between the Seminary and the good Catholic community of Brighton not only leading us all closer together as brothers and sister, but bringing us closer to Christ, as well.

For your generosity of time, of wise counsel and for just being such a good man and example to us all, I am honored to present you, Secretary William F. Galvin with the Archbishop John J. Williams medal for 2015.


Our second award is given to two of the dearest friends of Saint John’s Seminary: Jim and Pattie Brett.  Jim and Pattie, I am honored to recognize you as this year’s recipients of the Saint John the Evangelist Medal, in recognition of your extraordinary contributions to the spiritual life of Saint John’s Seminary.  

From the first days I arrived at Saint John’s, Jim and Pattie have been indefatigable supporters of the oldest and largest seminary in New England. Forever imprinted on my heart is the image of Jim, patiently introducing a new Rector to an endless line of new friends and benefactors of Saint John’s, or of Pattie helping prepare yet another event, celebration or fundraiser.

Neither one of them have ever said no to a single request from me and the year they chaired the Gold Tournament realized unparalleled success.  Why?  Because the entire Boston community recognizes their essential goodness, their deep Catholic faith and their dedication to everyone in need.

If I were to read a list of the infinite number of ways in which they contribute to the life of their community, we would be here all night.  Let it suffice to say that their love and support for the Church, the Priesthood and this Holy House make them worthy recipients of the Saint John the Evangelist Medal for 2015.


In the Acts of the Apostles we read of a Jew from Pontus, present day Turkey, near the Black Sea, by the name of Aquila.  A tentmaker by trade, Aquila moved to Rome, where he married Priscilla, where they both converted to Christianity, and were forced to leave Rome when Claudius exiled the Jews and the Jewish-Christians.  The couple eventually settled in Corinth, where Saint Paul had recently arrived from his latest missionary campaign in Athens.  

Paul, a Roman citizen himself, would have been attracted by their stories of the new Christian community in Rome and by the fact that they shared a common faith in Christ.  Pope Benedict once reflected further on their relationship:

“One can deduce that the couple had already embraced the Christian faith …and now they had found in Paul someone who not only shared with them this faith - that Jesus is the Christ - but who was also an Apostle, personally called by the Risen Lord.”

In any case, Priscilla and Aquila invited Paul to move in with them.  Paul, it seems spent most of his time in the synagogue preaching, dependent for room and board on his new-found friends. 

They were such supporters that they left Corinth and accompanied Paul to Syria, following him from town to town.  By the time they reached the seventh or eighth town, Priscilla and Aquila seemed to have become so well acquainted with Paul’s teaching that they were commissioned by him  to correct the great evangelizer Apollos.

At some point, the Apostle parted company with his patrons, but he does not forget them.  Three times he greets them in his letters to the Romans, the Corinthians and Saint Timothy.  In his letter to the Romans he writes:

“Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I am grateful but also all the churches of the Gentiles; greet also the church [that meets in] their house.”

Pope Benedict once reflected on the indispensable role of Priscilla and Aquila in establishing the early Church, recalling that the preaching of the Apostle Paul was foundational, but “the commitment of these families, these spouses, these Christian communities, and these lay faithful was necessary in order to offer the soil for the growth of the faith.”

He continued:

“This couple in particular demonstrates how important the action of Christian spouses is…[for] every home can transform itself into a little church. Not only in the sense that in them must reign the typical Christian love made of altruism and of reciprocal care, but still more in the sense that the whole of family life, based on faith, is called to revolve around the singular lordship of Jesus Christ.”

Looking around this Chapel, I am reminded that without these domestic churches, the Priesthood could not exist.  Not only are priests chosen by God from the sons of such holy families, but in every age, the priest is nurtured, encouraged and sanctified by their supportive love.

Just as the Lord would go back to the house of Lazarus and Martha and Mary for a meal, an extended conversation or just to sit among friends, so we can picture Saint Paul sitting at the generous table of Priscilla and Aquila, talking of tent making or Roman politics, but most of all, about the Lord Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit in growing his Church.

Every priest remembers with fondness the families who have supported him at every stage of his priestly ministry.  The ones who kindly adopt a newly ordained and welcome him into their family.  The ones who notice when he looks a but worn-out and cheer him up with all kinds of support.  The ones who provide a constant example of holiness, generosity and a pure devotion to Christ.  

Such folks are not unlike those who sit between the men in black before me this evening.  You who know the importance of the priest who comes out at 2am to anoint your mother, who hears the confession of your children and who teaches them the mysteries of the faith.  You know the priest who through sacrifice and self-giving love each year comes to look more and more like Christ, so that eventually it is not Father-so-and-so whom you see, but Christ Jesus in him.  And most of all, you know the one who receives the sacrifices of your lives and joins them with the perfect sacrifice of Christ offered upon the Altar and returns to you the very Body and Blood of him who died for your salvation.

Saint Francis of Assisi once said that if he met a priest and a saint on the road, he would be nice to the saint, but he would kiss the hands of the priest, for through this earthen vessel God gives to us the inestimable gift of Holy Communion with him.

And if, indeed, the priest is made holy by this work of which he is so unworthy,  so too the Pricilla's and Aquila's of this world are sanctified by their support of the priesthood.  In today’s Gospel, Christ calls Simon and Andrew and James and John to come and follow him.  Just as today he calls you, our generous benefactors to hear his voice and discern his call.

And because of you, they are able to listen for his voice in the quiet of this chapel, seek his truth in those classrooms down the hall, grow in his ways in the parishes and the prisons and grow into the person whom he has called them to be.

Paul could do that because Priscilla and Aquila prayed for him and supported him in so many ways.  We can do that only because of you.

And so we pray for you, and for all our many benefactors.  That some day you and your families may be greeted by Lazarus, Martha and Mary, Priscilla, Aquila and all the Saints and be given your reward in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Oh the Weather Outside is Frightful...

With the approaching storm, our Seminary and Theological Institute divisions will be closed on Tuesday.  Any further cancellations will be posted here on the Blog.  Stay tuned and stay safe!

A Seriousness of Purpose

The following homily was preached this morning on the feast of Saints Timothy and Titus by Father Romanus Cessario, O.P.   I found it to provide a wonderful opportunity to focus the minds of priests and seminarians alike on the importance of who we are and what we are called to do.

“Stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands (2 Tim 1:6).”  These words should strike the hearts of those gathered in this or any seminary chapel. Priests and deacons receive these words as an instruction from Saint Paul himself. Those preparing to receive Holy Orders should take to heart the injunction that the Apostle gives to his “dear child,” Timothy. All must stir into flame the special graces that they have received.

The priesthood is not an occupation for cowards. Too much rests at stake for the priest to draw back from the fray. Nothing challenges the priest of today more than his achieving a prudential and pastoral engagement with error. Prudence is not a throw-away term; the priest is neither a coward nor a Soldier of Fortune, one who acts impetuously. The priest confronts error of all kinds: moral errors about what constitutes the good of the human person; sacramental errors about how God sanctifies his people; ecclesiological errors about the nature of the Church. The only way that the priest can prepare to respond intelligently to these errors is by study. Bonhomie and facile answers may, for a while, placate the people. Only the truth sanctifies them.  Stir into flame, the flame of truth!

The priesthood is not an occupation for bureaucrats. Administrative responsibilities fall to every priest. They fall on the shoulders of some more than others. Priests learn to deal with them. Bureaucrats, on the other hand, make administration their end. They create administrative protocols, plans, offices, and the like. The bureaucrat cares about smooth operation. He shirks hardship. He eschews sacrifice. The pure apparatchik stands up for nothing. The Church is a communion not a bureaucracy. The Catholic priest serves a communion of people. He cannot be ashamed of testifying to the power of the Lord Jesus Christ. Stir into flame, the flame of love!

The priesthood is not an occupation for the undisciplined of mind or body. Measure marks the life of the priest. He cannot choose to devote himself to the things that please him and to ignore the things he finds unpleasant. The priest prays, studies, works, and recreates. Each activity generates its own reasonable measure. The mistake that undisciplined priests make is to think that, when they slack off, they will find fulfillment and even happiness. Truth to tell, only activity perfects the human creature. If Aristotle found contemplation to be the highest perfection of the rational creature, what should be said of those who have been given “the gift of God”? Stir into flame, the flame of virtue!

Today’s saints encourage both priest and seminarian to sustain a seriousness of purpose. Each is required, by reason of the gift that he has received, to exercise a spirit of “power and love and self-control (2 Tim 1:7).” The seminarian who says, “I can get by” or “I’ll do it my way,” fools himself. He rather invites error into his mind, diffidence into his heart, and vice into his life. These are not the “apostolic virtues” that the Collect of the Mass ascribes to Saints Timothy and Titus.

Remembrances from a Retreat

I just discovered some footage form the retreat preached a few weeks ago by Monsignor Michael Heintz.  Each of the seminarians came back raving about the insights, wisdom and depth of Monsignor Heinz's reflections.  This brief excerpt was from a talk on the Good Shepherd as a model for Priestly ministry.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Cardinal O'Malley on Life

This is the wonderful homily which Cardinal Seàn Patrick O'Malley, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, delivered at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for the Mass in Vigil of the Day of Prayer and Penance for the Protection of Unborn Children.

In Boston, there is a popular diner near the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. One of the items on the menu is called “The Emergency Room” consisting of bacon, sausages, eggs, pancakes, french toast, hash browns. The clientele are people from the hood, a few Archie and Edith Bunkers, Ralph and Alice Kramdens, cops and priests. It’s the kind of place you could invite Pope Francis to. Juke box music from the 50’s and 60’s adds to the atmosphere.

While having dinner there last week with Fr. O’Leary and Fr. Kickham, the phone rang. I presumed it was a telemarketer. It was Oprah Winfrey.

I almost had to order “the emergency room”. She called to tell me she was reading my blog and wanted to thank me for the comments I had published on the blog.

You have to feed the blog. I had shared some reflections about the film Selma. To me, one of the very moving aspects of the film is to see how people of faith came together to witness to the dignity of every human being made in the image and likeness of God. They were Protestant, Catholics, Jews, Greek Orthodox, standing together courageously. One of the ministers from Boston, a 38 year old white man, Reverend James Reel, was beaten to death leaving behind a wife and four small children. He had served for four years here in Washington D.C. at All Souls Church on 16th Street, just across from my offices at the Spanish Catholic Center. At the time of his death he was working for the Quakers in Boston as director of a housing program focusing on desegregation. Martin Luther King called him the defense attorney of the innocent in the court of public opinion. Today that is our job.

The quest for human rights and solidarity brought together people of faith to try to repair the world --to use the Jewish expression. In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis says, “No one should demand that religion should be relegated to the inner sanction of personal life without influence on societal and national life… The Church cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice.”

We are called upon to build a better world. “The Church’s social thought”, says Pope Francis, “offers proposals, works for change and constantly points to the hope born of the loving heart of Jesus Christ.”

In the history of our country, people of faith have worked together to overcome racism and injustice. Now we come together to be the defense attorney for the innocent unborn and the vulnerable elderly and all those whose right to life is threatened. We shall overcome.

As a matter of fact, we are overcoming, but it is a well kept secret.

We have all heard of Greek Mythology and Roman Mythology. I want to talk about some American Mythology.

There are many myths that are circulating and cause a lot of harm, especially since our politicians often espouse them. First of all, you will hear that abortion is a woman’s issue; secondly, that most Americans are pro-choice, pro abortion; and thirdly, that young people are overwhelmingly in favor of the pro-choice position.

Earlier this month in an op-ed on the editorial page of the New York Times entitled "The Abortion Stereotype," Razib Kahn observes that in polling done over the last 20 years, women have been consistently more pro-life than men.

Despite the impression that a solid majority of Americans back legal abortions, the Gallup polls indicate that about the same number of Americans identify as pro-choice as do pro-life, but in fact 58% of Americans oppose all or most abortions. If abortion depended on the ballot box rather than an activist court, it would be greatly reduced.

Studies have shown that women are more pro-life than men. Certainly the maternal instincts and closeness to the source of life, dispose women to be more protective of children. So, despite the talk about “the woman’s body” and the “woman’s choice”, oftentimes the big supporter of abortion is the man who is quite happy to invest all reproductive responsibility in the woman. This creates a situation in which men can easily rationalize their irresponsibility towards women who opt not to have an abortion.

According to the Allan Gutmacher Institute, 80% of all abortions are sought by single women. With abortion as an option, a man can compel a woman to have an abortion by denying his responsibility or threatening to abandon her if she “chooses” to give birth. For the unwilling father, an abortion is a bargain compared to monthly child support payments.

Even a majority of so-called pro-choice Americans actually favor informed consent for mothers, abortion bans in the third trimester, bans on partial-birth abortions, required parental consent for minors, 24 hour waiting periods and even abortion bans in the second trimester. These are polls by Gallup, CBS and the New York Times, not by EWTN, Catholic University and the Vatican.

Another myth proclaims young people are more pro-choice, to use the terminology. Once again the polls are unanimous in showing that young Americans are the most pro-life segment of the American people.

Upon her resignation in 2012, NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League) President Nancy Keegan stated that there is a large “intensity gap” among young people on the subject of abortion. We have already seen that the majority of young people are pro-life. An internal poll by NARAL shows that 51% of pro-life young people see abortion as an important electoral issue, while only 20% of pro-choice young people see abortion as an important electoral issue.

Gallup in 2010 declared that “pro-life is the new normal”. Congratulations, you are normal.

But you know there are some people who are using these American myths: that the majority of women, the majority of Americans, the majority of young people are pro-choice. It is a lie that is being foisted on the American people to try to convince people to embrace abortion with the flag and apple pie. We need to make sure that our political leaders are brought up to date and begin to take the pro-life ideals of Americans seriously.

It is good to recall that even if all the myths were true that the American people, women and youth were overwhelmingly in favor of abortion, that would not alter the sacredness of human life and our absolute obligation to protect and defend this most precious gift that is life.
In the first reading from the book of Exodus we heard about the two midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, who resisted the orders of the Pharaoh to kill the babies. They were convinced of the sacredness of each and every life and were willing to submit themselves to the wrath of the Pharaoh rather than abort one innocent child.

Recently, addressing a group of Catholic doctors in Rome, the Holy Father, Pope Francis stated: “If the Hippocratic Oath commits you to always be servants of life, the Gospel pushes you further: to love life no matter what, especially when it is in need of special care and attention. The Holy Father warns the health care workers that “The dominant thinking sometimes suggests a ‘false compassion,’ that which believes that it is helpful to women to promote abortion; and act of dignity to obtain euthanasia; a scientific breakthrough to ‘produce’ a child and to consider it to be a right rather than a gift to welcome.

The compassion of the Gospel is that which accompanies in times of need, that is, the compassion of the Good Samaritan who “Sees, has compassion, approaches and provides concrete help.”

The Holy Father tells the doctors: “Your mission puts you in daily contact with many forms of suffering. Fidelity to the Gospel of Life and respect for life as a gift from God sometimes requires choices that are courageous and go against the current, which may become points of conscientious objection.”

The Holy Father is reminding our Catholic Healthcare workers that they must be like the valiant midwives who refused to kill the Hebrew babies at the behest of the Pharaoh.

One of the greatest challenges to people of faith in our culture is the erosion of conscience rights, the space we need as a Catholic community to carry on our ministries and works of mercy without violating God’s law and our conscience.

In a certain way the Rich Young Man in today’s Gospel reminds us of many young people today, who are asking serious questions about the meaning of our existence, why we are here and what we should do with our lives? What is true success? What is happiness?

Not only does the Rich Young Man ask the right questions, but he is asking the right person, Jesus Christ: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

When I ask confirmation candidates or classrooms I visit: How did Jesus answer the Rich Young Man? Invariably, I am told: Jesus said: “Go sell what you have, give the money to the poor and come and follow me.” That is correct, but it is not the first thing Jesus says. Jesus says if you want to inherit eternal life, keep the commandments. And the first commandment Jesus mentions is: “Thou shall not kill.”

This story of the Rich Young Man appears in all the synoptic Gospels. And Jesus’ answer always begins with: “Thou shall not kill.”

We are all here today because we are convinced that human happiness and inheriting eternal life require us to embrace this commandment: “Thou shall not kill or to express it positively, “Thou shall protect human life.”

The second command Jesus mentions: “Thou shall not commit adultery.” To express this positively, “practice chastity in your life.”
We know that unwanted pregnancies often end in abortion. Many unwanted pregnancies are the result of a culture that is always encouraging promiscuity.

People who favor legal abortion claim they want to reduce the number of abortions. One of the logical ways to reduce the number of abortions would be to discourage the promiscuous behavior that is rampant in our culture. There are many instances of positive social changes that have been brought about by public consensus reinforced in advertising, educational efforts and use of mass media.

The campaigns against smoking and the public backlash against the promotion of tobacco in movies and on TV has done much to curb smoking and has contributed much to a healthier America.

The glamorization of promiscuity needs to be reversed by having people speak out against it the way people object to demeaning media portrayals of women and African-Americans. Like these, it is not a matter of passing laws but of changing what we deem as acceptable in society.

So Jesus’ first two instructions for happiness are: “Thou shall not kill, Thou shall not commit adultery.” Protect innocent human life, embrace the discipline of chastity which protects the transmission of life.

Jesus goes on to tell the Young Man to honor his mother and father. An important part of discipleship is respecting the family, nurturing relations, preserving the Family as the sanctuary of Life.

The Rich Young Man proudly proclaims that he had observed the commandments from his youth. That is really impressive. Not every Catholic can say that. Unfortunately, the Rich Young Man was so busy congratulating himself that he was totally unprepared for what followed. Jesus says thanks for keeping the commandments, but that is not enough. Jesus tells him: “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell everything that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come and follow me.”

The young man said to himself: I am keeping the commandments, Thou shall not kill – I’m pro-life. Thou shall not commit adultery – I follow the discipline of chastity, and now I have to help the poor with my money? It is too much.

The Rich Young Man thought it was either/or, but Jesus is telling us it is both/and. We follow the commandments, we are pro-life and we help the poor.

The Gospel says he went away sad for he had many possessions. How dangerous money can be when it becomes our master. Jesus said: “How hard it is to enter the Kingdom. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.”
Chesterton once said that ever since Jesus made this statement, scientists have been trying to breed smaller camels and engineers are trying to make bigger needles!

Part of the Gospel of Life has to be about loving and helping the poor. Indeed, reducing poverty will also reduce the number of abortions. Poor and low income women account for more than half of the abortions performed each year in our country.

Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium says that just as the commandment “Thou shall not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shall not kill” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have a throw away culture that is now spreading.

The Holy Father warns us both at Lampedusa and in Evangelii Gaudium about the globalization of indifference. He says, “Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor as though they were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.”

The Pro Life movement in the Catholic Church is about overcoming that indifference, indifference to the suffering of a woman in a difficult pregnancy, indifference to the voiceless child who is destined to be part of the statistic of a million killed in the womb each year, indifferent to the poverty and suffering of so many.

Indifference is our greatest enemy. We see the antidote in today’s Gospel. The Lord looks at the confused young man, and St. Marks writes: “And he loved him.” The confused young man went away sad because he did not realize how much the Lord loved him. Had he even suspected I am sure he would have given the money away gladly, but in his insecurity and fear, he leaves. He goes away sad.

Christ has given us the formula for joy in the Gospel. We must learn to look on people with love. An attitude of judgmental self righteousness is not going to change peoples’ attitudes and save babies. We need to be the field hospital not Judge Judy. We need to be the merciful face of Christ in the way we promote adoption, aware of how difficult it is for birth mothers to choose that option. We also need to expand our outreach in Project Rachel to those whose lives have been devastated by abortion.

To change people’s hearts we must love them and they must realize that we care about them. They need the witness of our love and our joy. To evangelize is to be a messenger of joy, of good news.

The rich young man went away sad. He needed to meet someone like St. Francis, another rich young man who was filled with joy after kissing the leper and giving all his money and clothes to the poor.

As Pope Francis reminds us: “When St. Paul approached the apostles in Jerusalem to discern whether he was running or had run in vain”, the key criterion of authenticity which they presented was that he should not forget the poor. This important principle, namely that the Pauline communities should not succumb to the self-centered life style of the pagans, remains timely today when a new self-centered paganism is growing. We may not always be able to reflect adequately the beauty of the Gospel, but there is one sign which we should never lack: the option for those who are least, those whom society discards.”

To me, Mother Teresa is the model of the pro-life movement because she witnessed to the preciousness of life by her care for the poor. Her first ministry was collecting the dying people on the streets of Calcutta to take them to an old abandoned Hindu temple so that she and her sisters could take care of them so that they could die with dignity, surrounded by love. She called this “doing something beautiful for God.”

What must characterize the pro-life movement is a special love for the poor, the marginalized, the suffering, and especially human life that is in danger of being discarded.

When Helen Alvaré worked our Pro-life office she always told the Bishops: “Be positive. We are not against anything, we are for something. We are for life.”

At times we might be tempted to curse those who advocate for abortions and promote and defend this barbaric practice. But Paul tells us: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.”

One of the wisest pieces of advice in Evangelii Gaudium is found in Paragraph 168. As for the moral component of catechesis, which promotes growth in fidelity to the Gospel way of life, it is helpful to stress again and again the attractiveness and the ideal (of the Gospel Way of Life). In light of that positive message, our rejection of the evils which endanger that life can be better understood. Rather than experts in dire predictions, dour judgments bent on routing out every threat and deviation, we should appear joyful messengers of challenging proposals, guardians of the goodness and beauty which shine forth in a life of fidelity to the Gospel.

We shall overcome the indifference only by love. A love that will allow us to see in every unborn child a precious gift, a fellow human being.
We must direct our love and attention to wherever life is most threatened and show by our attitudes, words and actions that life is precious, and we must not kill.

We must work tirelessly to change the unjust laws, but we must work even harder to change hearts, to build a civilization of love. Solidarity and community are the antidotes to the individualism and alienation that lead people on the path of abortion and euthanasia.

The rich young man left in discouragement because what Christ asked of him was difficult. The challenges we face are great and discouragement is our greatest enemy.

But know that Jesus is looking on us with love, His love should energize and unite us. No sacrifice is too great, we must not count the cost, but press on with the full assurance that We shall overcome.

Keep Watch and Pray!

Saint John's Seminary has arrived in Washington DC for the March for Life tomorrow. This evening there is a Vigil Mass at which Cardinal O'Malley will preach. Tomorrow morning we celebrate Mass with Cardinal O'Malley at the Sacred Heart Shrine and then go to the March. In between, from 5am until 6am, we will celebrate a Holy Hour for Life in the Crypt of the National Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Here is the homily I will preach at the Holy Hour. It is based on the Gospel of Matthew 26:39-46:
Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I go over there and pray.”  He took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to feel sorrow and distress. Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me.”  He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” When he returned to his disciples he found them asleep. He said to Peter, “So you could not keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Withdrawing a second time, he prayed again, “My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!” Then he returned once more and found them asleep, for they could not keep their eyes open. He left them and withdrew again and prayed a third time, saying the same thing again. Then he returned to his disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Behold, the hour is at hand when the Son of Man is to be handed over to sinners. Get up, let us go. Look, my betrayer is at hand.
It was very dark.  In the middle of the night.  And Jesus sweat blood.  The Passion had begun.

Three times he found them sleeping.  All he wanted them to do was watch and pray.  Watch and pray.  While he sweat blood.  But they slept.

So many sleep through the dark night of betrayal we call the Culture of Death.  For Christ still sweats blood.

In a country where almost a quarter of all children conceived are killed.  He suffers still.

In a country which legalizes the killing of an old person, just because they have grown old. He suffers still.

In a country which injected poisons into their veins of thirty-five men last year.  He suffers still.

For whatever you do to the least of these, he tells us, you do to me.  And we just sleep.

We sleep, telling ourselves that its not a child in the womb, but a problem,  And then the Holy Father reminds us we are not dealing with a problem but a child, an “innocent and defenseless life…the innocent par excellence.” (April 11, 2014)

We sleep, telling ourselves that they’re old and the quality of their life has diminished its value.  While the Holy Father tells us, “human life is always sacred and always of quality…No human life exists that is more sacred that the other…” (November 15, 2014.)

We sleep, telling ourselves that the death penalty is simply justice, an eye for an eye.  While Pope Francis denounces all  “violence and revenge, public and private” and reminds us it is rooted in the sort of corruption which is an evil greater than sin.” (October 23, 2014)

Christ suffers still in the child, the old man and the prisoner on death row and we still sleep.

And when, for the third time, he finds his disciples still taking their rest, he has one final command: “Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Rise, let us be going.  See, My betrayer is at hand.’”

And so, my dear brothers and friends, in just a few hours we will arise at our Savior’s command, fully aware that his betrayer is at hand.  And we will walk with him and with every murdered innocent along the Via Dolorosa, in the sure and certain hope that the sun will rise, the darkness will be scattered and Christ will bring justice to the earth.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Fifty Years of Nostra Aetate

This Martin Luther King, Jr. day at Saint John’s Seminary is devoted to workshops on the importance of the interreligious endeavor by the Catholic Church today.  We are honored to welcome Rabbi Noam E. Marans, Director of Inter-religious and Intergroup Relations for the American Jewish Committee and Father David Michael, Associate Director for Inter-religious Relations for the Archdiocese of Boston.


"Francis is the first pope to rise within a Catholic Church transformed through the revolutionary 1965 Nostra Aetate and subsequent teachings, which have moved to right two millennia of Catholic enmity towards Jews and Judaism. Pope Francis, a friend of the Jewish people who has reflected on the horrors of the Holocaust and Christian complicity, would not knowingly be callous toward Jewish sensitivities. Rather than expressing syncretism, he is simply moved by the most instinctual Christian image of suffering — Jesus on the cross — as a means to identify with Jewish suffering. And he is not afraid to express that in a post-Nostra Aetate era."

-Rabbi Noam Marans

Collaboration in Ministry: January Rector's Conference


Sunday, January 18, 2015

New Wineskins of Passion and Unity

Catholics, Christians and Jews Together
Monday of the Second Week 
in Ordinary Time 
January 19, 2014

It’s been a half century since Unitatis Reintegratio and Nostra Aetate, and through the years these wineskins have held so many vintages that I wonder whether its not time for new vessels of the Franciscan age and new dreams of how God might make us all one.

Pope Francis has given us a couple of hints, the first at a Jewish Synagogue in Rome, as he addressed the assembled Jews as “the holy root that produced Jesus.”  

“During all these years of friendship with our Jewish brothers in Argentina,” he recalled, “I…have questioned God many times in my prayers, especially when my mind turned to the memory of the terrible experience of the Shoah.”

“But,” he continued, “God never abandoned his covenant with Israel, and notwithstanding their suffering over the centuries, the Jewish People have kept their faith…For this, we will never be sufficiently grateful to them as a Church, but also as human beings,” he continued. “In the persistence of their faith in the God of the Covenant, they summon all, including us as Christians, to recall the fact that we are awaiting the return of the Lord as pilgrims, and must therefore always remain open to Him and never retreat from what we have already achieved.”

In other words, through suffering, God brought the Jews closer to himself. On another occasion, the Holy Father recalled how the suffering once inflicted upon the Jews is now being visited upon Christians in Syria and throughout the world.  

Perhaps, my brothers, this crucible of suffering and persecution, for Jew and Christian alike, is the new wineskin of the ecumenical and inter-religious endeavor.  Perhaps all the suffering, from Paris to Nigeria and Northern Sudan is a gift, teaching us obedience by suffering, like Christ in the reading from Hebrews today. (Cf. Hebrews 5:10).  For if the way to follow Christ is to walk with him on the via dolorosa, then how could the way of unity lead anywhere but to the foot of the Cross.

If such is true of inter-religious unity, so it is true all the more of unity among Christians, whose common boast is the Cross by which they are redeemed. “In some countries,” the Holy Father recently recalled, “they kill Christians for wearing a cross or having a Bible and before they kill them they do not ask them whether they are Anglican, Lutheran, Catholic or Orthodox. Their blood is mixed. To those who kill we are Christians. We are united in blood…”

So, if we believe that all authentic unity flows from the foot of the Cross and is nourished by the Blood of his Blessed Passion, then perhaps we can dream of new wineskins made strong by our participation in his suffering and filled with the new wine of unity.

Perhaps we can share the dream of Dr. King first proclaimed on the steps of the Lincoln memorial… “that every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low…and that the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

It is the dream of the good and saintly Pope John XXIII as he was dying, and amidst his own participation in the Passion of the Lord, is reported to have repeated Christ’s words at the last supper over and over again: Ut unum sint:  That they all might be one.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

On Not Counting the Cost...

“Here I am,” Samuel says.  “I Come to do your will.”
“Follow me,” Jesus tells them.  And they abandon all to follow him.
Not counting the cost.

When Charlie’s mother Anna (the daughter of a baker) and his Father Marciel (a tailor), brought their first born son to a rural Polish Church to be baptized, they were certain it would be the beginning of a perfect family life.  They knew what God had in store for them.  They would sew and bake and keep a little farm and their children would help out and take care of them well into their old age.  That was their plan. And each of their children would do the same…that was what God had in store for them.  They were sure of it.

But that’s not what happened.  By the time little Charlie was ready to go to school, his mother had died and Marciel remarried and three years later Charlie had a new mother (a tailor’s daughter) and a stepsister, Stefania.

Charlie was good in school and quickly became fluent in his native Polish and German and read extensively.  He was known by all as a boy of constant prayer and deep faith, who wanted nothing more than to do God’s will.  At first he followed his parents’ vocation as a tailor, but then he joined the Austro-Hungarian army, where he served as a Captain for more than a quarter century.

Everyone who ever knew him said he was “a good man,” ever trying to find out what God wanted him to do. The people of the town simply called him “the captain,” even after he married Emilia, a schoolteacher of Lithuanian descent.  

And Charlie and Emilia, like their parents before them, knew what God had in store for them.  They would sew and teach and keep a little farm and their children would help out and take care of them well into their old age.  That was their plan. And each of their children would do the same…that was what God had in store for them.  They were sure of it.

That was, until Olga was born, and quickly died in a flu epidemic before her first birthday.  Then they had Mundek, who was smart and strong, and fifteen years later, Lolek. Two good strong bright Polish boys…everything seemed under control until little Lolek was six, and his mother died when her heart and kidneys gave out.

So here was Charlie with a six year old boy and his elder brother, just graduating from medical school.  Things just couldn’t get much worse, but they did, when the newly minted Doctor caught scarlet fever from one of his patients and died.

So now here was Charlie, in his 40’s, having buried his mother, his wife, his daughter and his first born son, and now caring for his little boy Lolek all alone.  What did he do?  He went to Mass every morning.  He prayed.  His little son would find his father on his knees late at night, sometimes weeping with rosaries in his hand.  He prayed through the pain and tried to do what God wanted.

When Charlie was almost sixty years old, he moved with his son to the City so that Lolek would get a good education.  In a little one room apartment, he stayed at home sewing and doing the cooking and the cleaning, while Lolek was in school.  One of Lolek’s friends remembers repeatedly finding the father and son playing soccer in the apartment with a ball made of rags.

Then the Germans invaded Poland in 1930 and Lolek and his sixty-one year old father walked 120 miles to escape them, until they heard that the Russians were invading from the East, so they trudged all the way back home again.  The university was closed by the Germans, and so Lolek had to get a job in the limestone quarry.

When Lolek would come home from the quarry, father and son would read from the Bible and pray the rosary. "I will not live long,” he used to tell his son. “But I pray I will live long enough to see you give yourself to God.”

The next year, after Charlie died of a heart attack, little Lolek entered the seminary and became Father Karol, and then Bishop Wojtyla, and then Saint John Paul II.

All because Charlie kept trying to do the right thing.

“Here I am,” Samuel says.  “I come to do your will.”
“Follow me,” Jesus tells them.  And they abandon all to follow him.

Not counting the cost.

And when it gets tough….what about you and me?