Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Famous Visitors from Holliston

We were honored to host several promising young baseball players from Holliston the other day, including six members of the Holliston12's 2015 Baseball championship team, their coach, 
Mr. James Keast, and three of the baseball moms! They head to Cooperstown, New York this week to participate for the first time, in the Cooperstown baseball tournament.  Best of luck to each one them and thanks to Matt Conley for hosting them!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

It's almost here!

 The organ builders have been hard at work all summer long. 

The electricians and carpenters were hard at work today and they are a few days from beginning the installation of some of the pipes, now beautifully arrayed in traditional Victorian designs.  

Here's a sneak peak at a couple of them!

Immersed in God...

I just came off a few days of retreat, refreshed, renewed and raring to go.  Here's a picture of Saint Francis Xavier Church in Hyannis, where I joined some of the local folks for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament yesterday afternoon.

It is so important to take some quiet time away every once in a while. It brings one to a wonderful place, to a foretaste of how we will spend eternity, in the word of the great Carlo Caretto "immersed in God like a drop in the ocean, like a star in the immensity of night; like a lark in the summer sun or a fish in the sea.”

Friday, July 17, 2015

Summer Champions!

Matt Conley reports that two old (young) friends of Saint John's won the championship baseball game last night against Dover-Sherborn. Congratulations to Nicholas (son of Linda Calabrese who coordinates the WINGS ministry at St. Mary's in Holliston) and Aidan (who recently visited St. John's  with his two brothers, his mother, and his grandmother)!  


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Fathers Scorzello and O'Connor at IPF

Fathers O'Connor and Scorzello are spending a few days in Omaha, visiting with SJS seminarians who are taking part in the summer spirituality institute at the Institute of Priestly Formation.  Here they are enjoying a festive dinner in beautiful downtown Omaha!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Windows of the North America Martyrs

This past weekend I was privileged to give a talk on the windows in Sacred Heart Church in Lake George, New York which depict the life and death of Saint Isaac Jogues and the North American Martyrs.  They are some of the finest stained glass windows I have ever studied.  Here's a video presentation of my presentation, followed by the script.

In 1834 James Powell, a London wine merchant, purchased the Whitefriars Glass Company, off Fleet Street in London, becoming one of the foremost stained glass fabricators by the end of the nineteenth century. The firm's name was changed to Powell & Sons (Whitefriars) Ltd in 1919 and a new factory was opened in Wealdstone. This is the firm which created your windows, some of the finest examples of stained and painted glass in the United States. The windows exhibit four exceptional qualities:

The Design is narrative, yet it makes continual reference to scriptural and liturgical texts. It is typological, pointing to analogies and deeper meanings in other parts of the Church’s tradition.

The stained glass is intricately assembled with quilt-like patterns of random glass which give the effect of a patchwork background made of random pieces. Yet there is nothing random about these designs. They have a depth, a vibrancy of color and texture which is sometimes breathtaking.

Every expert I have consulted on these windows has always said the same thing: the talent of the painter of these windows is without peer. The figures are individual and display a full range of human emotions. A two-inch square of almost any window would provide in its tiny landscape a story replete with sorrow, fear or holy determination. The ability of painter to bring living, breathing characters to life is truly extraordinary.

Despite the weightiness of the subject, the windows retain a lightness, a real sense of humor in its depictions of landscapes and people and even children. Right next to each other are depictions of darkness and light which result in a full portrait of the human condition.

But enough of my exaltation of the artistic merits of these windows for their true value lies in their ability to tell the story of Isaac Jogues and his companions.

I suggest that, in the short time we have together, we go panel by panel through each of the windows, recalling the sacred story they tell and touching on examples of a few of their qualities or meditations along the way.

By the way, there are some secrets to reading these windows that have to do with how they were put together. Each window has two panels and they read from right to left. The center of the window contains the story or narrative element, again, read from right to left. These panels are supplemented with small rectangular window vents below them which specify or detail the narrative. So, the first part of the story is on the right and the second part is on the left. Then up above the narrative panels trifoils, a series of three windows which reflect on the heavenly or typological meaning of each narrative scene. Finally, at the bottom of each window are four symbolic scenes which provide a reflection or meditation on the narration.

Let’s start with the first panel.

Panel 1 (on the right) The story starts with Saint Isaac Jocques in heaven. He holds up a small cross in his right hands and a Missal with which to say Mass in his left. Isaac was born in Orleans, France, enetred the Jesuits at 17 and became a professor of literature. He was ordained at the age of 29. You can see his ordination in the panel below.

Panel 2. Two months after he was ordained he traveled by ship from old France to a mission to the Huron Indians in New France, then located in Canada and upstate New York. In the lower panel on the left you can see the ship.

Here’s his ordination with the words from the Ordination Rite in the upper right: “Thou Art a Priest Forever,” a chalice and host in the upper left, and a beautiful depiction of the laying on of hands in front of an exquisitely ornamented Altar. And here’s the ship he came over on. You can almost feel the winds blow as he is tossed on the waves hither and yon.

And then below the window are the four panels, standing for various elements of nature, their wildness emblematic of this untamed wilderness to which he came as a missionary. The sadled muel to the left may represent the attempt of the missionaries to tame this wilderness, while the magnificent detail of the lion on the right represents the native dangers that await him (just look at those teeth!).

Panel 3 shows Father Isaac’s arrival in Quebec, where he is greeted by the governor and his Jesuit confreres. Just below is a depiction of his first Mass in New France, in the same posiiton as his First Mass in Old France.

Panel 4 shows him preaching to the Hurons, to whom he was known as Ondessonk, and below his preaching to the children, who were his most attentive listeners. Notice, if you will, the typological panels above these two scenes. On the right is the visitation, for Mary went to see Elizabeth in the hill country just as Isaac came to see the Hurons in this strange new land. Above his preaching on the left is the great mandatum, as Christ sends his apostles out to preach the good news to all the world.

Here’s a closer look at his first Mass in the New World. As he raises the chalice to heaven he prays: “What return shall I make to the Lord for all he has given me?” The last part of this quote from Psalm 116 is: “the cup of salvation I shall lift up and call upon the name of the Lord.” Look at the expression on his face of utter devotion and his eyes firmly fixed on God. Look too at the fringe on the altar cloth and the bottom of his stole and the folds depicted in his chasuble. This is really extraordinary, museum-quality art!

And then he preaches to the children with Jesus’ own words “Suffer the little children to come unto me.”

The four meditation panels in this window are symbols of the four Gospels: the angel for Matthew, the Lion for Mark, the Bull for Like and the Easgle for Saint John. All in keeping with the theme of Isaac’s first preaching to the Huron tribes.

Panel 5 reminds us that this first preaching was complicated by three terrible waves of disease. The first influenza almost killed Father Isaac and his companions. But despite their own sufferings, they ministered to the Hurons, first Baptizing a sick child and then caring for the sick.

In Panel six we are reminded that they continued to travel from village to village through the backwoods, sometimes walking overland in the lower panel while two seemingly headless assistants carry the canoe.

Here’s the lower panel of Saint Isaac caring for the sick man. Notice how the artist is able to portray his compassion and the sorrow of the sick child’s mother dressed in red with an economy of lines and a simplicity of design.

The lower panels provide a meditation on the sacraments by which Isaac and his companions provided real healing to the native: the crossed keys for penance, the heavenly Jerusalem as a sign of salvation, the Shell and Baptism, and the living waters of new life in Christ. Here is the heavenly Jerusalem, as the saving waters flow from its side. This is one of the most beautiful combinations of unlikely colors in the whole Church!

Ironically, the rumor soon began to spread among the Hurons and their rivals, the Iroquois tribes, that the Blackrobes, or Jesuit missionaries were practicing their own forms of sorcery and were the origin of the two epidemics of Influenza and soon the Smallpox. The way the Jesuits pray in a foreign tongue and the ritual gestures they would make with their hands made it all the clearer that they were magic men and a threat to traditional ways.

In Panel 7 we see the Iroquois, natural enemies of the Hurons, attack a Huron village, where they captured Isaac Jogues. The fires in the lower panel are symbolic of the tortures he endured.

Panel 8 shows how he was forced to run the gauntlet, burnt with torches, Isaac’s index finger and thumb we crushed by being repeatedly chewed on and then were finally cut off with sharpened seashells. The idea was that without these magic fingers the priest could no longer bless or consecrate a host.

The four panels below stand for Isaac’s imprisonment and torture: a stick with which to be beaten, a rope with which to be tied, a key with which to be imprisoned and finally a bowl of holy water with a branch standing for that purification which the martyrs were undergoing not with water but with blood. “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.”

Panel 9 introduces one of the young Jesuit helpers, Rene Goupil, who stands with a bible in one hand in his glorified form in heaven. Below, this young seminarian is shown teaching the Sign of the Cross to the native children. Rene had undergone similar tortures at the side of Father Isaac. As the two of them were being marched eighteen days away to Ossernenon, now Auriesville, New York, Isaac suggested his young helper should run away. “Allow me to die with you,” Rene replies. For you are my Father and I cannot desert you!” But young Rene was to be the first of the martyrs, as one day one of the warriors struck him with his tomahawk. Rene’s last words were “Jesus, Jesus Jesus!.” The natives threw his body in a field.

And so in Panel 10 you see Father Isaac, who at great risk had snuck out of the camp to find the body of his young companion and bury him under the rocks of a running stream nearby, hoping to return at a later date to bury him in the earth in the hope of the Resurrection. Here’s a closer look at Rene’s martyrdom, as he walks with Father Isaac beneath the words from the Book of Revelation: The white robed army of martyrs praise thee.” And here Father Rene teaches the sign of the cross by which he would die to the little children.

The four panels for meditation include the sign of the Jesuits, the rosary to which Rene was so dedicated, a sign of eternal life, and the tomahawk with which Rene was martyred.

In Panel 11 Ondessonk prays for Rene and for deliverance. Eventually, as in the rectangle below, Isaac was given greater freedom in the camp.

This resulted, in panel 12 in his eventual escape and return to his native France, in the lower rectangular vent. The lower panels meditate on this time with the Cardinal Virtues of Faith, Hope and Love and Purity as symbolic of all the virtues to which Father Isaac was devoted and which got him through this torment.

In Panel 13 we see Father Isaac back in France and able to receive Holy Communion again for the first time. The lower panel refers to the manner of his return, on which we will reflect in the next slide.

In Panel 14 he is presented to Queen Anne, who intercedes with Pope Urban VIII for Isaac, that he might be allowed to celebrate the Eucharist, even without the fingers which were canonically required to celebrate a valid Mass. The Pope is said to have gladly given the permission with the words: It is unbefitting that a martyr of Christ should not drink the Blood of Christ.” And so, in the lower window, he returned to New France after just three months, with the prophetic words: “I go, but I shall never come back again.”

Here is the lower vent panel on the panel commemorating his return. It shows the Jesuit Rector, who knew well of the martyrs of Canada, greeting a poor man whom he did not recognize as Father Isaac Jogues. Here’s one historian’s account of their meeting:

“He invited the “poor man” into the parlor. It was still dark and they spoke by the light of a candle. ”
“Is it true that you have come form Canada?” the rector asked.
“Yes,” the unseemly looking visitor answered.
“Do you know Father de Breboeuf?”
“Extremely well,” he said.
“And Father Jogues, did you know Father Isaac Jogues?”
“I knew him very well indeed,” replied the stranger.
“Is he still alive?” questioned the rector, his voice stiffening “Have those barbarians not murdered him?”
“He is at liberty,” the poor man assured him with a hesitant gasp. “Reverend Father,” Jogues burst into tears, “it is he who speaks to you,”

The four meditation panels at the bottom of the window first show us two crowns: The royal crown and sceptre of Queen Anne and the powers of this world and the crown of thorns worn by Isaac Jogues.

These are followed by two of the most beautiful panels in the whole Church: the visitation of the Magi. Here the Magi have followed the star to find the Christ, leaving all to find him, just as Isaac would forsake home and comfort and even life itself to find the Christ Child whose open arms welcomed him in perfect love. This depiction of Virgin and child is really extraordinary. Look at the eyes of the Virgin and of the Christ.

They are beautifully wrought in a painting of no more than an inch or two! Whenever you are discouraged go look at this image and you will walk away knowing of God’s perfect love for you, even in the face of unimaginable sufferings.

Panel 15 introduces us to the glorified figure of John Leland, another one of the young helpers or Jesuit seminarians who accompanied Father Isaac on the second missionary journey.

Panel 16 shows us how when they reached present day Auriesville, they were captured, stripped of their clothing and beaten at the instigation of the Mohawk bear clan. Here, Jean is killed with a tomahawk and his body thrown into the river.

The lower panels are deep with meaning: First is a box, the same box which Father Isaac used to carry his vestments, vessels and other requisites for Mass. The Mohawks were convinced it was a sorcerer’s magic box and so they through it in the river. There follow the three clans of the Mohawks: the wolf, the tortoise and the bear.

In panel 17 we see Father Isaac down the street from us on Lake George, which he names the Lake of the Blessed Sacrament, because it looked in the morning sun like a shining monstrance and its lakes like sacred hosts. In the lower panel below is the story of Theresa, taught by the Ursuline sisters, who was also captured by the Mohawks.

In panel 18 Theresa is held captive and and Father Isaac is bartering for her release. Here, in one of the vent panels, we see Father Isaac blessing the young captive. Notice the Ursuline nun with the rosary in the upper right corner of the vent.

Meanwhile, the small meditation panels contain symbols of the Faith of both Isaac and Theresa: the palm of victory, the lion who lays down with the lamb, the sacred heart and, of course, the Holy Eucharist. Here is the lion and the lamb of the peaceable kingdom.

Panel 19 depicts Father Isaac’s martyrdom. Lured into a tent, one of the Mohawks attacks him with a tomahawk. In the vent window, below, we see his Mass chest floating down the river.

With the story of Father Isaac completed, panel 20 introduces us to Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, who would build upon the foundation of Saint Isaac Jogues in spreading the faith among the Mohawks. She was born ten years after he died and was known as the Lilly of the Mohawks, living a life of prayer and service to others as an example to her tribe. She died at the age of 24, and the deacon at her beatification by Pope John Paul II in 1980 was our own Father Joseph Busch.

Above this scene of the death of Father Isaac Jogues is the Lord in glory, roved in magnificent red and gold with a triplex tiara, ready to judge the living and the dead.

The small meditation panels at the bottom of the window contain incense and a harp and symbols of the offering of the life of the saints which rise up to God like incense or Psalms of praise. Then we see Father Isaac’s Missal (remember it in the first panel and floating away in the trunk above?) and his signature: Isaac Jogues.

There are other windows dedicated to this story in other Churches. Like these from the North American martyrs Chapel at the North American College in Rome. But none that I have seen as moving, as faith filled and as beautiful as yours.

Springfield Alumni Association Meets!

Last night I was honored to attend a dinner of the Springfield Chapter of Saint John's Seminary Alumni Association at the Cedar's in Springfield, Massachusetts.  I am deeply grateful to Father Gary Daily for arranging the event and to Father Ryan Rooney, chairman of the Springfield Chapter of our Alumni Association.

Bishop Rozanski was so kind to be with us for the entire event, along with Monsignors Chris Connelly and John Bonzagni and Fathers Matthew Alcombright, Michael Bernier, Wayne Biernat. Lionel Bonneville, Robert Coonan, David Darcy, Vernon Decoteau, Henry Dorsch, Christopher Fedoryshyn, Matthew Guidi, James Longe, Chris Peschel, Yerick Mendes, Robert Miskell, William Murphy, Johan Salatino, Michael Wood, and seminarians Sinh Trinh, Matt Barone, Michael Ciolek, and Barrent Pease.

How wonderful to be with these great priests, each a loyal son of Saint John's Seminary!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Getting ready for a new class...

The Seminary is beginning to gear up for the new Class with Admissions Interviews, painting of rooms and planning for Orientation.  We anticipate we will, once again, be at capacity, this time closing down all but ONE student guest room!  Fortunately, plans are well underway for a much needed expansion to be completed, hopefully within the next few months!  Here's how the incoming class breaks down:

Some of the finest people...

A few weeks ago the staffs of the Seminary and the Theological Institute gathered to celebrate my thirty-fifth anniversary of ordination to the Priesthood.  They are a wonderful, generous and dedicated group of professionals whom I am blessed to work with!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Father Busch's Thirty-Fifth Anniversary

I'm in Queensbury, New York today celebrating the thirty-fifth anniversary of the priestly ordination of my dear friend, Father Joseph Busch.  Here's the homily I preached this morning.
I went to an Ordination yesterday in Burlington.  Do you know how hard it is to get to Burlington from here?  So, I relied on my GPS.  It chose one way going there and another coming back.

Going to Vermont it brought me over the Whitehall bridge and I saw all the little roads of Vermont.

Coming back it brought me over the Ticonderoga Bridge and I saw all the little roads of New York.

Now, some of you may be wondering why I didn’t take the ferry.  Well, quite honestly, I don’t trust ferries.  There’s just something about putting two tons of metal on something that floats that seems to be against the natural law.

Anyways, I got to Burlington and back to Queensbury via two bridges, which like all bridges had three things in common.  

First, unlike the untrustworthy ferry, they kept me far above the raging waters.  

Second, unlike the ferry, they were free.  Neither bridge wanted anything more than the satisfaction of transporting me from one shore to another.

And finally, each Bridge, like every good bridge in the world, was firmly and equally grounded on both shores.  In fact that’s what made them bridges.

Three things: each bridge carried me above the storm, for free and was grounded on both shores.

Saint John Paul II once wrote about Father Busch, and every good Priest.  I think its particularly appropriate to recall those words as you celebrate three and a half decades of Father’s priestly ministry.  Here’s what the Pope wrote:

“In order that his ministry may be humanly as credible and acceptable as possible, it is important that the priest should mold his human personality in such a way that it becomes a bridge and not an obstacle for others in their meeting with Jesus Christ the Redeemer of humanity.” (Pastores Dabo Vobis, no. 43)

So, the priest, like Whitehall and Ticonderoga, must be a bridge, not between New York and Vermont, but between you and Christ.

And just like any good bridge, he must do three things: carry you above the storm, for free and be grounded on both shores.

He must carry you above the storm.  For thirty-five years Joseph Busch has decreased, so that Christ might through him keep you safe from the storm.

The storms of your own sinfulness, each time he patiently listens to your sins and forgives them.

The storms of your own fear when life seems just too much and the winds grow too strong and you’re not sure you can make it and he gently guides your heart and teaches you to pray and to join your sufferings to the cross.

The raging waters of sickness and pain when he lays his hands on you in the name of the Church and anoints you with her blessed oil and recalls the Lord’s own command to ‘anoint with oil whoever is sick and cure them.

And the awful storms of emptiness and hunger and fright unto death which are only quenched by the bread become his Body and the wine become his Blood in the perfect sacrifice which joins our sufferings to his and destroys death and brings us life.

For thirty-five years, Father has gotten out of the way, so that the Lord could keep us safe through his hands, shepherd us home through his voice and preserve us through his prayers. For the priest is the bridge to Christ, through the Sacraments, through his preaching and through the way he leads us home, across the stormy waters, to the waiting arms of God.

And like any good bridge, he does it for free.  The priest has given up family and fame and career….he let himself be bound by the Church in obedience and chose to go not where he chose, but where the Bishop told him.  He renounced wealth, seldom making more money than anyone else and laboring day and night, driving to Glens Falls Hospital at 2am, just because Jesus wanted him to.  Not counting the cost, seeking neither sack, nor tunic, nor money in his belt, he has wanted nothing but the satisfaction of transporting you from this shore to the next, from darkness to light, and from fear to Christ.

And finally, the good Priest, like the good bridge, remains firmly fixed on both shores.  John Paul II said it best.  He “should be able to know the depths of the human heart, to perceive difficulties and problems, to make meeting and dialogue easy, to create trust and cooperation, to express serene and objective judgments.” (Pastores Dabo Vobis, no. 43.)  In other words, he must not just seem to love you, but to be willing to lay down his life for you, to love you unto death.  You are one shore to which he is fixed.

And all the while he is equally fixed on that other shore, to the Christ who has called him to take on his own image, to be his holy vessel from the time he was a child.  The Christ who has remained faithful to him, as he has called him to remain faithful to you.  Firmly rooted in prayer, in penance and in love with Jesus, Pope Benedict told us, he the Priest becomes “a mediator, a bridge that connects, and thereby to bring human beings to God, to his redemption, to his true light, to his true life.” (Pope Benedict XVI, February 23, 2010)

So, it’s Father’s anniversary…the day we remember how for thirty-five years God has been using him as a bridge for children being baptized, teenagers distraught by sin, young couple trying to understand love, young executives looking for meaning, middle-aged folks trying to remember the way, the old struggling under the burden of their years…How God has kept using this earthen vessel to bring to fulfillment the ancient words prayed over his head thirty-five years ago today:

And now we ask you, Lord: in our weakness give us also the helper that we need to exercise the priesthood that comes from the Apostles. 
Almighty Father, grant, we pray, to this servant of yours the dignity of the priesthood…may he be a faithful steward of your mysteries, so that your people may be renewed in the waters of rebirth and nourished from your altar, so that sinners may be reconciled, and the sick raised up. 
May he be joined with us, Lord, to implore your mercy for the people entrusted to his care and for all the world. 
And so may all nations, gathered together in Christ, be transformed into your one people and be brought at last to the fullness of your kingdom….[through Christ our Lord].  Amen.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Deacon Curtis Miller Ordained

Our own Curtis Miller was ordained to the Diaconate by Bishop Christopher Coyne this morning at the Cathedral in Burlington.  It was a wonderful celebration on a beautiful day amidst the glorious backdrop of the State of Vermont!  Congratulations to our newest Deacon!

Ordination Homily
Bishop Christopher Coyne
Bishop of Burlington
July 11, 2015

Over the past five months since my installation, I have been spending a lot of time driving around the state, getting to know Vermont, its people, and our parishes. In that time, I’ve seen a number of covered bridges, something for which Vermont is well-known. Do you know that there are more covered bridges per square mile in Vermont than any other state? Now, before I go any further, there may be one or two of the priests out there thinking, at his installation homily the bishop talked about bells, now he’s talking about covered bridges. What next, ski slopes? But bear with me a minute and you’ll see where I’m going. 

As I said, Vermont is very well known for its covered bridges. You can go on-line and download a list of bridges and the history of each. Some are simple structures. Some are very elaborate.  Some are long. Some are short in length. Some are garishly painted. Some are simple plain wood. Some are old. Some are new. Some have been rebuilt. But they serve their purpose. They are part of our state’s culture, history and life. 

But, there are other bridges that have been and continue to be a part of our history and life here in Vermont and that is our priests.  In his apostolic exhortation on priestly formation, “Pastores dabo vobis,” Saint Pope John Paul II instructed that:

The ministry of the priest is, certainly, to proclaim the word, to celebrate the sacraments, to guide the Christian community in charity "in the name and in the person of Christ," but all this he does dealing always and only with individual human beings…. In order that his ministry may be humanly as credible and acceptable as possible, it is important that the priest should mold his human personality in such a way that it becomes a bridge and not an obstacle for others in their meeting with Jesus Christ the Redeemer of humanity. It is necessary that, following the example of Jesus who "knew what was in humanity" (Jn. 2:25; cf. 8:3-11), the priest should be able to know the depths of the human heart, to perceive difficulties and problems, to make meeting and dialogue easy, to create trust and cooperation, to express serene and objective judgments. [PDV, 45]

It is a beautiful image, this image of the priest as a bridge for others to Jesus Christ. I would like to offer for consideration this image to all of you, to Scott and also to Curtis, since by its very nature the transitional diaconate to which he will be ordained is directed towards his future ordination to the priesthood, god-willing.  The priest as a bridge to bring others to Christ is an image which captures the work of the Catholic clergy here in the state of Vermont throughout its history. Priests have been and continue to be a bridge between God and humanity.  It is an image that has resonated in my life as a priest for twenty-five years and a bishop for four years. The priest is to be a bridge to Christ, not an obstacle. We are at the service of Christ, his Church, and all of God’s children, both inside and outside the Church. My brothers, when we set our hearts and our ministry in that place of service, it illumines all we do. Every time I celebrate public Mass or any of the Sacraments, I pray, “Lord, let me get out of the way of what you need to do. Let me be a means to serve your holy people. Let it not be about me, Lord, but about you.”  When one sees oneself as serving as a bridge to Christ, then the starting point is one in which we try to make good things happen, one in which we say how can I be a bearer of the Good News of Christ. 

Let me pose a question to my brother priests as an example: when a young couple or a parent comes to me as a priest to ask to have their child baptized, is my response “This is wonderful! Congratulations!” and do I think, “what do I need to do to make this happen and how can I help this be an encounter with Christ and His Church?” or do I rather start with obstacles: “Are you married? Are you registered in the parish? How come I never see you in Church? You have to live in our parish geographic area. Call the parish secretary.  She’ll take care of it….” And so on, sadly, and so on. This is a bridge alright – a draw bridge – and it’s up!  To be a true bridge we have to do everything that we can to have open lanes, an open path to Christ. 

Now the strength of a bridge comes from the fact that it is clearly anchored on both sides.  As one author puts it, “the bridge knows both shores.”  The priest as a bridge is rooted both in his chaste love for and relationships with other children of God and in his relationship with and love for Jesus Christ.  St. John Paul II makes this point about the necessary humanity of the priest very clear again when he writes that candidates for the priesthood need
“… to be balanced people, strong and free, capable of bearing the weight of pastoral responsibilities. They need to be educated to love the truth, to be loyal, to respect every person, to have a sense of justice, to be true to their word, to be genuinely compassionate, to be men of integrity and, especially, to be balanced in judgment and behavior…. Of special importance is the capacity to relate to others. This is truly fundamental for a person who is called to be responsible for a community and to be a "man of communion." This demands that the priest not be arrogant, or quarrelsome, but affable, hospitable, sincere in his words and heart, prudent and discreet, generous and ready to serve, capable of opening himself to clear and brotherly relationships and of encouraging the same in others, and quick to understand, forgive and console.” [PDV, 45]

Scott and Curtis, the Church in calling you to Holy Orders has first recognized that you are devoted and well-formed members of the Baptized. Your diaconal service and your priesthood are first built upon your humanity. People who know you, like you. You don’t have a lot “issues.” You are good Christians, good Catholic men. You’re normal guys. And that’s a good thing. Try and stay that way.

But there is the other end of the bridge that is also a necessary part of your priesthood, your relationship with and love for Jesus Christ and His Church. As St. Pope John Paul II said it so wonderfully in another one of his speeches: 
“It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is He who reads in your heart your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle.

It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.”

My brothers, today you courageously commit yourselves in humility and patience to doing something great with your lives.  In this ordination, you will be more deeply configured to Christ, the great High Priest, the one who died for the salvation of the world.  Holy Orders is a call to something great and wonderful, yes, but it is first and foremost a call to follow and love a person – Jesus.  Keep Him as the object of your daily prayer.  He calls those who serve Him “his friends.” Cultivate and cherish that friendship in all that you do.

Finally, I would offer one another characteristic of a bridge for you to ponder: the bridge helps people to cross without asking anything in return. Our ministry is one of sacrificial service - not for our sake - save our personal salvation - but for the sake of others and for Christ. Scott you will very soon be privileged to join with me as a priest in the holy sacrifice of the Eucharist at this Mass. Each of us as a baptized, priestly person joins in Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross in the offering of the Mass by lifting up with the bread and wine all of the sacrifices of our lives done in the name of Christ. In a sense we say, “This is my body, too, offered for others. This is my blood, too, poured out in His name.” Scott, as a brother priest, as Father Gratton, your very being will be configured even more deeply to the sacrifice of the Cross. Live your life as a priest in such a way that people can see Christ living in and shining through you. Christ died for us. He is the perfect bridge between us and the Father.  He asks only that we follow Him and love Him in return without measuring the cost. 

Curtis, you will soon be ordained to the diaconate, a particular ministry of service to the Word, the altar, and charity. I ask you to consider this question: if you as a deacon were not allowed to proclaim and preach the Gospel or to serve at the altar, in other words, if your diaconal ministry was directed only to the ministry of charity, what form would it take? I pose this question because your work in the ministry of charity to the poor, the needy, the homebound, the sick, the imprisoned, and the difficult should be the foundation of your life as a deacon, not something seen as an addition to the role you perform in the Liturgy. Too often, we have defined the role of the deacon mainly as a liturgical one while neglecting the necessary works of witness and of charity in everyday life. Curtis, cultivate this attitude of charity now. It will not only serve you well as a deacon. It will serve you well as a priest. 

In conclusion, my brothers, “Always remember the example of the Good Shepherd who came not to be served but to serve, and to seek out and rescue those who were lost.” [from the Rite of Ordination]

May Our Blessed Mother Mary help all priests conform to the image of her Son Jesus as stewards of the precious treasure of his love as the Good Shepherd. 

Mary, Mother of priests, pray for us!

Friday, July 10, 2015

A Pilgrimage to the National Shrine of the North American Martyrs

Last night I gave a talk on a series of windows at Sacred Heart Church in Lake George, New York on the North American Martyrs.  I’ll post the talk in the next couple of days. 

So, today Father Busch and I went to visit the National Shrine of the North American Martyrs at Auriesville, New York.  This was the site of the death of the first martyr in North America, the donné or seminarian René Goupil.  Here’s a video of the stream where Saint René was buried by Saint Isaac Jogues taken during our visit today.

And here’s Father Isaac Jogues’ story about the Saint René’s martyrdom.

"After René and I had been captives in Ossernenon (Auriesville, New York) for six weeks (September 1642) we lost all hope of again seeing Three Rivers (the Jesuit mission). We consoled one another at this decree of Divine Providence and kept preparing ourselves for anything that God might ordain. René evidently did not perceive as clearly as I our present peril. For this reason I kept warning him to be prepared for the worst… 
"One evening with sad hearts, René and I went beyond the village stockade to pray more reverently apart from its noise. Two Indian youths came after us ordering us to go back to our long house. I sensed some foreboding of what would happen and said to René: 'My dear brother, let us commend ourselves to our Lord and to our dear Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. I am afraid these Indians have some evil design… 
"A few minutes earlier René and I had offered ourselves to Our Lord with intense devotion. We begged God to accept our lives and our blood, and to unite them to His life and His blood for the salvation of these pagan tribes. We were returning to the village, praying our Rosary, of which we had already said four decades… 
"We paused at the gate of the stockade to hear what the two Iroquois had to say. One of them drew a tomahawk from under his blanket, and dealt René a blow on the head. René fell prostrate to the ground, uttering the holy Name of Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. We had often reminded each other to end our speech and our lives with that most holy Name…
"At the sound of the blow I turned around and beheld the tomahawk dripping with blood. I fell to my knees to receive the blow that would unite me to my dear companion. The Iroquois delayed. I rose again and rushed to René's side as he lay expiring, but not before I had given him absolution. Since our captivity I had absolved him regularly every other day after his confession…
"It was the Feast of St. Michael, September the 29th, 1642, that this angel in innocence and martyr of Jesus Christ, René Goupil, gave his life for Christ Who had offered His life on the Cross for him. The Indians ordered me to go back to my long house. There I awaited that day and the next the same deadly tomahawk. Everyone believed that I would not have to wait long. But Our Lord averted this…
"Early the next morning I eagerly inquired where the Indians had thrown that blessed body. I wanted to bury it, cost what it might. Some of the Iroquois who wanted to save my life said: 'Do you not see those young braves leaving the village? They will kill you once you are beyond the palisade.' This did not stop me. I went out, I searched, and with the help of a captive Algonquin Indian, I found the body of René… 
"After René had been killed, the Indian children stripped him. They tied a rope around his neck and dragged him to a torrent which flows through the ravine beyond the village. The dogs had already gnawed at his thighs. At this sight I could not hold back my tears. I lifted up the body and, with the Algonquin Indian's help, lowered it into the stream. I weighted it down with large stones to hide it from view. I intended to bury René the next day…"
"The next day, as the Indians were seeking to kill me, my Indian "aunt" sent me to her friend to escape them. This forced me to delay the burial until the next day. It rained all that night, and the stream became a raging torrent. I borrowed a hoe from another long house, the better to conceal my plan. On approaching the spot I could not find the blessed body of René. Alas, my brother's body had been carried away… 
"I waded into the torrent already quite cold. I plodded back and forth. I sounded with my feet to see whether the torrent had not risen and carried off the body. What groans did I utter then! I found nothing. How many tears I shed which fell into the torrent! I sang as best I could the psalms which the Church chants for the dead. After all I found nothing. I searched the woods on the opposite bank. All, all in vain…
"The young braves had taken the body up and dragged it to an adjoining wood, where during the Fall and Winter it became the food of the dog, the crow, and the fox. When I had been told in the Spring that the body had been dragged there, I went several times without finding it. Finally on the fourth trip I found René's head and some half gnawed bones. These I buried. Reverently did I kiss them as the bones of a martyr of Jesus Christ. 
"I give René this title of martyr, not only because he was killed by the enemies of God and of His Church out of ardent love of his neighbor by placing himself in open peril for the love of God, but precisely because he was killed for prayer, and expressly for making the Sign of the Cross." It was because René, in the simplicity and childlike piety which overflowed from his loving heart, had guided the tiny hand of a little Mohawk boy in the sign of the Cross, that the boy's grandfather, in a demonic rage, had ordered his death.”

Seminarians in Krakow

Will Sexton recently sent me an email from a Lody (ice cream) shop in the Old City of Krakow, Poland.  He was traveling with a group of seminarians who earlier in the day prayed in the Church of St. Florian, where they have a relic from St. Pope John Paul The Great. He also sent along a picture of this wonderful shrine!

Tuscan Pulpits and Getting Old

I just returned with a study tour of Tuscan Pulpits (especially the four thirteenth century pulpits by Nicola and Giovanni Pisano) sponsored by Rohn and Assosciates Design.  Here's a homily I preached last Sunday at the conclusion of the week.  The picture was taken in the pulpit in Braga in the northern part of Tuscany.

Nicola Pisano had a five year old boy and had just turned thirty when he received the commission for his first pulpit in the Pisa Baptistry.  It took him five years.  

Then came the second pulpit in Siena.  He was fifty-two when the Pistoia commission came by, but he passed it off to his twenty-seven year old son.  Nicola's last great commission was the fountain in Perugia where he died at the age of fifty-nine.  When Giovanni was fifty, he returned to Pisa where he built the final Pisano Pulpit in the Duomo, just a few hundred feet from where he had watched his father build the first one as a little boy.

Greatness and acclaim followed by the weakness and constraint of age followed Nicola as he watched Giovanni increase just as he decreased.

And so it goes, as we pass through seasons of vigor and ambition, accomplishment and acclaim we participate in that joy which will be ours completely if we but steer the straight path and remain faithful to he who will bring us the joy of our youth.

But then there come the seasons further on, of wisdom and insight, but also of weakness and constraint, when the chisel grows heavy and the eyes grow dim, as God offers us a joy deeper still, the perfect joy found in his passion and perfected in his cross.

You can see it in the crucifixion of that first Pisano pulpit.  Mary knows it, despite her complete collapse into the arms of her companions, the Jews know it, despite the look of utter confusion on their faces and even Longinus knows it as he strikes out to pierce the side of the Lamb slain for his sins.

And we upon whom Christ gazes down know it, the weaknesses, the hardships and the constraints which are our participation in his saving death.

For be it pulpit or parish, Pisano or Rohn, Chianti or Chappaqua, when we are weak we are strong in him.

Congratulations to Second Lieutenant Robinson

Congratulations to Second Lieutenant Billy Robinson, who just completed Officer Training School in Alabama.  He's presently taking a course in Air Force chaplaincy!!