Thursday, September 29, 2016

Deacons Michael Zimmerman and Kevin Leaver

Congratulations to Deacon Michael Zimmerman and Deacon Kevin Leaver who along with their twenty-eight classmates were ordained to the Order of Deacon this morning by Cardinal Seán Patrick O'Malley, OFM., Cap. at the Altar of the Chair in Saint Peter's Basilica.  

I was honored to concelebrate, along with Father Jim Conn and Father Ryan Connors from our faculty, our own Deacon David Harris and many friends of the ordinandi, including a delegation of Boston priests.  Please keep our newest deacons in your grateful prayers.

The Promises asked of Deacons Zimmerman and Leaver before ordination to the Order of Deacon.

Dear sons, before you enter the Order of the diaconate, you must declare before the people your intention to undertake this office.

Do you resolve to be consecrated for the Church's ministry by the laying on of my hands and the gift of the Holy Spirit?

Do you resolve to discharge the office of deacon with humble charity in order to assist the priestly Order and to benefit the Christian people?

Do you resolve to hold fast to the mystery of faith with a clear conscience, as the Apostle urges, and to proclaim this faith in word and deed according to the Gospel and the Church's tradition?

Do you resolve to keep for ever this commitment as a sign of your dedication to Christ the Lord for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, in the service of God and man?

Do you resolve to maintain and deepen the spirit of prayer that is proper to your way of life and, in keeping with this spirit and what is required of you, to celebrate faithfully the Liturgy of the Hours with and for the People of God and indeed for the whole world?

Do you resolve to conform your way of life always  to the example of Christ, of whose Body and Blood you are ministers at the altar? 

Do you promise respect and obedience to me and my successors?

May God who has begun the good work in you bring it to fulfillment.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Pro Patria: A Homily Fifty Days Before the Election

Despite the fact that it was illegal for a Catholic to vote, hold office or practice his religion in public, the Catholic gentleman Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Maryland signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776.  Thirteen years later, his cousin John was named the first Catholic Bishop in this land, a man who, by any historian’s assessment, is to be counted among the founding fathers of these United States.

Yet, despite the advocacy for the new American nation which Bishop Carroll embraced (so passionately that it once got him excommunicated as a young priest), or perhaps because of it, he followed three cardinal rules which governed his actions at the intersection of priesthood and patriotism:

1. The government and her laws are to be obeyed, unless they would cause us to sin.  Here he, like the Catechism of the Catholic Church, might have cited a late second century Greek apologist:  “Pay to all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.”1

2. All American citizens have an obligation to participate in the civic life, in order to foster, as our first President put it, “a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow Citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the field, and finally, that [God] would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all, to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind which were the characteristics of the divine author of our blessed religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy nation.”2

3. No priest should ever publicly endorse the candidacy of a single person or party.  Though Bishop Carroll was a close personal friend of Benjamin Franklin, neither Adams nor Jefferson ever received his public endorsement.

That was Bishop Carroll’s vision for America as patriot and priest: an America established by the will of God through the work of our founding fathers.3  And this was his vision of the Church in America: “to grow with the growth and bloom with the development of the country,”4 serving as a leaven in the dough of the great American experiment by promoting the Gospel virtues of true religion.

And we are the inheritors of this great vision, though at times in these difficult days, we seem a long way from making that vision come true.

A long way even from realizing our Bishops’ common guidance in their latest letter to us, Forming Consciences For Faithful Citizenship, wherein they counsel Catholics approaching the voting booth to act on “moral convictions of a well-formed conscience”5 on such vital issues as human life, promoting peace, marriage and family life, religious freedom, preferential option for the poor and economic justice, health care, migration, Catholic education, promoting justice and countering violence, combatting unjust discrimination, care for our common home in the face of climate change, communications, media and culture, and global solidarity.6

All towards making a decision on which candidate to vote for.  Now it is always possible that, in any given election, all the candidates will espouse Catholic values.  In which case our decision is hard. 

But then it is also possible, in any given election, that one or even all candidate might promote policies which contradict the truth we proclaim as Catholics.  And that decision is even harder.
Say, for example, that we are faced with a candidate who promotes intrinsically evil acts, like abortion or euthanasia.  This alone, the Bishops tell us, “provides sufficient reason to vote for the other candidate.”

But even more sadly, what if we are faced with an election in which “all candidates hold positions that promote intrinsically evil acts?” Then, the Bishops advise, the Catholic voter might choose to vote for no one, “or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.”7

But even faced with such awful choices, as Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia reminded us last week, we cannot give in to the “luxury of cynicism.” 

“If Christians leave the public square,” the Archbishop of Philadelphia said in a talk at Notre Dame, “other people with much worse intentions won’t. The surest way to make the country suffer is not to contest them in public debate and in the voting booth.”

And so, the Archbishop of Philadelphia, like the first Archbishop of Baltimore before him, refused to tell us how to vote.  But he did tell us to honor our nation, and he did tell us how to participate in civic life.

Only one thing can show us how to vote, he suggested: Prayer.  Prayer which, as he wrote elsewhere, “involves more than mumbling a Hail Mary before we pull the voting booth lever for someone we see as the lesser of two evils,” Prayer which “is a conversation, an engagement of the soul with God…We need to be awake, we need to clear our heads of media noise, and we need to think quietly and carefully before we vote.  None of us can afford to live the coming weeks on autopilot.”

So you have exactly fifty days to pray.  Without cynicism, sarcasm or snide condescension.  With humility, an open heart and a love for the truth. Pray for the country which Bishop John Carroll so loved, and that by rendering unto God what is truly God’s, we might render rightly unto Caesar as well.

1Ad Diognetum 5: 5, 10.
2 George Washington, “Circular Letter Addressed to the Governors of All the States on Disbanding the Army,” June 8, 1783.
3 Cardinal Gibbons on Bishop Carroll, quoted in John F. Fink, Patriotic Leaders of the Church. (Our Sunday Visitor, 2004) page 37.
4 Ibid., p 37.
5 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Forming Consciences For Faithful Citizenship. (USCCB Publications, 2016) [FC], no. 14. 6 Cf. FC, no. 13.
7 FC, no. 36.

Family Day 2016

More Photos at the end of this posting.
Here's my homily for Family Day this morning.

“Blessed be the name of the Lord.  Both now and forever.” (Psalm 113:2)

As we welcome the families and friends of all our brothers in this holy house, I think of my own parents who first brought me to seminary some forty two years ago.  My father has since died and my mother’s health is fading.  And here I am, in my early sixties (with emphasis on the word early).  How life goes by…how everything changes.

Everything except the Lord.  He was there at the beginning, he through whom all things were made, he who named me in my mother’s womb..  He will be there at the end of time, sitting on a cloud to judge the living and the dead.

And he is there at every moment in between.  

Stilling the hearts of an anxious seminarian, overwhelming him with his grace, and with an unlimited supply of enthusiasm, hope and passion.

He is there.

Inspiring the soul of the newly ordained, urging him on to save the world, to evangelize the margins and to do great things for Christ and for his Church.

He is there.

Guiding the actions of the middle aged pastor, making him wise and patient and slow to judge…kind and giving but unwavering from the truth.

He is there.

Strengthening the limbs of the aging priest, weighed down by the burden of his years, tired of everything except the altar of God, which even in his dotage brings  joy to his youth.

He is there.

Quietly closing the eyes of the priest about to die, singing the Nunc Dimittis and granting him eternal rest in the arms of God.

He is there.  Always and at every moment of our lives.  The place where God makes all one in him.

One in Christ
To be one with Christ at this Altar means we are one with every person who prays before every altar throughout the world.  I remember when I first went off to seminary, it seemed so far away from my home, my family and my old friends and the life I used to have.  And no matter how many times I meditated on the calling of the disciples or tried to hear the Lord’s voice saying “Come, Follow me,” it was still so hard not to look back and to focus ahead.

One seminarian, not of Saint John’s, had just such a tough time his first year, away from home, away from friends and everything which had provided him with such support and security.  He thought of leaving innumerable times and prayed repeatedly for God’s grace…just to do his will.  I spoke to him recently after he had returned from his summer apostolate and he was a completely changed man.  His eyes are now firmly fixed on the extraordinary surprises God has waiting for him over the next horizon.  His heart no longer clings to the securities of the past.  He has abandoned himself to following the Son of Man, who often has no place to lay his head.  He only wants to be joined to that Altar, to be obedient to God.

One in holiness
The God who invites us to holiness, to be transformed in him.

When I was a little kid I thought I knew what holiness way.  It was to look like those dusty old plaster statues, with a placid look on your face, gazing longingly beyond this vail of tears to the eternal glories of heaven.

What I was missing was how you get to be holy.  It’s hard work accepting God’s grace and struggling to reflect the love of Christ and let go of my own stubborn desires for fame and fortune and calling the shots.

But God can make you holy, if only you let him.  God can so change our hearts by the mysteries we celebrate here that we forgive rather than judge, that we seek out the ones whom everyone else would reject just to love them.  God can so change us that we speak the truth, even when they will hate us for it.  God can so change us that we rejoice, like Mary, in our littleness rather than trying to grab for all the gusto we can get.  God can so change us that we seek only to decrease that he may increase.  God can so change me that you no longer see me, but Christ Jesus in me.

Through the mysteries of this altar God can do anything, even make me holy.

For he is always there. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Lord, I am not worthy...

This is my homily from Mass for the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary.
Only twice do the Evangelists used the word thaumazo in regard to the Lord.  The first is in Mark 6:6 when he is amazed by the lack of faith of the people of his home town.  The second is in today’s Gospel, when he is amazed at the faith of the Centurion.  “I tell you,” he says to the Jewish leaders gathered around him, “not even in Israel have I found such faith.”

Now this is really quite remarkable for two reasons.  First, because Jesus never meets the Centurion.  At first, this soldier sends a delegation of Jewish leaders to vouch for him and after that he sends a bunch of his friends to tell Jesus not to enter under his roof, because he knows he is not worthy.  Jesus never meets the Centurion.

And no wonder, for his occupation seems antithetical to everything Jesus is and stands for.  He is a centurion, a soldier in charge of a hundred other soldiers whose main job was persecuting folks like Jesus and his brethren.  

So why is Jesus amazed by the Centurion’s faith?  Precisely because his profession of faith is that he he knows he is unworthy and that he needs Jesus.  Unworthy to so much as touch the hem of the Jesus’s garment, utterly unworthy to even gaze on his face.

Which is why his prayer is the prayer of everyone who eats the Lord’s Body and Drinks his Blood.  “I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but only say the word and my soul will be healed.”

It’s such a powerful prayer that we work up to it at Mass, starting with “Lord, have mercy” and “I have greatly sinned,” and then there are the private prayers of unworthiness for the Deacon about to proclaim the Gospel or the Priest preparing the offerings or about to receive Holy Communion.  These prayers of unworthiness all come to completion in the Centurion’s great act of faith: “Lord, I am not worthy…”

It is the proclamation of she whose Most Holy Name we commemorate today: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”  “For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness…” “Do whatever he tells you.”

For the most blessed among women and the Centurion with greater faith than the Israelites knew the most important lesson of all: that there is a God and he is not me.  That I am his creation and son and he alone is worthy of glory and honor and praise.

A great philosopher once wrote that should God appear before us, all we could do is bow very low, knowing, at the end of the day, that we are but unworthy servants, who are blessed to be called to the Supper of the Lamb!

Friday, September 9, 2016

Rector's Conference I: The Meaning of Mercy

A year and a half ago, Pope Francis proclaimed a Jubilee Year of Mercy for the whole Church, beginning on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and closing this year on the Solemnity of Christ the King.

There are many fascinating aspects of this exciting and much needed year of reflection on the mercy God shown to us through Christ Jesus his Son, and much to be explored in a world where, as one wag put it “nothing is sinful, but nothing is forgiven.”

There are many dimensions to be explored in the application of the Holy Father’s Gospel of Mercy, but this evening I would like to dwell on three realities/aspects of the meaning of mercy:

1. God’s mercy on us
2. Our mercy on those who trespass against us
3. Our mercy on all who need us


But first, God’s mercy on us…

In his 1975 article “On Executive Clemency: The Pardon of Richard M. Nixon,” Michael McKibbin provides the definitive juridical analysis of this important action by President Gerald Ford, which did, as he hoped, provided an end to “our long national nightmare.”

McKibbin provides a fascinating narrative of the events and legal issues, beginning with Nixon’s denial of guilt and the now famous subsequent events which brought the events of Watergate to the attention of the American people and the judgement of the Senate Watergate Committee, Attorney General, Special Prosecutor’s Office and even the Supreme Court.

He notes that President Ford’s pardon is rather broad in its scope, granting “a full, free, and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from January 10, 1969 through August 9, 1974.” (39 Fed. Reg. 32601-02 [1974])

My present point in this extraordinary narrative is that this act of executive mercy had one foundational requirement: “the acceptance of a pardon is an acknowledgement by the grantee that he is guilty of the offenses contained therein. A denial of such guilt by the grantee will be construed to be a rejection of the pardon.” (page 351)

Thus, Richard Nixon was forced to admit in writing that his ". . . motivations and actions in the Watergate affair were intentionally self-serving and illegal" in order to receive a presidential pardon.

The multiple Supreme Court rulings that underpin the establishment of confession as a prerequisite for clemency are rooted in the unwavering insistence by the Church that contrition and confession must precede absolution.

In other words, to be forgiven, by court or by God, you must confess…Without confession, there is no pardon.

And yet, as a recent CARA study reveals, less than two percent of all Church-going Catholics go to confession every month.  Just imagine the person who knows he has sinned.  He’s denied it, anesthetized it, maybe tried to drink or medicate the guilt away.  But like an aching tooth the sin sits just under the surface, gnawing at him and dragging down.  He tries to make his way through the world and even to strive for holiness, but this void impedes and distracts him, imprisoning up his heart in a series of inextricable knots.

We live in a world that is aching for forgiveness, but petrified to confess.


As we have already prayed several times today, as we are forgiven, so we forgive those who trespass against us. You’ve heard the stories.  Maybe you’ve even lived them.

Of the mother disowned by her daughter, who for years refuses to speak to her because of what she did, or what she said.  And then she hears the mother is dying.  Sometimes the story ends with forgiveness.  Sometimes it doesn’t.

Or of the brother who betrays his younger sibling.  It cost him his job and his reputation and it almost broke up his marriage.  It’ll follow him around for years to come.  So he refused to have anything to do with his brother, even when his father begged him to.  Sometimes that story ends with a reconciliation, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Or of the friends who stopped speaking to each other over that boy they were both dating, and how one of them married him and the other just clung to the jealousy and resentment and hurt for the rest of her life.  Sometimes that story ends in forgiveness, and sometimes it doesn’t.

You remember when the disciples go to Jesus after one of them was acting like a fool again, and they ask him “How many times?!  How many times do we have to keep forgiving him?” Then they try to impress Jesus: “We know, Lord, we’ll forgive him seven times!”  “No,” the Lord smiles patiently at them:  “Not seven times...seventy-times seven times.  Judge not, least you be judged.  Love the one who nails you to the cross by praying for them: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Saint Rita
Did you ever hear of Rita Lotti, also know as Saint Rita of Cascia?  She was born in a little Umbrian hill town about 700 years ago.

In those days, Cascia was inhabited by the Italian equivalant of the Hattfields and the McCoys, as frequent conflicts and family rivalries were routinely settled by the rule of vendetta...that is, you kill one of ours, we kill two of yours.  It was the ideal prescription for perpetuating violence.

Rita married Paolo Mancini, a good, if impetuous fellow, and they had two sons.  The sons grew into their teens and one day as their father was returning from work he was ambushed and killed.  Rita was overcome with grief, but even more by the fear that her two sons would seek to avenge their father’s death.

Only her tears and her begging kept them from seeking to kill their father’s killer.  But her sorrows did not end there, for within a year both sons died from heart disease.

So there she was: within a year she had buried her whole family, and it all started with the murder of her husband.  So did she seek revenge, did she become bitter, did she withdraw into a perpetual state of self-pity?  No, she became a nun and dedicated the rest of her life to serving the poor and urging everyone she met to forgive, as God had forgiven them.

Saint Rita understood and meant it when she prayed “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”   In the same measure I have shown mercy, Lord, show mercy to me.

And Pope Francis understood it as well: “The problem, unfortunately,” he wrote, “comes whenever we have to deal with a brother or sister who has even slightly offended us. The reaction described in the parable describes it perfectly: “He seized him by the throat and said, ‘Pay what you owe!’”  (Matthew 18:28.)

Listen to Pope Francis in Assisi:

"Here we encounter all the drama of our human relationships. When we are indebted to others, we expect mercy; but others are indebted to us, we demand justice! All of us do this. It is a reaction unworthy of Christ’s disciples, nor is it the sign of a Christian style of life. Jesus teaches us to forgive and to do so limitlessly: 'I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven' (verse 22)  What he offers us is the Father’s love, not our own claims to justice. To trust in the latter alone would not be the sign that we are Christ’s disciples, who have obtained mercy at the foot of the cross solely by virtue of the love of the Son of God. Let us not forget, then, the harsh saying at the end of the parable: 'So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart'" (Pope Francis, Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels, Porziuncola - Assisi, 4 August 2016.)

A Seminarian Forgiven
Father Rob Spaulding learned that lesson in the hardest possible way when he was a seminarian at Mundelein, the Seminary of St Mary of the Lake near Chicago.  Eleven years ago on a late September weekday evening he and three of his brother seminarians went to a sports bar not far from the campus.

They drank. They watched some games. They drank some more.  A little after midnight the four of them decided to drive back to Mundelein.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever been there, but there’s a long and winding driveway through acres of land that lead to the Seminary at Mundelein.  The speed limit was 25 and at 55, Rob felt the tire slip as they smashed headlong into a tree.

Mark walked away with a broken arm.  Rob had a broken scapula and torn kidney. Nurses pulled shattered glass out of his face.  

But Jared and Matt Molnar were dead.  Never to be ordained. No new chalices with their names engraved. No framed photos of them in their roman collars in their parent’s living room. No comfort of feeling Christ’s touch on their heads as the Bishop imposed hands. No joy of saying their First Masses and hearing their first confessions.

For their mothers: No sitting in the front row at the ordination, wiping tears of joy from their eyes. No receiving Holy Communion, freshly consecrated by their own son.  No kneeling to receive their sons’ first blessings. No kissing their sons’ freshly anointed hands, sweet with the smell of Chrism.

Rob’s blood alcohol level was 0.135, almost twice the legal limit.  He pled guilty to three felonies and was sentenced to 18 months house arrest, 30 months of probation and 250 hours of community service.

The mother of one of the seminarians who was killed, Pam Molnar, was given an opportunity to address the court:  “People ask me how I feel about losing my son and how I must hate the guy that was driving. I do not hate ‘the guy’ — he has a name — who was driving,”  “Hate is a terrible word. Hate is like a cancer that eats away at your heart and soul and makes you a bitter person.”

Seminarian Rob Spaulding was forgiven by both sets of parents of the deceased seminarians. 

After two years he returned to a different seminary.and was ordained in 2009 for the Diocese of Casper in Wyoming.  The mothers of the two seminarians he had killed were present at his ordination and his first Mass. (This story was largely taken from a Homily at Saint John’s Seminary by Father Michael Barber on March 27, 2012.)

Mercy….so merciful…like this man…


The stories are told of the meetings of Father Luigi Giussani and Bishop Eugenio Corecco, two of the founders of Communio e Liberation.  Once, as Bishop Eugenio was close to death, he began to pray that his suffering would, in some way, prove fruitful in his ministry as a Bishop.

“The essential thing for a bishop,” he said, for “a pastor, or an abbot [the essential thing for each of them] is charity. Charity is what is fruitful, what changes and converts the people...Charity is what regenerates love. The world does not forgive. Charity always begins loving again...There’s no greater miracle than discovering in yourself charity, a love that wasn’t there before.” 

"What does love look like?” Saint Augustine once asked. “It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like."

So the third form of mercy is love for those who have no one else to love them.  Loving not because someone is big or beautiful and can love me right back, but love for them precisely because they are little.  As a brand new saint once taught…

Pope Francis was even more blunt in giving advice to seminarians:  “What does Jesus ask of us?  He desires hearts that are truly consecrated, hearts that draw life from his forgiveness in order to pour it out with compassion on our brothers and sisters.  Jesus wants hearts that are open and tender towards the weak, never hearts that are hardened.  He wants docile and transparent hearts that do not dissimulate before those whom the Church appoints as our guides.  Disciples do not hesitate to ask questions, they have the courage to face their misgivings and bring them to the Lord, to their formators and superiors, without calculations or reticence.  A faithful disciple engages in constant watchful discernment, knowing that the heart must be trained daily, beginning with the affections, to flee every form of duplicity in attitudes and in life. (Pope Francis Mass with Religious and Seminarians at John Paul II Shrine in Kraków. 30 July 2016.)

Fr. Kenneth D. Brighenti is the Vice Rector of Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary.  He was here for some formation workshops just last week, and one night he told me about one of his advisees.  His name was Brian Bergkamp and he was from Wichita in Kansas.  Here’s Brian at his pastoral assignment in June.

One month later, Brian was kayaking with four friends when they hit turbulent waters and one kayak turned over.  The woman was now in the water, unable to swim and not wearing a life jacket.  Brian jumped from his kayak, removed his life jacket and placed it on her.  Shortly afterwards he was pulled under the water.  Three days later they found his body downstream. He layed down his life for a friend, in the model of Christ Jesus, the great High Priest who taught us mercy from the Altar of the Cross.


This is why Pope Francis has declared a Jubilee Year of Mercy.  Because, as reminds us in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, mercy is the greatest of the virtues. So, like Francis, Brian and Teresa”

1. Repent! Confess to the “God [who] never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy.” (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 3)  

2. Forgive!  Seek out all who have hurt you, drawing from the Church her ”endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of her own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy.”  (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 3) 

3. And Love!  Love the little and the lost and all who need you, loving the least as the first in your life.

Thank you.