Thursday, June 22, 2017

On Being Sick...

Here are some reflections I am privileged to share with the Knights of Malta tomorrow during their annual Mass on the Feast of Saint John the Baptist in Osterville.

Lourdes taught me many things, among which was how to ask one very important question: What does it mean?  What does it mean to be sick?

I met an orthopedic surgeon in Lourdes, a newly minted Knight of Malta, whose first contact with our Order came from first being a malade.  

A wildly successful and prosperous surgeon he seemed to have life on a string and it was very good….until they noticed the spot on his brain scan.  A few weeks later the headaches would wake him up in the middle of the night.  And all of a sudden he went from being the doctor with the highest success rate in complex hip replacements, to an old man so weak that he could not stand without the assistance of his wife.

He quickly found out what it meant to be sick.  It meant he was not longer in charge.  He was no longer driving the bus, even of his own life.  Someone else was in charge.  At first, it was just aggravating.  Not having enough energy to do what he wanted to.  But it progressed to needing help to get to the bathroom, and sometimes just standing there like an infant, peeing in his own pants.  And then he started to tremble so much that more food ended up in his lap than in his mouth.

What did it mean for him to be sick?  It meant he was in longer in control.

“But you know," he told me one night as we went out for a walk, “that’ss the greatest gift I could have ever received.  Even better than eventually getting rid of the brain tumor and returning to health.  Getting so sick like that was the greatest gift of my life.

Cause the real sickness I had was thinking that I was in control.  That the purpose of my life was being successful, respected and rich.  And I was really successful, and have a whole wall full of awards and diplomas and three houses, four cars and a really big boat.

No the real sickness was not the one that started with the headaches.  The real sickness was the one that tempted me to forget to pray to God and rely on my own resources, seeking my own pleasure and patting myself on the back for all my wonderful successes.  I was a really sick man.  Not in the head, but in the soul of me…way down deep where its only you and God.

I had forgotten what I learned from the Catechism as a little kid:  That the whole reason God made me was to know him and love him and serve him in this world, in order that I might be happy with him in the next.

And it took that cancer…that blessed cancer…to bring me back to what really matters.

“I remember one night,” he told me, “when I was convinced the cancer was going to kill me.  That night I went to bed and, maybe for he first time in my life, I asked myself the question: What’s this all about?  My life.  My career, My religion.  My marriage,  My kids.

“And it all came flooding in…the truth that its all about the cross, about that man up there on the Cross and about picking up my crosses and trying to love like him: a self-sacrificing, self-emptying love.  That life is not about what we take, but what we give.  And that all suffering, all sacrifice and even sickness itself is but an opportunity too love…to respond to Jesus after we nailed him to the cross, when he looked down at us and said: Love one another as I have loved you….just before he gave his last breath for love of us.

He touched me, that malady turned Knight.  And he answered my question.


As George did, probably twenty years ago, as he watched his wife Mary dying of Cancer.  George and Mary were two of the best Catholics I had ever known as a parish priest in Leominster.  They gave their lives for the Church, day in and day out…whenever you couldn’t find someone else to do it you could always call George and Mary.  

Now they were old and George and the kids were gathered around Mary’s death bed, and it was clear she didn’t have too many minutes to go.  True story.  I got there, and we prayed for a while, and then Mary tugged on my sleeve.  She was breathing irregularly and she signaled for me to come closer so she could whisper in my ear.  And with her dying breath, she said, “Father, I want you to do something for me.”  I looked at this dying Saint and said, “Anything Mary, what do you want.”  Everyone in the room was staring at us, some with tears in their eyes.  “In my bedroom, in George’s closet on the top shelf is a white box.  I want you to find it when I die.  Because in the box is a new white shirt that I want George to wear at the funeral, because I don’t want them saying I didn’t do his laundry!”

I stood up and everyone looked at me to hear the profound last words of their beloved mother.  And she looked up and winked at me.  I told the story at the funeral.

Mary, in the face of her greatest trial had learned what sickness was about.  That we are not made to fear the pain which threatens to swallow us up in the darkness of death.  No, God is to be heard in the quiet stillness of the loving thought, the hopeful glance, the wink that says love lives!  It’s not over, it’s just beginning.  I still care for you.  I will walk with you on your road of sorrows and through the door to the other side. 


I need to remember that the next time I get the flu, and loudly lament to the heavens what did I do to deserve this!  Or when I get a cold next week and curse the unfairness of a God who just does not realize how much important work I have to do.  Or on that day when I will hear that the cancer is malignant, the heart valve irreparable or the virus resistant.

For on that day, in the words of Pope Saint John Paul II, I am called to see my sickness as something more than a personal tragedy, but as an opportunity “to release love, in order to give birth to works of love towards neighbor, in order to transform the whole of human civilization into a civilization of love.” (Apostolic Letter Salvifici doloris, n. 30)

So let is pray for ourselves, that we might one day sing with the Psalmist: “You have taught me, O God, from my youth, and till the present I proclaim your wondrous deeds. And now that I am old and grey, O God, forsake me not, till I proclaim your strength to every generation that is to come” (Ps 71:17-18).

Early Music Academy Boston

I am delighted to announce Saint John's Seminary's sponsorship of the first Early Music Academy Boston occurring this summer, July 29 – August 4.  

In collaboration with the successful UK-based Early Music Academy, the week-long course features an intensive study of sacred choral music, under the guidance of internationally-renowned experts in the field:

Andrew Carwood, Director of Music at St. Paul's Cathedral, London and Director of the Cardinall's Musick, joins Janet Coxwell and David Woodcock, previous directors of the Tallis Scholars Summer Schools UK, and current directors of the UK-based Early Music Academy, in leading a choir of approximately 40 voices.  

This year’s Academy focuses on English Renaissance music, with selections by Tallis, Byrd, Taverner, Sheppard and others.

The group will work on concert and service repertoire in a variety of small- and medium-sized groups and the week’s activities culminate in a Gala Concert on Friday, August 4 in the seminary’s beautiful chapel.  

Events open to the public include three noontime recitals, sung Compline every evening, sung Evening Prayer at Saint Cecilia’s Church (Back Bay) on Wednesday, August 2, and a special Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit on Thursday, August 3 at 11:00 am featuring John Taverner’s Missa Mater Christi. I hope you will be able to join us at some point over the week to witness this incredible gathering of talent!

Applications are still being accepted.  We welcome singers aged 18 and over with good sight-reading skills.  Dorm space is available (if needed) and we have reduced rates for commuters. 

For more information and to apply, please visit or contact our Music Director, Dr. Janet Hunt, at 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Congratulations Father Sanderson and Deacon Upham!

There are different graces but the same Spirit, different ministries but the same Lord, different works but the same God, who accomplishes everything in everyone. 

                                                              1 Cor 12: 4-6, the Entrance Antiphon “For the Ministers of the Church”

This weekend I was honored to concelebrate ordinations in Burlington and Portland.  

On Saturday, Father Joseph Sanderson was ordained a Priest in the Co-Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Burlington Vermont by Bishop Christopher Coyne.  Father Sanderson is seen here receiving the Sign of Fraternal Peace from his brother priests.

On Sunday, Deacon Kevin Upham was ordained to the diaconate in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland, Maine by Bishop Robert Deeley. Here Deacon Kevin is seen promising obedience and respect to Bishop Deeley an his successors.

Congratulations to them both from the entire Saint John's Seminary community!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Congratulations Father Pease!

Our own Father Barrent Pease was ordained to the Priesthood yesterday by Bishop Mitchell Rozanski at Saint Michael's in Springfield. During his Homily Bishop Rozanski said of Barrent, "“What a joy it is to give thanks to God for that call given to Barrent that has drawn him this day to serve God and his people...It is in his life as a priest, Barrent is called to reveal the humble love of God." Congratulations, Father!

I have become a servant of the Church  according to God’s commission given to me for you. We proclaim Christ, that we may present everyone perfect in Christ Jesus. 
                   Roman Missal, Entrance Antiphon from the Mass for a Priest,  Cf. Col 1: 25, 28.

Boston Diaconate Ordinations

Seven deacons were ordained yesterday by Bishop Peter J. Uglietto for the Archdiocese of Boston at Holy Name Parish in West Roxbury. Among their number were our own Deacon Joseph Kim and Deacon Michael Rora. Also ordained were Deacons Baldemar Garza, Lambert Nieme, Benito Moreno, Andrea Povero, and Eric Velasquez from Redemptoris Mater and Pope Saint John XXIII seminaries respectively. Congratulations to our newest Deacons!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Congratulations Father Schultz and Father Harris!

Deacons Matthew Schultz and David Harris were ordained as priests this morning by Bishop Peter Libasci at the Manchester Cathedral of Saint Joseph.  I had the privilege of presenting them to the Bishop thanks to the kindness of Father Jason Jalbert, Diocesan Director of Vocations and Diocesan Master of Ceremonies.  Here's a quick shot I was able to take while Bishop Libasci was preaching the homily.

From the Homily
Rite of Ordination of Priests

Now, dear sons, you are to be raised to the Order of the priesthood. For your part you will exercise the sacred duty of teaching in the name of Christ the Teacher. Impart to everyone the word of God which you have received with joy. Meditating on the law of the Lord, see that you believe what you read, that you teach what you believe, and that you practice what you teach.

In this way, let what you teach be nourishment for the people of God. Let the holiness of your lives be a delightful fragrance to Christ's faithful, so that by word and example you may build up the house which is God's Church.
Likewise you will exercise in Christ the office of sanctifying. For by your ministry the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful will be made perfect, being united to the sacrifice of Christ, which will be offered through your hands in an unbloody way on the altar, in union with the faithful, in the celebration of the sacraments. Understand, therefore, what you do and imitate what you celebrate. As celebrants of the mystery of the Lord's death and resurrection, strive to put to death whatever in your members is sinful, and to walk in newness of life.
Remember, when you gather others into the  people of God through Baptism, and when you forgive sins in the name of Christ and the Church in the sacrament of Penance; when you comfort the sick with holy oil and celebrate the sacred rites, when you offer prayers of praise  and thanks to God throughout the hours of the day, not only for the people of God but for the world -- remember then that you are taken from among men and appointed on their behalf  for those things that pertain to God. Therefore, carry out the ministry of Christ the Priest with constant joy and genuine love, attending not to your own concerns but to those of Jesus Christ.
Finally, dear sons, exercising for your part the office of Christ, Head and Shepherd, while united with the Bishop and subject to him, strive to bring the faithful together into one family, so that you may lead them to God the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit. Keep always before your eyes the example of the Good Shepherd who came not to be served but to serve, and who came to seek out and save what was lost.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Dr. Klein's Commencement Address

Commencement Address 
by Dr. Christa Klein, Ph.D
Theological Institute for the New Evangelization 
St. John’s Seminary Boston     
23 May 2017

How blessed to be here in St. John’s Chapel this Easter season with you, Your Eminence Cardinal O’Malley, Msgr. Moroney, Fr. O’Connor, Dr. Metilly, Dr. Lingertat, Dr. Fahrig,  and all faculty and staff who support this remarkable Institute and Seminary. I have come to know this institution and to pray for it, first as a consultant to the seminary board and now as a trustee.  And, how blessed I am to be for the first time here with you, dear graduates, along with the families, priests and friends who encouraged you. 
I have read your biographies. Your goals for study and your goals as graduates are inspiring. You thanked those who encouraged you. No doubt these people have also put up with you as you worked, sometimes successfully, to balance your studies with your already full lives. 
What you and I share is a profound love for the Reality that is beyond full knowing. Yet, through study, worship, formation, and friendship, now we recognize that Reality more fully in mind and heart. In this Easter Season, once again, the Gospel readings from the Evangelists Luke and John teach us about how human the central doctrines of Christianity are. 
 Caryll Houselander's marvelous meditation for this season, written in the 1950’s as she herself was racked with suffering, uses Christ’s post-Resurrection appearances to illustrate how personally we must convey Christ’s love. Otherwise, in our own apostolic zeal we may use our learning and devotions as “sledgehammers,” as she says, seeking conversion by concussion.  [The Risen Christ, p. 42]
In John’s accounts of these appearances, Jesus reveals himself personally to his friends and calls each to a higher task. He treats the highly emotional Mary Magdalene gently and then entrusts her, of all people, with telling his disciples that he is ascending to his and her Father, to his and her God. Jesus responds to disciples, tortured with guilt over having abandoned him, by giving them the gift of the Holy Spirit and telling them to forgive the sins of others. Peter, the three-time denier, is given three opportunities to express his love and then sent as a shepherd to Jesus’ own flock.
But my focus today will be on disciples like you, the studious ones in Luke’s gospel, who were walking away from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Houselander says that these scholarly men “must come to the point of communion with [Jesus] through the travail of the mind.” “Step by step he takes them back through the Scriptures, leading them to know him by thinking their own thoughts, by linking up the academic knowledge they have acquired in the past with the events of the day, and thrashing out the problem so baffling to intellectuals of all ages, the problem of suffering.” [p. 39] They finally recognize him in the breaking of the bread and only then recall how “their hearts burned as he opened the scriptures to them.” I suspect that you know about that burning heart from your own studies and have glimpsed the new Reality more fully in the breaking of the Bread here at St. John’s.
I further suspect that your burning heart and hunger for the Mass led you to St. John’s Theological Institute in the first place and that now you dream of carrying that zeal with you--likely not as a sledgehammer, but as an instrument for hearing and respecting the needs of others and discovering how they can, in mind and heart, know the love of Christ. The experts who write about the craft of catechesis say that there should be no opposition set up between “the personal and the propositional” in both the content of the Faith and its transmission. [Wiley, deCointet, Morgan, The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Craft of Catechesis, p. 59.]
The fullness of Christ in the Church calls for a fully human experience in us. As one  received into the Roman Catholic Church only 14 years ago, I had tasted elements of that fullness as a Lutheran raised in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. There I experienced the riches of Scripture, the doctrine of the Real Presence, the historic creeds, the Western liturgy, and great hymnody. The move from there toward Catholicism was gradual but unrelenting. I was claimed by the Catholic Church’s deeper understanding of human nature, its more complete sacramental life, greater dependence on Scripture and Tradition, the Magisterium, and its moral teachings, devotions, and universality. I could not go back, even in those low moments when I experience liturgies, homilies, hymnody, church architecture, or youth ministry that do not do justice to the fullness of the Church. (Converts are snobs, you know, given to the temptation to use the sledgehammer.)
You as graduates, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, have had your eyes opened.   Now let’s consider the institutions that will structure your new or continuing ministries. Most are non-profits. These human organizations belong to the created world and you are called to assist in their on-going creation. Whether you are on college campuses, in hospitals, parishes, schools, prisons, publishing, or chancery offices, your very presence will involve you in organizational change. 
I would like to share a line with you that I once shared with the Board of Trustees.   “Organization is re-organization and that’s all there is to it.” So spoke J. Irwin Miller of Columbus, IN.  He was a mid to late 20th century Protestant hero who headed his successful family business, the Cummins Engine Co, helped spearhead the national ecumenical movement, and worked with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson on the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  He was also a seminary trustee, and the philanthropist who paid internationally renowned architects to make his city’s public buildings models of modern architecture. A lover of Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion, he was a man deeply moved by his Christian faith to pursue truth, goodness, and beauty.  
Irwin Miller knew that leaders had to be on-going creators of the world because institutions are time-bound. When I knew him in the 1980s he had become an advisor on seminary leadership and governance to Lilly Endowment, a family foundation committed to strengthening Christian seminaries, Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Christian. He understood the challenges facing Christianity and recognized seminaries as sources of renewal. 
Looking back on his advice now, I think that Miller underestimated the anchoring role that Tradition must be given for renewed and reorganized religious institutions to remain faithful. The language of “transformative” change in church-related organizations is dangerous. Only by drawing on Tradition can we in the Church reorganize to prepare and nourish the faithful in their vocations.  
An even greater father in the faith, Jaroslav Pelikan, historian of doctrine and convert from Lutheranism to Eastern Orthodoxy, liked to call Tradition “the living faith of the dead,” but he also warned about being stuck in time when he said that “traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”  
Consider, though, a few of the many recent examples of anchored reorganization at all levels of Catholicism: Pastores Dabo Vobis and the “4 pillars” that shaped your own formation;  world youth days;  the new translation of the Mass; new religious orders and institutes; the founding of this Theological Institute of the New Evangelization; the retirement of Pope Benedict; financial reform at the Vatican; the Year of Mercy; diocesan codes of conduct for clergy and lay personnel; the yoking of parishes; even the two-staged move of the Theological Institute to the Pastoral Center in Braintree. In this 500thyear of the Protestant Reformation, we can be proud of ongoing, anchored organizational renewal among Catholics.
As on-going co-creators in the Catholic Church, how will you be part of this? What skills and virtues are needed?  
Not omniscience, mind you. You are not God; you will make mistakes. You cannot surmise all the unintended consequences of your proposed improvements, even when you map out possible scenarios. Therefore, check your pride. Only in this way will you learn. And, as I learned, the more people we supervise, the more frequently we will need the confessional. Also, the more strategic thinking we engage in, the more teamwork and continuing adjustments in the plan are required. Checked pride is conducive to growth in the virtue of prudence.
But that is not to say that we avoid conflict at all costs. Several years ago my seven year old granddaughter Madeleine tried to squelch conflict among cousins with rules she wrote for a new club housed in a new tent on our back porch. Her ten rules were mostly directed at her little brother—no messes, no fighting, no yelling. But the 10thand last rule was prescient:  “Don’t hate the leader.”  
Stanley Hauerwas is a name some of you will recognize. He is a retired professor of Christian ethics (Protestant language for Moral Theology) at Duke University. Stanley is brashly wise. He is known for saying  “yes, you must love your enemies, but you must first have the courage to make some.” Fortitude, along with prudence, is essential in leading change.  We cannot expect or need everyone to like us for the changes we make. 
For example, sometimes, one cannot wait for the retirements of difficult personnel. They may be hurting others and obstructing the renewal of the institution. Or, consider the gung ho catechetics volunteer marching to the tune of her own drummer, ignoring the elements of the Faith that are more challenging both to teach and to learn. She deprives her students of the fullness of the Faith. To know Jesus more is to love him more. Accountability requires that we hold the people we oversee accountable. 
Be humble when you take courageous action. Remember that the most bothersome failures in others are often the ones we struggle to correct in ourselves. Most proposed change can be adapted without severe loss. Prudence will grow as you listen and learn. Aside from a confessor, you need at least one good friend, who, as Msgr. Moroney, quoting Oscar Wilde, likes to tell seminarians, will “stab you in the front.”  
Finally, remember that our efforts are at best are provisional. Just because we have a greater sense for the Reality beyond full knowing does not mean that we automatically recognize the limitations in our own efforts to save the world. We do not look to excellent programs for our salvation. We look to the Resurrection and the Life promised by Christ Jesus. Take as your image of hope the blast of joy that comes at that moment in the Easter Vigil when the lights come up, bells begin pealing and the first Mass of Easter is launched.  We are blessed to engage in provisional organizational efforts that intend to nourish the faithful.  But Jesus alone can accomplish their perfect nourishment and invites us all into His perfect joy.  

You have been loved here. Please love and support this institution that has nourished you. And may you be blessed with God’s love sufficiently to love your calling, the people you serve and the institutions hosting that service. Thank you.