Friday, September 22, 2017

Happy 150th to the Church in Rochester!

Father O'Connor and I were honored to concelebrate the 150th anniversary Mass for the Diocese of Rochester at the kind invitation of one of Saint John's most generous friends, Bishop Salvatore Matano.  Our Rochester seminarians served the Mass, which was celebrated by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York.  It was a wonderful celebration by a wonderful Diocese!  Here's a picture as Bishop emeritus Clark and Bishop Matano reverence the Altar at the beginning of the Solemn Mass.

Boston in Rome

Just received the following picture from Mass this morning in Saint Peter's Basilica from Father Dan Hennessey, Vocation Director for the Archdiocese of Boston.  From left to right: 

Left to Right: Seminarian Chris Boyle, Father Bob Blaney, Father Dan Hennessey Archbishop PatrĂ³n Wong, Secretary for the Congregation for Clergy, Father Michael Zimmerman, Father Kevin Leaver and Seminarian Denis Nakkeeran.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Birthday Dinner with the Gillis Family!

Just last week Father O'Connor and I had a wonderful evening at Rino's in East Boston with the Gillis Family, generous benefactors to the Saint John's Golf Tournament.  Michael had gathered three generations of the Gillis family for a great celebration of his wife Julie's birthday!  You can tell by the expressions on our faces that a great time was had by all!

The New Deacon House Chapel Mural Has Arrived

Last night a number of deacons and other seminarians joined Renate and Victoria, the wonderful artists of Rohn Design who have spent the past two months painting a nineteen foot mural for the new Deacon House Chapel.  Here are some shots from the first few hours as the mural began to take its rightful place behind the altar.  I will post a detailed description of the iconography and sources of inspiration for this mural in the coming days.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Deacon House Naming Update: 1/3 Reserved!

It is with great pleasure that I update you today to tell you that 33% of Deacon House has already been named!
Don't miss out on this opportunity to memorialize a loved one, cement your family's legacy,
and receive daily prayers from the future priests who live there.

For more details on our naming opportunities and Deacon House, you can click the photo below, or
download our Deacon House brochure. Thank you for your incredible support of your future priests!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Seminarians and the Widow of Nain

Jesus teaches us this morning how to be a good priest as he encounters the widow of Nain.

Three moments.  First, he meets her.  Big crowd, everybody weeping and wailing, and somehow he knows she is a widow burying her only son.  And the Lord’s heart  is moved with pity.

Why was his heart moved?  Did he know the lady?  Probably not.  Then why care about a stranger?  Who was she to him?  She was his sister….the least of his sisters, and for any and each of his sisters and brothers his Sacred Heart bled.

So the first thing he did was spontaneously love, not as an intellectual exercise or a moral obligation, but as an act of love which broke his heart.

The second moment is his encounter with the poor widow, beginning with a simple word of compassion: “Do not weep.”  It's the shortest homily ever preached.  No need for weeping here, for God’s mercy is about to transform your world of pain and passion into a glorious foreshadowing of the glories of the resurrection!

And then he does it, in the same way he command each one of us when we lie in the grave at the end of time, he touches the coffin and says to the dead boy: “get up!”

And the merciful love of Jesus raises the dead and restores what was lost to the grieving mother.

And you will do the same thing.  You will encounter brothers in pain for whom your heart will ache.  You will speak a word of truth to them.  And through the sacraments you will celebrate, God will raise them up and restore them.  When you break the bread, which is his body.  When you smear the anointing that heals.  When say words that absolve.  God will raise them up at your word and the widows heart will be healed.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Homily on Praying for Government

Two-hundred and thirty six years ago, the first Bishop of these United States decreed that a prayer be prayed in every parish in response to Saint Paul’s admonition to the young Bishop Timothy that ‘prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for all in authority.’

Bishop James Carrol thus provides an example for me which don’t imitate nearly enough. Oh I watch the news and read the Washington post religiously (a habit born of all those years living inside the beltway). But when is the last time I knelt down and prayed for President Trump rather than second-guessing him? When is the last time I begged God to be good to Governor Baker or Secretary Galvin? When did I offer a rosary for Senators Markey or Warren? To be honest, I never have.

But I will today. At least for today. At least for today I will seek to bless more than bluster, commend more than I criticize. And beg God to guide these public servants in obedience to the Apostle’s command.

We pray to you O God of might, wisdom, and justice! Through whom authority is
rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, assist with your Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude President Donald Trump, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to your people over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality.  
Let the light of your divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety, and useful knowledge; and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty.
We pray for Governor Baker, and for the
members of the Great and General Court…that they may be enabled, by your powerful protection, to discharge the duties of their respective stations with honesty and ability.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Rector's Conference on Joy

My September Rector's Conference was on the importance of joy.  As Pope Francis tells us in his Encyclical letter Evangelium Gaudium, "with Christ, joy is ever born anew!"  Here is a video of the Keynote presentation.
Rector's Conference on Joy from James P Moroney on Vimeo.

Family Day!


 Today was Family Day at Saint John's Seminary and families and friends came from all around for Mass and Lunch and some time with our seminarians.  Here's the homily I preached, followed by some photos of a great morning with those whom we love!

Welcome. Moms and dads, brothers, sisters and friends of this holy house.

This is always such a special day as each year we welcome our families and friends to Saint John’s Seminary. You are so special to us because you have known and nonetheless loved us with an unconditional love from the day we were conceived in our mother’s womb.

You were there when at three years old we enacted those lines from Sirach: “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.”

Picture the three year old, filled to overflowing with rage. Hugging himself tightly as he simultaneously holds his breath, stamps his feet and practices the look that could kill. Whirling about in a distrophic fury, ready to strike out at anyone who would dare defy his infallible will, this Demi-God is all anger and hate and overflowing wrath.

But somehow, because of some of you, he learned the hard lesson that if he beats his sister about the head with his whiffle bat, returning to Sirach, “The vengeful will suffer the LORD's vengeance,” replete with a time out or similar horrors.

It's the first lesson we learn about loving like God, and many of you taught it, patiently, again and again. That, at the very least, we shouldn’t hurt each other lest we face “the loss of heaven and the pains of hell.”

And then there was a deeper learning about love, called mercy. Here I think of the teenager drowning in a sea of newfound emotions, temptations and unfulfilled possibilities. And you won't let him have the car because of that one little scratch which you wouldn't have even known about if he wasn't honest enough to tell you about it. “It's not fair,” he laments. “You’ve never loved me as much as my sister anyway and all you do is try to make my life miserable. I hate you.”

And he slams the door and your heart aches and you pray for the strength not to scream back at this ungrateful little wretch who used to be your cute little son. ‘Cause you suspect that another miracle is about to happen, and it does, as God embraces his adolescent pain and breathes upon the chaos until the beautiful human child you so love begins to fight his way out of the morass of his own emotions and comes to you with that quivering smile and the innocent glint in his eyes and says, “Hey, I’m Sorry. I know you love me and I love you, but sometimes…” and he catches himself and says it again: “I'm sorry.”

And at that moment, in your house with the scratched car in the garage, Christ is once again acting out his Gospel, for you and for this child struggling to grow into full manhood in Christ. Forgive. As I have forgiven you. Not seven times, but seventy times seven times: a new commandment of the Lord.

But God, our loving shepherd, doesn't stop there, but continues to form us in the image of his Son.

In the young man who gives up career, prosperity, fame and a family…leaves it all behind…to follow the one who has no place to rest his head.

The young man who can barely keep his eyes open in that class, the first of six more years of going to classes….

The young man whose first pastoral assignment is in a prison, talking to really scary people while he plays back in his head every scene from the Shawshank Redemption.

The young man who must face for the first time what he needs to change about himself in order to look more like Christ, his innards quivering and his eyes filled all too frequently with tears.

The young man whose very marrow rebels against all those rules and that punishing horarium (he sometimes uses a more colorful adverb than punishing) which never seems to let him catch his breath.
The young man who is so often taunted by what he has left behind and the fearsome challenges of what's to come.

That man sits here…from the early morning darkness to the gloaming of the light, sits in silence, sings a psalm, and listens for the still silent voice of Christ, digesting his sacramental presence and then listens again, to the God who says it's not enough just not to hurt people. It's not enough just to say you're sorry. It's not enough until you give like he gave, bled like he bled, giving all…Living not for myself, but for the Lord, unto death, just like he did, upon a cross.

For this is the great message, the great secret God has been trying to teach each pone of us since we were little kids: None of us lives for oneself, and none of us dies for oneself; whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's.

Blessed Stanley Rother, priest and martyr

Next Saturday, September 23rd, Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect for the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, will celebrate the Beatification of the first martyr born in the United States of America: the Servant of God Father Stanley Rother. Father Rother was a priest of Oklahoma City who was martyred for the faith in Guatamala in 1981. Here’s a moving documentary on his life and heroic death.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Shepherds Hearts and Deacon House

This was my homily at Deacon House this morning.

I often refer (ad nauseum, some might suggest) to that great big castle on Lake Street as our holy house.  And it is.  Sanctified by the prayers and the sacrifices and the lives of the extraordinary men whom God has raised up to be his Priests for more than a century.  And even today, he is working miracles in their hearts, purifying and transforming them into vessels through which he has quenched the thirst for holiness of untold tens of thousands.

And so too, this too is  a holy house where for 104 years priests with the names like Lenahan and Murphy and Fitzgerald, and even, known to many of you, a young Father John MacInnis in his first assignment, lived and prayed and worked to shepherd God’s people on Oak Square under the patronage of Our Lady of the Presentation.  

Perhaps late at night you can still hear their fervent prayers or the sound of hearts straining to do God’s will and to love the people whom he had sent them.

And now your shepherd’s hearts are joined to theirs.  Trying  to prepare serve a people who will call you Father.  Whose children you will baptize, whose parents you will bury, whose tears you will dry, whose sick you will anoint. You will feed them with the bread of angels, and preach the good news to their hearts that they might rejoice that God has loved them and worship the one true God in holiness and truth.

And this is the holy house in which you will prepare to meet them. This place where, with the Lord, you will spend the night in prayer. This is the house where he gathers his disciples before he sends them out into the world. This is the place where he teaches you how to preach and to heal, to cast out and to loose.

And it is from this holy house that power will come forth to renew the face of the earth.

Suffering with Christ and 9/11

This is the text of my homily to the Seminary community on September 11th.

Sixteen years ago this morning I was sitting in my office at the Bishop’s Conference when Sr. Clelia came in with Gus (now Archbishop) Dinoia.  You see, I had a T.V. hidden in the closet and they, soon joined by a dozen other USCCB staffers, wanted to see whether a small plane had really flown into one of the towers.  And then Clelia saw the American Airlines plane flying low and disappearing behind the trees over near the Pentagon and then…. And then began days of great suffering of uncertainty and naked fear.  

God used that suffering in those days to bring us all a lot closer to him, just as he used the Cross to redeem me.  I went to confession a lot more frequently, I missed the Office of Readings a lot less frequently and I was so much more fervent in my prayers for everyone I loved.  And people started going back to Church in significant numbers.  Sure, it didn’t last forever for everybody, but it did make a huge difference for some.

For they and we and I knew we could have very easily died on 9/11.  And blind fear of death has a way of focusing the mind on the things that really matter.

God is not the author of suffering.  He did not cause the people in the towers to die that day; evil came into this world through the selfishness of men like me, not a God who is love.  But God writes straight even with crooked lines, and uses even suffering to his glory and our good.

That’s why Saint Paul rejoices in his sufferings for the Colossians, because he knows that his little sacrifices are somehow a participation in the one perfect sacrifice offered on the altar of the Cross, and that through all those little sacrifices God will lead the Colossians to God.

So, too, your sacrifices today, your very real sufferings in casting away everything that keeps you from reaching full manhood in Christ, in staying awake during that awful class, in putting up with your brother, in fighting that temptation and in just being a seminarian…those sufferings are a participation in the perfect sacrifice offered on the altar of the Cross, and through them God will lead people yet unborn, people whose names and faces you do not yet know, to know him and love him and serve him in this life to be happy with him in the next.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Faculty Plenary Meeting


The full Saint John's Seminary Faculty met this afternoon and then enjoyed pre-prandials and dinner.  Here is an excerpt of the remarks I delivered to the plenary session.

Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis
Reflections on paragraph 94

Finally, allow me to conclude my update this afternoon with a brief reflection on what the ratio says the human formation of a seminarian should be about and what role we should play in that “journey of transformation” (43) which is the Seminary experience, drawn from paragraph 94 of that document.

In the psychological sphere the Ratio envisions forming a man who is psychologically stable,  with a well formed conscience  and a balanced sense of self-respect.

Allow me to reflect briefly on each of these three goals in the human formation of a Priest for service as a parish priest today.

First, a stable personality.  The ratio describes such a person as emotionally balanced with a good sense of self-control and a well integrated sexuality.  

The opposite of which, it seems to me to be sloth. And, even in a Seminary, there's a lot of sloth.  

That's such a great word, sloth.  And it's even the name of an animal, who just sits there all day, couch-potatoeing his life away.  Naval gazing and never quite getting out of bed.

Now, again, I'm not saying that priests and seminarians are not entitled to rest or a break or a good pattern of work and recreation or a day off.  I once had a spiritual director who, in my Messianic period, told me that on your day off you should walk over the dead bodies on the front porch and drive away for the day, or you'll be no good to anyone else for the rest of the week.

But I’m speaking of those who seem to have retired before they have begun to work.  Bishop Reilly, Bishop Emeritus of Worcester, when confronted by the legions of priests who claim to be burnt out, is wont to respond, “I'm not sure how the can be burnt out when they never caught on fire!”

The kind of self indulgent sloth which is frequently born of depression is a disease which hits every cleric on occasion, and perhaps even more frequently enters the seminarian's blood stream.  

It’s manifested in all kinds of ways: in seminarians just not wanting to get with the program, with no energy to do what must be done, or resistant to the demands which are knocking on their door,.

There are, however, two vaccines for the sloth virus: prayer and love.  Prayer, which is, quite simply, talking to Jesus.  It really hasn't changed in its essentials since we first did it at three years old.  And Jesus hasn't changed either.  Even when I don't want to do it.  I go to the chapel, and just pray.  And if I can't pray, I just sit there and ask God to help me to pray.  Prayer is the first antidote to sloth.

And the second vaccine is like unto's love.  Nothing so quickly cures sloth as loving someone, especially someone who you don't expect to love you back.  Sometimes a good antidote to sloth is going to see your brother seminarian who has been having such a hard time lately...or going to that soup kitchen you've always wondered about....or leaving early for your apostolate...or just plain seeking out someone who needs to be loved and loving them.

As a parish priest I always found Saturdays to be the toughest day of the week.  You'd sprinkle them with meetings, start with a morning Mass and maybe a wedding, and with seeming inevitability, the odd funeral or two.  Then, as you're trying to polish your homily (and sometimes, polishing was a euphemism for starting) you'd be watching the clock for the start time of confessions.   And a big wet blanket of sloth would start to surround you.  

How can I sit I that box for an hour when I haven't finished my homily.  I'm so exhausted and the fan doesn't work and it's hot and stuffy in there.  And...a thousand other reasons why I'd rather take a nap than hear confessions.

But you know something, as predictably as the slothful temptations were...each time I'd go sit in that confessional, I'd slide over that little creaking door and hear "bless me Father for I have sinned, it's been nineteen years since I've been to confession...."bless me Father for I have sinned, I just don't know what to do..."bless me Father for I have sinned, I don't think God loves me anymore...."bless me Father for I have sinned, I can't pray anymore...

And the wet blanket of sloth would suddenly disappear, replaced by a warm feeling of being needed, and the feeling of tears running down my cheeks.

And then there is the second goal of human formation in a Seminary: a morally well formed conscience.  Is he able to make the right decision?  Doe he general exercise right judgement?  Is he able to objectively perceive persons and events?

The opposite of which, it seems to be is ambition, where everything is about me and nothing is really about anything or anyone else.

Pope Benedict spoke beautifully of this in a homily at the Ordination of Priests in 2006.  He was speaking of the Gospel parable of the Good Shepherd.  

Jesus highlights very clearly this basic condition by saying:  "he who... climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber" (Jn 10: 1). This word "climbs" - anabainei in Greek - conjures up the image of someone climbing over a fence to get somewhere out of bounds to him.

"To climb" - here too we can also see the image of careerism, the attempt to "get ahead", to gain a position through the Church:  to make use of and not to serve. It is the image of a man who wants to make himself important, to become a person of note through the priesthood; the image of someone who has as his aim his own exaltation and not the humble service of Jesus Christ.

But the only legitimate ascent towards the shepherd's ministry is the Cross. This is the true way to rise; this is the true door. It is not the desire to become "someone" for oneself, but rather to exist for others, for Christ, and thus through him and with him to be there for the people he seeks, whom he wants to lead on the path of life.

One enters the priesthood through the Sacrament, and this means precisely:  through the gift of oneself to Christ, so that he can make use of me; so that I may serve him and follow his call, even if it proves contrary to my desire for self-fulfillment and esteem.

Ambition is a common clerical disease and a constant temptation.  It's great to be successful and a real thrill to be recognized for one's accomplishments.  As you may know, the Holy Father, through the intercession of Bishop McManus made me a Prelate of Honor five years ago.  It's really cool wearing that colored piping on my cassock.  It makes me feel special and somewhere way down deep inside the little kid who did not get chosen to play baseball at recess is vindicated that he has been made a Monsignor.

But does it have ultimate value?  Does it make me better than anyone else?  Or is it merely an invitation to greater service, a pat on the back that keeps me moving in the right direction, and a reminder of the importance of acting like the sacred person I am called to be. The disease is to climb the clerical ladder and to judge my life by the color of my buttons. 

So what's the vaccine for clerical ambition?  Good friends.  Friends of all sorts and sizes.  Priest friends, lay friends, married couples, single folks...all are a good vaccine and antidote, but perhaps the most effective inoculation is a good, long term clerical friend who loves you enough to tell you the truth.

No one can tell me the truth quite as effectively as my closest priest friends, and the longer they've known me, the better they are at operating the ambition detector.

They've been there, seen you make a fool of yourself, consoled you when you were on the verge of tears, listened when you were making no sense, put up with your endless lines of blarney, all because they love you, and they love you enough to tell you the truth: that there is only one God and he ain't you.

Such friends are worth their weight in fire tried gold.  Friends who know you, and still keep coming back.  Friends who rejoice with you in your triumphs, but who lend perspective, and who love you enough to knock you off your high horse again and again and again.

And, finally, there is a balanced sense of self-respect and a capacity for social interaction.  

The opposite of which, I would suggest is cynicism.   Now, sadly, the snarky smirk of the clerical cynic is never very far away.  It’s one of Satan’s most successful temptations in the clerical world.  It starts innocently enough, as a venting of frustration at all those things I cannot control.  And then it grows into something quite ugly at a fairly rapid rate.

Seminary is a pressure cooker, a fish bowl, in which it's easy to feel that your every move, your every look and perhaps your every thought is scrutinized, evaluated and inscribed in your permanent record.  That's a heck of a way to live, with a sword of Damocles hanging continually over your head!

Thus the seminarian is constantly faced with the very real question: what do I do with the surplus of fear, resentment, and suspicion which grows from living under such a microscope?  

Too often the answer is giving in to a cynical attitude that suspects the motives of the faculty and even of other students and even of the Bishop.  When I don't want to admit the painful truth about something about me which Christ and his Church are asking me to change or let go of, I am tempted to to kill the messenger. You know, he's always been out to get me.  And he's incompetent, too.  You know what I heard about him.  He's only in the seminary because he can't cut it in a parish, and he really has no friends.  Why he's such a fool that I heard....

Now here,  I must admit, I have been quoting from things I heard and said when I was in Seminary, forty years ago.  But I would not be surprised if the walls of this holy house were sometimes veneered with the same gossipy cynicism today.

Now hear me out.  I am not saying that venting is bad.  There are times when it is appropriate and indeed healthy for a seminarian to vent in a safe place about the frustrations and fears which have been shaking around inside of you like a coke bottle with the cap still on.

But when the occasional, safe, contextualized, confidential venting of a seminarian with his friends who know enough not to take you too seriously.... is replaced by a consistent attitude of cynical snarkiness...when he really starts to believe that the stuff he’s saying...then he has caught a disease which has destroyed too many priests' souls and rotted away the virtue and integrity of too many of our brothers.  Then, the seminarian is in trouble.  And he needs help.

You've probably met a few clerical victims of this disease by now...guys who are more intent on gossip than on the truth, on tearing down than building up, on proving that everyone else is less competent, less holy, and less authentic than they are.  And sadly, when this disease enters the clerical blood stream, it threatens the priesthood and even the soul of its victim.

So, what's the vaccine to clerical cynicism?  Confession and a really good spiritual director and a really good shrink.  Folks who will call you back, again and again, to dealing with the darkness in your own soul, so that you won't spend your waking hours howling at others.

There ain't nothing that makes me more loving, more priestly, or more honest than kneeling down in front of my confessor and saying, you know I really did it this time.  There ain't nothing that makes me more of a whole human being than saying to a counselor who knows me, I don't know where share this feeling is coming from. There ain't  nothing that makes me less susceptible to ranting as a career, than a wise spiritual director who helps me work through it and live the truth with love.


So, that’s what we aim to do, dear colleagues, whether in the classroom or the corridors: we aim to build these seminarians up into bridges to Christ.  We teach them theology and philosophy and all kinds of pastoral skills.  But our most important work is in forming them as human beings who are stable, morally sound and capable of effective social interaction,.

We do that by what we say, in lectures, homilies, conferences and meetings one-on-one.  But we do it most of all by who we are, as stable, morally sound and socially effective agents of the Gospel.

And thus I thank you, not just for what you do, but who you are for these men.  May the Lord bless you for it a hundred fold as you form shepherds after his own heart.

Thank you.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Year Begins....

It started with Morning Prayer...


And then photos were taken...

And then we all got our photo taken by the great George Martell...

 After the Mass of the Holy Spirit with Cardinal O'Malley, and a festive cookout to begin another year of God's grace in this holy house.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Orientation winds down...

The new men gathered last night for a bonfire on a beautiful late summer's evening near the "Bocci courts."  This afternoon everyone returns for the "Rector's Update" and a festive dinner.  Tomorrow morning is the Opening Mass with Cardinal O'Malley and annual Pig Roast!