Friday, March 3, 2017

First Friday Club of Worcester

This morning I was privileged to celebrate Mass and speak to one of Worcester's most venerable institutions: The First Friday Club.  Here are my talk and homily.

Three Hundred and Thirty Five Years Ago, the purpose of the First Friday Club was established by the third apparition of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to Saint Margaret Mary Aloquoque.  She saw a vision of the Lord in glory with his five wounds shining like suns and she described how Jesus showed her his heart on fire with love for mankind.

In order that we might show that love in return Jesus asked Saint Margaret to to propagate frequent reception of Holy Communion, particularly at Mass on the first Friday of every month, a day consecrated to his Blessed Passion and Death on the Cross.

And so I am privileged to address this assembly of good Catholic men who once a month consecrate themselves to partaking of Holy Communion in obedience to the Lord’s command, knowing that in just a few days’ time we will enter into the holiest days of the year, when, we pray, God will give us all the grace to, in the words of Saint Margaret, “to make some return to the Lord, rendering him love for love.”

For both the First Friday Club and the Seminary of which I am rector share the same mission, even though the roots of my job go back only 131 years, when just a decade after the civil war, the second Archbishop of Boston, John J. Williams bought 264 acres of the Stanwood estate in the Oak Hill section of Brighton.  He dreamt of a Seminary to form Priests to spread the Gospel and celebrate the Sacraments from the rocky shores of Maine to the rolling Berkshire Hills.  

Throughout the years the mission of Boston’s Seminary grew. Today, we form not only seminarians but lay ecclesial ministers through our Theological Institute, as the vision perdures of a Seminary forming ministers for God’s Church in New England and beyond.

Chartered by an act of the Great and General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1884, the Seminary was first staffed by Sulpician Fathers from Baltimore and Paris, who brought with them a replica of a statue of the Madonna and Child from the Church of Saint Sulpice in Paris.  For the past 131 years that statue has stood vigil in the courtyard of Saint John’s Seminary.

Archbishop William O’Connell would replace the Sulpicians with a Diocesan Faculty just after the turn of the century, and set about more than doubling the Seminary in the 1920’s.  The  following years saw an even greater expansion, with the addition of a Seminary College and Library, as well as a Cardinal’s residence and Archdiocesan administration buildings.

The final decades of the twentieth century were a time of declining enrollment and consolidation for Saint John’s.  While the Seminary College was closed a major renovation of the major Seminary was undertaken.  

From 2004-2007 all the buildings of the sprawling Archdiocesan campus were sold to Boston College, save only the original Seminary building, Saint John’s Hall. 

Over the next eights years, under the guidance of Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the Seminary was regionalized and grew at an unprecedented rate.  Today, Saint John’s Seminary is the sixth largest seminary in the United States, with 132 seminarians from Dioceses across the Northeastern United States and a half dozen religious orders.  Nine of our seminarians were born on the hills of Worcester and I stand here, a simple parish priest from Millbury, as the first non-Boston Rector in the Seminary’s history.

And how does a Seminary prepare a man to be a parish priest.  Well, first there is SPIRITUAL FORMATION, which ”unifies the life of a priest, it stands at the heart of seminary life and is the center around which all other aspects are integrated.”
Our Seminarians spend nearly 2/1 hours in the Chapel each day, beginning with sung Mass and morning prayer at 7pm and ending with a Holy hour from 5-6pm.  At the center of our lives is the Daily Community Celebration of the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours, Eucharistic Adoration and Personal Meditation, Lectio Divina: Praying with Scripture, the Word of God, Spiritual Direction, the Sacrament of Penance, Sacrifice and Self-Abnegation, as well as Annual Retreats, Days of Recollection, & Spiritual Conferences.
This is complemented by our program of INTELLECTUAL FORMATION through which each man ‘participates in the light of God’s mind’ and seeks to acquire a wisdom which in turn opens to and is directed towards knowing and adhering to God,” completing degrees in Philosophy and Theology in the course of our six year program.
And then there’s HUMAN FORMATION, by which we seek to make thus man a bridge to Christ and not an obstacle, a man of virtue, who demonstrates, in particular, the human virtues of prudence, fortitude, temperance, justice, humility, constancy, sincerity, patience, good manners, and truthfulness.  This is achieved through work with a personal formation advisor, all sorts of Formation Conferences and even Psychological Counseling.

Finally, the men receive a full dose of PASTORAL FORMATION by which they learn to serve you and your children and grandchildren as effective pastors and priests.

We also operate a Theological Institute, training over a hundred lay ecclesial ministers for service to the Church in New England. In the same period of time that the number of Catholics in New England has dropped by 9.6%, the number of seminarians at Saint John’s has grown by close to 17%.  

Nine years ago, Saint John’s was down to 33 resident seminarians today we have triple that number and are in the midst of an expansion and have just purchased $5million worth of real estate to add room for 26 more resident seminarians. 

The Resurrection of Saint John’s Seminary is a testament to the perdurance of the Catholic Faith in New England over the past 131 years; a faith which still lives in the preaching, the blessing and shepherding on the part of the more than three thousand men who have been prepared for ministry in that holy house.

So, you see, we are all part of the same history, the same gracious plan of God for the Church in New England.  It is a common mission we share, you and I.  It’s rooted in the revelations of the Sacred Heart to a French nun, and in the efforts of  to provide for Priests in New England in the last decades of the nineteenth century.

It’s a mission to not just keep the faith, but to spread it; to not just go to Church, but to be the Church; and not only to be good, but to be holy.

I thank you, I promise you my prayers, and I ask for yours as we continue to make the Church a shining light on the hills of Worcester, of Boston and, indeed, to the ends of the earth!

Thank you.

On Fasting

We hear about Fasting, and that’s only right, for it is a Friday in Lent.

But why do we fast?

We fast because it teaches us a lesson: that it’s not all all about me.  

When fasting, it hits me between the eyes (or maybe between the eyes and stomach) that neither food, nor money, nor power, nor my good health, nor  anything else I can see or taste or feel belongs to me.  It all belongs to God.  It’s all his.  

And by letting go of it, and placing it in his hands (even for a little while), and by waiting to hear what he wants me to do with it, I am doing his will. 

You think, when you give the poor man a piece of bread, Saint Leo the Great once wrote, that you are generously sharing with him something that is yours.  But you are a fool, he says, for all of creation has been given to us by God, nothing belongs to you!  You are just giving to the poor man the piece of bread which God created for him in the first place.

It all belongs to him.