Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Easter Vigil


Here is my homily, followed by some pictures, from tonight's Easter Vigil.  
CHRIST IS RISEN!  
ALLELUIA!


A great silence lay heavy upon the earth, as in the darkness of a tomb, thick with death, with ancient sin and crippling despair.  It seemed that all was lost, that Satan’s empty show and fear and pain and loss has won the day.

A great silence lay upon the earth, as they walked in the darkness to his tomb with vials of oil to anoint a dead body on that awful, awful night.

As in his bed, and old man lay, afraid of death and afraid to be alone.  Abandoned by his family and with no friends, his only companion was the pain and the gasping fear of the death which was sure to come.  

As in his house, a young man drank and sniffed a line of selfishness.  I’m lucky to have a good job, he snorted, and I can buy all the friends I need, endowed with a good mind and better looks and the confidence that, given the right opportunities, the world could be his oyster. 

As on a street that lady walked, three husbands in and having lost her kids again.  Her heart filled with an aching longing for something she had never found.  Each time she caught a glimpse, but it never really played through.  And now she’s lost, literally wandering the streets with tears of desperation.

Each one, in fear and sin and desperation, walk in the darkness to the tomb to anoint a dead body on that awful, awful night.

But then it happened! A stone is moved, and in its place, a shining angel sings: “He has been raised!” “My hope, is risen!” “The Prince of life, who died, now reigns immortal.” As the angel’s voice, shatters the dark silence of every corner of our world, with the awesome glory of his holy light.

To the old man afraid to die, afraid of the rotting, painful sentence of malignant death, the angel’s voice commands: exult! For Christ has paid the price of ancient sin, destroyed the prison-bars of death for you, and rose victorious from the tomb. On your death bed, I say to you: exult! For death has no more power over you, and the first born of many brothers has promised that you will never really die.

And you, young man, bound down by your own selfishness, thriving in the darkness of your narcissism, forging chains of Satan’s empty show. You who hide in all the dark places of this world, protecting your heart and hiding your true self, making believe and never really facing the truth. An angel calls to you: Rejoice! For the chains of your brokenness are smashed, as this pillar of fire banishes the darkness of sin. Come out of your hiding, as his glory floods this holy Church, arrayed with the lightning of his glory!

And you, dear woman, disappointed by life, alone and afraid, sick to your stomach with desperation. I say, shake with joy! For the trumpet sounds, the dead are raised and he who is the way, our shepherd and our priest, will lead us home. And all who are caught up in their brilliant minds, in their own self-satisfying desires, all who are so frightened to follow should stop, and hear the angel’s voice on this night which restores lost innocence, drives out hatred and leads the sinner home.

O truly blessed of all nights, when, the Morning Star that burns undimmed redeems us all, and Angels sing the Triumph of our Mighty King!














Friday, March 30, 2018

Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper


O God, who have called us to participate
in this most sacred Supper,
in which your Only Begotten Son,
when about to hand himself over to death,
entrusted to the Church a sacrifice new for all eternity, 

the banquet of his love,
grant, we pray,
that we may draw from so great a mystery,
the fullness of charity and of life.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 

one God, for ever and ever. 



The Faculty serve Holy Thursday dinner to the seminarians.
















Good Friday


Today begins with Morning Prayer and the Office of Readings, then Mid-Day Prayer and at 3:00pm the Liturgy of the Lord's Passion and Death.  This evening we will also pray the Stations of the Cross and Night Prayer.  



Remember your mercies, O Lord,
and with your eternal protection sanctify your servants, for whom Christ your Son,
by the shedding of his Blood,
established the Paschal Mystery.
Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.


  


 






Monday, March 26, 2018

Social Media and Parish Communications

I was pleased to teach a session of our Communications and Evangelization Class this morning on the topic of "Social Media and Communications."  The Powerpoint presentation of the slides I used can be accessed by clicking this link.  The Powerpoint presentation of the slides I used in the second Presentation "Preparing for a TV Interview" can be accessed by clicking this link.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Palm Sunday Eve with Seminarians and Friends

What a wonderful Passion Sunday Eve with Cardinal O'Malley,thirty-four of our generous benefactors and seminarians from Saint John's and Saint John XXIII!  More pictures to come tomorrow, but for now, here is the video we debuted during the Meal.


  


GRACE BEFORE DINNER

Heavenly Father, as we enter this holiest of weeks bless this holy house and those who gather in it. Bless its seminarians, with perseverance and grace. Bless our benefactors for their goodness and generosity. And bless our Cardinal for his steadfast love. Bless this food, which we are about to receive from your bounteous goodness, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

REMARKS AFTER DINNER

Welcome to this holy house…made holy not because it is the oldest and largest Seminary in New England, but because of the men who sit among you tonight.

These good men, these Boston seminarians, come to us as engineers and doctors, philosophers and educators…successful men from every profession.  And they come because the still small voice of Jesus has called them by name…and they and the Church are now enagged in this great adventure of discernment and formation we call Seminary.

It is a time of growing to love Jesus and his Church, of coming to master the study of philosophy and theology, of gaining those pastoral skills which will help them to get you and your grandchildren to heaven, and it is, most of all, a time of learning to be a bridge to Christ and not an obstacle.

And maybe that’s the hardest part of being a seminarian, when the Lord invites you to help him to carry his cross by examining your life and even your personality, and so conforming yourself to him that you can act in his person, and just by the way you move and speak, lead people to Christ and to his Church.

That’s what this house and Father Kiley’s house are all about…leading Boston seminarians to be like Christ, to learn how to wash your feet, to receive Holy Communion, to be forgiven and carry your own cross.

It’s the work of the young seminarian who looks at you with tears in his eyes and says, “Monsignor, all I want to do is to give my life to Jesus and to his Church.”  

God bless him, and God bless each one of you.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Springtime Snow Closing

Due to the impending storm, Saint John’s Seminary, including the Theological Institute division, will be closed from noon tomorrow (March 21) until noon on Thursday (March 22).

The Seminary division will observe the regular weekday horarium on both days.


Welcome to Spring!

Monday, March 19, 2018

A Homily for Saint Joseph's Day

This is the homily I preached for Saint Joseph's Feast Day this morning.  Our Saint Joseph Altar was suitably attired for the Solemnity and many of us gathered after Mass to ask for the intercession of this guardian of Christ and of the Church.



Obedience. That’s what Saint Joseph teaches us. Obedience.

Do not hesitate to take Mary as your wife. And he obeys. Take Mary and the child to Egypt. And he obeys.

And it’s good for future priests to learn obedience. For, in a very real way, obedience is their work. Obedience to their Bishop, to their pastors, to their Faculty Advisor and Spiritual Director and even to their Rector.

But why are you called to be obedient to your legitimate superiors? Is it because they are always right? They are always brighter than you, more talented than you and always more capable of making the right decision?

Not necessarily. Because sometimes your legitimate superior will be less bright than you, less experienced and sometimes even less capable of making the right decision.

But you obey with docility because God has made this man your Bishop or your Rector of your Pastor and its up to God alone to make sense of it. And for now God calls that man to make the decisions and you to obey them, as a participation, if nothing else, in the kenotic self giving, the obedience unto death which is at the heart of Christ’s perfect sacrifice of love upon the Cross for our salvation.

Saint Joseph helps us understand obedience in a very real way. Actually Origen does, when he writes: "Joseph understood that Jesus was superior to him even as he submitted to him, and, knowing the superiority of his charge, he commanded him with respect and moderation. Everyone should reflect on this: frequently a lesser man is placed over people who are greater, and it happens at times that an inferior is more worthy than the one who appears to be set above him. If a person of greater dignity understands this, then he will not be puffed up with pride because of his higher rank; he will know that his inferior may well be superior to him, even as Jesus was subject to Joseph.”

I think of another Joseph, Joseph Ratzinger, our beloved Pope emeritus. After experiencing the increasing weight of his physical limitations he set aside the Petrine office for a life of prayer. "I am,” he told us, now a “simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on this Earth.”

And then he, the Pope did a remarkable thing. Joseph of Bavaria made a promise of obedience, “unconditional reverence and obedience,” to whoever his successor will be. A promise he has kept.

Did he do it because he knew his successor would be a better theologian than him, a more powerful preacher or a more effective Pope. No. He did it because there could be only one Pope, and he, the emeritus, would render him unconditional obedience and respect.

He did it because he belied the words he preached years before: “Only if we know how to lose ourselves, if we give ourselves, may we find ourselves. When this occurs, it is not our will that prevails, but that of the Father to which Jesus submitted himself: ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.’ (Lk 22:42)…. This is what St. Joseph has taught us, with his renouncing, with his abandonment, that in a certain sense foreshadowed the imitation of the Crucified Jesus, the paths of fidelity, of the resurrection, and of life.” (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, homily 19 March 1992)

So take this from our Feast of Saint Joseph the husband of Mary and custos of the Son of God: Obey. Obey your Rector, or your Bishop, or any legitimate authority with humility, docility and love and you will grow into the image of him who was obedient unto death, even death on a Cross.

Saint Patrick's (on Saint Joseph's Day) Celebration

  



Heavenly Father, Creator of all that is good, whose sun rises from the craggy shores of Kerry to Saint Botolph city’s bay, look upon us, the sons of Patrick in the Faith and imbue us with a full measure of his zeal, that through our ministry you might drive from these shores the serpents of deception and sin, the snakes of infidelity and fear.

And in their place, raise up good and faithful stewards of the Gospel, who like the Saints of Irish shores will lead this land to adore and embrace the Cross of your only begotten Son. Through the merits of his Passion and Death, bless this Feast of Faith, O Lord, and watch over us as your children, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Sacred Paschal Triduum at Saint John's Seminary

All of our friends are most welcome to join the Seminary community for the Sacred Triduum events.  If you are interested in joining us, please RSVP to contact@sjs.edu with the number of guests who will be present for each Liturgy and we will respond with instructions  for parking.

Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper
Thursday, March 29 at 7:00pm

Celebration of the Passion of the Lord
Friday, March 30 at 3:00pm

The Easter Vigil in the Holy Night
Saturday, March 31 at 8:00pm

Keys to Mercy and Holiness: Two Talks in Lewiston

Here are the two talks I gave to the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre of Maine yesterday at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston.




FIRST PRESENTATION
MERCY: 
THE FRUIT OF SACRIFICE AND SILENCE

A couple years ago, Pope Francis proclaimed a Jubilee Year of Mercy recognizing how much the world needed a year of reflection on the mercy God, 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 morning I would like to dwell on three realities aspects of the meaning of mercy: God’s mercy on us, Our mercy on others, and How to become merciful.


God's Mercy on Us

Confessing
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.”

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.”

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 is aching for forgiveness, but petrified to confess.  Just like the Prodigal Son.

You remember the story.  The youngest son of the two boys, comes to his father demanding his half of the inheritance. In other words, he doesn’t want to wait until the old man dies: he wants the cold hard cash now! 

I know what I’d do if I were that Father...but what happens in Jesus’ story? He gives him a check, no, he gives him cash, and off the kid goes to spend the father’s hard earned money on disperate living.

And when the prodigal son returns, having wasted half of everything the Father ever earned, what does the Father do. He runs out to meet him, throws his arms around him, kisses him and throws a party.

Or recall, if you will, the shepherd who lost a sheep.  What does he do?  He leaves the ninety-nine and goes off in search of the one. If you did that, you wouldn’t be a shepherd for very long, because when you came back what’s to say the ninety-nine would not have wandered off, as well?   But what does the Good Shepherd do in Jesus’ story. He leaves the ninety-nine and goes off in search of even the single sheep who got himself lost.

Or what of the farmer in the Gospel of the wheat and the weeds? He sows good seed in his field, but then an enemy comes at night and sows weeds. The weeds grow up, but what does he do? Does he pull up the weeds like we would? No. For love of the wheat, he leaves the weeds alone, and lets them grow until harvest, when he will finally separate the weeds from the wheat.

Such is the mercy of God. Unbounded. Unreasonable. And far beyond our tiny little hearts. The kind of mercy that forgives not seven times, but seventy times seven times. The kind of mercy that looks at the prostitute forced into confession and tells her, just don’t do it again. The kind of mercy that desires not the death of the sinner, but that he repent and live!

That incredible mercy is our consolation and our hope. But it is also our life’s work. Remember what Jesus taught us to pray? “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Wow! Really?

What about the one that really hurt me? The one that lied behind my back? That one that stole from me? That one that turned her back on me?

God is merciful. Infinitely merciful. And its all he asks us to be, in turn.

Three stories
Annie Gallagher was a nurse in Northern Ireland during the Troubles before the Good Friday accords. She had every reason to be bitter, after her dad and three brothers went to jail without a trial and then when her oldest brother was released, and he was shot to death by masked gunmen in front of his children. She had every reason to be bitter but she refused. She wrote, instead “to heal the wounds of this country, I believe you have to see humanity in the face of the enemy... To be able to forgive someone who has hurt you is a moment of grace. My mother is my driving force. She has such a respect for every single soul – even for the policemen and soldiers who raided our house and caused her so much pain...In the Intensive Care Unit, I would nurse victims from all sides. Seeing them lying there, naked and attached to life support machines, I didn’t see a uniform, I just saw their hearts, their pain...”

And then there was that awful murder in Wayland just a couple of years ago where an 18 year old girl was killed. She had just graduated from High School, and her longtime boyfriend, also 18, also just out of High School, has been charged with killing her right after they broke up. Her Father spoke to the Globe last week, and what he said was remarkable. “Wayland lost two kids,” he said, “two kids.” Amidst the unimaginable horror of burying his daughter, his heart still goes out to the boy accused of her murder.

That’s two stories, and the third one is yours. You remember it. That time you forgave her. When she had hurt you so badly, betrayed you so blatantly, with not a thought for how it would make you feel. But you forgave her. Or that time you forgave him, not because you felt like it, but because you knew it was the right thing to do. Not that he deserved it, God knows he didn’t, but you forgave him and you tried to star over.

All because we mean it, we really do: Lord, Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.


Our mercy on others

After confessing, we are called to be forgiving.  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 end 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 kills 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.)

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.”

The story is told of a meetings of Father Luigi Giussani and Bishop Eugenio Corecco, two of the founders of Communio e Liberazione.  Bishop Eugenio was close to death and 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."

A mercy which 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 one taught…

But where does that mercy come from? Two places: fasting and silence.

Silence
I started to fast on Wednesday.  I had oatmeal for breakfast, which really made my doctor happy.  I had soup for lunch and a very small piece of fish with some potatoes for supper.  It’s not easy, but I need to fast.

Oh, not for the obvious reasons, the ones that are scrupulously marked down on my doctor’s Ipad each time I go to see him, but I need to fast from food for a more important reason.

You see, every time I eat I’m convinced that the food is mine...I’ve earned it, I have a right to it.  After all I’ve done, it’s the least God can do is to give me a good meal....It’s my food....I’ve got a right to it.  It’s a matter of simple justice. 

And when I open my wallet and give some of my money away to the poor, I am being so generous, I am such a good person.   So kind, so self-scrificing.  Every ngiht before he goes to bed God must says prayers of thankfulness for having had such a good son.

My food....my money....it’s all mine.  See what I need to fast.

Because fasting teaches me that it’s nor all all about me.  When fasting, it hits me between the eyes (or maybe between the eyes and stomach) that neither the food, nor the money, nor the power, nor my good health, no anything else I can see or taste or feel belongs to me.  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. 

So fasting is good.  Fasting from food.  Fasting from Money.  Fasting from Power.  And even Fasting from noise.  From the noise of my own voice (I try to shut up for long stretches of time) and from the constant carcophany, the billious barrage of static with which I fill my soul from morning to night.  But try it sometime.  Unplug the ear buds, turn down the TV, stop singing that song out loud and sit down and shut up.  And listen to the silence.

Blessed Pope John Paul II spoke frequently about silence.  Maybe he learned that as an eight year old boy when his mother died and he sat quietly in the corner of the room as she was waked in the front parlor.    Maybe he learned it when twelve years later his father died and left him alone to face the world as he knelt in the Church after everyone else left and first began to hear God whispering the idea of Priesthood to him.  Maybe he learned it that Black Sunday when he hid from the Nazi troops all day in the craw space under his Uncle’s house.  Imagine this twenty-something, still recovering from two weeks in the hospital after being hit by a German truck, hearing the sound of the jack boots as they searched for Polish collaborators.  Maybe it was that silence that taught him the power of no words spoken at all.

In any case, Blessed John Paul looked on the noisiness of our era as an invitation to carve out moments of quiet. He summed up his view in this way.  He once wrote: “The frenetic activity of modern life with all its pressures makes it indispensable that Christians seek prayerful silence and contemplation as both conditions for and expressions of a vibrant faith. When God is no longer at the center of human life, then life itself becomes empty and meaningless…Jesus himself often “went off to a lonely place and prayed there…” Jesus’ prayer is our example, especially when we are caught up in the tensions and responsibilities of daily life.” (John Paul II, Ecclesia in Oceania, no. 37.)

There is no word as powerful as silence.  Silence cannot be done in haste.  Only silence can enable us to embrace with our hearts which is being prayed sung or said.  Silence must come before action and the only reaction worthy to follow a meeting with God, is kneeling in silence, humility, and joy.

And whose the patron saint of silence?  It might be Saint Joseph, if you listen to Pope Benedict XVI has recommended Saint Joseph as an example for each of us who seeks to cultivate an interior quiet.

[Saint Joseph’s] silence is steeped in contemplation of the mystery of God in an attitude of total availability to the divine desires. In other words, St Joseph's silence does not express an inner emptiness but, on the contrary, the fullness of the faith he bears in his heart and which guides his every thought and action. 

It is a silence thanks to which Joseph, in unison with Mary, watches over the Word of God, known through the Sacred Scriptures, continuously comparing it with the events of the life of Jesus; a silence woven of constant prayer, a prayer of blessing of the Lord, of the adoration of his holy will and of unreserved entrustment to his providence…Let us allow ourselves to be "filled" with St Joseph's silence! In a world that is often too noisy, that encourages neither recollection nor listening to God's voice, we are in such deep need of it. ...let us cultivate inner recollection in order to welcome and cherish Jesus in our own lives.


Jesus Sought Silence
Even the Lord, Son of the Living God, the Word through whom all things were made, sought silence at every important moment of his life amoung us.  As God, he was the word of love made flesh which lived amoung us.  As a man like us in all things but sin, he needed silence to purify, strengthen and center the heart of him.

You remember how his ministry began, with his Baptism by John in the Jordan River?  The voice comes down from heaven, “This is my beloved Son,” and Jesus immediately sets out on his earthy ministry.  Well not immediately, for first, as we heard yesterday,  “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” He goes immediately from the river to the desert, to a place of silence.

And when he was about to call the Twelve to go out to proclaim that the Kingdom of God was at hand, what did Jesus do?  “he went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.”

And when Jesus heard that John the Baptist had died, “he withdrew from there in a boat to a secluded place by Himself.”

And when the crowds got overwhelming, “he went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone.”

And, finally, when he was about to offer the paschal sacrifice of himself upon the cross, what did he do?  “...he came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, "Sit here while I go and pray over there."

At every crucial turning point in his life and ministry, the Lord sought that which washes over us and invites us to a place deep within, a sanctuary where God comes to meet us.

Jesus sought silence, because it means three things: To fast from noise is really to Listen, to Pray, and to Love.

We too need Silence.  Even at Mass we need silence.  Pope John Paul II, in an address to Bishop of the United States in 1998, explained how we participate in the Liturgy: by song, gesture, prayer, and even silence....

“active participation,” he suggested, “does not preclude the active passivity of silence, stillness and listening: indeed, it demands it. Worshippers are not passive, for instance, when listening to the readings or the homily, or following the prayers of the celebrant, and the chants and music of the liturgy. These are experiences of silence and stillness, but they are in their own way profoundly active. In a culture which neither favors nor fosters meditative quiet, the art of interior listening is learned only with difficulty. Here we see how the liturgy, though it must always be properly inculturated, must also be counter-cultural.”


Silence is the ultimate affirmation of God’s will.  No more words, no more rationalizations, no more trying to figure it out, but like the little kid, we let our Father lead us by the hand where he wants us to go.

Silence embraces what Virginia Wolfe used to call “moments of being,” moments in which we are more profoundly aware of our being alive and real that at any other time of our lives.  Such moments can only take place in silence.

Think of the first time a mother takes her child in her arms.  No words, just silence and profound bonding and love.  Think of the last time you hold the hand of a loved one before he dies.  No words, just silence and love.  Think of the moment of desperation as you stare at the cross, or the moment of deep joy as your heart overflows.  No words, just silence and being and the peace the world cannot give.

It is, perhaps, when we are silent that we are most alive.  Which is why the cultural of death thrives on words.  Words which seek to manipulate and pevert.  Remember the first weapon which the serpentine Satan used in the garden to lead our first parents to perdition?   It was words.  Did God really tell you not to eat from any tree in the garden? You won’t die!  Eat that fruit and you’ll be like God!  Lies.  Lies which are the first strike of Satan at the human heart.

But Satan does not use silence.  Silence is the carving tool of God, when we bow before him in silence and adoration.

And it is from sacrifice and silence that true love and divine mercy arise.


SECOND PRESENTATION
HOW TO BE HOLY:
PRAYER, THE POOR AND PERDURANCE


When St. Francis heard the voice of Jesus speak to him from the crucifix in the crumbling church of San Damiano, he set out with a naïve stubbornness, taking the Lord’s command literally: Rebuild my Church!  

 So he set about literally rebuilding the church of Saint Damien and then the little chapel we now call the porziuncula, the site of both the birth of the Franciscans and the death of their founder.

I have always loved the porziuncula as a prototype of what a church could be.  Unpretentious but washed in Grace, beautiful,  but with a beauty which points beyond itself, its walls encrusted with the prayers and the tears of generations of folks like you and me.

But what impresses me the most about this impressive little chapel is what it says on the floor at the door as you enter.  Hic Locus Sanctus Est.   “This Place is Holy.”  It is the ultimate Iconium to a building, and the ultimate purpose of each man’s life: to be called holy, beatus, sanctus.

That was so evident a couple years ago when I stood with a quarter of a million folks in Piazza San Pietro, as the Holy Father canonized Saint Kateri Tekakwitha.  

It meant so much to me because 34 years ago I was a seminarian in Rome as Kateri was first called beatus, blessed.  But now, the Pope solemnly proclaimed her to be known as Sanctus, Holy, St. Kateri, the Lily of the Mohawks.

Of course, only God is truly holy, as the angels who stand before the throne understand. 

But the Saints who aspire to join their voices with the heavenly hosts know that they were made by God to reflect his glory, to shine with the splendorous light of the face of God.  It may be only a reflection, but we were made for this great work. And we spend our lives polishing our souls and refocusing our hearts that we might be worthy of the work.

The Council fathers wonderfully envisioned the whole world called to holiness: priests and popes, and parents and toddlers, even politicians and pawn brokers, each called to holiness, preparing themselves for an eternal destiny of praising the God whom they have spent a lifetime seeking to reflect (as in a mirror, darkly), day by day.

“...all the disciples of Christ, persevering in prayer and praising God, should present themselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.”

Knights and ladies, of course, are especially called to holiness, and tonight I would like to suggest three of the many roads which might help you to get there. These roads are as unpretentious as they are eminently practical. They are three simple ways which this aging cleric has found to be useful in trimming his sails and seeking to be just a little less self-centered and a little closer to God. Three roads to holiness.
Thankful Prayer, the Poor, and Perdurance.


Thankful Prayer
Timothy Dexter is one of the most colorful characters to walk the fields of Massachusetts in the decades following the American Revolution.  Born in Malden, he made his first fortune by speculating in Continental currency.  His continuing success was due to a combination of audacity and incredible good luck. 

Against all odds, he exported wool mittens to the West Indies, at just the time an exporter in that tropical climate began shipping to Siberia.  Next, he literally sent coals to Newcastle, at just the moment a British coal miner’s strike made him a fortune there.  He exported Bibles to the Muslim East Indies, stray cats to the Caribbean, and having hoarded a warehouse full of whalebone, by necessity invented the whalebone corset, which became all the rage in nineteenth century New England.

He was eccentric, but wise beyond his capacity, and never ceased to attribute his multiple successes to those who helped him along the way.  Indeed, gratitude was, in his view, the most important of virtues.

 “An ungrateful man,” he would frequently say, ‘is like a hog under a tree eating acorns, who never looks up to see where they came from.’

Remember the nine lepers in the Gospel parable who were just such narcissistic hogs?  Only one came back to give thanks, but the nine who were cleansed of their disease, cured of their disability, now set on getting on with their life, with not a smidgen of gratitude and not a word of thanks to the Lord who cured them.

And we are not so very different.  Sadly, ingratitude is so rampant in our day and age that we often become surprised by folks who are habitually grateful.

On the day I received my last postgraduate degree I practically sprained my wrist patting myself on the back.  But did I think of Miss Lucasak who first taught me cursive in third grade, or Miss Morin who encouraged us to write those one page essays with the pictures two years later.  Did I think of the Priest who first inspired me with a love for the Liturgy, or my parents who put me through College, or the inspiring professors I had come to know along the way.  Did I think of the scholars who had constructed that world of knowledge in which I had gained some small degree of proficiency, or those who built the institutions which had led me through those mysteries.

No, I thought of none of them, I never gave them a thought or a prayer.  I never said thank-you.  Just like the ungrateful lepers, I got on with my life and I never looked back.

I was like the cancer patient, who through the chemo and radiation begs God for just a few more years to see her daughter married or her grandchild graduate.  She prays with fervor, begging God in the early morning darkness to hear her prayers, bargaining and promising that God will be all that really matters in whatever years he might graciously give her…and when she’s cancer free, things get back to normal...minus the fervent prayer, the desperate search for God, and the repeated pledges to do his will.  She gets back to living HER life, and gives God the hour on Sunday, as long as she doesn’t have something more important to do.  She gets on with her life and never looks back.

It’s like the sad anger of the spouse who stands by the grave of the woman he has loved for sixty years and with bitterness blames God for taking her from him.  His God at that moment is a cruel puppet master, who pulls the strings and makes us dance, and causes the dark evil of death and suffering in fulfillment of some perverse scheme of manipulation.  And as he stands there he forgets the day that God brought together two young teens as the light of their lives in the dark days of the depression, skating at Elm Park and knowing that nothing could ever be this beautiful.  He forgets the first time they wept with perfect joy, cradling their newborn baby in their arms, convinced no God could ever be this good, and no child could ever be so beautiful.  He forgets the infinite number of sacrifices, acts of mercy: tiny expressions of exquisite love all made possible by that same God’s unbelievably gracious love for him.

For right now, he is blinded by the pain, and all he can do is cling to the darkness...he has to get on with it and he can’t look back.

It’s like those who were Baptized into Christ, learned to pray, made their First Communion and maybe were confirmed, but who now seem to have forgotten where the Church is, who seldom say a prayer, feed the poor, forgive, or even seek to love others as they were loved.  They go about living their lives, happy enough, but never full satisfied, getting along, but still uncertain about what it really means.

Sure they know joy, for a moment, in the money, in the power, in the successful career, in all the thousands of little reflections of God’s goodness which this wonderful world contains.  But all they see are glimmers and reflections.  Never the full face of him who waits for them, never the splendrous glory of his care for them, never the beauty of listening to him, never the strength of receiving him, never the joy of giving thanks.

For they have things to do, and they will continue to take, without looking back, and never say thank you.

And then there’s you and me.  Fickle, self-absorbed, and sinful as we are, we still try to crane our necks to at least look back.  To break the bread, to tell the story, and to give thanks as best we are able.

For that is what we do each day in this holy house: We celebrate the Eucharist, the thanksgiving: a memorial of recollection and gratitude, in which we remember all that He has done for us, from our first breath to our last, the love, the mercy, the sacrifice....the faith which makes sense of the darkest days and the mystery which defeats the deadly with eternal joy and eternal life.

Which is why, at Mass, speaking in the person of Christ himself, the priest calls out to us:  Lift up your hearts.  And we lift them up to the Lord.

And unlike ungrateful lepers or hogs, we will give thanks to the Lord our God.  For it is right to give him thanks and praise.

  
The Poor
The seminarians back in Boston have just completed their mid-terms. And I am they would have given anything to have an answer key..  Because if you know the answers to the exam, it's very easy to prepare for it.

Well we have the answers to our final exam.  Not the one which Father Cessario or Father Van De Moortell gave to their students, but the one which Christ will give to Father Cessario and Father Van De Moortell and Monsignor Moroney and to each one of us.  Christ gave us the answers when he told us that we would go to heaven or hell based upon how we treated the least of our brothers and sisters:

I was sick....did you care for me?
I was hungry....did you feed me?
I was in prison.....did you visit me?
I was naked....did you clothe me?

We've got the answers to the final exam.  Shouldn't be too hard to prepare for it, then!

Remember when the Lord told us about the rich man who failed the test. Remember Lazarus, the poor wretch who used to beg for food on the front steps of the rich man's house, and how the dogs used to come and lick the sores on Lazarus' body, while the rich man turned his head the other way and stepped over the beggar on his front stoop.

And you remember how Lazarus went to heaven and the rich man went to hell.

Why did the rich man go to hell?  Because he was rich?  No...there's no sin there.  He went to hell because he failed to love his brother.  And who is his brother.  Well, that was last week's parable.

Hospitality, love for the stranger and the alien, the poor wretch and the one whom everyone else forgets is the only correct answer to get into the Kingdom of Heaven.

That's what Abraham and Sarah teach us when the three strangers go walking by their tent on a stinking hot day.  They could have ignored this trinity of strangers, but they did not.  They invited them in, bathed their feet, gave them something cool to drink and cared for them.  Why?  Because they knew they were divine messengers?  No.  They invited them in because God would have wanted them to. And because they did, God fulfilled his covenant with the elderly and childless couple, promising them a son, Isaac, the son of laughter in their old age.

The first path to heaven, then, is hospitality, for hospitality's sake.

And then remember the other Lazarus, Jesus's dear friend.  Lazarus is there along with his sisters Martha and Mary.  

Martha understands hospitality.  She's cooking the meal, running around the kitchen, setting the table, seating the guests and breathlessly exhausting herself in order that everyone might be at home.  

But then she looks over at Mary, who, we are told, is sitting at the Lord's feet, listening to him, deep in conversation with Jesus.  The sweaty and exhausted Martha is enraged....so enraged that she goes right up to Jesus, and in words that could only have come from a friend says to him: tell that sister of mine to help me rather than sitting on her....chair chatting with you all day.

And then Jesus tells us something extraordinary.  He tells us that there is an even more excellent way, a better part than hospitality.  The better part which Mary has chosen, is to spend time alone with the Lord, and that better part shall not be taken from her.


So, hospitality, feeding the poor, forgiving and embracing the stranger, welcoming those rejected by everyone else...are indispensable to those who seek to walk the path to holiness.  But one thing more is required, to pray, to listen and to dwell with the Lord.

I have a lot of friends who are great social workers, selfless advocates for the poor and the downtrodden.  Indeed, for many years, I used to do spiritual direction with a lot of Catholic Workers and Jesuit volunteers and the like.  And you know what one thing they struggle with more than anything else.  Its not the getting up in the middle of the night to drive someone to detox, or having the patience to put up with all the stresses of working with the poor...it's shutting up long enough to pray, and stopping “doing stuff” long enough to sit at the feet of the Lord and listen to him.  The Martha in them would keep them going, twenty-four hours a day, like the energizer bunny, running in circles.  But what they need is contemplation, and quiet and peace with the Lord, if it's all ever going to make sense.

I also have friends in monasteries, like the Trappists in Gethsemane Abbey in Tennessee, where I preached their retreat a couple years back.  They are wonderful monks, who pray five times a day with an intensity and a joy which is a marvel to behold.  But you know what their struggles are?  Forgiving that monk who gave them a dirty look, or putting up with that guy who entered with them thirty years ago whom they've never been able to stand, or seeking out and caring for the monk who is struggling and alone.

For the second road to holiness is paved over two paths: hospitality and prayer, Martha and Mary.

And they are not really two paths at all, but the one path which leads to the cross of Jesus, to the perfect sacrifice of love and devotion, which is our hope, our salvation and the only way to heaven.


Perdurance
And the final key to holiness is perdurance.

I think I first started to learn the importance of perdurance as a little child.  Did you ever read The Little Engine that Could?  It’s been among the most popular children’s books since it was first published in 1930.  

The story is of the littlest engine in the railroad yard, whose sole job was moving trains back and forth for maintenance but, due to its size, was never deemed appropriate for more ambitious long hauls.  

One morning, as the little engine was waiting for its next assignment, it noticed a long line of heavy freight cars and the engine which usually pulled them looking for a replacement.  One after another, the bigger engines refused the job with he excuse: "I can't; that is too much a pull for me.”  In desperation, the freight cars asked the littlest engine to draw it them up one side of the hill and down on the other. 

"I think I can," puffed the little locomotive, and put itself in front of the great heavy train. As it went on the little engine kept bravely puffing faster and faster, "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can." 

As it neared the top of the grade, which had so discouraged the larger engines, it went more slowly. However, it still kept saying, "I—think—I—can, I—think—I—can." 

It reached the top because it just wouldn’t give up.  And as it descended the little engine puffed to itself:  "I thought I could, I thought I could."

That little story was my first lesson in not giving up, not limiting God’s grace, not doubting that God will give me whatever I needed to do whatever he asked me to do.

John the Seminarian: A True Story
John was twenty years old when Father Balley opened a seminary near his home town.  The problem was that John was not very good at academics, having no more than a little arithmetic, history, and geography from his elementary education.  His early writings reveal that he found Latin extremely difficult and he and his best friend Matthew would sit up late at night reciting declensions, which he never really mastered.
  
But if this wasn’t enough, a war broke out and John was drafted into the army.  After basic training he lasted less than a week.  You see, in the morning his regiment was due to march into battle for the first time, so John got up before the sun rose and snuck off to Church to pray.  However, he lost track of time, and when he returned to camp his regiment had already left.  While he escaped being punished for that incident, he soon decided that military life for not for him and he joined the resistance, deserting the army and serving as the schoolmaster in a nearby town under an assumed name for over a year.  When he eventually contacted his family, his Father, was naturally furious with him.  In the end, his brother volunteered to join the army in his place and no charges were ever brought.

So he returned home to try the Seminary again.  However, his Latin was still so bad, that he failed the entrance exam the first time around, but kept trying and eventually passed.  

Three years later he was ordained a Priest and sent as the associate to Father Balley, the good Priest who first encouraged him before the war.  But Father Balley died within a few years and Father John was sent to one of the smallest and most remote parishes in the entire Diocese.  

And from that parish, John Baptiste Vianney, the Cure of Ars, transformed the Priesthood and revitalized the Church, which is why Pope Benedict XVI named him the patron of all Priests, for Father John “taught his parishioners [not just by words, but] primarily by the witness of his life.”

If Father John Baptiste, with all his troubles and failings, could do God’s will so well, so can every one who hears my voice right now.

Never be afraid.  Listen carefully for his voice from deep within your heart. 

So be thankful, love the poor, and hang in there in joyful hope.  And you, like Kateri Tekakwitha and the Curé of Ars and all those who dwell in heaven will be holy in God’s sight and live with him forever in glory!

It’s just that simple.


God bless you.