Thursday, November 6, 2014

Candidacy

For I am already being poured out like a libation,
and the time of my departure is at hand.
I have competed well;
I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.

We have lived through another election season. Midterms. I suppose the outcome was a great surprise. The large headlines and the exclamation points at least indicated so.

And now all of those candidates in the different races, except for one, have gone away disappointed. Billions of dollars were spent. Promises were made. Some were broken. Some will be broken. Signs were printed and thrown away. The signs were ditched, Mitch was not. Still, those forlorn candidates knew the rules. Only one could win, the others must lose.

What about our candidacy? What about the liturgy of the Church we celebrate tonight? What is fulfilled as we move forward toward Holy Orders? What promises will be made and broken? Who will win and who will go away disappointed? Brothers and sisters, there is little doubt, that even in so excellent and rarified an environment as Saint Meinrad, we are not immune to a bit of competition. We engage it daily, subtle and not so subtle, one-upsmanship, promises made, vows to be fulfilled, perhaps a little display of masculine camaraderie that might degenerate into bullying. But tonight we celebrate another kind of candidacy, a move toward Holy Orders that is, while not definitive, at least defining.

Tonight our brothers present themselves to the Church in a new and more intentional way. What is the nature of that presentation? For an answer, we need only look to the rite itself.
Do you resolve to complete your preparation so that in due time through Holy Orders you will be prepared to assume ministry within the Church?

It is a question about context. Will you find the meaning of your life, exemplified in the new status you will receive, will you find the meaning of your life in ministry and service, will you find the meaning in your life in your formation for the same?

The second question, then, blatantly asks are you resolved to give faithful service to the Church? Is that not the reality that I am constantly harping about?

Tonight you present yourself to this community of faith, a microcosm of God’s Church, drawn from every nation and language, you present yourself to the Church as one who is willing to be a deacon and later a priest.

What will be the markers of success? I think there are three: 
The first is a dangerous life of prayer. There are three things that the Church requires of its priests: celebration of the Eucharist, celebration of the sacraments and prayer. There is nothing else that you are preparing for, so plan to give to these things your all. Give until it hurts.

Prepare yourselves for a life lived on your knees before God on behalf of the people you serve. Our ordination prepares us for this and demands this of us: pray regularly, constantly before the mercy seat of God.

Saint Paul tells us in the first letter to the Thessalonians to: Pray without ceasing for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

The time has passed for you to be considering your commitment to a life of prayer. The time has long past for you to be lamenting your inability to pray, to get up in the morning. The time has passed for preparations. Now is the time for action. Pray until it hurts, not for yourself or your needs. Pour out your love, your life of prayer on behalf of the Church you have promised, will promise to pray for without ceasing.

Give your time to God. It is amazing to me that men have so much difficulty paying attention to our Lord in prayer for 15, 30 minutes, one hour, when they can give their undivided attention to a football game for hours on end. Where is the passion for prayer that we pour out on sports, on politics, on the crazy things that happen in our classes, on harping and griping with one another?

Your generosity in prayer is the marker of your success. And brothers, it is dangerous. It requires something of us, not only our time, but our souls, our lives. I have nothing to do all day except celebrate the sacraments and serve God and I do that best on my knees. Wear out your knees; have knee replacements not because of too much running but because of too much kneeling before the throne of the almighty, a throne mightily insinuated for us in this chapel, before this tabernacle. Here is the Holy of Holies our ancestors in faith worshipped before and died to preserve. Here is the altar of rough stones, that is, the new covenant spoken of in the Book of Maccabees. Here is the temple not made by human hands, that sanctuary of God. Give your life to God in its mighty shadow.
Live a dangerous life of prayer and never look back. Never count the cost. Die in your vestments and you will have lived a most successful life.

Second: Service until death. Brothers and sisters, there is nothing more beautiful in this life than to serve one another. We live to serve. It is a cheerful service. If we compete with one another, it is in service. We live it in hospitality, the desire to open my life and my room to all who come. We live it in volunteering, in doing small things with great love, in setting up the dining room, in cleaning the chapel, in preparing food, in the formal ministries we exercise and the informal ministries that are as close to us as our beating hearts.
From a human standpoint, service until death is built on three things: giving, giving and giving.

For I am already being poured out like a libation,
and the time of my departure is at hand.
I have competed well;
I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.

The faith and the service we are called to is not divisive. It does not know strangers. It does not evaluate need according to creed. We do not make radical decisions about personal orthodoxy and then persecute those we find unworthy. We do not carry on heated conversations in our rooms that we would be embarrassed to offer in the chapel.

The life of discipleship and priestly service is the action of the Good Samaritan who sees the problem and promises to fix it, paying back all those who have helped him on his return. Service fixes us in the inn of life and it places us there with everyone, literally everyone, even those who deride, who hate our faith. Whenever I think of the inn, I think of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and the way in which Chaucer illuminates the life of the Church through the image of rough pilgrimage.
Our lives as ministers of the Gospel present us in the inn with the poor, with the unloved and unlovely, with the heretic (and let’s face it, that is most of us and usually the ones pointing the finger most strongly). It is with the stupid, the pitiable, the leperous, the unacceptable, the barbed, the uncultivated. Continue the list.

And we make lists, don’t we, of those who are acceptable and those who are not? Perhaps we make lists here. This professor is acceptable; this one is not. This seminarian is orthodox and therefore okay; this one is not. Brothers and sisters, I reiterate to you what I have said often before. There is no doctrine worth preserving, no liturgical practice worthy of maintaining when charity is tossed out the window. Ideology that is soundly Catholic, solidly Christian, is an ideology built on service.  I can preserve the purity of the faith all day, but if that rarified quality is maintained in a palace surrounded by the ditches of neglect, suspicion and even abuse, then that palace must be destroyed. And I can assure you it will be torn down.

If you are living your priesthood ideologically, if you are preparing for an ideological priesthood, you are not living the priestly life at all – you are purchasing a one-way ticket to hell. And all of your agenda-driven mess will make no difference if it conducts you to that place where the fire is never quenched and the worm dies not.

But we do not need to fear that here. Here we see men who are dedicated to pouring out their lives in service. As rector, through these years, I have never asked a man to do something that he failed to do. I hope I never have the experience, but rather that the ready step of service inclines him in the direction of the ditches of life where there are so many to be cared for, so many to be wrapped in caring arms, so many to be brought to the inn of the Church for merciful deliverance.
Finally, build a community of love. Building a community of love means going out of your way for the one whose attention warrants not one second of your time in your mottled opinion. Building a community of love means primarily not tearing down. It also means seeking the lost sheep.
Seek the lost sheep.

Seek the atheist. Seek the liberal or conservative. Seek the divorced and remarried. Seek the dumb bunnies. Seek the complainer. Seek the noisy. Seek the nosey. Seek the poor. Do we even know the poor? Do we care about them at all? Are they the stray sheep, the one who got away? I can assure you we need not look far. Look to your families, your old friends, your fellow seminarians; look in the all-revealing mirror.

Seek the stray. Please God, we need to seek the stray because that stray sheep, brothers, is us. We are the one who got away and the Good Shepherd went looking for us and found us in the rolling hills of Southern Indiana. He found us in the crevices of the complex origami of our judgment.
Brothers, my sincerest prayer for you is that you will learn to find the love of God, that love for which you pray ceaselessly, that love which you serve to own. My prayer for you is that you will find that love in the mundane things of life, the tending to the flock and the sweeping of the floors.  Find God in the parish, in your presbyterates, your religious communities, your families, your daily lives.
The Holy Father says our concern must be for the marginalized. Let’s not make those folks the ones we marginalized in our judgmental priesthood, our delineating diaconate.

For I am already being poured out like a libation,
and the time of my departure is at hand.

I have competed well;
I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.

It is election season and we must run the race so as to win. We have been given a promise by Jesus the Lord that, in this real election, all of our candidates might be victorious, all might gain the promise of which they have so ardently campaigned, not only election to Holy Orders but with all of us eternal life.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Conference IV

Fall Conference IV

In my rector’s conferences this semester, I have been focusing on the promises made by priests at their ordination with a special eye to obedience. What I think I have discovered is that while there is a particular promise of obedience in the Rite of Ordination, that really the charism of listening and responding is found throughout the rite; indeed the reality of obedience becomes the hallmark and the daily work of the priest. Today, I would like to examine yet another of the particular promises. On the one hand, it seems quite general; on the other, it might touch at the very core of the reality of the priest.

Do you resolve to be united more closely every day to Christ the High Priest, who offered himself for us to the Father as a pure sacrifice, and with him to consecrate yourself to God for the salvation of all?

This is obedience as well. The resolution is not to follow the example of Jesus, but to unite ourselves to Jesus more closely every day, and, as we are told, this means offering myself to the Father as a pure sacrifice for the salvation of the world. What do we mean when we think of the sacrifice of Jesus?

It is a sacrifice of love. To be united with Christ is to love as Christ loved, without prejudice, without pre-disposal. I cannot accept my faith on the terms that I will admire and fulfill that with which I agree.  The content of faith comes to me as a given, something to which I must conform my will, not because I like it but because I accept that it is true. It has an internal logic, which I must prepare my heart and mind to understand.

It is a sacrifice of loss. There is no authentic life of faith without loss. My uniting myself to Christ the High Priest means I acknowledge and accept that part of me must decrease while He must increase. Part of me needs purging. That is why we have the sacrament of reconciliation. That is why we have spiritual direction and need both our entire lives.

It is a sacrifice of beauty. By that, I mean the appropriation of true beauty. In our taking on Christ, we see something new; we see the beauty of the world, often a beauty hidden except through the eyes of faith. I see the good in others. I see the value in what the world puts aside. I see the wonder in the simple and the beauty of the complex. Christ gives me, if I ask Him, his sight – the sight by which I can see what He sees when He says: Behold I am making all things new. Brothers and sisters, if we can only see for a moment the wonder that God intends to show us and bestow on us, not only in physical creation but in the works of human hands, in our neighbors and in ourselves.
It is a sacrifice of desire. I am going to be quite honest with you for a moment, not that I am not always honest (I hope), but here I want to say something rather brutal. I am sick and tired of the continual assault on the charism of celibacy, not from outside the Church – how can we think otherwise in a material culture devoted to instant and superficial gratification? I am sick and tired of the assault on celibacy that comes from within the Church. I want to repeat here what I say in almost every retreat I give to priests: no one, absolutely no one, is forcing you to accept celibacy as a way of life. I agree increasingly with Cardinal George’s assertion that a vocation to the priesthood is a vocation to celibacy primarily. That is not to say that celibacy is primary in the vocation, but we are called to celibacy before we can be called to the priesthood.

The matter is simple: If you don’t want to live a celibate life, then don’t become a priest. But if you accept the celibate commitment in your priesthood, learn to embrace it and love it and, for the sake of religion, do not spend the rest of your life grousing and complaining about celibacy as if someone twisted your metaphorical arm or as if the Church is still stupid enough to retain an outdated charism. Embrace the sacrifice of desire that celibacy entails and embrace it lovingly for its benefits, mourning its losses but continuing to live in its blessings. Then, and only then, can we judge ourselves successful.

Moreover, I think an important question for us all to ask ourselves is this: How do you, how do I, judge success? It is easy in the seminary world to get caught up in the numbers game. Some dioceses have this playing in the background as well. We have this number of seminarians … we must be successful. But, of course, we know that numbers aren’t everything. Some of us get caught up in in the political game played out in many dioceses. Some of us get caught up in a kind of secularity. These words came from the Office of Readings recently:

You ask: How have we despised your name? By offering polluted food at my altar. Then you ask: How have we polluted it? By saying that the table of the Lord may be slighted. When you offer a blind animal for sacrifice is that not evil? When you offer the lame or the sick, is that not evil? Present to the governor, see if he will accept it says the Lord of Hosts.

How many of us remain caught up in the world? Is that success? Is that how we measure success? How many of our less well-formed brothers are ordained to the transitional priesthood? They are on their way. And yet, is that success? Are we to judge our priesthood merely using the rule of secular measures of achievement? I hope not.

I think here of the words of Saint Polycarp in his letter to the Philippians: Abandon empty vanity and the waywardness of the crowd.

We are told to find our excellence in false senses of achievement. What do we say of priests who have had vastly successful priestly lives in the hinterlands? They have been abandoned by their bishops? I think not.

And yet, how do we measure success? I am thinking about the poet Emily Dickinson.
If I can stop one heart from breaking, 
I shall not live in vain;      
If I can ease one life the aching,     
Or cool one pain,      
Or help one fainting robin             
Unto his nest again,   
I shall not live in vain. 
   
We might go even further than that. If I have no success at all, in the very trying of the thing, I shall not live in vain. A while back, as I am sure you remember, I was giving a retreat for priests on a cruise ship sailing through the Caribbean. It was very interesting. The priests were very good men from about eight different dioceses around the country and from Canada. They were good fellows who had done their duty and were given a little furlough on this cruise ship.

None of us knew when we signed up for this gig that we would be sharing this cruise ship with literally hundreds of young people, some might call them special young people. These young folks had Down’s syndrome. Some were mentally challenged, others physically so, and they and their parents were on this cruise. You have never in your life seen such exuberance. Any cynicism I had was thrown overboard. On the first day, I met a young man named Michael in the elevator. I have no idea how old he was, but he wasn’t a child. When he got on the elevator, he shook my hand and introduced himself; then he did the same for my fellow passengers. Then he got off. Every time I saw Michael over the next few days, he yelled out: Fr. Denis! I don’t know, maybe young Michael was fulfilling a vow:

Do you resolve to be united more closely every day to Christ the High Priest, who offered himself for us to the Father as a pure sacrifice, and with him to consecrate yourself to God for the salvation of all?

You know, in our lives we experience all kinds of ills and we try all kinds of remedies. Nothing can assuage the long loneliness, however, except the genuine joy of knowing another. How do we unite ourselves more closely to Christ the High Priest, by pouring out our lives as a pure sacrifice? What is a pure sacrifice? The sacrifice we give without ever expecting anything in return. Can we do it? I know we can. I was thinking the other day about prayer. It is my job, after all. How many of us pray with intentions? This rosary is for this. This Mass is for this. That is well and good. I do it all the time. I wonder, though, what if we could pray without intentions?

We believe that God hears our prayers. We know He does. That is an act of faith. What if we could allow God to allocate our prayers where they are most needed? I pray and I let God direct those prayers. I don’t claim any particular proprietariness over my prayers. I certainly don’t pat myself on the back for praying when I owe everything to the Divine Maker. 

I have found that when I fail to control my prayers, I pray better. When I pray for others, I pray better. When I pray for faceless folks, I pray better. It can’t be all the time because we do have genuine needs for which to pray. If we consecrate ourselves with Christ to God for the salvation of all, it is truly for the salvation of all, not just me and those I know. Brothers and sisters, there are millions of people in the world who have no one to pray for them. There are many in our midst who have no one to pray for them. Can that be us? Can we pray for them to God and let our prayers be distributed by him?

Sometimes our recited Credos get instantly transmogrified into personal theologies. We begin to believe in a God who does our bidding. We only accept the will of God when that will is our will.
But I am reminded of the words of G. K. Chesterton: God is not your scapegoat.

And so we resolve to unite ourselves more closely every day to God through Christ. Saint Ambrose said: If we would please God, we must have love, we must be of one mind, we must follow humility, each one thinking the other higher than himself. Can we live that here?
Brothers, in our ordination, we are called to one thing, the representation of Christ. That call, heard in this promise, requires an obedience from us, a listening to a voice other than my own. We must listen to the voice of the Church calling out its pain to us:

It cries to us in the cry of the lonely and the outcast, those folks that our modernity has promised to preserve with long life and yet are rejected and exiled precisely in their longevity.
It cries to us in the various real crises we meet daily in our ministry: unemployment, illness, loss, debt, disability.

It cries to us in the need for dignity that has to learn to attract our attention in a world that does not value the human person, but only the false qualities of that person that contribute to the false qualities preached by the world.

It cries to us in our brothers and sisters who are wounded in some way and lash out in anger, or frustrations that are ideological.

It cries to us in those who suffer the effects of false understandings of sexuality, of those caught in the web of lies that their natural selves understand as lies but that are not available in understanding to them as lies.

In the midst of these trials however, we hear the words of Saint Paul to the Romans:
The sufferings of the present are as nothing compared to the glory to be revealed in us … the world itself will be freed from its slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.

Brothers and sisters, this is our pastoral plan. For those of us who have been graciously ordained in the office of priest, it’s the reality for which we strive by uniting ourselves more closely every day to Christ the High Priest, who offered himself for us to the Father as a pure sacrifice.

Do you resolve to follow the example of Christ and offer yourself for the lost ones, including ourselves? We cannot do it without God’s grace palpably active in our daily existence. We cannot live without the Truth in our daily existence. I am reminded of the words of Saint Augustine:
What does the soul desire more than truth? Why then does the soul have hungry jaws, a spiritual palate as it were, sensitive enough to judge the truth, if not in order to eat and drink wisdom, justice, truth, eternal life? (Commentary on John).

How can we discover the Truth that God wishes to hold out for us? We cannot do it without a willingness to sacrifice our own wills. Our good as priests or future priests has nothing whatsoever to do with the world’s notions of success, nothing whatsoever. Happiness, material gain, monetary renewal, numbers, damnable numbers. These things have nothing to do with the success of a priest. The success of a priest is gained by one thing, his obedience and his fidelity to the call, and his willingness to let God sort out the rewards, which may accrue to me and my friends and may redound to the need of some lone soul far away who has no one to pray for her.

You probably know here I am thinking of The Diary of a Country Priest. Why do I keep returning to this novel of Georges Bernanos? I don’t think it is because I find in it the truth of how the priesthood ought to be, must be. I think it is because it draws so readily the bottom line for our lives as priests. The priest in the novel has no talents, he has no luck, he has no health, he has no one to care for him, and he has no real gifts except the gift of endurance. He even has no name.

What if this is all there is? We search for the grandiose and the dramatic and we are confronted instead with the daily bread of priesthood. This one needs anointing. This one requires a rather mundane confession. This one is hurting over a divorce. No one needs an exorcism today. There are no tragic car accidents to respond to today. Now I am thinking about Chesterton’s Fr. Brown. Fr. Brown was a great amateur sleuth, much to the chagrin of the local police. Yet, Chesterton is quite clear that Fr. Brown’s real heroism comes from his ability to race on his bicycle to a jam judging, the parish picnic or the bedside of an old hypochondriacal lady. It came from Fr.   Brown’s willingness to embrace Christ among us, to realize that in the daily drama, the wisdom distilled from the daily, that this is all there is.

Brothers and sisters, this is all there is. And it is beautiful. We are all we have and we are wonderful. As we mature in the faith, as we truly mature, we realize that when we pray, there is only one way to do it. Give the outcome to God. Offer your prayers every day in that spirit of the perfect prayer of Jesus: your will be done. Not my will, Father, but your will be done. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.

Do you resolve to be united more closely every day to Christ the High Priest, who offered himself for us to the Father as a pure sacrifice, and with him to consecrate yourself to God for the salvation of all?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

November notes

Jack-O-Lanterns

I was a fairly fearless child, perhaps it is the product of being an “only.” I had no fear of adults or teachers. There was never a project that I refused to get involved in. There were always some ideas brewing. There were some things, however, that did cause my little heart to skip a beat, clowns, of course, and Santa Claus, and the rapture (I was a Baptist child), which I had somehow found a way to tie up in my mind with clowns and Santa Claus. And, I was afraid of Jack-O-Lanterns, or perhaps more accurately; I felt sorry for them. They smile but they are empty. Their crenelated grins belied the fact that they had nothing left inside except a false light. Their purpose was to scare and intimidate and in their chorus of silent smiles, they ushered in November.  November is a hard month. The world of course is changing, color, texture, odor. November is a smelly month, the acrid odor of burning leaves, the sweatiness of the new-mown corn fields, the silent witness of dead skunks in the middle of the road. It is a falling month, falling leaves, falling temperature and falling snow. It is a wind-down month, a temporal witness to the finality of all things. It is an eschatological month and the eschaton is here in sight and sound and smell. To some it smells like sulfur.  To some, it is an eye-burning odor. But to some, perhaps to us, there is something else crowding the olfactory wind. It is the smell of ancient balsam, the chrism of anointing. The month of November begins with the teeth of the empty Jack-O-Lantern, but in time, in time those teeth are transmogrified into the crown of Christ the King. All of the saints usher in November, falling around us like the gold bullion of leaves in the wind. It ends with the decisive image of the King of Glory shining among us in bright array, sifting away the crime of departure, holding out for us the promise of a future rising from the stubble of mown fields, harvested lives. What if Jack-O-Lanterns were prophets of the eschaton, our light shining out from the emptiness of shells? We need to remember that there is something else about November. Between All Saints and Christ the King there is the promise of souls being released into glory where they like leaves swirl is the dance of candle flames shining through the darkness of life’s cemeteries. Between All Saints and Christ the King there is also something else, thanksgiving, eucharistia. In the month of November we give thanks for loss and gain for smiling endings and crowned beginnings.  I hope in the face of all this change, I am still a fairly fearless child.

Wisdom Day Presentation

November Notes
I am including here a transcript of my talk to a group of senior citizens at Wisdom Day in the Diocese of Evansville.

The past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past.

These famous words of my Mississippi compatriot, William Faulker seem very prescient for a celebration of Wisdom Day. Today so many have gathered from around the diocese to celebrate something significant, the virtue, or perhaps we should say, the gift of wisdom, Sophia in Greek. We know of course that wisdom is not the property of longevity, but we also know, if we are wise that there is some wisdom that is to be accrued by the careful living of one’s life.

The past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past.
Today, I would like to spend a bit of time ruminating on this nugget of wisdom from my compatriot, I hope that perhaps in doing so all of us may find some benefit.
I am sure you know by now that most of us have a conflicted relationship with things past. I think here about the novelist Marcel Proust, who in his lengthy novel, Remembrance of Things Past, waxed on for many volumes about the wonders of a previous age. Some of us look back on the past as a kind of golden age. Back in the good old days, we are told such and such a thing was the case. You can fill in the blank. It is interesting to me that most of the time those who make such assertions are those who never lived back in the good old days. All of us are probably aware of how rosy things look from the other side. Relationships and families that were filled with every kind of conflict and problem, years later look back and think of those “golden” times. Everything gets shinier with age. Some among us have the tendency to look back with rose colored glasses. I am thinking here about the very interesting book written some years ago now by the sociologist Stephanie Coontz called The Way We Never Were. Dr. Coontz examines a particular period in American history, the 1950’s which we have made into a kind of happy days of goodness and plenty. Dr. Coontz gives us the true story. Mothers didn’t stand around in high heels baking cookies. Fathers didn’t all smoke pipes and dispense wisdom. Children didn’t all get into Dennis the Menace scraps. Coontz’s outcome is that perhaps things should not have been left to Beaver Cleaver after all. She wants us to wake up and I think she might have a point.

The past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past.
At least as long as we keep the myth alive, we might be tempted to disdain our own time, killing the process of finding a golden age among ourselves by our too strong an assertion of past glories. The other thing we might do is demonize the past, fail to see the true value of things that were, even the negative things. Sometimes, as I often tell my seminarians we need to look at the past and preserve everything there and sometimes we need to closely examine the past and then bury it. Either way, a close look is in order, a look that connects with what we are doing today as much as what happened then. Either way the past becomes a part of our present, a necessary part but not the only part.
I don’t know if you have been following Church news for the past few days. Rome has been in a bit of a tumble. The first meeting of the synod on families finished its round last week. There was a bit of a tussle over things like divorce and re-marriage, birth control and sexuality issues. Frankly there is nothing that can get Church people going more than issues relating to sexuality. Some of the bishops wanted us to hold the line, keeping the course with what has gone before, maintaining our position on important issues in Church life. Well and good. Some bishops wanted some change, looking at things in new ways, harboring the traditions from the past in new vessels, with a different kind of reverence. That is also well and good. Some of the debates became heated. Some folks got their robes in a bit of a wad. And of course all of this internal wrangling was picked up by the news services. Most everything was laid at the feet of Pope Francis. Things didn’t seem to go anyone’s way and the pope got put in the firing line. What does the pope want? Should we get into a fracas that the pope originally asked the folks to get in iby offering feedback to bishops before the session of the synod. There is more to come next year and it could be an interesting year for the pope.

The past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past.
I say it because at some level we have seen all of this before. We saw it in 1968 with the promulgation of Humanae Vitae. Little wrangles have become a feature of Church life and we sometimes feel caught in the midst of that. Watching the events unfold last week was kind of like watching your parents have a fight when you were growing up. Where should we stand in all of this? Here is what I say: We must be careful. It is tempting for us to want to get into the middle of the battle, after all no one likes to see Mom and Dad fight. But I wonder if our stance, perhaps all of our stances ought to be found in the prayer we pray every day, the Our Father. Thy will be done. It is interesting to me that the man who stands in the middle of this is Pope Francis. Some like him. Some do not. I am sure after last week the battle lines may be even more forcefully drawn. But again we must be careful. If you like Pope Francis, I am glad. If you do not, I don’t really care. Here is what I know: The Holy Spirit sent this man for some purpose. That I must believe. I must believe that if I am to remain a Catholic. You are Peter and upon this Rock I will build my Church … whatever you bind will be bound, whatever you loose will be loosed.

When I look back on the fracas of the synod I am reminded of the words of Saint Paul; Some of you say you are for Paul, some Apollos, some Cephas and some Christ.  I say with Paul, don’t follow the politics, follow the shepherd. Follow the man called by God to hold the keys. Have faith. If we have faith, we wait for the outcome. If we choose sides, the result will always be chaos.

The past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past.
If our love for the past, or our love of ideals leads us to fight and hate each other, I can be almost sure that we are wrong. If we place ideas over people, we might be wrong. I think one thing our Holy Father is trying to show us is this: All of this involves real people, some rejoicing and some hurting. There are real souls, not ideals and ideas. These are real men, women and children, persons whom Christ respects, so must we.

We hear today that we are in need of prophets. Perhaps we are but I hope our prophets are not ideologues but shepherds. This is a question I ask my seminarians all the time: What are the qualities of a good shepherd?

A good shepherd serves his flock. He has laid down his life for them, following the example of Christ. He does not let one get away. He worries and frets for the care of all, not only the good but the bad as well. Perhaps he worries more for the bad. The lambs are wonderful, but as a shepherd I can tell you the goats are wonderful as well. They are all good sheep, even if they don’t know it yet and I can assure you their goodness has nothing to do with me, it is the work of Christ in their making.
A good shepherd loves and celebrates with his flock. Last week I had the great privilege of being the retreat master for a group of priests on a cruise ship. Also on the ship were 300 young people with Down’s Syndrome. They were wonderful, dancing, laughing, full of joy, community. The shepherd celebrates with his flock. Those kids were the best retreat those priests could have had. My simple words to them were just straw.

A good shepherd teaches the truth of the Gospel and that is respect, care, and drawing together. The good shepherd huddles with his sheep, protecting them from the storms of life, warming them by the fire, and never leaving them for greener pastures. The good shepherd never ever abandons his vocation or seeks to bracket his vocation for some other reason. There is no other reason when you are a shepherd.

I think, I hope I know what a good shepherd does. I know also that I am not always so good, but I try. I pray and I try.

I also think I know what a bad shepherd is. At least I think I know some qualities. A bad shepherd is deceitful. He invites people to follow him, setting himself up as the best thing in shepherd’s garb and then he takes advantage of the sheep, he takes advantage of their needs and that is the worst kind of abuse. Some shepherds live duplicitous lives, setting themselves up as shepherds of the year and then not following through.

Some shepherds are only interested in the good sheep, or the sheep they like. The rest of the flock can go to hell, but I will take those whom I like, usually those who agree with me. Some shepherds exploit the gullibility of the sheep.
Some shepherds lie. Some hide their true motives and their true values until they can’t do it anymore. They are not honest. Those shepherds are perhaps the worst. They are wolves in shepherd’s clothing and they feel sorry for the sheep because they are not wolves. They take money and sustenance from the sheep and all the while they secretly loath them. There is no place in the Church for such shepherds but sometimes we can find them among us.

I don’t care what they claim for themselves. They are false shepherds. Sometimes they are shepherds that like to look to the past for guidance

The past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past.
What can we learn from the past? We can certainly learn our heritage, and we must know that heritage. We must know the tradition from which we come. We can certainly learn from our mistakes, if we are honest in looking at the past, we can learn from our mistakes. We can also see, in the glory and in the mistakes a roadmap for the future. I hope that is what we are doing, because it seems to me that learning from the past, without living in the past is the true source of wisdom. I hope you see that and I am thankful that you have invited me to be a part of this day with you. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Reflection on October

It seems to me that October is a month of conversion. We see it somewhat readily in the world around us. The other evening we had the Around the World party and the weather snapped. Suddenly the threat of chill was in the air. Everywhere we look, we see it, we feel it. Trees are changing color, runny noses are disappearing or appearing. Things are changing. It is true of the month. On the first we celebrated the memorial of Therese of Liseaux. She has undergone a conversion in my book. When I was a teenager, I thought about her a great deal, a young woman with a vocation, a fierce determination to follow the way of the Lord in Carmel. When I was older I asked her for a favor, not as the young girl, but as the mature saint who so aptly expressed herself in na├»ve/wise language. And, well, here I am. We had St. Theodore last week as well. Here is another example of wild determination forging the foundations of spiritual resuscitation in a world in need of renewal. Later this month I will have the privilege of participating with the Sisters of Providence in their founding celebrations, another tribute to the fierce Theodora. Then, last Saturday we had St. Francis. There is no real need to spend much time on his wildness, the naked boy romping around Assisi in an act of more naked conversion. And there are many others to come in this month of conversion, including the apostles Simon and Jude and St. Luke, the great evangelist of conversion. In this month devoted to Our Lady of the Rosary, I have asked everyone in the seminary to do something, to pray five decades of the rosary daily for peace in the world. Our Holy Father has made peace his prayer intention for the month and it seems to me that if anyone can assist us in accomplishing peace it is Our Lady. Perhaps there are some who would scoff at the prospect of a group of people praying the rosary and thereby swaying the thoughts of nations, some of those nations hostile to the Word of God. Here is my response to that. We can never know what effect our prayer has. Is there a war that might be prevented by a group of seminarians praying the rosary? Is there one terrorist who might be converted? Is there one act of violence that might be stopped by all of the prayers of my life put together? I pray and I leave it to God to use those prayers as he sees fit. I pray and I rely on God’s providence to work things out. My job is to pray and I must do that if I am authentic to my calling as a priest and as a Christian. So, let’s pray together. Let us all resolve to pray the rosary for peace every day. Let us take this month of conversion and give it all to the God of times and seasons. He is the maker of all things, the creator of saints and our savior.