Saturday, April 27, 2013

See how those Christians love!


I want to begin today with a bit of a sing-a-long.  I think it is a song you know, so I’ll sing and then invite everyone to repeat: “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

There is a story about the renowned artist Paul Gustave Doré who lost his passport while traveling in Europe. When he came to a border crossing, he explained his predicament to one of the guards. Giving his name to the official, Doré hoped he would be recognized and allowed to pass. The guard, however, said that many people attempted to cross the border by claiming to be persons they were not. But, Doré, of course,  insisted that he was the man he claimed to be. “All right,” said the official, “we'll give you a test, and if you pass it we'll allow you to go through.” Handing him a pencil and a sheet of paper, he told the artist to sketch several peasants standing nearby. Doré did it so quickly and skillfully that the guard was convinced he was indeed who he claimed to be. His actions confirmed his identity.

Jesus said in our Gospel passage today, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  Or, as we just all sang together, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

Our Scriptures today cause us to ask whether or not people can tell who we, as Christians, are by the way we act.  Think about that for a minute – how does someone know who you are?  Sometimes a uniform can help – we can pick out a police man or a fireman quickly.  We can pick out a priest in his collar, or a member of a religious Order in their habit - like the distinctive Franciscan habit that we wear.  But, a uniform doesn’t make the person, or in the words of Shakespeare in Measure for Measure, “The hood does not make a monk.”

Don’t get me wrong, uniforms, clerical garb or religious habits all have their place. We are, after all, symbolic beings who express ourselves in symbolic forms. And Jesus Himself wrestled with the question of how to distinguish His followers from the non-believers around them. But His answer is very different than mere habits and uniforms. It’s not enough to wear a cross or claim the name of Christian or Catholic.  It’s not enough to identify merely through externals as a follower of Christ; as though we enroll with a membership; as though we could be literal card-carrying Christians.  For Jesus, the essential mark of distinction between Christians and non-Christians is not in the way we dress; not in the way we identify; but in the way we live - and most importantly in the way we love.  Just think of one of the new dismissals in our new translation of the Mass that I love to use, “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life!”

We heard today from Jesus, “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  Or to phrase it just a bit differently, Love is the Christian identity. Love is the Christian uniform. Love is the Christian habit. Love is the Christian calling card.

You see, Jesus wants the world to recognize us as Christians. As it was said in the earliest days of the Church is should be said today of us, “See how those Christians love.”  And yet, how often is the Gospel, the Good News used, as a weapon, as something to keep people away or excluded; made to feel outside of that love.

The challenge for each of us today is to evangelize and witness and preach to the people around us; the people we encounter every day. But effective evangelization and witnessing usually has less to do with how eloquently we speak and more to do with how faithfully and lovingly we live. As St Francis of Assisi told his brothers, “Preach the gospel at all times and, if necessary, use words.” And, I think we have such a powerful example of exactly what this looks like in our new Holy Father Pope Francis.

In the few months that he has been leader of our Church, he has yet to issue an encyclical or a great work of theological significance, but look at how much he has taught us.  And how has he done that?  Through the way that he loves.  Pope Francis has set the Church and the world on its head with his simple form of humble and loving leadership.  From the moment of his election, as he stepped out on the balcony wearing simple vesture; as he bowed before the world – before us – to seek our blessing as he began his papacy.  As he has chosen not to live in the vast Papal Apartments and instead to remain in community with others who work at the Vatican.  His simple black shoes and no cufflinks; a simple silver cross instead of one clad in gold.  And perhaps, most profoundly, on Holy Thursday, as he skipped the lavish celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at St. Peter’s Basilica and instead he went to a juvenile prison and washed the feet of youth prisoners, one of whom exclaimed, “At last I get to meet someone who says that he is my father.”

“As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” Why is the Holy Father doing this?   I think the answer is in the name he has chosen – Francis.  He has been inspired by the Saint of the Poor, Saint Francis of Assisi.  St. Francis lived in a time much like our own – there was scandal in the Church and people were far from the faith.  Today, though, we remember his times for the great period of holiness that it gave birth to.  We remember the luminary saints who were born in response to that sin – St. Francis and St. Clare; St. Bonaventure and St. Anthony; St. Albert the Great and St. Thomas Aquinas and so many more.  And so much of it began with Francis.

St. Francis changed the Church and changed the world with one simple proposition – that the love of the Gospel is meant to be lived; that it can be lived. And that we live the Gospel by being men and women of loving service to one another; loving service to those in need. “Preach the Gospel at all times, when necessary use words.” Eight hundred years later, this new Francis, our Holy Father Pope Francis, I think, wants to propose it to us again – and if we follow where he wants to lead us – not in word, but in loving action – we will again change the Church and change the world.

You’ve heard the statement before, “If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”  The way to be a convicted Christian is by living and loving in such a way that through us people begin to have a glimpse of the unconditional love that God has shown us in Christ.  So, the best habit we can wear is to love everyone the way Christ loves – without restriction, without judgment, without condition.  The love of Christ, leads us to passionately proclaim His message, to feed those who are hungry without thought, to give shelter to the homeless, to reach out to the lost and forsaken, to support life in all its forms. 

Put on the garment of love and show it to all whom you meet – let that be what identifies you as a follower of Jesus more than anything else.  I’ll end with the words of Blessed Mother Teresa which capture well the love of Christ: “People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centered. Love them anyway!  If you are kind, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway! The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway! Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway! What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway! People really need help but may attack you if you try to help them. Help them anyway! Give the world your best and it will hurt you. Give your best anyway!  In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”

“This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  My brothers and sisters, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Dear Dzhokhar, You don't know me, but you tried to kill my family... | America Magazine

James Martin, SJ | Apr 21 2013 - 6:43pm | America Magazine

This letter to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, posted on the Facebook page of Michael Rogers, SJ, received almost 20,000 shares since Rogers, a Jesuit scholastic studying in Rome in preparation for ordination in June, posted it yesterday.  Mr. Rogers, a New England Province scholastic whose brother ran in last week's Boston Marathon, gave us permission to reprint his letter in full.  
Dear Dzhokhar, 
You don’t know me, but you tried to kill my family. 
You couldn’t have known, but my brother ran bandit in the marathon and trained for months. My sister-in-law was an amazing and supportive wife, as she always is, and was ready to run the last five miles with him.  Your bomb was at the finish line that they were trying to cross. 
My mother, father and sister were waiting for them at the finish line. You didn’t know it, but my mother thinks that she saw you down there. My sister is only three years younger than you, and you set off a bomb in front of her.
You don’t know me, but you tried to kill some friends of mine.
One of my best and closest friends was working in the store in front of which you or your brother laid down a bomb. That bomb exploded, and gave her the worst day of her life. 
I was a high school teacher, and your bomb wounded one of my most promising students with shrapnel. 
Dear Dzhokhar, you tried to destroy a community that I left behind for Rome, but from which I draw so much of my strength and identity. 
You killed a child who was a part of the community who made me the man I am today. Martin may have grown up to be a BC High boy...and his family is well loved in the community which surrounds that school. 
You tried to drive a city which gave me courage in the face of cancer into complete and utter fear. But you tried to do this to a city that knew how to make a 10-year-old unafraid. 
Dear Dzhokhar, you may have crossed the threshold of the building in which I lived to compete in an athletic event, but we have never met, and you tried to kill my family, a friend, my students, and destroy my community. 
Dear Dzhokhar, you failed. Did you ever think that you would make it out? The U.S. captured Bin Laden and Saddam...there was no chance you would escape. This is not the measure of your success, though. Dear Dzhokhar, you failed because Boston was neither bowed nor afraid. You set off a bomb, and the city gave blood for victims. You escaped initial capture and the city opened its doors to strangers. You were at large and making more bombs, and we gathered in prayer at Garvey Park and the Cathedral. You went on a rampage, and people stayed home in an orderly fashion and opened their homes to the police during the search. Dear Dzhokhar, you failed, because light cast out the darkness, and the man who knew that his boat just didn’t look right wasn’t afraid to call it in to the police.
Dear Dzhokhar, for all of this, I can’t hate you.  Today I thought about the fact that you are only are just a kid. You must have been so afraid today. You were a victim like so many are victims, you were brought something you shouldn’t have been brought into because you likely didn’t and couldn’t know any better. 
I am glad that you are going to prison, and I hope that you will have many long years there in Supermax in Colorado. I hope that no one I love will ever be threatened by you again, but I can’t hate you. 
I can’t hate you because whatever you brought into Boston was enough hate for a good long while, I won’t and can’t hate any more. 
I can’t hate you because I remember being 19, and I thought many things were a good idea that weren’t. I never would have went where you were with that, but I was certainly not an adult at 19. 
I can’t hate you because, even though you did unspeakable things...somehow you are still my brother and your death can never be my gain. 
I can’t hate you, and not just because I am a Catholic, and a Christian, and because in a couple of months I will be a priest, I am a human and I simply can’t hate you.
Dear Dzhokhar, I still have hope for you. 
The rest of your life will be in prison. I have seen men change their lives there. I hope that you won’t be executed, because I know that we can hold you, safely, for the rest of your life. 
I can’t say what your story might be there, but I know that I, as a Christian, and you, as a Muslim, believe God to be I can’t help but have hope for you. 
Dear Dzhokhar, you’re a kid. I can’t hate you, or fear you. I am glad you are in custody, I am glad you can’t hurt anyone else or yourself anymore, but I can’t hate you...and I won't fear you. 
Dear Dzhokhar, I will pray for you. Next year, when my friend and my brother cross that finish line on Boylston, your brother’s cause will have lost for good; but I will pray that you will know, somehow still, the love that my brother, sister-in-law, mother, father, sister, friends and students all have given me. 
Dear Dzhokhar, I will pray for you. When the first pitch is thrown on Patriots Day at Fenway, I will pray that somehow you will know joy...the joy that makes us fully human and offers the possibility of real repentance...the joy that Red Sox baseball fills me with every year. 
Dear Dzhokhar, I will pray for you next year when the first shot is fired in the annual reenactment of the battle of Lexington and Concord, that you will come to know that peace and love are the only ways in which world will ever be changed. 
Dear Dzhokhar, I don’t and can’t hate you. I am glad you are in custody, but you are just a kid, and you lost. I will love and pray for you, because somehow your sin was turned for good, and my community and the people I love will only be stronger in the end. 
Dear Dzhokhar,

We must be a people of reconciliation, not revenge | Cardinal Sean O'Malley, OFM Cap.

NOTE: Below is the text of Cardinal Sean O'Malley's homily from Sunday. It was Good Shepherd Sunday and our Cardinal was celebrating a special Mass to honor those who lost their lives in the Marathon bombing here in our city.  The Cardinal reminded us, "We must be a people of reconciliation, not revenge..The Gospel is the antidote to the 'eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth' mentality." A member of my religious community put it this way, "The only answer to radical evil is radical love." So, let's love radically. Let's live radically. Here is the homily and a video (thanks to Rocco Palmo for the video):

Jesus said “they will strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter”; that is what happened to His disciples after the Crucifixion, as they scattered in fear, doubt and panic.
On Easter the Good Shepherd returns to gather the scattered;  Mary Magdalene in grief, Thomas in doubt, Peter in betrayal.  We too are scattered and need the assurance of the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for us, who comes to gather us in our scattered in our brokenness and pain, scattered by failed marriages, lost employment, estranged children, illness, the death of a loved one, soured relationships, disappointments and frustrations.
This week we are all scattered by the pain and horror of the senseless violence perpetrated on Patriots Day.  Last Sunday at the 11:30 Mass here at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Fr. O’Leary led a special blessing for the many runners who participated in the Mass.  Some people here were among those injured and those who witnessed the terrible events that unfolded at the finish line  of the Marathon, but everyone was profoundly affected by the wanton violence and destruction inflicted upon our community by two young men unknown to all of us.

It is very difficult to understand what was going on in the young men’s minds, what demons were operative, what ideologies or politics or the perversion of their religion.  It was amazing to witness, however, how much goodness and generosity were evidenced in our community as a result of the tragic events they perpetrated.
It reminds me of a passage in Dorothy Day’s autobiography where she speaks about experiencing a serious earthquake in California when she was a young girl.  Suddenly neighbors that never spoke were helping each other, sharing their food and water, caring for children and the elderly.  She was amazed and delighted, but a few weeks later people retreated to their former individualism and indifference.
Dorothy Day spent the rest of her life looking to recapture the spirit of community.  That led her to the Communist Party and eventually it led her into the Catholic Church and to found the Catholic Worker Movement, dedicating herself to the care of the homeless, the drug addict
This past week we have experienced a surge in civic awareness and sense of community.   It has been inspiring to see the generous and at times heroic responses to the Patriots Day violence.  Our challenge is to keep this spirit of community alive going forward.  As people of faith, we must commit ourselves to the task of community building.
Jesus teaches us in the Gospel that we must care for each other, especially the most vulnerable; the hungry, the sick, the homeless, the foreigner; all have a special claim on our love.  We must be a people of reconciliation, not revenge.  The crimes of the two young men must not be the justification for prejudice against Muslims and against immigrants.
The Gospel is the antidote to the “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” mentality.  The parable of the Good Samaritan is the story about helping one’s neighbor when that neighbor was from an enemy tribe, a foreign religion, a hostile group.  The Samaritan cuts through centuries of antipathy by seeing in the Jewish man who had been beaten and left for dead not a stranger or an enemy, but a fellow human being who has a claim of his humanity and compassion.
We know so little about the two young men who perpetrated these heinous acts of violence.  One said he had no friends in this country, the other said his chief interests were money and his career.  People need to be part of a community to lead a fully human life.  As believers one of our tasks is to build community, to value people more than money or things, to recognize in each person a child of God, made in the image and likeness of our Creator.
The individualism and alienation of our age has spawned a culture of death.  Over a million abortions a year is one indication of how human life has been devalued.  Violent entertainment, films and video games have coarsened us and made us more insensitive to the pain and suffering of others.  The inability of the Congress to enact laws that control access to automatic weapons is emblematic of the pathology of our violent culture.
When Pope John Paul II visited Madrid in 2003, addressing one million young people, he told them; “Respond to the blind violence and inhuman hatred with the fascinating power of love.”  We all know that evil has its fascination and attraction but too often we lose sight of the fact that love and goodness also have the power to attract and that virtue is winsome.  Passing on the faith means helping people to lead a good life, a moral life, a just life.  Thus part of our task as believers is to help our people become virtuous.
Plato thought that virtue was knowledge.  As Chain Ginott, the concentration camp survivor, reminds us, doctors, nurses, scientists and soldiers were part of the Holocaust machinery, showing that knowledge is not virtue, and often science and technology have been put at the service of evil.  It is only a culture of life and an ethic of love that can rescue us from the senseless violence that inflicts so much suffering on our society.
Like Christ our Good Shepherd, we who aspire to be Jesus’ disciples and to follow His way of life, we too must work to gather the scattered, to draw people into Christ’s community.  It is in His Gospel that we find the answers to the questions of life and the challenging ideals that are part of discipleship; mercy, forgiveness, self sacrifice, service, justice and truth.
John Lennon once said, ‘Everything will be OK in the end.  If it’s not OK, it’s not the end.’  Our faith goes beyond that optimism.  Love is stronger than death.  We are going to live forever in the Resurrection Christ won for us on the Cross.   The innocent victims who perished this week; Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi, Officer Sean Collier, will live in eternity.  Life is not ended, merely changed – that is the message of Easter.  As Martin Luther King expressed, ‘Death is a comma, not a period at the end of a sentence.’
Although the culture of death looms large, our Good Shepherd rose from the grave on Easter and His light can expel the darkness and illuminate for us a path that leads to life, to a civilization of solidarity and love.  I hope that the events of this past week have taught us how high the stakes are.  We must build a civilization of love, or there will be no civilization at all.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Good shepherds all around us

A tribute to the many good shepherds all around us this week from one of Boston's cathedrals yesterday.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

You be Jesus! You be the good shepherd!

HOMILY FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER, Good Shepherd Sunday, April 21, 2013:

A mother was preparing pancakes for her young sons, David and Billy.  The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake.  Their mother saw the opportunity to teach the boys a good moral lesson and said, “Boys, if Jesus were sitting here, He would say ‘Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.’”  And so, David turned to his younger brother and said, “Billy, you be Jesus!”

Good shepherds
We heard in our Gospel passage today, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me.” As we gather on this beautiful Sunday morning, the Church invites us to celebrate today the World Day of Prayer for Vocations.  The images presented in Scripture today lead us to more commonly refer to this as Good Shepherd Sunday.   We have this powerful and tender image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd and so it is a good time to think about, talk about and pray about the need for more vocations.  And we are so grateful for the very good shepherds that we have in our lives – our local priests and bishops; our past Popes and our new Pope Francis.  We know that shepherds are good for us.  They lead us and they guide us; they keep us safe and help us to follow Christ more closely.

Now, in Jesus’ time, there were basically two kinds of shepherds. There was the hired hand for whom keeping the sheep was just an available job. He moved from flock to flock depending on conditions and would not risk his life for the sheep. Seeing danger he would flee and leave the sheep untended.  But, then there was the shepherd-owner of the flock who grew up with the flock and stayed with the same sheep all his life. He knew each and every one individually. He called them by name and knew everything about them – which ones were strong, which were weak; which ones might stray or get into trouble and so he would watch out for them. And when there was danger, he would risk his life to defend his sheep. And Jesus tells us that this is the kind of shepherd He is. 

Now typically, on Good Shepherd Sunday, we talk about the need for vocations, the need to pray for priests – I want you to do that; you know that we need more priests.  But today, after the week that we have had in our beloved Commonwealth, I wanted to talk about the Good Shepherd in just a slightly different way.  You see I’ve been thinking about good shepherds a lot this week. You might feel like me that the terror of these events this week cut a little too close to home.  I live in downtown Boston and my family is in New Bedford.  I attended UMass Dartmouth after high school where one of the terrorists attends; my sister works at the supermarket in New Bedford where they apparently shopped.  This all cut too close to home quite literally.

But, in the midst of this difficult week, I also saw something else, something moving, something beautiful.  Remember that the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.  I don’t know about you, but this week I saw a city, a region, a commonwealth and a nation full of good shepherds; full of people ready to lay their lives on the line for others.  I saw a whole lot of people responding to that call – “You be Jesus.”  In the immediate aftermath of bomb blasts people didn’t run away, they ran towards the danger, just like a good shepherd would.  They ran to help and comfort and carry and tend.  I saw police officers and other law enforcement; doctors and nurses and EMS workers; and mayors, governors and even presidents.  I saw just plain good folk; good neighbors reaching out and offering helping hands.  While some might want to focus on the evil acts of two men, let’s not forget the heroic and holy acts of good shepherds just about everywhere else you look this week.

You see, the point is that Jesus isn’t the only Good Shepherd.  Priests and religious aren’t the only ones called to be good shepherds.  We are all called to be Jesus.  We are all called to be good shepherds.  And so, you be Jesus and you be Jesus and you and you and you. 

This week has been a simple but powerful reminder that evil is not of God and evil cannot overcome us.  A simple but powerful reminder that darkness cannot overcome darkness; only light can.  Sometimes evil breaks into our otherwise peaceful existence and we are rocked by it. But, our response must be a response of light, must be a response of love, must be a response of goodness and holiness and peace.  Yes, there was an explosion; yes, there was a moment of evil; and immediately people ran, but not away, they ran towards those who were injured. They ran in to be that presence of goodness in the midst of confusion and pain.  They were good shepherds. And isn’t this what God always does?  He runs in bringing His loving and consoling presence to conquer the darkness. 

And so as we gather on this Good Shepherd Sunday, God is calling us all once again to be good shepherds.  As the nation and the world looks to us, God has something He wants to say and He wants to speak through  you and me.  But, Evil wants to speak too.  Evil wants to speak in each one of us with words of hatred and vengeance and fear.  Don't let it speak.  Let God speak instead through us as good shepherds; let Him speak words of love and kindness and compassion and LIGHT.

On this Good Shepherd Sunday, we do need more good shepherds – but those shepherds are us.  God is inviting us to be the good shepherds of His flock today. He is inviting us to speak the words that He places in our hearts - to speak them loudly to the world so it will know that we will always be a people defined by care and compassion; by love and joy; by faith and hope and, especially in this Eastertide, by a Savior who has come into the world to conquer even death itself and lead us to a newness of life that no one – no one – can ever take away.

So, David was right – you be Jesus!  You be a good shepherd.

May the Lord give you peace.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

This state of grace: You will run again! | Thank you Mr. President

NOTE: In the Interfaith Prayer Service today at Holy Cross Cathedral, there were some truly inspiring moments.  Of course, the words of Cardinal Sean as always calling us to embrace the Culture of Life and the President today who certainly lifted the spirits of this city and surely the spirits of the country.  Thank you Cardinal Sean, thank you to all the religious leaders present, thank you Mayor Menino and Governor Patrick and thank you Mr. President. - FT

Text of President Barack Obama:

Hello, Boston!

Scripture tells us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us.” Run with endurance the race that is set before us.

On Monday morning, the sun rose over Boston. The sunlight glistened off the Statehouse dome. In the Common and the Public Garden, spring was in bloom. On this Patriot’s Day, like so many before, fans jumped onto the T to see the Sox at Fenway. In Hopkinton, runners laced up their shoes and set out on a 26.2-mile test of dedication and grit and the human spirit. And across this city, hundreds of thousands of Bostonians lined the streets -- to hand the runners cups of water and to cheer them on.
It was a beautiful day to be in Boston -- a day that explains why a poet once wrote that this town is not just a capital, not just a place. Boston, he said, “is the perfect state of grace.”

And then, in an instant, the day’s beauty was shattered. A celebration became a tragedy. And so we come together to pray, and mourn, and measure our loss. But we also come together today to reclaim that state of grace -- to reaffirm that the spirit of this city is undaunted, and the spirit of this country shall remain undimmed.

To Governor Patrick; Mayor Menino; Cardinal O’Malley and all the faith leaders who are here; Governors Romney, Swift, Weld and Dukakis; members of Congress; and most of all, the people of Boston and the families who’ve lost a piece of your heart. We thank you for your leadership. We thank you for your courage. We thank you for your grace.

I’m here today on behalf of the American people with a simple message: Every one of us has been touched by this attack on your beloved city. Every one of us stands with you.

Because, after all, it’s our beloved city, too. Boston may be your hometown, but we claim it, too. It’s one of America’s iconic cities. It’s one of the world’s great cities. And one of the reasons the world knows Boston so well is that Boston opens its heart to the world.

Over successive generations, you’ve welcomed again and again new arrivals to our shores -- immigrants who constantly reinvigorated this city and this commonwealth and our nation. Every fall, you welcome students from all across America and all across the globe, and every spring you graduate them back into the world -- a Boston diaspora that excels in every field of human endeavor. Year after year, you welcome the greatest talents in the arts and science, research -- you welcome them to your concert halls and your hospitals and your laboratories to exchange ideas and insights that draw this world together.

And every third Monday in April, you welcome people from all around the world to the Hub for friendship and fellowship and healthy competition -- a gathering of men and women of every race and every religion, every shape and every size; a multitude represented by all those flags that flew over the finish line.

So whether folks come here to Boston for just a day, or they stay here for years, they leave with a piece of this town tucked firmly into their hearts. So Boston is your hometown, but we claim it a little bit, too.

I know this because there’s a piece of Boston in me. You welcomed me as a young law student across the river; welcomed Michelle, too. You welcomed me during a convention when I was still a state senator and very few people could pronounce my name right.

Like you, Michelle and I have walked these streets. Like you, we know these neighborhoods. And like you, in this moment of grief, we join you in saying -- “Boston, you’re my home.” For millions of us, what happened on Monday is personal. It’s personal.

Today our prayers are with the Campbell family of Medford. They're here today. Their daughter, Krystle, was always smiling. Those who knew her said that with her red hair and her freckles and her ever-eager willingness to speak her mind, she was beautiful, sometimes she could be a little noisy, and everybody loved her for it. She would have turned 30 next month. As her mother said through her tears, “This doesn’t make any sense.”

Our prayers are with the Lu family of China, who sent their daughter, Lingzi, to BU so that she could experience all this city has to offer. She was a 23-year-old student, far from home. And in the heartache of her family and friends on both sides of a great ocean, we’re reminded of the humanity that we all share.

Our prayers are with the Richard family of Dorchester -- to Denise and their young daughter, Jane, as they fight to recover. And our hearts are broken for 8-year-old Martin -- with his big smile and bright eyes. His last hours were as perfect as an 8-year-old boy could hope for -- with his family, eating ice cream at a sporting event. And we’re left with two enduring images of this little boy -- forever smiling for his beloved Bruins, and forever expressing a wish he made on a blue poster board: “No more hurting people. Peace.”

No more hurting people. Peace.

Our prayers are with the injured -— so many wounded, some gravely. From their beds, some are surely watching us gather here today. And if you are, know this: As you begin this long journey of recovery, your city is with you. Your commonwealth is with you. Your country is with you. We will all be with you as you learn to stand and walk and, yes, run again. Of that I have no doubt. You will run again. You will run again.

Because that’s what the people of Boston are made of. Your resolve is the greatest rebuke to whoever committed this heinous act. If they sought to intimidate us, to terrorize us, to shake us from those values that Deval described, the values that make us who we are, as Americans -- well, it should be pretty clear by now that they picked the wrong city to do it. Not here in Boston. Not here in Boston.
You’ve shown us, Boston, that in the face of evil, Americans will lift up what’s good. In the face of cruelty, we will choose compassion. In the face of those who would visit death upon innocents, we will choose to save and to comfort and to heal. We’ll choose friendship. We’ll choose love.

Scripture teaches us, “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” And that’s the spirit you’ve displayed in recent days.

When doctors and nurses, police and firefighters and EMTs and Guardsmen run towards explosions to treat the wounded -- that’s discipline.

When exhausted runners, including our troops and veterans -- who never expected to see such carnage on the streets back home -- become first responders themselves, tending to the injured -- that’s real power.

When Bostonians carry victims in their arms, deliver water and blankets, line up to give blood, open their homes to total strangers, give them rides back to reunite with their families -- that’s love.

That’s the message we send to those who carried this out and anyone who would do harm to our people. Yes, we will find you. And, yes, you will face justice. We will find you. We will hold you accountable. But more than that; our fidelity to our way of life -- to our free and open society -- will only grow stronger. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but one of power and love and self-discipline.

Like Bill Iffrig, 78 years old -- the runner in the orange tank top who we all saw get knocked down by the blast -- we may be momentarily knocked off our feet, but we’ll pick ourselves up. We’ll keep going. We will finish the race. In the words of Dick Hoyt, who’s pushed his disabled son, Rick, in 31 Boston Marathons -- “We can’t let something like this stop us.” This doesn’t stop us.

And that’s what you’ve taught us, Boston. That’s what you’ve reminded us -- to push on. To persevere. To not grow weary. To not get faint. Even when it hurts. Even when our heart aches. We summon the strength that maybe we didn’t even know we had, and we carry on. We finish the race. We finish the race.

And we do that because of who we are. And we do that because we know that somewhere around the bend a stranger has a cup of water. Around the bend, somebody is there to boost our spirits. On that toughest mile, just when we think that we’ve hit a wall, someone will be there to cheer us on and pick us up if we fall. We know that.

And that’s what the perpetrators of such senseless violence -- these small, stunted individuals who would destroy instead of build, and think somehow that makes them important -- that’s what they don’t understand. Our faith in each other, our love for each other, our love for country, our common creed that cuts across whatever superficial differences there may be -- that is our power. That’s our strength.

That’s why a bomb can’t beat us. That’s why we don’t hunker down. That’s why we don’t cower in fear. We carry on. We race. We strive. We build, and we work, and we love -- and we raise our kids to do the same. And we come together to celebrate life, and to walk our cities, and to cheer for our teams. When the Sox and Celtics and Patriots or Bruins are champions again -- to the chagrin of New York and Chicago fans -- the crowds will gather and watch a parade go down Boylston Street.

And this time next year, on the third Monday in April, the world will return to this great American city to run harder than ever, and to cheer even louder, for the 118th Boston Marathon. Bet on it.

Tomorrow, the sun will rise over Boston. Tomorrow, the sun will rise over this country that we love. This special place. This state of grace.

Scripture tells us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us.” As we do, may God hold close those who’ve been taken from us too soon. May He comfort their families. And may He continue to watch over these United States of America. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Responding to Boston: Being Light, Speaking Peace

Here we are again and this time it is close. Some of you may know that I live no more than a 10 minute walk from the site of the bombing. Here we are again and terror has struck on our front door and more than a hundred people are injured, some very terribly, and three are dead, one of them a beautiful young boy with a toothless grin his face smiling at us in his white First Communion suit from a photograph.  Here we are again.

We're not alone. Bombs also went off in Iraq and Somalia and Afghanistan and Yemen and Pakistan yesterday, but this one was on our peaceful streets on a joyful day - the most joyful day of the year in Boston.  It was Patriot's Day. The Red Sox play early and they won in a walk-off!  And it was the Marathon with all the traditions that come along with it.  The calm and peace was shattered in the span of just a few minutes of chaos; a few minutes of terror.

And so here we are again. Our hearts hang heavy in our chests once again.  Our cheeks are stained with tears again and we wonder what the future holds, what will happen next, what we should make of this moment.

We might also ask those familiar questions of why?  Why did this happen?  Why is there this evil in our world?  Why didn't God stop it?  Where was God?  

Pope Francis, in a message to the people of Boston, "invokes God’s peace upon the dead, his consolation upon the suffering and his strength upon all those engaged in the continuing work of relief and response."  And he reminded us during this difficult moment, "that all Bostonians be united in a resolve not to be overcome by evil, but to combat evil with good (cf. Rom 12:21), working together to build an ever more just, free and secure society for generations yet to come."

It is a simple, but important reminder that evil is not of God and it cannot overcome us.  That, as we've also seen quoted, "darkness cannot overcome darkness; only light can."  Sometimes evil breaks into our otherwise peaceful existence and we are rocked by it. But, our response must be a response of light, must be a response of love, must be a response of goodness and holiness and peace.  There was an explosion, moments of evil, and immediately people ran, not away, but towards those who were injured. They ran in to be that presence of goodness in the midst of that confusion and pain.  This is what God does; this is where He is in the midst of it all.

We do not have to accept the reality of the evil in our midst.  We can be the light. God always, always speaks in these most challenging of moments.  God is not their author; He doesn’t plan them or condone them.  In fact, they are the exact opposite of Him. As St. John tells us, God is love itself.  Anything so that is not of love, is not of God.  This act was not of God. 

So, where was God in all of this?  God is in our midst.  Evil, sadly, again, had a moment and again it was a horrible moment. But in the moments since, God speaks, in the fellow runners, in the health workers, in the just plain good people, in the police and other workers who ran to the scene.  God wants to keep speaking. He wants to speak in you and in me.  Evil wants to speak too.  Evil wants to speak in each one of us now through words of hatred and vengeance and harm.  Don't let it speak.  Let God speak instead through words of love and kindness and compassion and LIGHT. Be God's light in this moment of darkness.  LET BOSTON SPEAK. LET BOSTON SHINE. 

We find ourselves in the midst of our Eastertide today; in the midst of these 50 days celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus; the celebration of the fact that death has no power over us.  Let us make that familiar Easter cry the cry of Boston today: Death where is your victory? Instead, let us remember that God is in our midst wanting to transform even this darkness into light and into newness of life.  Death never has the last word; it never wins.  Every Good Friday now has an Easter Sunday - including this one.

What we celebrate in faith is the incredible reality that in the darkness; in the struggle and pain that life sometimes brings; in our challenges and in our sorrows – our God is not distant from us. He is in our midst to comfort us; hold us; cry with us; laugh with us; and to be with us in every way possible.  The famous dramatist Paul Claudel said it this way, “Jesus did not come to explain away suffering or remove it. He came to fill it with His presence.”

This is the hope of our faith; a hope that we must remind ourselves of today more than ever. Darkness is never the end of our story; death never wins the day.  There is always another chapter that ends with a Savior who conquers even death itself; who even in the midst of the most horrible things we can imagine brings life right out of the grip of death.  In the shock of this moment; it may be hard to see that today; but in faith, in our hearts we must believe it.  This is not only the hope of Easter; but it is the hope of this town. Jesus wants to fill this moment with His presence.

So, where was God? God has been speaking in the face of a moment of evil – speaking words of love, and comfort and care and hope. He is not far away and distant from us, but He is with us; He is here holding us in His arms and comforting us with His words and with His sacraments – His abiding presence in our midst. 

And He is inviting us to speak with Him; to speak His words that He places in our hearts - to speak them loudly to the world so it will know that terror will not define or change us; that anger will not become our way of life; that vengeance will not be what defines us; that we will not let a moment of evil change who our God calls us to be.

May The Lord bless us. May He bring those who lost their lives quickly to Himself. May he comfort those who are in pain and grief. And may He at long last establish us in peace.

Jesus, fill our suffering with your presence | Prayer for Boston

As Boston wakes a different place this morning, I keep trying to make prayerful sense of the way that our beloved city has changed.  Their is an strange quiet that has come upon Boston broken only by the sound of the occassional siren.  As I was in prayer this morning, a quote from Paul Claudel kept coming to mind.  He said:

“Jesus did not come to explain away suffering or remove it. 
He came to fill it with His presence.”

So, we pray today, Jesus, come to us.  Fill this place with your love, your kindness, your compassion, your peace.  Fill our hearts, our lives and our city with your presence.  Take the souls of those who died straight home to you and comfort those whose tears fall upon their faces this day.  Be with us, abide with us. Let us know that you are near.
Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Cabinet, not a Blue Ribbon Commission | John Allen | National Catholic Reporter

NOTE: As always, spot-on analysis by John Allen at NCR. - FT

By John L. Allen, Jr. | April 14, 2013 | National Catholic Reporter

A Vatican announcement Saturday that Francis has named eight cardinals to advise him on governance represents the first concrete step toward the reform that was so much in the air during the run-up to the conclave that propelled a Latin American outsider to the papacy.

Twenty-four hours later, five points seem most noteworthy about the "G8" that will likely be the new pope's most important sounding board.
1. A Cabinet, not a blue-ribbon commission
In some early reporting, the mission of this body has been described as helping Francis to reform the Roman Curia. Yet reading Saturday's announcement, that's not what it says. The key line states that Francis has assembled this group "to advise him in the government of the universal church," and only then "to study a plan for revising the Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia, Pastor Bonus."
Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras (left)
with Archbishop-elect Jose Rodriguez Carballo,  OFM
In other words, curial reform is only the second task. The first is to advise the pope on decisions about the universal church, meaning there's almost nothing that falls outside its purview.
To invoke parallels from secular governments, this isn't a blue-ribbon commission assembled to handle a single task, like reforming Social Security or recommending military base closings. This is more akin to a Cabinet, a body to advise the chief executive on almost everything that comes across his desk.

2. Not 'yes' men
Looking at the list of eight cardinals Francis picked, they're strong personalities rather than 'yes' men inclined simply to tell the pope what he wants to hear.
Cardinal George Pell of Sydney may be a solid doctrinal conservative, but during the pre-conclave period, no one was more outspoken about dysfunction in Vatican management. He famously said of the Benedict years, "Governance is done by most of the people around the pope, and that wasn't always done brilliantly."
Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga has crossed swords with Vatican potentates, including a standoff with his fellow Salesian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone regarding an overhaul of Caritas Internationalis. Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston joined Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna in 2010 in criticizing Cardinal Angelo Sodano for referring to criticism of the church's record on sex abuse as "petty gossip."
Over the years, both Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cardinal Oswald Gracias of India have argued for greater latitude for both local churches and regional conferences of bishops.
This background suggests Francis has turned to prelates likely to give him real advice, not just a rubber stamp.
3. Collegial on multiple levels
The decision to assemble this group of advisers comes off as an act of collegiality, meaning shared authority, on at least three levels.
First and most obviously, by placing a group of leaders from dioceses around the world at the top of the food chain, it's a way of saying that the Vatican must be accountable to the local churches rather than it always being the other way around. In that sense, this is a way of implementing the call for greater collegiality that goes all the way back to the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).
Second, this group is clearly designed to be geographically representative, including at least one cardinal from each continent. When Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone called these cardinals early last week on behalf of the pope to ask if they would accept the appointment, some were explicitly told they were being asked to serve as the representative of their geographic region.
Third, this group includes the current president of the Commission of Bishops' Conferences of the European Community (Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich) and the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (Gracias), as well as past presidents of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (Monsengwo) and the Episcopal Council of Latin America (Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz Ossa of Chile).
Those picks were unlikely to have been accidents. They suggest a revitalization of the role of bishops' conferences, both nationally and regionally, under Francis.
4. Clipped wings for the Secretariat of State
Since the election of the new pope, there has been a steady drumbeat of speculation in Rome about whom Francis might pick as the next Secretary of State, with that choice usually styled as the key first test of how serious Francis may be about reform.
In light of Saturday's announcement, however, it now seems less critical who takes over from Bertone because the role of the Secretariat of State seems destined to be diminished under Francis. Rather than being the über-dicastery where all the important decisions about church governance are made, it may function more like a support staff to the pope and his body of eight advisers.
Even without the new group, the Secretary of State likely would have been less central. Everything about the administrative style of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, Argentina, suggests he prefers to take the important decisions directly in hand rather than relying on a "right arm." The creation of the "G8," however, provides another firebreak between Francis and overdependence on the usual bureaucratic structures.
Italian journalist Paolo Rodari was the first to break the story of the pope's new Cabinet based on comments Francis made Friday to a group of bishops from Tuscany. Here's how Rodari described the implications for the Secretariat of State: "It will continue to exist, but it will be substantially weakened."
5. Role reversals for Rodriguez Maradiaga and O'Malley
There's nothing like the election of a new pope to reshuffle the deck in the church in terms of who's up and who's down, and the choice of Francis clearly illustrates that principle for two of the cardinals named to this "G8": Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras and O'Malley of Boston.
Not so long ago, the consensus among church-watchers was that Rodriguez Maradiaga was basically dead in the water. He was seen as too center-left for many in the Vatican, especially on matters of the economy and social justice. He stumbled in 2002 with some off-key comments about the sexual abuse crisis, and some believed he mishandled the 2009 coup in Honduras. He also lost an internal Vatican debate in 2011 over Caritas.
Now, however, he's widely perceived as one of the kingmakers behind the election of Pope Francis and has been asked to serve as the coordinator of this new group of eight cardinals. It's possible that before long, the 70-year-old Rodriguez Maradiaga will be seen as the second most powerful figure in the church after the pope himself.
As for O'Malley, he's the American cardinal the new pope knows the best. He speaks fluent Spanish and was a house guest of Bergoglio in Buenos Aires a couple of years ago, and they have many friends in common up and down the church in Latin America.
Moreover, he's also the American cardinal most obviously in sync with the spirit of the new pope. They both come out of religious life (Bergoglio is a Jesuit, O'Malley a Capuchin), and both are clearly devoted to the example of Francis of Assisi. Consider the adjectives typically used to describe the new pope: simple, humble, close to the people. In the States, the same things have long been said about O'Malley.
Back in November 2004, O'Malley famously confessed that "at times I ask God to call me home and let someone else finish this job," suggesting he was overwhelmed by the demands of governance in Boston.
Over time, O'Malley got his legs under him, and now he seems poised to become under this pope what Cardinal John O'Connor was under John Paul II and what Cardinal Timothy Dolan was under Benedict: the pontiff's go-to guy not just in the United States, but North America and much of the English-speaking world.

Changing the impossible

HOMILY FOR THE 2nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, January 20, 2019: When my parents got married more than 50 years ago, my Mom came from a pract...