Last week I traveled to Lourdes with Boston members of the Order of Malta. Every year the international order organizes a pilgrimage to Lourdes in the springtime that brings 30,000 pilgrims from all over the world. The pilgrims are both members of the order as well as the sick � �malades� in French.
The Basilica of Our Lady of Lourdes
Lourdes is a very special place for Catholics. At a time when the Church was poised to define the Immaculate Conception, the Blessed Mother appeared to St. Bernadette with the words, �I am the Immaculate Conception.� It has always been a place of very special care and love for the sick. There are baths there where the sick people are immersed in the waters from the spring that began miraculously in the grotto at the time of the apparitions.
Our Lady told St. Bernadette:�I am the Immaculate Conception.�
A side view of the basilica
Part of our pilgrimage consisted in having a Mass for English-speakers at the grotto, outside on Saturday morning. There were many people from Ireland, Scotland, England and Canada. I was the main celebrant at the Mass and Bishop Bill Curlin, the retired bishop of Charlotte, was the preacher and gave a wonderful homily.
Celebrating Mass at the grotto
That night there was the candlelight procession. It was very, very beautiful. Thousands of people prayed the rosary and sang hymns while walking in front of the basilica.
Sunday morning was the main Mass in the underground church. It was mostly in Latin with some prayers in other languages. Many, many priests and bishops concelebrated. I was asked to be the main celebrant and preach at that Mass. I found out the night before that I needed to prepare a homily, and they did not tell me whether I could preach in English. I actually prepared a homily in French, which I had to write out because I cannot preach spontaneously French. The next day, I found out they were happy to have the homily in English because they never have English. I put the French homily away and thought, �So much the better!�
At the Mass, it was a very moving experience to see all the sick people gathered in the front, close to the altar. Many of the people who are there are very sick, particularly the ones who are brought from Europe where it is a little bit easier to transport them. In our particular group there were many children who were sick. Of course, it reminds us that right from the Gospel, Jesus� ministry of healing, compassion and love for the sick has been an integral part of His mission. He has entrusted this mission to us, to have the same love and regard for the sick and the suffering. Lourdes is certainly a place where this is manifested in a marvelous way.
All the group from the United States
Pope John Paul II, the summer before his death � he was already very sick � went to Lourdes to be associated with the sick and the pilgrims who go there.
Pope John Paul II visited Lourdes a few months before his death
Many people go, I am sure, with the hope of cures, but we know there are many more spiritual cures than physical cures. One of the great ministries of Lourdes is the sacrament of reconciliation. There are many confessors hearing confessions all the time in every language imaginable. It is a wonderful opportunity for people to deepen their faith and renew their commitment to the Lord in an atmosphere of prayer and adoration that characterizes all of Lourdes.
Lourdes is in an interesting geographic area, the Basque Country. It is near the Spanish border and the Pyrenees Mountains. It was beautiful because although the temperature was rather warm, you could look up and seek the snow-covered mountains. The Basque people live in Spain and in France. They have always been a very Catholic people and very independent.
This is the third time in my life that I have been to Lourdes. The Order of Malta invites me to go every year, but I am not always able to. I went once before with them, and when I was a seminarian I went with a group of seminarians. I was studying German in Germany, and we went down by train.
Among the pilgrims we had Deb O’Hara-Rusckowski, our director of the respect life education office in the archdiocese. She sent me the following reflection on the trip that I want to share with you:
For the past seven years I have participated in the Order of Malta�s annual pilgrimage to Lourdes, France as a nurse on their medical team. The first week in May is when all the orders from around the world join together and bring people with serious illnesses, called �malades,� so they can experience the peace, beauty and healing that Lourdes offers. Typically, 50 people are selected according to their illnesses, and the severity, to be guests of the Order of Malta and participate in the pilgrimage to Lourdes. These malades vary in illnesses from cancers to cerebral palsy to autism to wheel chair bound traumas. Each malade gets assigned several Malta members who attend to their every need � this is the mission of Malta: to serve the sick and the poor.
This year, I had the added honor and privilege to have Cardinal Se�n O�Malley and Father Brian Bachand participate in this pilgrimage. What a �special bonus� it was to have our very own shepherd present to those of us from the Boston area Malta group, offering an extra spiritual dimension to our already edifying trip!
One of the most special gifts of this trip is getting to know the malades and their families, in particular the children. This year was unique where there were more children than in years past. Typically, children only make up 5-10 percent of the approximately 50-55 malades brought on the trip. This year we had 15 children, which created a special dynamic for everyone.
One of those children was William, a very active nine-year-old boy with autism. His mother is a widow raising him, his twin sister and an older sister alone. William was so excited when he heard Cardinal Se�n was going to be in Lourdes because he had recently met the cardinal at a blessing of a new building in his parish in Andover. William could hardly contain himself when he saw the cardinal. �Do you remember me Cardinal Se�n?� William asked. �Yes, of course I do� answered Cardinal Se�n back smiling. That began, or continued, their new friendship.
William and I are now friends for ever!
William is now a high-functioning autistic child. But just three years ago, he did not speak and continuously pulled at his hair on his head and arms. Thanks to his mother�s love and dedication, William has been enrolled in as many services as his mother could possibly fit him in � and it has paid off. William is now an extremely pleasant, talkative and inquisitive child. Due to his autism, questions must be answered promptly to his satisfaction, an art his mother has mastered. Cardinal Se�n was about to experience just a small bit of what his mother, Bernadette, experiences daily. He did so with grace.
At dinner, William could not contain his excitement and ran to Cardinal Se�n�s table several times, only to be pulled away by adults supervising him. At one point he told some of us that the cardinal told him he would walk with him in the evening candlelight procession. His mother was nervous that he might be disappointed explaining that Cardinal Se�n is �a very busy man� and may not be able to accompany him. Well, Cardinal Se�n did not disappoint. The cardinal even presented William with a special rosary before departing � a gift William proudly showed everyone on the plane � at least twice. Then, in true autistic fashion, changed the subject of how proud he was to go into the baths at Lourdes and that it was not as cold as everyone told him.
Many miracles and blessings occur in Lourdes � either physical, emotional and/or spiritual. For example, one particular project that has been a dream of mine, as others, is starting up a home for women in crisis within the Archdiocese of Boston, Well, after a meeting with a few people, Cardinal Se�n gave his blessing to begin the process in an area that desperately needs such services in the south shore of Boston. No doubt, Our Lady of Lourdes was instrumental in that blessing!
So many blessings in Lourdes � one cannot help come home edified and rejuvenated. It�s amazing how much you get from giving of yourself. It is a humbling experience while realizing how fortunate we are. It truly puts life in perspective.
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After I returned from Lourdes, I attended a holy hour and dinner honoring Father John Farren, rector of St. John�s Seminary, on Tuesday. It was very well attended.
Greeting some guests before the Holy Hour
Among the guests were many members of Father Farren�s family, some Dominicans and former ambassador to the Vatican Ray Flynn and his wife.
Ambassador Flynn and his wife
We all had the opportunity to thank Father Farren for his years of service and to say farewell.
At the reception after vespers, there were two speakers who were both very good. They were very supportive and showed a great affection for father and everything that he has accomplished. One was Deacon Paul Boudreau � who will be ordained a priest for the Manchester Diocese in the coming weeks � and the other was Father Chris O�Connor, the dean at St. John�s, who was very funny. He mentioned how many times Father Farren�s name has appeared in the minutes of the priests� council. That got quite a reaction from everybody! Let me share both addresses with you:
Father Chris O�Connor�s address:
When Father John Farren was assigned here to St. John�s Seminary, I was still in Washington D.C. and so I inquired among the Dominicans about John Farren. The response came back immediately: You will love Bulldog Farren. Apparently bulldog was his nickname in the community. I have never really seen a bulldog, and I know Father Farren�s demand for precision, so I went to the Merriam Webster Dictionary. The definition offered: �A stocky breed with a compact body and short sturdy limbs. Its shape results in a waddle-like gait. Bulldogs are known for their short hair, wide jaw, and the saggy skin on their faces creating an apparent frown that has become the trademark of the breed.� I am left scratching my head wondering how your community gave you such a nickname. I just don�t see it!
When I arrived back at the seminary, it was discovered that the seminarians also had a name for you: �alba magna,� �the great white.� Hearing this name, I was again confused knowing that the name can mean two things. �Do you mean when you say the great white of his goodness and grandeur or the great white shark?� I asked. The response came back: �Both!�
Father Farren, you will be missed! No longer will there be a magister offering Latin elocution lessons to Father Romanus at the faculty dinner table. Your constant lessons on the appropriate usage of the verb lay and lie will be sorely missed. The halls will be a little quieter without your �Right on!� Or your ubiquitous �Whoa!�
The faculty was just beginning to understand �FarrenSpeak.� Often when at the faculty meeting, one of us would make a passionate plea for something or other and your response would be, �I will take it under advisement.� It took us awhile, but in FarrenSpeak �I will take it under advisement� translates: �That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard and that proposal will never see the light of another day.�
Tartufo�s restaurant called to let us know that your departure means one chef, four waiters and two dishwashers are being laid off!
Your time as the rector brought you both commendation and critique. I counted how many times your name was mentioned in the Presbyteral Council minutes: 8,217 times and that was only for the month of November. By comparison, the Good Lord was mentioned only twice.
Your love for the liturgy often had you waiting not too unlike a bulldog outside the chapel for a seminarian who had violated some liturgical rubric or failed to proclaim the Word of God well. With red face you would invite the seminarian to stop by your office to discuss the matter further. I often wanted to advise the seminarian: �Tell Father Farren you will take his invitation under advisement.�
Father Farren, we thank you for the many accomplishments you have achieved for our seminary. One of your major accomplishments has to been to make St. John�s Seminary more of a regional seminary with all sending dioceses viewed as equal and necessary partners.
You have skillfully begun and near finished the process of St. John�s Seminary�s affiliation with the Lateran University of Rome.
You led us through an apostolic visitation with the Holy See.
While other seminaries rehearsed what they would say to the apostolic visitors, your advice to this seminary community was be brutally honest with the visitors � that is the only way this seminary can grow and become better!
That visitation report was very favorable in large part due to the man steering the ship.
Upon the recommendation of the seminarian community, you instituted the Holy Hour, which is the very lifeline of this house.
The greatest gift you have given to this seminary community is your character. The other night Father Steve Salocks, the dean of the seminary faculty, said publicly that his priesthood was strengthened and renewed by working with you. Father Salocks was speaking for many of us. Your love for the priesthood is inspiring. Your love for the priesthood is a means for us to ponder the great mystery to which we dedicate ourselves.
Tenacious, loving, strong, fatherly, humble, generous, prayerful, dedicated, humorous are just a few of the words we would use to describe our rector.
Your example as rector and priest has demonstrated to even the casual observer what spiritual fatherhood is all about. You are a man who knows Christ deeply and is not afraid to tell others about him.
Your love for the Virgin Mary makes us aware that strong priestly vocations are rooted in devotion to Mary. Your reverence for the Eucharist and Mass taught us to love more the abiding presence of the Lord. The respect and obedience you have for bishops has shown the proper relationship, the communion that must exist between a diocesan priest and his Ordinary.
The sage advice of your rector�s conferences we will carry with us. Advice like:
�Love the People of God.�
�In your homilies, if you do not give the congregation hope, than you have not done your job proclaiming the Gospel.�
�The priest of today cannot be content with the status quo. We are called to the new evangelization. We must find new models and ways to bring the same Faith to a different culture.�
From the bottom of hearts, we thank you for the sacrifice, the love and the example you have been to us. In you this seminary community has found a shepherd modeled after the Lord�s own heart.
The vocation of the Dominican is to hand onto others the fruit of his own contemplation. We are grateful to St. Dominic for sending us such a faithful son. John Farren, you have contemplated the mysteries of Christ and preached them with magnificence and our lives are all the better for it.
As one of the saints wrote about the priesthood: �Listen my brothers, if the Blessed Virgin Mary is so honored, as it is right, since she carried Him in her most holy womb, if the blessed baptist trembled and did not dare touch the holy head of God, if the tomb in which he lay is so venerated, how holy, just, and, worthy must be the person who touches Him with his hands, receives him in his heart and mouth, and offers him to others to be received.�
Father John Farren, thank you for preparing men to be configured to the holy priesthood of Jesus Christ. May God bless you and in His providence strengthen the good work you have begun in this holy place!
for his kind — and humorous — words
Deacon Paul Boudreau�s address:
It is my honor tonight Father Farren to be chosen on behalf of the student body to briefly express for all of us our thanks and appreciation for all that you have done for us in these past four years. I belong to the class of 2007, this year�s priestly ordination class. Within weeks and months of entering St. John�s Seminary, we faced two major historical events: the tragedy of 9/11 and the explosion of the clergy sex abuse scandal. The opening experience of seminary for the class of 2007 was going to our classes with the sound of fighter jets flying overhead, there to protect us in case of a terrorist attack against the city of Boston. It would not be long after 9/11 that we would face another unprecedented experience, coming onto seminary grounds through crowds of protesters, police, and media in the wake of the sex abuse scandal. It was, without question, a surreal experience to enter formation at a time when our nation was searching for its soul, and when the people of the Church in Boston and beyond were in what seemed to be complete confusion. Everyone sought stability.
You Father Farren, also entered this seminary as a rector in the midst of the immediate aftermath of these unprecedented circumstances, asked by our former rector and apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Boston, Bishop Richard Lennon, to take up the pastoral care of a seminary, which was under tremendous pressures and scrutiny both from within and without. I, along with all my brother seminarians, thank you Father Farren, for providing for us the stability of an environment where the Faith could flourish, even in the face of such a powerful firestorm. Many things could probably be said about your leadership abilities, your intellectual savvy, and your administrative talent. As impressive as these characteristics are, I believe that the one virtue that you brought, in your headship here at the seminary, which surpassed everything else was and is, your absolute and uncompromising love for the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. Your unique answer to the scandal was not to hide in fear but to form men who would love the people entrusted to their care with the heart of the Good Shepherd, a love sealed with the Body and Blood of the Lamb.
One of the moments that I will remember most about you was in a homily that you gave several years ago, and in this homily you spoke at length about the beauty of what Christ suffered for us on Calvary. You preached about our Lord, exulted on His cross, lifted up, His Body and Blood poured out, sacrificed for the world. And at the risk of embarrassing you father, which I do not intend to do, I remember distinctly that at different moments in your homily, you had to stop, because you were so overcome with emotion, that in all of time and eternity the Son of God became man to save us from the power of death. You taught me and every seminarian there on that day, that even in the midst of the struggles and the turmoil of all the scandal and terrorism, what surpassed it all was the power of the incarnate and victorious Lord suffering on His cross, that same Lord who was calling men here at St. John�s Seminary to follow Him. You have instilled in us, father, a sensitivity to all that the Incarnation has meant for human history and for us as men aspiring to the priesthood of Jesus Christ. You gave us this deep love for the Body and Blood of Christ in so many ways � in your love for the Mass, in your love for the Word, in your love for Mary, the mother of the Incarnate Word and for your love of prayer before the Eucharist. It is from this point of departure that you lead this seminary, not merely as an academic or administrator, but also as a man personally moved by His Savior to be pastor and father to other men as they themselves became pastors of souls, other christs.
Thank you Father Farren for all that you have done to help us seminarians, and those of us ordained as priests and deacons under your care, to conform our lives to Christ and for instilling within us a deep and lasting priestly identity. Thank you for showing us courage in the face of difficulty and for your witness of a life lived in and for Christ. We pray that God will protect you and bless you as you begin your new life in New York City and we ask for your prayers as well.
Deacon Paul Boudreau at the podium
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On Wednesday, the New England Region of the Anti-Defamation League honored John Fish, president and CEO of Suffolk Construction with its Torch of Liberty Award. The award is a tribute to those who inspire by their leadership and recognition of corporate executives who utilize their influence to affect positive change in their community.
John is a lay Catholic who is very, very committed to the Church. He has done so much to help Catholic education with the Catholic Schools Foundation and attended their scholarship dinner. Now with the Brockton project of the 2010 initiative, he has donated so much of his personal time, his resources and his expertise. He is very, very committed to improving our Catholic schools and making them more available to low-income families. The event was beautiful and brought together many Catholics and Jews to honor a man whose service to the community has made such a difference in so many people�s lives.
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Thursday afternoon I celebrated Mass at St. John�s Chapel with a number of the priests celebrating their 25th anniversary of ordination.
It was good to be able to celebrate the Mass at the seminary where most of the priests present received their formation. The seminarians who are currently in formation at St. John�s were present and joined in the acknowledgment of their years of service. They could witness the joy and the good works of these priests and, please God, we are sure they will have the same experience.
The seminarians at St. John’s participated in the Mass
Preaching the homily
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Last evening we had our fundraiser for Catholic Charities. For many years this had been named the garden party because it took place at the residence of the archbishop. But since my residence does not have a garden anymore, for the last few of years it has been in different venues. For the last two years we had it at the John F. Kennedy Library, which is a wonderful venue. It is a lovely setting right on the waterfront.
This year Father Bryan Hehir, Jack Connors and all the members of the board have worked very hard along with board president Jeff Kaneb. They actually raised the most money that has ever been raised at these spring events, which is a great sign of encouragement to Catholic Charities.
Jesuit Father J. Donald Monan, the chancellor of Boston College, was named the recipient of the first Justice and Compassion Award. He received the award for his multiple contributions to civic life in the Boston community and his 24 years as president of BC.
When people arrived at the JFK Library they found at their place an appetizer that typified a meal that would be given in the shelters. The appetizer included a bean salad, tortilla and gazpacho served in a bowl made out of a milk carton. It was served on part of a brown paper bag and was an important educational tool for part of the evening.
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This morning I celebrated Mass with the consecrated virgins. We have eleven consecrated virgins in the archdiocese, but a few of them are currently sick. There are also three women in discernment. Sister Marian Batho is the contact person for them. We also have a hermit. These women are involved in various apostolates in the life of the Church. Like with the permanent diaconate, the charism of consecrated virgins goes back to the early Church. For a long time fell under disuse, but after the Second Vatican Council, these vocations have been reaffirmed by the Church.
In the United States, vocations to consecrated life are growing slowly but in France, Argentina and other countries there are quite a number. This is an important vocation for us, particularly in a culture in which chastity and virginity are not understood or appreciated. So, we are very pleased that here in the archdiocese we have this tradition that goes back to Cardinal Medeiros and that there is growing interest in that vocation.
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I recently sent a letter of support to those state legislators who voted during the 2006 legislative session in support of the marriage amendment that would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman in the constitution. The amendment must receive a quarter of a second vote of the Constitutional Convention in order to appear on the ballot in 2008.
Media reports of undue pressure to legislators to change their vote on the marriage amendment are troublesome. We are very aware that the legislators who voted in favor of allowing the people to vote are under incredible pressure to cave in, that many people are very determined not to allow this issue to go to a vote, and we feel that it is important that the people of Massachusetts have an opportunity to discuss and to vote on this issue.
Right now people are not talking about what is at stake. There is a lot of name calling, instead of dealing with the importance of marriage in society. Some people are trying to use this as a political issue and reducing a very important human issue to political slogans and coercion. In light of that, the bishops of Massachusetts have written to all the legislators, asking them to vote in favor of this amendment and allow the citizens of the state to have a referendum that would allow a discussion airing of the issues so people would see what is at stake
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For my photo of the week, I have chosen this picture from the Mass with the consecrated virgins which shows the beautiful stained glass windows of our chancery chapel.