Good Friday: He is Truly God.

This is a day I anticipate with dread every year. Good Friday is the most solemn day of the Christian year. It’s when Jesus is arrested, is beaten, carries his cross, is crucified, and dies. It is at the crux of the faith, and I dislike this day above all others. 

I’ve written here before that I’ve never liked Good Friday. I understand how necessary it is, but I still don’t like it for one reason: it requires the honest Christian to look into his/her heart and admit the sin bearing down upon their heart in a rather primal manner. The reminder that Jesus Christ was truly man and suffered greatly for all of our sins is wildly sobering. More details of the events that day make it even more gut wrenching.

First, ever wondered what Judah’s actually got for betraying Jesus? Well, 30 pieces of silver was about 5 week’s paying wages. So he betrayed Jesus for 5 weeks worth of money. In terms of actual spending power? Each piece was worth about $20. That means he betrayed Jesus for a total of $600. Yes, it costs less for an apartment in Malden than it does to betray the Son of God. I read that during a Bible Study I’m a part of and my jaw dropped. 

Then the amount of pain he went through is just stupifying. Every year, I watch The Passion of the Christ on Good Friday. The amount of suffering Jesus went through and the way the film depicted it was raw, brutal, and shocking. And he did all that for you, me, the temple guards who beat him up, the man who betrayed him, the holy and sinners alike. All that for us. Truly God does love us. 

There is also one scene in the movie that leaves me in tears every time. After Jesus takes up his cross and walks to Golgotha, he falls under the weight of his cross. In one such moment, he meets his mother. They cut in a sequence of Jesus falling as a child and show Mary’s motherly love when He was a child and an adult. This scene destroys me every time. God was human flesh. God walked the earth and had a mother who suffered as she watched her son be beaten to a bloody pulp of a man. And she loved him. Jesus was true man and true God. 

It’s always a trying day because of how incredible this faith and journey is. Take time today to reflect on Jesus’ sacrifice for us. 

Retreat! Good for the Soul

Throughout college, I was active in the Catholic community we have at Boston University. I maintain that it was the best part of my collegiate experience. I learned how to pray, reflect intently on my life, and live with true joy. More than anything else, the BUCC shaped me into the guy I have become. And out of all the offered programming there, the semesterly retreats had the biggest impact on me. 

In the Catholic world, a retreat is a time of reflection, prayer, and contemplation. It’s a time when you leave home, get away from your life, and follow the Spirit to see where God is calling you in a much different setting than normal. While in college, there was one retreat each semester. I went on all eight undergrad retreats I was eligible for. They all meant something to me and affected me in some way. My freshman retreats sparked my faith to life. Sophomore year’s Autumn confirmed I was on the right path and the spring let me work on a retreat, so I saw the behind the scenes stuff. Junior year comforted and consoled me through some difficult times. And senior year closed out college with a bang. 

I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to do anymore retreats like those after college. They’re special experiences and only happen so often. I stayed around BU this year. I still have friends in undergrad at BU and I got more into the graduate student and young professional group that’s just getting its footing within the community again. We had talked about doing retreats for our segment of the CC, but I wasn’t sure that it would happen. I went to SEEK in San Antonio in January and figured that would be my retreat. I loved it! I was content that God had given me the needed lessons and retreat experience that I hadn’t had in almost a year. Thank God I was wrong about that.

At the end of January, a friend in the BU Grad Group told me about the retreat being discussed and asked if I wanted to help make it happen. Without thinking about the timing of it or considering too much, I said yes. It seemed like I shouldn’t pass on the opportunity to do it and I’m so happy I did. By fortunate timing, the retreat fell on the weekend between the NCAA Regional tournaments in Manchester and Providence, both of which I covered, and the Frozen Four in Chicago, where I will be starting on Tuesday. I didn’t think about that scheduling when I said yes but thank God He did. 

We got to discussing the theme, title, structure, schedule, and we went to work. We didn’t have an existing framework for prior Grad Group retreats, so we took a beat from the undergrad retreats we were familiar with and crafted our own formula. It took months of planning, promotion, praying, and processing to make it all happen. And when the weekend arrived with the snow, sleet, rain, and everything else that happens in winter and not on April 1st, we were ready to go. 

We went to Acton Mass and went Into the Desert for the weekend. It was awesome. The priest who gave the talks was perfect, the witnesses were phenomenal, the meditations worked well(so I was told after leading the first one and experienced the second), and the time in adoration and confession was nothing short of amazing. I barely slept over the weekend, in part because we slept in sleeping bags on the floors of a classroom in the basement of the church and because my sleep spot was right next to the door, but that didn’t matter much. The weekend was just such an awesome time that I didn’t care exactly when stuff happened or how rested I was. I ran on the Holy Spirit for energy all weekend. I completely crashed when I got home, but oh well. It was needed. 

I can add this to the expanding memory bank of incredible moments made possible through the BUCC community. The retreat to St. Elizabeth of Hungary parish was lovely. The snow made things annoying at times and cold, but that was alright. The simple yet deep programming worked better than we hoped it would. And the healthy parish community at St. Elizabeth’s made things better. The working infrastructure at the church made our event possible and reminded us that there is life after college. 

Many of us come from parishes that are older and low in people our age. St. Elizabeth’s has plenty of families with young parents, teenagers, active high schoolers, and adorable children in addition to the older crowd. It’s good to know that churches like this one exist and that they can be formed in today’s world. 

It’s also good to be reminded that God guides us through our deserts and makes good from them. We spent the retreat focusing on spiritual dryness and anything that resembles a desert in the spiritual life. I haven’t processed everything that God showed me yet and I will continue working through my time in the talks, witnesses, discussions, meditations, Masses, and everything else that happened. What I have processed is a reminder of God’s love for me, a purpose for my spiritual battles in recent years, and reassurance that I’m in the right career. 

Retreats have always served as a time for me to reset and refresh. This weekend didn’t physically do either of those; I went home physically exhausted. I fell asleep at 4, woke up at 7, then fell back asleep until 5am. I was rested after that night’s sleep though! Spiritually though, I feel more alive than I have in a while. I reconnected with people I hadn’t seen in a while, met new people, and was reminded of God’s presence throughout my life. It was exactly what I needed. I can say that about every single retreat I’ve been on. I’ve got more to learn from what happened this weekend, but I know I got plenty out of it for now. 

I’m thankful I had the best crew possible to work with on this weekend. The Desert isn’t as bad a place as people make it out to be. 

SEEK2017: God at Work

In early 1999, 20 students from Benedictine College in Atchinson, Kansas, gathered to learn about scripture, God, holiness, and how to witness the Gospel to others on their campus and eventually on other campuses. The guy organizing this was named Curtis Martin. He had a vision of what Catholic campus ministry on college campuses could look like. He shared it with the 20 students on a cold weekend away from campus. His vision took hold. Those first 20 students worked on campus, and then one campus became two. Over the next few years, they would add more campuses to their network. Eventually, a conference for 200 people was organized. They called it SEEK. The fledgling organization was starting to find its footing, and it gained a huge boost when Martin received a personal word of encouragement from Pope John Paul II for his new movement to “Be Soldiers”. 

Since that time, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students has become one of the biggest Catholic organizations in the country. They now serve on over 100 college campuses including Maine, MIT, George Mason, USC, Alabama, Clemson, Wisconsin, and even two universities in Austria. They serve thousands of college students with Bible Studies, friendship, mentorship, authentic faith, and challenges to learn more about Jesus. In 2011, they came to Boston University, and in 2012, I started my collegiate career on Commonwealth Avenue. I worked with the missionaries who came to Boston, and had many adventures with them. I still room with a former missionary who’s one of my best friends, and I’m blessed to have had that experience. FOCUS is one of the biggest reasons I made it through many difficult times in college, and a part of why the BU Catholic Center was easily the best part of my BU experience. So many of my friends will sing similar songs. FOCUS helped showed us how to live honorable, Catholic lives in college and beyond through all their programming.

Among their most memorable bits of programming were newer iterations of that conference they ran. SEEK continued to expand as FOCUS expanded. The conference went from 200 to a few thousand over the following meetings. I first went to SEEK in 2013, when it was held in Orlando. Six thousand Catholic college students came from across the country. We heard talks about how to be a Catholic man, how free market economics can benefit Catholicism, how to read scripture in a prayerful way, and so many other marvelous topics. We went to Disney World to unwind, and we found ourselves praying in ways we never knew existed. Mostly, we were inspired by the faith of the thousands of college students around us. It’s hard to not be impressed when 3,000 college men are yelling their approval at a question about Disney princesses. Its even harder to not be amazed when these same people are singing their lungs out in adoration. 

SEEK2013 came at the perfect time for me. I needed a lift to get through my freshman year and I needed to learn how to honor God with my work. I got a needed boost, and I maintain fond memories toward the people I met and got close to that week. 

When I got on the flight from Orlando to Hartford on January 7th, 2013, I knew I wanted to go to another one of these major FOCUS conferences. I had an opportunity to go to SEEK2015 in Nashville, but decided not to go. I also could’ve gone to the Student Leadership Summits in 2014 or 2016, but again, decided against it. When I graduated from BU in May, I thought I wouldn’t be involved with any BUCC activities. Except I was and still am. I live in Boston and want to stay in a consistent Catholic community. I still have friends at BU, so I stayed around. I’m an active part of the Graduate and Young Professional Group at BU and I still hang out with the undergrads. When promotion started for SEEK2017, I couldn’t pass it up. I worked out the details, and made my way to San Antonio exactly four years to the day after I went to Orlando. 

When I got there, I realized I was in for a similar experience to Orlando, but SO MUCH BIGGER. This time, 13 thousand college students made their way to Texas. When I walked into the main convention hall for Mass, I saw flags for every school flying, music blasting, and a great party raging. Every large scale gathering except for the morning Masses were like that. It was a huge Catholic party that raged on for 5 days, with plenty of fun moments, like a battle of the sexes game that made a celebrity out of a Texan named Reese, break dancing priests, and nuns with the most ridiculous stories. 

The talks were also better. I heard people speak on Theology of the Body, How to save your Marriage before meeting your spouse, the main difference between Islam and Christianity, and how to respond to the 2016 election. There were so many more talks that I wanted to check out and couldn’t. There was always something to do, be it a talk, adoration, or just hanging out with people I hadn’t seen in a while. The talks were a highlight, because there are so few times when so many intelligent people are gathered to discuss the array of topics that were looked at. The ultimate highlight, however, was the encounter we all had with Jesus Himself.

When I went to Orlando, I was doing some soul searching. I had a rough year and I found solace in my God and friends who were with me there. But I was still unsettled. I wasn’t sure where I was going or what to expect from school or life in general when I got home. This time, I wasn’t in college. I didn’t have the same concerns, fears, or doubts. I was, in many ways, a completely different man. I was more relaxed, more willing to talk about my concerns and doubts, and more open in prayer. I walked with thousands of my brothers and sisters in Christ to confession, and had the most complete confession I’ve ever had. I walked out of the confessional wing of the hall and felt the grace poured out on both me and everyone else receiving the sacrament of Confession. I went to kneel in adoration as a Eucharistic procession began. I prayed my penance and smiled wide. I’ve never felt as clean or as free as I did at that moment. I got up and walked in the procession, singing, and  praising God with all I had. We all were. 

When you are surrounded by grace, there’s nothing you can do but praise God with those feeling the same grace you are. When there’s 13K people surrounded by and filled with the greatest of God’s graces, love and praise of Jesus in the Eucharist, there’s no words to describe the elation. Nothing I write would do it justice. You have to experience it for yourself to understand what’s going on there. 

It didn’t last, but it was never supposed to. When SEEK came to a close, I hopped on a plane back to the northeast, exactly four years to the day after Orlando. I found myself thankful, at peace, and excited for the future. I have a network of friends that I can see and call on when I need to. I had similar feelings after Orlando, but lacked the certainty and confidence in myself, my talents, and my connection to God that I have now. I rested easily, knowing that God is working through FOCUS and is reaching thousands of college students. I reflected on my time at BU, and smiled about all the people I met and got close with in my first SEEK. The smile got bigger when I thought of all the stories that helped lead to. I was happy that I could provide a little veteran presence to the BU delegation that I benefited from in 2013. I was even happier to walk into an uncertain situation called my life with peace of mind. 

I’m finishing up school and looking for more permenant work soon. I don’t have a set schedule or clear direction for what exactly I’m doing. I merely trust that God will guide me to where I am to go. After my week in San Antonio of praying with thousands of brave young men and women, learning about the practicals of living the faith, and being reconciled with the mistakes of my youth, how could I be anything but excited for what’s next?

So thank you to those 20 students from Atchison, Kansas, for saying yes to Curtis Martin’s idea all those years ago. It has made a massive difference for this proud son of New England and thousands of college students from all over this country. I pray we carry the lessons forward, and that those who come after us see the life in Jesus and all it’s graces. If that happens, then SEEK2019 will approach 20K attendees. The Kingdom of Heaven is growing here on earth. I’m happy to have seen it in action in San Antonio this past week. 

2017’s BUCC crowd with Curtis Martin

The new generation

Me with Matt Fradd

Scott Hahn

Good Friday: True Love

I’ve written here before about how much I do not like Good Friday. It’s a sad day that reminds me and all other Christians that we, indeed, are sinners who need salvation from God. And to receive that salvation, God himself had to come down from Heaven, take the form of a man, and suffer a brutal death while taking all the sins of all the people in all the world upon his shoulders. I don’t like the simple fact that it’s my sin that helped put him up there. I don’t like that God himself was killed by human hands. I don’t like the fact that so many terrible things happened to Jesus Christ on this day. And yet I cannot help but appreciate some incredible beauty in this day. 

I’m reminded of this after watching a review of the movie The Passion of the Christ that was done by the famous YouTuber, The Nostalgia Critic. I’m a fan of his work and quite enjoy his reviews. They cover good movies, awful movies, M. Night Shyamalan movies (a special kind of bad and/or crazy), and everything in between. He joined another YouTuber, the Cinema Snob, to do a review of The Passion fairly recently. I watched it, having a fairly decent idea of what to expect. I found exactly what I thought I’d see: A review criticizing the film as little more than being an excuse to watch a guy get beat up and then die. There are several jokes throughout that mock the idea of religious folk getting a meaningful experience out of it, and several jabs at Mel Gibson throughout. It’s nothing far from expectations, but it absolutely misses the point. 

I will grant them a few points. The film is incredibly violent. Jesus is absolutely brutalized and beaten to death. And it is jarring and incredibly hard to watch. Many devout Christians understandably have a difficult time with all this, and understandably so. However, when he describes the movie as torture porn, I have a problem with that. While The Passion is a violent movie and is hard to watch, it is not torture porn. That is meant to be a demonstration of the most that a human being can take to get some sick enjoyment from it. Watching The Passion is not meant to make people appreciate how much Jesus was beaten and hurt on that day. It’s meant to show how much He suffered for us, how much God endured for His people. 

That’s the other point I have issue with in the review. There are several points where the critics express disappointment in the focus on the last twelve hours of Jesus’ life instead of on His message of radical love. That misses the point. Sure, Jesus’ life and preachings were focused on love, mercy, compassion, and care for one another. It would have been nice to see more of him talking with his apostles to break up the pacing a little more. But on a religious point, if you’re going to talk about Christian love, you actually must center on Christ’s sacrifice for us. John 15:13 reads “”Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” And Jesus had the greatest love of all. Jesus willingly sacrificed Himself to take up our sins and save us all. If there is any greater love than that, I’d love to see it. But I don’t think that exists, so Jesus’ passion is the greatest example of true love possible. 

It’s strange reflecting on this week’s after Holy Week ended, but it’s worth reflecting on how much He loves us and how we ought follow His example to the best of our ability. It’s also worth noting how easy it is to overlook and miss that when we don’t want to look at how violent the faith and the story of the faith can be. I hope to look at it more in depth in my own life in the future. 

Holy Thursday Reflection: It Begins

I haven’t written anything here for a while, and with the Triduum beginning, I figured that I would take some time to do a little reflection on the day that’s gone by and on the season of Lent. And this is the first time I’ve done any kind of a religious reflection here since August. It’s nice to get back to talking about faith, and there’s no better time to look at it than Holy Week! And I’m gonna do one of these posts every day for Holy Week. I’ll have my reflection for Monday and Tuesday out later today.

So since February 10th, Christians all over the world have been praying, fasting, and giving alms in attempts to develop a stronger faith life in the season of Lent. I’ll save a full reflection until Lent is over, but I’d say I’ve had mixed levels of success there. I’ve taken good time to read more scripture, reflect on my college career, and figure out where God is leading me next. It’s been a fruitful time and I’ve seen growth in my life. Challenges as well, to be sure, but still fruitful.

But there is much more to follow. Holy Thursday is the start of the most holy time of the year and by some distance. Holy Thursday sees the institution of the most holy sacrament, the Eucharist. This is when Jesus was last able to enjoy a meal with his disciples before his passion. This is the start of the church in many ways. It’s one of the most powerful days of the year, and it hits me over and over again every single year. 

I rarely know how to feel about Holy Thursday. It catches me in an awkward time. I’m not ready for Lent to be over when it arrives, and I’m not fully prepared for the pain and heat check that is in store with the events of the rest of the Triduum. I got that exact sentiment this year. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the events of Holy Week, and will wait to see what unfolds. Holy Thursday has given me that feeling many times before, but even stronger so this year. Why? Because I’m in my last year at BU, my last year singing in the choir at Mass at Marsh, and my last year as a full member of the BU Catholic Center. That hit home when I went up to have my feet washed. 

If you’re unaware, part of the Holy Thursday Mass is a reminder of the need to be servants. This is shown with members of the congregation having their feet washed by the priest. At BU, the seniors are those who have their feet washed. I’ve seen this for years and thought “They served the CC well”. When it came time for me to go up and have my feet washed, it hit me that I have reached that same stage where others can hopefully say “He served well”. 

I still got familiar chills too. I walked into St. Clements Eucharistic Shrine expecting to see the Eucharist there, as they have perpetual Adoration there. Instead, I walked in and there was no Eucharist. There was just a crucifix and an sense of mystery, with the smell of incense still lingering and hanging in the air. It’s eerie every single time. The most eerie thing is that I know important and painful things are coming. The next day is the day Jesus is to be crucified. It always has an impact on me to think of what happened to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, where he went after the Last Supper, to pray before he was to be killed. Cardinal Sean O’Malley had that as his reflection for Night Prayer at the Cathedral last night. That was more prevelant this year with a priest in Yemen being captured and ISIS announcing that they will crucify him on Good Friday. 

This year’s Holy Thursday was certainly powerful. I have plenty more to think about and reflect on, and that’s bound to be even more true after the events of Good Friday.