Program #0037 for Friday, April 29, 2011: Msgr. Cornelius McRae

April 29, 2011

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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Mark O’Connell

Today’s guest(s): Msgr. Cornelius McRae, currently Pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Norwood

Today’s topics: Msgr. Connie McRae’s reflections on 50 years in the priesthood, his current pastorate, and his impending return to ministry in Rome

1st segment: Scot welcomes Fr. Mark O’Connell back the program. Last Friday, Fr. Mark was at the cathedral with Cardinal Sean for Good Friday. Fr. Mark said he is looking forward to seeing the beatification of Pope John Paul II this weekend.

Msgr. McRae, our guest, was a spiritual director for Scot when Scot was a seminarian for a year at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. Fr. Mark said Msgr.McRae was a close friend of Fr. Mark’s uncle, Fr. David Delaney. They owned a house together with two other priests many years ago. When Fr. Mark was in Rome for four years, he lived at Casa Santa Maria, where Msgr. McRae will be serving starting in June. Those four years coincided with Msgr. McRae’s previous years in Rome.

2nd segment: Scot and Fr. Mark welcome Msgr. McRae. He recalls the wonderful days he shared in Rome with Scot and Fr. Mark and he’s not unhappy with the idea of returning to Rome. Msgr. McRae remebers Fr. Mark as a toddler visiting his uncle’s house at the beach. He also remembers Fr. Mark’s first day in Rome. He just came off the plane and was very nervous, saying that he wasn’t going to venture out the door into Rome.

Scot said the Casa Santa Maria is in the heart of Rome, right near the Trevi Fountain. He asked Fr. Mark how much of an affect these four priests he knew as a child on his vocation. He remembers that they were happy in their lives and that their house was a joyful house and that had an influence this summer.

This summer will mark 50 years as a priest for Msgr. McRae. The last 11 have been spent at St. Catherine of Siena in Norwood, one of the largest and busiest in the archdiocese. Msgr. said it is a parish that welcomes priests. They’ve had a number of priest gatherings throughout the year. He said the parish is unique and is about 120 years old. The church building celebrated its 100th anniversary this past Christmas. The people, even more than the building, are astonishing. They have two Masses during the day and they need four people distributing Communion at the morning Mass during Lent.

He’s trying to summarize in his own mind what it has been like. He believes there have been dramatic changes in his life as a priest.

Fr. Mark said the past 10 years have been a time of great challenges in Boston and they correspond to his time in the parish. Msgr. said he recalls having to do a listening session in the parish at the beginning of the sex-abuse scandal. St. Catherine’s was an island of peace where no abuse had occurred. They had a powerful experience of listening over the course of a night to the pain of the people who came to the session. He’s learned that whatever shame or anger or frustration priests have felt is nothing to compared to that suffered by those who were abused.

Fr. Mark said there’s also been a decline in number of priests and closings of parishes in the past 10 years and he’s had to guide the people in this time. Msgr. said he was aided by the people of the parish and the parishes that were closed.

Scot asked what it’s like to be pastor of such a large parish, where for example, there are so many first communions and so many weddings. Msgr. said once the parish had seven priests, but isn’t that way now. He said it’s important to have a clear vision of why they are there: They are there to assist in building and continuing to build a faith community. It’s easy to create division. It’s hard to build unity in the Lord. As pastor,m if you have a light schedule, you have a 12-14 hour day.

One thing he will miss terribly is going out every day in the morning, meeting the schoolchildren and the parents in the yard and leading them into the school and leading them in morning prayer. This is the most important lesson: Forming a good habit of learning how to speak to God.

Msgr. said the hardest part of leaving is leaving behind the people who he’s come to love so much. Every Sunday, at every Mass he wasn’t celebrating, he stood at the door of the church, greeting the people as they come into the church, rain or shine or snowstorm.

He thinks it elementary and important to be greeting people, both enlisting their help, but also getting to know you and trust you, so they will talk to you. What kind of signal do parishes give when there is no welcome? We must be ambassadors, to be a welcoming faith community. It’s not just the pastor, but everyone in the parish.

He has a parishioner who runs hospitality for families after each morning Mass on Sundays. They invite families after Mass to welcome them. He also has a staff member to is working to encourage family Mass. Msgr. McRae also has a big staff to assist him in his parish.

3rd segment: When Msgr. McRae first went to Rome in the late 90s, the rector of the seminary was then-Msgr. Timothy Dolan (now the Archbishop of New York). He was spiritual director at the North American College. It was a very lively time, but he wanted to come back to Boston to be a pastor. The last time he’d been in a parish was in 1969. From that time, he served on the faculty of St. John Seminary and as rector of Pope John XXIII Seminary in Weston and then as spiritual director in Rome.

Scot asked what it’s like to serve as priest in Rome, where so many saints and martyrs have walked and where one experiences the universality of the Church. Msgr. said all the online social networking with people all over the world that people do on Facebook today is just the modern version of the global village people have experienced in Rome for hundreds of years.

He looks forward to working with priests doing graduate studies in Rome. In a parish, there hasn’t been a lot of time to do much studying and engaging in the world of ideas. He’s looking forward to engaging people in what they are studying.

Fr. Mark said Msgr. has been thinking about the spirituality of diocesan priesthood. Among other things, he says that involves in the willingness to do administration. If you are the head of a household with a family, your vocation includes taking care of the home. A priest who doesn’t take care of his parish’s facility and other material matters, then people won’t feel comfortable and welcome. Our vicar general, Fr. Richard Erikson, often speaks of the ministry of administration, which has the word “ministry” right in the middle of it. Good administration allows the parish to be healthier and reinforce the good things people bring to the parish ministry.

Msgr. said that with fewer priests, the demands are getting more and more piled on fewer people. In Rome, he will try to convince the younger priests of the need to help each other bear the burdens and joys of being priests. He says people don’t have a fair sense of the priest’s needs. If they have a spiritual need, they expect you to be there.

Fr. Mark said the priests who arrive at the Casa in Rome are often shell-shocked at being out of a parish and back in studies, while the men who have been in Rome for a while are somewhat out of touch with being a diocesan priest. Msgr.’s role will be to keep them in touch with what it means to be a priest and to understand that their present assignment of study is as much a priestly role as being a parish priest.

Msgr. said the priests in Rome have a time to pray and to think, building up a spiritual reservoir which will be tapped when they come back to do whatever the bishop is going to ask of them. That time to pray and think is not a luxury. The Church needs priests who will continue to be students to serve the people well. Scot believes we may have the most educated laity in Boston, priests need to be well-educated in order to preach effectively.

Msgr. said the people of St. Catherine’s are very varied and alert to what is going on around them, but at his previous parish in Belmont, he had nine Nobel Prize winners in the parish.

Scot asked Msgr. what a spiritual director does. Msgr. said that every day as Christians we have to discern the Lord’s will for us. To know what God wants and to do it is the source and peace of our life. He will be working with the men to look at their past and their future to know and do God’s will.

At St. Catherine’s, he doesn’t have the luxury to meet with every person, so the preaching has to help them to be able to do God’s will in whatever their state in life they have now.

4th segment: Considering the readings for Sunday Mass for May 1, the Second Sunday of Easter and Divine Mercy Sunday

  • Gospel (John 20:19-31)

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”

Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Now, Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

Scot said the Apostles were in the room, huddling in fear, but after this encounter with Christ they had the courage to proclaim the Gospel and eventually to be martyred.

This was also mainly about Thomas who had a strong skepticism, despite the testimony of his 10 brothers in the Lord. Fr. Mark said to consider that Thomas was not in the community. Sometimes when we’re not with the Church, not in the community, we can become more skeptical. But when we experience the Lord in the community, in the Church, then we no longer need that proof because we’ve already received all that we need.

Scot said Thomas might have been thinking that Jesus had let him down, by not fulfilling Thomas’ expectations. When we think of being let down by the Church at times, Christ comes to us and embraces us.

Msgr. McRae said there is a lot of competition this weekend for people’s attention. People will be thinking of the royal wedding and of the beatification of John Paul and other things. A homily must connect people’s lives with what is revealed in the Readings. Msgr. McRae pointed out that today would normally be the feast of St. Catherine and the royal wedding was chosen on this date for that reason.

Fr. Mark said he will never think of this Gospel in the same way after Cardinal Sean said in his first homily in Boston to the victims of abuse that they are the wounds in the Body of Christ. Msgr. said Thomas told the apostles he would not believe until he saw the wounds and now Fr. Mark has identified those wounds.

Fr. Mark also said the Christ comes in His new glorified Body. Pope Benedict has said that the resurrected Body is a like a great leap forward in human evolution. Christ does not just pass through locked doors, but also through the locked door of Death. Msgr. said the children at his parish last week drew pictures for the Stations of the Cross and some wrote prayers for the Stations and he sees that they have seen the wounds of Christ and are prepared for this Gospel on the second Sunday of Easter.

Scot said there’s a certain amount of Thomas in all of us and a certain amount of the other apostles. While Thomas gets a bad rap, he is the one who responds to Christ with the Act of Faith, identifying Him as God.

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