Summary of today’s show: Fr. Eric Bennett has been a priest of the Archdiocese for just over six weeks now and joins Scot Landry and Fr. Chris O’Connor to talk about what it’s been like to finally live and minister as a priest, what is just what he expected, and what has been a surprise to him. They also discuss today’s Feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe and Fr. Chris’ vacation in Poland the couple of weeks, as well as tomorrow’s Feast of the Assumption.
Listen to the show:
Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Chris O’Connor
Today’s guest(s): Father Eric Bennett
Links from today’s show:
Today’s topics: Catching up with newly ordained Father Eric Bennett
1st segment: Scot Landry welcomes every one back to the show after two weeks of vacation and Best Of shows. He welcomed Fr. Chris O’Connor to the show. Scot said on his vacation included a trip to Pennsylvania for a reunion with college friends and a visit to Niagara Falls. Fr. Chris visited Poland. He visited Krakow, the hometown of Pope John Paul II, where the faith is very much alive and vibrant. They also visited Auschwitz. He said the first thing that hits you is the organization of evil, the extermination of people in a systematic way. But also profound was the cell of Maximilian Kolbe, the Franciscan priest who gave his life in the place of a married father. Today is the Feast day of St. Maximilian. A candle continues to burn in that cell as the sign that the light of Christ shines in the darkness and evil has not overcome it.
Today’s guest is Fr. Eric Bennett, one of six men ordained by Cardinal Sean in June. Scot said Fr. Eric has also visited Auschwitz. Fr. Eric said he too was astonished by the organization of evil, but also the goodness that God did through Kolbe. Despite the mass murders, the legend that lives on is the story of hope from those who gave their lives and survived.
Fr. Chris said St. Maximilian is one of his favorite saints because he’s not like a museum piece that you can’t identify with. This man, however, walked the earth only 60 years ago. He was a priest who had a sense of what his vocation is about. He’s very real.
Fr. Eric said for someone to give their life, it’s a culmination of the living of a virtuous life knowing Christ’s love. He said this morning in his homily at Mass he spoke of the opportunity for a “white” martyrdom for everyone every day as opposed to St. Maximilian’s “red” martyrdom. Fr. Chris said Kolbe’s example resonates with young people immediately because the choice was so stark. He rose to the occasion and stepped forward when he could have just kept his head down and stayed silent.
Scot said one of the legends of the pro-life movement, Nellie Gray, died over the weekend. She had organized the March for Life after Roe v. Wade came down and Cardinal Seán was very close to her, going to every one of the marches for 39 years. Back in 2009, the Boston Catholic Women’s Conference gave Nellie Gray the Culture of Life award. Cardinal Seán called her the Joan of Arc of the pro-life movement.
Fr. Chris has been on the March for Life. He said many vocations have come from the March and St. John’s Seminary sends all its men every year to the March. Even more profound is the numbers of young people from all over the country walking in peaceful protest. The March instills in young people at a very young age of the value, gift, and sanctity of human life.
Gray said what keeps her motivated to maintain the fight is that 50,000,000 babies are killed each year. “That should make front-page news in the New York Times and Washington Post,” she said. “But it doesn’t. The people are kept in the dark. The feminist movement has manipulated popular opinion with language like ‘pro choice,’ and a ‘woman’s right to privacy.’ After fighting against evil in World War II, I get very upset that we have Americans trying to justify abortion. Americans cannot think they can authorize the killing of an unborn child. Somehow a juggernaut of evil has grown in this country, including Catholics who vote for pro-choice candidates. We will never win this fight until this juggernaut is exposed and eliminated. I just don’t know how we’re going to do it.”
Fr. Eric said for the first time this year there was a March for Life in the city of Rome and the pro-life movement in Europe is looking to emulate the movement in the United States.
2nd segment: Scot said Fr. Eric is assigned this summer at St. Brigid-Gate of Heaven Parish in South Boston before he heads back to Rome for his final year of study. Fr. Eric said he recently talked to a friend about he’s finally able to be in the parish as a priest, after anticipating this for six years. The most beautiful part is how people open up to him, how deep their faith is, the trust they put in their priests and that is very humbling.
Fr. Chris said Fr. Eric had mentioned to him that hearing confessions has been profound. Fr. Eric said he’s impressed by how people want to be in union with Christ through Communion and forgiveness of their sins. It makes him to want to be a better person to see how they’re growing in holiness. Fr. Eric has also been visiting inmates to hear how they are growing in faith.
Fr. Eric said the people recognize the fundamental change in him and people more than twice his age now call him Father and recognize him as priest.
Scot said people sometimes try to define a priest by the duties he performs, but spiritual father is also a relationship. Scot asked Fr. Eric about the duties and whether any of those activities surprise him after ordination. Fr. Eric said this past weekend they had a cleanup of St. Augustine chapel in the cemetery in South Boston and he was surprised by the simple and humble response of people wanting to come and honor the dead through their service. The chapel is the oldest Catholic building in the archdiocese and the earliest priests are buried there. The people want to be part of a culture and a community more than just join to Mass.
Fr. Chris asked about the experience of homily preparation and preaching. He said as a deacon he had weeks to prepare homilies, but now he has to prepare one every day. He reads the Scriptures the day before, tries to find a story to make a connection to the Gospel, and he looks forward to developing a sense of where he’s heading in preaching, developing a preaching plan with goals and milestones, like a teaching plan. He is trying to look at virtues and talk about how to live as a Catholic today.
Scot asked about Fr. Eric’s preaching style. He doesn’t go off the cuff, but goes from a complete written text so he doesn’t ramble. Fr. Chris said every priest has a basic homily they preach. Fr. Eric said in order to live as Catholics we need to know God and his love, so we go to the sacraments to know and receive his love and are sent forth into the world to help the world know and love him.
Fr. Chris asked Fr. Eric what the experience off going into prison to preach is like. Fr. Eric said he feels like he needs to tailor his homily to the particular community. This weekend, at the prison, he didn’t go from a text and went off the cuff and relied on the movement of the Holy Spirit. Because they don’t have Mass all the time, he feels like he can be a little more braid-based and general in his approach.
Scot asked about why its important for people to pray every day and get to daily Mass. Fr. Eric said we all need a reminder each day about how God loves us. At Mass we come to the Lord and receive him and we are in Communion with him. Everything in life flows from him. It’s our opportunity to ask God to help us work on one thing that day. It was praying every day while a student at Boston University changed his life. As a child we go to Mass out of obligation, but as adults we go because we understand Jesus Christ is our happiness. Fr. Chris said the Mass can become rote and habit. We need to go to Mass as if it were our first Mass, our last Mass, our only Mass. Mother Teresa first said that to priests, asking them to celebrate the Mass in that way.
Scot said many people are doing their best to be Catholic but only going through the motions. He asked how God spoke to Fr. Eric so he recognized that he was taking God for granted. Fr. Eric said Fr. Paul Helfrich of the Brotherhood of Hope had patience with him as his spiritual director and walked beside him the whole way.
3rd segment: Scot said tomorrow is the Feast of Assumption, a holy day of obligation for Catholics.
Scot said the educational process in seminary in Rome is slightly different, which is why Fr. Eric is returning to Rome. He is getting a Licentiate degree, which is equivalent to a Master’s Degree. He has been asked by Cardinal Seán to study moral theology at the Angelicum in Rome.
Fr. Chris asked what it was like to meet Pope Benedict with Cardinal Seán. Fr. Eric said he went as secretary for one of the auxiliary bishops during an ad limina visit. Scot said Rome is a wonderful place to study for the priesthood. Fr. Eric said he sees the universality of the church in Rome. It also becomes home. When people come and see Rome for the first time, it reignites his own faith, as does the excitement and joy of people from around the world.
Scot asked Fr. Eric what kind of pastoral service he did in Rome. Fr. Eric said he wishes he would have had an opportunity to work in a parish, but he was able to do street evangelization in St. Peter’s Square with the Legion of Mary, encouraging people to see their visit as a pilgrimage. He’s also worked on a college campus in campus ministry there.
Fr. Eric said clerics and a smile go a long way to breaking the ice with the people they talked to in the square. People often approached him, sometimes with mundane questions of Mass times, or they would go and introduce themselves to people who might seem lost.
Fr. Chris asked what the blessing has been from studying in Rome. Fr. Eric said one blessing is seeing how the Church lives in Rome, but also seeing how people mix the way they live their faith with those from elsewhere.
Scot said his brother Fr. Roger Landry couldn’t wait to get to Rome after ordination in order to celebrate Mass at the great places. Fr. Eric said he is too, as well as going to places throughout Europe to celebrate Mass in the great churches and at the altars of great saints. He also helps to encourage the men coming up behind him to see that ordination is not too far away.
Fr. Eric said he’s also been blessed to spend his time studying for the priesthood from all over the United States. That can be difficult, but it can also be educational in how they share their pastoral strategies and how the Lord is working in other dioceses.
Fr. Chris asked about the unique characteristics of Gate of Heaven and St. Brigid in South Boston. He said they have a lot of pride in their community. There’s an older generation with deep roots that is slowly being supplanted by young adults without the same roots. One of the plans for the future is to reach out to them.
Scot said Gate of Heaven is magnificent church and would be a cathedral in many dioceses. Fr. Eric said Fr. Bob Casey has done a great job at maintaining and renovating the parishes. They discussed what life is like in the rectory there where there are several priests that cross several generations.