Father Burns teaches Catholics how to re-energize their faith

FLORENCE — Dominican Father Hugh Dominic Burns spends his life helping Catholics re-energize themselves and their commitment to the faith. He recently led parish missions at St. Anne’s Church in Florence and Our Lady of Peace in Augusta, Ga., on “Get Real: A Spiritual Retreat for the New Century.”

Father Burns celebrated Mass and offered discussion sessions that focused on facets of Catholicism and how to live a faith-filled life effectively in a difficult world.

He discussed how to deal with stress and anger by relating the Gospel message to problems of daily life, and how a person can find their true place in the Catholic Church.

Father Burns is originally from New Jersey. He has worked with the Dominican friars in Puerto Rico and in Hispanic ministry in Maryland and Washington, D.C. He directed workshops on preaching in Grenada and Jamaica in the mid-1990s before dedicating himself to parish missions in 1999. He also serves as an occasional commentator on National Public Radio.

Father Burns said his goal is to help Catholics return their focus to the true meaning of Christ’s message and the spiritual gifts offered by the church.

“The essence of authentic Christianity is reality,” he said in an interview with The Miscellany.

“God is the most real thing of all, and true Christianity means to be real about God and his love for us. A lot of people use religion as an escape, and that’s a real problem in today’s world. It’s a problem not just in Catholicism and in Christianity, but in other faiths as well.

“It’s easy to find an escape in religion, to cover up problems with religiosity,” he said. “What people end up doing is distancing ourselves from God and from each other, rather than dealing directly with problems and the reality of God’s love.”

People may get caught up in the rituals and trappings of Catholicism without having a solid idea of the fundamentals of the faith, both in Scripture and church doctrine, he said. It’s important for Catholics to know the basics of their faith and to feel as if they have a real place in their church.

During his travels, Father Burns said he has encountered many Catholics who want to return to the church but feel alienated because of bad experiences in the past.

“The church has to be a big enough tent for a lot of different kinds of people,” he said. “The more diverse we are racially, ethnically, age wise, the stronger we are. We run the risk of losing the ordinary Catholics in the pews if the church gets caught up in too many internal arguments. You’ve got ideological fights both on the right and the left, and I would mourn if we became a church of either side. There’s got to be a place where we come together as Catholics.”

One of the discussion sessions during the retreat focused on the problem of anger and how to deal with it from a Christian perspective. He said even people of faith can give way to anger when confronted by a barrage of  daily frustrations.

“Anger is a controlling emotion, and one we see a lot of these days,” Father Burns said. “We have a lot of stress all around us, and we see anger on the road and in the schools. We see anger in the workplace, angry young people, and a rise in domestic violence. This indicates something wrong in society. Anger is a dangerous emotion … it’s like fear. It grows and gets worse if we don’t hold it in check.”

He encouraged his listeners to follow Jesus’ example.

“Ultimately as Christians, we forgive,” he said. “When confronted with anger, you’ve got to look at Jesus on the cross as en example. He could have been angry, but he said ‘Father, forgive them.’ The way a Christian lets go is to forgive. By forgiving, you’re able to cool off, to settle down and go on living.”

He said many people find themselves feeling angry and powerless in today’s world because of societal problems.

“Channel your anger into something positive,” he said. “If you’re angry about abortion, go help a young woman facing an unplanned pregnancy or a young single mom trying to put food on the table.

“I bet in the community of Florence there are some situations that aren’t pretty; low graduation rates or elderly people making the decision between buying medicine and having lunch. If that makes you angry, do what you can to change it.”