Affirm your priests, deacons and seminarians

The theme for this month’s Bulletin is “Discerning a Vocation in a Time of Crisis.” Surely these are challenging times for us all, but especially for our priests and seminarians. That a few would betray their promise of chastity and cast a shadow over the vast majority of our brothers is discouraging to say the least, dispiriting and profoundly sad.

I encourage those reading these words to affirm and encourage your priests, deacons and our seminarians.

The truth is that a vocation, whichever it is, is a call from God through Christ always in the midst of the culture of the day. One reason I recommend studying the history of the Church is to put in perspective the unique cultural challenges of our day.

Simply contemplating the Passion of our Lord underscores that cultural opposition has always been with Christ’s Church. The prophets sent by God were rejected in their days, and the prophets sent by God in our day are often rejected as well.

That is why we need seminarians who become priests to be men of integrity, humility and courage.
I have been privileged to have ordained 31 priests in my time as your bishop. It is always a great privilege.

I remember standing outside the Cathedral anticipating the procession before my first ordination when the startling thought struck me: this is serious business. As a result I have over the years sought to get to know our seminarians as well as I am able.

I try to meet with them individually twice a year when they are home. I also meet with those being ordained to the diaconate and priesthood a day or two ahead to review the promises they are about to make and to underscore that they are making them before God. It is serious business for them as well.

Our diocese has from its beginnings received clergy from outside the state, beginning with our first bishop Martin Marty, a Benedictine missionary. Some of our beloved priests have been religious order priests and diocesan priests from other dioceses. They have enriched us all.

We always seek attestation that they are in good standing and have completed appropriate training consistent with the requirements of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young Adults. They are expected to complete, as are all clergy and volunteers working with children, annual training and openness to background checks.

When we evaluate candidates for seminary sponsorship and the permanent diaconate and journey with them in their formation, these are some of the virtues I keep in mind, always remembering that we are all works in progress:

  1. Do they pray? Formation will deepen this virtue, but there needs to be openness from the beginning or it can become simply a checklist expectation.
  2. Do they love the Church? Christ established the Church and the priesthood. We are His.
  3. Are they faithful and courageous? Saints and martyrs are raised up as models and as teachers to remind us that sacrifice and resilience are integral to ministerial service.
  4. Do they trust in God’s will and God’s way? We cannot anticipate all that might be asked of us, and that unknown can be a bit unsettling. Christ declared that He is the way, the truth and the life. We must trust in Him or be overwhelmed with uncertainty.
  5. Do they love and care about the people? Priesthood is not about us privileged to serve. Priesthood is about service to others, especially those suffering. This is important at all times but especially when inconvenient. Jesus said, “As I have done, so you must do.”
  6. Do they have a sense of what is realistic? We are all weak instruments. Identifying our strengths and weaknesses allows us to be present in ways we are able and know when others should be consulted. As one wise bishop said: we are not the Messiah.
  7. Do they anticipate the cross? Jesus said we must pick up our crosses everyday if we are to follow him. Jesus did his Father’s will out of obedience and so must we. That can result in some heavy times but we are not alone; He is with us. We are bearing such a cross these days.
  8. Do they yearn for salvation, certainly for others but also for themselves? We are in this world only for a time. How we use that time is important. Oneness with Christ for all eternity is our mission.
  9. Do they love and rest in the Blessed Mother? Jesus said, “There is your mother.” Her love is ours if we open our hearts to her.
  10. Do they accept the call of Christ with humility and awe? Lord we are not worthy but only say the word.

One of my favorite scripture passages is Jesus walking on the water during a storm. The disciples are frightened. Jesus laments their lack of faith. Peter suggests that he will believe if he too can walk on the water. Jesus calls him. With his eyes fixed on Jesus, Peter is able to do so. But then he takes his eyes off of Jesus, looks down and stumbles.

If we keep our eyes on Jesus, we will be able to survive even the storms of our lives whatever our vocation, work or station in life. When our gaze goes elsewhere, especially in on ourselves, we too will falter. Fortunately the love and mercy of Christ will remain even when we do so. But it would be better to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.

Saint Mother Teresa said that Jesus gazes on us. May we gaze on Him our Lord and Savior at all times.