Given in Baltimore, USCCB Annual Meeting
My rector’s conferences this year focus on the spirituality of the priest as witnessed by the Rite of Ordination. The authentic spirituality of any office in the Church must be contained in the means by which that office is made. Thus, in the past months we have focused on the ideal of presence in the spiritual life of the priest and the particularities of that life as experienced in the promises made by the priest at ordination, especially the promise of obedience. In the coming months, we will focus on the laying on of hands, the prayer of consecration, the anointing, vesting, transfer of gifts, etc. The final reflection I will offer the seminarians in the Spring will be on the sign of peace. I would like to give you a bit of a preview of that conference this evening.
The sign of peace is a transitional gesture. The bishop embraces the newly ordained in an ancient gesture of fraternity and relationship. The gesture says: You are now one of us. You are a part of this group, this family, this diocese, this presbyterate. Following the sign of peace by the bishop, all of the priests present likewise offer the sign. It speaks the same anthropological language. While the sign of peace is a rich and meaningful gesture in itself, I am more interested in what comes after, which, in the Rite of Ordination is nothing. The new priest now takes his place among that group that has fully accepted him. He is now one of them. He is now called to carry out the responsibilities of membership in that group, family, diocese, and presbyterate. The long period of testing and formation is over and now … the future waits. The assembly of the faithful, and indeed the priests are anxious. Perhaps the bishop is also anxious about what the coming days, weeks and months will unfold. Expectations are high on every side. What does the bishop have the right to expect his new priest to be? What do the priests have a right to expect? What do God’s people have a right to expect?
First they have a right to expect that this man is a man of prayer. He has a relationship with God that is deep and intimate in itself, but is also lived in the context of the life of the Church. His mysticism is not drawn from esoteric sources of revelation about what is true and good, but from the very fiber of the Church militant, a Church alive, a Church whose spiritual animus may not always be pristine, but is unflaggingly real. This prayer expresses itself in a total commitment to deepening the priest’s relationship with Christ through the Liturgy of the Hours, through a penetrating love of the Eucharist, through a healthy devotion to Our Lady and the saints. It is a prayer steeped in the heart of the real Church, a Church of real persons, not an idealistic Church of his own construction that can never be realized this side of the Heavenly Jerusalem. His ease of prayer demonstrates a true comfortability in traversing a divine engagement.
There is also the right to expect that this man is a whole person. His human personality is truly as the late Pope John Paul II noted: “a bridge to his pastoral engagement.” He is comfortable with his emotions, his sexuality, his motivations. He knows how to have a good conversation. He has a sense of humor. While he takes the priesthood seriously, he does not take himself too seriously. He is not a narcissist. He embraces celibacy as an invitation to the many rather than an attention to the one. He is a good preacher. He studies the Word of God as an old friend. He is a good teacher. He knows the Church’s tradition and the fullness of that Tradition. He does not traffic in specialties or trivial Catholicism but appreciates the history of the Church as broad and deep. He is truly present to those whom he serves and he knows fully what service is. He has a genius for the mundane, for visiting the sick, for tending tirelessly to the elderly. He does not see his priesthood only in terms of stings of heroic deeds, rather he finds the heroic in the daily life of the priest. He works well with others, with other priests, deacons, lay ministers and the faithful. He is easygoing, but he never shirks responsibility. He knows how to collaborate, but he also understands the authentic role he is called to fulfill as a priest. He celebrates the Liturgy beautifully, elegantly and simply. He is not attracted by externals but knows the Liturgy in its radical nature. He is a man of vision and he can lead others in to that vision, not by coercion but through love. He is patient with people, never prone to outbursts. He is appropriately transparent. He inspires others. He will not walk away after a few months or years. He has shelf life because he has learned honesty. He knows what obedience is. He also knows on the day of his ordination that he is not, never will be a finished product. He is open to conversion, to change, to becoming always better. He is a man for others, a man of God, a man of whom St. Paul spoke: It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.
And what is Christ but, hopeful, visionary, future-oriented, authentic.
This is what you have the right to expect your new priest to be. This is what Saint Meinrad pledges to deliver to your cathedral on the day of ordination. Our success depends on a number of factors.
A 150 year tradition of forming men for the diocesan priesthood
A staff that is experienced and likewise has shelf life, that won’t be turning over every few years.
A faculty that is intellectually second to none AND knows how to form men for their pastoral purpose
An intense focus on human formation and spiritual formation as the necessary foundations upon which intellectual and pastoral elements can be built
A conviction that priests are not cutouts, but complete men who need care and individual consideration in formation
A strong working relationship with Vocation Directors and Bishops
An intense and honest dialogue with you in which I pledge that you will never hear anything from Saint Meinrad but the Truth.
Bishops, in the Church today we are past playing a numbers game. We know that quality men in priestly service are a necessity. We cannot, we do not have the luxury to settle for second best. The stakes are too high.
You deserve the best priests. Your presbyterates deserve the best brothers. The faithful, the all too patient and forgiving faithful, deserve the best we have to offer.
At Saint Meinrad, we will never shirk from that responsibility. You can believe that.
We appreciate you so much. We love working with you. We love knowing that our alumni are serving you well. Please God may it continue to be so.
Thank you and good evening.