Today’s Jacob’s Ladder

Today’s Jacob’s Ladder: A New Evangelization for a New Time

It does not seem that long ago that the entire community was together, examinations were being completed, men were preparing for ordination, and plans were underway for Summer assignments. Yet, a lot has happened.

Since we last were together nine men were ordained to the priesthood from our community, thirteen were ordained to the diaconate, Pope Francis announced the canonization of Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul the Great.

The world saw millions of young people converge on Brazil as World Youth Day was celebrated. You and I studied closely Pope Francis’ first encyclical Lumen Fidei. The Holy Father has given the Church the opportunity to call upon Saint Joseph with his name inserted into the canon of the Mass.

The Congregation for the Clergy re-issued the Directory for the Life and Ministry of Priests incorporating the Magisterium of Pope Benedict XVI and expanding reflections on the priesthood considering the new evangelization. I provided you a link over the Summer for you to get acquainted with this document.

Some of you were admitted into the body of candidates for ordination with the Rite of Admission to Candidacy this past Summer. So many were scattered throughout the world – Asia, Africa, Europe, South America, and the Northshore. Many of you completed IPF and CPE successfully as well as parish assignments, mission trips, and language immersion.

We mourned the death of Mrs. Garvin and Mr. Nguyen, and we remain in solidarity with Mr. Fessenden. Newly ordained Father Braud’s father passed away while Father Green had to anoint his pastor as he was dying – this, only days and weeks after being ordained. Gus’ mom had significant health issues this past Summer which has re-located her living situation. Reuben – your father has had health issues related to his eye and now with blood pressure. Everardo’s uncle suffered at the hands of thugs but came back safely. There were indeed trials for many of you this past Summer.

We continue to keep all these intentions in our prayers.

Our nation was challenged with the Zimmerman trial. The outcome of the trial created a lot of emotion for people revealing how much effort is still needed for us to be united as one nation under God. The rich social teaching of the Church is a tool for us to bring about evangelization.

Here at NDS, we welcomed over the Summer Fr. Gross and Fr. Powell as they were getting settled into their new spaces. Dr. Eubank and his wife welcomed the birth of their daughter. We also welcomed a new facility worker, Mr. Isaac Bolden. The staff worked really hard in order to get the campus ready for your welcome back.

Major capital improvements included painting of twenty-five seminarian rooms, refurbishing the hall closets, re-painting the main lobby; painting classrooms one and two, adding new screens in classrooms two and three, landscaping around the pool, and the beginning of a new laundry room downstairs.

The Church continues to celebrate this Year of Faith recognizing the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, the 20th anniversary of the CCC, the 30th anniversary of CIC, and the recent convocation of the Synod of Bishops. We all look forward to receiving the post-synodal exhortation on the new evangelization once this is published by the Holy Father.

During the Summer, twenty six new men were preparing to enter NDS. We all remember what those days are like transitioning into a new seminary. It has been a great past week of orientation; I anticipate a successful, joyful year as these men make their own contribution to the community.

Last year, Pope Benedict XVI called to the Universal Church to observe a Year of Faith in order for all Catholics to discern how we are living our faith and how this faith brings light to the cultures of the world. Bishop Fabre opened the Year of Faith for us last Fall and will conclude the Year of Faith celebrating Mass for us on the Feast of Christ the King when the Year of Faith closes out.

It has been a busy Summer for everyone and one that prepares us to embrace the 90th anniversary of Notre Dame Seminary and for you to consider how the Church expects your formation to unfold and how you consider the movement of the Holy Spirit in the work of discernment and priestly formation.

The Missionary Priest
Last year I shared with you a formational emphasis that I believe captures the sign of times drawing from the Magisterium of Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict: Forming Missionary Priests for the New Evangelization. The new evangelization was a concept promoted by John Paul II as a response to the number of Catholics leaving the Church or no longer practicing their faith. He also used the concept to speak about the evangelization of culture, particularly in those places with the Christian Faith, once dominant, was fading away.

Pope Benedict XVI also used the concept to speak about the role of the Church in society and the relationship between faith and culture. Similarly, he used the new evangelization as the ecclesial response to the new situations that man finds himself in – wherever man is found, there ought to be the Church and the Gospel.

As Pope John Paul II concludes Pastores dabo vobis, there can be no new evangelization with priests who are to be the first of the new evangelizers.

I propose that you see you in yourself the quality of “missionary” – being able to meet people where they are, and to bring them the love of Jesus Christ. Duc in altum – Jesus’ instruction to Saint Peter: go out into the deep waters to be a catcher of men.

And so it is gentlemen – your discernment of priesthood must be specific, clear and immediate. The Church is not just forming any type of priest, but missionary priests – priests who are heroic enough, man enough, generous enough to put out into the deep waters of culture to preach the Gospel of Christ.

She Will Show Us the Promised One
This being our 90thanniversary, the faculty suggested that we propose a Marian theme that can also support your formation and discernment. The Blessed Mother’s vocation is to always show the world Jesus. Her whole being was configured to receive the Word of God, birth this Word, and to point us to this Word. Hence the theme:She Will Show Us the Promised One.

As a human being like us, her life gives example and inspiration to how we receive Christ into our life, how we are obedient to the Word, and how we magnify the greatness of the Lord in our life and actions.

The priesthood of Jesus Christ belongs to Jesus. Priests are ministers of this priesthood. Hence, everything we do, we do for Christ and His Church. Like Mary, priests point to the Promised One. In fact, we are ordained in persona Christi capitis and when we minister to God’s people, we do so alter Christus. Hence, priestly formation teaches us how our personality, attitude, words and actions, our temperament, our compassion – everything about our humanity, should point the People of God to Jesus.

No doubt we are all sinners but Our Lady is God’s gift to us. Her intercession on God’s behalf and her love for priests cannot be underestimated.

And so, I would suggest that you speak about this in formation advising and spiritual direction. How close am I to Our Lady? What popular piety have I embraced to cultivate my devotion to her? What ways does she in fact point me to Jesus – how does she show me the Promised One?

In this Year of Faith, let us contemplate the role of Mary in our discernment and formation.

Priesthood: A Living Bridge
The concept of the missionary priest is something that Pope Francis clearly is promoting in his understanding of the new evangelization. The missionary priest is a bridge between people to whom he is serving and to God. The missionary priest links the people to what it is he is preaching. In this way, the missionary priest is not only preaching the gospel, but he himself is a part of what is being preached. Therefore, the people of God see in their priest a gospel that is being lived. The missionary priest must first be one of conversion. He is one who has embraced the gospel and conforms his life to it. His very life speaks about the power of evangelization.

Of course, we look to the Blessed Mother as a primary intercessor for the Church because she participates in every aspect of Jesus’ ministry – implicitly or explicitly. We see in her a bridge between God and humanity. Her humanity was able to receive the Word of God. This receptivity speaks about the nobility of human nature and the potential of all human nature.

The Annunciation forever linked the Word of God to human nature and in a particular way, to Mary’s human nature. The Immaculate Conception prepared her and the world for the incarnation and her Assumption is the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promise.

Priests are ordained into the very mystery that our lady participates in.  Hence, every seminarian looks to Mary in order to learn how we can respond to the Word of God when the divine touches the divine in ourselves.

It is no accident that the Blessed Mother makes the proclamation: My soul magnifies the greatness of the Lord. This statement of faith can also be understood as a statement of evangelization. She was sharing with her cousin the power of God and the impact of God’s Word on her life. Her soul magnifies the greatness of the Lord because of her cooperation with God’s grace, her active faith, and obviously the incarnation of God’s Word in her very being.

We can therefore see in the Blessed Mother a bridge by which the divine comes to touch the divine within ourselves. As we reflect in our own personal role of formation and how we discern how the Lord is asking us to be this “bridge” or “ladder”, I would like to proposes that we consider an Old Testament event involving Jacob (read the scripture passage).

The Church fathers interpret this event of Jacob in the light of Jesus Christ and his Church.  As you know, the Catechism of the Catholic Church indicates that one method of interpreting this sacred scripture is known as the “allegorical sense” (see CCC 117). It is in this sense the church fathers interpret the event of Jacob and his dream.  This can be understood in the context of the Mystery of Jesus Christ and the life of the Church.

For example, Jacob is experiencing persecution from his brother. Jacob is away from home and therefore away from the comforts of home life. He lays his head on the rock and finds comfort in this rock. St. Jerome writes that the rock signifies Jesus Christ. Jacob, who was away from home, is experiencing a type of missionary life. He is detached from the comforts of home and therefore has to rely on the comfort of God.

For the unbelieving Jew, the rock is actually understood as a type of stumbling.  The rock is a stone of stumbling that signifies confusion or even uneasiness in life.  However, how often do we hear the sentiment that those that rely on God and rely on their faith are those that are somehow weak-minded. In this sense, people of faith can often be rejected because they, in fact, rely on God. “The stone in which the builders rejected is the cornerstone.”

Secondly, Jacob is dreaming and in his dream he sees angels ascending and descending from heaven.  He sees it all – angels falling from heaven, which include the sainted and the demons as well as angels coming from God and returning to God.  In the dream, Jacob is able to see both those who are serving God and those who are rejecting God.

The Church fathers write that the rock in which Jacob is resting upon is Christ as cornerstone. So while there is both the rejection of God and those angels serving God, the cornerstone of this episode is Christ himself.

A paragraph later, in the Book of Samuel, this very stone is called Ebenezer, which means “the stone of help.”  And so, God is helping Jacob to remain steadfast when there are temptations to reject God.

We also see in this episode that Jacob anoints this stone after he awakes from the dream.  Again, some church fathers see this action as pre-figuring the anointing of Christ as the Redeemer.  Inspired to return to this rock, Jacob is trusting in God and in the presence of God. St. John Chrysostom writes that Jacob was using his common sense. He is relying on the power of God rather than upon his own human powers.

Caesarius of Arles writes that when Jacob’s head sleeps on the rock that the head and the rock become inseparable in that moment. St. Paul writes the Corinthians in this manner that the head of the body is Christ himself. And so, in this moment, while there are angels falling out of heaven and other angels returning to heaven, Christ is with Jacob in this tenuous moment.

In the dream, we see that there is a ladder between heaven and earth. Chromathius understands the ladder to be that of the cross. Angels ascend and descend from the cross of Christ, for without the cross, God remains remote. In this way, the connection between heaven and earth is more profoundly understood through the Cross of Jesus Christ.

Church fathers reflect that each step of this ladder/cross is a virtue that a believer is to embrace. Therefore, the more virtuous the believer becomes, the closer he is getting to heaven. However, virtue must rely upon the cross since all salvation comes from Jesus Christ. Man cannot earn his way into heaven. Man can only become more of himself when he becomes more of a Christian.

In the dream, the event has the Lord at the top of the ladder holding all things in stability. And so, while there are angels falling out of heaven, God nevertheless, does not lose control. Caesarius writes that the Lord is both in heaven and on earth.  He is at the top of the ladder holding all things in place, but he is also at the bottom at the rock giving comfort to Jacob. St. Bede writes that the ladder could be understood as the Church herself, in which Christ anchors the Church from the bottom and the top.  There is no way to heaven part from the Church. The Church is the gateway by which man ascends to the throne of God.

All of this biblical imagery, theology, Christology, and ecclesiology can touch upon our own approach to priestly formation.  I am proposing this dream or event of Jacob as a way for us to understand the mystery of conversion that is associated with priestly formation. I would like to offer seven (7) reflections or questions about the dream of Jacob that can give focus to priestly formation in the up-coming year.

1.      Fidelity and Persecution
There was a type of persecution that was coming to Jacob from his brother. It is in this moment of persecution that Jacob comes upon the rock.  Jacob was not running away, rather he was running towards the Lord following what was being asked of him.

Priestly formation presupposes that a seminarian wants to totally embrace conversion through Jesus Christ. There is no conversion without the Cross of Christ. One can therefore ask: “How is the cross bringing a redemptive persecution to you and how does being faithful bring a persecution not intended by God, but seen as something the tempter wants you and I to be distracted by?”  When we remain faithful to the Gospel, this requires something of our life. We understand the role of the cross, this fidelity which brings about purification and holiness.  Therefore, we can speak of a “redemptive persecution.”  However, there is also the persecution that is coming from evil because of our fidelity to the gospel.

Priestly formation prepares a seminarian for all types of persecution. He must be man enough to embrace the cross and Christian enough to carry it.  As a priest, the cross brings about joy and serenity. This is something that the People of God are able to see in their priest.

Having said this, am I running away from anything in my formation?  How explicit am I in my evaluation of who I am as a person, my past sins, my chastity, flaws in my personality, flaws in my temperament and attitude. How do I come off to other people? Am I a free man? Am I completely free in how I approach formation? A free man is a joyful man!

Jacob was not running away, rather he was running towards God. Priestly formation does not want a seminarian to neglect any aspects of his humanity, rather to embrace and address all concerns so that his own humanity does not become a distraction when he is attempting to shepherd the People of God. The seminary is not a place for a seminarian to hide, particularly hiding from oneself.

2.      Christ My Rock
How am I resting my head on Christ, the rock? This can be uncomfortable when we have sought to be comforted in other ways.  Laying our heads physically on a rock, rather than on a pillow, certainly gives the image of something very uncomfortable. How does one get sufficient rest when laying their head on a rock? 

As St. Paul writes so often, we take off the old man and put on Christ. Therefore, what detachment do I need to embrace in order for me to rest in Christ? What does my rule of life look like each day in which the hardness of the rock is softening me to be more like Christ?

What time do I go to bed at night so that I am waking up refreshed?  How much time do I spend on the internet? How do I use leisure time in order to refresh my soul? The rock of Christ brings us true comfort and peace.  Do I have other rocks beside Christ? Do I lie my head down on other forms of so called comfort?  Do I see myself as “entitled” because of past lifestyle comforts?

Sometimes we can see a sort of bachelor lifestyle from some priests.  Priests who may work very hard, but then feel entitled to incorporate a lifestyle that is really inconsistent with the simplicity of priestly life in ministry.

Jesus Christ is our rock. This is more than biblical imagery, rather a deeply spiritual relationship that impacts the way in which I seek comfort in my life. As we move into this new year of formation, we ought to consider, with our spiritual directors, the implication of Christ as the center of our lives and the things we pursue that bring us worldly comfort. What is the balance? Is it legitimate? What is the distraction?

3.      A Glimpse into Heaven
The rock provided a way for Jacob to see the angels and their service to God.  In a sense, the rock provided a way for Jacob to get a glimpse into heaven.

Priestly formation certainly provides a type of training and discipline that helps you understand if you are called to the priesthood.  But more than that, priestly formation is your encounter with the mystery of God in this community called seminary. You are able to experience the mystery of God in your prayer, in the sacraments, in your studies, in your social interactions, and in everything we do at Notre Dame Seminary.

How does formation allow me to see the mystery of God in all that I do at the seminary and in my fellow seminarians? Are there certain ideological tendencies that can actually prevent me from experiencing the mystery of God because of my own preconceived notions about how things ought to be in the Church?

Jacob was dreaming when he had this glimpse into heaven. What are your dreams for the priesthood?  If you are called to be a priest, what are the dreams that bring great consolation and inspiration to you? One needs to ask, are your dreams the dreams of God? Am I creating a priesthood in my mind that really does not relate to how the Church understands the priesthood?

How can the dream of Christ become my own dream?  Meaning, what do I need to do now in these years of formation that can allow me to be the priest God wants me to be? Do I need to correct anything in my attitude, my approach to people, the way in which I approach authority in my life?

We understand that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are the ways in which we become more human and the ways in which we grow in holiness. All of our dreams are linked to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. How docile am I to the Holy Spirit?  Can I allow myself to be formed in ways that may even bring me to an understanding of things which differ from my current opinion? Surrendering ourselves to the Holy Spirit can bring about great freedom. It allows us to understand “the mind of God” in profound ways that touch upon our own priestly formation.

4.      God’s Ladder
The Church fathers reflect that the ladder can be understood as the Church.  And so we can ask ourselves, how do I allow the Church to guide me and to bring me closer to the Church? What is my understanding of the Church? How do I see the Church touching every aspect of culture and society?  How do I see myself as a bridge between the Church and the people of God.

What steps in my life are cracked, broken, or need repaired so that the people do not trip or stumble over me because of my poor actions, behavior, or speech?

We must avoid the temptation of using the Church for our own personal benefit. This would be a type of utilitarianism by which the Church is simply the means by which I inflict upon the people my own personal understanding of how things ought to be in priestly ministry.  There is a certain humility you possess as sons of the Church, you are a learning obedience and the wider view of the Church understands pastoral ministry. However, each of us brings our own particular gifts to the arena of ministry. The discernment of which gifts are to be used and how they are to be lived is a constant dimension of discipleship. Praying that the Holy Spirit inspire in each one of us a generous service and a humble ministry is a constant effort in our spiritual life.

At the end of the day, we are trying to bring people closer to the person of Jesus Christ who can only be experienced and understood according to his mystical body which is the Church.

5.      The Descent of the Angels
Jacob saw angels descending from heaven in his dream. Some Church fathers write that he was seeing fallen angels in the dream. This indicates the reality of failure, rejection, and outright disobedience to God’s will.

How does seminary formation allow you to know and see fallen angels in the context of our own life? How does spiritual warfare exist in our life? How am I practicing the “discernment of spirits” and how do I do this with my spiritual director, formation advisor, my confessor, and even with my friends?

Blessed John Paul II noted that the call to holiness (mysterium pietatis) involves the awareness of the mystery of evil (mysterium iniquitatis).   There can really be no genuine pursuit of holiness and sanctity without understanding our fallen nature and the need for conversion. This is what we must profess: “I am a sinner and I need to be saved!” In all humility, we must ask how this is being professed in our life. How does this sin of pride affect me? How does this sin of pride tempt me to think I do not need to embrace any further conversion?

The descent of angels from heaven can indicate the fragility of how we deal with our own human nature and the arrogance we often see that man can save himself.

This narcissism can even creep into our own view of priestly formation.  We might even test the creditability of a formation program based on the imperfections of the formator and the faculty.  We might dismiss the role of the Holy Spirit when we detect something imperfect in how the formation program is being implemented.

The descent of the angels from heaven was the result of disobedience and rejection. Is it not true, that those demons want to take us with them?

6.      Anointing of the Stone
Following the dream, Jacob recognizes that something holy came upon him while his head rested on a rock.  When he anoints the stone, this pre-figures the sacramentality of how the experience of the spiritual realities of the kingdom and the physical, present moment.

With the imperfection of our human nature yet recognizing the baptism of ourselves into Jesus, we have been anointed as sacred. The unfolding of this anointing continues in priestly formation. How do I allow the seminary to anoint my formation?  How does God anoint me through my own actions? How am I living out the gifts of the Holy Spirit here at Notre Dame Seminary?

Our minds often travel into the future inspired by the virtue of hope.  Living in the concrete moment of the present requires us to accept God’s blessings as we move about in our priestly formation.

The stone that Jacob rested his head upon was hard and rough, but gave him comfort and peace.  The formation program can be hard and rough as we bristle with the discomfort of conversion. But as you and I know, conversion provides an authentic peace in which we are as God’s people.  The roughness of priestly formation passes away to the great joy of serving God and the Church.

7.      The Erection of the Pillar
Following Jacob’s dream and the anointing of the stone, Jacob erects a pillar that would be later seen as a cornerstone before God’s house.  Our bodies have been consecrated to God and we have been claimed for by Jesus Christ.

What ways do I treat my body as an expression of thanksgiving to the Lord?  What ought I be pursuing in my human formation that can allow my humanity to be a great vehicle for ministry?

How do I see Notre Dame Seminary as God’s house in the present moment?  Residing in this community, heaven and earth touch the many ways in which God dwells in this seminary community.

How do I see my room as a holy place?  If sins are committed in my room, how do I bring resolution, respiration for those sins?  How do I see the time and space of my room as a holy place for prayer, study, and fraternity?

How do I see the classroom as a holy space in which I encounter God?  How urgent and enthusiastic am I with my studies?  How responsible am I in using this time to develop the intellectual life of my formation?  How can I understand the spiritual life as a chief inspiration for my intellectual formation?  And, how does my intellectual formation inform and give shape to aspects of my spiritual life?

Preparing for Martyrdom
Missionary priests are priests who give everything over to the Lord and Church.  We do not hold back because our vocation is to give back to God everything that belongs to him.  Baptized and ordained into His life means we also conjoin our life and suffering to that of the Cross.  Priests do this by placing themselves in the hands of God’s people.  We are ordained to serve them, to lead them, to sanctify them, to teach them, and to minister to them.

Jesus placed himself in the hands of Jews and Gentiles, religious leaders and pagans, before apostles and disbelievers, and before all who encountered him.  The office that the priest holds is an office of love (amoris officium).  The exercise of authority and leadership in the Church is intrinsically linked to charity. Authority and leadership is exercised as an office of love.  Jesus teaches us, there is no greater love than to lay down our lives for our friends.  Our friends are those to whom we serve. All of God’s people.

St. Francis of Assisi once stated: “I am determined to reverence, love, and honor these and all the others as my superiors.  I refuse to consider their sins, because I can see the Son of God in them and they are my superiors.  I do this because in this world, I cannot see the Most High Son God with my own eyes, except for his most holy body and blood which they receive.”

This beautiful reflection presents us with an understanding that the people to whom we are called to serve are our superiors.  They are our superiors because we see the face of God in them.

There exists an anthropological crisis in our world that is the result of removing God from culture.  When we remove God from culture, there is an identity crisis, not only with the culture, but of man himself.  Man cannot truly understand himself apart from God.

There is a crisis of identity because God is no longer at the center of culture.  Therefore, what is the purpose of culture? How does culture serve the needs of man if God is not at the source?  As a result, man ends up serving culture rather than culture serving man.  There truly is an anthropological crisis as well as a cultural crisis.

You and I are not disaffected from these attitudes. We have to understand that this crisis also touches upon members of the Church. If man does not see the value and the need of promoting God as the source of culture, man becomes his own arbiter of defining truth.

What does this look like in a seminarian or a priest? This is the priest that sees no need to attend presbyteral gatherings. This is the priest who does not feel the need for attending gatherings organized by the Bishop.  The priest sees himself as the arbiter of priestly identity.  We might even be seeing some of this as the Church and the world transitioned from the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI to the pontificate of Pope Francis.  A couple of you told me about blogs coming from clergy that are trashing Pope Francis and disrespecting the way in which he is living out his apostolic responsibilities.

Is this not how a child reacts when his favorite toy has been taken from him.  We have to be careful to first of all appreciate the great contributions Pope Benedict XVI has achieved for the Church and to celebrate those contributions. We also have to be open to the ways in which the Holy Spirit continues to bless the Church through the apostolic ministry of Pope Francis.  Clearly, there is a shift of attention that Pope Francis is bringing to the Church.  I am very confident and certain that this behavior does not exist in this seminary community where we are being disrespectful to the priorities being established by Pope Francis.

Sometimes we can see this in the presbyterate where the priest is a constant thorn to his bishop.  He is the one who is writing letters of complaint to the bishop, and trying to tell the bishop how to carry out his duties.  A missionary priest is consumed with the responsibilities that the Church entrusts to him in his assignment. It does us well to keep our focus and our attention on the responsibilities given to us, praying that those around us who have their own responsibilities are being faithful to those obligations.

I think of my own time in the seminary where I had classmates who seemed to be more energized in trying to determine what they believed was unorthodox.  They seemed to get more energy in trying to find out what was wrong with a particular professor or an aspect of the formation program, and therefore were finding their own identity as “nay-sayers.”

What can result from such tendencies and behavior is the creation of paternalism.  We speak often of about spiritual fatherhood, which is an appropriate way of understanding how authority and leadership is lived by priests.  Paternalism is the abuse of authority, where we abuse the faithful with our authority by using the Gospel to judge others and using the Gospel to condemn others rather than a father who is loving his sheep in order save their souls.

What father would give his son a snake when he asks for an egg?  The question that Jesus proposes as the disciples are learning the great gift being entrusted to them.

A New Evangelization for a New Time
There is indeed a new time in the life of the Church. There is a sense of enthusiasm and encouragement as we move into the future. You are caught up in this new season allowing the newness of today to impact on the conversion you experienced yesterday. The theological virtue of hope keeps our minds and imagination looking forward as you prepare for priestly ministry.

I suppose it is easier to hit the pause button in order to keep what we desire to remain present. Change can be a hard experience for us. The organic nature of the Church is that the Mystical Body of Christ, unchanged in her nature since Truth remains universal, immutable, and eternal, but the expression of this Truth, the tailoring of clothing for a body that changes, is the constant discernment of leadership.

The year 2013 has been an awesome time for the Church. The theological character of the new evangelization considers the ad intra sense of mission where believers in Christ must first embrace conversion in order for an authentic witness to be grasped by those outside of the Church (ad extra).

Here at Notre Dame Seminary, you are discerning with your directors how conversion continues to impact your life, your personality, your rule of life, the way in which you approach your studies, how you see yourself as the priest you hope to be – this internal reflection on conversion no doubt has an external manifestation. This is why you cannot hit the pause button on your conversion as something you have completely achieved and something that will resume after ordination. This thinking is naïve at best and probably dangerous to say the least.

New times demand new methods. This was the sentiment that Blessed John Paul II considered in proposing the new evangelization as the mission of the Church. Whenever man finds himself in a new situation, how does the Gospel get proposed to him? Who is the one who proposes the Gospel? How does a priest situate himself before the people of our society? These are the questions that have to be asked in order for us to discern the way in which the Gospel can be accessed.

Apostolic Community
The organic nature of the Church is also reflected here in this community. The way in which we interact with one another, the way in which we respect each other, our approach to the schedule, the discipline we embrace in our daily schedules, how we promote community life, and how we present ourselves to each other all indicate the realities of discipleship in the now, in the present, today.

I asked you last year to observe some standards that are rooted in basic standards of respect. Let me review these again with you.

1)   SynodSubsidiarity with Communication: if you have a concern about something in the formation program, please bring that concern directly to the person – to your professor, formation advisor, director of the program. If you are not satisfied with how your concern is being addressed, then bring this matter to me. In all this, please consult your spiritual director to measure your intent. Going directly to the bishop or vocation director without first going through the steps of subsidiarity violates respect and charity.

2)   Classroom Etiquette: please do not use the classroom to vent one’s displeasure with a professor or to promote an ideological tendency or to undermine the work of the professor. Please schedule time with the professor to get clarification if there is something you feel needs clarification. Paying attention in class, taking notes, not surfing the internet during class, constantly using the restroom during class time, comportment – these are all basic etiquette standards.

3)   Facebook – Social Communication: we do not post anything on our social networks that are in contradiction to Church teaching or do not reflect the opinion of your bishop. Photos being posted should be appropriate. It is not your role right now to be a teacher of the faith – this will come in due time. We never reveal our political leanings for shepherds needs to be objective therefore we do not critique individual politicians – this is not the role of seminarians.

4)   Use of Cell Phones: I realize cell phones can be used to check time, serve as a calculator, to check out a website. When at table or during classtime, we should not texting – this is rude. If you need to take a call, excuse yourself from the table and take the call or text back. Walking down the hall using your cell and texting does not afford you the chance to have human interaction – again, step to the side to conduct your business. On another note, when your bishop or vocation director emails you or texts you, you should respond as quickly as possible or to at least acknowledge you received the message and will get back to them.

5)   Temperance: let the good times roll. Living in New Orleans exposes us to the great history, food, and culture of this region. The use of alcohol, how we spend our money, the frequency of going out – all of this should be carefully discerned so that we do not fall into the bachelor’s lifestyle or worse, abusing temporal goods which leads to vice.

Thank you for your discernment and for being here. The Church is excited about seminarians – you bring us great hope. I am privileged and humbled to be your pastor. I do not take you for granted – you are holy, fine men. I thank the Lord each day for you.

Please safeguard your vocation – something holy is happening to you. Be sober and alert in your approach to formation. Remain strong yet humble as Our Lady is and was when the Angel came to her.

There has been such a positive atmosphere these first few weeks. Thanks for contributing to this atmosphere.

May these final weeks of the Year of Faith inspire us to be bridges to each other and for others. Let us rest with Christ who is our Rock and our Salvation. May we stay close to Our Lady as she shows us the Way.

Let us praise the Lord and give Him thanks! 

Rector’s Conference
Very Reverend James A. Wehner, S.T.D.
August 28, 2013