5 The Heroism and Virtues of the Priest – Opening Conference, Fall 2009

Good afternoon and welcome to this new formation year at Saint Meinrad. How could we begin to enumerate the many blessings the Lord has afforded this community of faith in bringing into our midst our new seminarians? The presence of these new men among us is a renewal of our challenge to become increasingly faithful to our vocations, to the supernatural call we have received in Christ Jesus.

We are especially blessed to be called to this vocation in this year that our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, has named a Year for Priests. In my conferences this semester, I would like to focus on a topic all too little discussed in the life of the Church today: the heroism of the priest and the virtues of the priest.

Who are my priest heroes? How could I begin to name the men from our great Tradition who have inspired the lives of men and women to become more and greater than themselves in living the life of Christ? The lives of many of these priest-heroes are well known to us.

We might think, for example, of St. Gregory the Great, the man called from his monastic solitude to serve the life of the Church, a man whose Pastoral Rule has inspired countless generations of priests to a greater sense of service, a greater capacity for compassion.

Or I might mention St. Francis de Sales, a man who suffered such great trials in his pastoral life, but nevertheless persevered to the point that his pastoral care, his spiritual direction, particularly of members of the lay faithful, was so generously received that he was able to effect a reversal of the tide of obstinacy and increasing demoralization that confronted the Church of France in the 17th century. St. Francis was a model of humility in his priestly vocation, and by that virtue he changed the world.

I might also mention a contemporary of St. Francis, St. Vincent de Paul. What priest rose from more humble origins to serve, in that same sense of humility, among the great and mighty? He was a man whose life was one of exemplary service to the poor and neglected. He founded religious communities and, in his spare time, reformed seminaries and became a great saint.

Of course, I must mention a great hero of mine, Fr. John Henry Newman, whose heroic life of service as a priest is soon to be acknowledged by the Universal Church in his forthcoming beatification. Cardinal Newman, the greatest mind and intellect of his age, was also a man who served as a parish priest every day among the poor and needy of the industrial city of Birmingham. And, of course, all of the great heroic priests are not men whose lives have become well known.

This past summer, I had the chance to return to my native diocese of Memphis to offer some days of study for the priests. I have to admit that I was a bit intimidated by the prospect of returning to my native place to speak to those men whose ministry and lives so profoundly affected my course in life, my spirituality, my vocation. These priests will never be famous, except in the lives of those whom they have known and served over the years.

So many hero-priests go unnoticed, but their heroism is great and their virtues the same as those saints who have gone before them. In all priests, there is something to admire, some quality of heroism that gives them all a distinctive character, a charism, a camaraderie, even as they are bound on that common journey of humanity and will inevitably be forgotten in the common way of fame and fortune. Among these hero-priests, I mention our newly ordained, those men who left these halls just this year and today do heroic things in distant places and continue to inspire us by their witness.

What makes these priests great? I want to focus my reflections this semester on the virtues of priestly discipleship. I might have chosen any number of ways of expressing the thoughts I would like to communicate, but placing them in the context of discipleship seems to offer us the opportunity to reflect not only on our particular vocations, but on the way in which our particular vocations enmesh themselves into the great image of discipleship presented in the holy Scriptures, and by the Church in its Tradition.

Searching for images of discipleship in the New Testament, we might turn first to St. Paul. St. Paul gives a nice description of discipleship in the first letter to the Thessalonians (5:17-24). Standing as it does at the head of the New Testament canon, it offers us a keen insight into what Christian discipleship is all about.

Rejoice always.
Pray without ceasing.
In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.
Do not quench the Spirit.
Do not despise prophetic utterances.
Test everything; retain what is good.
Refrain from every kind of evil.
May the God of peace himself make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved  blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.

In St. Paul’s language, all of this seems quite simple, and yet it is vastly complex, so complex that, as the Thessalonians undoubtedly knew, it proved difficult to persevere.

Rejoice Always – The disciple of Jesus is to seek the joy in life. A good sense of happiness and a better sense of humor are signs of a healthy Christian. Rejoicing always also indicates a kind of contentment. Contentment is not satiation or a sense of accomplishment, but rather that self-knowledge that comes from the restlessness of the heart that is constantly seeking God. As St. Augustine says: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” The authentic Christian then finds joy in the search, in the tension of authentic longing.

Misery and morose engagement with the world have no place in an authentic life of discipleship. The idea that God has called us to this way of life as a penance or an opportunity to suffer is not only perverse, it is heresy. The rejoicing of the Christian is the rejoicing of ever-new discovery about the world, oneself, and our brothers and sisters. It is the joy of living in the triumphs of others and the joy of being able to truly sympathize in the tragedies of others. It is a joy that comes from being a part of something, of feeling alive in Him who is our life.

Pray Without Ceasing – The disciple of Jesus engages the Lord in relationship, relationship that is deep, abiding and intimate. In Chapter 21 of John’s Gospel, Jesus lays the groundwork for this kind of relationship. Three times he admonishes St. Peter to experience a profound love for him as a precursor, a kind of prerequisite to the feeding and tending of the sheep.

Prayer is this relationship, and prayer without ceasing is prayer of the whole person, body, soul and mind united to God in an endless conversation. Prayer as good conversation is not only pouring out our hearts to the object of our love, but attuning our ears to hear the voice of One who has infinitely more to say to us than we have to say to Him.

Give Thanks – The call to give thanks is literally a call to make the Eucharist. Eucharist is thanksgiving. Of course, we know, in the central and focused way what it means to make the Eucharist, but the reality of the great Sacrifice is highlighted and indeed enriched by the smaller instances of thanksgiving we have the opportunity to express each day. When St. Paul admonished us to give thanks, it is in every way.

We must be grateful to God for all things, great and small, that He bestows on us each day. To give thanks in all things is to move away from any sense of entitlement, which is the demon that destroys hearts. Nothing that we have comes to us by way of our earning it; we are not entitled to anything, but rejoice at all times in the wonders God has given us, in the gift of this community of faith, the lives we lead, even the trials we must endure, all providentially arrayed for us as blessings, opportunities and hope.

Do Not Quench the Spirit – Here St. Paul offers us an invitation: “Be open to what happens.” With Christ, we can always be sure that we can expect the unexpected. Be open to the unexpected encounter with Christ. Needless to say, in this community of formation, each of us daily encounters something that challenges us in great or small ways.

Be open to the invitation of God, in our dealings with one another, in what we experience in the classroom, in ministry, in our formation both formal and informal. Openness leaves room for the Spirit, whereas closed-mindedness defeats us with a kind of self-regard, a spiritual narcissism that eats at the core of God’s invitation to be his and his alone.

Do Not Despise Sound Teaching – Here St. Paul asks us, compels us, to listen to the voice of the Church. Our lives here are only given meaning and structure insofar as we conform to the teachings of the Church and become a part of its great teaching. Listen, learn and understand. Likewise, it is an invitation to not presume we know everything because we know something.

The great Tradition of the Church is a matrix of doctrine, culture and practices that mutually complement and strengthen one another. The Church is our best teacher, our only teacher. In this, likewise, we have the voices of our bishops, both as individual exemplars of the prophetic office of Christ and as a body of apostolic witness and authority. Listen to the voice of the Church; know its Tradition.

Test Everything – Engage, read, constantly be growing in your faith. One of our first duties as people of faith and as priests is to know the culture to which we announce Good News. We must be men in the world, men called to service the world, men called to transform the world, without being men who are reduced to the sometimes-lax cultural norms and mores we encounter. As priests, we need to know what is out there, but lives lived totally for popular culture are ruined lives. Lives lived in the Spirit engage the culture in ways that evangelize.

Refrain from Sin – Live a virtuous life, believe what you read, teach what you believe, practice what you teach. It is difficult, but it can be done.

All of these are wonderful admonitions, but I think the most telling line for us is the last one: The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it. Perhaps that is a message we need to continually be hearing. God does not give us a vocation, be it the general vocation of Christian discipleship or the particular vocations of priesthood, religious life, marriage, consecrated virginity, etc., that He does not give us the grace to live.

This is a truth, a reality upon which we must continually dwell. “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9). God in his very being is He who cannot abandon, cannot forsake, cannot leave us orphans (John 14:18). Thus He is the apotheosis of love that never ends, that is never quenched, that is never self-serving (1 Corinthians 13:4, ff).

Discipleship is complex and has many forms. Priestly discipleship, while the same in principle, is different from the discipleship of the married couple or the vowed religious or the single man or woman. There are different emphases, charisms, applications. While all are striving toward the same goal, that is, being made holy and whole in spirit, soul and body, different testings and retentions are required.

The life of the priest is defined ultimately by his priestly character, the charism received as a grace at ordination. The soundings of the discipleship of the priest are, however, experienced early, even before the formation experience of the seminary. They are experienced in the very heart of the vocation, in the desire to be a priest, in the character of the man, called by the Church and its members. In his character is recognized the embryonic priesthood. Realizing the priestly character and priestly discipleship in formation, therefore, calls forth a need for a different focus.

Our task here is to focus the discipleship of those who come under our care into a priestly discipleship. We are called, therefore, to four major realities. First, we are called to be a house of prayer in which we form men of communion. Second, we are called to be a house of study in which we are called to become men of the Church.

Third, this place must be a house of service in which we become more fully men of charity. Finally, this is a house of Christian living, in which the characters of those who pray and study and serve here are formed. Today, I will elaborate on these themes, hopefully setting a tone for the work we will do in this coming year.

House of Prayer – Men of Communion

First, this is a house of prayer. Prayer is the crucible of our lives, the anvil on which is formed that weightless chain that binds us to God and one another. The seminary cannot exist without prayer. It has no reason to exist.

As a house of prayer, the chapel of this seminary is its heart, the tabernacle the very sinews of its beating center. Every day we pour out in prayer the expectations, petitions, intercessions, hopes, pleadings of our souls, seeking to find that point of connection to the heart of Jesus.

The open heart of Jesus, given to us by God in prayer, is a sign to us that God holds nothing back when we are honest with Him, when we truly seek communion with him. He shares with us in prayer the most intimate part of himself, his very life. Prayer is the cherished vulnerability of cor and cor loquitor, heart speaking to heart, complete openness to God. And that openness of heart in prayer is our salvation.

In prayer, his heart is open so that our hearts, rent by the disaster of our sin, our selfishness, the pride of generations, the iniquity of Adam, the indignity of the Law, broken promises, shattered community and lost faith, might be opened and renewed.

In prayer, his heart is open, for healing and proclaiming, announcing that we are more than what we seem, that we are a people worth fighting for, worth dying for, a beautiful people who have forgotten their own dignity and worth.

In prayer, his heart is open so that the reality of the human condition, a conflicted condition, might be healed of pride, of ego, of petty wants and desires. We are saved by his heart, by his life, as St. Peter tells us: “By his wounds, we have been healed” (I Peter 2:24).

In prayer, his heart is open, and from that heart pours out blood and water, his precious blood for the life of the world, the waters of the new Eden, the spring of life, the flood of baptism flowing out from the Jordan and cleansing a sin-ravaged landscape, giving life to the deserts of our hearts.

In prayer, his heart is open so we might see laid bare for us the pure grace, the pure folly of the cross, the pure joy of giving up, and taste the glory of the resurrection. St. Paul tells us: “The love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).

In prayer, His heart is open to teach us that we are a vulnerable people – wounded by our past, our lost loves, our broken dreams, our shattered childhoods; made vulnerable by violence, by abuse, by hurts and real pains, by isolation, bigotry, prejudice, shattered hearts and shattered lives.

But his heart is open to announce flagrantly to the world that, although we are a vulnerable people in a vulnerable world, a world wounded by the ravages of hunger, of war, of a culture of death, wounded by indifference, his heart is open and we have hope. His open heart teaches us to hope that we can be better than we are, that we can make a better world.

In prayer, we discover that we are a vulnerable community, vulnerable to pains that are long in healing, by old rejections, perceived slights, generational confusions, the indignities of disability, a lack of respect for the wisdom of age, impatience, judgmental-ness, self-love, but his heart is open to grace and reconciliation. In prayer, the heart of Jesus teaches us to love, to work wonders, to make miracles, to be disciples.

So we must pray, then, that through his heart our hearts may be open, that we might love, that we might see in his wounded body the healing for our wounds, that we might see in his heart precisely who we are – the Body of Christ. Again, St. Paul tells us: “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

And by that love alive in the Church, we come to know Him. In prayer, fervent prayer, we discover that there is no Church if our hearts are not joined to the heart of Jesus daily, hourly, momentarily.

In prayer, authentic prayer, we discover that there is no me except that I am in Christ, who first suffered and died and rose for me and loved me, open-hearted, without condition. Thus, in prayer, we become men of communion, united with Christ and joined to one another by that weightless chain of fellowship.

Our Holy Father Pope Benedict remarks: “Communion means that the seemingly uncrossable frontier of the I is left wide open and can be so because Jesus has first allowed himself to be opened completely, has taken us all into himself and has put himself totally into our hands.” (Called to Communion, 37)

In prayer, we become men of communion whose lives are mysteriously bound up with the sufferings and struggles, the triumphs and joys of all humanity, expressed in the great prayer of unity, the Eucharist, and the great prayer of the Church, the Liturgy of the Hours.

Men of communion who struggle for integrity and authenticity and the courage to appear vulnerable to God and one another.  Men of communion who live without compromise the Eucharistic reality of our Lord’s paschal mystery in the heart of the Church.

Men of communion who love their brothers and sisters with as unfeigned and unreserved love as God, who so loved the world that He gave us his Son to be our communion, our promise, our hope.

Here in this house of prayer, we are called to be men of communion.

House of Study – Men of the Church

Second, this is a house of study in which we are formed to be men of the Church. Just as this seminary and school of theology must be a house of prayer, it is also a house of study. Our status, the status of parishes, the status of all Catholic institutions as a house of study highlights the intellectual aspect of the priestly vocation.

The priest has a sacred call to intellectual engagement with the life of the Church. Often, this call can be at odds with the more utilitarian approach to education that can be a feature of our approach to the life of the mind, particularly in our U.S. culture.

The theological has given way to a false sense of the pastoral. Some priests today may not fully appreciate the urgency of quality theological education. They may deem it sufficient to be kindhearted and holy men. While there is no gainsaying the necessity of kindheartedness and holiness in priestly life, the priest must first know something and that knowledge must then be transcribed into a pastoral context.

Theology must remain theological and pastoral, and all pastoral effort must be seen as undergirded and reinforced by a solid theological context. Thus, intellectual effort does not stand alone; rather, the priest lives in conjunction with the Church, its authentic tradition, its rich history, its spiritual practices and its cultural expressions.

Likewise, theological knowledge divorced from a living Church is less than useless; it is diabolical. All study flows back into evangelization and is evangelization’s surest guide. All study flows back to the living reality of the parish, its daily struggles and its joys.

Authentic theological reflection highlights what is happening in the larger Church, indeed, in the world at large. It gives substance to the pastoral realities faced by the priest each day. The ability to reflect theologically is directly correlative to the priest’s understanding of the theological teachings of the Church.

Thus, the life of the priest must be, at some level, the life of the intellectual. Likewise, the virtues and practices of the intellectual life must be firmly in place in priestly formation. Fr. Antonin-Gilbert Sertillanges outlines these nicely in his important work, The Intellectual Life.

The first is the spirit of prayer. All study, whether in the seminary or in the life of the parish, must be in this context. All theology is theology on the knees. Second, the discipline of the mind must be inculcated through engagement. How are our minds engaged? The ability to read, to concentrate and to study are not always natural faculties. They can be developed through practice.

Likewise, the discipline of the mind is threatened by too strong an attachment to Internet, television and popular entertainment. The discipline of the mind can never be realized in activities designed for diversion. An inculcation of mind in the ephemeral and the fanciful can never raise us to a contemplation of the Divine, but will keep our minds grounded in mendacity.

Finally, the discipline of the body is essential, the overcoming of sloth, the development of one’s attention span and focus. In our contemporary culture, these, again, are not always natural faculties, but they can be developed in practice. Thus, the success of the intellectual life in the priest, while certainly united with the native intelligence of the priest, is also (perhaps largely) dependent upon an act of the will.

Once the will of the priest has been engaged, certain practices for organizing one’s life enhance this intellectual prospect. One of these is simplification, the need to avoid distraction. One cannot give full credence and attention to the life of the mind if one is perpetually engaged with the mundane and the superficial. Solitude, to an extent, is also necessary. This implies a comfort with one’s self and an adeptness at engaging the imagination.

For such an engagement to be productive, authentic fueling of the imagination must be a priority. One cannot expect to preach well if one never engages the exegetical tradition of the Church. Likewise, one cannot preach well without a thoroughgoing knowledge of and comfort with the great literary traditions upon which we draw our rhetorical and narrative models.

The spirit of intellectual work implies ardor in its pursuit. The quality of ardor only germinates in the full conviction of the value of the work at hand. Once ardor has been established, then concentration, setting aside time and prioritizing study become the requisites for full engagement of the life of the mind.

In all of this, one must keep one’s mind upon the goal, the engendering of awe, of mystery, and of the conviction of the grandeur of the Church and its Tradition. Thus, in a house of study, we become men of the Church.

Men of the Church whose lives have been deeply enriched by the study of the Scriptures and whose knowledge of doctrine is unparalleled and who know how this teaching is meaningful in the lives of the men and women they serve.

Men of the Church who pray with the saints as intimate companions, whose time is spent in holy endeavors, whose love is channeled into the creative use of the Church’s spiritual memory.

Men of the Church who love the Church, whose lives are poured out in service to the Church, who do not see the Church as a threatening institution, but as a family whose care and guidance is for the Body of Christ and of which they feel privileged to be a part.

This is a house of study for men of the Church.

House of Service – Men of Charity

Third, this is a house of service and we are men of charity, love. Jesus said to his disciples, “I have come among you, not to be served but to serve and offer my life.” Can we, with conviction, speak these words with our Lord? The instinct of the seminarian must be honed to service, unstinting, unrelenting and unqualified.

While care for self is an undoubted necessity for the realization of authentic priestly ministry, an authentic giving of self after the person of Christ is essential. On the Mount of Olives, Jesus offers himself to the Father with these words: “Not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22: 42). What greater example can be given than that of our Lord, who poured out his blood, his life, his very essence for the building up of mankind?

This kind of love, from which service proceeds, can be realized only in true sympathy with the needs of those around us. A house of service and the inculcation of men of charity begin when we look to our neighbor, proximate and distant, and see the authentic need, the true suffering of that neighbor.

How can we not be witnesses to the suffering of those around us, those who are tried by the economic difficulties of these times, those who are burdened by broken covenants of marriage and familial betrayals, those who suffer true want and yearn for dignity and bread, those whose lives are tormented by addictions? These hurting brothers and sisters are not far away; they are among us, here in this community. We meet them on the level ground of sympathy only when we can discard the inherent narcissism of our fallen natures.

Look to the other; see in your brothers here the remnant of pale and broken humanity and learn the tenderness of the Savior, the resoluteness of the will of our Lord to attend to them. Place your brothers’ needs before your own and service will follow. If you long to do quality ministry, do it here and the service to the masses will follow.

Pope Benedict, in his most recent encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, warns us, however, that “Without Truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell to be filled in an arbitrary way” (Caritas in Veritate, 3). This Truth of which the Holy Father speaks is the Truth of the dignity of the human person, an uncompromisable dignity, which is daily under attack by a culture of relativity. The pope goes on to say that “adherence to the values of Christianity is not merely useful, but essential for building a good society and for true integral human development” (Ibid., 7).

Attend to the needs of those around you and remember that in the very least of these, for example, the seminarian for whom you do not care, you entertain Christ. Welcome all who come to this place as Christ, as our Holy Father St. Benedict admonishes us in the holy Rule. Thousands of guests and pilgrims come to this Hill every year. Can we learn to see in them the face of Christ, rather than the visage of nuisance? Can we become like our holy patron, St. Meinrad? Can we become martyrs of hospitality?

Cardinal Newman once remarked that “Faith is an active principle,” and so it is. We can be holy, we can be learned, we can be men of incredible, even indelible, faith, but if we cannot learn to love, then we are lost. There is no theological principle worth defending where charity breaks down.

If I hate my brother for his ideas, then I have already degenerated into the heresy of Christian lawlessness. Sin is lawlessness (I John 3:4). That lawlessness looks like contempt for the other and, thereby, contempt for God. Therefore, we must be open to giving rather than receiving. And this service is only meaningful in the context of love.

It is the love of Christ, his Body, his Church, all made real in the very messy context of our brothers and sisters, and it is this love that compels us. The love of Christ invites, yes, but it also compels. Faith that is authentic and real does not allow for compromise in the desire to serve, being men of charity. Faith that is real and true admits no hybridization with self-interest, self service or self-centeredness.

Faith as an active principle means being like Our Lady, who experienced the instillation of the Word in the very marrow of her being, as announced by the angel Gabriel, and rose up and went to serve her cousin, Elizabeth, who was in need. Faith that is true gets up; it moves. It does not flounder in a sense of rank entitlement to privilege and title.

The lowest form of clericalism is that which is waited upon by the Body of Christ. The highest form of clericalism is that which understands that the call we have received is a call to serve others, to the point of death. Give and you will never lose sight of your true calling as men of prayer, men of study, men of service.

Withhold and the specter of the Gospel’s dire warning, that when you did not receive these least ones, you did not receive me, threatens with its sinister outcome (Matthew 25:45). Our prayer and our study must overflow in service or we risk losing everything in the hopes of gaining a passing reward that can never satisfy. Thus, we become men of charity.

Men of charity who never count the cost, whose abacation always tends toward the surplus of the eternal “yes.”

Men of charity who find in the other the goodness and virtue that may be truly hidden under the cloak of uncertainty, self deceit, self-loathing.

Men of charity who know and practice the art of loving fraternal correction, refusing to countenance anything but the Truth and understand that the Truth alone will set them and their neighbors free (John 8:32). This Truth is the love of Jesus Christ.

House of Christian Living – Men of Character

Finally, this is a house of Christian living and we are called to be men of character. Our late Holy Father Pope John Paul II observed in Pastores Dabo Vobis that human formation is the great structure upon which the other areas of formation depend. To be a man of study, a man of prayer, a man of service, these pursuits find their origin and goal in the name Christian.

Last year, the Holy See promulgated a document on the use of psychology in seminaries. This document is very helpful in that it give us credible insight into the qualities of maturity, particularly affective maturity, that the candidate for orders must demonstrate. It forms a kind of manifesto on Christian character. What are those qualities?

First is a positive and stable sense of one’s sexual identity. The ability to form relationships in a mature way is the core of priestly character. Hesitancy and uncertainty in this most basic quality of human personality will only result in feeble and half-hearted engagement with others.

Dealing with these core issues in the context of formation is not optional; it is a necessity and the resources are made readily available in this house of Christian living to form men of stable sexual and relational character. When one’s own sexuality is not well comprehended, it leads to perversion of the communal life and covert expressions of sexual energy that undermine the chaste character of a house of Christian living.

Inappropriate expressions of sexuality, immature sexuality in the form of crude comments and attempts at humor, the use of pornographic materials, verbal or behavioral overtures, or the frequenting of establishments incompatible with chaste living are not negotiable. Those who engage in these behaviors will be called to deal with them in the strongest possible terms in the external forum. There is no compromise in this basic element of human formation.

Second is a solid sense of belonging, of being a part of this community and, in the future, a part of a presbyterate. The ability to work well with others is crucial, for the priest must see himself within the context of a matrix of ministers, first in his relationship with his ordinary, then with his brother priests, and then with deacons, lay ministers and volunteers. There is no room for lone rangers in this seminary or in the priesthood.

The example we have is the fellowship of the apostles, flawed men but essential to the ecclesial Body. Here you will be challenged to be a part of this community. It is a requirement. Failure to fully engage this community of faith is a contraindication of vocation.

Third, we must have the freedom to be enthused by great ideas. We must be alive in those intellectual virtues mentioned above and find them life-giving. Open your minds, discuss real issues, learn to be men of healthy debate. Respect the ideas and opinions of others.

Fourth, we must be able to trust one another. Trust is at the core of obedience, because at its heart is an esteem for and acceptance of the other person. Trust, in the most basic sense, can be nurtured only in prayer. Pray together, not only in the required activities of the seminary, but in small groups. Invite your brothers to prayer and in prayer you will build trust. Share your faith, your vocation stories, with one another and you will learn respect.

Fifth, our eyes and hearts must be attuned to an appreciation of beauty in all its forms, in art, in the “splendor of truth” in the authentic moral life and in the human person. True beauty is often looking beyond the surface and appreciating the depth of being.

Sixth is the capacity to correct oneself, which is built on an authentic understanding of oneself. I must know who I am, what are my gifts and talents, what are my areas of growth and conversion. True knowledge of self is not the morbid and scrupulous reflection on sin alone, but the complete understanding of my human being made in the image and likeness of a loving Father.

Seven, you must have the courage to make decisions and stay faithful to them. Many vocations become entrapped in an unhealthy sense of discernment. No one wants a priest who cannot make a decision and stand by it. This is true in the parochial setting of ministry and it is true in the inner recesses of the priest’s life.

This is a place where these qualities of maturity must be nurtured. We will be challenged in this area, even daily. The life of the seminarian and the life of the priest are not so much a studied discipline as an art form. Flannery O’Connor, in her penetrating writings on the practice of literature, speaks of authentic living as the habit of art.

Authentic Christian living is building the character of the person through the creative engagement of the world and not from a slovenly reaction to the situations in which one finds oneself. Christian living as a habit of art is to go beyond the flotsam and jetsam of the surface of life and penetrate the oceanic depths of Christian living. The character of Christian life is the ability to creatively see behind and beyond what is there and to realize what is possible.

This is our life. This is our way of engaging the world. This is our way of participating in the divine reality that confronts us daily with the urgency of invitation. That invitation is to live more deeply, more broadly, more profoundly and to call others to profundity of life. When we have plumbed the depths of that profundity, when we live there, then we are truly instruments in the hand of God for the life of the world. We become men of Christian character.

Men of character who are firm and bold in the battle and who give fight to the qualities of indecision and tentativeness that come from the Evil One.

Men of character who know who they are, what motivates them and what they want. They see their goal as Christ and Christ alone, and nothing can deter them from the pursuit of Him who first pursued them.

Men of character who have broken hearts and willing minds to comprehend the things of God in mystery and manners, fully engaged in the habit and art of being.

I have spoken at length today about priesthood and the formation for priesthood. The principles of discipleship, however, and the ways in which we make ever more vivid the concreteness of the life of God, are not limited to priesthood, but we who have received the call to this exalted responsibility must be icons of its possibility and its ultimate invincibility.

This place is a house of prayer for the faculty, the staff, those who come here for retreats and programs, because we make it so, because we are true to our call – not only to discern the specific vocation to priesthood, but the primordial vocation of that reality which the citizens of Antioch bore in being called Christians for the first time.

Saint Meinrad is a resource of the Church, not only in its programming and in its product, but in its iconic realization of the possibility of Christian living, of being community, of making Eucharist real in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and in its effects. Saint Meinrad is a sign of charity for those who come within the sheltering arms of this place for an hour, or a day or a lifetime.

It is a sign of hospitality, a beacon of welcome, a signal of hope. Finally, it is a place where we are formed, not where you are formed, but where we are formed and spend our lives forming each other, the faculty and staff forming you, you forming one another.

We do this under the protection of our holy patron, St. Meinrad, and all the saints and with the aid of Our Blessed Lady, the seat of wisdom whom we invoke as we say: Hail Holy Queen …

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