May 13, 2005

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Character of seminarians
gives our Church hope

If you want to be inspired with enthusiasm and hope for the future of our Church, spend some time visiting our seminarians.

A couple of weeks ago, Saint Meinrad School of Theology sponsored a National Catholic Seminarians’ Conference. I was invited to attend and to celebrate one of the conference Masses. The positive spirit of the 150-plus seminarians from around the country and their enthusiastic preoccupations about preparing to serve the Church in the future were contagious. I was proud to note that our archdiocesan seminarians figured prominently in the leadership of the conference.

In the theater (where the major presentations were held), a large portrait of the late Pope John Paul II was prominently displayed. I was not surprised to learn of the seminarians’ love and respect for the late Holy Father. Many had known no other pope. Most who spoke to me cited Pope John Paul II as a major factor in their discernment to become a priest.

I was impressed by the fact that the schedule for the conference clearly featured prayer as the top priority. The manner in which preparations were made for morning, evening and night prayer, along with the daily Eucharist, was gratifying. Prayer and adoration before the Blessed Sacrament and for the recitation of the rosary were made available. So was the sacrament of penance and reconciliation.

The national conference was focused around the theme from the prophet Jeremiah, “A Future Full of Hope.” Presentations on evangelizing with hope living a celibate life as a pledge of hope, and priestly identity as a source of hope were major topics of the conference and soundly affirmed.

Seminarians wanted to talk about how they can encourage vocations to the priesthood. They asked how they could reach out to young men who have the thought in their minds and hearts, but find it difficult to share with other peers. I thought of the late Pope John Paul II’s Holy Thursday Letter to Priests, which he signed in the Gemelli Clinic in Rome on the Fifth Sunday of Lent.

In that letter, which contained some of his very last thoughts and words, the Holy Father wrote about how the words of consecration in the Eucharist should shape the spirituality of a priest.

Reflecting on the fact that after the consecration, the priest with the faithful profess that Christ will come again, he said, “The priest must live with an attitude like that of the Apostle Paul: ‘Forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal’ ” (Phil 3:13-14).

The Holy Father said that the priest is someone who, despite the passing of years, should continue to radiate youthfulness, spreading it almost “contagiously” among those he meets along the way. “[A priest’s] secret lies in his ‘passion’ for Christ.” He said that people turn to priests in the hope of “seeing” Christ; this is especially true of young people. “Vocations will not be lacking if our manner of life is truly priestly, if we become more holy, more joyful, more impassioned in the exercise of our ministry. A priest won by Christ more easily wins others (cf. Phil 3:12) so that they too decide to set out on the same adventure.”

As one who is about to celebrate the 41st anniversary of ordination to the priesthood, the words of the late Pope John Paul II are a timely encouragement. Needless to say, in the same letter to priests, the pope emphasized the absolute need for a priest to be a man of prayer. He encouraged us in this Year of the Eucharist to follow the fervor of those saints who were vigorous proponents of eucharistic devotion. He said, “To place ourselves before Jesus in the Eucharist, to take advantage of our ‘moments of solitude’ and to fill them with his Presence, is to enliven our consecration by our personal relationship with Christ, from whom our life derives its joy and its meaning.”

These very last words of Pope John Paul II to priests are all the more poignant because they came from his sickbed. He wrote, “My thoughts turn to you, my dear priests, as I spend this time recuperating in the hospital, a patient alongside other patients, uniting in the Eucharist my own sufferings with those of Christ. In this spirit I want to reflect with you on some aspects of our priestly spirituality.” I trust this, his last legacy for priests, which is focused on the Eucharist, to be one that will continue to emanate for years to come.

Our seminarians have been inspired by the pope of their youth and they continue to embrace his legacy. I find their spirit truly hopeful and contagious. †

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