May 2, 2008

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Fifth-graders’ study of holy orders leads to lots of questions

Last week, I wrote about religious vocations with a focus on ipriesthood. This week, I have before me a collection of letters from fifth-graders from St. Simon the Apostle School in Indianapolis, who are studying about holy orders.

They have questions they want me to answer, many of them focusing on my being a bishop. The students said they are praying for my recovery from cancer. Two students mentioned that their mothers have cancer, too.

Alan started his letter by asking, “How are you feeling?”

I am doing OK, and I’m glad because soon I will have completed the chemo­therapy treatments. Then, daily for a month, there will be radiation and full recovery. Thanks for asking, Alan.

Seth asked, “How often do you pray?”

Your question goes to the heart of the matter, Seth. Unless we pray, we don’t know what God wants us to do during life. I pray every day, an hour in the morning and another half-hour in the evening. But all during the day, I also say short prayers asking God to help me do what I need to do.

Elise asked, “How did you find out you wanted to devote your life to God?”

There are a couple of ways, Elise. First, as I mentioned above, I prayed for guidance. I also talked to a priest, and I observed what a priest does and decided that I wanted to do that.

Maddie asked, “How old were you when you decided to devote your life to God?”

Maddie, when I finally decided I was 21, but I started in the seminary a few years before that.

Erin asked, “Why did you choose to be a priest?

I became a priest because I believed strongly that God wanted me to be a priest as my way of loving him, helping other people spiritually and serving those in need. Erin, I wanted to serve God and other people because I love the Church.

Olivia asked, “Did you always know you were going to be a priest?”

Even when I was very young, I thought I wanted to do that. But, Olivia, it took a few years for me to be sure that was what God and the Church wanted me to do.

Madison asked, “Did you hear God calling to you to become a bishop?”

Madison, a priest is called to be a bishop by the pope. When Pope John Paul II asked me to become a bishop, I believed God was calling me through him. I was surprised, but I figured it was God’s will.

Natalie asked, “Did you have to study or go to a special school to become a bishop?”

Once you are ordained a priest, school is not required to become a bishop, Natalie.

Nick asked, “How long does it take to receive holy orders?”

If you are ready to start in a seminary college, it takes four years of theology after you graduate from college. If you begin priesthood studies after regular college, it takes six more years. Nick, it takes all this time because there is so much to learn, and because you have to become personally and spiritually mature.

David asked, “How many times can you receive holy orders?”

David, like baptism and confirmation, we can receive holy orders only once. Ordination to the priesthood joins one to Christ in a special way that is unrepeatable.

Kelly asked, “Why did you decide to become a bishop?”

I really didn’t make that decision on my own, Kelly. When I was appointed by Pope John Paul II, I was surprised but decided it must be what God wants at this time in my life.

Rachel asked, “When you were little did you want to be a bishop?”

To be honest, Rachel, no. I never would have thought I would be named a bishop by the Holy Father.

Sam asked, “Did it take you more than a year to become an archbishop?”

Sam, after I was ordained a priest, I served 23 years before the Holy Father asked me to become the bishop of Memphis. Then, after five years of serving as a bishop there, he asked me to become the archbishop of Indianapolis.

Corbin asked, “Once you are better, do you plan to be a cardinal or maybe a pope?”

No, I don’t plan on that, Corbin. Nor is it at all likely.

Meehan asked, “Have you ever met the pope?”

I have met both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI several times. Meehan, they were and are very down-to-earth and easy to meet.

I want the rest of you fifth-graders to know I enjoyed your questions, too. I pray that all of you will ask God what he wants of you in life. †

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