Mass of the Holy Spirit
St. Mary’s Seminary, Baltimore
September 1, 2021
Greetings á la St. Paul
Allow me to join Father Brown and the faculty and staff here at St. Mary’s Seminary in welcoming back our returning seminarians and in welcoming for the first time our new seminarians. At the same time, I want to welcome to the Archdiocese of Baltimore those of you who are from other dioceses even as I greet the members of this seminary community from Baltimore.
The welcome I extend to you is not perfunctory. It’s not just the sort of thing that one ought to say on an occasion like this. Rather, I take my cue from Paul’s letter to the Colossians proclaimed this afternoon; I join with the faculty and staff in greeting you and welcoming you much as St. Paul greeted the Colossians in the opening lines of his letter. Not unlike St. Paul, I can say that I am a successor of the Apostles, sent to serve the Church which is at Baltimore, along with my co-workers, and now I am sent to you, ‘the holy ones and faithful brothers’ here at St. Mary’s Seminary. In the power of the Holy Spirit, I extend to you grace and peace from God our Father – the grace to spend this year of formation fruitfully and the serenity and peace to open your hearts to the truth and beauty of his love.
We Give Thanks for You: Formation
With St. Paul, we give thanks for you to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, ‘because we have heard of your faith in Jesus, and the love you have for the Church, a love you harbor because of that hope which is reserved for you in heaven.’ The bishops and vocation directors of you, our newest students, have testified that you come to us as men of faith, hope, and love – seminarians who wish to entrust your lives in faith to the Redeemer; seminarians who wish to grow in love of the Church, not as you might wish her to be but as she is; and seminarians who are men of hope, already able to grasp something of the eternal in the midst of the passing things and events of earthly existence. The same can be said but more intensely of you, our returning seminarians, for you have already spent precious time in prayer, study, and service to others, giving the Holy Spirit “permission” to fan into flame the theological virtues which were implanted in your hearts on the day of your Baptism.
Like the Colossians, each of you to one degree or another has heard the word of truth, the Gospel, which comes to you through the Church’s life of teaching and worship. In this world, as author of the Imitation of Christ wrote, there is plenty of opinion and empty talk, promising much but delivering little. You, however, have dedicated yourselves to the word of truth, ultimate truth, which puts us into living contact with the one Reality that is all-encompassing, the one Reality, the Mystery, that holds all things together and explains all things, namely, the word of truth who is in fact, the Lord Jesus, the Word made flesh.
Nor do you embrace this word in isolation but rather as part of the work of God to send forth his Word to echo and re-echo in every corner of the cosmos, the universe which was created through ‘the Word which was with God and was God.’ As we struggle to be formed by God’s Word in all the dimensions of our lives, we recognize that many others throughout the world are doing the same thing, embracing the same faith, the same hope, and the same all-encompassing love. Even in these days when an aggressive and godless secularism is on the march, we can see how the Word of God is bearing fruit in this community of St. Mary’s, and in so many other ecclesial communities, locally and far beyond. The fruits of the Holy Spirit be evident in each of you, and evident in this and in every community that is part of the Church.
For this reason, I commend your formators – your faculty and staff – just as St. Paul commended Timothy and Epaphras to the Colossians. Paul referred to them as “fellow slaves” – that is to say – as those totally dedicated to teaching, bearing witness to, and imparting the living word of God to those to whom they were sent … and that is a good description of what your faculty and staff endeavor to do for you, year in and year out. Be attentive to them and docile to the Holy Spirit, so that you may be “like green olive trees in the house of God” – growing and fruitful!
Glad Tidings to the Poor, Release to Prisoners: Mission
If the reading from Colossians offers a thumbnail sketch of formation, today’s reading from Luke’s Gospel offers a vision of the priestly ministry for which you are preparing during these years of your formation. What do we see Jesus doing in the Gospel except curing people in their need? The language Luke uses to describe both the cure of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law and the cures he performed for the multitudes gathered outside Simon’s doorstep evokes Jesus’ promise in the Nazareth synagogue ‘to proclaim glad tidings to the poor’ and to ‘bring liberty to those held captive’ by illness or by the grip of evil personified. You are preparing to become, like Jesus, healers of those you one day will serve, physicians of the spirit, those who will bring true liberty to those held captive, even as, by God’s grace, you strive to live as one set free from sin.
In the Gospel, we read how Jesus laid his hands on each person he cured, giving them personalized attention, no matter how tired he must have been, treating each of them as a child of God who has immense value in God’s own eyes. What a model for the pastoral charity with which you hope one day to fulfill your ministry as priest, long after the novelty and first fervor have worn off. Be that kind of a priest and you will do a land-office business, even in these days when many say they do not need either God or religion.
They key to the fruitfulness of your formation and the priestly ministry, God willing, you will one day exercise – is prayer. Notice how Jesus resolutely found time to withdraw from the crowds to pray… that is what Jesus did whenever he retreated to a deserted place, even though the crowds were pressing in upon him. Therefore, pray resolutely! Both as a seminarian and as a future priest, your duties and the needs of others will press in upon you, just as the crowds pressed in upon Jesus. Without prayer, you will not be ready to begin or resume your mission, in imitation of Jesus who went to other towns and synagogues to preach.
So, I greet you in the name of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, and I pray that in the year ahead the word of truth may overtake your minds & hearts, such that you will one day preach the Gospel fruitfully, be merciful physicians of souls, priests of untiring pastoral charity, and disciples of deep and sustained daily prayer. May God bless you and keep you always in his love!