Wednesday of the 27th Week of Ordinary Time
Memorial of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos
Mount St. Mary’s Seminary Alumni Mass
October 5, 2022
In this year when my classmates and I celebrate our 45th anniversary as priests, I am delighted to come home to the Mount to offer this holy Mass. Whether you are recently ordained, or like myself, have many miles on your odometer, it is the same priesthood that we celebrate and the same seminary which we rejoice to claim as our own. In Christ, we are sons of our heavenly Father and we are also sons of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary.
It was here, on this historic campus, in buildings that manifested their vintage, that we were formed for the priesthood and prepared for the mission that lay ahead of us. Just as we were prepared for one and the same priesthood, the priesthood of Jesus Christ, so too we were prepared for one and the same mission – the mission of preaching the Gospel. But the way we exercise our priesthood and fulfill the mission given us by the Church has taken on different forms and has been carried out in varying contexts. In some cases, we may not have been able to imagine what the Lord and the Church would ask of us in the year ahead.
Isn’t this what we see in St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians? In recent days, we read once again how Paul persecuted Christians. Little did he imagine that he would encounter the Risen Lord and that his life would be so profoundly changed. Once baptized and once hands were laid upon him, the Lord had still more surprises in store for him. Paul began by preaching in synagogues but gradually discovered that he was called by God to the Apostle to the Gentiles. He would travel far and wide, establish churches in various places, and undergo much suffering and indeed death itself for the sake of the Name.
He would also find himself in conflict – conflict with the very churches and congregations he had established, and, as we see today, he was in conflict with his co-workers in the Lord. Paul found himself with at odds with Peter and did not hesitate to confront him. One of the hallmarks of Paul’s ministry is that he would brook no hypocrisy.
Looking back, we can see that our ministry has taken us well outside our comfort zone. We may find ourselves ministering in languages and cultures different from our own. We may be called upon to take an assignment not to our liking. At times, we may be asked to minister to those who look at the world very differently than we do. Sometimes, indeed quite often, our ministry entails suffering, maybe not the dramatic suffering of a martyr like St. Paul, but rather the slower and hidden martyrdom of the ordinary (I don’t mean me!). Like St. Paul, our ministry is not devoid of conflict. In a Church that often reflects the polarization of the broader society, is it any wonder that there difference of opinion and sometimes open conflict?
We Were Prepared for All This?
And sometimes it is said, “The seminary didn’t prepare me for this!” And in some ways, it’s true. But if priestly formation tried to prepare us for every challenge we would face, no one would be ordained until he was eligible to receive Social Security! If we are honest, we have to admit that in a deeper way we were prepared to meet the challenges of ministry. And how did our alma mater prepare us for challenges we could not have foreseen?
I can’t speak for everyone, but I would like to share my own experience. Like many of you here in I.C. Chapel, I was a seminarian at the Mount in the 1970’s. To say the least, it was a topsy-turvy time. There was a lot of confusion and mischance. At the Mount, I found a haven of common sense and good judgment, owing to the leadership of the late Msgr. George Mulcahy and Fr. Harry J. Flynn. Thanks to their wisdom as priests with a fatherly heart, thanks to their holiness, they helped us learn to pray, to love the Church, to know the faith, and to be ready to give of ourselves to the people we would be sent to serve. This they did, not in a textbook fashion, but by the testimony of their lives. To the end of his life, I referred to Archbishop Harry Flynn as “father-rector”. I hope you feel the same as I do.
Today, we rightly emphasize discipleship. We as priests and seminarians are called to be disciples of the Lord. We are called to raise up missionary disciples in our parishes. Perhaps when we were at the Mount, it was not so common to speak this way. When I was ordained, I’m not sure I could spell the word “evangelization”. But we saw it in the priests, religious, and lay people who helped form us. And we saw it in many of the Mount alumni, who did great things in the field of the Church and are still doing so. We were blessed because we did not only have teachers but those who were witnesses to the Lord and to his merciful love, priests and teachers who were continually being formed in their priesthood just as you and I must be.
Sons of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary
To conclude, the Lord’s Prayer reminds us of what the Mount instilled in us: we are beloved sons of the heavenly Father sent into the world to proclaim the good news. This afternoon, as the priest-alumni of Mount Saint let us offer our support to the men in this seminary who are in the midst of their priestly formation. Let us be for them what our mentors were for us – witnesses to Christ, ardent yet gentle heralds of the Gospel, role models for a priesthood that is to be exercised not only in “an era of change but in the change of an era” (Pope Francis).
With you dear brothers, I am glad to pay homage to Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, the largest seminary in the United States, wisely and ably led by Msgr. Baker and his excellent team of faculty and formators, and I join with you in begging the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary that this seminary may continue to form many more priests after the heart of Christ now and for many years to come! Ad multos annos!