A. This afternoon we have gathered to celebrate a Mass of the Holy Spirit – to ask the inspiration and guidance of the Spirit as we begin a new year of formation here at St. Mary’s Seminary – the nation’s oldest – now marking its 225th anniversary. I am happy to greet the newest rector of the oldest seminary, Father Philip Brown, whom I’ve been privileged to know for many years, as well as the members of the faculty and staff; but most of all, I greet the new & returning seminarians & students here at St. Mary’s. With you I pray that the year ahead may be a time of blessing for this entire community and for each of you individually.
B. As I grow older, I must confess, time seems to pass more quickly and that is especially true of the summer months – they are over in a heartbeat. Suddenly, we are in the waning days of August and it’s time to begin again – whether or not we are ready. Appropriately, today’s Gospel pertains to our readiness as the Lord says to you and to me, “Stay awake!” … something I hope your professors won’t have to say to you during class!
II. Vigilance Good and Bad
A. What should Jesus’ warning to “stay awake”, to be vigilant, mean for this entire community of faith as a new academic year begins? Surely, Jesus is not urging us to adopt the vigilance of those who are worried about getting caught in laziness or wrongdoing . Nor is the alertness and vigilance the Lord is asking of us about looking good only when our superiors are looking at us. Rather, in our context this Gospel is all about our spiritual readiness to engage in the challenging work of priestly formation.
B. Those charged with seminary formation, for their part, must be spiritually prepared not only for the task of conveying knowledge and maintaining an orderly community, but, above all, for the task of modeling that spirit of holiness common to the baptized and the specific spirituality of the priesthood – to model in the spirit of Father Olier progress in prayer, virtue, and an apostolic spirit so essential to the life of a priest.
C. For your part, as seminarians, you must be spiritually prepared to embrace all the dimensions of priestly formation— …including your ongoing formation as a virtuous and loving human being whose personality is to be not an obstacle but a bridge to Christ; …your spiritual formation, as you take advantage of all the opportunities that are here to grow toward a personal sanctity proportionate the beautiful & life-giving vocation to which you, in the grace of the Holy Spirit, aspire; …your intellectual formation in which you open both your mind and your heart not to dry speculation but to the rich and living Tradition of the Church’s faith; …and your pastoral formation, in which you learn how to love God’s people and to serve with deep fidelity and joyful perseverance.
D. The readiness proper to a seminary community, it seems to me, then has nothing to do with wariness or guarded circumspection. On the contrary, it has to do with joyful expectation, a deep spiritual conviction that in doing the work of priestly formation day by day the Lord Jesus Christ will indeed come among you, and live among you, and be present to you – even as Father Olier taught us to say, “Jesus, living in Mary, come and live in us!” For this, we earnestly invoke the Holy Spirit to overshadow us.
III. Arduous Labors, Abundant Gifts
A. Now, you may not believe it, but I was once a seminarian. Even though my seminary experience goes back many years, I remember it vividly and think about it often – and not because I’m happy that it’s over! No, my memories of seminary formation are good memories, but they also include an awareness of how arduous seminary formation can be.
B. Formation is arduous for many reasons. The most apparent reason is the busyness of your schedule and the volume of work that will be expected of you. The four pillars of formation each demand your time and attention and, like every engaged parish priest, you will find yourselves balancing many competing demands – not all of them equally pleasant or interesting. The temptation to take shortcuts may sometimes seem overwhelming but I trust you’ll do your best to resist it.
C. Yet, there is a deeper reason why priestly formation is arduous and it’s this. The four pillars of formation – human, intellectual, spiritual, and pastoral – are not merely four departments demanding your time and attention, and still less are they four compartments hermetically sealed from one another. No, these four pillars all look toward your integral development – a healthy, holy, learned person well equipped for the work of ministry in a wide variety of pastoral settings in which you may one day find yourselves.
D. No wonder we’re asking the help of the Holy Spirit this afternoon … but let us do so in light of St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians in today’s reading. In that reading, St. Paul recognizes in Corinthians, & your formators recognize in you, abundant graces and gifts of grace and nature that come from the hand of God. These include an ever increasing knowledge of the faith, and an ability to speak about the faith with conviction and persuasiveness, not to mention the many spiritual gifts the Spirit lavishes upon us. Let us accept all these gifts in the hope of one day becoming wise and prudent servants of the households, the Christian communities, which, God willing you will one day be called to serve – that you may distribute among them the food of the Gospel and the Eucharist.
E. In a sense, formation is not about giving you something you don’t already have but is more about drawing out of you gifts God has already given you – some of which (as I know from my own life) are well-hidden and others that are readily apparent to yourselves and to others. In other words, formation is not pulling yourselves up by your own bootstraps but rather is a matter of opening your mind and heart to the Spirit of the Lord, confident in his power to shape and mold our gifts and reliant on his help to correct our faults. Today we resolve to give ourselves over to work of formation not merely in late August but in the cold and dreary days of February – indeed every day of the academic year and of our lives, right up to the day of Christ Jesus! This is the attitude of joyful expectation, of gratitude, and of graced cooperation that makes this seminary community and each of you individually a blessing – a living testimony to the presence and power of Christ living among us in the Church and active in the troubled and divided world which we inhabit.
F. May the year ahead be rich in God’s grace and the Lord bless you and keep you always in his love!