MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS
FOR THE 2018 WORLD DAY OF VOCATIONS
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Next October, the Fifteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will meet to discuss the theme of young people and in particular the relationship between young people, faith and vocation. There we will have a chance to consider more deeply how, at the centre of our life, is the call to joy that God addresses to us and how this is “God’s plan for men and women in every age” (SYNOD OF BISHOPS, XV ORDINARY GENERAL ASSEMBLY, Young People, The Faith and Vocational Discernment, Introduction).
The Fifty-fifth World Day of Prayer for Vocations once again proclaims this good news to us, and in a decisive manner. We are not victims of chance or swept up in a series of unconnected events; on the contrary, our life and our presence in this world are the fruit of a divine vocation!
Even amid these troubled times, the mystery of the Incarnation reminds us that God continually comes to encounter us. He is God-with-us, who walks along the often dusty paths of our lives. He knows our anxious longing for love and he calls us to joy. In the diversity and the uniqueness of each and every vocation, personal and ecclesial, there is a need to listen, discern and live this word that calls to us from on high and, while enabling us to develop our talents, makes us instruments of salvation in the world and guides us to full happiness.
These three aspects – listening, discerning and living – were also present at beginning of Jesus’ own mission, when, after his time of prayer and struggle in the desert, he visited his synagogue of Nazareth. There, he listened to the word, discerned the content of the mission entrusted to him by the Father, and proclaimed that he came to accomplish it “today” (Lk 4:16-21).
The Lord’s call – let it be said at the outset – is not as clear-cut as any of those things we can hear, see or touch in our daily experience. God comes silently and discreetly, without imposing on our freedom. Thus it can happen that his voice is drowned out by the many worries and concerns that fill our minds and hearts.
We need, then, to learn how to listen carefully to his word and the story of his life, but also to be attentive to the details of our own daily lives, in order to learn how to view things with the eyes of faith, and to keep ourselves open to the surprises of the Spirit.
We will never discover the special, personal calling that God has in mind for us if we remain enclosed in ourselves, in our usual way of doing things, in the apathy of those who fritter away their lives in their own little world. We would lose the chance to dream big and to play our part in the unique and original story that God wants to write with us.
Jesus too, was called and sent. That is why he needed to recollect himself in silence. He listened to and read the word in the synagogue, and with the light and strength of the Holy Spirit he revealed its full meaning, with reference to his own person and the history of the people of Israel.
Nowadays listening is becoming more and more difficult, immersed as we are in a society full of noise, overstimulated and bombarded by information. The outer noise that sometimes prevails in our cities and our neighbourhoods is often accompanied by our interior dispersion and confusion. This prevents us from pausing and enjoying the taste of contemplation, reflecting serenely on the events of our lives, going about our work with confidence in God’s loving plan, and making a fruitful discernment.
Yet, as we know, the kingdom of God comes quietly and unobtrusively (cf. Lk 17:21), and we can only gather its seeds when, like the prophet Elijah, we enter into the depths of our soul and are open to the imperceptible whisper of the divine breeze (cf. 1 Kg 19:11-13).
When Jesus, in the synagogue of Nazareth, reads the passage of the prophet Isaiah, he discerns the content of the mission for which he was sent, and presents it to those who awaited the Messiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour (Lk 4:18-19).
In the same way, each of us can discover his or her own vocation only through spiritual discernment. This is “a process by which a person makes fundamental choices, in dialogue with the Lord and listening to the voice of the Spirit, starting with the choice of one’s state in life” (SYNOD OF BISHOPS, XV ORDINARY GENERAL ASSEMBLY, Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment, II, 2).
Thus we come to discover that Christian vocation always has a prophetic dimension. The Scriptures tell us that the prophets were sent to the people in situations of great material insecurity and of spiritual and moral crisis, in order to address in God’s name a message of conversion, hope and consolation. Like a whirlwind, the prophet unsettles the false tranquility of consciences that have forgotten the word of the Lord. He discerns events in the light of God’s promise and enables people to glimpse the signs of dawn amid the dark shadows of history.
Today too, we have great need of discernment and of prophecy. We have to resist the temptations of ideology and negativity, and to discover, in our relationship with the Lord, the places, the means and situations through which he calls us. Every Christian ought to grow in the ability to “read within” his or her life, and to understand where and to what he or she is being called by the Lord, in order to carry on his mission.
Lastly, Jesus announces the newness of the present hour, which will enthuse many and harden the heart of others. The fullness of time has come, and he is the Messiah proclaimed by Isaiah and anointed to liberate prisoners, to restore sight to the blind and to proclaim the merciful love of God to every creature. Indeed, Jesus says that “today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21).
The joy of the Gospel, which makes us open to encountering God and our brothers and sisters, does not abide our slowness and our sloth. It will not fill our hearts if we keep standing by the window with the excuse of waiting for the right time, without accepting this very day the risk of making a decision. Vocation is today! The Christian mission is now! Each one of us is called – whether to the lay life in marriage, to the priestly life in the ordained ministry, or to a life of special consecration – in order to become a witness of the Lord, here and now
This “today” that Jesus proclaimed assures us that God continues to “come down” to save our human family and to make us sharers in his mission. The Lord continues to call others to live with him and to follow him in a relationship of particular closeness. He continues to call others to serve him directly. If he lets us realize that he is calling us to consecrate ourselves totally to his kingdom, then we should have no fear! It is beautiful – and a great grace – to be completely and forever consecrated to God and the service of our brothers and sisters.
Today the Lord continues to call others to follow him. We should not wait to be perfect in order to respond with our generous “yes”, nor be fearful of our limitations and sins, but instead open our hearts to the voice of the Lord. To listen to that voice, to discern our personal mission in the Church and the world, and at last to live it in the today that God gives us.
May Mary Most Holy, who as a young woman living in obscurity heard, accepted and experienced the Word of God made flesh, protect us and accompany us always on our journey.
From the Vatican, 3 December 2017
First Sunday of Advent
This past Saturday, May 27th, the Archdiocese of Newark welcomed 7 new priests at the Ordination Mass, celebrated in the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark. In his opening and closing remarks, His Eminence, Joseph Cardinal Tobin, expressed his joy and gratitude for such a wonderful occasion in the Church. He also spoke of the need for all of the faithful to continue to pray for and encourage vocations. His homily, parts of which were delivered in Spanish, English, and Italian, is below:
My dear brothers and sisters,
Because these, our sons, who are your relatives and friends, are now to be ordained to the priesthood, I invite you to consider the sacrament that they will receive in the light of the Word of God we have just heard. As you well know, the Lord Jesus is the one and only great high priest of the New Testament; but in him God has made his entire holy people a royal priesthood. All of us!
Nevertheless, among his disciples the Lord Jesus chooses certain ones to carry out, in his name and on behalf of the human race, a priestly office publicly in the Church in order that they may continue his personal mission as teacher, priest and shepherd.
It seems to me that three questions may help us understand the office, which our brothers will assume today.
The Heart of a Priest
If we ask ‘where is the heart of a priest?’ we are in fact asking, where is his treasure? Jesus teaches quite logically, where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. What he means by 'treasure', of course, is not merely money or possessions, but whatever each of us judges to be best, that which we most eagerly strive to attain, that which we most dread to lose, that which, if we have it, we consider ourselves to be blessed, that which, if we do not attain it, we know ourselves to be profoundly unhappy.
The treasure of a priest is the same as that of the chief Shepherd. The great riches of the heart of Jesus are two: the Father and ourselves. Jesus divided his days between prayer to the Father and encountering people. Not observing them or governing them from a distance or, what would be worse, harshly judging and condemning them, but going out to meet them with a message and a touch that was always glad tidings to the poor, healing for the brokenhearted, a proclamation of liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners.
So too the heart of Christ’s priests knows only two directions: towards the Lord and towards his people. Pope Francis described the heart of the priest as a heart pierced by the love of the Lord. For this reason, he no long looks to himself nor should look to himself, but is instead turned toward God and his brothers and sisters. There is his treasure; there will be the heart of a priest.
The Joy of a Priest
What about the joy of a priest? The joy of a priest is the joy of the shepherd. The joy of Jesus, the Good Shepherd is not a joy for himself alone but a joy for others and with others, the true delight of love. It is the joy of the greatest love, which, finally, is not loving oneself but rather laying down one’s life for one’s friends.
This is also the joy of the priest. A priest is changed by the mercy that he freely gives. In prayer he discovers God’s consolation and realizes that nothing is more powerful than God’s love. In this way he experiences inner peace and is happy to be a channel of mercy, to bring men and women closer to the heart of God.
My brothers, you may wonder: Is there sadness in the life of a priest? Certainly, but sadness for him is not the norm but only a step along the way. Sadness may enter the life of a priest, but harshness is foreign to him because he is a shepherd after the meek and humble heart of God.
Daily Discovery of our Identity as Priests
And, what about the identity of a priest, our fundamental self-understanding that allows us to live creatively, securely and serenely amid the change, chaos and disappointment that enters everyone’s life?
We strive to have the same mind as Christ Jesus and empty ourselves for God and his people. In the Eucharistic celebration we rediscover each day our identity as shepherds. In every Mass, we strive to make our own Christ’s words, “This is my body, which is given up for you.” This is our identity, the meaning of our life; with these words in a real way you and I can daily renew the promises we made at our priestly ordination.
My dear brothers – Richard, JC, Philip, Juanito, Michele, Patrick and Kevin – you have not chosen Jesus; our Risen Lord has chosen you to go forth and bear fruit that will remain. I thank each of you for saying yes to that call. I thank each of you also for all the times you will say yes in the days to come. Most of these “yes’s” you will pronounce secretly, in ways only the Lord knows about. I thank you for saying yes to giving your life in union with Jesus, the chief Shepherd, for in this offering is found the treasure of every priest, the pure source of our joy.
My Dear Young People,
I am pleased to announce that in October 2018 a Synod of Bishops will take place to treat the topic: “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.” I wanted you to be the center of attention, because you are in my heart. Today, the Preparatory Document is being presented, a document which I am also entrusting to you as your “compass” on this synodal journey.
I am reminded of the words which God spoke to Abraham: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.” (Gen 12.1). These words are now also addressed to you. They are words of a Father who invites you to “go”, to set out towards a future which is unknown but one which will surely lead to fulfillment, a future towards which He Himself accompanies you. I invite you to hear God's voice resounding in your heart through the breath of the Holy Spirit.
When God said to Abram, “Go!”, what did he want to say? He certainly did not say to distance himself from his family or withdraw from the world. Abram received a compelling invitation, a challenge, to leave everything and go to a new land. What is this “new land” for us today, if not a more just and friendly society which you, young people, deeply desire and wish to build to the very ends of the earth?
But unfortunately, today, “Go!” also has a different meaning, namely, that of abuse of power, injustice and war. Many among you are subjected to the real threat of violence and forced to flee their native land. Their cry goes up to God, like that of Israel, when the people were enslaved and oppressed by Pharaoh (cf. Ex 2:23).
I would also remind you of the words that Jesus once said to the disciples who asked him: “Teacher [...] where are you staying?” He replied, “Come and see” (Jn 1:38). Jesus looks at you and invites you to go with him. Dear young people, have you noticed this look towards you? Have you heard this voice? Have you felt this urge to undertake this journey? I am sure that, despite the noise and confusion seemingly prevalent in the world, this call continues to resonate in the depths of your heart so as to open it to joy in its fullness. This will be possible to the extent that, even with professional guides, you will learn how to undertake a journey of discernment to discover God's plan in your life. Even when the journey is uncertain and you fall, God, rich in mercy, will extend his hand to pick you up.
In Krakow, at the opening of the last World Youth Day, I asked you several times: “Can we change things?” And you shouted: “yes!”. That shout came from your young and youthful hearts, which do not tolerate injustice and cannot bow to a “throw-away culture” nor give in to the globalization of indifference. Listen to the cry arising from your inner selves! Even when you feel, like the prophet Jeremiah, the inexperience of youth, God encourages you to go where He sends you: “Do not be afraid, [...], because I am with you to deliver you” (Jer 1:8).
A better world can be built also as a result of your efforts, your desire to change and your generosity. Do not be afraid to listen to the Spirit who proposes bold choices; do not delay when your conscience asks you to take risks in following the Master. The Church also wishes to listen to your voice, your sensitivities and your faith; even your doubts and your criticism. Make your voice heard, let it resonate in communities and let it be heard by your shepherds of souls. St. Benedict urged the abbots to consult, even the young, before any important decision, because “the Lord often reveals to the younger what is best.” (Rule of St. Benedict, III, 3).
Such is the case, even in the journey of this Synod. My brother bishops and I want even more to “work with you for your joy” (2 Cor 1:24). I entrust you to Mary of Nazareth, a young person like yourselves, whom God beheld lovingly, so she might take your hand and guide you to the joy of fully and generously responding to God’s call with the words: “Here I am” (cf. Lk 1:38).
With paternal affection,
by Matthew Higgins
In planning great celebrations, we pick the perfect food, drinks, decorations, and space. We contact a caterer and set up a plan for the types of food to be cooked and when it will be delivered. We select the proper decorations and arrange furniture. The determining factor, however, for how much food or space is necessary and how grand the celebration will be is how many people respond, “yes” to the invitation. We can have a great hall with beautiful decorations, choice food and beautiful music. Yet, if we don’t send out the invitations, that is all we will have—a beautiful, empty space but no one to celebrate with.
A similarity can be drawn to our Church. We have beautiful spaces decorated for the various seasons. We have beautiful music in the Liturgy and choice food in the Eucharist. Yet, without people, and especially without priests, our Churches will be like that empty banquet hall. We, as Christians, are called to invite our friends and neighbors to participate in our faith, in the celebration. Equally important is the need to invite men to consider the priesthood, to be the one who leads this celebration of faith and who through the power of Jesus Christ makes the celebration of the Eucharist possible.
The Archdiocese of Newark has been blessed for many years with a great number of seminarians and new priests being ordained each year. While the number of priests ordained across the country is on the rise, and many of our parishes are fortunate enough to enjoy the presence of more than one priest, the idea of a “vocation crisis” or “priest shortage” is very real. Some parishes within our Archdiocese have but one priest, their pastor, who is responsible for everything going on in the parish. Other priests are so often pulled in many different directions and given multiple assignments, based on the growing needs of our Church. There simply are not enough priests. This has been the case in dioceses across the United States; the Archdiocese of Newark is not immune to this situation. With a growing number of our beloved priests approaching or beyond retirement age, this shortage of priests will soon come to affect our parishes. Yet, it does not have to be so.
What can be done about this? How can you and I do our part to encourage and foster more vocations within the Archdiocese of Newark? First and foremost, we need to invite. Unless more men are invited to consider the priesthood as an option in their lives, the reality we face will not change.
How many of us reading this have a son, grandson, nephew, or a brother? Have you ever talked to him about the priesthood in a positive way? Have you ever told him that he would make a great priest and encouraged him to consider it? Statistics are showing an alarming rate of men never considered priesthood because the idea was never presented to them—they were not invited. Statistics are also showing, however, a profound number of those ordained to the priesthood first thought about the possibility because someone whom they were close to invited them. Their mother, their father, their parish priest, their youth minister, a friend…
The truth is that all of us know a man (or perhaps more than one) who is searching for meaning in his life. We know a man who puts others’ needs ahead of his own. We know a man who loves his faith and seems to enjoy being a part of the Church. We know men who want to live lives of service. We know men who want to help others, teach others, and lead others on the paths of righteousness. We know virtuous men who have many gifts and talents that we so desire in our priests. We know that these particular men are considering and weighing their options—is priesthood one of them?
Over the past 20 years or so, young people are constantly told that they can do anything they put their minds to. “If you can dream it you can do it.” This ideal is found in the schools they attend, in the movies they watch, and even in the music they listen to. This is not a bad thing at all. We should be encouraging others to “reach for the stars” and to achieve greatness. When we do this, when we encourage, do we include priesthood as an option for these men as a way to become who they are meant to be—who God desires them to be?
It is not unheard of to encourage someone to dare to do something great, something difficult and challenging. We cheer them on when they apply to college, grad school, law school, or medical school. We say, “Go for it!” when they are thinking about applying to that competitive internship or starting their own business. We show support when they attempt to invent something like a new app or product. But are we inviting them to consider the priesthood as an equally viable option that will fulfill their desires and surpass their dreams?
Please think of someone you know who would make an awesome priest and invite them to consider it. They may be thinking about already or they may not, we don’t know. Our invitation could be received at the perfect time for this young man to hear God’s invitation, through you and me, to build His Church and help him discover the greatness God has created Him to achieve. Without an invitation, there can be no “Yes.”
Why did you become a priest?
While this is not an easy question and would require many pages to answer, I will attempt to do so succinctly here. I never grew up with the idea of becoming a priest, I wanted to enter the world of business, marry, have children and a career. But God had other plans. At a certain point in my life I began to meet really good, holy, happy (and normal) priests. This sort of opened the door in my head to the possibility that this may be a possibility for me. I ran from this idea as long as possible, but I saw after a period of time that the more I ran the bigger the messes I made with my life. At a certain point I surrendered and decided to give God a chance. I entered the seminary and over a period of years the peace and happiness I found confirmed what God had started.
Why are you still a priest?
Because God is faithful and this is my calling. I have discovered that it's true that God is enough. I am happy with the life that God has led me to.
Why do priests wear a white collar and all black?
The tradition of wearing black clothes with a white collar goes back many years. The priest wears black and white primarily as a way for others to easily identify him as a priest. In addition to this the colors also have a special significance. The black color of the clothes came to symbolize various things such as poverty and death, the idea being that a priest is dead to the world and is no longer living for the things of this earth. Similarly the white came to symbolize life and to show that while the priest lives a life that doesn't pursue the things of this world, inwardly he possesses the hidden life of Christ.
Continuing our Questions and Answers with a Priest, here are more Questions from High School students answered by one of our priests on the Vocations Team:
What is your favorite part about being a priest?
My favorite part about being a priest? Hard to say. On a good day, whatever I'm doing--and whomever I'm doing it with--can feel like my favorite part. But if I had to choose just one favorite part, I'd have to say Sunday Mass. It's a real privilege and blessing to help lead God's people in worship and prayer every weekend. It's so much fun coming together from week to week. It makes me happy to welcome everybody, especially the children. It strengthens my own faith and hope and love. And I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels good about coming together.
What is the most challenging part about being a priest?
The most challenging thing? For me, it's the hurting. People welcome priests into their lives often at very difficult times. There's a lot of pain and sadness out there--and an awful lot of people who don't know that they can take their hurts to the Lord. When you really do care about the people you serve, some days it can be hard to carry that. But prayer helps. And friendship too. We have Jesus--and one another. We don't have to go it alone.
What do priests do when they are not saying Mass?
Where's your priest when he's not on the altar? He's all over the place! The Mass is the source and summit of all we do, and you could say that priests spend all the rest of their time "sharing" the Eucharist outside the church walls. Priests visit the sick and the elderly in hospitals and nursing homes and in their own homes, actually bringing Holy Communion (and the love of our people) to those not able to be with us on Sunday. And then we "share" Jesus also in the other sacraments: we welcome people at the beginning of their lives in the church (baptism) and say farewell to them when it's time for them to leave this world (funerals). We share the forgiving Jesus in the sacrament of reconciliation, the healing Jesus in the anointing of the sick, and the loving Jesus in the sacrament of matrimony.
Every day, in so many ways, we try to "bring Jesus." We teach in parish grammar schools and in Faith Formation classes. We hang out with kids and young adults in groups of all sorts. We spend time with people one-on-one, listening to them and helping them find their way. We help lead all kinds of ministries and service programs in our parishes, and we do a lot of the day-to-day work that keeps buildings clean and safe and beautiful and ready to welcome God's people. They call us "father," and we're a lot like all the good fathers of other families: we do a bit of everything, including just simply "being there" for our "children." We keep trying to make time to read and study and learn more and more about our faith and our God, so that we can more effectively preach and teach and draw others to the Lord. And last but not least, of course, we spend a lot of time in prayer, remembering the needs of the Church and the whole world as we stand before God.
This past Wednesday, during his first week as Archbishop, Cardinal Joseph Tobin joined the Vocations Office and several men discerning the Diocesan Priesthood for a Holy Hour and Discernment Evening at Immaculate Conception Seminary.
During the Holy Hour, Fr. Colin Kay, a member of the Archdiocesan Vocations Team gave a reflection on saying yes to Jesus in big ways, small ways, and in unexpected circumstances. Fr. Kay's reflection emphasized the need for priests to say yes to Jesus daily and confirm, "I will be your priest today, Jesus."
After the Holy Hour, Cardinal Tobin met with the Discernment group and discussed his own Vocational journey and answered questions the men had for him. Cardinal Tobin explained to the men that he "didn't map out a career" but instead "just said yes" to Christ and allowed God to guide his steps.
When asked about some practical ideas for discernment, Cardinal Tobin emphasized the great need for a Spiritual Director. He asked the men if they ever tried to shave without a mirror - noting how dangerous that can be no matter "how well you think you know your own face..." He compared that to spiritual direction stating, "A spiritual director helps you see the real you. God, through your spiritual director, can shed some light" on your life and discerning what God wants from you.
Cardinal Tobin also encouraged the men by urging them not to look for the perfect answer while discerning. He mentioned that there may not be 100% certainty but sometimes "just enough," much like driving home at night, relying on only what we can see illuminated by the headlights. The Lord doesn't give us the entire picture, but often just enough to lead us home. So here is a way to discern from our new Archbishop:
3. Get help (spiritual direction)
5. Say yes!
Over the past few months during visits to High Schools, we have collected anonymous questions from students and asked different priests to offer their responses. See the first 3 below:
Q: "What advice would you give someone who is considering being a priest?"
R: Take the necessary steps to grow closer to Jesus Christ. Our goal shouldn't be the priesthood. The priesthood is simply one way of responding to a real love we have for the Lord who loves us. If we're able to develop an intimate friendship with Christ, He'll slowly reveal to us the way (either through priesthood, married life, consecrated life, etc.) in which He wants us to testify to that love to the rest of the world.
Q: "If you could go back in time, would you change anything about your religious life? Would you become a priest sooner?"
R: No, I would not have changed a thing. After college I spent five years as a missionary in Latin America and that experience shaped me in so many ways that I'm certain that my ministry benefits from it every day. From my mission work I learned how important it is to depend on Christ, to live simply and without distraction and to love people through service. These were lessons that were absolutely necessary for me to learn before being ordained.
Q: "Was it difficult to make the decision to be a priest?"
R: Yes. There is only one, small, still voice that gently invites you to consider the priesthood. It can be hard to hear that voice when there are numerous other, much louder voices in the world that are seductive and enticing, persuasive and distracting, aimed to dissuade you from listening to God. This is why it is so important to be close to the Lord. Without this intimate friendship, it would be impossible to recognize the voice of the Loving God who calls us.
by Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.
Posted October 6, 2016 on CatholicPhilly.com
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.
National Catholic Diocesan Vocation Directors’ national conference
Boston, Mass., Oct. 6, 2016
During his years as bishop of Rome, Benedict XVI had the talent of being very frank about naming sin and calling people back to fidelity. Yet at the same time he modeled that fidelity with a kind of personal warmth that revealed its beauty and disarmed the people who heard him. He spoke several times about the “silent apostasy” of so many Catholic laypeople today, and even many priests; and his words have stayed with me over the years because he said them in a spirit of compassion and love, not rebuke.
Apostasy is an interesting word. It comes from the Greek verb apostanai – which means to revolt or desert; literally “to stand away from.” For Benedict, laypeople and priests don’t need to publicly renounce their Catholic faith to be apostates. They simply need to be silent when their baptism demands that they speak out; to be cowards when Jesus asks them to have courage.
My focus today is on the kind of priests we’ll need in the next few decades. So let’s begin by facing some facts. As much as we American Catholics love our country, we live in a nation that’s rapidly changing. Our culture is becoming something quite alien right before our eyes; something different in kind, not merely in degree, from anything in our nation’s past. American life still has a reservoir of biblical content. And compared to other developed countries, most Americans are still very religious.
But it’s also true that our nation is more and more unfriendly to Catholic belief in its laws, court decisions and political life. The spirit of the nation is shifting. And most American Catholics, even if they’re aware of the problems emerging around us, are not equipped to deal with our new realities.
I’m not here today to talk about politics. But I’d be untrue to our topic without at least mentioning the obvious. The election we face next month will determine a great deal about the nature and direction of American life over the next decade. Politics involves the exercise of power. Power always has a moral dimension in shaping the pastoral terrain where we serve and lead our Catholic people. And that pastoral terrain does very much concern us as priests. It also determines the character and skills our future priests will need.
Catholic leadership in the secular world belongs to laypeople, not to clergy or religious. The visible role of the priest in public affairs – if by “public” affairs we mean political affairs — should normally be small. It’s very dangerous for the Church to identify herself too closely with any single political party.
And it’s not our business as pastors to tell anyone to vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. In fact, as I’ve said elsewhere, both of our current major presidential candidates are very distressing news for our country, though for different reasons. No faithful Catholic should feel comfortable this election season in either major political party – Democratic or Republican.
But that doesn’t really excuse priests from dealing with the implications of public debate. The problem is that the Church teaches moral truth, and truth has obligations for human behavior – including the social, economic and political kind. The Church is not a political organism. But her witness for charity and justice always and unavoidably has practical consequences. And the legal pushback against her public witness on issues like abortion, sexuality, marriage and the family is likely to be increasingly hostile as time goes on.
It’s the job of Catholic laypeople to change the thinking of their political parties and their political leaders with the tools of their Catholic faith. But it’s the job of priests to give their people those tools – to form Catholic laypeople to think and act as disciples of Jesus Christ, in a manner guided by the teaching of the Church. Catholic laypeople should be the leaven of Jesus Christ in our nation’s life. They can’t do that unless priests are first the leaven of Jesus Christ in the lives of their people.
If we want to know the kind of commitment a new generation of priests will need in the years ahead, we can find it right in the Acts of the Apostles.
Note that the title of the book is the Acts of the Apostles. Not the Good Intentions or the Elaborate Plans of the Apostles, but their Acts. Words are important. But they mean nothing unless they’re backed up with action. Christ said he loved us. Then he died to prove it. He said he would rise from the dead and give us new life. Then he really did it. And when the first Apostles said they believed in Jesus Christ, they acted like they meant it, because they did mean it — and then they proved it by turning the world upside down with the Gospel.
A handful of simple and imperfect men made the greatest revolution in history – a global revolution of God’s love.
What makes the Gospel convincing in any age is the zeal of everyday Christians. And if that’s true about the power of our everyday Christians, then it’s doubly true about our priests – without whom there is no Eucharist, and without the Eucharist there is no Church.
The health of the Church depends directly on the spirit of her priests. So priests need to be more than simply honest or diligent or even faithful. They need to be consumed by a love for God, a love for their people and a love for the Catholic faith.
And that kind of love – a passion to give ourselves to something greater than ourselves — cuts against the very nature of the noise, distractions and consumerist addictions at the heart of modern American life.
I know that many, many good people have labored very hard in their evangelization efforts over the past few decades, sometimes with great results, and their sacrifices need to be honored.
But as a Church I think we’ve made a basic mistake in underestimating the gravitational pull of consumer culture, the power of new technologies to shape the appetites and thinking of our young people, and the corrosive effect of American materialism on our memory as a believing community, and on our ability to experience the sacred and transcendent.
At the same time, we’ve overestimated the compatibility of Catholic faith with American liberal democracy. As voices like Stanley Hauerwas and the late Avery Dulles warned us years ago, we’ve tried too hard to fit into a culture where we don’t finally fit. And the results are predictable. What can the words “Jesus Christ is Lord” or “Christ the King” mean to a young person raised in a culture committed to personal autonomy and deeply suspicious of authority and hierarchical structures? What kind of influence can biblical revelation have in a culture where only science and technology count as real knowledge?
There’s a deep vein of practical atheism coursing through American consumer life that deadens the soul to a desire for holiness and discourages the hope for anything beyond the horizons of this world. But it’s a problem we can easily miss because we imagine that the religious roots of our country still help to determine its course. In 2013 Gallup polling, 75 percent of Americans surveyed voiced their support for a greater influence of religion in national life. And that sounds wonderful. But many of the same people who responded so positively on the survey had no personal interest in religious faith.[i]
In other words, “Americans want religion,” as one headline read, for “everyone but themselves.”
As of 2014, 23 percent of adult Americans described themselves as atheists, agnostics, or persons with no religious affiliation. This was up from 16 percent in 2007. “Nones” are now the fastest growing religious group in the country, with nonreligious congregations (nicknamed godless churches) appearing nationally. And they’re increasingly organized as a political voice focused on “elevating science over belief” and keeping government and religion strictly separate.[ii]
The obvious lesson is this: Our parishes, schools, hospitals, universities and other brick and mortar structures mean nothing if they’re empty.
It’s dawning on many of us that the place of the Catholic Church in the United States is much more precarious than we’d like to think. And the number of people who self-identify as Catholics nationally, some 80 million persons, is profoundly misleading. In fact, we — and by “we” I mean Catholic adults in general and leaders in my generation especially — have done a bad job of forming and keeping our people.
Sacramental practice and Mass attendance are declining, and young people are not stepping up to take leadership in the Church in the way their parents and grandparents did. Plenty of exceptions do exist, but overall, the picture is not good.
We need to realize that we’re a minority. That means we need to think of the Church in America as a missionary Church, and every priest as a missionary priest. Additionally, we can’t count on the continued financial health of the Church in our country if our active Catholic base diminishes over the next generation – which is already happening. The Church we have in the United States is already too institutional and heavily bureaucratized, and we can’t sustain it.
So having said all that, and now that we’re all suitably uneasy, we need to balance these concerns with our strengths. Compared to the Church in many other countries, our priests, lay leaders, parishes, diocesan programs, renewal communities, finances and patterns of religious practice are strong. The Church here is healthier, with more energy and better leadership at many different levels, than nearly anywhere else in the world.
As a result, we still have some time and freedom to do something about our problems. But we need to be realists. The conflicts facing the U.S. Church over the past several decades – external and internal; from immigration reform to issues of religious liberty; from abortion to marriage and family life – will continue for the foreseeable future. These struggles will require an example of leadership to sustain our people and draw others to the Church. And that example has to start with our priests.
So what kind of priests do we need?
We need hungry men – good men dissatisfied with the meagerness of what the world has to offer them and starving to build something better. Starving to live for something more than themselves. These men may not know exactly why or what they want from life. And it’s your job to help them find it. But we can be absolutely sure that they’re out there, a lot of them. Because what the world feeds the modern heart can’t sustain a meaningful life.
We need men who can step back from the narcotic haze of American life and see its sins and weaknesses, as well as its opportunities, for what they are. We need men willing to be an unpopular but creative minority. We need men who will be missionaries and leaders; men who are on fire for Jesus Christ and have the courage to prove it with their own suffering; men who aren’t afraid to preach the truth of the Catholic faith wherever God leads them. It’s a demanding profile. But it’s hardly a new one. And it’s informed every period of renewal and greatness in Christian history.
We need to “do” the Church differently in the coming decades. How will we build a truly integrated, multi-ethnic Catholic identity? How will we educate our people in the faith if we can’t sustain our schools? How will we really cultivate more priestly vocations? How will we build new churches? Who will take the place of dying religious communities? These are huge strategic questions pressing in on us right now — today. And the people best equipped to think about these things and lead others to think and act on them are, again, our priests.
As a result, I think priests today and in the years ahead need at least four things.
First, they need help in understanding and developing the inherent leadership skills God gave them. One of the ironies of being a priest is that God calls us to be the leaders of our people – and then too often nobody in the Church actually teaches us how to do that. The formation of those practical, human leadership skills needs to start in our seminaries and continue throughout priestly life.
Second, priests need real fraternity – a proper, intimate, brotherly spirit of mutual support, something like the best qualities of religious life, but tailored to life in the world. They also need equal and honest friendships with committed lay people. In the years ahead, “loner” priests – the kind of men we all know; men who find a safe spot within the eccentric limits and habits they build around their priesthood like a fort — simply won’t survive. The world will be too heavy on them.
Third, priests need purification. Priesthood, like Christian marriage, is a radical choice – all or nothing. But all of us who are priests can sometimes tend to accumulate the junk of a comfortable life; the habits and pleasures that dull the purpose we committed ourselves to on the day of our ordination. As priests, if we want our people to live Jesus Christ vigorously and courageously, why would they do that if they don’t see it, and admire it, in us?
Fourth and maybe the hardest thing of all: Those of us who are priests need to rid ourselves and our seminarians of any nostalgia for past forms of Church life. It’s the only way we can be free to imagine the future. And part of that future means recognizing, encouraging and supporting faithful lay leadership — and getting out of its way so it can develop.
Pope Benedict spoke to this in 2009 when he stressed that the Church needs “a change in mindset, particularly concerning lay people. They must no longer be viewed as ‘collaborators’ of the clergy, but truly recognized as ‘co-responsible’ for the Church’s being and action, thereby fostering the consolidation of a mature and committed laity.”[iii]
Laypeople are not second class citizens in the Church; they’re equally called to holiness, leadership and evangelization. And accepting that truth does not diminish in any way the decisive importance of the priest as the shepherd of God’s people.
The most urgent need for the Church in our day is a rebirth of faith and the missionary spirit in her people. But that will never happen, and it can’t ever happen, until we priests ourselves have a renewal of zeal. Priests need to be the men Christ called them to be – his friends and disciples – and priests need to call those of us who are bishops to be the same. If we can accomplish that priestly renewal together as a Church, with the grace of Jesus Christ, then God can achieve anything through us. God already did it once in a way that refashioned the world. That’s the reason we’re here today.
The challenges we face as a Church today can seem very hard, especially in vocations work. But even a hard truth is beautiful and good because it liberates. It frees us from our illusions of security and control and helps us to see reality as it really is. It forces us back into the arms of the God who created us to be his sons, his disciples and his friends; the God who will never abandon us and will always, ultimately, bless our efforts in his service. If we don’t believe that right down to our cell structure, we shouldn’t be here.
I want you to go home tonight and reread Pope Francis’ first apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel. It’s an extraordinary testimony to the power of God’s loving and renewing presence in the world, even when we don’t understand his actions or his seeming silence. There are no unhappy or fearful saints, and we need to remember that in our work.
“Nobody can go off to battle,” Francis writes, “unless he is fully convinced of victory beforehand. If we start without confidence, [we’ve] already lost half the battle … Christian triumph is always a cross, yet a cross which is at the same time a victorious banner borne with aggressive tenderness against the assaults of evil.”[iv]
People typically see Pope Francis as a man formed by the example of Ignatius Loyola and Francis of Assisi. And of course that’s true. His spirituality is clearly Jesuit, and his desire for a pure and simple Church close to the poor is clearly Franciscan. But his hunger for God and his confidence in God’s grace also have another source.
In a 2013 homily to the general chapter of the Order of St. Augustine, Francis asked the delegates to “look into your hearts and ask yourself if you have a heart that wants great things or a heart that is asleep. Has your heart maintained [Augustine’s] restlessness or has it been suffocated by things?”[v] The trust, the passion and the restlessness in this Pope’s own heart mirror the great Augustine who saw that our hearts can never rest until they rest in God – the God whom Augustine longed for as life’s “sovereign joy.”
Jesus Christ changed the world with no resources, no five-year plan and only 12 very different and difficult peasant Jews. More than 300 years later, Augustine – one of the greatest minds in human history – encountered the same Jesus Christ and wrote his Confessions and his City of God as the Roman world fell apart and barbarians laid siege to his own diocesan See.
The hunger for God is written on every human heart. The world can dull it, but nothing can kill it. So have confidence in the work the Church has tasked you to do, and know that bishops like me keep you every day in our encouragement and prayers.
Somewhere today some young Augustine or Paul or Thomas is starting to ask himself what his life means, whether there’s a God, and where he can turn to feed the hunger and ease the restlessness in his heart. Be the answer to that man’s questions by the example of your own lives. Be the integrity and wholeness so bitterly lacking in a deceitful and fragmented world.
Jesus didn’t need many men. He needed the right men. The priesthood doesn’t need many men. It needs the right men. When each of you was called to the priesthood, God remade you in persona Christi. The more fully you live that truth, the more truly you radiate it to the men you encounter who are searching for God, the more profoundly you’ll draw others to share in the same joy. And that’s how the renewal of the Church and the remaking of the world can begin.
[i] “Americans Want Religion – For Everyone But Themselves,” The American Interest, June 6, 2013
[ii] Laura Meckler, “Secular Voices Raise Their Voices,” Wall Street Journal, June 4-5, 2016
[iii] Comments to a convention of the Diocese of Rome
[iv] Evangelii Gaudium, 84-86
[v] “Pope says Christians should have restless hearts like St. Augustine’s,” Catholic News Service, August 28, 2013
"Send forth upon them, Lord, we pray, the Holy Spirit, that they may be strengthened by the gift of your sevenfold grace for the faithful carrying out of the work of the ministry."
(Rite of Ordination)
Each year, the Archdiocese of Newark is blessed to send a seminarian to the Pontifical North American College in Rome for their formation and studies for the diocesan priesthood. These men make a commitment to 4 years of study and formation. They spend the first 2 years of this journey in Rome before they are allowed return home during academic year breaks. This means they do not come home for Christmas or summer during that time.
During their fourth year of study, in the fall, these seminarians are called to Orders and ordained to the Transitional Diaconate, meaning they are ordained ministers in the Church who are in “transition” to being ordained priests the following May. This will mark a profound change in each man, because he will go from the lay to the clerical state within the Church. This transitional period is shorter than their classmates studying stateside, who spend a full year as Deacons prior to being ordained priests.
Today, one of our Newark seminarians, Kevin Valle Diaz, will be ordained to the Transitional Diaconate in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The ordaining prelate will be Cardinal Sean O’Malley of the Archdiocese of Boston. He will be joined in the celebration by numerous other bishops, priests, and deacons from the United States. By the laying on of hands, these men, including Kevin, will be charged with serving the Church in a wonderful way—preaching the Gospel and works of charity.
Please join us as we pray for Kevin during this very momentous and joyful occasion in his life as he literally lays down his life before the Lord in order to serve His holy Church—our local Church in the Archdiocese of Newark.
For more information about this, including information on the ceremony, the promises made, the transitional diaconate, etc. please visit
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