Friday, August 24, 2012

The Threefold Mandate of Optatum Totius

The following is excerpted from an address by Monsignor Moroney to a plenary meeting of the Faculty of Saint John’s Seminary on August 23, 2012.

Let me begin by thanking you.  For you have responded generously to a pressing need in the Church. You find yourselves associated with what Blessed Pope John Paul II described as “the educational project at Seminaries, which takes into account the fundamental complementarity of the four dimensions of formation:  human, intellectual, spiritual and pastoral.”

Let me warn you: your task as seminary educators is even more demanding than it might at first appear to be.  

For instance, a theologian in the Theology Department at Boston College seeks to “provide students with the knowledge and skills necessary for reasoned reflection on their own values, faith, and tradition, as well as on the religious forces that shape our society and world.”

Your mandate is significantly more challenging, as described by the Conciliar Decree on Priestly Formation, Optatum Totius.  You have a threefold mandate: to develop in your students an intellectual rigor, a profound love of the magisterium, and an integration of your instruction in the work, the prayer, and the lives of seminarians.  Allow me to spend a brief moment of each of these mandates.

First, Optatum Totius tells us that “In the very manner of teaching there should be stirred up in the students a love of rigorously searching for the truth and of maintaining and demonstrating it, together with an honest recognition of the limits of human knowledge.”

What the Church is calling for here is an authentic theological method, whereby the seminarian sees himself as the unworthy servant of the Truth, and not as its ultimate master.  Such a theologian is ruthless in his self-critique, but childlike in his wonder at the tradition he has been called to preserve, a tradition which comes from the Word made flesh and has been preserved by the Church in fidelity and love.

The seminarian who has been exposed to such a method will hunger for solid theological reflection for the rest of his life.  The questions which arise from the pastoral, spiritual, and human struggles he will encounter will be informed and challenged by the authentically Catholic theologians to whom you have introduced him.  In other words, you will have taught him how to embrace the Church and the truth she preserves with humility and love.

Second, Optatum Totius calls us, “under the guidance of the magisterium of the Church” to teach students how to “correctly draw out Catholic doctrine from divine revelation, profoundly penetrate it, make it the food of their own spiritual lives, and be enabled to proclaim, explain, and protect it in their priestly ministry.”

In other words, you are not just teaching the seminarian in the second row, you are teaching every parishioner he will ever preach to, every confused young adult he will ever counsel, and ever catechism class he will ever instruct.  And by the way you teach him, with a love for the Catholic faith that has penetrated your heart and become food for your spiritual lives, you will enable him to teach the truth not just with his words, but with the manner in which he lives his priestly life.

By imbuing his whole life with authentic Catholic truth, you will prepare him for the sort of ministry accomplished by Chaucer’s good parson: First he wrought and afterward he taught.  For Christe’s lore and his Apostles twelve he taught.  But first he followed it himself.

And finally, the Church calls on seminary teachers to beware lest they “tend merely to the communication of ideas.”  Rather, they should counsel and “provide a true and intimate formation” for your students.

True means preaching Christ and not the latest academic theory.  True means teaching what the Church teaches and not what I think she should teach.  

And “intimate” means understanding that what we teach goes to the very heart of things, seeking what Pope Paul VI has called the “total formation of the young man, not only as a human being and a Christian but above all as a priest, whose whole personality must be penetrated by the light of divine revelation.”


1 Pope John Paul II to the Congregation for Catholic Education.  1 February 2005; cf. Pastores Dabo Vobis, nos. 43-59.
3 Optatum Totius, no. 15.
4  Optatum Totius, no.16.
5  Optatum Totius, no. 17.
6  Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Letter Summi Dei Verbum, no. 51. 4 November 1963.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

New Men Gather for the Assumption

Last evening a group of the "new men" at Saint John's Seminary gathered informally for a Mass on the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven here at Saint John's followed by a light supper.

Here's the homily I preached on Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant.

Welcome, my brothers and my sons.  Welcome to your new home, a place where  God works wonders in the hearts of men who seek to do his will and to see his face.

And how wonderful that we are able to gather on this great feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven.  For among her many titles, the Mother of Jesus has been called “Mother of Priests.”  Pope Benedict XVI, in speaking to seminarians at world youth day in 2011, commended all seminarians to Mary’s tender care, reminding them that “she will know how to mould your hearts according to the model of Christ, her divine Son, and she will teach you how to treasure for ever all that he gained on Calvary for the salvation of the world.”

But not only is Mary, Mother of Priests, but we are also reminded on this feast of the title most closely associated with the Assumption for the past fifteen centuries: Mary, Ark of the New Covenant.

What does this title mean?  Well we might begin by asked what the Ark of the Old Covenant was.  First of all, it had nothing to do with Noah.  That’s a different ark.  This ark was built by after Moses, who received the tablets on which God had written the ten commandments. God told him to put them into a box of acacia wood, plate it with gold, and keep it in the tent of meeting behind heavy curtains, as the tabernacle where God would come to reveal himself.  (cf. Ex. 25–27).

Later, King David built the Temple in Jerusalem to to enshrine the Ark.  But first he placed to new sacred objects in the Ark along with the stone tablets: a jar of the manna with which God had fed the chosen people in the desert, and the staff of Aaron, the High Priest.  

Curiously, we are told that when David had completed the temple and went to get the Ark, he was so overwhelmed at it's great power that he cried out: "How can the ark of the Lord come to me?" And finally, when the ark was finally being carried up to the temple on Mount Zion it was King David who led the way, dancing for joy.

Now notice the parallels with the Mother of God.  Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant, who carries within her womb something more than tablets with ten words from God.  She carries the Word of God made flesh, the one who is all truth, 

Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant, who carries within her womb something more than the manna which fed the chosen people in the desert.  She carries within the Bread from Heaven, the bread of eternal life, the food without which no man can live (cf. John 6)

Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant, who carries within her womb something more than the symbol of Aaron’s High Priesthood.  She carries the Christ, the great High Priest of the new and eternal covenant to be offered in his own blood.

This is why when Mary goes to visit Elizabeth, John the Baptist dances in his mother's womb like David before the ark.  And this is the meaning of Elizabeth's greeting, in words almost identical to David's before the Ark: "Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (cf. 2 Sam 6:9 and Luke 1:43.)

And we see the same thing in the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, written by Saint John the Apostle, the one whom tradition tells us took care of the Blessed Virgin until she fell asleep and was assumed into heaven.  At the end of the eleventh chapter of his apocalypse, John describes a vision in which God's temple in heaven is opened, and the Ark of the Covenant is."  The next words John writes, at the beginning of what would later be designated as chapter twelve, are these: "And a great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child." (Rev. 12:1–2). The woman is Mary, the Ark of the Covenant, whose assumption would be witnessed by the writer of these words.

Thus the Bible begins with a real woman and a real man, and ends with a real woman and a real man: the old Eve and the old Adam, the parents of selfishness and sin and death.  And the new Adam, the Christ, through whose death we know life and by whose blood the original inheritance if sin has been washed away. And the New Eve, the last woman of the scriptures, who bore the Word in her womb, the Ark of our Salvation.

So, in the words of Saint Athanasius, 'let us praise the noble Virgin...truly greater than any greatness....this dwelling place of God the Word....the Ark of the new covenant, clothed with purity instead of gold!  For this ark is the golden vessel containing the true manna, the flesh in which divinity resides.' (Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, Homily of the Papyrus of Turin.)

Monsignor James P. Moroney

Friday, August 10, 2012

Monsignor Moroney Named Prelate of Honor

Bishop Robert J. McManus, Bishop of Worcester, has announced that Pope Benedict XVI has named Monsignor James P. Moroney as a Prelate of Honor with the title of Monsignor.  Monsignor Moroney was named a Chaplain of His Holiness in 2001.  Conferral of the honor will be celebrated in the course of Monsignor Moroney’s installation as Rector in late September.

With the news today in the Catholic Free Press, that I have been named a Prelate of Honor, I am brought to reflect all the more on the wonderful ways in which God has blessed me in the past thirty-two years as a priest.  Any recognition of me by the Holy Father is really a recognition of the wonderful people God has allowed me to shepherd from Webster to Leominster to Spencer to Blackstone, to Worcester and Washington and now here at Saint John's Seminary.  

I offer my heartfelt and grateful prayers for the generous support of Bishop McManus, Cardinal O'Malley, and most of all, our beloved Holy Father.  God has been so good to me through their supportive pastoral care.

Education Affairs Committee

I am pleased to announce that the following members of the Faculty have been appointed as members of the Education Affairs Committee for the Academic Year 2012/2013:

Rev. Raymond Van De Moortell, Director of Intellectual Formation and Dean of Faculty, ex officio 
Rev. Edward Riley, Director of Pastoral Formation, ex officio
Rev. Christopher O’Connor, President of TINE and Vice Rector
Rev. Joseph Scorzello, Director of Pre-Theology
Rev. Stephen Salocks

“Intellectual formation,” the Program for Priestly Formation reminds us, “is a fundamental demand of man's intelligence by which he participates in the light of God's mind and seeks to acquire a wisdom which in turn opens to and is directed towards knowing and adhering to God." (no.136)  The work of the Education Affairs Committee makes all this possible in the classrooms of this Seminary.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Physician Assisted Suicide

Here at the Seminary we are working on a half-day workshop to brief seminarians, priests and others on the moral, medical, and political dimensions of the assisted suicide referendum which will be placed before Massachusetts voters this Fall.  As we make these preparations, I wanted to share some of my preliminary reflections with you, and recommend a short video on the medical dimensions of the question by Jesuit Provincial Father Myles Sheehan, SJ.

As you have, no doubt, have heard, a ballot initiative will appear on the November Ballot in Massachusetts which would permit assisted suicide in certain circumstances.   This grave matter has been addressed by many articulate observers, not  the least of which was Cardinal O’Malley in his Red Mass homily this past year:

“The notion that assisting a suicide shows compassion is misguided,” he told the assembled jurists. “It eliminates the person but causes suffering to those left behind and pushes vulnerable people to see death as an escape. According to the National Council on Disability: ‘As the experience in the Netherlands demonstrates there is little doubt that legalizing assisted suicide generates strong pressures upon individuals and families to utilize the option, and leads very quickly to coercion and involuntary euthanasia.’

But why is there any support at all for such a horrific proposal?  The answer comes, I believe, from an understanding of the fear people have of dying a painful death with a loss of dignity and being a burden to their families.

But is assisted suicide an answer to such fears?  The answer is simply no.  

Perhaps it is said best by the USCCB Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic healthcare Services:”

Above all, as a witness to its faith, a Catholic health care institution will be a community of respect, love, and support to patients or residents and their families as they face the reality of death. What is hardest to face is the process of dying itself, especially the dependency, the helplessness, and the pain that so often accompany terminal illness. One of the primary purposes of medicine in caring for the dying is the relief of pain and the suffering caused by it. Effective management of pain in all its forms is critical in the appropriate care of the dying.

The truth that life is a precious gift from God has profound implications for the question of stewardship over human life. We are not the owners of our lives and, hence, do not have absolute power over life. We have a duty to preserve our life and to use it for the glory of God, but the duty to preserve life is not absolute, for we may reject life-prolonging procedures that are insufficiently beneficial or excessively burdensome. Suicide and euthanasia are never morally acceptable options.”

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Seminary Way of Life

Thanks to the heroic labors of Father Riley, the Student Handbook, now entitled The Seminary Way of Life, has gone to print.  

While most of the changes are editorial, you will notice a small change in the horarium for the coming year.  Mass on Saturdays has been moved back to 8:00am so that seminarians might take advantage of this free day.  Here’s a look at the full horarium:

Sunday Schedule and Holy Day Schedule:
8:30 am                Morning Prayer
10:30 am              Mass
11:45 am              Mid-day meal

Weekday Schedule:
7:00 am                 Morning Prayer, followed by Mass
9:00 am                 Morning classes begin
12:00 noon           Lunch
1:00 pm                 Formation events – classes, study, 
                               and Pastoral Formation
5:00 pm                 Holy Hour/Exposition, Evening Prayer
6:00 pm                 Dinner

Thursday Formation Evening Schedule:
7:00-9:00 pm       Formation presentations
9:00 pm                Common Room and other social events

Saturday Schedule and Holiday Schedule:
8:00 am              Mass

One of the other changes you will notice is in regard to seminary clothing for Pre-Theologians.  We will be restoring a policy which was suppressed in the days when there were a small number of Seminary Residents.

Beginning with this coming semester, Pre-Theologians will not be authorized to wear clerical attire.  The intention is to recognize the particular character of Theology and to mark the year in which candidacy is granted by the wearing of clerical apparel.

An exception, obviously, will be made for Second Pre-Theology.  Since these seminarians wore clerics last year, it would be inappropriate to remove them from them in the coming year.

I am very grateful to the many faculty members who have been hard at work updating, revising, and preparing the “Way of Life” for publication!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Guests in the Courtyard

There were turkey sightings outside Saint John's Seminary this afternoon. Two of our favorite birds were lounging in the noonday shade outside the back door of the Seminary.

Perhaps they had arrived early for the annual Saint John Vianney Cookout, hoping to catch sight of one of the nearly one hundred Priests whom the Archdiocese of Boston was hosting in the Seminary Courtyard.

Cardinal O'Malley began the afternoon by introducing Father Miles Sheehan, S.J., New England Provincial of the Jesuits and a medical doctor as well, who spoke to the priests on the subject of Pastorally Addressing Physician Assisted Suicide.

The Cardinal then led the priests in Vespers, after which all adjourned to the Courtyard for a summertime cookout. The weather cooperated and it was so good seeing so many of the sons of Saint John's return and share stories, old and new!

Cardinal O'Malley was kind enough to give me a few minutes to welcome these good priests and to reflect with them on the work of Saint John's Seminary:

A work which will be blessed this fall by the largest number of new seminarians in more than a decade. A work which has given over three thousand Priests to the Church in 129 years, serving fifty dioceses in the United States, Europe, Africa, South America, and Asia. A work which produced Cardinals Cushing, Wright, and Aponte Martinez, the founders of Maryknoll, the Society of Saint James the Apostle, and the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity. A work which perdures in serving the dioceses of New England as the largest Seminary in the most Catholic State in the union.

A work which gives us hope. Hope because of the witness of the wide-eyed young seminarian who looks at you with tears in his eyes because “all I want to do, Father, is to give my lfie to the Church.”

A work which bears fruit because God continues to stir the hearts of men the same way he stirred yours not too many years ago.

So, welcome home, my brothers. Please pray for me and please pray for our beloved Saint John’s. You are always welcome here, and we are never quite completely ourselves until you are back home with us.