Thursday, August 22, 2013

Plenary Faculty Address 2013

At a plenary meeting of the Faculty of Saint John's Seminary this afternoon, Monsignor Moroney offered the following remarks:

Welcome.  To some of you, welcome back and to others, welcome for the first time to the work of educating, forming and leading these good and holy men in discernment of what God has in store for them.  Welcome!

This plenary will be shorter than last year's, because I want to share with you the Catholic-TV Documentary on Saint John’s Seminary entitled A Seminary Life: Saint John’s Seminary.  You will be the first to see it, after I finish speaking for what I hope will be about fifteen minutes.

I begin with two new and interesting statistics.

We will have 84 resident seminarians this year, twenty-six of them “new men.”  

76% of them are from non-Boston Dioceses, a figure which is 10% higher than ten years ago.  

There are 43 Roman Catholic Major Seminaries in the United States today.  The largest is the North American College with 232 seminarians, while the smallest is the Franciscan School of Theology in California with 6 seminarians.  While final figures for 2013 won’t be in for several months, it appears that we will probably be the sixth largest Theologate serving the dioceses of the United States in the coming year.

Speaking of size, you will note several updates to the Seminary building which were accomplished over the past few months.  In order to accommodate the larger number of resident seminarians faculty storage has been moved to the newly renovated crypt.  

We have also renovated the Business Office in the interest of efficiency and security.  Sensitive information will now be adequately secured, all business office personnel will be located in the same space, and much needed workspace will be provided.  Replacement of carpets in the Great Hall and in other parts of the building, as well as painting and repair of faculty and student rooms have also been accomplished.

The biggest news in terms of temporalities, however, has to do with the opening of the Our lady of the Presentation Campus in Oak Square.  On September 16th we will celebrate the ribbon cutting for the Our Lady of the Presentation Library and Lecture Hall, which will now be at the disposal of our whole Saint John's community.  This 500 seat lecture hall will grow to be an exceptional space for lectures, concerts and other gatherings.  Several major grant holders are presently considering requests for the funding of the next two phases by which all the bells and whistles can be added to this important project.

The Development Subcommittee of the Board has been working diligently with me over the past year to fill the position of “Director of Annual Giving,” which I am delighted to report has been filled by Sandy Barry, whose imagination, dedication and expertise have already borne great benefit in the first few months of her work.

So, having reported on the practicalities, allow me one final reflection on who we teach and how we teach them in the light of the first lessons from our Holy Father Francis.

Growth in Understanding the Post-Modern Seminarian
There are a variety of take-offs of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Modern Major General, but perhaps in the present context few as amusing as this one:

I am the very model of Postmodern Seminarian
Liturgical, post-liberal, only somewhat post-sectarian
I stand in Easter, kneel in Lent, and genuflect and all of that
And each year on Saint Francis Feast I get a blessing for my cat

When I have learnt the progress of Von Balthasar’s theology,
Converted every member of the Church of Scientology—
In short, when I’ve a smattering of basic Catholicity—
They’ll say that I’m a cleric full of goodness and simplicity.

And though my Bishop is impressed by my enormous panurgy,
The man is rather wary at my love for Latin Liturgy,
But still in matters pastoral, canonical, and Marian,
I am the very model of postmodern seminarian.

The postmodern seminarian who you will teach is very different from the first philosopher or second theologian of even a decade ago.

Chances are, the last institution in which he was educated, even if it bears the name “Catholic,” is imbued with the same strains of constructivism which have infected most of the academy.  That is to say, the view that all knowledge is invented or "constructed in the minds of people” and that reality is a mere human creation.

In other words, the seminarian who you will teach has been taught up to this point by professors who assert that the seminarian's truth, your truth, the Pope or the Bishop’s truth, the blogosphere’s truth, and Denzinger’s truth are of equal worth, because "truth" has been created by people not because it is "true," but rather because it is useful.

Neither the threat of this presupposition to revealed religion nor the challenge to the teacher of Philosophy or Theology in a Roman Catholic Seminary can be overestimated.

So what is the antidote to an Academy and a culture which worships at the altar of  diversity, tolerance, and creative intuition? It is the antidote which has been preached by word and example by our Holy Father Francis, who perhaps more than most, understands how to evangelize our modern culture.  

Three antidotes, which I propose as our by-words as seminary professors: truth, authenticity and love.


The first antidote is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  Neither the speculation of my favorite author nor my latest brilliant insight can hold a candle to the “religious submission of will and intellect” to the Magisterium, which each one of us promised to uphold and pass on by the oath of fidelity before God and his Holy Church which we took just a year ago.  

A few months before being installed as your Rector, a former Rector of this esteemed institution told me "there is no more important work than this, Jim.  What you and your colleagues do here will determine what appends to the Church in anew England for generations to come."

That's quite a responsibility, and one for which we will be held accountable when The Lord returns in glory at the end of time.  Our most important wok here is to the pass on the truth which is at the heart of the Faith we have received.  For, as our Holy Father Francis has just recently reminded us faith without truth is "nothing more than a fairy story, an illusion of happiness, unable to sustain us when the going gets tough."


The second antidote to the modern disease which so often infects our seminarians is designed to countermand the narcissistic cynicism, the smirking smarminess and anger which so pervades our society.  The second antidote is authenticity: to be who you are and who God made you to be.

In an age so pervaded by angry people hiding behind masks, just simply being yourself shocks and engages the world like nothing else.  Perhaps that is what has so engaged the world about "Papa Bergolio," who is nothing if not himself.  He is simply a man in love with Jesus and his Church and those whom Jesus called us to love.  To preach real love for the poor and to find joy in loving them, to preach chastity and to find joy in chaste loving....this is the kind of authentic faith that transforms a postmodern world.  What you see is what you get.

Or in his own words to you:

“To be joyful witnesses to the Gospel you need to be authentic and coherent...Jesus fought against hypocrites, against those who, to put it clearly, are two-faced. … This is a responsibility for all adults, all formators. And to those formators present here today, I urge you to give an example of coherence to the young. Do we want coherent young people? Then we must be coherent ourselves! On the contrary, the Lord recounts what the Pharisees said to the people of God: 'Do what they say, but not what they do!' Coherence and authenticity!”


The third antidote I propose to you is love.  “If I have not love, I am nothing,” Saint Paul tells us,  for “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in him and God abides in him.”

I never learned anything worthwhile from a teacher who did not love me.  And as teachers of the Faith, as formators of shepherds, we must teach them by the way we love them.  In all their brokenness, their narcissism and their insecure arrogance, we must strive first and foremost to show them the love of Christ.

For faith without love, Holy Father Francis reminds us, is "cold, impersonal, oppressive, unable to transform the lives of others."  But faith preached with love saves lives and conforms men to the image and likeness of Christ upon the Cross!

Truth, authenticity and love.  

How many days and hours have we spent lamenting the spreading disease of relativism, cynicism and anger which so dominates the biosphere, the academy and even the Church.  But we have the are the antidote when you form the next generation of priests with truth, authenticity and love.  A new year of formation, discernment and growth for bright eyed and somewhat fearful new men and for those who can do nothing but think of the first days of their Priesthood which, God willing, will come with the spring.

Love them.  Tell them the truth.  And be yourself.  Trust in your better angels.  And God will do the rest.

Thank you.