Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Rector's Conference I: The Seminarian and the Sacrifice

For almost a third of you this is your first Rector's conference. And I'm delighted that you've already picked up the tradition of standing when I walk into the room. To be honest with you, it's the coolest thing about being Rector!

In fact, I am grateful for all the signs of respect you give me. They are signs of your respect for my role as pastor of this holy house. It is a role I take very seriously, pastoring this flock of shepherds, and one on which I will assuredly be judged when the Lord Jesus returns in glory.

Today I would like to very briefly address the topic of the seminarian and the liturgy then debut the new documentary film on Saint John’s Seminary produced by Catholic TV. I’ll conclude, as customary, with some open questions and a few answers.

The Seminarian and the Sacrifice

The work of the seminarian is little different than the work of the old priest: it is discernment of God’s will and formation: the cultivation of that obedient desire to let God do with me what he will: not my will, but His be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

And it is in the Sacred Liturgy that we work out that kenotic love, that we give our hearts over to the divine will and let go of all the grasping, self-indulgent narcissism which is the source of sin. That is why the Fathers of the Council so boldly proclaimed that the liturgy is the source of every authentic Christian virtue and the summit of every authentically apostolic endeavor.

That is why participation in the liturgy is the true focus of discernment, formation, and conformity to Christ. Only by standing with Mary and John beside the cross, only by joining our sacrifices to the Lord’s, only by our participation in this holy living sacrifice can we grow into what Christ asks us to be. 

TWA Many Years Ago

It's funny, while welcoming the new men last week, I recall the one time when I thought of leaving the seminary. It was midway through my second year at North American College, and I was so serious about leaving that I went down to TWA (see how old I am!… TWA was an airline!)...I went down to TWA to price the ticket home!

I came back that night and didn't sleep a wink. I was going through about every crisis you could imagine: emotional, academic, spiritual. I was spending most of my waking hours running away from Christ, trying to convince myself that this wasn't for me or at least that God got connected to the wrong James Moroney when he dialed up my heart.

I was running away from suffering and obedience and sacrifice, which is the same thing as running away from true love.

So after a sleepless night, I got up and went to Mass.

Going to Mass

I didn't feel much like going to Mass, I felt like going to sleep or running or flying away. But I went to Mass.

I sat there, arms folded, doing my best imitation of an irascible two-year-old. Good luck to you God, I pouted. Good luck to you.

And he did. As they carried up the gifts of bread and wine I recalled what I read so many times in all those old Liturgy books: of how the paten held something more than bread and how the cruet something more than the fruit of the vine; that mixed with those oblations were the sacrifices of our lives.

And from my pew, in the back of the chapel, from my heart and through my eyes I placed all the pain, the fear, the desperation and the doubt. I place them on that paten with the matter for the sacrifice, mixed them with that wine to be offered to God.

And Christ, through the hands of the priest, received my offering and joined my little sacrifices to the perfect sacrifice of Calvary, to the cross.

And it was with that action that Christ filled up my little emptiness with his infinite love, conformed me to his image and gave me the grace not to run to TWA but to embrace the cross, whatever cross he would send me, whatever cross he would share.

And it's been that way, and infinite number of times, ever sense. As a Priest I have sometimes raised a chalice of suffering, sometimes a chalice of thanksgiving and sometimes a chalice of joy. Sometimes I have begged God that this cup pass from me and sometimes I have raised it rejoicing in praise of His name. But in Thirty-three years as a priest I have never regretted that He called me to the altar and that He placed that chalice in my hands.

For the altar is the center of the universe, the locus of life and the full conscious and active participation in that sacrifice is the road to salvation, to discernment and to conformity to the image and likeness of Christ.

Such participation is our lifeblood, it is our ‘duty and our right...by reason of our Baptism,’ as each day we are called ‘to offer the divine victim to God the Father in the sacrifice of the Mass, and to make the offering of our own lives with Him.’

Such participation, in Liturgy and in life, is the most important work we do.