Homily: Talk to the Seminarians, 2016

Talk to the Seminarians
21st March, 2016

It is with such a great joy and gratitude to the Lord that I take this opportunity to speak to you seminarians for whom I pray each day.

A reality that is common amongst seminarians is: fear. I do not know if this is also your reality, but in case it is, I would like to tell you, ‘Be not afraid.’ Many times fear is caused by understanding the measure, the height, and the depth of the vocation and gift you have received and also understanding the measure of the response the gift demands.

However, a vocation is a mystery of divine election; of God’s call to your heart – to you personally.  He has called you by name, He chose you from among many. “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you” (Jn 15:16).

One day you heard the voice of Christ in your heart telling you, “Follow me and leave everything for me.” It is a call to renounce other options in life and to choose this path of closeness and intimacy with Him, but it is not an empty renunciation. It is a call to a life in which you will find complete personal fulfilment; a life in which your human and spiritual potential will be expanded for the service of the kingdom of God and for the good of humanity, as well as an enrichment to you.

In his book Gift and Mystery, St John Paul II asked seminarians and priests “Could there be any greater fulfilment than to one day be able to re-present everyday in persona Christi the redemptive sacrifice of the Cross?” (p.73). Could there be any greater human accomplishment than to become fully identified with Christ, the God-made-man, and to become ministers of the priesthood of Christ? What a great calling you have received!

Yes, you are called to leave everything - but to gain it all…to lose your life - so as to find it…to give it all - to receive the All. You have to responsibly and maturely know what you are renouncing; then you can truly embrace a life style that clearly represents what you have left behind. But at the same time you must maturely and visibly represent the life that you have found.

Every vocation to the priesthood is a great mystery!  It is a mystery of the love of God for man. It is a mystery to be pondered, lived and treasured throughout your entire lives. How do you live with a mystery? You live as St. Joseph lived: with a heart of prayer, recollection, silence and total availability to God’s will. To live with the mystery of your vocation, you must develop a life of prayer, of pondering God’s Word, of Eucharistic adoration, of contemplation of His works, and of total trust in Him, His grace, His providence and His power: praying often: Jesus, I trust in you!!!

Priesthood is a gift, which infinitely transcends the individual, but always remember that His grace is sufficient for you (2 Cor 12:9). Recognizing the greatness of the priestly vocation and your own littleness will move you to live in humility. Each one of you offers his humanity to Christ for him to transform you into his priestly image. St. Paul says in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, that “we carry this treasure in earthen vessels” (4:7). You are to recognize – with humility, honesty and also hope – that the treasure of your vocation is deposited in an earthen vessel – in a fragile, weak and imperfect vessel, but at the same time, a vessel that has received the grace to become another Christ. By the power of the Holy Spirit and by a strong human, spiritual, intellectual and ascetic formation, your earthen vessel can be transformed into the image of Christ, even to the point of being able to say with St. Paul, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20).

Therefore, your formation has the purpose of transformation. To be formed is not simply to be “informed” with new ideas. It is rather to acquire a “new form” – a new life “until Christ is formed in you” (Gal 4:19). It means a transformation of the entire person: your way of thinking, feeling, loving, reacting, acting, serving and relating to others. This formation is not only provided by your formators; it must be a personal decision of each one called to the priestly vocation. It must begin by your personal and clear understanding of your own identity and the values of the priesthood.

The priestly vocation commits men to a way of life inspired by the Gospel and the life of Christ. It is inspired by the sentiments of His heart: His sacrificial love, His poverty, His purity, His obedience, His holiness and missionary zeal. To become one with Christ, ‘after his own heart,’ you must first know Him, contemplate Him, and enter into the depth of His Heart.

This identification with the Heart and life of Christ, can only be acquired in prayer.  St John Paul II said, “Prayer makes the priest and through prayer the priest becomes what he is” (Gift and Mystery, p.88). A man called to the priesthood must first of all be a man of prayer, of communion with God; a man convinced that the time spent with the Lord is always spent in the best way possible.

You are to form yourselves and allow your formators to guide you into this path of holiness. The Church and the world need holy priests. You can one day become guides and teachers only to the extent that you become authentic witnesses.

Do not be afraid to be illumined, directed, confronted and even corrected by the truth of Christ manifested to us in Sacred Scriptures, Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church. Do not be afraid to open your hearts and minds to the Truth, for it shall make you free and lead you to an abundant life.

Love is the definite force and the reason for the institution of the priesthood and for you having been called. Therefore, it must be the force and the reason for you to embrace it. You were called out of love, to a vocation of love, and to find the fullness of love in this vocation. The priestly vocation is rooted in love.

A priestly vocation is born as an invitation to love Christ and, in His love, to love others. You need to find the beginning of your own calling in the dialogue between Jesus and Peter. “Do you love me?”…“Lord, you know that I love you”…“Feed my lambs…Feed my sheep” (Jn 21:15-17).  If you love Him, you will follow Him wherever He leads you, and your heart will be expanded to love generously and sacrificially those He will entrust to your care.

Finally, remember that Love conquers fear! “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear,” says St. John in his First Letter (4:18). Let the love of Christ conquer any fear in your heart. In fearful situations, choose the most loving thing to do. Conquering fear is the first and indispensable step in your lives if you are to open wide the doors to Christ – first, the doors of your own hearts, then of the hearts of the people you will serve.

The seminary is not so much a place, but a significant time in the life of the follower of Jesus.  The seminary is a time of formation, of communion, of intimate dialogue with Christ, of preparation for the mission. It seems to me that we could call the seminary the “time of Nazareth.” And if it is, what better way to spend it than the same way Jesus did: under the maternal care of Mary.

O Mary, Mother of Jesus Christ and Mother of priests,
Accept from the beginning those who have been called, protect their growth, and through their lives accompany your sons.  Amen.

Ending prayer from the Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis Mar 25, 1992 - TO THE BISHOPS, CLERGY AND FAITHFUL ON THE FORMATION OF PRIESTS