A few years ago, I wrote a little book called Men of Brave Heart. In it, I talked about the need for us to form our priests in the virtues, based on St. Thomas Aquinas’ theological anthropology. That book is coming out later this year in a Spanish edition. My hope is that it will help us in forming our Hispanic seminary candidates….
To start our conversation today, I want to mention an important new film that just came out last week, For Greater Glory.
It’s a good strong movie about the Cristeros — the men and women who defended our Catholic faith when the Church was being persecuted by the Mexican government in the 1920s and 1930s.
The Cristeros included many priests whom the Church has since canonized and beatified, many as martyrs. These priests were some of my heroes when I was a young priest. And I hope this movie will help more people know their stories. Because they are inspiring models of what the priesthood is meant to be. I have special devotion to one of them, St. Rafael Guízar Valencia. He was also a bishop. In fact, he became the first bishop born in the Americas to be made a saint.
During the persecution, the government forced St. Rafael to shut down his seminary. So he did what he was told. At least on the surface. What he really did was start an “underground” seminary.
For the next 15 years, he ran this secret seminary. It was the only seminary in the whole country. He formed more than 300 priests. These priests, through heroic charity and sacrifices, risked their lives to keep the faith alive in Mexico in a very dark time.
St. Rafael said: “A bishop can do without the miter, the crosier and even without the cathedral. But he cannot do without the seminary, since the future of his diocese depends on it.”
I’ve always taken his words seriously in my apostolic ministry as a bishop.
As I see it, there is no more important work in the Church today than the spiritual preparation of men for the priesthood. So the work you are doing is absolutely crucial to the Church’s mission. To the mission of Jesus Christ.
Last Saturday, I had the joy of ordaining four new priests at our Cathedral.
These are really good guys. They are solid men with good hearts. They are men of prayer with a zeal to be God’s messengers and to be shepherds to his people.
What’s interesting is that they come from totally different backgrounds. One was born in Seoul, South Korea; another in Jalisco, Mexico; the other two came from Ohio and Arizona — one is Mexican-American and the other is Anglo. They’re different ages — from 27 to 53 — and they come from all different walks of life — engineering, management; one was doing prison ministry.
In a way, these newest priests in L.A. fit the “profile” of the types of good men that God is raising up all over our country so that our Church is able to meet the demands for the new evangelization in our time….
Friends, culture is crucial to the new evangelization. I don’t think we spend enough time thinking about it. We talk a lot about “multiculturalism” — and that’s an important reality. But we should also be talking about “counter-culturalism” and what our Holy Father has called “inter-culturalism….”
The first missionaries to America were serious students of the indigenous cultures they found here. I’m thinking of pioneering priests like Blessed Junípero Serra and Father Eusebio Kino on the Pacific Coast and in the American Southwest.
I’m also thinking about Bishop Frederic Baraga in the Midwest. Just last month our Holy Father declared him a Venerable. Venerable Baraga was an amazing missionary priest. He wrote catechisms and prayer books in the Ottawa and Chippewa languages.
These early missionaries studied these cultures in order to transform them. In order to lead people to the encounter with Jesus Christ — through and within these cultures.
We have to be thinking the same way, my friends. The future of priestly formation in America will be and must be multi-cultural. But at the same time it must also be counter-cultural and inter-cultural.
We need to prepare priests who can counteract our American culture — by their preaching, by their pastoral care, by their style of life. We need to form priests who can purify and sanctify our culture with the values and vision of the Gospel.
We all know that there are many negative tendencies in American culture today. Secularism and moral relativism. A highly sexualized and materialistic outlook. Radical individualism. Family breakdown. Crises in marriage and fatherhood and personal commitment. Religious indifferentism and the “eclipse of God.”
We are confronted with a culture in which more and more people are living as if God does not exist or as if he doesn’t matter. It’s a culture in which even good people seem to be creating “Gods” in their own image — based on their own desires to feel good about themselves.
So in our philosophical and theological formation of future priests, we need to find ways to help them to understand the new realities that the Church confronts in our culture.
I think we all need to be better students of American culture. We need to understand our culture’s worldview. We need to understand this culture’s values and assumptions. We need to understand the impact this culture is having on our Catholic identity. On our people’s faith and their ability to know and believe in Jesus.
We need to understand our culture — in order to convert it. In order to lead men and women toward the truth.
The final point I want to make tonight is this: The world will be converted — not by words and programs — but by witnesses.
Everything we do in our efforts to promote vocations and to form priests should have this goal. To create faithful and credible witnesses — to the reality of Jesus Christ and to the power of his Gospel to change lives and save souls.
That’s why the most important part of a priest’s formation will always be his personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ.
We need to do everything we can to promote our seminarians’ growth in intimacy with God. Through lectio divina, the prayerful reading of the sacred Scriptures. Through adoration of the Blessed Eucharist. And above all through their constant conversation with God in prayer.
Blessed Pope John XXIII once told a gathering of seminarians and their teachers: “In view of the mission with which you will be entrusted for the glory of God and the salvation of souls, this is the purpose of your education: forming the mind, sanctifying the will. The world awaits saints: this above all. Before cultured, eloquent, up-to-date priests, there is a need of holy priests who sanctify.”
That’s the whole point, my friends. That’s the purpose of everything we do in our vocation and formation efforts. This above all. To make saints….
During the persecutions, when priests were being shot on sight, Blessed Miguel Pro took his ministry underground. Sometimes he would dress like a mechanic and other times like a dashing playboy. He’d ride around Mexico City on his brother’s bike — hearing confessions and celebrating Mass secretly in people’s homes. He gave alms to the poor. He encouraged people to live their faith in the face of an atheist culture.
Growing up, we had prayer cards made from a grainy photograph of Blessed Miguel’s martyrdom. The authorities thought it would frighten other priests if they photographed his execution. They expected him to crumble and to beg for his life.
Instead, Blessed Miguel stood before the firing squad without a blindfold, his arms stretched wide like Jesus on the cross. And he cried out his last words: ¡Viva Cristo Rey! (“Long live Christ the King!”)
Friends, this is the kind of future priests we want. Men who preach the Gospel with their lives. Who live the mystery they celebrate at the altar. Who make themselves a total gift. For the love of God and the love of souls. Men who present their bodies as a holy and living sacrifice to God….
To read entire talk, click here.