The following excerpts come from a June 10 talk by Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia.
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.
wonderful story! an a healthy antidote to all the hand-wriinging of those who think the church has gone to hell in a hand basket. this is cetraintly not my excperience.
Interesting what Abp Gomez is saying. One thing he says, “The future of priestly formation in America will be and must be multi-cultural”, addresses a condition that really is odd. It implies that the Church is not familiar with engaging many different cultures. I have little idea of what people today are infused with, but it seems like they have no sense, no idea at all that there are billions of other people. Maybe TV and the media form consciences in such a way as to exclude both fact and reason. I think the Abp is addressing this extraordinarily dumbed down and gummed up generation. Maybe he’ll succeed. He talks of making holy priests. Let’s see if he himself accepts the challenge by Pope Benedict XVI to beome holy.
maybe archbishop gomez is simply referring to the simple fact that many of our smeinarians are not born in california, but in latin americva, asia, etc., and so we have to take this into account when educating them. priests live in community and therefore must learn about cultural differences: for exmap[le, a friend of mine was FURIOUS with a brother priest who ‘laughed’ when correcvted, until he finally learned that in that priest’s culture ‘laughter’ meant as much as saying: “i’m sorry, i’m embarrassed that i made that mistake.”
Four ordinations in one year for this Archdiocese (presumably diocesan priests) which boasts a total of over 4 million Catholics! What a pity. The legacy of the former archbishop still prevails.
I am sick and tired of the use of the hyphenated American. The man is American with Mexican descent. The “Anglo” I guess is not worthy enough for the Archbishop to find out his descent. If the Archbishop wants to evangelize the flock here in the USA he should also speak of the founding of this country and of the good men and women who fought for freedom from a tyranical government. Sadly most Americans have not been taught US History or were taught revisionist history. Or worse, taught and being taught liberation theology Marxism . Last week I attended a US Patriotic play put on by children from my parish. It was part of the Fortnight of Freedom events at my parish. The children dressed in costumes and acted out speeches from our Founding Fathers and sang patriotic hymns like “God Bless America ” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” with all the verses sung. It was a great way to start off with celebrating Independence Day! By the way the children came from many ancesteral descents.
um, SUSANNE, if you check with JLS, he’ll tell you he believes we are right NOW under a tyrannical govenment. as for history, california was first filled with people (sorry, but hyphenated native-americans), then other people came in (sorry, but more hypens with spaniards and mexicans who brought the catholic fauith here; plus of course the russians who brought the orthodox faith to places like FORT ROSS in northern california), then other people came in searching for gold and stuff (irish-americans, english-americans, and other hyphenated beings), so it’s a bix mixed up, you see. everyone on this list thought they were doing the right thing, probably…but I do love our american patriotic hymans and belt them out with gusto (if not with talent).
max, your post demonstrates well what I posted. You do not seem to have a whole lot of cultural awareness. That example about laughing points to the folly of Catholics preferring not to know anything or anyone. Again, read St Paul on both language and culture … I’m finding that much of the Church today has no understanding that there is a spiritual dimension … somehow these have mistaken the supernature of the Church for caterwallering and running amok during Mass. Clue: You understand others because of the Holy Spirit. It is not a coffee table study program, but a prayer and faith in the graces God gives.
Btw, for all the “max-ites” out there, it would seem as most Catholics can understand first impression levels of the three Synoptic Gospels, but see the Gospels of St John and Acts as totally mysterious and unintelligible. As your penance, max, read nothing from now on except St John, Acts, St Paul and also CCD.
oh, JLS, you are such a strict confessor!!! however, i’m too old for being in CCD classes, so do you have an alternatie penance for me on that last one?
“We need to prepare priests who can counteract our American culture.” yes, we do. our american culture, like every other culture on the planet, needs to be correct3ed constantly by the gospel, not set up like some idol, some ba’al.
the holy father says this same thing about his home culture, germany, and any thinking person relaizes culture is not the end-all and be-all of any christian’s life.
when we fail to challenge our nation and our culture, we end up liek the NAZIS, who turned patirotism into a cult…
I wouldn’t consider the Nazi’s patriotic. They were national socialists who were racists with a sadistic leader. Sounds more and more like the democrat socialists in this country. There were even young women having babies for Hitler. Sorta- like un-married women today having babies to collect a government check.
Susanne, if you look up the word “patriotic,” you will find the synonyms “nationalist” and “nationalistic.” The word “Nazi” comes from the same roots (“Nationalsozialismus”), and is a constant reminder of what happens to the human mind when it sets up its own country as the center of the universe. A healthy corrective to this tendency is of course the world “catholic” which leads one to a more “universal” concern, not only for America, but rather for all God’s children everywhere. [Note to the crazies out there: don’t even BOTHER to call me unpatriotic, because I love America and being an American. I also love patriotic songs, and sometimes am moved to tears by them.]
max, for your penance, you should become holy.
i wholly agree. thanks for the encouragement!
So, MacD, you wouldn’t mind singing Yankee Doodle Dandy for us, would you?
he already did! you snooze, you lose. (but he was pretty off key, so you didn’t miss much) maybe you can still find it on youtube…or, in this case, ewwtube.
max, good thing for my my late father was not a Catholic priest, as he once told me I could expiate my wild youth by paddling a surfboard to Hawaii. I think he was only venting, but you never know.
the querstion now is: how will you expiate your wild oldth?
max, whereas expiation is ongoing, oldth is fleeting. The problem is trying to get them to stand still and cut a deal. Mostly they end up cutting a rug, especially the oldth.
“Wild oldth”! max, you scored a hundred points on that one.
thank you JLS (max said humbly).
as for wild youth, my dad used to tell us to “go play on the freeway.”
ah, parental humor…and we were just in grde school!
Now where were we? Becoming holy … oh, let’s roll.
Oops, that should be “ok”, not “oh” as in OK LET’S ROLL.
JLS your phrase reminds me of those gbrave passengers on the flight which the terrorist wanted to crash into the white house. i believe they used the same words (let’s roll) when they chose to storm the cockpit and forced the plane to crash in a field rather than into the whie house. i often pray for them, and all the victims of that fateful and horrible day…