Brothers and sisters, we have come to the end of our spirituality week. In my estimation, it has been a good week. We have had the opportunity to listen to one another, to find time, I hope for prayer and to perhaps formulate some goals for the coming year.
Note: Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology began the fall semester this week with the Intensive Spiritual Formation Week. President-Rector Fr. Denis Robinson, OSB, gave the following talk to seminarians at the closing session.
Closing Talk for Spirituality Week 2018
Brothers and sisters, we have come to the end of our spirituality week. In my estimation, it has been a good week. We have had the opportunity to listen to one another, to find time, I hope, for prayer and to perhaps formulate some goals for the coming year.
Many of you are new to formation, at least new here; many of you are old hands, but I hope you have all learned something this week, something like this. Every day is a beginning in terms of our relationship with God. Every day is a new beginning, and every evening an opportunity for reflection.
In my remarks this evening, I would like to wrap up some components of this week by focusing on five challenges that confront us here in this community of formation. I do not mean to imply that there is a spiritual immaturity in the community here – again, I reiterate that every day is an opportunity for renewal. That is the spirit with which these remarks are offered.
The first challenge is that of forming lasting and meaningful relationships, mature relationships. Maturity implies many things. Forming mature relationships begins with our peers and extends to those who have authority over us: formators, faculty, bishops, and religious superiors. And, of course, all here are called to a kind of primary maturity. All of us must also show maturity in our primary relationship, that of Christ.
The time has passed for us to be living in a child-like relationship with God. Certainly, Jesus invites us to come to Him as children, but we cannot remain such. Our call is to be mature in the Lord, seeing God not as the threatening deity who punishes, or the father to whom we go to fulfill our needs, but as the authentic companion, the one who sees us for who we are, in whom we can confide. From that basic relationship, the others here can be formed.
What good does it do to possess a mature relationship with Christ, if we treat one another like children, if I treat you like children? Here is an essential truth, however: If I should not treat you like children, you have the responsibility not to act like children. We have the responsibility to grow together into the likeness of Christ.
That is what I would like to see this seminary be: a perfect image of the likeness of Christ. I would like to see Christ as the first sense of who we are, of our identity. This, brothers, is a house of prayer and study, a house in which we are forming ourselves, not in our baser instincts, but as mature men alive in the spirit of Christ Jesus.
A second challenge for all of us is our need to work together. We must work together. We must be a part of the same project. There is no room for competition here, although in a largely masculine environment that sometimes becomes an issue. Here we must work together to attain our common goal: that of realizing the Kingdom of God in this seminary. God’s indwelling must be here.
This is mostly achieved by a life of prayer, a thorough and meaningful life of prayer. We must be present for prayer. We must be devoted to prayer, not only when it is required of us, as it is in the ordained, but because we cannot imagine ourselves not living in the midst of prayer. We must see prayer as our priority. It is my fervent desire to be a good example to you of this. We as a staff, as a faculty, must do this, especially the priests and religious, but really all of us.
We priests have a particular need to do this, in order to make our priesthood more vivid to others and ourselves. In other words, I challenge the priests of the community to do what we already do well, but can always do better: to show our seminarians that the priesthood is life-giving, that the priesthood is joyful, that the priesthood is holiness in its most complete form. If we show a sullen and sad priesthood, how can these men truly serve the Church?
I also want us priests to live in the spirit of reparation for the sins of our brothers. When a priest brother falls, we all suffer, but we are also challenged to find a way to make our lives as priests even more attractive, more persuasive. Here I want to make a particular appeal to all of us for adoration. We have times set aside every day for adoration. How many of us take advantage of that time?
You say: it is too early. I say: Our Lord made the sacrifice; you can lose an hour of sleep to spend some precious time with Him, some dedicated time in adoration. You can make a Holy Hour each day. I am saying this to each of you. I am challenging each of you. If you are a person with pronounced nocturnal habits, I highly recommend your development of new habits.
A great deal of priestly life happens early in the morning. Get up. In the spirit of this, I challenge myself and the whole staff to commit to this practice as well. Our Lord has given us the great gift of presence in that focused way in the exposed Blessed Sacrament. It is a gift. Let’s take advantage of it.
Third is knowledge of one’s self. Know yourself. We cannot be deceivers of our selves about ourselves. We cannot tell lies to ourselves about how we are doing and who we are. The responsibility to know one’s self is a serious call to spiritual self-awareness, to continual testing and to love of one’s self, in triumphs and talents certainly, but also in flaws.
You will hear me say many times that it is through our flaws and challenges that we often become most useful to God’s people. That is certainly true in the confessional. I know it is true in other places as well. Again, you will know in short order that I am a flawed man and that all of the faculty and staff are flawed persons. Our ability to accept, and indeed use, those flaws becomes the marker of our success.
Jesus appeared to the eleven after the resurrection and Thomas would not believe until he had probed the scars. Give people the chance to probe your scars. As it was for Thomas, this is often the path to proclaiming: My Lord and my God. Self-knowledge can be a knowledge of tears as well as triumph, but there is joy in tears as much as in triumph. If we can weep, it means our hearts are tender.
Fourth is self-correction. How is it possible for us to say we love the Lord, we are his people, his ministers, if we do not every day try to be better? This is an important principle of the Benedictine charism that undergirds the work of this seminary. We strive to be better today than we were yesterday. We look for new ways to excel. We seek out opportunities for excellence.
We probe the places of our hearts, our minds, our physical selves that are in need of improvement and, day by day, we build up, by little and by little, into our full stature in Christ. That is what we are striving for in our daily metanoia: full stature in Christ. We can say it with St. Paul: It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. That is the result of the Gospel that we, like St. Paul, are called to preach.
We are called to be an ambassador for Christ, and nothing more. We are called to service and nothing more. We are called to be men of charity without counting the cost of that charity, and nothing more. We are called to love with every fiber of our being and nothing more.
If we can achieve a margin of that here, it bodes well for us. When that “something more” to which we cling so tightly can be placed to the side, or even cast away, we will have made progress in the life of faith, that life cultivated within ourselves that gives fertility to the ministry to which we have been called.
Finally, there is the ability to trust, trust one another, trust formation, trust in the Lord. Let me quote Galatians again: Now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?
Here is what I am asking you: Trust your formation here and be able to affirm the good that is being cultivated within you. It is my hope that each one of you can get up in the morning and look in the mirror and see there a wonderful person, a child of God, a follower of Christ and a true minister of the Word.
Be convinced that that Word is what our world is longing to hear, and we know it is because we are longing to hear it. Believe in yourselves. Brothers and sisters, our world and our times are in desperate need of Good News. As soon as we can put away bad news and trust ourselves, we will discover the miracle that God intends to offer that world in all of our lives.
Your words, your actions, your emotions, your talents, your attitudes all COUNT for something, and I want all of that to be made manifest so that our world, beginning in this little corner of Spencer County, can be beautiful and whole.
That is a vision and that is a hope. I believe the reality of this vision and hope is right within our grasp. We are living in troubling times. We all know that. If we can learn the parameters of mature relationships, we are already moving toward finding ways of forging new horizons for the Church, built on transparency and trust.
If we learn to work together, trusting one another in our strength and in our weakness because we have forged those real relationships, the Church will find even its apostolic foundations strengthened. If we truly know ourselves, know our weaknesses, but perhaps more significantly know our strengths, we will succeed in making a new Church.
Brothers, we all have anchors that weigh us down, but we also, all of us, have wings with which to soar. If I can learn self-correction and accept correction from others, those wings will shake themselves mightily until we are creating not only a new Church, but a new heaven and a new earth where righteousness reigns.
Here and now, we can learn what a new Church filled with hope is and we can pray that we can become men who are the core of the solution to the Church’s problems, which are real and oppressive. We can become the solution and not a part of the problem.
Please know that I do not wish to place a heavy burden on your backs. I do not, but I want to indicate to you the complexity of the particular brand of discipleship we call formation for the priesthood. I also want to assure you of this: I do not challenge you to anything to which I do not challenge myself, the rest of the staff and the faculty.
Your relationships, as I have said, with us and among yourselves are built upon the presumption of humility and honesty on all of our parts. Rely on us and we will rely on you. Trust us and one another and the trust of the savior, Jesus Christ, will also be a part of that equation. So our life begins together in joy. Let us see to its fulfillment in exaltation.