A Gentle Presence in a Threatening World

Sister Mary Berchmans Hannan, the mother superior of the Visitation sisters’ community at Georgetown Visitation.

In a time when America can seem divided, sometimes beyond foreseeable repair, a beautiful sanctuary of unity and love can be found in the northwest reaches of our nation’s capital. A testament to the awesome power of optimism and devoted faith in Jesus, the Georgetown Visitation Monastery provides an example from which all of us can learn.

Georgetown Visitation’s story begins six months before the federal government of the United States relocated to Washington from Philadelphia. Reverend Leonard Neale (later the 2nd Archbishop of Baltimore) brought Alice Lalor, a devout Irish immigrant, to Georgetown, Maryland. Influenced by the writings of St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal of France, and motivated by Lalor’s determination to open a young girls school, they established the first house of the Visitation Order of Holy Mary in America.

The Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary has its roots in early seventeenth-century France. In a time when religious life was physically taxing, Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal saw the opportunity for the creation of a religious order that would be welcoming to women seeking a deep relationship with God, but who could not abide the physical rigors of traditional religious life. This order would focus on the virtues of patience, humility, gentleness, joyful optimism, graciousness, and thoughtful concern for others. This perspective, somewhat radical in its time, culminated with de Sales and de Chantal founding of the first house of the Visitation Order in 1610. By 1641, eight-five houses had been established.

In important ways, to be a VHM sister today is not much different than it would have been four-hundred years ago. The sisters maintain a gentle approach to life. They lead a meditative existence, and keep to a routine schedule. Distractions are kept to a minimum. This is not to say they are dis-engaged from the outside world – the opposite, in fact. They read The New York Times daily, subscribe to numerous Catholic publications, and generally keep abreast of world events. But their most intense focus is paid to becoming better, more powerful personifications of their charism, “Live Jesus.”

What does “Live Jesus” mean exactly? It means that amidst the adversity and turmoil of the world, the VHM Sisters accept God’s will as it unfolds in their lives. They live in the presence of God, and remain aware of the fact that God is always near. Perhaps most importantly, they practice the “little virtues” of kindness, thoughtful concern for others, optimism, gentleness, and patience. Amidst the many excesses of contemporary popular culture, the VHM Sisters practice balance and moderation in all things, and put a premium on cherishing the future while savoring the good from the past.

A lesser known aspect of the Visitation Sisters, but one that is equally as important as “Live Jesus,” is the contemplation of the Sacred Heart. Both religious and secular persons will likely recognize this image: a burning red heart encircled by a crown of thorns, pierced by two arrows, with the cross floating atop the fiery heart. It is a symbol which signifies the message that Jesus’s heart burns with a deep love for His people, and it was a VHM Sister, Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, who was influential in promulgating the spread of worldwide devotion to the Sacred Heart. Though private devotion to the Sacred Heart did not begin with Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, the Visitation Order was the first religious group to publicly consecrate themselves to it. For her miraculous visions of Jesus, Sister Margaret Mary was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in 1920.

Today, when one enters the grounds of Georgetown Visitation, they are overwhelmed by the spirit of generosity and love that emanates from the sisters. More than anything, though, one feels wholly, satisfyingly at peace among these humble and powerful women.

For further information regarding Georgetown Visitation, visit their website: http://www.gvmonastery.org/
& the website of the Georgetown Preparatory School: https://www.visi.org/

Of Vocations and Victory: Some Good Reasons to Take Heart That the Lord is Blessing His Church

043013While some dioceses in the US have been closing and consolidating seminaries, here in Washington DC we recently opened a new one: The Blessed John Paul II Seminary. And things are going so well, we are now adding a new three-floor wing to accommodate more men. (See a wonderful video below on the Seminary)

Currently 30 men are in formation at Blessed John Paul II. Altogether Washington has just over 70 men studying for the priesthood.

This new seminary is unique in that it enrolls men who are still in college, or need to do pre-theology studies, prior to undertaking post-Graduate Theology studies. It was the concern of Cardinal Wuerl that in the years prior to entering Major Seminary and theological studies it was important to form the men and let them live in community in the Washington area where they will serve in future years.

Back in 2005 we also opened a Missionary Seminary for thirty seminarians of this Archdiocese in the Neocatechumenal Way to study. We also send men to the North American College in Rome, Mount St. Marys Seminary in Emmitsburg MD, Theological College in Washington, and Blessed John XXIII in Boston.

The Lord is turning out some very good men. I remain impressed with the caliber, devotion and orthodoxy of the men who are in our seminaries. I recently preached a retreat for 30 of them at Blessed John Paul II here in DC. I also work with them in both summer assignments here in the parish and have at least three at a time working here throughout the academic year. They are prayerful and intelligent men who have a heart for the Church, and a love and reverence for God.

Internationally the number of seminarians has increased an astonishing 86.3% since 1978. in 2010 there 118,990 seminarians worldwide, whereas in 1978 there were just  63,882 major seminarians. All this according to the Annuario Pontificio

U.S. Catholic seminary enrollment in theology this past year year (2012) is the highest in almost a quarter-century, according to the  Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA). Last year’s total of 3,723 is the highest enrollment since the 3,788 reported for 1988-89.

The average rate of retention for seminarians entering theology to being ordained has remained  consistent at about 75 percent.

Younger trend –Slightly more than a quarter of today’s major seminarians are 35 or older, and more than half are under 30, representing a possibly significant shift back toward youth after a couple of decades in which newly ordained priests tended to be much older.

So, there is a lot to be grateful for. It is true we must work harder, and there is much about which to be sober. The reported growth in seminarians does not match what we need to fill the gaps. Ordinations are still only about a third of the number that are needed to compensate for those priests who are retiring, or dying.

Yet still we have more than bottomed out and are now heading in the right direction. Continue to pray for many vocations.

Great Laity too – Pray too for continued reform and zeal among the lay faithful. So many good signs exist there too, I meet so many dedicated and zealous laity every day. A growing remnant of clergy and laity are getting clearer and more focused, day by day.

Take this to heart, beloved readers. I think it is easy for us to get discouraged today and we see so much confusion and decay in our culture. But God is raising up a faithful remnant. He is purifying the Church in so may ways, with good vocations, but also many wonderful lay movements and Catholics in fire for the Lord.

Yes, He has been pruning his Church, to be sure, and our overall numbers at Mass may continue to go down for a while. But pruning has a purpose, and the Church that remains may be overall smaller, but she is going to need to be strong to endure and overcome the days that get ever darker. Like Gideon’s army that was too large, God is thinning but purifying his ranks. A smaller but clearer army that is united will win the day.

Like Noah’s Ark! It may take time but it is clear that God is preparing, pruning and purifying the Church for something very great. It may well be that the Church will once again have to be a kind of Noah’s ark which will preserve the vestiges of life from a dying culture, only to replant them when the flood waters subside. And thus, the Lord is strengthening the Ark, the Barque of Peter. In the Words of an old spiritual: Get on board Children, there’s room for many-a-more.

Yes! Take heart and be of good courage. Jesus says, In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world. (Jn 16:33)

Here’s a video of our newest Seminary at which we are needing to add a new wing to accommodate “many-a-more.”

The Priest as Soldier in the Army of the Lord

Back in the early 1980s I was in college, majoring in computer science, and dating a beautiful young woman. An older priest, Msgr. Curlin told me that he thought I was called to be a priest. I was puzzled as to how to react. No one had ever said this to me before. So I asked him if he’d like to meet my girlfriend. He was unfazed and told me stories of other men, now priests, who had said the same. In some ways he spoke like a military recruiter: “The Church needs good men, Chuck. God needs good, strong men.”

I was surprised to hear a priest speak this way. I was born in 1961 but came of age in the Church of the 1970s. It was a time of crossless Christianity. Crosses had literally been removed from my parish church and replaced by a “resurrection Jesus.” Notions of sacrifice and fighting against sin had largely been replaced by a kind of “God is Love, self-acceptance” emphasis. Not wrong, but wholly emphasized. It was a time of “beige Catholicism” which demanded little and saw its main task to be as non-offensive as possible.

As a young man, none of this appealed much to me. I think most young men are “up for a battle.” They want to change the world, or at least make a key difference. Now suddenly a priest was summoning me to manhood and to something sacrificial, something that would take a “strong” man. And my services were needed, God and the Church depended on men like me saying yes. Imagine that!

I didn’t say yes that day. I continued to date and worked toward finishing my Computer Science Degree. But I had heard a summons to a great battle, the ancient battle between Christ and our adversary the Devil. And the call grew. For various reasons my steady girl and I broke up. Saddened though I was, I saw an opened door before me and the call quickened. I walked through and began a process of discernment with the Archdiocese that led to my Ordination to the Priesthood in 1989.

I suppose there are many ways of seeing my priesthood. But one powerful way is that I see myself as a soldier in the army of the Lord. The battle today is fierce. We live in a world increasingly hostile to our holy faith and the teachings of the Church. And the call must go out as never before: The Church needs good men to be priests, strong and courageous. Men who will speak the truth in love, clearly and without compromise and celebrate the sacraments with devotion and faith. Men who know that the eternal salvation of many is dependent on them being zealous priests after God’s own heart. Men who by the grace of God are willing to fight for souls in the battle that matters most.

So there it is men. The Lord is looking for good men to engage the great battle for souls. And there’s an old saying, “If you find a good fight…get in it!”

Vocations for Men: Fr. Carter Griffin 301-853-4580

Here’s a video I stitched together with scenes from Fishers of Men and set to Lyle Lovett’s “I’m A Soldier in the Army of the Lord”

What’s a Woman to Do in a Culture Gone Mad? Perhaps "Good Girls DC" has an Idea

We have discussed at length on this blog the sad state of our culture, particularly when it comes to questions of dating, sexuality, faith and marriage.

For example, huge numbers of Americans, are postponing marriage, or never marrying at all. A recent article in Our Sunday Visitor presents stunning statistics about marriage:

The number of marriages celebrated in the Church has fallen from 415,487 in 1972 to 168,400 in 2010 — a decrease of nearly 60 percent — while the U.S. Catholic population has increased by almost 17 million. To put this another way, this is a shift from 8.6 marriages per 1,000 U.S. Catholics in 1972 to 2.6 marriages per 1,000 Catholics in 2010…

[In this Catholics reflect the general social trend]. In 2010, 53 percent of Catholics surveyed in the General Social Survey (GSS) indicated that they were currently married. By comparison, 51 percent of non-Catholics surveyed were married. [But this an astonishing drop from 1972 when 79% of Catholics were married. Among younger adults 18-40 the number is even more shocking: Only 38% are married]!

Some of [the low numbers]  can be explained by Catholics waiting longer to marry, but the shift here has been slight. In 1972, the average age at first marriage reported in the GSS for Catholics ages 18 to 40 was 20.9. In 2006 (the last time this question was asked), it was 23.9.

Thus, the decline in Church marriages is more about not marrying at all than marrying older. [Our Sunday Visitor 6/26/2011]

Of course, despite this, most younger adults are quite sexually active. And the lack of marriage, and promiscuous sexual activity is a very poisonous environment for you people. There is no need to here recite all the terrible statistics of STDs, abortion, teenage pregnancy, single motherhood (absent fatherhood), cohabitation, poverty, broken hearts, broken homes, and children raised in less than ideal situations, with often terrible conflicts they have to grow up in.

And in these promiscuous conditions, and conditions of low marriage rates, women suffer a lot more than men, since (fair or not) the consequences of the sexual revolution have fallen much harder on them. Too often men “play the field” with few social consequences, while women end up used and abused, often pregnant and with little support. Many end up unmarried with children to raise or, tragically, haunted by the aftermath of abortions.

One may ask, “In this poisonous climate, what is a woman to do?” It is easy to say that women, who usually set the limits and boundaries in a relationship, should just be chaste. But the expectations on women to be unchaste are very strong. Further women are not a monolith and there are many different points of view among them as to questions of sexuality, family, priorities, careers, faith, and any number of other issues. Women who do seek to remain chaste and also to live an active Catholic life face many challenges in doing so.

So again the question, in a culture gone mad and dysfunctional, “What is a woman to do?”

One answer is given by a new group here in Washington DC called “Good Girls DC.” These women, most of them college graduates, most of them single, but some married, have gathered to support and encourage one another in living their Catholic faith in a world often poisonous to it. At their website, goodgirlsdc.com their vision is stated as follows:

We are a network of trendy young adult Catholic women who welcome all woman of faith. We seek to renew society through living out our dignity as daughters of God. We aim to create a place where like minded women can find fellowship, friends, and networking opportunities while encouraging each other to live up to their God-given potential.

The group sponsors luncheons, rosary and holy hours, book clubs, and other social functions in which women gather to give each other support in living their Catholic faith and to not give way to the often poisonous social culture of today. They also sponsor co-ed events that encourage Catholics and others of like mind to meet. Their website and Facebook page feature encouraging articles, of many topics focused on faith, uplifting stories, significant events, and helpful links. In the video box below is a Radio interview with Jessica Lanza, the founder of Good Girls DC that supplies a lot more information.

In effect, what are these women doing? They are, by God’s grace, forming a faithful remnant and seeking to become a leaven in society; or, if you will, a spark that will ignite a refining fire. This is, most often, how God reforms his Church and the world. It usually begins with small groups of the faithful, the spark God ignites. And fanned by the Spirit of God’s love, the spark becomes a fire, a refining fire that begins a purifying process in the Church and the world.

Something tells me that Good Girls DC is a spark of God and He wants to fan it into flame. Why not become part of it? While the group is for women only, Men to ought to form similar groups. (Here in DC I am aware of the St. Lawrence Society, a men’s group with a similar purpose). And men ought to support groups like Good Girls DC and encourage women to join. There is a hope that other chapters will begin soon in other cites.

We all need to be strong in a culture gone mad. To use a gloss on a scriptural text we might say Woe to the solitary woman! For if she should fall, she has no one to lift her up. (cf Ecclesiastes 4:10). The same scripture also says, Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Ecc 4:12).  Here are strong women, unwilling to compromise with the madness of modern times. Here are women who are standing together and insisting on what is right. Here are women who seek others of like mind. Here are women who seek their vocation, whether to marriage or religious life and want to seek it untainted by the often bitter waters of modern culture.

To remain chaste, faithful and focused, we need as Catholics to support and encourage one another. Thank God for Good Girls DC.

What is a woman to do? Find other women and stand together, grow in numbers and through this spark, let God send a purifying fire upon the Church and the whole earth.

Photo above: A recent gathering of some members of Good Girls DC.

Here’s an interview with founder Jessica Lanza on the Sonrise Morning Show:

Secrets of the Habit

The video at the bottom of this post is a fascinating little exploration of the traditional habit of Religious Sisters. The video does not make it clear as to what Order the Habit belonged. There are many things I learned about a habit I never knew. Things like hidden “saddle bag” pockets, opening crucifixes, symbolism in the pleats, and the purpose of the outer veil. I hope you’ll take time an view a fascinating video.

Sadly, the sister who recounts the hidden and beautiful secrets of the habit does not herself wear one any longer. The abandonment of the habit by many orders has always puzzled me. Recent Popes have requested that priests and religious wear their distinctive garb. Further, I think any survey of the people of God would indicate an overwhelming preference that priests and religious wear a distinctive garb or habit. Lastly, from the standpoint of vocations it would seem that any order that has set aside the habit is doomed to eventual extinction. It is clear that the orders that preserve the wearing of the habit along with common life, common prayer, and a focused apostolate are doing better, some quite well, with vocations. Orders that have set aside the habit are largely dying out. It is not the habit alone, I am sure, but the habit (or lack thereof) does signify something important about the health of the religious community.

What is the purpose of a religious habit? Religious life is not hidden, neither is it occasional. To enter the priesthood or religious life is to publicly accept the consecration of one’s whole self to the service of God and neighbor. That is why the most traditional religious garb covers the whole body. It is more than a tee-shirt, a hat or an emblem of some sort. It is a covering of the whole body to indicate the entirety of the consecration.

Further, each habit is distinctive since each religious community has a particular charism or gift by which they collectively serve the Church. Religious and priests do not merely consecrate themselves for their own agenda. Rather they join others with a similar and proven charisms in communities recognized by the Church.

The word “habit” also suggests that religious life and priesthood are not an occasional activity, or even a 9 to 5 job. The are the habitual identity and life of the one who receives the call. That is also why the habit is usually worn at all times.

The widespread disappearance of clerical garb and religious habits back in the 1970s was a disturbing trend. Many religious and priests no longer saw themselves as set apart, as distinctive. Many wanted to blend in and also lost a sense of the charism of their order. Many also preferred anonymity since it made them less busy and they no longer had to live as “public” people. However, many newer orders have emerged which once again wear the habit faithfully. Further, many older orders either never wholly abandoned it or have re-emphasized its importance. This is praiseworthy. If you are a lay person, encourage priests and religious as you see them about bearing witness to the their consecration by the way they dress and reminding others of God and the Kingdom of God.

Here is a site which shows photos of the traditional habits of women’s religious orders: http://www.nunsandsisters.com/Photographs.html

If this post seems familiar, it is, I have re-posted it from about a year ago since I had no time to write a blog for today. I also suppose some newer readers may have missed it.

Enjoy this video of the secrets of the habit:

"I’m So Busy, I Met Myself Coming Back!" A Quick Reflection on the Week of A Priest

When I was a young priest I used to bring communion to an elderly woman who would often puzzle over what on earth a priest would do on days other than Sunday. “You must be rather bored” she’d often say. “Oh, not exactly!” I would retort. “Well, what can you possibly have to do after you say Mass?” “Well, of course I am here visiting you!” “Well, that just takes a few minutes” she’d say. “Well, I do have few other things to do this week:”

  1. The other 15 sick calls I have through the week,
  2. the daily visits to the school,
  3. the evening appointments for marriage prep., marriage counseling, meetings with spiritual directees,
  4. Weekly RCIA instructions,
  5. Weekly Bible Study,
  6. Hospital calls,
  7. Funeral on Wednesday,
  8. Sermon prep,
  9. I have to remember to prepare of class notes for the Adult Education class on Sunday,
  10. 2pm Staff meeting,
  11. 10:00 am Saturday Parish Council,
  12. Finance Council meeting Thursday,
  13. Youth group meeting Friday night,
  14. School staff meeting Friday at 3:30pm
  15. Meeting with CCD teachers to discuss curriculum changes,
  16. Boiler contractor wants to discuss water treatment
  17. Gotta remember to call cleaning supply vendor regarding his proposal.
  18. Looks like the diocesan meeting was cancelled (whew!) but rescheduled for next week (whew!),
  19. The Synder’s want to schedule a house blessing,
  20. The interfaith network is a requesting a clergy meeting for next Tuesday
  21. Mr Evans has planned a meeting of the evangelization planning committee and I have to call and confirm that I can be there briefly to discuss the walking strategy on Wednesday evening before Bible Study.
  22. I should probably mention that there are often walk up appointments at the rectory requesting to see the priest,
  23. 15 – 20 Phone messages a day to be returned
  24. And then there’s those moments where a staff member sticks her head in the door and says, “Oh by the Father, the school staff is upset at the way the Ladies Guild left the stove on again and the principle wants to talk with you about it before the staff meeting.” “Oh, and Father? That strange man is back in the church again and he’s scaring the ladies in the rosary group. Could you go over and take a look?….And, by the way Father, remember to call Mrs. Deale who wants to start Eucharistic Adoration in the parish and wants you to preach more on it and attend an organizational meeting next Tuesday…..”
  25. Oh, I forgot to mention the evening Wedding this Saturday and that I make a daily holy hour and say Mass each day.

“Ah, yes,” I said to her: “Not much to do, really.”  🙂

And this description I gave her was all back in the days before cell phones, e-mail, and blogging!  But its all good; just sometimes too much of a good thing! Yet I wouldn’t have it any other way. And truth be told, we priests are busy, but not so much busier than most people. I think of my brothers who work all day and then come home to homes full of kids and ten thousand, thousand things to do each week. Their wives too, have lists that are endless, and I’ll bet you do as well. Life is full, but also fulfilling, if we find some boundaries, and love what we do by God’s grace.

All this to introduce a very good video that depicts the week of a parish priest. It is a very good production which I hope you’ll enjoy as much as I. The life of a priest is rich, and varied. But please understand that, from time to time when you call, we might not be at our desk waiting to answer the phone. The vineyard beckons!

Photo adapted from a photo at Edublogs

A Sacramental Six-Pack on the Eve of My 50th Birthday: A Brief Snapshot of the Gift of the Priesthood

This Past Sunday I celebrated my 50th Birthday and of all the gifts I received, I must say I got the best from the Lord who delivered it in a “strange package.”

It began the day before as I arose and realized with some dread that I had surely over-committed myself. As I looked at my calendar I saw that I had scheduled four Masses and luncheon meeting. “How could I be so crazy!” I told myself as I prayed in the groggy early morning. The Lord remained quiet but I sensed he was smiling just a bit.

The first Mass was at 8:00am and was the most straight forward. It was a very pleasant Mass with the Sisters in the Convent. I offered it for the repose of my Mother. When she was alive I always bought her flowers on my birthday, since I figured she did all the work, and I just showed up. If anyone deserved a gift she did. Now that she has departed this life, my gift to her is Mass for her happy repose. A nice but brief breakfast followed with the sisters. They are always so kind to me. And so here was the first of the six sacraments I would celebrate that day: Holy Eucharist.

The second Mass was at 10:00 am, a solemn high Latin Nuptial Mass for a wonderful young couple from Africa, both of them studying medicine here in the States. God be praised, it was a beautiful Mass, with all the ceremony and splendor that the Traditional Latin Mass offers. But it was a workout, coming in at an hour and a half. And here was the second of six sacraments I would celebrate that day, Holy Matrimony along with Holy Eucharist, again.

A luncheon followed with parish leaders at noon. Here too, a wonderful occasion. I have so many wonderful leaders. God be praised. They surprised me with a birthday cake and three different versions of Happy Birthday.

By now I felt a nap coming on, but no time for that….I have miles to go before I sleep.

The third Mass was at 2pm. It was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the Sacraments of Initiation for woman who had been delayed for over two years while “canonical issues” were resolved. At long last she had her green light, and there was no way I was going to make her wait until next Easter. With her family in the Chapel we celebrated big time with Mass wherein she received her Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist AND had her marriage validated! Wow, God is good. She’d had a long wait, and was so patient. It was so satisfying to finally see her through. And here were the third and fourth of the six sacraments I would celebrate that day: Baptism and Confirmation, along with Holy Matrimony and Holy Eucharistic, again, and again.

It’s 4:00pm now. Time to go hear confessions in Church. And here was the fifth sacrament I would celebrate that day: Confession.

At 4:30pm Mass # 4 and Holy Eucharist again, Mass number four!

6:00 pm – Time to chill. “Lord you really made me work this weekend. That’s a strange thing to do to me on my birthday weekend!” There’s that silent smile of the Lord again. What’s he up to? Sure enough: the phone rings. Hospital call! And not even nearby. I am mindful of the words of Mother Teresa who said that the Lord told her he’d never give her more than she could take. She only wished that the Lord didn’t trust her so much! Off to anoint the critically ill. And thus the sixth sacrament I celebrated: Anointing of the Sick

Well, there you have it. My gift in a “strange package,” a sacramental six-pack, every sacrament I can possibly celebrate. It was a bone-crusher of a day but God is so good. I don’t suppose a priest could have any better gift that to be reminded so powerfully of his purpose on the eve of his 50th birthday.

But God knows me well enough to realize that he had to send a prophet to decode it all for me, just to make sure I got it. It came on Sunday afternoon, the evening of my birthday. Two of the Sisters came from the Convent presented me with a cake and sang happy birthday.

Innocently they asked me how my birthday weekend had gone. “Do you have a few minutes Sisters?” I said. And I told them the whole story.

One of them looked at me and said, “Do you see what God was saying to you on your 50th birthday? He was saying, ‘This is why I created you.'”

Yes, that is what he was saying alright. And it was the best gift I could have received.

Cardinal McCarrick: “What Is a Priest?” from Rocco Palmo on Vimeo.

On The Power of Personal Witness in the Priestly Proclamation

I was at a meeting of the Seminary Council  today for one of our diocesan seminaries. It is the Redemptoris Mater Seminary of the Neocatechumenal Way that is currently training almost thirty of our Washington men for priestly Ministry.  Four men are currently stepping forward for Holy Orders this Spring and they each spoke to the Council, seeking our prayers and recommendation to the Cardinal.

They are all fine men. But what most impressed me is that, when they were asked to tell us a little something about themselves, they went beyond the mere, date of birth, country of origin, basic course of studies, sort of answer. Rather, they each gave personal testimony of how the Lord has both ministered to them and transformed them. These men were witnesses of the Lord and his power.

Each of them spoke of how the Lord rescued them from various afflictions, family and personal struggles, and agnostic and/or ambivalent tendencies. They spoke of how the Lord called them and made a way for them, how He has transformed their lives.

I told each of them how important it is for them to share this personal witness with the people they serve. They really did not need for me to say this, since the Neocatechumenal Way has personal witness and testimony as an important hallmark of their formation and liturgical experience.

I too have discovered the importance of the priest bearing personal witness to the gospel in his preaching, teaching and daily life. I have discovered that our people need, and are hungry for, those of us who preach to move beyond mere slogans, information and abstract homilies, to a personal witness of the truth. We cannot simply proclaim the truth, we have to know, to experience that it is true. We have to be first hand witnesses and to be able to say how we have personally experienced the power of of the Cross of Jesus Christ to put sin to death and bring newness of life to us.

St. Paul wrote, If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). The danger for a bishop, priest or deacon who preaches, is that we just quote the Scripture more as a slogan or handy phrase. But what is supposed to happen is that the preacher is able to say:

Yes, if anyone is in Christ he IS a new creation, and I can personally say to you, my people, that this is true not only because it is in the Bible, but because it is happening in my life. I, am a new creation. I am seeing my life changed and transformed by the cross of Jesus Christ. Through the sacraments, his Word, prayer and the ministry of the Church, Jesus Christ is setting me free from sin and every negative thing in my life. He is breaking the chains of the things which held me in bondage. He is giving me a new mind, and new heart. I love people I never thought I could love! I am more chaste than I ever thought possible.  Serenity and joy are replacing fear and depression. I am more and more a man of hope, confidence and courage. Yes, I AM a new creation. What the Lord says is true, and I am a witness. I’m not what I want to be, but I’m not what I used to be. A wonderful change has come over me.

I am convinced that many Catholics long to hear their clergy speak with conviction and like men who have actually met Jesus Christ. Of course, before they speak  such things, they  actually have to be true.

I am glad that the men who testified today have actually met Jesus Christ and experienced his power. They have something to say because something real has happened to them. And herein lies the necessity not only for clergy, but for parents and all Christians who are called to evangelize. It is absolutely critical that we personally know the Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of his Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. It is essential that, in the laboratory of our own lives, we have tested the Word of God and found it to be true. And from these experiences we can preach, speak and witness with authority.

We preach with authority only if we have met the “Author” and felt his power to transform our lives. Otherwise we risk giving information, but without the conviction or personal witness that helps people to transformation. We can say all the right an orthodox things, but then comes the ultimate question: “That’s all very nice, but how do I know it is true?” And the preacher, the teacher the parent, the catechist, the evangelizer, has got to be able to say in response, “Look at me….I promise you it is true because it is happening in my life. I promise you in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ that a completely new life is available to you, and I am a first hand witness of it.”

Of course to be able to say all this requires that it is actually happening. That’s why it is so important for the priest, parent and any Church leader to tend to their own spiritual life. To study the Word of God and see its truth in the laboratory of their own life, to consider well the evidence and gather their own testimony.

Fulton Sheen once remarked something to the effect that we have tried every other way to evangelize and grow the Church: seminars, workshops, committees, new  music, liturgical creativity. All to little avail. But one thing only has not been tried: holiness. Yes, authentic transformation that comes, only when we finally take the Lord up on his offer, and take his word seriously that we are, and can become, a new creation.

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. St. Paul couldn’t look this up and quote it like a slogan. He had to write it. And before he wrote it he actually experienced it. So when Paul says this, its not a slogan, it is a surety, it is an experienced truth.

This is what the Church needs, humble but strong preachers who have confirmed the Word of God in their own life. Men who can boast, not of what they have done, but what the Lord has done for them through the power of his cross to put sin to death and bring grace alive.  And from experience comes authority, for they have met the Author of their salvation.

Thanks be to God for these men at the seminary today, and for their witness, their testimony, their “boasting” in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf Gal 6:14).

Photo Above right is of Redemptoris Mater Seminary, Wash. DC and was taken by me

This Songs says, You Should be Witness…..Why don’t you testify? Don’t be afraid to be a witness for the Lord….Stand up and be a witness!