Two weeks ago, the priests of the Archdiocese gathered along with our seminarians for our annual presbyteral assembly at Saint Meinrad Seminary. We traditionally meet in the first week of June each year for prayer, fraternity and ongoing formation. We missed last year because of COVID-19 restrictions, and I missed the majority of the assembly in 2019 because of my cancer treatments.
After so many months of limited in-person contact, it was so good for us to be together at the Holy Eucharist, at meals and in support of one another.
Sulpician Father Bob Leavitt, known to many from St. Mary Seminary in Baltimore, gave very fine talks on evangelizing in a secular age, and we all profited from his insights and the tone of his presentations.
How fitting were his words as we seek to reach out to invite all back to in-person presence at the Holy Eucharist in the post-Covid era.
On the final day of the assembly, I had the privilege of entering into an hour and a half conversation in a question-and-answer format that allowed for some free exchange with my brother priests. Good and honest exchange is so necessary today, and it is especially important for us to be present to one another. I pray that this exchange will be a healthy model for interaction in the coming year.
I also gave the homily at the final Eucharistic celebration and spoke about a healthy and a holy presbyterate. Like a bank account, we make both deposits and withdrawals. Some priests are especially apt to contribute to the health and vibrancy of our presbyterate. Some years ago, one of our own, Father Ron Knott, wrote a wonderful little book entitled “Intentional Presbyterate,” in which he related the commitment that each priest should have to building up the gathering of priests with the bishop in each diocese. I must say that I believe the spirit within our presbyterate is both healthy and seeking the path of holiness. I could not be prouder.
The homily, based on the readings of the day, identified three marks of a healthy presbyterate. The first is a spirit of reconciliation in which we make it easy for one another to take the first step either to say, “I forgive you” or “I am sorry.”
Like in a strong family, that capacity to both forgive and be forgiven is a sign of strength and health in the presbyterate.
The second mark, again coming from Sacred Scripture, is to avoid discouragement and in fact to be “a son of encouragement.” In the month of June, we celebrate the feast of St. Barnabas, whose name literally means “son of encouragement.” Heartfelt, encouraging and sincere words build up the body of the presbyterate.
The final mark from the morning’s Scripture invites each of us to preach Christ Jesus and not ourselves. Every priest begins ministry seeking to live Christ and to preach Christ. However, we need to encourage one another in our prayer, study and dialogue with each other to continue to deepen our relationship with Jesus Christ so that our words and actions reveal the priest as one who seeks to live Christ Jesus and to be a true “alter Christus.”
June 24 is the nativity of St. John the Baptist, the precursor of Christ, who through a simple lifestyle, bold and courageous preaching and humble pointing to the Lord Jesus is a powerful example for every priest. He is the one who said that he must decrease so Christ might increase.
Please pray for our priests who seek to serve the faithful and who pray each day for you and for the whole world. Pray that we might be signs of reconciliation, of encouragement and of living Christ in our lives. Like St. John the Baptist, may we decrease so that Christ might increase. As Christ increases, the spirit of a holy and healthy presbyterate will grow.