Jesus was talking
to us -- to all of us . . . but in a special way, to His
priests. If a priest does not actively share his love of Jesus Christ
with others, it diminishes in his own heart. Priests who do not
live that love and share it, lose it. And no priest can be happy
without it. That's what St. Paul meant when he wrote, "Woe to me
if I do not preach the Gospel." It's not that God "punishes" those
who do not preach God's word, but rather, the joy of Christ's presence
can only be had by sharing Him with others. The priest, like any
parent or any lover, "gets" by giving away. So if Baptism indelibly
marks every Christian as a missionary, Orders takes that vocation
even further, intimately and permanently configuring a man to Christ
Himself, the greatest Lover of them all. It's that simple.
The world needs
Jesus Christ as never before. As a Church in the first years of
a new era, we find ourselves in the midst of a powerful, secular,
educated, economically successful and bitterly divided society.
Make no mistake: We live in mission territory. This is the new Areopagus.
This is the kind of environment John Paul II had in mind in 1985,
when he spoke to the Pontifical Council for Culture.
Listen to his
words: "You must help the Church respond to [the] fundamental questions
for the cultures of today: How is the message of the Church accessible
to the new cultures, to contemporary forms of understanding and
sensitivity? How can the Church make herself understood by the modern
spirit, so proud of its achievements, and at the same time so uneasy
for the future of the human family?"
And hear this
passage from Crossing the Threshold of Hope: "Against the
spirit of the world, the Church takes up anew each day a struggle
that is none other than the struggle for the world's soul
. . . As the Year 2000 approaches, the world feels an urgent need
for the Gospel . . . " If Jesus Christ is the answer to the world's
longing, and the priest is His primary minister of word and sacrament,
then the implications are clear. Each of us should reflect long
and prayerfully on the meaning of the "new evangelization" -- the
idea that a new missionary spirit needs to be born in each of our
hearts, and if it is, that God will use it to win the soul of the
world to Christ. But above all, we should ponder how to better
form and support our priests. That's only proper, because there's
no Gospel witness without the Church; there's no Church without
the Eucharist; and there's no Eucharist without the priest. We need
more priests -- good men who are well formed; men who love Jesus
Christ and His people. That's the first and most urgent step in
renewing our Church.
if it stops there -- no matter how many good seminarians
we attract -- we fail. Because ultimately, if there's no Church
without the Eucharist, and no Eucharist without the priest . . .
there are no priests without families on fire with Christ. Families
who help their sons hear God's call; who affirm and support and
encourage the priests who already serve them; who live their lives
in a way which proves to our priests that their sacrifices make
what I pray God allows us to help Him build in our country over
the next decade, is not just an old way of seminary formation with
a new vocabulary and an updated marketing strategy, but something
true to what the "new evangelization" really is -- a communion and
mission of the whole Church, ordained, religious and lay,
each respecting the other, each serving the other, all serving the
Lord by bringing the Good News to the world, and the world to the
the equality of the faithful: each unique; each complementing and
completing the other; altogether in service; and on fire with God.
I hope in 20 years we can look back on the Great Jubilee and say,
this is where God began something new. And if we can, then like
Simeon, we can go home to Him in gratitude and peace.
Over the past
year, I've come to know all of our seminarians here in the Archdiocese
of Denver quite well -- and all of them are outstanding men. In
a very practical way, an embodiment of the new evangelization can
already be found right in our Colorado backyard, in Denver's Redemptoris
Mater Missionary Seminary. These young men from the Neo-Catechumenal
Way have come from all over the world to be our sons and brothers
in service to our Church. They're our future priests now,
just as deeply and truly as the seminarians who were born here in
Denver. And that's a sign of the Holy Spirit, who uses all the new
apostolic and renewal movements in the Church today to create a
kind of "holy restlessness" in our midst, and shake us out of our
complacency. Complacency is the enemy of mission. It's the enemy
of the Gospel, and the enemy of the Christian life.
All of these
men have led me back in prayer to St. Francis of Assisi. Not because
I'm a Capuchin, but because they remind me of Christ's words to
Francis to "repair my house." These seminarians are the new Francis.
God will use them -- and the laypeople and religious who work alongside
them fraternally -- to renew His house. In fact, in some ways, I
think Francis is the paradigm of Church renewal for every age. He
lived in a time at least as complicated as our own. Society and
the Church were in upheaval. The feudal system was falling apart.
For most of his life, Francis was lost in that confusion. But in
his experience of faith and prayer, he came to some basic insights.
And these gave him freedom, and enabled him to live the Gospel life
with simplicity and clarity in such a way that he not only was converted
himself, but became a leader of conversion in the Church and society.
of St. Francis was very simple, and every priest and seminarian
would do well to ponder it. He experienced God as a loving Father.
And knowing that a father would not give his son a scorpion when
he asks for bread, he began to live in a world where he believed
in the love of God and reflected it himself as a trusting child.
Of course, this led to his identification with Christ, the Son in
whom we become God's children. Francis desired to make the way of
Jesus Christ his own way as well.
this relationship with God as Father and Christ as Brother, Francis
began to encounter people in a new way. They were sisters and brothers
to him, because they were sons and daughters of God, and sisters
and brothers to Jesus Christ.
called on his brothers to live the Gospel simply and honestly. He
used the words "without gloss" or sine glossa in his Testament.
Francis understood that the Gospel wasn't complicated . . . but
it was demanding and difficult. The theologians and lawyers of the
day had written commentaries. They were called glosses, which would
either explain away the demand, or argue away our responsibility
for following the letter of the Gospel. Francis wanted none of that.
He wanted the real thing, not a counterfeit. He wanted love,
real selfless love, not a collection of caveats, excuses and
qualifiers. He wanted to be dependent on nothing but the loving
care of God.
we need to focus on in the days ahead . We're entering a new millennium,
and it's vital for us to become new women and new men; new parents
and new families; new parishes and new priests . . . to put
away the conflicts of the past, and to give ourselves absolutely
If we can
model that to our young men . . . then the "vocations crisis" will
take care of itself.