By Donald Cardinal Wuerl
It is a great joy for me to be back here at Saint Vincent Archabbey and Saint Vincent Seminary where I have had the great privilege of serving for many, many years on the Board of Regents together with Mr. John Marous who is being honored in a particular way thisa evening. His leadership as chairman of the Board of Regents, his vision and his dedication are woven into the very fabric of this institution.In a particular way, I want to thank Archabbot Douglas Nowicki, O.S.B., for his warm welcome, the gracious invitation to be here and for his leadership that has meant so much and had such a positive effect on the archabbey, the college and, of course, the seminary.
It is also a pleasure to be here for the Saint Vincent Seminary Alumni Day and salute alumni from the classes of 1951, 1961, 1971 and 1986.I would like to share with you today some reflections on why I believe all of us have such an affection, regard and respect for this archabbey and its seminary.
The starting point can very well be the Gospel today in which we are reminded that we are supposed to be the light—the lamp placed on the lamp stand. While that admonition is true of every age since Jesus first called his disciples to be true children of the light, it is undoubtedly intended for our ears, minds and hearts today as Saint Vincent Seminary prepares future priests for the Church that faces unique challenges today in a world that needs the light from that lamp stand more than ever.
Every generation has faced its own challenges and, therefore, responses. Certainly those ordained in 1951 and 1961 faced a Church with issues very different from those who were ordained in 1971 and, certainly, than those who were ordained in 1986. Once priesthood was defined almost entirely in terms of sacramental ministry. In an earlier period in the life the Church in the United States, the leadership element of priesthood was very significant. The priest was often the spokesman for the immigrant faithful. In our day, catechetical renewal and the call for the New Evangelization calls us to emphasize the teaching—prophetic—ministry of the priest.
Today I would like to reflect with you on what I shared with the men whom I ordained to the priesthood in June. These reflections are all the more appropriate since they reflect the instruction and formation that every candidate to the priesthood receives here at Saint Vincent Seminary. I want to highlight two points: 1) the unchanging nature of the priesthood and 2) the dramatically changing nature of the context of our ministry.The priest, by virtue of the consecration which he receives in the sacrament of orders, is configured to Christ as priest and shepherd of his people. Through the priesthood which arises from the depth of the ineffable mystery of God, from the love of the Father, the grace of Jesus Christ and the communion of the Holy Spirit, the man who is ordained, sacramentally but really, enters into a union with Christ in order to serve the people of God and draw all people to Christ.
The one and unchanging priesthood is lived out and exercised in circumstances that change from age to age, generation to generation. This brings us to reflect on our moment of history. Those preparing for priesthood recognize they are to be the priests of the Church renewed in the pontificate of Blessed John Paul II. They are to be priests of the new millennium. They are to be priests of the New Evangelization.All ministry today has to be seen in the context of the Church that rejoices in and reflects the legacy of Blessed John Paul II, that recognizes the challenges of the new millennium and embraces the call to the New Evangelization. That same vision and direction continue with renewed emphasis by our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.
This vision calls the Church and, therefore, each of us to realize that it is Christ who offers us the answers to the great questions of life. At the same time, we must recognize as did Blessed John Paul II with such insistence that ours is an age of the New Evangelization because we live at a time when entire generations have become disassociated from the faith and from the very support systems that once facilitated the transmission of the faith.
The task of priestly ministry today includes the reawakening of the ecclesial context of all we are, teach and do. We are part of a great living tradition that finds its beginnings in Jesus’ revelation, his Gospel and his word. Yet this life-giving Word has a home. Pope Benedict XVI, in his apostolic exhortation Verbum Domini, tells us once again, “The home of God’s Word is his Church.”
It is precisely the living continuity we have with the Gospel through the apostles that allows us today to proclaim with assurance that these are the words of everlasting life.Two thousand years ago, Jesus came to tell us of a truly good, wholesome and right way to live. He taught us that we are made in the image and likeness of God, that there is a God-given plan for human living and that we are all capable of making our way through life as a family — responsible for each other and responsive to God’s law.
Jesus offered us a vision of a world where we would work with God to make his presence felt. Jesus called it the kingdom of God. This is what he said he came to announce. “The kingdom of God is at hand” (Mk 1:15).The faithful proclamation of the kingdom and all that it entails is part of the proud heritage of the Order of Saint Benedict. A thousand years intervened between the collapse of the Roman world, with its history, law, literature and ancient expression of the faith, on to the Renaissance and the rebirth of the Western world. In that millennium, the institution that made an effort to nourish, develop and pass on the fruit of the intellect was the Church and, very often, that was in the form and person of Benedictine monks.
In the midst of all that upheaval and diminishment, there was one great shining light. The sons of Saint Benedict began to make their way across Europe, then into the New World and on to their home now in Western Pennsylvania, all the time sustaining centers of spiritual life and learning. Today we fast forward from that turbulent time to our own day and here we see the continuity between the great monastic foundations and their commitment to their proclamation of the Gospel and Saint Vincent Archabbey and Saint Vincent College and Seminary.
Just as throughout its history, the Order of Saint Benedict was open to the gift of the Spirit, so, too, must we, in the age of the New Evangelization, be open to the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit. It is the movement of the Spirit that leads all of us. It is the nudging of the Spirit that brings men here to this seminary. It is in the outpouring of the Spirit that someday they will walk united with Christ at the service of his Bride, the Church.
As we celebrate this evening the commitment of the Board of Regents and its Chairman, Mr. John Marous, to the vision of Saint Vincent Archabbey that is so well nurtured by its extraordinary Archabbot, Douglas, and the devotion, commitment and love of the Benedictine monks of this great archabbey, we have reason to rejoice and reason to give thanks to God. As we salute those who have served and continue to serve this archabbey and seminary, we rejoice because we know what this seminary means, not only to you, dear seminarians, but what it means for the Church, what it means for Christ and his Gospel. We are deeply grateful to the Benedictine community, the faculty of the seminary and tonight, in a very special way, to its Board of Regents and to its chairman because when we look at this seminary, what we see is a house of academic, pastoral, spiritual and personal formation that is preparing agents of the New Evangelization, heralds of the Holy Spirit, priests reflective of the incredible ministry of Blessed John Paul II. May God continue to pour out his blessings on this seminary as we look to the future, as we look to the Church’s great and enduring ministry of bringing light to the world, what we see is the faith of this archabbey, the faith of this seminary, the faith of these young future priests.May God who has begun this good work in you continue to bless it.