Pope Benedict XVI announced the Year of Faith in October 2011 in the apostolic letter Porta Fidei in which he recalls Saint Paul’s apostolic ministry in Acts 14 when Paul was beaten and left for dead in a desert. This did not stop or prevent Paul from carrying out the mission entrusted to him. Paul recovers and continues to appoint presbyters, build up faith communities, and preach the Gospel. Paul offers prayers of thanksgiving to God for opening the “doors of faith” in the hearts of men. This prayer recognizes that the principle agent of evangelization is the Holy Spirit. However, when the doors of faith are opened someone needs to walk through those doors.
Today, we are seeing an increase in priestly vocations throughout the United States. The abuse scandals of the past, high profile television priests who have left the priesthood, threats against religious liberty, and the sweeping winds of secularism have not prevented men from accepting the challenge to discern a priestly vocation. As a matter of fact, it seems that today’s seminarian is emboldened. He wants to defend the Church; he is zealous in wanting to preach the Gospel; he has a renewed sense of reverence and awe for the sacred liturgy.
In this Year of Faith we are praying that God opens the hearts of men in order for the Church to proclaim the saving mysteries of Jesus Christ. Consider the old adage – be careful for what you ask for, you might just get it. Hence, the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization is taking place at the start of the Year of Faith. No coincidence. The Holy Father is asking the entire Church to embrace the new evangelization for it is this mission that responds to the obstacles and the open attacks on people of faith.
When Jesus began his public ministry, he reads from the prophet Isaiah: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me: a confident recognition in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of the Lord is upon the Church and upon our seminarians. A discernment of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is an essential moment of evangelization. How is the Spirit of the Lord upon me?
Apostles of The Way
The Year of Faith is not a program; the new evangelization is not a program; the mission of the Church is not a program. Our faith is a way of life. It is a way of life that takes us into the deep waters of culture where man finds himself. The mission entrusted to the apostles and to the whole Church is bold, specific, and deliberate: to teach and baptize all nations.
The new evangelization requires new evangelizers. Our seminarians are being prepared to embrace the new evangelization. In a spirit of humility seminary formators need to ask ourselves: how is the Spirit of the Lord upon a seminary? There is something organic in seminary formation. We can never get ourselves stuck into one view of how to prepare future priests. The Holy Father, an eyewitness to the Second Vatican Council, a principle agent of Blessed John Paul II’s pontificate, a driving force behind the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and now the Successor of Saint Peter, is leading the Church by example. How is the Holy Spirit blessing our seminarians and how as a Church are we responding to their needs?
I was reminded recently that there have been nearly 20 new rectors appointed to seminaries in the United States in the last two years. Bishops are eager to be sure that seminaries today are indeed responding to the call of a new evangelization. With an increase in priestly vocations and considering the unique gifts that today’s seminarians bring to the Church we are all assessing how seminary formation is being tailored to meet the challenges of pastoral ministry.
The Year of Faith is an exciting time for the Church and for seminaries. Let us pray that as God opens the hearts of men, we have the courage to walk through those doors to live and preach the Gospel of Christ.