Sunday, April 21, 2013

To know Jesus more fully, to love him more deeply - the one true goal of our life in formation, the guarantee that we shall one day be able to feed God's flock and not allow them to starve. (Reflections on Good Shepherd Sunday, John 10:27-30)

"Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach".

Eleven times yesterday, we heard Bishop Lynch speak those words. Eleven times, he spoke those words to the young men he was ordaining to the diaconate, as they held the Scriptures in their hands.

“Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach”.

Several of those guys were my first housemates at the Pre-theology houses when I first came to St. John Vianney: Matias, Steve, Kyle, and Brian. Carlos, Fenly and Jonathan attended my philosophy classes; Wesler, I got to know last summer, and Matthew and Brian I met during the diaconal retreat about a month ago. And so it was a great joy to finally see them ordained, as it will be a joy to hopefully see you guys ordained a few years from now.

Time flies; and in seminary, time seems to fly even faster. Have you ever wondered why? Perhaps some of you will recall St. Augustine’s idea of the distentio animae, the “distention of the soul” and the distinction he makes between "chronological" and "phenomenological" time. (He doesn't quite use these terms, of course.) God’s time, he says, isn't like ours; perhaps the best way to describe it is to say it’s congealed. It’s as if past, present and future, dwell in a single instant, an “eternal now”.

Why does seminary time seem to go too fast? Because without us realizing it, we have been, in a very real sense, living a sliver of God’s time. Everything we do, everything we're asked to do in seminary - ideally at least - we do in His presence. And to live in that presence is to have a foretaste of the “eternal now”. We lose track of time, because we are lost in God’s embrace, immersed in His time.

Our time in seminary is therefore short. Eight years might seem too long, but it isn’t. The four, three, or two years you spend at St. John Vianney might seem long; two semesters might seem long, but as we all know, they really aren’t. And in a little less than three weeks, this will all be over. This year, with all its joys and challenges, will be no more than a memory, a memory that will only grow dimmer, more faint, as you move closer to your own day of ordination.

“Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach”.

The brevity of our time in formation makes it all the more important for us take stock of Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel: “My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me”.

Our time in seminary is meant to accomplish only one thing: to enable us to grow in knowledge and in love of Jesus, to enable us to listen more attentively to his voice, and to hear his voice alone – to be able to distinguish the voice of the Good Shepherd from among the many other voices that will always be competing for our attention.

In less than three weeks, this year, these two semesters that were meant to lead you deeper into your knowledge and relationship with Christ, will come to an end. [I still have vivid memories of my first day of intro to philosophy with Dan, Ion, Blake, and Luis. In less than three weeks, they shall wake up and it will be graduation day – their last full day as students of this place.]

In a few more weeks, you shall all wake up, and your year at St. John Vianney will be over. Have we grown in our knowledge and love of Jesus? Have we grown in knowledge and love for our vocation, for the Church?

“Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach”.

Seminary is the time to “read” (and I don’t mean that in the literal sense). Rather, it is the time to seriously commit ourselves to learning, to building ourselves up, interiorly, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, and physically. This is the time to grow in knowledge and love of Jesus, so that one day, when each of you is publicly called upon by the Church – as the eleven men were called yesterday – you will have something truly substantial to “believe”, something substantial to “teach”, and something authentic to “practice” in your ministry of service to God’s people.

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. You will one day be called by the Church to be shepherds yourselves. You will be asked to feed God’s flock – as Jesus asked Peter in last Sunday’s gospel.

Today, I invite you to remember an old saying:  Nemo dat quod non habet. “No one gives what he does not have.” If we do not “read”, that is, if we do not learn, study, and grow in knowledge and love of Christ while we’re in seminary, we will have nothing to believe, we will have nothing to practice, we will have nothing to teach. And our flock will one day starve, because we will have nothing to feed them.

Our time in seminary is short; do not waste any minute of it. Make your every moment count.

“Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach”.   

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)