Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Letters to the 62 Brave Young Men with whom I had the Privilege to Stand in the Eye of the Storm. First Letter: "Only By Prayer".

"In the midst of the flames the three young men cried out with one voice: "Blessed be God. Alleluia"." (From the Breviary)

Dear Zeke,

The past couple of weeks have been very tough for our Church, haven’t they? Perhaps that’s an understatement. I know a number of your brother-seminarians are absolutely distressed with everything that has been going on. And I know it hasn’t been easy for you either. 

The experience our community had at St. Augustine’s parish, with students from the University of Miami and a number of other Catholics from the neighboring area was certainly an eye-opener for all of us. The fury - but also the hurt that we all felt as a number of them got up, not really to ask questions, but to simply express their outrage at what they feel is a situation that seems to be spiraling out of control in our Church – how could anyone among those of us present ever forget what that was like? I think it will be forever seared in my consciousness.

And there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight for the bad news. This morning, as I prepared for Mass, I was told that there was more of it in the papers. It took all my effort and energy to keep my focus on Christ throughout the liturgy; it was very painful. At breakfast, as I saw all of you young seminarians filing into the dining room, I wish there was some way to make all of this go away – so you could concentrate on your studies, your prayer, your apostolic work, your sports and community activities, your discernment. I wish it would all simply end so we could get on with our lives.But I know that’s wishful thinking. 

There must be a reason why God has allowed all this to happen, and why He has called you and your brother-seminarians to discern a vocation to the priesthood at this very difficult and dark juncture in the life of the Church. 

There have been a number of occasions when, looking at all of you there in the chapel, kneeling in prayer, or sitting before the Blessed Sacrament, I find myself asking God to spare all of you the heartache of this storm that has engulfed the Church. We live in very sad times. I can only imagine what each one of you is feeling, what each of you says to God when you pray, what each of you thinks whenever you are asked by family or friends how you’re doing. How painful it must be.

I am truly sorry. I’m sorry we who are in positions of leadership haven’t been able to do much to shield you from this storm. I’m sorry this is the kind of situation and context in which you and many other young men like yourself, have to make your discernment. I’m sorry the environment isn’t as pleasant and peaceful and tranquil as it was when our generation first entered seminary. Although even back then there were already dark clouds looming on the horizon. I often feel like a father wanting to shield and protect his sons; but many times, before the immensity of this storm, I too feel absolutely helpless, just like you. I am so sorry.

At the same time, these profound emotions will mean very little unless they give birth to concrete resolutions and actions that will allow you to discern the workings of God’s Spirit even in the midst of all the pain and disillusionment, concrete deeds that can shine a light even in the blackest and darkest of nights. 

Words are cheap, and emotions are fleeting. And so I ask myself, what is a good father to do? What does the Lord ask me to do? For you. His sons. His flock. His seminarians. His future priests. That, each night, is what I ask Him. What do you want me to do for the young men you called to follow in the footsteps of your Son during these most difficult and troubling of times? What would you have me do, for them? What, in this powerless state, can I do? What can we all do?

This morning at Holy Hour, I brought my heartache to the Lord and let him know once more how I was feeling about all that’s been going on around us. He was silent as usual. But then as I read the scriptures, a particular story jumped out. It was the story of the disciples attempting to heal a young boy who had been sick because of an evil spirit. Unable to heal him despite their best efforts, they went to Jesus and quietly asked why they were unsuccessful. Something in his answer really hit me. “This kind,” he says to them, “can only be cast out by prayer and fasting.” (Mark 9:29) “By prayer” – I think this was the Lord’s answer to my question and distress as well. 

At the end of the gathering we had at the parish last Thursday night, a lady – who I’m sure was simply speaking from out of her own pain – said rather angrily to me, “Enough with prayers already; we want the truth!”

Yet how can we give up on praying, on asking the Lord for mercy, for forgiveness, for guidance, direction and strength?

When everything is said and done, when we’ve done absolutely everything in our power so that these dark days might never again return, it is He and He alone who will ultimately calm the storm and end the suffering His People are going through. We can only do our best, we can only cooperate, we only ask, we can only beg, we can only pray.

Rather than give up on praying then – as many who have become disillusioned and jaded feel like doing – I think we need to intensify our prayer even more. I promise to do so, and I ask that you join me in this resolution as well.

Let us tether ourselves even more strongly to the Lord, really present in our midst. Let us really commit ourselves to praying, whether this be Morning, Evening, or Night Prayer, or our personal Holy Hour and visits to the Blessed Sacrament, our celebration of the Eucharist, meditation, our reading of Scripture, or our personal devotions like the Rosary or the Chaplet of Mercy.

“The prayer of a just man,” scripture tells us, “is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16) There is so much more that needs to be done – and we shall do it together, as a community, as a seminary, as group of disciples seeking to do what is right. But without bending our knees to acknowledge our utter powerlessness in the face of this storm that engulfs the Church we so love, that sense of powerlessness will consume us completely.

“Only by prayer,” Jesus told his disciples. “Only by prayer,” he says to us today. Because only by prayer do we come face to face, not just with our utter helplessness, but with the power of Him who alone can end this storm.

Let us resolve to do this together then, all of us. Let us begin by strengthening our being tethered to Jesus; let us pray as we have never done before in our lives, and let us believe that He listens and that he will bring us safely to shore.

Your older brother in Christ.

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