Jack gave the following talk after Sunday Masses, shortly before returning to the seminary for his sophomore year of college…
Being a Seminarian in a Church in Crisis
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw Him they worshiped Him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of men, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age. (Matthew 28:16-20)
God is with us always, even until the close of the age. On April 21st, 2018 I received a call from Father Michael Boehling, who was Vocation Director of the Diocese of Richmond at the time, and he informed me that I would be a seminarian for the Diocese of Richmond. In fact, he called me when I when I was in the car with my mom coming back from my interview with the diocese. My mom actually pulled the car over to the side of the road, and I think she recorded me while I was on the phone talking to Father Michael, and it was a surreal moment!
Little did I know the bomb that was about to drop on our beloved Church…
On June 20, 2018, now former-Cardinal McCarrick was suspended from ministry by the Holy See due to an allegation of sexual abuse.
My first reaction to the news was, ‘Who is Cardinal McCarrick?’ Then on July 28th, 2018, Pope Francis accepted Cardinal McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals.
And now I’m asking the question: How could you do this? You are supposed to be an example of Christ to others!
When I arrived at the seminary, we began with orientation, as you would expect. For that first weekend we went to Loyola retreat center for a weekend of recollection. It’s a good time for prayer and reflection as we began the year. On the last night of the weekend, a letter was released.
On August 28, 2018 Archbishop Viganò releases a letter, on the day when Pope Francis spoke about sex-abuse in Ireland. (This gave the pope the opportunity to respond on the plane flying home to the Vatican). In Archbishop Viganò’s letter, he tells detailed information about his knowledge regarding Cardinal McCarrick’s abusive practices and his actions in response, and he also informs the people of God about those who had knowledge of McCarrick’s wrongdoings. He included the Cardinal that built and oversaw the seminary I had just moved into, Cardinal Wuerl.
I have not seen a group of men more defeated than what I saw that night. A lot of men who would later become some of my best pals were sobbing in the chapel, unsure as to what the future held for them and the Church.
The next four months of my life would be totally consumed in following the scandals that would come out seemingly every day.
I was so consumed in the crisis that I would print out articles and bring them to my Holy Hour, when I should have been praying.
I didn’t realize this at the time, but I was falling apart. I was questioning my vocation and if God was honestly a good loving God.
I hit rock bottom when I came home for the winter break and questioned if I should even go back to seminary. By God’s grace I did, and thank God I did.
We began the second semester with a five-day silent retreat, and it was there that I was able to have some semblance of a prayer life again! And I prayerful discerned this question: Why did you come to seminary?
It all came back to me–the proposition that I may be set apart, called by God to be His priest, so that I could draw souls, including my own, to the glory of heaven. The proposition that I may be called to be in the person of Christ at the Altar of God, drawing all into the Glorious Sacrifice of the Holy Mass. The proposition that I may be called to be there for the people of God when they need the Lord most, both in good times and in bad.
Eventually the crisis that we were in–and are still in–became the extra push I needed to help me stay on the path to priesthood. This crisis that caused me so much sadness and anger became my motivation. Today, more than ever I want to be a priest, should it be God’s will.
…Does anyone remember the New England Patriots playing the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI? It was February 5, 2017. In case you didn’t know, I am a die-hard New England Patriots fan, and that game is considered by us Patriots fans–and by most people–one of the most improbable Super Bowl victories ever.
The Patriots were slight underdogs heading into the game, because the Falcons’ offense was so superior.
It was a blood bath; the Patriots were being dominated by the Falcons, and before you could even blink, the Patriots are down 28-3, with 2:12 left in the 3rd Quarter.
The Patriots at that point had a 0.01% chance of winning.
Of course, the Patriots would end up prevailing, relying on heart and mental toughness.
I bring this up because, when looking at our Church, it kind of feels like we’re down 28-3. In fact, I would argue it feels like were down 100-0.
And I’ve got to ask: Why are you even here? Why are you still Catholic?
It can’t be the coffee and donuts. You could get that any church.
Why are you here?
People outside the Church must think we’re crazy!
…The gospel this past Friday was from Matthew Chapter 16. It’s one of my favorite illustrations from Our Lord. Jesus is speaking to his disciples and says to them, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
He must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.
Being a Catholic at this time in the Church, and in our culture, is like bearing a cross. Actually, being Catholic today is a heavy cross to bear.
Not only do we live in a culture focused on short-term pleasures and the joys of this life–without considering the eternal joys of Heaven. We also have leaders in our Church who have failed to be good shepherds! In fact, they have been everything-but-good to the people of God!
So for Catholics, not only are we battling a secular culture that promotes evil for the sake of their own happiness, but we also have bishops who have continued to let us down over and over and over again!
Yet you are still here?
Why? Why put up with all of this?
It seems to me you believe, and have hope, in the truth of Jesus Christ!
Clearly, you wouldn’t still be Catholic at this point, unless you truly believed this Church that is visibly hurting was the true Church of Jesus Christ.
Although the battle continues, although we’re down 100-0, we know the outcome. We know who will prevail in the end. Jesus Christ and His blessed Church.
We, the people of God, must keep a supernatural outlook. There is a weakness in many, but we know that this is the Church founded by Christ himself. If we do not follow the Church, we’re Protestants!
You and I can and should help the Church in this difficult time.
We need to pray for the Church! We need to pray for our bishops, that they will follow the example Christ has given as The High Priest. If you don’t pray for these men, you have no right to judge them, because you would be part of the problem, not the solution. Should we be disappointed in them, or even mad? Absolutely! But we Christian Catholics know that there is more beyond this short pilgrimage on earth.
We need to pray for our priests during this difficult time. Especially for those priests who have been ordained into the sacred priesthood of Jesus Christ by bishops who have abused others, or have covered up abuse.
We need to pray for vocations to the priesthood and seminarians. Eventually the seminarians in seminary today will be our future priests and bishops. Prayerfully ask Mary our Mother to intercede for them so that they may give themselves fully to the mission of Jesus Christ and His Church. We seminarians so desperately need your prayers.
We need to be saints. We must deny ourselves, carry the cross, and follow Him.
Most importantly we cannot give up. We cannot give up because Christ has never given up on us. He died for us, so that we may have life eternal. Although the scoreboard might look like 28 to 3, or 100 to nothing, we continue to fight. We don’t give up, because some bishop abused seminarians, or this priest abused a parishioner. We fight! We don’t give up, and why would we? We’ve already won.