The Catholic Call to Holiness

Everyone loves a good saint! Their stories are incredible. Their lives were radical. Their deaths are awe-inspiring. What’s more, they come in all shapes and sizes. Some, like St. Thomas Aquinas, were capable of reaching great intellectual heights. Some, like St. Thérèse of Lisieux, were simple-minded yet full of love. Some, like St. Augustine, had extreme conversions. Some, like St. Teresa of Calcutta, gave their lives in service of others. Some, like Joan of Arc, were martyred for the faith. What all saints have in common, though, is complete self-denial and love of God and of neighbor, for Christ says, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me,” (Mt 16:24) and also “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (Jn 15:12-14).

Although the saints, whom we laud and revere, serve as a model and inspiration for us still here on earth, too often we create a divide between ourselves and the saints that we imagine never being able to cross. We might even think it irreverent to imagine ourselves in the same heaven as the saints, and we might whisk away thoughts of our own canonization on the basis of being too prideful or presumptuous. We might say, “That is all fine and good for St. Francis of Assisi, but he is St. Francis of Assisi! He’s a saint!”

I have noticed a similar divide when it comes to discerning a vocation. I am often commended for thinking about and studying for the priesthood—after all, the priesthood is a noble profession; a man considering priesthood has to make many sacrifices: he gives up having his own family, a career, and a certain amount of autonomy through swearing obedience to the bishop. But I have noticed that some seem to equate the priesthood with holiness to the extent that the vocation of priesthood is seen as holier than the vocation of marriage, that priesthood entails more sacrifice than marriage, that one more fully gives his life in priesthood than in marriage. We put priests on a pedestal of holiness, as if becoming a priest makes it easier to be holy, easier to sacrifice. We react with disappointment and sadness when we hear a man has left the seminary to pursue the vocation of marriage, as if somehow he has veered from the path of discipleship and holiness.

To believe that priesthood is a more sacred vocation than marriage is akin to believing that St. Peter is greater than St. Paul or that the Gospel of Luke is more important than the Gospel of Matthew. We are all called to holiness, and our vocation is the call from God that will bring us closest to him and bring us to holiness. One’s vocation is hand-picked by God in order to conduct that person most efficiently to holiness. God desired St. Joseph to be the spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary who was to give birth to His son Jesus. It would be irreverent and audacious to think St. Joseph could have chosen a more holy path than the one God had ordained for him. Nor would we think this of any other saint in heaven; the different paths the saints followed led them to holiness, and each of their paths was uniquely tailored to fit them. So why would we think this of ourselves? Why, when we are following the will of God, would we think that there is a more holy option available to us or that we are choosing the less holy option.

Let us be secure in our vocations, confident that the path to which God has called us is indeed the most safe, secure, expedient, and tailored route to holiness for us. And let us also remember the universal—that is, the Catholic—call to holiness, for we are all meant to be saints of God in heaven. Let us not be falsely humble, saying we will never be saints, who are so great and beyond us in their holiness. Let us instead be bold in our desire for holiness, not seeking to attain holiness at some vague point in the far-distant future, but seeking to attain holiness now, desiring to deny ourselves now, picking up our crosses now and every day, following after Jesus.

Tempus fugit; memento mori (Time is fleeting; remember death).

All of the saints, pray for us!


Robert Ross

Robert Ross is a seminarian studying for the Diocese of Gary, Indiana and is a member of the Class of 2019.

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Remembering Fr. Tom

It was the summer before my freshman year at Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary, and I was helping my pastor prepare for a wedding at my home parish of Our Lady of Hope in Washington, Indiana. He was talking to me about seminary life and in walks an older man who I recognized from one of my visits to Bruté. His name was Fr. Tom Widner. He was the celebrant of the wedding that was to take place. He looked at me and said, “Oh yes, I know you. You’re coming to Bruté this year, right?” I told him that was the plan and that I was excited to be heading off to seminary, to which he responded in a laughing manner, “Just you wait, Tyler. You are in for a treat!” I certainly was. I would soon come to find out that Fr. Tom was my appointed spiritual director. We built a very good relationship in as well as outside of spiritual direction.
A group of us would often go to the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and Fr. Tom would always try and be a part of that. He certainly liked to dine with us at a local Italian restaurant where he enjoyed telling stories of days when he was in seminary. I must say some of his stories where very peculiar; he liked to keep us on our toes. We also had a lot of similarities as funny as this may sound. I recall one time I was standing in a dark doorway with my winter hat and coat on, and one guy came up behind and said, “Okay Fr. Tom, ready to go?” They were surprised when I turned around. It must have been the hat. Another time during our seminary Christmas gift exchange, someone “mistakenly” got Fr. Tom and I the same gift. Everyone thought that was the funniest thing for some reason, but the real funny moment was when he came down to judge the gingerbread houses in his Jesuit cassock and a Santa Claus hat. I think the whole seminary was shocked by that one.

Fr. Tom was always interested in talking about things going on in our world. He was a very cultured man who loved music, art, and literature. Above all though, he had a deep love for Christ and the work he was doing at the seminary. He was always there to provide direction and give counsel to anyone in need. At any time, day or night, a seminarian struggling with some issue or who just needed to talk could be confident in knowing that Fr. Tom would be there for them. I can say that my experience of having him as a spiritual director made this all the clearer. I could always count on being comforted by him but at the same time, he did something even more important; Fr. Tom challenged me. He would help me through some very difficult times which allowed me to grow in my own spiritual life. I can honestly say that Fr. Tom has been one of the most influential people in my life and I can confidently say he has been for others as well. One thing Fr. Tom made clear to all of us here is that no matter where we are in life, what we are doing, or who we are with, Jesus is our center. Without Christ in our lives, we will go nowhere. Fr. Tom showed us the importance of a Christ-centered life based in the sacraments and prayer.
The Bruté community has been blessed all these years to have Fr. Tom lead us in spirituality and be here as a great mentor and guide. I have been blessed to know Fr. Tom and am so very thankful for the love and kindness he showed to me and many others here at Bruté.

May Fr. Tom, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.


Tyler Underhill

Tyler Underhill is a seminarian for the Diocese of Evansville and is a member of the Class of 2020.

Childlike

I was a bit concerned how I would communicate with the children in the orphanage in Guatemala that first day because I was relying on my one semester of Spanish in college, but the children quickly showed me that I would learn much more from them than words could express. On the first day, a seven-year-old boy ran up to me, he grabbed my hand and put his hand next to mine. His tiny fingers barely expanded past my palm. He smiled, giggled, and then, ran off on his next adventure. As he skipped off, I instantly thought of these words that a priest told me a year earlier, “Look at your hands, and see how God has made each one of us beautifully. You need to spend more time witnessing how children are a gift to this world.” At the time, I did not think much of these words, but simply brushed them off as a “cute” saying. Surprisingly, it was the hand of this child next to mine that made me realize that God was challenging me on a profound level to experience why Christ calls us to be childlike.

I was blessed to be able to experience this authentic love during a mission trip that I led this summer through Marian University. Another student and I had been making preparations all year to lead a group of 12 people to Guatemala City. During May we embarked on a 10-day journey to share and encounter the Gospel through about 200 children who lived in a Franciscan orphanage called Valley of the Angels. These 10 days will most certainly be days that I will reflect on for the rest of my life.

It did not take me long to realize why the Father wants to guide us to have the pure heart of a child. Sometimes the call to be a child can seem like we are being told to live out a totally blind and ignorant faith, but it is quite contrary. To be childlike is to be curious, always willing to soak in new information, and being open to discovering new depths of the Father’s love. I could write page after page of stories of these little ones, but I will just share a few moments that show why being childlike is the most authentic way to live your life.

They showed me that a simple life is one of pure joy and love. Each morning as the sun began to peek over the fog that hung in the tree- covered mountains on the edge of the city, I would witness a few children sweeping the walk ways with a glowing smile. I would hear children singing as they hand washed their clothes. I would walk into the dining hall and smell the fresh bread that some of the older children were baking. Each task the children did with gratitude and joy. These children came from broken families that they would go back to throughout the year, and most of them had nothing more than a 20 X 20 foot scrap metal building they would call home. In the States, we would be quick to say that a life like that is not worth much, but to these children, every task of life is a blessing, every meal is a banquet, and every encounter with a person is a gift to be cherished.

So many people today have surface level conversation, but when these children talked to you, they made you feel loved. These children are not concerned with cell phones, television, or wearing the coolest clothes. They live simple lives with no barriers or masks, enabling them to see the beauty of a conversation with another person. How often do you talk to somebody and give them your full? attention? These children just loved having someone with whom to share their life. For example, one Sunday we had to walk to Mass. I ended up walking with three young girls. It was so simple, yet a profoundly beautiful walk. We were not racing through life, rather we were enjoying life and the bright green trees, birds, and friendship.

The most captivating moment was on the last day, when they lined up the children to give us hugs goodbye. Tears began to fall out of my eyes as I embraced each child. In that moment, I realized in a new way how the Father loves us as His children. The Father does not want us to be overcome by the masks and shame of our life. He wants us to be open, vulnerable, and able to strip away the mess. Like the child who has just finished his bath, is washed clean, and begins to run naked through the house singing, “I am a child of God!”


Nicholas Sellers

Nicholas Sellers is a seminarian for the Diocese of Evansville and is a member of the Class of 2020.

Why we study philosophy

In preparation for major seminary all seminarians must study philosophy. Here at Bishop Brute all of us are required to major in philosophy (the degree is technically Catholic Studies, but we take more philosophy classes than the philosophy majors). This naturally leads to two questions: What is philosophy, and how does studying it make one a better priest?

Philosophy literally translates to ‘love of wisdom.’ It is our human reason’s attempt to understand creation. While now distinct fields, the disciplines of modern science started as subfields of philosophy. Philosophy, is, in fact, the original science, and its field of study is the pursuit of meaning. Examples of philosophical questions include: what does it mean to know something? What is being? What is a human being? What makes an action right or wrong? Is there a God? (These fields are, respectively, Epistemology, Metaphysics, Philosophical Anthropology, Ethics, and Natural Theology (yes, it’s a philosophical discipline). Here at Bishop Simon Brute and Marian University we take classes in each of these core disciplines of philosophy, as well as courses that cover the history of philosophy, such as Plato and Aristotle, Medieval Philosophy, and Modern Philosophy. Philosophy is different from theology in that theology uses our human reason in light of Divine Revelation to form its conclusions, while philosophy makes use of only our human reason. Before one can talk about the supernatural, one must have some idea of what the natural is. Thus, philosophy must come before theology.

This is still no justification for studying it over any other subject. After all, there are so many bad philosophers, and it would seem that there are better things for a man studying to be a priest to learn. A priest must manage a parish, provide counseling, teach, write homilies, etc. Wouldn’t a degree in business, psychology, education, or English be better? To be frank, I wonder this on occasion as well. After all, philosophy is not very practical, and a degree in it will not be of much help in securing me a job should I discern the priesthood is not where God is calling me.

Yet the concerns above miss the essence of what it means to be a priest. Over and above all of the practical requirements of the priesthood, as necessary as there are, however, the priest must be someone who knows God intimately. In the words of my rector, Fr. Joe, “who wants a priest who doesn’t know God?” Who would want to be such a priest? Knowing God necessarily includes knowing about God, though it is obviously not limited solely to academic knowledge, and in major seminary this will be the main focus of a seminarian’s intellectual efforts. Just as learning Calculus requires knowledge of Algebra, learning theology requires knowledge of philosophy. Many theological concepts are deeply indebted to philosophical concepts. Two examples of this are the Christian understanding of the soul, and the doctrine of Transubstantiation, both of which use philosophical language to then make a theological point. Thus, to know theology one must first know philosophy.

Philosophy is not practical, at least in the sense that something like a business degree is. This does not mean that it is not useful. To quote G.K. Chesterton,

There has arisen in our time a most singular fancy: the fancy that when things go very wrong we need a practical man. It would be far truer to say, that when things go very wrong we need an unpractical man … When things will not work, you must have the thinker, the man who has some doctrine about why they work at all.

(What’s Wrong With the World, Chapter 2)

A priest is called to be an impractical

man in a practical age. To a world that wants five step programs and ‘Lean Six Sigma’ but has forgotten the exact purpose of any of the myriads of activities it engages itself in the priest must preach Jesus Christ. To do so coherently a priest must know theology, and he can’t know theology without knowing philosophy. After all, if a priest cannot explain the natural, who would trust him to explain the supernatural? This is not to say that there are no practical benefits from knowing philosophy. I have become a more critical thinker, better at reasoning in discussions, and a better observer of the implicit philosophies surrounding me.

Studying philosophy enables me to be a far better priest than any of the more ‘practical’ disciplines because the call to priesthood is far more than simply the call to be the manager of a worship space and a director of liturgical functions (the practical aspects of the priesthood) – it is the call to radically conform oneself to Christ so as to be in a unique way Christ’s presence with His people through the Sacraments of the Church, preaching, and ministry. This is why we learn philosophy, even if its not always our favorite subject, because without it we would be worse theologians, and because of that worse priests.

 


David Langford

David Langford is a seminarian studying for the Diocese of Fort Wayne – South Bend and a member of the class of 2019.

Growing Closer to God and Others

“When Jesus heard of it (the death of John the Baptist), he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns. When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said, ‘This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.’ Jesus said to them, ‘There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves’.” -Matthew 14:13-16

As I am in the midst of my last semester at Brute and preparing to transition from here to St. Meinrad in the fall, I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect upon the journey that I have experienced over the last four years. I could talk in depth upon the many friendships that I have gained and nurtured, the many stories that I could tell about life at Brute, or a vast majority of other experiences. In this post, however, I want to talk about one thing in particular; namely, my understanding of the priesthood and how that has changed over the last four years through both what I have learned and what I have experienced.

When I first thought about the priesthood, I was attracted to it because I saw what the priest did each Sunday and I wanted to do the same. As I grew older and the thought of the priesthood was still present, I was still attracted to the priesthood because of what the priest does, but I also realized that a priest does more than just celebrate Mass. The months leading up to entering seminary I included within my understanding of the priesthood the notion of being with people during the most joyous and most sorrowful times of their lives, but it would not be until a couple years later that I really understood what the priesthood is about.

During my first year and a half of seminary, I fully entered into the process of formation and began looking at areas of my life that I needed to work on and allow God to enter into more deeper. I also remember describing this time as having a sense of peace knowing that I was in the right place and that my understanding of the priesthood pretty much remained the same during this first year and a half.

Fast forward to sophomore year, and in particular, spring semester of that year. Sophomore year we are required to participate in sophomore service and earn a certain amount of service hours each month. At first, this was not too challenging, but as time went on, I found it somewhat hard to go each time that I had said I would go and serve because I wanted time for myself and I wanted to rest after a long day instead of going out and serving like I knew I had committed. Towards the middle of the spring semester of that year, I began to realize that my time is God’s time, which means that my time comes from God and belongs to God and that I needed to go outside of myself to serve and encounter people even when it was difficult and challenging. Because of this, I began to realize that the priesthood is more than just celebrating Mass and providing the sacraments and that the priesthood is also about being with people and giving of your time to be present to people even when it is the most challenging and most difficult thing to do.

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The formation staff at Brute conveys to us all the time that the reasons why we come to seminary and the reasons why we stay are completely different. I can say that this is definitely true for me and that this moment from spring semester sophomore year is the reason why I am still in seminary. I chose to come to seminary because God had placed a desire in my heart, and I was first attracted to the priesthood because of the externals such as the vestments the priest wore, the things he used at Mass, and what he did at Mass. Although I had a bigger picture of the priesthood than this when I first came to seminary, the attraction to the externals was still there. I chose to stay because of how this experience changed my understanding of the priesthood, and although it was still a challenge to give of my time when I wanted time to myself, I had this desire to be present to people and to interact with people in a way that I had not really experienced up to this point.

Now that my knowledge of and my desire for the priesthood was expounded upon, I was given the opportunity to experience what I had learned throughout junior year, but in an even greater way this past summer in Jeffersonville. I fully entered into the experience and was excited to meet people and be present to them. The one thing in particular that I learned was that I was better able to remember people’s names if I had an encounter with them outside of Mass. Whether it was seeing them at a parish function or going to their house for dinner, I realized that if I had something to point to, such as a conversation that we had or just something about them, I was able to remember their name and I could look back and say that this person’s name is this and I went to their house on this day and we talked about this certain thing. Although Mass is the most important thing that we as members of the faith can do each day, it is only a small portion of a priest’s day, and, as I learned sophomore year, this cannot be the sole focus of the life of a priest. Being present to people and entering into their lives is crucial as a priest, and I could not imagine where I would be had I not completely learned this when I did.

I chose the Scripture passage that I did to begin this post because I think it encompasses the totality of what I have learned and experienced over these past four years. I definitely see myself as being one of the disciples my first year and a half of seminary in that they were tired and wanted time to rest and did not want to have to provide the people with food. To be a priest requires much sacrifice and love, and often times it involves setting aside your own wants and desires to provide for the needs and desires of the people that have been entrusted to the priest. As I continue in seminary formation and prepare for the transition to St. Meinrad in a few months, I ask for your prayers, not just for the transition, but also that I might always keep my focus on Christ and his people and never allow my wants and desires to get in the way of ministering to his people. God bless!

 


Matthew Perronie

Matthew Perronie is a seminarian studying for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and a member of the class of 2018.

The Audacity of God

This audacity of God who entrusts Himself to human beings-
Who, conscious of our weakness, nonetheless considers men capable of acting and being. Present in His stead- this audacity of God is the True grandeur concealed in the word “priesthood”
– Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI

One of the great gifts of being in seminary is the opportunity for daily Mass and participating in the Liturgy of the Hours in community, as well as the availability to frequent the sacrament of reconciliation. It is through these liturgies and sacraments that we begin to gain knowledge of Christ and can better conform our lives to His and continue to foster that relationship with Him. Likewise, through our participation in these sacraments as well as our encounters with one another, we gain greater knowledge of self. Along with that knowledge of self, we also come to recognize our sinfulness along with other qualities that we may say make us unfit to be a priest. This can lead us to the temptation to eliminate ourselves from the possibility of the priesthood. However, despite our sinfulness, failings, and shortcoming, the Lord calls and we must respond.
During my first semester at Bishop Simon Bruté in the fall 2015, we got the opportunity to participate as volunteers at NCYC. Our role as seminarians was to help with the reconciliation line and serve for Masses. During that weekend I decided to go to confession and afterward, a priest gave me a card with the quote listed above on one side and an image of Jesus calling the apostles from the fishing boats to follow him on the other. It was beautiful to reflect later on that in the moment in which I was able to recognize my sins and through God’s grace turn away from them and toward Him. God extends His mercy and calls us toward something much greater than ourselves through the sacrament. This is true of all Christians in our universal call to holiness, but in a particular way for those men that, despite their sinfulness, God calls to serve at His altar and entrusts them to take His place on Earth and make Him present through the Mass, and allow for his grace to flow from them in the sacraments. Through this encounter early on in seminary I began to grow in appreciation for the sacrament of the priesthood and the great gift that it is truly. Not just for the man that receives it, but rather for the whole Church. Since like all gifts from God they are not for the individual to keep but rather for the individual to give freely for the greater glory of God.
This recognition of the grandeur of the sacrament of Holy Orders ought not to discourage one from considering a vocation to the priesthood, but rather, should bring one to humble recognition that it is not through merits of their own that God works miracles, but rather it is through His grace that he does such things. What he asks of us is simply our willingness to be open to that possibility and to remain faithful to His will. Perhaps one may encounter moments in which he feels that he cannot respond to such a call because his sin is much too great or he feels that he will be unable to endure a task that a priest may have to take on and due to this is tempted to abandon all possibility of a priestly vocation. However, it is in these moments that one must allow himself to be guided by the grace of God, and not one’s own sinfulness. It is in these moments that one must remember as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said, “the priest is not a mere office-holder, but sacrament,” and thus God will work through His priest despite the priest’s sinfulness and unworthiness.
So as we continue to gain greater knowledge of ourselves while in seminary and may even begin to question our worthiness of such a call, we must not become discouraged for the reality is that no one is worthy of being a priest. Rather, it is God that invites us to share in His priesthood and we must respond with faith and trust. Two things that will take a lifetime to perfect and even then we will still fail at times but the important thing is to not give in to our sin but rather to continue to seek God and His will throughout our lives day after day. This I have come to realize more and more throughout my years in seminary. Although I’ve always known that seminary- while preparing us to God-willing become priests someday- will not answer all our questions nor will we leave being perfect, I have come to a greater realization of this throughout the past three years. Faith is truly a life-long journey and we must continue to persevere in it and never give up despite our sinfulness and we must remain open to the grace of God so that it may work in and through us.

Now, obviously God does not call all young men to the priesthood, however, those that do have a strong attraction toward such a vocation should not become discouraged because of fear. But rather he should continuously seek the grace of God through the frequenting of the sacraments and should recognize that God will work through them despite their sins as long as they continue to lead a virtuous life and do their best to strive toward holiness. This is the audacity of God of which Pope Emeritus Benedict spoke of in which God entrusts Himself to human beings- Who, conscious of our weakness, nonetheless considers men capable of acting and being present in His stead- this audacity of God is the True grandeur concealed in the word “priesthood.” The priesthood, in some sense is truly a mystery and if one authentically feels a call to such a vocation, he should not run from it out of fear, but should rather run toward it out of love of the one who calls, which is God.


Fermin Luna

Fermin Luna is a Seminarian studying for the Archdiocese of Louisville and a member of the Class of 2018.