The Youth of Discipleship

Photo By: Cyndi Belken

“He called a child over, placed it in their midst,and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

-Matthew 18:2-3

The photo to the left is a photo of one of my youngest brothers, John Paul. One of the many endearing characteristics that he possesses is that he is not afraid to seek the truth. Whether he learns something by his own powers of apprehension or by asking someone that he thinks will have the answer, he wants to know. When he is given the answer, he is ready to trust it and guard it as the truth, even if it means arguing with another simply based on his trust that he has been entrusted with truth.

Though it would seem that this indicates a lack of knowledge on his part, as is natural to a young child, there is actually a piece of knowledge that he possesses that we so often forget- he is and needs to be seeking something. Not only is he seeking, but he is doing it in such a way that he is open to whatever he may find in his pursuit. He is comfortable in acknowledging that sometimes there are things that he cannot answer on his own- and he has to rely on others to apprehend: and he is quite satisfied with that.

This seems to have implication in what Jesus tells us in the Gospel of Matthew. Allow me to repeat: “Amen I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). Certainly, there is a certain way that this passage has to be applied- but it is much broader than what one may think. What Christ is calling us to with this passage is the curiosity and trust of a child. This requires an openness- or receptivity- to what God is drawing us to. We have to desire to know the truth- about God, about salvation, and about His plan for us to get there.

This looks easy on paper- but in practice, it requires much from us as Christians aspiring towards Eternal Life. It requires a death to the falsehood that can take root in our own thinking. It requires us to openly seek the Truth and to seek God- and to trust in what we are given. If my brother were to go about his daily exploits only relying on what he fabricated in his head, rather than trusting in what he is given both by his senses and by others, he would quickly become frustrated, because things will not line up.

There is a constant struggle- so it seems- in society today, in which reality is being misplaced by subjectivity, and it is never for the betterment of any particular person. In fact, it often causes serious harm. For example, let’s say my phone gives me a tornado warning notification. What am I to do with that? Am I going to place my trust in the National Weather Service’s qualification to warn me about potentially dangerous situations, or am I going to ignore them, simply because my own intuition is superior? We can quickly put ourselves in practical danger- and even moral danger- if we are not seeking with an open and trusting heart.

This is the message that Christ has for us- we are to openly seek God, and to seek our salvation. In that pursuit, there is no room for our own fabricated reality. We have been called, as children of God, to follow our Father. This requires docility, selflessness, openness, trust, and confidence- for we know that our Father has in mind a particular plan to each of us. We may not have all the answers- and we don’t need to. We are given this aid us to remain open to the One who knows them. It is a long and arduous pursuit- one that lasts a lifetime, as my brother is well aware already, but it is one that rewards for an infinitely longer time. It’s all built on what we have done from our first moments- seek.

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The Ministry of Acolyte

“Take this vessel with bread (wine) for the celebration of the Eucharist. Make your life worthy of your service at the table of the Lord and of his Church.”

“Amen.”

These words were spoken to me by Bishop Edward Rice, the Bishop of my home diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, during the Rite of the Institution of Acolyte, on the evening of the 20th of April. My classmates and I have officially been instituted acolytes, which means that we are to assist priests and deacons in carrying out their ministry at the altar, and to also as ministers of holy communion. Acolytes, in a special way, are to aid the priest in his celebration, and to take communion out to the sick. It is also important for us because we are also tasked, in a special way, for the care of the Eucharist, and care of the vessels that contain the Sacred Species. This also gives us the duty to take communion forth from the altar to those who cannot come to Mass to receive the Blessed Sacrament there. It is certainly not a mistake that we are instituted Acolytes on our path to the priesthood. This institution has a very profound meaning for a developing seminarian, most especially because, ultimately, he is being formed to celebrate the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

This institution also draws to our attention the profound privilege that we are given in beholding the sacred species, especially in a physical way. It is something that is so sacred, that the Church typically reserves this ministry of physically carrying the Blessed Sacrament and the sacred vessels that contain it to those whom the Church selects. Certainly, we are all unworthy to such tasks, just as all of us are unworthy of reception of the Blessed Sacrament and salvation. However, our God, in His mercy and compassion has still entrusted Himself to His people. We cannot brag of such a privilege- but we are still given the duty to proclaim this profound gift, especially to those that have not yet received Him in this sweet Sacrament.

Please continue to pray for all seminarians as we are continuing to take steps towards the priesthood, especially in our installations into our different ministries!

Forgive Us Our Trespasses

“Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property,
in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’ Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan.”

-Matthew 18-25-27

Perhaps one of the hardest life lessons that we have to learn is that of forgiveness. Ultimately, this action of charity is a removal of some inequality that is in place because of someone’s defeat of justice due towards you. In short, you have to clear the slate, so to speak, so that a person may be restored to their full reception of your good graces. Often, we find this to be particularly difficult, because we are afraid that we are letting the other a “get out of jail” card. This too can lead to a further fear that it will become a redundant action; after all, if we let them off the hook once, why wouldn’t they do it again.

There are two things here that we should note- first, we should be mindful of the purpose of forgiveness- it is so that we can yet again restore another to our good graces. If a person is truly contrite and seeking this restoration, why would we not give it to them? To ask forgiveness necessitates firm resolve to correct the error! Therefore, when one asks our forgiveness in honesty and truth, it is not only our duty to, but an honor to do this.

The second thing of note is this- our Father has forgiven us for much, much greater debts than others towards ours. So many times, we fall short of what is asked out of justice in our relationship to God, and so often, we fail tremendously. Not only do we fail tremendously against our magnificent Creator (another aspect that merits Him all the more of what is due Him from us, the created), but we do it repeatedly. Sometimes, we repent, but only half-heartedly. Sometimes, we simply gloss over our faults, and forget to even ask for that forgiveness. Yet, we still feel that we have the ground to deny others our forgiveness.

This is one of the biggest challenges that we often gloss over in the prayer the Our Father. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This is not a mere formality- it is something that is going to put us to the test. If we cannot share charity with others in our actions, what is to say that we deserve it from God? For, if we do not share in the way the Father gives that which we were freely given, then perhaps it would have been less of a liability to us if we had never received it! Note the stern warning of the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant- after having his own debt forgiven, and not forgiving the debt of his neighbor, the wicked servant found himself in a worse plight than before!

We must forgive our neighbors- for if we do not, have we truly conformed our lives to the exemplar of Christ? Are we seeking the face of God, or merely a false sense of justice that blocks the face of God from shining through our own lives?

Candidacy for Holy Orders

sam_0550-2Earlier this evening, my classmates and I celebrated one of many milestones on the way to the priesthood- Candidacy for Holy Orders. This is an important step, but one that most are unaware of in the course of seminary formation. It caught my attention as well when I first learned about it’s occurrence in the first year of theology (at least here, at Kenrick), and also learned about what it means. Candidacy is one of several steps that I have and will be taking as a seminarian, with my eyes set on preparation the priesthood. Essentially, what this particular step entails is my first official and public announcement of intent to pursue the priesthood. As a seminarian, this is done to some degree when a man first enters the seminary, but candidacy is where formal confirmation of a seminarian’s aspiration occurs. To become a candidate, it was required from each of us that we petition our diocesan bishop for his approval of our pursuit for the priesthood. He then answered us affirmatively, based upon our current progress in formation, and the recommendation of seminary faculty, that we are good candidates for Holy Orders.

In some ways, this is like “engagement” in a relationship. My classmates and I have been actively discerning our vocation with the Church through our college and philosophical education, and doing our best to see whether or not we are called to commitment to the Church. At this point, we are each fairly certain of our intention to be ordained to the priesthood. In some ways, discernment moves into more proximate preparation for the priesthood, just as a couple would begin preparing for marriage well in advance. This, just as in engagement, does not mean that a man will inevitably be ordained, but it is an important commitment for a seminarian in view of the priesthood. This ultimately is the mutual announcement from the Church and ourselves of our intent to be ordained, and that is something that is very exciting for us.

What this means for us is that we have to work with even more diligence, recognizing the fact that ordination to the priesthood is little more than three years out. We have the responsibility to prepare ourselves well, to study hard, and to pray even harder, since we are drawing ever closer.

Pray for our strength, diligence, and perseverance as we continue onward as candidates for Holy Orders, and always rest assured that our prayers of gratitude are constantly with you!