By: Fr. Ryan Connors
Dean of Men
Today, a new class of seminarians arrived at Saint John’s. These “new men” begin life in a new place with new people. Soon they will begin the study of a new discipline—philosophy or theology. In a qualified sense, they embrace a new identity—seminarian of the Church. While a certain apprehension is totally normal, there are many reasons why we can pronounce with the Lord Jesus: “Do not be afraid.” Here are Saint John’s, there are so many people, especially the formation faculty, who are here to help them. We exist for them. We love them and want them to succeed.
Allow me to offer another reason why they can embrace with joy the Lord’s words: “Be not afraid.” They ought not fear because much about today is really not that new. Since 1884 men have heard the whisper of God’s voice drawing them to priestly formation on Lake Street in Brighton. No man has ever sat in our chapel through his own devices. In every case, some bishop or religious superior sent him here to study for the Lord’s priesthood. I suppose even more basically each man who has ever sat in our chapel, somewhere along the way, heard the Lord’s call inviting him to lay down his life as a priest.
Indeed, so much about the adventure upon which they embark today is not new. In fact, it is quite old. The first seminarians began formation for the priesthood here on Lake Street in Brighton in the fall of 1884. Chester Alan Arthur was President of the United States and Pope Leo XIII reigned as Roman Pontiff. Only five years had passed since Pope Leo had issued his encyclical of enduring legacy, Aeterni Patris which restored Thomism to its place as the Church’s cherished philosophical and theological tradition. Ten more popes have occupied the Chair of St. Peter since the first seminarians began their studies at Saint John’s.
In 1884, John Williams pictured in our chapel served as the first Archbishop of Boston. Cardinal Seán O’Malley, OFM Cap., serves as the fifth successor to Archbishop Williams since he began this project on Lake Street.
Needless to say, the adventure upon which these men embark is older than even the late nineteenth century. Their forebears are, most of all, the Lord’s apostles. These men, who came to know the Lord’s mercy in their own lives, abandoned fishing boats on the Sea of Galilee. Because the Lord possessed the beatific vision during His earthly life, even then, He knew the new seminarians of Saint John’s. When He called those first apostles, at the very same time, His divine mind turned to the Church in the 21st century. Even then, He knew and loved the people of New England and beyond. Even then, the Lord Jesus thought about these new men and called them here to be formed to be His priests.
My advice to them comes from the words of Cardinal Seán: “Never let the crisis of the moment obscure the eternal splendor of Christ’s priesthood.” There will always be challenges in the Church and the world. What a privileged time they now enjoy. Now is the time to focus on eternal truths, to enkindle in their hearts a Eucharistic amazement. We pray they remain amazed that He could be calling them to the altar. They will find in the Eucharist every single day of their seminary and priestly lives their raison d’etre. Jesus in the Eucharist is their very reason for being, their reason for sacrificing, for studying and obeying and loving as they do.
Finally, as a sign that God moves all things strongly and sweeter, today these new men begin their life at St. John’s on the feast of St. Monica. What a special day to start their life here. Monica, mother of St. Augustine in the fourth century after Christ, prayed for his conversion. Her tears and her suffering, merited the grace of conversion for her son who became the great Doctor of Grace, portrayed in our chapel sanctuary. In the Office of Readings for her feast today, we hear her final words: Don’t worry so much where you bury me, she says, let not that cause you concern. Instead, “one thing only I ask you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be.”
With St. Monica, these new men will stay close to the altar, which is to say, they will stay close to sacrifice, close to the Eucharist, close to one another, and close to their bishops. They will find in Our Lady, Mary, Mother of Priests and Queen of the Clergy, their constant companion and guide.
We are so happy they are here to begin something new that is, in fact, also something old. We anticipate already with joy the day when they will lay downs their live at the altar and stand up truly as new men in Christ ordained for His service.
Until then, let’s remember them at the altar of the Lord.
Forming Disciples. Proclaiming Jesus Christ.
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