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I am proud of this seminary!

Homily by Archbishop Wenski at Mass with members of the Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors

Homily by Archbishop Thomas Wenski at Mass at St. Vincent de Paul Seminary with seminarians and members of the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors. Thursday, April 21, 2016. 

I’m happy to be here to celebrate this Mass with Vocation Directors from all over the United States.  Your timing is a bit off though; you should have had this meeting in February when it’s cold up north. 

I’m proud of this seminary – as Metropolitan of the Province of Florida I am its chancellor; I am also proud of our College Seminary in Miami. I am an alumnus of both. I was here as a seminarian when this seminary aspired to become the first bi-lingual seminary in the US. In fact, I took most of my homiletic and liturgy courses in the Spanish language. Sin embargo, voy a predicar hoy en ingles.  

As a bishop I do appreciate the work that you, vocation directors, do in accompanying our seminarians on their vocation journey, especially what you do to recruit generous young men. When I look around here at the men in this chapel.  I can say that, if this group is representative of seminarians across the US you’re doing good work.  It is true that God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called; but, I believe that we are seeing generally a very good caliber of candidates.  Don’t get me wrong, you know better than I do that these men when you find them are “diamonds in the rough”.  The four pillars of seminary formation are about polishing them up. 

Yet, as St. John Paul II said in Novo Milenio Ineunte, “…young people, whatever their possible ambiguities, have a profound longing for those genuine values which find their fullness in Christ….If Christ is presented to young people as he really is, they experience him as an answer that is convincing and they can accept his message, even when it is demanding and bears the mark of the cross.” NMI #9. 

Young people today, many of whom have suffered the consequences of the divorce of their parents, fear making any long term commitments. This fear to assume risks in the face of an apparently uncertain future also accounts for the contemporary crisis in marriage today. Pope Francis makes this point in Amores Laetitia. Young people caught in a culture of instant gratification and fleeting interests are in no rush to marry much less enter a seminary or convent. 

However, there are signs of hope. Here in the US we have experienced an uptick in the number of vocations after a period of long decline. But this decline was felt here in North American and in Europe more than in other parts of the world. On a global level, the total number of seminarians is higher today than it was in 1978 where Karol Wojtyla became pope. Of course, since Hispanics will soon constitute half of the Catholics in the United States, you do well to work to increase the numbers of vocations from this demographic as well.  And, it can be done.  The Archdiocese of Miami has 63 men studying for the priesthood here and in Miami and I should know but I would guess than 45 of them are Hispanic. (And not all the rest of them are Anglos.) 

The “I am” spoken by Jesus in today’s Gospel points to his Divinity.  Jesus was fully God and he was fully man; but not just a generic man, or man in the abstract:  he was a Jewish man, fully sharing in the culture of his people – for he was sent to the lost sheep of Israel. Christ gave the Church a universal mission – that mission was fulfilled not by making the gentile Jews but making the Church gentile. We could say that the ecclesiological extension or expression of the incarnation is enculturation. Without enculturation, the Church will be perceived as a foreign presence in any place she wishes to take root. For this reason, evangelization succeeded in those countries where the missionaries were keen of promoting native vocations. 

We are all becoming missionaries in our backyards.  I worked almost 20 years as the parish priest of the Haitian community here in South Florida. During that time I rarely said Mass in English.  I celebrated in Haitian Creole. As missionary disciples, our role is to evangelize the immigrant while respecting his or her language and culture.  After all, we see in the post Easter readings from the Acts of the Apostles how the Church discerned that Gentile converts did not have to follow Jewish ways. To be a good Catholic Jesus doesn’t ask us to become Jews or Americans or anything that we are not. He doesn’t demand that we change our culture or our language – just our hearts.  St. Paul became all things to all men, Jew to the Jews, a Greek to the Greeks.  In today’s gospel, Jesus tells us that the servant is not greater than master.  As priests we are called to be servant leaders. And so, we are the people’s servants and not their masters.  Therefore, we should learn their language and their customs, and not necessarily require them to learn ours before we serve them.  Hispanic vocations can be cultivated and thrive where their language and culture is affirmed and celebrated.  People integrate only from a position of strength – otherwise they remain marginalized.  This is the great lesson we can learn from the historical Black colleges and universities, these institutions gave the African Americans a position of strength to foster their integration into American society.  And, while this is beyond the scope of your duties as Vocation directors, our dioceses and our parishes must work to assure that Hispanics, Asians, Haitians and others find that position of strength within our communities – and that can only happen if we respect and give a place to their culture and their language. 

But, no matter what ethnicity, culture or language we are talking about, the desire to become a priest is nourished essentially from intimacy with the Lord, in a really personal relationship, which is expressed above all by the desire to be with him. Also true, a superficial knowledge of Christ – the fruit of an inadequate or faulty religious formation -is a formidable obstacle to fostering vocations.   

Young Hispanics whether in our parishes, campus ministries, schools, or religious education programs can and will respond to God who does not fail to call – for he is not outdone in generosity.  They will be able to overcome “their possible ambiguities” with the confidence that Christian hope inspires– if all of us support them by introducing them to a personal and real relationship with Christ, a relationship that is nurtured with a solid catechesis and Sacramental life and allow them to express that relationship in a way that allows them to be comfortable in their own skins, in the own culture.  As St. John Paul II says, If Christ is presented to young people as he really is, they experience him as an answer that is convincing and they can accept his message, even when it is demanding and bears the mark of the cross.”