His Eminence, Archbishop JOSEPH’s Opening Remarks at the 2012 Diocesan Clergy Seminar
January 16, 2012
January 16, 2012
Beloved Fathers and Deacons:
I greet you as we convene once again in our winter season tradition of holding the Diocesan Clergy Seminar. After a bit of experimentation, we are discovering that it is best to hold this Seminar as a stand-alone event. In this way, we can focus intently upon the theme, and also devote ourselves to prayer, reflection, and brotherly fellowship and thus build one another up in our most holy Faith. This beautiful setting holds a good promise for us to achieve these laudable goals.
Our theme this year is the following: “Knowing God, Suffering for Him and Loving His People: The Personal Experience of the Parish Priest.”
You have heard me speak often about how much I love to emphasize the priest in the pursuit of his vocation to holiness and the acquisition of divine Grace. Just recently, I mentioned once again how “I am on vocation, not on vacation.” We laugh at the language, but the truth behind it is profoundly important. Our priests are not businessmen who are angling for benefits, vacations, bonuses, and advancement. Instead, our holy fathers are men devoted to the service of the Master, who “lay down their lives for the sheep”—starting with their own wives and children, and extending out to their parish family. We do not punch a time-clock. We do not avoid taking time for edifying recreation with our loved ones. We are human beings who need to exercise our bodies, lest they grow soft and fat; and we need to engage in constructive activities, particularly enjoying the natural environment God provides, lest we become wound up too tightly and over-stressed; we need to feed our minds with good reading and cultural pursuits befitting Christians, lest our thinking become dull. Above all, we need to feed our souls—our hearts—with the Grace of God through constant prayer. This interior prayer life is the most important. At the same time, we need to draw close to our parish faithful and really understand their aches and pains, their joys and sorrows. When our people are in pain, so are we; when they are victorious, so are we! “When one member suffers, we all suffer; when one member rejoices, we all rejoice”
The priest has as his first and most important task to receive, maintain, and develop a constant and conscious awareness of divine Grace in his liturgical life and in his personal life. This forms the very core and center of his life and ministry. St. Symeon the New Theologian emphasized how the person who receives the Holy Spirit becomes aware of that Grace and lives through it. “If we do not receive and feel in this flesh the Grace, then Christ would be (only) a prophet and not God.” The whole goal of the Christian life is our conscious union with the Lord. Desire for the Lord and efforts to seek purity of heart through constant repentance and faithful observance of God’s commandments leads to this awareness of Grace. God acts in giving Grace, man acts through repentance, and the result is an interior awareness of God’s presence in deep repentance and “the gift of tears.” We know that we have God in our hearts, from the Spirit which we have received from Him. In 1 John 3:24 we hear: “Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.” And, again in 1 John 2:27, “the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him.” This repentance is perfected through self-denial and the daily bearing of the crosses which we have from the Lord. Through endurance and faith, we perfect holiness in the fear of God and become crucified unto the corruptible world and its passions, and to the ego.
The cruciform life of the pastor constitutes the only gateway into paradise for the priest, both in this world, and in the world to come. When we pastors suffer “in a Christian way, with meekness and forgiveness,” from the slights, the accusations, the stabbings and complaints of our people, we do well. But when we strike back, because we have our own agenda and issues, then we lose respect and trust suffers. How can our faithful call upon us for help, if we have argued with them or proudly faced them down? They will be afraid of us and will not seek us out in times of trouble. Then, what kind of answer will we give the Lord, when He asks us in the day of reckoning? The theme of this Seminar is a good starting point in order for us to be better educated about ourselves as priests. Then, our people will in turn be educated and cured from heterodox, Protestant, and secular notions of the priesthood.
Beloved brethren, let us attend to this holy theme and to the good things which are to be presented by our guest, the keynote speaker, Dr. Harry Boosalis, along with the liturgical presentations which augment our Seminar. I ask you not to leave too early, and to honor Dr. Boosalis and each other by attending carefully to everything and to involve yourselves in the Q & A discussions and other interactions. The Lord is in our midst and shall guide us with His good Spirit. To our merciful God, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be all glory unto the ages.