|11/28/2013 9:01:00 AM|
Trained to proclaim the Gospel
|This is part of The Evangelist's ongoing series of reports from diocesan seminarians on their studies, work and development. To read previous installments, click on "seminarian's diary" under "specials".|
BY BRIAN KELLYA friend recently asked me how the seminary trains men to become priests in today's world - a world that is becoming increasingly secular, driven by material things, sex, relativism and confusion over who and what God is.
The nature of the human person is such that, deep within each of us, there is a longing for God. St. Augustine, in the fourth century, captured the essence of the human heart when he wrote, "You have made us for yourselves, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you."
It is becoming more apparent that we are using anything but our faith and trust in God to fill that void.
The seminary is primarily a place to discern whether God is calling a man to the priesthood. During our time here, we must learn how to become mediators or "bridge builders," bringing others to Christ through our ministry.
Rev. Robert Barron is rector of Mundelein Seminary near Chicago, which I attend, and creator of the popular "Catholicism" documentary series. He is well-known for his Word on Fire project, which works to advance the "new evangelization."
His vision for seminary formation is driven by this new way to evangelize in a secular world. He states: "The Catholic faith is not about myths or legends, symbols or literary devices. It is about an encounter so overwhelming that you want to tell the whole world. It's about an encounter with Jesus Christ."
The new evangelization is about bringing the original Gospel message to the world with new ardor, expression and methods. Vatican II in the 1960s reminded us that we are all called to "Christify" the world - which we can see today through the actions of Pope Francis, who encourages evangelization in the secular culture.
This jump-start to promoting the faith is very much focused on young people, addressing their attempt to ignore that inner longing for a relationship with God. The mission is to help them to see the joy they can experience once they let Christ into their hearts.
My favorite book, C.S. Lewis' "The Great Divorce," is an excellent resource for anyone who wants to begin the work of evangelization. The book's theme is detachment.
Our attachments - a grudge against a family member, guilt and shame over a past sin, an obsession or other issues - will ultimately separate us from God. We allow ourselves to become possessed by them to the point that we cannot live without them, and we fail to see them as a barrier between us and Christ. We are full of fear and anxiety as we attempt to break free, often returning to that with which we have grown comfortable.
This is extremely important in the new evangelization, since we need to meet people where they are at, recognizing how they may stand in their own way, before we can address other factors that deny Christ entry into their hearts.
Our goal is to show that God is always there, waiting patiently for us to say yes to Him, to open the door when He knocks and to want to grow closer to Him.
St. Paul urges us to "stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter" (II Thes 2:15). We can have confidence that the Gospel message is sound; we simply need to bring it to light in the world. This requires a strong sense of faith on our own parts before we can begin to preach.
When men are ordained to the diaconate, they promise to go out into the world to "believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach." The seminary trains us to live up to this: to be courageous men of faith, willing to walk into the lion's den of secularism, atheism and relativism.
In the seminary, we focus on building up our own relationship with Christ, so that the world can see the presence of God in our lives. We need to be conscious of the real issues and hardships people face that inhibit their relationship with God.
This includes the impact that societal laws and economic changes have on individuals. Father Barron often says, "We need to have a newspaper in one hand and a Bible in the other," in order to apply our faith in society.
The work of evangelization will take toil and labor, but, most of all, the confidence within that God wants a relationship with every one of us, so we can begin to show Christ's light in a world yearning for God.
(Brian Kelly is a seminarian studying for the priesthood for the Albany Diocese at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois. A native of Newtonville, he was formerly business manager at Holy Trinity parish in Cohoes.)
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