Saturday, September 5, 2015

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Life Skills Center

St. John Vianney Life Skills Center

When I was working full-time at St. Meinrad Seminary, one of my dreams was to build a "teaching kitchen" where seminarians and priests could learn to cook for themselves.  Over 68 % of priests in the United States are now living alone with cooks and housekeepers being things of the past. The influx of international priests has made this even more of a need. With the help of my friend, Jim Patterson II, that dream became realized in what was to become the St.John Vianney Center. It is part of the ongoing formation department of the seminary called the Institute for Priests and Presbyterates that I helped found and of which I became the first director. For more information go to: Institute for Priests and Presbyterates in my links.

The teaching kitchen features twelve stools for cooking class students, eight cook tops, four ovens, two microwaves, two dish washers, two sinks and a washer and dryer.

After cooking a meal together, the class sits down to enjoy the meal 
they have cooked or serves it to their guests.

Before cooking a meal together, the seminarians or priests gather together for praying the 
Liturgy of the Hours in this living room, which also serves as a lounge for 
those attending programs in the Institute for Priests and Presbyterates. 

 To go with the teaching kitchen, my friend Tim Schoenbachler and I worked together on publishing two versions of a cookbook he authored - one version for priests and a non-clerical version. Both cookbooks can be ordered at  My Bookstore

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

How To Leave the Seminary

IV Theology Class
Managing a Successful Transition Out of the Seminary and Into Pastoral Ministry
August 24-29, 2015

For the last several years, I have been teaching the transitional deacons (those who will be ordained to the priesthood this coming spring) some of the very practical things they will need to know about the process of leaving the seminary and entering the priesthood.
This was my 2007 transition class.
There are others on the right outside camera range.

This year, originating from several countries, there were 21 deacons in the class: Diocese of Little Rock 4; Archdiocese of Indianapolis 3; Diocese of Evansville 2; Diocese of Owensboro 2; Diocese of Lexington 2; Diocese of Mobile 1; Diocese of Springfield MO. 1; Diocese of Layfayette IND 1; Diocese of Knoxville 1; Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau 1; Glenmary Home Missionaries 1; Diocese of Palayamkottai (India) 1.

This class is really about talking them through this major transition that the bishops have compared to "leaving home, graduating from school, beginning a career, getting married, and starting a family – but all at once.” One mid-west bishop said leaving the seminary is like a patient having all his IV tubes pulled out at once. 
Some of the issues we cover are:
  • The dynamics of change in general: an ending, a neutral zone and a beginning.
  • How to say good-bye and thank you to those who have brought you this far
  • Tracking your own progress: the importance of keeping a journal.
  • Now that you will be a priest, what kind of priest do you will to be?
  • Moving from being a private person to being a public person.
  • The relationship of priests to the bishop, other priests, lay people and permanent deacons.
  • How to enter a parish and how not to.
  • How to establish a personal budget and start saving for retirement.
  • The necessity of ongoing formation and continuing education.
  • What does the Church say about the radical communitarian dimension of ordained ministry.
  • Understanding priests from other generations and avoiding the scandal of presbyteral polarization.
  • The difference between being a seminarian in a seminary and being a priest in a presbyterate.
  • What Canon Law says about parishes and pastors.
  • The promise of of obedience and what it means in relating to the bishop and the presbyterate.
  • Creative strategies for living alone.
  • Maintaining personal and professional boundaries.
  • How to leave a parish well.
  • Expressing gratitude, giving affirmation and empowering others.
  • Minding your call by developing a personal growth plan.
  • Support available to priests in a typical diocese.
  • The role of the priest in the universal call to holiness.
  • What your First Mass plans say about your spiritual leadership style.
  • A spirituality that works for the life of a diocesan priest after seminary.
  • Deciding to grow up and a commitment to serious priesting.

This year's class of 21 is  quite interesting. The one in the front row is a medical doctor. The one behind him in the white beard is a  married former Baptist minister. His wife, Laura, works in the kitchen. They will be moving back to Arkansas after  his ordination to the priesthood. They are both fluent in Spanish because they were Baptist missionaries in South America before becoming Catholic.

Below are some single shots of a few of the 21 participants.

Deacon Kyle Rodden, Archdiocese of Indianapolis
Deacon Norman McFall, Diocese of Little Rock (married, former Baptist Minister)
Deacon Taryn Wittington, Diocese of Little Rock

 Deacon Braden Maher, Diocese of Springfield, Illinois   
Deacon James Brockmeyer, Archdiocese of Indianapolis      
Deacon Tyler Tenbarge, Diocese of Evansville

Deacon James Dennis, Diocese of Owensboro (Deacon Dennis is blind)
                                Deacon Meril Sahayam, Diocese of Palayamkottai, INDIA
Deacon Nicolas Ajpacaja TzocArchdiocese of Indianapolis (from Guatemala)

The need arose in the class for a couple of textbooks. When I started, none were available so I took it upon myself to put two together. These books are now being used in several seminaries across the country and around the world. Both are available in English and Spanish. The second will soon be available in Vietnamese. Most readers will not need these books, but if you do, they are available through My Bookstore

Monday, August 31, 2015

Sunday Homily 8-30-2015

“Hear the Word! Do the Word!”

Humbly welcome the word that has been planted
in you. Be doers of the word and not hearers only.
James 1:21-22

You would never know it, but preaching the gospel is the primary duty of priests: not celebrating mass, not doing baptisms, not hearing confessions, not witnessing weddings, but preaching. Catholics have been disappointed with Catholic Church preaching for so long, they dare not expect it any more. When Catholics do find a priest who can preach, they tend to follow him from church to church like hungry puppies. Others just do without this spiritual food, year after year, or leave or join some Protestant denomination.

This problem, I believe, can be traced back to the Reformation, four hundred years ago. It is a bit simplistic, but in that painful divorce Catholics took the altar and Protestants took the pulpit. Protestants all but gave up the Eucharist and we all but gave up preaching.  That’s why most Protestant churches, at least until very recently, have a tiny little altar table and a huge pulpit, while most Catholic churches have a tiny little pulpit and a huge altar.

Catholics who leave us for a pulpit somewhere else must also know that they are going off and leaving the Eucharist. What we need to do, what we have been working on over the last several years, is to be able to offer both: a powerful celebration of the Liturgy of the Word followed by a powerful celebration of the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Preaching is being taken more seriously than ever in our seminaries. I am no professional homiletics professor, but I have been teaching homiletics (preaching) at St. Meinrad Seminary. I constantly challenge priests in the retreats I lead here and abroad to take preaching seriously - more seriously than anything else they do. The downfall of most preaching courses is that they focus way too much on public speaking techniques and not enough on the faith of the preacher. What I stress with priests is that preaching must be the bedrock of their personal spiritual life. My belief is similar to what William Faulkner said, “If a story is in you, it has to come out.”  I always remind my students and my fellow priests that if the love of God is in our hearts, we will find an effective way to communicate it. If not, our homily will just be another speech about God. A homily is not a speech. The purpose of a homily is to turn on a bulb in listeners' hearts, to help the listener make a connection with God.The response to a good homily is "Ah,ha! Now I get it!"  As we learned in the seminary, “Nemo dat quod non habet.” If you ain’t got it, you ain’t give it.

The preacher, and readers of scriptures at Mass as well, must be the first to ‘humbly welcome the word” and to “be a doers of the word and not just speakers and readers only." Preaching, especially, is an awesome responsibility and the well from which it comes must be constantly filled!  The preacher must know himself, know others and know God, and be able to talk about it all three in a convincing way. Lectors don’t just “read to people,” they “proclaim the good news.”

        Humbly welcome the word that has been planted
          in you. Be doers of the word and not hearers only.

For the next few Sundays our second reading will be taken from the Letter of James. James is famous for his insistence that faith is lived, not just claimed and talked about. He tells us today, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only.” Later on we will hear him say, “What good is it to profess faith without practicing it? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and no food for the day, and you say to them, “Good-bye and good luck! Keep warm and well fed,” but do not meet their bodily needs, what good is that? So it is with faith that does nothing in practice. It is thoroughly lifeless.”

My fellow Catholics, we cannot be ignorant of scripture and at the same time do as God has asked us. As the Letter to the Romans puts it, “Every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. But how can they call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe unless they have heard of him? And how can they hear unless there is someone to preach? Faith, then, comes through hearing, and what is heard is the word of Christ.” 

It would be wonderful if every one of us took the opportunity to study scripture in a formal way. Scripture classes are offered in almost every parish these days. The diocese has many continuing education classes available on scripture. However, one of the simplest ways to study scripture is to take advantage of our Liturgy of the Word each week. To get the most out of the Liturgy of the Word each week, three things must happen. (1) Readers must read well. (2) Preachers must preach well. (3) You must learn to listen well. 

(1) One of the hardest things to get across to lectors is that they are not just “reading to people," but “proclaiming the word of God.”   That means they must, not just be able to read the words on the page, but to be the medium through which people hear God speaking to them. That means the reader must be familiar enough with the text to convey its meaning. If the reader does not know what the words mean, how can he or she read it with meaning? Lectors are not just readers. They proclaim the word of God behind the words of the text. The role of the lector, standing in the pulpit, should be taken as seriously as the priest standing behind the altar. Incompetence, sloppiness or carelessness in the pulpit or at the altar should never be acceptable in our churches. Good liturgy strengthens people's faith. Bad liturgy weakens people's faith.     

(2) As a priest, my primary role is to preach. I have a long way to go, but of all the things I do, I take preaching most seriously. This is my 701st  homily here at Bellarmine alone! I typically work a minimum of 10-12 hours a week preparing these homilies.  As you know, not all priests do that. Several years ago, for instance, I was reading an evaluation that one of our pastors wrote about one of our soon-to-be-ordained seminarians. He criticized the seminarian for “working too much on his homilies.” He went on to say that he “knew of no other priest, except for maybe the Vocation Director (me), who spent that much time on writing homilies.” This time the seminarian is right and the pastor is wrong! I was never more honored by his criticism. Preaching is not just one of many things a priest does, it is the single most important thing a priest does! 

(3) People must learn to listen well. The word “liturgy” means “the work of the people.” In reality, many Catholics still don’t get it. They come to liturgy and put the whole burden of a meaningful liturgy on the backs of us priests, the musicians and the liturgical ministers. Many come late, leave early and in between, sit with their arms folded, never singing or answering the responses or even mouthing the creed, with an attitude of, “OK, now entertain me, impress me and inspire me and, if you fail, I’ll blame you and leave here to tell the world that I don’t get anything out of Mass because of the boring priest and the lousy music.” The word, “liturgy” means “the work of the people.” We preachers, presiders, lectors, Eucharistic ministers and musicians are here to “help you pray,” not to “do your praying for you.” It is your job to pray over the readings before you get here, get here in time to hear them read and at least sit up and pay close attention when God’s word is read aloud. 

“Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you.” Like the parable of the Sower and the Seed, it is not enough just to have good seed to sow (the word of God), not enough for the sowers to sow well (the lector and the preacher’s job), but the ground on which the word is sown must be fertile and receptive. That, my friends, is your job.Your job is to be good hearers of the word, good welcomers of the word and good doers of the word.