On this past Friday, December 15, I visited with the members of the Saint Benilde Society at Christian Brothers College High School (CBC). The Saint Benilde Society is a student organization devoted to the promotion of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life through prayer and personal vocational discernment. Father Matthew O'Toole, Chaplain at CBC, is the faculty advisor of the Society. Saint Benilde (1805-1862) was a French Christian Brother who, during his years of teaching, was instrumental in over 200 young men responding to the call to the priesthood or consecrated brotherhood. He was beatified by Pope Pius XII in 1948 and canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1967.
The Saint Benilde Society was founded by a student at CBC, who is presently in his senior year and is completing his application for admission to Kenrick-Glennon Seminary. Thirteen young men took part in last Friday's meeting, in which Father Michael T. Butler, Director of the Office of Vocations, and I participated. Throughout the meeting, I was impressed by the young men's sincere interest in and enthusiasm for the priestly vocation. Not all of them are hearing the call to the priesthood or consecrated life, but all of them are asking the question regarding their own vocation. As you can imagine, it takes strong faith and character to be active in a club which prays for and promotes vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. The hour which I spent with these young men filled me with new hope and new joy in carrying out my fundamental responsibility to assist those who are hearing the call to the priesthood and consecrated life.
New Priestly Vocations
My meeting with the Saint Benilde Society at CBC is indicative of something happening throughout the Archdiocese. God, in a most generous way, is inspiring many young men to consider the vocation to the priesthood. This past September, I admitted eleven new Archdiocesan seminarians to the college program at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, four to the pre-theology program, and four to the theology program. In addition, three of our Archdiocesan seminarians who graduated from the college program in May of this year entered a theology program, two at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary and one at the Pontifical North American College.
While new men are beginning their priestly formation, Father Butler continues to help me in assisting other young men who are hearing the call to the priesthood but have not yet entered the seminary. Already, a good number of young men have expressed an interest in entering Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in the Fall of 2007 in order to prepare themselves for priestly service in the Archdiocese. Three have already completed their application process and have been admitted.
It is certainly not just a question of the number of our seminarians. Through the process of application for the seminary and after entrance into the seminary, I am blessed to get to know our seminarians. I visit with them at length on walks which we take together and at other meetings, and I am with them as often as possible at our seminary. The quality of our seminarians is excellent. Many of you have witnessed the excellence of our seminarians through their pastoral work in your parishes or through their presentations, at this time of the year, inviting your support of the Annual Seminary Collection. God is indeed blessing us.
Priestly Vocations and the Birth of Christ
Why do I write on priestly vocations just before Christmas? Because the call of young men to the priesthood is one of the outstanding signs of Christ's faithful coming into our lives in the Church, since He first came at Bethlehem. In the call of priests, we see in a wonderful way the desire of Christ, as our Head and Shepherd, to be with us always and in every part of the world. The profound hope and joy which we experience in young men praying about and responding to the call to the priesthood has its source in the experience of the immeasurable love of Christ for us all through the ministry of His priests.
Yes, the greatest sign of Christ's faithful dwelling with us in the Church is the Holy Eucharist. Christmas is, above all, a Eucharistic feast, for Christ was born in time, in order to sacrifice His life for our salvation on Calvary, the Sacrifice which is ever new for us in the celebration of the Holy Mass. Our hope and joy at the new priestly vocations in the Archdiocese is directly connected with the Holy Eucharist, for the heart of the priestly vocation and mission is the offering of the Eucharistic Sacrifice in the person of Christ. So many other encounters with Christ in the Church are directly connected with the priestly ministry. Christ's gift of new priestly vocations is the gift of Himself to us in many and wonderful ways.
Our Grateful Prayer and Sacrifice
Christmas, then, is a time when we pray for priestly vocations with special fervor. We pray for those who are hearing Christ's call, that they will have the wisdom and courage to respond with a totally generous heart. We pray also for our seminarians, that they will be granted the graces of purity of heart and perseverance in responding to Christ's call.
Fittingly, Christmas is also the annual time when I ask all of the faithful of the Archdiocese to make a sacrifice from their means for the preparation of the future priests of the Archdiocese. One of the greatest blessings God has given to the Archdiocese is Kenrick-Glennon Seminary. Having received the gift of the Seminary, it is our responsibility to make the sacrifices necessary so that it can continue its more than 175-year tradition of educating and forming men to receive priestly ordination and to exercise the priestly ministry on behalf of countless souls. Please be as generous as you are able, when the Annual Seminary Collection is taken in your parish on Christmas.
Be assured that you and your many intentions will be remembered in my prayers on Christmas, especially at Midnight Mass and Mass on Christmas Day, and throughout the Christmas Season. May God grant you a special measure of His joy and peace through our annual celebration of the Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Merry Christmas!