The Boldness of Humility
Rector's Address – August 23, 2017
“Whenever you begin any good work, you should first of all make a most pressing appeal to Christ our Lord to bring it to perfection.” (Rule of St. Benedict)
Following the wisdom of St. Benedict, I begin this address and the work that stands before us this year, with a pressing appeal to Christ the Lord by means of a Psalm.
O Lord, my heart it not proud
nor haughty my eyes.
I have not gone after things too great
nor marvels beyond me.
Truly I have set my soul
in silence and peace.
As a child has rest in its mother’s arms,
even so my soul.
O Israel, hope in the
Lord both now and forever.
Having placed ourselves before the Lord, I offer this address with an abiding sense of joy and excitement about what the Lord is asking of us in the coming year (and beyond). When I think about the context for my address, the many initiatives universally and locally, as well as the challenges that have a direct impact on us, it is exciting and even breathtaking. Let me outline just a few.
In June, the Archbishop promulgated his Pastoral Letter, Unleash the Gospel, in which he articulates the fruit of the prayer, conversations, and reflections from Synod 16. The letter is filled with inspiring insights and exciting action steps that will bring concrete realization to propositions affirmed at the Synod.
In addition to the Synod, the Congregation for the Clergy issued a revision of the Ratio Fundamentalis. This universal document, last updated in 1985, is the foundational document that guides the goals, objectives, and requirements for all programs of priestly formation in the world. The global conversation has already started, and such a significant document will have a direct impact on our own national application, the Program for Priestly Formation and the way in which we carry out our work of formation here at the seminary. The national reflection is also well underway and will lead ultimately to the 6th edition of the PPF.
Also on a national level, just two months ago the bishops of the United States convened 3,500 people in Florida to offer formation and encouragement for leaders in the New Evangelization.
On the local level, this summer the seminary community engaged in the Life Remodeled project. I was so grateful to see the participation by members of the seminary community and I look forward to many more opportunities like that in the years to come. At the same time, we still have the very real challenges of racism, hatred and violence that permeate our society. As a city, this summer we marked the events of 50 years ago, and with recent events of domestic terrorism and hatred in Charlottesville by white supremacists, we have to face with honesty and clarity the evil of racism, not at it exists out in some distant community or in another era, but how it continues to impact our own hearts today. In the midst of all this, the seminary continues to be committed to being an instrument of hope.
Finally, the local church of Detroit together with the entire universal church, will celebrate the beatification of Fr. Solanus Casey on November 18th. By means of this historic event we will witness a fresh outpouring of God’s grace. It will be an exciting time for us to gather and give thanks to God for a heroic model of virtue, and a time to rekindle in our own hearts the sincere desire for holiness and conversion.
With these elements forming the context for the upcoming year, I have asked the Lord in my own prayer to guide my leadership of the seminary and to shape within my own heart the themes that the seminary should consider moving forward. It is without question that we are called to be bold in our witness to Jesus, to be bold and joyful in our engagement with the culture. He is calling us to be confident in his love for us, his abiding presence with us, and therefore an assurance that the gift of the Holy Spirit remains with us.
At the same time, I am also moved to reflect upon how that boldness is manifested and shaped in our ministry, in our teaching, in our formation programs, and in the manner in which we interact with one another here on a daily basis. The word that emerges clearly for me is humility. I want to consider how humility, properly understood and lived, is a radical, counter-cultural, joyful, and bold way of presenting the Good News of the Gospel to a society numbed by noise, a society made cynical by the repeated failures of its leaders, and a society callous to the cry of the poor, the unborn, the marginalized, and those with no voice. So these two words seem to be compelling partners for me, and provide something significant for our work here at the seminary moving forward: The boldness of humility.
The Boldness of Humility
Humility and Witness
My first point of reflection is how we consider humility and witness. From the perspective of contemporary society, those terms might seem dissonant, or in some cases even opposing. How can you give bold, prophetic witness if you shrink into the shadows of silence? How can humility be the engine that drives witness?
It seems clear, as I just stated above, that we are called to be bold, to be prophetic, and to cultivate a deep, inner joy that emerges from a heart on fire with the love of the Lord. Our call as disciples is to give witness in the world, and to do so with an abiding faith. To give such bold witness, we need to ‘think big.’ We need to have our hearts expanded. We need to be, as St. Thomas Aquinas calls it, magnanimous. So, how is this type of witness most effectively lived in the pastoral setting, and how do we form our students in it?
To consider this question, I turn to Aquinas. In the Summa, he placed his question in terms of the relationship between magnanimity and humility. If we aspire to be bold in our witness, to be prophetic, to be attracted to great things, how can this be complementary with humility? In question 161, article 1, objection 3, he starts with: “But humility is apparently opposed to the virtue of magnanimity, which aims at great things, whereas humility shuns them.” But in his response, he offers this perspective: “humility restrains the appetite from aiming at great things against right reason: while magnanimity urges the mind to great things in accord with right reason. Hence it is clear that magnanimity is not opposed to humility: indeed they concur in this, that each is according to right reason.”
What Aquinas does here is link both the boldness of magnanimity and the power of humility with right reason. They are not by any means opposed to each other, but humility in fact guides the mind and heart so that, in our case, the witness is rooted in a deep, authentic sense of who we are in front of the living God. And in that dynamic, we understand the beauty of humility: to see ourselves honestly as we are before God. No sugarcoating and no false self-deprecation.
In that sense, then, humility is not to be understood as a fear of speaking about the joy of the Gospel, or a lack of boldness in giving witness, or ‘withholding’ something out of fear or false modesty. Not at all. Humility is not a ‘withholding’ but rather a powerful means of giving, of engagement rooted in virtue. Humility, we might say, is what ‘gives legs’ to our witness. Without humility, (that constant awareness of our authentic selves before God) our witness will evaporate in the softest breeze, it will collapse with the smallest tremor, go silent with the slightest challenge, or be disfigured without proper discernment. What gives humility its power is the connection to reason and also the connection to ongoing, personal conversion.
In his pastoral letter, the archbishop calls for each one of us to be ‘radically mission-oriented.” And in so doing, he goes on to describe this further by saying that “making one’s relationship with Jesus and alignment with his will the central and guiding principle of every aspect of life.” What he is presenting here is missionary conversion. It is living a daily sense of our true nature before the living God. And he summarizes it, I believe, with these words: “Our acknowledgement of our own spiritual poverty is precisely what can lead us to rely wholly on God.”
And our local Blessed-to-be is one who shows us how humility is the essential bed-rock for witness. The attraction to Fr. Solanus Casey is not exclusively to him personally, but because he radiated a humble heart, and offered an opportunity to encounter the mercy and healing of Christ. Just as he reverenced Christ in others, so too people were drawn to him because he was an open doorway, a pathway, a threshold to the mercy and compassion of God. Authentic humility is a foundation block for holiness of life, and as such, we would do well to consider how we might as an institution and as individuals seek to grow that virtue in our life.
Humility and Joy
In addition to humility and witness, I think it’s important to mention the connection to joy. Again here, from the perspective of contemporary society, there might seem to be an opposition between humility and joy. How can someone who is humble, someone who shrinks from the spotlight, someone who remains silent, ....how can they be a source of joy? Some might say that where there is humility there cannot be joy.
‘On the contrary’, turning again to my friend Aquinas in Question 28, he reminds us that joy is the fruit of charity, “for joy is caused by love, either through the presence of the thing loved, or because the proper good of the thing loved exists and endures in it.” Authentic joy is the fruit of one whose heart and mind are oriented toward God and at service of the other. In that sense, joy is not a superficial feeling the accompanies positive experiences in ministry nor fabricated to help medicate us against the challenges of ministry. The joy to which the Lord calls us emerges from a heart of fire with self-less love; a heart that is conscious of the perpetual gaze of the Lord on every heart. The Benedictine monk, Dom Germain Morin, in his work The Ideal of the Monastic Life echoes this perspective when he writes: joy is “the state of the soul in the presence of the beloved. If we desire to have this water of joy always welling up in our midst, clear and abundant, we must protect and enlarge its source, which is love.”
Turning back to humility, then, we see the strong connection to joy. There is a genuine joy that comes from a humble heart, a joy that is substantial, a joy that is rooted in love. In that context, humility does not cause joy to be withdrawn (to retract), but rather to be expanded. Just as humility gives a sure foundation for transformative witness, so too it provides an endless well for a joyful heart.
Among our core values as an institution is Christian joyfulness. The description of that core value says: “by seeking to share our faith with others as well as to deepen our own faith, we encourage a positive atmosphere in which the joy of Christ may manifest itself.” And here again, Blessed-to-be Fr. Solanus Casey has much to teach us. In an excerpt from the positio on Fr. Solanus, regarding his heroic humility, it is written: “Convinced that there is only one model of eternal truth, Jesus Christ, the Servant of God strove always to imitate Jesus, especially by his modesty and humility. He was never given any important offices or elected superior, but joyfully accepted his limitations as a simplex priest and religious. He never pushed himself forward, but always lived simply, accepting the corrections calmly and even joyfully. Placed in the position of porter where he had to deal with many people, he drew them all by his openness and simplicity. When they would thank him for some favor received, he always replied, ‘Thanks be to God.’ May our hearts exude the same joy, a joy rooted always in the virtue of humility.
Humility and apostolic boldness
Finally, I want to consider how humility forms the foundation for apostolic boldness and its impact on our teaching, our formation programs, and our institutional life. For a number of years now, we have been at the leading edge of research and practice for the new evangelization, seeing the importance of being ‘missionary oriented’, and forming our students as dynamic witnesses in the world. We have committed ourselves to a solid, thorough, and genuine theological formation. That has been clear and compelling for us, and we are recognized (through the extensive publishing and engagement with national and international organizations) as a solid theological center. In that context, our goal has been to form heroic and joyful witnesses with missionary hearts. It has been exciting to see the work of the Holy Spirit here and to see enthusiastic new priests, deacons and lay ecclesial ministers go forth into the vineyard of the Lord.
At the same time, it will remain critical for us reflect upon the importance of humility as it relates to this apostolic boldness, both individually and institutionally. Just as with witness and joy, the virtue of humility forms a solid foundation for authentic boldness. Humility does not weaken the boldness, or the desire on our part to present the truth of the Gospel, or work against it in any way. Rather, it compliments it and forms an essential root that helps to shape the boldness appropriately. In the Archbishop’s pastoral letter he reminds us that: “In particular, priests and deacons need training and resources for successfully preaching on the ‘hard topics.’ Our presentation of the Gospel’s demands must be pastorally wise, meeting people where they are at and avoiding ‘truth bombs’ that will only turn them away.”
This is echoed by St. Gregory the Great, in his reflections on Job writes: “The teaching of the arrogant has this characteristic: they do not know how to introduce their teaching humbly and they cannot convey correctly to others the things they understand correctly themselves. With their words they betray what they teach. On the contrary, true doctrine all the more effectively shuns the voice of arrogance through reflection, in which it pursues the arrogant teacher himself with the arrow of its words. For true doctrine tries both to teach by words and demonstrate by living example - humility, which is the mother of virtues.” Thus, the absence of a thoroughly integrated humility can lead the person to seek satisfaction as the primary cause of the transformation or the conversion, or believing that if they just presented things more clearly or with more force a change will occur. On the other hand, when the virtue of humility is thoroughly integrated into our intellectual, human, spiritual, and pastoral formation, the students understand and recognize in their daily ministry that the beauty of conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit.
To conclude, as the Archbishop notes, “Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well is a paradigm of evangelization.” He goes on to say that “looking into his eyes, she saw no condemnation, only a love and mercy she had never experienced before.” And because of that conversation, that loving, truthful exchange, a soul was healed, set free, and united anew to the living God. As we continue to shape our degree programs, as well as our activities in human, spiritual and pastoral formation, and without question in our day-to-day exchanges with one another, I ask that we keep before our eyes the virtue of humility as a cornerstone for all of our work.
Looking forward: Institutional Initiatives
Last year, in this section of the address, I reflected on our Institutional Strategic Plan and the six priorities we have established. The plan keeps us focused and mindful of our mission so that our decision making can remain effective, and I thank Ms. Ann Marie Connolly for her leadership in making this plan so well-developed. The process that we have in place for the plan involves consultation with the board of trustees, the faculty, and staff. It also includes an accountability document that reviews how we perform with regard to our stated goals, what we learned in the process, and where we will go moving forward. In terms of new goals for the plan, those arise from what is revealed in the data that has been collected, from consultation with all of you as we pray, discern, and envision the future for the seminary, and this year, from a significant and unique source, the pastoral letter Unleash the Gospel by Archbishop Vigneron.
The content of the letter is significant for the seminary, not only as it echoes the very core of our mission here, but also as it articulates very specific collaborative tasks for the seminary to consider. But before we jump immediately to the tasks articulated in the pastoral letter, I want to outline how we hope to approach a collective reflection on the letter.
After conversations with the administrative council, our plan for (processing) reflecting on the letter will take this shape. First, we will ask that each member of the administrative council to work independently with their departments to have set times of conversation about the letter, what strikes you, what is your personal response, what are some initiatives the seminary might consider? Those conversations will take place during the fall semester. At the joint faculty meeting in October, we will set time aside for the same type of conversation. Also in October, the board of trustees will include this on the agenda as a strategic dialogue. Then, in November, the Institutional Planning and Assessment committee will review the content of the conversations and present those to the administrative council. The final product of the consultation will be a white paper, to be completed by the administrative council in late December or early January, that consolidates the information and provides direction for potential initiatives, programs, or activities. The white paper will be a significant, although not exclusive, piece of data that will help the seminary take the next steps in the strategic plan.
Turning back to the pastoral letter, action step 3.3 affirms the proposition that Central Services Partner with Sacred Heart Major Seminary to develop practical and ongoing formation opportunities for clergy, lay ecclesial ministers and lay faithful around key areas of missionary activity (e.g., homiletics, family, culture, building teams, daily life evangelization, prayer, discernment and Catholic principles of social justice. In order to address the proposition affirmed by the archbishop, the pastoral letter offers a number of practical steps that we will be considering. In many ways, the seminary has already been exploring some of these so it’s exciting to see the synergy.
The first practical step will be to explore the possibility of establishing an institute dedicated to lay witness in the world, with a particular focus on fostering the dialogue between the Gospel and culture. Second, that we work to establish programs for the continuing education and formation of our priests, lay ecclesial ministers, and lay faithful. And third, that we work in collaboration with the Office for Black Catholic Ministry “to study how, in accordance with the Seminary’s mission, to marshal and organize resources to advance the new evangelization in the African-American community.”
Another way in which we can really engage the boldness of humility is to consider how we might integrate an enhanced sense of hospitality into our day to day work and interactions here at the seminary. On a daily basis we have archdiocesan events, outside groups, casual visitors, commuter students, resident students, faculty, staff, and contracted workers enter through these doors and walk these halls. How do we live the type of hospitality and humility of Fr. Solanus? This movement has been rumbling in my own heart because I think I can do better, and I think the Lord is calling me, and all of us, to really consider this. How might we develop even further a culture of hospitality here, develop an atmosphere of welcome? This is an initiative I look forward to developing in the coming year and hearing from you about how we might proceed.
Formation Program Review: Virtues and Discernment
Another initiative that will be lead by Fr. Burr is a review of our formation program, particularly in light of the Ratio, the upcoming revision of the PPF, and also the archbishop’s pastoral letter.
These documents will have an impact on how we view the formative dimensions of pastoral ministry, the formation curriculum, and our procedures for evaluating seminarians. Two larger areas of attention for us will be the continued development and integration of virtue formation and discernment. With regard to the first area, we recognize the call to be saints, to form saints. Interestingly, when someone is being considered for canonization, among the first steps in the process is an investigation into the heroicity of virtue for the person. The church asks simply: “can we demonstrate that this person lived the virtues to a heroic level in his or her life.” Holiness is thus deeply connected to the life of virtue. We should all desire to live the virtues to a heroic degree, and it follows then that we should form our students in the same way.
Second, a critical area of formation will be an expanded development of formation in discernment. It is clear that we work thoroughly with the seminarians on their personal discernment, but we will need to form and shape them to be the type of pastoral leaders, good shepherds, who discern well the movements of the Spirit in the parish, in the lives of their people, so that they can guide them to respond to authentic movements of the Spirit. Discernment is leadership. It is the type of leadership we want our future priests to be able to live and offer for the people they serve. The signs and wonders active in the Church that display God’s love and remind us that Jesus Christ live for us, as stated in the pastoral letter, require proper discernment to foster Christian discipleship.
I look forward to reflecting on these exciting initiatives and also hearing from you about possible directions we can take as a seminary community. If you are like me, you probably already have some ideas percolating and I ask, as I do often, that we place all of this work with confidence and humility before the the Sacred Heart of Jesus, that he guide us and enlarge our hearts for greater service as his disciples.
It is my hope that many of you were able to attend the Archbishop’s Gala in June. Each year it is our opportunity to say thank you to the many friends, collaborators, and benefactors who give so generously to the seminary. I want to offer a word of gratitude to Mr. Edmundo Reyes, Mrs. Emily Bershback and the entire team for the countless hours that go into the preparation for the event. This year our attendance surpassed 1,000 for the first time. Congratulations! It was an inspiring evening and allowed all those who attended a chance to connect with the seminary, be reinvigorated in their support, and even at the end, enjoy some uplifting music by a group of seminarians. It’s our goal to keep increasing the attendance and offer those who participate a unique experience of faith, stewardship, and witness.
I want to highlight again that in 2019 Sacred Heart Major Seminary will celebrate 100 years. For any institution, but especially a seminary, this will be an important opportunity for us to reflect upon where we have been and more importantly look forward with incredible enthusiasm and joy about what the Lord will call forth from us. After considerable reflection, in the coming months a well-developed plan for the year will be presented that will include multiple events for the seminary community, for the neighborhood community, and also for the whole archdiocese. It will truly be a time for us to celebrate and give thanks to God.
One of the very successful and creative initiatives has been the summer residency for the STL. This year we welcomed a full cohort of 46 priests from around the United States, Canada, and from around the world. This program is a concrete way in which Sacred Heart again is a leader in the new evangelization. It takes a tremendous amount of work and I think we all recognize that Sacred Heart never has a ‘slow’ period anymore. We are a four semester, year-round institution. When we step back and look at it, we can also see the blessing of how this reveals good teamwork. A program like this touches every department in the seminary, from the dean of studies, to financial aid, to the ILM, to building and facilities, food service, and security. It’s a team effort, and I want to thank all of you for your dedication that makes this program so successful. But in a particular way I thank Fr. Laboe as the point person, and his department, for all the work that was extended to our STL students. I know I’ve heard countless comments about the hospitality, the smiles, the prayerful spirit, the quality teaching, and of course the great food, that make Sacred Heart such a great place to be.
When I travel from diocese to diocese or conference to conference, one common question is always, “How’s your enrollment?” While it’s not the only indicator for institutional health, it is one that draws significant interest from people. A key part of healthy enrollment is having a good plan and strategy that matches the mission of the institution. A seminary plan will look much different than a plan for your average university. In that context, I’m delighted that we have a robust Strategic Enrollment Management plan (SEM) that was approved by the Board. I want to thank Dr. Gerlach and Mr. Ryan Cahill, and all those who contributed to the plan. For this year, we will have an increase in the number of seminarians and start the year with 120. Although we don’t have the final numbers in for our commuter enrollment, it is trending up again and projected to be around 390. So, based on reasonable projections as of today, it is likely we will exceed an all-time high for enrollment here at Sacred Heart with about 510 students.
Finally, I would like to share an update about the development of our property to the west. As many of you have seen, the apartment complex has been successfully demolished and the land cleared. We own all of the property from Chicago Boulevard on the north to alley south of Longfellow, and out to Genessee street to the west. The next phase of development will include the landscaping of the entire front of the seminary, from Linwood to Genessee. Pending the vacation of Lawton, we also hope to move the main entrance of the seminary to what is now the corner of Lawton and Chicago. With Lawton closed at that point, we can develop a new entrance there with a gatehouse and signage. We are still in a period of negotiation with the Detroit Public Schools regarding that part of the property. The master plan, as I have shared before, is to acquire and develop the land from Chicago Boulevard to Joy Road. I ask that you join me in prayer that the good progress that has begun on this project will be completed well and enhance the seminary, our programs, and surrounding neighborhood.
Part IV: New Faculty and Staff
Fox: Fr. Charlie Fox is not a new face to Sacred Heart, as he was assigned as a faculty member in 2013, but I am delighted to welcome him back, to welcome him home! As you may have seen in a communication several months ago, Fr. Fox is reassigned to the seminary and appointed as the Director of Graduate Seminarians and the Director of Liturgy. Fr. Fox brings with him a deep love for Christ and the priesthood as well as a strong commitment to the seminary and its formation programs.
van Rooyen: Fr. Pieter van Rooyen is also not a new face to Sacred Heart, although this time he will be on the other side of the desk! Fr. van Rooyen graduated from Sacred Heart in 2010 and served in the Diocese of Lansing. In 2013 Bishop Boyea sent him to Rome for doctoral studies with a specialization in dogmatic theology. I want to offer a word of gratitude publically to Bishop Boyea for his generosity in releasing one of his exceptional priests for service here at Sacred Heart.
Gerlach: Although he has become well known to us since his arrival last October, I did not have the chance to welcome Dr. Matthew Gerlach at this address last year. Since his arrival he has also assumed the duties of Director of Online Programs. It has been a blessing to get to know Dr. Gerlach and I’m deeply grateful for his leadership of the Institute for Lay Ministry.
Corbin: We are blessed to welcome Ms. Christi Corbin as the new Financial Aid Administrator. Christi comes to Sacred Heart from her most recent position at Marygrove College. Prior to her work at Marygrove College, Christi also worked for Wayne State University. Her extensive experience in financial aid, her knowledge of programs in higher education, as well as her kindness and wisdom are a great gift for us.
Pizzo: In the office of the Vice Rector, we recently welcomed Mrs. Wendy Pizzo, who is serving as the administrative assistant to the Vice Rector. Wendy is very accomplished in administration and has worked most recently at Notre Dame Preparatory High School as an administrative assistant and provided secretarial help at her parish St. John Vianney.
Francis: Mr. Jonathan Francis will join us on Monday, August 28th as the Marketing and Communications Manager. He is a talented communications professional most recently serving as Senior Content Specialist with the Archdiocese of Detroit. Jonathan will be part of the Department of Development and Stewardship for the Archdiocese and working for the Institutional Advancement team for the seminary.
Seraphinoff. Ms. Marguerite Seraphinoff will serve as Admissions and Retention Counselor, working closely with Ryan Cahill to recruit and retain students answering a call to lay ministry and mission. She has a wealth of experience in customer service, sales, and project management. Marguerite earned her bachelor’s degree at Oakland University. I should add that she is also current matriculated into our MA program, so she can speak very personally and passionately about our programs to those who are inquiring.
Cappella. Ms. Natalia Cappella has joined the ILM as the Administrative Assistant to the Dean. Natalia graduated from Madonna University in 2016 with a major in Religious Studies and a minor in Philosophy, taking many of her philosophy classes here at Sacred Heart. Following graduation, she dedicated eight months of service in a Spanish-immersion mission in Argentina with other international students. Natalia comes to us already with broad experience in higher education, having developed a variety of gifts and skills while serving in several roles: assistant secretary to an academic department, student ambassador, and computer lab intern. We are blessed to welcome her, and all those who join us this year.
As a reminder to an announcement that was issued back in the winter, Fr. Peter Ryan has assumed his new role as the Director of Undergraduate Spiritual Formation, and Fr. Clint McDonell is serving as the Director of Undergraduate Seminarians.
Part V: Conclusion
As I conclude my address, I want to turn to an excerpt from a homily given by Cardinal DiNardo in Orlando at the leadership conference for the New Evangelization. As he was reflecting on the passage of the multiplication of loaves, the Cardinal remarked: “we give what little we have, our total selves, and let Jesus multiply it as he sees fit.” Here he reminds us that our work of evangelization is rooted in a humble sense that we are called simply to give, and as we seek to live a joyful life of conversion and repentance, to entrust everything to the Lord in faith, knowing that he will bless it, direct it, and multiply it.
The Cardinal goes on to say: “When we see the complexity, when see the impossible, Jesus will say ‘Give me what you have.’ Imagine what we will have left over after we do it at the Lord’s word?” With these words, the cardinal draws us into the mystery of faith. At times we might see only challenges, only darkness, or the impossible through our own human eyes. But through the boldness of humility, we begin to see the world, see our community, and see ourselves as God see us. To see with eyes of faith! Imagine what God will do with our hearts this year as we seek to be bold in our witness, to be humble in our witness, and to be a welcoming, healing balm to those who pass through these doors. Imagine!
Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.