‘Return to more, not normal’: Fr. Stephen Burr's Rector Address 2021
Dear Faculty, Staff, Seminarians, Students and all who love Sacred Heart Major Seminary. Welcome, we are at this time gathered at different locations, but we are able to share this time virtually.
We will be begin with a reflection of the Sacred Scripture:
A Reading from the First Letter of Peter- 1.3-9
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by the power of God are safeguarded through faith, to a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the final time. In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of [your] faith, the salvation of your souls.
The Word of God stated through St. Peter could address us now as it did the newly baptised. In my estimation, this passage sounds so applicable to our daily lives. St. Peter is expressing to baptised people the promise of life in Jesus Christ. Here we can note that embracing the Truth of Jesus Christ- being a people of faith, provides hope to endure trials, which leads to glorious joy in the fulfillment of life in Jesus.
Truth, Hope, and Joy may all seem elusive today as if they are dislocated from the illness, changes, hostility, oppression, and hurting in our world today, but they are gifts from grace as real today as ever. In the midst of the orientation process once again, this passage makes me consider our return to Sacred Heart Major Seminary this fall. Only days ago I thought we could return without the precautions of the last academic year, without masks, and without the fear experienced by many individuals for whom we love and care. The protocols and not getting back to normal (whatever that goal may be) has been and can be a distraction to the Truth of who Jesus is, the Hope salvation brings, and the Joy that is the byproduct of living in the Truth and Hope of Jesus Christ. St. Peter reminds us that God provides a regeneration for us—baptism—and a pledge of future glory: salvation.
I plan to use this address as an encouragement and pastoral note for the Sacred Heart community. I’ll offer some news and announcements near the end of the address; to keep us connected to the vision and movements at the seminary. Overall, I’m a priest who likes a direct and simple message, which is difficult to offer in the complexities of today’s world.
I would like to also make a personal comment as we begin the new academic year and I begin this new role of ministry. I find it a distinct privilege to be a priest, to serve Jesus Christ who I love above all else, and a unique joy to serve the mission of Sacred Heart Major Seminary. I have been inspired and challenged in my years of ministry at the seminary. The fraternity of the priests and the authenticity of the seminarians in formation have been beautiful reminders of the life of grace available to all disciples and me.
This is also the appropriate time to express my gratitude to Archbishop Vigneron for entrusting the care of the seminary he loves to me and the collaborative teams of priests, ministers and staff who share this leadership. I thank him and my collaborators in this great ministry in the Church’s life.
Furthermore, I approach this academic year with sadness. I am personally saddened by the recent loss of brothers in ministry, especially Fr. Daniel Jones, long-time faculty, formator and friend as well as Fr. Timothy Mazur who was a good friend and model of priesthood for me prior to ordination. At this time, Dr. Mark Latkovic comes to mind too. A faithful disciple and faculty member at the seminary who we miss. In all of these beloved relationships we thank God for bringing the light of Jesus Christ to us through them and pray that they dwell in the fullness of that light now.
I give God the Father and the Son and Holy Spirit thanks and praise for bringing us to another academic year Sacred Heart Major Seminary. This is the 102nd year of the seminary. There have been many years of our seminary and we start again not knowing how many will come, but we journey with God again. Our ability to celebrate the 100 year anniversary or 101st anniversary of the seminary was halted as were many events throughout the world. We have been through difficult times, yet we have so much to voice as our gratitude and praise to God. Amidst the illness, death, and challenges still of the last year and a half we know our God leads us, cares for us, and calls us forward. Forward to a life with Him, forward to a life founded on His Truth. He is our Rock, our Cornerstone, our refuge and foundation.
Lately, I feel like we are in a change machine. There is chaos in the world. I’m sure you have felt it too. Every day a new social challenge, hurt, struggle, and evil emerges. COVID vaccines and masks are all provocative in social commentary. We cannot avoid illness, but we can care for each other and ourselves.
As we live and offer formation with protocols at the seminary, the principles behind them are twofold: to care for the vulnerable (which could be any of us) and to preserve each other's freedom. Caring for each other takes sacrificial love. Of course, it’s much easier to only look out for ourselves, but that’s not our life as Christian disciples. We are our brother’s and sister’s keeper.
We have been and are in a fluid situation to manage the chaos of life. I would have never thought that I would be involved in executing a state mandated shutdown twice during the pandemic. We sent seminarians home. Offices were closed. Classes quickly pivoted to online delivery. Who among us thought we could pivot so quickly? Seated to online delivery almost overnight. I’m so very impressed by the work and dedication displayed to salvage a semester. Great job everyone! You cared to provide for our students and supervisors cared for employees by developing work from home plans.
Thank you to the Faculty, I.T., Distance Ed., all staff and our students for making it work. I would love to say we’ve made it, but there’s more to go! We pray for an end to the pandemic and the suffering of our brothers and sisters during this unprecedented time.
There are many comments in our society about a return to normal and what will the new normal look like. The speculation abounds. Many of us have dreamt about getting back to our previous routines. It is comforting to operate in what is known to us, yet returning to what once was is fraught with its own challenges.
There are further tragedies in our world that need our vigilance and commitment. The life issues that still plague us, the sex abuse crisis, the misconduct of priests, even the number of Catholics who do not understand the source and summit of our faith: the Eucharist as the real presence of Jesus Christ. I pray that these issues have not become normal in our culture. A faithful and vigilant approach is needed.
I think the Liturgy of the Hours Collect for this week offers some spiritual insight, ‘Father, help us seek the values that will bring us lasting joy in this changing world. In our desire for what you promise, make one in mind and heart.’ May a new normal bring us into communion with Jesus Christ and not separate us in our thinking or actions.
As a people of Faith, holding to the Truth of Jesus Christ- as the prayer states, we seek the values that bring us lasting joy and we seek the way today. The values remain the same as before, the Truth has not changed. However, our daily operation has changed. Longing for a return to normal needs to be redirected to returning to more, not what was once comfortable, but how to live in the Truth and Hope that exists in a life with Jesus Christ to experience the Joy of life and the life to come. The life of faith is not often about going back- a return to normal, it’s not about retreating (ask Jonah, Elijah, Ruth, Peter, the list could go on), rather it is about journeying with and to God. The faithful children of God who have journeyed before us knew the challenge of going their own way (a familiar way) and going with God (needing trust and a journey that was ever new). Jesus is calling us into deeper communion and going back to old ways or settling on what may be familiar is not the path to sanctity and the Kingdom of Heaven. We are called into more. The more that God wants is what we are at Sacred Heart to discover.
How foolish we would be if we return to familiar daily acts without seeking Jesus’ will for us in the reformed paths of today. It would be like the apostles deciding to go fishing without Jesus after His death; what did they think they were going to catch? I picture Jesus standing on the shore yelling, ‘Hey, nets on the other side of the boat, fellas!’ (John 21) The apostles went fishing after the death of Jesus and caught nothing. When they recognize Jesus, and follow His instruction, they experience a great catch. A catch that size should split their nets, but the catch is from abundant love; a lot to handle, but it doesn’t bring destruction. The nets do not break. As a matter of fact, Jesus already had fish cooking for them when they joined Him, which helps us to recognize that Jesus Christ is everything they need.
How do we respond to Jesus in the current climate? How do we respond to disorder at every corner; to hurts, division, sin, tragedy? How does Christ call us to the shore to sustain us so we can respond to a broken world? I think it is good for us to consider a personal response that develops into a mission response; interior before exterior.
A corporate response that may inform our personal and mission response comes from General Motors. GM is asking employees, ‘What’s the Why?’ Essentially, what is the purpose of their actions? In an effort to return to work after the pandemic GM is asking employees to question what they could do better. Do they need to do things the old way?
Do we return to our old ways or move to the ‘more’ of discipleship? Are we ready to personally reaffirm that we live by faith, the truth that Jesus is God and our savior? We live this Truth and proclaim with our lives. Are we ready to be disciples receptive to God’s grace who through a living witness begin to slow the change machine and part the cloud of chaos and confusion? Many of St. Paul’s statements of faith capture where God is directing our lives like in Galatians, “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).
It is time to encounter Christ who loves you and gave Himself for you; He desires an encounter with you. His encounter is a gift. If you seek, knock, ask, He will make Himself known to you. Jesus wants an end to the misery in our world. As we believe, we will know the Truth of Jesus, revealing His Hope for our lives, which will bring us Joy. Jesus has been and will be encountered here at Sacred Heart. Through prayer, study, formation, and community Jesus will be encountered in the chapel, classrooms, in conversion moments and in the pleasant sharing of discipleship.
The pilgrimage of life may feel more arduous than it seemed prior to the pressing tragedies of our lives. There seems to be accumulating obstacles in our way, challenges to our routine, and hindrances to the mission, but we know the power of the One Who loves us. Through our baptism we are united with Christ and we remain in that communion through His mercy. As St. Paul reminds us, “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38- 39).
The mission is not designed to be accomplished simply by you or me. Together we express the mission only abiding in Jesus Christ as a community who pray and study. We pray for one another and the mission of the seminary. One of our tasks as a community is to allow our hearts to be fixed on that place, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, where true gladness is found.
Therefore, I encourage and implore the seminary community to intercede for and act for the mission of the seminary by invoking the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and the pure and just heart of St. Joseph. Pray daily the prayer of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque:
“O Sacred Heart of Jesus, for whom it is impossible not to have compassion on the afflicted, have pity on us miserable sinners and grant us the grace which we ask of you, through the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, your tender mother and ours.”
Afterward, say the Hail, Holy Queen and state, “Saint Joseph, foster father of Jesus, pray for us.”
Prayer is central to the mission. It starts interiorly and pours out into daily life. As we pray this prayer, it connects us to the Sacred Heart, our namesake, His Mother and St. Joseph as we conclude St. Joseph’s year. We pray for the mission of the seminary united in His love.
Ultimately, our mission or outreach is evangelization here at the seminary. That’s the end game; our participation in the Kingdom. We are a center of the New Evangelization, which has been aligned across the curriculum. At this moment in our world, the mission of evangelization has not changed. Something has remained the same. Our duty or mission is to show individuals the beauty of knowing Jesus Christ, which will enlighten the Truth of who He is, bring Hope of the life to come and Joy in our living with Him now and forever. Jesus Christ is the reason for hope. Jesus Christ cuts through the chaos. Anyone who does not know God has no hope; they may entertain finite hopes, but not hope in the one who sustains their life. By forming priests, deacons, and lay ecclesial ministers here at the seminary we are dedicated to proclaiming the life of Jesus Christ in our current ministry and through the generations of ministers who pray and study here. May God bless us in making the mission of Sacred Heart Major Seminary a renewed reality of seeking more in Jesus Christ during the 2021-22 academic year.
There are also specific Mission Movements taking place at Sacred Heart. There are a number of role transitions and new community members to share in the mission:
New faculty and staff
- Patrick Cassady - Director of Admissions (start date of 11-30-2020)
- Alexandra DeMeyere - Admissions and Retention Counselor (start date of 8-27-20)
- Kathryn Bergeron - Administrative Assistant to the Vice Rector
- Wendy Pizzo - Executive Assistant to the Rector/President
- Patricia Bologna - Special Projects Administrative Assistant to the Rector/President
- Fr. Charles Fox - Vice Rector
- Michael McCallion - Interim Dean of Institute of Lay Ministry
- Fr. Pieter vanRooyen - Director of Graduate Seminarians
- Fr. Zachary Mabee - Instructor of Philosophy- formation
- Fr. Stephen Pullis - Graduate Director of Pastoral Formation and Director of Liturgy
- Dr. Oana Gotia - Associate Professor of Moral Theology
- Dr. Andre' Villeneuve - Associate Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages
Chartwells is our new food service in the refectory and school lunch program for AOD schools
- Joe Brothers - Director of Dining
- Mark Raupp - Assistant Dining Director
Goals for the 2021-2022 Academic Years
- Re-establish the ‘Mission Committee’ this year — suspended due to COVID. The mission statement was completed by the accompanying statements and documents need revision.
- Create committee to explore feasibility of online grad degree program. The online class experience has changed substantially and with a renewed pedagogical approach from our Quality Initiative project with CUA we need to determine if a degree program can exist for those students who are not able to enter our doors; due to distance, time, or convenience.
Lord, you have renewed the face of the earth. Your Church throughout the world sings you a new song, announcing your wonders to all. Through a virgin, you have brought forth a new birth in our world; through your miracles, a new power; through your suffering, a new patience; in your resurrection, a new hope, and in your ascension, new majesty. Guide us in making the mission of Sacred Heart a reality founded in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and with the intercession of St. Joseph.