Fr. Stephen Burr's Rector Address 2022

Dear Board of Trustees, Faculty, Staff, Seminarians, Students, the community of the seminary, and all who love Sacred Heart Major Seminary. Welcome to the day we renew our commitment to sharing the labor of ministry together. We had time to pray together yesterday and now we begin our task of ministry in the new academic year.

Scripture
First, a moment to pause for two passages of the Word of God.

Micah 6.8
You have been told, O mortal, what is good,
and what the Lord requires of you:
Only to do justice and to love goodness,
and to walk humbly with your God.

Mark 12. 28-34
The Greatest Commandment. 28 One of the scribes, when he came forward and heard them disputing and saw how well he had answered them, asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” 29 Jesus replied, “The first is this: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! 30 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, ‘He is One and there is no other than he. 33 And ‘to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself’ is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 And when Jesus saw that [he] answered with understanding, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Vision
In my prayer to set a vision for the seminary, these two passages stood out as setting a direction for us. At this time last year, I believed we were about to return from the pandemic. I am more confident in that estimation this year. We have been without masks for a long time and events have been restored in the seminary, yet our walk and direction for this year is restoring the daily community at Sacred Heart Major Seminary. We are together today; thank you Jesus. Now it is time to actively share in the mission of the seminary in our ministerial roles.

In the short passage that I have picked out, Micah is providing a prophecy of judgment and states this restorative message of the Lord, “You have been told…what the Lord requires of you.” The people of Israel have turned away from God and in an attempt to appease God they have slaughtered their first born children as a sacrifice. God is willing to give them a second chance from all of their atrocities and wretched behavior. To initiate the restoration of the people, the prophecy of God through the prophet Micah is a direct sublime message to ‘do justice, to love goodness and walk humbly with your God.’

If we break down the direct and beautiful instruction from God through Micah, we hear the call to be communal with God and one another. The passage names justice as an exhortation to have right relationships, to love goodness, instructs us to cherish what is of God—our life with Him, and to walk humbly with your God, is an admonition to not step without Him—listen and only move in the direction he shows you.

Further definition for walking with God comes from Jesus in the synoptic gospels, here I refer to the Gospel of Mark. The greatest commandment is stated by Jesus after offering the Shema—the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. Following the prayer, Jesus provides a twofold distinction in one commandment: love God with your total being, and offer that love to your neighbor. Understanding and living it aligns us on the vertical and horizontal planes of faith; with God and one another. The greatest commandment gives direction that, as the scribe answers, is worth more than anything else, beyond the confines of worldly riches, success, esteem, or anything that an individual may believe makes one independently good. Of course, no God fearing individual set off in ministry to become rich in this world. We live for the true treasure that awaits.

After hearing this teaching, the crowd is reduced to silence. What else could be said? Is there something that you think you could add to the wisdom of the Lord? Furthermore, the silence may have happened because the people reacted in contemplative ecstasy or, the opposite, a fear to act.

My role has changed so much at the seminary in the last year. A significant change that I have noticed in the last year is how often I think of all of you, pray for you, and love you. Indeed, God gives the grace that we need to perform the work He wants done in His Church and it is clearer to me now, more than ever before, how God cares for you and desires the ministry you do for His Church. I am referring to faculty and staff. God wants me to pray for you for the sake of His message going out to all of the world. Over the years, I have referred to seminary ministry as a direct and indirect ministry, with nearly equal distribution. We directly form the seminarians and students and that ministry will indirectly, through them, affect the lives of God’s people. Your ministry as faculty and staff provides a future blessing that is implanted through your care for the individuals in the Sacred Heart community.

Thus, my silence has been often filled with prayer for you and prayer that I may serve well in the manner that God asks. God wants more from you and me. We are called to walk humbly with our God, with all of our being and united with one another as a community of faith.

Work, No Reset
In this rector address, I would like to encourage us in our walk with God and promote a shared, united, and communal journey as the community of Sacred Heart Major Seminary. What efforts can each of us make to move toward God with a shared and neighborly love?

We could think of walking humbly with God and the Greatest Commandment as bringing us back to the basics. In our emergence from the isolation of the last few years, I think we need to give some focus on how to start or resume our life as a community. Community takes work and will not come to shape by accident.

An image came into my memory when reflecting on a restart of community life, i.e., hitting the reset button on a video game console as a child or worse when my brother would press the reset button if I was winning. Maybe you have had the dream of pressing a reset button after the pandemic, an easy return to normal, or possibly at other moments of life: resetting after a difficult conversation that was not loving, or resetting to perform an omitted action that could have benefitted an individual in need. A reset option is not available. We need to provide effort to regain what has not been as present in our lives as a community. In actuality, a reset, other than reconciliation (if it can be referred to as such), would limit our lives more than improve them. Reconciliation is a reset without a reset, as a penitent recognizes the reality of sin and steps out of that dark struggle closer to God. The struggle is part of the journey and a beauty of our life as it does not disappear, yet, through it, we are drawn into God’s merciful embrace.

Even in the joy of freedom from sin after sacramental reconciliation, there are days when it appears that God is not winning in this world or our lives. Even though it is not true, as the victory has already been won through Jesus Christ, that is how we may experience events or situations of our world today. We live with confusion around us. We can also become instruments of confusion for one another when we grasp at having an identity rooted in something other than Jesus Christ. There is no confusion in God. God is a mystery, beyond full comprehension, but not confusion. The truth is not confusing. The truth is clear, like loving God and neighbor as all of the law and the prophets depend on this commandment (Mt. 22.40).

Community
Walking with God is a journey on the road to salvation, which is the road to Calvary. We do not walk it alone. We walk with the Lord and journey with one another. In fact, the road to redemption is Jesus Christ. How do we walk this road as a community?

Firstly, we need to show up to be a community. Spending time together, sharing the stories of life, of our faith life, our hobbies and passions helps to form a community. Conversations do not happen naturally via remote meeting software. Having the same background, meaning being in the same location, fosters community.

Second, we have to ask for the grace to want to be joined as the Body of Christ. There have been plenty of times when I have wanted to pull away and operate a solo mission instead of sharing in the life of the Body of Christ. Isolation, something we know more about now than ever in our age, is a lure of the evil one. The devil wants to break off the connected parts of the Body for them to languish. A desire to be a Body of Christ is necessary.

Third, we must grow in appreciation for aspects of the Church’s life that may not be our own. We do not only live in a divided world, we also live in a divided Church culture. It is not divided in half when we used to talk about traditional or charismatic, conservative or progressive. There may not be “Jew or Greek, slave or free”, but there are plenty of labels that we give to other individuals in the Church’s life. If we are going to be united as a community we should be striving for sanctity, sainthood, and not creating labels that divide Catholic from Catholic.

Fourth, we cannot be petty. We cannot jump to conclusions or go from zero to annoyed in a heartbeat. Walk, do not jump. We walk with God and neighbor without jumping to anything. We must forgive one another and ask forgiveness from God for any way we do not promote a community of loving neighbors at the seminary.

Ultimately, if we offer no or limited effort to be communal and express our love of neighbor, we are promoters of confusion. Without actively sharing life we become mysterious because our investment in a relationship is lacking. Consequently, the treasures of the faith that we personally cherish are cloaked in mystery, either unknown or unclear to others on the journey, instead of shared, discussed, or debated to bring community members into the gift of faith as we know it.

Renew your humble walk with God as a community of faith not because of my insistence, but because you know this is a community that discerns the work of God and does the work together. By God’s grace, our shared ministry gives the Church a chance to become better. The grace that has moved us into ministry will drive and inform our students to serve God in His Church better than we were able.

An axiom in the business world goes like this, ‘there are three keys to a business: operations, product, people. You need to be good at all three and great at one to be a successful business.’

Sacred Heart Major Seminary has been a leading seminary and premiere Catholic institution of higher education for many years. We have a faithful and excellent faculty, priest formation team and staff to prepare the leaders of the Church in Detroit and beyond. The faculty are an accomplished group, who teach and lead, who are sought out for answers to bring individuals closer to Jesus Christ, whom we know and love.

The seminary is fiscally responsible and transparent in its operations. Our operation and product, as forming individuals in the faith, is good, but our community of people needs to restart with us. As a community we can move closer to the kingdom of God. We need to be great as a people, a community, and it starts with us.

Conclusion
Here are some simple human formation steps to get us started. Today we pray for the faculty member for whom you have never prayed. Maybe we sit with someone at lunch with whom we have never shared a meal. Someday we may stop by another community member’s office to simply share the happenings of life. I know this may sound silly. It is not. This is making the humble walk with God together and how a community of loving neighbors exists. It takes work and conscious effort. Love the Lord your God and your neighbor. Walk humbly with your God. Amen.

Business Matters
At this time last year, I announced forming a task force to determine the feasibility of offering a degree online. From the work of the task force, I announced at the Gala a new program at SHMS. For the first time, SHMS will offer a Master of Arts degree completely online.

This is an initiative I started on day one of the Fall Semester. I am so proud of the faculty and staff who have readied the seminary to launch the MA online. I thank Dr. Cahill, Mrs. Connolly, Dr. Cooney Hathaway, Fr. Laboe, and Mr. Mesch for their work to explore the feasibility of offering a MA online. Moreover, this is the fruit born out of challenge. When the world around us shut down during COVID, our classes quickly pivoted to online delivery—seated classrooms to online delivery almost overnight. In the age of a digital world of isolation and quarantine we came to experience success with our online course delivery. Now we are ready to offer a full delivery of the MA degree online.

We have begun marketing our online programs to other dioceses. The Certificate in Catholic Theology is offered completely online. This is an entry point for anyone who wants a theological education from whatever remote location they choose.

We also re-established a marketing campaign for the STL (Licentiate in Sacred Theology) program this year. The STL in the New Evangelization is available via a hybrid delivery; 5 weeks in class, the remainder of a semester online. A number of those courses are now cross-listed to offer a Postgraduate Certificate in the New Evangelization online.

We remain a seminary with in-person seminarian formation, yet the grace and power of the Heart of Jesus Christ is without limit and our online programs give the seminary the ability to share our blessing with more people than ever before.

In the later part of the winter semester the sixth edition of the Program of Priestly Formation was promulgated. When the document became available I named two committees to review the formation program, which will cover the Propaedeutic, Discipleship and Configuration Phases of seminary formation while the Vocational Synthesis Phase will be reviewed by the MDiv Committee.

The faculty and staff will be asked for input once the formation team completes their initial study.

Accreditation is upon us. Thank you for all the work you have done in the self-study process for HLC and ATS. The work is on time and going well. I look forward to welcoming our visitors in 2023 and ‘24. 2023 and ‘24.

Changes
New:
John Lajiness - Director of Admissions 

Dr. Kevin Clarke - Dean of Institute of Lay Ministry

Analise Jenkins - temporary assistant to the Dean of Institute of Lay Ministry (while Natalia Gambin is on maternity leave)

Departures:
Retirement announcement for Ann Marie Connolly - effective at the end of 2022

We have started the search to find a new Director of Finance

Three Board of Trustee members have come to the end of their terms - Mrs. Denise Bertin-Epp, Mr. Ken Svoboda and Mr. Jeffrey Wagoner

Welcome to our two newly named board members - Mr. John Hale, President of Corporate Travel and Mr. Robert Schwartz, Senior Vice President of Ave Maria Mutual Funds

Our total number of Seminarians for this year is 105 and we are pleased and blessed to welcome men discerning the priesthood from the Archdiocese of Louisville, Kentucky to our community.