Fr. Burr delivered the following comments to the SHMS community to initiate the academic year on August 22, 2023.
Greetings in the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ!
To our 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 commence the 100th academic year in this seminary building.
Today we prayerfully renew our commitment to our students, and our share of working for the mission of this institution. May we enter into all the semester days as disciples of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
We also come to this day to seek and plan the course forward. We know where we have been, as individuals and as a seminary community, and we look for clarity on the pilgrim route ahead. God's counsel has been evident in our lives, as well as in this place, and we trust His providence will guide us in this academic year.
Seeking the course forward has become evermore obscure in our culture. There's confusion at every turn. At times, it seems the world is no longer directed by logic, instead, emotion, passions, and fear rule the human person. There are so many scenarios that bring sadness in our suffering culture. Amidst the difficulties we turn to Our Lord Jesus Christ to once again discover how to 'take up our cross and follow Him.' Jesus Christ's words in the parable of the weeds and wheat may not seem consoling here as they display the reality and not a solution, yet the human activity of the Church is not all weeds or wheat. There is no such good or right balance of the metaphorical weeds and wheat. The weeds may be present, yet our effort is to be grains who stand tall in the light of Christ to bring His life to our troubled world.
The weeds and wheat is in the 13th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew along with numerous rich parables. It precedes the parables that captured many moments of my prayer and reflection this summer.
The thirteenth chapter section entitled 'more parables' encapsulates the stories of the treasure, pearl, and the sorting of fish, which were repeated in the cycle of liturgical readings. These parables provided fuel for my prayer. I found great solace in them because they are direct with both human shrewdness and divine wisdom. Thus, I would like to share encouragement for entering into this year by reflecting upon Matthew 13. 44-52.
MT 44 "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
45 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, 46 and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
47 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea, and gathering fish of every kind; 48 and when it was filled, they drew it up on the beach; and they sat down and gathered the good fish into containers, but the bad they threw away. 49 So it will be at the Mend of the age; the angels will come forth and [i]take out the wicked from among the righteous, 50 and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
51 "Have you understood all these things?" They *said to Him, "Yes."
52 And [aa]Jesus said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old."
To begin my reflection, I will start with the closing lines, 'Have you understood all these things? They said to Him, 'Yes." The disciples in this scene with Jesus answer an unqualified 'yes' to understanding.
The parables provide a rather simple formula upon first glance; if you want the treasure or pearl, you know how to get it. Moreover, a good fish will not be thrown out.
In Christ's response, He states that the scribes, who convert as disciples of Jesus Christ, are now commissioned to teach the new treasure of Christ with an understanding of the old. Thus they will preach and teach salvation history; the old and the new. Nonetheless, the answer 'yes' from the present disciples does not signify that the disciples will 'go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations', which they will, but the answer 'yes' displays that they understand that the gift, i.e. salvation, can be lost.
Upon brief reflection we can sort out that someone left the treasure in the field and someone else does not value the pearl. The treasure may be left behind because it was forgotten or an individual died without passing it on. The same goes for the pearl. Does the merchant know the value? It does not seem to be known. Thus, items with such value, like the treasure or pearl, can be lost. Without an individual embracing the treasure or pearl, changing life for the treasure or pearl, have they really aligned their lives to the treasure?
If we or any disciples do not make our lives a sacrifice for the treasure, then we or they are useless fish to be discarded.
We either embrace the person who is the meaning for human existence or we are no good to anyone. This parable is so simple and direct. There is no nuance here. We are either about the treasure, about Jesus Christ, or what value do we have? As it states in Matthew 6.21, "For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be."
As members of the seminary community, we are not people who need to go on a mission to find treasure or a pearl because we have already been surprised by the gift of God's love. That's why we are here. We know the treasure.
Many technologies in our world have made daily life easier, but it has not made humans better. We are the same people that Jesus Christ came into this world to save. If anything, many forms of technology have made humans more insular and less expansive, or we could say more selfish and less charitable. We are still marred by sin and indifference, yet God loves us and through His providential care we can know who we are and that He wants something better than we want for ourselves.
Hence, we may ask, how do we live with the treasure or pearl, i.e. the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ? One way is we could sell our belongings and follow Him, but not everyone is called in such a way.
If we are going to love the treasure, Jesus Christ, we know the path is sacrifice like the path He took to show us His love. Therefore, what do we sacrifice as our act of love? It may be that our path is to sell off our selfish attitudes, opinions, prejudices, or anything that separates us from the love of Jesus. Then we can focus on the treasure and when we are able to focus without our selfish worldliness, we can see His Heart and what His Heart loves.
Connection to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ is the pearl of everything we do at SHMS, as seminarians, lay students, faculty and staff. Outside of our seminary environment, there are many voices vying for your attention that are from the busyness of our world and many voices looking to separate you from your faith, values, and virtuous living. Voices that tell you that there are other treasures or pearls, which underestimate God and make Him less important than His inestimable value. The weeds can be intimidating to the wheat. Nevertheless, This world and its destructive problems is the world we were given to contend with each day, yet, as people of hope, who are connected to the Heart of Christ, it is our role to recognize it is also the world God gave us to live in to discover His love. This world is where we can find the treasure of Jesus Christ. The seminary is the place we can sacrifice for the treasure.
Discovering the depths of the Heart of Jesus Christ is specific to the seminary's mission. The past academic year we restated our Mission Statement, which reads:
Sacred Heart Major Seminary primarily forms priests according to the Heart of Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd, and further, prepares priests, deacons and lay ecc/esia/ ministers, for the work of ministry in the New Evangelization.
We are co-workers in the Heart of Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd. All of us. This is a ministry. Seminary ministry is not only done in the classroom, formation sessions, spiritual direction, but through every interaction with a student or co-worker. Ministry at the seminary in its many and varied forms is the mystery in which Jesus Christ calls us to enter. Participating in daily ministry is part of the mystery of God's saving plan for you. Here at SHMS, the treasure of Jesus Christ is often before us and if you do not see it, wait for God's love to surprise you.
We minister at SHMS because God's love is discoverable, the treasure awaits, and, when discovered, it changes everything.
The depth of His love is beyond our imagination. As a part of my daily life and the formation team of priests, we witness a man discovering God's love for him almost daily as he discerns the priesthood and further understands how he can live more like Jesus Christ. There's always more to discover.
As I expressed to the attendees at the Archbishop's Gala this year, the first item that you will discover when seeking to connect with the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the primacy of relationship over action.
Jesus is the beloved of His Father before any of His ministry and miracles on earth. The hearts of the Father and the Son beat as one for eternity. We are invited into that relationship. To live and move synchronized to the Sacred Heart. In God's generosity, He first seeks to be connected to you; for you to recognize the treasure of His love that awaits you.
Relationship, i.e. connection to the Heart of Christ, must come before action. We love in an incomplete way without first knowing God's charity or love for you. Our action, our faith lived, is an expression of what we know from God. Thus, if we want to protest the dysfunction of our world, the struggles of our own heart, we should first discover the Sacred Heart of Jesus, without whom we are a clanging gong or a clashing cymbal; we make noise, but we are not in the song without first knowing His love. As co-workers in the Heart of Christ, God is glorified by our receiving the gift of His Son, worshiped by our discipleship, and praised by our making His life known to others. We can only engage in the ministry of the seminary by making a gift of ourselves, like Christ.
The treasure or pearl is the relationship with Jesus Christ, dwelling in His Sacred Heart. There we learn His Heart and what His Heart loves. His Heart loves you and desires we share this ministry, His ministry, in relationship with Him and fellow sell-outs for the treasure.
We are privileged to participate in the ministry of the seminary. The seminary is a place of struggle, challenge, examination, seeking, discovery, community, and relationship with Jesus Christ. There is inherent pressure to preaching the gospel, to discerning a vocation in the Church, to being attentive as a servant and not seeking to be served. This ministry is not easy. This work is only to be done in His Heart, joining even our daily tasks to His Heart, as outside of His Heart is useless fishing.
I am so impressed with all of you. SHMS has a dedicated and talented faculty and staff. The ministry of the seminary has provided a faithful intellectual formation and charity in how we serve our students. Through you the seminary is in the caring hands of individuals who know the treasure of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Knowing the treasure of Christ does not make us business as usual. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is always new and refreshes every age, but a new age needs the old and the new to be used by the scribes. May we approach the 2023-24 academic year with the refreshment and freedom of knowing where our treasure is and reveal the Sacred Heart of Jesus as our treasure to all that we serve.