Rector's Address – August 24, 2016

Divine Friendship II

Forming Disciples by Following the Poor One

Rector's Address 2016

Posted by Sacred Heart Major Seminary on Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Luke 9: 3-4

“And he said to them, ‘Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics.  And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart.’”

May Jesus Christ be praised.

I begin with these words from the Gospel of Luke because they form a solid foundation for my address this year.  They speak directly and powerfully about our need to rely on the Lord and not ourselves, to be humble and docile knowing that the mystery of grace surrounding us is far greater than we can ever imagine, and to recognize that by giving ourselves over to the Lord, we can have the joy, confidence, and freedom knowing that we will always be guided by the Spirit. 

Last year in my address, building off three years of reflection on preparing our students to be heroic witnesses with missionary hearts, I introduced another perspective for our consideration, a reflection to guide us in our teaching, spiritual direction, and formation of our students (for ourselves too):  divine friendship in Christ.  The gift of divine friendship draws us into the type of relationship that is real and transformative.  It is not a superficial friendship based exclusively on affirmation, but rather, a relationship that inspires, a relationship that challenges, a relationship that brings the light of truth, a relationship that leads to conversion.  

In a culture that is increasingly hostile and toxic, a culture where civil conversations and authentic understanding of the other are increasingly rare, it seems clear that we ourselves and our students need to be true friends of Jesus before we can ever hope to give witness to him.  And so, as I noted, “genuine friendship is rooted in the charity and poverty of Jesus.”  Responding to the invitation by Jesus to be his friend means we are joyfully embarking on a journey of transformation, a journey of conversion, and the power of our witness emerges from the humble awareness of how little we have, and how much we need.  Our engagement with the culture, then, emerges from this real friendship.  Rather than objectifying or depersonalizing culture, (which makes it easier to drift toward the extremes and take a position of entrenched antagonism) our teaching and our formation should move the students to a Gospel oriented modality of engagement.   Our students need to be aware of the mysterious and beautiful way in which Jesus has already embraced humanity, our poverty.  “Though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped.  Rather he emptied himself and took the form of a slave, coming in human likeness” (Phil. 2: 6-7).  The Word of God engages humanity on the deepest level by means of the incarnation, saves us, and transforms the world.

This year, I want to expand on that initial reflection and place it in a distinct context:  we form disciples by following the poor one.  I want to approach this by reflecting on each pillar of formation, because in Jesus the poor one, we enter into his poverty, and we see each pillar of formation as an integrated manifestation of the whole ecclesial body, the body sharing in the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, a body docile and humble to the promptings of the Holy Spirit (PPF, 69).  So, forming our students to engage the culture well, to be friends of Jesus, to be his disciples and heroic witnesses, means following the poor one, and seeing in the poor themselves, the great gift that keeps us close to Jesus. 

Human Formation:  Matthew 8: 18-27

“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. …”

The primary goal of human formation, as articulated in Patores dabo vobis and the Program for Priestly Formation is to form the student “to be a bridge and not an obstacle for others in their meeting with Jesus Christ.  ...As the humanity of the Word made flesh was the instrumentum salutis so the humanity of the priest is instrumental in mediating the redemptive gifts of Christ to people today” (PPF, 79).  To be a bridge means to be one whose heart is strong, whose heart will not wither under the hot, mid-day sun of ministry.  It means being one who is free, one who is humble enough to be ‘walked over’ without any notice.  Being a bridge to Christ, then, requires a sustained effort to grow in virtue.  It needs to be deeply rooted.  For that reason, growth in virtue is a center-piece and critical component when we consider forming disciples who follow the poor, humble one. 

And that is why this passage strikes me on a number of levels.  First, we see the enthusiasm of the scribe who aspires to follow Jesus, much like the enthusiasm of our students when they arrive.  The response is immediate from Jesus, who reminds the scribe about the poverty of the Son.  Furthermore, we note that it is not by our own means or our own strength that we form our students or that our students enter ministry.  Rather, it is by recognition that we need to grow in faith.  We need to grow in virtue.  Reflecting on this passage, Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, in his book Way of the Disciple, offers these compelling words:  “Once the disciples run out of every possible personal resource of strength and understanding, once mortal fear has washed their eyes clean, then and only then does the Lord work the marvel; by a mere word, he calms the winds and the sea.  In a real sense, Jesus can do this in my life only when I allow him and beg him to, only when I run to him with untiring pleas and thus show him that I no longer trust in myself, only when I stop playing the sorcerer’s apprentice over the cauldron of my life and become the silent, expectant disciple.  I have to allow him to be the Lord of the tormented sea of my soul, the Lord of the waves of my passions – Lord of both my greed and my sadness, Lord of both my anger and my eroticism, my envy, my pride, my drive to accomplish and shine and be admired” (69).

These words capture in precise manner the work of human formation.  Human formation is done in the context of virtue.  It moves the student to become a mature, free, strong, and most especially, humble bridge to Christ.  Growth in virtue, though, does not emerge from a vacuum, but rather is shaped and formed by practice in concrete circumstances.  And so it is that we commit ourselves to exploring the way in which formation in virtue assists the seminarian in becoming the humble, poor, and yet faithful  and Spirit-lead shepherd. 

Spiritual formation:  Romans 8:  26

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”

The primary goal of spiritual formation is “to live in intimate and unceasing union with God the Father through his Son, Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit” (PPF, 107).  That inspiring goal is realized most profoundly when we echo the words of St. Paul, “for we do not know how to pray as we ought.”  To follow the poor one in spiritual formation means that we encourage our students to seek always a deep and abiding relationship with Christ.  A relationship that is real (not merely intellectual), one that is concrete and deeply rooted.  A relationship that is alive and leads to proclamation.  

And yet proclamation has its most profound efficacy when it originates from poverty and humility.  An essential form of poverty is witnessed by the one who does not possess the work of his or her own hands.  The work is done solely as a gift which is given away.  It is done for the glory and honor of God and for the benefit of our brothers and sisters.  Soon to be St. Theresa of Calcutta repeatedly reminded her sisters that genuine poverty extends to the every part of our lives.    "However beautiful the work is, be detached from it, even ready to give it up.  The work is not yours.  The talents God has given you are not yours; they have been given to you for your use, for the glory of God.  Be great and use everything in you for the good Master."1 The spirit of poverty, then is formed in the heart of each disciple and allows us to be appropriately detached from all that we do in order that we might be completely attached to him in all that we are.     

At the same time, we recognize that it is not “you who have chosen me, but I who have chosen you” (Jn. 15: 16).   When we share in the poverty of Jesus, our relationship with him is not shaped in isolation from the community, or in opposition to it, but rather from within.  Poverty as it relates to spiritual formation means that we grow in our personal relationship with Christ in the ecclesial context, within the family, and not apart from it.  The poor disciple is one who sees in the other members of the ecclesial family an opportunity to learn, an opportunity of grace.  The poor one understands that this relationship, while personal, is not privatized.  It needs to be tested from within and from without.  And authentic growth with Jesus occurs only when, in humility and poverty, we place ourselves before Jesus and also engage with the ecclesial community.

Intellectual Formation:  Luke 24: 13-35

“Were not our hearts burning”

This well-known passage that recounts the journey of two disciples on the road to Emmaus reminds me clearly about the poverty and humility that is required as we consider the task of intellectual formation.  “Were not our hearts burning.”  During this journey, this walk, the disciples engage in a conversation, and not just a superficial conversation.  They are trying to explore the meaning of what just happened.  But they are downcast because they do not understand.

It is at this point that the Lord draws near to them and speaks to them.  We are reminded by this movement that it is the Lord who approaches us first, who calls us, loves us, forgives us, and then sends us out for proclamation.  Within the context of an encounter with Jesus, we hear the question:  “What are you discussing?”  What are you exploring?  But it is Jesus who says in another passage, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will” (Matt. 11: 25).


It is only through repeated encounters with the Lord that intellectual formation moves from an exercise of the mind to a genuine conversion of the heart.  It is the deliberate process whereby we actively journey with the Lord in a humble way and allow him to approach us, to speak to us, and to reveal himself to us through study and prayer.  This is what Pope John Paul II meant when he wrote in Pastores dabo vobis: “intellectual formation is to be integrated with a spirituality marked by a personal experience with God.  In this way a purely abstract approach to knowledge is overcome” (51). The encounter of the two disciples is an example of the way in which intellectual formation can unfold in the mind and the heart of the student, not through an encounter with abstract principles, but rather, through the transformative encounter with Jesus himself, the poor one, the friend, and in turn a recognition of our own poverty.  


Pastoral Formation:  Mark 10: 35-45

“And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him, and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’  And he said to them, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’  And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’  But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking.  Are you able to drink the chalice that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?’  ‘We are able.’  And Jesus said to them, ‘The chalice that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’  And when the ten hear it, they began to be indignant at James and John.  And Jesus called them together and said to them, ‘You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.  But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.  For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The primary goal of pastoral formation for our students is to make them “true shepherds of souls after the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, teacher, priest, and shepherd” (PPF, 238).  Pastoral formation is exemplified in the charity of Christ.  This task means forming them to stand with and for Christ, standing and leading the sheep in and through the poverty of Jesus himself.  If our students truly seek to “put on the mind of Christ” then they will seek to be formed by the same one who did not cling to his divinity.

For this reason, in the passage noted above, Jesus takes the opportunity to teach his disciples about their future pastoral ministry.  Their ministry will be intimately linked to his own self-sacrifice.  As for those who share truly in divine friendship with Jesus, they will also share in the same chalice, the same cup of poverty and suffering, the same glory.  And to emphasize the point, Jesus reminds them that those who are shepherds need to be aware of what, in fact, they have as well as what they do not have.  Exercising pastoral ministry within the context of divine friendship keeps us aware that it is primarily through God’s grace that we accomplish anything.

And here especially is where the connection between the poverty of Jesus, our own poverty, and the gift of the material poor among us intersect in a powerful way.  It can happen often that in our exercise of pastoral ministry we see in the materially poor those who do not have, those who are missing something, those who need our help.  It can often happen that we unconsciously see ourselves as the source of generosity.  We may be aware only of what we are giving.  The poor among us are truly a gift, and through them, the Lord looks us in the eye and reminds us of our own poverty.  He looks us in the eye and gives us a gift through them.  He challenges us.  He consoles us.  And he moves us to see something different.  We might even hear Jesus say through the poor, “it is not you who have fed me, but I who have fed you”, “It is not you who have saved me, but I who have saved you.”   This is a great gift of the poor, the marginalized, the silent ones among us.  Let’s allow ourselves to be shaped by that gift, to be drawn into that mystery, and hopefully see that this is where our treasure truly resides.

This comprehensive task of seminary formation is exciting and awe-inspiriting. Our efforts, whether in the classroom, in spiritual direction, human formation or pastoral formation sessions, should begin with our own pleading with the Lord to see that his grace is sufficient, and further, to work with our students so that they see the joy, freedom, humility and courage that comes from following the poor one.  There need be no fear on our part to embark on the journey with no staff, no bag, no bread, no money; and only one tunic.  The more we can lean on the Lord, the more can recognize our dependence upon him, the more we come to realize how truly blessed we already are. 


Looking Forward:  Institutional Strategic Plan

With these reflections in mind, and taking into account the abundance of grace with which we are blessed, I turn my focus to the next few years ahead of us at Sacred Heart.  I would like to offer some thoughts about our new strategic plan and then finally the more immediate institutional updates.  

As I noted a year ago, the Administrative Council worked diligently for over a year to consult, explore, and envision how we might live out our mission more effectively.  The primary, but not exclusive, product of that good work is the updated Institutional Strategic Plan.  We are very excited about the quality of the plan, the relevance of the plan, and the way in which the plan reflects our excitement about how the Lord, by means of his grace, is directing us, guiding us, and calling forth from our own poverty a confident faith in the mission entrusted to us.

The whole purpose of a Strategic Plan is to keep the entire seminary focused on mission.  Staff, faculty, students, the administration, and the Board of Trustees all participate in the formulation of the plan, and the result is that we become inspired by a collective direction, we can identify what factors lead to success, craft a strategy of how to get there, guide the seminary in allocating resources, and assist the seminary in evaluating data to measure performance.

In the reconfiguration of the Institutional Strategic Plan, we have identified six key priorities for the seminary to address over the next five years.  Each priority has a set of attainable goals and a set of accompanying measures so that we can track our effectiveness.  

The first priority for Sacred Heart Major Seminary is a continued commitment to the new evangelization.  We have been committed to this for over a decade now, but given the many blessings we have received and the experienced faculty who are here, we believe the Lord is calling to take these next steps:  to become a leading center for the New Evangelization, serving the needs of the Archdiocese of Detroit and contributing to the mission of the Universal Church.  In addressing that priority, we commit ourselves to a bi-annual academic conference on topics relevant to the leaders of the New Evangelization.  To increase attentiveness to diversity, the poor, and the marginalized by addressing these issues at bi-annual conferences.  To review the seminarian evaluation process to integrate more thoroughly formation in virtue as a key component to effective ministry in the New Evangelization.  To evaluate programs and student services to improve their quality and alignment with our focus on the New Evangelization.  To host a quarterly online series for pastoral ministers and leaders of the New Evangelization, and to develop our content website to include content created by our faculty and alumni in the topic of the New Evangelization.

Priority Two:  Increase Awareness of the unique character of Sacred Heart, a treasure for the Church in the heart of Detroit.  To address this priority, we hope to establish a strong social media strategy to promote the mission of Sacred Heart; to increase the promotion of faculty publication and peer-reviewed scholarly articles; to improve linkage between faculty social media activities and seminary recognition;  to promote our visibility within the community and among civic leaders, to develop a plan for engagement with local colleges and universities, and develop a plan to increase the visibility and collaboration with parishes in the Archdiocese.

Priority Three:  building on the success of our STL program, we will seek to expand our national and international educational outreach through creative distance learning programs and strategic collaborative partnerships.  First, we will align recruitment and development of faculty and staff with our strategic priority to expand distance learning; implement an effective online pedagogy program; develop an online repository of educational content; study the feasibility of collaborations with other academic institutions in establishing visiting professorships; and establish partnerships with national and international ministries and organizations for promotion of online programs.

 Priority Four:  to recruit, retain, and develop a highly credentialed faculty and staff who are committed to the formation of students for ministry.  In this priority, we will seek to support the faculty and staff by increased engagement in the institutional plan and assessment, by educating them in their roles and responsibilities; ensure that staff are appropriately trained in the essential functions of their positions; study the effectiveness of the interactions between faculty and students; study the effectiveness of our communications between seminary offices and students; acquire relevant information regarding faculty and staff use of technological resources; and develop a plan based on information gathered to improve adoption and proficient use of technology.

Priority Five:  to recruit a diverse group of students to share and witness to Jesus Christ.  In this priority, we will develop a comprehensive strategic enrollment plan; increase scholarship fund availability for scholarship programs which incentivize new student recruitment; increase the alignment between the goals of our degree programs and the support services provided by the library; increase recruitment activities at parishes and other locations with high demographic populations underrepresented in the Sacred Heart commuter student population; and leverage the STL program connections to engage ordinaries and religious superiors in conversations about utilizing Sacred Heart for priestly formation.

Priority Six:  to build up our financial resources, assuring the freedom to advance our mission and increase the reach of our programs.  To accomplish this, we will establish a plan to increase our endowment by $50 million over the next ten years in order to increase institutional stability and future vitality; ensure that key expenditures are in line with industry standards, by comparing them to data from peer ATS institutions and other higher education institutions; and evaluate our degree programs in terms of their efficiency.

These are the six exciting priorities for us moving forward, and we know that it is not simply by our efforts alone that we bring this plan into reality, but rather, it’s our careful disposition of listening to the Spirit, being docile to the way in which the Lord is moving us, and a confidence born in faith that we work on these.


Institutional Update

Gala.  Each year there are a number of institutional updates to communicate, updates that touch upon the growth and vibrancy of the seminary.  The first I would like to mention is the success of the Archbishop’s Gala this year.  The Gala takes a tremendous amount of work to prepare and also reflects the overwhelming generosity of our donors.  This year we achieved new records for attendance and revenue.  We had over 900 people attend and raised $995,000.  For one evening, those are exceptional numbers, but again, it reflects the commitment of our seminary community and the generosity of our donors.  Our goal for next year is to increase attendance and reach 1,000 participants and, with God’s blessing, reach the 1 million dollar mark in the near future.

Narthex.  Also due to the generosity of our donors, you’ll notice the restoration of the narthex just outside the chapel.  This area of the chapel is often not noticed, but it has its own beauty and purpose, preparing our hearts to encounter the Lord as we enter the chapel.  It is my hope that the work will conclude very soon and I think you will agree with me that it looks fantastic. 

STL.  On a programmatic level, as I mentioned in my email last week, we are certainly blessed with the success of the summer STL program.  The program is now at nearly 40 priests from all over the United States, Canada, and around the world, and it is likely that we will be over 50 next summer.  To see these priests dedicate themselves to an intensive program, to go about their work so joyfully, and even consider the weeks here like a ‘retreat’ is inspiring.  On the administrative side, the program requires a lot of preparation and maintenance, so as I mentioned, it’s a whole team effort.  We can be truly excited that this program is making a significant difference in the work of evangelization throughout the country.  And for that we thank God.

ILM.  Regarding administrative updates, after thoughtful consideration, we are changing the name of the institute for ministry.  It is a small change, but one that reflects the core work of the institute, to form effective lay ecclesial ministers according to the norms in Coworkers in the Vineyard.  The new name for the institute will thus be:  Institute for Lay Ministry (ILM).  It is a small change, but also gives more focus to the important work of the institute.  The search for a Dean is on-going and we have some exceptional candidates to consider.  We hope to have the new Dean in place by mid-September.  Please join me in prayer that the Lord keep us focused and reliant on him as we move forward with this work.

Speaker Series.  Another exciting initiative, which emerges from our Strategic Plan, is the Lay Ecclesial Ministry Series, ‘In the Heart of the Church’.  We started this last year in cooperation with the Archdiocese of Detroit, and hope to gain on the good momentum from the first year.  In this free series, we hope to offer inspiring content that will help the continuing efforts of our lay ecclesial ministers on the front lines.  This series reflects our commitment to the need for quality on-going formation opportunities for all those engaged in ministry.  This fall, we will welcome Fr. Michael White and Mr. Tom Corcoran who will be presenting on “Rebuild your Parish.”  They are a nationally known team and it will be especially timely as the Archdiocese makes immediate preparations for Synod 16.

Enrollment.  In terms of enrollment, I am pleased to share with you some information regarding our efforts at recruiting.  Even though we don’t have final numbers yet, our commuter enrollment is trending very well.  That is exciting considering how challenging the landscape of recruiting is for theological schools throughout the United States.  We are blessed.  In terms of seminarians, we have over 30 new seminarians entering this year.  That is a large intake, but we also had a large number depart from the program this year.   So in the end, we will start the year three less than last year.  I will continue to listen carefully to our sponsoring bishops and also continue the work of reaching out to new dioceses.  

Property.  The final update addresses the property acquisition.  You probably noticed that no work has been done yet, and wonder, ‘what’s going on?’  Property acquisition is a new arena for me, and I’m learning that things sometimes take a little longer than expected, especially the tangle of legal documents and permits.  While we might be behind in the schedule somewhat, I very much look forward to seeing this project get underway and will offer updates as they are communicated to me.   


New additions to SHMS

In the final part of my address, I offer words of welcome to new members of the Sacred Heart Major Seminary community.  

Three people began work during the course of the year and were not here at the time of my last address.  All three are in the Dean of Studies department:  Dr. David Twellman, our Registrar, Melissa Pordon, administrative assistant to the Dean, and Juanita Van Dyke, administrative assistant.

Fr. Peter Ryan, SJ.  Fr. Ryan  is a Jesuit priest from the Maryland Province.  He is an accomplished moral theologian, with a long list of publications.  He also brings with him many years of experience as a spiritual director and director of spiritual formation programs, specifically at Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary (Emmitsburg), and Kenrick-Glennon Seminary (St. Louis).  We are delighted that the province released Fr. Ryan for service at Sacred Heart and we welcome him warmly.

Jeffrey Mesch. Mr. Mesch, as I announced via email recently, is our new Technology Manager.  Mr. Mesch is highly qualified with almost 20 years of experience in system design and management.  He comes to us from his most recent position at Henry Ford Learning Institute.  He is a man whose deep faith and enthusiasm will assist us with living out our mission well.  I take this opportunity also to thank Ann Marie Connolly and all those who participated in the search process. 


As I conclude my address, my thoughts turn back to the passage from the Gospel of Luke:  “And he said to them, ‘Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics.  And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart.’”  On September 4th the universal church will recognize one of the great heroic witnesses of our time, a woman with a missionary heart, a strong heart, a heart that was not fearful of suffering nor of those who suffered.  A woman who reverenced the presence of Jesus in the poor and who longed to be with the poor.

The life and ministry of this remarkable woman, Mother Teresa, seemed to have a singular focus:  to love as Jesus loved; to serve as Jesus served.  To share divine friendship with the poor one.  To be a disciple of the poor one.  To be a humble bridge.  She is quoted in No Greater Love as saying, "Poverty is freedom.  It is a freedom so that what I possess doesn't own me, so that what I possess doesn't hold me down, so that my possessions don't keep me from sharing or giving of myself."2

During the next twelve months, as we conclude the Year of Mercy, as we call for the Holy Spirit to bless the Archdiocese during the Synod, as we pray for an end to violence and racism throughout our country, as we work to form disciples who follow the poor one, we can be confident and hopeful that our work here is making a difference.  We might not always see the immediate fruits of our labor, but the more we can entrust the work our hands and hearts to him, commend all of our efforts to his Sacred Heart, the more we grow in freedom and  allow his grace to sustain us and guide us.

“Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”


1No Greater Love, 71.

2Blessed Theresa of Calcutta, (No Greater Love, 96-97)

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