Pope John Paul II Speaks to Seminarians

On September 13, 1987, Pope John Paul II addressed seminarians at the Cathedral of San Fernando in San Antonio, Texas.

“Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground” (Ex. 3, 5).

These words of God marked the beginning of a new of life for Moses. The place where he was standing was holy ground, for he was standing in the awesome presence of Almighty God. And on that holy ground, he heard a voice calling him to a special mission of service to the People of God. From that moment forward, Moses’ life would be radically altered. He would henceforth place his life at the service of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. No longer would his life be his own. He would lead the Chosen People out of slavery in Egypt towards freedom in the Promised Land. In meeting God on holy ground, speaking with him there, and hearing his summons to service, Moses came to a new understanding of himself and entered into a deeper commitment to God and his people. The mission of Moses began under the sign of God’s holiness.

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord: it is a deep joy for me to be with you today in this historic Cathedral of San Fernando, the oldest cathedral sanctuary in the United States. It is with great gratitude to God that I meet you who are preparing to serve the Lord as priests and religious, you who in a singular and remarkable way have, like Moses, heard the voice of God calling you to that "holy ground" of a special vocation in the Church. You have stood in the awesome presence of the Lord and heard him call you by name. And listening to his voice with prayerful discernment, you have joyfully begun your formation for the priesthood or the religious life.

A vocation in the Church, from the human point of view, begins with a discovery, with finding the pearl of great price. You discover Jesus: his person, his message, his call. In the Gospel which we have heard today, we reflect on the call of Jesus to the first disciples. The first thing that Andrew did after meeting Jesus was to seek out his brother Simon and tell him: "We have found the Messiah!" Then Philip, in a similar way, sought out Nathaniel and told him: "We have found the one Moses spoke of in the Law - the prophets too - Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth" (Cfr. Io. 1, 35-51).

After the initial discovery, a dialogue in prayer ensues, a dialogue between Jesus and the one called, a dialogue which goes beyond words and expresses itself in love.

Questions are an important part of this dialogue. For example, in the Gospel account of the call of the disciples, we are told that "when Jesus turned around and noticed them following him, he asked them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which means teacher), where do you stay?’ ‘Come and see’, he answered” (Ibid. 1, 38-39).

What begins as a discovery of Jesus moves to a greater understanding and commitment through a prayerful process of questions and discernment. In this process, our motives are purified. We come face to face with pointed questions such as "What are you looking for?" And we even find ourselves asking questions of Jesus, as Nathanael did: "How do you know me?" (Io. 1, 48). It is only when we have reflected candidly and honestly in the silence of our hearts that we begin to be convinced that the Lord is truly calling us.

Yet, even then, the process of discernment is not over. Jesus says to us as he said to Nathanael: "You will see much greater things than that" (Ibid. 1, 50). Throughout our lives, after we have made a sacred and permanent commitment and after our active service of the Lord has begun, we still need the dialogue of prayer that will continually deepen our knowledge and love of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Dear students for the priesthood and candidates for the religious life: you stand in a long line of people who have given themselves totally for the sake of the Kingdom of God, and who have shared our Lord’s Sacrifice and entered into his Paschal victory. For generations many of the generous priests and religious who have served the Church in Texas have come with immigrants from other lands, or as missionaries from other places. I wish to express my gratitude to God for the contribution which they have made to establishing the Church here. At the same time I praise the Lord of the harvest for all of you and for the growing number of native-born vocations, and I fervently pray that this increase continues.

Like all those who have gone before you, you will have trials. Your fidelity will be ensured only when you invoke the strength of the Lord, only when you rely on Christ’s grace. But if Christ is the center of your lives, the one for whom you live and die, then your generous service to your brothers and sisters will know no limits. You will love those who are difficult to love, and you will enrich the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I would now like to speak to the seminarians. Dear brothers in Christ: as men preparing for priestly ordination, it is important for you to have a clear understanding of the vocation to which you feel called so that your promise of lifelong fidelity may be maturely made and faithfully kept. Your life in the priesthood will closely join you with the Eucharist; you will be ministers of the mysteries of God; you will be expected to preach and teach in the name of the Church.

The Eucharist is the principal reason for the ordained priesthood. As I said in my 1980 Holy Thursday Letter: "Through our ordination . . . we priests are united in a singular and exceptional way to the Eucharist. In a certain way we derive from it and exist for it" (Ioannis Pauli PP. II. Dominicae Cenae, 2). No work we do as priests is so important. The celebration of the Eucharist is the way that we best serve our brothers and sisters in the world because it is the source and center of the dynamism of their Christian lives.

How crucial it is then, for our own happiness and for the sake of a fruitful ministry, that we cultivate a deep love for the Eucharist. During your seminary days, a thorough theological study of the nature of the Eucharistic mystery and an accurate knowledge of liturgical norms will prepare you well to foster the full, conscious and active participation of the community in the liturgy. The future priest is called to reflect and to profess with the Second Vatican Council that "the other sacraments, as well as every ministry of the Church and every work of the apostolate, are linked with the Holy Eucharist and are directed towards it. For the most Blessed Eucharist contains the Church’s entire spiritual wealth, that is, Christ himself" (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 5).

The task of preaching the Gospel is of supreme importance in the priesthood. And since, as Saint Paul says, "faith comes through hearing, and what is heard is the word of Christ" (Rom. 10, 17), seminary formation must aim at fostering a deep understanding of the word of God as it is lived and proclaimed by the Church. Always remember the words of the Prophet Jeremiah: "When I found your words, I devoured them; they became my joy and the happiness of my heart, because I bore your name, O Lord” (Ier. 15, 16).

In order for your preaching to bear fruit in the lives of those whom you will serve, you will have to nourish in your own mind and heart a real internal adherence to the Magisterium of the Church. For, as the Council reminded us, “the task of priests is not to teach their own wisdom but God’s word, and to summon all people urgently to conversion and to holiness” (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 4).

The priest needs to know the real living conditions of the people he serves, and he must live among them as a true brother in Christ. He can never be separated from the community. But there is a real sense in which, like the Apostle Paul, he is, in the very words of Scripture, "set apart to proclaim the Gospel of God" (Rom. 1, 1). In his priestly identity he is commissioned for a special service, a unique service, to the Body of Christ. For this reason, the Second Vatican Council spoke in this way: “By their vocation and ordination, priests of the New Testament are indeed set apart in a certain sense within the midst of God’s people. But this is so, not that they may be separated from this people or from any man, but that they may be totally dedicated to the work for which the Lord raised them up. They cannot be ministers of Christ unless they are witnesses and dispensers of a life other than this earthly one” (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 3).

Each one of you is called to embrace freely a celibate life for the sake of Jesus and his Kingdom, in order to become a "man for others". If modeled on the generous divine and human love of Jesus for his Father and for every man, woman and child, your celibacy will mean an enhancement of your life, a greater closeness to God’s people, an eagerness to give yourself without reserve. By embracing celibacy in the context of the priesthood, you are committing yourself to a deeper and more universal love. Above all celibacy means the gift of yourself to God. It will be the response, in Christ and the Church, to the gifts of Creation and Redemption. It will be part of your sharing, at the deepest level of human freedom and generosity, in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Humanly speaking this sacrifice is difficult because of our human weaknesses; without prayer it is impossible. It will also require discipline and effort and persevering love on your part. But in your gift of celibacy to Christ and his Church, even the world will be able to see the meaning of the Lord’s grace and the power of his Paschal Mystery. This victory must always be visible in your joy.

The Council stressed the essential difference between the ordained priesthood of all the baptized, and prescribed a priestly formation in seminaries which is distinct from other forms of formation (Cfr. Lumen Gentium, 10; Optatam Totius, 4). At the heart of this essential difference is the truth that Jesus entrusted the Twelve with the authority to proclaim the Gospel, celebrate the Eucharist, forgive sins and provide for the pastoral care of the community. This authority is given for a truly specific purpose and through ordination is shared by the successors of the apostles and their collaborators in the ordained priesthood. It is given for a particular ministry of service to be carried out in imitation of the Son of Man who came to serve. The ministry of the ordained priest is essential to the life and development of the Church; it is an essential service to the rest of the Church. It is clear that those who are preparing for this specific ministry will have special needs and requirements that differ from those of the rest of the community.

All the members of the Church are summoned to share in her mission by reason of their Baptism and Confirmation. Priests can best assist and encourage others in the service of the Gospel by being faithful themselves to their priestly ministry in the Church. “Hence, whether engaged in prayer and adoration, preaching the word, offering the Eucharistic Sacrifice, and ministering the other sacraments, or performing any of the works of the ministry for people, priests are contributing to the extension of God’s glory as well as to the development of divine life in people” (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 2)...

Of course, the call to holiness is a universal call. All members of the Church, without exception, are summoned by God to grow in personal sanctity and to share in the mission of the Church. A heightened awareness of this truth has been one of the fruits of the Second Vatican Council. And it has helped foster a clearer awareness of the role of the laity in building up the Kingdom, as well as a closer collaboration of the laity with the clergy and religious. As persons preparing for the priesthood and religious life, it will be your privilege to help explore still more effective forms of collaboration in the future. But even more importantly, you will be in a position to encourage the lay people to fulfill that mission which is uniquely their own in those situations and places in which the Church can be the salt of the earth only through them.

The Council spoke very clearly about their special mission. Among other things it stated: "The laity, by their very vocation, seek the Kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven" (Lumen Gentium, 31). This activity of the laity constitutes a specifìc contribution to the Body of Christ. Yours is another charism, a different gift to be lived differently, so that, in true diversity, there may be real unity in the work of service...

I wish to add a word of deep appreciation to all those parents who sustain and encourage their children in the following of Christ. The prayerful support, understanding and love that you give them is of immense value.

At this time I wish to appeal to the Church in the United States for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. The duty of fostering such vocations rests on the whole Christian community, and certainly families have traditionally made the greatest contribution. We must always remember too the impact on vocations that can be made by zealous priests and religious, by their example of generous service, by the witness of their charity, their goodness and their joy. Above all, the key to vocations is persevering prayer, as Jesus himself commanded: "The harvest is good but labourers are scarce. Beg the harvest master to send out labourers to gather his harvest” (Matth. 9, 37-38).

Dear brothers and sisters: you have come to know the Lord Jesus. You have heard his voice, discovered his love, and answered his call. May he, the Lord Jesus, who has begun this good work in you bring it to completion for the glory of his Father and by the power of his Spirit. Remember always: "the place where you stand is holy ground" (Ex. 3, 5).

And may the Blessed Virgin Mary help you by her prayers, and by the example of her love.

(Courtesy of www.vatican.va)

On October 6, 1995, Pope John Paul II addressed seminarians in a homily during Evening Vespers at the chapel of St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, New York.

"O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come, teach us the way of wisdom" (Advent Antiphon, December 17). 

Dear Brothers, Cardinals, Bishops, 
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

These words of the Advent Antiphon come to mind as we listen to the reading of today’s Vespers here in this beautiful chapel of Saint Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul writes of wisdom: "What we utter is God’s wisdom: a mysterious, a hidden wisdom. God planned it before all ages for our glory" (1 Cor. 2: 7). But what wisdom is this? Saint Paul is speaking of God’s plan for our salvation, the plan brought to completion by the Eternal Word, Divine Wisdom himself, the Son who is of one being with the Father, the Holy Word of God spoken of in the Advent Antiphon. This is the Word, of course, of whom Saint John speaks in the Prologue of his Gospel: "In the beginning was the Word. The Word was in God’s presence and the Word was God... The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we have seen his glory" (Jn. 1: 1.14).

Dear members of this Seminary community, and you from other Seminaries, as well as the many people outside this Chapel who have joined us: Eternal Wisdom became flesh, being born of the Virgin Mary. This is why we pray to Mary as the "Seat of Wisdom", Sedes Sapientiae. Wisdom, the Person of the Son, was conceived in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit. Born of her flesh, Jesus is Eternal Wisdom, the Son of God, whose glory is revealed in his passing from the Cross to the Resurrection. It is crucial that you seminarians understand this because, as Saint Paul says, the "rulers of this age" did not understand God’s wisdom at the time, for – he writes – "if they had known it, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory" (1 Cor. 2: 8). And many do not understand it today.

Even some who call themselves Christians do not recognize that Christ is the Eternal Son of the Father who brings true wisdom into the world. For this reason, they do not understand or accept the teachings of the Church. Perhaps you have already been confronted by this. You will certainly have to confront it as priests. If you are to become priests, it will be for the purpose – above all other purposes – of proclaiming the Word of God and feeding God’s people with the Body and Blood of Christ. If you do this faithfully, teaching the wisdom that comes from above, you will often be ignored as Christ was ignored, and even rejected as Christ was rejected. "I preach Christ and Christ crucified", says Saint Paul (Cf. ibid. 1: 23).

Why has the Pope come to Dunwoodie to give you such a serious message? Because in Christ we are friends (Cf. Jn. 15: 15), and friends can talk about serious matters. If there is one challenge facing the Church and her priests today, it is the challenge of transmitting the Christian message whole and entire, without letting it be emptied of its substance. The Gospel cannot be reduced to mere human wisdom. Salvation lies not in clever human words or schemes, but in the Cross and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. The wisdom of the Cross is at the heart of the life and ministry of every priest. This is the sublime "science" which, above all other learning, the Seminary is meant to impart to you: "The Spirit we have received is not the world’s spirit but God’s Spirit... we speak... not in words of human wisdom, but in words taught by the Spirit" (1Cor. 2: 12-13).

This is also the framework of the service I have tried to render at the United Nations during these days. If the Pope did something other than what Saint Paul calls "interpreting spiritual things in spiritual terms" (Ibid. 2: 13), what message could he preach? How could I justify my presence and my speaking to that Assembly? My task is not to speak in purely human terms about merely human values, but in spiritual terms about spiritual values, which are ultimately what make us fully human.

Over the magnificent doors of this chapel I am able to read words that have a very special meaning for me: "Aperite portas Redemptori". These were my words to the peoples of the world at the very beginning of my Pontificate: "Help the Pope", I said, "and all those who wish to serve Christ and with Christ’s power to serve the human person and the whole of mankind. Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ"! (John Paul II, Homily at Saint Peter's Basilica, 5, 22 October 1978)

Do not be afraid, I say, because great courage is required if we are to open the doors to Christ, if we are to let Christ enter into our hearts so fully that we can say with Saint Paul, "The life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me" (Gal. 2: 20), Conquering fear is the first and indispensable step for the priest if he is to open the doors, first of his own heart, then of the hearts of the people he serves, to Christ the Redeemer. You need courage to follow Christ, especially when you recognize that so much of our dominant culture is a culture of flight from God, a culture which displays a not – so – hidden contempt for human life, beginning with the lives of the unborn, and extending to contempt for the frail and the elderly. Some people say that the Pope speaks too much about the "culture of death". But these are times in which – as I wrote in my Encyclical Evangelium Vitae – "choices once unanimously considered criminal and rejected by the common moral sense are gradually becoming socially acceptable" (John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 4). The Church cannot ignore what is happening.

And yet, this is only one part of the picture. The complete picture is what I wrote at the beginning of the same Encyclical: "The Gospel of Life is at the heart of Jesus’ message. Lovingly received day after day by the Church, it is to be preached with dauntless fidelity as ‘good news’ to the people of every age and culture" (Ibid. 1). Therefore, dear Seminarians, you must not be afraid to confront the "wisdom of this world" with the certainty of the teachings of Christ in which you are grounded, but above all with the love of Christ, with the compassion and the mercy of Christ, who – like the Father – desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (Cf. 1 Tim. 2: 4). The disciple cannot be greater than the master (Cf. Mt. 10: 24). You will not become priests to be served, or to lord it over others (Cf. ibid. 20: 28), but to serve others, especially the poorest of the poor, the materially poor and the spiritually poor.

Open the doors of your hearts in order that Christ may enter and bring you his joy. The Church needs joyful priests, capable of bringing true joy to God’s people, which is the Good News in all its truth and transforming power.

This evening’s reading from Saint Paul is very appropriate for the Seminary community. Why are you here as Seminarians? Why are you here, members of the faculty and others who help to prepare Seminarians for the priesthood? Is it not to "know the mind of the Lord"? The Seminarian must ask himself: Is Christ calling me? Does he wish me to be his priest? If you answer "yes", then the great work of the Seminary is to help you to put off "the natural man", to leave behind "the old man", that is, the unspiritual man who used to be, in order to experience the action of the Holy Spirit and to understand the things of the Spirit of God. You must enter into an intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit and with all his gifts, in order that the Lord’s intentions for you may become clear. This is another way of expressing the need for wisdom. Indeed, the Seminary must be a school of wisdom. Here you must live with your patron, Saint Joseph, and with Mary, the Mother of Jesus; and in the silence of this intimacy you will learn that wisdom of which Saint Luke speaks: "Jesus for his part progressed steadily in wisdom and age and grace before God and men" (Lk. 2: 52).

I have to say a word of appreciation to the Rector and his associates for recently incorporating into the Seminary program a full year devoted exclusively to spiritual formation. This will be a precious time for advancing in wisdom and holiness, that wisdom and holiness which are essential for the priesthood.

Next year, Saint Joseph’s Seminary will celebrate its Hundredth Anniversary. It is providential that the same year, 1996, will be a year of evangelization in the Church in New York. It helps us remember the countless souls, redeemed by the Blood of Christ, who have been helped toward salvation by the thousands of priests trained in this Seminary. Priests, like the most distinguished alumnus of this Seminary, the humble saintly Cardinal Terence Cooke whose death twelve years ago today we commemorate with prayerful remembrance. You will join them in continuing the work of salvation, which will never end until, as Jesus prayed, all will become one in him as he is one with the Father (Cf. Jn. 17: 21-23).

I thank Cardinal O’Connor, your Rector Monsignor O’Brien, the Faculty and staff and all who have invited me here for this special privilege of praying with you. Above all, I encourage you, the Seminarians, to be unselfish in answering the call of Christ and in offering your lives to his Church. Do not be afraid! If you begin to lose courage, turn to Mary, Seat of Wisdom; with her at your side, you will never be afraid. Amen.

I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude to all of you for your warm welcome. I thank all the Priests and Seminarians and all the many people outside. I thank the Pastors, the Parishioners here in Yonkers, who have received me with such enthusiasm – it may be said – and affection. That is true. I bless all of you, and I bless all your religious objects: In the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. God love you all!

(Courtesy of www.vatican.va)