Homily of Most Rev. Gerhard L. Müller
I wonder what thoughts passed through the minds of the Twelve as they started out, two by two, on their first mission? Imagine it: these men had abandoned jobs and family and had by now spent a good deal of time with Jesus, privileged to be in daily, constant companionship with him. Now he was sending them out, and I suspect they went on their way with a mixture of trepidation and excitement. How would they be received? How effective would they be, especially without Jesus himself present? And (questions that might occur to any seminarian), where would they be sent … and with whom? Did Our Lord separate the sets of brothers? Did he, with perhaps a twinkle in his eye, pair up Matthew the tax collector with Simon the zealot?
We might describe their experience today as a "ministry placement"; they were to hone their teaching and pastoral skills with hands-on training. What were the distinguishing characteristics of their assignment? I would suggest three: First, they were to preach repentance, drive out demons, heal the sick; secondly, they were to travel light, unencumbered by what was unnecessary; thirdly, they were to carry out their mission in company with another disciple. Their model was Christ himself. They had watched him preach, expel demons and heal, and that was to be their mission, too. They had shared in his poverty and had learned from him how to get by with very little, so that his mission could be carried out more effectively. And they had seen him form his followers into a family, sharing in the joys and frustrations of his mission.
This was a short-term placement – the Twelve would soon return to Christ’s company, hopefully more intent on what they could learn from him. So it is with you: however interesting or instructive your pastoral placements may be, your seminary formation is first and foremost a privileged time to live intensely in Christ’s company and allow him to shape you to be his disciple. How do we come to know him? With our mind and with our heart.
We come to know Christ with our mind by the study of the Scriptures and theology. This, of course, must be lifelong learning, but your time of formation provides a unique opportunity for you to devote yourself to a sustained exploration of the truth of the faith. For a period of years, you have the luxury of focusing your energies almost entirely on the study of theology; your courses and the very structure of your daily routine are geared to this. While this is the perennial purpose of seminary formation, it takes on an even greater significance as we celebrate the Year of Faith. As our Holy Father pointed out in his Apostolic Letter announcing this Year, "
To a greater extent than in the past, faith is now being subjected to a series of questions arising from a changed mentality which, especially today, limits the field of rational certainties to that of scientific and technological discoveries." Leaders in the Church will have these questions posed to them, especially those whose ministry is dedicated to teaching. I encourage you not to squander this opportunity: it is likely that you will never again have such freedom to study.
And, we come to know Christ with our heart through prayer; indeed, the study of theology should be as much a romance as a discipline. The Holy Father speaks eloquently of this in his Letter: "Only through believing, then, does faith grow and become stronger; there is no other possibility for possessing certitude with regard to one’s life apart from self-abandonment, in a continuous crescendo, into the hands of a love that seems to grow constantly because it has its origin in God." It is in our spiritual life that we abandon ourselves into the hands of a love that seems to grow constantly, and your formation is geared to help you develop a deep relationship with Christ through both personal and communal prayer. Spiritual direction, retreats, days of recollection, group prayer and community liturgy all provide means to nurture an ongoing conversation with Christ, and to form habits of prayer that will sustain you throughout the rest of your life.
So, I invite you to see your time of formation as an invitation from Jesus to spend time in his company. Many crowds heard his teaching, witnessed his miracles, and came to believe in him; but not everyone shared in the intimacy that the Twelve enjoyed of being with him day in and day out. That, to my mind, is the essence of seminary formation. At the same time, Christ was preparing his friends to carry his Gospel to the whole world; similarly, your formation is geared to prepare you for service outside the walls of Moreau Seminary. Blessed Basil Moreau describes eloquently the various virtues needed by teachers, and from these I would choose one that should be nurtured by continuous, intimate communion with Christ: zeal. Of this virtue, Moreau writes: "Since the zeal of these teachers is guided by love, they do everything with strength and with gentleness: with strength because they are courageous and unshakable in the midst of any difficulties they face; with gentleness because they are tender and compassionate like Jesus Christ, the model for all teachers, who loved to be bothered by young people."
Christ loved to be bothered by young people. Judging from the Gospels, this was a trait that did not come easily to the Twelve, who as often as not seem to be trying to chase off people who were "bothering" their Master. They learned patience, as they learned everything else, by spending time with the Lord and the other disciples, watching him, listening to him, questioning him. May your formation give you both the mind and the heart of Christ, so that you will be strong and gentle teachers.