Last evening I was able to be part of the Rite of Admission to Candidacy for Holy Orders for Andrew Sullivan, who is a first year theologian for our diocese and studying at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis. Bishop Walter Nickless of the diocese of Sioux City, Iowa was the presider. As part of his homily he read the instructions for the Rite of Candidacy itself:
“Dear brethren in Christ, our brothers, stand here today in the presence of the Church, recommended to us and to you for admission among the candidates for holy orders.
Christ gave this command: “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest.” Our brothers know the Lord’s concern for his flock, they see the needs of the Church and they feel ready to respond generously to the Lord in the words of the prophet: “Here I am, send me forth.” They put their hope in the Lord, trusting that they may answer his call faithfully.
This call from the Lord should be recognized and understood from the daily signs which reveal God’s will to discerning people. When God chooses people to share in the ordained priesthood of Christ, he moves and helps them by his grace. At the same time, he entrusts us with the task of calling suitable and approved candidates and of consecrating them by a special seal of the Holy Spirit to the ministry of God and of the Church. By the sacrament of holy orders, they will be given part in our ministry of service to the Church, and build up by word and sacrament the Christian communities to which they will be sent.
Our brothers have already begun their preparation so that later they may be called to ordination by the bishop. Day by day, they will learn to live the life of the Gospel and deepen their faith, hope, love, and compassion. In the practice of these virtues, they will gain the spirit of prayer and grow in zeal to win the world to Christ.
Urged by his love and strengthened by the Holy Spirit, they have come here to declare their desire to bind, themselves to the service of God and of humankind.”
I saw theses instructions come alive several times in the last several days as the seminarians prayed as a group, Lectio Divina, on this Sunday’s gospel from Mark (1:40-45, the cleansing of the leper). It was in the spirit of fellowship and trust, that not only the seminarians, but also the priests on staff, including the Rector, Fr. Mason and Vice Rector, Msgr. Mikesch shared the fruits they experienced while praying with this gospel text.
One of the seminarians shared that during his prayer with this gospel passage he asked the Lord to heal the leprosy of his own heart. What he heard from the Lord was, “I choose not to heal this particular part of your leprosy, but instead invite you remain with me in it.” He recalled an experience he had this past summer while working in a parish in Omaha visiting with a woman dying from cancer. They both prayed fervently that the Lord would heal her and restore her completely from cancer. However, this past fall she died. The great grace he received from this experience was that, even though the Lord didn’t heal her of her cancer, she is a woman of such great faith that he witnessed how she was able to remain in and with the Lord in her suffering. This is truly and inspiration and gift to him. Father Mason shared that in his own life he also has begged the Lord to remove the leprosy of his own heart.
This experience of group Lectio Divina, which the seminarians do several times throughout the week, calls to my mind the importance of, not only praying the Word by myself, but also with others. As the Church proclaims in the Rite of Candidacy, “Day by day, they will learn to live the life of the Gospel and deepen their faith, hope, love, and compassion. In the practice of these virtues they will gain the spirit of prayer and grow in zeal to win the world to Christ.”
As we approach the season of Lent, I encourage you to pray with the Sunday gospel with a group of people, perhaps it’s around your kitchen table with your family, or a group of friends in your neighborhood, or parish.
The Office of Stewardship which promotes and encourages the Catholic way of life, by living a life of generous hospitality, lively faith and dedicated discipleship can help you with a very simple format that we learned several years ago at Pastoral Ministry Days from Msgr. Richter. I am more than willing to send this simple prayer card to you if it is not already available at your parish. Then all you have to do is to invite your family or others to your house, reserve a room in your parish hall or go to a local coffee house and pull people together to reflect on the Sunday Gospels of Lent. Let your heart be set on fire this Lent, letting Jesus speak His word to you, as I have seen it speak to the seminarians and faculty at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary.