Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology

Formation and Education for the Life of the Church


by Fr. Denis Robinson, OSB


For I am already being poured out like a libation,

and the time of my departure is at hand.

I have competed well;

I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.

We have lived through another election season. Midterms. I suppose the outcome was a great surprise. The large headlines and the exclamation points at least indicated so.

And now all of those candidates in the different races, except for one, have gone away disappointed. Billions of dollars were spent. Promises were made. Some were broken. Some will be broken. Signs were printed and thrown away. The signs were ditched, Mitch was not. Still, those forlorn candidates knew the rules. Only one could win, the others must lose.

What about our candidacy? What about the liturgy of the Church we celebrate tonight? What is fulfilled as we move forward toward Holy Orders? What promises will be made and broken? Who will win and who will go away disappointed? Brothers and sisters, there is little doubt, that even in so excellent and rarified an environment as Saint Meinrad, we are not immune to a bit of competition. We engage it daily, subtle and not so subtle, one-upsmanship, promises made, vows to be fulfilled, perhaps a little display of masculine camaraderie that might degenerate into bullying. But tonight we celebrate another kind of candidacy, a move toward Holy Orders that is, while not definitive, at least defining.

Tonight our brothers present themselves to the Church in a new and more intentional way. What is the nature of that presentation? For an answer, we need only look to the rite itself.

Do you resolve to complete your preparation so that in due time through Holy Orders you will be prepared to assume ministry within the Church?

It is a question about context. Will you find the meaning of your life, exemplified in the new status you will receive, will you find the meaning of your life in ministry and service, will you find the meaning in your life in your formation for the same?

The second question, then, blatantly asks are you resolved to give faithful service to the Church? Is that not the reality that I am constantly harping about?

Tonight you present yourself to this community of faith, a microcosm of God's Church, drawn from every nation and language, you present yourself to the Church as one who is willing to be a deacon and later a priest.

What will be the markers of success? I think there are three: 

The first is a dangerous life of prayer. There are three things that the Church requires of its priests: celebration of the Eucharist, celebration of the sacraments and prayer. There is nothing else that you are preparing for, so plan to give to these things your all. Give until it hurts.

Prepare yourselves for a life lived on your knees before God on behalf of the people you serve. Our ordination prepares us for this and demands this of us: pray regularly, constantly before the mercy seat of God.

Saint Paul tells us in the first letter to the Thessalonians to: Pray without ceasing for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

The time has passed for you to be considering your commitment to a life of prayer. The time has long past for you to be lamenting your inability to pray, to get up in the morning. The time has passed for preparations. Now is the time for action. Pray until it hurts, not for yourself or your needs. Pour out your love, your life of prayer on behalf of the Church you have promised, will promise to pray for without ceasing.

Give your time to God. It is amazing to me that men have so much difficulty paying attention to our Lord in prayer for 15, 30 minutes, one hour, when they can give their undivided attention to a football game for hours on end. Where is the passion for prayer that we pour out on sports, on politics, on the crazy things that happen in our classes, on harping and griping with one another?

Your generosity in prayer is the marker of your success. And brothers, it is dangerous. It requires something of us, not only our time, but our souls, our lives. I have nothing to do all day except celebrate the sacraments and serve God and I do that best on my knees. Wear out your knees; have knee replacements not because of too much running but because of too much kneeling before the throne of the almighty, a throne mightily insinuated for us in this chapel, before this tabernacle. Here is the Holy of Holies our ancestors in faith worshipped before and died to preserve. Here is the altar of rough stones, that is, the new covenant spoken of in the Book of Maccabees. Here is the temple not made by human hands, that sanctuary of God. Give your life to God in its mighty shadow.  Live a dangerous life of prayer and never look back. Never count the cost. Die in your vestments and you will have lived a most successful life.

Second: Service until death. Brothers and sisters, there is nothing more beautiful in this life than to serve one another. We live to serve. It is a cheerful service. If we compete with one another, it is in service. We live it in hospitality, the desire to open my life and my room to all who come. We live it in volunteering, in doing small things with great love, in setting up the dining room, in cleaning the chapel, in preparing food, in the formal ministries we exercise and the informal ministries that are as close to us as our beating hearts.  From a human standpoint, service until death is built on three things: giving, giving and giving.

For I am already being poured out like a libation,

and the time of my departure is at hand.

I have competed well;

I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.

The faith and the service we are called to is not divisive. It does not know strangers. It does not evaluate need according to creed. We do not make radical decisions about personal orthodoxy and then persecute those we find unworthy. We do not carry on heated conversations in our rooms that we would be embarrassed to offer in the chapel.

The life of discipleship and priestly service is the action of the Good Samaritan who sees the problem and promises to fix it, paying back all those who have helped him on his return. Service fixes us in the inn of life and it places us there with everyone, literally everyone, even those who deride, who hate our faith. Whenever I think of the inn, I think of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and the way in which Chaucer illuminates the life of the Church through the image of rough pilgrimage. Our lives as ministers of the Gospel present us in the inn with the poor, with the unloved and unlovely, with the heretic (and let's face it, that is most of us and usually the ones pointing the finger most strongly). It is with the stupid, the pitiable, the leperous, the unacceptable, the barbed, the uncultivated. Continue the list.

And we make lists, don't we, of those who are acceptable and those who are not? Perhaps we make lists here. This professor is acceptable; this one is not. This seminarian is orthodox and therefore okay; this one is not. Brothers and sisters, I reiterate to you what I have said often before. There is no doctrine worth preserving, no liturgical practice worthy of maintaining when charity is tossed out the window. Ideology that is soundly Catholic, solidly Christian, is an ideology built on service.  I can preserve the purity of the faith all day, but if that rarified quality is maintained in a palace surrounded by the ditches of neglect, suspicion and even abuse, then that palace must be destroyed. And I can assure you it will be torn down.

If you are living your priesthood ideologically, if you are preparing for an ideological priesthood, you are not living the priestly life at all - you are purchasing a one-way ticket to hell. And all of your agenda-driven mess will make no difference if it conducts you to that place where the fire is never quenched and the worm dies not.

But we do not need to fear that here. Here we see men who are dedicated to pouring out their lives in service. As rector, through these years, I have never asked a man to do something that he failed to do. I hope I never have the experience, but rather that the ready step of service inclines him in the direction of the ditches of life where there are so many to be cared for, so many to be wrapped in caring arms, so many to be brought to the inn of the Church for merciful deliverance.

Finally, build a community of love. Building a community of love means going out of your way for the one whose attention warrants not one second of your time in your mottled opinion. Building a community of love means primarily not tearing down. It also means seeking the lost sheep. Seek the lost sheep.

Seek the atheist. Seek the liberal or conservative. Seek the divorced and remarried. Seek the dumb bunnies. Seek the complainer. Seek the noisy. Seek the nosey. Seek the poor. Do we even know the poor? Do we care about them at all? Are they the stray sheep, the one who got away? I can assure you we need not look far. Look to your families, your old friends, your fellow seminarians; look in the all-revealing mirror.

Seek the stray. Please God, we need to seek the stray because that stray sheep, brothers, is us. We are the one who got away and the Good Shepherd went looking for us and found us in the rolling hills of Southern Indiana. He found us in the crevices of the complex origami of our judgment.

Brothers, my sincerest prayer for you is that you will learn to find the love of God, that love for which you pray ceaselessly, that love which you serve to own. My prayer for you is that you will find that love in the mundane things of life, the tending to the flock and the sweeping of the floors.  Find God in the parish, in your presbyterates, your religious communities, your families, your daily lives.

The Holy Father says our concern must be for the marginalized. Let's not make those folks the ones we marginalized in our judgmental priesthood, our delineating diaconate.

For I am already being poured out like a libation,

and the time of my departure is at hand.

I have competed well;

I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.

It is election season and we must run the race so as to win. We have been given a promise by Jesus the Lord that, in this real election, all of our candidates might be victorious, all might gain the promise of which they have so ardently campaigned, not only election to Holy Orders but with all of us eternal life.

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Echoes from the Bell Tower is a blog devoted to observations on Christian faith, spirituality and everyday events, by authors with a connection to the Benedictine values found at Saint Meinrad Archabbey and its Seminary and School of Theology. Contributors include students, permanent deacons, Benedictine oblates and Saint Meinrad monks. Their stories, thoughts and ideas highlight the mission and vision that ring out from the bell towers on this Hill in southern Indiana.