Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology

Formation and Education for the Life of the Church

Rector's Conference: December 2, 2018

Final Rector's Conference for Fall 2018

December 2, 2018

This evening we come to the near-end of the first formation term for this year. It is a propitious time for the Church. In the past four months, we have been racked with the emerging scandals, not necessarily of new news, new information, but with the reality that our leaders, those who have been charged with the future of our Church, given that task by God Himself, have feet of clay.

In the past four months, we have seen our good people losing confidence in the institution that all of us, no matter how we stand in the hierarchy of things, have devoted our lives to building and maintaining.

In the past four months, we have learned some men whose sacred task to govern and protect God's people have lied and given themselves to that task of governing and protecting an indefensible aim, protecting a tottering structure, the structure of false politics and false ego.

In the past four months, we have lived four decades of scandal and over and over again, heard unfolded for us in lurid detail, the sins of our brothers, and they are our brothers no matter their sins and crimes, we have heard these shortcomings replayed and replayed. It is tiresome and painful, tiresome and painful but absolutely necessary.

We might think of these last four months as a kind of examination of conscience. It seems like that is what Pope Francis is asking our bishops when he instructed them not to move too swiftly to answers in their recent gathering in Baltimore. His dramatic interruption of last month's conference proceedings may well have been an invitation to sit for a moment in our weariness and weakness, to remain here in the soul of crisis in order to realize, at the rock bottom of our collective consciousness, who we are.

During the recent Thanksgiving break, I was reminded of some words of Winston Churchill in his early writings:

He wrote as a reflection on his young life.

Hear this young men and women everywhere and proclaim it far and wide. The earth is yours and the fullness thereof. Be kind but be fierce, you are needed now more than ever, take up the mantle of change, for this is your time.

This is your time.

My brothers, no matter what your end in the Church may be, this is your time.

This is your time. We are in a troubled time, but I think we must ask ourselves this question:

Are these times given to us to offer us an opportunity, for change and for new leadership? Brothers, you are called to be men of change and men of profound leadership in the service of Christ, the Divine Master.

You are called to be men of change who offer new solutions to old problems.

You are called to be men of change whose radical commitment to the Gospel is the keystone of our forward momentum in a world seemingly less and less committed to anything at all.

You are called to be men of change. What does that mean? I believe it means that you must look at what is there; you must look at it honestly and unflinchingly. You cannot deny the sins of the Church and claim to be its minister. You cannot become an instrument of change without seeing everything for what it is.

But we must also ask ourselves honestly: What change is needed? I would say, first and foremost, an acknowledgment of hypocrisy. We cannot claim to stand for one set of values and pursue another set of values. We cannot hope to conform our life to the service ideals of Christ and mock those very values with our behind-the-scenes activities.

Playing politics is not an option for us. The Church is not a political entity. The Church is a service entity. We cannot lie to the people we serve. We must work with the people, with the world, to forge a reality in the Church that mirrors the reality of Christ, a passion for goodness and service.

What change is needed? We need to stop something that is endemic in the Church today, endemic, I fear, even among us. Brothers, we have to stop this behind-the-scenes battle of wits and forces. We have to stop the gossiping. We have to stop the speculation. We have to stop the criticism of the staff, the faculty and each other. It has to stop. It will stop because it is un-Christian. This division, this creation of parties and division, is the work of Satan to tear our Church apart.

What change is needed to remedy this ailment? The change is needed in our very souls. I am asking you to consider that change. I am asking you to consider these questions:

Are you concerned about the orthodoxy of what is taught here? Are you concerned about the competence of the faculty who teach you? You need to come and see Dr. Alvis or see me. There is no room in this seminary for heresy or any position that does not fully respect and represent the teachings of the authentic magisterium.

Likewise, there is no room here for criticism of the Holy Father or the magisterium. You will make a proclamation here before ordination in which you will promise, I daresay vow, to uphold the authentic teachings of the magisterium. If you think that you understand those teachings better than the Holy Father, see me and we will find a comfortable place for you to express these kinds of thoughts.

Are you concerned about the question of sexuality? Here is what I have to say. We need to be honest here in dealing with the question of sexuality. If our current problems in the Church have told us anything, it is that this is necessary. Are you wondering if this one or that one is sexually active, if he is homosexual or not? Is he an addict to pornography?

On the one hand, I would say that it is none of your business. It is the bishop's business and it is my business. I go back to the fact that I am hearing a lot about speculating about people's sexual orientation. Let me be clear. It is none of your business. If a man is living a chaste life, if he is struggling to live a chaste life, if he desires with all his heart to live a chaste life, is that not the important thing?

If we have a prurient interest in what other people are doing sexually, thinking sexually, experiencing sexually, we may ask about our own needs that are not being met in our ministry of kindness, charity and sacrifice. I can tell you this: deciding "what to do" with homosexual candidates for priesthood is not my priority. Here we follow the dictates of the dioceses and the bishops.

I do have standards, we must have standards, and these standards of chastity in behavior must be met and, I can absolutely assure you, that behavior will be met, but we must also remember that God calls whom He wills and if that call is given to one we find unworthy, we must question I think, the propriety of our judgment. We work with weak and struggling men. You are weak and struggling men. I am a weak and struggling man. In Christ, we can be strong and we need the opportunity to engage that project of strength without the background noise of gossip and innuendo.

Are you concerned about the maturity of some of the men being formed here? So am I. There comes a time in formation, there comes a time in life, when we just have to grow up. I have said this so many times that it makes me feel a bit queasy talking about it now. What does it take to get people out of bed in the morning? All of us, seminarians included, are so tired of the excuses. I'm feeling ill. My alarm clock doesn't work.

The bottom line is this: You are not participating in the program of formation here. You are missing out on things. And people don't respect immature seminarians and priests. Is this a widespread problem? No, I don't believe it is, but it is a problem for some.

Are these major problems? Perhaps in light of the current situation in the Church, they are not, but they are problems. A Church that is not united, for whatever reason, is divided. Small problems accumulate into larger ones. It is so interesting to me that those who truly believe they are the answer to the Church's problems are most likely the propagators of the Church's problems.

Can we move, I wonder, from wondering about all of these things and moving toward a consuming passion for something else? Can we begin to become more passionate about the message of the Gospel, not a message of politics or rancor, but a message of service?

Now let me turn for a moment to a brighter note: We have so much here that we can be thankful for, so much here that I am thankful for. As we begin this season of Advent, perhaps it is a time for us to begin again. Perhaps every day is a time for us to begin again. I was thinking about our readings from last Monday:

The reading from Revelation with its vision of a triumphal Church, a triumphal Church in end times, the Gospel with the woman giving her small portion, in poverty but in great generosity, standing among the influential and the powerful full of confidence in her place in the radical scheme of things. I think of the psalm with its soothing words of hope:

Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.

There is the proverbial fly in the ointment.

Two different people that long to see the face of God.

We have the clapping, crying-out people of Revelation: Forehead written, thunder peeling, harp playing, Lamb followers.

It is a mighty vision, a celestial vision. And of course, it is the Church, the Church of triumph, the Church of absolutes, the Church of wonder and glory and praise.

A magnificent vision and that is what we are, that is who we are, that is what we must be.

Lord this is the people that long to see your face, and we do see it, every day, in the Eucharist, in this gathering of the Church, God's people in one another.

It is what we long for, what we imagine, as we strive here day and night to build a Church of triumph.

And yet there is another fly squirming in our ecclesial ointment.

Here is the old lady, rather anonymous. She is dressed in tattered clothing. She is not as clean as she once was. Her mind, still clear and swept over by memory. She is thanksgiving Aunt Pearl with her moth-eaten coat and dangling old purse with its quarter stick of gum.

Here she is presenting herself in the temple of the world. She is mother Church, wobbling a little, but presenting herself nevertheless.

She is far from the triumph of revelation and, yet so close.

She is bold and fearless in her poverty because she knows one thing: in the world of the temple and the temple of the world, she has a right to be there. She may be the only one with a full right to be there.

Lord, this is the people that long to see your face.

A people of triumph yes.

And the lady Church. Striving to give her gift, overlooked and yet so central.

In her bent, crippled posture, she is nevertheless the spine of the world, giving as she does, everything, not in triumph but in want.

What kind of Church do we have, do we need, in these waning days?

Are you seeing these things? I hope you are because these are the kind of things I believe Saint Meinrad is about. Brothers, this is your time:

This is your time. Let it be a time of love.

This is your time. Let it be a time of sacrificial service.

This is your time. Let it be a time of sorrow for sins, the sins of our fathers and our own sins.

This is your time. Let it be a time of wonder and praise, a time of openness and gentleness, a time of true peace.

Ask yourself this question: What is my measure of service? Am I looking to serve Christ totally, engulfingly? A change is needed in our very souls. Am I concerned about that or am I clamoring after ephemera?

Let me go back now to the quote from Churchill.

Hear this young men and women everywhere and proclaim it far and wide. The earth is yours and the fullness thereof. Be kind but be fierce, you are needed now more than ever, take up the mantle of change, for this is your time.

Fr. Denis Robinson, OSB, president-rector of Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology, posts his homilies, rector's conferences and other talks on this page.