Second Rector's Conference: Non-Negotiables

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

I want to spend a few moments this evening offering some reflections on formation and at least some of the principles, the ideals, that govern our life together here. A seminary can be, perhaps must be, a fragile ecosystem. We are all here for a particular purpose. We are all here to test ourselves, sometimes to the limit, whether we understand that testing as academic, spiritual, pastoral or personal. Seminary formation is difficult, and it requires not only all that you have, but all that we have in creating and maintaining a formation environment that is healthy and whole.

With these ideals in mind, I would like to offer some comments tonight that fall into two distinct categories. The first category that I would like to address is what our responsibilities are in formation, both yours and ours on the formation staff.

First of all, as you have heard me say before, this is a community of adults and it is a community primarily concerned with forming adult men for the priesthood. That means that we are always going to treat you like adults. We are not going to hide things from you; we are not here to play games. We are not here to say one thing to you and another to your vocation director.

That is not to say that communication is always perfect, but I think we can agree that we want to be transparent with you and it is important that you be transparent with us. I also know that sometimes things happen in the seminary, such as the departure of a seminarian seemingly quite suddenly, that CANNOT be openly discussed to guard the privacy of the person. This, again, is not a game, but a real issue of privacy.

I can guarantee you that I have no energy for playing games. Now, don't play games with us. If you have a problem, come to us. Every year we have at least one situation of this one or that group that has nothing better to do with their time than gripe and complain about the formation staff.

These little cabals are usually centered around someone who wants to set himself up as a guru of orthodoxy, or prophetic utterance. Small worship services, centered on the guru, are conducted behind closed doors. The guru knows better than those of us with a combined hundreds of years' experience. There is a great deal of judgment passed about this priest or that sister and whether they measure up. I have no stomach for such behavior. If you have a problem, certainly consult with your confreres, but ultimately, only one ofuscan solve your problem.

You are here to be formed for the priesthood, and we are presuming that you take that seriously AND that you take your life seriously. While this is a community of men, it is not a fraternity house. A positive sense of recreation is important, but all of us need to ask ourselves here: what is my reputation among others in the community?

I think it should be, first and foremost, as a man of prayer. When people are in need, when their families are in need, are they coming to me for prayers because they perceive me as a man of prayer, or am I better known as the "life of the party"? Be the life of the party, within reason, but also be known as a man of serious intent and prayer, a man seen in the chapel as much as in the gym, a man distinguished in the classroom as much as in the UnStable.

Am I known as a man of prayer or am I the one who stands in the background bitching about everything that goes on around here, but failing to have thetesticular fortitudeto make an appointment with the rector and say something about it? I said this is a community of adults and open and honest communication is essential. If there are issues in this regard, you will hear from me.

In terms of our responsibilities, another I will mention in a particular way is attendance. If you are going to miss class or be away, communicate with your dean, your prefect and faculty members for your classes. If you are ill or need some attention, let your dean, your prefect and one of the infirmarians know. If you are absent from Morning Prayer or Mass, let your dean know why.

This is a community of adults, so don't make us come looking for you. If you are assigned to some liturgical function, fulfill it on time. If you are supposed to be at a particular meeting or setting up in the dining room, be there. These are responsibilities we have to make our home a true house of prayer and formation. Nothing cuts into the fiber of a community's morale more than someone who will not pull his weight or does not take the values of the seminary seriously.

Clarity about our purpose here also means that I have theresponsibilityto point to a few principles that, in a community of Christian living and a community of formation, must be considered of paramount importance. I am stating without hesitation and confidently that the serious infraction of these ideals means that the individual can no longer live here and be formed for ministry. I also want to give you concrete examples of what a serious infraction would entail. That is for the good of the Church. That is meeting the needs of the Church.

Last year, this talk got the nickname of "Dad's Little Talk about the Stove." Let's have it:

The first of these principles is chastity. Living a chaste life here is an absolute value that must be maintained. It must be. No one here is in the sacramental position to live an unchaste life. Failure to live a chaste life, whether that is through overt sexual activity, a seemingly incurable addiction to pornography, grossly inappropriate humor, or the inability to deal with others in a sexually appropriate way, either physically or verbally, is an infringement not only of Christian values, but on the trust we must have in one another.

Living a chaste life is not easy. Many here struggle with temptations and overcome them. Some do not. I am not talking about struggle. Struggling heroically to live the chaste life is part of who we are as Christian men and women. Whether we are married, single or have made a promise or vow of celibacy, the chaste life is a struggle, for some more than others.

We have many resources here to help you live a chaste life. We have our counseling center, which has done wonders for so many, including me. We have understanding formation staff members, who only ask for honesty in dealing with difficult questions. But honesty is necessary. It is a violent affront to those who struggle heroically to live the ideal of chastity when a person takes that ideal less than seriously.

Transgressions against chastity that warrant a severing of the formation relationship include any physical genital activity with another person, but would also include aggressive physical advances that are unwanted. We must also be aware that we should not find ourselves frequenting bars or other places where casual sexual encounters are the order of the day.

One of the things we must learn at the beginning of formation to guard against is damage to our reputations. Often we can be misled into thinking: I can go there. No one will know. Brothers and sisters, God knows and, frankly, so do others. What do you think it does to the reputation of an already embattled Church when you show up in a bar like that? If you have doubts about what I mean by this, ask me. Believe me, I will tell you.

Living a life of chastity also means a serious commitment to address the question of internet pornography. How can we have a vision of the life of God if our visions are clouded with exploitation and degeneracy of the beauty of human sexuality? If you have a problem with internet pornography, please get some help for that problem. If you would like to talk about it in the external forum, see me. It is probably better for you to see me than for me to have to see you.

A second principle that insures the good order of a house of formation is sobriety. While the use of alcohol is not regulated as in some other institutions, an incident of public drunkenness is unacceptable and may lead to further consequences. Alcohol, if it is used, must be used responsibly.

For some, because of their particular circumstances, this applies in a more concrete way. Sobriety is the mark of a good priest, and no priest should find his reputation damaged by the improper use of alcohol or any other substances. If your claim to fame is your liquor cabinet, you may need to stand back and reprioritize. The use of alcohol is often tied to a lowering of inhibitions. Do not threaten to compromise your integrity, your reputation or your virtue because you are under stress. Learn to deal with stress in ways that do not involve alcohol.

Likewise, the use of any illegal substance is unacceptable. The priest needs good judgment, and artificial means of compromising that judgment is behavior incompatible with the priestly state. At this point, you may say: Why isn't there regulation? Why do you have an on-campus bar? Brothers, there is no regulation "out there."

Teaching you to control yourself can only be accomplished in the context of what is there. My forbidding you to have beer in your rooms will frankly not keep you from having beer in your rooms. I do not inhabit that fool's paradise. Sobriety is also a singular ideal of a person of prayer. Again, if you need help in this area, you need only ask someone. Help is yours. It will be given happily and freely, but to struggle in secret, to keep excessive drinking a secret, is not serving the Church. We have already seen far too much of that.

A third important principle of this community is charity toward others. We must learn to show kindness and generosity to others. It is essential not only to our life here, but to our lives as priests as well. Showing blatant disrespect to others through acts of physical or verbal abuse is unacceptable behavior that indicates a seminarian's lack of ability to be formed for the priesthood.

This is a house of charity. In all that we do, the love of God must be foremost. I also know that this is a house of mostly men. It is a house where base competitiveness can take over. It is a house where some base instincts can guide the day when the going gets tough. How we handle stress and how we deal with difficult situations, dare I say, people, is a mark of our character.

The priest needs only one instance of losing his temper or an act of physical violence to damage his reputation forever. Another example of this is off-color humor, telling sexually explicit jokes or humor that denigrates a particular gender, race or ethnicity. If you feel hurt by the way in which others express themselves, please speak to them about it. If they seem insensitive to your concerns, see me.

I mention these essential values and the behaviors that compromise these values for the sake of clarity. As we progress in our resolve to live the life of discipleship in the particular vocation of the priesthood, we are called to an increasing accountability for our actions. If you have questions about these, please talk to your deans or talk to me.

I hope that all of you know that this is a place of real conversation, where real questions can be raised without threat. This is a place bent on assisting you in becoming the best you can be. I hope that you come to appreciate that in the coming days, months and years. I hope you come to see that this is really a place of safety and trust. There is no problem that cannot be overcome, if we deal with it honestly.

Again, I hope this place is a place of adult approaches to the world, a place of trust and a place where the staff, while not your friends, can be your guides and mentors in a serious way. I look forward to this coming year, of getting to know our new men more personally and our old men more deeply. My door is always open, and my blessings and prayers are with you each and every day.