2008 Commencement Address
Mount Angel Seminary
May 10, 2008
Archbishop Elden Francis Curtiss
Abbot Nathan & members of the monastic community,
Father Paperini and members of the seminary community,
Honored graduates, and guests:
This is the 120th class to celebrate commencement exercises from Mount Angel Seminary and to receive her academic degrees. You graduates follow in a distinguished line of scholars and clerics and teachers and catechists and liturgists and artists and musicians – all who have been grounded in Catholic tradition, with a distinctive Benedictine flavor. You will in time, if not already, come to appreciate the blessings you have received on this hilltop.
Spes Messis in Semine – the hope of the harvest is in the seed. How has the seed of faith that the good Lord has planted in each one of you been nourished here at Mount Angel Seminary?
Baptized into the Lord
All of us begin our journey of faith with a permanent identification with the person and mission of Jesus. “You have not chosen me”, Jesus said to each one of us when we were baptized, “No, I have chosen you to go forth and bear much fruit.” Baptism is the primary sacrament of initiation into a life of grace, a sharing in the life that Jesus has with his Father. It is a permanent foundation, given once and never repeated, for our Christian lives. We are forever marked as disciples of Jesus whether or not we ever fully understand or appreciate what this discipleship really means. The seed of faith implanted in you graduates at baptism established your basic identification with Christ and led you, ultimately, to this seminary.
Confirmed in the Spirit
After you were baptized, and in due time when your pastors were ready to present you to a bishop for Confirmation, you received the second sacrament of permanent identification with the mission of Jesus – when you celebrated your own Pentecost. The Sacrament of Confirmation fulfilled the Lord’s promise to you that he would pour out the gifts of the Holy Spirit upon you. You were sealed to the Spirit with a permanent seal that cannot be broke, despite your own weaknesses and betrayals at times. You were forever marked as temples of the Holy Spirit – and even if there are some confirmati who never fully understand or appreciate the gifts of the Spirit that have been given to them, you graduates have experienced these gifts unfolding in your own lives, strengthening you in your resolve to follow the Lord wherever he leads you.
It is the gift of the Holy Spirit to you in the Sacrament of Confirmation that has helped you graduates, and all of us, discern the call of the Lord to prepare for ministry in his name. We are marked forever as confirmed disciples of the Lord who have become committed to him and his mission in the world.
The Eucharist in our Lives
From the moment of our first Holy Communion, to this very day, we have been fed with the body and blood of the Lord in his Eucharist. Sometimes we have not always fully understood the implications of this intimate union that we have with the Lord – but he is very patient with us and gives us time to learn how to respond to his incredible love for each one of us.
Your time in this seminary was meant to intensify your hunger for the bread of life and your thirst for the cup of eternal salvation. Your personal relationship with Jesus that comes from a growing realization of his presence for you in his Eucharist and his intense personal love for you – this love affair is what will sustain you in ministry for a lifetime. This deepening experience of Jesus is absolutely essential for one who aspires to live and minister in persona Christi, as the human face of Christ to his people.
Ordained to Priesthood
The seminary is a seedbed for preparing candidates for ordained priesthood. It is important that it have strong programs in academic formation, pastoral formation, human formation, and above all else, spiritual formation. The seminary prepares men for the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the permanent identification of a human person with the continuing priesthood of Jesus among his people.
Like Baptism and Confirmation, the Sacrament of Orders is received once-for-all. It configures a man to the priestly life and mission of Jesus. It creates a permanent and unique identification with Jesus that can never be lost. A priest can never not be a priest! And even if an individual priest should forfeit his right to be active in priestly ministry and lose his faculties to minister to people in the name of Christ and his Church, still he remains always a priest and will remain a priest to the judgment seat of God. There is no rescinding the priestly identity with Jesus that takes place through the Sacrament of Orders, any more than one’s baptism can be rescinded, or the seal of the Spirit in Confirmation can be rescinded. Once baptized, one is always baptized. Once sealed to the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation, one is always confirmed in the Spirit. Once ordained a priest, one will always be a priest, no matter what happens to him in life.
The permanence of our sacramental commitments to Jesus, and his continuing mission in the world through us, is made possible by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. These gifts are the glue that holds our lives of ministry together, and holds the Church together generation after generation until the end of time.
The Seminary is the Seedbed
The hope of the harvest is in the seed. The seminary is the seedbed and you are the seeds. None of you came to the seminary as whole human beings. You came with your weaknesses and immaturities, but with a potential for growth. You needed nurturing and support. You needed to be challenged so that your honesty and good will could help you respond to the formation that was offered you. But ultimately, the kind of disciple you have become and the kind of priest you will be depends on you.
If you have learned that your mind is not the sole arbiter of truth, and that your own will does not always lead you to fulfillment and happiness – if you have internalized the values that Jesus and his Church have set before you – if you have developed the integrity to be honest with yourselves and with others – if you have the humility to seek help when you need it – if you have developed a hunger for knowledge and holiness – then you have nothing to fear in the future. We who have survived the years and have been faithful to the Lord – we know the power of His love in our lives and the amazing strength and courage we have received from the Holy Spirit. And we have been overwhelmed at times by the love and support we have received from the people we have been sent to serve.
Only those who have learned to do what the Lord wants them to do – only they know what joy in the Spirit is all about.
Congratulations to You Graduates
So my congratulations to the sixteen diocesan and religious community men receiving the Bachelor of Arts degree today. And a special recognition to the eight who will receive the Master of Arts degree, including two priests and an exemplary lay woman.
My congratulations to the four who will receive the Baccalaureate in Sacred Theology, and the thirteen who will receive the Master of Divinity degree, including two deacons from Omaha that I will ordain as priests this coming June 7th.
You graduates come from diverse cultural backgrounds and many different places. You have had the privilege of studying together and praying together and recreating together within the framework of this monastic community and with an excellent seminary faculty and committed spiritual directors. I know from personal experience the hospitality and individual support that you have received during your years on this hilltop. You have been blessed to have been here.
I take this opportunity to thank the monastic community and the seminary staff, on my own behalf and on behalf of the Church, for making Mount Angel Seminary a fruitful seedbed for nurturing vocations to ordained priesthood and consecrated life.
Spes Messis in Semine – the hope of the harvest is surely in the seed, and in the seedbed that brings the seeds to life in the Lord.