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Priests, Deacons, and Seminarians Strengthened in Hope

The importance of Marian devotion, eucharistic adoration, and spiritual direction emphasized.

Posted: Tuesday, June 30, 2009

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STEUBENVILLE, OHIO —“The priesthood is the love, the heart, of Jesus,” said Bishop Robert Baker of Birmingham, Alabama, addressing over 180 priests from across the U.S. To inflame that love with even greater pastoral devotion, Bishop Baker said he hoped the lay faithful would “engage themselves in prayer and action for our priests” during the recently announced Year for Priests.

His remarks came at the 35th annual Priests, Deacons, and Seminarians Conference held at Franciscan University of Steubenville, June 15-19, where Bishop Baker received the University’s Shepherd’s Award “in recognition of the ways he has helped God strengthen and raise up faithful loving shepherds for his flock.”

“Bishop Baker has a real heart for the people and a great pastoral care for his priests, and places a priority on the promotion of vocations to the priesthood and religious life,” said University Chancellor Father Michael Scanlan, TOR, who presented the award on June 15.

Installed as bishop of the Diocese of Charleston in 1999 and then for the Diocese of Birmingham in 2007, Bishop Baker recently co-authored with Father Benedict J. Groeshel, CFR, When Did We See you, Lord? His latest book is The Questioner’s Prayer. He received a standing ovation upon receiving the award for his many contributions within the Church.

Bishop Baker gave his fellow priests practical strategies to incorporate in their ministries. He encouraged them to never miss daily Mass and to schedule a holy hour every week, if not every day. He recommended that they offer their intentions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus every morning, advising that each priest re-consecrate himself to the Sacred Heart of Jesus every month.

The award ceremony was one highlight of the five-day conference that has become an annual retreat for many participants with daily workshops and talks on a wide range of theological and pastoral topics. The men also find renewal through the sacrament of reconciliation, daily Mass, praise and worship, and eucharistic adoration while enjoying the fraternity of other priests, deacons, and seminarians.

Father David Toups, associate director for the U.S. Bishops’ Office of Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations celebrated the 12th anniversary of his vows during the conference. In his workshop, “Character Produces Hope,” he urged his brother priests to take annual retreats and seek spiritual direction.

Drawing from his recent book, Reclaiming Our Priestly Character, Father Toups spoke of the grave dangers that surface when a man does not comprehend his priestly identity. He introduced prayers for both priests and laity to support the priesthood. “The future of the Church is jeopardized when we don’t live in accordance with the great calling we have received,” he said.

He called on his listeners to demonstrate outstanding moral character and to live with integrity. “You must be credible witnesses so the people may believe in Jesus Christ. When we lay down our lives it brings hope to the world and joy to the people of God,” he said referencing the conference theme, “Strengthened in Hope.”

Newly-ordained Father Mark Rutherford of the Diocese of Lansing, Michigan, exemplified contagious hope when he shared the testimony of his journey to the priesthood. “I fell down on my knees and gave him [Jesus] my life,” he said of his ordination just two days earlier.

At age 14, Father Rutherford attended a Franciscan University summer youth conference that changed his life forever. He recalled the eucharistic adoration that had a profound effect on him during the conference saying, “Jesus slowly unveiled his presence and power. It blew my heart away.

“Jesus put it into my heart to be a priest. And here I am. Praise be Jesus Christ,” he said to resounding applause.

In his workshop, “Mary: Star of Hope,” Father Leo Patalinghug, director of Pastoral Field Education at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, gave contemporary perspectives into Marian theology. “The Blessed Mother is more than a statue and more to us than a simple set of prayers we say on a bunch of beads.” Every saint, he explained, had a devotion to the Blessed Mother. “Mary is the great sign of hope. She points to our salvation at the foot of the cross.”

Father Patalinghug, who received an advanced license degree from the Pontifical Marianum Institute, called on the priests to portray Marian virtues such as compassion, humility, and obedience. “We’re in an age where disobedience is popular and obedience is irrelevant,” he said. He spoke of the Christological virtues, saying, “We must convert the sinner, instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, comfort the sorrowful, bear wrongs patiently, forgive injuries, and pray for the living and the dead.”

He acknowledged cultural adversity but persisted, “Be proud of your Catholic identity.” He left his audience with words of wisdom: “Remember to always look towards Mary as the ‘Star’ pointing you to the right direction.”

“It was a contemporary rediscovery of the roots of the Marian devotion,” said Father Michael Madden from Bloomfield, Indiana, describing Father Patalinghug’s workshop. “I learned that she plays a pertinent role in my ministry. She is more than just a tradition.”

In the final evening talk, “A Royal Priesthood: Hope for the Church and the World,” Diane Brown, University trustee and founder of Our Lady of Divine Providence House of Prayer in Clearwater, Florida, noted that without priests the laity would have no sacraments and ultimately no Church or salvation. She expressed her gratitude to priests who are “of more value to mankind than the entire material universe.”

She encouraged her audience to preach the truth with courage by seeking the Holy Spirit and leading strong lives of prayer. “Pray and don’t stop praying,” she said. “A world without God is a world without hope. You, my brother priests, are what the world needs.”

The conference was co-hosted by Father Scanlan and Father David Pivonka, TOR, director of Post-novitiate Formation for the Sacred Heart Province of the Third Order Regular and superior at St. Louis Friary in Washington, D.C.

The Priests, Deacons, Seminarians Conference is one of six summer conferences for adults at Franciscan University. Other upcoming conferences include the St. John Bosco Conference (July 22-26) for Catholic educators and the Defending the Faith Conference (July 31-Aug 2) which focuses on Catholic apologetics. For more information, including a complete list of conferences for adults and youth, visit the conferences website.

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