Last night at the Bethany Center I attended, perhaps even hosted, the annual Christmas dinner for our thirty-four seminarians and their families. If most bishops were to tell the truth, attending banquets and dinners while a part of our job description are not those things which we most like to do. We do them because it is expected and more often than not our presence lends some importance to the event which can be anything from an annual affair of a diocesan organization to a major fundraiser for something important in diocesan life. For myself, the annual Christmas gathering of the seminarians and their families has always been something I both look forward to and enjoy. Usually it occurs just prior to Christmas when the sems have just arrived back from their semester of studies but this year we had to delay it because the major seminary calendar went right up to three days prior to Christmas – thus last night. Everyone was there except for our first year theology student, Ryan Boyle, who is attending the North American College in Rome. However, Ryan’s parents were present.
The dinner is preceded by Mass and occasionally there is a ministry or candidacy to be conferred but last night gave me a rare opportunity to reflect on five of the major figures of our faith who get lost in the days between Christmas and New Years: St. Stephen the first martyr for the faith, John the Apostle, the Holy Innocents, St. Thomas Becket, and because Sunday is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of the Church, last night the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph was transferred to Friday this year. Each of these major figures gives to the community of Christ a gift: for Stephen it was courageous proclamation of Christ, for John the Apostle, it was loyalty to the charge given to him by Christ on the cross, for the Holy Innocents it was their unknowing sparing of the life of Jesus, for Becket it was the supremacy of conscience, and for the Holy Family it was bearing the sword of life’s unpredictables with faith and hope.
A good dinner followed the Mass and we adjourned for another year in about three hours. As the photos which accompany this entry show, Bethany is an absolutely beautiful place to gather all together and starting next Tuesday, thirty cardinals, archbishops and bishops of the east coast from Delaware to Miami will gather for their annual retreat, their second here with us. I shall be on that retreat myself.
Pray for our seminarians. If you knew them as I know them, you would be very proud of their sacrifice in today’s secular culture, their commitment to pursuing ministry in today’s Church and world, and their hopes for the future of us all. Their hope and enthusiasm is infectious and every once in a while, even a bishop needs to catch the “fever” which today’s candidates for priestly ministry have.