By Diane Freeby
NOTRE DAME — “Discernment of the call to the priesthood is more than an intellectual exercise. Yes, the mind is involved, but so must be the heart. In fact, it is there that one truly discovers the Lord’s call.”
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades shared his thoughts on priestly vocations last week at Moreau Seminary at the University of Notre Dame. He was welcomed by 1994 Saint Joseph’s High School alum, Father James Gallagher, a Holy Cross priest recently named director of the Office of Vocations for the Indiana Province. Father David Tyson, provincial superior of the Indiana Province then introduced the bishop to an auditorium filled with priests, religious, seminarians and others interested in discerning the priestly vocation.
“We cannot truly speak of the Catholic priesthood without reference to the priesthood of Christ,” he said, quoting St. Thomas Aquinas, “Only Christ is the true priest, the others being his ministers.”
Bishop Rhoades said both the common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood are a participation in the one priesthood of Christ. The whole Christian community is a priestly one, he said, but in order to effectively teach and lead, priests must first make their relationship with Jesus the center of their lives.
“Through the ministerial priesthood,” explained Bishop Rhoades, referring to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “the Lord Jesus unceasingly builds up and leads His Church. For this reason it is transmitted by its own sacrament, the sacrament of Holy Orders.”
Bishop Rhoades emphasized the need for young men to first have a personal encounter with Christ if they are to be truly able to respond to God’s call to the priesthood.
“In our own lives and in the lives of those we invite to consider the priestly vocation,” explained Bishop Rhoades, “it is necessary to encounter Christ in prayer, to encounter Him in the Word, most especially in the Gospels, to encounter Him in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharistic Sacrifice and in Eucharistic Adoration. It is necessary also to encounter the merciful and compassionate High Priest in the sacrament of Penance.”
Father Gregory Haake, who was ordained a Holy Cross priest three years ago, said that reminder of mercy helps him assist other young men with their discernment. He was thrilled with Bishop Rhoades’ talk.
“This was the first time I heard him speak on the priesthood and I found it absolutely beautiful!” said Father Haake. “It was a wonderful reflection on priesthood, on Christ and the priest’s relationship to Christ. It was very rich!”
Father Stephen Koeth is assistant director of the Old College Program at Notre Dame, working with 20 undergraduates who are in Holy Cross formation while pursuing their degree at Notre Dame. He appreciated Bishop Rhoades’ emphasis on the Christological and scriptural roots of the priesthood.
“Our own prayer, our own relationship with Christ forms and changes us so we can then help form and teach and govern and sanctify the people of God,” said Father Koeth. “It all starts with our personal relationship with Christ. Everything else comes out of that.”
Bishop Rhoades made time after his talk to sit down for a one-on-one interview with a young man working on a vocations video for his high school theology class. When asked how young people can best discern what God is asking of them, Bishop Rhoades emphasized the need for personal prayer.
“Find some good priests or other holy people you can talk to about it, that you can share what’s going on in your heart,” he added. “ But I think in the end it’s that quiet, one-on-one conversation with Christ.”
Recalling his own moment of discernment to the priesthood while praying at the Lourdes Grotto at Mount St. Mary’s College, Bishop Rhoades said the Blessed Mother also strengthens and nurtures that encounter with Jesus.
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