Forming Priests, Forming Culture

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By Fr. Shenan J. Boquet, Human Life International, June 

I returned to Louisiana this past week to participate in an event in my home parish of Saint Anne. The parish family was celebrating the retirement of its pastor, Father Ty Van Nguyen, who had served the parish for 13 years and who was also celebrating his 32 anniversary as priest. I joined Bishop Shelton Fabre, forty priests, numerous religious sisters and parishioners of Saint Anne for a solemn and joyous celebration of Father Ty’s priestly service and dedication.

As I sat in the sanctuary reflecting on the many years I worshiped in this church, I was reminded of the tremendous influence of certain priests, parishioners, and family upon my religious formation and vocation. The homilist, in his comments on Sacred Scripture and the Solemnity of the Ascension, noted Jesus’s command to the disciples, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:18) He emphasized how the life of a priest impacts thousands of souls in a lifetime through his service of the Gospel and mission of the Church.

I don’t have to remind you of the current battle we confront in our rapidly declining secular culture, and mindsets that are born from this culture. For decades we have seen the assault against our youth and families. With remarkable persistence, secularists have intentionally assaulted every institution that upholds moral truth and the Natural Law. The focus of attack has been the Catholic Church, her teaching and her societal influence, knowing she is the one bastion preventing the ultimate victory of atheistic and secular values. In many cases, the Catholic Church is the only institution that defends the truth about natural marriage and the sanctity of family and life. It is into this battle that each priest, each ordained servant of Jesus, is sent and commanded by the Lord to go out and baptize, teach and make disciples.

Some of the priests and seminarians who participated in our pro-life training conference last year in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

A priest never knows how many people he will influence or the total impact he will make in his lifetime. As minister of Word and Sacrament, he serves daily those who are entrusted to him on the day of his ordination. Motivated simply and profoundly by love and the command of the Master, he goes out into the vineyard to transform, cultivate, and build. It is a rare but welcome occasion when he hears stories about how he influenced a person’s life: mostly, the fruit of his daily efforts is unknown except to the heavenly Father, who called him by name and chose him in Christ before all time.

Saint John Vianney, the patron of priests, in his Catechism on the Priesthood, beautifully articulates why priests have such influence upon culture and people. This influence not only affects Catholics but also fundamentally affects everyone within society – the priest being leaven within the dough.

My children, we have come to the Sacrament of Orders. It is a Sacrament, which seems to relate to no one among you, and which yet relates to everyone. This Sacrament raises man up to God. What is a priest? He is a man who holds the place of God – a man who is invested with all the powers of God. “Go, said Our Lord to the priest… as My Father sent Me, I send you. All power has been given Me in Heaven and on earth. Go then, teach all nations… He who listens to you, listens to Me; he who despises you despises Me.”

With over 4 decades of experience, HLI understands the significant role of priests in the service and defense of family and life. With over 400 thousand priests actively serving around the world, and the special charism of priests to lead the faithful to heaven, they deal with families every day who are suffering the effects of our corroding culture.

In our support of priestly formation, HLI assists priests and seminarians in understanding the plethora of ever-changing issues affecting family and life around the world and in their own societies, as well as providing ongoing formation in bioethics and Church teaching. The objective is twofold: to mobilize priests in the “Campaign for Life” called for by Saint Pope John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae n. 95, and to assist them with proper pastoral responses in light of Church teaching in order to better serve their congregations and engage the culture.

HLI is working on multiple fronts on a global scale in its objective of building a Culture of Life. The Great Campaign of which Saint John Paul spoke is our campaign. By engaging seminarians, HLI is investing in future pastors, teachers and bishops. By assisting priests, we are directly impacting and influencing the people of God and their formation and daily life in Christ. Through our work with religious and lay leaders, we expand our impact, at a grassroots level, affecting the domestic Church, societies, governments, politics, education, science, medicine, media, and other centers of influence. In doing so, we hope to do our part to serve faith, family and life throughout the world.

It was a great joy being in Saint Anne Church again, particularly for the celebration of the priesthood. This precious moment allowed me to remember the many influences upon my life that have given it shape and direction. The priesthood is God’s gift, and my path to salvation, but I am also keenly aware of how many priests and people shared in forming me into the man I am, and the man desire to be. There is no doubt that HLI’s work is key to a genuine transformation of hearts and cultures, and this begins with forming priests.

Please pray for the success of HLI’s efforts, and as always, know that you are in my prayers as well.