Program #0077 for Friday, June 24, 2011: Fr. Daniel Hennessey

June 24, 2011

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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Mark O’Connell

Today’s guest(s): Fr. Daniel Hennessey, Director of the Office of Vocations for the Archdiocese of Boston

Today’s topics: Fr. Dan Hennessey and the work of the Vocations Office; Feast of Corpus Christi Mass readings

Summary of today’s show: Scot and Fr. Mark talk with Fr. Dan Hennessey about his call to the priesthood, his work as director of vocations, what it was like to be ordained at the height of the sex-abuse scandal, and the incredible number of men entering seminary in the fall. Also, a discussion of the Mass readings for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi on Sunday.

1st segment: Scot welcomed Fr. Mark back to the show. Fr. Mark said he’s been running all week so it’s good to have this time to pause and talk about bigger issues. There’s lots happening at the Tribunal, trying to conclude the fiscal year on June 30. There have been many meetings including Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, Presbyteral Council, the Cardinal’s Cabinet, and there’s been very good attendance.

Today, there’s another priest of the archdiocese to talk about his call to the priesthood and his ministry.

2nd segment: Scot and Fr. Mark welcome Fr. Dan to the show. Fr. Dan was one of the first broadcasts of The Good Catholic Life and he there wasn’t enough time to talk about his journey to the priesthood. He grew up in Andover and went to St. Michael Parish in North Andover. He went o Central Catholic high school in Lawrence. He went to Merrimac College for a couple of years, but left halfway through to figure out what he wanted to do. He eventually went back and got a degree in biochemistry. He worked for a year and then entered St. John’s Seminary.

Scot asked him when he first experienced a call to the priesthood. Fr. Dan said it wasn’t until high school or college that he realized that he’d been thinking about since he was a young boy. He clearly recalls the first time he thought about it during a First Friday Mass in the 3rd grade.

Fr. Mark asked where were the angels from on high telling him what to do. Fr. Dan said obviously it doesn’t happen in most circumstances. The majority of the men in seminary go in and are not sure God is calling them. They think God may be calling and go in to discern whether that is true. Fr. Dan didn’t become convinced that it was his vocation until the second or third year in the seminary. He said he didn’t have any particular priest as a role model. It was his parents’ example in their love for the Eucharist and the sacraments and their teaching him to listen to God calling him. As he was discerning entering the seminary after college, he did have a couple of priests who did give him good guidance. One encouraged him to pray as the most important step.

Scot noted that Augustinians served in his high school and college. Did Fr. Dan always know he would enter the diocesan priesthood or did he consider the religious life? He said he didn’t understand the distinctions at the time and so he just went to a parish priest who directed him to the vocations director for the Archdiocese. Fr. Mark pointed out that while they planned to be parish priests as diocesan priests, they are not in parishes. Fr. Dan said he still gets to be in parishes very often, which is a blessing.

Fr. Dan was ordained May 25, 2002, just as the scandal broke. Fr. Dan said it was interesting to be ordained that year. It required the men in seminary and being newly ordained to reiterate that they have a true appreciation for the priesthood. He was also struck by the idea of the priest as an instrument of healing and reconciliation.

Before his present assignment, he was at St. Bridget’s in South Boston. About three months after that, he also gained the responsibility for FGate of Heaven in South Boston. He was there for two years and moved to the Vocations’ Office half-time. The next year he went to the Vocations Office full-time.

Scot asked what it’s like to be a priest in South Boston, a very Irish area. Scot noted that St. Bridget’s and Gate of Heaven are beautiful churches. Fr. Dan said it was a beautiful experience. Having grown up north of Boston, being in South Boston seemed so far away but felt at home. The people were very welcoming to him. The churches themselves are very beautiful. He also loved celebrating Mass with the schoolkids and loved spending time in the schools with the kids.

3rd segment: Scot asked Fr. Dan how he reacted when he was asked by Cardinal Seán to begin his ministry in the vocations office. He immediately thought he needed to pray for the grace to do this ministry. As soon as he became vocations director, being Irish and Catholic, he felt personally responsible for the vocations crisis in the archdiocese. Once he calmed down, he realized that vocations is something that everyone in the archdiocese needs to be encouraging.

Fr. Mark asked if he felt responsible for numbers. Fr. Dan said that at first, yes, he was concerned, but only until people warned him against playing the numbers game. He needs to find the men that are being called and leave that up to God. However, whenever he meets with priests, one of the first questions they ask is how many guys we have. We have to pray that the men who are being called will respond generously to the call from God.

Scot asks Fr. Dan how he knows he’s doing a good job; having a good year. The way he measures his work is the sense that the men who are applying and entering are ready for formation and to discern. Many priests have friends who were in the seminary, but left. The purpose of the seminary is not just to pump out priests, as much as allowing the men to discern whether they are being called. Fr. Mark pointed out that you don’t have to be perfect to go to the seminary.

Fr. Mark asked where is the best place to find men and what age of men. At one time, it was Catholic high schools exclusively. Today, most of them men entering the seminary are not in the college seminary—there are just a few today—but the majority are entering after having finished undergraduate schooling and some may even have graduate degrees and worked for a little time. There’s a pre-theology program for men who enter the seminary to earn a bachelor’s of philosophy to prepare them for formation in theology. Most the men entering now are in the mid-twenties. To find the men God is calling, he goes where a lot of the young faithful Catholic men are, including college campuses. They have an annual retreat for men that has many college-age men.

Scot asked what qualities Fr. Dan looks for to determine if this person is ready and is a good candidate to enter the seminary. Fr. Dan said he’s looking for good Catholic men, primarily, and among them men who have some indications in their life that they’ve been called. So they’re looking for a man of prayer, of integrity, who’s wholesome, has a strong faith, devotion to the Eucharist, devotion to the Virgin Mary, has lived a life of service, worked in the Church in some way, etc.

Scot asked how much should the man should be praying? Do they ask them not to have a girlfriend for a certain period of time before entering the seminary? Fr. Dan said all seminarians are expected to be living a life of chaste celibacy. Even the man who’s thinking about the priesthood, while it’s good for a man to date in general, he should have a period of one to two years where he’s not dating at all.

The question of the prayer life is a tough one. It’s best to look at it as a friendship with Christ that the man is developing. Each person can be at a different stage, but men entering the seminary pray each day; they generally have a devotion to the Blessed Mother; most go to Eucharistic adoration; they encourage them to go to daily Mass. The Eucharist and the priesthood is inseparable so a man considering the priesthood should feel like he’s drawn to the altar.

How many men are in formation for the priesthood and how can the audience help promote a culture of vocations? This year there have been 58 men studying at various stages, with six having been ordained this year. This coming September, there be somewhere between 15 and 20 new men entering. That should put the Archdiocese somewhere over 70 total. He takes no credit because if tomorrow half of them decide they’re not being called, he’s not taking the blame.

To promote a culture of vocations, people should pray. When we ask, God does answer us. It’s the job of parents and grandparents and godparents to help the children to know what desires of them. They should actively encourage young men (and older men too) to ask what God desires, not just what they want. Scot said Catholics shouldn’t ask kids, “What do you want to be when you grow up,” but instead “What does God want you to be when you grow up”. This helps beyond priestly vocations, but helps children think about their relationship with God. Fr. Mark pointed out that parents and grandparents and godparents should also be helping their daughters discern the religious life.

5th segment: Scot asked Fr. Dan about an even this coming Wed, June 29 at the Cathedral at 7pm: A holy Hour of Eucharistic Adoration to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Pope Benedict’s ordination. The US bishops requested that all the diocese in the US do a holy hour or even a 40-hour devotion.

The Cathedral is 1400 Washington Street in the South End of Boston. Wednesday is the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul. It’s also Cardinal Seán’s birthday.

Now, as we do every week, we look forward to this coming sunday’s Mass readings to help us prepare to celebrate together. This week if the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ.

Moses said to the people: “Remember how for forty years now the LORD, your God, has directed all your journeying in the desert, so as to test you by affliction and find out whether or not it was your intention to keep his commandments. He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your fathers, in order to show you that not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD.

“Do not forget the LORD, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery; who guided you through the vast and terrible desert with its saraph serpents and scorpions, its parched and waterless ground; who brought forth water for you from the flinty rock and fed you in the desert with manna, a food unknown to your fathers.”

Brothers and sisters: The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.

Jesus said to the Jewish crowds:
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give
is my flesh for the life of the world.”

The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying,
“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Jesus said to them,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you do not have life within you.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
has eternal life,
and I will raise him on the last day.
For my flesh is true food,
and my blood is true drink.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
remains in me and I in him.
Just as the living Father sent me
and I have life because of the Father,
so also the one who feeds on me
will have life because of me.
This is the bread that came down from heaven.
Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died,
whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

Fr. Dan said the first thing that comes to mind is how the Lord still comes to be with us as the Bread of Life at every Mass, The priesthood is a vocation that is indispensable and irreplaceable. As a priest, it’s a mystery and beautiful to be a minister at the altar.

Scot said as Catholics we want to be as close to Jesus as possible and the way to be closest to Him is in the consuming of the Eucharist. As a husband and wife become one, so too we become one

When the Gospel says “eat”, the original Greek says Jesus said we were to literally gnaw on His flesh. To literally consumer Him. It was kind of Him to come to us under the appearance of bread and wine. Fr. Mark said this is why the people who hear Jesus don’t get it and are turned away by it. But Jesus doesn’t explain it; He repeats it over and over. He means what He’s saying literally.

Scot said transubstantiation means the God keeps the appearance of bread and wine (taste, smell, feel), but changes the substance into the Body and Blood of Jesus. In the Old Testament, it says the Jews were not to consumer the blood of animals, but God gave them the manna in the desert to feed them. God feeds us the new manna of Christ and because it is Blood, it shows that a new era has begun.

Fr. Dan notes that Jesus says we will have life. Today, people are looking for life, joy, and happiness. The life that God wants for us is in the Church. When we go to Mass, we receive Him, and He fills us with life. Scot said this is why the show is called The Good Catholic Life because if we follow the Life in the Church, it will be a good happy life.

Fr. Mark said the first reading underlines the word “remember” and tells us not to “forget”. That’s a big theme in the Old Testament that the Lord remembers and the people always forget, which causes their exile. The Eucharist is a memorial that helps all generations of Christians to remember the Paschal mystery as a reality. Bring the moment of paschal mystery to every mont of our life.

Scot said statistics show us that there are many Catholics who don’t understand or believe that Christ is present in the Eucharist. Scot said part of this is because of the way that we who do believe receive Christ. The way we go up to Communion, the way the priest celebrates Mass can have an impact on how young children appreciate that this is Jesus’ Body and Blood. Scot said someone may experience Mass only once and it will be how we receive the Eucharist that influences them into believing. It could be how we approach the Eucharist that influences our children’s faith as adults.

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