Program #0142 for Friday, September 23, 2011: Fr. Michael Harrington & the Celebration of the Priesthood

September 23, 2011

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

Today’s guest(s): Fr. Michael Harrington, Director of the Office of Outreach and Cultural Diversity

Today’s topics: Celebration of the Priesthood dinner; Priest Profile: Fr. Michael Harrington

Summary of today’s show: Fr. Michael Harrington discusses with Scot and Fr. Mark the 2011 Celebration of the Priesthood dinner, a moving opportunity for the people of the Archdiocese to express their appreciation for all that their priests do and are for them; Also, Fr. Harrington’s vocation story; how priestly vocations have grown rapidly in the years he’s been working with the Vocation Office; and the readings for Mass this Sunday.

1st segment: Scot noted that at the Red Mass, Cardinal Sean gave a great homily on assisted suicide that got a lot of national press. Fr. Mark said Chief Justice Rapoza also gave a powerful talk on St. Thomas More to the Catholic Lawyers Guild. Both stories and talks are in the Pilot this week. Fr. Mark said Justice Rapoza quoted G.K. Chesterton as a great model for what was going on at the time (the 1920s) and will be an even greater model for 100 years from then.

2nd segment: Scot welcomed Fr. Harrington to the show. He said 1,110 people were at the Celebration of the Priesthood dinner at the World Trade Center in Boston last night. He said he was happy to see so many people turn out to support priests and encourage them in their ministry. Fr. Mike said it was good to see so much support for priests. Scot said it was announced that the dinner raised over $1 million plus another $150,000 over the next few years to benefit the Clergy Funds for priests’ medical and retirement needs. Scot said the spirit of the night was wonderful. Fr. Mike said each presenter was so positive and highlighted how the priests of this archdiocese had done so much for them in their lives.

Fr. Mike said one of the speakers, Chris Boyle, went through a list of the priests who have connected with him through his young life. He is a 7th and 8th grade theology teacher at Catholic Memorial. When Fr. Mike speaks about vocations in parishes, he encourages people to think about the many places and ways that priests have had a positive impact in their lives: marriages, baptisms, confessions, when people were sick, etc. It helps us to realize how much the priesthood means to us as Catholics.

Scot said Cardinal Sean gave a very strong address. He related how a five-year-old boy once told him that he is the “communion guy” and said that it’s true that all priests are the Communion guy. Fr. Bob Reed of CatholicTV was the host of the evening.

Scot said Joe D’Arrigo, executive director of the Clergy Funds, Some stats, for every 1 active priest we have, there are 10 retired priests. They also shared some charts data on the last four years of work on the Clergy Funds. Four years ago, there was a prediction the funds would run out by the end of 2011, but now the expenses for the funds have been cut without cutting benefits and revenues have been raised. They went from a $10 million deficit to a break-even budget.

Fr. Mark said he wasn’t at the event because he was teaching, but he wanted to give kudos to Joe D’Arrigo. A few years ago, Fr. Mark was running the Clergy Funds, but confesses most of the priests who ran it didn’t have the expertise to do so, so he’s very grateful to Joe. Fr. Mike added that Joe is here for nothing but to serve the priests of the archdiocese.

Scot said everyone who were involved did a very great job. The highlight of the night was an eight-minute video highlighting the work of some of our priests:

The priests in the video were Fr. Mark Murphy, Fr. Richard Clancy, Fr. Jack Ahern, and Fr. Joseph Fagan. Scot said one of the moving parts was hearing Fr. Clancy choke up when he said it mattered in his life for people to take a few minutes and write the priest a note to thank him. the dinner started in the Year of the Priest as a way to thank priests not just for what they do, but for who they are in this special vocation in the Church. He encouraged listeners to think about saying thank you to their priest at church this Sunday.

Scot emphasized that none of the priests go to the dinner to be celebrated personally, but it does make a difference to be thanked en masse.

3rd segment: Fr. Mike said he had great role models in the priesthood growing up. He had a well-known pastor, Msgr. John Carroll, who was a great witness to him. Then he had Fr. Bill Schmidt as a pastor at St. John’s in Swampscott, who had a special way of ministering to young people. Fr. Mike said he didn’t develop much of a sense of a personal vocation in his high school or college years. He said he didn’t consider his vocation very much at all. But after college, he realized he was living his life for himself and so he started to see how he could live for others. He started to teach religious education in his parish and seek out other young adults active in their faith. In his early 20s, he started to ask for the first time what God wants him to do in his life. He started to walk more closely with the Lord and as he did so the idea of the priesthood started to come clearer. Little by little, God worked on him to understand his ways are greater than our ways. He entered seminary at age 27 in 1994. In his class, he was one of the younger guys, but today men are averaging younger when they enter.

After ordination, his only parish assignment so far was St. Paul in Wellesley. He said he had great priest examples there and couldn’t have asked for better pastors. The Cardinal called Fr. Mike into diocesan service in 2005 as assistant vocation director. He loved his work in the parish and he had a lot of great projects on the horizon. His term was coming to an end, but he had been told he would stay on a little longer. Then he had an unexpected call to come meet with the Cardinal. It was a surprise, but he wanted to do whatever God called him to do. It was tough to leave the parish, but he was committed to whatever the Cardinal thought best.

Scot said Cardinal Sean had made a commitment to having two full-time priests in vocations office and that has born fruit with more than 70 young men in the seminary right now. It requires a lot of time and effort to create a culture of vocations. Fr. Mike said their work is only done in collaboration with all the priests of the archdiocese under the leadership of Cardinal Sean. The Cardinal sets the tone. Fr. Mike said recently there were only 27 men in residence at St. John Seminary. Today there are over 80 men in residence and more than 120 studying there total for several dioceses. Today 70 of them are studying for the archdiocese when just a few years ago there were only 45.

Fr. Mike said they do many type of outreach to help men to consider what God is calling them to. They try to help them ask the question what God wants. We are so focused on what we want to be, but we need to help young people approach the much greater question.

Scot said Cardinal Sean, Fr. Mike, and Fr. Dan Hennessey all rely heavily on prayer to grow vocations and are constantly asking everyone to pray for vocations. Fr. mike said Jesus gave the instruction: “Beg the Master of the harvest for more workers in the harvest.” Prayer is at the heart of vocations. They sometimes ask religious orders to pray for young men who are discerning; they have holy hours for vocations. Many parishes have prayers for vocations during Mass.

Fr. Mark asked how vocations are growing in ethnic communities. Fr. Mike said they just ordained a young man from the Korean community and two more are in the seminary. They are not a huge community so having three men is an outsized contribution. They have had vocations from the Vietnamese community and other communities are beginning vocations programs.

Scot asked for a profile of the types of men in the seminary and where they’re coming from. Fr. Mike said most of the new men are in their 20s. They have three men who are 45. They have more men studying at Blessed John XXIII Seminary in the last few years. Most of the young men are just out of college. The work being done on college campuses are paying off in vocations. Several men come from Boston University. Three men were associated with the Life Teen ministry at St. Mary’s in Dedham.

Fr. Mark said there used to be a seminary college for men about 18 years old. Fr. Mark said they’ve accepted two men just out of high school this year. They go to a formation house in Providence and will either attend Providence College or another one in Rhode Island. They’re also seeing more young men discerning a vocation in high school.

Scot said on October 22, there is a big gathering put on by the Serra Club. They are having a Mass of Blessed John Paul II at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross at 10am in recognition of the Adopt-a-Priest apostolate. October 22 is the feast day of Bl. John Paul II. George Weigel will give a talk after the Mass. Scot said adopt-a-priest is a prayer apostolate. The Serra Club asks people to volunteer to pray for a particular priest every day for a year. Scot said two years ago his family was randomly assigned Msgr. Bob Deeley, our new vicar general. When he was assigned to be vicar general and Scot’s new boss, his kids said they should pray for him even more now.

Fr. Mike said the Serra Club does a lot of work helping with vocations. They are having an altar server appreciation Mass soon that the Serra Club will be assiting with.

4th segment: Now, as we do every week, we look forward to this coming Sunday’s Mass readings to help us prepare to celebrate together.

Thus says the LORD:
You say, “The LORD’s way is not fair!”
Hear now, house of Israel:
Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?
When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies,
it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die.
But if he turns from the wickedness he has committed,
he does what is right and just,
he shall preserve his life;
since he has turned away from all the sins that he has committed,
he shall surely live, he shall not die.

Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people:
“What is your opinion?
A man had two sons.
He came to the first and said,
‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’
He said in reply, ‘I will not, ’
but afterwards changed his mind and went.
The man came to the other son and gave the same order.
He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir, ‘but did not go.
Which of the two did his father’s will?”
They answered, “The first.”
Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you,
tax collectors and prostitutes
are entering the kingdom of God before you.
When John came to you in the way of righteousness,
you did not believe him;
but tax collectors and prostitutes did.
Yet even when you saw that,
you did not later change your minds and believe him.”

Scot said imagine being on the receiving end of that admonition from Jesus. Fr. Mike said the Lord’s way is not always easy, but it’s a far cry from saying the Lord’s way is not fair. Fr. Mark said Ezekiel is writing to a community who thinks that the bad things happening to them is because of their ancestors sins, but Ezekiel said it’s their own sins that are the cause. In the Gospel, the better thing is to say yes and do it, but we give more credit to the guy who thinks about the consequences and changes his mind. We’re given fair warning by God to make the right decision.

Scot said the reading brings to mind the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He had a friend who described it as hitting the reset button. Scot said he’s been both of these guys in the Gospel. in the spiritual life, it’s the ongoing conversion to conform our hearts, minds, and will to God that leads to the right way. Fr. Mike said we can all relate to the claim the Lord’s way isn’t fair. Even the saints in Scripture have said that, but they recognized that it’s not the Lord who abandoned us, but we who abandoned the Lord. Fr. Mark said he assumes Fr. Mike sees these two paths among the men who are discerning. Fr. Mike said God often calls us to expand our love, which can be hard at first.

Scot wonders who is the analagous “tax collectors and prostitutes” of today that we might reject based on their past or surface appearances. It’s easy to claim we won’t be pharisaical, but we have to seriously examine whether we are being prideful or whether we really are that open to God’s will. We have to constantly examine our hearts to ensure we are open to everyone who God might be calling to follow him.

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