Seminaries of the Home

Cardinal Wuerl poses with most of the seminarians of the Archdiocese of Washington following a recent Christmas Mass and dinner for the seminarians held at Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Hyattsville. Not pictured are the archdiocese’s seminarians studying at the North American College in Rome. The Archdiocese of Washington has 76 seminarians studying for the priesthood, including 25 men at the new Blessed John Paul II Seminary.

Just before Christmas, I had the privilege of celebrating Mass and then attending a dinner for the seminarians of the Archdiocese of Washington, held at the Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Hyattsville, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last fall.  Then afterward, most of the archdiocese’s 76 seminarians, except those studying in Rome, posed with me for a picture. That “class photo” of the future priests of the Archdiocese of Washington included the 25 seminarians now studying at the archdiocese’s new Blessed John Paul II Seminary which opened in 2011.

Blessed John Paul II, perhaps the greatest priest of the past century, is a fitting patron for our new seminary, and his life and witness should inspire us as we celebrate National Vocations Awareness Week from Jan. 13-19.

In 1996, then-Pope John Paul II wrote a book, Gift and Mystery, to mark the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.  Writing about the influences on his own vocation, he mentioned first his family, noting how his mother died when he was barely nine years old.  After that great loss in his life, as well as the death of his older brother, the future pope lived at home with just his father, whom he remembered as a “deeply religious man.”

“By profession, he was a soldier, and after my mother’s death, his life became one of constant prayer.  Sometimes I would wake up during the night and find my father on his knees, just as I would always see him kneeling in the parish church,” Blessed John Paul II wrote.

The Holy Father said that he and his own father never discussed a vocation to the priesthood, but he added, “His example was in a way my first seminary, a kind of domestic seminary.”

You might be familiar with the concept of a Catholic home being a “domestic church,” a “little church” or “church of the family” where the faith is first taught and lived.  But it is also inspiring to think of our homes as “domestic seminaries,” as houses of formation where we teach our children to love God and love their faith and to be open to God’s call wherever it might lead them, perhaps even to the priesthood or religious life.  Just think how the example of a simple, devout Polish soldier inspired the vocation of a great pope who would go on to bring Christ’s Gospel to the ends of the earth.

That kind of witness of love and faith can be a part of our homes, and our lives, in the Year of Faith.  When the doors of our homes are open to Jesus, so too, the doors of our hearts can be open to Christ.  Maybe that’s why Pope Benedict called his apostolic letter on the Year of Faith, Porta Fidei, Latin for “the door of faith.”  In our homes, we prepare our children not for careers, but to live holy lives in this world and to be saints some day in heaven.  Regardless of whether or not we have children in our lives, we can all pray for vocations so that those whom God is calling to the priesthood or religious life may answer that call in service of Christ and his Church.

As Archbishop of Washington, I witness the gift of the priesthood at every parish Mass, and in a special way when I celebrate the Mass of Christian Burial for a priest and hear parishioners afterward tell me how that priest brought Christ to them through the sacraments at all stages of their lives.

Likewise, I witness that gift of the priesthood each year when our new priests kneel before the altar to be ordained and then stand with me at the altar to concelebrate the Eucharist.  Those new priests will in turn go out to parishes and serve in ministries where they will bring Christ to the people, through the Eucharist and the other sacraments, and by preaching and living the Word of God.  On their ordination day, I remind them that they will be priests for the New Evangelization, helping people to deepen their faith and love for Jesus and share it with others.

Last month, I smiled and stood with those future priests, men from parishes throughout this area, and also from across the country and around the world, men of many different backgrounds and experiences who are seeking to answer God’s call to the priesthood in this archdiocese.

A father’s enduring example of faith helped inspire the vocation of a man the world knows as Blessed John Paul II, John Paul the Great.  As we pray for vocations this month and throughout the year, let us remember to open the doors of our homes and our hearts to God.  Then one day the young men and women coming through those doors might have the courage and faith to choose the priesthood or religious life.  By opening their hearts to God’s plan, they too can be great, whatever path they choose.