Greetings to all readers of the Catholic Herald, I am thrilled and grateful to begin writing with some consistency for this publication. This is not the first time I have written for the Herald, as I did pen a few stories as an intern in the summer of 2009. However, I am now in a new role with the diocese.
This month, I began formation and studies as I continue to discern priesthood at St. Francis de Sales seminary, located 5 miles south of downtown Milwaukee. Deacon Joe Stefancin, Rich Rhinehart, and I are all grateful for the invitation from Bishop Powers and support of so many people around the diocese as we become the first group of seminarians to study for the diocese here at St. Francis since the 1980s.
On the topic of our seminary’s patron, I wanted to share in this first article a reflection from our annual seminary retreat, which took place Aug. 20-25. My 44 seminarian brothers and I were blessed to have His Eminence Cardinal James Harvey as our retreat master for the week. Cardinal Harvey was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in 1975. Since that time, the Cardinal has spent most of his priesthood in Rome, most notably as the Prefect of the Papal Household from 1998-2012. His wisdom and witness to the priesthood made for a grace-filled week of rest and reflection prior to the beginning of the formation year.
The theme of the retreat was “Missionary Discipleship in the Spirit of St. Francis de Sales.” This theme combined the call of Pope Francis for the Church to be missionary disciples (see his 2013 encyclical Evangelii Gaudium/The Joy of the Gospel) with the teachings and saintly life of Francis de Sales. When I learned of the theme, I was overjoyed, as I had recently read both Pope Francis’ encyclical and St. Francis de Sales’ most well known work (Introduction to the Devout Life). Cardinal Harvey weaved several major themes from these texts together and exhorted us as seminarians to be models of humility, gentleness, and patience as we live out our call to be missionary disciples in 21st century Wisconsin.
One item from the life of St. Francis de Sales that struck me was the story of his evangelizing mission to the Le Chablais region. Following the Protestant Reformation, this region of modern-day France and Switzerland was purged almost entirely of the Catholic faith and replaced with Calvinism. No more than 100 Catholics remained, but Francis set out at age 26 with his cousin Louis to bring the good news of Jesus Christ and His Church back to the region. Francis endured immense persecution but with zealous preaching and prolific writings about the true teachings of the Church, in only FOUR years, Francis brought nearly the entire region of 72,000-plus people to the Catholic faith. When Cardinal Harvey shared the number of 72,000, it struck me immediately how close that number was to the total number of Catholics in the Diocese of Superior, 77,800 as of 2014.
The life of holiness that St. Francis de Sales shows us is, in a word, attractive. In our modern age, “evangelization by attraction” has become somewhat of a motto and even makes an appearance in paragraph 15 of Evangelii Gaudium.
“Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone. Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet. It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but by attraction.”
St. Francis de Sales, who coined the phrase “a spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a barrel full of vinegar,” shows us that a life of Christian charity, virtue, and devotion can draw many souls to Christ and His Church.
Thank you for your prayers and support of the seminarians and please feel free to email me at ude.s1575642915fs@yc1575642915artd1575642915 if you have any topics you would like to see covered from a seminarian perspective.