On August 10, I attended a gathering for friends of Saint Meinrad Seminary, and one of our seminarians who was ordained a deacon last spring – David Farrell – spoke to those in attendance about his journey to becoming a theologian. I was very impressed with what he had to say and am sharing his presentation with you:
Good evening, like Moses and Elijah and Jesus on Mount Tabor, it is good to be here with you. It is good to be with a holy people and that is what you are. You are people who pray, people who follow Christ, people who serve and shepherd God’s people. And so I want to talk to you about a topic that is relevant to you all. That is, what is a theologian? What is a theologian? Have you ever met one? Who are they? What do they do? They seem obscure in our world of Science Technology Engineering and Math degrees. What value do theologians bring to a world who can get an answer from a physicist?
That was my question when I was 18, 19 years old. I was a college student and I wondered whether or not God was real. Is there really a supreme being without physical existence who is love who created the universe and everything in it and me. I wasn’t sarcastic. I was sincere. I didn’t know whether God was real or not. I was a biology student. Science was my tool for understanding the world and I didn’t know that there are other tools for knowing and understanding. And so I was using the wrong tools to find answers and I remained in the dark. I went along without serious answers to life’s serious questions.
That is, until I met Father Mike. Father Mike Williams is a preacher and a darned good one because Father Mike is in love with God. He is absolutely enthralled with Jesus Christ. He is a little bit too theatrical for some people’s tastes, but there can be no doubt that when he raises the eucharist and says This is my Body he believes he is holding the one who created him, the one who died for him, the one who loves him. Now I could scarcely tell you a single homily that Fr. Mike preached to us college students. But I can tell you what he taught me. He taught me the meaning of the Eucharist.
He talked about Jesus in the way that you talk about your friend. Jesus’ personality was utterly real and present in Fr. Mike’s homilies. And it struck me as true. It struck me as too good to not be true.
I’ve always loved stories. As a child my parents would read to me and I would beg them to read. Stories have meaning in them that is a kind of meaning and truth which is not able to be discerned with the scientific method. Stories have the kind of meaning that a human life has. It goes well beyond the sum of its parts because at the center, somewhere deep, in the center and source of every human life is God himself, who is infinite love and infinite relationship and the ground of our being.
I listened to Father Mike’s homilies and I came to believe the Gospel because I recognized a truth in its story which I could not deny, could not ignore, could not escape. A truth that eclipsed all that I had known up to that point. And then I did the best thing I could have done, I gave in, I let myself be swept away on the love story that is the Gospel of Christ. I came to believe and because I believed I came to understand the world and what it is and what its really for. I became open to a new way of knowing everything.
And that is where Saint Meinrad enters the story. Fr. Mike cracked the door of faith open for me. And Saint Meinrad flooded that door with a sea of practical theology. Theology that connects the soul to God. What is a theologian? A theologian is one who prays. That makes every one of you a theologian. A theologian is one who, like Moses, seeks the face of God. A theologian is one who believes the answer to life’s questions are all attainable. I believe that there is nothing that is not laden with meaning. I believe there is no one who is not valuable. It is not a vague universal love for people, but a concrete love for the person of Christ in the face of each of his creatures.
Listen to the personal and concrete love in part of the prayer of ordination by which a bishop consecrates a priest: Grant, we pray, Almighty Father, to these your servants the dignity of the priesthood; Renew within them the Spirit of holiness . . . Together with us, may they be faithful stewards of your mysteries so that your people may be renewed in the waters of rebirth and nourished from your altar. Do you see how priesthood is ordered to baptism? Renew within these priests the spirit of holiness so that your people may be renewed in the waters of baptism. Priesthood is ordered toward plunging other people into the saving waters of God’s life.
There are more connections between baptism and ordination. They are both a renewal. Renew within them the Spirit of holiness so that your people may be renewed in the waters of baptism. God is the author of our creation and he scribed dignity into our souls. The holiness of baptism and priesthood are not something altogether new to us, for we were first touched by the Spirit of Holiness when we were created. Therefore baptism renews us to holiness. And ordination renews that same spirit.
There is one more parallel. At baptism, there is an awkward moment when parents fumble to put a baptismal garment on a reborn baby. And at ordination, there is an awkward moment in which members of the presbyterate fumble to place a white chasuble on the newborn priest. The new garments are symbols that the person is a new creation. My friend Tyler has a newborn baby, and I can’t wait to see little Ivan David Flynt reborn in the waters of baptism. From new life to beautiful new life, just as I myself hope to be renewed in ordination.
I am thankful that when I see the people in my life, like little Ivan David, I see them lavished with layers of God’s careful and providential love in the sacraments of his church. I am thankful that to me, the world is full of meaning and beauty because it is a world created by God. Saint Meinrad has given me many gifts: an academic education in history and philosophy, many great friendships, the ability to communicate effectively, to offer counsel, to be a leader, but tonight I thank Fr. Denis and all the monks and all the staff for helping me to grow as a theologian, as one who prays, that is, as one who sees the face of God daily in stories, in sacrament, and in people. And who knows the meaning of life because he knows the author of life.