STEUBENVILLE, Ohio—“What motivates us in following Christ?” Franciscan University of Steubenville President Father Sean O. Sheridan, TOR, asked the priests, deacons, and future priests before him. “What motivates us as ministers of the Gospels? Are we doing it for our own reasons, or are we doing it to give glory to God, to draw the attention to God, not to ourselves, to allow God to shine through the things that we’re able to do through his grace?”
During the Priests, Deacons and Seminarians Retreat, held June 16- 20 at Franciscan University, Father Sheridan and other speakers ministered to nearly 150 priests, deacons, and seminarians with inspirational talks, Mass, eucharistic adoration, and quiet reflection.Father Bruce Nieli, CSP, the director of Evangelization for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, opened the week by telling the participants to look upon their preaching as a song.
“I like to look on the Holy Trinity in the following way: God the Father is the composer, God the Son is the vocalist, God the Holy Spirit is the music, is the melody, the inner music of the soul,” said Father Nieli.
“St. Paul says, ‘The love of God poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.’ How can we get that across to our people in our preaching and in our teaching? The first rule is to be aware of it ourselves. One of the reasons I love to preach is when I preach to you I’m listening to what I’m preaching. Preaching is for me a religious experience, an experience of being in love with God, precisely because I’m paying attention, not so much to my words, but to the Spirit working in me. It is very much for me a song.”
In his Wednesday morning homily, Father Sheridan talked about his own path to the priesthood. He spoke of how he was a “late or delayed vocation.” After living and working in California as an attorney for 10 years, he finally decided to enter St. Elizabeth Friary, the motherhouse for the Third Order Regular Franciscans of Loretto, Pennsylvania, in August 2000.
Father Sheridan entered as a postulant with five other men, but as time went on, he said the others discovered that they were not called to the Franciscan lifestyle, forcing him to re-think his own calling.
“Each time one of those men left the community, it caused me to step back and evaluate whether I was still called to be a friar, evaluate why it was that God wanted me to continue on this journey of formation as a Franciscan friar. Was it truly God’s will that I was trying to follow, or was it my own determination, my own will to stay?”
Ultimately, Father Sheridan felt “it was truly God who was inviting me to continue in the life of a Franciscan friar.” His decision eventually led him to Franciscan University, a place he had only been to once before joining the Third Order Regular. On June 1, 2013, he began serving as Franciscan University’s sixth president.
Dr. John Bergsma, a theology professor at Franciscan University, spoke on “Changing the World With Words: The Power of Holy Orders.”Bergsma talked of the power of words, especially those spoken by the priest such as, “I absolve you from your sins,” “This is my Body,” and “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”
“This is in imitation of God,” when the priest says the words at consecration, joins a couple in marriage, or forgives sins, Bergsma said. “When the priest says those words, he is partaking in the divine creative speech that shapes the reality in which we live. This power is to share in the active word of God.”
Continuing to talk about the power of confession, Bergsma said, “The salvation of a single soul by the forgiveness of sins is a greater act than the creation of the world or even the resurrection from physical death, as in the case of Lazarus.”
Father Dave Pivonka, TOR, host for the retreat and director of Franciscan Pathways, told the participants not to worry about changing the world. Instead, he exhorted them to “give witness and be present” to those around them. “The Lord has chosen us to be a part of changing those around us, the people that we work with, minister with. He’s inviting us to be part of doing amazing, wonderful, heroic things, and how do we do that? The way that we do that is Jesus. The way that we do this is mercy,” Father Pivonka said.
Other speakers included Deacon Ralph Poyo, Father Francis Martin, Father Matthew Russick, Deacon James Keating, Dr. Mary Healy, and Father Tom Valenti. View photos from this conference at www.flickr.com/photos/franciscanuniversity.
This year, Franciscan University will offer 5 adult, 2 young adult, and 20 youth conferences in 11 states and 2 Canadian provinces. For a complete list of conferences, visit www.steubenvilleconferences.com.