Over the last three years I have been going out to Mundelein Seminary in Chicago taking classes in spiritual direction. This nine-week program, spread out over three years is facilitated by the Institute of Priestly Formation and has been a great gift to my priesthood as I discover the treasures of the Catholic spiritual tradition. Approximately 150 priests from all over the country take part, with two sessions of about 75 priests in each. It is a beautiful cross section of the presbyterate of the United States, with priests from the tundra of Alaska to the beaches of Florida. We are also involved in a variety of ministries, from chancery officials to parish priests. It is an eclectic group of priests and ministries. There are even a couple of retired priests who are taking these courses to help them continue their dedicated service to the Church in a new way in their latter years of ministry. Despite the differences in age, geography and apostolate, it is clear from the interactions and conversations we are part of one brotherhood.
This fraternity we share and the enjoyment we have being in one another's company is such an essential element to the emotional and spiritual well being of the priest. It always amazes me each time I go out to Mundelein how quickly conversations start and seem to pick up right where we left off despite the several months between our time together. It has been a great joy to be with these men and share our experiences. It serves also as a reminder of the unique nature of our work and our lives. It is hard for someone other than a priest to really know what we may be dealing since we live very differently than most of the world.
As I meet with the men discerning the priesthood, it is important to me that they exhibit this desire to spend time with the other men who are discerning and realize the importance of this camaraderie and brotherhood. It will be a vital aspect of their discernment and future formation. During the years in seminary, they will have the support around them every day as they share the experience of being formed into the future priests of the archdiocese. The friendships made during these years will be critical throughout their lives as it is for those of us already serving in the priesthood. Getting together for class dinners or just spending time with one another on a day off can be rejuvenating to our life and work. It reminds us we are not alone in our labors for the Lord and allows us to have the opportunity to vent about the things that may be frustrating, ask for advice with a difficult pastoral situation, or share the joys that sustain and encourage us. Just recently I visited a brother priest who finished a major renovation of his church. As he spoke glowingly about all that had been accomplished and the people's overwhelmingly positive reaction to it, I was uplifted to share in his happiness. He gave me the grand tour of all of the work that had been finished and afterward we sat in the sanctuary together to pray Evening Prayer, with the smell of fresh paint and lacquer still very much present.
As we look to the future, these times together and experiences of brotherhood will be even more important. Gone are the days of four or five priests living together in a parish rectory and the reality seems more likely that many of us will be alone in the parishes where we are assigned. It will be even more critical for us to rely upon our brothers to be the support and strength we need. We are part of one of the oldest fraternities in the world, started by the Lord Himself. How important it is for all of us to be grateful for the gift of brotherhood we share.