Mass with Seminarians and Parents 2018

Published: August 11, 2018

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor preached the following homily at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock on Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018. It is based on the readings for the 18th Week in Ordinary Time, Cycle II.

Bishop Taylor

Some of you may know that I am on the Board of Directors of the Catholic Extension Society, which promotes the work of the Church in mission dioceses in the United States. Many of our churches in Arkansas have received Catholic Extension grants for building construction and grants to fund ministry in parts of our diocese, for instance Hispanic ministry in several areas of Arkansas.

Every two years we have a conference for the bishops of these mission dioceses and in 2012 one of the main speakers was Msgr. Friend. His topic was vocations and he built his talk around three Bs: Believing, Becoming and Belonging. Later he added a fourth B: Be-Love.

It was a terrific talk and the central point was that to have vocations, you have to believe. And until 15 years ago a defeatist attitude prevailed regarding vocations: We had in many ways quit believing. Unless you really believe, you don’t have a solid foundation on which to build.

I want you to know that I appreciate the fears that some of you parents may feel because your sons are doing something very countercultural. They are walking by faith. I hope you find them inspiring.

He then described what has been done here in Arkansas to move us to the point where we are now. We believe in a provident God who asks that we set aside our fears and walk by faith. A God who, in the words of today’s Gospel, can move mountains if we only have faith the size of a mustard seed.

Msgr. Friend knows what he is talking about and so do I. I entered the seminary in 1974, right in the middle of the great flood of priests leaving the ministry in the decade following Vatican II. During those years Oklahoma lost one-third of its priests and we had very few seminarians.

I was swimming against the current and there were some in my family who were reluctant to support my response to God’s call. They were afraid for me. My mother knew some unhappy priests and she feared that I would be unhappy. She wanted me to be a doctor. I told her, “Well Mom, have you ever known any unhappy married people?”

My grandmother, who had been raised in poverty in East Texas, wanted to make sure I wasn’t entering a religious order where I would have to take a vow of poverty. I told her I wasn’t, but added “Have you ever known a Franciscan who missed a meal?”

One of my brothers feared that my going to the seminary would make him seem less “cool.” I told him, “If you have a problem with your social life, it isn’t me.” And so on. American culture was becoming more secular and materialistic and in 1974 the sexual revolution was in full swing. I was swimming against the current. When I was ordained in 1980 someone said that at current rates, by my 25th anniversary the number of active priests in the diocese would be in the single digits.

But I ignored all this because I believed — and my confidence was reinforced by the summer I spent as a deacon in Kenya. The parish I served there had 40,000 Catholics and only 2 priests. And 85 percent of the people were at worship every weekend, many at one of the 32 chapels headed by catechists that saw a priest maybe once every six weeks.

That experience really freed me of the rest of my fears. I figured, if they could live their faith fully under those adverse circumstances, surely the Lord would see us through whatever circumstances we might have to face. We didn’t have 85 percent of our people at Mass and we had lots more priests. If they had faith and were able to move mountains, so could we.

This is our annual Mass with seminarians and their families. I want you to know that I appreciate the fears that some of you parents may feel because your sons are doing something very countercultural. They are walking by faith. I hope you find them inspiring.

They are doing something that none of their friends are doing and sometimes are met with incomprehension. Maybe even coming from members of their own family, which is something I experienced. I hope you can appreciate their courage. Their swimming against the current will make them strong in the Lord — that’s certainly what I experienced.

When all was said and done, and they began to see how happy I was, each of the family members I mentioned found a way to let loose of their fears. By the time of my ordination I had their unanimous, strong support, which continues to this day. And we’re a big family. All it takes is faith the size of a mustard seed!