Tag Archives: Seminarians

Why Newman Matters

“Why Newman Matters”JHN

A talk given by Seminarian James Baxter

BSU Newman Center

10/11/13

Edited for readers

Is there a relationship between faith and reason? What is the purpose of education? These questions are difficult, no doubt, but they do have answers. And these answers are “Why Newman Matters.”

John Henry Newman lived from 1801-1890 in England. In his day he was a cultural critic, educator, epistemologist, novelist, Oxford scholar, philosopher, playwright, poet, preacher, satirist, theologian, and one of the great Victorians (among Arnold, Carlisle and Dickens)… and in ours, a father of Vatican II and a beatified saint on his way to formal canonization. I would like to focus on three reasons why Newman matters for us: the relationship of faith and reason, the purpose education, and Newman as a model of sacrifice.

First, is there a relationship between faith and reason? Modernity has not merely divided faith from reason and reason from faith, but has placed a chasm between them. Newman saw this occurring in his own day (just over a hundred years ago). He saw that faith was losing its rationality, it was becoming a sentiment, a mere opinion, a matter of taste, as disposable as your last latte cup. And because of this, faith became a private matter. We can talk about ideas rationally held, but there is nothing to talk about when something is just a matter of preference. Unfortunately, this has come to full fruition in our own day. Because of this divide, we are left with three alternatives: rationalism, fideism, and relativism. Don’t be intimidated by the big words, they are all dumb and wrong.

a) Rationalism: Here, reason has an indubitable quality, to know something you must be “certain” about it, there can be no doubts. Anything believed is because there is explicit evidence. Thus, you may hear: “It’s not rational to believe things you can’t see, I can’t see God, so I don’t believe in him.” We encounter this in a sophisticated fashion in academia (especially the sciences), and more simplistically but in the same fashion, by teenagers rebelling against their parents.

b) Fideism: This position holds that any knowledge that we have is based on a revelation from God (e.g. the Bible). Thus, religious beliefs have little or nothing to do with reason. Why do we believe something? Because it’s in the Bible or God says so. As a result, people believe things that are absurd, say, that aliens will come and take us away and we will each have our own planet.

c) Relativism: Relativism holds that truth, knowledge, and belief are matters contingent upon the historical context or to each individual (depending upon its radicality) and is subject to change from culture to culture or person to person. Basically, “you do you, I’ll do me” or “you have your truths, I have mine.”

As young Catholics, we do a good job of seeing the falsehood of the third option. But what is so sad is that we accept the other two alternatives. In so doing, we divide faith from reason in our lives. We don’t actually think that our beliefs are rational. We become fideists thinking that faith is reduced to a blind following (apart from reason). This situation was absolutely unacceptable for Newman. Newman understood, and understood rightly, that faith that is not rational is not true faith. Reason devoid of faith, has stripped man of a capacity for knowledge beyond him. Faith is fundamentally rational. Reason’s greatness is dependent upon faith.

Newman writes regarding faith: “[Such is] everyday’s occurrence… we meet [things in the world], not with suspicion and criticism, but with a frank confidence. We do not begin with doubting; we take [things] on trust.” Faith is the ground upon which we stand as we make our way in this chaotic world. We assume things to be probable, we take things for granted, we presume things to be true, and go on applying them. Faith is a principle of action, by faith we act. Newman writes, “Life is for action. If we insist on proofs for everything, we shall never come to action: to act you must assume, and that assumption is faith.” Thus, without faith we have no action and we become passive creatures. From this we see that faith has not only a religious character, but is a part of our human nature.

May I give you a relevant example of this natural faith? You are doing it right now. You are reading this article (for the one of you out there that has made it this far), and you believe that I, James Baxter, actually wrote this. You did not see me type it nor did you see me submit it to the Vocations Office. You also believe that I am a seminarian. Why? Well, my picture is on the poster. But have you been to St. Meinrad to ensure that in fact I am here in that seminary the poster says? You believe that this is written by me and you believe that I am a seminarian, and correctly on good and natural faith. You know both of these things to be true, but that does not mean that there are no doubts that can be thought up.

Faith in religious matters is the reasoning of the religious mind (e.g. Trinity, Christ was God, Resurrection) and it is a matter of salvation; Newman writes, “it is the chosen instrument connecting heaven and earth.” It is of the upmost importance, eternal importance. But if faith assumes some things to be probable and goes on advancing, what if you can’t find it probable that Christ is God (or any other Catholic doctrine)? Is that your fault? Yes. Newman writes, “A man is responsible for his faith, b/c he is responsible for his likings and dislikings, his hopes and opinions, on all of which his faith depends.” We form this moral disposition to receive the truths of the faith, by the practice of the virtues and obedience. [Obviously, we must be sensitive to those who find belief difficult because of the scandal of Christians (maybe the greatest evil) as well as those who have never heard the name of Christ (whom we commend to the mercy of God).]

Newman writes regarding reason: “by reason is properly understood any process or act of the mind, ‘a spontaneous energy’ by which knowing one thing, we advance on to know another.” Our five senses isolate us to that which we can directly see, touch, taste, smell, and/or hear. But reason takes us beyond this limitation, it enables us to know things indirectly. For example, I can think of our Cathedral, but I am not currently in Lafayette beholding it. Reason is also reflective, it has the power to criticize and analyze.

Taking all of this into account, how does Newman practically matter for you? Don’t be fideistic with your faith. The Catholic Church does not call you to believe blindly, this would contradict your nature as rational and free, the very qualities of our image and likeness to God that separate us from other creatures. Now, some things we know by revelation and couldn’t have arrived at by reasoning alone, but that does not mean that they are not rational (e.g. the Trinity). You can answer rationally, why you believe in Jesus Christ. You have many reasons, here are a few: you look to things such as the reliability of your parents and grandparents or other who passed on the faith to you; the desires of your heart for the infinite; the anomaly of Jesus Christ as the only religious teacher to declare He was God; you see that the calendar year being 2013— and you ask 2013 years from what?; you are humbled by the fact that the Catholic faith demands more of you, that it doesn’t verify all that you think, that it challenges you; you are inspired by the witness of the Saints, many of whom have died defending their faith; you are assured by the fact that Catholicism is currently the largest religion; you are impressed that it is the only religion to declare infallible authority. All of these things converge on one another and enable you to believe (and rationally so) that some 33 year old Middle Eastern man 2,000 years ago saved everyone who has ever lived by carrying a tree to his tomb, which he also happened to rise from. And from this, you can act and give your entire life for Christ.

On a very different note, what is the purpose of education? Most of you would probably say: “I am paying whatever tens of thousands of dollars to get a job,” “my education is an investment,” or “to acquire the skills I need to get rich, join a country club, and get married to the perfect woman/man.”

And our universities reflect this way of thinking. We pay some absurd amount per credit hour, fulfill course requirements, and get that glorified piece of paper (diploma) that verifies that we “know stuff,” and whose letters (B.S.) bear witness to the futility of it all… Thus, in the modern world, education is reduced to sheer practicality. What happens because of this? We know a lot about very little, we become people of one idea. We claim to be enlightened, as though the past was full of cave men, yet we are no less violent, no more happy, and doubtfully more intelligent. We are specialists, but we fail to see how our disciplines relate to others. All of the sudden, we see theological claims made by biologists and biological claims by theologians, neither of whom have the authority to make them. We do things (say, drop a bomb) because we can, forgetting to ask whether we should.

For Newman, education is not just practical skill equipping, but the formation of a habit of mind; a way of thinking that enables you to see that knowledge is a circle, in which all truths have a home; that shows you that each truth has a direct bearing on every other. A true education expands the mind beyond the mere rote memorization of flashcards to be able to consider new ideas in relation to others already known. All of this is not to deny the importance of specialization (knowledge is advanced this way), but that education is something much fuller than the mere skill equipping exercises found in our universities today.

Again, how does Newman’s understanding matter for you? Practically speaking, get less practical. For you scientists, read a novel. For you Lit majors, read some science. For you business men and women, get a soul (just kidding). Learn how what you study affects other fields. See how the teachings of the Church immediately and directly relate to and inform what you study. All truths in all fields unite in the person of the Truth, Jesus Christ.

We have considered why Newman matters in terms of understanding the relationship of faith and reason and the true purpose of education. But Newman is also a model of heroic sacrifice. To convert to Roman Catholicism in Anglican England in the 19th century, he sacrificed friends, family, wealth, his reputation and his own mental health. He truly became an exile in his own land. The greatest intellect Oxford had ever seen was banished from its premises. At that time, only “dumb, drunk, potato-eatin’ Irishmen” were Catholic. They could not fathom how, without having met a Catholic, Newman converted on the intellectual coherence of Catholic teaching and by following his conscience.

We have a way of being stingy with our faith. We do our own will and hope that it’s God’s. We wait to respond to our vocations until we absolutely have to. There are a few questions worth asking: Have we sacrificed anything to be a Catholic? How different would our lives be if we were not? To conclude, I leave you with a passage of one of his sermons, which so clearly manifests the heart of this great saint:

Consider for an instant. Let every one who hears me ask himself the question, what stake has he in the truth of Christ’s promise? How would he be a whit the worse off, supposing (which is impossible), but, supposing it [Christ’s promise] to fail? We know what it is to have a stake in any venture of this world. We venture our property in plans which promise a return; in plans which we trust, which we have faith in. What have we ventured for Christ? What have we given to Him on a belief of His promise? The Apostle said, that he and his brethren would be of all men most miserable, if the dead were not raised. Can we in any degree apply this to ourselves? We think, perhaps, at present, we have some hope of heaven; well, this we should lose of course; but after all, how should we be worse off as to our present condition?… This is the question, What have we ventured? I really fear, when we come to examine, it will be found that there is nothing we resolve, nothing we do, nothing we do not do, nothing we avoid, nothing we choose, nothing we give up, nothing we pursue, which we should not resolve, and do, and not do, and avoid, and choose, and give up, and pursue, if Christ had not died, and heaven were not promised us. I really fear that most men called Christians, whatever they may profess, whatever they may think they feel, whatever warmth and illumination and love they may claim as their own, yet would go on almost as they do, neither much better nor much worse, if they believed Christianity to be a fable.”

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October 23, 2013 · 11:02 PM

Seminarian John Strong

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Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, Lafayette, IN

1. What is your parish of origin?

I was born and raised in the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Lafayette, Indiana.

2. What were the largest influences in your discernment?

There are many influences in my discernment to the holy Priesthood. I would, nevertheless, have to start with the perpetual pull that I have on my heart for Priesthood. This ‘pull’ or ‘tug’ on my heart has given me a deep desire to serve the Church through this absolutely necessary vocation. So, first and foremost, the perpetual ‘tug’ on my heart that has been given to me by the Lord is my largest influence to my discernment.

Another large influence in my discernment has been my love of the Church. I love everything about the Church. I love the people. I love the Mass. I love the Sacraments. I want to spend all of my days in service to the Church, and spend all of my hours bringing people into union with the Bride of Christ. The sacramental life that a priest administers is the grace that allows the People of God to live a Christian life. I feel a deep desire to bring people the Sacraments and expose this to the sacramental life.

3. What programs, events, parish groups, etc. impacted your discernment?

Many programs, events, parish groups, etc. impacted my discernment, but none so much as the Knights of the Holy Temple. Through the grace of God, I, along with seven other young men, started a chapter of the Knights of the Holy Temple at the Cathedral in 2005. During my high school years in the Knights, I was able to grow in many ways. I was able to develop my leadership skills. I was able to grow spiritually through a close proximity to the Eucharist during the Mass, as the Knight’s primary duty is to serve at the Mass. Among other things, I was also able to discern that I would want to spend my life this way – in service to others and in bringing others to Christ.

On top of the Knights, I have also had the privilege of sponsoring two men to Confirmation, and three men in the R.C.I.A. (Rite of Christian Initiation) process. Through my experiences with these great friends of mine, I was able to grow in many ways, where an increase in prayer was my most profound growth. The people I sponsored taught me a lot about my abilities; they deepened my desire to service, and they helped me to understand, to a fuller extent, my desire to bring people into the Church.

Through prayer, the guidance of others and my experiences within ministries of the Church, the Lord is guiding me into my vocation: a vocation to His Holy Priesthood. Please pray for me as I continue this journey in seminary.

4. What Priests were influential and why?

There have been many priests in my life that have been very influential to my discernment to Priesthood – for the sake of time, I cannot mention them all. With that said, the first Priest that was influential in my discernment was Fr. Timothy Alkire. While in school at St. Boniface, I was able to grow close to him. He showed me that Priesthood is a joyful and good life. That example still reverberates with me to this day. The next Priest that has had a significant influence in my discernment has been Fr. Brian Doerr. I met Fr. Brian at my oldest sister’s wedding, and I got to know him very well when I was in the Knights of the Holy Temple at the Cathedral. I have received a lot of support in my discernment through him. As a matter of fact, he is the first priest to mention the idea that I might have a vocation to the holy Priesthood. The next priest that has had a significant influence on my discernment is Fr. Christopher Shocklee. During my early years of college at Purdue, Fr. Shocklee would talk to me – in person, on Facebook, on the phone, etc. – and support me in my discernment of the holy Priesthood. He continues to be there for me, as I will occasionally ask him to help me solve a philosophical or moral conundrum. The final priest that has had a significant impact on my discernment is Fr. Jeffrey Martin. His faith has always been an example to me of absolute trust in the Lord. He has helped me through a lot, and I really appreciate all of his support as he has helped me through the application process of applying for seminary. Thank you, Lord, for bringing these great men into my life!

Count on our prayers, John!

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September 1, 2013 · 7:46 PM

Seminarian James O’Connor

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St. Joan of Arc, Kokomo, IN

Towards his discernment, James largely attributes prayer, Mass, adoration, as well as SJA/SP’s trip to Italy, visits to both St. Meinrad and Mount St. Mary’s seminaries, and people asking him if he had ever considered the idea of becoming a priest. He was involved in many activities that aided him in his discernment process. Included are various retreats in high school (The Call, Destination Jesus,  JFest, a confirmation retreat at St. Meinrad), and attendance at Christ Renews His Parish at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, both as an attendant and a lay director. He also volunteered at St. Joan of Arc, St. Patrick and OLMC in the youth groups, the Young Adult Conference and the Knights of the Holy Temple.

James mentions four priests in particular that helped his discernment process. Father Brian Doerr: “his leadership and example with the Knights and his belief in me personally throughout high school and college helped me recognize what I should expect of myself”,

Father Ted Dudzinski V.G.: “his presence, strength and wisdom throughout my college years helped me as I struggled to find direction and where I belong in life”,

Father David Hasser: “his presence and capacity to be a strong leader and such a jovial guy at the same time showed me that, though I would be undergoing a great deal of formation over the years, I need not be afraid of losing sight of who I am, while striving to become the best-version-of-myself so to serve God as best I can”, and

Father Richard Doerr: “He and his flock really put the final nail in the coffin with the idea, so-to-speak. 🙂 He helped me refocus and stay focused on what is truly important in life while I was navigating the corporate world”.

Thank you for your decision to begin the journey towards priesthood. Our prayers are with you, James.

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September 1, 2013 · 7:33 PM

Seminarian Sean Aaron

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St. Joan of Arc, Kokomo, IN

Sean attributes his discernment process to a combination of prayer, adoration, silent retreats and confession. He was involved with Christ Renews His Parish, RCIA, high school religious education, as well as volunteering at his parish festival. These activities, plus his work/career and coaching youth were instrumental in his discernment to become a seminarian. Father Kenneth Raczek, who is a family friend, is an example to Sean in his own love for the priesthood and his calling. Sean’s uncle, Father John M. Kinney, was called to the priesthood at an early age and inspired him by his love for his vocation and his enjoyment in teaching the faith to others. Father Ted Dudzinski was another influential priest for Sean in that he was centered in prayer, the Mass and the sacraments, and led by his example.

We will be praying for you Seminarian Sean Aaron! Best wishes at the start of the year of studies!

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September 1, 2013 · 7:23 PM

Seminarian Miles Newkirk

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St. Maria Goretti, Westfield, IN

Miles attributes a great deal to his participation in the Knights of the Holy Temple, though the biggest factor was spiritual direction and talking to others about seminary. He was involved in his youth group, Senior Retreat and other retreats, and these helped guide him towards his current path. The priests that were most influential for him spiritually were Father Hasser and Father Shocklee, as well as Father Kevin, who he says was very supportive and informative for his decision.

We wish Miles the best as he starts his journey and our prayers are with him and his family!

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September 1, 2013 · 7:16 PM

Seminarian Cole Daily (2017)

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HOME PARISH: St. Patrick, Kokomo

SEMINARY: Mount St. Mary’s

CLASS: I Theo

  • Anyone out there who is discerning a vocation to the priesthood may have many reservations and fears about the sacrifice that is involved. The most important thing to remember is this: God cannot be outdone in generosity. While we sacrifice many things for Him, He has sacrificed everything, including His only Son, for us. And what is life without sacrifice? If you want to be truly great, to live life to the full and not merely exist, then you must be willing to lay down your life in a selfless gift of love, whether it be in marriage or priesthood. Perhaps you doubt your own ability, and rightly so. None of us can do it on our own. That is why God is the one who acts in us and through us: He forms and transforms us through the power of the Holy Spirit to be worthy imitators of Christ. All we must do is say “yes” just as Mary did, and if we do that, we will be truly happy. Ever since I said “yes” to God’s call, I have been happier than at any time during my whole life. While the daily sacrifice of myself is not easy, it is never boring, because I am no longer living only for myself, but for Christ and His Bride the Church.
  • What about my girlfriend? – If God is calling you to be a priest, then you will love her more by letting her go, even if it does not seem like it at the time. It will be painful for both of you, but God understands. He has called both of you from your birth for a special mission, and you can only fulfill that mission by answering His call.
  • What about my parents? – All parents are different: some will be ecstatic to hear that you want to surrender your life to Christ, and others may be put off. Regardless, you must be honest with them and let them know that you will be happy doing God’s will. Our joy is our greatest witness to the Truth. Also, remember that you are becoming a man, and every man must leave his home at some point to start a life of his own. While it can be difficult, this is a necessary part of life, and it can be very exciting. Do not be afraid to take the step into the unknown, for God’s almighty love is the source of our strength.

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August 22, 2013 · 8:20 PM

Behind the scenes of Crux and Joust by Father Hasser

I interviewed Father Hasser about some of the questions I had about the behind-the-scenes of Crux and Joust.

EL: Can you compare/contrast Crux and Joust for those of us who don’t know the difference?

FH: Crux & JOUST are really two different retreats that use a lot of the same foundations. CRUX is open to any middle school boy, but JOUST is specifically for the high school young men in the Knights of the Holy Temple. CRUX is about awakening in the middle school boys an awareness of God and their relationship with Him, with themselves, with others and with all of the created world given to us by God. JOUST is the premier annual competition between the various parish chapters of the Knights, set on the cornerstone of their relationship with God and celebrated in daily Mass, Eucharistic Adoration and confession. Both events take the young men outdoors into the summer sun, the cool water of the Wildcat Creek, the dark clear cool summer night sky full of stars, the ball fields for dodgeball, basketball and football, space for archery, ultimate frisbee, tug-of-war and a large demanding obstacle course for the high school men.1002137_560267040703050_513913287_n

EL: How did these retreats come about? How have they evolved over the years? How do you foresee/hope these go in the future?

FH: Both were started under Fr. Brian Doerr’s direction during his time as the Director for Vocations. JOUST developed as an event to bring all of the Knights chapters together for fraternal bonding through good-natured competition. CRUX developed as an opportunity for seminarians to reach out and serve the middle school young men as they prepare and transition into adolescent experience of their relationship with Christ. In the future I hope to see both of them continue to grow…this year we saw a very significant growth in participation at CRUX, and we are making plans to continue allowing even more growth in the coming years.

EL: What is the connection with Camp Wojtyla?

FH: Camp Wojtyla is a youth camp for both young men and young women in Colorado that I discovered almost two years ago at NCYC. I really liked what I saw in their literature, and I have asked a few of our seminarians to participate in their summer camp as staff counselors. This gives them an intensive opportunity to learn a lot of skills that they can then implement back here at home in their work with our youth. It is still early, but the skills that they are bringing back is helping us to build even strong models for both CRUX and JOUST.969165_560236437372777_688252962_n

EL: What do you hope are the biggest “takeaways” for the boys? For the seminarians?

FH: For the boys…I hope they take away a greater experiential awareness of God and His Church through their experiences. I hope they take away a better sense of our faith as it can and needs to be lived out in daily activities. I hope they take away a better ability to look for and find God in the tangible world that God has surrounded them with in comparison to the increasingly virtual world that they swim in every day in our culture.
For the seminarians…I hope they take away the same things as the boys but on an even deeper level. I hope they also take away experience with the administrative responsibilities and minutia that are involved in priestly ministry. Both of these events are primarily planned and directed by the seminarians. This gives them the opportunity to stretch and exercise their administrative muscles, sometimes learning which muscles need to be used more or with greater precision. This is ultimately practice for their future ministry as pastors of parishes and schools where the activities and goals are even more serious and take even more effort.988614_559735127422908_174775775_n

EL: Have the boys/seminarians taught you anything during the retreats?

FH: Most of what I learn from the young men and seminarians during these retreats are by observation. They have reminded me of their goodness and faithfulness, their desire to know the LORD and to live by His path. On a lighter note, they have also reminded me that they are still learning and aren’t perfect! Staying up and praying the rosary to get the middle school boys to stay quiet and go to sleep at night reminds me of what parents experience all the time! As the seminarians plan for the retreats and bring those plans to reality, I am reminded of their passion for the Gospel and for serving the young men who attend.

EL: The Catholic Moment article talked about the emphasis on masculinity. Why is this so important?

FH: Masculinity is an important element in both retreats because elements in our culture systematically dismantle and eliminate masculinity from our daily life. Young men (and many adult men, too) don’t know what it means that God made them male. A parallel reality is that young men (and many adult men, too) don’t know what it means that God made girls female. There is a dangerous foundational ignorance about who we are and why God made us as such. These retreats are not meant to be a comprehensive course on masculinity; rather, they simply fill in some of the void that is left by the culture. It is important for their relationship with God, with themselves and others and with the created world. We are not gods, and we are not identical to each other as male and female. We are unique and beautiful, but the world tells us that we are all beige, or worse, blank slates that can become whatever we want to be. Our retreats don’t address all of this directly, but rather they shine lights on various sides of reality which have been hidden in the shadows of darkness.

EL: Any stand out moments this summer? Or any summer? Best memory–both fun and/or spiritually profound?

FH: Haha, yes, one moment definitely stole the show and stands out above the rest. During CRUX one of the middle school boys took the risk of standing up at campfire one night and singing a hilarious song. It changed history. He instantly became a rock star. The campfire that evening was losing steam and the boys as a whole were losing interest. Many of us adults wondered what was going to happen if something didn’t change. It was soon going to be the shortest campfire celebration in the history of summer camps. But them during a quiet moment this particular young man got up and walked to the front of the crowd with his head held high and his confidence probably dangerously overflowing. He gave a little disclaimer about his voice not being in the best condition, and then he began to sing a camp song that not one of us had ever heard before. It was hilariously engaging, and at the end of each verse you could feel the crowd hoping it was over but at the same time secretly looking forward to another verse. And verse came after verse…again…and again….and again…and everyone was rolling laughing. At the final ending, this young man finished strong and proud, and the crowd whooped and cheered and whistled with delight as he took a delighted bow and went back to his seat with a skip in his step. He was now a rock star and it was a grand evolution of a young man. I’m sure it is an experience that he will remember for his whole life.

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July 31, 2013 · 8:16 PM