Those wondering where the Black Biretta was for the past few weeks can have their curiosity aleviated. March 25-27 I attended the fourth annual Opus Dei seminar for Priests at Arnold Hall in Pembroke, MA. Father Roger Landry of the Diocese of Fall River has spearheaded this gathering since 2005.
Father Ken Brighenti and I were some of the old timers who remembered attending the annual Opus Dei Seminar for Seminarians back in the 1980's. Back then, many seminaries had Easter week off as vacation, so lots of us could attend this Msgr. Escriva Palooza just south of Boston. At its zenith, over 150 seminarians from across the continential USA gathered from east to west and from north to south. Many came from heterodox seminaries that were infested with dissident theologians and where all kinds of liturgical, doctrinal and moral abberations plagued the place from top to bottom. Deo Gratias, we had one week of unadulterated orthodoxy and a booster shot of authentic, Roman and very reverent orthopraxy (in terms of sacred liturgy).
During the school year, some of us in minor and major seminary got all kinds of bizarre theology so we drooled in expectation of our annual reunion at Arnold Hall. Prudentially, the mail we got inviting us was marked New England Theological Forum, which sounded so Protestant and liberal that some faculty members actually smiled seeing that return address. Little did they know that much like the clandestine acting group Studio 38 and the Rhapsodic Theatre in Poland where Karol Wojtyla defied Nazi occupation, the NETF allowed orthodox seminarians loyal to the Magisterium and Holy See to network with other like minded seminarians and support each other.
Father George Rutler was one of our regular favorites as were Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR; Msgr. William Smith of Dunwoodie; Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete; Fr. Ken Baker, SJ, of Homiletic & Pastoral Review; Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ, of Ignatius Press; Bishop Thomas Welsh of Allentown; Dr. John Haas; Dr. Janet Smith; et al. Five days of erudite and orthodox speakers combined with Holy Mass, Benediction, Rosary, Stations of the Cross and other devotions done so reverently, so elegantly and so liturgically correct, that it literally sustained for an entire year. Some seminarians would leave Arnold Hall to go back into the belly of the beast. Their seminaries were dens of iniquity and houses of deformation. Doctrine was distorted and church discipline ridiculed while witch-hunts for 'rigid' 'conservatives' made life seem like a concentration camp at times. Were it not for the Seminar for Seminarians, I would not have persevered. Though I had the prayerful support of holy and devout priests like Father Bob Levis and my pastors Msgr. Ennis Connelly and Msgr. Wilfrid Nash, I also needed the support of very good friends like Ken Brighenti and others who gave us hope to keep going.
After a while the seminaries changed their Easter vacation and they were no longer coordinated. So the seminars ended. We, the sons of those seminars, however, are grateful that they have been resurrected and now exist for ordained priests. Three days (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday) after Easter is not much to plan but it is worth every day, hour and minute. Whether the recent papal encyclical or lineamenta of an upcoming document or just practical issues an average parish priest needs to address, these seminars are fantastic.
I religiously attend the seminar for priests and of course the annual convocation of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy. These two annual gatherings give me a personal and professional boost I desperately need. Priests and deacons MUST give each other FRATERNAL support. It is not enough to attend the mandatory diocesan functions. We also need to get together with like minded fellows and give brotherly support to each other. Vatican II (Presbyterorum Ordinis), Canon Law, Pope JP2 (Pastores Dabo Vobis) and the Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests all concur that priests NEED associations to promote ONGOING spiritual, theological and pastoral formation in a fraternal setting. Opus Dei and the CCC are but two entities that try.
March 31st I celebrated my 46th birthday with Father Brighenti and some friends. Both of us celebrate 20 years of priesthood this coming May (2008) and my friend Father Dennis Dalessandro and our bishop, the Most Rev. Kevin Rhoades, celebrate their silver jubilee of 25 years of priesthood this month, too. With Pope Benedict coming to the States this month as well, I am grateful to be able join my brother priests at the public papal Mass in Washington, DC on April 17th. Could not think of a better anniversary present than that.