Be 'men of hope,' speaker tells priests at convocation

NORWOOD -- With smiles and handshakes, chatter and laughter, dozens of priests of the Archdiocese of Boston came together May 9 for the spring presbyteral convocation, held at Four Points by Sheraton in Norwood.

Held yearly, the gathering serves as a day of fraternity for priests, as friends, acquaintances, and former seminary classmates sit down to a luncheon together. Typically featuring a keynote speaker and updates on various goings-on in the archdiocese, the gathering is also a moment of reflection and formation for the clergy.

Father Mark O'Keefe, a Benedictine monk and a moral theologian, served as this year's keynote speaker. The former president-rector of St. Meinrad School of Theology in Indiana and a current professor at the school, Father O'Keefe is perhaps most well-known for his writings on moral theology and the Catholic priesthood. He has authored numerous books, and is a frequently requested to give talks across the country.

In his talk at the convocation, Father O'Keefe addressed the virtues of courage and hope -- two virtues that he said are vital for priests to have.

Drawing on ideas established by St. Thomas Aquinas, Father O'Keefe explained that courage "empowers us to face challenges," to confront obstacles that stand in the way of protecting or gaining "a good."

Courage is a moral virtue, a learned virtue that is acquired through repetition, developed by confronting "one small challenge after another," said Father O'Keefe. It can take many forms, he said. The martyrs, for example, exhibited courage by holding firm to their beliefs even in the face of death. The average person, however, may exhibit courage in day-to-day activities, such as setting out on a new career path, traveling to some place unfamiliar, or facing a medical procedure.

To acquire courage, a person has to keep "the good" in his or her eyes, to work towards that good without losing sight of it despite obstacles that may come before it, he said. An "influx of faith," too, is required, for although it is a moral virtue, courage, like everything else, comes to humanity through God.

Hope, said Father O'Keefe, is a theological virtue, a gift from God that comes to someone only when he or she is in a state of grace. Coming directly from God, hope "is the abiding expectation that God will help us along the way," laying out a path towards Heaven.

While a theological virtue, he said hope calls for a continued faith in God, for it is God who raised Jesus from the dead, and God who can be a source of "great hope."

As priests, Father O'Keefe continued, "in some ways we must be ministers of hope simply by being men of hope." As carriers of Christ's mission, priests need to have hope in Christ, to know that, even when troubled by doubts, "Christ is going to work it out."

"Really, our life and ministry as priests is founded in hope," said Father O'Keefe, who called on priests to remember their ordination, when they lay prostrate on the floor in front of the altar.

That action is "a symbol of wonder, it is a symbol of amazement," said Father O'Keefe, but it is also a symbol of surrender to the Lord, and a symbol of hope in the future.

By choosing the priestly vocation and surrendering to the Lord, whatever changes or obstacles come his way the priest holds tight to the hope that "my God will take care of it, my God will take care of me."

Father O'Keefe cautioned clergy against vices, specifically the vices that go against courage and hope, such as cowardice and despair. Those vices cloud and obscure the virtues, and can lead to a lost sight of "the good," or the inability to overcome an obstacle.

Instead, he said, foster trust in God, and hold gratitude for all that God has done and will do, and experience joy for the "small blessing" a person receives throughout the day.

Remember, he told the priests, even in times of doubt or challenges, to have hope to look beyond the challenges, and courage to face them. Look ahead to God, he said, and to what God wants to be carried out.

Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley offered brief words following the keynote, and spoke on similar themes.

The cardinal spoke on the many challenges of the priesthood, acknowledging that it is not always an easy vocation, "but when we do it together it becomes easier."

Priestly life is about saying "yes," he said. Addressing the clergy, the cardinal said that, as priests, we have all made promises to ourselves, and have made a gift of ourselves to God. We are needed, he continued, so thank you for saying "yes," for making sacrifices, for "putting the people of the community first."

He encouraged clergy to stick together and foster a sense of unity, saying that priests in need of spiritual direction or hurting from loneliness or mental illness should reach out to fellow priests. Rectories, he said, must be places priests can care for each other.

While the priests of Boston are physically and culturally diverse, Cardinal O'Malley continued, "Christ wants us to be united."

The convocation also saw three priests honored for their service to the priesthood during a brief ceremony. A yearly tradition, the award ceremony had for years been held following the Chrism Mass in April. In recent times, however, the ceremony has been held during the convocation.

Those honored were: Father Sean Connor, pastor of the Sacred Heart-St. Thomas More collaborative in Braintree; Father Phil McGaugh, administrator of St. Mary Parish in Randolph; and Msgr. Peter Martocchio, senior priest in residence at Regina Cleri.

The convocation came to a close following a closing prayer from Cardinal O'Malley, and singing of the "Regina Coeli."

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