Story by Phillip J. Shifflet
On Wednesday, November 5, 2015, Mount Angel Seminary (MAS) hosted its bi-annual day of recollection for seminarians. In the morning, Mass was celebrated in St. Joseph Chapel by the Most Rev. Peter L. Smith, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon. Thereafter followed four conferences on the topic of prayer given by Joel Kibler, a lay brother and the superior of the Brotherhood of the People of Praise.
On-campus days of recollection are held once per semester at MAS and seek to respond to the Program for Priestly Formation’s exhortation that “the Seminary program and spiritual direction should teach seminarians to value solitude and personal prayer as a necessary part of priestly spirituality. Occasions for silence and properly directed solitude should be provided during retreats and days of recollection” (PPF 121). The entire day is spent in silence, with several conferences to help foster personal prayer.
In his homily, Bishop Smith reflected on the passage from the Gospel of St. Luke where Jesus addresses the great crowds, saying, “Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion?” (Luke 14:28). The seminary, Bishop Peter said, is trying to help us be prepared. “If you look at the life of Jesus, he was always available for ministry. Yet, the disciples and apostles would find him off by himself praying, being with the Father. We have to do that. Brothers, we cannot give what we do not have.” In anticipation of Kibler’s conferences, Bishop Smith defined prayer as “a relationship with the risen, glorified Lord. A relationship that is very unequal, but ultimately one in which Jesus wants to make us his friend.”
Kibler’s morning conferences, entitled “That Christ May Shine in Us” and “Noise, Too Much Noise,” laid the foundations for the experience of prayer and growth in holiness and sought to enumerate some of the things in our culture that are obstacles to cultivating a life of prayer. In the first conference, he wished “to remind us to raise our consciousness to a higher level to a world inside of us, to this interior world where Christ and His Father and the Holy Spirit dwell. But there's this problem. Our growth in love of God is blocked by many, many obstacles in the external world.” In the second conference, he spoke primarily of this problem of noise, particularly of information noise, as an obstacle to the life of prayer. “How can we ever know the love of God when his voice and his tender touches are drowned out by the noise of all this information? This immersion [in the media] is a major obstacle in years of formation.”
Kibler’s afternoon conferences, entitled “From Complexity to Simplicity” and “So That We May Shine in the World,” touched on the need to become simpler and how this can affect our living in the world. “If we want a genuine friendship with God,” Kibler said in his third conference, “which is at the heart of Catholicism and is certainly at the heart of ministry, then we need to simplify our environment. But not only that: we need to simplify ourselves.” He encouraged us to move from a complexity of life to a simplicity of heart, where we can overcome a love of self so that we can love just one thing, namely the Lord. In his final conference of the day, Kibler reflected on the person of St. Paul, who shone as a light in the darkness and who understood that there was only one sorrow – not to be a saint. “The more we shine in the world,” Kibler said, “the more the Lord rejoices.”
The Brotherhood of the People of Praise, of which Bishop Smith is also a member, has status in the Catholic Church as a private association of the faithful. Its members are associated with the charismatic ecumenical group People of Praise, and its priests are incardinated in the Archdiocese of Portland.
Mount Angel Seminary began forming men for the priesthood in 1889 and is now the oldest and largest seminary in the western United States, and the only seminary in the West that offers both a college and a graduate school of theology. Since its inception 126 years ago, MAS has educated and formed thousands of priests, and many qualified religious and lay men and women as well, for service to the people of God in nearly 100 dioceses and religious communities across the country and around the world.