Good evening. My name is Fr. Kevin Russeau, C.S.C. I am a priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross and very honored to be asked to preach and preside at Lucernarium this evening. I'd like to begin by welcoming the family members and guests of Chase and Chris, Dan and David, Tim and Matt! Tonight we begin in prayer a weekend that will be filled with celebrations at the occasion of perpetual vows and ordination to the diaconate!
I consider myself blessed to know well these six men who gather us together this evening. I met two of them during my time in the Office of Vocations, two others in my time at Old College, and all six of them were classmates in the Novitiate in Colorado with Fr. Don Dilg, C.S.C., and myself. This is a class with whom I have experienced miles of road trips, hours of board games, and intense religious life in community. As their novice master, I can attest without reservation that these six men are a wonderful class. They excel in community life and have zeal for ministry. They are intentional in their prayer lives and relate naturally to those around them.
I realize, of course, that I was not asked to preach at their canonization but at their vigil for Final Vows - but I feel it is essential this evening to recognize that these men have been well formed. On behalf of Tim and Matt, Chris and Dan, Chase and David; and on behalf of the community of Holy Cross, I want to thank their parents, their God parents, their grandparents, one special uncle (Fr. Jeff Allison, C.S.C.), and other family members for the wonderful ways that you modeled and taught them the faith. We are here today largely because of your gift to them. Thank you for helping them to listen for, and respond to, the voice of God in their lives!
Today’s reading from the First Book of Kings tells the beautiful story about how the prophet Elijah was able to discern and hear the voice of God. Unlike so many encounters that God has with the prophets – this one does not take place at the beginning of their story. This is not like Jeremiah who hears God’s voice and thinks he’s too young. This is not like Samuel who hears God’s voice and thinks first it belongs to his master Eli – nor is it like the experience of Isaiah who sees a vision. This experience happens in Elijah’s life after he has already been faithfully serving God – it happens in a time of transition when he is about to mentor his successor Elisha.
Hearing and responding to the voice of God is not something that is reserved for prophets or even something that is meant exclusively for religious like David, Chris, Dan, Chase, Matt and Tim. God speaks to us all – it is up to us to listen.
The Holy Cross Novitiate in Cascade CO provided time and space and structure to better hear God’s voice. At the beginning of the year we took away the novices’ cell phones and instructed them that they would need to share two land-lines to make and receive phone calls – and only during specified times. We also took away TV programs and allowed them only to watch one movie a week – that is if they could all agree on which movie to watch! The internet was also restricted to limited times and it too was shared on a couple common computers. In each case, the Novitiate structure hoped to quiet the competing noise so that the voice of God could be heard.
It’s not enough to take away distractions, it is also important to schedule time for prayer. Novices spent a large portion of their days in Grand Silence; they visited the chapel for common prayer 5 times a day and were expected to make another hour of prayer in private; they also did manual labor, and they were encouraged to hike around the property which is situated in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains – again, all to seek the voice of God.
The Novitiate sounds like an ideal spot for hearing God’s voice, doesn’t it? Distractions taken away, routine established, and all in Colorado where the sun shines almost 300 days a year? And it is! David, Chase, Dan, Matt, Chris and Tim were able, like Elijah, to look past the strong winds, the fires, and the earthquakes that life gives – and like Elijah, they were able to hear the faint whispering sound – that faint whisper which for Elijah was God’s voice calling him to a new stage of life: and for these six men, God’s voice calling them to the next stage of their lives as well.
One of the joys that these six men have today is that the next stage of their lives is full-time ministry. Full time ministry is what each man has been preparing for for the past five, eight, and, well, we’ve lost track of the number of years for David! Full time ministry, serving our brothers and sisters, is what motivates us to be religious and to be ordained ministers.
And as wonderful as full time ministry is Matt and Tim, Chase and Dan, David and Chris, it is also very unlike the Novitiate – and unlike the other years you experienced in formation. Full time ministry engages us in the strong winds of the world. We get to enter into people’s lives and share their passions and their energies – and it is truly wonderful! Full time ministry also puts us in touch with the earthquakes of life – when tragedies and illness and death rock the foundations of our loved ones and those we serve.
It is so easy to get caught up in the fires, the winds, and the earthquakes and fail to hear the quiet whisper that comes from God. If you lose track of the quiet whisper of God, you might lose track of God calling you in the next transition of your life. Do not lose track of the quiet whisper – be faithful to common and personal prayer. Because if you, with whom we celebrate this weekend, lose track of this voice, how will we, who look to you for an example, hear the voice ourselves?
Our Church needs people like Samuel, Jeremiah, Isaiah and Elijah – people who make room to hear God’s voice and who have the courage to respond, “yes.” Chase, Dan, David, Chris, Tim, and Matt, please know of our gratitude for your listening and responding to God’s voice. Know too of our prayers for you today, this weekend, and as you begin this transition in your lives. We pray that God’s voice might continue to be heard and heeded so that your witness as religious, and your ministry as preachers and presiders, might help us to come to know, love, and serve God better with our lives.
Fr. Kevin Russeau, C.S.C., is pastor of St. Joseph Parish in South Bend, Indiana. In the past he has worked at St. Gregory the Great Parish in Phoenix, Arizona, as a Vocations Director, Director of the Old College Undergraduate Seminary Program, and as Novice Master of the Holy Cross Novitiate in Cascade, Colorado. He is originally from southeast Michigan and was ordianed to the priesthood in 2001.