Bishop tells seminarians that conversion is a lifelong process



SEABROOK ISLAND — Thirteen seminarians from the Diocese of Charleston took time-out from their summer assignments for a retreat at St. Christopher’s Retreat Center July 25-27.

The event began with Mass at Holy Spirit Church on John’s Island, followed by a talk from Father Greg Wilson, a newly ordained priest for the diocese, who discussed his ordination.

Father Robert Spencer, parochial vicar at Christ Our King Church in Mount Pleasant who is about to enter into duty as a military chaplain, gave a presentation on the second day.

Noon Mass was celebrated by Bishop Robert Baker.

In his homily, the bishop said that the Lord speaks to everyone at Mass, but people encounter stumbling blocks when they think the Lord will say something dramatic to them.

“They are trying to find his will for them yesterday or tomorrow, not in the present moment. God is speaking to us here and now,” he said.

Bishop Baker, quoting from the writings of Jesuit Father Jean Pierre Canssade, explained that every circumstance is a gift from God. “It’s important to see God in a new light, not to look two weeks or two years down the line. Let God work in us in the present moment,” said the bishop.

The bishop also cited from the works of Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, the vice president of the Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice. The cardinal previously served as coadjutor archbishop of Saigon, Vietnam, in the mid-’70s. After the fall of Saigon, he spent 13 years in a communist prison, nine of which were in isolation.

Bishop Baker discussed Cardinal Van Thuan’s philosophy of letting the Lord work, as he will work everything out for the best.

“You have to distinguish between God and God’s works,” said the bishop, reading from the book Testimony of Hope. “If God wants you to abandon all of these works, putting them in his hands, do it immediately, and have confidence in him. God will do it infinitely better than you; he will entrust his works to others who are much more capable than you. You have chosen God alone, not his works.”

After lunch, in a continuation of sorts from his homily, he told the seminarians that as they go through their discernment process to listen to their hearts and look for God’s signs around them.

“Let the present moment impact you. Don’t go about this process in an anxious sort of way. Engage yourself in your studies in the seminary. You should be excited. They should be a sense of being alive and alert in seminary formation,” he said.

The bishop urged the students to make a daily examination of conscience, and he emphasized the importance of spiritual directors as a vital part of their growth. He said the liturgy of the hours should also be given the highest priority.

“We can’t rely on our own wisdom and strength. Put prayer in your day, and the rest of the day makes sense,” he said.

Counseling the men to be open to correction, the bishop suggested that they take advantage of the sacrament of reconciliation frequently, at least once a month.

“Are priests overworked?” asked Bishop Baker. “Of course they are,” was his reply. To avoid burnout, he again cited a strong prayer life as well as prioritization.

“The happiness can be there, but also the cross — loneliness, failure, and critical parishioners,” lamented the bishop. “I can’t promise you a garden of roses, but the Lord didn’t either.”

Questions from the seminarians ran the gamut, from the timeline concerning when new schools might be built in the diocese to concerns about Life Teen Masses to confusion about upcoming liturgical changes.