By JORDAN MCMORROUGH
CHARLESTON — A day of recollection, observed on the feast of St. John Vianney, Aug. 3, drew eight priests and five seminarians to the Drexel House for volunteers on Wentworth Street in the Holy City recently.
Father Martin Laughlin, who has previously served as vicar for education for the diocese and is currently serving as chaplain to the Diocese of Charleston volunteers, was the presenter for the gathering, sprinkling personal anecdotes from his decades of experience in the order of Melchizedek to quoting from Gerald Manley Hopkins and St. Thomas Aquinas.
After midmorning prayer, Father Laughlin discussed the call to universal holiness and sanctifying grace that priests are obligated to live in union with Jesus Christ.
He fondly recalled his first assignment as a newly ordained priest, when he was sent to minister in a small country parish in rural Iowa.
“It was an old parish with an old Irish pastor, made-up of second and third generation Irish and Czech farmers,” Father Laughlin described.
He said he couldn’t hide his disappointment when the elderly pastor had him catalog the cemetery as his first duty.
“But he was a mystic,” explained Father Laughlin. “It made me focus on eternal life. It also made it easy to talk to parishioners, as I knew their history.”
He continued, “We are called to be living members of the Body of Christ. In him we are called to live and move and have our being. We are called to teach by virtue of baptism and confirmation. We are called to re-establish the Kingdom of God on earth. We are called to prepare this world for the coming of Christ. Priests are called to holiness of life. We are called to greater life of perfection. We are called to greater desire of holiness.”
By the laying on of hands of the bishop, Father Laughlin said, priests are called to ministry of sacrifice, to teach, and to participate in the building up of the Body of Christ.
“We are called to be saints. We have to answer that call as priests. It is a call to perfection and holiness. Our call is ecclesial, but it is also personal. God placed you in his vineyard, the Diocese of Charleston. If a diocesan priest doesn’t realize his life is bound up with the people of Christ, he is missing the boat. Our life is with the people of God.”
Father Laughlin then asked, “Why are we so afraid for people to come alive in Christ? We have a radically different love to bring to this world through Christ, in Christ, and with Christ. If we could pray every day for conversion, what a different world we would live in.”
In addition to his morning talk, the priest also gave the homily at the noon Mass celebrated by Bishop Robert J. Baker in the chapel of the Drexel House.
Father Laughlin told of serving in a large inner-city parish, where one of his parishioners baked a delicious loaf of homemade bread for a needy family each week and delivered the food personally. When the gentleman died the church was overflowing with mourners at his funeral liturgy.
“The priest brings bread of life to people, the Body of Christ.” The cleric then asked, “Why don’t we bring the Body of Christ to the shut-ins and the sick? Bringing the bread of life brings hope. That is our privilege, our vocation. Sometimes we hide that light under a bushel basket. But we are called to bring the light of Christ into this world.”
Father Laughlin cited how St. John Vianney spent 11 hours a day in the confessional, while also establishing a school and giving parish missions.
“His whole life was a proclamation of God. His life of prayer was with his people. St. John Vianney was a model of the priesthood. The divine model is Christ. He has called us and he is with us, bringing the bread of life to a world that is very needy.”
After lunch, in the afternoon session, Father Laughlin gave a presentation on ecclesiology and how the church is evolving. “We ought to think of ourselves as growing and maturing. Rather than being pessimistic about this time, we should be joyful. We should have an ecclesiology that is universal and reaches out to the world.”
The one constant, he said, is that “priests are called to be saints, living a life of perfection found in love of God and neighbor. If we’ve missed that, we’ve lost everything.”
In addressing the group concerning the sacrament of reconciliation, Father Laughlin quoted from one theologian who called reconciliation the lost sacrament of the church.
“Could we not be in the confessional more frequently? How often do we go to confession? Do we have a regular confessor and time?” quizzed the cleric.
He concluded by saying, “The Holy Spirit is always with us. Priesthood can never be static. We should be a people dedicated to study and a life of prayer. It would lead to a more vibrant priesthood.”
Closing remarks were then given by Bishop Baker, followed by mid-afternoon prayer.