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Priests, Deacons, Seminarians Ready to Serve, Sacrifice for the Church

June 26, 2012 - 8:47 PDT


STEUBENVILLE, OH (June 26, 2012) - "Imagine if your life was at risk to celebrate Mass. Think about the early priests, those men who gave their lives for the service of the Church. They weren't being priests to be safe or comfortable; they were being priests because of a conviction of the grace that comes to us in the sacrament of the Eucharist," said Father Dave Pivonka, TOR, in his homily at a Mass offered during Franciscan University of Steubenville's 37th annual Priests, Deacons, and Seminarians Retreat, held from June 18-22.

"Scripture says, 'Be careful of storing up things for yourself.' A danger sometimes is our reputation and our status, that we want to store them up," he continued. "Tragically, often we compare our reputations to other brothers who are priests. But the spirit of competition in the priesthood is straight from hell."

The former director of post-novitiate formation for his religious community, Father Pivonka currently is the director of Franciscan Pathways, an evangelistic/preaching outreach of the Franciscan Friars TOR.

Emphasizing that today, much of the world's perception of the priesthood is based on recent scandals in the Church, Father Pivonka said that people often ask, "Why would anybody be a priest?"

His response: "Because of the love and the grace of Jesus Christ our Savior, and to be able to share that with the world." He said that embracing the true spirit of the priesthood is an "opportunity for us to reclaim what is rightfully ours, apart from status and reputation."

The retreat featured nationally acclaimed speakers including Franciscan University theology professors Dr. Scott Hahn and Dr. John Bergsma; author and Conception Seminary School of Theology professor Father Pablo Gadenz; author Kimberly Hahn; and New Evangelization Ministries founder Deacon Ralph Poyo. The retreat also welcomed back scripture scholar Father Francis Martin, a long-time conference speaker and friend of Franciscan University, who received the Dei Verbum Award.

Father Pivonka presented the award on behalf of Franciscan University to honor Father Martin for his tireless efforts in teaching the Word of God, instructing the laity, and caring for his brother priests, deacons and seminarians.

"It's a very special joy for me to receive the award from Steubenville. Steubenville's been a large part of my life--not just in giving talks, but being with so many priests who really want to serve the Lord," said Father Martin in his speech following the presentation.

He gave several talks that week, focusing on how priests are truly entrusted to the Word of God.

"Let that Word turn to fire in your bones like it did to Jeremiah, and the Lord will love to do that for us," he said. "Why? Because it is our principal duty. The people of God either live by the Word of God or they don't live. It's that important."

The healing power of confession was the theme of one of Scott Hahn's talks, focusing on the power of the sacrament for clergy and lay people alike.

Discussing the fall of Adam and Eve, he explained that when God asked them "Where are you?" after they ate the fruit, he was not asking for geographical coordinates but rather "their relationship to him and their relationship to each other;" he wanted to help them.

"We can approach confession in terms of our own feeling of guilt, like in a courtroom, or in terms of debt," said Hahn, "but I am convinced that the best way to approach this is to see that God loves Adam more than Adam loves himself; he wants to forgive [Adam and Eve] both more than they want him to forgive them."

After sharing the story of his first confession after his conversion to Catholicism, Hahn said that not only do people need to know the facts about the faith, but they must experience it with their hearts as well.

Faith and reason must go hand in hand, most importantly because God is a God of reason, explained Bergsma in a talk titled "Jesus as Divine Wisdom."

"One of the central claims of our faith is the fact of the reasonableness of God, and his creation," he said.

Delving into the beginning of John's Gospel, Bergsma explained that in writing "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and Word was God," it goes beyond just the logos, and continues into a profound love for God's people.

"We have a message of hope for a world that is at loss in a sea of irrationality. But let's not just take confidence, let's take wonder," he said. "Let's ponder the fact that the divine reason displayed in the macroscopic and in the microscopic is a Person. A Person who makes that same banquet available to us through the sacrament."

To be a witness is to be a martyr, said Father Pablo Gadenz, explaining that the martyr "is the one who witnesses to the point of shedding his blood. We want to bear witness to give testimony as John, the beloved disciple, did."

He referenced St. Thomas Aquinas' commentary on the Gospel of John, pointing out that Peter and John are often together in that Gospel.

"Aquinas says that these two disciples stand for two kinds of people: John represents those who are devoted to the contemplation of truth, and Peter stands for those whose main interest is to carry out the commandments, those in the active life," said Father Gadenz. We need to have aspects of both these disciples in order to be a witness, he said, but in today's world, we often forget that the contemplative aspect is crucial.

Deacon Ralph Poyo gave a homily focusing on the need for humility and the awareness of one's own sonship, to be true fathers to the people of God.

"We know that the minute we get out there to start serving, where does Satan attack?" asked Deacon Poyo, explaining that it is in the places of greatest vulnerability. "It's those places where we're fearful to act, where we choose not to trust in God, not to believe that we are his sons."

Kimberly Hahn offered a lay person's approach of ways to engage Catholics. She explained specifically that we need to be "contagious Catholics" by keeping a balance between being "theological pit bulls" that chase people down, and suffering from "Little Bo Peep syndrome," that is, thinking that letting people freely leave the Catholic Church will make them more willing to return.

"By virtue of our baptism we've received power to be his witnesses," she said. "Jesus' power and presence is what enables us to become contagious Catholics."

The retreat recharged the participants in a variety of ways.

"The personal aspect of the Word of God, the need for us to see that when preaching," stood out greatly for Father Mike McNamara of the Archdiocese of Boston, Massachusetts.

Having come to the retreat for at least 20 years, Father McNamara said that he especially enjoyed "sharing in the glory of the priesthood with other priests."

Second-year seminarian Adam Potter from the Diocese of Pittsburgh has attended Franciscan University's Defending the Faith Conferences with his father for at least five years, but this was only his second year at the Priests, Deacons, and Seminarians Retreat.

"I'm always uplifted in coming here, especially in adoration," he said, commenting on the strong "joy of these priests."

"It's a confirmation to me to see these men striving to serve the people," he said, and wants to strive to "live that joy witnessed by all these priests."

Upcoming Franciscan University summer conferences include the St. John Bosco Conference for Catholic educators (July 18-22), the Applied Biblical Studies Conference for anyone seeking a deeper knowledge and understanding of Scripture (July 25-27), and the Defending the Faith Conference which focuses on Catholic apologetics (July 29-31).

For more information, including conferences for youth, go to


Franciscan University of Steubenville
OH, 43952 US
Tom Sofio - Associate Director of Public Relations,


Priests, deacons, seminarians, Franciscan University, Steubenville, retreat


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