By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — It was Bishop James V. Johnston’s first opportunity since his installation to meet nearly all of his 35 seminarians and he seized the moment.
For a half hour before the Serra Club-sponsored Dec. 21 Mass and dinner at St. Thomas More Parish, Bishop Johnston assembled the 31 seminarians into the sanctuary’s “cry room” – there weren’t enough seats for all – told them what a blessing they are and encouraged them to continue to work to become the kind of priests both God and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph wants them to be.
It takes four “C’s” he told the seminarians.
The first is Conversion. Everybody until their death is a constant work in progress.
“We all have to be about conversion, so take that very seriously,” he said. “Know yourself and pray about where you need to be sent.”
The second is Commitment.
“I want men who are not afraid to work hard,” Bishop Johnston told the seminarians.
But at the same time, learn to take joy in the hard work of being a priest, and draw inspiration from that, he said.
“People don’t get burned out because they have too much hard work. People get burned out because they are not inspired,” the bishop said.
“Now we all need rest, so don’t get me wrong,” he said, recalling the words of his first pastor when Bishop Johnston was a newly ordained priest in the Diocese of Knoxville.
“We work hard,” the elder priest told him. “But we also take the time to play hard too.”
The third C is Communion, especially with the people priests are called to serve.
“We have to be men for others and with others,” Bishop Johnston said.
The fourth is Charity.
“We have got to prepare ourselves to be ministers of charity and kindness to the spiritually poor and the materially poor,” he said.
In his homily at the Mass for three Serra Club chapter members, and the seminarians and their families, Bishop Johnston capped off a year in which nine men had been ordained for the priesthood and record numbers were still in formation by telling the Serrans that their work in supporting vocations and the young men and women called to religious life is certainly noticed, and even more appreciated.
“I wish to thank all members of the Serra Club for their great generosity and kindness,” he said. “On behalf of all of us, we are very grateful to all of you.”
He told both the Serrans and the seminarians that they reflect both the faith of Mary and the inspiration of Elizabeth told in the Gospel for that day of the Visitation.
The young Mary rushed to her cousin to tell her the news that she would bear the Son of God. Elizabeth, inspired by the Holy Spirit, immediately proclaimed, “Blessed are you among women.”
It was the ultimate gift God gave to all of humanity, but not one that was as easy to accept as a box of chocolates or a new sweater, Bishop Johnston said.
“A baby is an amazing gift. They do make us better. They require us to give our time, our attention and our lives to them,” he said.
Even more is demanded to accept the gift of the infant Jesus, the bishop said.
“The secular world tries to change Christmas into something more benign and easy to accept that won’t really change us. The ‘holidays,’ right?” Bishop Johnston said.
“But this gift is God. If we receive this gift, it will make a difference. The key is faith,” he said.
Bishop Johnston recalled the words of St. Ambrose who taught that just as Mary brought forth Christ in the flesh to the world, it is the job of his disciples forever to bring forth Christ in faith to the world.
“Mary knows if she received Christ, it would change her life. Her life would be forever tied to him and his mission, and it would end at the cross,” he said.
But just as Elizabeth needed the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to recognize the great gift, so do the faithful today.
“We need the Holy Spirit,” Bishop Johnston said. “We need it for Christmas. We need it every day. We need the Holy Spirit when we walk up that aisle to receive the Eucharist. We need the Holy Spirit to allow the Word of God to speak to us through Scripture.
“And we need faith to accept the real gift of God, as we need the light of the Holy Spirit to recognize the gift when it comes,” he said.
After Mass, nearly 300 guests packed St. Thomas More Hall for the dinner in honor of the seminarians and their families.
Each one was recognized as the seminarians also received gifts from the Serrans and from the diocese.
Deacon Sam Miloscia, who will be ordained to the priesthood in May, offered gratitude on behalf of all his “brother seminarians.”
“I know people who wouldn’t be in the seminary today without the constant prayers and support” of Serra Club members, Deacon Miloscia said.
He also turned to his parents, Steve and Beverly Miloscia.
“My earliest memories are you imparting the faith to me and teaching me,” he said, recalling when he was no more than four years old, his father turning to him at the consecration during Sunday Mass and saying, “That’s Jesus up there.”
“Sunday Mass has always been the most important part of the week for me because it is so real,” he said.
Deacon Miloscia said he is both excited and blessed by the opportunity to pass the faith he learned in his family to others as a priest.
“I want to be a priest because I want to bring to other people the thing I have been striving for — a real foundation in Jesus Christ,” he said.
“I love it. I believe in it. It’s real and it’s the best thing the world has going for it,” Deacon Miloscia said.