I am writing this on Aug. 15. It is the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood in 1978.

This is always a day of joy for me.

On this day, I give thanks for my mother and father. I came to know God’s love through their witness and example. Their happiness and love made me want to follow Jesus and give my life to him. I also give thanks on this day to the many priests who inspired me over the years by the way they lived their vocations with joy, by their love for the Eucharist.

This week also marks the start of the academic year for the many men who are preparing to be priests at our St. John’s Seminary and Juan Diego House.

It is a good moment for us to give thanks to God. In recent years, he has blessed his children here in the archdiocese with many fine new priests and new vocations.

This year we ordained nine new priests and seven transitional deacons who will become priests next year for Los Angeles; we also ordained two transitional deacons who will be serving in Uganda.

Right now, by the grace of God we have 93 seminarians preparing to be priests in Los Angeles. There are 67 at St. John’s, 25 at Juan Diego House and one studying at the Hispanic Seminary of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. In total at St. John’s there are 114 men from Los Angeles and 11 other dioceses and two religious communities.

You cannot really “learn” to be a priest — it is not like any ordinary profession or occupation. Preparing for the priesthood takes training of the head and heart, the intellect and spirit. It is a spiritual work of forming the soul for a life to be lived in the company of Jesus Christ and in the service of his mission.

Like many of you, I have been watching the Olympic Games these past couple of weeks. The skill and zeal of the athletes is exciting and inspiring. I am amazed at their discipline and conditioning and the years of daily sacrifice they make in preparation for these competitions.

Training for the priesthood is like that in some ways. It begins with a decision to live in a totally new way, so that we can achieve a new goal, a new purpose for our lives. To reach that goal requires dedication, sacrifice and daily, patient practice aimed at self-mastery of body, mind and spirit.

In the case of the priest, this training takes the form of daily Mass and interior prayer, and spending “holy hours” with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. It takes studying the Church’s teachings, theology and traditions; learning about human nature and people’s needs and the shape of the society we live in. It takes learning how to live with others in community. There is also practical “hands-on” experience gained through pastoral ministry and internships at parishes.

Like athletic training, priestly formation also requires “coaches,” “trainers” and mentors. This is the work of the seminary. We have always had a rich academic tradition and excellent faculty and staff. In these past few years, we are continuing to grow and strengthen our faculty and programs at St. John’ Seminary and Juan Diego House. 

The “gold” we are seeking for our priests is this — a heart consecrated to God and a life that is conformed to Jesus Christ. The priest is a man of God filled with joy because he knows God’s love and mercy. He is a man who lives now for God alone, with a missionary passion to spread God’s love and mercy through the whole world. 

I have always felt an association between my own vocation to the priesthood and the Assumption of Mary.

Mary was a simple and humble girl who was chosen by God and called for the great and noble task of bringing Jesus Christ to the world.

In a way, her story is the story of every vocation, and her mission is the mission of every priest. No one “decides” to be a priest. God’s choice is the foundation of every vocation and every priest lives his life in response to this calling. He reaches down to us and lifts us up to serve him and to serve the family of God.

Maybe that is why the priest prays Mary’s prayer every day: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord … for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.”

Pray for me this week and I will be praying for you.

And together let us keep praying for our priests and seminarians and for more vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life.

May our Blessed Mother Mary gain for us many and holy vocations!

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