June 5, 2017
  • re-2017-pusc-gahl

Top 5 Highlights: May 29-June 4

1. Certainly one of the best experiences for me over the past week was having the opportunity to spend my birthday on retreat in Ars praying with Saint Jean-Marie Vianney. It was a very special time to reflect on what the life of a priest is meant to be and look like. It being my birthday during a silent retreat aided in letting me see the gifts that God gives to us when we strive to live committed to Him, rather than ourselves. He showed this through the spiritual joy that I found in being with Him all day, rather than spending my birthday doing things that one would normally want to do such as talking with family and friends and maybe having a really nice meal, instead He gave me the opportunity to see the beauty of self-sacrifice in His priesthood.

2. Another great experience was our class with Father Robert Gahl, where we are learning about Human Virtues for Priestly Fatherhood. In our first class, Fr. Gahl helped to show us how modern thought can have a hollowing effect as we see people struggling to identify what freedom means, whether it is a lack of having to choose something, or rather the ability to fully commit oneself to their choices.

3. On Saturday we had the opportunity to begin the day in St. Peter’s Basilica, which is truly a magnificent church that draws one’s thoughts up to God. It does this for me by showing the great beauty that can result from the works of the hands of men, and how the order and beauty found in the basilica are a shadow of the beauty to be found in the human person who strives after the perfection that God creates us with and that we recover in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and strive to retain by turning from sinfulness toward God.

4. The opportunity to meet with priests who work in the Curia has been a very eye-opening experience for me. It has been great to learn about the ways in which the Congregation for Bishops and the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith and to see a general view for how these congregations function. I think that most people view the Curia and congregations to be the work of one cardinal who simply has a few people around him who do some leg-work. In reality, while the Prefect is still very responsible for the reports that are taken to the Holy Father, they greatly depend upon those around them to collect solid information and there is a desire to work with bishops in the areas of interest in order to either aid in gathering information, or in the case of the CDF, in helping to enforce the decisions made by the Holy Father and the Congregation.

5. On Pentecost, nine of the men participating in the Rome Experience were able to attend Sunday Mass at the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Martyrs, also known by its ancient Roman title of the Pantheon. The Mass was a magnificent display of joy and beauty as the Mass was celebrated by one of the auxiliary bishops of Rome and was concelebrated by a number of cardinals. Along with the beautiful Mass itself, at the conclusion of the Mass, thousands of red rose petals were poured through the oculus of the Pantheon as the choir sang Veni Creator Spiritu, further aiding in the meditation on the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the first Pentecost. This also symbolized, to me, the Holy Spirit’s presence in my own life and the call to go forth with Him to bring the Gospel to all nations.


During the retreat in Ars, there were a number of insights that came to me during the retreat, which I can only describe as God’s handiwork. The theme that began to stick out to me was that of self-sacrifice in the priesthood. This theme showed itself in a few ways throughout the retreat, between praying with Saint Jean-Marie Vianney, and reading The Priest is Not His Own by Bishop Fulton Sheen, it became more clear to me that the priest is truly to spend and consume himself for souls as the Serra Club prayer for vocations states.

During my time in Ars, I was able to reflect on the life of Saint Jean-Marie Vianney, who was a humble priest who simply wanted to bring the souls of Ars with him to Heaven. However, through the working of the Holy Spirit and Jean Vianney’s obedience to His promptings, Ars would become a place of pilgrimage for thousands as they sought to have the Cure of Ars hear their confessions. What stuck out to me most as I attempted to wrap my mind around one simple priest spending up to 16 hours a day in the confessional, was that he was doing that at the age of 72 years old. In that year, St. Jean Vianney attended to the spiritual needs of over 100,000 people in a town of 233 people at the age of 72. He died the following year. One could conclude, as I did initially, that these pilgrims killed Jean Vianney by working him to death. This may be true, but is this not a participation in the Priesthood of Jesus Christ? Is the priest not to lay down his life for his sheep? Is the priest not to spend and consume himself for souls? In Jean-Marie Vianney, I found an exemplar of these qualities, a true priest of Jesus Christ who placed the eternal good of others far beyond the temporal good of himself.

In reading The Priest is Not His Own while in Ars and reflecting on the life of St. Jean Vianney, I could have stopped at the cover of the book and meditated on the title for the entirety of the retreat. But as I read through the book, Bishop Sheen pointed out the need for holiness in a priest, for Scripture points out that the sins of the high priest were far more serious than those of his people. If this was the case in the Old Covenant, how much more true it is of the New in Jesus Christ? This reflection tied to St. Jean Vianney as he spent his life striving for true holiness as the primary way of drawing the flock entrusted to him to God.

These reflections were very impactful to me in showing not just what a priest should strive for, or how he should live, but that it is possible to strive and live in this way. The priest must fully open himself to the Holy Spirit and accept and offer to God any suffering that comes to him, be it 100,000 visitors to one 72 year old priest or simply fighting through one’s lack of sleep, for the conversion of souls. The retreat in Ars still resonates with me as I write this reflection on Pentecost with the prayer that all Christians, especially the priests and those studying for the Priesthood of Jesus Christ, be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

Veni Creator Spiritus,

Robert Johnson
The Rome Experience Class of 2017
Diocese of Lincoln
Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary

[About the Photo: The Rome Experience Class of 2017 in class with Fr. Bob Gahl at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome.]