Auxiliary Bishop Timothy C. Senior, rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, celebrated the tenth anniversary of his ordination as bishop on July 31.
CatholicPhilly.com asked Bishop Senior to share his thoughts on his decade as bishop, and his vision of what lies ahead.
Q. How has your prayer life evolved over the past ten years?
Prayer is a relationship with God, probably the most personal and intimate aspect of our lives. My ministry as a bishop has expanded my vision of prayer, and even though prayer has always been a part of my life, I would say one thing that has grown is my intercessory prayer. There are so many individuals and things to pray for. With the mission of bishop, and as a shepherd to the faithful, I first and foremost want to reach out to everyone, and there’s no better way to do that than through prayer. I have a deeper consciousness of inner prayer, and bringing to the heart of Christ the intercession that has been entrusted to me.
Q. In what ways do you feel the Lord has formed and molded you over these past ten years?
I would say that the one word that comes to mind is “surrender.” All of us, through our baptism, are one with Jesus in his death and resurrection; that’s the fundamental paradigm of our faith, so we’re all dying or rising in one way or another.
In the sacrament of holy orders, the call to surrender is certainly most visible when a man lies prostrate during the ordination. It’s a symbol of the surrender that is characteristic of every Christian. I’ve had a deepening awareness of that, especially regarding the prayers entrusted to me and the challenges that the church faces. I’m more profoundly aware that it doesn’t depend on me, and that I can only offer myself to God, who will use me as he sees fit.
In my younger years, I depended a bit more on my own wits, and there is some truth to the old expression, “Pray as if everything depends on God, and work as if everything depends on you.” But as hard as you want to work, it ultimately depends on God.
I have a greater intimacy with Jesus, in the sense of surrendering to his power in the midst of my powerlessness. So as Christians, we offer ourselves to God, and I have a more profound awareness of that now. It’s easier said than done, and it’s a day-in, day-out struggle, but I get it in a way I didn’t get 10 or 25 years ago.
Q. If you could speak to yourself ten years ago, knowing what you do now, what would you say?
Just get ready to be surprised, because God is going to surprise you. When I was ordained a bishop, I could never have imagined I would be in this post, starting my eighth year as rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. And being in this role at this critical time, when we’ve sold the campus and we’re preparing to relocate and to start a new era, we’re on the cusp of institutional change and rebirth, a dying and rising that’s been true for a lot of my life over the years.
The more we surrender, the more we find that the surprises hold tremendous graces and blessings. Let God surprise you, and trust in him.
Q. From your vantage point, what do you think the greatest challenges are these days for youth who are discerning a vocation?
One of the things that’s a challenge is the lack of cultural support for vocations, or at least a diminishment of it, certainly from the time I was discerning and entering over 40 years ago. The challenge of proclaiming the Gospel in our culture today is more evident, so that for a young man discerning a vocation, he’s facing that reality without the cultural support. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any social supports; we do have men whose families and friends encourage their vocations. But more so than 40 years ago, a lot of people would think the guy’s crazy for entering the seminary.
I don’t want to overgeneralize too much, but there is an emphasis on the short-term focus in our culture, and the priesthood and religious vocations are about the long term, as we see in this Sunday’s Gospel regarding the parable of the rich fool. The men who do come to the seminary are swimming against the tide of that short-term focus.
The specter of the sexual abuse scandal also continues to poison a lot of the discussion around religious vocations. When I see young men in the seminary, I’m in awe of the fact that the guys who take this step are not allowing the culture to shape their decision. They do have a long-term vision for their lives, and they’re not allowing the tragedy of the past and the great evil that has come to light to keep them from wanting to become a priest – and to become a good priest, and to make it right. I hear that again and again from seminarians: “We’re going to be different and live out our true calling.”
The tragedies do not define the church. We are defined, as every person is defined, by the love and mercy of Jesus Christ. And these seminarians also recognize that what it’s about is holiness and discipleship, to be a missionary disciple.
Q. What do you think the Lord has in store for you during the next ten years?
Honestly, keeping in mind that whole sense of surrender, I really don’t know. And I’d better be ready to continually be surprised.
At the same time, I’m not just stargazing. I focus on my day-to-day mission, and in a little over two weeks I’ll be helping to welcome more than 40 new men to the seminary, a very culturally diverse group, along with our returning students. There’s no greater task or project or challenge in front of me than leading the seminary during this next year of formation.
Be open to being surprised by God. Don’t be afraid to say “yes” to him. That’s always been the case in my life. And I’ve been surprised, and I’ve said yes, and I can tell you that God does not disappoint.
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