Rebooted Diocesan Summer Institute draws nearly 1,000 into ‘depths of mercy’

At Father Timothy Hepner's request, the priests, seminarians and women religious present at the Diocesan Summer Institute gathered in front of the Peoria Civic Center stage. "We are blessed," said Father Hepner, but asked all in attendance for prayers to increase vocations. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

Jesus took his disciples aside to pray on occasion and Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, encouraged nearly 1,000 teachers, religious educators, priests, seminarians, women religious and parishioners to view the rebooted Diocesan Summer Institute the same way.

Bishop Jenky's image is projected on screens during the Diocesan Summer Institute Mass in the "Cathedral of the Civic Center." (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

Bishop Jenky’s image is projected on screens during the Diocesan Summer Institute Mass in the “Cathedral of the Civic Center.” (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

“All of you, who do so much work in the diocese, need this time together with the Lord,” the bishop said at the beginning of a Mass celebrated in the “Cathedral of the Civic Center” in Peoria on June 4. In addition to the liturgy, the day offered opportunities for participants to pray before the Blessed Sacrament and practice lectio divina or “divine reading” of Scripture.

During the afternoon, 20 priests were stationed throughout the Civic Center to make the sacrament of reconciliation available.

The Diocesan Summer Institute also provided food for thought and suggestions on how to deepen their prayer life in keynote sessions by Dan Burke, founder of the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation and executive director of EWTN’s National Catholic Register, and Dr. Peter Howard, professor of theology at the Avila Institute and founder of Heroic Families.

Offered as a gift to the people of the Diocese of Peoria by Bishop Jenky, the event was planned by the Office of Evangelization and Faith Formation, the Office of Catholic Schools, and the Office of Priestly Vocations. Additional help was given by the Office of Divine Worship.

The theme for the gathering was “Into the Depths of Mercy.”

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SHARING THE GIFT

“We have really high hopes and expectations for this day, for each of you individually. To have that be the most fruitful, we have been praying for you intensely,” said Shirley Plaag, who coordinates the Office of Evangelization and Faith Formation. “We’ve had people from all over the diocese praying for you.”

In her opening prayer, she noted that those who filled the Civic Center Ballroom were the “influencers” in their parishes and schools and asked God “to give us the grace to strengthen our own prayer, to strengthen our own interior life, so that what we have we may share with others.”

That is a Gospel imperative, Bishop Jenky told those attended the institute’s Mass. Citing St. Paul’s challenge to Timothy, he said all of us are called to witness to our faith in Christ.

“Be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient. Convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching,” he said.

“We have Good News to proclaim. We have God’s great mercy to share. Everyone in the church is called to go out into the world and make disciples,” the bishop reminded them.

“We have Good News to proclaim. We have God’s great mercy to share. Everyone in the church is called to go out into the world and make disciples.” — Bishop Jenky

Music for the Mass was led by a festival choir made up of conference participants and led by Greg Etzel, director of sacred music for the Diocese of Peoria.

In keeping with the Jubilee Year of Mercy, the collection received at the liturgy was donated to Sophia’s Kitchen, which is located at St. Joseph in Peoria and feeds as many as 500 people each weekday.

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LOVE BUILDS A BRIDGE

In his opening keynote talk, Dan Burke acknowledged that engaging people in discussions of faith is not always comfortable. It is important to stay with them, however.

“Love builds a bridge over which truth can pass,” said keynoter Dan Burke. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

“Love builds a bridge over which truth can pass,” said keynoter Dan Burke. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

“Love builds a bridge over which truth can pass,” he said, speaking from experience.

Raised in a home that wasn’t safe and coping with physical ailments, Burke said that by 18 he was ready for “a bullet or a reason.”

“I couldn’t conceive of going another 18 years into the future when all it held was more surgeries, more emotional turmoil, more darkness in my soul,” he said. It was several “encounters with extraordinary love” that brought him from unbelief to faith, and eventually the Catholic Church.

He didn’t make it easy, though.

“Sometimes when you encounter people who are oppositional in the classrooms where you teach, you need to remember that they’re a lot like me,” Burke said. “The reason I argued is because it meant so much to me. It’s what saved my life.”

To have an impact on the children and adults they serve, they must love like Jesus loved and that means “you have to give yourself away. You have to fight with them. You have to wrestle with them. You have to get dirty with them.”

Before they can make that difference, they have to give a “fundamental yes” to Jesus and tell him, “I’m all in,” according to Burke. The next step is developing intimacy with Jesus in prayer.

“Without that life of prayer you can’t know love and you can’t give love and you won’t be changed,” he explained. “You won’t have the proper self-awareness to know how you need to change because you’re not listening to God.”

PRAYING FOR VOCATIONS

When we truly desire a deeper connection with God, God will do much of the work, said Father Timothy Hepner, director of recruitment for vocations for the Diocese of Peoria.

His goal is identify men who will be good, holy priests for years to come, and the people of the Diocese of Peoria can help by developing a strong prayer life, he said.

“You have the tools in front of you. We’re giving you the tools today. There are so many more tools out there,” Father Hepner told them during his “vocation spot.”

“As you deepen your prayer life, ask Jesus, ‘Who in my life do you want me to speak to about a vocation?’” he said. “If you’re holy, if I’m holy, so much of the rest of the work takes care of itself.”

Inviting the priests, seminarians and women religious to come forward, Father Hepner said, “We are so blessed.”

“Please continue to pray for the priests, the seminarians and the Sisters and prayer for more vocations,” he said.

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