Sulpicians Gather

New definitive members (from left) Frs. Eugene Mwanza, PSS, Jaime Robledo, PSS, and Martin Burnham, PSS

Last spring, the members of the U.S. Province gathered for a week of spiritual renewal, ongoing education, and provincial business at the Archbishop Brunett Center along Puget Sound in Federal Way, Washington, from May 25 to 30.

On Memorial Day we had a special prayer service to remember three of our members who recently died—Frs. Jim Tucker, Cale Crowley, and Joe Ky. We also had a rite of welcome during our closing Mass to receive three new candidates (Frs. Shawn Gould, Neil Mulyata, and Carlos Piedrahita), to recognize four members advancing to temporary membership (Frs. Brian Carpenter, PSS, Dominic Ciriaco, PSS, Joseph Chamwaza, PSS, and Emmanuel Ichidi, PSS), and three who became definitive members (Frs. Martin Burnham, PSS, Eugene Mwanza, PSS, and Jaime Robledo, PSS).

During the rite of welcome, Fr. Anthony Pogorelc, PSS, the Director of Initial Formation, preached a homily addressing the question, “To what are we welcoming them?” He went on to say that we are welcoming them: to “work together for the mission of Christ Jesus,” to a small group of diocesan priests  who “are like disciples in a small boat and must coordinate with one another lest the boat be overturned,” to a mission that “opens us to great joy and great suffering [and] even when we have done our very best we may be dismissed, scoffed at and put off,” and, to a “striving Society” seeking to be “collaborators in both word and deed” to make the synodality of which Pope Francis speaks and which is found in our tradition “part of our ongoing practice.”

The spiritual renewal took us back to the dynamics of the early Church as seen through the characters of Peter and Paul as portrayed in the Easter readings from the Acts of the Apostles. Reflecting on their courage, their capacity to challenge one another, and their creative spirit to solidify the beginnings of the Church were sources of new inspiration for our own mission.

For our ongoing education, we moved from the first century church to the twenty-first with its pervasive influence of the internet. Fr. Ray Carey, a clinical psychologist well known among religious communities for his work on assessment and evaluation of candidates, presented the research on the effects that regular use of the internet has on the way our minds work. By referencing studies on the regular viewing of online pornography and video gaming, he described the phenomenon of neural plasticity, the modifications in the way the brain functions as a result of frequent exposure to a virtual world.

For a community like ours that is very interested in the new generation of seminarians, Fr. Carey’s presentation of the research was very timely and informative, if not shocking. No longer are we drawing candidates from a world where neighbors knew each other’s names and families ate dinner together.

The digital age is marked by anonymity that creates social isolation. Growing up in the digital age makes it convenient to immerse ourselves in a stimulating  virtual world that can be psychologically and socially damaging. Fr. Carey underscored the potential that regular internet exposure can have on developing one’s emotional intelligence and social skills.

Research shows that too much exposure to gaming and pornography is associated with increased aggression, desensitization to violence, and an overall decrease in motivation and an ability to relate to   others empathically. These aspects of our digital world should make anyone in formation take notice.

So what to do with these insights? As Fr. Carey reminded us, insights do not change behavior. Only behavior changes behavior. So we need to change our internet use, its frequency, intensity, and the conditions that surround our going online.

Such a heavy agenda for the week was offset by the serenity of being along Puget Sound, and enjoying its quiet in the fellowship of our confreres. For us Sulpicians who share a common vision, mission, and ministry but live so far apart, this week is precious. It gives us an opportunity to strengthen bonds of fraternity among confreres gathered from across the country, as well as from our African Mission a half a world away.