Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church
Hot Springs Village, Arkansas
In the world of professional sports there is always excitement in a city that accepts a team that they can support and encourage to do well, and hopefully, win a championship in that sport.  The excitement of winning a championship after much effort and perhaps years of waiting, will usually be over-the-top for some true fans of that team.  There was, no doubt, much excitement last Sunday at the 10:00 a.m. Mass when Jonathan Semmler made a commitment to be a seminarian for the Diocese of Little Rock with Behop Taylor presiding at Mass and Monsignor Friend being present to affirm the diocese's decision to accept Jonathan as a seminarian.  I wish every parishioner could have been present to witness this happening and the joy that was felt by Jonathan, his family, and his parish family.  Of course, unlike a professional football team's fan base that never knows when or if they will ever experience the joy of their team winning a championship, our parishioners can anticipate that, in about seven or eight years, we will experience tremendous excitement and joy when Jonathan is ordained a preist.  I honestly should have used the words "can anticipate" when it comes to Jonathan's ordination.  We cannot say for certain that he will be ordained a priest in the future.  The years ahead will be a time of formation, ministry, and discernment for Jonathan, and I'm sure most, if not all of us, hope and pray that it will reach the point where he and the bishop decide he is ready for his ordination to the priesthood.  In the future, he will continue to need,  and I'm confident will receive, the support and enouragement of our parishioners and others.  If, however, he and/or the dioese decides at some point that preisthood is not God's calling for his future life, I (and hope many of you who know Jonathan) am confident that he will be open to God using him in a way or ways that will be a blessing to the Church and to others.  I say this, not to throw cold water on anyone's enthusiasm about Jonathan being the first "native born" parishioner of Sacred Heart to be a seminarian (and maybe one day a priest), but rather to be realistic that just as a city getting a professional team to back, does not know with any certainty that they will, at some point, win a championship; so the journey to priesthood that many start (especially those who are young like Jonathan) does not always end in ordination to the pristhood.  I have been surprised over the years at how many men I have met who once were seminarians, and did not finish and become priest, but rather became successful in their careers, good husbands and fathers AND active members of their Catholic faith and the church communities in which they lived.  I thank our parsihioners who, in any way, have affected some or all of our young people who have grown up or are growing up in this parish in the ways of Christ, especially His love, charity and mercy.  We have much to thank God for in this and in other areas as well.
It's hard to believe that the "Back To School" commercials already started playing in mid-July.  The fact is that school in many places now starts in early to mid-August, so I guess the timing of those sales is appropriate.  Also appropriate is my encouragement of people who might be interested in the Catholic Faith to make themselves be known - or you make them known to me if you are aware of people who could be encouraged and/or persuaded to step forward and start looking into the Catholic Church community and beliefs.  While I have to say we haven't produced many "new" Catholics either through Baptism or a Profession of Faith since I've been here, we need to always have the door open, and not be hesitant to invite people who are not practicing any faith to come to us to find out if the Lord is calling them to life as a Catholic and a member of our wonderful faith community.  We will offer an "inquiry session" sometime in August.  Please keep an eye on the bulletin and even more so, keep an eye and ear out for possible candidates who are at least open to discovering what it means to live as a Catholic.  Please call me at 501-209-2502 with any names and contact information you might have for people who I can touch base with in the weeks ahead.
I write this Pastor's Column after attending and participating in the Vigil Service and Funeral Mass for the oldest priest of our diocese and former pastor of many churches in Arkansas, including our parish, Monsignor Bernard Malone.  The large number of people who attended one or both services, consisted of our bishop (Anthony Taylor), an archbishop (J. Peter Sartain, former bishop of Arkansas), many priests, religious, deacons and most of our current seminarians who are preparing for priesthood for our diocese.  While much was said in these two services by Archbishop Sartain, Bishop Taylor and Monsignor Francis Malone (nephew of Monsignor Bernard) about this kind, gentle, faithful, servant of God, which I affirm and which I (and I'm sure others) wish we could have added to if given the opportunity at one of these liturgies for Monsignor, I must say I was struck by the remarks of remembrance that were written by some of our seminarians about Monsignor, that were read in between the decades of the rosary that was led by Monsignor Friend. They spoke greatly of the impact that this holy man had on more than a few of our future priests that will no doubt inspire and motivate them in their priesthood for many years to come.  I will conclude this column with the remembrance that was expressed by one of the newest seminarians, our native parishioner, Jonathan Semmler.  His encounters with Monsignor started when he was quite young, and no doubt had a very real impact on his decision to pursue the priesthood of God.

I want to say thanks to our parishioners who welcomed Monsignor back time and again to be among us over the seven years I have served as your pastor.  He looked forward to every visit, and seemed to keep a perpetual smile on his fact while he was with us.  I know I cannot appreciate right now just what an impact he has had on my priesthood and even before I was a priest - when I was an altar server and served for him in my early teens at St. Mary's in Hot Springs.  His visits at my family's home during his few years at St. Mary's in Hot Springs as Pastor, helped me to see a priest in a personal way and encouraged me to do the same in my priesthood and receive the "family" support that I believe has been so helpful and healthy to me.  I will miss him greatly, especially given his longstanding, encouraging support to me before I was a priest, and for the 31 years I have been blessed to serve as a priest of God for his people, especially in these last seven years.  Because of God's merciful love, I look forward to seeing him again in God's kingdom, and I pray you do as well!  I love you Monsignor Malone!  The following is what Jonathan Semmler wrote:

As an 85-year old priest in Hot Springs Village, Monsignor still had a special place in his heart for young people.  As a child, I worked by way to the center aisle at the end of very Mass to give him a hug while he processed out of church. Even while living at St. John's Center, he was always ready to drop everything and hear my confession.  He stopped by youth events to share his love for the Lord and the Blessed Mother with all of the kids, and to encourage us to receive the sacraments often.  I'm beyond grateful for his joyful example and now for this powerful intercession in the presence of the Lord.