Profiles in Catholicism
 
An Interview with Very Rev. John Kartje,, PhD, S.T.D.



by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.

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Dr. Knight:   It seems that you are filled with the joy and challenge of bringing Christ to others at the Seminary and beyond.  Is it your attention to your prayer life that called you to these challenges?
     
Rector Kartje:

 
 

There is no doubt that prayer must be at the heart of the mission and ministry of every diocesan priest.  I was asked by my archbishop, Cardinal Cupich, to take on my current assignment as the rector of Mundelein Seminary, but the way in which I encounter the Holy Spirit in this position at the seminary—or in any other assignment, for that matter—is the fruit of prayer.  There is no other way

     
Dr. Knight:   The pastoral emphasis seems to be evident to all of us in parishes who see seminarians in our communities more than ever before. Could you explain this important emphasis?
     
Rector Kartje:  

 A seminarian can only actualize (make present and real within his interior life) all the degrees of his formation—pastoral, intellectual, spiritual, and human—in and through a lived experience of encounter and engagement with Jesus Christ.  That cannot happen in isolation, ordinarily.  And, certainly for a parish priest, that happens most readily via encounters with his parishioners.  Hence the growing focus on giving our seminarians opportunities for engaging with people in their local parishes.

     
Dr. Knight:  

You have a two doctorates: one in Spirituality and one in Astrophysics.  How has your education led you to being the head of the Seminary?

 
     
Rector Kartje:   You would have to ask Cardinal Cupich that!  What I can tell you is that a love of learning and a thirst for creativity are traits that serve a parish priest well.  One does not need to pursue doctoral studies to have such loves.  But it is absolutely critical that a seminarian never stop learning, reading, or seeking to encounter mystery in creative ways, both during his time at seminary and long beyond into his priestly ministry.
     
Dr. Knight:   How do you see the devotion to the Eucharist and the Mass at this time in our society?
     
Rector Kartje:

 
  I think our culture of celebrity and constant sensory stimulation can reduce an appreciation for the Mass to perceiving it as just another performance.  The priest is the “star” and his homily (or the music) are what make the experience worthwhile or not.  It is also the case that our society’s continually decreasing attention spans can make prayerful presence for an hour extremely difficult.  But that can be addressed, if one is willing to try.
     
Dr. Knight:   Do societal changes effect/affect the devotion to the Eucharist?
     
Rector Kartje:|
 
  I think our culture of celebrity and constant sensory stimulation can reduce an appreciation for the Mass to perceiving it as just another performance.  The priest is the “star” and his homily (or the music) are what make the experience worthwhile or not.  It is also the case that our society’s continually decreasing attention spans can make prayerful presence for an hour extremely difficult.  But that can be addressed, if one is willing to try.
     
Dr. Knight:  

What other influences do you see manifest that keep people away from Christ and His Church?

     
Rector Kartje:
 
 

The primary negative influence, I believe, is that people have not learned to pray as adults.  They are often living with a prayer life that has changed little since their childhood.  As they mature, the challenges of adulthood prove too much for their childhood spirituality and then they incorrectly conclude that their faith was just a childish fable.  People are as hungry today for truth and goodness as they ever were, but they often lack the ability to maturely access the only one who can truly satisfy their longings: Christ.  The means to do that is adult prayer.

     
Dr. Knight:   How is the Catholic Church helping young people to stay connected to Christ and His Church?  As Christ continues to reveal Himself to us, how has this changed the message?
     
:Rector Kartje:   One way is via the use of social media, from the Pope to the local parish priests and other ministers in the parish.  Youth are also connecting with each other throughout the world via social media.  Campus ministries are also becoming much more active in their evangelization and outreach to young adults.  I don’t know that the message has necessarily changed, but the methods of delivering that message will continue to be updated.
     
Dr. Knight:   How do seminarians work on Evangelization? Did you think the emphasis on pastoral work helps that?
     
Rector Kartje:




 
 

he best way to advance evangelization is to make sure that the evangelizer is well grounded in his or her prayer life.  We cannot share what we do not have.  If that foundation is present, then one can learn skills for sharing the Gospel message.  Seminarians hone those skills in every one of their classes, often being challenged to present what they are learning by means of class presentations and papers or exams with pastoral applications.  Yes, when they are in the parishes they are definitely faced with numerous opportunities to evangelize.  But I should note that the responsibility to reach out to others is largely on their shoulders.  They need to make themselves accessible and approachable.  Another way they work on their evangelizing skills is by the proper use of social media to present Christ to the world.  In doing this, they learn how to hone their message to fit their particular audience on the Web.  Different blogs, etc. have different tones and different readers.  The seminarians must learn to address the audience before them—whether in the pews or online.

     
Dr. Knight:   You bring a sense of a deep relationship with Christ to your homilies, what particularly comes to mind in this regard?
     
Rector Kartje:   Homily preparation must be grounded in a deep familiarity with the Scriptures and in personal prayer.  The preacher should read and pray over the readings for Mass beginning on Monday an continuing through to Saturday.  The only real preacher is the Holy Spirit—we can either be conduits for His message or get in the way.  Another key point is that the homilist must know his flock.  The priest who truly “smells like his sheep” will be able to speak to them using their language, and will know what message they need to hear at any given time.
     
Dr. Knight:  

What are the most difficult responsibilities you have had  in your work?  What are some of the most pleasant responsibilities?

     
Rector Kartje:



 
  One of the greatest challenges is helping the men battle struggles with the suffering that inevitably comes in embracing the poverty that Christ calls his priests to.  I’m not talking about giving up material things (although that can certainly bring struggles for some men), but rather accepting that on our own we are helpless to address the deep needs of those we would serve.  It is only the love of Christ that can do that.  That takes a great humility and dying to self, and many men resist that, or flee from it out of fear that if they surrender their independence, then they will have nothing left.  The great joy of my work is witnessing a man’s heart become transformed as he becomes more and more configured to the heart of Christ.  This manifests itself in a growing sense of joy, generosity, compassion, and service among the men.  Like the disciples who return to Jesus after moving about the towns of Galilee, when the men return to the seminary with these new hearts, it is tremendously fulfilling for me.
     
Dr. Knight:   What mantra do you have that you would like people who come into contact with you to remember?       
     
Rector Kartje:   Be brutally honest with yourself and with God.  Trust and growth in both our human and spiritual dimensions can only advance if we are willing to be honest and transparent.
     
Dr. Knight:   What one focus would you like the seminarians to leave with In regard to their devotion to the Eucharist and the Gospel stories? 
     
Rector Kartje:   To know that long before you sat in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, or prayed with sacred scripture, the God whom you worship was looking at you, seeking you out, waiting for you.  And now He is delighted to have you seeking Him.  You will not always feel so present to the Lord, so it is important to be well grounded in the truth that He is always present to you.
     
Dr. Knight:   In closing, you mentioned that social media was an important commutations resource. You have many videos on YouTube including a great series on science and faith, homilies, and presentations on Theology on Tap. We hope that our readers will check them out
Here is one of your videos