A Toast to Bishop Barron

by on September 9, 2015

“Ad multos annos, vivas…”

A solitary priest stands at his table and intones in Latin. A dining room full of men in black suits and Roman collars rises to its feet and joins him. They have just finished another “sit-down dinner,” a celebratory tradition at the seminary on big occasions. Today’s occasion is the opening of the school year with the Mass of the Holy Spirit and the declaration of 45 seminarians of their intention to pursue Holy Orders. Today’s occasion also happens to be the final sit-down dinner with our Los Angeles-bound Rector Emeritus, Bishop Robert Barron.

“…gloriosque annos, vivas…”

Many of the men standing and singing will miss Father Barron. A few of the new men, including some who have just declared their candidacy for Orders, have not yet had a chance to get to know Barron well. I am in the former group. Memories come to mind: Fr. Barron on his favorite Tectrix stationary bike down in our gym, simultaneously exercising, piping Bob Dylan through his earbuds on max volume, and reading Gerald McCool’s The Neo-Thomists. Fr. Barron at the podium in Room 201, introducing me to von Balthasar and the elastic Holy Spirit and to Tillich and ontological anxiety during his Doctrine of God class. Fr. Barron among the onlookers at his beloved inter-seminary basketball tournament, laughing amiably at the homemade Fr. Barron Fathead our men were waving in the stands. Fr. Barron making an unscheduled visit to my room, having been pointed over from across the hall by his vice-rector, who thought he would enjoy the image of St. Thomas Aquinas on my wall. Fr. Barron, never one to miss someone’s physical resemblance to Church figures, over the lunch table playfully referring to our moral theologian as “Young Wojtyla,” to our patristics teacher as “Young Ratzinger,” and to me, despite my spectacles, as “Young Sheen.”

“…Ad multos annos, gloriosque annos…”

Fr. Barron’s successor as Rector suggested that we pray for the Bishop-to-be using the words of Lumen Gentium about bishops. Fr. Barron was to me a great example of fatherhood, leadership, and scholarship. I have no doubt that he will be what the Church asks of Her bishops: a “visible principle and foundation of unity,” a “preacher of the faith, who leads new disciples to Christ, an “authentic teacher…who preaches to the people committed to him the faith they must believe and put into practice,” a man “sent by the Father to govern His family,” who “keeps before his eyes the example of the Good Shepherd, who came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to lay down his life for his sheep.”

“…vivas, vivas, vivas!”

I’ve never been entirely sure to whom we are singing this end-of-meal song, though it seemed reasonable to assume it was the Rector. Long ago, the song’s words were sung three times by a newly-ordained bishop to his consecrator. May you, Bishop Barron, live to many and glorious years, and may your episcopal ministry be blessed and fruitful!

Ad Multos Annos is traditionally sung at the end of major community events at Mundelein Seminary. It is a traditional Latin expression of goodwill and longevity of life and service which means “to many years.”