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An Interview with Father John Guthrie

by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism

Dr. Knight: Could you tell us about your call to priesthood? How did your academic work inform your priesthood?

Father Guthrie: I have been a priest for 32 years. In seminary, we were taught the importance of theological reflection—applying theological truths and principles to a particular pastoral situation. I have found this to be one of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of priesthood. It involves wedding advanced studies with on-the-ground reality. Therefore, academic work is essential but not sufficient. The prudential application of truth to reality is a real art.

Dr. Knight: You are drawn to the gift of liturgical ministry. What supports you in this challenging task?

Father Guthrie: I suppose the most important thing is love of the liturgy. I am so grateful for the gift of the Church’s sacramental life and revel in the many ways God uses physical signs to encounter his people. I have seen up close how central the liturgical life is to the health of a parish community. So, I am highly incentivized to form seminarians to be very good practitioners of the liturgy.

Dr. Knight: What are the issues in the work that you do that are of primary importance at this time in the history of the church

Father Guthrie: The primary mission of the Church is proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ in word, sacrament and service. If the Church is not about being an instrument of the love, compassion and mercy of Christ, then we are badly missing the mark. Forming priests to be mediators of this grace is of the utmost importance. The liturgy is the source and summit of precisely this.

Dr. Knight: Have you worked in other institutions of higher learning? Tell us about the institutions of higher education or the parishes you worked in.

Father Guthrie: This is my first chance to teach in an institution of higher learning. The vast majority of my priesthood has been in the parish (which will always be my first love!) and in leadership positions within the diocese. I have also served on the staff of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, DC. Serving on the staff at Mundelein Seminary has been such a privilege. I have learned so much this past year from my colleagues and the students. I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve in forming the next generation of priests.

Dr. Knight: Working with seminarians is an awesome responsibility as you direct them toward part of their future ministry what part of your ministry do you most enjoy?

Father Guthrie: Besides the liturgical leadership in the seminary, I have most enjoyed the one-on-one formation sessions with the men who are assigned to me. There is something extraordinarily sacred about journeying with someone who is intent on discerning God’s will in their life. I am humbled by their generous spirit. They help me to continue to discern God’s call within the priesthood and to be willing to follow wherever I’m called.

Dr. Knight: I am part of the RCIA program and I often reflect on how we can assist the next generation in being good Catholics. How does your work at the seminary engage the adults you work with?

Father Guthrie: The seminary is more than just formation staff and seminarians. Mundelein Seminary touches the lives of many other lay adults who come here to work, to study, to walk the grounds. I am always pleased when one of them comes and expresses great joy after they have experienced a liturgy here. People hunger for good preaching, liturgy, music. If we can engage them liturgically, there is greater openness for people to go deeper. I have seen that happen again and again.

Dr. Knight: The social media of this day and age has provided some wonderful aspects of communication as well as drawbacks. How can we use social media to assist others in knowing/loving/serving God?

Father Guthrie: Well, I don’t claim to be an expert in social media. But I do know that the seminary’s social media presence is important to many. We have begun to stream many liturgies from the Main Chapel and are grateful for the new technology that has been installed which gives us that capacity.

Dr. Knight: What part of your past ministry has been meaningful to you?

Father Guthrie: Being privileged to witness and be a part of people’s lives at the most important moments of their lives. I have had a front row seat in how God touches people. I get to be instrumental in God’s plan in forming people as disciples of Christ. I also have been formed again and again by their witness of holiness and goodness. I remember one rancher from my home diocese telling me at the beginning of my pastorate that not only would I leave my mark on the parishioners but they would leave their mark (their “brand,” as he put it!) on me. That is exactly the way it has worked. It is a great blessing to be called to be a priest.

Dr. Knight: What are your hopes for the future of the Church in light of the evolution of what it means to be a human person?

Father Guthrie: The hope for the Church is that we are in God’s hands. As we humans develop, so does the Church. I have great faith that God will always be with us as his people and will guide us each step along the way. That does not mean the Church doesn’t make mistakes. We all know how fragile it can be because of our own sinfulness. But it also grows and develops in holiness because God doesn’t abandon us. I hope in the Church because I hope

Dr. Knight: What books do you enjoy that you would recommend to our readers?

Father Guthrie: There are a number of authors and works that I would recommend. To name a few:

  • Timothy Radcliffe’s Alive in God: A Christian Imagination

  • Erik Varden’s The Shattering of Loneliness: On Christian Remembrance

  • Michael Paul Gallagher’s The Human Poetry of Faith: A Spiritual Guide to Life

  • Michael Casey’s Fully Human, Fully Divine: An Interactive Christology

  • Ron Hansen’s Mariette in Ecstasy

Dr. Knight: What recent movie such as “Father Stu” was one you enjoyed?

Father Guthrie: It has been quite some time since I’ve seen a recent movie. However, I have gotten into watching some acclaimed foreign films. Many people don’t like foreign films, but I do. They come at life from a different cultural perspective that sheds light on our own cultural biases and, at times, myopia. To name a couple I’ve seen recently and would gladly recommend: the 2013 Polish film Ida and the 2006 Russian film The Island. And, oh yes, Of Gods and Men … and Babette’s Feast … and Into Great Silence. And if you are really brave, perhaps Andrei Tarkovsky’s magisterial Andrei Rublev. Lots of good stuff … none of it particularly recent.

Dr. Knight: The direction of the seminarians to really understand the concept and process of encounter is an aspect that will be so helpful to the parishioners that seminarians meet. Could you share with us other aspects of encounter that has to do with liturgy?

Father Guthrie: Great question. The word “encounter” is so central to the pontificate of Pope Francis. But it was central to Popes John Paul II and Benedict as well. I love what Pope St. John Paul II wrote about encounter and the liturgy: liturgy is “the privileged place for the encounter of Christians with God.” And one could add with one another.

There is always a vertical and horizontal dimension to the liturgy. If we participate fully, actively and consciously, the liturgy cannot but form us to encounter God and each other in deeper and more loving ways.

Dr. Knight: Thank you very much for providing insights into what it means to be a priest and specifically a liturgical director of a seminary. It helps us all to understand what the priesthood is about and how to encourage others to do so.

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