Thorough transformation in American seminaries has improved priestly formation
‘A couple of thoughts from seminary’
Ever since my time in high school, I have been blessed to get to know young men who have followed God’s call to enter the seminary. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, these young men have such a fervor for their faith that gives me hope for the Church and the priests who minister to the Body of Christ.
During college, I met a seminarian named Ben, and in recent months I’ve enjoyed following his daily Facebook posts noting “a couple of thoughts from seminary” in which he shares what he learned that day. The topics range from deep theological truths to the reality that black sneakers are the most practical purchase for anyone committed to wearing a Roman collar for the rest of their life.
Here are some of my favorite of his contemplations:
– “Sitting in a chair that makes a lot of noise in a quiet library is not where I prefer to be (i.e. annoying people by accident). But that is where I am because homework needs to be done.”
– “Married couples are called to holiness in the same way that any other vocation is called to be holy due to our baptism.”
– “There was a phase in the early period of the printing press where ink with acid was used. This issue was fixed soon after parchment upon parchment in some libraries had holes in them. Unfortunately for those who don’t like homework, this can’t [be] used as an excuse for why we didn’t read our homework today.”
– “Being a disciple of Jesus ought to cause a reorientation of our priorities around knowing and loving Christ and living for his purposes. While this may involve sacrifice, we have peace knowing that we are going in the right direction (salvation and eternal life).”
I share these posts for a number of reasons. First, while we continue to face reports and revelations of ways specific clergy have hurt the Church or have not followed their calling perfectly, I see the silver lining of the next generation of men who are taking their studies and calling seriously. These seminarians put their hearts into years of formation, as long as many professionals in the medical field — an apt amount of time for someone learning to cultivate the souls of their people. This time is diligently spent growing in holiness and desiring to share the gift of their education with the same people they one day will be pastoring. Sounds like good practice to me.
At the same time, these posts remind me and others that these young men are just like you and me. We’ve seen the fallen side of humanity in some priests, but do we see the beautiful side as well: the shared gift of humor and the ability to delight in the little things? While I love how Ben’s reflections take the time to note the depths of our faith, parceling out bite-sized pieces from papal documents and theological tomes for friends and family, I most appreciate him sharing the everyday moments, allowing me to enter into his joy or to share a brief chuckle. These moments of relatable honesty are what we need in our Church today in all areas, not just the priesthood.
Msgr. Owen Campion has addressed in his column how seminary formation has changed over the years, and while I never saw the former, I can see the fruit of reform. Some of my favorite memories of my college years were the opportunities to hang out with the seminarians — most of whom were near the same age as myself and my classmates. Talking with them after daily Mass or Spanish class, or getting together for game nights and FOCUS gatherings gave me a glimpse as to the priests they have become or soon will be, God willing.
Maybe this is part of the healing process within the Church: coming together — clergy and laity — to reclaim our ability to see each moment as an opportunity to witness and exude Christ. Members of the clergy are held to a high standard, as they should be, but I think approaching their role with an attitude of delight brings a humbleness to such a calling.
Ava Lalor is an assistant editor with Our Sunday Visitor.