Future Priests of the Third Millennium

A little insight into the life of seminarians from various dioceses preparing for ministry as Roman Catholic priests, including daily activities, personal interests, special events, the spiritual life, news from the seminary, and almost whatever comes to our minds!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Pascal Mystery...and Weather

Have you ever wondered what people mean when they say that we all must live the Paschal Mystery and that we cannot have Easter without Good Friday? This is certainly something I've struggled to understand for quite some time. How can it be that we come to the greatest joy through suffering? It certainly does not make sense in our current cultural context in which suffering is something to be avoided at all costs because clearly no good can come from it. Well, perhaps this is not so clear as our society would have us believe. Let me give you an example. I'll use an analogy that is very appropriate for Minnesota...a weather analogy.

I always pity those who live in climates that are beautiful and sunny almost year round. This may sound a bit odd, but I think I would get sick of having one sunny and gorgeous day after another. For one thing, how do people in those climates make small talk? In Minnesota we have just been blessed with several rainy, cloudy, dreary days. Yes, I said blessed. No, not because I am morbid and particularly enjoy the darkness (although it can be refreshing from time to time). I consider these days a blessing because, while they were beginning to weigh on me and make me a bit frustrated, when the sun finally did break through yesterday and again today, my heart sang!

There is nothing like a beautiful sunny day after a stretch of more depressing weather. There is nothing like the spiritual growth that comes from a period of dryness, temptation, trial by fire. There is nothing like celebrating and living the joy of Easter and Christ's Resurrection after suffering with him in his Passion and Death. How can we know how wonderful and joyous are the highs unless we have experienced and gained an appreciation of how dreadful and sorrowful are the lows. Living the Pascal Mystery may not always be present, but bring it on! For in the end we know that light, joy, and life triumph!!

Don't forget, we are still celebrating Easter!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

In the realm of athletics, some members of both St. Paul Seminary and SJV have been able to play basketball together (usually Fridays). This has been an excellent opportunity to get to know some of the guys at the other seminary, while competing and getting some exercise. The more the two seminaries located at UST unite through formal and informal activities, the better. Together, and only by the grace of God, we can transform this campus.
Thanks for joining us this semester SJV!

Monday, May 08, 2006


I grew up in the ranch country of western South Dakota, near the center of Meade County (the fourth largest county in the nation, mind you). My nearest neighbors lived about a mile away. The nearest grocery store was sixty miles away in the little town of Sturgis (yes, the Sturgis of motorcycle fame). We had no movie theaters, no swimming pools (other than a stock dam, which was usually filled with stinky black mud and leaches) and basically none of the other amenities to which “town kids” were accustomed ( I have always resented the fact that we didn't have an ice cream man, with a funny little truck and a happy little song). Rather, to entertain ourselves, especially in the summer, groups of people would get together, roast a pig in the ground, and play guitars and sing. This would go for hours until the kids had all fallen asleep and the adults' fingers were too sore to play any longer. It was a ritual of community living for the ranch folks. It was a time to hear the latest gossip, to remember the old stories, and mostly, to have a good time. I miss those days.

I had an experience not entirely unlike those pig roasts of my youth on Friday night. One of the newly ordained deacons is originally from Vietnam. He had invited a huge crowd of guests for his ordination. They all came, and when I walked through the party, they had already been eating for an hour or so. I was invited to join them, and gladly accepted the offer. After eating my fill of shrimp, crab, and Vietnamese noodles, I was getting ready to leave. About that time, the rest of the group was just getting ready to start the singing. It was karaoke – not exactly the old sad country western guitar classics of my youth -- but it was real people singing the songs they knew and loved. It was an awful lot like home (except that they all spoke Vietnamese, so I couldn’t follow the conversation most of the time.)

Eating with the Vietnamese on Friday night helped to remind me why I am here. I remain in the seminary so that I can ultimately go back to the people who raised me. In the ranch country, children are community property. People look out for one another. I was, and to some extent, I remain, what the neighbors out home refer to as “one of our kids.” It was they who raised me in such a way that I was able to answer the call to enter the seminary. It is they who encourage me to stay the course when I go home. I am tremendously grateful to them for that. I am indeed one of their kids; I long for the day when they can be my people.

Back in Black

Due to a recent ordination, nearly half the men of our house are now wearing clerical dress. This is truly awesome. They say that the clothes make the man, and in this case, there is some truth. Like the uniform of a soldier or a police officer, the recognizable garb of the priest comes with some expectations about the behavior of the wearer. I cannot see this as a bad thing in our contemporary society. Perhaps we should all be held to higher behavioral standards...

Friday, May 05, 2006

Turn the other cheek...

Speaking of chess, I learned Jesus' lesson to "turn the other cheek" rather than demand "an eye for an eye" the hard way. "How could this possibly relate to chess?" you might ask. Let me tell you.

If you've read the previous blog, you've heard of the infamous Rev. Mr. (soon to be Rev.) John Paul. And you know that the final game in the SPS chess tournament is between him and our very own Mike. To get to this point, the good Rev. Mr. had achieve victory in several games. Three of these were played against pre-theologians of the first floor. You could say that he "rocked first floor like a hurricane," leaving nothing but total destruction and mayhem in his path. I was the first of his first-floor victims.

This is a story of strong winds and heavy rain; it is a story of the pursuit of revenge and of utter defeat. This is my story.

On a beautiful spring Sunday afternoon the Rev. Mr. and I decided to play our chess game on a picnic table in the garden outside of the chapel. It was a very cordial game and the two of us, for the first 30 minutes or so, seemed pretty much tied. But Hurricane John Paul was gaining strength and becoming more menacing with every move. I was getting a bit concerned. I was also sick and tired of being on the defensive. So I thought to myself, "Eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth. He put me on the defensive, now I am going to shock him by putting him on the defensive by using my queen to put him in check. I bet he's not expecting that!" Indeed, I'm sure he wasn't, probably because he recognized that this would be a very foolish move and clearly I would be too wise to make such a move. Well, he was wrong. I placed my queen. He looked a bit shocked. However, not for the reason I suspected. It was not a shock or horror, but rather a shock of "how could he possibly make it so easy for me to take his queen?!" Yes. My desire for revenge turned out to be my Achilles Heel. For without a moment's hesitation, he picked up his knight and trampled my queen beneath his hooves. I was speechless (those who know me will probably tell you that this is quite rare). I had failed to protect my floormates from this most ferocious storm.

Moral: "Eye for an eye" in chess hurts us all.
Moral 2: Mike must put an end to the Rev. Mr.'s destructive pattern without acquiring it himself. Is he up to the challenge? We can only wait and see...

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

"Turn me over; I'm done on this side!"

This is a well-known saying about the final words of St. Lawrence. The famed-story goes like this: Upon being sentenced to death for his faith by being literally roasted at the stake, Lawrence, a Roman deacon of the third century, "was stripped and bound upon this iron bed over the slow fire, wich roasted his flesh little by little. Having suffered a long time, he turned to the judge and said with a cheerful smile: "Let my body be turned; one side is broiled enough." After having been turned over a while, he turned to the executioner and said, "It is cooked enough; you may eat."

What are all these musings about being "roasted on an open fire" ... on the day when the Church commemorates the feast of Sts. Philip and James.

At this time of the academic year, seminarians are accustomed to a formal evaluation process, in which seminary faculty members assist the student on their way towards priestly ministry. In a sense, it can feel like being "roasted on an open fire." For no one finds it comfortable to be in a discussion about one's strengths, much less one's weaknesses. No one likes to be probed as to the reasons for why we act in certains ways in certain situations. Why does the seminary have this process?

I think that the reason it is in place is because it is one of those ways in which, as an institution, the seminary recognizes that her students are all diamonds in the rough. The formal evaluation process, while being one of those directives from the "powers that be", is just one of the ways that each man's rough edges can begin to be smoothed away over time. In so doing, more of the diamond can be experienced by people, rather than the rough edges. It is a chance for others to help one to recognize those areas of growth which can hamper priestly ministry. It is another one of those opportunities wherein the Lord would give us a healthy serving of "humble pie." It is a chance to be shown that we are not as perfect as I think I am.

It is a lifelong process; no one masters it on this side of the grave. Deitrich von Hildebrand has written a beautiful book entitled Transformation in Christ in which he describes the necessity of this process for anyone who is serious about their Christian discipleship. It is a beautiful, yet painfully slow, transformation. But there's something about it which helps me to understand the words we so often hear in the letters of St. Paul, "I have been crucified with Christ, yet I live no longer I, but Christ lives in me." (Gal 2: 19-20)

Maybe this St. Lawrence guy knew something that I'm still getting a grasp of. I'm sure that he didn't have Christmas thoughts of chestnuts in his head as he was being roasted. Maybe it was more of a committment to the message of the Gospel for which he laid down his life. Maybe we could ask this saint to help us make his words our own: "Turn me over", Lord from whatever patterns, attitudes and behaviors in my life do not reflect you nor your love. "I am done" with trying to do things my way. Let your will be done in my life.

St. Lawrence, ora pro nobis.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Anti-Catholic Sentiment

My American Church History class has prompted me to think about a number of issues. One such topic has unfolded as follows:

I have heard it said that the only prejudice that the American culture remains willing to tolerate is the not so subtle anti-Catholic mentality that seems to permeate much of American civil life. Most of us have heard of the fears from the 60’s that John F. Kennedy would become a puppet president whose administration would only be a front for the workings of the Pope in America. I suspect an equal number of us have seen the proliferate anti-Catholic propaganda that is passed out among certain Christian sects. Others of us have experienced the Ash Wednesday stare - that look you get when you go out in public after you receive your ashes. Many of us have been labeled as misogynistic, intolerant, old fashioned, or just plain ignorant because of our faith in the teachings of an “archaic” Church.

I’m not sure that all of these things add up to bigotry or prejudice, but I do think they bespeak a certain ignorance. It cannot be ignored, however, that unambiguous prejudice against Catholics has been a part of American history. From the unwillingness of colonial governments to permit Catholics to hold public office, to the hesitation on the part of President Grant to allow Catholic missionaries on the Indian Reservations, to the worries about President Kennedy in the 60’s, Catholics in America have, at best, been tolerated. At worst, they have suffered outright persecution.

Intolerance of Catholics takes on a more personal meaning for me when I consider, for instance, the stories that my grandfather told of the Ku Klux Klan and a churchyard cross burning that occurred at his parish during his childhood. The Klan was active in trying to scare Catholics out of Western South Dakota. Besides some of their typical scare tactics, it is claimed, though it remains unproven, that they were also responsible for the murder of a priest in the Diocese of Rapid City.

The question that arises out of all of this is, “Why the Catholics?” What have Catholics done to provoke such ire? Why are we so frightening to people? Though history offers some insights, it can provide no satisfactory resolution to this question. I’m certainly no martyr, but I can’t help but consider the words of the Beatitudes. Blessed are they who are hated and persecuted for my sake . . .