A great dictum was hammered into me (and my brothers who attended Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona during the glorious reign of Fr. David Kunz) while in the minor seminary: "You are a public person." This statement was repeated over and over again when the rector, vice rector, and spiritual director would variously address the community during Wednesday evening formation conferences. "People are watching you. They see you. They know you are a seminarian," they would tell us. It was true. Time and again, I would be sharing a meal out with friends and someone would invariably wander to our table and ask if we were seminarians. We would sheepishly respond that we were while quickly recalling what we had recently been saying. Were we gossiping or griping? How did these people know we were seminarians? Had we said anything to embarrass ourselves, the seminary, or the Church?
That was college. We were men in the first days of our formation, and as Mother Church has predicted, the process of formation works. One gradually begins to see oneself more and more as a public person, a person whom others will recognize and from whom others will and should expect a certain type of behavior. One grows used to it, and by the time one receives one's collar, he is prepared to step into a new dimension of this public personhood - when you wear the Roman collar in public, everyone notices.
While it becomes second nature, sometimes it is hard to live life in the public eye. As a public person, there can be an almost constant sense of scrutiny. It becomes easy to believe that someone is always evaluating how I behave, and basing their opinion of not just me, but of the Church, my superiors, and the seminary, on their perceptions of my behavior (anyone who has ever been asked about the so called "bad popes" can tell you that this is true).
I had to take pause a day or so ago, though, and realize that I have it all comparatively easy. One of our fine priests was in the refectory, and had placed something in the microwave. After closing the door and starting the machine, he bent over and stared intently at his food through the small window. It was a rather comical sight. I was put in mind of my own childhood experiments with marshmallows in the microwave. Several of us were sitting at table eating our own lunches and noticed Father's behavior. We all chuckled, and several commented to him about the negative consequences to one's health associated with standing so close to the microwave while it was running. Likewise, at breakfast this morning, one of the other priests wandered by the window. He was enjoying the fall morning, eating a bagel and looking at the birds. Again, we chuckled knowing this particular priest's penchant for bird watching.
As I consider these two vignettes, I realize that while I am certainly a public person, I am under far less scrutiny than the priests who have been charged with my formation. The Church tells us that the best priests a diocese has to offer should be placed in seminaries; I believe this to be the case here at SPS. However, oftentimes, seminarians expect more than simply the best from our formators. We want something akin to perfection. We look to these men to show us how to be good priests, and we have some rather rigorous expectations of what such an example ought to look like. It must be incredibly hard to serve the Church as a seminary faculty member.
And so, as I pray Compline before going to sleep tonight, I will be offering it for them - the men that God has placed over me to guide me and to form me.
Saturday, September 29, 2007
9/29/2007 11:30:00 PM
Other than attending the ordinary 15.5 hours of class time, the four hours of Mass (appx. 40 minutes per daily mass), the (optional) daily 6:00am holy hour, the two and a half hours of liturgy of the hours in the chapel, the two-hour Wednesday spiritual/pastoral formation, the daily 8:45pm rosary (though my attendance at this did not always work out), the daily 9:15pm night prayer, the Wednesday morning and evening social with faculty in the morning and then just amongst the priests and seminarians in the evening, the Monday night dinner, here were some of the other events:
Last Sunday we attended the installation of Knights and Ladies into the order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem from 1:30-4:30. This event was amazing and awe-inspiring. The liturgy began with an approximate 500 person procession; that's right, almost every knight and lady processed into the Cathedral, along with seminarians, priests and bishops. Then, Archbishop Burke of St. Louis presided over the installation of new knights and ladies. Archbishop Flynn presided over the Mass.
Which, by the way, really is awefully fitting for an SPS seminarian such as myself. It really hit me tonight. I am one of some 20 or so men studying here at this seminary who are not from nor studying for this Archdiocese. Nevertheless, residing in this diocese, there is a way in which we seminarians from other dioceses show the honor, respect and obedience to our own bishop by honoring, respecting and obeying the Archbishop of this local Church. Hence, as the Divine Liturgy called for us to name not only our holy father but also our bishop ("We pray for N., our Pope, and N., our bishop, --protect them and in your goodness make them holy."), though not a single one of us praying together were from this Archdiocese, nevertheless, we prayed for the visible head of this Archdiocese: Harry, our bishop.
On Monday we had the Serrans here. Quoting one of my brother seminarians, "On Monday, September 24th, the St. Paul Seminary was treated to a wonderful evening of worship, food and conversation during the annual Serra Mass & Steak Fry. The steak dinner, which is usually held outside, was moved inside this year because of rain. However, this did not stop the nearly 250 representatives from eleven different Serra clubs, seminarians, staff and other guests from having a great time. The Steak Fry is always one of the highlights of the year for seminarians, and is one of the many ways in which the Serrans continue to foster and support vocations. Thank you Serrans!"
For myself, Wednesday afternoon was occupied by traveling out to the parish where my spiritual director is pastor and receiving an approximate hour of spiritual direction. Since the Holy Spirit is directing each individual soul, adequate discernment is of utmost importance in order to carry out God's will in each's life. For those of you who may not know, to make that discernment more conscientious and purposeful, we seminarians meet with a priest who guides us in the discernment of God's will once every two weeks.
On Wednesday evening, Dr. Christopher Thompson (our Academic Dean, beginning his second year as Academic Dean of the Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity this year) organized an open-to-the-public panel discussion of the pope's July Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum. Three of our priests on faculty insightfully discussed the Apostolic Letter issued "on his own initiative" ("motu proprio") from various perspectives: Fr. Christopher Beaudet (Canon Law), Fr. Andrew Cozzens (Sacramental Theology) and Fr. Thomas Margevičius (Liturgical and Pastoral Theology). They similarly each answered the questions raised by those attending, if it was in their area of expertise.
Thursday evening a number of the men celebrated the birthdays of two of the fourth year deacons by going out for dinner. In this vein, a thank you is due to all those who support us seminarians by way of grants and other similar means. As already noted on this blog, fraternity is an essential element in the life of the priest. Little events such as this foster the ongoing fraternity of priests who are to be closely knit as one presbyterate supporting and assisting the bishop for the purpose of the unity and sanctity of the local Church, always with and never without communion with the universal Church.
Friday evening was an evening filled with studies, for myself. Today was much of the same, studying and preparing to write the four papers that are coming due this week.
All in all, a week filled with opportunity for continual conversion, continual reception of the grace God offers and the pursuit of the quickening and realizing of the Kingdom of God in the end days and in the here and now.
9/29/2007 10:43:00 PM
Saturday, September 22, 2007
By my estimation, one of the most important parts of formation for the priesthood is the development of fraternity between the men who study with you. It would seem that my classmates agree. On Friday afternoon, after classes were over, we all headed to Greg Parrott's family home. The wind was cold and the water choppy, so we couldn't really spend any time on the lake as we had hoped, but with an apple tree in the yard and a metal bucket near the fire pit, it was only a matter of time until a different sort of activity occurred to us (see below). As evening began to settle in, we lit a fire and cooked hot dogs and marshmallows over it. After praying vespers together, we all returned to the seminary.
9/22/2007 06:45:00 PM
Sunday, September 16, 2007
A week and a half into the academic year, we decided to take a break. With a free weekend in the calendar, I couldn't bring myself to spend the whole time reading for class. So, three other men and I drove north to see Lake Superior. Having never been to the lake before, I was struck b the vastness of it all. Facing the right direction, I could not see another shore. It felt like I was looking at the horizon of a South Dakota prairie, and I was momentarily homesick. I felt compelled to touch the chilly water so that I could tell everyone that I have been in Lake Superior. After viewing the lake, we returned to Duluth and shared a meal with Fr. Sirba. It was a marvelous day, all in all. Below are some pictures of us at the Lake.
9/16/2007 06:37:00 PM
Friday, September 14, 2007
One of the great aspects of returning to school after having spent a year in my own diocese is the chance to catch up with my old classmates. While it really has been a treat to be with them again, it has been a little odd for me to see them in their relatively newly acquired Roman Collars. What is more odd, though, is to see them without the collar.
From time to time, when classes are over for the day,guests have gone home, everyone is doing their homework, the deacons do remove their clerical garb and replace it with something more comfortable. I use these opportunities to mercilessly harangue them, reminding them that the people of God, myself included, deserve the witness that clerics provide when they wear their collars into the world.
While this teasing is done as a joke, there is a seriousness to my comments. We do deserve for our leaders to wear their collars. While historically the collar was common to others besides clerics and while the clerical garb as a whole was meant to serve as a symbol of the priest's simplicity of life, I think the meaning is more profound today. In a world that doubts God's existence, that demands empirical proof for everything, and that is convinced that the things of our existence are not inherently meaningful, the Roman Collar serves as a powerful voice of opposition. It says that God exists, and that it matters that He exists.
I know that the collar can be uncomfortable, hot, scratchy, and a variety of other unpleasant things (like a yoke perhaps?), but to you deacons and priests who wear them daily, regardless of where you are, thank you.
9/14/2007 01:13:00 PM
Monday, September 10, 2007
Well, the new year is well underway and it's about that time that we seminarians begin adopting that same old word that is heard far too much in regular conversation and even the smallest of small talk: "busy." How are you doing? "I'm pretty busy, but I'm keeping up with things." "Doing well. Just really busy." "The new job is awesome, really taking off. It just keeps us very busy."
"Business." (By the way, a quick search for business on the very helpful Bartleby.com will shed some light upon the connotation of "business" with which I write.) Something about that darned perpetual "now" of the existentially-minded consciousness keeps one so caught up in the present, about the imperfections of what I am doing now, how I wish I could do it better than I am currently able with my resources or abilities, what I must do next, and what comes after that that the grand scheme seems to lose ground and all too quickly fades as a shadow at nightfall which leaves only a slight hint in the pale and faint moonlight.
It all reminds me of a quite good homily during my first year here at SPS which reminded all of us seminarians, SOD students, guests at mass, faculty and priests that without simple moments of recollection throughout the day, our life will flitter by without and our lives--and our souls--are slowly but surely led to dissipation, discontent and dissatisfaction with the majority of life. Thanks be to God for a place like the chapel, a little "shrine" or area with holy images in my room, the intelligence to appreciate God's providence and all God's many little graces (bestowed with the wonderful cooperation of human intelligence, ingenuity and planning) that provide the day with some continuity, some permanency, stability and a place at which the soul can verify that it is willing something, it is not lost in a sea of particulars but rather is actually willing one consistent end, with many particular manifestations; it is truly willing (hopefully, please God!) to love God in the midst of all the many fluctuating circumstances of daily life and the many menial duties of the day.
Seen in this light, the "business" of life is not a stream of endless activities which occupy the consciousness and slowly eat away at the soul (giving us the feeling of being perpetually busy) but rather opportunities of grace by which we can utilize all that God has given us and then take the time to serve God more wholly in prayer and confirm that these activities are not serving themselves but rather a greater end, the kingdom of God.
9/10/2007 10:56:00 PM