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!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Farewell to the Flesh

I, like many people, attended a Mardi Gras party the Tuesday evening before Ash Wednesday. This sort of event has a long tradition, and in many cultures, bears the name Carnival. This appellation comes from two Latin words - carne vale - farewell to the flesh. As this title indicates, the Lenten season is traditionally associated with those practices designed to assist in freeing us from our passions, or our inordinate desires which drive us to place worldly things and pleasures before our desire for union with God. Thus, we use the season of Lent to strip ourselves of these pleasures, to remind ourselves of out utter dependence on God, and to turn away from ourselves, pouring out our lives for the good of others just as our Savior did on the cross for us. Thus, it is not uncommon for many Catholic parishes to encourage people to participate in events such as Operation Rice Bowl that benefit the less fortunate during the season of Lent.

In the seminary, introspection and radical honesty about one's own life are the hallmarks of the season, because along with all of the typical penitential practices, for seminarians, Lent means evaluations.

Seminary evaluations are a necessary element of priestly formation. They are a tool whereby the student and his formators measure his growth over the course of the year, and they are an important element for the seminarian and the Church as both mutually discern whether or not one is called to live the life of a priest. They are not designed to be painful, but no one really likes to admit one's weaknesses, and to do so is a fundamental piece of the evaluation process. Likewise, even though the evaluation also asks seminarians to consider their strengths, many find it much easier to name their faults, and it can often seem that the list of weaknesses is much longer than the list of strengths.

In a way, then, it is most appropriate that evaluations would fall in the midst of Lent. Lent reminds us that we are entirely dependent upon the grace of God for everything in our lives. That which we do well, and that of which we are proud are only ours by the limitless generosity of God. The only thing we can claim as our own is our sinfulness. The sinfulness itself can only be overcome through grace. I am not as wonderful as I want everyone to believe I am. And yet, somehow in the midst of what can otherwise become a violent cycle of self-loathing, I discover that God loves me deeply and that he desires to share his life with me more deeply. Evaluations and Lent should, then, in a way, be a time of great hope and joy. By the wounds of Christ we have been healed, and through the cross we have the audacity to hope that God will use us for good and that we can and must confront even the darkest corners of our lives, shedding light on them through the prism of the cross. It is only in the recognition of our own helplessness and incompetence, however, that we ever really begin to see how truly glorious is that Easter Sunday when we are able to proclaim Christ is alive, and he has conquered sin and death.