Bishop Hartmayer called me to his office in Savannah sometime during March 2014. Not long before, we had briefly spoken about the possibly of naming me pastor later that year, so I drove to Savannah anticipating a conversation about my first pastorate. To my surprise, the assignment I received was significantly different. He named me Vocation Director, Assistant to the Bishop, and Chancellor. I balked at the idea of wearing so many hats, and feared the responsibility of heading the Vocation Office. The nine years I served in the Vocation Office presented many challenges and moments of growth for me, while at the same time taught me innumerable lessons I now take into my ministry. The greatest is that in the midst of the many things needed in order for faith to take root in the heart, the most foundational is human development. For God to do great things, we must first be human beings that are living their lives to the fullest.
A document written by Pope John Paul II in 1992 stresses the importance of human formation for future priests by indicating that “of special importance is the capacity [for future priests] to relate to others. This is truly fundamental for a person who is called to be responsible for a community and to be a man of communion. This demands that the priest not be arrogant, or quarrelsome, but affable, hospitable, sincere in his words and heart, prudent and discreet, generous and ready to serve, capable of opening himself to clear and brotherly relationships, and encouraging the same in others, and quick to understand, forgive, and console (Pastores Dabo Vobis, 43).”
These words ring true for future priests, but are true for every person. I always giggle when people say, “don’t say anything bad, Father is here.” Priests are not called to a different kind of holiness than every man and woman is called to live. As Christian men and women, we are called to be people of communion – not arrogant or quarrelsome, but affable, hospitable, and sincere. Father Gregory Boquet, OSB, who was Rector of Saint Joseph College Seminary in Louisiana for twenty-five years always says, “before a man can be a good priest, he must be a good man.” Considering the Parable of the Sower, every person must prepare his or her heart to receive the good seed that the Sower plants. Our humanity must be well lived in order for us to receive God’s grace at its fullest. If we are unhealthy or dysfunctional human beings, the way the faith takes hold in us will be unhealthy or dysfunctional.
When a young man arrives to the seminary, before he can learn how to pray or be introduced to theological studies, he must first be comfortable under his own skin. Young men arrive to the seminary with the same struggles that every young man today faces – they are products of today’s generation – and oftentimes much healing is needed. Seminary formation certainly prepares men for the Priesthood, but first and foremost, it prepares them to be healthy human beings. Their humanity becomes a vessel through which God’s grace touches the lives of others, rather than a stumbling block.
Human development – knowledge of how to create healthy boundaries, how to develop wholesome friendships, how to keep fruitful hobbies, how to avoid vice and sin, how to seek help for mental health concerns – is vital in every person. The molding that happens in seminary begins at the home, and prepares every child to be better prepared to work with God’s grace. A life well lived becomes an effective vessel for God to accomplish great things.
Written for Southern Cross, the monthly magazine of the Diocese of Savannah.