Editor's Note: This article is part of an online symposium, "Does Seminary Have a Future?" hosted at Patheos this month. Read other Catholic perspectives here.
Men don't enter the seminary because they are looking for a nice life, and certainly not because they are looking to make money. Men enter the seminary for one simple reason. Because God wants them to. God calls men to be His holy priests every day.
The world needs priests.
The world needs priests because the world needs the Eucharist.
Without the priest, there can be no Eucharist.
We need not just priests, but good and holy priests—the people of God deserve no less—thus the importance of our formation, and the urgent necessity of our seminary educations.
Formation can take many forms, of course, and it goes on during our whole lives as human beings, but for the priest it takes particular root in the 6-8 years of seminary training and all it reveals to us of Christ and the world and the church, and how we reveal ourselves in return.
There is nothing easy about being in the seminary; it is supposed to be difficult. It supposed to be challenging. Being in formation for the Priesthood of Jesus Christ is all about conforming our lives and our will to Christ's.
This is true for every Christian, for every person who longs for holiness. We are all called to follow and to conform to the promptings and teachings of Christ. But for the seminarian who will one day stand in persona Christi at the altar and offer His Body and Blood, this takes on new meaning. In a special way, priests are called to unite ourselves with the suffering of Jesus. It is only in this way that we can then stand in His Person. The Seminary is a time that helps us to inculcate this reality.
Formation is broken down into four areas, known as the "four pillars" of formation, which are human, spiritual, academic, and pastoral. In each area, every individual seminarian is challenged to grow. No part of us can remain unchallenged. We put our whole lives into this process. Because we do this while living with others who are equally striving toward this common goal of service, our time in seminary cannot be half-hearted; rather it takes the investment of our entire selves. We submit to God, which requires a great deal of prayer, and a willingness to be humbled—to see our strengths and weaknesses with clear eyes, so we can encourage the one or forgive the other, both in ourselves and in those around us. With Our Lady, who submitted her entire being to that of her Son, we seminarians have a model upon which to build our vocations.
I am more and more impressed by the men entering the seminary today. The devotion and fervor with which they give themselves to the church is awe-inspiring. Seminarians today come from every different background imaginable. Some come directly from high school or college; some come from many years in the professional world; some come after having spent years in the military. Their backgrounds and experiences may be different, but the prompting is the same—they come looking to answer God's call. They come looking to do their part, to spread the seed of faith. The word seminary means breeding ground, a nursery for seeds. Men come from every walk of life so that the seed of faith might take root and grow abundantly.
As I approach the end of my time in seminary, I cannot imagine my life any differently. I have been truly blessed these last five years, as I have come to know, respect, and learn a great deal from dedicated and holy priests. I am blessed to have a bishop who knows and loves his seminarians.
I am truly blessed to have been called by God to be his priest—every day, for the rest of my life. I pray every day that I and my brother seminarians can live up to the challenges that lay ahead of us.
The seminary has taken my life and has helped to mold it after Christ's—through Him, with Him, in Him. It has helped me to prepare for the world as a parish priest, in service to Christ and his Body. Come June 9, 2012, everything will be different for me. My life will change, forever. The challenges will be tremendous—the apostolic priesthood means a fundamental and permanent deliverance of my whole self into the hands of Christ. Whatever else may become of me, I will never not be His priest, and therefore, all His.
It is daunting to consider, yet I am confident that, having been formed in the seminary by a fantastic faculty, I am ready to meet those challenges head on.
There is a great deal of uncertainty about the future. The church is being attacked from every corner. Religious freedoms are being challenged in ways never before imagined, here in America. While the future may be uncertain what is certain is that God will continue to bless us and He will continue to call more men to the priesthood of His Son.
When I entered the seminary more than five years ago, I promised myself that, on my ordination day, I would not be the same person I was at that moment—that I would not permit myself to remain the same.
Ha. As if I had a choice but to be humbled, and undone, changed and remade.
I am still on that journey of formation; I will be for the rest of my life, but surely that promise has been kept and more—in ways I never could have imagined, all because of the formation I have received while experiencing the unique gift of being in the seminary.