A modern writer observes that "children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see." It's the same with seminarians. As priests they will be our living messages to future generations, showing our fidelity: who we were and what we considered important.
So let's reflect on some lessons passed on to them, not simply important classroom lessons like philosophy, Latin declensions and theological formulations, but lessons that truly shape and form Christ in them so they will be his faithful witnesses. In no particular order, here are some that come to mind.
Just because a seminarian is attracted to certain virtues doesn't mean he possesses them. Feeling attracted to courage or sacrifice doesn't mean a man is courageous or sacrificial. A man's actions his consistent actions show his virtues. The men have learned that fidelity to duties and responsibilities, no matter how mundane or tedious, is evidence of a virtuous life. It may not be always, or even mostly, the stuff of blockbuster movies, but it is the stuff of the saints.
Holiness requires perseverance. There may be instant coffee, oatmeal and internet messages, but there is no instant holiness. It is a hard won, and demanding gift that will not yield to half hearted efforts. The Lord asks much, but he gives much more. Yes, like every human being, they have inner disorders that fight against holiness and the will of God, but the men can trust the Lord's life transforming, merciful Spirit. When it comes to our holiness, he is worthy of complete hope.
Much is at stake. St Paul teaches that life's daily battles are really between the Kingdom of God and the "Kingdom" of Satan. They're battles for souls. The man not being continually formed to Christ in love, prayer, study and discipline no matter his abilities will fall to temptation more easily and frequently than the man humbly and obediently following the Lord. There is no substitute for prayer and the Eucharist. This is the most important lesson of all for deeply knowing, serving and loving the Lord.
And the rector, what has he learned? Many things (I hope). Most especially, that God continues to act powerfully. Consider this observation about priests by the novelist, Francois Mauriac (which I have applied here to seminarians). "People say that there is a scarcity of seminarians. In truth, what an adorable mystery it is that there still are any seminarians. They have no human advantage. Celibacy, solitude, hatred very often, derision and, above all, the indifference of a world in which there seems to be no longer room for them. "A pagan atmosphere prevails all around them. The people would laugh at their virtue if they believed in it, but they do not."
We seminary priests learn and relearn, that the Lord is trustworthy, always providing for his own. We must cooperate and respond, but he provides. He will not leave us orphans. Fr. Walsh and I receive many emails and phone calls, and we interview many candidates. Why do they contact us? What's in it for them? How did they arrive at the seemingly crazy idea of coming to St. John Fisher, a place with the sole purpose of forming men to the mind and heart of the selfless, crucified and risen, all holy Lord Jesus Christ?
The Lord, himself, is the answer. They may need to work hard on personal improvements and still they come. Scandals beset the Church in our country and still they come. Some need many years of much study and still they come. And they come because they want more. They want the Lord more. They want to be more human, more sacrificial, more prayerful, more merciful, more just so that Christ will be formed in them all the more.
May the Lord continue to bless the Fishermen.
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