What keeps the future minister going

A kind of uneasiness kept creeping into me towards the end of the first semester. In the midst of struggling with Latin, understanding the long history of Philosophy, improving relationships in the community, and striving to nurture a healthy life of prayer, I was wondering whether I was in the right place. Something in me felt that being in the seminary is a passive way of being. When there is so much work to do outside, so many causes to fight for, is it wise for a young man to stay in the seminary?

While we are only allowed home visitations once every month, we are kept up​-to-date​ by the Internet and our​guests about things happening outside​ the seminary walls. My brothers and I know, for example, about the issues surrounding the Synod on the family. We also know the varying opinions regarding the upcoming polls and how all are being called to be vigilant voters. These and many other​ important matters​ are what concern​s the common person outside.

My brothers and I, on the other hand, are most of the time concerned about keeping our grades up, how to meet community expectations, or how to survive until the next board and lodging fees are due. I felt totally disconnected with reality, and that maybe there were other things deserving of our attention and energies. Can I remain inside the seminary when in my heart something constantly gnaws about getting actively involved?

And so I was carried back to the roots of my vocation. My entering the diocesan seminary four years ago, I believe, was primarily an act of gratitude. I entered because I felt that God was calling me to minister to more people in a different way, and this was in response to the goodness he has been showing me. Surely, I was very happy with my work as a high school teacher back then, but a long process of careful and guided discernment has eventually convinced me that the priesthood is worth considering and pursuing.

To be in the seminary, like being in any of life’s preparatory stages, is to cooperate fully so as to attain the desired goal. The formation aims not so much to turn the seminarian into a priest, but to allow him to grow in his knowledge of himself and to encounter personally the God who constantly calls him. While it is a joy-filled experience, it is also about patiently surrendering to God’s painful cutting and pruning. Ultimately, the seminary is not so much a place but a special time of grace, of preparing for a future mission whatever it may be.

The French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ believed that people naturally get impatient about reaching the end without delay, that we should like to skip the intermediate stages on our way to something unknown, something new. But he thought that it is the law of all progress that passing through some stages of instability, long as it might take, is necessary.

Seminarians are often asked how many more years we have left in the formation. Oftentimes too this is a difficult question to answer. The question carries the weight of feeling incomplete and unfinished, as if striving for holiness and doing meaningful work were reserved to the ordained. Indeed, all of us are unfinished, but that does not mean that one should wait for ordination before aiming to do great things for God. The same question could also lead one to think that the making of a priest depends solely on the seminarian’s efforts, when in fact it requires the help of several individuals and much of God’s mercy.

I am still too far from completing my formation, and only God knows if I would make it to that blessed day which is ordination. But while I eagerly and actively wait, nothing stops me from drawing ever near to Jesus, allowing him to configure me closer to himself.

At the moment, I can only do little things inside the seminary, nothing that could have great impact to the Church or to society. But I am certain that my studies and my little prayers will all bear fruit in time. What keeps me going day by day are my simple desire to serve and the conviction that God will faithfully take care of the rest.

This story was originally published in the author’s column “Like the Father” in Diario Veritas (Vol. 20 No. 1, November 2015), a monthly publication of the Diocese of Legazpi, Philippines.