Why go to Seminary?
“Six years? Six years?!?!” That’s the reaction I usually get when I tell someone how long it takes to become a priest. Then I add that it takes longer to become a fully qualified vet, but that doesn’t usually shed much light on the whole issue. The fact is, many people are unaware of what the journey to priesthood involves, and curious about what happens at a Catholic seminary.
Some of us were watching a DVD recently called Fishers of Men. It’s a short film produced by the American bishops to promote priestly vocations. It’s beautifully made. It has the look and feel of a Hollywood movie, but the reality of the priesthood really comes through. One priest raises up the body of Christ during the Mass; another hears a prisoner’s confession; someone preaches at a wedding; another is seen just greeting people – listening, talking, laughing, consoling. There are times with the crowd and times alone; there is chaos and there is calm. A rosary wrapped round the fingers of an anonymous hand symbolises the prayer that is at the heart of the priestly life.
Each man interviewed spoke of his love for Christ and his passion for the priesthood; and the lay-people filmed spoke about how priests had helped and guided them at different times in their lives. The final heartbreaking scene showed a priest rushing to the site of a road accident and anointing a young man just before he died. A boy of about seven was looking on from the side of the road, and the incident made such an impression on him that he determined to become a priest himself. We see him being ordained about twenty years later. In that brief childhood moment he saw that the priesthood matters, that it is something worth giving your whole life to, because God can touch other people’s lives in such a powerful way through your life as a priest. I heard that this is based on a true story.
The film helped me to make sense of our life at the seminary a bit more. Of course we need this time! The priesthood involves so much. We need the space to get ready, and to let God touch our lives more deeply. There are the ‘external’ things: the skills we need to help us cope with the many demands. But the ‘inner’ things are much more important: Growing closer to Christ and to his mother in prayer; knowing ourselves, knowing our strengths and our weaknesses, knowing how much we need the help and support of others – priests and lay-people; learning to love the Church more and more, to love the Scriptures, to love our Catholic faith; and above all growing in love for the people we meet, whoever they are. A deep, sincere love. It might cost us a great deal – but it is the very reason we become priests.
This is why we need a few years at seminary! And then a lifetime of trying to live this wonderful mystery of the priesthood…