If that’s a question you can’t really answer, then you’re just like me — until a few months back. A lot of people these days aren’t really sure what a seminary is, much less how a good seminary works. Well, let me do my best to explain:
What seminary is not:
-a place to hide from the world
-a last resort because you can’t do anything else
-a place to learn to be a priest so you can be in a position of power
Instead, what my few months here has helped me realize is that a solid Roman Catholic seminary is a prolonged retreat. I’ve been here since late August and I still feel like this place is a retreat house. So the question is, what’s a retreat and how’s it different from hiding from the world?
A retreat is exercise, and it’s exercise that focuses on the soul and spirit. People go to boot camps to train their bodies and minds, but in a retreat we train the person to become a better version of him or herself, through and through. Seminary formation focuses on our habits, opinions, personality, ethic, self-mastery and self-discipline, and most of all our adoption of the virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, fortitude, faith, hope, and love.
So in seminary, we learn about ourselves and rise to the challenge of becoming stronger Christian men by relying more on God’s grace and less on our own abilities. Jesus becomes more our center, our guide, our inspiration, our energy to live up to what the world needs us to be: solid and selfless men who love the Lord.
And contrary to what many think, a man who leaves the seminary without becoming a priest is NOT a failure. He is a success! A win-win-situation! If the man finds his calling to be a devout Catholic priest who is solid, selfless, and loyal to the Lord, then he has found his treasure in serving the Church and all her members. This man leaves the seminary with a mission. If the mans finds his calling to be a devout Catholic husband who is solid, selfless, and loyal to the Lord, then he has found his treasure in serving the woman of his life, his bride and all the little ones they may be blessed with. This man leaves the seminary with a mission. If a man finds his calling to be a devout Catholic single soldier who is solid, selfless, and loyal to the Lord, then he has found his treasure in serving others in ways that priests or husbands cannot serve. This man leaves the seminary with a mission.
That is the generosity and beauty of the seminarian experience. Of course, some seminaries are better than others (hence the reason for some seminarians being sent far away from their home dioceses even though there are other seminaries nearer by), but they all aim for the same goal: solid, selfless men loyal to Jesus Christ who are ready to love until death does them part from life.
That’s also why seminary is so challenging. A man can’t just go to his pastor and say he wants to apply for seminary. There are background checks, criminal history record scrutiny, blood tests and physical evaluations, letters and letters of recommendation, essays and essays to write, interviews and psychological exams to clear, and more. And if a man is accepted, then there’s the inhumanly possible horarium — a daily schedule that is made to break anyone who tries to be selfish or lazy with their time. Since this is a Catholic seminary, there is also tons of prayer time that can either be wasted, or can result in one growing by the leaps of master pole-vaulters. Then there are the classes. Not only does the seminarian try to increase his physical strength and endurance, increase his spiritual virtues and prayer life, his self-mastery and service to others, but he also increases his intellectual and logical prowess with philosophy, theology and even Latin (a very demanding language that behaves more like mathematics!).
The seminary is where boys go so that the God-Man Himself transforms them into men just like Him. And who doesn’t want to be like the God-Man (Who not even death itself could keep Him dead!)?
Pray for me!
*Disclaimer: there is no guarantee in the seminarian formation process that all the men who leave will be solid, selfless and loyal to the Lord. If the boy is selfish, prideful, dishonest, lustful and unwilling to mature, then there is no seminary (but suffering, perhaps) that can inspire him to grow up.