Greetings and a blessed Advent!
So it’s the end of finals, most of the guys are gone home for break…unless you’re like me and are stranded because of Draco the Freak Storm. The seminary is starting to quiet down as guys pack up and leave and there’s an sense of peace around this place that we haven’t felt in quite a few days, not since the onslaught of final exams, anyway. As I walk through the halls and notice all the closed doors with notes saying that the occupants of that room have gone home for the month, everything seems to be business-as-usual.
Well, sort of. Most of the doors are closed as they’re required to be; but a person will notice a select few doors left open, six to be exact, with empty shelves, sheet-less beds, and walls without crucifixes and posters and dangling rosaries. It’s pretty eerie, actually. So what happened? Well, like I said, it’s just business as usual.
See, we’re not in the seminary because we want to be. Oh sure, we love it here and have no qualms about our time in seminary, but, folks, ultimately we’re all riding on God’s will; when he wants us here, he’ll put us here and when our time is up, then that’s that. Sounds kind of unfair, I guess, but it’s just the way it works. The stats say that only about 35% of SJV alumni will actually be ordained priests; the rest leave seminary somewhere along the way and become productive and zealous lay men who pursue family life and an expression of their faith in the public square.
Sometimes, as is the case with this semester’s six, men will leave before graduation, confident in having made a “good discernment” and pack their bags to head back into the world for bigger and better things. Without fail, at the last Sunday night announcements of the semester, those men who are leaving address the house with their final “words of wisdom” for their brothers before they go.
For the returning men, this is part of the deal. But for the new men, it can often bring questions of their own vocation, doubts of their priestly call, and a general uneasiness. Most men also do not assume that the man who leaves will be in his immediate social circle, and so the goodbyes, while difficult, do not usually cause wrenching pain. Eventually, however, a man that leaves is your best friend, your closest brother and confidant. That’s when things start to get tough. That’s what happened to me this time.
You see, at seminary, we meet life changing people all the time. The men here are not just “brothers” by name only. No, we really are brothers in the truest sense of the word. We lead and guide each other, constantly calling one another on to a greater holiness and to a greater love and sense of service to Jesus Christ, his Church, and his people. We meet men who came in here incredibly broken and wounded by life beyond these walls and stay for one or two or three years and leave completely changed, some call them “born again,” I call them inspirations. Before you know it, you noticed that you’ve changed for the better because of these men and their witness and presence in your life. The face time might be eliminated, but believe me when I say that the brotherhood remains…..the brotherhood will always remain. Nothing can match the community life inside a Catholic seminary…not SJV, at least.
So is it sad to see your brothers go? Oh yeah. Is there a chance you’ll never see them again this side of heaven? Without a doubt. But we are brothers in Christ. We are united by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the King. And there is nothing that will stand in the way of that kind of bond. We are united because we mean it when we say Our Pledge and Our Prayer; that we really are Men in Christ, Men of the Church, and Men for Others.
So yep, it’s sad, it’s hard. But it’s all about God, remember? It’s all on his time and in his hands. At SJV we are saved by being “snatched from the fire” (Jude 1:23) and purified by grace. We know that to follow the will of Almighty God, sometimes we must say goodbye so that, in the end, we might say hello.
May the peace and promise of Christmas fill every heart with joy. And may the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil, and bring us to everlasting life.
Veni, Veni Emmanuel!