For the attentive seminarian, every stage of formation on the road to priesthood bears distinctive moments of awareness that the life of a priest is, at its root, radically different than what the imagination often presents. There are some seminal experiences that have helped form me over these past few years.

My first year of theology presented "the collar." Dressed in black, with a white collar, the visage worn by so many others was now worn by me. People gazed upon me differently. I was "public:" a sign to myself and others that my life was being intermingled with the life of Christ in a new way.

This way of being brought new responsibility and new challenges. How am I to act when I represent not only myself, but also the whole Church and the whole faith to those whom I encounter? This foray into the outward sign gave moment to the inward change which had to follow.

My second year of theology presented "the parish." Placed into a church which shares in the one worship of God led by our bishop; pastored by his coworker in faith, the priest; and built up by the whole people of Christ into a single body, I received the gift of coming to know this family.

Even as every family has its ups, downs and occasional dust-ups, so, too, does the parish family. There, I was privileged to share in the life and role of a pastor who shepherds his parish deeper into Christ; privileged, too, to share in the very lives of the people of God.

This experience greatly broadened my formerly narrow perspective about the life of a parish.

My third year of theology presented "the Holy Land." For nine weeks, my class from seminary pilgrimaged in the land of David, the birthplace of the new David.

We walked the same roads, climbed the same hills, fished in the same lake and drank water from the same well as Jesus Christ. I will never forget experiencing thirst in the same desert as Jesus did.

All these experiences left me with a far greater appreciation for Jesus as true man. Jesus knows what my humanity is like. At the same time, His manifest humanity places in relief His divine nature, which means that He can and does make possible eternal life.

This fourth year of theology, my deacon year, has already placed before me "reconciliation."

A priest is the instrument of God's forgiveness. Now, our class on the sacrament of reconciliation places us in the "driver's seat" of the priest. We practice mock confessions, developing our ability to properly respond to the contrite heart who enters into the confessional.

What a humbling reality! Every person who lays bare their heart before God and His priest in the sacrament present their own unique struggle to be holy. How real the priesthood is becoming!

I hope that sharing each of these moments of growth along the path to priesthood will help make more real and more understandable the process of seminarian formation. Formation takes place on several levels: It is a timely process, meaning that day follows ordinary day; growth occurs gradually in body, heart, mind and relationships.

God works in the life of the earnest seminarian, forming him to be a worthy instrument of His grace. Formation is not some scary bogeyman hiding out behind the closet door! It is finding Jesus anew each and every day, for oneself and for others.

(Deacon Chichester, a native of Columbia County, has been studying for the priesthood for the Albany Diocese at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois. He is expected to be ordained a priest in 2018.)