4/26/2012 9:01:00 AM SEMINARIAN'S DIARY A future priest reflects
on Called to be Church
and growing love of God
BY BRIAN SLEZAK
Most Catholics know that a man who aspires to become a priest must be well-prepared for it, educated at a Catholic seminary. What often surprises some people is knowing that seminary preparation normally lasts for six years.
In addition to studies, the seminarian experiences a new approach to prayer, liturgy and silence as a means for interior growth. Seminarians also need to become familiar with parish life, so we're assigned for about three months to live and work in one of the diocesan parishes.
I am in the midst of my three months of pastoral internship at Jude's parish in Wynantskill, under the direction of the pastor, Rev. Anthony Ligato. This is acquainting me with the activities of parish life and giving me an opportunity to practice the pastoral theology I have been learning at the seminary.
Returning to my home diocese and back "into the world" for three months has helped me to better understand that a priest needs every God-given gift to fully serve the people of a parish.
He needs more than what he is taught in his seminary formation. The future priest must be grounded in the virtues he'll need to meet the challenges facing the priesthood today.
This is evident in the drastic decline in vocations to the priesthood throughout the western world. The Albany Diocese is no exception. Here, Bishop Howard J. Hubbard initiated the "Called to be Church" program, focusing on steps to help ease the crisis.
Awareness has emerged among the people of the Diocese of the need for new approaches. It has become evident that the time has come when one priest will be responsible for two or more parish communities, taking into account their separate needs.
This, of course, places a heavy burden upon the priest and stretches his ministry as well as his energies in fulfilling it. Even as a seminarian, I can already sense the apprehension and the challenges that our priests and people are experiencing.
The Called to be Church program, in addressing the shortage of priests, has found it expedient to call for the painful closing of some churches, or uniting two parishes under a new name. This, as we all know, has been very difficult process.
All of this emphasizes the fact that a parish requires a priest and that, without priests, the Church cannot carry out her mission. It was in seeing this priestly vocation crisis that I found within me a pressing desire to become a priest myself.
I continue to experience a call from the Lord to follow Him as a Catholic priest in this particularly difficult period of history. I am constantly mindful of the promise Christ made to His disciples that the gates of hell would never prevail against His Church. He is forming me into the priest that He desires me to be.
Christ has given His people the promise that He will remain with them until the end of time. As a priest, I can only hope to do my part in making Christ present to those I am called to serve.
To lose sight of this would be a failure. To think of my vocation as anything but imitating the life of Christ in serving His people would mean placing my hopes on false and fading dreams.
Seminary training is giving me a strong foundation for priestly life, as well as the encouragement that comes from being immersed in a place committed to proclaiming the truth and the beauty of the Church. My professors strive to implant in me a love and appreciation of the Church. In turn, I have come to love and respect the Church dearly, and all that she believes and teaches.
When one is given this invaluable gift, he must cherish it. My pastoral internship at St. Jude's parish has given me a deeper desire to share my love for the Church with others.
I am grateful to Mundelein Seminary for recognizing the importance of preparing men for ministry in the 21st century and for nourishing the faith I brought into the seminary.
One cannot become a priest overnight. The seminarian grows into identification with the priestly Christ. What continues to motivate me is my conviction that it is Jesus, the Son of God, who loves me and calls me, and that I love Him and will always be faithful to Him and His Church. I place all my trust in Him and pray that I may become a holy priest and serve His people with love and fervor.
May the Lord Jesus, through the intercession of Mary and Joseph, give us an increasing number of holy priests, and, through them, serve and protect His people and Church until the end of time.
(Brian Slezak is studying for the priesthood for the Albany Diocese at Mundelein Seminary in Chicago. He's a native of St. Margaret of Cortona Church in Rotterdam Junction, a mission of St. Joseph's parish in Schenectady.)
This is part of The Evangelist's ongoing series of reports from diocesan seminarians on their studies, work and development. To read previous installments, search for "seminarian diary" at www.evangelist.org. If you have any questions on studies for the priesthood you'd like answered in a future column, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.