12/26/2013 3:39:00 PM SEMINARIAN'S DIARY A seminarian/dad goes back to school
This is part of The Evangelist's ongoing series of reports from diocesan seminarians on their studies, work and development. To read previous installments, click on "seminarian's diary" under "specials."
BY RICK LESSER
This fall, I had the oddest experience: My 19-year-old daughter (a college sophomore moving into her first apartment) and I (58 years old and about to move into a seminary dormitory room) went back-to-school shopping together.
Let me first talk about buying bed sheets. Almost nobody sells sheets for extra-long single beds - standard seminary furniture - unless they have flowers or puppies or trains or cowboys on them. My only other choice was plain brown. I bought the brown ones.
My daughter got really nice brightly-colored ones for her full-sized bed. Then she patiently gave me further school advice, mingled with laughter, as I shopped for notebooks, pencils and printer ink.
Somehow, she bought way more stuff than I did. I paid. All of it made her very happy, and that made me happy.
I was then faced with deciding what else to bring with me. For 30 years, my family has lived on a 150-acre farm just south of Albany. My seminary space is barely 150 square feet. Part of that is a closet and part is taken up by the sink. My two boys took delight in asking me if it had hot and cold running holy water.
To merely say that I had to downsize would in itself be a downsizing of the actions I went through in deciding what to take and what to leave. There was only room for the essentials: books; a week's worth of clean clothes; pictures of my wife, kids and farm; a few mementos from my time in veterinary practice; and a computer/printer. No roll-top desk or favorite reading armchair and lamp or the fireplace to sit in front of. No horses or dogs.
In fact, aside from an Ikea rocker I bought, my only other belongings are the dorm-style bed, desk and dresser that are built into the room.
Then there is the whole thing about my car. Bishop Howard J. Hubbard celebrated Mass with all the seminarians and their families late this summer. In his homily, he reminded us men that priesthood is about a simple life of humble service. He pointed out that Pope Francis himself drove an old Ford.
My daughter, who drives an old Ford, is now pretty sure that I should swap her for my newer, sportier car. She tells me that she would only be helping my priestly formation. She probably has a point. This letting go is hard to do.
I have been in school a lot: four years of undergraduate work, four years of veterinary college and four years at St. Bernard's School of Theology and Ministry in Albany working on my Master of Divinity degree. I thought that the academics at the seminary would be pretty doable, and thanks be to God, they are.
But in my earlier life, I found it necessary from time to time to pull an "all-nighter" to get my work done. I still have to do that - but at this age, my all-nighter lasts only until about 9:15 p.m.! I often think of the last prayer that Pope John XXIII whispered as he fell asleep after each long day of hard work: "It's Your Church, Lord. I am going to bed."
Blessed Pope John XXIII had such faith and trust. It was simple for him: God asked and God supplied what was needed. Pope John's biography, "Journey of a Soul," chronicles his obedient ministry that took him wherever to do whatever was asked of him. Reading it brings me comfort and peace.
I have no regrets at all about what I have left behind. I am, though, curious about what lies ahead - curious, but not worried. Whatever God has planned for me will be fine. For now, my bed is comfortable, my room has all I need for the task at hand and I get up early to study.
I am still praying about the car.
(Mr. Lesser is the widowed father of three and a former equine veterinarian, now studying for the priesthood at Blessed John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Mass.)