|2/26/2015 9:00:00 AM|
How future priests learn to counsel
BY BRIAN KELLYA friend asked me recently how the seminary trains us future priests to handle the issues that seem to be at the front of every major news outlet's coverage and in a number of people's minds - those hot-button issues that seem to leave a person conflicted between keeping their faith and supporting their own point of view or the view of those they love.
The Church's stance on these issues has hardly been clear when someone looks to the major media outlets for their information each day. Whether intended or unintended, the Church's position is skewed by the major media outlets to such a point that any reasonable person is left to be either for or against the faith - never with a position that is in-between, based upon truth.
Pope Francis, for example, has been presented as radically different, all about change in many of these areas, from that media perspective. Yet, what he has said isn't anything new in the Church. Rather, what he has stated has always been the position of the Church. It's only presented as something new or different according to the news outlets.
What does this have to do with the seminary training of future priests, who will be immersed in the world, alongside veteran priests, working with the people? Seminaries teach us the faith, presenting it to each of us in such a way that, when we go out into the world, we will have the correct information to apply in a pastoral way to the faithful.
We can only learn how to truly apply this information through experience, as each scenario requires a different response based upon the venue, the person and the issue with which one is struggling. We do not have all the answers upon ordination - nor does any priest who has been in ministry for decades. Each encounter is different and no textbook case could ever leave one feeling fully confident that they are set to address all the problems in the world.
That being said, however, what the seminary does take the time to "train" us with is our reception of the person coming to us and how we respond.
Every encounter - and I mean every encounter - is to be one that is pastoral, genuine and always done out of love for God's people. We learn how our own positions can cripple our relationship with God because we get so caught up in them. Each second we spend fighting over or wrestling with an issue is another second we could have used to work on our relationship with the Lord.
To have personal ideals and morals should be encouraged; however, the real issue that quickly arises out of a one-or-the-other stance is that we are the ones distancing ourselves from God. We can quickly fall into a trap that leaving us with the ultimatum I mentioned before: our faith or our stance.
Seminaries train us to identify - and relay to those we will serve - this slippery slope that we can fall into and how to address it. Most importantly, we are trained through our own firsthand experience in all four pillars of formation: academic, pastoral, spiritual and human.
Every one of us has something that we struggle with when going into discernment of a vocation, throughout discernment and possibly after ordination. Regardless of the issue, the personal stance or the length of time that it may take, our own spiritual life, our relationship with the Lord, has to be at the center of working through this.
We are being trained to live according to the faith, "practicing what we preach." No matter what the issue is, no matter what my position may be, that shouldn't be my primary concern. Instead, it should be, "How have I allowed this to affect my relationship with the Lord?"
That primary concern, we are taught, should always be the foundation of the conversation, our recognition of the need for change and the response. As future ministers, this firsthand experience teaches us more than we could ever learn in a classroom or out of a textbook so that, when the time comes, we are able to truly empathize and be more willing to help, based upon our own experience - leading people to recognize that, no matter the issue, no matter the outcome, "Father" really can help.
(Brian Kelly is a seminarian studying for the priesthood for the Albany Diocese at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois. A native of Newtonville, he was formerly business manager at Holy Trinity parish in Cohoes.)
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