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home : features : people of faith

3/26/2015 9:00:00 AM
SEMINARIAN'S DIARY
Life at the seminary
BY DEACON RICK LESSER


Things happen here at Pope John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Mass., on a schedule. That is a luxury I was not afforded in my previous life as a husband, father and veterinarian.

At any moment, urgent family or client concerns would rearrange what had been an orderly day into happy chaos. That will probably be my situation once again after I am ordained; but for now, I am enjoying the predictable rhythm of my day.

Spiritual formation
In the ancient tradition of the Church, we pray the Liturgy of the Hours throughout the day. Most days, we pray morning prayer and evening prayer together as a community. We pray the office of readings, daytime prayer and night prayer privately. This time spent in prayer -- a bit more than an hour each day - is a welcome luxury compared to my previous life.

Of course, we celebrate Mass each day. In addition, we devote some time each day to private prayer through Lectio Divina, the Rosary or adoration.

I have found that being faithful to the prayers impacts me -- heart, body and soul. There is something about being with people who love us and whom we love that brings out the best in us. I have become quite aware, here, that I am the better version of myself only when I am in prayerful contact with God.

Academic formation
We generally have core classes four or five mornings a week, and some electives and conferences some afternoons. We study the rich depths of what God has revealed to us and what our Catholic Church has spent centuries unfolding.

Our job as priests is not simply to be nice people, though that is certainly necessary. We also have to be obedient to God's will and faithful to the teaching of the Church.

Trying to grasp all that is no simple task, and this side of heaven I doubt that any of us do it perfectly. But that is no reason not to learn all we can. So, we keep cracking the books.

Pastoral formation
If we synthesize our prayer and our study fully, intellectual honesty demands that we "be" pastoral in living what we have learned. What a difference a single word can make in that sentence: Our pastoral formation does not simply train us to "act" as if we were pastoral; at our core, we are called to "be" pastoral.

That doesn't mean that we have a license to just sweep all the sin of the world aside in the name of "playing nicely." Rather, being pastoral means that we continually invite others -- and ourselves, for that matter -- to say "yes" to God.

In our pastoral assignments, we see the absolutes we have learned put into practice in the real world. We come to understand that God did not just put some high bar up and expect people to jump over it the first time. Nobody does that, and God does not expect us to. He does expect priests to help people try -- and never dismiss or discourage them.

Human formation
Of course, we have to be healthy in mind and body to do all this. Machines are supposed to be "all work and no play," but that is not healthy for you and me. We have social time, visits to and from family and friends, trips into Boston for sights and dinner. I just got back from seeing my kids in Kansas and Colorado.

The seminary has a gym, as well as basketball and bocce ball courts. There are plenty of opportunities to swim, run or hike -- and, this winter, to ski and snowshoe. Since we are a seminary for "second-career men" (a polite euphemism for "old guys"), we are particularly encouraged to eat, sleep and exercise well.

One of the great strengths of the Catholic Church is the wide variety of gifts we have to offer. At the same time, having people who place lesser or greater value on our individual gifts can be a challenge.

It is the same in the seminary. It will certainly be our reality in a parish. A good parish priest has learned that it is not enough to just love God and the Church; we also have to love being with the people!

(Deacon Rick Lesser is the widowed father of three, a former equine veterinarian and a graduate of St. Bernard's School of Theology and Ministry in Albany. He will complete his seminary formation in May and will be ordained a priest in June.)





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