One of the most mysterious places on earth must be the seminary.
A common question that seminarians get is, “What exactly do you do at a seminary?” Some people might think that all we do is pray all day or that we go to a seminary to simply learn how to say Mass and hear confessions. While both of these are important aspects, the truth is that seminary formation is a very holistic experience in which we try to become more like Jesus Christ. This is done by focusing our formation on four areas: human, spiritual, academic, and pastoral.
Human formation: In this area of formation, the emphasis is ultimately on helping form us into Catholic gentlemen. We work on building good habits and virtues by working with priests at the seminary. The documents which guide seminary life point to the goal of human formation being to form the seminarian’s personality and habits so that he becomes “a bridge and not a barrier” in leading others to Christ.
Spiritual formation: This aspect of seminary life focuses on us being formed into men of prayer. We have daily Mass, adoration, a lively sacramental life, and meetings with our spiritual directors every three weeks to help us grow in our relationship with God. In addition to growth in personal prayer, another important focus in our formation is building the habit of praying the breviary. The breviary consists of prayers mainly taken from the Psalms and other passages of Scripture which priests and many religious orders promise to pray five times per day in order to give continual praise to God and make intercession on behalf of the Church and all mankind.
Academic formation: In the seminary, our class schedule is very close to a normal college schedule. Each semester, we take five or six classes focused on philosophy and theology. My favorite class from last semester was Foundational Theology in which we learned about Revelation, the act of faith, and also apologetics. As I get closer to ordination, the academics will become more practical and I will have classes on how to say the Mass, hearing confessions, counseling and spiritual direction, how to preach, and even learn how parish finances and administration works.
Pastoral formation: In addition to prayer and study, we also get firsthand experience in learning aspects of the ministerial side of being a priest. We do this by dedicating one day per week to ministry assignments. Each seminarian is given a different assignment each year to provide him with experience in different pastoral scenarios. Some of the different ministries include visiting nursing homes, food pantries, college campus centers, and youth groups. Our last two years in the seminary we will be assigned to a local parish for our ministry assignment.
Although there is certainly a lot that goes into seminary formation, I believe it can be summed up in one word: conversion. Seminary formation is about removing my personal agendas and expectations for the priesthood and instead conforming my heart to Christ’s. Since the priest is meant to be another Christ to the world, the seminary truly is a place where our egos must decrease so that we can become Christ’s instruments to the world. The goal of every seminarian should be the same as St. John the Baptist; “He must increase, but I must decrease.” The slow, continual process of converting our hearts into ones that conform to that of Jesus Christ the High Priest should be the goal of every seminarian. Ultimately, that conversion of heart is precisely the answer to what we do in the seminary.