By Charles Bradshaw
Photo Credit: Harry Stevens
It was early on a cool Palm Sunday morning in 2008 that I found myself a few centimetres away from the High Altar on St Peter’s Square, ready for Mass with Pope Benedict XVI. From the sagrato or platform, over the heads of thousands of people gathered in the massive baroque square, I could see the rays of the sun rising from the Tiber as Mass began.
It is a day I’ll never forget. Being within touching distance of a man who truly prayed the Mass touched my heart and reduced me to tears. But more beautiful than that were the words he spoke, which are etched into my very being:
“When we touch the Cross, or rather, when we carry it, we touch the mystery of God, the mystery of Jesus Christ… We touch the marvellous mystery of God’s love, the only genuinely redemptive truth. But we also touch the fundamental law, the constitutive norm of our lives, namely the fact that without this “yes” to the Cross, without walking in communion with Christ day by day, life cannot succeed. The more we can make some sacrifice, out of love for the great truth and the great love, out of love for the truth and for God’s love, the greater and richer life becomes. Anyone who wants to keep his life for himself loses it. Anyone who gives his life – day by day in small acts, which form part of the great decision – that person finds it.” – Pope Benedict XVI
That glorious morning, it felt as though Benedict’s words were spoken directly to me, and indeed those words have played out their part in my life both as a seminarian and now as a layman living out the ordinary duties of everyday life: for to love God, to carry the cross is to suffer, to suffer even at the hands of the Church Herself.
Yet throughout the ages “Magister adest et vocat te”: “the Lord is there and He is calling you”. God never ceases to call each and every one of us to a unique vocation and through His divine Grace we discern His call and strive to answer it in our lives.
It is no surprise then that recent Popes have reminded us that we are all called to seek holiness: a universal call to holiness which should fill us with the zeal and confidence for New Evangelization. Just as the Church is universal, so too is this at the heart of every Christian life. Thus we are all called to a life of self-sacrifice either through marriage or a simple lay life. It seems that whatever vocation we have, it is seemingly under attack in these times.
Yet there is a much deeper calling which lies within those whom God has chosen “Sacerdos et Hostia”: “priest and victim”. It is a further call to die to self and to surrender one’s life to the service of Almighty God. That is the call to priesthood!
For young men discerning a priestly vocation, it is often disheartening to hear in both the secular and religious press of the crisis in vocations. Yet the truth is different: God never ceases to touch the hearts and souls of the young and to move them towards the priesthood.
The crisis is often in how we or others deal with this vocation and where we choose to place it. This is why choosing a good seminary is important. Having experienced three very different seminaries, I can say that finding the right one is paramount to discerning what the Lord is calling us to.
WORDS TO THE WISE YOUNG MAN
- PERSEVERE IN GETTING INTO SEMINARY: It can be a long process, so don’t be put off before you even get there.
- DISCERNING YOUR VOCATION IS HARD. It is not necessarily within a diocese. It could be in a religious order or somewhere else. Be patient and sensitive with yourself.
- PRAY A LOT AND DISCERN THROUGH PRAYER, BUT NOT JUST PRAYER ALONE. Sometimes we have to take action.
- BE PREPARED TO FIND THINGS DIFFICULT: If God has called you then the Devil is also watching you closely. Don’t give up.
- DON’T HESITATE TO SPEAK TO A VOCATIONS DIRECTOR OR YOUR PARISH PRIEST. Whatever the outcome, there is no harm in it.
- NEVER GIVE UP: It is not because you are unsettled in the first seminary that you attend that you do not have a religious vocation. Persevere, find somewhere new but don’t give up until you can answer the question: Is this what God wants? Sometimes what He wants is not necessarily what we want.
Once you have decided to look further, here are some useful pointers, gleaned from my own experience:
- In a seminary there must always be a family atmosphere, where people are happy and feel at home.
- The seminary staff should be composed of priests who are happy in their priesthood, with a deep interior life, and zealous to spread the Faith.
- They should be strong in their Faith and anxious to spread the Doctrine of the Faith without error or compromise.
- Seminary life must follow a hierarchical order with the rector as head, just like the father of a family.
- A seminary should be a place of learning with a strong emphasis on teaching.
- Yet in a seminary, the main focus of life should be centred on prayer and times of communal prayer — particularly the public recitation of the Divine Office.
- A seminary should have a strong Marian devotion which includes daily rosary for Mary is the mother of seminarians and priests.
- Daily life should be ordered and follow a structured pattern of community living.
- A seminary should form good Christian men who the more they progress through seminary the more Christ like and priestly they become.
- A seminary should be a place of prayer and unlike a university or an education establishment should exude a sense of prayer.
- Similarly a seminary should be a place of quiet and peacefulness and not filled with noise and distraction.
- Most importantly of all, the seminary must be a place where the liturgy and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass are the source and summit of life and take pride of place. The liturgy must be celebrated with reverence, care and beauty.
- The Office should be sung together. Singing is praying twice: a seminary that sings and teaches you to sing is crucial.
- Finally: a seminary that prays together stays together!