I have been mindful of late of how difficult formation for the priesthood is, and formation it truly is--the taking of a man and making him into the image of Someone Else. Formation is change, and it is never easy. It always demands a laying down of self, the very hardest task of humankind.
I undertook an Advent discipline of turning off the CD player in the car on my drives to and from work (and thus, my corporate rosary with John Paul II and others). I wasn’t sure what to do with the time, but figured God would let me know.
As He did. To and fro every day, I am still engaged in my rosary but alone and aloud, praying for the seminarians in my care. Casting the mysteries in the light of what we ask of the young men who wish to enter into the priesthood has been a challenge. I’ll never walk their journey, of course, but entering into prayerful support has made me think closely about it, and so I offer my meditations.
The Annunciation: What must it be like to hear deep in the recesses of one’s mind the call to priesthood? Surely, Mary, you understand. You know about the uncertainty that immediately arises, that feeling of unworthiness, and then, in response to the persistence of the call, the response, the only response that one can make to God Himself.
The way will sometimes be difficult and confusing, but the response is utterly and always, yes. The call is the beginning, not the fruition. Just as Mary pondered her own calling and the events of her life, we must ponder our own. Just as Christ grew within her, He will grow within us, not suddenly, but over time, slowly and almost imperceptibly, as a result of our affirmation of God’s primacy in our lives.
May our seminarians take comfort in that simple and perfect yes of Mary, and imitate it, knowing that God will provide for them as He did for her. May those of us around them, like Joseph, not be fearful of taking into our own hearts these men and nurturing their call.
The Visitation: As soon as she heard the call, Mary did something about it. A call from God is always a call to bring His love to others in haste and in obedience, and it is a call to recognition. The visitation teaches us both to look outward and to look within--to remember that we bring Christ to others, and that they bring Him to us. And to know that when we welcome Him and bring Him, great blessings flow.
Let us with a leap of joy recognize Christ in our seminarians, even when He is, as as the infant in Mary’s womb, obscured by what we see externally. Like Elizabeth, let our words be affirming and full of love, both for our seminarians and for the Christ they bring to us. Let us invite them without hesitation into our lives.
The Nativity: Any parent will tell you it’s possible to see the man in the child, but only in retrospect. The greatest miracle to me is not that God chose to become incarnate, but that He did it in the usual way, arriving small and helpless, and growing to His full stature in the completeness of time. It reminds me that God’s timeline is infinite, and His plan inscrutable, and that I must be patient. The story is always evolving, as are we players in it.
So it is in the formation of priests. As Christ grew to maturity under the guidance of Mary and Joseph, so will our seminarians grow to maturity under the loving hand of the Church. Send them, Lord, good foster fathers in those who teach and form them. Mary, help those charged with the education and formation of our seminarians to know your loving presence, so that you may help to shape these young men in the very image of your Son.
The Presentation: Oh what a day this was! A day of great joy and great pain. The joy of presenting a son in accordance with the law, the joy of having Anna and Simeon recognize Jesus for who He was, the pain of Simeon’s prophecy that must have rung so terribly true when Mary remembered the words of Isaiah and of the psalmist. How must she have wondered about that moment through the years as she raised her son, knowing that He would suffer so unspeakably. What grace it took for her to persevere in trust and even in joy, knowing what was to come.
So it will always be for our seminarians, joy and sorrow mixed in one as they respond to God’s demands of them. So will it be as they know that they, too, will bear some measure of the cross of Christ, wondering when and how that burden will fall. Knowing too, that there is joy beyond words to be had and shared.
Let us pray, then, for the faith and fortitude of Mary and the vision of Anna and Simeon for our seminarians, and for us.
The Finding in the Temple: “Did you not know I must be about my Father’s business?” Jesus said when Mary and Joseph found Him. Like the presentation, a day both joyful and sorrowful. So, too , the life of a seminarian: Joyful for the finding, for the contentment that comes from knowing God and His will, sorrowful because to be found, one must first be lost. The course of formation is never smooth and not often straight. There will be times of loss and being lost. May our seminarians remember that finding always happens in God’s house, while doing God’s work, in the most ordinary of ways.
Mary, help your sons to find themselves in the depths of God’s love, in the presence of His people, in the fields of His labor and in the comfort of His word. May they know that they can never be lost from His sight, and yours. Help us to guide them forward in faith and provide them refuge when confusion and loss threaten them.