Thursday, March 29, 2012

Making It?

“Making it” to and through seminary comes in all shapes and sizes. For some, it is realized in having persisted through the diocesan screening/application process and then moving onto seminary. For others, “making it” is actualized in a journey of self-discovery which leads to other decisions: to vocations as a married person; as a committed lay minister; and to other life choices. “Making it” in seminary can mean persisting to the transitional diaconate and, then, onto priesthood.

At the risk of bursting a few bubbles, seminary is not always a transcendent series of events lived out in an idyllic locale populated by hyper-holy people. Cassocks and candles; solitude and study; piety and particular devotions are surely found in seminary. Jeans and GIRMs; noise and negativity; careful compliance and conflict are also found in seminary. Seminarians and the products of seminaries are human beings, after all, with the full range of warts, aspirations, gifts and limitations present among all of God’s People.

In my personal experience, I think there are three especially important factors which have enabled me to “make it” through seminary, to date. The first is found in relationships, particularly, in the creation of smaller groups of friends within the seminary community who end up serving to support and encourage you as well as to provide you with affirmation and the sometimes needed “kick in the pants.”

The second is found in prayer. I recall when I was accepted as a seminarian for Louisville that the late Archbishop Kelly told me to do one thing in seminary: pray! Wonderful and sage counsel, I believe.

The third is found in an openness to self-discovery. Even at my rather mature age, I still find myself learning about gifts which God has blessed me with as well as the limitations which I possess. A famous American politician once said, “I am not a perfect servant…as I develop and serve, be patient with me. God is not finished with me yet.” How true for all of us and maybe especially for those preparing for and engaged in ministry.

Oh yeah----and have fun! Noone likes an overly earnest seminarian or a priest with a smile which threatens to break his face. Next week: a review of recent events here at Sacred Heart School of Theology. Until then…



Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Hungry Among Us

The highlight of the past week was found in volunteer service with St. Benedict the Moor parish’s community meal program. St. Ben’s community meal as well as other outreach programs represent ministries sponsored by the local Capuchin Friars (Franciscans). Each week, over 2,000 guests are served at the meal (dinner) which operates from 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

The night upon which my eleven seminarian brothers and I served included 287 guests, many of them homeless, some chronically poor, and others among the working poor. Roughly two-thirds appeared to be single adults, female and male, with the remaining number being couples of whom many had brought along their children. As we busied ourselves “busing” tables, pouring drinks and carrying trays, we were all mindful that for many guests, this was the best, if not the only, meal of their day. (And the volume of food was quite substantial: pasta, green beans, salad, fruit and dessert.)

Somehow this experience, like so many other similar ones, left me both grateful as well as grace-filled. My gratitude originated in the certain knowledge that I would have access to three meals, a warm bed, and other material comforts on this and upcoming days. The grace-filled moments were found in the conversations, however brief, with those guests willing to share their own unique story.

Matthew 25:31-46 paints a portrait of the final judgment in which the Matthean Jesus urges his followers to feed the hungry; welcome the stranger; clothe the naked; and to visit the imprisoned. Being with the guests at St. Ben’s was an important reminder of my own Lenten adventure, a particular time of almsgiving, prayer and fasting...

Meanwhile, as I write this post, I am also reminded that two Commonwealth basketball teams, both a red- as well as a blue-painted one, are still prominently represented in the NCAA tournament. Best wishes to the fans of both Big Blue and Cardinal Red!

Steven Henriksen

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

It’s A Matter of Trust

Picking up on the question which concluded last week’s post, permit me to briefly share with you a couple of reflections on my experience in responding to God’s call to enter seminary.

There is no magic recipe to determine whether one is, or perhaps is not, responding to God’s call. The desire to enter seminary seems more than an expression of “mere” feeling, however, but far less than a mystical experience (don’t wait for an apparition, in other words). I think it is a combination of the intellect as well as the heart.

I have found that each seminarian brings to the process a set of differing life experiences, personality types; strengths as well as opportunities for growth. This is part of the reason why a seminary community is always interesting and, yet at the same time, a basis for conflicting points of view on individual and collective needs for formation.

I think my own initial desire to enter seminary had a lot to do with trust; that He was moving me in the direction of service as an ordained minister. Believe me; I was pretty satisfied with my life before seminary! I had received and enjoyed the benefits of a good education; an upwardly mobile career; and the friendships and love of so many. Why did God seem to be bothering me with these thoughts of priesthood, I wondered?

I have found that God places people, events and challenges in our lives which enable us (me, too!) to respond to His call to be a seminarian. A wise priest once told me that I would “spend the first half of my time at seminary wondering how I got here---and the second half wondering how everyone else got there.” With only a semester left at seminary, I sometimes find myself bridging both “wonderings.”

I do believe that “getting to seminary” can be far easier than “making it through seminary.” In my next post, I will reflect upon the influences which have seemingly allowed me to persist in responding to God’s call. Until then…


Steven Henriksen

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Retreat Reflections

The Third Sunday of Lent typically celebrates the First Scrutiny, a ritual preparing catechumens for Baptism and/or for other Sacraments of Christian Initiation at the Easter Vigil. 465 individuals are reportedly preparing our Church, a number which surely represents the movement of the Spirit within the Archdiocese of Louisville. Let’s continue to hold up each of our sisters and brothers in prayer!

The past week marked the end of spring break, at the seminary, as well as of the conclusion of my retreat with the Franciscan Friars of Marytown (in Libertyville, IL). I had a great retreat: full of reflection, meditation and, yes, even a few naps! The Friars were wonderfully welcoming hosts and those responsible for culinary duties were particularly outstanding!

The upcoming week promises to be a busy one with many assignments due, meetings to be attended, and commitments to be met. Yet in the midst of all that activity, I pray to be even more mindful of Our Lord, who truly is the source of all mercies and blessings.

Perhaps it all starts with fasting; prayer; and almsgiving. Of course, these three Lenten “tools” are not ends in themselves, but rather means by which we prepare ourselves for an ongoing encounter with God’s love.

I must tell you: spending time with the Franciscans was certainly not a fasting experience, as my waistline would suggest. However, it was an opportunity to engage in prayer: private; before the Blessed Sacrament; as well as in traditional devotions. My spiritual director is fond of telling me to simply breathe; to take in the “Holy breath,” as he would say. Perhaps there is wisdom for all to be found in that reminder.

As for almsgiving, there is Operation Rice Bowl during Lent. This initiative supporting the important work of Catholic Relief Services gives us a chance to use our dimes and quarters in a way which makes an impact! The contributions which I make to my own Rice Bowl remind me of both the needs of others and of the blessings which I receive daily.

Over the course of my journey as a seminarian, I have received this question: so, Steve, tell us your call to priesthood. In appreciation for the graces of my retreat, I plan on tackling this question in next week’s blog entry. Stay tuned and….

Live in His Peace,

Steven Henriksen