Monday, January 6, 2014

Human Formation

For this blog post, I thought I would write a little bit about the down-to-earth, human aspects of seminary life. Perhaps this is not true for life-long Catholics who grow up seeing priests their whole lives, but for me as a convert, when I first came into the Church I saw priests as idealized, larger-than-life figures. It was through getting to know several priests and religious, including the priests at my parish and the Dominican student brothers that visited for the summer, that I realized that priests and religious are actually normal people! It may seem obvious to many of you, but for me it was a revelation to understand that they are human beings just like the rest of us. That was an important step for me to begin considering the possibility that I too - as ordinary, flawed, and human as I am - could be called to be a priest or religious.

It's no different here at seminary. We're all human, with all that entails. We laugh, joke, and tease one another. We often encourage, support, and watch out for each other. We also sometimes annoy, frustrate, and get bored with one another, the seminary administration, or our professors. We have fun events like our Halloween party. We hosted a soccer tournament a few weeks ago: four teams from Catholic seminaries in the area competed, and lots of fun was had by all. One of my classmates has started organizing a movie night on Saturday nights - we've recently watched such classics as "Ghostbusters", "Cool Runnings", and "Monty Python" and the "Holy Grail." There are also the days when there's not anything exciting or unusual going on, just the mundane everyday tasks of studying, doing laundry, going to class and prayer, or taking a much-needed nap (although hopefully not during class or prayer). We also make friends: I've not yet been here for three months, and already I've formed several friendships that I know will last beyond my time here at seminary.

We are a community here. We are a community of men with all kinds of backgrounds from mechanics to meteorologists to mathematicians. But we are all men who feel that God may be calling us to the priesthood. And when God calls someone, he calls the whole person, with all of their background, their talents, their weaknesses, and their personality.

All of these aspects relate to what the Church calls human formation, and it is one of the most important parts of what seminary is about. Human formation deals with forming who we are on a human level: our appearance, our emotions, our personality, our sexual identity, how we interact with others. It is one of the "four pillars" of priestly formation, along with spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral formation. The goal of human formation is to shape and understand these aspects of our self so that our human personality becomes "a bridge and not an obstacle for others in their meeting with Jesus Christ," as the Program of Priestly Formation puts it (PPF 75). My favorite class this semester has been Human Development and Christian Maturity, because it deals with precisely these issues. The main thing our professor, Br. John Mark, wanted to impress on us at the beginning of the course was that "there are no spiritual idiot savants," meaning it is impossible to progress in the spiritual life without also progressing in personality development, emotional development, psychosexual development, moral development, etc. Another key idea of the course, again taken from the Program of Priestly Formation, is that "human formation happens in a three-fold process of self-knowledge, self-acceptance, and self-gift;and all of this in faith. As this process unfolds, the  human person becomes more perfectly conformed to the perfect humanity of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh." (PPF 80).

Every vocation, indeed the Christian life in general, involves making a gift of our self: offering our lives, our plans, our desires, and putting them at the service of another. One of the most beneficial aspects of my being at seminary so far has been for me to realize that in order to make an authentic gift of myself, as I long to do, I must first know and accept myself: I must know who and what it is that I am giving. The whole structure of the seminary creates an atmosphere that is conducive to thinking and wrestling with these important questions: through the Human Development course, celibacy formation workshops, counseling and spiritual direction, prayer and Adoration, and simply forming friendships with other guys who are or have been wrestling with the same questions.

Thank you for your continued prayers for me and my brothers as we persevere in our formation "until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13).

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