Sad desert night blooms
I will wake up before God
For He is faithful
A couple of years ago, full of hopes and anxieties, as most newbies, I entered a Catholic Diocesan Seminary. For those who might not know what I’m speaking about, that’s where you live and study for six or more years until you are ordained, first a deacon then a full priest. What I am going to share is a personal, neutral, non partisan view on how is life in a Catholic Seminary, and, also, why I am not going to be one.
A disclaimer: your mileage will vary
There is nothing like a standard Catholic Seminary. Anything that I am going to share can differ from your experience.
First of all, it’s your comrades next door who have a stronger influence in your seminarian experience. If you are a serious defender of the Liberation Theology and your pal next door is ultra-conservative, you might have a problem. Or not. It might seem impossible under the light of not-so-friendly internet “debates” on religion, but the truth of the matter is that people with different viewpoints can be friends.
Then it would be your teachers and priests -pardon me for not using the “technical terms”- who will have a major impact in your life. You find great ones, your spiritual life will grow under constant challenges; but if you get less responsible or just less gifted ones, you could find yourself wondering why you entered in the first place.
Do not enter the Seminary if:
1.- You lack a solid spiritual life.
Do you pray every day? Do you attend Mass more than once a week? Make regular confessions? Do you have some personal devotions, like the Rosary, the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy or the Lectio Divina or the Liturgy of the Hours?
If not, you’d better build up that before you enter. Make no mistake you will spend hours of prayer and meditation every single day, no exceptions. You will attend Mass 364 days a year, rain or shine. There will be prayers before and after meals, classes and almost anything. That’s just like it is.
2.- You have recently converted or returned to Catholicism.
That’s usually a mistake, allow yourself some months to discern if you are really called to be a priest or you just feel “you must give your life to the Church”. I know it happens.
3.- You disagree with major points of official Catholic Doctrine.
That would not be cool at all, trust me; not specially under the present Pope.
4.- You don’t agree to have a background / psychiatric check.
We had to spend two days doing batteries of psychological tests and a personal interview, in which we were asked quite intimate matters. They are taking no risks with you know what.
5.- You value money.
Despite what atheists may think, priests salaries can be quite low. Where I live you could earn more flipping burguers -yet, you usually get a free lodge in the rectory.
6.- You have not spent months seriously considering it.
This is a major life change that could have consequences. I had to abandon my law office, to others it might be just a delay in their studies, but still, please give it good thought first.
7.- You have not visited a seminary and more than once.
However you can join the seminary even if you…
1.- … consider yourself a sinner. Welcome to the club.
2.- … know nothing of liturgy. They will train you.
3.- … are impatient. Like many,
4.- … are too patient. So what?
5.- … are not that bright. If you can understand my English, you’ll be fine, just work harder and better.
6.- … did bad at school. (See point 5)
7.- … are not a born leader. The moment you are a seminarian, people will treat you as if you were special; for better and worse.
8.- … never lived without parents. Grow.
9.- … can’t pay for tuition. There are scholarships, and there are people and organizations that would pay. Don’t worry.
10.- … were not an altar boy.
11.- … are old.
So how’s life in a Seminary
Your mileage may vary, again, but in general…
- You have three or four major praying times: Morning, Evening, Night and some other; usually Mass comes next to some of those. Total praying time can vary widely according to who is in charge and the length of the homily.
- You will also have classes on varied disciplines as Sociology, Psychology, History, Philosophy, Theology, Bible, Christian Arts, Latin, Biblical Greek -which is easier than standard- and possibly Hebrew. That’s pretty much standard, but you will have to check your local seminary.
- Is it hard or easy to pass? You know, that’s really up to the teachers.
- You will also have regular instruction in, guess, how to pray, spiritual life, religious counselling and so on.
- Regularly, often weekly, you will have a talk with one of your superiors. That’s not a confession. He will asks you about your life in the seminary, how things are going for you and so on. He will also tell you what you need to fix and so on.
- Obviously with so much praying and studying you will spend most of your days seated. So much, that comfort became my strongest motivator to kneel at prayers. Watch what you eat, and try to get some exercise, else you could be on your way to morbid obesity.
- Meals are in a common room by the way, usually with all the seminarians and superiors. (Tip: be friendly with the cook). It can be quite formal, friendly or even cold, depending on the atmosphere of the seminarian. Note: if you visit one, stay away of those in which people are “acting up” or appear to be too cold with each other. That’s a symptom that something is going very wrong. A seminary should be like a family, there would be good and bad days, but most people should be friendly to each other.
- Which leads us to…
Are you searching for the perfect seminary? Forget it. You could find people like me, who can forget flushing the toilet, or worse. You will meet all sort of people, conservative and liberal, fat and thin, aggressive or timid, and anything between. Hopefully, the screening will leave the clinical cases out, but still that leaves room to many kinds of people, all living together under the same roof, day after day, for years.
So yes, you could lose your temper with some guy. And the other way around. It’s normal.
Horror of horrors, even bishops make mistakes -or have different views- at liturgy.And this time you will notice because you will be trained in that too.
And for all that’s good under heaven, pray you get a decent cook.
So why am I not going to be a priest?
In short, a subtle version of -> 3.- You disagree with major points of official Catholic Doctrine.
It is not that I openly disagreed with some mayor points of Catholic Doctrine. But I did, even beyond my own wishes. In fact I was not fully conscious of it until months after I left the seminary.
I should have noticed when somebody called me protestant and it struck a nerve in me. That would have saved me a lot of time.
The issues at hand? Theology, mostly, relax nothing to do with abuses of any kind.
In any case, after my superior voiced some difficulties regarding my vocation, I first left the Diocesan Seminary after two years and joined as a postullant (wanna-be) a priestly order where I stayed for another year. Then it was another superior who saw me, in lay terms, too sad there, and hence he offered me to either repeat my year as a postullant or leave. I chose to leave, because I had already given anything I had.
Leaving the seminary is not cool.
Do you remember the beginning of the Haiku: Sad desert night? That’s exactly how I felt, and still feel to a point. It was like losing both job and wife at the same time. On the long run, however, I am healing nicely, and who knows maybe I even become a Pastor, but this time I will not make me believe what I, deep inside, don’t.
So don’t be afraid. I’m not telling you what to do or don’t with your life, just that you spend good quality time discerning.