by Adam Burns
Today I came across a blog post suggesting that every young Catholic man should go to the seminary, even if they do leave and go on to become married. As someone who has walked that path, I absolutely disagree.
Now, it should be noted that the post in question was written from an American perspective, where the first few years at seminary is more akin to “pre-formation”. In the States, a man can attend a Seminary College, where they study a degree while discerning the call to priesthood.
Still, I found myself disagreeing with the author’s view. Firstly, the cost to a diocese to send young men to the seminary only for them to leave before ordination would be huge, especially if a man goes off in a completely different direction and doesn’t continue to serve the Church in other ways. Secondly, not every man is suitable for seminary life. Some men don’t live well in community, some may be grappling deeper issues, some simply already know they’re not called to be a priest. In such cases, going to a seminary can be a tough experience, both for the man, and for the brothers he leaves behind. Sadly, I’ve seen men use their experience in a seminary as an excuse not to grow up and move on.
But my real gripe with the blog post was that it seemed to suggest that a seminary is an instant fix, that any man could enter a seminary and leave somewhat better for it. But human beings don’t “plug and play”. We all live with a different set of experiences and a different set of perspectives, and simply suggesting that everyone should do this, that or the other ignores the uniqueness with which we are all created. We all have a story, and suggesting that there’s a “one-size fits all” process to discernment ignores the centrality of one’s own story within the context of who they are called to be.
This isn’t to say that everything is subjective. Indeed, there’s an objectivity to vocation that I think would simplify many people’s discernment: every person is created in the image and likeness of God, and the basis of all vocations is the calling of Baptism, the heart of which is love. Yet, everything from that point on is an expression of one’s own relationship with God and others. That is to say, God calls, but at some point we must respond.
Thus, vocation is a responsibility. Specifically, my response to God’s calling, particularly the part about loving and serving God and neighbour, is my responsibility. And it’s my responsibility here and now. Discernment is a daily activity, in fact a constant activity, as I respond as Christ’s hands and feet in the here and now. The idea of discernment as a one-time intensive period of reflection and thinking before one finally makes a life decision, put simply, is not good enough. Discernment is about seeking holiness, not an answer.
Each of us can engage with our own story, which is more than merely going through the motions, it’s where the rubber hits the road in our relationship with God and with others. Doing things because they’re recommended, or because everyone “should”, is not discernment, it’s jumping through hoops.
Should every young Catholic man enter the seminary? No. But every young Catholic (man or woman) can look deeply into their own story, of everything that has led up to this moment, and of every hope and dream for what comes next, to create a sense of meaning and purpose grounded in their relationship with the Gospel.
Our Church today doesn’t need people who just go through the motions of existing; rather, the Church needs people who grasp their story fully and are able to add it as testimony to the compelling story of the Gospel, a story to which we are all called as members of the Body of Christ. With everything going on in the Church, our country and the world at the moment, we need people who will stand for something, a conviction based on love, prayer and discernment. People who, because they are in life, are able to experience “the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties…of this age” (Gaudium et Spes, 1). Spending time in a seminary doesn’t automatically make you a wiser, better, more experienced person. Neither does discerning any other State of Life. It’s what you do with the experience that counts.