They are nice walls, but sometimes we need to get outside of them!
So I wrote a little bit last time about our Field Education Class here at the Seminary. But it felt like I said so little about it, and I’m astounded every week I get back to the Seminary how much I’m getting from the experience. It’s especially great because I go out and take part in the ministry on Wednesday afternoons, and then the next morning we have a class where we get to unpack the experience. It’s called Theological Reflection (TR) and I can honestly say it’s one of my favorite experiences here at the seminary (and that’s actually saying a lot!). TR is time spent actively letting faith seek understanding of how God has moved in our lives, especially in the places where we struggled most or when ministry was so confusing. It’s meant to drive home the technical theology classes we wrestle with (or thoroughly enjoy!) and make it clear to us that this stuff does matter and it makes a difference in the world around us. And we get to be the ones who share that with those around us, whether it be with family, friends, or complete strangers.
So I thought I’d share with you a case study I wrote up for my Theological Reflection class, just to show you all a small part of what goes into a seminarian getting ready for active ministry and how blessed we are to be learning how deeply God penetrates into even the simplest, most unexpected moments of our lives. This is called a verbatim because we get to take a short piece of a conversation that we’ve had during ministry and so reflect on it and see what feeling we had before hand, how it made us feel afterward, and what we feel God is calling us toward in future ministry.
Me (ST): Hello, this is the Senior Support Line calling, my name is Tim, We’re just calling to see if there’s anything we can do for you, to see if there’s anything we can help you with.
C: (sounding down, tired) No… not really.
ST: Is there anything you’d like to talk about. We’re here to listen in case you just want to talk.
C: Well… I’m just having a rough time.
ST: I’m sorry to hear that, is there anything that we can do for you.
C: Oh, it’s just that I’ve got some family issues right now and there’s nothing I feel like I can do but pray. And I’ve been praying and praying until I can’t, and then praying some more.
So began one of my conversations on January 30, 2013, with one of the clients of the Senior Support Line that I’m a part of at Camarillo Health Care District. Upon reflecting on the whole conversation and even further conversations I’ve had with her, I look back on how she sounded at first and it almost scares me. I feel that way because she sounded so down and out, but I’ve come to know her as a woman of great faith who dearly loves her family and remembers many things about them with great joy. She has even confided in me about things that she has no one else to talk to about, and that is not something I would have expected when I first heard her voice. So, some of the feelings I need to remain aware of in this case are that I was a little worried to hear someone who sounded like that, but I am also joyful that I can recognize a shift in someone’s voice and attitude when they have gone from feeling alone in a situation to knowing they have someone who will listen.
I’ve had a couple of other meaningful conversations with her since then, but this one sticks out to me because of that change in the tone of her voice and the lifting of her attitude throughout the talk we had. The issue that was really weighing on her has somewhat resolved itself, but it’s something that may remain a concern. Still, I think she is happy to know that I, or someone like me, will be there to listen. I must remain aware of this though, that it doesn’t make me feel like she needs me, but that she mostly needs someone to listen. On the other hand though, I must find that balance of also recognizing that such conversations do build relationships (and the conversation we had was uniquely ours), even though there is a limit to how far I can take that. My service is only over the phone, technically, so I’m not really allowed to reach out beyond that. So a challenge for me moving forward will be to very much keep her in my prayers, knowing that it’s unlikely I will be allowed to actually meet her in person while I’m still working at this placement, and maybe even beyond. She has even made a mention about how talking to me feels like going to Reconciliation. I shy away from this, but it also makes me smile: it will be important to see this experience as a way to grow in the listening and ability to share wisdom and experience that will be necessary for future ministry in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I believe that God is preparing me in ways I never expected.
In experiences like this one my time in the seminary has been turned upside-down. My first semester was almost all about transition, fitting into the new surroundings. But this semester, we’re being sent out, while still having to balance our studies with our rest and taking care of ourselves mentally and physically. For a while there, I was thinking that this was all about school work, but this has been a good wake up call.
So sometimes we seminarians find ourselves getting a little antsy, like we need to get out of here! And that’s not such a bad feeling to have. Yes, we’re so blessed to be here and we love learning what we’re learning (well, at least I can speak for myself!), but there comes a point where we just need to get out and share it with you all. After all, we’re not called to be seminarians for the rest of our lives; we’re called to move on from this place as priests!
But it’s not that we’re doing this because we think you’re all helpless and need us to come to your rescue. We’re doing it because we need to remind ourselves about the relationships and the love we’ve experienced that have led us to want to be priests in the first place! And we’re doing this because we want you to feel that same love and urgency to fall in love with God again and again and again… or like it’s the very first time! So, know that even the smallest moments of our lives are filled with chances to see how God is calling us closer to Him. And know that there’s no way these Seminary walls can hold back God’s deep and active love from spilling out into the world.