“It’s times like these you learn to live again.
It’s times like these you give and give again.
It’s times like these you learn to love again.
It’s times like these time and time again.”
-Foo Fighters “Time Like These”
I don’t really know if I can put this whole year into words, now that I’m home for my summer break. I mean, I don’t think I’ve experienced so many joys and so many challenges in following my call to the priesthood as I have this year. It’s meant so much to me that you’ve all been willing to follow along and make this a part of your own journeys. And without all of you, and the chance I’ve had to share and to reach out, I know that it simply would not have been the same. I’m convinced it simply wouldn’t have been as fun or meant as much or helped me step out of myself as much as I’ve had to. I don’t know if I can say I wouldn’t be in the seminary still without all of you, but I can definitely say it would have been a lot harder.
And so the summer begins! Not only do we seminarians need to be careful not to act as if we’ve been released from prison in how we celebrate the end of finals and of another school year, but this is as important a time in our formation as priests as I think there is. I know that you know the feeling, it’s like coming home from a retreat, when we’ve spent days coming closer to God, making new friendships and building stronger foundations for older ones, and yet we’ve always got to come back down to the “real world.” But there’s no better time than this to bring to our friends and our families the love we’ve experienced, or the challenges we’ve faced, or the truths, the joys, and the struggles we’ve encountered. There is no time like then to be honestly Christian, to let it really shine through, because if we can’t be real when we come back from a retreat experience, when are we ever going to be real?
So that’s how I’d been feeling these last few weeks, from the time I started packing up my room at St. John’s, to making the drive back down the coast to come home, to unpacking all my junk (ok, so I haven’t really done that yet, I promise that’ll happen soon, mom!), I have to admit I didn’t really want this year to end. As you’ve read during these last ninth months, there are a lot of comforts in the seminary life: we’ve got great food, our own private rooms and personal space, a tremendously beautiful campus, friends to support and challenge us, daily mass and community prayer, and so much more. And yeah, there have been the challenges too: sometimes too much great food and the danger of ingratitude, feelings of entitlement to personal space, distractions from prayer and studying, arguments with or feeling maybe overburdened by living with friends, the temptation to take mass and community prayer for granted. All the beautiful gifts we have at the Seminary can move our hearts to burst with gratitude, but there’s also the danger that they can harden our hearts and distract us from what it all really means.
And so I’m convinced that, just like coming home from a retreat and reconnecting with those we love and have missed, coming home for the summer from the Seminary is going to be one of those “coming down the mountain” moments when I find out what it really means to be a seminarian, and if I’m cut out for this life of a priest. Because I don’t have that community of sixty plus men (and a few women too!) to live with, to eat with, and to pray with, there’s a real temptation for me to leave my prayer life back up at the seminary. I could skip out of daily mass because it’s not in a schedule set for me; I could stop spending a holy hour every day because there’s no tabernacle in my parents’ house; I could stop praying the Liturgy of the Hours because there’s not really anyone else around me who I could join with. But I don’t really think any of those excuses are really good enough.
So this is where I really learn what it means to be a seminarian and to be a priest. Am I going to leave being a seminarian at the Seminary, or am I going to “come down the mountain” having let this school year and this formation year actually change me, help me to grow? And this is something I hope we can do together, too. I don’t think you have any idea how amped I am to join you all for the Lifeteen Camp again this summer, or how hungry I am to find ways to serve my community, not because I’m bored or because I feel obligated, but because that’s what it means to love and to let an experience like I’ve had truly move us. So let’s do this together. I’ve finished another year in the Seminary and I’m half way done with the eight year process, but I’m not the only one involved here. Let’s not let up, because it’s times like these that we find out what we’re really meant for, we learn to live again, we learn to love again.