Today I have begun my second official year as a Catholic Seminarian.
It’s funny saying that, because I feel like I’ve been on this journey for all of my life; it feels impossible to split things up into ‘before preparing for priesthood’ and ‘preparing for priesthood’. I suppose this is because the Lord is now using all my experiences, all my joys and hopes, my griefs and anxieties (see Gaudium et Spes 1), to shape me into His priest. Somehow, in His wisdom, the Father is able to take hold of my entire life and use it for His will. Looking back with a heart that now knows Him, I can see His fingerprints and recognise His voice. My sins, weaknesses, failures and mistakes are all still there – sometimes in
So yes, I’m entering my second year. But, in a certain way, I’m also halfway through my 21st year of preparation for Holy Orders.
To begin our year, we have travelled down to the old Seminary which was founded in 1900 and active for nearly a century. Celebrating the Sunday Eucharist in the chapel there was a beautiful experience. As you can see from my photo below, the chapel itself is beautiful – but what was truly special was celebrating Mass in that place where so many seminarians before me have prayed. Fr Alan, our spiritual director, said in his homily that it has a special feel to it because “the walls are filled with the prayers of seminarians who have gone before us.” I thought of all the men who would have sat or knelt in there, pouring their hearts out to the Lord. At different times they would have felt afraid, uncertain, excited, bored, nervous, peaceful. Their prayers would have been fervent, desperate, difficult, honest, hollow, beautiful. In other words, these men – my ancestors in the faith – were like me, and prayed like me.
To be one of thirty men in the New Zealand seminary, it’s easy to feel lost among the four-point-something million Kiwis currently living here. And sometimes this feeling of minority can lead to either pride (‘Aren’t I good to be doing this, when so few do?’) or despair (‘Why the heck am I doing this, when do few do?’). But now, recognising the ‘great crowd of witnesses’ who have gone before me, I can see it from a new perspective. I’m no longer one of thirty; there are hundreds and hundreds of NZ men who’ve answered the call.
Suddenly, the journey towards priesthood is a lot more crowded – I like it.