Sunday, 9 January 2011

So, what is seminary about?

Being January, Oscott is closed for business. The seminarians, except the top year, who are still on holiday, are on pastoral placement, in our home dioceses. 

Henry is still on extended pastoral placement in North Walsham, and has only two weeks left before he returns to Oscott as a shiny new fourth year, with all the responsibilities of an acolyte. 

For the rest of us, we have just a short 3-week placement to dip our toes into a parish.

Ben is up in Peterborough, in the parish of St Peter and All Souls and Our Lady of Lourdes, and I am in Cambridge, in the parish of Our Lady and the English Martyrs and Our Lady of Lourdes (funnily enough). These are two of East Anglia's largest parishes, and we are staying in presbyteries which are homes to more than a couple of priests!

Our Lady and the English Martyrs, Cambridge

My parish in Cambridge has twelve Sunday Masses, including out-lying Churches served by the Rectory in the city, and so far, I have assisted at Sunday 3 Masses (still 2 more to go today!), this being our first weekend on the mission.

Today, I was privileged to speak to the parishioners about the purpose of seminaries (in addition to the preaching of the celebrant for the feast of the Baptism of the Lord). I have been discovering how hard it is to speak to all the members of the congregation at the same time! But there seem to have been a majority of attentive faces looking in my direction!

What follows is an abridged version:

"When Pope Benedict returned to Rome after his visited to the United Kingdom, he wrote a letter to the world's seminarians, encouraging us to persist in pursuing our vocation. “The seminary community”, he said, “is a community journeying towards God”. We have been sent to the seminary by our bishops to partake in this journey, the end of which is to discover the vocation which God desires for us. For most of us in seminary, that is to be found in the ordained priesthood.
Seminaries, however, are much more than just ‘priest-factories’. Seminarians should become men of prayer. We are to be called, in a particular way, to make manifest the Incarnate Word. We grow in intimacy with Him through prayer, both in the liturgy, and in private. In prayer, we not only give praise to God, but we become aware of our failings, and we learn to improve ourselves, remaining in the presence of God, joyfully serving Him. 
At the heart of our relationship with God is the Eucharist.  A seminarian comes to love the liturgy with ever deepening affection, not only by learning about it, but by experiencing it in all its beautiful potential. 
Only through prayer, and the experience of living our lives to the full, can we come to maturity as human persons, becoming well-rounded people. Seminary lasts six years, not only to get to know God, but to get to know ourselves and others. It is a “school of tolerance”, in which, we experience the fullness of life and forgiveness in the Church, which we are called to serve as priests.
Ultimately of course, we have to learn. We have two thousand years of wisdom and teaching to learn before we can be expected to teach and lead others in the faith. Seminarians have quite a rigorous academic timetable: Liturgy, Scripture, Philosophy, Greek, Theology, to name a few. Suddenly, six years can seem far too short a time.
Intellectual formation finds its fulfillment in the pastoral ministry of the priest, and regular pastoral placements anchor our formation in the service of the people of God."

I went on to ask the parish to pray for me and my brother East Anglians, and all the seminarians at Oscott, during our formation.

Update: While distributing the Precious Blood at the last Solemn Mass of the day (during which the music and the preaching were particularly splendid), I noticed on the base of the chalice an inscription reading: pro vocationibus sacerdotalibus

A happy co-incidence indeed!

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