Sunday, December 4, 2016

Advice to a new semiarian

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,
I have just gone off to the Seminary of the Diocese of Frostbite Falls, at Bathsheba Bible College and frankly I feel like I am on my way to a desert island. Do you have any words of wisdom, or at least some humorous anecdotes that can distract me from my current nervous agitation?
Robinson K. Russo
Dear Rob, may I call you Rob?
I remember my first night at Bathsheba Seminary. I lay in bed thinking what am I doing here? That was about 50 years ago. It was a very different world, but I must admit, the Lord has not changed one little bit. He has been faithful. You are investigating the diocesan priesthood, and I will not spare you one gory detail, so before I start, I want to share an experience I had when I was first ordained. People make a great fuss over young priests. I’m not sure why. I was once a young priest and believe me, I was pretty much a self-absorbed idiot. 
Still, people are very kind and if you are ordained you will find that you celebrate about twenty “first Masses.” There’s the parish, the prayer group, the cousin in Iowa, the first assignment. The list of people who want you to say a first Mass is unending. I even said a first Mass back in Lower Upper-Hessia. After visiting my cousins in Germany, I went down to Italy and realized that it was the first time I had been alone since I had been ordained almost a year before. I made my way to Rome where I found rooms at the Casa Internazionale del Clero (International House of Priests. I am not making this up.) I asked the dear Irish nun who ran things if I might be able to say Mass. She showed me a chapel and set me up with chalice, vestments etc. and then left. I was about to say Mass absolutely alone, except of course for the Angels, the Communion of Saints, the Blessed Mother and the Holy Trinity present in that tiny chapel. 
I got to the words of the offertory, “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation” at which point I broke down sobbing. I was a priest. I was offering the sacrifice of Calvary for the redemption of the world. I was about to call down the Holy Spirit on bread and wine and I would hold heaven in my hands. The goal of so many years and so much internal and even external suffering had been reached. I was a priest. By God’s grace, I was a priest. From that day to this I have never regretted the decision. There are lot of things I have regretted, decisions, failures, tasks and even sins, but I have never once regretted the decision to accept God’s call to be a Catholic priest.
I want to start with the central beauty of the priesthood because I want to be completely honest about the stuff that isn’t so beautiful. I want to tell you all the everyday things I wish I had been told when I was your age. I want to talk about studies, money, friends, people, what not to throw in your garbage can, family, people in whom you shouldn’t confide no matter how nice they seem now. You need to know about how to handle a calendar, sleep, health and sports, diet, being invited out to dinner, priest collectors. 
You will need to learn about building maintenance, building permits and the construction trades. Make sure that you assemble a good tool kit and know carpentry and basic wiring as well as boiler maintenance. You need to know about spiritual warfare. Believe me, the devil will come calling sooner than later and he is usually disguised as an angel of light. You need to know about gifts and charitable contributions, the ones you get and the ones you give. You need to know about popularity and the lack thereof. You need to know about the intellectual life of the priest. The Bible!! You need to know about the priest and the Bible, as well as the priest and his life as a disciple. You need to know about alcohol, drugs and sex (just say “no”) and how to live comfortably in a glass house, rather a magnifying glass house. And you need to know, above all, about prayer.
Why do you think the Lord may be calling you to the priesthood? The answer, “I want to help people,” just isn’t good enough. If that’s your answer, I would suggest that you become a social worker, or better still a plumber. There is a specific way that a priest helps people. He brings the forgiveness and healing of Christ in the sacraments of anointing and penance and he brings them the most valuable thing in all the world: the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus. If you don’t believe the real presence of Christ is the Blessed Sacrament, I would suggest that the priesthood is not for you. Therefore, the first suggestion I want to give you is that you spend time in front of the tabernacle. Time spent in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament is never time wasted. Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you. Seek FIRST.
The devil, who is not very happy with you at the moment, will do his best to weaken you if he cannot dissuade you. There is a saying that whom the devil cannot make bad he makes busy. Prayer FIRST. Remember that the disciples spent 9 days in prayer before the afternoon of Pentecost, but what an afternoon it was! Let the Lord build the house, and then it will be well built. There is a reason Jesus worked in construction. Let Him do the designing and the heavy lifting and the project should come out well.
To be continued…

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