Sunday, December 25, 2016

Advice to a young seminarian - part 4

Continued from last week…

More elderness. I often think back on what little I can remember of my youth. How I wish I had known then what I know now. But then again, if I knew then what I know now, I probably wouldn’t know now what I know now. Is that clear? I suppose I am saying that I learned what little I know in the school of hard knocks. My favorite prayer in the Breviary is “O, Lord save us from the sins of our youth and stupidity.” Learn from my stupidity. I didn’t take school seriously until I was in my last year of college. I majored in classical Greek and minored in Latin. Sounds scholarly, no?

The truth is that I was going to major in psychology so that I could help people. The registration line at the Big U. was blocks long. An old Jesuit looked at my transcripts, saw that I had taken some Latin in High School (required) and told me that Classics majors went to the front of the line. Bingo! I was a Classics major. (I was famished at the time.) I signed up, went to lunch and said I’ll change it next week. The flesh being weak, I never bothered to change and found that I liked Greek and Latin, even though I wasn’t terribly interested in working at them. 

Many parties, beer bashes, political demonstrations (it was the 60’s) and a religious conversion later, I finally got interested in learning things. Because of an unfortunate incident on a dance floor, I decided that the requirement of priestly celibacy in the Latin rite of the Roman Catholic Church made a lot of sense, and so I had weekends free. I spent them in the library basement among the research stacks and there developed a lifelong fascination for Sacred Scripture and its meaning in the original cultures and languages. My point is this: don’t waste your education. If you are not ultimately called to the priestly life, you can waste your time and energy later. Right now, learn! You’re never going to have this chance again. You will have plenty of time later, if you are not ordained, to be an adolescent who does stupid things. Right now, you have to start being an elder. It may sound boring. Don’t be boring. Laugh a lot, be a good friend to good friends. Just don’t be an idiot like I was. I ultimately learned Latin and Greek pretty well, thanks to our Blessed Mother.

Years ago, on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I went to a Mass at the seminary from which I had graduated at the invitation of some seminarians in my parish. I walked in the basement door and, mind you I am about as mystical as block of cheese, I do not have visions or hear voices. However, as I walked in the door, I hear a voice that was so nearly audible, that I turned around to see if someone was there. The voice said, “You’ll be teaching Latin and Greek here at the college seminary next year.” I walked into the sacristy and the dean turned around and, without so much as a “Hello,” said “Do you want to teach Latin and Greek here next year?” I said, “Sure.”  I had no qualification whatsoever except that I haphazardly majored in the subjects and I was willing to work cheap. I was there for almost 25 years and I really learned Latin and Greek despite myself.

Take Latin. Learn Latin. I used to call my course remedial thinking. Latin and its grammar structure are a wonderful intellectual exercise. I can communicate in French and Italian, but I can actually speak Spanish, albeit with a rather odd Puerto Rican accent. I did take a year of French, but I never studied Italian or Spanish. Spanish is just Latin badly spoken and I can do that! Latin provides an understanding of grammar and so doing, it provides an insight into human thought. A world of languages is open to you if you can understand the concepts of grammar. Latin may well be the venerable language of Western civilization and the Latin Church, but the overwhelming reason to take Latin is that opens a world of learning. Take Latin! Among the things it opens up is the grammar necessary to learn Greek.

Take Biblical Greek. That sneaky Jesuit and my need for a burger combined with the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, made my life inestimably richer. To read the New Testament in the language in which the Holy Spirit wrote it is a treasure I cannot begin to explain. The gift of Biblical Greek in my life has been a gift that I am able to share with everyone who loves Scripture. Part of your job as a priest is to teach. People in our times want to know the Scriptures. They will come to you. Don’t fob them off with a few platitudes and a nice thought. Believe me. They will go elsewhere. Bathe yourself in the Scriptures. To do that, you have to know Greek and a little Hebrew. By this I do not mean a short Israeli.

Learn Hebrew. My Hebrew stinks. It is worse than my French, which can confuse the Almighty Himself. Still, after a few years I was able to muddle through a page and see what the text was getting at. Learn Hebrew, at least a little. Latin, Greek and Hebrew are not that hard. Every three-year-old in Rome spoke Latin and in France even the children can speak French! If you take these courses and have questions call me. They are much easier than Classics professors make them out be.

In short, go to class. Do your homework. So you miss a few frat parties.  I didn’t miss many of them but now I can’t remember them. You, or your parents or someone are not paying untold thousands of dollars so you can hang around with the cool kids throwing up out of a dorm room window, not that I ever did such things. You, or someone, are paying for an education. Get it. If you still want to be an idiot you can be one later on. Besides, the cool kids I still know in my old age are either in a treatment program or dead. Oh, yes. And some of them are judges and lawyers. But they tend to be sober. At least now. This is a joke. I don’t mean it. I have nothing but profound respect for our legal system and those who maintain it.

Much more next week.

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