When I first entered high school seminary in 1962, seminary life was still very conservative, strict and disciplined. The Seminary Rule was second in importance only to the Bible itself. “The Rule is the disciplinary means the seminary uses to mold all the individual characteristics and personal talents of seminarians into the likeness of Christ . . . The importance of strict observance of the Seminary Rule cannot be over-emphasized,” the Rule boasted. The Rule was enforced by a well-defined demerit system which “is similar to that used at West Point.”
Each hour of the day was programmed for us and was clearly announced by the omnipresent bell. And so for example, on weekdays, the rising bell rang at 5:50; at 6:05 the chapel bell sounded, and at 6:10 morning prayers and Holy Mass began. If a student wasn’t in his assigned place in the chapel at that moment, a demerit was issued. And so it went all day, until the bell sounded night prayer at 9:00 and “lights out” at 9:45.
Along with the daily routine, just about every other aspect of seminary life was tightly controlled: our vacation time, visiting days, free days, and where we could go and what we could do; our attire – cassocks and surplices in chapel, coats and ties in public areas of the building, and standard-issue gym shorts and shirts for recreation; our telephone calls were severely limited and our mail, both outgoing and incoming, was subject to inspection.
Some students chafed under the strict discipline of the seminary and hated the experience. Personally, it didn’t bother me. In fact, I enjoyed seminary life and thrived under its discipline and expectations.
But then the Second Vatican Council came along, the windows of the Church were thrown open, and by the time I arrived at the North American College in Rome, seminary life had changed dramatically. Most minor seminaries had disappeared and major seminaries were completely different.
In the major seminary of the 1970s and 80s, there were very few rules and expectations. The emphasis was on personal freedom and accountability. You were expected to attend Mass and class, but that was about it. Other hours of prayer – morning prayer and evening prayer for example, were said privately, if at all. Devotions were deemed old-fashioned, and the Rosary was relegated to little old ladies.
A seminarian could move about as he wished with few questions asked; he could go out every night, party till midnight, and travel at will. Because the house was comprised of adults, alcohol was free-flowing and certain rooms became party rooms. In some major seminaries, students were permitted to have part-time secular jobs, and there were few limitations on social relationships. Boundaries between faculty and students disappeared as everyone wanted to be part of the action. Spiritual direction was encouraged, but not supervised, and personal formation programs were just beginning.
Most of the baby-boomer priests, now in their fifties and sixties attended seminaries like this and, for the most part, believe that the more open experience was beneficial to their growth and maturity. And, in fact, lots of fine priests came through this liberal system.
But the story doesn’t end there, because now, in the last twenty years or so, the pendulum has swung again and seminaries have become more structured and conservative.
In a typical seminary today there are more rules and expectations; there’s a lot of structure and discipline. Masses and classes are mandatory and the public recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours is expected. Devotions have returned in force, the Rosary is part of the daily routine, and the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is a litmus test for orthodoxy.
Seminarians are far more “conservative” than their immediate predecessors. They embrace ritual, love the Pope, willingly accept the teachings and disciplines of the Church, display the Roman Collar and even – gasp! – wear the traditional cassock. Seminarians today are expected to participate in a robust program of spiritual direction and human formation. Even getting into the seminary these days requires serious psychological testing – a requirement I’m not sure I would have passed in my day, or even now!
Some older priests are wary of the new breed of seminarians and young priests. The veterans think the young guys are regressing to a pre-conciliar Church. One senior priest told me recently that he’s not sure the young priests will be able to relate to the laity because they’re “too clerical.” Other priests encourage me to assign our seminarians to more “liberal seminaries.” Of course there are no “liberal seminaries” anymore, as seminaries today are either conservative or ultra-conservative.
From my personal perspective, however, I’m proud of and thrilled with our crop of seminarians and young priests. I find them to be intelligent, talented, balanced and personable. They’re in love with the Lord, generous with their gifts, and anxious to serve the Church. They’re not perfect, of course, and are sometimes a little eccentric. (Now there’s a new phenomenon in the Church – eccentric priests!) But, I’m really excited about where the Spirit is leading the Church and I just hope I’m around long enough to see these young guys in action.
Do I hear an “Amen”!
Some light fare for Friday–
New York Magazine featured a great article on Archbishop Dolan of NYC entitled Archbishop of Charm. The writer captures Dolan well: “He is a glad-hander and a backslapper, a tall, energetic, portly Irish-Catholic lug who likes smoking cigars and sipping Jameson’s. He makes a point of saying he’d be far happier talking to me at a parish fish fry than here, jamming himself sideways into an ornate, narrow chair.”
Here are some memorable quotes from the article:
On the Church
He once heard [Pope] Benedict say, “The church is all about yes, yes, not no, no.” “And I thought, Bingo! You know, the church is the one who dreams, the church is the one who constantly has the vision, the church is the one that’s constantly saying ‘Yes!’ to everything that life and love and sexuality and marriage and belief and freedom and human dignity—everything that that stands for, the church is giving one big resounding ‘Yes!’ The church founded the universities, the church was the patron of the arts, the scientists were all committed Catholics. And that’s what we have to recapture: the kind of exhilarating, freeing aspect. I mean, it wasn’t Ronald Reagan who brought down the Berlin Wall. It was Karol Wojtyła. I didn’t make that up: Mikhail Gorbachev said that.”
“I guess one of the things that frustrates me pastorally,” he adds, “is that there’s this caricature of the church—of being this oppressive, patriarchal, medieval, out-of-touch naysayer—where the opposite is true.”
On Gay Marriage
“If you have been gay your whole life and feel that that’s the way God made you, God bless you,” Dolan says. “But I would still say that that doesn’t mean you should act on that. I would happen to say, for instance, that God made me with a pretty short temper. Now, I still think God loves me, but I can’t act on that. I would think that God made me with a particular soft spot in my heart for a martini. Now, I’d better be careful about that.”
So, I ask, is being gay a character flaw?
“Yeah, it would be,” Dolan says—his smile broadening. “And we are all born with certain character flaws, aren’t we?”
But this leaves gay men and lesbians no choice but to form sexual partnerships that will always be seen as sinful. Isn’t that unfair?
Dolan takes a moment to think this over. “There’s no option,” he agrees, still smiling. “But I don’t know if that’s unfairness.”
Sex, he goes on to say, is not a human right, even if modern culture has made it appear that way. But this, he adds, is actually good news. His eyes light up. He seems excited—both by what he’s saying and by the fresh way he’s found to say it.
“The church—this hopeless romantic that she is—holds that sexual love is so exalted that it is the very mirror of the passion and the intimate excitement that God has for us and our relationship. We actually believe that when a man and a woman say ‘I do’ forever, that our love will be faithful, forever freeing, liberating, life-giving. We believe they mean it and they can do it! That’s exciting, that’s enriching, that’s ennobling. That’s a big, fat yes—yes!”
Life News reports that a Pro-Life watch group has researched the new Swine Flu vaccine and found it was not created using cells from aborted fetuses–a method used in creating many vaccines available today. Yes, that is correct, many vaccines are manufactured using cell lines harvested from aborted babies. Here is a chart of vaccines manufactured using such fetal cells. Doctors would ask the parent if their child had an allergy to eggs before administering measles and chicken pox vaccines. Why? Because the vaccines were created using a chicken egg cell derivative. How did the pharmaceutical companies address this? They used cells from aborted fetuses. Problem solved.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a statement on this very subject in response to a letter seeking clarification on the morality of immunizing children with such vaccines where no alternative exists. This horror came to my attention several months as I was researching vaccines that my children were required to receive. I became aware of an entire industry based on the sale of baby parts. Read here. Who would have thought that something as ‘routine’ or elemental as a vaccinating your child would be a moral issue?
God our Father, you lovingly knit us in our mothers’ womb. Grant that each human embryo will be respected as a human being, and not dismissed as a product to be manipulated or destroyed. Grant us the courage and conviction to be your voice for our sisters and brothers at the very earliest stages of their development, and for all defenseless unborn children.
Jesus, Divine Healer, foster in those conducting medical research a commitment to finding cures in ways that respect these little ones and all your vulnerable children.
Holy Spirit, grant us the wisdom to develop morally sound treatments for conditions now thought to be incurable. Help us persevere in defending human life while alleviating suffering.
Show mercy to all who have cooperated in killing our tiniest brothers and sisters. Bring them and all who support destructive embryo research to true conversion. Grant them the ability to see the immeasurable dignity of all human beings even in the first days of life.
Father, we ask this in Jesus’ name, through the Holy Spirit. Amen.
From the Vatican News Service today comes highlights of Pope Benedict’s address to the Bishops of Brazil, who just completed their “ad limina” visit. Commenting on the various roles in the Church, the Pope explained how “the particular identity of priests and laity must be seen in the light of the essential difference between priestly ministry and the ‘common priesthood’. Hence it is important to avoid the secularization of clergy and the ‘clericalization’ of the laity”.
“In this perspective the lay faithful must undertake to give expression in real life – also through political commitment – to the Christian view of anthropology and the social doctrine of the Church. While priests must distance themselves from politics in order to favour the unity and communion of all the faithful, thus becoming a point of reference for everyone”.
“The lack of priests does not justify a more active and abundant participation of the laity. The truth is that the greater the faithful’s awareness of their own responsibilities within the Church, the clearer becomes the specific identity and inimitable role of the priest as pastor of the entire community, witness to the authenticity of the faith, and dispenser of the mysteries of salvation in the name of Christ the Head”.
“The function of the clergy is essential and irreplaceable in announcing the Word and celebrating the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. … For this reason it is vital to ask the Lord to send workers for His harvest; and it is necessary that priests express joy in their faithfulness to their identity”.
“The shortage of priests must not come to be considered as a normal or typical state of affairs for the future”. In this context he encouraged the prelates “to combine efforts to encourage new priestly vocations and find the pastors your dioceses need, helping one another so that all of you have better-trained and more numerous priests to support the life of faith and the apostolic mission”.
Pope Benedict once again focused on St. John Vianney as a model for priests. In this Year For Priests, remember to keep your parish pastors and priests in your daily prayers. Thank them for their commitment and offer them encouragement to continually renew their awareness of their identity, dignity, responsibility, and irreplaceable role.
The fruit of Prayer is Faith.
The fruit of Faith is Love.
The fruit of Love is Service.
The fruit of Service is Peace.
Developed by St. Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621)
- Catholicity . The Church’s Name, Catholic, Universal, and world wide, and not confined to any particular nation or people.
- Antiquity. In tracing her ancestry directly to Jesus Christ.
- Constant Duration . In lasting substantially unchanged for so many centuries.
- Extensiveness. In the number of her loyal members.
- Episcopal Succession . Of her Bishops from the first Apostles at the Last Supper to the present hierarchy.
- Doctrinal Agreement. Of her doctrine with the teaching of the ancient Church.
- Unity . Of her members among themselves, and with their visible head, the Roman Pontiff.
- Holiness. Of doctrine in reflecting the holiness of God.
- Efficacy of Doctrine . In its power to sanctify believers, and inspire them to great moral achievement.
- Holiness of Life . Of the Church’s representative writers and defenders.
- Miracles . Worked in the Church and under the Church’s auspices.
- The gift of Prophecy . Found among the Church’s saints and spokesmen.
- Opposition. Aroused On the Same Ground As Christ Was Opposed
- The Unhappy End. Of the Church’s Enemies
- The Temporal Peace and Earthly Happiness. Of those who live by the Church’s teaching and defend her interests.