I’ve been to numerous social gatherings where a conversation with a stranger naturally goes from “What’s your name?” to “So what do you do?” When I tell someone I’m a seminarian one of two things occurs: Either the person avoids any further discussion on the matter or they ask one of the following four questions. I’ve only been in seminary one year and I’ve already been asked each of these four questions numerous times by people who are curious about a life that is “not the usual route”. Here’s a brief look into the life of a seminarian studying to become a Diocesan priest.
1. “So do you, like, study the Bible and stuff?”
Most students who enter seminary right out of high school will go to a college seminary where they will get a major in philosophy and a minor in whatever they are passionate about or seem to be skilled at. Common minors include psychology, theology, business, English, and classical languages (Latin, Greek…).
If a student went to college before entering seminary and did not get a major in philosophy, they will enter what is called “pre-theology”. This is generally a two year endeavor in which one receives a degree in philosophy.
After a seminarian completes college seminary or pre-theology he enters major seminary where the focus shifts more to theology. While Scripture is an important aspect of theological education, there is much more in the Church (which came before Scripture) that needs to be studied. This usually takes around four years to complete. This level of education would satisfy the academic requirements to be ordained a priest.
2. “So how did you know you wanted to be a priest?”
Ask fifty seminarians/priests this question and you’ll ultimately get fifty different answers. God works in each of our lives in a unique way. Some people feel the call to the priesthood when they are in elementary school, others when they are grown adults.
That being said there are some common elements to a person’s discernment of priesthood. Rarely (though it does happen) does someone hear a distinct voice tell him something profound like “You will be my priest”. Oftentimes it’s a small, still voice that tugs on the heart throughout a person’s life. If a person has a daily habit of prayer and is seeking to do God’s will they’re more likely to hear how He is calling them to serve Him and serve others.
Personally I didn’t really start feeling called to discern the priesthood until I was in college when I started seeing the priesthood in a new way. There was something beautiful about the priesthood that I felt drawn to. I took those desires to prayer and I feel as though God has called me to continue to discern whether that’s His plan for my life.
3. “So the celibacy thing doesn’t bother you?”
There are different ways this question is posed depending on how direct the person asking it wants to be. Other forms of the question are “So you don’t want to get married/have kids?” or the classic “But you’re so good-looking! Are you sure you want to become a priest?”
Whenever I hear that third question I always think to myself “What, priests are supposed to be ugly guys that just could never get a date?”
In response to questions like the first and second, I would say that the priest/seminarian still has some desire to be a father and a husband. That’s natural! Mentally and emotionally stable men who discern their vocation well are not simply “running away” from marriage, rather they are giving it up to receive something else that God has in store for them. God places in their hearts the desire to serve as spiritual fathers and be espoused to the Church. It is a type of love that is hard to describe, especially by someone who has yet to experience it in its fullness.
Whenever someone adds something like “I just think that’s giving up a lot”, one of my initial responses is to comment on the fact that you “give up a lot” in any vocation God calls you to- be it marriage, priesthood, or consecrated religious life. When you vow to spend your life with someone in marriage, you’re saying that you’re not going to leave them for someone more attractive when they get older and less visually appealing. You’re not going to give up on them when they are sick or when you get frustrated with them. You have to “give up” a lot in every vocation. The question is not “Which ‘giving up’ will be easiest”, but “Which ‘giving up’ is God calling me to so that He can provide me with something beautiful to ‘take up’?”
4. “So what do you do at seminary?”
At the college seminary I’m currently at the day starts off with a holy hour of prayer at 6:15 am before Jesus in the Eucharist. Included in this holy hour is a time for community prayer called the Liturgy of the Hours which is prayed by every Catholic priest, religious life, and seminarian every day around the world (and is encouraged among lay people as well). Afterwards we have Mass, then we head out to take our classes. Most guys are done around early afternoon which leaves some free time. Generally guys will workout, take a nap, do some studying, play guitar, or just hang out with some friends. In the evening we pray Evening Prayer as a community, then we have a block of time set aside for studying.
The weekends are usually free after a holy hour and Mass (which start at 9:00 instead of 6:15). Most guys will study, go to a local sports game, catch up on sleep, workout, or whatever else they can find to keep them busy.
Depending on the day we also have monthly formation meetings (a 1-on-1 meeting with a priest to ensure we are on the right track in all the aspects of seminary life), bi-weekly spiritual direction meetings (a 1-on-1 meeting with a priest to help us in our spiritual lives), weekly “apostolic outreaches” (where we serve others in the community), weekly floor meetings (where a floor gets together with their RA and formation priest to share announcements and boost morale) and weekly “spiritual conferences” (where we are given an informational/inspirational talk by a priest).
If you have any other questions for a seminarian, please feel free to comment below!