WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Nearly 20 men attended a March 25-27 vocation discernment retreat at St. Joseph Seminary where Fr. Shayne Craig outlined some of the challenges and responsibilities of the seminary and priestly life.
Those who choose the priesthood should know they are accepting a lifestyle with considerable built-in discipline, says the rector of St. Joseph's Seminary.
"A man entering the seminary says 'yes' to Christ and 'no' to all kinds of things," Father Shayne Craig told men discerning their priestly vocation March 26.
"Union with Christ and the Church presupposes a life of self-discipline rather than a life of self-indulgence. Such a life is not easy and it's not automatic. It is a lifetime's work, a life of following the Lord until the end."
Craig spoke about seminary life and priesthood to close to 20 mostly younger men who attended the seminary's vocation discernment weekend March 25-27.
Men reflect on whether they're hearing God's call to priesthood
"I think it went extremely well," said seminary rector Father Shayne Craig. "At least half a dozen will fill out applications (for admission to the seminary)."
Throughout the weekend participants heard talks about seminary and priestly life, toured the seminary and the adjacent Newman Theological College, and took part in a social and attended a prayer session and Mass.
Calgary's Ralph Oballo, 21, is currently shopping for a seminary and was happy to attend. "The seminary here is good, although I can tell it is geared toward the diocesan priesthood."
Three years ago Oballo, who is finishing a degree in biological sciences at the University of Calgary, spent a few days discerning at the Fraternity of St. Peter Seminary in Nebraska and is leaning towards a religious order.
But that's not written in stone. "I still have to pray more about it," he says. "I'm looking for a seminary and I'm discerning if this is the right seminary."
William Rooney, 19, currently preparing to become a Catholic through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults at St. Dominic Savio Parish, says he came to feed his spirit and to see what the seminary has to offer.
"I met with Father Paul Terrio (the director of the vocations office) and he recommended that I come this weekend," the University of Alberta student explained.
"Right now I'm concerned with my primary vocation (to become a Catholic) but I'm here with my eyes on the cross trying to be open to God's call.
"The priesthood seems like a very good calling and possibly mine but saying anything right now would be jumping the gun as it is because I'm not even baptized yet."
Kellyn Leiva, an altar server and eucharistic minister at St. Joseph's Parish in Grande Prairie, was "very excited" about his visit to the seminary.
The native of Nicaragua graduated from high school last year and says when he started thinking about possible careers the only thing that came to his mind was the priesthood.
"I'm very excited about it," he said. "Being a seminarian is a lot of work but if God is calling you to do it, you should do it."
Leiva feels God is calling him to serve as a priest, but he admits sometimes he feels unsure. The most challenging part of seminary life and priesthood is "the relationship part — not being able to have a family."
Nolan Kuly, 16, came from Vegreville to the discernment weekend. He heard about the event from his pastor and thought it could be a good experience.
"Right now I'm not too sure what I'm going to do when I graduate so I decided I should come here to have a better idea if I want to go into the seminary."
After listening to Craig's morning speech, Kuly said: "It takes a lot of time and a lot of commitment to the Church (to become a priest). Personally, I'm not sure if I'm ready for that right now. I have to keep on thinking about it."
The three-day event also included a tour of the new seminary and college, a social, Mass, prayers, recreation and vocation testimonies from current seminarians.
Participants came from across Alberta and Western Canada. About half a dozen of them will apply for acceptance as priesthood candidates.
In his early morning talk, Craig said when he entered St. Joseph Seminary "about a thousand years ago," he didn't really know what seminary was all about.
That changed in 1992 when Pope John Paul II and the bishops of the world came up with the apostolic exhortation I Will Give You Priests, which clearly defines what the Church expects of its priests.
"This document is important and it is good to know it intimately so that you understand the mind of the Church and what the Church is asking of future priests," the rector told participants.
Quoting from the document, Craig said it is essential that the seminary not be experienced simply as a place in which to live and to study "but as a community, specifically an ecclesial community that relives the experience of the group of 12 (Apostles) who are united to Jesus."
"The building is very nice but we are not about the building," Craig said. "The seminary is meant to foster a response to the invitation of the Lord to love him with all our heart, all our soul and all our mind."
In I Will Give You Priests, the pope wrote that a priestly candidate is a necessary and irreplaceable agent in his own formation.
"That's something that I never got taught in seminary," Craig noted. "I kind of went through seminary with somewhat the idea the formation was something that they - the professors and the Church - did to me."
But, according to the pope, "formation involves us; involves you," he said. "All formation, priestly formation included, is a self-formation. No one can replace us in the responsible freedom that we have as individual persons."
Added Craig, "You yourself have to work with the Holy Spirit and open yourself to the guidance and leading of the Holy Spirit so that the image of Christ the Good Shepherd can be formed within you."
The seminary emphasizes responsible freedom.
"The seminary and the formation team will not decide all things for you," he told the men. Rather, through spiritual direction, formation groups and other means, the formation team helps seminarians to freely form themselves to live a life of discipleship.
Inescapably, such a life is going to run head-on into confrontation with "the slavery that we have with things that are not Christ-like," including a person's ingrained habits or vices.
For example, being late is not itself a great sin but it could become a big obstacle in a priest's life if it is habitual.
"If people can't count on us, if we don't fulfill the commitments that we make to others, our tardiness could become of great importance," Craig said. Sometimes, "a small bad habit can become a serious vice that impedes our ministry, our service to others."
Most priestly candidates struggle in the area of relationships. But as Craig put it, "our vocation to priesthood demands an intimacy with Christ and the Church and precludes such intimacy with others."
"Saying 'yes' to the special consecration to Christ and his people we know involves celibacy, which is not something that drops on us from heaven at ordination. It's a way of life," he said.
"Saying 'yes' to this vocation, this relationship with Christ and the Church, means saying 'no' to other good and holy relationships with others."
Celibate priests are not just unmarried men, Craig explained. "We are not just bachelors or single men. In a deep and profound sense, we are given over to Christ and the Church. What that means is that certain ways or habits of acting, legitimate for single men or bachelors, are not legitimate for us."
At St. Joseph's, candidates are helped to achieve a commitment to prayer.
"So we have structures: daily Mass, the daily office, Morning and Evening Prayer, Night Prayer," Craig pointed out.
"Missing daily Mass is not a mortal sin for a Catholic but daily Mass assumes a different importance in the life of a priest and in the life of a seminarian."
Seminary discipline aims "to create good habits that are hard to break."
In addition to spiritual, pastoral and academic formation, St. Joseph's emphasizes human formation. Why? "(Because) priests are sometimes obstacles to meeting Jesus Christ," Craig observed.
He shared the story of a priest whose manner, style and personality drove people away instead of bringing them closer to Christ.
"Absolute orthodoxy, perfect piety maybe utterly ineffective if the human in the all-too-human person of the priest puts off people."
Craig said the seminary spends a lot of time focusing on basic human formation "precisely so that we don't block the face of Christ from people."
To serve such human formation, St. Joseph Seminary has various structures, including community life itself.
"The daily asceticism of living together, breaking bread together, sharing community responsibilities and tasks is a school of community that forms us in all the human virtues, or at least it can, if we cooperate."
Seminarians and team members also meet in groups to discuss human relationship issues appropriate to their stage in formation.
The main instrument of human formation, though, "is the experience of seminary itself. It's the experience of communion which is profoundly rooted in our communion with the Lord Jesus."
"The priest is a man of God, the one who belongs to God and makes his people think about God," Craig said.
"Christians expect to find in the priest not only a man that welcomes them, who listens to them gladly and shows a real interest in them but also, and above all, a man who will help them turn to God to rise up to him."
The priest needs to be trained to have a deep intimacy with God. "Those who are preparing for the priesthood should realize that their whole priestly life would have value inasmuch as they are able to give themselves to Christ and through Christ to the Father," he said.
"We aren't helping anybody as priests if we only lead people to ourselves. We've got to lead them perhaps through us to Christ. And we can only do that if we ourselves are turned towards him."