Vocation

It’s also back-to-school time for our future priests

A Franciscan offers advice to a young man headed to seminary

It’s not just children and college kids headed off to school at this time of year. Young men discerning a vocation to the priesthood are also beginning seminary studies in these weeks. Certain convents at this time of year are welcoming postulants.

For these young people also heading off to “school,” here are some thoughts to keep in mind, from a letter written by a Franciscan priest to a young friend entering seminary studies.

A Great Adventure: Letter to a Young Man Entering Seminary

July 29, 2016

Raphael,

Greetings and peace!

A while back, your dad asked me to write you a note of encouragement as you prepare to enter your Archdiocesan Seminary Program. I imagine the feelings you are experiencing about now are daunting and thrilling.

Raphael, reflecting on what to say, I started recalling when I was heading off to seminary and what guidance I was given, as well as what advice I picked up during my initial years of formation. I leafed through the Bible that I prayed with early on, noting the things I wrote down on some blank pages. Hopefully, the following wisdom seeds will fortify you during times of questioning and lead you further along the journey of seeking wisdom and understanding in your discernment process.

I had been reading Scripture prior to entering the seminary, but was haphazard in my direction. At that time I decided to read God’s Word in its entirety. I thought if I was going to be preaching, it might be good to be very familiar with the Book. Plus, it would be cool to be able to answer someone when they might ask, “And, so, have you read the Bible, cover to cover?” And I could say, “Why, yes, I have.” I’ve read through it now two and a half times.

There was a verse from the Book of Sirach that was a God-sent anchor through many a stormy times during those years of formation. So this is the first wisdom seed to pass along to you:

Book of Sirach 2:1–9 (NAB)

My son, when you come to serve the Lord,
prepare yourself for trials.
Be sincere of heart and steadfast,
undisturbed in time of adversity.
Cling to him, forsake him not;
thus will your future be great.
Accept whatever befalls you,
in crushing misfortune be patient;
For in fire gold is tested,
and worthy men in the crucible of humiliation.
Trust God and he will help you;
make straight your ways and hope in him.
You who fear the Lord, wait for his mercy,
turn not away lest you fall.
You who fear the Lord, trust him,
and your reward will not be lost.
You who fear the Lord, hope for good things,
for lasting joy and mercy.

In preparation for reading the Bible, I would recite a brief prayer that helped me focus my thoughts and opened my heart to listen to God’s Word speak to me. Later on, I found out I was praying a variation of the prayer known as

St. Francis Prayer to Discern God’s Will
Said Before The Crucifix

Most High, glorious God,
enlighten the darkness of my heart,
and give me right faith, certain hope, and perfect charity,
wisdom and understanding, Lord,
that I may carry out your holy and true command. Amen.

This is a prayer of expectation, Raphael, expecting God to respond to you. I’ve found that God oftentimes does meet us in our expectations, though seldom in our wistful wishes. This is another wisdom seed to pass along.

The Word is always new and God will speak, when we learn to be still and listen. Over time, I put together my thoughts on ways of studying Scripture:

4 Ways to Study Scripture:

  1. Informational – gathering of facts and information;
  2. Inspirational – the Word begins to stir in one’s spirit, elevating one’s heart;
  3. Incarnational – the Word becomes personal and spreads roots in one’s soul;
  4. Transformational – the Word begins to produce fruit in one’s daily life. As Jesus said, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it” (Lk 8:21, NAB, RE).

Raphael, you might consider writing down quotations, stories, or whatever you come across in your own readings that you want to save and recall, or use later on in a homily or retreat. One of our friars suggested this to me early on in formation. He said your memory isn’t that good and you will forget what it was or from where you read it. I started writing down those quotations and stories that deeply spoke to me; now I have 63 volumes filled up with more to come. 

Raphael, I will pray that God inspires you with your own power verse; one that will instill a vision to fill you with a sense of meaning and purpose.

In closing, as you begin your great adventure, I leave you with this blessing:

May God guide you and guard you; protect you in safety and peace.
May God enlighten you with wisdom and understanding, and
May God grant you every grace and blessing you will need to face the challenges of this day.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Amen.

Peace and Blessings!

Fr. Brian, TOR

The full text of this letter can be found at http://www.appleseeds.org/Great-Adventure_Letter-Seminarian.htm

Marlou

Fr. Brian Cavanaugh, TOR

Fr. Brian Cavanaugh, TOR ministers at Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH. Paulist Press published his award-winning "Sowers Seeds" series of stories and illustrations for preachers, teachers and public speakers. In addition, Fr. Brian has been published in The Priest, Human Development, Homiletic & Pastoral Review, The Sower, Storyteller Magazine, and other publications.