TOWARDS THE YOUTH SYNOD: “Hey guys, Pope Francis wants to hear you” •
I never imagined that life in seminary could be filled with so many unforeseen experiences and impressions. I’ve always admired seminarians – those who came to our parish for apostolic work, the few who returned annually for Christmas break, and even the ones who came to our school for retreats. They were the perfect people – or so I thought – committed to the gospel of Jesus with an undying resolution to live chaste in an unchaste society. I had always loved to be like them. I have always drooled at that singular imagination where it would be me in a white soutane, attending classes, teaching parishioners, and gaining the love that ensues from such position.
Reality sets in
When I finally gained admission into the seminary, my default ideas of a Catholic seminarian started crumbling, or should I say– it had a metamorphosis. I began being aware of my initial motivation to becoming a priest. I began being aware of the seminary’s limitations towards formation. I began seeing seminarians that didn’t fit into my all-perfect image. I saw priests that cursed people. Also seminarians discussing girls with such passion that almost scandalized me. In fact, I got scandalized all along the line. I stopped praying the way I used to. Stopped attending masses with the burning zeal I used to always have. I started taking siesta; something I never did back home. It made me lazy. I became a robot – always available for activities yet not participating. I almost lost touch of my spiritual foundation – the Rosary. I was faced with the gigantic task of passing exams, by any means. Likewise meeting up to the challenges of formation: appearing malleable before my formation instructors or receiving communion even when I knew I wasn’t in the state of grace. I swam unwittingly in the engulfing current of seminary life.
However this was in the initial stage; I had embraced it with such passion and naivety that it smothered a lot away from me. In hindsight, I understand now why I had to take siesta, why I should not always have been in my room praying, why I should speak and socialize with my brothers. I understand that my directors, though incapable of seeing through my emotions, are always the voice of God I search for persistently in prayer. What I had seen as scandals had become to me a passive way that God wished to teach me about the diversity and orientations of humanity. Because I had always known priests to be in the soutane, I had to rethink my notion of priesthood. Also my initial intention and motivations waned drastically because I came to understand that the priesthood is not all about the glory masking the background sufferings. I may not have succeeded in peering through the impenetrable life of priests, but I have the opportunity to at least eavesdrop on their opinion about it. I always feel blue about it, but they make me stronger in a way I couldn’t have been without such revelation. I began rethinking, looking back, and rebuilding the foundation on which I laid my motivations.
However, life in the seminary could also be boring and sometimes, choking. With the boisterous lifestyles of our peers that we are condemned to see on Facebook, Instagram, and what have you. They whet our concealed emotions. They make us think of the opposite. I must say that these friends have helped me understand to some extent what I am about to enter. My giving of self to the service of God’s people would be insignificantly worthless if I do not understand what I am doing, or what I am giving.
Remembering who I am
There is another thing: prestige. Being a seminarian in Nigeria, or some part of Nigeria, is always a quick ticket to gain respect and admiration. People want to associate with religious leaders and seemingly succeeding aspirants. I want to feel accepted; I also want to feel loved and respected. I think that has to do with our innermost longing to be happy. But I have noticed that in the midst of all these abstract properties, I was fast losing something of mine: my personality. I need to be myself, to know that I was still Ifeanyi before I became a seminarian and that I could likewise give respect and shower love. I want to believe that I am capable of loving, that my being a seminarian doesn’t keep me immune me from all the vile vices and virtues of humanity. I want to have the courage to go to confession, to understand that sin doesn’t make me unfit, but that it justifies my frailty as human and dependence on God’s providence. I want to know and express my sexuality in the perfect way that Jesus did while on earth – to talk to ladies with the clarity of intention and with freedom from expulsion.
Everyone has a problem; seminarians do. And there would not be any solution if people do not come out from their shells and reach out to help. But how could this be when most priests in formation houses appear to be under a punishment from the Bishop or Superior. They walk about with their faces creased with frustrations, breathing out threats of expulsion at every flimsy mistake we make. I may have exaggerated here, but the truth can still be carved out therein. I am aware that seminary earns seminarians unmerited privileges, but that doesn’t justify the fact that seminarians should be cowed into pretentious living all to keep and safeguard their vocation.
Building a community of brothers
I desire a seminary I can call a family that even if I’m asked to leave, I will cherish the training, the love, and the life I’ve shared with so great a diversity of genuine humans. I won’t say I haven’t gotten it, but I know many of my fellows cannot dream of such seminary. The dream I have is that every seminary would be like the Schoenstatt formation house here in Nigeria. However, this is a wish that is almost impossible considering the differing orientations of formation instructors. But I know that if I have to leave Schoenstatt today, I would feel so much similar to one who has been torn away from one’s very family. That is what I believe formation should be – building a community of brothers.
I’ve gone far in the seminary, but not so far in this essay to encompass every bit of my experience. I will, however, thank God for his graces so far. For directing me to the path I am now on, not just as a seminarian but also as a Schoenstatt seminarian.
God bless my seminary instructors! God bless the Schoenstatt family.
Edited: Melissa Peña-Janknegt, Elgin, TX USA