Semantics: A Seminarian Blog

The Importance of Fraternity: Musings of a Highly Social Seminarian

By Patrick Mullan
Second Theology, Archdiocese of Washington
18 February, 2017

Have you ever had the experience of feeling like you’re right where you supposed to be? That’s how I felt after being elected to serve as the Community Life Committee Chair as part of the Student Government Association at the Theological College. What is it like being the Chairman of Community Life?  It feels like waking up every day knowing you’re a winner.  It feels like you’re constantly on a caffeine high, but like, a dangerous quantity of caffeine.  Like, “I can see sound,” amount of caffeine.

Now you may be wondering to yourself, “O.K. Patrick,” which is a strange thing to wonder to yourself, “that’s great, but what does the Community Life Committee do?”  Well, a lot.  We host the world’s premier indoor seminary mini-golf tournament, the Mini Sedes Mini Cup, in the fall. Then there’s intramural volleyball, flag football, indoor soccer, basketball, and softball.  We compete against each other in poker tournaments, a Cornhole tournament, and in the dreary days of February (going on right now) we host the prestigious Iron Seminarian Tournament to determine who is the best in the Tripartite Competition of Darts, Pool, and Ping-pong.  There’s Movie Nights, Sundae Sundays, and Sporcle Fridays. If you like the outdoors, you can go hiking, camping and even skiing with our Outdoor Subcommittee.  We have parties for everything from Election Night to St. Paddy’s Day, but it’s an undisputed fact that the best Super Bowl party in the “Little Vatican” of Brookland is at the corner of 4th and Michigan.

I guess you could say my job as the Community Life Committee Chairman is to plan parties and run events for the guys in the house to boost morale.  While you wouldn’t be wrong, you’d still be missing something.  The reason why I love to serve my seminary community is because I get to help others enjoy their time in formation.  The way I see it, I get to use my penchant for entertaining others and impress upon my brothers one of the most valuable lessons I’ve ever learned in formation for the priesthood: you can’t do this alone.

I feel strongly about a few things in life. One: people who live in glass houses––should definitely invest in shades.  Two: there’s no such thing as “too many Cheezits” unless you’re allergic to what awesome tastes like.  And third: the best part about joining seminary is the fraternity you’ll enjoy with your brothers. It’s like pledging Alpha Omega without any hazing (except maybe learning how to use the 4 volume set of the Liturgy of the Hours—so confusing).  You can’t really tell “how good and pleasant it is when brothers live in unity,” (Psalm 133) from the outside looking in.  So all the fun things we do as a community are meant to help guys (even the introverted ones) develop strong friendships to support his priesthood for the rest of his life.  Just like every other human being on the planet, seminarians need connection to thrive.  A great joy of my formation is getting to use my gifts in support of such connections, which is helping all of us become better priests. That’s a great privilege that I hope I can live up to.

A Humble Closeness: Altar Serving as a Seminarian

By Alexander Wyvill
First Pre-Theology, Archdiocese of Washington
17 February, 2017

I never wanted to altar serve when I was young. The thought of it made me quake in my shoes: what if I dropped something? What if I ruined the Mass? Would I still go to heaven in that case? While my theology of salvation has improved since the third grade, my fear of altar serving has hardly vanished. Many of the other first-year seminarians had considerable altar- serving experience; I did not. I was bound to mess up somehow.

To my dread, my name came up the other day on the rotation of altar serving assignments. I woke up early, donned a cassock and, for the first time in my life, fastened a roman collar around my neck. I looked in the mirror, and felt a deep sense of humility as I gazed at that collar. I was a seminarian now; and the Lord was inviting me into a tender closeness with him in the Mass. I walked downstairs and prepared for the liturgy.

The Mass feels different when you are serving, and especially so when you are discerning the priesthood. As I knelt in the sanctuary, watching Monsignor Panke speak those sacred words of consecration, I was drawn especially to his perspective as the celebrant. I saw the mystery unravel from his angle, as it were. Even more pointedly, I felt a yearning to one day do the same, to hold Jesus in my hands. I reached down with my right hand, picked up the bells, and gave them a brisk ring. All the anxiety about messing up faded into the background; instead, I took a breath and enjoyed the mystery in which I took but a humble part.

After Mass, Monsignor Panke approached me with a word of encouragement: “See? That wasn’t so bad!” He was right. Altar serving wasn’t so bad at all. To offer oneself in invisible, humble service to the altar is a beautiful and simple mystery. As a seminarian, it especially drew my heart to the intimate relationship between the priest and Jesus Christ. It took a while for me to open up to altar serving, but that day I discovered it in a new and surprising light: as a source of humble intimacy and a holy joy.

Why Philosophy?

By Karl Discher
Fourth College, Archdiocese of Baltimore
9 February, 2016

About 5 years ago, I was studying chemistry while at the same time discerning my call to enter the seminary. At the time, the thought of studying Philosophy was the furthest from my mind. I had this stereotype all philosophers did was make esoteric statements and then proceed to make cooing noises over them and that, consequently, they never actually arrived at any level of substantial truth. This misunderstanding couldn’t have been further from reality.

While this stereotype may be true of some members of the philosophic discipline, it is certainly not true of them all or of the field as a whole. Generally speaking, Philosophy could be said to be the study of natural knowledge, as opposed to sources like Divinely revealed truths. While it may not deal with objects in the same ways as the physical sciences, it engages with how we study and understand the world around us. In studying philosophy, I have been given an opportunity to reflect on my experiences and those of others, as well as, especially, those underlying and unsaid assumptions which I have taken up throughout my life and from my culture. Not only do I reflect on these things, but, in studying them, I am able to expand our understanding of many problems and challenges with which we are struggling to come to terms with as a society, ranging from virtuous behavior and action to what it means to exist as a human. My study of philosophy gives me the chance to study matters ranging from God and how we exist to studying what it means to be truly free as a human person in order to prepare me for my study of theology.

Although I may no longer have the opportunity or time to study advanced thermodynamics and calculus, I, as well as all of my brother seminarians, are given the opportunity to prepare ourselves for ministering to the challenges and fears of our society and culture. In so doing, I along with my seminarian brothers are being equipped for the work of the salvation of all of the souls for whom Christ gives up His life, so that all of God’s children may be able to know, love, and serve Him in this life, and be happy with Him forever in Heaven.

Estote Factores Verbi: Becoming a Lector

By Patrick Agustin
First Theology, Archdiocese of Washington
7 February, 2017

On Sunday, January 15, the first-year theologians at the North American College in Rome received the Ministry of Lector.  Bishop Paul Tighe, Adjunct Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture, instituted 49 men, including three from the Archdiocese of Washington: Nate Anderson, James Glasgow, and me, Patrick Augustin.  For men in priestly formation, receiving the Ministry of Lector is an important step on our way to the altar.  Lector is the first of those ministries conferred upon seminarians in their preparation for priestly ordination and allows them to proclaim the readings at Holy Mass.

The Institution of Lectors took place during Sunday Mass before the rest of the NAC community and some guests.  Before we were formally installed, we all lined up two-by-two in the center aisle of our chapel and knelt on the marble as Bishop Tighe led the entire seminary community in praying for us.  It was a surreal moment for me.  Just as the Ministry of Lector brought me one step closer to priesthood, the act of kneeling was one gesture closer to the marble that, God-willing, I will be lying prostrate upon the day of my ordination.  In that moment, I was filled with tremendous gratitude for the gift of the priesthood, but in particular, this ministry.  As I knelt before his excellency, he handed me the lectionary and said, “Take this book of holy Scripture and be faithful in handing on the word of God, so that it may grow strong in the hearts of his people.”  I responded with a resounding, “Amen!”  I was officially a lector!

Before his final blessing, Bishop Tighe shared his episcopal motto: “Estote factores verbi,” which translates, “Be doers of the word.”  He reminded us that being a lector is not merely reading at Mass; rather, the ministry of lector is a ministry of service.  Proclaiming the Word of the Lord involves our very selves being transformed by this Word and living out His truths in our daily lives.  Please pray for these newly installed lectors, that we may proclaim God’s Word faithfully and joyfully!

Groundhog Day

By Danny Baxter
Fourth College, Archdiocese of Washington
3 February, 2017

As morning breaks and the sun rises on February 2nd, the whole world waits in anxious anticipation for a small rodent to emerge from his home in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.  All are waiting with bated breath to hear whether they will have six more weeks of winter or if spring will come early.  Here at Saint John Paul II Seminary, the seminarians are getting anxious for the possibility of a snow day.

Every year since the reign of Pope Benedict XVI, the seminarians have had at least one snow day, sometimes even receiving multiple weeks off for the glorious white stuff and the havoc it wreaks on our hometown in Washington.  Unfortunately with the unseasonably warm weather they have experienced this winter, the seminarians are left to wait all the longer.  Mornings are left distinctly barren and ordinary as seminarians look across the campus of Catholic University for ordinary school day after ordinary school day.  Their eyes grow weary from lack of sleeping in, their sleds gather dust in the closets, and hope begins to fade as exams and papers come and go one by one filled with stress and no miraculous news of the cancellation of classes.  February now dawns upon them as Old Man Winter’s last stand before the onslaught of the March lion’s roar.

This is my third year in seminary, so I have gotten to know the swing of things in the house, and I have heard so often how difficult the month of February can be for seminarians. I have definitely experienced in Februarys past, having to hunker down for exams and papers and the end of the semester seems so far away.  I have sometimes started to miss the snow days of years gone by with my family or the fun times at my last school that were filled with sledding, building snowmen, having epic snowball fights, and drinking scalding hot chocolate and watching movies with great friends.  Ultimately, it was difficult only because I tried to live out February in Februaries past.  Much like the famous Bill Murray film (1993), I will sometimes catch myself going through each day as if I just wanted the next day to come.  Hoping that the evening’s weather forecast will speak of the possibility of snow and ultimately being disappointed when another 50-degree cloudy day comes up.  In the end, though, I know that there is more to be done each day that makes it worth waking up for.

I have a real hope in something that is not far away, and there is not a 40% chance that it will just turn into sleet or melt as soon as it hits the sidewalks.  I have a hope that anchors me to this present moment and presents that moment to me now.  A moment for me to seize not for myself, but for the kingdom of God.  A chance each day to grow closer to Our Father and to do His work and make his kingdom present here on Earth.  In the end, our hope rests in Christ who entered the world so that he could share those moments with us and even now seeks to draw closer with each passing moment.  Our hope rests in the One who gave the last of his moments so that we might share eternity with him.  This is a hope that is much more reliable than any gopher with a meteorology degree, one that is real and effective.  It is a hope that gives me the heart to see the excitement of the ordinary and the joy of each unique moment even in the midst of February.

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