Thursday, September 28, 2006

Advice to seminarians

I've noticed, along with the explosion of blogs of every sort, a number by seminarians discerning the priesthood. I've visited some of them, have some linked at your right, and seen posts from them, linked at other Catholic blogs.

Many of those seminarians visit here, and I'm delighted to have you.

But may I offer you gentlemen some advice?

Be careful about blogging!

This may seem obvious, however -- what you blog is visible to the world, including anyone in your diocese . . . including anyone who may have an agenda in your diocese . . .

I've seen blogging seminarians who boast how orthodox they are; who make it very clear they are traditional and conservative. I just visited a blog where the young man talked about heresy in one of the parishes he was involved with.

Be careful, gentlemen! You're asking for trouble...

Now, some might protest: "Shouldn't I speak up?"

Well, that depends. What did the Scripture say today: "a time for all things." There are times when you must speak up, as a seminarian; but there are many times when one feels one must -- but, on reflection, one needn't; and one might have done better to hold back. It happens to everyone of us, including seminarians with admirable zeal.

Do remember, my friends, that it is very unlikely you will face battles or choices, as a seminarian, that you won't be able to re-visit, and fight with more "heft," as a priest. In the meantime, you will learn a great many things that will not make you any less zealous, but certainly more prudent.

I don't want you to be false. Never say something you don't believe; never do something on your own initiative that you do not believe to be right.

On the other hand, there are times when you may have to remain silent; and while that can be galling, it is not necessarily a sell out. After all, in most situations, you will be acting under someone else's authority; so obeying that authority is legitimate. If that authority wants you to say something that is true, but perhaps incomplete, that need not be selling out -- and if you persevere, the time will come when you will have the authority to do it better. Then it will be your turn.

Seek out a priest -- or any friend -- who, regardless of whether you and he agree in all matters, you do hold to be a man of integrity, to be truly wise, and to have your best interests at heart, and to love the Church. He should be someone outside the seminary system. And confide in him. Let him be the one who cools you down when needed, or confirms you and gives you advice in prudence when you need to act.

Here's the thing.

Priests need to have quite a variety of gifts, including zeal, including holiness, including firmness and boldness, including orthodoxy and commitment to the Faith. But that is not the end of the list. We also need to be "gentle but ardent shepherds," as one of the collects in the Missal says; we need to be prudent, sensible, patient. We need to be able to choose our battles, because you will not be able to fight them all, at least not all at once. We need priests who can build bridges ("pontifex") to all we can. If I can find a way to proclaim the message faithfully, and keep that person who disagrees from walking out? I think that's the right way to be "pastoral."

You see, there are many temptations, and the most perilous ones are not obvious -- they are disguised as "angels of light." The temptation to be more certain than you really have right to be (I don't mean about the big things, but about more subtle matters, or about application rather than principle), the temptation to make the present situation more urgent and more unique than it is, the temptation to overestimate ones own importance (you will learn that when you've preached awhile: many listen well; but many will break your heart!)

Also, remember -- this was important to me -- that your primary task as a seminarian, is to learn and prepare. It's not your turn yet to lead. So wherever they send you: learn first; fix later. No matter how much good you do, you won't fix the whole Church -- learn to accept that fact.

Also, no matter what experiences you go through, at the seminary or anywhere else, they won't keep you from being the good, holy priest you aim to be!

If -- and please God, when -- you are a priest, you'll discover most of the faithful aren't fighting these theo-political battles. They have their own battles to fight, and whether they are conservative or liberal, what they want and will honor with extraordinary generosity and faith, are priests who lead, teach and sanctify them.

You will find, when you are a priest, that doing these "basic" things will occupy and satisfy you, with no compromise.


Clare said...

Thank you Father for posting such wise advice!

And seminarians, please heed the good Father's advice. We faithful need you to get through seminary and be ordained! We are starving and enduring out here. Our hope rests on you running the race to the end!

Keeping you all in prayer - Clare

SoonerScotty said...

Said with the grace and wisdom that comes with experience...Thank you.

J.T. said...

If -- and please God, when -- you are a priest, you'll discover most of the faithful aren't fighting these theo-political battles. They have their own battles to fight, and whether they are conservative or liberal, what they want and will honor with extraordinary generosity and faith, are priests who lead, teach and sanctify them.

AMEN! As a person in the pews. let me second this! I believe this is the most important advice any seminarian or newly-ordained priest can learn. We don't care about these "theo-political" debates. We're too busy trying to stay Christ-focused in a world where we worry about our kids, wonder about our jobs, deal with aging parents, remain true to addictive spouses, deal with our own imperfections, and try to make life work each day.

Diane said...

Listen to this priest. The goal is to get ordained.

Like a soldier in the bush behind enemy lines, you can ill aford to swat the flies biting you lest you give up your position.

Fr. Martin - you are added to my sidebar! You have a very fine blog.

Doubting Thomas said...

I was very grateful to read your words Father. I hope I do them justice in my own life and in my work and friendships with our clergy.

the Joneses said...

As a lawyer and a soon-to-be-finished seminarian (albeit in another communion), AMEN! Good word, Father.

Chucko said...

Father, given your fresh experience with such matters, your words are mana to those contemplating (and undoubtedly already involved in) the process of becoming a priest. You see, while this has been a serious consideration of mine for some time, I can tell I clearly lack the patience that a position of such gravitas absolutely requires. I continue to pray that my weaknesses will become strengths regardless of whether I am ultimately called to the priesthood.

Thanks again for such a great post. :)

dpt said...

"We need to be able to choose our battles, because you will not be able to fight them all, at least not all at once."

I think the best way to battle is to set a prayerful and charitable example for those in the pews. Encourage and inspire the flock to pray, to participate in the Sacraments, to Love their neighbors and to show Mercy to their enemies.

Nice post father.

Deacon Jeffery BeBeau said...


Great advice! So true, it obviously reflects a lot of wisdom on your part.

On another topic I left a comment on your post regarding Canada's committment in Afganistan. I would appreciate the change to email you in private. Is there a way that could be done.

Dennis said...

Thankfully, I have a couple of readers among my seminary formation staff, as well as my vocation director, who read my blog. Only once in three years have I been asked to prayerfully reconsider something I had written. It was just after my first year, and it was, as you point out, a matter of prudence.

I think every seminarian that keeps a blog should make sure his formators know about the blog, and that they scan it from time to time.

I've heard some seminaries (or is it just Mount Saint Mary's, Emitsburg?) are prohibiting the practice of blogging. If you enjoy blogging, you certainly don't want to be the cause of such a prohibition.

Dennis said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Deacon Jim said...

Excellent points. It is also so among the young, converts, and idealists of many sorts to assumes the sins encountered in one locale stretch across the globe.

Be prudent in judgment and don't overexagerate what you encounter.

Sharon said...

Great advice father. I hope that the seminarians who visit will take your advice; we need good and holy priests.

One of the 'living treasures' of my own parish told me that her great nephew bought a copy of 'Catholicism' by Richard McBrien and used to pepper his assignments with quotes from it and not make it obvious that he was Faithful to the Magisterium. He is now a priest. Another who was not so circumspect didn't make it to ordination.

Rob said...

Thank you, father. As a husband and father, I have learned that keeping your mouth shut is the beginning of wisdom (after fear of the Lord, of course.)

Anonymous said...

This is very important advice. Thank-you Father.

I'm not a blogging seminarian, but as a blogging young Catholic who can sometimes get swept away with plenty of zeal and yet a lack of prudence to keep me in check I was reminded of the importance of being careful about what I'm posting the other day. A priest I know well came up to me and mentioned he'd discovered my blog via google when looking up something with regards to the parish he'd previously been at. The post had been positive, asking for prayers for a local pastor who was to be ordained a bishop, yet after talking to Father I was thinking. . . well, if Father can read my blog, is there anything on there I wouldn't want him reading? I don't think I had anything of concern on my blog but it was good to step back and reflect on that.

joeh said...

I think this is good advice for anyone starting out whether it is in a seminary or in any vocation. It certainly works well in marriage. However, I have one question. When we had all the orthodox Catholics being turned away because they were orthodox and all the gays being pushed through our seminary system which led to our painful child abuse issues, would it not have been nice to have a few step forward even at the risk of their own future in the priesthood? How much pain, moral standing, and fortune have been sacrificed when a few very bold people might have changed things. What did they know, when did they know it, and why did they keep silent?

Dave Oatney said...

Father, this advice is sage and sound. In the larger field of spiritual warfare, we must pick our battles wisely, knowing when to fight and when to hold our fire.

Father Joe said...

Seminarians are very vulnerable and your counsel about being guarded and even nuturing silence is well said. I knew three fairly conservative (i.e. orthodox and traditional) men a few years ago who were dismissed as seminarians by their bishop because he judged them "too rigid". Fortunately, the bishop in an adjoining diocese took them in and they are all good and successful priests today. Passivity is treated as a virtue in the Church and many of our religious leaders found advancement precisely because they were good at damage control, even if it sometimes sacrificed the truth or vocations. It must also be said that many bishops are a great deal more "progressive" than the men studying to be priests these days. Along with many older clergy (who were liberals in the 1960's and 70's), they are troubled and at a loss as to what to do about it. (The tension over giving holy communion to pro-abortion politicians would be a case in point where men who objected to the practice could get into a great deal of trouble.) Once ordained, a man can speak and act a bit more confidently and securely; and yet, as men under authority, we are subject to greater censure and rebuke from our superiors than the laity.

I have even known laymen who were angry that their priests did not speak out more vocally about certain issues (like birth control, women priests, homosexuality, etc.) However, they fail to appreciate that priests can be fearful and that if silenced on an issue, obedience obliges them to assent to their bishop...even if the bishop is wrong. Such can happen and good men go to the Cross.

Everyone thinks that celibacy is the hardest promise to keep; but often, it is obedience.


frival said...

Father, this may be one of your more timely posts. I've been wrestling with the issue of taking to task more "big issues" in my blog for a while now. My only hesitancy has been caused by the fact that I feel I may have a vocation to the Diaconate (being married, of course, precludes the priesthood) and the knowledge that what I say now could some day jeopardize that vocation. It is very difficult to feel you could do more but to also know that to win the battle could be to lose the war as it were.

The one counter-point that has been ringing about my head is the line from Luke 12:20: "But God said to him, 'You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?'" It suggests to me that, while patience is a virtue one also cannot presume on the plan of God. Of course, I'm probably over-thinking the whole issue, as I'm wont to do. All the same, an excellent post and something for all of us to think about and chew on.

Father Martin Fox said...


There are many opportunities to do good; you aren't obliged to pursue all of them, are you?

frival said...

Good point, Father. Perhaps judicious rather than avoiding altogether is more prudential. I just hope my Guardian Angel (requisite current Memorial reference) keeps me out of trouble. If nothing else, the exercise of restraint versus all-or-nothing should prove a very useful training ground for whatever God calls me to. There's a good reason you're a priest...

Gashwin said...

Father: thanks so much for this sage advice! It is greatly appreciated! It's also always worth remembering just how public a blog can be, and how permanent too.

Denise said...

I find myself a Catholic homeschooling-blogging mother of four in Ohio, benefiting from your advice here to seminarians as well....I found this post very informative; and this paragraph to be particularly insightful:

"... If -- and please God, when -- you are a priest, you'll discover most of the faithful aren't fighting these theo-political battles. They have their own battles to fight, and whether they are conservative or liberal, what they want and will honor with extraordinary generosity and faith, are priests who lead, teach and sanctify them...."


I also think Father Joe shared some very good thoughts dovetailing off your original advice.

Oremus pro invicem,

Todd said...

This is excellent advice for anyone.

But from a few of the comments, I have a concern with the mindset that implies the enemy is within the Church. Sadly, it is true that we are often hurt most profoundly by those closest to us, including brothers and sisters in Christ--good Catholics, too. But people who hurt us are not necessarily our enemies.

If someone thinks that seminary is a time to delay the war, I'd fear they've missed your point, Fr Fox, and might even be in the wrong place.

The ideology of parish clergy is nearly irrelevant, except for extremists on any fringe and the damage they do. If a priest takes seriously the role of "Father" that will mean something other than picking sides and having the last say.

Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP said...

My wise student master used to calm me down from one of my seminarian rants by saying, "Philip, is this really the hill you wanna die on?"

Fr. Philip, OP

Anonymous said...


A few intrepid souls do stand up from time-to-time in seminary. They usually get kicked out. A few of us chastened ones get to survive.

IMHO a blogging conservative seminarian is imprudent to the point of sin unless he limits himself to non-ecclesiastical topics. He puts his vocation at risk for little reason: the number of people benefitting from his blog is miniscule compared to the immense amount of good that can be achieved through him by God if he survives the stalag.


Anonymous said...

For years I have wanted to begin the process of discerning a vocation to the priesthood. (I am 41.) The only thing that has held me back from actually picking up the phone and calling the vocations office is a canonical impediment in my background -- an impediment reserved to the Holy See, no less.

Since I will never be able to enter the seminary, I always have a soft spot in my heart for those seminarians that are going through a rough time. I certainly hope those seminarians that read your blog, Father, will follow your sage advice. My prayers are certainly with them.

Father Martin Fox said...


You may, or may not, be called to the priesthood. But I would point out to you that I, also, had an impediment, reserved to the Holy See: I joined another church.

Obviously, the Holy See granted my archbishop's petition for that to be lifted.

So there's no reason for you not to pick up the phone.

God be with you.

Alan Carter said...


I know I'm late to the game on this one - its almost five months later - but I've just discovered your blog, and have spent the last couple of days delving into the archives.

As a man who will be entering the seminary this fall, I appreciate so much of what you share on your blog - and in particular this post.

God help me to learn to be a shapherd, with a shepherd's heart.

Thank you, Father.