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Being formed in Christís image

Deacon Eric Silva
Mount St. Maryís Seminary

(3/2016) When I decided that I was going to leave college to enter the seminary, I was bombarded with questions from my friends and family about what it would be like and how it was going to change me. Each year I get those same questions from even more inquisitive family and friends and each year the answer seems to change as I change.

Seminary formation for the Catholic priesthood has been the most incredible, terrifying, humbling, difficult, and exciting five years of my life; without a doubt, I have learned more and grown more in those past five years than I ever would have had I not entered the seminary.

The purpose of the seminary is to facilitate an encounter with Jesus Christ and His Church and form men to be His priests based on that encounter, all the while, giving him all the necessary tools to be an effective bridge for people to encounter Christ. It is a 2000 year tradition that I am blessed to be a part of; however the formation that I partake in now looks very different than how Christís apostles formed their disciples, while maintaining that same principle of forming men after the heart of Christ the Good Shepherd.

Pope Francis said that, "The phantasm that we have to fight is the image of religious life understood as a refuge and consolation in the face of a difficult and complex Ďoutsideí world." Men in formation for the Catholic priesthood do not seek a life of refuge from the world as a way to hide or shelter their own lives from what is happening in the world. Rather, a manís time in formation is a time set aside for the preparation of being a priest in the world, but not of the world.

That is an important distinction that the culture fails to make by setting up the false dichotomy: either that you are completely out of tune with the world or you are engrossed in the culture completely. It is as though the world sets up both extremes and expects everyone to join one side or the other. But the priest is one who finds the median between the two extremes, by giving his life completely to God and understanding that while the things of this world may be good, they must never stand in between the priest and his own salvation or the salvation of those to whom he has been entrusted. That difficult balance of being in the world, but not being consumed by all that the culture of death surrounds us with is one of the many aspects that seminary formation accounts for.

The "Plan for Priestly Formation," or PPF for short, maps out and describes all facets of seminary formation. For a man to be ordained a Catholic priest, he must undergo a minimum of six years of formation to ensure that he is in fact called by God to be a priest, ready to take on the responsibility of the priesthood, and equipped to be a priest in the 21st century, secular world. The beginning of this incredible journey is rooted in philosophical studies and a steady, regimented prayer life.

It is very hard for some people to understand how philosophy is integral in the formation of a priest and is especially important from the start of the formation process. The reason behind this process is universal; some countries only require a year of philosophy while the United States requires two years. The PPF emphasizes that having a foundation in philosophy serves "as a guarantee of that certainty of truth which is the only firm basis for a total giving of oneself to Jesus and to the Church."

The term philosopher literally translates to Ďa lover of wisdom,í which is more than appropriate. If a man is to give of himself fully in humble submission to the will of God in his own life, as is called to do in the priesthood most especially, then that man better be certain of the truth to which he is giving himself. A study in philosophy teaches seminarians how to reason and use logic to reach objective truth; there is nothing more beautiful and humbling than to know that we get to give our lives for a truth that is far greater than any one of us. The ability to reach that decision and find that truth is done through the use of reason and through an encounter with the living God, Jesus Christ, who ensures that truth never contradicts truth.

After moving through the various historical and philosophical perspectives that have developed over centuries, the next step in the seminary process is what has been coined as ĎMajor Seminary,í where a seminarian further commits himself to discern Godís call to the priesthood as well as begin his theological studies. I completed my time in Ďminor seminaryí in my home diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut until it came time for me to move on to the next step and go to major seminary.

After some deliberation and discernment, both on my own part, on the part of the priests in charge of my seminary formation, as well as my bishop, it was decided that it would be best for me to continue my studies down in Emmitsburg, at Mount St. Maryís Seminary. It is here on Maryís mountain that thousands of priests have been formed before me and Iím sure thousands will come after me. Many bishops send their seminarians to be formed into priests after the heart of Christ from as far as North Dakota and there is good reason for it. The formation, the education, the fraternity, and everything in between are all part of what helps us discern Godís will in our lives and they are all aspects of life that help us get a glimpse into what our lives as priests will be like.

The seminary seeks to form men and help men grow into mature shepherds of souls. The seminary is meant to be holistic as it focuses on human, intellectual, pastoral, and spiritual aspects of every personís life. The best way that one can understand the seminary is to think of it as an intentional and virtuous frat house, and what a privilege it is to live here. I live with over 120 men who are all here to push one another to be nothing less than a saint. We can get very wrapped up on the details of how many years and how many classes or requirements the seminary necessitates, but often most people miss the point. All that we do in the seminary and all that occurs in the formation process only makes us and helps make us into more of who we born to be.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote once that, "If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation." While the seminary may be difficult, I have come to realize a love that I could have never encountered anywhere else. I am going to be His priest, forever.

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