Why am I here? This is a question I must answer for myself as I begin my sixth year as Rector of the Seminary of Our Lady of Providence in Rhode Island. It’s a question I have prayed about for the last 13 years as a seminary faculty member, a question I bring to daily prayer in chapel as I kneel before Christ in the blessed sacrament.
As a young boy I always dreamed of being a parish priest, with an active youth group, teaching adult education classes and enjoying the sacramental life of the church. But God had other plans for me. Through prayer and spiritual direction, I opened myself to God’s will and the bishop’s assignments.
One insightful seminarian helped put it into perspective one day as we were talking about the challenges in seminary life while drying the dishes together. He said, “The great gift of being seminary rector is that you have the opportunity to fall in love with your priesthood over and over again.”
How right he was!
The goal of priestly formation is to conform our hearts to the heart of Jesus Christ and genuinely become an alter Christus; to fall in love with the priesthood again each day.
St. John Vianney has been placed perfectly in our prayer this year. Studying the life of John Vianney is to discover what a struggle this simple seminarian endured throughout his entire priestly formation. His humility about his many weaknesses, his honesty about his human faults and his transparency about his entire life deepened his response to the Lord’s call. Our Lord used this fragile vocation to transform a pagan village and ultimately transform the hearts of all believers.
Humility, honesty and transparency are essential in seminary formation and indeed in the priestly life today.
“Humility is to the virtues, what the chain is to the rosary. Take away the chain, the beads are scattered. Remove humility, all virtues vanish,” so wrote the patron saint of priests. Humility is a virtue nurtured in the life of college seminarians as they discern their call toward priestly ministry, and deepened in the daily service of the priest.
A seminarian must be honest: honest with God, honest with his superiors and honest with himself. When we are honest in formation and acknowledge our need for personal growth with the Lord, we pursue a path of authentic holiness.
Pope Benedict XVI in a talk given to seminarians last year in Rome invited the seminarians to journey “with a soul open to truth and transparency” to answer in a humble way to the Lord’s call freeing themselves “from the danger of seeing their vocation as a merely personal project.”
Far from a personal project, the transparent life of a seminarian bears witness to his own humanness in order for the divine light of Christ to shine through. The ministry and life of Jesus Christ testified to his own unique humanity and divinity; likewise, the life and ministry of a priest must testify to Christ’s presence in both the mundane and sacred moments of discipleship.
Humility, honesty and transparency all point toward the image of our Lady of Providence who is the model that accompanies us through our daily lives. This woman whose patronage we hold so dear to our hearts in our seminary is the exemplar of a humble, honest and transparent disciple. The image of Mary gazing with love upon her child Jesus in her arms as she contemplates His plan of salvation is both an inspiration and a call for seminarians and priests alike to aspire to her example of discipleship.
May Mary, the mother of God and mother of priests, teach us how to fall in love with her son Jesus Christ, the High Priest.
Licentiate in Sacred Theology Father Albert A. Kenney is the rector of the Seminary of Our Lady of Providence in Rhode Island.