Seminarian as Symbol

One of the most difficult things for me to grow into as a seminarian has been the identity ‘Seminarian’. I remember in my first few months being very frustrated by what I saw as a shift from being “Colby who is a Seminarian” to “a Seminarian whose name is Colby.” That’s not just semantics. This shift is apparent in many situations. As a random 20-year old dude walking into a new parish, it’s pretty rare for me to be greeted or talked to by a stranger after Mass. But, put on a cassock and people line up to shake your hand, take you out to dinner, and ask your opinion on pressing life questions. As a regular dude talking to someone about life and faith at the doctor’s office or on an airplane, they usually ask a few questions and move on. But, tell them you’re a seminarian and get ready for a long conversation.

It doesn’t bother me that people want to talk to me, ask for advice, or have substantial conversations. I love talking to people, hearing about lives/fears/struggles/joys, and sharing life with them. These encounters are usually the highlight of my day. The difficulty is feeling that I’m being engaged not because of who I am but because of a title I have or clothes I wear. I want it to be normal for everyone at the parish to talk about prayer and faith struggles, and not just with the seminarian/priest because ‘that’s what you’re supposed to do’. I want to be asked questions because I’ve won people’s trust or given them a reason to listen to me, not because of a misperceived sense of clerical power.


Interestingly, I gained a great deal of peace and clarity on this issue while watching Hunger Games: Mockingjay (thanks sister!). Bear with me here; this could be good.

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Katniss – “Don’t film me in there. I can’t help them.”
Producer – “Just let them see your face.”
Rando 1 -“ Katniss? What are you doing here?”
Katniss –  “I came to see you.”
Rando 2 – “Are you here to fight with us?”
Katniss – “I am, I will.”
*Cue inspiring music, people filled with hope, and a hand gesture that means more than its simple, physical action*

The Mockingjay is a Symbol. When the people look at her, they don’t see a simple girl from a poor district who unintentionally became the center of a power struggle. Instead, they see a girl who fought against oppressive power and brings hope that the future will be better. She is in their midst and points to a movement. She hasn’t done anything for them individually. She’s broken, messed up, and not deserving of power. She isn’t a good fighter and has no idea how to lead a government. She can’t heal wounds and is in no place to offer strategic advice. She struggles the entire movie with being granted a following she doesn’t want.

But the people don’t care – They just see the Mockingjay.

Symbols Matter

People need symbols to express deeper realities, and this isn’t a weakness; it’s part of who we are as human beings. We are physical beings animated by a soul, and praise God that He gives us physical things to express the reality of grace in our lives. True Symbols aren’t just pointers; they embody the thing they signify. In this true sense, Sacraments are symbols, the Church is a symbol, Marriage is a symbol, and the Seminarian/Priest is a symbol. The priest doesn’t just represent holy things, he is truly tasked by God to convey grace and forgive sins.

I’ve come to see this identity as a good thing and am learning to more deeply internalize the reality that Seminarian IS who I am. It’s not just something I do. Rather, the life of a priest is one of taking on a new identity – Alter Christus – another Christ. The beauty of the priesthood is that people don’t have to ask, “can I trust this person?” They see a priest and know that man will treat them as Christ would. They know that the seminarian IS someone they can talk about prayer and faith struggles with. Yes, they can do it with others as well, but the Church has given people a symbol – a guarantee that this person, regardless of their personal failings, can be a bridge to God. And this isn’t just a front or a ruse, he spends years training for the task and is given the grace to fulfill it at ordination. The personal identity, Colby, isn’t diminished, it’s integrated and subsumed.

Somehow the same person

Maybe people should be more open to talking to strangers and not feel that clergy are the only arbiters of spiritual sharing, but that’s a tragic failing of Christian community rather than an issue of the priesthood as such. So I’m learning to stop questioning why the person in front of me wants to talk, overcoming bitterness that I’m singled out because of my collar and not my name, and growing into the identity that will be sealed in a few years at ordination. Now, I’m celebrating the fact that God is giving me these opportunities to enter into people’s lives so that I can learn to give them Jesus, and not just “Colby who is a Seminarian.”

Silver Taps: When Doing “Nothing” is Something

I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting this year on situations where outcomes are out of my control. I’ve had lots to reflect on because I’ve had abundant experience in such situations this year. I spend two hours at the hospital each week, visiting patients. I realized very quickly how much I hate being asked to be present to something which I can do nothing to help. There’s a real feeling of inadequacy when sitting with a woman whose husband is about to die or with a man who had a heart transplant but is now unable to walk. My words and prayers often feel empty in the face of such pain and grief. I’ve learned that much of ministry is like that.

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Father Ramson

A few days ago we celebrated the birthday of a house Spiritual Director – Fr Ronald Ramson. Spiritual Directors meet with Seminarians on a bi-weekly basis and provide guidance on our interior lives. They help us grow in awareness of God’s movement in prayer and serve as confidential outlets to speak about discernment. They also serve as confessors.


The man. The myth. The legend

The man. The myth. The legend.

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Sit Down a Second

Mary Grotto

During Easter Triduum, the seminary sends us home to help at our home parishes. As a Diocese transplant I wasn’t able to go home to family, but I did return to my adopted home parish, St. Mary’s in College Station. Most of my friends are graduated by this point, so I got to spend more time with my brother and the few close friends I have left. It was a weekend of great joy, gratitude, and affirmation of my current path. One particular moment of affirmation is worth sharing.

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Cynicism, Sonship, and Joy

A post on Audrey Assad’s Facebook page about finding joy where she has historically tended to cynicism inspired me to come out of blog-ernation. It hits many big themes from my spiritual life this past year and seems like a good way to get back into this. So indulge me, and start out by watching these priests and religious sisters dance.

My self-dubbed “Year of Healing and Sonship” kicked off on a retreat at the JP2 Healing Center last summer. Fr Charlie (the pastor at my summer assignment parish) blindly invited me to attend “a retreat in Florida” with him. My options were to stay at the parish by myself or go to Florida – I chose correctly. After the retreat, I dug more into the content and concepts by reading Be Healed by Dr. Bob Schuchts and Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen. Finally, the whole thing was and continues to be nurtured in hours/months of prayer. It’s true; you are what you read. So, Healing and Sonship.

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A Busy Break

Seminary follows an academic calendar, so I had the past month from school. Despite already graduating college, I still get to enjoy the wonders of Christmas and Summer break. The general rule throughout the formation process is that Christmas break is free while summer break involves a diocesan assignment. I learned from undergrad to take advantage of these long breaks, so I have some great experiences I want to share. The whole break was an opportunity to learn about my new identity as Seminarian and how to balance my prayer obligations (meditation, daily mass, morning/evening/night prayer) with rest, ministry, and fun.

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