I have been here a little over a month, so I feel able to give a decently accurate appraisal of life. Last weekend I was in College Station so I had the chance to develop my “How is seminary” spiel.
The first thing I can say is that life is good. Very good in fact. I like to say that my job consists of two things: praying and studying. These two activities account for about 60% of my life. Occasionally I’ll throw in the third aspect of being social and growing in community with my fellow seminarians. I may be biased, but it’s a pretty awesome life.
Every morning starts with prayer. My alarm goes off at 6:08am, I get dressed and head to the chapel by 6:30. The first words I speak are a prayer with the community, “Lord open my lips, and my mouth shall declare your praise.” We take literally the psalm “Let your praise rise at daybreak”. Following morning prayer (from the Liturgy of the Hours – the universal prayer of the Church based on the psalms that all priests and religious pray), we celebrate Mass. I get the chance to begin each day receiving Christ in the Eucharist. I consecrate my waking hours and ask “How can I love you today Lord?” In the evening, I return to the chapel at 5:15 for evening prayer (Liturgy of the Hours with the community). After prayer we have 30 minutes of meditation during which I pray, read, and reflect on scripture. At the end of the night, I try to pray night prayer (again from LoH) and reflect on the ways I have loved and failed to love. Before I go to bed I always reflect on the questions “How did God love me today and how did I love him?”
I would be lying if I said this schedule and mode of prayer has been easy for me. It’s not. Prayer is not new – I did so daily throughout college and attended daily mass 1-3 times per week at St Mary’s. At Covecrest I got in the habit of praying morning/night prayer every day and infrequently kept up this practice the past 3 years. The primary difference here is stylistic. My background is generally charismatic, not to any extreme but I desire and appreciate prayer with a personal flavor and a touch of vigor/life/excitement (choose your adjective). By contrast, the mode of prayer here is very “Roman” and distinctively none of those things. All of the music is accompanied by organ exclusively, we sing ancient hymns (which contain beautiful theological truths) and chant antiphons with an overall somber attitude. This has been a foreign experience for me. At first I dreaded prayer because the second the organ started playing I felt like I was at a funeral. The initial reaction has faded some, but I am still adjusting. I do understand that Mass is Mass and prayer is prayer, so I am accepting this challenge and slowly getting used to this style of worship that is proper for the seminary lifestyle.
My concern that I was going to hate philosophy could not be further from the truth. I am really enjoying my classes. Liberal arts education has been described to me as having the purpose of making me free. It doesn’t teach me a particular skill, but helps me read, think, reason, logic, write, and speak in order to better do whatever it is that I do later (obviously priesthood is my current direction – but most of my classmates don’t fall into that category). Quite a change from my MIS degree. Mays Business School at Texas A&M did a great job of providing me tools to look at and solve problems, but it was very focused on a narrow set of business and technological problems. Philosophy by contrast asks the question “What is the best way to live?” That’s big stuff.
So far I have had to do a lot of reading and papers are just now starting to pile up. I’m still getting used to this new style of learning, but it seems like there is no objective way to know that I have learned the material. Rather, the goal is for these thoughts and ideas to permeate me in such a way that my own thoughts and actions change. Again, big stuff. I actually quoted Plato the other day. Who would have thought?
Overall my life is much simpler than in college. I don’t have groups, activities, jobs, and football games to take up my time. There are opportunities for sports and group activities, but it’s still way different from being an organization leader with two meetings and 10 hours of responsibility a week. Food is provided 3 times a day and I don’t need to drive anywhere. I read an article last week that inspired me to seriously curtail my phone usage and made the decision to switch away from my smart phone. I’ll bring it back sometime in the future, but for now I’m using my 2004 RAZR and trying to disconnect my brain from the need for constant entertainment and connection.
Life just seems to move slower. I have the ability to linger on ideas, investigate thoughts, and ponder conversations. Classes stimulate my mind and force me to think in new ways. These are all good things, but it’s taking some getting used to. I am stripped of friends (in close proximity– we still talk on the phone), activities, events, influence, responsibility, and work. The Church is giving me this opportunity to re-discover that really everything does flow from Christ.
Simple is good