Editor’s note: the following letter was submitted to us by a young man currently studying for the priesthood in the United States. Sadly, expressing even these measured thoughts on some of the difficulties facing seminarians in the current ecclesiastical climate could provoke retribution. For this reason, we have agreed to keep his identity anonymous.
While I am but one young seminarian, what I am about to share with you is not simply my own opinions and ramblings. I daresay it is representative of the thoughts of at least a significant minority of your future priests. God willing, we will be raised to the dignity of the priesthood, so that we may follow the carpenter from Nazareth wherever He may lead us, even unto Calvary.
Catholics of every age have been tasked with the transformation and sanctification of their respective surroundings, and although the sheer magnitude and scope of modern man’s filth is truly breathtaking, sin is not a new idea. The fact that secular society is plagued by ambition, confusion, and deceit should not be that shocking, for that is the nature of sin. To put it simply: We must choose Christ or chaos, and I’ll let you guess where the world stands.
I wish here to specifically mention how the Church’s seminaries are at times besieged by the world’s vices, instead of striving for the virtues of Christ and the Saints. I’ll mention a few ways in which we see this occurring.
Let’s get something out of the way: these thoughts that we seminarians want to express are not a personal attack on the pope. While it is certainly true that there are times that we prudentially disagree (sometimes strongly) with certain policies of Pope Francis, nobody is plotting to poison the wine of his chalice. Hopefully this is obvious.
Many of us feel that the direction and emphases of this current pontificate are fundamentally misguided and can be summed up in a word: worldliness. Whether this is actually the intention of the pontiff or not, it is hard to deny that there is a huge effort on part of the Vatican to search the things that are below, and not vice versa, from pandering to the leftist presses of Europe and North America to inviting those with categorically anti-Catholic agendas to give speeches and conferences at the Holy See, and on and on.
Rather than engage these pressing concerns, character assassination is often employed against seminarians who don’t fit the vision for the modern, cosmopolitan priest. You’ve probably heard this unhappy litany before. Seminarians who dare to question something like whether we should actually be giving the Blessed Sacrament to people in “complex and irregular living situations” (which used to be called adultery, by the way) are smeared as rigid, un-pastoral Pharisees. This can happen by way of our superiors, but it is common especially among the more, ahem, “pastoral” seminarians, with the silent approval of the higher-ups.
The character assassination of a seminarian is a particularly pernicious thing, since the seminary is inherently a place of constant evaluation. This is good; we ought to perform well in studies, spiritual formation, human virtue, and the like. But when a stray comment leads to an accusation of something that would inhibit a man from being an effective priest, it not only places the seminarian on the defensive, but puts his future in question. Therefore, it is crucial to “know whom you’re talking to” before you make the grave error of mentioning interest in anything even hinting at tradition.
Thirdly, there is a type of uncharity, which is clearly the antithesis of the Christian life. We orthodox seminarians see this as a top-down problem. Some of the comments made by Pope Francis make many of us think that if he really knew us, he would see us not as loyal sons who have given up worldly careers and families for the sake of our vocation, but rather as instigators and troublemakers who don’t really know the Church.
This is not only tragic, but disingenuous. The pontiff who has been made infamous for saying things like “Who am I to judge?” also has made a habit of tearing into mainly hypothetical clerics who dare to wear the cassock, emphasize the importance of God’s law, or promote sacred liturgy. It gets tiresome to see your spiritual father rip you for the all the world to see when he doesn’t so much as know your name. And it gives other priests the justification to attack their more traditionally minded younger brothers, creating an environment of distrust among generations of priests. While this division is certainly not a new phenomenon, the tension has escalated dramatically since the ascension of Latin America’s first pope.
All of these things are serious cause for concern, but I would like to leave you with a note of hope and confidence. While the world becomes more and more uncertain, I must say that most of the current crop of seminarians is absolutely convinced of the truth of Jesus Christ and already battle-tested. We have come from extremely secular public (and sadly, many Catholic) schools where immorality and political correctness are seen as the highest objectives. We have been called every name in the book by our peers and been tempted by alluring worldly pleasures. But by the grace of God, many of us persevere unto ordination. The dedication and zeal of my brothers farther along than I in formation are inspiring, and those among our ranks who have been ordained are already making gains for Our Lord.
However, we ought not hide from reality. These things are happening to men trying to discern their vocation within the seminary. The more the entire Church is aware of possible traps for orthodox vocations, the more ardently we all can pray and ask for greater strength to see that many more men will answer the call.
I’ll leave you with this: we seminarians may not have met you, but we already daydream about baptizing your babies. We already look forward to absolving you of your sins, consoling you in dire moments, fending off the wolves when they come for you, and showing you that the Catholic life truly is the good life. In short, we can’t wait to be your priests.