When we started this blog, one of Evan’s seminarian brothers commented that there’s a lot to write about at the beginning of the journey and a lot more at the end — but not much in between.
There’s some truth to that. After the novice year, it’s mostly about being a graduate student. Like all graduate students seminarians have books to read and lectures to attend and papers to write and tests to take. Some of the content is what you’d expect; close readings of scripture and a good understanding of Christian history. Some of it, though, is more practical that you might realize.
Students preparing for the priesthood at CUA are required to take a two semester course called Basic Supervised Ministry. This course is practical in every sense of the word. Much like the clinical rotations of those training for health care, the Basic Supervised Ministry course gives those in formation the opportunity to learn and practice the skills involved in being a minister.
The course descriptions sums it up this way:
652A: A student spends a minimum of four hours each week at a designated ministerial placement and two hours in a supervision seminar. Through the use of verbatim presentations, the seminar explores communication skills, interpersonal dynamics, theological reflection on issues raised, and the student’s emerging pastoral identity. Students receive a written evaluation at the end of each semester.
652B: Building on TRS 652A, the seminar explores how to communicate the gospel in an appropriate, pastoral, caring way. Through the use of verbatim, video and role-play, attention is given to the process of theological reflection on ministerial encounters. Students receive a written evaluation at the end of each semester.
In simple terms, this means the student is assigned to go into a pastoral setting such as a hospital to minister to those in need. After each encounter, they document and reflect on their experience in writing so they can discuss it later in a classroom setting. As the course descriptions note, they also use video and role-playing to further hone their skills.
It sounded pretty intense to me and, I expect it can get that way at times. I was encouraged, though, by a recent blog post from Msgr. Charles Pope.
As a younger priest I felt a lot of pressure to “have the answers” when tragedies occurred or when people experienced persistent setbacks in their lives. In more recent years I’ve learned to say less and to be more willing to sit quietly with people in their pain. To be sure, we have some answers, but explanations are poor substitutes for understanding and acceptance. Whatever explanations I can offer still leave even more things unexplained.
This seems consistent with the two principle texts that Evan is using; Availability and The Good Listener. In the end, it seems, the beginning (and perhaps end) of ministry is the simple act of being mindfully present to those who are suffering and need a companion on the journey.