Oh The Places You’ll Go — As A Missionary

Athenry Priory East Window courtesy of Andreas F. Borchert via Wikimedia CommonsAs we’ve noted before, the preparation for the priesthood goes beyond just academic and theological work. In fact, those things exist to equip the seminarian to act in the world. The USCCB Program for Priestly Formation puts it this way:

The Church continues to place the highest value on the work of priestly formation, because it is linked to the very mission of the Church, especially the evangelization of humanity: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19). Our apostolic origins, which bind us in communion with the Lord and his mission, motivate those who engage in the ministry of priestly formation, underscore the urgency of their task, and remind them of their great responsibility.

A big part of priestly preparation is having opportunities to participate in the mission of the church through real ministry. During the Paulist novice year, the students engage in social service at soup kitchens, shelters, and other social service sites. As they move further into formation, the opportunities for service grow.

Next spring Evan will be joining a Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) mission to Ireland. This mission trip will work with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and will be ministering to both Protestants and Catholics in Ireland. Therese Aaker posted a few thoughts on her trip to Ireland last spring, explaining the need for ministry to Catholics:

Generally, people there are bitterly angry about the Church. They’re angry with God at best, and indifferent toward Him at worst. They grew up in Catholic schools, but without good catechesis; they know very little about Church teaching. Most sadly, they do not know the Person of Jesus. All they know of the Church is its corruption — and as a result, my generation there is absent from the Church entirely. 

A quick Google search of “seminarian mission trips” turns up several mission trips both in the US and beyond its borders – including a mission trip to Perdue University. In each case, the primary purpose of the mission is to serve as a bearer of Christ’s love. Yet, at the same time, the missionaries are growing and developing in faith and charity as they prepare to enter priestly ministry.

If you have a moment, I’d ask that you offer up a prayer on behalf of all of the missionaries serving around the world.

— Dad (of Evan)






Priestly Formation: Basic Supervised Ministry

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.