A few recent events bring seminary to my mind. Just a couple weeks ago, I brought a group of high-schoolers to the Milwaukee seminary for a discernment retreat. Some days later, our bishop ordained four new priests. The day after that, I celebrated my first priestly anniversary. Now, we have a seminarian living at the parish! To say the least, priesthood and seminary has been on my mind, and I thought I would share some of the history with you. Such a history starts with a man who saw a great need for healthy and holy priests, and that man is St. Charles Borromeo.
Seminaries are an invention that is only a few centuries old, which by Church standards, is rather young. Back then, in the late 1500s, there was a lot of corruption in the Church, especially in the priests. Thus the young priest, Charles, helped convince the pope of the need for good priest-training programs. More literally, he wanted a garden or “seed-bed” where men could grow up, as it were, into another Christ. Hence the word “seminary,” which means “seed-bed.” The program absolutely revolutionized the Church, for the new seminaries helped men grow into healthy and loving priests.
As someone who is just a year out of seminary, I can attest that seminary is not some dark dungeon where there is no sunlight. Rather, it is much closer to a seed-bed; it is nurturing and cultivating. It is also oftentimes the messy work of gardening. Growing a priest, so to speak, is a lot of work, but it is good work. Seminarians study a lot, and they learn sacrifice at the altar of their desk before they learn to perform the sacrifice at the altar. Do not get me wrong; they play frisbee and basketball, as well as all sorts of normal stuff, but they are also daily introduced into the sacred silence of prayer, study, and profound holiness. They play hard, pray hard, and yes, contrary to how skinny I was right out of seminary, they also eat well, too.
Now, back to us today, Charles Borromeo offers a practical example for all of us. He saw learning as the way to fight corruption. People don’t do evil simply because they are evil, but oftentimes they do evil because they never knew anything better. Many never had a good “seed-bed” to learn what was important, and many don’t recognize the Gardener. Like Charles’ example, our homes must become “seed-beds” where we can grow into Christ. We should have time to be watered in prayer, nurtured with talk about the important things, and certainly enjoy the sunlight of the joy of Christ.