Hi Father! I'm moving in to the Juan Diego House this Wednesday and is there any advice you can give me? Thanks & God bless! :)
Has the day already arrived? You are so blessed, to be studying in a great Archdiocese, and under a fantastic Archbishop. You are also blessed to have some very good people in charge of formation at Juan Diego House. Be thankful to God for the gift of a call to the priesthood and being able to answer this call in Los Angeles. That archdiocese is special to Our Blessed Mother, and “The Angels” is the city of my patrons the holy angels.
Seminary community is too good to be true. In no time at all, you will feel like brothers and family. But families also get in fights, have jealousies, and hold grudges at times. Be accepting and open to your brothers, whatever their level of knowledge of our faith, or whether they’re liberal or conservative, or very serious about priesthood or kind of goofing off. Help them smooth out their rough edges, and they will be patient with you and help you out also.
Make time for brothers in the community, but set limits. Give them fraternal correction, but carefully and at the right time when they’re more open to it. Avoid arguing about petty things but give testimony to what has helped your Catholic Faith. Learn to laugh at jokes, don’t take yourself too seriously, and never lose the mischievous spirit for fun and craziness. That means also chuckling at the humanity of the Church—so many people with so many faults. Don’t worry about gossip about the local church—the Archdiocese is no worse than any other organization with human beings who are trying to do right by their Faith.
Ask God to make you more joyful than serious: we have the greatest vocation on earth because we get to take care of the Catholic faithful. Yes, do your chores, take your responsibilities seriously, especially the responsibility to study and learn with a well-rounded program of academics. But don’t take yourself too seriously. In fact, the formation leaders will be pointing out your faults along the way and if you are chill about it, you will take it in stride and not take everything so personally.
The essence of the priestly calling is intimate, loyal, and devoted love for Jesus in the Mass, filial veneration of His holy Mother, and obedience to the rightful authority of the Holy Father and of the Church. Keep up your spiritual reading and private prayer so that you cultivate more and more tender love for Our Lord. In turn, some day, He will make you a joyful priest and fervent as you give the sacraments to His flock. Whatever you give to Jesus, in time and energy and generous heart, He will give back to you tenfold.
In the diocesan or parish priesthood, we have to read the lives of the saints but we are not “Franciscan” or “Dominican” or “Jesuit.” That is because our spirituality borrows from all the great saints without being too focused on just one school of spirituality. We do not have the call of teaching alone, or service to the poor alone, or administration only, because our labor borrows from all the different ministries and so we train to be a “jack of all trades.”
Our special charism in parish priesthood is to take charge and to lead parishes with a practical mind for making them run with peace and unity, even though people are so diverse. We are constantly in the world, and dealing with worldly challenges while trying to form worldly people into parishes with a communal spirit.
In one hand, we are armed with the word of God and Catholic Tradition, in the other hand we are holding the newspaper and keeping our eyes and ears open to the culture and activities of our cities and neighborhoods. We have to deal with the public square, the marketplace, and very practical issues. So learn your Thomas Aquinas, but don’t forget you’ll be dealing often with locks, lighting, the loot, the litter and cleanup, and parish liturgy which reaches the people.
Some might look up to priests who have fancy degrees and preach eloquent homilies. They may call us diocesan priests “worldly” men but really we are the priests of the trenches. So always keep your heart in the trenches, keep it real and have lots of sympathy for real people and their real problems. Sometimes you might be sweet and loving. At other times, like a drill sergeant taking charge, you have to be a bastard because you’re looking out for your parishioners and being protective like a shepherd (By bastard, I mean lay down the law and tell people bluntly what you think of them, even if you tick them off).
The diocesan priest is fiercely independent. While working with our bishop and brother priests as a “prebyterate” or team of clergy, we constantly have to go back to the drawing board and figure out new ways to keep God in the streets. So in formation, obedience does not mean bowing and scraping and kissing anyone’s butt. Don’t challenge and be rude to the formation leaders, but don’t fear them either.
And by the way, in the seminary, they don’t like to see you act like a wuss. They don’t mind if you get testy once in a while or challenge them with a question or two, because that is part of the personality of a leader. I don’t mean get whiny. They can’t stand that either, because it doesn’t show toughness, just a guy who can act like a princess.
To sum up, enjoy the communal life, but learn to blaze your own trail also and be your own person. Be nice and apologize when you’re wrong, but don’t be anybody’s patsy—stand up for yourself. Pray, confess, go to Mass, and do this with your brothers, but also get into the habit of prayer alone and on the go, because that is how most parish priests pray. Keep in contact with your pastor, your parish, but also branch out and meet others in the archdioceses and visit the homes and parishes of other seminarians.
You need to get out and observe the life and culture of the archdiocese and what the people “are into.” Music, movies, fashions, parties, technology, sports, social clubs, etc. all have an effect on how our people will listen to God’s Word on Sunday. Know what is bringing hurt and pain to your people so you can be a healer, but also don’t stop being a fun guy. Being holy doesn’t mean running around “acting pious.”
God bless Louie. I can’t wait to head down to L.A. in the coming year and meet you. And bro, totally count on my prayers for you as you experience such a grace-filled life now. In Christ, Fr. Angel