There is a large argument that has been going on for years as to whether or not a priest should wear his collar when out in public, that is a topic that can be discussed at another time, but I want to take that topic and change it to fit another group of men. As seminarians there are times that we don’t want people to know that we are seminarians, just as priests sometimes don’t want people to know that they are priests sometimes. Why? It usually goes back to the clergy abuse scandal from years past. As a seminarian I cannot tell you the number of times, where even before I was a seminarian and was just thinking of joining that I would have people make snide, often downright rude comments asking why I would want to be a future “child-fill in the blank here“.
Comments such as the above really can cause hurt and can wear away at a man’s vocation. Why would anyone want to be someone who is going to get put down and criticized for who they are? Because of this “attitude” that some people have towards the priesthood, when someone asks who you are, or what you do and they are a total stranger it can be a challenge to tell them.
Before I left for my first year of seminary, Fr. Andy our Vocation Director at the time, told Sam and I that each time we introduce ourselves to someone we should say: “I’m Corey Bruns, a seminarian for the Diocese of Owensboro.” This form of an introduction was a little uncomfortable at first, but after using it for a year I have come to really appreciate his wisdom and knowledge in it. Not only does it re-iterate the fact that we represent the Diocese of Owensboro, but that we represent the Bishop, the priests of the Diocese, and in-turn the people of the Diocese. Thus, it helps us to remember to always be the gentleman that we are. The “a seminarian” part raises interests with others, especially those not of the Catholic faith. Many have some type of idea of what a seminarian is, but through introducing yourself as one you open up the door to evangelizing with someone, to sharing Christ’s message of mercy and love, but also of judgement and Eternal Life with them. At Camp this summer, the staff would tease me in a joking manner on how I always introduced myself, though by the end of the summer, some would introduce me as a seminarian for the Diocese, whenever I was meeting someone they knew.
There have been countless times where I have had to introduce myself as a seminarian, some in times that were a little challenging. In each occasion though, I can honestly say that it has helped me to feel more confident in the fact that I am a seminarian, that I am proud to represent something larger than myself, and that Christ will always be there to give me his help. The following is three occurrences of when I or multiple seminarians have had to introduce ourselves as seminarians in ways that really stand out to me.
Last year I was out shopping for our senior dinner at the seminary with a fellow seminarian. We had 2 Walmart carts full of 40 something pork chops, 20lbs of potatoes, lettuce for a salad, and a bunch of other things we needed for the meal. We were proceeded in line by 2 African American women. One of them kept looking back at us and our carts and finally asked what we were doing with all of that food. We explained that we were having a party for 40 something men at school. Dominic then explained that we were in seminary and were having a dinner to honor our seniors. (He explained what a seminarian was and that we were Catholic, answering her other questions) At this comment, the woman seemed to change totally. She pulled her ballcap off of her head, grabbed Dominic’s hand and pressed it to her forehead, asking him to pray over her. (She was saying things like, “send the Holy Spirit into me brother, give me some of the good lord.” Dominic, not sure what to do looked at me with a look of panic, and wonderment. I nodded indicating that he should say a prayer for her. So he closed his eyes and said a prayer for her. It was a beautiful witness of pastoral charity and love, as well as evangelizing the faith to her.
This summer, 3 other seminarians from our Diocese and I took a trip to Holiday World as an end to our Summer assignments and have some fraternal bonding. While standing in line for the Wildebeest, Alex and I started to chant the Salve Regina with Sam and Nick, as well as some other hymns. A couple in front of us as well as everyone else around looked at us with a quizzical look of semi-fascination on their faces. After we had finished, the couple asked us if we were a musical group, to which I replied, “Well sort of. We like to sing, but we are actually seminarians for the Diocese of Owensboro.” This started a 45 minute conversation with them about the faith, seminary, and other things. It was during this time, that I realized even more of the vulnerability that people have in regards to the priesthood. Even though we were just seminarians studying for the priesthood, these people opened their hearts and lives to us, all after we showed them some of Christ’s love and introduced ourselves as seminarians.
When I was in High School and partially in Middle School, I portrayed Santa for the Elementary School. What a joy it was for me to get to witness to Christ in this way! Children are so vulnerable and open with Santa and some of the stories that they would tell me would break your heart. One of my favorite ones is when a girl asked me to bring her uncle back from Iraq for Christmas. While I told her that I couldn’t make that promise, I could pray with her and would pray for her and her uncle. So together we offered a heart prayer and the Lord’s prayer for her uncle. (Experiences like these helped give aid to my vocation.)
My last story happened last Friday. It is a tradition here at Bruté that on the first Friday of the year most of the men go out to eat. This year we decided to go to Union Jack’s Pizzeria & pub. We were seated in a room with a birthday party group. While we were all waiting for our meals, a woman at the group got up, rang her fork on her glass and started to announce to her party that it was another woman’s 62nd birthday. She began to sing Happy Birthday to her, on the second “Happy Birthday…” all 28 seminarians joined in. What a terrific sound that was, to hear reverberate off of the wooden walls and ceiling of the room. The woman stood up and and thanked all of us, saying that it was so nice of us to join in and that it was always one of her dreams to be in a room with so many of what appeared to be single men. Needless to say, we all had a hearty laugh after one of the guys explained that our current state in life was celibate and that we were seminarians. The rest of the evening, we had conversations with people at their table about seminary and Catholicism and ended up singing Happy Birthday again so that they could video us singing. Even by just singing Happy Birthday, we were able to evangelize and share some of Christ’s love with others.
My point to this now ridiculously long post is on the importance of standing up for our faith and the Gospel of God. Christ asks that we be active Christians, that we live our lives for him. Much of today’s problems could be solved if people just stood up for the faith. We as seminarians, future priests, and even those that are priests, cannot expect the laity to if we are afraid or do not do so ourselves. We must be strong, courageous, and relentless in working for the Kingdom of God. “We are all baptized, thus it is our mission to go out and make more” as Ben would say at camp this summer.
It is time for courageous Catholicism. It is time for Orthodox Catholicism. It is time for us to stand up for our faith and be actual men and women of God. Now is the time of courageous vocations! Now is the time of courageous priesthood, and of courageous seminarians. Now is the time of our salvation!
May God grant us the grace to accept his call and fulfill our mission. And may our Blessed Mother help us to always point to her son, Jesus Christ. So that one day Christ who has begun this great work in us, may bring it to fulfillment.
Pope Francis kissing a statue of Our Lady. – May our Blessed Mother help us to always be courageous!