Vocations Corner: Seminary: A Fall Reflection

As I age, I frequently find that when the fall season blows in, mistral and earnest, I get to thinking on my life. The first things I recall are childhood related: rowdy front yard football games with my neighborhood buddies, leaf forts and leaf fights, the tremendous Gingko in my front yard turning from green to yellow-gold (often in the span of a week if fall comes late). All these memories strike me as immensely good, and I would love to sit with these memories for as long as I am able, let my life glide by in lazy reverie, like the leaves parting from fall-season trees. These days, however, fall finds me thinking on more than childhood good-times.

Life here in the seminary is decidedly busy. An average week demands of me and my brother seminarians that we carry an extremely heavy academic workload. We pray in community three times a day, go to Mass daily, share our meals together, exercise together, recreate together, etc. We at St. Joseph Seminary College (SJSC) are an active community with many outlets for socializing, for building relationships with one another. However, community involvement, just like in our parish churches, is not absolutely compulsory. A seminarian could easily drift through community life, show up to everything, fulfill the dutiful requirement to be present at events, participate in the bare minimum and retire each day to his own concerns and pleasures (namely, his laptop, social media, the friends he keeps up with who are miles away, the life he lives that is far away from his present place). In the past, and frequently in the present, because it is not wrong to have a private life, I have resorted to such behavior in the extreme. I can be a recluse.

This year, as my final year at SJSC, I entered with a determination in mind: I am not going to continue through life like a spider spinning my own web. I want to be a part of something in a complete and total way. I want to live my life outside my precisely arranged box. So, what did I do to facilitate this wish? Many simple things, I just used the gifts I have. I’m helping to build our tremendous bonfire, tutoring students for English Lit, training for a half-marathon, working out with my friends and whoever needs help getting in shape; in short, I’m getting to know my neighbor by doing what I enjoy doing.

I’ve discovered a few things in the process of living my determined life. You wouldn’t believe how refreshing life is beyond our solitary brains. There is a whole network of people in this world who just want to feel a little less alone, and we are the only ones who can do a happy thing about it. As of late, fall has me thinking in different terms than before. I’m not just thinking on my own memories; I’m thinking of others. I want to live with the understanding that I will die and be judged on the standard of not how often I showed up, not of how many times I stepped over the line, but on how often and to what intensity I loved my neighbor, the manifestation of the image and likeness of the God I am supposed to love with all my heart, all my being, and all my strength. It is a great responsibility, living this life of loving God in our neighbors. We rationalize: “That’s too much, I can’t love that much, I can’t get to know everybody, the world’s too big, I’m too small, I have nothing to offer, etc.” To which I reply to you, “Sure, sure, but you don’t have to love all of them at once. You love one person at a time. Just try that, loving one person at a time. You’ll be ok. Don’t worry.”

John Parker is a seminarian for the Diocese of Shreveport in his fourth year college at St. Joseph Seminary in St. Benedict, LA.

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