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A Non-Academic Spiritual Year For Seminarians (1st of 2 Parts)

I’ve been asked why we don’t  have people take up the collection during the Offertory at Mass. Good question.  It has to do with the importance of silence. 

Let me draw some words from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. It is from his Message for the 46th World Communications Day: Silence and Word: Path of Evangelization [Sunday, 20 May 2012].  “Silence is an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist. In silence, we are better able to listen to and understand ourselves. Ideas come to birth and acquire depth. 
 
Concerning the liturgy, the Holy Father said, “God also speaks by his silence. The silence of God, the experience of the distance of the almighty Father, is a decisive stage in the earthly journey of the Son of God, the incarnate Word …. God’s silence prolongs his earlier words. In these moments… he speaks through the mystery of his silence” (Verbum Domini, 21).
 
We are trying to bring people into an “Encounter With Christ Through the Word” and  “Through the Liturgy.” A moment of silence, peace, and relaxation is important to allow God’s Word, which we have just heard proclaimed and explained is necessary, to settle in. In the regard, the taking up of the collection immediately after the Liturgy of the Word comes at a terrible time. Rather than having the opportunity to relax, sit, and meditate on what we have heard, what do we do?  We’re bustling around. We’re diggin into pockets and purses. We’re trying to get checks and money out toplace into a basket. It’s hectic. It’s noisy. It’s distracting. It’s not meditative and it certainly is not quiet.
 
Covid allowed us to change the procedure. Deb Rojas waits a few seconds while the priest and congregation sits down. She conscientiously choses music that aids to that contemplative spirit. You can sit, close your eyes, just take the moment in and communnie with your God. People are now in the habit of placing the offering in the baskets by the doors. Less is more. Removing that activity enhances the liturgy. Thus it is our intention to continue the practice.      
 
On a related note, we are taking measures to provide more secure receptacles for collecting the offering. Not to the rest of my reflection…..
 
———

By now you are familiar with Mickey Fairorth. He is a seminarian from St. Monica. He is currently studying for the priesthood at St. Charles Seminary. 

This year he is spending his time at a parish in Conshohocken. He is participating in a ”Spiritual Year.” The idea came out of discussions during the 1990 synod on priesthood. The final document published was ”I Will Give You Shepherds.” Saint Paul John Paul II wrote the Apostolic Exhortation. The Rector of St. Charles Seminary at that time participated in the discussion that led to the document.

A “Spiritual Year” was one of the suggestions from the proceedings. This suggestion was implemented for seminarians of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. In addition, Seminarians from the Dioceses of Allentown and Lincoln, NE participated. The first few years were held in the early 1990s. The location was the former Allentown seminary (Mary Immaculate) in Northampton. 

The year had several components. Some were spiritual. Some were pastoral. Seminarians read the Spiritual Classics. Men discussed the practical human aspects of the priesthood as well as celibacy. Each week the candidates participated in a field education assignment. Commonly this involved ministering to the poor. 

Archbishop Anthony Bevilacqua was especially keen on long periods of prayer. Early in his tenure, several priests appealed to the archbishop to leave the priesthood. Most had been ordained less than 10 years. Almost all mentioned that they had stopped praying early in their priesthood. One problem they mentioned was that they were never taught how to pray. Archbishop Bevilacqua saw the Spiritual Year as a period of discernment. This would help the men discern their vocation more intentionally and intensely. It would also offer the opportunity to teach and practice prayer. 

All St. Charles Philadelphia seminarians have participated in this program since then. Overwhelmingly, priests who participated found the experience very positive.

The idea of the Spiritual Year has recently surfaced again. It has involved discussions between Rome and the US Bishops Conference. How should seminarians be “formed” as future priests? Should a non-academic “Spiritual Year” be one component? This was the topic of one article in the Catholic News Agency (“Spirituality Year: How a break from academics helps prepare men for priesthood”). Other insights were provided by The Pillar article, “With Program for Priestly Formation stalled, bishop moves forward with seminary renewal” and the corresponding podcast “How Do You Spell Propadeeutic?” I’ll go more in-depth in my next article.

ADDENDUM

I’ve been asked why we don’t  have people take up the collection during the Offertory at Mass. Good question.  It has to do with the importance of silence. 
 
Let me draw some words from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. It is from his Message for the 46th World Communications Day: Silence and Word: Path of Evangelization  [Sunday, 20 May 2012].  “Silence is an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist. In silence, we are better able to listen to and understand ourselves. Ideas come to birth and acquire depth. 
 
Concerning the liturgy, the Holy Father said, “God also speaks by his silence. The silence of God, the experience of the distance of the almighty Father, is a decisive stage in the earthly journey of the Son of God, the incarnate Word …. God’s silence prolongs his earlier words. In these moments… he speaks through the mystery of his silence” (Verbum Domini, 21).
 
We are trying to bring people into an “Encounter With Christ Through the Word” and  “Through the Liturgy.” A moment of silence, peace, and relaxation is important to allow God’s Word, which we have just heard proclaimed and explained is necessary, to settle in. In the regard, the taking up of the collection immediately after the Liturgy of the Word comes at a terrible time. Rather than having the opportunity to relax, sit, and meditate on what we have heard, what do we do?  We’re bustling around. We’re diggin into pockets and purses. We’re trying to get checks and money out to place into a basket. It’s hectic. It’s noisy. It’s distracting. It’s not meditative and it certainly is not quiet.
 
Covid allowed us to change the procedure. Deb Rojas waits a few seconds while the priest and congregation sits down. She conscientiously choses music that aids to that contemplative spirit. You can sit, close your eyes, just take the moment in and communnie with your God. People are now in the habit of placing the offering in the baskets by the doors. Less is more. Removing that activity enhances the liturgy. Thus it is our intention to continue the practice.      
 
On a related note, we are taking measures to provide more secure receptacles for collecting the offering. Not to the rest of my reflection…..
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