Someone very dear to me asked this question in a casual phone conversation earlier today. I about died laughing. I suppose you would have had to hear the tone of voice the question was asked with to understand why I was laughing. They'd just said, "Are you going crazy yet?" and the tone of voice implied, 'Um...I KNOW you - and you're a good guy and all, but not stuff and uptight and not what I would think of as holy all the time." I laughed because, my friend is right. I don't think of myself as stuffy and uptight, I don't think of myself as the caricature we have in society of holy. Walking around all day with my hands folded in prayer, my head bowed, not cracking a grin or ever venturing an enjoyment of any kind. Always thinking on the "lofty" and "holy" - never enjoying the experience - any experience.
A modern day Pharisee.
No - that's not me. And, indeed, if that were the life of a seminarian (or of a priest), I'd be somewhat concerned. Not only because I don't know if I could be turned into that person - but also because I don't know that becoming that kind of person is good or healthy for a priest. Not healthy for the priest, nor for those he may join one day in a parish.
No... everything is not that kind Holy and Uptight here at seminary. We have a good time. We occasionally do just like you - sit around, have a beer, watch some TV, listen to music --- yes, there IS music at the seminary apart from chant, we even play the frivolous game every now and again. Yes - we DO have fun, enjoy ourselves, enjoy the community within which we live.
Let me give you an example. Last night was an all-school picnic. It was held at the UnStable - yes, that's what its called, UnStable. It used to be a stable I think - now its a campus hang out, and as such being very much no longer a stable, its the UnStable. There's a cover band of seminarians here (called Abbey Mode - its hilarious... Abbey Mode... its very descriptive of the sharp and quick wit among the community here - if you don't get it, post a comment and I'll explain it)... anyway, Abbey Mode played for a couple hours last night. And as a cover band, they're amazing. They could play a classic Lynard Skynnard song ("Sweet Home Alabama") right before playing a GREAT cover of "Play the Funky Music White Boy". And - hold your breath now - while they were playing some of the guys were... are you ready???... shooting pool!!! Wait... hang on... we're not through yet. Yes, that's right, I even drank TWO BEERS while that was going on. Scary, huh?
No - in fact, for me, its not scary at all. It's honest. It's authentic. It's healthy. And... its holy.
"What? Now I KNOW you Catholics have flipped your lids... having a beer and shooting pool as Holy? What's next?" Well, I don't know what's next - maybe watching a movie at the local theater. Oh, wait... we did that last weekend... and it was holy too.
Before you think I've gone crazy, let me explain. It's holy because we were there, together in one place, all here for a common reason. We're all here to follow what we believe the call of God Himself to enter into the full time and full-life service of His church. We're here to be formed into healthy, stable, loving, caring men of God, men who can live in and strive in a community of others. We're here to be formed into good priests, and to try to listen very closely - in fact, as close as we can - to the Voice that is the only Voice that can truly call us.
So, when we exist authenticly as real people, enjoying one another's presence, building one another up, sharing community, and recreation, and good music, and good fun - it IS holy. We're practicing what it means to be happy, healthy people. We're acknowledging that we're people, living in the world - and even though not OF the world, we strive in healthy community. Holy because, as we live and breathe and enjoy life in the company of one another, we open our lives and experiences to the presence of God among us. We see and experience Christ in our friends, and our formators (yes... Father Rector was there, yes... my formation dean was there..., yes, the monks even on occasion walk around on this planet sans habit)... and we're given the opportunity to discover what it means to be Christ to others, to genuinely love and care for and experience life.
Is everything Holy at seminary? Yes - I think it is. Even in our weakness, our shortcomings, the places we fail, the ways in which we fall short of the goal - there's holiness in that as it becomes manifest and as we open ourselves to the work of the Spirit in forming us.
OK - don't get me in trouble with the Bishop. Please don't take from what I said that its OK to do whatever you want to do and milk life for all the vice its worth and call it Holy. :-) That's not what I said at all. What I did say was that living an authentic life can mean not being stuff shirted all the time, it can mean enjoying time with others, it can mean letting one's hair down and just spending time with one's friends. And, I am saying that doing that can be holy.
Uptight? Inappropriately pious? Somber all the time? No. That would make for crazy unadjusted men. Men who couldn't navigate the waters of life, no less shepherd a community and stand before the altar for others.
It's been nearly two weeks now - and every day I become more grateful for being in this place. May I learn ever more deeply all the things it means to be holy, and be formed into the man God wants me to be. At the UnStable, at the Holy sacrafice of the mass, in the presence of my fellowman.