Perhaps every first time seminarian runs into this problem at least once. My sense is that I will probably notice it more than once time before I "get it right". In fact, chances are this will continue to be something for me to work on forever that falls into the category of "ongoing conversion". What am I talking about? What it is that I'm willing to trade for an "A"...
Well into our first semester as seminarians, we're all wanting to do well. I mean, we're here, we've found our way to the chapel and the dining hall - and figure that as seminarians we at least know where to pray and eat - so surely now's the time we being to be evaluated. And we want to perform. I don't think I've met a man here who doesn't want to do well - do well at discerning, do well at developing spirutally, do well at becoming even more whole and mature men, do well at being formed into priests. Only problem is - in this very broad context of formation, only one area is sitting right in front of us every day with a very clear things to do list, a large amount of our day planned for us to prioritize this effort, and continual feedback and evaluation all the time. Academic studies. And so, for me at least, that naturally means it becomes the focus.
Now, don't get me wrong. Of COURSE it should be part of our focus. After all, we must learn to be priests. And we have a whole heck of a lot more to learn than just how to read the sacramentary and the Liturgy of the Hours book. But since academics are such an objective focus, I discovered over the past week and a half or so, it had become my WHOLE focus.
I can say it even more plainly, though it pains me to admit it. I realized on Monday that the last week had been almost completely dedicated to striving for an "A" on the first major academic assignment on our calendar. I worked a couple hourse every day - on it for two weeks; a couple hours that before this time had been spent on prayer and spiritual reflection. In short, I traded a couple hours each day in academic pursuits for time growing in my relationship with God.
But - a couple hours isn't a huge deal. After all, God has called me to be here in the seminary for now, and being here in the seminary means going to class, learning the material, and performing adequately. What WAS the problem was, as the due date got closer, I traded more than a couple hourse. At mass, my mind would get distracted by the assignment. At morning prayer, my mind would get distracted by the assignment. When I woke in the morning, my first thought was the assignment. When I went to bed at night it was the last thing I thought about. In my conversations with my seminarian brothers, it was what I talked about. I wasn't trying to learn the material and adequately perform, I was trying to get an "A". Trying to be outstanding.
Trying to live beyond my means academically...
...and I was willing to trade my prayer life to obtain that.
THAT's the problem. Although, I'm not beating myself up for it. What I am doing is thanking God a TON for that realization. Because, I believe, we don't get those realizations from our own minds alone. They are grace. EVERYTHING is grace. Grace to see how I can better balance. GRACE to see I'd got a bit out of balance. GRACE to accept my shortcoming, to see and accept that there were some issues of pride involved in it. GRACE to accept it as ask for more GRACE to address the issue.
Today, as I continue to work with this realization, I realize I no longer want to trade my prayer life, my time falling in love here at the seminary, with intellectual pursuits. You know - funny thing is - I "made this trade" - and have no idea whether I'll get an "A" or not. The even funnier thing? I realized it doesn't matter. Because, even if it earns me an A, it wouldn't have been worth it.
Does this mean I'm ditching any focus on my academics? Uh... if ever a cliche was called for it is here. No - I don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. (I love that cliche, and almost never get a chance to use it.) What I really realized I need to do is work constantly, daily, in a self-aware way, on striving for balance. Some days, I may need to trade an hour or two of my prayer time for extra studies. Other days, I may have an hour or two extra that I can trade from free-time to prayer. Some days may genuinely lend themselves to a proper sharing of priorty and time. But - overall - I don't think it makes sense to get out of balance.
The US Bishops say that becoming a well formed priest happens relying on four pillars. They don't emphasize one over another. To become a well formed priest, we must grow spiritually, mentally, as mature well-adjusted men, and academically. If I went to the gym every day for six months and only exercised my right arm, I'd end up looking a little funny...and I might even end up handicapping myself in some way. Balance...appropriate balance...growing and being formed across the board.
Not only do I not want to do it... I think I'm being asked to try my best not to trade my spiritual life and formation for an "A".
Pray for balance for my brother seminarians and I.