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Arlington seminarians see 'hope in every direction'

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Visceral anger. Sadness, frustration and disgust. Ashamed and sad.

These are some of the words my brother Arlington seminarians used to describe their reaction to the recent slew of scandals in the church. As we returned to our seminaries for another year of formation and study, our righteous anger was heightened by many voices from the diocese that we carry back with us. Parishioners, family members, priests, our own Bishop Michael F. Burbidge (who, as always, has been in close contact with us), and even victims of abuse all wanted to share their stories with us. 

This anger has carried over into prayer and self-examination in our seminaries. All of us have heard from our rectors on the issue. The community at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., has held days of fasting and penance, while at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa., seminarians participated in moderated discussion groups, as well as a prayer vigil for reparation and healing at the Philadelphia cathedral. In terms of our formation, integrated celibacy, the virtue of chastity, transparency with our spiritual directors, formators, and good friendships have been the most emphasized aspects of our human formation — in conjunction with the spiritual, academic, and pastoral pillars —  and it seems this will remain a priority. Since the first wave of scandals that shocked the church in the United States in 2002, there has been a robust response to St. John Paul II’s document “Pastores Dabo Vobis” (quoting Jer 3:15: “I will give you shepherds after my own heart,”) in priestly formation. Many of our rectors have communicated to us their commitment, along with the entire church, to continuing this project. 

As more is brought to light however, my brother seminarians also are expressing a persistent hopefulness. It is a hope for authentic reform, and a purer witness to the good news that we desire to proclaim. According to first-year seminarian Ethan Gould, “This is a time that needs faithful and holy men and women to lead us into a new era in the church.” Peter St. George said, “I have never before had so strong a desire to be a holy priest for the sake of church — for the sake of every person who constitutes Her.” Daniel Rice said, “I love the church, and more than ever I want to join Christ in giving my life for her, ‘that she might be holy and without blemish’ (Eph 5:27), that her members might be healed, and that souls might be saved.”

I think that we see hope in every direction. Above — The Lord promised us he would not abandon his church (Mt 16:18). Jesus Christ is the same today, yesterday and forever. Below — While this process of justice and investigation is difficult for victims and all Christians (and is far from finished), it is for the best that everything is being brought to light. My classmate Deacon Edouard Guilloux recently reminded our seminary community in a homily that this is the time to double-down on our battle with sin: we need to cast out the leaven in our hearts, whatever we have not handed over to God, because Satan will capitalize on even a pinch of yeast “That’s where we’re called to repentance, that’s where we’re called to conversion,” he said. Ahead — We have received tremendous support, encouragement, and promises of prayer from many people in our diocese who love the Lord and his church. All of us have the examples of holy priests who have spent themselves and continue to labor in humble service and love for the flock entrusted to their care. Alongside — Many of us have made some of our closest friendships in seminary. Moved by a shared mission to give everything and follow Jesus, the generosity of these men, our brothers in the pipeline continues to be a constant source of strength. Behind — To quote St. Paul, caritas Christi urget nos, “the love of Christ impels us” (2 Cor 5,14). Jesus will heal us and raise us to new life, if we allow him.

Deacon Nyce, who is from St. Veronica  in Chantilly, is in his fourth year of theology studies at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018