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Cutting hair is harder than it looks

renner barber

Seminarian Robert Renner (left) cuts the hair of Deacon Nicholas Blank at Mount St. Mary's Seminary. COURTESY

There are things you expect to learn in seminary: philosophy, theology, church history, maybe some pastoral counseling and of course the saints. I never expected I’d grow to care less about the results of my efforts — or how to barber.

As the chore list was posted, the crowd of seminarians pressed in, pens at the ready. When I finally reached the list, barber was among the few remaining house jobs. I thought, “How hard could it be? I cut that guy’s hair in college.” 

I learned two things: Cutting hair is harder than it looks, and I care too much about my work.

I was disheartened quickly when I did not understand anything in my first philosophy class and made several rather visible mistakes on haircuts. My problem became evident; I was letting my skills, or lack thereof, affect my heart. I was present for everything I needed to be and trying my best, but always seemed to come up short. Either my grades were not as stellar as I wanted, or the bad haircut I gave was sitting right in front of me in chapel. (Maybe I could reach over the pew to cut those two loose hairs without anyone noticing?)

My heart would rise or fall at every success or failure, which was clouding out the voice of God. I had to learn a lesson important for all of us, but especially for a future priest: I am not the sum of all my successes or failures, but one who needs to be attentive to the love of the Holy Spirit. As much as I love doing a good job on a paper — or a haircut — there is something far more important: being a bridge to Christ. This is the role of human formation in the seminary, to rid a man of any obstacles that prevent him from sharing Christ.

I am now in my third year of formation for the priesthood. Philosophy is a regular activity and I barber when my classmates need it. I still make mistakes, and of course they usually sit right in front of me, but I thank God that my heart is no longer jostled by my successes or failures. We want our hearts to be detached from the apparent “success” of our works and attentive to God. Good Friday did not seem like a success. Yet the Blessed Mother, attentive to her son’s words, lived the next three days differently than anyone else. Likewise, Christians, especially priests, should have a healthy detachment from the success of our work to be attentive to the one who should have our heart.

Renner, from Holy Spirit Church in Annandale, is in his first year of theology at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019