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Seminaries close, formation continues

First slide

As I stood at the ambo and began the narration from the Passion of the Lord, I looked up and saw only an iPad looking back at me. The pews in the church were empty and it was absolutely silent. The parishioners could see me on their livestream, but I could not see them. This was my first Palm Sunday as a seminarian and as a lector and it could not have been more unusual.

The coronavirus has changed every part of our lives, including seminary formation, which continues on albeit in a different form. As with the rest of the world, the lives of Arlington seminarians changed dramatically as we were sent back to the diocese from our respective seminaries in Maryland, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Rome. Instead of continuing with seminary life in a closed, “cloistered” environment, almost all of Arlington’s 49 seminarians are now living and studying in one of 21 parishes in the diocese.

My assignment to St. Charles Borromeo Church in Arlington has provided me with unexpected graces, especially the unplanned time spent with the priests and seminarians there. There are four seminarians calling St. Charles home: two from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa., one from the North American College in Rome, and myself, from Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md. We have created a seminary-like environment with a strict schedule of communal prayer and Mass, meal preparation, and fraternity with the priests. In the uncertainty of these days, I have been able to find great faith, hope and joy in these men as we grow closer to the Lord together. While the coronavirus is undoubtedly tragic and has caused great suffering, this time has given me the opportunity to “attend” seminary with these men, which otherwise wouldn’t have been the case.

Like everyone else, our challenge has been to preserve a semi-normal life amid the uncertainty and changing rules and directives. Our classes have moved online, our small groups and spiritual direction now take place via teleconferencing, the usual in-person class interactions of the past are gone, and ordinations may be delayed. However, in the midst of our uprooted lives, we must all have hope and trust in God’s love for us and his ability to form us into better men, better seminarians and ultimately better priests.

It is not lost on seminarians that we are in an extremely privileged position of being able to attend Mass in person and receive Communion. Know that each day, priests throughout the diocese are offering Masses for their people and seminarians are praying for and joining in spiritual Communion with those who are unable to join us. We too miss our congregations, parish life and personal interactions.

In these challenging times, we must remember that God is with us. It can be easy to fall into the trap of self-pity and laziness instead of discovering how he is loving us, what he is teaching us and how he is molding us into something better than before. This requires our cooperation, taking advantage of the stillness of these days to open our hearts to him, offering our suffering, anxiety and confusion to Christ, asking him simply, “What do you want me to learn during this time?”

It is my prayer that we can all see God in our suffering and uprooted lives. He is here and he has something to teach us about ourselves, about him and about the life we enjoyed only a month ago.

Sampson, who is from St. Charles Borromeo Church in Arlington, in his first year of pre-theology at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020