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A seminarian's perspective

James McAuley was a regular contributor to the CathNews discussion board before he commenced his seminary studies in England about three months ago. On New Year's Eve he posted a message to the board that provides an interesting and detailed insight into the way his life has changed since he commenced his studies. It also provides an insight into the rigour that seminarians are subjected to these days in the wake of the problems besetting the Church.

I have now completed the first three months or so of "seminary" life. I say "seminary" as I am actually not at a traditional seminary; my diocese rather is beginning to adopt the model which I think the archdiocese of Paris under the Jewish convert Cardinal Lustiger have been adopting for over a decade -- students attend a college at which there are not exclusively seminarians and live in a house of formation during the week and a parish at the weekends and outside term time.

So the last few months have been pretty hectic with college Monday to Friday and getting first hand exposure to life in one of the largest parishes in my diocese at the weekend with it's seven Sunday Masses and lively group of parishioners including quite a few Filipinos who have come over to England to work in the ailing health service! I get normal working holidays a year and have to spend the rest of the time in the parish to which I am allocated so last week I was there before taking a week's break at Christmas.

The college I attend is affiliated to the Catholic University of Leuven/Louvain in Belgium and has students from over 30 countries as widely ranging as Mexico, Australia, Vietnam, Uganda, Belarus, Germany and the Congo (and Ireland of course!) A lot of them are students of missionary congregations. The wide range of students in terms of country of origin and age (I have a granny from Zambia in one of my classes!) is really enriching. The environment also suits a questioner like me.

It was only when I came to leave my job that I actually realised, despite what I had thought, how attached I really was to external things like the income and the status. Thankfully I resisted the (strong) temptation in my first week to jack it in when I contemplated six years of formation! In fact so far so good -- I can't say I enjoy doing essays again or the prospect of exams in January but I am really enjoying the subjects I am doing and also getting involved in the parish as it helps me keep my feet firmly on the ground as opposed to flying off into some intellectual clouds, which, as some will know, I can be prone to doing!

So far the subjects I have been taking have mainly been foundational philosophy, theology and anthropology modules. The best bit of the intellectual stuff so far has definitely been epistemology -- how we know and how we know that we know. I have become a real fan of a Canadian Jesuit called Bernard Lonergan (1904-84), who I believe ended his days teaching in Boston. My epistemology tutor describes him as the greatest mind in the Church since Thomas Aquinas, which I am sure is somewhat biased. Despite this, Lonergan has really provoked a huge amount of thought on my part on how we know "Truth" and apply it to our every day lives, which will be of immense benefit to me, regardless of where my journey takes me. Despite being in his seventies, having spent 40 years or so in Africa teaching in seminaries, my tutor is great about getting us to read up on the latest developments in science (hence the reference to quantum theory etc) and cosmology.

Having started to examine the document of Vatican II in detail -- we went through Dei Verbum on Revelation word by word (and that is not meant to be a pun!) -- I am beginning to appreciate the fact that we are so far from properly implementing the Council in the life of the Church, despite the efforts of JPII. So much effort seems to be expended in internal in-fighting.

Between historical criticism, form criticism, structuralism, narrative criticism etc etc, I must say I am not sure what I believe any more about Scripture. Hopefully the demolishing of my previous ideas is to prepare for the erection of something more solid and realistic ...... one thing for sure is that no longer am I prone to quoting verses willy-nilly! At some stage I will have to learn NT Greek and Hebrew, a prospect I am actually looking forward to!

For James' full report go to the link below.


2 Jan 2003