“Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear? And do you not remember?” (Mark 8:18)
Among the many skills that a seminary formation program must impart to a man, the ability to accurately perceive and retain what another person is saying or revealing in his or her behavior is one of the most critical. In parish pastoral ministry, an offhand comment, an angry remark, or a crestfallen face often belies a much more profound interior movement of the heart and mind than meets the eye.
This reality was driven home in a particularly powerful way during a recent “seminary sounding” session that we held at Mundelein. Our entire community gathered in one room and the floor was opened to anyone who wished to speak. What we brought into that encounter was trust, along with a commitment to honesty, generosity, and encouragement. What surfaced within the gathering was a rich experience of God’s grace—manifested through all the complexity, joy, fear, and uncertainty that accompanies a seminarian’s courageous willingness to be open and vulnerable with his brothers.
What we all left with was a renewed and deepened sense of our shared mission, along with the ability to see one another with greater integrity and compassion. This was not simply a group exercise in communal sharing, but rather a profound immersion into the heart of Jesus’ pastoral ministry. With the Samaritan woman at the well, with Nicodemus, with Bartimaeus, with Peter, with Martha and Mary, Jesus witnessed the Father’s love for him by his careful attention to their need for healing.
While we try to impart such pastoral skills through our formation program, a seminarian’s ability to listen like Christ is honed and nurtured by his encounters with family, friends, and the parishioners he serves. As our men return to their home parishes and dioceses this Thanksgiving week to be with many of you, please know how grateful I am to you for all that you bring to their formation. A heart like Christ’s can only be formed via the prayerful collaboration between seminary and diocese. May you have many grace-filled gatherings this holiday weekend.
Together in Christ, we are Mundelein. We form parish priests.
Fr. John Kartje