I've certainly felt homesick at times and Italian sick (as in, sick of the language and the cultural... eccentricities and being a stranger in a strange land) at others. I've had days where I have been extremely frustrated with a couple of my classes, both in form and content. I've wanted to bang my head into my desk until I blacked out more than a couple times. Seminary life itself is a remarkable and artificial thing, designed to test and stress as it forms.
The lack of families, our own and others, as well as the lack of women and, of all things, the lack of parish life wears on all of us after a while. It brings us great delight to see our choir director have to run off after his toddler as she attempts to escape his grasp at college banquets or other events, ducking under tables and running off down the corridor. There is something beautiful and messy at the same time- something real, I suppose, to such an interaction that some of our formation can lack. It is not really a complaint so much as a statement of fact- I do not know if seminary life could be other than it is and still do its job. It's why the college tries so hard to have us organize social events in house- sporting events and parties and talent shows to name a few. They also strongly urge us to get out and travel when we get a chance, even requiring us to travel during Christmas and Easter and summer breaks.
What's more, the uphills in the spiritual life only get steeper the higher you climb. That being so, your legs get stronger and God's assistance grows even stronger, so that a man on his way to the priesthood can be assured of two things: he does not possess the strength in himself to persist, and that God will be all the strength He needs and far more than he can ever imagine. For every hour of frustration and exhaustion this year I enjoyed five of joy. For all the difficulties in seminary, there are so very many joys and extraordinary experiences. I have made close friends that I pray I will keep for the rest of my life. I have seen and done things I never would have dreamed of doing only a year ago. As tough as this year has been, the graces have far outweighed the trials- the fruits of the harvest have been well worth the sweat of the sowing- and it has, praise God, by His grace been making me into the man He calls me to be. May it please God that it continue to do so and I continue to do so.
I feel myself being drawn even more strongly toward pastoral ministry, toward fatherhood in a spiritual sense, desiring ever more to lead the people of God home to Him. As I have spent time abroad, my vision of the people of God has grown, having born witness both to the unique trials and the great strength of heart of the Churches in other countries, from the Latin rite Italians to the Coptic rite Egyptians, from the Netherlands to the Pyrenees. I have grown in my concern for all of them, though at the same time I have grown ever more desirous of being with my people back in little ol' Kalamazoo. My travels have been incredible and I do not take them for granted for a moment, but I still feel my heart drawn back to my own diocese.
In all this and in all my studies in Rome, it has been so edifying for me seeing my brethren exhibit that pull- that divine draw to save souls- back to their own people, especially when they go back to far greater problems and crosses than I can even imagine in my time thus far at home, yet they go willingly, longingly, and purposefully, to give their lives as lights in a dark place, to offer the Truth and Love that is our Lord Jesus Christ to those who, whether they know it or not, long and yearn for Him with all that is within them.
May I ever grow in zeal for God's will and love for all whom I will serve. To end, I wanted to post a short paragraph from Edmund Campion, an English Jesuit martyred by Elizabeth, that I read last week which really clarified our reason for being over here, at least for me. He was writing an apologia for himself and for the seminarians who would return as priests to certain death in the violently Protestant British Isles of the 16th century. We may not share the exact same circumstances, but we might yet share the same drive and sentiment as those who have gone before.
"I doubt not but you, her Highness' Council, being of such wisdom and discreet in cases most important, when you shall have heard these questions of religion opened faithfully, which many times by our adversaries are huddled up and confounded, will see upon what substantial grounds our Catholic Faith is built, how feeble that side is which by sway of the time prevails against us, and so at last for your own souls, and for many thousand souls that depend upon your governance, will discountenance error when it is [uncovered], and hearken to those who would spend their best blood in their bodies for your salvation. Many innocent hands are lifted up to Heaven for you daily by those English students, whose posterity shall never die, which beyond seas, gathering virtue and sufficient knowledge for the purpose, are determined never to give you over, but either to win you Heaven, or to die upon your pikes."