The best view of the whole community of my seminarians in the College of Albertinum, in Bonn, is from the altar. Obviously, I do not use the celebration of the liturgy for keeping them under my eye. It is a moment in which we are all concentrated on the mystery of Christ. In this concentration—even if at 6:40 AM there may be some sleepy faces—it is evident that they are before all else His! One by one they have been wanted and called by Him. Their stature is decided first of all in their relationship with Him. It is during the celebration of the Holy Mass that I am reminded, day by day, that I can be a help in the formation of their vocation only if I accept them, accompany them, challenge and correct them in His name, sending them back to Him.
At the same time, during the Eucharist, we are also immersed in the daily life, in our undertakings and relationships, in the desires of our heart and in our sins: all of these truly enter into the formation. What an engaging group of people, what a strong impetus of faith I am able to see in their faces and in the lives of these seminarians! But also how many wounds, weaknesses, and sometimes meanness. In the last few years, I have been given the task of getting to know the story of about fifty people: I don’t exaggerate when I say that they have no need to envy the characters of Lev Tolstoj or Victor Hugo. In certain moments, even I am even paralyzed by the complexity and by the drama of those who are entrusted to me. It’s true that there are criterion for the discernment and a method for the formation: but there is no formula that is able to substitute the responsibility of my freedom in front of them. The field, upon which all is played out, is sketched by the Mystery.
I have a clear awareness of the importance of this responsibility: in fact the decisions concerning who enters into seminary, who is proposed to the archbishop to be ordained, and who is asked to leave definitively, is mine. Obviously, each of these decisions must correctly correspond with the vocational path of each person as well as the will of God (which yes, must be intuited!). If I could be exempt from this weight, it would be easier: but it is part of what is asked of me and therefore it is something to embrace. There is, to say the truth, a shortcut that is peacefully establishing itself in many seminaries: to live the commune life, and therefore the educational relationship between the rector and the seminarians, as a formality. Within a formal relationship, it would be enough for me to recognize whether there are behavioral problems with the seminarians and whether they have good grades, and on their part, they would only need to be cunning, selling themselves as ideal seminarians. But this was not the dynamic Jesus lived with his disciples. His gaze was one of love, that esteemed, that shared and that had confidence in the other. The problems, the knots, the wounds, that are always present, were not disguised behind tricks but seen as the occasion to mature.
In the diocesan seminary, where I have been rector since 2015, I desire to facilitate this experience. I am not always able to. But I have already seen miracles that cannot be take for granted. When I see the seminarians begin to open up to others, and to themselves. When they are fascinated by their studies and a passion for what is happening in the world. When they pose questions and when they are capable of having a healthy irony towards themselves, and towards their rector!
In this adventure, nothing is taken for granted. It is a relationship that is lived every day, from the liturgy to the joke said in the hallway, from the comment made about a recently published article to the song one of the first year guys asked me to listen to, which succeeded in challenge my ear… It is truly engaging to discover reality within the dynamic of a vocation that is embraced: for the seminarians this is unavoidably something new, and for me, remaining imperfect, it means being called to live a real reverberation of the unique master for these young men.
(Fr. Roman Christen is the rector and the Albertinum College, seminary of the dioceses of Cologne, in Bonn (Germany). The photo shows a street in the city—photo Aleksandr Zykov/flickr.com)