GONG! – Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee – GONG! – Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb – GONG! – Jesus…
Today’s 8am Angelus-ringing boldly announced the start of a new semester at Nashotah House. Cassock-clad seminarians rise from their choir stalls, make the sign of the cross, and join together in Morning Prayer and Holy Eucharist. Together we dive head first into another year of daily prayer rhythms, shared meals, exegetical exercises, Hebrew and Greek vocabulary terms, and enough patristic theology to make Peter Lombard’s head spin. No doubt every student will keep incredibly busy, and probably more than a few will spend late nights in the library digging up scholarly articles to finish up research papers on Gregory of Nyssa and Jurgen Moltmann due the next morning. At the end of the year, we will walk away having worked hard and learned much.
While our workload will certainly leave our minds full of new theological insights, biblical doctrines, and homiletic techniques, it is important that we continue to recall to mind the reason we are at seminary — to bring glory to the God who has privileged us with the calling of being ministers of Jesus Christ. Our calling — our privilege — to be ministers is a great one that requires us to live in a perpetual state of humility. As students of theology, constantly acquiring new knowledge, there is always a temptation to perceive ourselves as more advanced than others in the spiritual life. But our knowledge cannot be equated with our obedience. Though we are in the form of theology students, we must not count the position as something to be grasped, but empty ourselves into the form of servants, humbling ourselves by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. That is the path our Lord calls us to. We must heed St. Paul’s warning that knowledge “puffs up” but love builds up (1 Cor. 8:1). The knowledge we gain must always be used a means to strengthen our love — love of God and love of others.
A leader from my diocese recently sent me a copy of Helmut Thielicke’s A Little Exercise for Young Theologians. This tiny 40 page booklet is chock full of important guidance for seminarians, but one concept in particular really struck me. Thielicke discusses the mistake seminarians often make of believing that just because they have grasped a theological concept they have grown into these doctrines in their own spiritual lives. Some of his words hit home when I read them: “There is a hiatus between the arena of the young theologian’s actual spiritual growth and what he already knows intellectually about this arena. So to speak, he has been fitted, like a country boy, with breeches that are too big, into which he must still grow up in the same way that one who is to be confirmed must also still grow into the long trousers of the Catechism. Meanwhile, they hang loosely around his body, and this ludicrous sight of course is not beautiful.” When I look back on my first year of seminary, I see that I fell into that kind of thinking more than once. I could proudly explain ascetical disciplines like contemplation, fasting, and lectio divina, but fell short of practicing them as passionately as I spoke of them. My breeches were obviously too big but I perceived them to fit just right.
Every night this semester we will stand in our cassocks and surplices and finish Evensong with the Prayer for Nashotah House. Together we will pray the words, “Bless all who may be trained here. Take from them all pride, vanity, and self-conceit, and give them true humility and self-abasement.” True humility and self-abasement don’t exactly come natural for humans, and that is why we implore the Lord to graciously assist us in pursuing these virtues. May this new year of study be one in which we use the knowledge we gain as an instrument for selflessly loving God and loving others, and may we all grow a little more into our oversized breeches. Floreat Nashotah!
By: Cameron MacMillan