If you aren’t vigilant, a lot of formation in the seminary can create a momentum toward navel-gazing. We can get in the habit of asking ourselves constantly, “How is my prayer life, my school work, my vocation, my ministry?” Even something like community, which jostles us out of self-contemplation, is often an occasion to scrutinize ourselves: “how am I doing in community life? Am I growing? Do people like me?”
In short, you could fool yourself into believing that this life as a religious in Holy Cross or that life as a seminarian training to be a priest, is actually my work, and that this work is in the first place actually about me. Well it isn’t!
We hear over and over again that, “you are the one most responsible for our own formation,” and this is true! We should be doing the hard work of formation. But formation is secondary. Formation comes after and is ordered toward vocation.
And vocation is pure, simple, undeserved gift. Vocation is from God. Not from us.
Vocation is the pathway that God puts before us that will bring us to communion with him and teach us how to love our brothers and sisters – it is the coincidence of love and sacrifice.
Vocation is a pathway of joy such that we can say along with Catherine of Sienna, “the way to heaven is heaven.” While this road may be difficult at times, more often than not, the struggles along the journey come from our own ego, our own selfishness, and the pain of dying to ourselves. This is an encounter with the Cross, and Holy Cross preaches that even the Cross can be borne as a gift. This gift of the Cross, which wins salvation for us, and the gift of vocation, which extends this salvation, are woven tightly together.
One place in particular where I see these mysteries is with my community at Mass. At large Masses here at Notre Dame, we in the pews watch as dozens and dozens of Holy Cross priests process into the Basilica in long lines of cream and gold vestments. Some of their faces are wrinkled, some still bright with youth; some are professors, others pastors, dorm rectors, missionaries; some stride with ease, others shuffle tired legs. But they all walk together up to the altar of God, the God of their youth.
This is the brotherhood I belong to.
If you talk to these men, they will tell you of a life in Holy Cross of joy and sacrifice, of love, pain, and adventure. They will tell you stories of the people they have come to love along the way, and of Jesus Christ, their Lord and their brother. They will tell you of the Cross of Jesus – of love and sacrifice intermingled.
My older brothers in Holy Cross carry all of this in their hearts and written into their faces as row after row of them bow to and kiss the altar, giving thanks to the God who invited them to this life. Watching these men shows all of us present who follow Jesus, who belong to the Church, and who prepare for a vocation to the priesthood and to religious life – it’s all gift. And the only response is Eucharistia! Thanksgiving.
Vocation will always have the shape of the Cross. All love will have the mark of sacrifice. We here at Moreau, who are discerning the gifts that God has given us, the life to which God calls us, have received without cost. We are preparing to live a life where we will give without cost. It is not about us – and maybe it takes years of formation to learn this. Please God, our lives will look like the life of Jesus Christ. Please God, our lives will look like the heroes of Holy Cross. Please God, our lives will be an offering of thanksgiving for the God who loved us first.
Michael Thomas, C.S.C., is in his third year of temporary vows. He resides at Moreau Seminary where he lives in community with other Holy Cross seminarians, and priests. At the same time he is working on his M.Div at the University of Notre Dame. Michael is originally from Lakeville, Indiana.