Redeeming the time

Outside the allotted times for the liturgy, meals, classes, and recreations, the seminarian’s day is mostly spent. And with the little time left over, he has still to study, do his weekly job (or jobs), and accomplish any personal business. Nonetheless, time must be made for personal prayer, comprising his all-important spiritual duties such as meditation, spiritual reading, and the recitation of the rosary.

The efficiency-minded might here question: Why these superfluous exercises of devotion? How do they contribute to education? However, a good priest is not one possessed solely of doctrine. A priest of doctrine without piety is a monster; thus the old ecclesial adage: "Doctrina cum pietate" (Doctrine with piety). No, personal prayer is not a diversion to pass away idle moments, nor is it merely a psychological escape to combat stress. Personal prayer is rather a means by which the seminarian can redeem (with piety) even the little time given him by Christ, the Lord of creation.

Of a seminarian’s spiritual duties, none outranks meditation. The Church has always insisted upon the preeminence of this form of prayer, some saints going so far as to affirm the impossibility of salvation without its regular practice. Each seminarian is accustomed to engage in about half an hour of meditation daily. Meditation is pure mental prayer, the “vehement outpouring of the soul” to God (Catechism of the Council of Trent). Its goal is to elicit acts of love of God in the one meditating.

Meditation and the Rosary

But no one can love what one does not know. Meditation, then, depends upon maintaining a fresh supply of reverent thoughts on which the soul can ruminate. Another spiritual duty—spiritual reading—furnishes the supply. A seminarian divides his daily hour of reading between Sacred Scripture and some spiritual book, e.g. on prayer, the spiritual life, a virtue, the life of a saint, etc. The seminarian does not, however, approach his reading in the spirit of an academic at his desk, but of a disciple sitting at the feet of his Master. Christ speaks to the seminarian through this reading, whether directly in the Gospels or indirectly in the life of a saint, dispelling the ignorance that hinders love.

Another pledge of love dear to a seminarian’s heart is the recitation of the rosary. This simple Marian devotion comprises a most harmonious blend of vocal and mental prayer.  Ordered around the scenes of the Gospel, it is a mini-meditation in itself. The seminarian usually prays one rosary with the community in the evening before dinner, and it is not rare for him to sanctify other parts of the day by praying another.

Holy Mother Church praises and encourages these practices among her children, and particularly among her priests. Without personal prayer, the priest, though he be a distinguished theologian and speak with a golden tongue, is nothing but “a sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal” (1 Cor. 13:1). The aspirant to the priesthood, time-pressed though he may be, must develop this redeeming habit if he is to be faithful to Christ the Lord of creation, and if of creation, then of time as well.