A news story from Arkansas happened to catch my eye during the Christmas season. Daniel Phillips, a seminarian from the Diocese of Little Rock studying at Holy Trinity Seminary in Dallas, was killed in an automobile accident.
I shall pray for Daniel, and for his parents and family. Nothing in life is as cruel as for parents to lose a child. God be with Daniel’s mother and father.
After reading the story, I hope Daniel is praying for me. He had discussed his decision to study for the priesthood in an interview posted on the Little Rock diocesan website on vocations. He said he had wanted to be a priest for a long time, but fundamentally, he wanted to do what the Lord wanted for him. Father Erik Pohlmeier, of the diocesan vocations office in Little Rock, referred precisely to Daniel’s wish to do what the Lord wanted for him.
Reading further in the obituary, it is clear that Daniel Phillips was a very promising candidate for the priesthood. Not only deeply spiritual, he was talented and energetic.
Considering either his choice to follow the Lord, come what may, or his qualities, he would not be unusual among seminarians, at least judging from the seminarians whom I know.
Being at Our Sunday Visitor has associated me with many seminaries, and with seminarians. I am impressed, and I am confident about tomorrow’s priests.
Daniel’s determination to do God’s will is typical among today’s seminarians. I have the highest admiration for more veteran priests now serving the Church, including priests of my own generation, but I believe that the candidates for the priesthood presently in training possess a better informed inclination to the priesthood than might have pertained as recently as 30 years ago.
Why? Today’s seminarians come from, and live in, a world in which Christian values, and even basic Christian values, are not only ignored but assailed in ways unimagined a generation or two ago. Their contemporaries often have abandoned religion. They know, all too frequently from firsthand experience, the pain of broken homes. Their world is a world, wisely noted in Pope Benedict XVI’s homily on New Year’s Day, that is in a virtual whirlwind as it grasps for pleasure and personal gain, where in every matter the end justifies the means.
In my day, almost every seminarian, if asked to tell his life story, would speak of his heritage, of the rich Catholicism of his French, German, Irish, Italian, Polish or Spanish roots, or of the solid faith of other ethnic backgrounds. He would talk about his Catholic elementary and secondary education. Most of all, he would say that his strongly Catholic home, with both father and mother deeply committed to the Church, meant so very much to his vocation.
Today, while these old positives have not utterly vanished in every case, seminarians speak of their own deep, personal conversion, perhaps not to Catholicity, although many converts now attend our seminaries, but of their own total personal commitment to Christ Jesus.
So, modern stories are not from men whose circumstances tilted them toward considering the priesthood, but from very serious and discerning men who have looked at what surrounds them, with its emptiness and uselessness, despite all its glamor, and have chosen the way of the Gospel, the way of the cross.
Seminarians these days also will say that already they have found that most precious of earthly rewards, peace of mind and heart, because they have given everything to God.
In those who will be ordained, God be blessed, the Church will live a new day.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s associate publisher.