Last week several seminarians who are studying to be priests of the Diocese of Lexington took a tour of the diocese before they all headed back to their studies for the fall semester. This tour was the "Rock the Collar" tour. They mostly went to parishes in the rural parts of the diocese, but on the last day (Sunday) they ended at the Cathedral in Lexington where there was an afternoon reception for them.
The tour sounded pretty amazing. Chris and I went to the reception at the Cathedral on Sunday and they showed off pictures they had taken and a video they created from their trip. They visited about 10 parishes, spent the day with the priest, got a tour of the various areas, visited parishioners, stayed with host families, and had some sort of potluck meal or reception or something at each parish they visited. It sounded like such a great thing for these young men to participate in! They got so much out of it:
- They got to see more of the parishes then just their home parish and some of the larger parishes in the city of Lexington (as one young man said: he saw the diocese as just Pikeville, where he was from, and Lexington, where the Cathedral is).
- They got to meet priests who will one day be their brother priests AND some of those priests have been in the diocese for a very long time and have lots of wisdom to impart
- They got to know each other better: our seminarians attend 3-4 different seminaries, so this gives them a chance to bond with each other
- They got a chance to talk about their vocations, make themselves more visible, and show parishioners of the diocese that they are regular guys. Hopefully this will help foster more vocations to the priesthood
At the Cathedral on Sunday they each introduced themselves, told how old they were, what their home parish was, and what year in seminary they were and which seminary they attended. One of them gave his vocation story and another told us a bit about what his typical schedule was like in seminary. Then the Bishop also spoke. Oh, and the seminarian who was the driving force behind this whole thing told us how supportive our Bishop is: visiting them at seminary and keeping in touch with all of them, attending their convocations, and so much more. Apparently not every Bishop is that available to his seminarians.
The Bishop, as always, had wonderful things to say. He talked specifically about vocations and he made me think about some discussions I have had with protestant friends over the last year or so about the Catholic Priesthood. Bishop Gainer said one thing in particular that surprised someone sitting near me. It didn't totally surprise me, but I think I had heard it before. He said that he would be very hesitant to ordain any man to the priesthood who didn't think he wanted to be a dad or thought fatherhood was not anything he could see himself doing. This seems surprising at first considering that our priests take a vow of celibacy and are not allowed to marry. But his reason for this is because as a priest you are called to be like a father to all those you serve. He said that the priesthood is not the opposite choice from having a family. If you're not called to marriage that doesn't automatically mean that you're called to the priesthood (or religious life, as the case may be). The two are not opposites. If you think about, it does make sense. Everyone has a vocation. Some are called to marriage, some to the priesthood or religious life, and some are called to a single life. I've heard some debate on the single life vocation, but I'm not going to go into that here.
I also liked that the Bishop talked about encouraging our children to consider the priesthood or religious life. It was something that was once worn as a badge of honor if one of your children chose that life but doesn't seem to be the case any longer. But he is encouraged by the growing number of seminarians everywhere. We have 12 this fall and may have 14 by January. We are ordaining 2 next summer and hopefully we'll have more entering seminary next year. Those numbers are great, especially for a diocese that is so young (we'll be 20 years old in 2008). Having our seminarians touring the diocese and making themselves visible will help foster vocations; or at least make more people think about it.
Sunday was a fun event. We met several of the seminarians, talked to plenty of other people, and had a bit of cake and other treats. The movie they put together was cool to see as well, set to a song by U2.
I also encourage everyone to check out THIS WEBSITE. This website was put together by our diocese to be an information center for any vocation in life. It has resources for marriage, priesthood, religious vocations, and more. If anything is posted about the "Rock the Collar" tour, it'll be put on this website. Check it out!!
UPDATE: For a first person account from one of our new seminarians (starting his seminary formation this fall) see Alan's post at his blog which he titles "Wow".