With it being the Feast of the Holy Family (within the Year of Consecrated Life), it is fitting we reflect upon”the First Seminary.” I have been ordained for almost five years now, and I must say, it is hard to believe how time flies! Six years in a formal seminary setting, as well as having a year novitiate is certainly a minimal amount of time for such a dignified vocation as being an ordained religious priest. Although it was somewhat “frightening” being only 28 years old preparing for my ordination, we know God gives the “grace of office” to those whom He chooses to minister to His people. And although I have finished my formal formation and studies of the priesthood, I can’t help to think about the many other opportunities of formation I have received outside of the seminary institution. Other schools and programs have contributed tremendously in nurturing my call, such as my college university I attended which taught me the liberal arts, as well as the many clubs and teams which have helped me practice human virtues within a social context. Moreover, while many of these curricula of formation and institutions of higher learning have aided me in my path to the priesthood, the first and initial “seminary” I learned from in cultivating my vocation was my own family. It was through the generosity of my parents, my diligent working father and my caring and loving mother, the first seeds of my vocation were planted. If it wasn’t for the example and sacrifice my parents gave me, I would have never ascertained the concept of “gift of self” to God and apply it to my life. The late great John Paul II speaks of this “first seminary” in his Apostolic Exhortations on Priestly Formation:
Since the reality of the Christian family is endangered nowadays, much importance should be given to pastoral work on behalf of the family, in order that the families themselves, generously accepting the gift of human life, may be ‘as it were, a first seminary‘ (Optatam Totius, 2) in which children can acquire from the beginning an awareness of piety and prayer and love for the Church. (Pastores dabo Vobis, 41)
Seeing as it is evident that the family has such a vital role in the work of vocations, we turn to the Head of the Holy Family, St. Joseph, to help us foster vocations within the family. Jesus, the Eternal High Priest, subjected Himself to St. Joseph and learned (in His human nature) the trade of carpentry. Our Lord would have experienced the work of a hard working man who provided for his family and who lived according to the commandments and precepts of God. Also in His human nature, our Lord would be trained from St. Joseph in the many facets, tools, and techniques of carpentry and to work assiduously in doing manual labor and doing it well with great love. Thus, it is fitting to honor St. Joseph as one who can help the Church in planting and cultivate the seeds of many future vocations to the priesthood. If our Lord chose to be obedient to St. Joseph and to learn from Him at Nazareth, there is no reason why we shouldn’t do the same in choosing Him to head our first seminaries which are our families, the true Domestic Churches.
Sincerely in Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,
Fr. Joseph Aytona, CPM