Paulist seminarian Tom Gibbons reflects on his formation experience and his life as a seminarian right now. Along the way, some questions will be will be answered, and a lot more will come up.
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I have never technically been a New Yorker. Even though my parents both grew up in Brooklyn and I grew up in Northern New Jersey—the half of the Garden State that roots for the Yankees and knew Al Roker long before he moved downstairs to the Today Show—full membership into the Big Apple was always for me a distant beacon that loomed past the horizon… much like Karl Rahner’s description of the experience of God. For me, it was not until I would be required to memorize subway routes in order to plan a regular morning commute could ever I hope to become a part of the club that understood Seinfeld on a deeper level.
But on a sunny morning this past May, I woke up to car horns and the magical smells of the breakfast cart five stories below… yes, I find ham and egg sandwiches magical. Later in the day I asked three different guys which place in the neighborhood had the best thin-crust pizza… and got five different answers. On the way to suggestion number four, I passed by a bar in which the Yankees were playing. Do you have any idea how long it has been since I have lived in a city that roots for the Yankees? Answer: too long. And all of this “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” was happening in my new mid-town Manhattan address: St. Paul the Apostle.
At this writing, I am at the halfway point of my formation towards priesthood: three down, three to go. In the previous three years with the Paulists I have shopped in independent record stores in Berkeley, crossed the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, eaten gelato in front of the Pantheon in Rome, and visited Graceland. In between these adventures I have been praying, studying, and discerning what the life of a priest might mean for me. And the last two words of the previous sentence were added intentionally: “for me.”
There has been a charmed aspect of “unreality” in my formation thus far; an unreality I have certainly enjoyed but on some gut level know is not a basis on which to build a life of ministry. I am also aware that I am ready to start having this new life be about others in addition to what adventures I have been fortunate to have along the way. In my chaplaincy program at the hospital this past summer, the formation experience moved from an “unreality” to a “hyper-reality,” trading in theology books for patient’s charts. But I also believe that this new “hyper-reality” is closer to what the priesthood is supposed to be about.
I make few apologies for maintaining an inward focus during the first three years of seminary, if for not other reason that I want to have myself sorted out within this new life before what is inside me is offered as harbor for others… as much as possible, anyway. Throughout that time, I did a lot of writing about the experience, and so this blog will detail some of the online journal entries I have made over the past few years as well us updates from the present day. Looking back over some of those older entries, some of the questions that were raised have been addressed, others have been answered, and a lot more questions have made their appearance. But if I am now at the halftime show of my formation, these older journal entries describe where I was just after the coin-flip that determined the side of the field I would receive kick-off three years ago: Catholic priesthood.