I am almost ready to graduate from college seminary. The last four years have taught me a great many lessons and have helped form me into a candidate for the priesthood. Of course, I am only halfway through the formation process and still have so much space to grow into a more worthy man of God. As I am approaching this major checkpoint, though, I want to take the time to reflect on some lessons I have learned during my first four years in priestly formation.
First, I have learned that the pursuit of a vocation does not come without trials. The very moment when I first knew the call to the priesthood, I cried. In part, they were tears of gratitude and awe as I received an answer to the prayer which I had been repeating, “Tell me what to do, Lord.”
At the same time, however, I cried because I was struggling with my own unworthiness. This trial challenged me to take a leap of faith and put trust not in myself, but in the Holy Spirit.
Our Lord Alone
I could go on at length describing other times I have faced trials in my discernment, but the overall point is that I have learned that I must trust God before myself. There is never a trial which God does not offer the strength to overcome.
Whether it is loneliness, homesickness, anxiety, or something else, Our Lord alone offers the ability to truly overcome trials. Apart from Him, I can only attempt to escape, ignore, or otherwise fail in overcoming difficulties.
A second lesson I have learned is that I am really loved and supported in my journey. It has amazed me — truly amazed me — to meet people for the first time who already know my name and my face. When I am going about my routine in Seminary, I don’t always think about how many people pray for me regularly.
Of course, that is not to say I revel in the attention or wish to brag about popularity. No, on the contrary, I find it humbling to be reminded that I am where I am because of the real love and support of others. I am not some great person deserving anyone’s attention. Yet, knowing that people are praying for me to follow God’s will is a joyous and awesome knowledge.
Leaving the Comfort Zone
Third, I have learned the importance of leaving my comfort zone and accepting new challenges. The Seminary makes it easy to create a comfortable groove or routine. While a solid routine is necessary, there is a temptation to become stagnant, even lazy. In response to this, I have found it rewarding to engage and embrace new challenges.
The first time I went out into Center City, Philadelphia on homeless ministry, I was intimidated. I was so tempted to just stay in my own home because I did not know what to expect in encountering the homeless. However, because I did go, I had a radical encounter with Christ in the homeless which has helped reshape my outlook.
I have found the same principle in other experiences as well. Great opportunities present themselves and call me out of my comfort zone. To accept them can take a willingness, even a bravery, to trust in God and allow myself to be uncomfortable. After all, the Lord wishes to form his priests into brave leaders.
Learning to Say Yes to Saying “No”
Finally, a lesson which I am still in the process of figuring out: learning to say no to good things when they are not what God has planned for me. This may seem like the easiest lesson to understand, but for myself, I have found it difficult to master.
Sometimes, I really want to do as many things as I possibly can. In seminary, there are so many opportunities for good works: pro-life work, community service, homeless ministry, giving tours, singing in choir, running house programs, praying with the Legion of Mary, and umpteen other truly good things.
Yet, it is not God’s will that anyone try to do everything on his own. Between classes and prayer obligations, sleep and meal times, there frankly is not enough time in the day to do it all.
The Discernment of Daily Living
I have learned that even in my daily activities, God calls me to discernment. What can I do which will really bring me closer to Him? What other things can be forgone or do not need me to do them? It would be prideful to fall into the thinking that without me, things would fail. Rather, Our Lord has given me talents to use wisely and do things well. Hopefully, one day, I will learn this lesson thoroughly enough.
Of course, there are countless other lessons which I have learned and am learning. These few struck me as worthy of writing about. Please keep me in your prayers as I approach the halfway point of my formation to the priesthood this coming summer! With four years left before ordination, I look forward to sharing more of my journey in the future.
Nikolai Brelinsky is studying as a seminarian for the Diocese of Raleigh. He currently studies at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, PA. However, his home is in Zebulon, NC. Nikolai is involved with pro-life work and enjoys sports in his spare time.