Brendan Monahan

The choir stall’s first row isn’t the seminary’s most welcoming feature.

Like any business or workplace, a beginner starts at the bottom and works to the top. The initial upright wooden pew suggests a tiered authority, ricocheting off the walls in bellowing voices, overwhelming the crackling murmurs from the lower ranks. Kneelers thud at the chapel’s back. The veteran seminarians look below and beside with patient annoyance.

This year, my second at the seminary, I’m in the same row. Expected to guide new students, I reside between needing to learn more and not knowing enough.

“How do you use this thing?” a new guy asked in the first row upon arrival.

He referred to the breviary, a prayer book, providing me no comfort because I still don’t understand it.

“I don’t know,” I said, pointing to my classmate on his other side. “You’ll have to ask him.”

Inwardly searching for God while overlooking Jesus in the person next to me, I returned to my unsuccessful attempt at internal stillness. God and Catholicism, even at Mass, always were personal for me and not a public experience, but the faith is outward in addition to its personal inner element.

Pope Francis approaches Catholicism this way. He answers when asked but prefers something real – touch — the human connection inspiring people to reciprocate.

This year, at St. John’s Hospice in center city Philadelphia, I help feed hundreds of homeless men for lunch. The shelter is a haven for these people, who unfortunately return to the margins of society after receiving their meal but thankfully leave on a full stomach.

This is the seminary experience at its best, on Thursdays, when we depart St. Charles and enter our field education assignments. We actively live the faith besides internally reflecting on it. St. John’s helps me imitate Pope Francis and his visible appeal to an external Catholicism.

Living isn’t a relentless attempt at converting people through overemphasized doctrine but a comfort level with Jesus in joy, then letting that happiness exude as incentive for others to grow in their faith. God and the happiness he brings are found in others.

The seminary and its outgrowth of opportunities continuously teach me that.

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Brendan Monahan is seminarian in the pre-theology II class at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Wynnewood, and a member of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish, Plymouth Meeting. The annual St. Charles Seminary Appeal occurred in November. Learn more about the appeal and consider making a contribution here.

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