Advice on Profession Day

Seminarians learning to live into the life God has for them

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RaabEvery year as July ends, men in our novitiate for the Congregation of Holy Cross celebrate the first profession of vows. Families travel to Colorado. Our provincial travels from Indiana to Colorado Springs to receive their vows. Our parish hosts this celebration each year. Parishioners gather in the pews to support budding vocations and the families who may still have questions about such a vocation.

I professed vows in the first class in Colorado in 1978-79. Years are fleeting. I now view these men through bifocals. I see their zeal, aware of my weight gain and aging body. I see them climb Pikes Peak as I feel my diminishing body. I witness their varied interests as mine seems outdated and obsolete. I learn much from our novices.

I professed vows wearing a suit and tie. I outgrew that brown polyester suit when the 1970s ended. They process into the church each year wearing a simple novice cassock and await to be given the official Holy Cross habit, a fitted cassock, shoulder cape and black cord around the waist. I never received a black habit, but I still wear my heart on my sleeve.

Several novices serve our parish on Sundays during the year. I may accompany one or two as spiritual director. They carry hope in their eyes. They long for God. They desire to find a place in the Church. I can’t tell them about all the difficult days, the moments when I feel desolate. They cultivate talents to spread the fire of faith. I hope not to pour water on such a fire. I don’t want to tell of my pettiness, or my grief of how things have changed. They wish to renew the Church. They don’t understand that every generation also desires renewal.

As priests, we can’t divulge everything the young need to find themselves. Just like a parent can’t reveal the deeper meaning of marriage and family life to their inquisitive children. Seminarians just need to live into the life God has for them.

So, I tell them how beautiful ministry becomes. My eyes become bright when I share that I found the meaning of my vows, my priesthood and the Eucharist among people surviving poverty. That is a secret they must come to after exploring their own suffering. Only later will they realize that the life that unfolds is far more beautiful than the life they dreamed in the novitiate.

I can’t tell them how God captures the human heart. God uses gifts when we don’t control them. We are free if we live from our prayer, the real prayer that beats in our pulse. God uses our pain to heal others, a lesson for later life. I hesitate to admit I am challenged daily, well beyond my expertise. Our real work in ministry is to remove the labels in life of “us” and “them.” I tell them to allow God to lead the vocation dance. Sometimes, I let it slip that God is God, and we aren’t.

I learn many things only with age. I learned to write articles and paint with acrylics only in recent years. I learn the most from vulnerable people and when I surrender to Jesus Christ. Jesus found me. He stretches me beyond my comfort. I find Jesus among people in poverty. Jesus discovers me in the same crowd. This is still a secret to these men who profess first vows.

As priests, we can’t tell the novices that God continues to reveal purpose and new gifts even later in life. Don’t tell them wonder is not just a gift for the young. I do tell them not to sweat the small stuff. God still surprises me now that I am old. If they stay in their hearts, they will manifest the Holy Spirit in ways they never expected.

They don’t fully understand that less is more. They will learn prestige is a millstone around the neck. I tell them that seminaries don’t make people priests; they will learn the hard way that only Jesus does. I caution them about academic pursuits and fancy jobs. Power is not the way to prayer. I can’t show them how to carve a place in their hearts for Jesus to love them.

On profession day, as a priest, I thank them for showing up. I offer support. I raise my arm in blessing. I ask God to show them tenderness. When profession day is over, I go back to my room smiling knowing they will encounter life and learn wisdom beyond the mountaintop of the Colorado novitiate.

FATHER RONALD PATRICK RAAB, CSC, serves as pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, Colorado Springs, Colorado, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Chapel in Manitou Springs, Colorado, and Holy Rosary Chapel in Cascade, Colorado.

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