A Community Among Strangers

After my first year at Bishop Simon Brute College Seminary, I found it difficult to
leave my brother seminarians for the summer. In comparison to Christmas break and
spring break, summer break is much longer (three months compared to one week). It’s
hard to leave because one: I love the schedule at the seminary of daily Mass, Adoration, and prayer. And two: I love the constant interaction with the friendships I developed this past year. In general, when people leave a comfortable environment, transitioning can be difficult. Throughout the year, I have loved coming back from a busy day at school, and going to my one spot, the Brute room, to just lay and take a breather. I loved walking down the hall to see what some of the guys are up to. But now, I won’t have the Brute room to go to and I don’t have the hallway to walk down through. The guys will be back in Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, or other parts of the area. It just feels great knowing that someone is there for you, especially one who is in close proximity. All of that becomes very comfortable. Now, I am leaving for Columbus for three months, a place that I have never been to but usually, only when I pass by on the interstate. On the first day, I met a lot of strangers. That  is not the case.

There is a reason as to why parish assignments are beneficial to a seminarian’s discernment. I need to learn how to organize my life, instead of someone else telling me. I have to choose when to go to Mass, when I need to pray the Liturgy of the Hours or go to Adoration, and how to spend my free time. But on this post, I want to focus more about how the community at St. Bartholomew became a home to me in just the first week of summer. This transition is really a continuation of the community I had at Brute Seminary. Community is an important aspect to all Catholics. It is what binds people together throughout the journey of life. What does that look like for a seminarian who is preparing for priesthood?

One of the pillars of formation at the seminary that I have learned is human
formation. Human formation allows me to learn how to have human interaction with
various types of people. It is more important to also learn how to create a bridge between the various people I encounter because everyone has different personalities, interests, and hobbies. We are a family, so how do I connect with the people I live with? I am able to practice and apply what I have learned at St. Bartholomew’s.
After every Mass that I attend, I am encouraged to shake parishioners hands as they
are leaving, just like the priest does. Human Formation asks us: how is the seminarian
doing in this environment? How will I react? Actually, I find great enjoyment in shaking
their hands. Almost at every Mass, there are 2-4 people who strike up a conversation with me and invite me out to lunch afterwards. So Brute is doing a great job at forming me. The more people I meet and the more conversations I have, the more I feel welcomed into the community at St. Bartholomew’s. Even though I have physically left the seminary, in some ways, I feel like I’ve never left.

You see, there are about 1500 parishioners at St. Bartholomew, and I’ve met maybe
100 of them, I can only remember maybe 20 peoples face and name, together, and I have
been invited to go out to eat with parishioners 5 times. I still have no idea of the other 1300 parishioners. What is amazing is that I feel connected to the rest of the Church through the Mass. Fr. Clem allows me to serve and sit up with them in front of the congregation, and wow, is it such a view in the sanctuary! Have you ever noticed a large crowd as one unit, whether that is at a concert or the fans at a football game? The first Mass I attended at St. Bartholomew’s, during the Our Father, when you see everyone in the Congregation holding their hands up and singing so beautifully, I could feel the Church united talking to God as if we were One, and God was responding back to us in the words of the priest. Gosh, I’m getting the chills again. You see, we are not strangers because we have Jesus who bridges everyone together. This is one of my favorite parts of being Catholic.

Here is a side story but I mean to tie it back to community. When I told my friend I
was entering the seminary, he said: “So you’re joining a frat house.” I told him: “No, it’s just a place where a bunch guys live together.” And he said, “So it’s a frat house.” Ok yes, it’s kind of a frat house, but there is one big difference between the seminary and the Greek Life Frat House . A Greek Frat House brings people in through restrictions to particular people. Seminaries do not but only through their desire to grow in relationship with Christ. If I didn’t have the desire to grow with Christ, I can say that I would never associate myself with the Catholic Church. What I am trying to say is that, without Jesus Christ, I would never see a stranger, especially those I have never met at St. Bartholomew, as my brother or sister. It’s a great mystery, the Eucharist. The Eucharist brings people together; those from the past and future, those in other parts of the world, and all the angels and saints. When I take this reality and bring it to life, I experience the joy that God brings to me through the St. Bartholomew Parish.

So far, this summer has definitely confirmed my decision to continue on in seminary
formation. Even though a priest doesn’t have a physical and biological family, he has a
spiritual family who are all present physically and desire Truth and Love. As a spiritual
father, they become the leader of this family, as the dad is the leader of his family. This idea of the spiritual family has come to life here at St. Bartholomew, and I can start to put this image in relation to the whole Archdiocese of Indianapolis, the rest of the Catholic Church, who is spread out across the U.S. and the world, and the angels and saints in heaven! So St. Bartholomew never was a community of strangers but my family.


J.C. Aguilar

JC Aguilar is a seminarian studying for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and a member of the class of 2019.

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