"Vocations Awareness Weekend" at Seminary

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

J.M. + J.T.

This past weekend (March 7th - 9th) , I attened a "Vocations Awareness Weekend" at a seminary in my Archdiocese. I was invited to attend by my school's supervising principal, a Priest of the Archdiocese. Seeing as I did not fit the age range prescribed in the registration form, he pulled some strings to allow me to attend. In fact, he might have started a precedent, explaining that since by senior year most already have plans for college, it is best that juniors should be allowed to attend so that the seminary can become an option.

I don't remember ever really being nervous - and definitely never scared - concerning this retreat. The little nervousness I remember experiencing was most probably from the excitement of going on a retreat where I had no idea what to expect. I had become too used to the same routine of the school retreats I lead.
Friday came and I couldn't wait to go. I remember visiting this same seminary during my freshman year (which happens to be the year that the current rector was installed there). But that had only been a visit; I had yet to experience the seminary.

I arrived at the seminary about 15 minutes early, and walked into the long hallway with everything in hand: my comforter and quilt in one, my pillow tucked under my arm, and my large and packed suitcase in the other. I had brought everything with me. Somewhere in that packed suitcase was my Divine Office book, and I could not wait to see how they prayed it.

As soon as I entered, two seminarians at the end of the hallway headed towards my mother and I. They began handing me things - a folder, my name tag, etc. I had a little trouble juggling all that I was carrying and all that they had given me, so two other seminarians offered me a helping hand as they led me to my room upstairs. The rooms belonged to the seminarians, so us retreatants were given the beds while they were sent to the mattresses on the floor. There were two of us and one seminarian in the room (the second had been temporarily moved to another room).

I opened up the purple folder they had given me and read all that was inside - a letter from the rector, one from the Vocations Director of the Archdiocese, and another from a professor and the schedule of events. I could not walk more than 10 feet without being stopped by a smiling seminarian wishing to greet me.
I eventually found my way downstairs to the recreation room where I remembered seeing a ping-pong table when I first visited. Sure enough, there it was, with people already playing. The seminarians are amazing at the sport; they practice between their classes, and even have tournaments.

The registration form had clearly stated to arrive promptly at 8, yet it soon reached 9 o'clock and we were all still gathered talking and getting to know each other. Little did I know that we were delayed because of all those retreatants heading down from all over the state. I had wrongfully assumed that this was a local thing, but boy was I wrong!

Finally, at 10:30 PM we headed towards the chapel for Compline. Monsignor (recently honored with this title by the Holy Father in the occasion of our archdiocese's 50th anniversary) walked into the chapel carrying a huge wooden cross (with the help of two acolytes, of course) and occasionally stopped to chant the words (somewhere along the lines of): "This is the wood of the cross on which laid the savior of the world!" And the whole church echoed with our chanted response: "Come let us worship!" Beautiful! Just beautiful!

The Grand Silence. It was very tempting to continue talking with the seminarians, but we all tried our best to limit ourselves to mere "Good nites." (Although, I admit signing towards the second seminarian about his autographed picture of Tony Shalub, which he responded with the fact that he knows Mr. Shalub's sister.)

The next morning finally arrived (I'm used to waking up at 6, so 7:15 wasn't something I adapted to too quickly). After getting myself dressed, I headed towards the refectory and enjoyed an amazing breakfast. There was so much! Eggs, sausages, bacon, buttered bread, tator tots (mini hashbrowns), cereal, fruit, etc. etc. There was even a show to enjoy while eating - the omelet station, where the occasional burst of flame sparked an applause.

We then headed together over to the chapel for Lauds, after which we migrated to the library for our first talk. Monsignor coordinated this talk, which was about the four pillars of formation: Academic, Spiritual, Pastoral, and Human. A great talk. I took notes on almost every word, not wishing to miss or forget a single thing.

When this talk concluded, we were told that we had about forty-five minutes until Mass would begin, and that the Sacrament of Reconciliation would be available inside the chapel before. I quickly headed over there not wanting to miss this opportunity. I made a great confession and received great advice from one of the priests from another diocese. (By the way, all the priests who were on this retreat with us weren't from my Archdiocese; rather, they were the Vocations Directors from their respective dioceses. I truly felt the unity of the Church with just the knowledge of this fact.)

Although the Mass was all in Spanish except for the homily, it was still a great Mass given by the Dean of Academics.

After Mass, we headed back to the refectory for lunch - delicious sandwiches with onion rings.

We were then given around three hours of free time. There were sports being offered all over the campus, and I soon found myself playing ultimate frisbee with a group of the guys. After a difficult victory, I headed towards the showers and planned to finish a Theology project I was given for the weekend. I had hoped to use my current "residency" to my advantage, but the opportunity never arose. I could never corner any of the seminarians to ask for help, though I believe it was mostly my fault; I didn't want to ruin the mood and purpose of the retreat. So homework was out of the question.

With about half an hour left before Vespers, I headed over to the chapel. On the way there, I thought about our Blessed Mother, and thought about possibly praying the Rosary. I entered the chapel with a reverent genuflection, and realized that I was not alone. There was another retreatant (one from another diocese) playing at the organ - hymns to our Blessed Mother! I didn't want to disrupt this heavenly music, so I sat myself in a pew and closed my eyes for meditation.

Throughout the music I found myself opening my eyes and looking over at the organist, and we laughed when we realized that we were both doing the same. We began to talk, and he motioned over to me so we wouldn't have to talk so loudly across the chapel. We talked about our discernment, our little miracles, and our experiences with St. Therese of Lisieux. We shared so much in common! We both received a cross while on retreat even after being absolutely certain that we wouldn't be the one chosen for such a gift. We also had special experiencing with the novena to St. Therese, and desires (mine have quieted) to enter a religious order. I have promised myself to continue praying for him and his vocation. He has quite a future ahead of him.

After Vespers, we headed back to the refectory for dinner - steak, mashed potatoes, carrots, and delicious cake for dessert. At first, I had sat myself at the same table which I had eaten my other meals, but after the blessing of the food, I was, I like to say, kidnapped to the table where my diocese's Vocation Director was seated. He wished to have all of his diocese sit together so that we might become more familiar with each other. We shared humorous stories - including one about how Father had met "my sister" (I have no sisters). We discovered that this young lady was related to the other Diego on the retreat.

After a picture was taken of us together, we headed back to the library for a surprise skit. We all waited outside the library, anxiously waiting. When we were finally allowed in, we rushed upstairs and the show began. It was hilarious! It was basically about two young men who desired to enter the seminary, but because the seminary was struggling with vocations and finances, the two promised the rector that they would solve the problem. They headed out on a mission to gather up their former band members, who had also voiced a wish to enter the seminary way back when the band was together. After dealing with all those who got in the way of their vocations, the new band came together and entered the seminary. We enjoyed many laughs.

Then all the priests were kicked out by the seminarians, but they couldn't resist leaving without a show of their own, so they began singing: "Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye!"

We then had the opportunity to hear first hand from the seminarians about these four pillars of formation that we were told about earlier that day. When this was finished, the different dioceses were scattered around the campus for individual question-and-answer sessions between the retreatants and the seminarians from their same diocese.

I took advantage of the opportunity and asked those questions which I had formulated throughout the day. I even had the chance to speak with two other seminarians after, asking them some other questions I came up with after the meeting.

We then enjoyed more recreation time, and so I hit the pool table and left it in no time after losing.

It was now time for Compline and Stations of the Cross. The huge cross was brought out and everyone followed it around the small pond in front of the chapel. We stopped at each of the fourteen torches lit outside, and meditated on the station. Between each station, we sung: "Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom" in both English and in Spanish, and sets of three retreatants were given the opportunity to carry the cross to the next station.

When we finally concluded, we silently headed back into the chapel, where an almost life-size sculpture of the deceased Jesus laid on the altar. After about ten minutes of prayer, two acolytes placed a long, white cloth over this sculpture, and we concluded for the night.

With the time change for Daylight Savings Time, we had one less hour of sleep. We soon realized how much that one hour meant.

The next morning, we enjoyed another delicious breakfast - all sorts of doughnuts and pastries.

After Lauds, each diocese headed to a separate classroom to meet with their diocese's Vocations Director. Father discussed the application process, and I took many notes, to which he said: "Look at Diego. He's the only one taking notes, like if he were in class." He told us that we could enter next year, "expect you, Diego. You have to graduate first."

We then had time to prepare for Sunday mass. It was a beautiful Mass with wonderful music. At its conclusion, we headed to the refectory for one last time: lunch - hamburgers, hot dogs, and French fries.

During the meal, my cell phone rang, and I found out that my family was on their way. Little did I know that this meant ALL of them - from my youngest brother all the way up the ranks to my father. I had only expected my mother and my older brother to come pick me up.

Father joked around when he saw through the windows that they were all there to pick me up. He said that normally the seminarians would make fun of a "mommy's boy" (joking around of course), but since I was not yet a seminarian, they would let this one slide.

Before we could leave, Father and one of the seminarians - the only Argentinian - wished to meet my parents.

Next thing I know, I'm back home, and I get the unfortunate news that a classmate of mine had passed away over the weekend in a car accident, but that's another story. (Please keep him and his family in your prayers, as well as the driver - also a classmate - who is in the hospital with many injuries.)

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