Reality Bites

Reality Bites
By Nick Teo

After studying in Major Seminary for about 2 months, I am beginning to feel the struggle. For every morning, I would engage in a battle of wills with the devil. It would tell me to sleep and just go for the next class, whereas my angels would frantically shout out that I am pursuing knowledge, and each day's absence would be each day's loss of information. And I will frantically drag myself up and rush for lessons. Indeed, that's the battle of the flesh.

And then reality stuck me! Unlike usual university degrees or those part time MBA courses, the seminary courses would take 6 years. That's like 2 times longer than my BA and 6 times longer than an MBA course. Would I be able to go through all 6 years? It's after all, my SECOND month. It's just so hard.

That's not all, what am I pursuing this degree for? Certainly, I know that my passion and personal mission is to serve the church, and I know that I would just be an empty vessel if I do not pursue knowledge. And I certainly hope to serve the church full-time, to assist the priests so as to allow them to fully undertake their greatest role of administering sacraments and providing pastoral care for the community. But alas, as I go through each day's lessons and speak with more religious brothers from the Archdiosces and other religious groups, I get more and more discouraged.

I am faced with the likelihood that the prospect of working full-time would be low. And even if they were to really employ someday, it would just be the bare minimum wage. Now, I'm not going to complain about wages here, but I have got to eat, my family would have to eat. Would the bare minimum be enough? Then I would have to look for a part time job, or retain my present job. Then I would not be able to function as a full-time worker. And eventually, we would go back to the present, which is to depend on volunteers or those 'with lots of heart'.

To be fair, some big parishes have already employed full-time workers. And the problem lies in that such staffs comes from the coffers of the parish, and not from the Archdiosces. Thus, poor churches would never be able to employ more than their usual admin staffs. That becomes a viscous cycle, for without a strong team mixed with a priest(s) and some full-time workers, good pastoral care can never be adequately administered to the people. And they wonder why people leave the Catholic church.

Recently, I went into the website of a well-known 'New Independent Church'. In that, I found information of a well-distributed network of cellgroups, 2 institutions providing spiritual studies and full-time employment oppurtunities, different ministries and activities for their congregation to belong to. As much as I do not feel for their church-service, I am very intrigued and impressed with their efficient and well-thought network. They are meeting needs of people who wants to participate and to make this religion theirs.

My girlfriend who is a social worker once said this, the delinquents whom she counsels, she is confident that they would be welcomed in one of those Christian (sic) churches rather than to invite them to any Catholic churches where they would be lost into oblivion. I'm sure Catholics readers can identify with that.

To say that our Mass is the crux of our religion would be giving people the wrong message, because to be catholic is to be a community. So if our 'drawing point' to non-believers or first time visitors to our church is the Mass, then no wonder these people are clueless of what our religion is all about. It must be with explaination and understanding can one appreciate the beauty and importance of the Mass, otherwise it is just an hour of rituals. And I suppose rituals can never be the main focus of any religion, especially ours. Jesus himself scoffed at that.

I have many plans, but I wonder if our traditional and unwavering religious model would ever embrace the modern mindsets.

I once told a good friend of mine who is a Methodist, "we are 1600 years before you, but yet we are 1600 years after you."

Now, do not misquote me nor get me wrong. I love my church and I love my religion, but it is simply because I do that I want to make it special for others as it is for me. I am very sure that Catholics deserve much more.

For years, we speak about how to tap sunday-catholics. But if the roots and branches are not reaching far and wide, no matter how thick and secure those short roots and brances are, they would not reach them.

Whatever the future holds, I will continue to persevere within my parish. Afterall, what better message to bring across if I can succeed in my parish first.

Jesus asked us to "Set (our) hearts in the Kingdom of God", I am sure He will then unveil His plans.

Nick Teo is currently studying in the Major Seminary, he is at the Philosophy Cycle and struggling with the vast knowledge of the Church. He gets asked by curious seminarians frequently if he would be joining the seminary. And his answer is always a No, and that is the reason why he pays for his own courses. Otherwise, he would had just entered the seminary to received free theological education.
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ChrisYeo said...

One question I would like to ask is - and I hope Nick that you might share with us your response as well as some responses from your seminarian friends - what is the purpose of studying 6 years of theology?

A friend once commented that the only reason for that long training is simply to prevent error! You study not so that you can teach the correct thing, but so that whatever you teach will not be contradictory to the faith. But I think if that is really the reason then we better seriously reconsider the value of seminary education.

Ostensibly, your reason is so that you can "serve the church". How so exactly? Is knowledge necessary? And forgive me for being cheeky, but what if I ask the question "how can it help you serve the Church", would your answer be any different?

My reason for asking is not so that it will make your brave choice any more difficult, but it is in the hope that a truly sustaining reason may emerge.

Let me offer you one way to look at it, albeit my own. Nick, you are a pioneer...

Main Entry: pi¡o¡neer
Pronunciation: "pI-&-'nir
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle French pionier, from Old French peonier foot soldier, from peon foot soldier, from Medieval Latin pedon-, pedo -- more at PAWN
Why study theology? To gain respect. Haha, Nick, you are a footsoldier, fighting for respect for the layperson in the establishment of the church. By being there, you are making aquaintances, showing the clergy that there are laypersons willing to take the leap, as they have, to serve as God calls, and in ways that they dared not have imagined. By being there, you are disturbing the comfort, security, and perhaps, the laziness of the institution. By being there you are saying: "you are not so special", and through humilty inspire growth. By being there you are breaking walls, expanding concepts, showing the path for the future. By being there, you are gaining your own respect, so that you can have a say in the church, and that is what I think all of us are called to do - to effect real action, and to BE Church.

I hope that you will continue to discern all that God calls you to. Remember: God provides; He will make a way.

ChrisOw said...

I believe on the basis of anecdotal evidence and what others have shared with me that there are indeed many out there who would like to serve the church more intensively and extensively, yet for various reasons, cannot enter the religious life or diocesan priesthood. And what is common in these people is a thirst for training that will make them effective in their ministry or apostolate.

There are many laypeople studying at the seminary alongside Nick and the other seminarians. The difference is that they do not set out to complete the six year course. My question to Nick is this: why do these people take up their studies? What is their goal? Is it mere personal enrichment? Do they have the intention of using it to further their personal ministry or apostolate?

My guess is that for most, the motives will be mixed. And that need not be an impediment. God can, and with our cooperation, will purify our alloyed motives and use them to further his Kingdom.

Do not despair if at first you find your motives to be largely selfish or impure. As Chris has said: God provides, He will make a way.

Nick Teo said...

To Chris Yeo:
the reason why they study for so many years is because the course of study is half day. The lessons start from 9am-1pm. And it's not daily, sometimes 4 days a week.

To be fair, they cover a wide topic and since each topic takes at least half a semester, thats only about 12 subjects only. And surely, the church has more than 12 subjects to teach.

And in that short stint, I do agree that the studies are important, as to whether they can ever be employed, that is another thing. But it really opens my mind towards issues regarding the faith and how the priests can encounter and guide the laity. But I guess, the usual case is that priests hardly have time for that.

As for your question if education is needed. Yes i think it is very important. The role that I am thinking about, after pondering is that of a Parish Lecturer, so to speak. Who would be in charge of everything that has the element of spiritual faith education, for example RCIA and Cathechism. So this person ensures that the education of the sponsors, conductors and teachers are sound and good enough to teach those who are less mature in faith.

To Chris Ow

those lay person you speak of, sad to say are old people. Some of them have been attending for a few years, taking single courses each time. I suppose there is 1 or 2 who are cathechism teachers, and some just for personal knowledge.

I do not know how their intention can be selfish? But as for seminarians, they really look intent. And somehow I'm envious and proud of them.

Anyhow, I'm sure you guys know, I would be leaving the course. It's impossible for me. And if I want to be theological, I guess I am not called yet. But one thing I learnt from this stint is that I now know that I am not called to the priesthood.

Right now, I shall continue to study on my own, having got a gist of what is required and somewhat got an introduction.

I just hope that the situation might one day change. When even the seminarians and priests are not hopeful, but I can only hope.