A message from Fr Roger Taylor, Rector of Allen Hall Seminary, originally published in the Easter 2015 edition of Seminary News.
Sometimes people ask us what our seminarians do during their six years of formation. ‘Surely it cannot take six years to learn how to say Mass?’ I was once asked.
To begin with, although a sense of vocation may well be felt by many in all walks of life; to priesthood, marriage, religious life and so on, understanding what this means in terms of a whole life is something that needs to become a reality over time. God’s gift of any vocation and our offering of ourselves in response, these need to be embraced at a very deep level, and cannot happen at the flick of a switch. In the end it is about discovering God’s will for each one of us and where our heart lies.
Pope St John Paul spoke of some of the areas where formation was particularly vital for those looking towards priesthood in his great document Pastores dabo vobis, ‘I will give you shepherds’. Naturally he speaks above all of our spiritual formation. This is fundamental. It underpins everything we do. Unless we are men whose lives are rooted in prayer and a living relationship with God, our priestly lives will be fruitless and flounder.
He speaks, too, of our human formation, our growing into mature and happy priests, at ease with the life of service we are called to live, humble and realistic about ourselves, warts and all. He speaks of our academic formation, better to understand and grow in our faith and to communicate it to others. We think of it as ‘exploring the mind of God’, philosophy, theology, scripture studies. And lastly he speaks of our pastoral formation, standing alongside the realiti4es of people’s lives in our parishes, schools, hospitals, prisons and so on. Above all we are called to be pastors, with the kind heart of a shepherd, living out our lives after the heart of the Lord.
The first two years, living and working here at Allen Hall, are usually followed by a year of living and working in parish. There the men build on some of the pastoral work that they have undertaken right from the moment of entry. At the end of that time, both they and the Church will form a judgement as to whether things are going in the right direction. If so, they will then return to us to complete their theology degrees and remaining practical subjects over the next three years of continuing discernment, to see whether the signs of true vocation are indeed present, leading to ordination if it is discerned that this truly is a call from God. Throughout these six years, we rely on the kindness and generosity of all the people and priests of the Diocese. We know that we are prayed for above all, and this is obvious in the parishes we visit and in which we work.