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Looking back... and ahead

By  Rev. Mr. Thomas J. Higman
Contributing Writer

In keeping with a fond custom of seminarians at Saint Charles Seminary, as I left the seminary “officially” on Monday, May 14, I stopped at the end of the seminary driveway before turning on to East Wynnewood Road, as I had so many times before, and I snapped a picture of my side-view mirror, Priesthood Reflectionwhich captured the image of the seminary behind me, as I headed back to our beloved North Country.

Well, my time at home was only brief at best, as Thursday of that same week I got back in the car and headed to Philadelphia, to begin celebrating with six classmates from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, as they prepared for their Ordination to the Priesthood that Saturday.

Over the past eight years, I’ve learned that the five and half-hour trip to Philadelphia affords one a significant amount of time to think and reflect—and this trip was no different. As I drove, heading back once again to the place I had just “officially” left on Monday, I looked over as I shifted back to the right lane and read that little line at the bottom of the right side view mirror, “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.” It hit me then, that while I’ll be far away from the routine and structure of seminary life, far away from writing papers and taking tests - the seminary will still be closer than it appears. In the end, the seminary is about formation of men for the Priesthood of Jesus Christ - and for the last eight years of my life that’s what Saint Charles Seminary has done for me and the ten other men from my class about to be ordained for their respective dioceses.

As I prepare for my Ordination to the Priesthood, just days away now, I can be confident in my studies and formation I received while attending Saint Charles Seminary. Some can be critical, saying seminary formation in general today doesn’t prepare men for the challenges at hand facing priests of the21st century: such as administrative tasks for the small parish without the assistance of a staff or the challenges of living alone while administrating a large parish. They miss the larger picture. The task of the seminary is not to teach about absolutely every situation a man could face in ministry. If that were the case we wouldn’t have a Priestly Ordination this year as I’d still be in school!

Instead, the seminary has been for me an opportunity to step away from the consistent busyness of everyday parish life, and given me the opportunity to engage in prayerful discernment of the vocation God has given to me. Both in community, and privately, times for prayer anchor the daily life of the seminary - demonstrating for men the need for this in everyday life. No matter how busy my life will be as a priest—and my new pastor has assured me, it will be busy—my life must be grounded in prayer, “with and for the people of God,” as I promised on the day of my Ordination to the Diaconate. Benefiting from this prayer, along with the formal study of theology, Sacred Scripture and philosophy, as well as the pastoral experiences I’ve been given throughout my time in the seminary, I have been able to hear the Lord’s call and respond to it confidently - and I find myself now just days away from Ordination to the Priesthood!

For those things I have yet to learn and experience as a parish priest, I entrust myself to each and every one of you; priests, deacons, religious, and lay faithful alike. this now is your task. In my interactions with each of you in the coming months and years ahead, you will show me what it’s like to be a Priest in the North Country!
I promise to be faithful in celebrating the sacraments, and leading you in worship, and being present to you in all situations of life - but you will show me how to balance a parish budget, you will show me how to fix a broken boiler or furnace or put a new roof on a Church, you will show me what its like to experience winter in the North Country again with all the tricks and tips that only we have up here - and in this I am confident!

I pray that through the witness of my life, given over in service to each of you, that I can teach you many things, showing you the rich heritage of our faith, while at the same time looking forward with great hope to all that you will teach me; helping me grow each day into the Priest the Lord is calling me to be.

While I will miss the everyday interactions with my classmates, the scheduled times for prayer amidst a busy day, and the overall fraternal spirit felt at the seminary, I look with great expectation toward arriving “officially” in the North Country next week, to be with our Priests on retreat in Alexandria Bay and then on Saturday, beginning my life sharing in the Priesthood of Jesus Christ.

I look back now, confidently, and realize that while the seminary may be miles away, it is actually closer than it appears, as now I begin to work from the strong foundations laid there, and begin anew journeying with each of you toward the Kingdom of Heaven!

Deacon Higman will be ordained a priest for the diocese May 26 at St. Mary’s Cathedral.

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