It’s back to school! Following a summer spent in the Mountain West, I find myself beginning my new life in New York, the first weeks of which are taking place at the beautiful St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, just north of New York City.
The building itself is an inspiring sight. It was built in 1896 and has the impressive, stately look that was common to all respectable institutions of the time. The interior echoes with the generations of priests who have been trained here at what was once known as “the West Point for priests”: class photographs from as far back as 1897 line the main hall, busts of popes and prominent American churchmen gaze at passersby, and portraits of past rectors adorn the refectory. Marble columns frame the main lobby and ornate wood-iron banisters flank the stairwells.
The stateliness and nobility of the seminary’s architecture and decor invite the seminarian to remember the solemn and transcendent vocation for which he is preparing himself. This is especially true in the chapel, which is a gem of liturgical beauty. Oaken seats are arranged in choir fashion for the community recitation of the liturgy of the hours, and beautiful London-made stained glass windows depict scenes from the life of Christ. An exquisite mosaic over the sanctuary shows Christ the High Priest, the One with whom we seminarians will be sacramentally configured when ordained into his presbyterate.
The first thing in the chapel that caught my attention was the Latin inscription that is at the base of the copula, directly over the sanctuary: Tu es sacerdos in aeternum (“You are a priest forever”).
I have read and heard this quote from Psalm 110 hundreds of times, but there are moments when the Word of God strikes me in a new and powerful way, which is what happened when I saw those words for the first time in the chapel.
I have been traveling towards the priesthood for quite some time, fifteen years to be exact, and I still have four years to go. When I first started, I knew it would be a long process, but I did not expect it to be quite so long. There have been many unexpected twists and turns on my journey towards the priesthood, and these have been disconcerting at times. However, in the midst of the vicissitudes that life has thrown at me, God has reminded me time and time again that from all eternity he has called me to be his priest.
As I gazed at the excerpt from the Psalms from my new place in the choir seats, I felt that the Word of God was speaking to me directly and personally, and a great new peace came over me. I pondered the entire quote:
The LORD has sworn and will not waver: “You are a priest forever in the manner of Melchizedek.” – Psalm 110:4
I have yet to be ordained, but I know that my vocation comes from and is directed towards the eternal God. My journey to the priesthood has taken longer than expected, but, as my father told me recently, four more years really pale in comparison to eternity!
I hope that you do not mind me sharing this personal reflection with you, but I think it points to something that is common to all of our vocations: circumstances change, but God’s call does not. No matter what life throws at us, nothing escapes God’s providential plan for each of us. It is often precisely when life does not go our way that awesome things happen. From all eternity, God has called each of us to do something unique and beautiful, and he will not change his mind because “The LORD has sworn and he will not repent.”