Just in case anyone was under any illusions, seminaries are not five-star hotels. Life in a seminary is more like living in a big family – a really big family, like a 300-person-size family. We experience many of the problems that ordinary families experience, just on a larger scale.
Every family has to deal with the baby who wakes up crying in the middle of the night; we have to deal with the brothers who get back late and wake up half the dorm as they get ready for bed.
Every family goes through at least one flu or cold epidemic each year; we have to deal with the same thing, although ours reach such proportions that we refer to them as “plagues”. (Last winter, so many brothers were sick at one point that they had to bring carts and carts of food to the dorms just to feed all those who were bedridden).
Every family experiences cooking fiascoes now and again; we experience them just about every week. This is bound to happen when you put a group of young men with limited cooking capacity in a kitchen and tell them to prepare industrial-size quantities of food.
I will never forget the time in my novitiate when we tragically ruined our Easter Sunday lunch. My very foodie aunt was so horrified when she heard about such a waste of good lamb, that she bought us a huge Betty Crocker cookbook in the hopes that it would counter our culinary ineptitude. Thankfully, I have not seen any disasters quite so drastic since.
Nevertheless, human nature being what it is, and young men being who they are, cooking fiascos still occur, the most common being the infamous “raw-boiled egg”. This is how it happens: every week we switch kitchen responsibilities, so every Monday there is a new team of confreres preparing breakfast. Often, the brother in charge of putting the eggs in the steamer is one who has never done it before, so either he does not know how long to keep them in, or he forgets to allow it to heat up long enough before using it. Whatever the case, he only has thirty minutes to get everything ready, so if he messes up, he does not have much time to recover.
Community mass usually ends at 7:20 am, at which time the silent, hungry herd of black-robed seminarians makes its way to the dining room, inwardly giving thanks to God for the mass that has just ended, but also eagerly anticipating breakfast. Each brother sits at his habitual place, places his cloth napkin on his lap, pours a cup of strong Italian coffee, reaches for the eggs or bread, and begins to consume with impressive efficiency.
Before cracking open my egg, I always look up at the microwave. If a long line of brothers is beginning to form, I know that the egg is raw: those brothers have gone to make up with radiation what the brother-in-charge failed to do with steam.
I have to admit that there are few things more annoying than getting a raw-boiled egg on a Monday morning, but I have learned to cope. As the old saying goes, “When life gives you a sack of lemons, make lemonade.” Well, when life gives me raw eggs, I fry them! Instead of lamenting, I take a couple of the eggs to the kitchen, grab a frying pan, and prepare some nice sunny-side-ups.
Living with People
Part of living with other people is living with their imperfections, and the challenge of family life is learning how to tolerate those imperfections with good-humor and optimism. If we allow the negative things to absorb us, we will never allow ourselves to fully appreciate and love the people we live with.
I am blessed to live with awesome people. Sure, we all have our quirks and problems, but it is truly marvelous to live with other young men who are just as excited about spreading the Word and bringing God’s love to the world.
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is when brothers [and families!] dwell together as one!… It is like the dew of Hermon coming down upon the mountains of Zion. There the LORD commanded a blessing, life for evermore.
– Psalm 133:1 – 2