August 29, 2017 // Perspective

Christ must be first: prioritizing in the seminary

Greetings and salutations from Mount St. Mary’s Seminary! This is Daniel Niezer here, co-authoring this fantastic column on our “strange and joyful life.” I want to thank my diocesan brother, Mark Hellinger, for taking the reins on the first three articles. If you are just tuning in for the first time, I encourage you to head online to to catch up on our three previously written articles.

By way of brief introduction, I am currently in my third year of theology at Mount St. Mary’s seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland. By the grace of God and the discerning permission of Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, I will be ordained to the diaconate at the conclusion of this school year. Following my diaconate ordination, I will return to the seminary for one final year of studies and formation before I return to our diocese to be ordained a priest.

If there is anything that I have learned in my five years of seminary, it must be that our personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the No. 1 priority in our lives. The seminary is a beautiful place for this very reason; it’s a place where we learn to prioritize our lives and place Christ in the center.

When I started seminary five years ago I did not know how to prioritize my life according to Christ. I will never forget the time that I started to realize this, during the end of my first year in seminary. We all know about final examinations in college: that at the end of each semester there are exams for every class. The seminary acts in much the same way, and I have always loved the week of final exams. No classes are scheduled; there are relatively few obligations; and, in the seminary, a second daily Mass is scheduled later in the day in case we choose to study in the morning (or sleep in).

So there I was, ready to finish my first year of seminary only after one week of final exams. Having always received good grades throughout my life, I was relatively confident that I would have no problems finishing this particular semester. In the middle of the week, I took my Logic exam, turned it in and moved on to study for the next exam. The day after my Logic exam I received an email from the professor telling me that I had failed the exam with a score of 40 percent.

I immediately panicked, thinking that the professor had made a mistake; but after viewing the exam, I knew that it was in fact I who had made the mistake. Truly despairing over this “failure,” I moved quickly to my formation advisor, the priest in the seminary who acts as a mentor for a particular seminarian. Making my plea to him, I apologized for my failure and told him how distressed, frustrated and angry I was over this particular grade. He patiently listened, put his hand on my shoulder and said very seriously, “Dan, good job. I am proud of you.” I walked away confused and still very much upset at myself.

It took me a couple of years to understand why my formation advisor seemed to lack care for my “woes.” At the same time, it became increasingly obvious that my worry to get the “A” grade was much more important to me than my relationship with Christ; specifically, my time in daily prayer.

In the first article of this column Mark Hellinger talked about the many aspects of seminary life and how they can be applied to all of us, regardless of our state or vocation. This is certainly the case here — that while there are many great things in life, such as working hard to learn and  receive good grades, we cannot allow these to be the priority over and above Christ. The seminary is a time to purify our priorities and come to the beautiful realization that Christ is going to satisfy our lives much more than a good grade. We should always do our best to learn and study hard, especially when we are in school, but at the same time we must realize that Christ must be first.

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