Alaskans find seminary life an inspiring challenge

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The Anchorage Archdiocese has three men studying at St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minn. — Arthur Roraff, Robert Whitney and Kevin Klump. These seminarians, all in different phases of formation, are on pace to be ordained to the priesthood over the next four years. In December the Catholic Anchor connected with two of the seminarians, Roraff and Whitney, asking them about the challenges, inspiration and spiritual impact of life in a modern-day seminary. Klump, who is studying for a semester in Rome was unable to be contacted before the publication deadline.

Prayer is viewed by many as an unnecessary and dry practice. In what ways have you come to a deeper and fuller understanding of prayer. How has your prayer life improved through your seminary experience?

Whitney: One of the ways I have come to a more complete understanding of prayer is by reminding myself constantly that my prayers do not begin with me, nor do they end with me. I have to tell myself, whenever I am distracted or tired in prayer, that from the moment I even think to pray, God is already at work in my soul; that my thoughts are now elevated to him, by his Grace. I know that prayer is a supernatural movement and thus can operate even through my natural weaknesses. Learning how to pray well, I realize that I am not really seeking to inform God of anything — he already knows the deepest desires of my heart — nor am I really trying to change his mind — his will is unchanging and already desires my good. My prayer life has greatly improved during my time in seminary because the more one comes to know God, the more one is drawn to him. So prayer should proceed from the love of God; this is “the surge of the heart” that Saint Therese speaks of.

Roraff: The one who says prayer is unnecessary, a dry habit or practice should keep praying. It is easy to see prayer in these ways in our busy, pragmatic and often utilitarian culture. Prayer is not a means to an end. It is a way of being; being with God. By praying I have found that things around me don’t change, I do. I have become more open to Christ and am more receptive to the ways in which he speaks to me. By doing so I better understand my relationship with him and how I am totally dependent on him. I realize that I need him more than I need air. Air provides me with life now. God will sustain me forever. For anyone who is struggling with prayer I suggest reading a book that I was introduced to a few years ago: “Useless Prayer” by Henri Nouwen. Google it!

What do you find inspiring about being at the seminary?

Whitney: One of the things I find most inspiring is the company of men studying here. It is encouraging to see so many good men that God has called — and they have responded. It is of course a blessing to be able to experience the great fraternity that results from their individual and collective “Yes” to God’s invitation. We are blessed also to have very devoted priests and teachers here that work hard to form us into men of God.

One aspect of my own spiritual journey that has both deepened and been challenged by my time here has been discovering where the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience need to be increasingly realized in my life, especially as a man preparing for Christ’s holy priesthood. Being ordered to the salvation of the souls of others may be daunting, but being prepared for such a battle by prayer and practice is confirming.

Roraff: The people around me inspire, challenge and deepen my faith. From the beginning of my time at the seminary I have been inspired by the commitment to the faith of my brother seminarians. They are men who take their call to holiness seriously. They are not lukewarm or wishy-washy. Living with men in community who take their faith seriously has been a deeply inspiring experience. Living in community has also had its challenges, especially being a 46-year-old among 20-and 30-year-old men. We are in different phases of our lives. The combination of being inspired and challenged by my seminarian brothers has ultimately deepened my faith. I see it as a school of charity. Community life is as important as academic life. It is in learning to love my brothers, seeing Christ in them, that has greatly deepened my faith.

What misconceptions did you bring to the seminary and how were those dispelled?

Whitney: I wouldn’t necessarily call it a misconception, but I think sometimes men come to the seminary as romantic idealists (not that there is necessarily anything wrong with that), and occasionally with some of the naiveté that accompanies such romantic idealism. I suppose I entered with a bit of this myself. That said, I am glad to witness the degree of piety here in the men, their love for Our Lady and devotion to the saints, and their extraordinary zeal for the honor of God and for souls. But of course we are all men and thus have our little foibles and quirks also. The formation and the fraternity here help us to dispel blind spots in self-awareness and do much to confront our spiritual or human frailties.

Roraff: I thought the seminary would be easier than it is. (Please keep in mind that I am writing this in the midst of finals.) The truth is, seminary can be very difficult. There is much work to do in the spheres of intellectual, spiritual, human and pastoral formation. There is little personal time. However, by staying Christ-centered the schedule and demands become a way of self-sacrifice, to decrease so that Christ can increase.

How do you deal with doubts or questions about whether you have a vocation to the priesthood?

Whitney: Trust. We were given a booklet by our rector that admonished us all to “Trust in the providence that brought you here.” There is real confidence that we were indeed brought to the seminary by divine providence, working through our bishop who has already called us as seminarians for the diocese entrusted to his care. In addition to that, there are steps along the path to priesthood that confirm us in the ministry. Beginning with that first acceptance and sponsorship of our diocese, then the admission to candidacy, lector, acolyte and deacon, we are moved along a path that brings us closer and closer to priesthood. In cooperation with the seminary formation and our own diocese, we discern and deal with any questions that may come up, but, especially after becoming a candidate for holy orders, we begin what is called “ecclesial discernment.” At this point we are not discerning alone at all, but together with our bishop, the church is discerning our vocation. From this point on there is a “vocational presumption” that the man and his bishop share. This is a great source of confidence and encouragement, an anchor and a compass, and I have no doubts that God’s will for my life will be realized.

Roraff: I entered the seminary in a discernment mode. I didn’t know if I was called to the priesthood, and I entered the seminary to continue my discernment. Some men know they are called to the priesthood when they enter. I was not one of them. I can’t say that I came across a moment when the discernment ended, but I can distinctly remember that sometime in the past year I no longer had any questions. I saw this path that Christ had laid out for me and I was glad to be walking down it. While the idea of being a priest is exciting for me I don’t find myself grasping at it. I see it more of me simply doing what he wants me to do.

When did you enter the seminary and what is your projected ordination date as a deacon? As a priest?

Whitney: I entered The Saint Paul Seminary in the fall of 2011 and my projected ordination date is in the spring of 2016 for the diaconate and the spring of 2017 for the priesthood. Please pray for me!

Roraff: I entered the seminary on Sept. 3, 2009. I will be ordained (God willing) a deacon in the summer of 2014 and a priest in the summer of 2015.


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