"We've been invited to participate in this life, to be present, one to another, and that's all that's expected of us. Our successes may bring us personal joy, but our value as persons lies only in our being. It is not the things we accomplish that are important; it is the very act of living that is truly important."
"Amazing and wonderful things begin to happen as we believe in ourselves and celebrate the dignity of living every day. Stand in reverent respect before that which inspires you. Feel new strength and power; then, in the name of the highest and the holiest, get going."
I spent twelve years in the seminary: six years at St. Thomas Seminary, a minor seminary
here in Louisville and six years at St. Mary’s Seminary & University in Baltimore. I
ended up with a degree in philosophy and a master’s in theology. Most importantly the
seminary experience taught many life lessons that far exceeded the degrees. Here are a
ten of these life-changing insights that have guided my path.
- The habit of study and hard work -- Our minds were trained to study and learn
the value of hard work. If we start today with all the zeal and enthusiasm we are
capable of, we can undertake this greatest of adventures – training the mind.
Then, like the tennis pro, we can direct our thoughts just as we like: over the net
and just inside the court.
- The importance of angels – forces of good in the world – We understood
“angel” as a personification of the forces for good in the world. We are not alone
in the universe. We are surrounded by mighty creative forces of good. An angel
is a person who can return love for hatred.
- The spiritual hunger of our world – Our seminary spiritual leaders talked about
our need to love and to be loved. They were not talking about some vague
spirituality. They were talking about good spiritual nutrition. You can have all
the essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals known and unknown but if you
cannot love, you are not likely to remain in good health. The world is hungry for
- The value of prayer and meditation – Somehow in our modern civilization, we
have acquired the idea that the mind is working best when it runs at top speed.
We learned in seminary that a racing mind lacks time even to finish a thought, let
alone to check on its quality. When we slow down the mind, we work better at
everything we do. We were taught to pray and meditate every day. A mind that
is still is divine.
- The wisdom of respect – We were taught that if I can listen to you with respect,
it is usually only a short time before you listen with respect to me. In many
disagreements that divide people, not only in the home but even at the
international level, it is really not ideological differences that divide people. It is
lack of respect.
- The necessity of gradual growth – I was in the seminary a long time. All true
spiritual development takes place little by little. From day to day you seem to
make no progress. But when you glance back to the year before, though you have
vastly farther to go, you realize that your nervous system is more resilient, your
will stronger, your senses more responsive, your mind and relationships more
secure; your goal is that much clearer before your eyes. It takes time and labor,
but the tree will bear fruit.
- The control of yourself, not others – My spiritual director, a simple,
straightforward priest who didn’t mince words, used to tell me, “You can’t shut
other people’s mouths.” It took me years to understand that. He knew we don’t
have any control over other people’s minds. You can control only your own
mind. When you understand this, you know you needn’t be concerned about what
people say about you. It doesn’t affect you, because your mind cannot be upset.
You may feel hurt, but you will have an inner security that cannot be shaken.
- The connection of us all – In our modern world, most of the emphasis is on
separateness, on the leaf rather than the tree. Daily we receive the message, “Find
your joy in your own way; live your life in your own way; find your fulfillment in
your own way.” This drive for personal satisfaction is based on a cruel fiction:
that the leaf can prosper without the living tree. In reality, none of us are
separate; we are all part of the same creation, drawing our strength, happiness and
fulfillment from the Tree of Life.
- The power of love – Our class motto at St. Thomas Seminary was from the
Beatles song, “All you need is love.” Where there is very little love, our essential
unity is torn asunder. We must love more. The less love there is around us, the
more we need to love to make up the lack. Love the other person more. Make
their happiness more important than your own. This was that approach of the
saints. I know of no more effective or artistic or satisfying way to realize the
unity of life in the world today. It is an approach to life in which everything
blossoms, everything comes to fruition. Where there is love, everything follows.
To love is to know, is to act; all other paths of self-realization are united in the
way of love.
- The reality of suffering – We learned that suffering is inherent in life, however
we may try to conceal it, however often we may try to turn our eyes away from it.
To any sensitive person who reads the paper, every morning can be a hard blow:
murders, suicides, air crashes, war, violence, disease, poverty – in every country
on the face of the earth. We were taught in seminary to be sensitive and then our
hearts would melt with grief. Yet the greatest joy lies in devoting your life to the
amelioration of this sorrow. The greatest fulfillment comes to you when you
dedicate your life to bring some of these tragedies to an end, to wipe the tears
away from the eyes of a few people. We need not rescue the whole world, or
even a city, or neighborhood. We begin with those around us.