Not as Man Sees Does God See:
Fraternal Charity and Correction Among Seminarians
Matthew 7: 1-5
I am delivering this conference not as a response or reaction to any observations the faculty is detecting in the community. As a matter of fact, there have been some very positive developments in the formation program, the appointment of new faculty, revision to the schedule, and other practices associated with the formation program. I have been very pleased with how we have been proceeding in this semester.
I was reflecting that between last year and this year, 45 percent of the seminarian body is new. I believe the new seminarians bring a great positive contribution to the community. I also appreciate how the upper classmen have been very open and responsive to some of the changes that have occurred in the program.
And so, I thank you for the ways in which you have all built-up this community; for the ways in which you contribute your time and energy that makes this community a joyful experience. In the joy of community life comes a responsibility for us – how we can support one another in practical terms – how we can challenge one another to grow in holiness.
From time to time, all rectors deliver a conference on how seminarians can practice fraternal charity and fraternal correction in a way that is appropriate within a formation program. Therefore, as stated, I am not delivering this conference in reaction to any problems.
One of the opportunities we enjoy in community life is the promotion and establishment of true fraternity. Most of my adult life has been associated with either a seminary community or a graduate house of studies. I thank the Lord for the opportunity to live in a community setting as a diocesan priest.
One of the challenges in community living is our opportunity to see the human condition up front. Let’s face it, there are distractions, annoyances, hallway etiquette issues, and even issues that relate to the use of a common restroom area. Somehow, it was the Lord’s plan to gather apostles together who would establish a fraternity that would be absolutely necessary for preaching the gospel.
You often hear me refer to the seminary community as an apostolic community because we are fulfilling a mandate given by the Lord as articulated by the Church. Priestly formation is communal by nature while serving the needs of individual seminarians who are discerning their vocation.
House of Formation
At the heart of priestly formation is conversion. As Saint Paul often writes in his letters, conversion is about taking off the old self and putting on Christ. Conversion is at the heart of our efforts in priestly formation here at Notre Dame Seminary.
While conversion is the goal of formation, evangelization is the goal of the Church’s mission. There cannot be a successful evangelization without evangelizers. And there cannot be evangelizers unless we have first been evangelized. To be evangelized with the Gospel of Christ is to be converted to Christ and His Gospel. Conversion and evangelization are so intertwined that they cannot be disassociated from each other.
As you know, the seminary is not a retreat center or simply a residence for academic study. This seminary is a house of formation: a house of formation that provides the context for conversion and the setting for how a future priest understands evangelization. When you came into the seminary, you wanted to see things different about yourself. You want to be holy. You want to be a saint. The only way for us to accomplish these goals is to embrace conversion, to embrace formation.
The Church wants us to live in a community at this point of your discernment. Living in a community means that you all have to be brothers to one another. You also have to be good sons of the Church. In these multiple relationships, we go through the day being brothers and sons all at the same time.
In order to be a good Father, something you are discerning about, you must first be good, loyal sons of the Church. Right now, your relationship to the Church is one of “sonship.” This sonship that you have in relation to the Church infers a fatherhood. It is the fatherhood of God that is projected and lived in the life of a priest. That fatherhood exists within this seminary community under the direction of our bishops, through my assignment as your pastor and rector, and through the generosity of the other priests and faculty members.
Likewise, the motherhood of the Church is also lived and experienced in a seminary community. This seminary community, of course, is entrusted to the care and intercession of Our Lady. She is the Mother of all priests and the Mother of all seminarians. Indeed, she is the Mother of the Church.
In all of this, you find consolation in being sons of the Church in the way in which your relationship with the Lord is being lived and in the ways in which Our Lady and all the saints intercede for you.
No authentic community can be established without the presence of the Holy Eucharist. The Eucharist is at the center, foundation, and apex of community life. Hence, the Eucharist is also the center, foundation, and apex of your sonship. This is where you find your identity as a seminarian.
In his last encyclical before his death, Blessed John Paul II wrote that the Holy Eucharist was instituted only after the apostolic community was established. It was at the end of Jesus’ ministry in the presence of the apostles that the Holy Eucharist and his priesthood would be established.
The principle and existence of “unity” presupposed community life – community life then becomes a consequence, so to speak, of the Eucharist. From the experience of being gathered together as an apostolic community by Jesus, the Eucharist becomes the causal effect of community life. The Church herself springs forth from the mystery of the Eucharist.
The formation of community life is not only essential to the life of the Church, it is also the goal of evangelization. The ultimate community that every human being is called to live is in the Triune God. Access to the Holy Trinity can only be achieved in our relationship in Jesus Christ and that relationship can only be fully experienced in the life of the Church.
As I have repeatedly emphasized, when you come into this seminary, you are not on loan from your diocese or living in some suspended reality where a pause button has been pushed. You experience now the one, holy, Catholic, apostolic Church in this immediate, physical moment at Notre Dame Seminary. Your cherished, sacred title – seminarian – means that you are attached to a seminary. You cannot be a seminarian without being attached to a seminary.
And so, a seminarian is not in a holding pattern waiting until he gets back home, until he is back in his home parish, or waiting to be ordained. Rather, the activity and identity of your Catholicity is seen in your loyalty, sonship, and obedience to the Church as you experience her at the seminary. Simply put, your identity and status as a Roman Catholic is in your relationship to Notre Dame Seminary.
Your love for the Church is then reflected in how you approach seminary life. Conversely, when one slacks off with their responsibilities or is casual in their commitment to priestly formation, what does this say about his relationship to the Church?
Being Brothers To One Another
Living in community life as a seminarian gives us the opportunity to share our Catholic faith in the present moment. Each of us has our dreams and vision about how we may want to share that faith as a priest or a leader in the Church. This certainly gives inspiration to our discernment. However, we must recognize that discipleship in Jesus must be a lived-experience in the present moment. How you give witness to your Catholic faith with each other reflects your understanding of discipleship.
As each of us discerns how to be the man God created us to be, the seminarian the Church expects us to be, and one day the holy priest God expects from us, we allow, in complete trust, humility and obedience, ourselves to be given over to God without any condition. Today, you give yourselves over to God within the communal experience of seminary formation.
This is not easy. You did not choose what members of the community would be your brothers. You did not choose who your superiors would be. Rather, you chose to unconditionally follow Jesus into seminary life. To that end, I am very grateful for each one of you and how you participate in this community.
In the multiple relationships that are forged in community life comes the expectation of accountability. You are accountable to God in the ways in which you bring accountability to your participation in a priestly formation program.
When you think about it, Jesus did not just choose apostles who would be able to relate to himself rather he also chose apostles who could related to one another. Clearly our relationship with Christ is central to our faith. But the way in which we relate to one another as brothers is just as important to priestly formation. This relationship is not as business partners or simply one that requires a nod of the head while passing one another.
The relationship the apostles had to each other had to be truly established as a fraternity. While each apostle had their own unique relationship with Jesus and Jesus had a relationship with each one of them, there is also the communal relationship that the apostles had with Jesus and his relationship to them as an apostolic community. One can ask – how did Jesus relate to them as a whole, as a body?
In this sense, all fraternal relationships must be ecclesial. The ecclesial dimension of fraternity speaks of the bonds that are forged for the good of the Church. A seminary community, like any community, is always at the service of the Church.
Therefore, the apostles had to be true brothers to one another. In fact, some literally were brothers to each other. What does this mean for a group of men who are living together in an environment of discernment and formation? Men, by nature, are competitive. This can be a positive dimension of community life when we encourage one another to compete for holiness. We all want to see each other succeed. Charity must always prevail in this sense of competition.
Brother, what can I do for you? Brother, I need your help. How can we use our nature given and nature driven dimension of our masculinity to support and to challenge each other in our call to holiness? These are the types of questions that any healthy community should be asking.
Considering the apostolic identity of a seminary, we can also describe fraternity as an apostolic friendship. Right now, the Church expects that apostolic friendships are being forged among you. While not all of you will become life-long friends, in the present moment we relate to one another out of an apostolic friendship: a friendship that does not leave anyone behind; a friendship that is given over to brother seminarians in order to assist them in their formation.
Apostolic friendship does not tolerate the formation of cliques rather it promotes group friendships that are inclusive.
Apostolic friendship presumes that a diocesan bonding is occurring among the seminarians of particular diocese or religious orders. How do diocesan seminarians and members of a particular religious community create moments of community?
Apostolic friendship also requires deep respect for the other. We recognize that there are different life experiences, age differences, and personalities that bring us all together. A deep respect for the other reflects our understanding that God brought this person into the community and therefore something holy is occurring in that person.
Apostolic friendship appreciates the cultural, evangelical, and charism-diversity that exists in the seminary.
This fraternal charity that is lived in the seminary community disposes oneself to receive a brother’s love. We open our hearts and the doors to our personhood to brother seminarians. We are receptive to being loved by another.
Fraternal charity in a seminary also requires one to dispose oneself to give a brother’s love. How do I go out of my way in order to bring Christian love to another seminarian?
Fraternal charity also presumes that we are men of prayer who pray for one another individually and collectively. When we observe another seminarian who might be having a difficulty, how do we offer prayers and spiritual sacrifices for him in ways that he may never know that such prayers were offered for him?
I would like to think that we enjoy good fraternal charity in this house: seminarians who are looking out for one another; seminarians who pray for one another; seminarians who are not exclusive in their relationships; seminarians who reach out to new seminarians or international seminarians; seminarians who can be generous with their own material goods in sharing their surplus with another seminarian; and, seminarians who seek to build up the community with their own gifts and talents.
What is in contradiction to fraternal charity is isolationism: one is more concerned and consumed by his own formation that he neglects to be a brother to another. Likewise, isolationism could prevent me from being loved: I do not need other people, structures, or community that could support my formation. In both cases, isolationism does not belong in a seminary community.
Accountability to Formation
The Church makes it clear that each seminarian is responsible for his own formation by way of accountability before God and the Church. If seminarians have issues related to temperance with the use of food or drink, addictive behavior regarding pornography or the internet, same sex attraction, mental health issues that exhibit depression or anxiety, one must bring these matters to spiritual direction. We also have counseling available for those who need assistance beyond spiritual direction.
Many of these and other related matters need to eventually come into the external forum in order for the Church to be able to judge the freedom of the candidate to proceed in a formation program. In some cases, matters can be brought directly to me as the Rector in order to preserve confidentiality. For example, there is information in your psychological report that only the counselor and I will be aware of in addition to your bishop and vocation director. The Church asks the Rector to be prudent in what information is to be disclosed in the external forum in order to preserve and protect confidentiality.
A formation advisor might be informed of certain information that is disclosed in the application process as it relates to your current standing as a seminarian. The formation advisor will be able to provide assistance in how a seminarian is dealing with certain matters in order to be sure that growth and ongoing development is taking place. You may want to disclose information to your formation advisor as you seek direction and counsel of how you are proceeding in the program and you are manifesting your growth in the community.
In short, the Church asks you to trust in all of the relationships that are present in the seminary community. As your Rector, I hope that you can trust me when you are dealing with difficulties. Bishops trust in the judgment of the Rector in order to be sure that everything that needs to be looked at before ordination is indeed evaluated and discussed. I hope we have the environment here at Notre Dame Seminary where you can trust us. I respect each and every one of you and hope that you have the freedom and the comfort in bringing whatever you believe should be brought before the Church to light.
The worst experience I have to handle is when a seminarian has to be dismissed from the program because situations got out of hand or were never addressed early on. I have to be sure that the community and the Church at large will not be harmed by someone who is not prepared for priestly ministry. I also have care for you individually that you are not going to injure yourself by neglecting to look at matters that should have been addressed before ordination.
So, as stated, you are the primary agent of accountability in how you bring before God and his Church matters that need to be reviewed.
Disclosing Information to the Rector
Because we all live in community life, we all see our human nature and human condition up front. There is almost no other priestly assignment where priests live their humanity right in front of the community. I have completely enjoyed my time serving the Church in seminary ministry. I recognize my own faults and brokenness that are on display each day and ones that you are aware of because of community life.
Likewise, you see in each other the imperfections of the human condition. I will speak in a moment about how to exercise fraternal correction when it is required.
You are not formation advisors or spiritual directors to each other. There should not be a burden placed on you regarding your need to bring correction to certain types of situations. In some circumstances, when you see a type of behavior in another seminarian that ranks at the level of mortal sin, this needs to be brought to my attention. Such behavior might include criminal, illegal drug related issues, inappropriate relationships with women, and homosexual behavior.
If such behavior is concretely witnessed, you should first seek the counsel of your spiritual director. You must review with him what you have witnessed or experienced before bringing those matters to the external forum. The matters that I identify by example are matters that relate to criminal behavior or immoral behavior. Those observations cannot remain in the internal forum because not only does that individual have a right to respond to these issues as a Christian and as a man attempting to embrace conversion, but the Church herself cannot be scandalized or injured by this behavior. This is why you must review these matters with your spiritual director to ascertain what has been witnessed or experienced.
When fraternal correction is exercised, this can be beneficial to both the person receiving fraternal correction and the person giving fraternal correction. The practice and exercise of fraternal correction should be an aspect of priestly formation in a seminary community. When fraternal correction is exercised appropriately and joyfully, it speaks about the strength and quality of the community.
Fraternal correction is always rooted in fraternal charity. It is never practiced as a way to get even and it is not practiced as a way to judge the other person. Fraternal correction should certainly never be used to hurt the other person. It should not be a response to satisfy my agitation or a response rooted in anger. Fraternal correction is always rooted in fraternal charity.
We must first recognize the legitimate diversity that is present in a community. This diversity includes varying attitudes, personalities, and the cultures that have influenced us. Legitimate diversity however does not mean that we tolerate someone else’s sin. This does not mean that we see the imperfections in the other person and don’t help that person to overcome those obstacles.
Let us consider Luke 6:36-38. Here, mercy is the lens by which we look at our brothers.
In a similar way we read in 1 Samuel 16:7 – “Not as a man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.” We pray for the grace that allows us to see what we see but not to make judgments on the state of that person’s relationship with God or there standing before God.
What we see moves us to mercy because what we see causes us to be disturbed and then we are driven to prayer. But what is it that we see? How quick we are to label someone because of preferences that differ from our own. I n Matthew 7:1-5 we see that judgment is reserved to God. This passage also confirms that our motives must be clear before we begin to point out someone else’s fault.
Jesus wants us to first be in community with God – what is the will of God in this matter? I need to see clearly what is happening. This is why we are always called into prayer for discernment.
Jesus does not say to not correct the other rather to first see clearly of what exists in our own life that needs to be removed. We need to remove anything that does not allow us to see as God sees.
Sacred Scripture confirms that judgment is a part of correction: a judgment upon self to avoid others; a judgment in which others are to be removed from the community; and judgments that must involve yourself.
Hence the sacred scripture calls for a response. Fraternal correction is not just a nice thing that we should be doing — it is a spiritual work of mercy.
Just for a review, the seven spiritual works of mercy are: to instruct the ignorant, to counsel the doubtful, to admonish sinners, to bear wrongs patiently, to forgive offenses willingly, to comfort the afflicted, and to pray for the living and the dead.
Mercy moves the will to have compassion – both of which are considered virtues. Mercy and compassion are the two hinges of fraternal correction. Fraternal correction therefore is a moral obligation and a spiritual work of mercy.
Before continuing with our reflection on fraternal correction, I want to review some simple admonishments that you can practice for the good of the community and for the good of the other seminarian. I do not consider these observations as fraternal correction rather simply brothers being brothers to one another.
1) I am having a hard time studying it would be helpful if you could turn down your music.
2) I can hear almost any conversation in your room and I just wanted to let you know that you might want to keep your voice down.
3) I would suggest that you keep your door closed because the odor coming from your room is moving into the hall.
4) Brother – you might want to consider more deodorant because it seems to wear off half way through the day and it is becoming noticeable.
5) I notice that you pick your nose at the table, you might want to reconsider this.
6) I notice that you often have egg in your beard, you might want to check on this before starting class.
7) You might want to redouble your efforts with the use of mouthwash.
8) You might want to consider laundering your clothes more frequently.
How do we respond to some of these housekeeping observations? The first reaction might be “It is none of your business” or “Mind your own business”. Gentlemen, we need to be brothers to one another. For a married man, his wife might be able to point out some of these housekeeping issues or etiquette issues. For us priests and seminarians, we do not always have the sense of detail and attention to ourselves. Therefore, when we see some of these small imperfections, let’s be brother to one another.
When to Exercise Fraternal Correction
When you see patterns of behavior that are inconsistent with the life of a seminarian or not desirable for priestly life and ministry, you have a moral obligation to act. This moral obligation is rooted in the spiritual works of mercy.
Some individual situations could include a seminarian habitually skipping class; missing chapel regularly; poor use of language; short temper and standoffish; physical appearance in looking unkept; bad breath and unshaven; temperance around the use of alcohol; slothful, the poor use of leisure time.
Here is how I suggest you exercise fraternal correction
1) You are observing a behavior, an attitude, something out of sorts with a brother seminarian or a group of seminarians. The first thing you do is pray – ask the Lord to give you insight. Why are you disturbed at what you have seen or heard? What is your own disposition – you want to discern if you are looking at this situation with a pure heart.
2) Then, talk with your spiritual director to get counsel. You can also seek out your formation advisor or myself – you might want to keep names out since you are first testing your discernment about this matter. Listen to the counsel. If they encourage you to proceed, then do so.
3) Just for the record – if these are formation issues, at some point the formators need to know. You need to discern if you can bring this to the seminarian first and let him deal with the matter with formators, or if formators need to know. If the matter is not one of urgency, then practice the principle of subsidiarity.
4) You continue to pray for the other seminarian – praying for God’s mercy. You may want to fast for him, pray the Rosary for him, spend a holy hour for him.
5) If the seminarian’s behavior or attitude has a public quality, discuss this with very trusted seminarians – the last thing you want to do is start gossiping. Every person has a right to their reputation. You do not want to bear false witness against him. In a conversation of charity and respect, test the waters with your observations. I would suggest you not begin the conversation directly stating your concerns rather something like: “Is there anything different you have noticed about him?” Or, during class did you detect anything about his demeanor? Last night in the Bib, what did you think when he said that? I would not tip your hand at first – see if you get a reaction similar to yours. If not, you can generally say – “I thought it was odd when he said that but maybe it was just me.”
6) If there is a shared consensus of concern, I would suggest you again review with your spiritual director or one of the formators how you may approach the seminarian.
7) I would then suggest you ask for a conversation with the seminarian. Without being melodramatic – state your concerns. A couple of pointers:
a) You do not want to say “other seminarians” have noticed – because you are not a spokesperson for them. You must always speak on your own.
b) If the seminarian asks – has anyone else noticed this? You can then answer the question honestly.
8) If the seminarian receives fraternal correction in a grateful way – then the exercise was accomplished. If he becomes resistant, do not continue the conversation – gently end it.
9) There may be legitimate responses in some cases – maybe the seminarian has withdrawn himself a little because his advisors have asked him to get more settled with his academics or other areas of formation. You need to accept that answer. Always remember, you are not a formation advisor. You are sharing your observation in brotherly love.
10) The conversation you have with the seminarian should remain confidential. If you had consulted other seminarians and they ask how things went – you can respond, it went well. If the conversation did not go well, and since you did not use their names or refer to other seminarians with the seminarian of concern, you can encourage them to share their reflections with the seminarian.
a) If this happens, you want to be sure this is not a clique going after another seminarian – I have seen this happen. This is why you are reviewing all steps with your advisors.
11) If the concerns persist and the seminarian has not accepted fraternal correction and you believe these concerns will only injure him or the Church or the People of God – I suggest you then bring them to me or his formation advisor.
Receiving Fraternal Correction
I would suggest that if and when another seminarian wants to bring a concern to you, that you listen carefully and in a spirit of openness. The temptation might be to think – who does he think he is considering issues that person may already have?
You might be dismissive because the seminarian is younger than you or at a lower class level. Remember there was great diversity among the apostles by way of age and life experience. Try not to be defensive or reactive. Ask for clarification when needed but try to hear the general observations being made.
As stated, the seminarian should not say – others have seen – because this would be unfair. However, you might open that door by asking the seminarian if others have seen the same behavior. The seminarian bringing fraternal correction should not reveal names but in a spirit of honesty, he should say that he hopes others will come to him as well.
After the correction has been given, go to prayer. You may be hurt – that is alright. We are all humans. Bring the sorrow and the hurt before the Lord. Also pray for the grace to have self- awareness around the matter brought to your attention. I would also encourage you to bring those observations to your spiritual director and formation advisor so that you can seek their guidance. Pray for the grace to correct the attitude, behavior, or disposition. Also remember that we have counselors available who also can assist you with the observations that were presented to you.
Now, if you feel that the correction was way off, you will pray and consult your advisors. You may want to go you your friends, classmates, diocesan brothers, and state “that someone” has brought to your attention these observations. Ask them to be honest and see if they agree.
In all of this, you still believe that the correction given was off- base, you might want to go back to that person to first thank them for the courage and then to re-state your position. You may want to consider a response similar to this: “I want to thank you for sharing this because while I do not believe the concern is present, the fact that a perception exists needs me to reassess the attitude, action, etc.”
Your vocation is too important to not seek holiness in yourself and in each other.
Because we have too much respect for each other, we would never want to see a brother fail. “Not as a man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.” The mercy of God does have a communal character to it. We share in the love and mercy of God, and therefore are called to exercise this mercy.
Charity is indeed a supernatural virtue that we enjoy and share. It is fraternal and communal by nature since the community of God – Father, Son, Holy Spirit — is the destiny of all mankind.
As indicated at the beginning of this conference, my only reason in giving this conference is to be pro-active. I have not heard, seen, or detect any issues that call for this conference.
Because of the high quality of this community, it is good for us to keep our eyes open and our hearts sober since the Enemy seeks to create disunity in our one, holy, Catholic, apostolic community, that we call Notre Dame Seminary.
Now is the time in our formation to create and sustain healthy, life-giving friendships that will last into the priesthood. The brotherhood that you share now will no doubt help you in the future. Fraternal charity is a lived experience that draws us closer together and leaves no one behind. Fraternal correction is an act of charity rooted in our deep respect for one another and our effort to help each of us grow in holiness.
May we commend ourselves over to the Lord and to this community without condition, with humility and docility, with trust and freedom, to serve the Lord in discipleship, generously and joyfully.
Let us praise the Lord and give Him thanks.