In the middle of November, I took five young men to a live-in weekend at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona, Minnesota. Our young discerners were able to enter into seminary life and spend time with our seminarians, as well as with those from other dioceses. They were able to get a first-hand experience of seminary life by participating in the life of prayer, study and formation; plus they were able to enjoy several games of Ultimate Frisbee and attend several college classes while they were there. It was a great weekend!
Winona is about 620 miles straight east of Rapid City on Interstate 90. It can be a long and boring drive. As a way to prepare them for the road trip, I drew their attention to this year’s theme for the Office of Vocations, “I Call You Friends” from John 15:15.
Jesus made it abundantly clear to the Apostles that they were to be his friends. Jesus showed his chosen friends that he was willing to lay down his life for them by sharing with them the life he had with the Father. The Apostles were privy to the thoughts and actions of Jesus, making them his true friends.
Because of our theme of friendship, I asked the five men to limit their use of cell phones, video games and watching movies on the long ride to the seminary. I encouraged them to use this time of grace and discernment to interact and get to know one another and the other students at the seminary.
Franciscan Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, the pontifical household preacher, says that the essence of friendship is founded on a common search for the good and the true. Our drive there and back was really grounded in this common search for the good news in our lives.
We all shared with one another something about ourselves, the desires of our hearts, the things we wanted the Lord to do for us on this weekend and what the Lord wanted to do for us. The Lord does amazing things when we are able to be even the least vulnerable with him and one another, especially as men.
One of my favorite parts of the trip home was the praise and worship music to which we listened. The young men spent a lot of time creating their own beat box versions of the songs. Listening to the different rhythms and sounds they were coming up with made the hours and the miles go by quickly.
I was thankful that I encouraged them to limit their use of social media on the trip. It would have been easy for them to put their earbuds in and to get lost in their own worlds, forgetting about the person sitting next to them, who has much to offer them in friendship, and who can assist them in finding the good and the true.
By asking them to limit their time on their cell phones, I actually freed them up to enjoy each other, with time for turning out toward one another rather than the turning in on themselves.
Henry Wadsworth Long-fellow said, “Time is the life of the soul.” In the prayer after Communion on Thanksgiving Day we hear, “Help us, we pray, to reach out in love to all your people, so that we may share with them the good things of time and eternity.”
Time becomes a true gift and a blessing, especially when we use it to build our relationship with Christ, the Church and one another. The Psalmist reminds us, “So you teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (90:12). The gift of wisdom, which we receive at Confirmation, strengthens our faith, deepens our hope, and helps us focus our life on Christ — to keep Jesus at the center of our lives. This, in turn, affects the way we relate to one another and the world.
Since this trip, I have been reflecting on the way we use our time. The time we spend in prayer, time with our family and friends, time at work, and time at play. Do we make the connection to use the time we are given to prepare for eternal life or do we waste our time, using it for our own selfish desires, without even thinking about life eternal?
Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response, a pastoral letter of the U.S. bishops on stewardship, states: “A true understanding of stewardship begins with taking care of and sharing the gift of time. Stewardship of time involves the realization that none of us ‘owns’ time. Each of us is given only so much of it, and planning a careful schedule in order to have the time to work, to rest, to play, and to pray is vital in the stewardship of our physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual lives. How we spend our time is perhaps the clearest indication of our progress in the life of Christian discipleship.”
In this season of Advent and as we anticipate the Christmas season, with plenty of opportunities to be connected with family, friends, coworkers, neighbors and parish communities, look for opportunities to search out the good and true in one another. Make it a priority to become friends with one another in the Lord.
Be attentive to each other. Learn to put the cell phone down and to limit your consumption of media so you can focus on the things that matter the most — time and friendship in the Lord.