It can be easy to see a seminarian’s discernment out of seminary as a failure. In fact, many of those who discern out of seminary face a kind of stigma from their friends and family, and even from themselves.
But that stigma is based on a misunderstanding of seminary’s purpose, former seminarian Jacob Hubbard told CNA.
As Hubbard said, seminary is a “house of discernment, and not a house of mini-priests,” adding that if a man leaves seminary, it’s often a positive sign of his ongoing vocational discernment.
Fr. Phillip Brown, President-Rector of St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, agreed.
“As a seminary faculty and as a rector, when a seminarian discerns out, and we’re satisfied that it was an authentic, good, discernment, we don’t consider that a failure. We consider that a success,” Brown explained.
“What I say to the seminarians is that in the end, the objective here is not to become a priest, but to be what God has made you to be,” Fr. Brown said.
Discerning into seminary
Hubbard said he had long considered the priesthood, with encouragement from his family, and reflected on it while journaling about his prayer life while in high school, and through retreats and mission trips.
After several invitations to visitation weekends at Holy Trinity Seminary in Dallas, Texas, he attended one. He chose to apply to the seminary, entering as a sophomore in college.
Discerning out of seminary
During Hubbard’s time in seminary, he worked hard to be engaged in the community and to take the opportunities presented to him.
He sought out counsel about his questions, and trusting his spiritual director to keep his best interests in mind, opened up to him about everything.
One of the biggest moments for Hubbard was when his spiritual director asked Hubbard to consider marriage.
His spiritual director asked Hubbard to imagine himself, in prayer, as a priest coming home from a good day of Confessions and Mass, and then to imagine, in prayer, being married and coming home to a wife and children.
“I felt so much more deeply my heart belonged with a family,” Hubbard explained. “There’s no way to really articulate it, except that I just felt myself more present, more human there. Even just painting the picture almost brought me to tears.”
Hubbard left seminary in November of his senior year.
“And I have not regretted it since,” he said. “It’s been a beautiful journey. Seminary was a necessary step, and so I know that God has just continued to lead me along a path which I hope one day, He will use to help heal those hurting around me. I want to still give of myself to those around me.”
Does “discerning out” mean failure?
Although seminary was helpful for Hubbard in his discernment both for the priesthood and for the married life, he found that a lot of people misunderstood the reasons he had left, and some saw it as a failure on his part.
“I think that a lot of people have the misconception that when you step out of seminary it’s a failure of sorts. Their reactions are, ‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ or things like that. The negative stigma of discerning out needs to be eradicated so that seminarians who are torn don’t have that fear that when they leave, their friends, their families, their priests back home will be disappointed.”
“The stigma holds seminarians back from being able to healthily discern. I think that’s something pretty unaddressed in today’s world: the very healthy and good option of discerning out. People see it as something entirely negative, and they shouldn’t,” Hubbard said.
Full story at Catholic News Agency.