Dispatches from a hilltop seminary

by a new seminarian

12 October 1998: General Paralysis. Too much of a good thing is bad

Fraternal charity has all but brought the International Seminary of St.Curé d'Ars to a standstill, our foreign correspondent reports.

New interns, keen as mustard, are blocking doorways by insisting that others go first; food is left unserved in dishes owing to flat refusals to eat the last slice; and, most alarming of all, wine bottles are returned to the kitchen barely injured. While this is all very commendable, few seem to have grasped the implications.

One international observer commented, "...they don't understand, supplies deemed unwanted or unnecessary will be restricted in the future." He went on to explain that efforts to tackle the crisis had merely exasperated the problem: "Some of them are prepared to starve..." Too much of a good thing is bad it seems. Analysts believe the problem will diminish in time but that early hopes of an improvement have been dashed by a five-day retreat.

31 October 1998: Light in the Darkness on the Eve of All Saints

An hour after the wintry veil of darkness had obscured the greyness of the afternoon, twenty young men in blazers, ties and gleaming shoes, holding their Libri before them, formed two silent lines in the salle de surplice. Thurifer and acolytes emerged from the sacristy, all bowed simultaneously and passed through the narrow door into the gallery. The wind was bitter and rain splashed across the sandstone floor. All was black beyond the short distance illuminated by the electric lights, the candles flickered, footsteps crunched and shadows advanced and then dissipated as the procession made its way to the main door of the church.

It was a most extraordinary feeling entering the church for, despite the resounding organ, glorious light, and splendid vestments, the congregation for Vespers was just four souls. This was not a ceremony that tempted its participants to vainglory in front of the splendour of the world; only four souls and God were witnesses. The procession passed the side altars, one of which was covered with the seminary's collection of relics illuminated by candlelight, and finally reached the sanctuary. Verse after verse ebbed and flowed around the voluminous space giving glory to God and asking for His succour. Soon all was over; the procession re-formed and departed, leaving the four souls to their prayers and to a sweet aroma of incense.

A day in the life of a seminarian at Flavigny

6:00 BONGGG, BONGGG, BONGGG, BONGGG… still dark.

6:25 Office of Prime in the chapel.

6:45 Meditation begins.

6:50 Cockle-doodle-doooo, starts the cock from over the road.

6:55 Onky-onky-onkk, replies the goose (eventually). The windows turn from black to dark blue.

7:15 Low Mass begins. The windows are now illuminated with an undecided blue-grey.

8:00 Breakfast in silence. One ponders upon the beauty of tranquillity over a bowl of coffee.

8:20 Reading: 20 minutes Spiritual; 20 minutes the Bible.

9:00 Lectures: Spiritualité (1hr), Patrologie (1hr), Liturgie (1hr).

12:00 Letter writing.

12:15 Office of Sext in the chapel.

12:40 Lunch. A gospel extract is read followed by spiritual readings. Conversation is permitted after the main course.

13:15 Stroll about the village of Flavigny with the “lads”. Clean the loos on ground floor. Say Bonjour to Bernard (one of the lay brothers) who always sports a ready smile.

14:00 Private study.

15:00 Latin lesson.

16:00 Tea followed by a five minute gaze at the splendid view from the ramparts.

16:30 Private study.

17:15 Low Mass. We are encouraged to attend a second Mass, if possible, as it is the sun of all spiritual exercises (St. Francis de Sales).

18:00 Chant practice with the “pretty hopeless” group.

18:30 Conference.

18:55 Rosary and Benediction.

19:30 Dinner. A Gospel extract is read followed by extracts from the lives of the saints. Conversation is permitted after the main course (as with lunch). The entrée is always soup.

20:10 Anglo-Swiss team thrash the Frogs at table football (occasionally).

20:45 Compline in the chapel. The most beautiful office of the day.

21:05 After the last echoes of the Salve Regina fade away, the Grand Silence commences. Young seminarians leave one by one as each finishes his private prayers. Prayers for perseverance, family, friends, country, against temptation and affliction, in thanksgiving, to adore and to expiate. The sacristan leaves the last light for Brother Jean, kneeling with head in hands and heart and mind given to their Creator.

21:45 Reading in bed. Edmund Campion's exploits once more thrill the imagination of an Englishman!

10:00 Couvre-feu. Another day is over and offered up to the Almighty with its blemishes and jewels together. One day closer to death, to judgement and eternity. Deo gratias.

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