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Was this the hardest thing to let go in order to join seminary?

men friendship barbecue

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Gerard Gayou - published on 08/11/23

A few weeks prior, I could have impressed people with my answer to the basic getting-to-know you question. But now?

Not until I entered seminary did I realize how much I depended on work for my identity. The revelation came swift and sharp: Six days after I entered, I went with my brother to an evening barbecue hosted by friends of his. I didn’t know them, and within minutes I was being asked the question most young folks expect in Washington, D.C: “What do you do for work?”  

A few weeks prior, my answer would have impressed most people there. I was a journalist for a major newspaper, and I could usually count on that job to catch an interlocutor’s interest. But now? “I’m in seminary,” I replied, “studying to be a Catholic priest.”  

The group didn’t say much. None of them, to my knowledge, were religious, but they knew enough about priesthood to imagine I was very religious. After some nods and general responses — “good for you, man” and “interesting!” — the conversation shifted away. I burned to be asked another question: “What did you do before seminary?” Then, I imagined, I would be able to justify myself as man who knew the world and succeeded in it.  

A deep, convicting thought then pierced me: Work had become for me a castle of identity. Without it I felt exposed and unprotected. I had willingly given up my career to enter seminary, but at that barbecue, I craved the esteem of what I had left behind. Who was I without what I did? Did my identity go deeper than professional performance? 

In seminary, and particularly at the Institute for Priestly Formation’s seminarian program, I learned the dangers of rooting identity in what I do and how I perform. Identity, instead, must be rooted in relationship, first and foremost with God.  

Before He does any sort of ministry in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus receives his identity from His Father at His baptism: “You are my beloved son; with you I am well-pleased.” (Mark 1:11) The identity of the Trinity itself, moreover, only makes sense through the lens of relationship. If God’s identity is only coherent in the context of relationship, and we are made in God’s image and likeness, then our identity, too, is only coherent in the context of relationship.  

“What do you do for work?” A listener’s disregard for my answer is still painful. But the answer, I’ve realized, is only coherent in the context of relationship. 

~

This is part of the series called “The Human Being Fully Alive” found here.

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The Human Being Fully Alive
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