On leading future shepherds


I TOLD a friend one day that I probably have one of the best jobs in the seminary. I get to teach and observe seminarians on parish internship engage in pastoral work. This week, for example, I did my final visit to two seminarians in the Diocese of Orange—one at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Santa Ana and another one at Santa Clara de Asis in Yorba Linda.

As I do this job, I can’t help but become amazed at the growth of seminarians in their zeal for the Gospel and their love for the people of God. I get to see God’s hand working in their lives, touching their hearts and minds to continue hearing the voice of Jesus—the Good Shepherd—in their journey towards priesthood.

I get to see them succeed and struggle at the same time as they deal with the hard realities of pastoral life. I witness their joy of serving God’s people of all ages and varied cultural communities. I learn about their gifts and strengths, their weaknesses and challenges as they reveal them in their writings and our conversations. I get to see the purity of their hearts and intentions, their enthusiasm and fears.

Indeed, this is the joy of a shepherd who leads “future shepherds.” And the joy also comes from knowing that they will make a difference in the lives of thousands of people as they proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ and witness it to them through love, generosity, compassion, care, and kindness.

The task of teaching and forming seminarians is both a privilege and responsibility.  In the light of this Sunday’s Gospel, it is to be a “gatekeeper” who opens the gate for Jesus to enter into the lives of seminarians so that they can hear and follow His voice, feel His love and care, and not be deceived by voices of those who are “strangers” to the truth of the Gospel.

The task entails a relationship of trust and genuine concern. Seminarians should feel free to share with me their insights, experiences, fears and challenges in ministry to seek guidance and affirmation. On my part, I must let them know that I’m there to help them to discern God’s will and to facilitate their growth in pastoral wisdom and skills.

The job entails having a parent’s heart: showing genuine concern for their well-being, giving full attention to their progress, and praying hard for their protection, success, and happiness. In the end, it’s allowing them to become independent and accountable to their continuous growth when they finish their studies and formation in the seminary.

Many friends ask me what I like better: parish ministry or seminary formation? They are both beautiful and fulfilling work because, in the end, they are about revealing to people the heart and will of God in Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd.

Please pray for our seminarians. May God bless us all. Happy Mothers’ Day!

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From a Filipino immigrant family, Reverend Rodel G. Balagtas was ordained to the priesthood from St. John’s Seminary in 1991. He served as Associate Pastor at St. Augustine, Culver City (1991-1993); St. Martha, Valinda (1993-1999); and St. Joseph the Worker, Canoga Park (1999-2001). In 2001, he served as Administrator Pro Tem of St. John Neumann in Santa Maria, CA, until his appointment as pastor of ImmAaculate Heart of Mary, Los Angeles, in 2002, which lasted 12 years. His term as Associate Director of Pastoral Field Education at St. John’s Seminary began in July 2014.

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