Wednesday, 29 August 2007

#6 The Nightmare vocations weekend - a fantasy of grotesques - please ignore- this is for research purposes only.

[please understand that this is not autobiographical - merely a normative compilation of about a dozen associates who have gone through a very similar 'generic' process before entering seminary. Understand too that these depictions of seminarians are 'bogies' 'grotesques' at a masquerade - nobody is truly like these people]

vocations weeks/weekends are a nightmare scenario for any young man wishing to assess a possible vocation...

A few things immediately leap out;one is that the more senior members of the gathering are not priests; but maybe an ex-monk, or an ex-anglican cleric , or a civil servant/steel worker whose elderly parent they've spent the past twenty years caring for and has just died...or an ex-seminarian trying for the second or third time to return to seminary.

Invariably they look quite nervous and 'out of sorts' they may smile distantly or gaze mid-air or seem too deeply in their own thoughts, any response to a question will be glibly short or overly personally descriptive and too detailed.
They appear in either a state of deep discomfort being surrounded by so many youngsters, or quite passive and peeved that they have to 'go through the motions' before getting on with the work to do in a church.

Then the ones who are too young: fourteen or fifteen years old ; it's quite unsettling , but some old parish priest has thought to send one or two altar boys in the expectation that in four or five years they may test their vocation; and it's better for them to start integrating with the seminarians now - not a very good of the kids may be a completely disinterested goth or emo wearing a blatantly blasphemous t-shirt, another kid may be dressed like he's an open university lecturer in his early sixties - their clothes revealing a great deal about them and their backgrounds...but not the way you'd expect. The 'punk' is normally the one who will end up one of the best priests in the diocese.

There may be a few other potential seminarians and they are generally of a specific type ; young, intellectual-looking, either not very healthy looking or overtly sporty and team-captain-like, the majority wear glasses [don't ask me why, they just do] and they seem thoroughly unsettled and frightened of their own significant point of observation is the haircut which usually falls into two categories - overly short/assaulted by hedgetrimmers or clinically parted Roger Moore/Thunderbirds -like. Their dress sense is overly reserved - sometimes they may resort to wearing Jesus-sandals in warm weather; but it just looks gauche.

Then comes the vocations director - now twenty years ago the v.d. would have been a middle-aged experienced parish priest, dean or vicar of clergy - but for some reason today episcopal policy has decreed that vocations directors have to be young - as the young priest will 'inspire and empathise' with the young seminarian - more often than not this can actually have the diammetrically opposite effect...

Not even the young vocations director is arrogant or presumptuous enough to believe he has any answers or enough experience to truly support a prospective candidate for the diocese......

then come the seminarians.

Now you are probably filled with prejudicial/assumptive stereotypes regarding the seminarians and their personalities and characteristics ; based upon your own experiences with young priests ; let me tell you that you are both surprisingly very wrong, and sadly very, very right....

Let's start with the biggest, and the most brainless, group - what I'd refer to as the 'monty python mob' - why ? because they are the type of people who spend a lot of time speaking in the code of the 'inner ring' a lot of this used to be quoting from monty python; although it could just as easily today be lines from little britain or ugly betty - but these people are some of the most isolationist you will ever encounter...

Ever been to a rugby/cricket club and there's a rowdy bunch hanging round the bar being overly loud, having a penchant for 'mickey-taking' and ridicule, and constantly referring to events/antics/gaffes involving people who aren't there and their run-ins with officials and how it was all a good laugh, but you wouldn't understand because 'you'd have to be there' ? That's the type !- There's also a disturbing over-reference to women as if they're some alien species and 'only good for one damned thing'; as if they're all the most experienced philanderers on the planet ; it's only after listening for a while that you realise that most of them have never even kissed a girl, nor would ever really wish to...You know the type ?

Well seminarians of this ilk come in two distinct flavours - as if they belong to two opposing teams - imagine arsenal and chelsea, or city and united, you have the vocally secular 'I'm not really clerical. I'm just one of the lads' versus the 'I'm not a human being any more, I'm part of that inner sanctum of the potential presbyterate' Of course I'm alluding to what the python mob would refer to as : "we're the Romans!!!"

The Venerabile Collegio Inglese and the Beda breed ecclesiastical gossips, attention seekers and young men attempting desperately to be gnostically 'in the know' about points of doctrine and canon law or clerical shenanigans.... any opportunity to mention the name of a cleric whom at least one member of the group of avid listeners is ignorant of - is a tactical victory for the romanita....

The 'Lads' vs 'Romans' - the mutual contempt is almost tangible - but ostensibly there will be smiles and subtle truces ; among the ranks there may be a few 'treacheries' of people becoming friendly with 'the enemy' - they may even be 'pulled up for consorting with that bunch of modernists/tridentinists/louts/nancy boys/delete as applicable

'Hostility reigns between these two groups; but there are many varieties of seminarian that fall somewhere between them...quick desciptions:

a] The 'in-your-face' grinning/overly serious interrogator - a seminarian that falls into two sub classes - but they do the same thing - ask overtly personal questions to the point of being downright rude - the difference is subtle but significant - one type seems to be mentally making a note of absolutely everything for future reference; the other doesn't really seem to care about the answers to the questions at all ! what seems more important is that he has asked the questions...[don't ask me why this happens - I'm just reporting what I and others have encountered - the motive of this type of individual is beyond me - why ask questions if you don't care about the answers ? unless you're asking an ulterior totally different question you can't use words for ? possibly ?]

b] the awkward,lovable but not exactly likable, 'lunk' - not very intellectual in seminarian-type interests, not a deep conversationalist about seminarian-type things, doesn't exactly fit into any of the niches that seminaries have classified for seminarians - The patron saint of parish priests, St John Vianney, would have fallen into this isolated, sadly patronised about and dismissed category, 'put up with out of charity', but never invited to private gatherings...What's amazing is that these 'misfits' usually have some extraordinary talent - either creative or musical or being a great listener/counsellor - but only those who go out of their way to seek the hidden depths of this person may discover it....

c] The autocrat: bit self-explanatory really, clinical, snobbish, prone to being hostile and holding anything not 'conducive', or anyone who is not 'one of us' in utter contempt. A doctrinal draconian, a clerical pro-eugenicist; antipathetic to any dead-wood. You may think that the majority of these people are overly pious right-wing traditionalists ; please don't be misled - there are just as many liberal modernists and 'reformers' who have adopted the stance of 'ideological restructuring' within the church; acting as if they were participating in a corporate take-over...they always have a close associate nearby , and have a predilection towards forming select groups which either support the establishment or seek to destroy every aspect of it.

d] the Louche - seems to exude charisma and decadence - part angel/part demon, Brideshead or Bauhaus, Junkie Jim Morrisson or refined Rupert Everett - they seem to induce adulation or abject anathematisation from those around them. Inveterately they're either a 'go with the flow' passively nonchalant care-free individual, or staunchly right/left wing with a very categorical agenda; yet they 'play the game' with an amazing dexterity and efficacy. They make very good, albeit dangerous, friends.

e] the sporty/excitable type - activities and participation-obsessed, in order to be a 'human being' in their eyes you have to be a 'human doing' - invariably among seminarians this leads to a 'human going'.

f] The 'expert'; the ones 'knowledgeable about everything' - least said the better....

g] the idealistic innocent youngster - sometimes they really are just that; on more than the odd occasion they are playing a very subtle game a la 'I Claudius' - playing the naiive fool - sometimes as a defence mechanism; on other occasions to manipulate and gather worthwhile information...sadly these people are not very trustworthy, their ostensible guilelessness for some reason leads to the stirring up of trouble.

h] the 'uninvolved' - they were called this because they were the exact opposite - behind the scenes they were deeply into administration, organisation, planning etc, but would never look you in the eye or participate in any human interaction or social event - scurrying everywhere, busy about their business - typing up a new rota being infinitely more important than wasting a few seconds on polite pleasantries with another human being.

i] the weasel/Iago - sadly there are a few around; quickly you learn to tell them absolutely nothing of any import regarding yourself or anyone else ; unless you wish to manipulate circumstances - they can be a useful tool but one always feels like you need to attend confession or take a long shower after encountering them.

j] the equivocator/placator - the pragmatist who agrees with everyone about everything when they are in their presence - never really having an agenda of their own except wanting to be liked

k] the predator - yes they exist - hacking away at one's psyche to break down the walls - some wish to invade that space; others don't really care as the fun was the destruction-part; some a homosexuals seeking out any potential weakness or sexual insecurity in the young man for a chance of some sordid fun ; others are just nasty pieces of work who live to one principle : 'it is not enough to succeed - others must fail!'

l] the follower - ingratiating to the point of excruciation - the one desperately seeking to be the object of their affection's 'executive officer','right hand man' or the 'beloved unto the lord' - they can get pretty nasty if their position is ever compromised or perceived as in jeopardy.

Of course the young and enthusiastic vocations director is oblivious to most of this... they have a tendency to jump to conclusions - categorise someone according to a single action they have witnessed and thought unusual or 'character-confirming'.

Like a lot of naiive individuals, they really do believe thay know more than they truly do about the people around them; and are very quick to reach judgements. The young feel they have to know everything and have their voice heard otherwise they wane from existence.
For a young vocations director it can lead to two outcomes - getting overly involved or being reticent to ever get involved - having big brother watching you leads to people becoming insecure and overly secretive;on the other hand giving an individual enough rope to hang themselves without any overt concern for their well-being leads to anxiety and loneliness, together with the potential to just grab the rope and throw themselves off the roof [why delay the inevitable? it's obvious the diocese doesn't want me, why don't they just get it over and done with?]

Anyway, this proverbial young man has so far only encountered seminarians at a vocations week...seminaries are very different places...

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