Monday, July 27, 2015

This is providential: The Forgotten Vice in Seminary Formation

An essay written by Fr. James Mason, Rector and President of Kenrick-Glennon Seminary.

Fr. Mason speaks of the vice of effeminacy:
St. Thomas includes effeminacy under the vices opposed to perseverance. It is from the Latin mollities, which literally means “softness.” Mollities is the verb used in 1 Corinthians 6:9 which deals with the sexual sin of sodomy. It involves being inordinately passive or receptive. What St. Thomas means by persevering is when “a man does not forsake a good on account of long endurance or difficulties and toils.” An “effeminate man is one who withdraws from good on account of sorrows caused by lack of pleasures, yielding as it were to a weak motion.” Thomas states that this effeminacy is caused in two ways. First, by custom, where a man is accustomed to enjoy pleasures and it is, therefore, more difficult for him to endure the lack of them. Second, by natural disposition, less persevering through frailty of temperament, and this is where Thomas compares men with women, and also mentions the homosexual act of sodomy, and the receiver in this act as being effeminate or like a woman. The vice of delicacy for Thomas considers those who cannot endure toils, or anything that diminishes pleasure, and thus delicacy is a kind of effeminacy. Thomas quotes from Deuteronomy 28:56, “The tender and delicate woman, that could not go upon the ground, nor set down her foot for softness.” It may be true that some cultural prejudices are being revealed here with this comparison because a vice is a vice, whether it is found in a man or a woman, but it is also true that some vices are more perverse or disordered when found specifically in men or women. Effeminacy is more pronounced in a man than a woman because women are more susceptible to this vice. Just as the vice of drunkenness is more pronounced or perverse when found in a woman than a man. - Homiletic and Pastoral Review

I'm not going to write another essay on the subject - I've written too much as it is, but it strikes me as fortuitous to come across this article, from a discerning priest/rector of a seminary who is very much aware of these issues.  I highly recommend reading the entire article here.


Fr. Mason addresses modesty for the seminarians, but he isn't regulating it to bathrobes.  He's discussing the deeper understanding of modesty.

St. Thomas also speaks on modesty concerning the outward movements of the body. Here, he quotes Saint Ambrose in stating that, “Beauty of conduct consists in becoming behavior towards others, according to their sex and person.” Thomas states that, “Outward movements are a sign of the inward disposition” and quotes Ecclesiastics 19:29-30, “You can tell a person by his appearance … the way a person dresses, the way he laughs, the way he walks, tell you what he is.” St. Ambrose adds that, “The habit of mind is seen in the gesture of the body,” and that “the body’s movement is an index of the soul.” Ambrose goes on to say, “Let nature guide the movement: if nature fail in any respect, surely effort will supply the defect.” This effort is lacking in most seminary formation. Such things should be noticed and discussed by seminary faculty in both external and internal formation, as they can often be signs of deeper issues.
St. Thomas, moreover, asserts the truth that it is often from our outward movements that other men form their judgment about us. Thomas encourages us to study our outward movements so that if they are inordinate in any way, they may be corrected. Such things need to be addressed in formation because they have a definite effect on our ability to be, and to bring, Christ to others. Does the seminary deal with a seminarian that sways when he walks, who has limp wrists, who acts like a drama queen, or who lisps? It must. This is not about a witch hunt, but about being honest enough to admit that such external behavior affects our ability to share Christ. I knew a seminarian that spoke in a very effeminate manner, and to his credit he recognized this impediment to his future preaching the Gospel, and on his own sought help from a speech instructor. However, the seminary did not see this glaring problem, nor move this man to get assistance. That is the problem.
St. Thomas also speaks on modesty of outward apparel. Moderation, of course, is the rule; and here he warns that the lack of moderation may arise from an inordinate attachment to clothes, with the result being that a man sometimes takes too much pleasure in them. In describing a friend as a “man’s man,” G. K. Chesterton said it best when he stated, “He was not in any case a dandy; but insofar as he did dress well, he was totally indifferent to how other men who were his friends might dress, which is another mark of purely masculine companionship.” The three guiding virtues in dress are humility, contentment, and simplicity. Here, one must always consider the appropriateness of a situation, and the personal motivation behind wearing certain apparel. This is not a new problem, as St. John Chrysostom addressed it in the fourth century in his writing on The Learning of Temperance, when he speaks of the folly of over-adorning oneself with jewels. - Fr. Mason
 One more excerpt - what can be done?
The question, then, is what can be done in helping form and ordain more manly priests? First, seminaries and bishops must recognize effeminacy as a formation issue. In choosing faculty to teach and form our future priests, the question must be asked: Does the candidate exhibit manly or effeminate qualities? Also, bishops need to realize that just because a priest requests an assignment, this does not automatically make him the right man for the job. This is especially true if the priest desires to work in liturgy, campus ministry, teaching, or seminary work where a manly model of priesthood is most needed and, unfortunately, often most often missing. Bishops need to take an active role in knowing and forming their priestly candidates. It is, perhaps, not only his most important decision, but also the decision for which he will be held most accountable. Bishop Carlson is one of the few, if not only, bishops in our country who has every seminarian live at least a summer in his residence. He knows the men he will ordain. He recounts a story of a seminarian he inherited who had already been through five years of formation, and was extremely effeminate. In working with this seminarian, he asked him about his sexual orientation. The seminarian responded he did not know. At that time, he was two years away from being ordained, and neither the rector, nor seminary faculty, saw this as a problem. This is the problem. - Fr. Mason
Archbishop and mentor.

Fr. Mason mentions Archbishop Carlson.  Archbishop Carlson is a bishop who smells like his sheep.  It's my understanding, when he was here as auxiliary, he pretty much formed the diocesan fraternity of priests known as The Companions of Christ in the archdiocese of St. Paul - Minneapolis.  This community of priests is awesome - the priests are men  close to their sheep, solid in their faith, faithful to the discipline of the Church.  They pretty much embody the ideal Fr. Mason promotes in his essay.  One of these guys is the new pastor at my parish.  I can't say enough good about him.

Pray for seminarians, priests and bishops.  A priest models Christ and ministers in his name.  Christ became man and dwells among us.  Men and women need priests to be men - who can correctly relate to us - no matter our weakness.

H/T: D


  1. +JMJ+

    Coincidentally, I've just read a passage from St. Ambrose on the virtue of modestia, which we can understand as moral movement. I really love his line: "the movement of the body is a sort of voice of the soul." Body language, you know. If there are some words we wouldn't say because they are coarse and coarsening, then there are some styles of movement we shouldn't adopt for similar reasons.

    1. That's excellent. Thanks.

      Modesty is related to humility, as Garrigou Lagrange notes:

      Perfect humility is manifested outwardly by a great habitual modesty. We read in Ecclesiasticus: "A man is known by his look, and a wise man. . . is known by his countenance. The attire of the body and the laughter of the teeth and the gait of the man, show what he is." St. Paul says: "Let your modesty be known to all men." It appears on a calm, humble countenance, little inclined to laughter, in a grave, simple, unaffected bearing, which shows that a man lives in the presence of God and does not interrupt his intimate conversation with Him. Thus the truly humble and modest man speaks of God by his conduct and even by his silence. - Three Ages

  2. Father Mason used to be the director to a retreat center here in eastern South Dakota, called Broomtree. He is an outstanding priest. He was called by Archbishop Carlson to St. Louis to help the diocese down there. Broomtree is still in excellent hands, but I sure miss Fr. Mason.

    1. He sounds like a wonderful priest and excellent rector/formator.


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