On Friday, 14 February 2014, all registered students together with members of staff gathered in the hall for an Academic Convocation. After the opening formalities, the Registrar, Fr Richard April, in welcoming especially the new students, reminded the students to submit correct information in order to complete their Registration. He reminded the gathering that our Institution is well within the compliance requirements of the Council of Higher Education, currently having reached a “green” rating! Thereafter, the Academic Dean, Fr Ricardo Smuts, addressed the Convocation exhorting all students to enter into the study programme with the right disposition and necessary application to ensure a successful and fruitful year (read below an abridged version of his address). Fr Smuts then highlighted certain practical matters in terms of new policies and guidelines, as published in the 2014 General Prospectus which each student and member of staff had received at the commencement of proceedings.
ADDRESS TO THE STUDENTS AT THE ACADEMIC CONVOCATION
Dear Brothers in the Priesthood
Dear Brothers in Formation
The 2014 Academic Year, which was formally inaugurated by our Ordinary Archbishop William Slattery, last Friday evening has begun in earnest. This Academic Convocation, the first one for this Academic Year, is an occasion for the entire academic community of the Seminary to gather in this forum to appreciate the uniqueness of this intellectual nursery.
You are all here at this time in your respective individual and particular life history and indeed in salvation history. This is a dimension of our respective vocations that is often diminished or even negated. We are here because this is where God wants us to be – to be part of this community at this time of salvation history. The seminary is a community journeying towards priestly ministry. One does not become a priest on one’s own. It is here that one learns to become a “man of faith and a man of communion,” or better still, becoming a “community of disciples” is paramount and essential, as it is here that fellowship of those who desire to serve the greater Church, begins, is nurtured and has its roots.
To this extent, I would like to read and quote from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s beautifully and reflectively written Letter to Seminarians dated 18 October 2010 par. 5:
Above all, your time in the seminary is also a time of study. The Christian faith has an essentially rational and intellectual dimension. Were it to lack that dimension, it would not be itself. Paul speaks of a “standard of teaching” to which we were entrusted in Baptism (Rom 6:17). All of you know the words of Saint Peter which the medieval theologians saw as the justification for a rational and scientific theology: “Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an ‘accounting’ (logos) for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet 3:15). Learning how to make such a defence is one of the primary responsibilities of your years in the seminary. I can only plead with you: Be committed to your studies! Take advantage of your years of study! You will not regret it. Certainly, the subjects which you are studying can often seem far removed from the practice of the Christian life and the pastoral ministry. Yet it is completely mistaken to start questioning their practical value by asking: Will this be helpful to me in the future? Will it be practically or pastorally useful? The point is not simply to learn evidently useful things, but to understand and appreciate the internal structure of the faith as a whole, so that it can become a response to people’s questions, which on the surface change from one generation to another yet ultimately remain the same. For this reason it is important to move beyond the changing questions of the moment in order to grasp the real questions, and so to understand how the answers are real answers. It is important to have a thorough knowledge of sacred Scripture as a whole, in its unity as the Old and the New Testaments: the shaping of texts, their literary characteristics, the process by which they came to form the canon of sacred books, their dynamic inner unity, a unity which may not be immediately apparent but which in fact gives the individual texts their full meaning. It is important to be familiar with the Fathers and the great Councils in which the Church appropriated, through faith-filled reflection, the essential statements of Scripture. I could easily go on. What we call dogmatic theology is the understanding of the individual contents of the faith in their unity, indeed, in their ultimate simplicity: each single element is, in the end, only an unfolding of our faith in the one God who has revealed himself to us and continues to do so. I do not need to point out the importance of knowing the essential issues of moral theology and Catholic social teaching. The importance nowadays of ecumenical theology, and of a knowledge of the different Christian communities, is obvious; as is the need for a basic introduction to the great religions, to say nothing of philosophy: the understanding of that human process of questioning and searching to which faith seeks to respond. But you should also learn to understand and – dare I say it – to love canon law, appreciating how necessary it is and valuing its practical applications: a society without law would be a society without rights. Law is the condition of love. I will not go on with this list, but I simply say once more: love the study of theology and carry it out in the clear realization that theology is anchored in the living community of the Church, which, with her authority, is not the antithesis of theological science but its presupposition. Cut off from the believing Church, theology would cease to be itself and instead it would become a medley of different disciplines lacking inner unity.
The Pope-Emeritus’ words require re-reading, meditation and reflection of all of us who form part of this intellectual nursery, with regards to nurturing the Christian and priestly vocations, ever docile to the Spirit, as he leads us to the complete truth.
The Seminary is a time when you learn with one another and from one another. In community life, which can at times be difficult, you should learn generosity and tolerance, not only bearing with, but also enriching one another, so that each of you will be able to contribute his own gifts to the whole, even as all serve the same Church, the same Lord. This school of tolerance, indeed, of mutual acceptance and mutual understanding in the unity of Christ’s Body, is an important part of your years in the seminary.
Phil I and New Students: A special word of welcome to you, and the newer members to SJV. Having completed two weeks here at SJV, you have come to know what will be expected of you. Be under no allusions as to the demands and rigours of academic life here at SJV. The demands of reading philosophy will stretch you, and it may require repetitive re-reading of the course content before grasping it. Know that “repetition is the art of learning!” The current academic programme doesn’t reward individuals who feel that with little or no application or effort, success can be attained. Having to repeat courses whilst attempting the semester courses in Philosophy just augments the stress and means that you will have less time for yourself, which isn’t ideal whilst trying to live and maintain a healthy, balanced and integrated lifestyle.
All that remains is for me to wish you well in all your intellectual and academic endeavours for the new Academic Year 2014.