This is part of The Evangelist’s ongoing series of reports from diocesan seminarians on their formation for the priesthood. Read previous installments under “specials” at
This is part of The Evangelist’s ongoing series of reports from diocesan seminarians on their formation for the priesthood. Read previous installments under “specials” at

Virtue means little until it is challenged and lived.

If I have no desire to act selfishly, then being unselfish requires little of me. Although it is still important and still a virtue, it does not have the same meaning as when I do have the desire to act selfishly.

I have no desire to steal anything, so not stealing is easy. If I did have the desire to steal, it would make the virtue of honesty and respect for others and their property much harder to follow, but also much more meaningful.

It is when it is challenging that virtue matters most, and only when I succeed at remaining true to that virtue that I can claim it as my own. Until then, I only possess it in a minor way.

Pursuit of virtue requires courage. A priest once said to me, “Pray for courage. I think people don’t pray for courage because they are afraid they might get it.”

I think he has a point. If God gives us courage, then we will have to use it. We can no longer hide behind excuses. Excuses will be seen for what they are, and weakness will be exposed. Sometimes, it is more comfortable to remain in weakness rather than to accept the responsibility that strength and courage bestow.

All of this is important — especially today, because of the spiritual warfare we must fight. There are scandals of abuse and failures of leadership in the Church, mixed with a culture of selfishness and pleasure-seeking that has become increasingly fractioned and both deaf to and aggressive toward its fellow members.

The devil is in all of this. He goes after seminarians with particular fervor, because pursuing a vocation to priesthood is a direct offense to him. Therefore, we are spiritually at war — a war that requires virtue, self-control, devotion to God and self-sacrifice, but not in a way that brings one honor and glory.

The battles we fight are usually silent and invisible, so the reward is not always seen or felt, but it is still important.

About a month and a half ago, we welcomed 18 new men into the seminary I attend. Every new school year, I volunteer to help out with orientation week; it gives me a chance to meet and spend some time with the new guys. Each year, I am impressed. I see men who have left successful careers, sold their houses, left their former lives behind and gave everything for Christ.

It is truly inspirational knowing that these men could be pursuing great careers, getting married and having families; but, instead, they are sacrificing everything to serve God and His people as priests.

One of the most inspiring things I have seen is how many of the seminarians wear a small chain around their wrist. In case you do not know, this is a symbol of total consecration to Mary.

Total consecration is a devotion that St. Louis de Montfort wrote about in the early 1700s in France. The idea is to spend 33 days — one for each year of Christ’s life on Earth — preparing yourself and then, at the end, consecrate yourself to Jesus through Mary.

Mary is our mother, and Jesus came to us through her. He could have come any way He wanted, but He chose to come through her. What trust He must have had in her, to become a baby one cell big in her womb.

God trusted Mary completely; so can we. The little chain symbolizes that the person has given himself completely to Mary: in fact, has become a slave to Mary, so that she can give us to Jesus in the most direct way possible. She is our ally in this spiritual warfare.

Mary is the perfect disciple, the tabernacle which held God, the queen that brings us to the King. This little chain signals great courage.

I admire the courage and virtue that I see in so many of my fellow seminarians. Famed writer G. K. Chesterton said, “It is not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”

Virtue is meaningless if it is not tried. Please pray for these seminarians who have had the courage to try.

(Mr. Houle, a native of St. Mary’s parish in Albany, is studying for the priesthood at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. In this column, he refers to Marian consecration, a process that will begin  in the Diocese Nov. 5 and culminate with a Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany Dec. 8, the feast of the Immacu­late Conception. Learn more at