Shear My Will & Become My Portion, O Lord

Upon opening the doors into the St. Mary’s Seminary Chapel, you are mesmerized by the beauty of the golden apse. Then, your focus likely shifts to the stained glass found throughout the chapel, but before taking another step, to your immediate right you can see this small stained-glass window with an image of a seminarian, vested, standing, with his hands joined together in prayer, and with a small bald spot on his head. The reception of the Tonsure (to shear) as depicted here is actually an ascription prior to entering the minor orders (Porter, Reader, Exorcist, and Acolyte) which came before entering major or holy orders (Deacon and Priest).

This initial progression to the priesthood involved shearing the candidate’s hair as a sign of his dedication to the service of the God. This sacred rite, as instituted by the Church, allowed the candidate discerning the priesthood to be received into the clerical order by shearing of his hair and by investment with the surplice. These visible signs illustrated the committed dedication of a young man’s sacrifice to denounce finite things and with an undivided heart, seek to answer his calling from God. Also, as the seminarian progressed on his journey, the sheared head symbolized setting aside his lay state and entering the clerical state where he would begin to conform himself to be a priest, an Alter-Christus for the Church. Before this Tonsure was introduced to the Church, it actually began with parents offering their young sons to the service of God. This emphasizes the fruitful involvement of the family, the domestic church, who would initiate and strengthen the gift of Faith. As opposed to complying with a traditional duty of the Faith or simply dropping off the children in Formation classes, the domestic church took on an active role when they too shear off their will by walking this journey of Faith with their children.

In a distinctive way, we see his hands joined in prayer and a red background, symbolizing a submitted will to the sacrificial nature of wearing the Tonsure. This young man must now undividedly dedicate himself to the service of God by his renunciation of the world and its allurements. The renunciation of worldly things does not make a person miserable or socially disabled. Rather, by actively listening to God’s voice, he delights in infinite things and is continuously present to those who live in the world by sharing his gifts perfected by God to parishioners, family, co-workers, or anyone he encounters. As members of the body of Christ, we too are called to present ourselves with an uncircumcised heart to God through a daily submission of our will. Fed with the sacraments, all must accept a “spiritual tonsure” to root out anything that keeps us from being ready to serve our Lord.

Another feature is the cassock underneath the white surplice. This black cassock symbolizes the dying to self and dying to the world. An interesting feature of the cassock is its pockets, which ought to be used to store all those things which we are called to share with others. The marginalized will “appreciate a little money, your smile, and a word of solace more than your impeccable hymn signing.” [1] For a seminarian, wearing the cassock may be something he delights in because he is finally wearing it; however, the same joy should be kept when the Lord chooses to melt, purify and conform his soul to Christ Jesus. In enduring trials of temptation and choosing Him every time, we allow God to become our Portion and Cup (Psalm 16:5) just as it is referenced in the text “Dominus Pars”.

While the argument can be made that Tonsure is an outdated and antiquated ascription to the priesthood, its rich symbolism of keeping our eyes and hearts fixed on the service of God is indispensable. This visible milestone gave a sense of holy order to this world filled with chaos.
If we allow ourselves to be sheared by the Good Shepherd we come to know our Loving and Merciful Lord who patiently awaits to walk this journey of growth with us. Whether we are called to Holy Orders or not, let us walk this journey with Jesus and fulfill our baptismal call by being spiritually tonsured so that He can be our portion and cup filling us with his Spirit as He so longs to do.

Written by Luis Garcia, seminarian for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston


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