A reflection on the dangers and gifts of priestly formation...

Today is the start of my third week blogging, and I'm impressed that I've garnered over 500 reads since I started. In fact, the number is closer to 550. I've noticed that there are two topics that I've written on that have seemed to be most popular. One was politics and the other was sacraments. So I'll do what I can to write on these topics more. If there are topics that you'd like for me to reflect on, let me know in the Comment Box below.

Today, my younger cousin is heading to the seminary for the first time. He is on a very dangerous road of self discovery. Dangerous because he will be forced for the first time in his life to look at himself deeply and communicate who he is to others. These others will give him feedback and criticism like he has never heard before. It will be like standing in a hall of mirrors where each mirror, rather than distort, emphasizes certain aspects of one's life. I know because I was there.

The real danger is in not being honest. Some have a tendency to be dishonest and hold things back. They refuse transparency and end up lying to themselves. In the end, they do not grow as they intended. They do not mature into better wine. Rather, they turn to vinegar and face reclusion, guilt, loneliness, and despair.

The upside is that if he gives himself over to formation, it will help him to grow in many ways. It will allow him to see his own weakness and to focus his strengths. He will whet his intellect and penetrate deeply into the mysteries of the universe. He will make lifelong friendships and find a vocation. It is very clear to me after spending three years in the minor seminary (sophomore-senior) and two more years studying theology outside of the seminary, that I have found my vocation. There is a certainty that I have that I do not believe that I would have otherwise had I not entered priestly formation.

For those who do not know, priestly formation focuses on a few different aspects of the person. It recognizes that man is a spiritual being, and as a spiritual being has an intellect and a free will. Man's ability to know and to love sets him apart from other animals, and so, priestly formation focuses on these aspects not to make him the best priest that he can be but to be the best man he can be.

First, formation focuses on man's intellect, and since this formation is ordered toward the priesthood, there are certain college courses that he must take that prepare him for theological studies. Secondly, it focuses on his will and does this in a two-fold way. It develops his relationship with God in spiritual formation and his relationship with others in character/human formation. It is important to point out that there is a principle that says that one cannot love that which he does not know. In this case, that would mean that the seminarian must come to know God and His creation.

There are two ways to study God and creation. One is under the aspect of reason alone, whereby we employ philosophy. The second is under the aspect of revelation, whereby we come to know that which we would not know without God's revelation or with a new found certainty. This second method we call theology. If we are going to study theology, we must first make a reasonable argument for God and revelation. So, in his philosophical studies he will take a course on Natural Theology, which reasons to God's existence by philosophical means, i.e. without scripture.

His spiritual formation will be made up of daily Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours, Eucharistic Adoration, personal pieties, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and private spiritual direction meetings. He will be steeped in the prayer of the Church and learn to converse with God as with his friend, father, brother, mother (I am not saying that God is a woman! But he does encompass all maternity), and physician.

His character formation will consist of meetings with his chaplain, peer group meetings, apostolic ministries, and constant fraternal correction. If we dislike something in another person, we must learn to hate that thing in ourselves first. If we do this we will not hate the other but pity them. So, character formation focuses on the self and hating our own deficiencies first and foremost. Once we hate our own shortcomings it is easier to love the other.

Thinking back on the formation I received, I am very grateful to God and the formators that I had. I would be half the man I am today, and I know how much I still fall short of what God wants me to be. I pray for the growth of my cousin and the growth of all men in priestly formation. May their hearts be open and willing to change.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating. Part of me wishes I could have had this sort of endeavor for personal understanding, but I know I was sent down my path for other reasons. Truth can certainly be frightening in the short run.

    As far as topic ideas, what about the following?
    - "Enlivening the Spirit" or however you spell it, i.e. proper application of social lubricant
    - The use of media for/against Catholicism (or specifically American Catholics, if you please)
    - Any sort of snarky comments about internet memes. Oh wait- I'm thinking of another blog.