Catholic Corner: On Priestly Formation
If you are to become priests, it will be for the purpose - above all other purposes of proclaiming the Word of God and feeding Gods people with the Body and Blood of Christ. Thus spoke the 264th Successor of Saint Peter, Pope John Paul II, to a group of seminarians at St. Joseph's Seminary during the Papal visit to New York in 1995.
Encouraged by the words of the Pope, the seminarians of the Church, among whose number I am now privileged to be, are called to devote themselves entirely to a life of intense prayer and study during the very special years of immediate preparation for the priesthood of Christ.
Later in that same address, the Holy Father told the seminarians that if there is one challenge facing the Church and her priests today, it is the challenge of transmitting the Christian message whole and entire, without letting it be emptied of its substance.
A constant theme in priestly formation it is that so many people are deeply thirsting for the love and the happiness which ultimately are found only in Christ. As Saint Augustine put it, Our hearts are restless, O God, until they rest in Thee. Still, ours is a world that is often incredulous of, or even overtly hostile to the Christian message. People ask tough questions of the Church and of her priests, questions which go to the heart of mans very existence and purpose in life. Everyone, regardless of his station in life, has a right to the truth of Christ, in all its splendor and fullness. And the priest must be able to articulate that truth to them with candor and with love.
Accordingly, the future priests of the Church must, during their formation, immerse themselves in the mysteries of God and the Tradition of the Church so that they will one day be equipped to carry out their role as teachers of the Faith, all the while remembering that in order to be teachers, priests must first be disciples. Therefore, to accomplish this, there simply is no other way than through a rigorous and disciplined engagement in the academic life, plumbing the depths of the Church's incomparably profound intellectual tradition, and, all the while, growing, through prayer, in love for the truth of the Faith and for its divine founder, Jesus Christ.
Just a few weeks ago, on his pastoral visit to Mount Saint Mary's Seminary, the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, making reference to these remarks of the Holy Father, exhorted my confreres and I to recommit ourselves to continual growth in these all-important areas. He said, If you are to be true priests of Jesus Christ, then you must be faithful sons of the Church. Your faithfulness to the priesthood must have as its hallmarks an adherence to the Doctrine of the Church, a fidelity to her Magisterium, a loyalty to the Holy Father and a great respect for your bishop. The priest must teach, with clarity, what the Magisterium teaches regarding questions of faith and morals. The priest can be no less if he is to be true to Christ and true to the Church. Prepare yourselves well, so that at the time of ordination the bishop can send you, without hesitation, to preach to the People of God.
Central to the life of a seminarian is the Holy Eucharist. All other aspects of priestly formation come to naught if they are not grounded in the Mass. The prayer life of the seminarian, which is to be his first priority during his years of formation, is the vehicle through which he loses his own will in the Will of God and comes to know more intimately Him whom he will serve for the rest of his life and with Whom he hopes to spend eternity. Through the devout reception and adoration of Our Lord, who is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament, the seminarian is drawn into an ever deeper communion with Christ. Through a frequent reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, future priests come into a living contact with the mercy of Christ, coming to an ever closer identification with the Sacrifice of Christ and with the Mystery of the Lords Cross, on which he is called to pattern his very life.
Because of the importance of their call to celebrate the Mass and to bring us the Eucharist, priests have a duty to participate fully in the liturgical and intellectual life of the Church. Some 2,000 years have passed since the birth, death, and resurrection of Our Lord, and since that time, from the Church has sprung forth much of the finest art, music, and literature that the world has ever known. Thus, the tremendous spiritual legacy of the Church is something to which every Catholic has a right, and priests must be men of learning and of culture, so that they, along with the people they serve, can participate in, lead others to, and be enriched by the liturgical and intellectual life of the Church. The simple reason is that everything that is good, and true, and beautiful, leads ultimately back to God Himself.
The seminarians life, then, is one of prayer, of study, of self-sacrifice, and of love. It finds its source and summit in the Mass, since the model of the seminarians life is Jesus Christ, the eternal high priest. For those whom Christ has called to follow Him as fishers of men, the journey to the altar is not an easy one; neither, we must remember, was the path trod by Christ to Calvary.
Thus, it was that the Holy Father closed his remarks to the seminarians at Dunwoodie just over four years ago in this way: Be unselfish in answering the call of Christ and in offering your lives to His Church. Do not be afraid! If you begin to lose courage, turn to Mary, Seat of Wisdom; with her at your side, you will never be afraid.
Emmaus Prayer for Priests
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