Thursday, June 21, 2007

Forming the Priesthood

Having attended formational institutions on both sides of the Atlantic, I find that there is a lot to be said for Mr. Skublics contribution here. Though there are some differences with what it means to be 'in residence' in regards to married ordinands and their responsibilities first and foremost to their families, these comments and actions are much needed. I have recently finished a place of 'preparation' where more of these same comments will be made by me as I reflect theologically on the particular place of formation I attended. My place at Cranmer was out of necessity due to my PhD studies at Durham University, not a mark of my ecclesiology! I found many things difficult during this time that were a result, not only due to my ecclesiology, but in the "foundational principles" of what it means to be in formation with assessment to Holy Orders. It is about process and a theology of the priesthood that needs to be worked out no matter where one lands in their liturgical traditions. I will say much more on this in due course but for now, I leave the below thoughts with the reader as I continue to prepare for my ordination. The above piece of art describes best what is needed at the heart of formation; something that has been lived out by those who train others and where it is seen as a model in the community. This latter is often missing and not able to be obtained if those training priests have never been more than curates themselves.

Ernest Skublics offers a contribution to the working party discussions urging on us the importance of residential training for the ministry. New Directions

Even if there are only truly sacramental structures in the Church, nevertheless for the incarnational machinery to work, much equipment is required. Part of that equipment is an institution of theological education and priestly formation of the highest possible calibre. It needs to provide academic, personal, spiritual and ministerial/pastoral formation for future priests. So it behoves us to consider what this entails. What do we wish to see as the end product of the programme?

While over the centuries the profile of the Catholic priest, the understanding of the nature of his vocation, identity, functions and desirable qualities has seen changes of emphasis, and even within the same time-period and culture it is normal to see a variety of priestly types and personalities, we need to agree on some basic features and qualities we want to see in every Catholic priest.

Collegial participation
The priesthood (or the presbyterate) is not a free-standing office, but a collegial participation in the bishops office. This qualifies the priests self-understanding, both in relationship to his bishop and his local church, and to his brother priests in the presbyterium. This means that the full understanding of priesthood is inseparable from the understanding of the episcopate, which of course is rooted in our (communion) ecclesiology.

The priest therefore is not a self-sufficient, autonomous individual, a lone-ranger. His self-understanding, his spirituality, his ability to be a healthily relational human being, with maturity, humility and an ability to love and care for others must correspond to his 'ecclesiaF personhood. Priesthood is rooted in koinonia.

There are traditionally two emphases in portraying the priesthood that need to be held in balance. One is more iconic and sacramental, emphasizing the sacramental, moral and spiritual transformation, uniqueness and being of the priest, the other focusing on the function of the priest. The first emphasis tends to set the priest apart, stresses his call to perfection and holiness; the second prefers to see the priest as an ordinary man who has a job within and for the faith community.

The priest as an icon or sacrament of Christ to his people, and the priest who serves his community in persona Christi, must for both reasons be formed and assisted in his human development and maturing, in a wholesome way of relating to others (personal formation); he must be trained in the dynamics of his relationship with God, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit, in other words, the spiritual life (spiritual formation); he must acquire a sound theological education (academic formation); and gain the understanding and skills required for pastoral work with people (pastoral formation).

The functions of the priest, which he has under and in communion with his bishop, are proclaiming the Gospel, i.e. preaching and teaching competently, from small children to university graduates, celebrating the Liturgy and administering the Sacraments, and providing pastoral leadership.

Importance of seminaries
For all these complex competencies, and even more for the personal and spiritual formation required for a sound, civilized, competent and even holy priesthood, it seems indispensable that a candidate spend some considerable time in residential formation, i.e. in a seminary. The seminary residence is meant to form habits of living, praying, studying and wholesomely relating to others. Provision for such residence is sometimes a difficult challenge, especially when candidates for Orders are married. Yet, compromising on this score severely jeopardizes the desired outcome. Sadly, too many priests we know are ignorant, tactless, self-obsessed, opinionated and pastorally hopeless, not to speak of the many who have abused children and adults.

As we look into our needs for sound theological education and formation, and seek the systems and institutions to provide it, we should consult widely with those of authority and experience.


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