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Pastores Dabo Vobis, no. 2 states “The formation of future priests … is considered by the Church one of the most demanding and important tasks for the future evangelization of humanity.” While priestly formation is a profound privilege, today’s seminary staffs face several challenges.

1.   Spiritual formation is the center around which all other aspects are integrated.

In the Program for Priestly Formation, 5th edition, no. 115, the US Bishops state, “Since spiritual formation is the core that unifies the life of a priest, it stands at the heart of seminary life and is the center around which all other aspects are integrated.” Today’s seminaries are better than ever, however, many rectors, formators, and professors understand the challenge of keeping spiritual formation as the integrating dynamic. How can intellectual formation not simply complement spiritual formation but actually be experienced through the lens of spiritual formation? How is human formation executed through the dynamics of spiritual formation? How is pastoral formation linked to spiritual formation? Many seminaries desire spiritual formation at the core; however, many seminaries ask “how?”

2.   Seminarians must fall in love with Christ.

In 2006 Pope Benedict XVI said, “It is necessary to enter into real friendship with Jesus in a personal relationship with him and not to know who Jesus is only from others or from books, but to live an ever deeper personal relationship with Jesus, where we can begin to understand what he is asking of us. … Knowing God is not enough. For a true encounter with him one must also love him. Knowledge must become love.” Later in his book Jesus of Nazareth, the Holy Father echoed, “The organ for seeing God is the heart. The intellect alone is not enough. In order for man to become capable of perceiving God, the energies of his existence have to work in harmony. His will must be pure and so too must the underlying affective dimension of his soul, which gives intelligence and will their direction.”

3.   Seminarians must stay in love with Christ.

While Program for Priestly Formation states that spiritual formation must be “the center around which all other aspects are integrated” what is spiritual formation? Is spiritual formation simply teaching seminarians how to pray? Optatam Totius, no. 8 defines spiritual formation as teaching the seminarian “to live in intimate and unceasing union with God the Father through his Son, Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit.” Seminaries must help seminarians fall in love; however, spiritual formation must form seminarians so that they stay in love. Living in “unceasing union” with God: is that possible? And, if so, how do formators help seminarians?

4.   Continuously finding trained spiritual directors is a challenge.

In the Program for Priestly Formation, 5th edition, no. 127, the US Bishops state, “Spiritual directors must be chosen from a list prepared by the director of spiritual formation. They should have proper training and adequate credentials for the work.”  Furthermore, the PPF, no. 132 states, “spiritual direction in a seminary context differs from spiritual direction more generally experienced in the Church.” Finding trained spiritual directors with “adequate credentials” can be a difficult task.

5.   Intellectual formation for seminarians doesn’t exactly mirror lay graduate study of theology.

The very first thing the US Bishops state as they introduce “Formation of Candidates for Priesthood” is “Formation, as the Church understands it, is not equivalent to a secular sense of schooling or, even less, job training. Formation is first and foremost cooperation with the grace of God.” (PPF, no. 68) Thus, in no. 137 the PPF states, “The first task of intellectual formation is to acquire a personal knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Teaching seminarians within the whole Program for Priestly Formation is not the same as simply teaching lay students theology at a Catholic University. However, how does this difference impact pedagogy or the particular “program” of intellectual formation as a seminary?

6.   Priests must know who they are as a priest not simply what they are to do as a priest.

Ordained with his priestly character and ontological change, a priest lives in persona Christi capitis. Thus, the aim of priestly formation is assist the seminarian so that on the day of his ordination is able to subjectively receive the objective grace of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Every seminarian is taught what to do as a priest; however, the nuances and personal receptivity of what it means to “be Jesus” far extend mere skill development or apprenticeship. How do seminaries help the seminarian fully receive the full person of Jesus Christ?

Undoubtedly, these and many other difficulties challenge seminarians, and therefore challenge many seminary rectors, formators, and faculty. The Institute for Priestly Formation is here to help. Click here to learn more about who we are and how we can help you