In a few weeks, seminarians will be returning from summer vacations, from retreats and from parishes. The seminary formation program usually takes at least seven years, consisting of two years of philosophy studies, four years of theological studies and, in many cases, a year of placement in a parish. The formation doesn’t include the years in which those young men may have attended a college-level seminary program or a high school seminary program.
An old adage in seminary formation is “the seminarian you are, the priest you will be.”
In a 2006 document on seminary formation, “The Program of Priestly Formation,” the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stated:
“The goal is the development not just of a well-rounded person, a prayerful person, or an experienced pastoral practitioner but rather one who understands his spiritual development within the context of his call to service in the Church, his human development within the greater context of his call to advance the mission of the Church, his intellectual development as the appropriation of the Church’s teaching and tradition, and his pastoral formation as participation in the active ministry of the Church.”
The document also states: “The basic principle of intellectual formation for priesthood candidates is noted in “Pastores Dabo Vobis” (Pope St. John Paul II’s 1992 Apostolic Exhortation on the formation of priests) no. 51: ‘For the salvation of their brothers and sisters, they should seek an ever deeper knowledge of the divine mysteries.’”
The document stresses that disciples are learners. Like “Pastores Dabo Vobis,” The Program of Priestly Formation describes four “pillars of formation,” each of which involves a lengthy learning process. These pillars are human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral.
Regarding intellectual formation, The Program of Priestly Formation states that the first aim is to acquire a personal knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the fullness and completion of God’s revelation and the one true Teacher. It notes that this saving knowledge is acquired not only once, but continuously, so that it becomes more and more a part of the priest or seminarian.
The Program of Priestly Formation suggests that seminary intellectual formation continues the catechesis that is part of every Christian’s journey of faith. At the same time, it points out that this knowledge is not simply for personal possession, but is designed to be shared in the community of faith.
It evinces that a seminarian’s education has a missionary purpose because seminarians study “for the salvation of their brothers and sisters.” This notion of the ecclesial dimension of theological studies was also stressed by Cardinal Gerhard Müller, Prefect-Emeritus of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, in a talk to seminarians:
If the ultimate concern of theology is bringing people into the living dynamic of Revelation and the response of faith, then this concern must burn all the more in the hearts of priests who have been ordained for the church and are sacramentally configured to Christ the bridegroom who laid down his life for his bride the church.
Pray for the young men in seminary formation. Pray for them intentionally, especially if you might know one of them. They are blessings to the church in the Diocese of Brooklyn and in the world.