By Father John P. Cush, STD
In the Gospel that we proclaim this Sunday from the Evangelist Mark, we hear of an interesting fact: The Lord Jesus sends the Apostles out two by two. This is hardly efficient, if you think about it. If the goal is to get the maximum amount of land covered, then it is a pretty lousy plan.
However, if the goal is to truly form the Apostles – the first priests, the first bishops – after the mind and the heart of Christ, then it is an excellent plan!
A Holistic Approach
When people ask me, as a seminary formator, why it takes so long to become a priest, I tell them that there can never be a rush in priestly formation. Minimally – and yes, there are and there need to be some exceptions – it is a period of about six years from entrance into the seminary to priestly ordination. Academically, this means about two years of philosophy and other propaedeutic studies and four years of theology.
And as much as it pains me to say this as a priest who serves as the academic dean of a seminary, it is so much more than just taking and passing classes. Intellectual formation is only a quarter of the whole puzzle: we must have a priest who is formed as a human being – spiritually, academically and apostolically.
A true seminary formation is meant to be holistic. An old adage in seminary formation is “the seminarian you are, the priest you will be.”
The Program for Priestly Formation for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops states: “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.”
A great deal of seminary formation involves getting to know and live with your brothers in the seminary. If you can’t be good to the men with whom you live, the men who will be your brothers in the priesthood – please God, one day – then how can you really serve and love the People of God?
Tested for Service
So, the Lord Jesus, in sending out His disciples two-by-two, is testing them in many ways. If they – very different men, with very different personalities and very different ideas perhaps on how to spread this Gospel message – can survive each other, then they can handle anything that the world, the flesh, and the devil can throw their way.
Pray for your priests. We need it. There’s a lot fewer of us and a lot more of you today. But this is not meant to be a lament by any means. We, as priests, need your help, your kindness and your goodness. We are blessed by you! We need the prayers of our people, the love and the support of our parishioners, so that we can truly be Christ to you, bringing you the grace that can only come from the sacraments.
The late John Cardinal O’Connor, archbishop of New York, wrote a beautiful prayer for priests in March 1995. In your kindness, I ask that sometime this week, you pray the following prayer, most especially for your parish priests:
“Lord Jesus, we your people pray to You for our priests. You have given them to us for OUR needs. We pray for them in THEIR needs.
“We know that You have made them priests in the likeness of your own priesthood. You have consecrated them, set them aside, anointed them, filled them with the Holy Spirit, appointed them to teach, to preach, to minister, to console, to forgive, and to feed us with Your Body and Blood.
“Yet we know, too, that they are one with us and share our human weaknesses. We know too that they are tempted to sin and discouragement as are we, needing to be ministered to, as do we, to be consoled and forgiven, as do we. Indeed, we thank You for choosing them from among us, so that they understand us as we understand them, suffer with us and rejoice with us, worry with us and trust with us, share our beings, our lives, our faith.
“We ask that You give them this day the gift You gave Your chosen ones on the way to Emmaus: Your presence in their hearts, Your holiness in their souls, Your joy in their spirits. And let them see You face to face in the breaking of the Eucharistic bread.
“We pray to You, O Lord, through Mary the mother of all priests, for Your priests and for ours. Amen.”
Readings for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Amos 7: 12-15
Psalm 85: 9-10, 11-12, 13-14
Ephesians 1: 3-14 or 1: 3-10
Mark 6: 7-13
Father Cush, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, serves as academic dean of the Pontifical North American College, and as a professor of theology and U.S. Catholic Church history.