I have made your name known to them and will continue to make it known, so that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and so that I may be in them. John 17:26
The formation of clerics in seminaries, a work of the Congregation from its beginnings, is to be effectively renewed where needed. Constitutions, 15
The Church has always been, and will always be, concerned with the formation of candidates for the priesthood and the brotherhood. Likewise, the Congregation has always expressed a great interest in preparing worthy ministers of the Word and the sacraments. The spiritual well-being of the People of God depends to a great extent on the intellectual, pastoral, and spiritual formation of their pastors.
1. We Are Obliged to Form Good Ministers
The history of the Congregation teaches us that the primary work of the confreres was the Mission. Our other works were accepted as the realities and the necessities of the world and the Church revealed God’s plan for us. Very soon after our foundation, the Congregation accepted this dual role of preaching Missions and forming priests for the Mission. Reflecting on this dual purpose of the Congregation, Saint Vincent wrote to one of his missionaries:
You are aware of the fact that just as we are committed to preaching missions, so too, we are obliged to form good priests for the Mission. A confrere then, who is interested in serving in only one of these works, is a mediocre missionary. Each one of us is sent to carry on and bring to fulfillment our dual purpose. If a confrere refuses to obey a superior’s request to serve in one of these works, and does so simply because it is not convenient, then that confrere is not a true missionary1.
2. We Should Be Firm but Not Harsh
The confreres in our seminaries are entrusted with providing a sound spiritual life for our future priests and brothers. Saint Vincent gave this advice to a superior in one of the seminaries:
You would do well to make every effort in educating the seminarians about the true nature of their vocation. It is not enough that they learn the different intellectual disciplines. Rather, their missionary vocation ought to be grounded on a solid and firm spiritual life. Therefore, they should be instructed in the development of an interior life, a prayer life, a life rooted in the practice of virtue. Those charged with formation should be the first to clothe themselves in the spirit of Jesus, for their instruction will be of little value if it is not accompanied by example … Thus it is necessary to be firm but not harsh in our relationships with those in formation. Our Lord teaches us to act with humility and kindness so as to move the hearts of others to acts of charity2.
3. Major Seminaries Are Necessary for the Formation of Priests
Vatican II outlines those principles that ought to guide our formation programs:
Major seminaries are necessary for priestly training. In them, the whole training of students should have this objective: to make them true shepherds of souls after the example of our Lord Jesus Christ—teacher, priest and shepherd. Hence they should be trained for the ministry of the Word, so that they may gain an ever increasing understanding of the revealed Word of God, making it their own by meditation, and giving it expression in their speech and in their lives. They should be trained for the ministry of worship and sanctification, so that by prayer and the celebration of the sacred liturgical functions they may carry on the work of salvation through the Eucharistic sacrifice and the sacraments. They should be trained to undertake the ministry of the Shepherd, that they may know how to represent Christ to all people—Christ, ‘who did not come to be served, but to serve others and give his life as a ransom for the lives of many’ (Mark 10:45; John 13:12-17), and that they win over many people by becoming servants of all (1 Corinthians 9:19)3.
- When asked, would I be willing to serve in our seminaries?
- If I am currently working in seminary formation, do I give myself wholeheartedly to this task?
- What kind of example am I for our seminarians?
Father, in your plan for our salvation you provide shepherds for your people. Fill your Church with the spirit of courage and love. Raise up worthy ministers for your altar and ardent but gentle servants of the Gospel. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen4.