At the center of the Christian life is a union with God, made possible through a living relationship with His Son Jesus, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. This is lived out both in the Christian’s personal life as well as in the communal life of the Church.
The spiritual formation of a seminarian has a particularly priestly character. It involves the sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation, praying the Liturgy of the Hours, spiritual direction,
study of Scripture, retreats, conferences, and other means of configuring oneself to the priesthood of Christ. The practice of the seminarian’s spiritual life form the foundation upon which he will build his spiritual life as a priest. It is thus of supreme importance that a man preparing for priesthood develop lasting habits to draw upon in his later ministerial life.
The spiritual formation of a seminarian must also integrate and support the other pillars, all working together to ensure that the seminarian’s life is centered on and built upon Christ. The seminarian’s spiritual life will define every aspect of his ministry and his relationships with others.
“The spiritual training should be closely connected with the doctrinal and pastoral, and, with the special help of the spiritual director, should be imparted in such a way that the students might learn to live in an intimate and unceasing union with the Father through His Son Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit.”
“Conformed to Christ the Priest through their sacred ordination they should be accustomed to adhere to Him as friends, in an intimate companionship, their whole life through.”
“They should so live His paschal mystery themselves that they can initiate into it the flock committed to them.”
“They should be taught to seek Christ in the faithful meditation on God’s word, in the active participation in the sacred mysteries of the Church, especially in the Eucharist and in the divine office, in the bishop who sends them and in the people to whom they are sent, especially the poor, the children, the sick, the sinners and the unbelievers.”
“They should love and venerate with a filial trust the most blessed Virgin Mary, who was given as mother to the disciple by Christ Jesus as He was dying on the cross.”
Optatam Totius (no. 8)
Conforming your life to Christ
Spiritual Formation and
“From human formation, spiritual formation assumes that the candidate has a
basic relational capacity. In other words, the seminarian is able to enter
into significant, even deep, relationships with other persons and with God.
He is to be a ‘man of communion.'” Program of Priestly Formation (no. 112)
“Intellectual formation contributes to spiritual formation. The
study of the traditions of faith and the experiences of faith among the saints
and the people of God serves to deepen one’s own spiritual journey.” Program of Priestly Formation (no. 113)
“Pastoral formation is intimately linked with spiritual formation.
In the process of spiritual formation, candidates are called to a greater and
wider-ranging love of God and neighbor. When they respond positively to
this invitation and grow in that love, they find the basis for pastoral and
ministerial outreach that culminates in pastoral charity.” Program of Priestly Formation (no. 114)
“We are like the disciples clustered around Jesus at the Last Supper.”
“My spiritual formation is helping me to learn how to shine like Christ.”
Developing a Spiritual Foundation
A strong life of prayer is essential to seminarians and priests, and developing a habit of prayer will often be the source of grace needed to achieve all that is asked of a man both as seminarian and as a priest.
The Program of Priestly Formation (no. 110) lists these areas of Spiritual Formation:
Spiritual formation is first and foremost a participation in public worship of the Church that is itself a participation in the heavenly liturgy offered by Christ, our great high priest. “We have such a high priest, who has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven.” The Eucharistic sacrifice is both spiritual sustenance, the Bread of Life, and the transformation of our lives by the power of the self-giving and redeeming love of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. It is the source of pastoral charity, the love that animates and directs those who walk in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd, who gives his life for his sheep so that they may live. As source and summit of the Christian life, the daily celebration of the Eucharist is the “essential moment of the day.”
The Sacrament of Penance fosters the mature recognition of sin, continuous conversion of heart, growth in the virtues, and conformity to the mind of Christ. It is a school of compassion that teaches penitents how to live out God’s compassionate mercy in the world. The frequent celebration of the Sacrament of Penance is aided by the practice of a daily examination of conscience (CIC, 276§2, 5°).
Through the Liturgy of the Hours, seminarians learn to pray with the Church and for the Church. They unite themselves with the Body of Christ in unceasing praise and petition. This prayer prepares them for their lifelong ministry as priests who pray on behalf of the whole Church. It also cultivates a mind and heart attuned to the whole Body of Christ, its needs, its sufferings, its graces, and its hopes.
A regular meeting (at least once a month) with an approved spiritual director is an essential part of spiritual direction, especially in arriving at the interiorization and integration needed for growth in sanctity, virtue, and readiness for Holy Orders.
Receiving the Word of God proclaimed and preached in the Church or the quiet and personal assimilation of that holy Word in lectio divina enables those in formation to hear God’s communication to them as a transforming challenge and hope. To take on more fully the mind of Christ and to be steadily transformed by the Word of God, the seminarian ought to develop the habit of daily reflection on the Sacred Scriptures, by daily meditation on the lectionary readings and/or other reflective reading of the Scriptures.
Regular periods of more intensive prayer will be part of the seminary year.
The habit of daily prayer and meditation enables seminarians to acquire a personalized sense of how God’s salvation has taken hold of their lives and how they might respond to that great grace. This prayer happens in a context of silence and solitude in which they learn to be attuned to God’s movements in their lives. It grows and develops into a “contemplative attitude” that learns to find God in all things. It matures in such a way that it allows for a balanced and unified rhythm of life in action and contemplation, work and prayer, while providing the future priest with the strength, meaning, and focus he will need in his life.
Devotional prayer, especially centered on Eucharistic Adoration, the Blessed Virgin Mary—in particular, the rosary—and the saints, assists seminarians in assimilating the mystery of Christ and hearing the invitation to live that mystery in the particular circumstances of their own life. Devotional prayer helps to sustain affective communion with the Lord and his Church. It also helps them to connect with the rich cultural diversity of devotional life in the United States and to appreciate devotional practices of other cultures.
Spiritual formation also involves seeking Christ in people. Especially in a seminary context, seminarians are to learn how prayer is to be lived out in service of others, particularly the poor, the sick, sinners, unbelievers, and the stranger, but extended to all in the outreach of charity and mercy, and in the quest for justice. Prayer is apostolic also in the sense that seminarians learn to pray for the needs of those they serve in order to teach others how to pray. Whatever growth and formation in prayer takes place, it is not simply meant for the personal enhancement of the seminarian but as a gift to be given in the course of his priestly mission and ministry for the benefit of the Church—for he is a servant of this body.
Spiritual formation initiates seminarians to a path of voluntary renunciation and self-denial that makes them more available to the will of God and more available to their people. Asceticism and the practice of penance is a path of learning to embrace the cross and, in an apostolic context, a way of rendering priests unafraid to bear their “share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God” (2 Tm 1:8).
The obedience of those in spiritual formation for priesthood must be characterized by the willingness to hear God who speaks through his Word and through his Church and to answer his call with generosity. It is also a surrender of one’s own will for the sake of the larger mission. In this regard, the candidate for priesthood must develop a growing and deepening solidarity with the Church established by Christ, a solidarity with Church teaching so as to be able to present that teaching with conviction—having appropriated it as true—and a solidarity with ecclesial leadership to strengthen and sustain Church unity.
Spiritual formation in celibacy cultivates the evangelical motivations for embracing this commitment and way of life: the undivided love of the Lord, the spousal love for the Church, apostolic availability, and the witness to God’s promises and kingdom.
Spiritual formation encourages a simple approach to the material goods of this world. Freed from excessive concern about possessions, priests and seminarians and, particularly, religious are able to serve in an unencumbered way. To live with evangelical simplicity is to exercise responsible stewardship over God’s creation by using material goods in a way that is both responsive to the call of the Gospel and ecologically responsible. The witness of a genuine simplicity of life is especially important in the context of American affluence. Spiritual directors and mentors/advisors must be sensitive to seminarians’ stewardship of their own, the seminary’s, and the Church’s material resources. Spiritual formation for simplicity of life and stewardship flows directly from striving to have the mind of Christ Jesus, “who, though he was in the form of God, / did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. / Rather, he emptied himself . . .” (Phil 2:6-7a). This is the Lord Jesus who, again according to St. Paul, “for your sake . . . became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9).
Spiritual formation fosters a reconciling spirit in those who aspire to be priests in the spirit of Jesus, who prayed that “all might be one.” A peacemaking and nonviolent way of life marks out those who have been entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation. The power that is entrusted to God’s ministers, a power that takes many forms, must always be used for the good, peaceably, and in a way that expresses the trust invested in God’s priests.
The post-synodal exhortation Ecclesia in America identified the critical importance of the path of solidarity for the Church in the American hemisphere. “‘Solidarity is thus the fruit of the communion which is grounded in the mystery of the triune God, and in the Son of God who took flesh and died for all. It is expressed in Christian love which seeks the good of others, especially of those most in need.’ . . . For the particular Churches of the American continent, this is the source of a commitment to reciprocal solidarity and the sharing of the spiritual gifts and material goods with which God has blessed them, fostering in individuals a readiness to work where they are needed.” This means that seminarians are to have a spiritual formation grounded in Trinitarian communion that leads them to solidarity with others, especially those most in need, a commitment to justice and peace, a reciprocal exchange of spiritual and material gifts, and an authentic missionary spirit expressed in a willingness to serve where needed.
Spiritual formation must not neglect the art of “being alone with God,” moving the candidate from being alone or lonely to entering a holy solitude in communion with God.
The final goal of spiritual formation in the seminary is to establish attitudes, habits, and practices in the spiritual life that will continue after ordination. Spiritual formation in the seminary is meant to set the foundation for a lifetime of priestly ministry and spirituality.
Intellectual FormationStudying the faith and developing the mind to more effectively share the Gospel.