Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Apostolic Exhortation on the Formation of Priests in the Circumstances of the Present Day - Pope John Paul II (1992) Part 2

3. Following the texts of the Second Vatican Council regarding the ministry of priests and their formation,(4) and with the intention of applying to various situations their rich and authoritative teaching, the Church has on various occasions dealt with the subject of the life, ministry and formation of priests She has done this in a more solemn way during the Synods of Bishops. Already in October 1967, the first general ordinary assembly of the synod devoted five general congregations to the subject of the renewal of seminaries. This work gave a decisive impulse to the formulation of the document of the Congregation for Catholic Education titled Fundamental Norms for Priestly Formation.(5)

The second ordinary general assembly held in 1971 spent half its time on the ministerial priesthood. The fruit of the lengthy synodal discussion, incorporated and condensed in some "recommendations," which were submitted to my predecessor Pope Paul VI and read at the opening of the 1974 synod, referred principally to the teaching on the ministerial priesthood and to some aspects of priestly spirituality and ministry.

On many other occasions the Church's magisterium has shown its concern for the life and ministry of priests. It may be said that in the years since the Council there has not been any subject treated by the magisterium which has not in some way, explicitly or implicitly, had to do with the presence of priests in the community as well as their role and the need for them in the life of the Church and the world.

In recent years some have voiced a need to return to the theme of the priesthood, treating it from a relatively new point of view, one that was more adapted to present ecclesial and cultural circumstances. Attention has shifted from the question of the priest's identity to that connected with the process of formation for the priesthood and the quality of priestly life. The new generation of those called to the ministerial priesthood display different characteristics in comparison to those of their immediate predecessors. In addition, they live in a world which in many respects is new and undergoing rapid and continual evolution. All of this cannot be ignored when it comes to programming and carrying out the various phases of formation for those approaching the ministerial priesthood.

Moreover, priests who have been actively involved in the ministry for a more or less lengthy period of time seem to be suffering today from an excessive loss of energy in their ever increasing pastoral activities. Likewise, faced with the difficulties of contemporary culture and society, they feel compelled to re - examine their way of life and their pastoral priorities, and they are more and more aware of their need for ongoing formation.

The concern of the 1990 Synod of Bishops and its discussion focused on the increase of vocations to the priesthood and the formation of candidates in an attempt to help them come to know and follow Jesus - as they prepare to be ordained and to live the sacrament of holy orders, which configures them to Christ the head and shepherd, the servant and spouse of the Church. At the same time, the synod searched for forms of ongoing formation to provide realistic and effective means of support for priests in their spiritual life and ministry.

This same synod also sought to answer a request which was made at the previous synod on the vocation and mission of the laity in the Church and in the world. Lay people themselves had asked that priests commit themselves to their formation so that they, the laity, could be suitably helped to fulfill their role in the ecclesial mission which is shared by all. Indeed, "the more the lay apostolate develops, the more strongly is perceived the need to have well - formed holy priests. Thus the very life of the People of God manifests the teaching of the Second Vatican Council concerning the relationship between the common priesthood and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood. For within the mystery of the Church the hierarchy has a ministerial character (cf. Lumen Gentium, 10). The more the laity's own sense of vocation is deepened, the more what is proper to the priest stands out."(6)

4. In the ecclesial experience that is typical of the synod (i.e., "a unique experience on a universal basis of episcopal communion, which strengthens the sense of the universal Church and the sense of responsibility of the bishops toward the universal Church and her mission, in affective and effective communion around Peter"),(7) the voice of the various particular churches - and in this synod, for the first time, the voices of some churches from the East - were clearly heard and taken to heart. The churches have proclaimed their faith in the fulfillment of God's promise: "I will give you shepherds after my own heart" (Jer. 3:15), and they have renewed their pastoral commitment to care for vocations and for the formation of priests - aware that on this depends the future of the Church, her development and her universal mission of salvation.

In this post - synodal apostolic exhortation, I take up anew the rich legacy resulting from the reflections, endeavors and indications which were made during the synod's preparation, as well as those which accompanied the work of the synod fathers, and as the bishop of Rome and successor of Peter I add my voice to theirs - addressing it to each and every one of the faithful, and in particular to each priest and to those involved in the important yet demanding ministry of their formation. Yes, in this exhortation l wish to meet with each and every priest, whether diocesan or religious.

Quoting from the "Final Message of the Synod to the People of God," I make my own the words and the sentiments expressed by the synod fathers: "Brother priests, we want to express our appreciation to you, who are our most important collaborators in the apostolate. Your priesthood is absolutely vital. There is no substitute for it. You carry the main burden of priestly ministry through your day - to - day service of the faithful. You are ministers of the Eucharist and ministers of God's mercy in the sacrament of penance. It is you who bring comfort to people and guide them in difficult moments in their lives.

"We acknowledge your work and thank you once again, urging you to continue on your chosen path willingly and joyfully. No one should be discouraged as we are doing God's work; the same God who calls us, sends us and remains with us every day of our lives. We are ambassadors of Christ."(8)

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