Monday, September 9, 2013
Apostolic Exhortation on the Formation of Priests in the Circumstances of the Present Day - Pope John Paul II (1992) Part 37
61. The seminary is, therefore, an educational ecclesial community, indeed a particular educating community. And it is the specific goal which determines its physiognomy: the vocational accompanying of future priests, and therefore discernment of a vocation; the help to respond to it and the preparation to receive the sacrament of orders with its own graces and responsibilities, by which the priest is configured to Jesus Christ head and shepherd and is enabled and committed to share the mission of salvation in the church and in the world.
Inasmuch as it is an educating community, the seminary and its entire life - in all its different expressions - is committed to formation, the human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation of future priests. Although this formation has many aspects in common with the human and Christian formation of all the members of the Church, it has, nevertheless, contents, modalities and characteristics which relate specifically to the aim of preparation for the priesthood.
The content and form of the educational work require that the seminary should have a precise program, a program of life characterized by its being organized and unified, by its being in harmony or correspondence with one aim which justifies the existence of the seminary: preparation of future priests.
In this regard, the synod fathers write: "As an educational community, (the seminary) should follow a clearly defined program which will have, as a characteristic, a unity of leadership expressed in the figure of the rector and his cooperators, a consistency in the ordering of life, formational activity and the fundamental demands of community life, which also involves the essential aspects of the task of formation. This program should be at the service of the specific finality which alone justify the existence of the seminary, and it should do so without hesitation or ambiguity. That aim is the formation of future priests, pastors of the Church."(194) And in order to ensure that the programming is truly apt and effective, the fundamental outlines of the program will have to be translated into more concrete details, with the help of particular norms that are aimed at regulating community life, establishing certain precise instruments and timetables.
A further aspect is to be stressed here: The educational work is by its nature an accompanying of specific individual persons who are proceeding to a choice of and commitment to precise ideals of life. For this very reason, the work of education should be able to bring together into a harmonious whole a clear statement of the goal to be achieved, the requirement that candidates proceed seriously toward the goal, and third, attention to the "journeyer," that is, the individual person who is embarked on this adventure, and therefore attention to a series of situations, problems, difficulties and different rates of progress and growth. This requires a wise flexibility. And this does not mean compromising, either as regards values or as regards the conscious and free commitment of the candidates. What it does mean is a true love and a sincere respect for the person who, in conditions which are very personal, is proceeding toward the priesthood. This applies not only to individual candidates, but also to the diverse social and cultural contexts in which seminaries exist and to the different life histories which they have. In this sense the educational work requires continual renewal.
The synod fathers have brought this out forcefully also when speaking about the structure of seminaries: "Without questioning the validity of the classical forms of seminaries, the synod desires that the work of consultation of the episcopal conferences on the present - day needs of formation should proceed as is established in the decree Optatam Totius (no. 1), and in the 1967 synod. The rationes of the different nations or rites should be revised where opportune whether on the occasion of requests made by the episcopal conferences or in relation to apostolic visitations of the seminaries of different countries, in order to bring into them diverse forms of formation that have proved successful, as well as to respond to the needs of people with so - called indigenous cultures, the needs of the vocations of adult men and the needs of vocations for the missions, etc."(195)
62. The purpose and specific educational form of the major seminary demand that candidates for the priesthood have a certain prior preparation before entering it. Such preparation, at least until a few decades ago, did not create particular problems. In those days most candidates to the priesthood came from minor seminaries, and the Christian life of the community offered all, in general, a suitable Christian instruction and education.
The situation in many places has changed. There is a considerable discrepancy between - on the one hand - the style of life and basic preparation of boys, adolescents and young men, even when they are Christians and at times have been involved in Church life, and - on the other hand - the style of life of the seminary with its formational demands.
In this context, together with the synod fathers I ask that there be a sufficient period of preparation prior to seminary formation: "It is a good thing that there be a period of human, Christian, intellectual and spiritual preparation for the candidates to the major seminary. These candidates should, however, have certain qualities: a right intention, a sufficient degree of human maturity, a sufficiently broad knowledge of the doctrine of the faith, some introduction into the methods of prayer and behavior in conformity with Christian tradition. They should also have attitudes proper to their regions, through which they can express their effort to find God and the faith (cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi, no. 48)."(196)
The "sufficiently broad knowledge of the doctrine of the faith" which the synod fathers mention is a primary condition for theology. It simply is not possible to develop an "intelligentia fidei" (an understanding of he faith), if the content of the "fides" is not known. Such a gap can be filled more easily when the forthcoming Universal Catechism appears.
While there is increasing consensus regarding the need for preparation prior to the major seminary, there are different ideas as to what such preparation should contain and what its characteristics should be: Should it be directed mainly to spiritual formation to discern the vocation or to intellectual and cultural formation? On the other hand, we cannot overlook the many and deep diversities that exist, not only among the individual candidates but also in the different regions and countries. This implies the need for a period of study and experimentation in order to define as clearly and suitably as possible the different elements of this prior preparation or "propaedeutic period": the duration, place, form, subject matter of this period, all of which will have to be coordinated with the subsequent years of formation offered by the seminary.
In this sense I take up and propose to the Congregation for Catholic Education a request expressed by the synod fathers: "The synod asks that the Congregation for Catholic Education gather all the information on experiments of such initial formation that have been done or are being done. At a suitable time, the congregation is requested to communicate its findings on this matter to the episcopal conferences."(197)