The Gift of the
Congregation for the Clergy
Dec. 8, 2016
IV. INITIAL AND ONGOING FORMATION
b) Ongoing Formation (80 ff.; footnotes omitted)
(practical reflections in italics)
82. Priestly fraternity is the first setting in which ongoing formation takes place. It is desirable that this formation be promoted in each Diocese by a priest or group of priests, specifically prepared for it and officially appointed to assist in ongoing formation. The different age groups and particular circumstances of the brethren should be taken into consideration.
- PCF could be likened to a Diocese, with the CBCP Episcopal Commission on Seminaries Chairman as the Bishop, the Rector as Vicar General, the Vice-Rector/Economus as Diocesan Economus, and Spiritual Director as the Vicar for Priests. (E.g., in San Jose Diocese, CA, there is a Vicar for the Clergy for administrative matters, and another Vicar for Priests for their spiritual and general well-being.)
- In PCF, the Council of Co-Responsibles could be considered as those elected to assist in ongoing formation.
- Though of course ongoing formation is a task of all, in formal and in informal ways, as seen below.
- The PCF should always be compared to a diocesan presbyterate, and never to a seminary. A certain authority, timetable, common activities, guidelines, policies, check and balance, services, culture, etc. are needed by any group or organization to function properly – schools, companies, apostolates, dioceses, governments, etc.; hence, they are not reasons to think that the PCF is a seminary.
87. Sacramental fraternity is a valuable help for the ongoing formation of priests. Indeed, the journey of discipleship requires constant growth in charity, which is the synthesis of “priestly perfection”. However, this cannot be achieved in isolation, since priests form one presbyterate whose unity is made up of “special bonds of apostolic charity, ministry and brotherhood”. Thus, the “intimate sacramental fraternity” of priests is the first manifestation of charity, as well as the first place in which it can grow. All this can be achieved by the help of the Holy Spirit, and not without a personal spiritual struggle, to purify oneself of all forms of individualism.
- Our goal is perfection, to the extent possible. We cannot remain in the minimum required by our priestly vocation. Like playing basketball: it is unthinkable for a team to just avoid fouls, dribble the ball continuously, and avoid any other action forbidden by the rules, rather than try to make as many baskets as they can.
- “cannot be achieved in isolation” – PCF cannot be a hotel or apartment
- “innate sacramental fraternity” – similar to our relationship with our blood siblings, or even more intense
- True friendship leads us closer to many other priests, and not just to a particular priest or to a small group of priests.
88. Among those ways that can give concrete expression to sacramental fraternity, some in particular should be encouraged from the time of initial formation:
- The seminary is the shortest period of priestly formation.
- Ongoing formation could sometimes focus, when needed, on crisis intervention or crisis prevention (including burn out). But the bulk of ongoing formation should rather focus on enhancement, not simply to avoid problems, but to allow us to give more of ourselves each time.
- A lot can be done through personal initiative, rather than through structures. When I think something can be improved when it comes to priestly fraternity, do I try to come up with a suggestion or a solution, or do I just wait (even passively, or even with some criticizing) for the others to take the lead? “Sola structura” cannot really be a solution.
a. Fraternal meetings: some priests organise fraternal meetings for prayer, perhaps by reading the Word of God together in the form of Lectio Divina, developing their understanding of some theological or pastoral theme, sharing a ministerial endeavour, helping one another or simply spending some time together. These meetings in their various forms are the simplest and most common expression of priestly fraternity. In any case, it is strongly desirable to promote them.
- Just like in the dioceses, we have Priests’ Assembly and other activities with all involved.
- And we may also have formal or informal small group meetings, by class level, region or interests, just like in dioceses.
- Non-PCF priests are most welcome to our home for meetings, study groups, spiritual reflections, meals, etc.
b. Spiritual Direction and confession: sacramental fraternity becomes a particularly valuable help when it takes the form of spiritual direction and confession, which priests ask one another to provide. Maintaining a regular schedule in this type of meeting helps to keep alive the “striving for spiritual perfection on which, above all, the effectiveness of their ministry depends”. It is particularly in moments of difficulty that priests will find in their Spiritual Director a brother, who can help them to discern the source of their difficulties, and put adequate means in place to address them.
- At PCF, we have an official Spiritual Director, but are free to have spiritual direction with any priest we wish. Choose a spiritual director who also goes to spiritual direction himself.
- As courtesy, please inform the Spiritual Director whom your spiritual director is,
- Likewise, all are encouraged to speak with the PCF Spiritual Director at least once in a while, even if just to allow him to get a feel of the PCF’s “spiritual temperature”.
- Student priests may be (and are encouraged to be) spiritual directors and confessors to their fellow student priests. When we go home, many priests will approach us for spiritual direction.
- Taking care of our fellow pastors is the most pastoral work we can ever have.
c. Retreats: these are of fundamental importance in the life of the priest, since they lead to a personal encounter with the Lord in silence and recollection. They are a privileged time of personal and apostolic discernment, for a gradual and profound review of one’s life. When offered as a group experience for priests, they can favour a wider participation and the strengthening of fraternal communion.
- The retreat is part of the ongoing formation offered in PCF, to which the student priest and his bishop have both committed. All are expected to attend, even if some might have already attended, or plan to attend, other retreats.
- Regarding missing classes instead of missing some days of the retreat: the retreat is part of ongoing formation of all priests, not only those who study; other Collegios schedule retreats during the school year and therefore their students also miss classes for the retreat at some point; our students can ask their classmates regarding the initial lessons they might miss; and there is no other better time slot during the school year to hold the retreat, because during breaks our students do pastoral work or other plans (i.e., it is more difficult to schedule a retreat during Christmas, Holy Week, Easter week or summer break).
- Missing the retreat, whether at PCF or back home in the diocese, should be like missing an exam: something that we do only as a last resort.
d. A common table: when they share meals, priests come to know one another, to listen to and to appreciate one another. This also gives them the opportunity for worthwhile friendly exchanges.
- Meals are opportunities to interact, and learn languages, an not only to refill our bodies.
- Starting with a prayer together.
- Pope Francis: focusing on those at table rather than on the celfone.
- Meals are also opportunities to mingle with guests (Bishops, dignitaries or simple people), who really appreciate our company. As priests we have to serve and deal with people from all levels of society, the powerless and the powerful alike (as for the powerful, to encourage them to serve the powerless).
e. Common Life: some priests share a common life as a personal initiative, out of pastoral necessity, or through custom or local arrangements. Sharing the same house becomes a true ‘common life’ through community prayer, meditation on the Word of God and other opportunities for ongoing formation. Moreover, this arrangement allows for a sharing of ideas about pastoral endeavours of each priest. A common life also seeks to support the emotional and spiritual balance of those involved, and can encourage communion with the Bishop. It will be necessary to ensure that forms of common life remain open to the entire presbyterate and to the pastoral needs of the Diocese.
- Common life opens us up to the whole presbyterate, not only to a selected few.
- We can help each other grow. PCF as an excellent venue to broaden our horizons, with priests of all ages, from different cultures and countries, with different personalities.
- Fraternal correction is inversely proportional to gossip. Pope Francis: “Brothers, let us be on our guard against the terrorism of gossip!”
- We also become sensitive to the different practices and cultures, including basics such as good manners and right conduct (use of spoon, fork, knife and table napkin; quantity of food brought to the mouth; talking while chewing; inserting hands in pant pockets; boisterous laughter that disturbs others; body odor that one does not notice; lifestyle check, etc.).
- Pope Francis: saying “please”, “thank you” and “I am sorry” often; during worship, lift up your hearts, not your celfones
- Do I try to relate with all, and not only to some? Do I try to reach out to those I interact with less? Do I spend time with those in difficulty?
- Hopefully the first to visit a sick priest is a brother priest.
f. Priestly Associations: these are meant to encourage the unity of the priests among themselves, with the rest of the presbyterate and with the Bishop. Members of various associations recognised by the Church find fraternal support there, which priests feel they need, so as to progress on the journey to holiness and to be sustained in their pastoral endeavours. Some priests also belong to new ecclesial movements, where they find an atmosphere of communion and renewed missionary zeal. Others still live a personal consecration within Secular Institutes “which have as their characteristic feature their being diocesan”, without necessarily being incardinated within the Institute.
- Far from removing us from the diocese, they help us become better priests of the diocese, become closer to our bishops and brother priests, and aligning us more with the pastoral direction of our diocese, wherever we might be assigned.
- Priestly associations lead us to reach out to and serve other priests, not just members of the same association.
- A 2017 conference of priests in the Philippines tackled this theme of priestly associations. Examples follow (please suggest more so we can add).
- Focolare Priests Movement: The Priest’s Movement is one of the expressions of the outreach of the Focolare Movement and shares all the same nature, spirit and aims. It spreads within the diocesan presbyteries, seminaries and the various ecclesial environments a spirit of communion, to contribute to their renewal in the light of the Testament of Jesus: “That all may be one” (Jn 17:21). The priests Movement is made up of: diocesan priests, permanent deacons and Catholic seminarians and also, in line with their own churches, ministers from other Christian churches and ecclesial communities.
- Iesu Caritas (of Charles de Foucauld): “When we feel and live as brothers, then we are a fraternity. The Priestly Fraternity Iesus Caritas, within the spiritual family of Charles de FOUCAULD has a dynamic of its own, of diocesan priests, that each fraternity establishes and which all fraternities adopt from the Directory. To belong to a fraternity, the bonds of friendship, mutual understanding, the motivations for confidence and sincerity, the attitudes of faith and listening, must continually be strengthened, otherwise it would be no more than a belonging to a group of good friends or a mutual helping group if not something of a sectarian, elitist or spiritualist character.”
- Notre Dame de Vie Consecrated Priests: The Priests of Notre Dame de Vie make up the priests’ branch of the institute of Notre Dame de Vie, founded in 1964. Diocesan priests attracted by the idea of a strong spiritual life came to Notre Dame de Vie. These priests were affected by the witness of members of the women’s branch of that Institute, and sensed the call to live this vocation in the midst of their priestly ministry. For Fr Marie-Eugene, the time had come to organize a group which would share the same spirit and the same organization: to ensure the primacy of the spiritual in the lives of diocesan priests and in all the forms their apostolate takes.
- Priestly Society of the Holy Cross: Opus Dei’s message on the sanctification of professional work is also meant for secular priests. This message implies realizing in depth the requirements for holiness and apostolate stemming from Baptism and later reinforced by priestly ordination, in full conformity with one’s diocesan status. Priests of the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross receive from Opus Dei spiritual assistance and, above all, a spirit that leads them to appreciate the gift of the ministerial priesthood in the Church, discovering in all of life’s circumstances a constant invitation to encounter God.