II. Pope Francis on Ongoing Formation


Pope Francis gives us an overview of priestly ongoing formation, in an audience granted to the Collegios in Rome last May 12, 2014:

It’s true that here in Rome emphasis is placed — since this is why you were sent — on intellectual formation; however, the other three pillars must be cultivated, and all four interact among themselves, and I wouldn’t understand a priest who comes to get a degree in Rome and does not have a community life. This is not all right. Either he is not taking care of his spiritual life — daily Mass, daily prayer, lectio divina, personal prayer with the Lord — or his apostolic life: on the weekend doing something, for a change of air, but also the apostolic air, doing something there…. It’s true that study is an apostolic dimension; but it is important that the other three pillars are also looked after! Academic purism is not beneficial, it is not beneficial… The Lord has called you to be priests, to be presbyters: this is the fundamental rule.

In a second audience, last March 16, 2018, Pope Francis gives reasons behind the need for ongoing formation:

First of all, permanent formation is born from the experience of one’s weakness. They do not give you a certificate of perpetual holiness when they ordain you: they send you there, to work, and may God help you and may the crows not eat you. This point is clear: are you aware of your weakness? Ask yourself this question every day: “am I aware of my weakness? And what are the points in which I am weaker?” It is not being gloomy, but the truth: we are weak. Are you aware of your weak point? It is the first question that you should always ask yourselves, and if today you do not find your weak point, you will find it tomorrow; and if not tomorrow, the day after tomorrow. And if you do not find it, your weak point, if you do not notice it, go to someone who could help you to find it, in spiritual dialogue.

And then there’s another reason…: the danger of becoming an office worker of the sacred. No, you are a priest. You are not an office worker of the sacred… This is an ugly example, but this happens! With money and also with attitudes. Please, be careful not to become office workers of the sacred.

Then, there is contemporary culture. How do I enter into my cellular phone, into my virtual communications? You know well what I mean: what do I try to look at, out of curiosity?

Then, the attraction of power and riches: it is always so… The devil enters through the pocket, isn’t it? Do I love money? Do I love vanity?

The challenge of celibacy. On this, be prepared, since: “If only I had known this lady before being ordained!”.. But you are normal men, you have the desire to have a woman, to love. And when this possibility comes, how do you react?..

And then, comfort in your ministry: “but if it is easier, do not do it with so much effort…”

These things that I have listed down, now that you are doing your studies, are easy to overcome; but later on, in life, you will be more alone and these things will be present. Some are bad, others good; but they will be present. And for this reason permanent formation should always be such, always important. Not only to overcome temptations, but also to be updated, in the progress of pastoral work, of theology, of the Church’s life. But please, go always to the spiritual courses of the diocese, to updating courses, and also, if you think it is necessary, after some years and more, ask the bishop for one or two months of formation.

We undergo holistic ongoing formation here in Rome not because we happen to live in the Collegio. Rather, as priests, we undergo permanent formation wherever we might be – in the diocese back home, while studying elsewhere, abroad on a mission, and so on. With regards to priestly formation, our situation in the Collegio is thus similar to our situation in the diocese: while each one has his specific assignment (parish, school, hospital, office, teaching, studying, etc.), all are expected to undergo ongoing formation, as offered in the diocese or elsewhere.

The priest’s eight to twelve years in the seminary is actually the shortest period of his formation. Prior to entering the seminary, that is, in the family, the parish community (perhaps with some religious organization), school, and civil society as a whole, God was already preparing him for the priesthood. And after the seminary, the priest continues his formation in different ways, until the last day of his life.