Ongoing Formation for All Priests

We Priests need continuous formation wherever we might be – in the diocese back home, doing further studies, abroad on a mission, and so on. Hence, we undergo holistic ongoing formation here in Rome not because we happen to live in the Collegio but because we happen to be priests.

With regards to priestly formation, our situation in the Collegio is 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 continuous formation.

As the new Ratio Fundamentalis emphasizes, the priest’s eight to twelve years in the seminary actually form 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.

Agents of and Opportunities for Holistic Formation: (1) Institutional, (2) Small group, and (3) Interpersonal Levels

To offer priestly ongoing formation in all its dimensions, the Collegio depends on both Administrators and student priests. All have been formators in various ways, and have held key positions in their dioceses back home.

Holistic ongoing formation takes place through formal and institutionalized activities, such as conferences, classes, meals, common prayers, meetings, etc. But aside from these, holistic formation is complemented to a great extent, and even necessarily, as a sine qua non, by informal and non-institutionalized activities, done in small groups of priests. These little gatherings of priests from the same region, course, university, interests, class level, age group, etc., could be in the form of group studies, mini-excursions, sports, visiting sick priests, spontaneous sharings, pilgrimages, praying together, pastoral work, and so on.

In a special way, Confession and spiritual direction among student priests themselves are highly encouraged. Fraternal correction, done and received with humility and in a spirit of friendship and charity, is an extremely valuable means of formation, both for the one doing and receiving correction. These practices (Confession, spiritual direction and fraternal correction) help us focus on very specific points in our struggle for holiness, much more than institutionalized and small group activities do.

Among the positive contributions of these practices to the community is that of lessening the incidence of gossip, against which Pope Francis has spoken several times:

The disease of gossiping, grumbling and back-biting. I have already spoken many times about this disease, but never enough. It is a grave illness which begins simply, perhaps even in small talk, and takes over a person, making him become a “sower of weeds” (like Satan) and in many cases, a cold-blooded killer of the good name of our colleagues and confrères. It is the disease of cowardly persons who lack the courage to speak out directly, but instead speak behind other people’s backs. Saint Paul admonishes us to do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent” (Phil 2:14-15). Brothers, let us be on our guard against the terrorism of gossip! (Address of Pope Francis to the Roman Curia, December 22, 2014).

The nature of gossip could be understood a bit more from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (section on Offenses against Truth):

2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury ( Cf. CIC, can. 220.). He becomes guilty:

– of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;
– of 
detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them (Cf. Sir 21:28);
– of 
calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

Through fraternal correction we can help each other in all aspects of our ongoing formation, including the most basic, for example, good manners and right conduct, prayer life, study habits, pastoral ministry, and so on.

2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved (St. Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, 22).

To summarize, holistic formation at our Collegio takes place at the institutional, small group, and interpersonal levels. On the one hand, formal (institutional) activities are proposed by the Administrators and the priests’ assemblies. But on the other hand, spontaneous informal activities at the group and interpersonal levels would always come from the personal initiatives of the priests themselves, without having to wait for the Administrators or the student body to organize them.

Not a Seminary, not a Hotel

The seminary, a place for initial formation for the priesthood, can never be a model for the Collegio to imitate or aim at. Our scheduled prayer times, meals and other activities, and the presence of administrators, staff, and policies, are not in any way meant to imitate a seminary, or to make mature priests return to the seminary setting.

Rather, they are necessary to have an orderly life in common, needed in any organization, whether of a religious or civic nature. Schools, companies, governments, NGO’s, the military, and other groups have people in charge, schedule their common activities, and follow guidelines, if they wish to be effective in reaching their goals.

The Collegio, while not a seminary, is also not a hotel, where one can live his life alone or with an exclusive circle of friends, disregarding the greater community. As we interact with everyone, we learn from each other. Any friendship, to be authentic, should bring friends to open up to the wider community, rather than be enclosed among themselves.

We are blessed to have priests from all over the country and all over the world. Some might be more outgoing, and others less. One might be more comfortable with certain persons, and with others less. At any rate, we try to make the most out of each situation and personality type, and help each other grow in our priestly vocation as a community of priests – as we carry out our specific ministry of scientific reflection on our faith, and earn a degree.

Formation in the Virtues

Virtues are good habits, that is, permanent internal dispositions that allow a person to act spontaneously, promptly, with ease and with joy. Two levels are considered here: (1) the disposition, that is, a tendency, a “second nature”, towards doing something good, and (2) the good actions that result from such good dispositions.

Formation has to focus on the disposition, on the virtues. A virtuous person is like a good basketball player. He knows all the rules of basketball, but he is not paranoid with them. He does not continuously think of what the rules allow or prohibit; but neither does he go against any of the rules. He has already internalized the rules, and working within the rules, has created a habit (a good internal disposition), that allows him to play basketball well (performing the necessary movements spontaneously, promptly, with ease, and with joy).

On the other hand, formation in the past tended to focus on do’s and don’t’s, that is, on good and bad actions, on obeying or disobeying superiors, on following or going against the rules. This results in legalistic attitudes, of acting or not acting always in reference to rules or to what the authority imposes. With this mindset, as long as one considers himself as under the authority of the superior or of the rules, he follows such rules. But when he knows that the authority does not watch over him, or has no more effective jurisdiction over him, the rules  start to become optional. They have never been internalized. Imagine a basketball player who thinks of the rules of the game as optional as long as the referee does not see his fouls.

Formation in the virtues requires a constant struggle to understand and to will what is good and true, repetition of good acts, overcoming our laziness, guidance from others, and God’s grace. It oftentimes means beginning again, after a fall great or small. It also means focusing on little things, doing them well, and offering them to God.

Ironically, those formed in a legalistic framework could view those formed in the virtues as legalistic. This would be like thinking that the good basketball player, who follows all the rules of basketball, is paranoid with the rules. They cannot understand that the player’s fidelity to the rules is not because he is legalistic, but because he has internalized the rules, and has been thoroughly practicing the game. Thus, far from being paranoid with the rules, he almost no longer even thinks of the rules, and decides to play way beyond considering what the rules allow or prohibit. He has already developed a disposition or a habit integrated into his nature (that is, a “second nature”), and thus he plays (performs actions) the best way he could, with complete freedom, in a manner always totally compatible with the rules.