Pope Francis gives us an overview of priestly ongoing formation, in an audience granted to the Collegios in Rome last May 12, 2014:
QUESTION: We have come to Rome above all for an academic formation and to keep faith in this commitment. How do we not neglect an integral priestly formation, either at the personal or community level? Thank you. (Deacon Daniel from United States)
POPE FRANCIS: Thank you for the question. It is true; your main purpose here is academic formation: to get a degree in this or that…. However, there is the danger of academicism. Yes, the bishops send you here so that you can earn a degree, but they also do so in order that you may return to the diocese. However, in dioceses you must work in the presbytery as presbyters, graduate presbyters. And if one falls into this danger of academicism, it isn’t Father who returns but the “doctor”. And this is dangerous. There are four pillars in priestly formation: I have said this so many times, perhaps you have already heard it. Four pillars: spiritual formation, academic formation, community formation and apostolic formation. 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. And this is why I liked your question, because it gives me the opportunity to tell you these things. The Lord has called you to be priests, to be presbyters: this is the fundamental rule.
And there is something else that I would like to stress: if only the academic part is considered, there is a danger of sliding into ideologies, and this makes one sick. And it also sickens one’s conception of the Church. To understand the Church, one must understand her through study but also through prayer, through community life and through apostolic life. When we slide into an ideology and go down this road, we will have a non-Christian hermeneutic, a hermeneutic of an ideological Church. And this is harmful, it is an illness. One’s hermeneutic of the Church has to be the hermeneutic which the Church herself offers us, which the Church herself gives us. To perceive the Church with the eyes of a Christian; to understand the Church with the mind of a Christian; to understand the Church with the heart of a Christian; to understand the Church through Christian works. Otherwise one does not understand the Church, or understands her poorly. Therefore, yes, it is important to emphasize academic study because that is why you were sent here, but do not neglect the other three pillars: the spiritual life, community life and the apostolic life. I don’t know if this answers your question…. Thank you.
In a second audience, last March 16, 2018, Pope Francis gives reasons behind the need for ongoing formation in any setting:
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.