Priestly formation Today

Priestly Formation is becoming challenging today more than ever before. Our society has changed tremendously and is continuously changing at a rapid scale. Our formative programs need to keep pace with it. Besides, with the growing media coverage of some deviant behaviour of the clerics, our task becomes even more difficult to win back credibility that is often rocked by sexual scandals particularly in the west. In recent days, we too are faced with the charges being levelled against a Bishop in our country too. Our consolation in these times of darkness is the conviction that formation is primarily God’s work and the triune God will make a way for us. But here maybe, with my several years of experience in this engaging task, I humbly wish to try and reflect on some of our fixations that afflict the process of formation. I have about 18 happy years of involvement in the church’s noble mission of priestly formation in our Archdiocese. My teaching of Philosophy has taken me to seminaries in Mumbai and Pune and I am fortunate to directly experience different models of priestly formation and processes in  operation in these places.

I like St. John Paul II, our beloved Pope’s description of seminary formation.  He teaches that priestly formation is “a continuation in the Church of the apostolic community gathered about Jesus, listening to his word, proceeding towards the Easter experience, awaiting the gift of the Spirit for the mission”. The crucial challenges that we encounter today remind us that it is God who calls his priests from specific human and ecclesial contexts, which inevitably influence them; and to these same contexts the priest is sent for the service of Christ’s Gospel (PDV NO 5). Hence, it is imperative on us to move from our idealisms to realism. This means we as formators find ourselves more intensely called to build a civilization of life and love, even as we  struggles against a culture of death that seems to be reining in our society which  is marked by politics of hate and intolerance.  Our task is even more difficult as we have increasing number of candidates who come from diverse backgrounds and often from dysfunctional families.  The challenge is great and God’s grace is abundant. We are never alone in this noble task of formation.

Our formative processes and programs have great strengths. They do prepare our candidates to priesthood adequately. Indeed, I have seen grace working marvellously with both the formators and the formees though weak and fragile that we are. Trusting in the same providence, maybe I would do a humble analysis that will do assist us to come to a realisation of ‘We are here’ moment. This is done with great admiration for my colleagues as well seminarians who are co-partners along with God, our Archbishop and Christ faithful in Goa in the mission of priestly formation.  We are all selflessly absorbed in the processes and programs of formation and we have little or no time to stand out and look at it with a critical distance. Maybe we have to humbly look at the manner in which our traditional formative programs fix us and set us into its operations. Often, maybe it has becomes mindless to us by the force of habit and tradition. Our effectiveness will exponentially increase if we were to act on them mindfully. Maybe in this process, we both find and lose ourselves in several ways as we collapse into familiar modes of formation.  This is why we have to carefully look at the anchors that hold our ship of formation in ‘stable condition’.

A short survey of our formative programs over the years can help us to put light on some of fixations that afflict our mission of formation. One can clearly see that the reigning model of formation is the potter and the clay model. This model is theologically attractive and has its strengths and weakness. The major issue with model is that it renders the formee passive and takes away his responsibility and agency of formation.   Priestly, formation being a partnership, we have the task to let the seminarian become the first agent of formation. This model opens a broad field of priestly formation and we get engaged into it as we swim into it like ducks in water. Perhaps, we can consider other models of priestly formations that are being employed in other houses of formation.  The seed and the soil model can open  different fields of possibilities for formation where in the responsibility and agency of the seminarian is taken seriously and the seminarian along with the Holy Spirit is challenged to become the first agent of formation. The process is like the seed which grows by taking  what it needs from the soil and the environmental conditions. Here the fomator becomes the farmer who prepares the soil, waters it and prepares the seed to sprout. The quality accompanying tasks of formation is like the farmer who looks after the plant and even prunes it to allow it to grow.

We can continue this reflection by analysing some of formative practices that are employed by us to achieve our formative outcomes.  We may begin with by carefully looking at practices that make the main body of formation. We can certainly find that academic practices occupying the bulk of our formative time. This suggests that all formation may often collapse into intellectual formation. While intellectual formation has its importance, the other areas of formation are equally important and cannot be trivialised. The Human, Spiritual and Pastoral aspects of formation are equally important to priestly life and mission.  Although, the academic dimension has become the main stay of formation often the practices that are associated with it do truncate its effectiveness. Take for instances, our modes of evaluations. It is an established principle that teaches that the way we evaluate we produce learning outcomes. Now if our evaluations check memory alone, we may fail to check skills of assimilation, comparison and applications as we produce mere rote learning. This is why an honest look at the practices that we have engaged for a long time has great merits for us. Besides, academically less effective practices, we may have to look at the practices that we engage for spiritual and pastoral formation. In recent years, we in Rachol Seminary have made great strides in the field of pastoral formation. It is not just reduced to a Sunday ministry of catechesis. We have added ministries like youth, altar servers and small Christian communities into its kitty. We have some of the seminarians going on Saturdays to the parishes. While we can feel happy about these much needed welcome changes, maybe it might be helpful to reconsider how often our seminarians seem to reduce musical skills as their main pastoral weapon without feeling the need of acquiring other important skills to reach out to our people.

The goal priestly formation is the development not just of a well-rounded person, a prayerful person, or an experienced pastoral practitioner but rather one who understands his spiritual development within the context of his call to service in the Church, his human development within the greater context of his call to advance the Lord Jesus through the mission of the Church, his intellectual development as the appropriation of the teaching of our Lord Jesus along with Church’s teaching and tradition, and his pastoral formation as participation in the active ministry of Jesus in and through the Church. This call to priestly life and ministry therefore, invites us to be soiled and rendered dirty by the smell of the sheep. It is a life of great sacrifice that calls us all to give ourselves to the people of God like our Lord Jesus and therefore it becomes a challenge to avoid bureaurocratic modes of pastoral ministry as well as shades of careerisms. To achieve these tremendous tasks, we have to revisit some modes of formation that may have become a spent force due to sheer passage of time and the changed context. Christ the Good Shepherd still calls men to follow him, to “cast out into the deep” (Lk 5:4), and to respond to his invitation to become a priest after his own heart, eager to be transformed through human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral formation and carry on his mission in our world. We have a challenging journey ahead.



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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao