Priestly formation and Authenticity of Life

The history of Priestly formation have its beginning in the practice of Jesus in the Gospel. The shortest summary maybe found in the Gospel of Mark: Mk 3:14-15. In the early centuries leading up to St. Augustine, there is very little or no evidence of any special institutions of priestly formation. In Didache ( late 1st century) priestly ministry is viewed in prophetic terms that is in terms of teaching and witnessing. Even in St. Polycarp, we find the description of priestly ministry as witness of love and care especially for the widow, orphan and the poor. One thing is clear. All these accounts directly link priestly ministry with the public life of Jesus. This does not mean that priesthood was not linked to ritual and sacerdotal aspects of priestly ministry. We can certainly trace it in the letter to the Hebrews. But above all, a priest is called to be an authentic disciple of Jesus (witness).

During the patristic era monastic discipline and common life became the main stay of priestly life. Often episcopal residence was a place of priestly formation as we can find in the case of St. Augustine. In the middle ages, the site of priestly formation shifted to the monastic schools, cathedral schools and the university. But the university setting led to only a few clerics holding university degrees. Therefore, laxity in clerical life began to creep in. There are several other causes for this degeneration. It took the strong reform spirit of council of Trent to transform the scene of priestly formation with the establishment of seminaries for every cathedral and metropolitan church.

Post-Tridentine period slowly but steadily led to the standardization of seminary as sites of priestly formation. The great council of Vatican II brought about a right balance of the intellectual and the spiritual in priestly formation. Post-conciliar developments let to the indentification of the four areas of priestly formation. The apostolic exhortation of Pope John Paul, Pastores, dabo vobis delineates four areas of priestly formation as human, spiritual, intellectual and spiritual formation and asserts that human formation is the basis of all priestly formation. Pope Francis has tried to tie priestly ministry to pastoral charity animated by dual constitutive bonds: deep relations with our Lord Jesus Christ and profound bond with the people of God.

Today priestly formation has several strengths but is not without its crises. We can trace visible signs of growth in pastoral charity, intellectual acumen and affective maturity in candidates undergoing priestly formation. Maybe we have the challenge to understand priestly formation with the pedagogy of witness/ holiness of the early church that we have pointed out in the above survey of the history of priestly formation. This is only way possible to bring about the configuration of each candidate with our Lord Jesus Christ. While there are several of reasons for the crises in scene of formation, may be we have the challenge to understand the same in the light of the global pandemic.

This is may allow us to see how authenticity and genuineness have become some kind of casualty afflicting the scene of priestly formation. The hermeneutics of the mask (that we have tried to do in the first part of this study) can illumine how masking and shielding may have become the main strategy of the candidates under priestly formation. We have seen that mask can become point de capiton or nodal point that open possibilities to assume several avtaras. The candidate may invest energy to nurture to build a perception about kind of life he is expected to live while it may be in reality that there is a real distance between perception and reality. This possibility of priestly formation becoming simply a mask/ maya has to be thought carefully in the light of hermeneutics of mask post global pandemic.

The masking and shielding that is operating in the context of priestly formation can be understood with the help the notions of panopticon and banopticon. Panopticon and banopticon are technologies of power that produce technologies of self. Both panopticon and banoptican are linked to knowledge power relations. They are techniques/ regulatory modes of power/knowledge of disciplinary societies. Panopticon is an architectural design set forth by Jeremy Bentham in the middle of the 19th century for prison, asylum, schools, hospitals and factories. Instead of using violent methods of regulating the prisoners used by monarchical states of yester years, modern progressive states used sophisticated internal apparatus of regulation which worked through the knowledge of one being subjected of observation. The modern structure would allow the guards to continuously see/ police inside each cell (of a prison) from a vantage point of a high tower, unseen by the prisoners. The condition of being constantly under a watch created a control mechanism whereby a consciousness of constant surveillance is internalized. This conditioned of being watched produces a response of self-policing (technology of self).

The candidates of priestly formation likewise also feel being subjected to a condition of being put under a gaze. There are several modes like personal report by the formator, community acts as well as individual acts that have to fall into somewhat well defined moulds produces a counter response that uses a mask to hide the real self of the candidates for priesthood manifest a self-policed self that fits within the moulds of formation. The fear of being terminated from seminary formation becomes banopticon. To understand banopticon and what it can do to us, we have to come to the Internet of Things.

The Internet of things while producing us several comforts and benefits, also renders us vulnerable when power/ knowledge gets concentrated in the hands of few. We can instantly get banned from accessing banking systems, travel systems, health systems etc. The very idea of being subjected to a possible dismissal also produces a counter response that hides the true self of the candidate who seeks to protect or shield himself from dismissal. Therefore, a condition of fear becomes counter-productive although it is a disciplinary practice and gives us a sense of order and discipline. But under the curtain of silence and fear, formation can only teach us to police ourself so as to not get caught. Hence, perhaps we need a an environment that will produce self-formation through conviction in the power of the holy spirit. Such a formation has to make the seminarian the first agent of formation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao