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Priestly Pastoral Formation: Theology Lite? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Monday, 22 January 2007 11:45
Fr. Michael Sweeney, O.P., the co-founder of the Catherine of Siena Institute and current President of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, once told me that pastoral formation in Catholic seminaries is often looked upon as "theology lite." I think I know what he means, and I think he's correct. Prior to my working for the Institute, my understanding of pastoral theology was shaped by my experience of my formation in it. When I went through seminary, pastoral theology consisted of courses like, Confessional Ministry, Liturgical Celebration, and Pastoral Counseling. These were the 'how-to' classes; how to preside at Mass, how to baptize an infant, how to hear confessions, how to listen well and apply moral theological principles to particular situations.

These are all necessary, good skills that a priest should have. But a lot was missing, particularly surrounding the issue of pastoral governance, which, as Pope John Paul II said in his 2004 ad limina address to the bishops of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, "is directed both to gathering the flock in the visible unity of a single profession of faith lived in the sacramental communion of the Church and to guiding that flock, in the diversity of its gifts and callings, towards a common goal: the proclamation of the Gospel to the ends of the earth."

In preparation for the one-day workshop Sherry and I gave at St. Patrick's Seminary, Menlo Park, CA, I reviewed the 2005 Program for Priestly Formation which I've linked in the title. The document calls for the personal, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation of the men in our seminaries in this country. Here are the attitudes and competencies that are the goals outlined for pastoral formation:

a. A missionary spirit, zeal for evangelization, and ecumenical commitment

b. A spirit of pastoral charity, a quest for justice, and an openness to serve all people

c. A special love for and commitment to the sick and suffering, the poor and outcasts, prisoners, immigrants, and refugees

d. Demonstration of appropriate pastoral and administrative skills and competencies for ministry

e. Ability to exercise pastoral leadership

f. Ability to carry out pastoral work collaboratively with others and an appreciation for the different charisms and vocations within the Church

g. The ability to work in a multicultural setting with people of different ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds

h. A commitment to the proclamation, celebration, and service of the Gospel of life

i. Energy and zeal for pastoral ministry

Of course, I have to ask myself how well those goals have been met in me, not only as a result of my initial formation, but also as a consequence of my ongoing prayer and post-ordination formation!

Beyond that, however, I think it is interesting to note that governance is not specifically mentioned in this context, although it is alluded to in points d.,e., f., and g. But f. is the only point in the entire document in which charisms are mentioned, and even then, it could refer to the gratuitous gifts given to the baptized or the charisms associated with religious orders. This lack of a focus on governance, and the role of charisms within it, is unfortunate for several reasons:

1) Pastoral governance, unless it is taught well (including information on discernment of charisms), will degenerate to administration, and few men feel called to priesthood so that they can be involved in parish budgets, capital campaigns, work contracts and personnel issues. Perhaps even fewer are competent administrators.

2) The discernment of their own charisms is important for seminarians who are considering the priesthood. In addition, if they are able to discern their own charisms, they will be better able to help the laity discern theirs. Without understanding their charisms, priests may not recognize the need for gifts among other staff to complement their own. Or, they may be threatened by the different gifts others have.

3) Each act of governance is concerned with community and mission. We build community for mutual support of personal mission as well as for the support of the parish's mission, and the active pursuit of the parish's mission will undoubtedly help build community. Unless pastors understand the fullness of the meaning of governance, their focus may become community without reference to mission, and few will have an idea of how to discern the call given by God to the community as a whole.

4) The only reference to governance apart from the governance of the seminary itself links governance, priestly spirituality, conversion and mission!
"For priests, the specific arena in which their spiritual life unfolds is their exercise of ministry in fulfillment of their mission. The life of priests in the Spirit means their continuous transformation and conversion of heart centered on the integration or linking of their identity as configured to Christ, Head and Shepherd (Pastores dabo vobis, nos. 21-23), with their ministry of word, sacrament, and pastoral governance or leadership (Pastores dabo vobis, nos. 24-26)." Program for Priestly Formation, 23.

If a priest does not properly understand governance, his spirituality will be stunted, his conversion incomplete, his identity threatened by competent lay people (especially those involved in lay ecclesial ministry). Moreover, his mission to sanctify, teach and govern the laity so that they can take Christ to the world will be unfulfilled or misunderstood.

These are just some initial thoughts, and not complete by any means. Paragraph 23 from the PPF might be worth a blog post in and of itself!
 

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