Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
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Seminarians are men committed to becoming whole, effective human beings
by Father Darrin Connall, for the Inland Register
(From the Oct. 4, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)
“I Will Give You Shepherds” is the title of a 1992 apostolic exhortation by Pope John Paul II in which he addresses all aspects of today’s priestly formation programs. The document is traditional in that it repeats previous Church teaching on the importance of solid academic and spiritual formation for seminarians. The revolutionary aspect of the document, however, can be found in the Holy Father’s emphasis on the importance of human formation.
The pope stated officially and bluntly that “the whole work of priestly formation would be deprived of its necessary foundation if it lacked a suitable human formation.” He is very clear: The first task of a seminarian is to become a well-formed human being. A seminarian should possess a personality and manner that permit him to become a bridge rather than an obstacle in leading others to Jesus Christ and his Church.
As I read the words of the Holy Father, I cannot help but remember the advice given to me be my sister many years ago. As a new seminarian, my sister told me in no uncertain terms that if I was going to be a priest I was supposed to guard against two things: dandruff and bad breath! No concern about my prayer life. No concern about my academic ability. No concern about my pastoral knowledge. Her only concern was that nothing get in the way of my ability to lead others to Jesus – most especially dandruff and bad breath. I believe that the blunt advice of my sister reflects what the Holy Father was trying to convey: One cannot become a whole and effective priest without first becoming a whole and effective human being.
The other aspects of human formation which the Holy Father outlines include a spirit of humility and an ability to relate to a wide variety of people. A seminarian should be thoughtful, grateful, courteous and kind. The Holy Father is not saying that candidates for priesthood must be free of human flaws. Rather, he recognizes the need for young men who are able to recognize those flaws and work to change and grow.
This is the kind of candidates the Church needs – ordinary guys from ordinary families who are willing to grow into well-formed men. We are not looking for perfection. Instead, the Church is looking for seminarians committed to life-long human formation – even if that means taking the unsolicited advice from a zealous sister!
(Father Connall is Director of Vocations and rector of Bishop White Seminary in Spokane. Contact him at email@example.com, or at (509) 326-3761; or write: Bishop White Seminary, 429 E. Sharp Ave., Spokane, WA 99202.)