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The Essence and Mission of Priesthood in Pastores Dabo Vobis

 

Prof. Julian Porteous, Sydney

 

The 1990 Synod of Bishops devoted its discussion to the question of vocations to the priesthood "in the circumstances of the present day". The issue of the nature of the priesthood was considered worthy of further reflection even in the relatively short post-conciliar period of twenty five years. The pope reasoned that there has been significant change during that period and so a fresh evaluation of appropriate formation for the priesthood needed to be considered. He expressed it thus in paragraph 3,

In recent years some have voiced a need to return to the theme of the priesthood, treating it from a relatively new point of view, one that was more adapted to present ecclesial and cultural circumstancesÖ.. The new generation of those called to the ministerial priesthood display different characteristics in comparison to those of their immediate predecessors. In addition, they live in a world which in many respects is new and undergoing rapid and continual evolution.

The Second Vatican Council explored the ministry of priests and priestly formation in detail in its Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests and Decree on the Training of Priests, as well as devoting space to the nature of priestly ministry in paragraph 28 of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.

In the years following the Church has on various occasions dealt with the subject of the life, ministry and formation of priests. For instance, in 1970 the Congregation for Catholic Education produced the Ratio Fundamentalis which provided an outline of the basic norms required in priestly formation.

Approaching the topic in the 1990 synod the particular awareness of the bishops was that the "circumstances of the present day" needed special attention. As the second millennium was drawing to a close the consciousness of a new millennium sparked a desire to consider afresh the nature of the priesthood in the particular context of "todayís society and todayís Church" (PDV#5)

The priesthood, of course, does not change: it is the one priesthood of Jesus Christ. But the circumstances it which it is to be expressed do change. I would like to consider some particular issues that characterise the cultural and ecclesial context of today. As the Church enters the third millennium, it is appropriate to pose the question: what sort of priest is needed for today?

 

Contemporary Culture

 

Let us consider some of the distinguishing features of the cultural landscape, giving particular attention to developments in the first world. The extraordinary influence of the secularisation process found in first world countries and spreading across all cultures is a significant factor. This secularisation has led vast sections of society to live as though the transcendent is non-existent. Moral thinking in this environment loses its point of reference. The priest in a secular society faces apathy on one level, and an antagonism when he confronts the status quo. Some see the priest as irrelevant; others see him as a threat to their convinced positions.

Pastores Dabo Vobis makes reference to rationalism which, it says, "is still very widespread and, in the name of a reductive concept of "science," it renders human reason insensitive to an encounter with revelation and with divine transcendence" (PDV#7). Coupled with this rationalism is the individualism which the document describes as driving "a desperate defence of personal subjectivity" (ibid), which in turn severely damages the capacity for healthy relationships. The document says in paragraph 7,

As a result, many -- especially children and young people -- seek to compensate for this loneliness with substitutes of various kinds, in more or less acute forms of hedonism or flight from responsibility. Prisoners of the fleeting moment, they seek to "consume" the strongest and most gratifying individual experiences at the level of immediate emotions and sensations, inevitably finding themselves indifferent and "paralysed" as it were when they come face to face with the summons to embark upon a life project which includes a spiritual and religious dimension and a commitment to solidarity.

Other cultural considerations include the strong emphasis placed on the values of liberal democracy. This raises issues for the role of priest in the parish community when, for instance, some within the parish community can seek and expect a more congregational style of leadership. Indeed, the issue of priestly authority and leadership can be strongly challenged by educated and articulate members of parish communities in the name of "collaborative" ministry.

 

The current promotion of "political correctness" can also raise issues related to the role of a male priest. Young men considering the priesthood, or seminarians, can be led to feel that they are representing a now outdate patriarchal system. At times they can experience real antagonism from their contemporaries. These are some of the "evolving" cultural and ecclesial issues that affect the understanding of priestly identity and challenge the role and mission of the priest in society and church. Next we will address the question of the identity of the priest as proposed in Pastores Dabo Vobis.

 

The Identity of the Priest

 

How can we define the nature of the priesthood in the Catholic Church? Any consideration of the nature of the priesthood begins with Christ the Priest. "The priest finds the full truth of his identity in being a derivation, a specific participation in and continuation of Christ himself, the one high priest of the new and eternal covenant" (PDV #12). The priesthood is Christís and the priest in the Church acts in the name of Christ Ė "in persona Christi capitis". Pope John Paul recognises priestly identity as a crucial issue as he said during the synod:

 

"This crisis arose in the years immediately following the Council. It was based on an erroneous understanding of -- and sometimes even a conscious bias against -- the doctrine of the conciliar magisterium. Undoubtedly, herein lies one of the reasons for the great number of defections experienced then by the Church, losses which did serious harm to pastoral ministry and priestly vocations, especially missionary vocations. It is as though the 1990 synod -- rediscovering, by means of the many statements which we heard in this hall, the full depth of priestly identity -- has striven to instill hope in the wake of these sad losses. These statements showed an awareness of the specific ontological bond which unites the priesthood to Christ the high priest and good shepherd. This identity is built upon the type of formation which must be provided for priesthood and then endure throughout the priest's whole life. This was the precise purpose of the synod." (quoted in PDV#11)

 

A priestís ministry is essentially in the order of the sacred. His proclamation of the Word of God and his ministering of the Sacraments to the people orders his life around the salvific action of God in Christ. As the document states,

 

The relation of the priest to Jesus Christ, and in him to his Church, is found in the very being of the priest by virtue of his sacramental consecration/anointing and in his activity, that is, in his mission or ministry. In particular, "the priest minister is the servant of Christ present in the Church as mystery, communion and mission. In virtue of his participation in the 'anointing' and 'mission' of Christ, the priest can continue Christ's prayer, word, sacrifice and salvific action in the Church. (PDV#15)

 

All this calls on the priest to be a man of prayer, a man consecrated to God through his ordination and devoted first and foremost to the "things of God". He grounds his life and ministry in a profound personal union with God. His embracing of the charisma of celibacy further confirms that he "lives for the Lord" (cf. I Cor 7,32).

 

The document took its title from Jeremiah 3,15, "I will give you shepherds after my own heart". The image of shepherd is a significant one for depicting the nature of the priesthood proposed for the modern world. The priest is a shepherd in the image of Christ, the Good Shepherd (John 10). The priest seeks to foster virtues particular to his pastoral ministry, as shepherds after the heart of God (cf Jer. 3,15). Virtues such as compassion, humility, cheerfulness, obedience and service can be mentioned as appropriate for the priest engaged in parish ministry. This theme has received further consideration in the Instruction from the Congregation for the Clergy, "The Priest, Pastor and Leader of the Parish Community" (4th August, 2002)

 

 

The Formation of Priests

In Pastores Dabo Vobis the Holy Father noted that while the concrete circumstances of priestly vocations and formation in the contemporary world have changed, the Churchís task remains the same and "the spirit which must inspire and sustain her remains the same: that of bringing to the priesthood only those who have been called, and to bring them adequately trained."(PDV#42) The Holy Father, in recognising the character of "todayís society and todayís Church." (PDV#5), opened up four significant areas of priestly formation.

 

Human Formation is a key component in the development of a rounded and competent pastor whose life is spent "in the vineyard" of people. It is the foundation for the spiritual, pastoral, and intellectual formation, for the priest is a human being first and he remains a human being, though transformed by the Lordís grace. As St. Paul said of himself, "I still live my human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20) The Holy Father gives two reasons for highlighting human formation (PDV #43). The priest is a "living image" of Jesus, and so the "human perfection which shines forth in the incarnate Son of God" should be evident in the priest as well. Secondly, the priestís ministry is directed to his fellow human beings, and he will be effective only to the degree that his own humanity serves as a bridge between God and human beings. The priest must be "humanly as credible and acceptable as possible." The Holy Father noted that "the whole work of priestly formation would be deprived of its necessary foundation if it lacked suitable human formation" (PDV #43) in personal maturity of the candidate and his commitment to the charism of celibacy, among other areas.

 

Spiritual Formation is essential if, as the Holy Father notes, the future priest is to be a priest, and not merely act as a priest. The nurturing of the spiritual life enjoys priority in the total formation process of the seminarian. It has as its goal the seminarianís continual growth in his personal relationship with Christ and his commitment to the Church and his vocation. Spiritual Formation sets the foundation for the attitudes, habits and practices of the spiritual life in a lifetime of priestly ministry. Without a solid spiritual life, grounded in the perennial tradition of the Church, "pastoral formation would be left without foundation." (PDV #45)

 

Intellectual Formation has its foundation in philosophy according to the Holy Father. Philosophy lays the foundation of a future priestís intellectual formation by inculcating a "loving veneration of the truth" (cf. Ps. 26:7; 41:2). On this foundation, a "complex and demanding" (PDV #54) education should lead the candidate for the priesthood to "a complete and unified vision of the truths God has revealed in Jesus Christ" and entrusted to the Church.

 

Pastoral Formation puts the seminarianís commitment to a realistic test. Through field education and experience, the seminarian better understands the apostolate and is prepared to make a more mature and practical commitment to the priesthood of Christ. This aspect of formation develops a sensitivity to the needs and aspirations of people and exposes the seminarian to different ways of life and the circumstances and problems peculiar to each. He also experiences working within the structure of the Church, in which there is a hierarchy of mission and authority.

 

Shepherds after the Heart of God

 

The Holy Father noted, "God promises the Church not just any sort of shepherds, but shepherds Ďafter his own heart.í And God's Ďheartí has revealed itself to us fully in the heart of Christ the good shepherd." (PDV #82) This is our task in the new millennium! The seminary exists to form men as priests. In the contemporary context the issue of priestly identity is a matter of particular importance. Priests who are clear and strong in their identity, especially as they are able to relate their ministry to Christ in communion with the Church, will be able to be shepherds "after my own heart" (Jer 3,15).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Essence and Mission of Priesthood in Pastores Dabo Vobis

              Prof. Julian Porteous, Sydney

The 1990 Synod of Bishops devoted its discussion to the question of vocations to the priesthood "in the circumstances of the present day". The issue of the nature of the priesthood was considered worthy of further reflection even in the relatively short post-conciliar period of twenty five years. The pope reasoned that there has been significant change during that period and so a fresh evaluation of appropriate formation for the priesthood needed to be considered. He expressed it thus in paragraph 3,

 

In recent years some have voiced a need to return to the theme of the priesthood, treating it from a relatively new point of view, one that was more adapted to present ecclesial and cultural circumstancesÖ.. The new generation of those called to the ministerial priesthood display different characteristics in comparison to those of their immediate predecessors. In addition, they live in a world which in many respects is new and undergoing rapid and continual evolution.

The Second Vatican Council explored the ministry of priests and priestly formation in detail in its Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests and Decree on the Training of Priests, as well as devoting space to the nature of priestly ministry in paragraph 28 of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.

In the years following the Church has on various occasions dealt with the subject of the life, ministry and formation of priests. For instance, in 1970 the Congregation for Catholic Education produced the Ratio Fundamentalis which provided an outline of the basic norms required in priestly formation.

Approaching the topic in the 1990 synod the particular awareness of the bishops was that the "circumstances of the present day" needed special attention. As the second millennium was drawing to a close the consciousness of a new millennium sparked a desire to consider afresh the nature of the priesthood in the particular context of "todayís society and todayís Church" (PDV#5)

The priesthood, of course, does not change: it is the one priesthood of Jesus Christ. But the circumstances it which it is to be expressed do change. I would like to consider some particular issues that characterise the cultural and ecclesial context of today. As the Church enters the third millennium, it is appropriate to pose the question: what sort of priest is needed for today?

 

Contemporary Culture

 

Let us consider some of the distinguishing features of the cultural landscape, giving particular attention to developments in the first world. The extraordinary influence of the secularisation process found in first world countries and spreading across all cultures is a significant factor. This secularisation has led vast sections of society to live as though the transcendent is non-existent. Moral thinking in this environment loses its point of reference. The priest in a secular society faces apathy on one level, and an antagonism when he confronts the status quo. Some see the priest as irrelevant; others see him as a threat to their convinced positions.

Pastores Dabo Vobis makes reference to rationalism which, it says, "is still very widespread and, in the name of a reductive concept of "science," it renders human reason insensitive to an encounter with revelation and with divine transcendence" (PDV#7). Coupled with this rationalism is the individualism which the document describes as driving "a desperate defence of personal subjectivity" (ibid), which in turn severely damages the capacity for healthy relationships. The document says in paragraph 7,

As a result, many -- especially children and young people -- seek to compensate for this loneliness with substitutes of various kinds, in more or less acute forms of hedonism or flight from responsibility. Prisoners of the fleeting moment, they seek to "consume" the strongest and most gratifying individual experiences at the level of immediate emotions and sensations, inevitably finding themselves indifferent and "paralysed" as it were when they come face to face with the summons to embark upon a life project which includes a spiritual and religious dimension and a commitment to solidarity.

Other cultural considerations include the strong emphasis placed on the values of liberal democracy. This raises issues for the role of priest in the parish community when, for instance, some within the parish community can seek and expect a more congregational style of leadership. Indeed, the issue of priestly authority and leadership can be strongly challenged by educated and articulate members of parish communities in the name of "collaborative" ministry.

 

The current promotion of "political correctness" can also raise issues related to the role of a male priest. Young men considering the priesthood, or seminarians, can be led to feel that they are representing a now outdate patriarchal system. At times they can experience real antagonism from their contemporaries. These are some of the "evolving" cultural and ecclesial issues that affect the understanding of priestly identity and challenge the role and mission of the priest in society and church. Next we will address the question of the identity of the priest as proposed in Pastores Dabo Vobis.

 

The Identity of the Priest

 

How can we define the nature of the priesthood in the Catholic Church? Any consideration of the nature of the priesthood begins with Christ the Priest. "The priest finds the full truth of his identity in being a derivation, a specific participation in and continuation of Christ himself, the one high priest of the new and eternal covenant" (PDV #12). The priesthood is Christís and the priest in the Church acts in the name of Christ Ė "in persona Christi capitis". Pope John Paul recognises priestly identity as a crucial issue as he said during the synod:

 

"This crisis arose in the years immediately following the Council. It was based on an erroneous understanding of -- and sometimes even a conscious bias against -- the doctrine of the conciliar magisterium. Undoubtedly, herein lies one of the reasons for the great number of defections experienced then by the Church, losses which did serious harm to pastoral ministry and priestly vocations, especially missionary vocations. It is as though the 1990 synod -- rediscovering, by means of the many statements which we heard in this hall, the full depth of priestly identity -- has striven to instill hope in the wake of these sad losses. These statements showed an awareness of the specific ontological bond which unites the priesthood to Christ the high priest and good shepherd. This identity is built upon the type of formation which must be provided for priesthood and then endure throughout the priest's whole life. This was the precise purpose of the synod." (quoted in PDV#11)

 

A priestís ministry is essentially in the order of the sacred. His proclamation of the Word of God and his ministering of the Sacraments to the people orders his life around the salvific action of God in Christ. As the document states,

 

The relation of the priest to Jesus Christ, and in him to his Church, is found in the very being of the priest by virtue of his sacramental consecration/anointing and in his activity, that is, in his mission or ministry. In particular, "the priest minister is the servant of Christ present in the Church as mystery, communion and mission. In virtue of his participation in the 'anointing' and 'mission' of Christ, the priest can continue Christ's prayer, word, sacrifice and salvific action in the Church. (PDV#15)

 

All this calls on the priest to be a man of prayer, a man consecrated to God through his ordination and devoted first and foremost to the "things of God". He grounds his life and ministry in a profound personal union with God. His embracing of the charisma of celibacy further confirms that he "lives for the Lord" (cf. I Cor 7,32).

 

The document took its title from Jeremiah 3,15, "I will give you shepherds after my own heart". The image of shepherd is a significant one for depicting the nature of the priesthood proposed for the modern world. The priest is a shepherd in the image of Christ, the Good Shepherd (John 10). The priest seeks to foster virtues particular to his pastoral ministry, as shepherds after the heart of God (cf Jer. 3,15). Virtues such as compassion, humility, cheerfulness, obedience and service can be mentioned as appropriate for the priest engaged in parish ministry. This theme has received further consideration in the Instruction from the Congregation for the Clergy, "The Priest, Pastor and Leader of the Parish Community" (4th August, 2002)

 

 

The Formation of Priests

In Pastores Dabo Vobis the Holy Father noted that while the concrete circumstances of priestly vocations and formation in the contemporary world have changed, the Churchís task remains the same and "the spirit which must inspire and sustain her remains the same: that of bringing to the priesthood only those who have been called, and to bring them adequately trained."(PDV#42) The Holy Father, in recognising the character of "todayís society and todayís Church." (PDV#5), opened up four significant areas of priestly formation.

 

Human Formation is a key component in the development of a rounded and competent pastor whose life is spent "in the vineyard" of people. It is the foundation for the spiritual, pastoral, and intellectual formation, for the priest is a human being first and he remains a human being, though transformed by the Lordís grace. As St. Paul said of himself, "I still live my human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20) The Holy Father gives two reasons for highlighting human formation (PDV #43). The priest is a "living image" of Jesus, and so the "human perfection which shines forth in the incarnate Son of God" should be evident in the priest as well. Secondly, the priestís ministry is directed to his fellow human beings, and he will be effective only to the degree that his own humanity serves as a bridge between God and human beings. The priest must be "humanly as credible and acceptable as possible." The Holy Father noted that "the whole work of priestly formation would be deprived of its necessary foundation if it lacked suitable human formation" (PDV #43) in personal maturity of the candidate and his commitment to the charism of celibacy, among other areas.

 

Spiritual Formation is essential if, as the Holy Father notes, the future priest is to be a priest, and not merely act as a priest. The nurturing of the spiritual life enjoys priority in the total formation process of the seminarian. It has as its goal the seminarianís continual growth in his personal relationship with Christ and his commitment to the Church and his vocation. Spiritual Formation sets the foundation for the attitudes, habits and practices of the spiritual life in a lifetime of priestly ministry. Without a solid spiritual life, grounded in the perennial tradition of the Church, "pastoral formation would be left without foundation." (PDV #45)

 

Intellectual Formation has its foundation in philosophy according to the Holy Father. Philosophy lays the foundation of a future priestís intellectual formation by inculcating a "loving veneration of the truth" (cf. Ps. 26:7; 41:2). On this foundation, a "complex and demanding" (PDV #54) education should lead the candidate for the priesthood to "a complete and unified vision of the truths God has revealed in Jesus Christ" and entrusted to the Church.

 

Pastoral Formation puts the seminarianís commitment to a realistic test. Through field education and experience, the seminarian better understands the apostolate and is prepared to make a more mature and practical commitment to the priesthood of Christ. This aspect of formation develops a sensitivity to the needs and aspirations of people and exposes the seminarian to different ways of life and the circumstances and problems peculiar to each. He also experiences working within the structure of the Church, in which there is a hierarchy of mission and authority.

 

Shepherds after the Heart of God

 

The Holy Father noted, "God promises the Church not just any sort of shepherds, but shepherds Ďafter his own heart.í And God's Ďheartí has revealed itself to us fully in the heart of Christ the good shepherd." (PDV #82) This is our task in the new millennium! The seminary exists to form men as priests. In the contemporary context the issue of priestly identity is a matter of particular importance. Priests who are clear and strong in their identity, especially as they are able to relate their ministry to Christ in communion with the Church, will be able to be shepherds "after my own heart" (Jer 3,15).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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