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Four Pillars of Formation
On the 25th March 1992 St John Paul II promulgated his Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis (I shall give you shepherds). The document highlighted four essential areas of formation of seminarians preparing to undertake the priestly vocation. The four pillars are highlighted as being of vital and equal importance in forming a man to be a balanced, wise, holy and effective priest.
Seminaries use these pillars as the basis for their rule of life making them houses of prayer, charity and community living. The four pillars focus on the four key areas of the identity of a priest and are set out below.
A priest remains a human person and it is important that their personality should encourage not detract others in meeting Jesus Christ (PDV 43). Hence the priest needs to be a man of virtue and of affectve maturity, striving to be as perfect a human person as is possible in this life time. Continuous improvement and development is important for the priest and the people. The priest should be genuinely free, of good moral character, prudent, a man of discernment, empathy and both an active listener and good communicator.
The human conndition of the individual also impacts upon the spiritual life.
The spiritual formation of a priest starts with the fundamental call to discipleship and continual conversion to live in intimate union with the Holy Trinity (PDV 45). Such union is always mediated through the Church as the mystical Body of Christ. Therefore seminary formation aims to cultivate a spirituality that is specifically priestly i.e. a spirituality of communion with the Trinity and practiced in the mystery of ecclesial communion. This comes together through a profound devotion to the Eucharist and the liturgical life of the Church, regular Confession, spiritual direction, a love of Sacred Scripture, a spirit of meditation and devotion, love of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and a life of simplicity and holy obedience.
Our intellect sets us apart from other creatures. To progress in life we must continue to be learners, beginning with a personal knowledge of Jesus Christ. Intellectual formation deepens the catechesis we begun when were first introduced to the Good News of Jesus Christ. This deepening is essential as the message is to be passed on to fellow disciples and those who are to be introduced to the Good News. The formation of the intellect includes a more systematic understanding of the mysteries of the faith, the art of communication, the study of thought (philosophy) and cultural sciences.
Pastoral formation is the culmination of the previous three pillars since formation as a whole prepares the man to stand in the presence of the community as alter Christus (another Christ). The priest is to appropriate the “mind of Christ” and use his human personality as a bridge through which to communciate the faith in his words and actions. Pastoral formation aims to round the individual into an effective public minister, drawing together the previous three pillars fo pastoral application. This is typically achieved through regular pastoral placements covering a wide range of pastoral situations.