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A call to priesthood is an invitation to enter more fully into the life of God. A man doesn’t study for priesthood, he is ‘formed’ as the clay is formed into a vessel of great worth to the potter. Through prayer and study he grows into a more intimate faith with the Lord, discerning what is being asked of him and submitting completely to God’s will. The apostles spent three years with Jesus before there were sent out to do his work on their own as part of their formation.
When a man is accepted for formation he enters community life in a house of formation called a seminary. He typically spends six years (experience and age are taken into consideration) working with his Spiritual Director, the seminary staff, his fellow seminarians and those whom he meets in the various pastoral situations he will face, effectively reliving the experience of the apostles. There he spends time in prayer, he studies, and gains experience in various pastoral situations and he is part of a community strengthening and serving each other, seeking the will of God.
The formal programme of formation is structured around Blesses John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhoration Pastores Dabo Vobis (‘I will give you Shepherds’). First published in 1992, the doument lays down four key areas of formation for those discerning priesthood, namely Human Formation, Spiritual Formation, Pastoral Formation and Intellectual Formation. The purpose of the programme is to form the whole person and also to enable the student and his local bishop to make a mature decision as to whether priesthood is for him.