There’s Something about Seminaries
Pope Calls on Jesuits to Teach Discernment
Cindy Wooden – Catholic News Service
When it comes to the Christian life, too many seminaries teach students a rigid list of rules that make it difficult or impossible for them as priests to respond to the real-life situation of those who come to them seeking guidance, Pope Francis said.
“Some priestly formation programs run the risk of educating in the light of overly clear and distinct ideas, and therefore to act within limits and criteria that are rigidly defined a priori, and that set aside concrete situations,” the pope said during a meeting with 28 Polish Jesuits in Krakow during World Youth Day.
The Vatican did not publish details of the pope’s meeting July 30 with the Jesuits, but—with Pope Francis’ explicit approval—a transcript of his remarks to the group was published in late August by Civilta Cattolica, a Jesuit journal reviewed at the Vatican prior to publication.
According to the transcript, the pope asked the Jesuits to begin an outreach to diocesan seminaries and diocesan priests, sharing with them the prayerful and careful art of discernment as taught by St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits.
“The church today needs to grow in the ability of spiritual discernment,” the pope told the Polish Jesuits.
In his spiritual exercises, St. Ignatius provided steps for helping people recognize—or discern—where God is working in their lives and what draws them closer to God or pushes them further from God. For St. Ignatius, knowing what is moral and immoral is essential, but knowing what is going on in people’s lives helps identify practical ways forward.
Without “the wisdom of discernment,” the pope said in Krakow, “the seminarians, when they become priests, find themselves in difficulty in accompanying the life of so many young people and adults.”
“And many people leave the confessional disappointed. Not because the priest is bad, but because the priest doesn’t have the ability to discern situations, to accompany them in authentic discernment,” the pope said. “They don’t have the needed formation.”
While some laypeople also are called to provide spiritual direction, priests are more often “entrusted with the confidences of the conscience of the faithful,” so seminarians and priests particularly need to learn discernment.
“I repeat, you must teach this above all to priests, helping them in the light of the exercises in the dynamic of pastoral discernment, which respects the law but knows how to go beyond,” the pope said.
“We need to truly understand this: in life not all is black on white or white on black,” he said. “The shades of grey prevail in life. We must them teach to discern in this gray area.”
Pope Francis did not mention his apostolic exhortation on the family, “The Joy of Love,” in his talk with the Jesuits in Krakow, but the document repeatedly referred to the importance of discernment for families and for their spiritual guides.
Father Salvador Pie-Ninot, a Spanish professor of ecclesiology, wrote in the Vatican newspaper Aug. 24 that the pope referred to the need for discernment 35 times in the exhortation.
Especially when dealing with individual Catholics who have been divorced and civilly remarried, Pope Francis wrote, discernment recognizes that, “since the degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases, the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same. Priests have the duty to accompany (the divorced and remarried) in helping them to understand their situation according to the teaching of the church and the guidelines of the bishop.”
Pathetic response of the Trustees to the Maynooth situation.
We still do not know what exactly, if anything untoward, was going on in the seminary in Maynooth. All sorts of rumours and insinuations were thrown around and published in the newspapers, and of course in social media. I suspect most people feel that this particular smoke had at least some fire at its base. Maybe so.
Clearly Diarmaid Martin thought so, and took his well-publicised action of removing his students from the place and sending them to the Irish College in Rome. That in-itself was a strange move, hard to explain or justify. He talked a great deal about the sort of training for priesthood that was needed in today’s world. Some of his ideas were excellent, and quite radical. But they seemed to me to be in direct contradiction to his decision to send his students to Rome.
And then, eventually, the trustees had a meeting. These are the four archbishops, the two Martin’s, Neary and O’Reilly. They discussed the situation and apparently were in considerable agreement that something needed to be done with Maynooth. And then they came up with these ‘dramatic’ new policies.
All students were to eat their evening meal together, and with the staff. And then they were all to gather again at nine o’clock at night for the recitation of the rosary. That was it!
Are these men serious? Do they expect this effort at very traditional regimentation, and equally traditional spirituality, to solve the problems they believe existed?
I’m afraid this yet again shows up the failure of Diarmaid Martin. (I don’t expect much from the other three!) In this situation, as in so many others, he talks a great talk, but his actions bear little or no relation to what he says.
There are two core issues that are at the heart of what is reputed to be happening in Maynooth, and is also showing itself in many other seminaries around the world. Those are the rule of compulsory celibacy, and the variety and complexity of sexual attraction present among us humans, and the very faulty church teaching on sexuality generally and LGBT in particular. Is it possible that these gentlemen believe that lining up the students for the rosary every evening is going to deal with these human situations.
I’m afraid not.
Jesus and Women
In the wake of the controversy that has arisen recently about the Maynooth Seminary it is good to see that a subcommittee of lay people, families and “especially the presence of women” will be introduced as part of priestly formation. (source: The Tablet: 24th of August edition)
This is a wise and positive decision.
For far too long priestly formation has been solely in the hands of males. The seminarian during his 7 – 8 years of study lived in an all male culture; contact with women was something rare.
If we look at Jesus we see that although he was accompanied by twelve men, the apostles, he also enjoyed the company of some women. There was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna and many other women (Luke 8:1 – 3).
Jesus too on occasions visited the house of his friends Martha and Mary. His first miracle happened in response to the request of a woman, Mary, his mother (John 2: 3). He cured several women, one of them was the daughter of Jairo and not to forget too the mother-in-law of St. Peter, the first Pope (Matthew 8:14 – 15). It was a woman, Mary Magdalene, who was the first to witness the resurrection (John 20:11 – 18).
This decision of Maynooth to allow women to take part in priestly formation is a healthy one. After ordination, the newly ordained priest will have to know how to work, and be comfortable working, with women; after all half of the population is made up of women.
In the past there was a very negative attitude towards women. In 401 Saint Augustine wrote: “Nothing is so powerful in drawing the spirit of a man downward as the caresses of a woman”. Saint Jeronimo, Ambrose and Innocent the First would say that priesthood and matrimony are incompatible because you cannot reconcile holiness and matrimonial sexuality. Yet in the early church the bond between family life and church was so close that the qualities looked for in a Bishop, priest and deacon, were the same as those of a good father of a family (1 Timothy 3: 3, 4 – 5, 12).
Some of the greatest men in the world who carried enormous responsibilities were supported in their work by a wife. Likewise too in many professions, men such as doctors, surgeons, counsellors, all these live a very demanding life and in most cases they benefit from the companionship and contact of a woman, their wife.
Women bring a different outlook to life, in most cases a very positive outlook. It is good to remember this for there will be the prophets of doom who will be against the presence of women in priestly training.
A seminary staff that is made up of male and female members will in the long run have a positive effect on the formation of future priests.
Brian Eyre: Married Catholic priest, Recife, Brazil
When a clerical student in Maynooth in the early 80’s, I remember our philosophy teacher, Fr.Flan Markam, frequently quoting St.Thomas Aquinas when referring to the student cohort – “Grace builds on nature!” He believed no amount of theology, spiritual exercises, discipline etc. would ever create priest/prophets in the church if those who put themselves forward did not have the depth of humanity to serve God’s people. The work of the Holy Spirit develops the candidate’s humanity into a person who reflects God’s presence through Love, Joy, Peace, Patience etc. God does not repress nature but builds on it and it happens “in the bits and pieces of every day”, above all in human relationships, in ordinary places.
Maynooth College is neither ordinary nor natural. It reflects a skewed version of religious leadership, of unnatural living and growth, often resulting in dysfunctional perceptions of reality.
Fr. Raphael Gallagher encouraged us, as future priests, to be concerned about the quality of people’s relationships rather than their nature. Focusing on rumours of gay liaisons or any type of promiscuity is pointless – we need to be aware of the (natural) need for love reflected in the lives, not just of the students, but of everyone involved in the institution. This institution smothers and distorts loving relationships, rather than nurturing them. Sexual orientation is not the issue!!
St. Irenaeus said “the glory of God is Man(kind) fully alive” – I believe institutional living is not a fertile ground to grow to be “fully alive”, as priest/prophets should be.
After I left seminary in 1971 they introduced a course on Human Development. I had to laugh. I had been stuck in seminary since the age of 11 until 24, seeing nobody outside the walls of the place and stuck in the middle of nowhere. The introduction of the course clearly was an admission that young priests had not developed anywhere near enough for their age. How could they, stuck in a system like that!
I gained a reputation for human kindness in my time. It was the only thing I had with which to respond to the human situations that I met. Kindness is wonderful and can try to make up for a lot of deficiencies in understanding. But kindness is not enough. We do need to learn many things about the struggle of human life, and that needs human experience. We need to be immersed in the world we hope to evangelise. We need to be involved with others, male and female, to make friends, to make mistakes and to make our way in the world.
As our character and personality develop and as we grow in confidence we will one day come into the great power of personal authority, that sureness of touch about our own ability to judge situations and to offer good help to others. In the course of my ministry one of the good things that came my way was to be involved in the Beginning Experience and so to deal with my own grief and then minister to others in theirs.
But I had been produced as a ‘baby priest’ with no experience at all and that was a sin. Since a priest and minister needs to be somewhat mature I find the Jesuit tradition of not ordaining anyone until they are 30 years of age very laudable. Since human development is a basic requirement for any public life and service I suggest that seminaries cannot begin to supply this.
People of some maturity should be called forward and trained in colleges of theology and spirituality to be formed and fitted for the work of service. Study must build on lived life and not the other way round. Seminaries are often described as hot houses and that will not serve anymore.
I look forward to the changing face of ministry in the Church. The form of compulsory celibate male priesthood is slowly dying, I hope. It nearly killed me! But I am alive and well. I have been a seminarian, a priest, a religious, a missioner, a prison chaplain, a teacher of moral theology, a parish priest, a husband, a family mediator, a father and a widower.
Now that is human development!