Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, are hosting an international conference this weekend on the theme ‘Models of Priestly Formation: Assessing the Past, Reflecting on the Present and Imagining the Future’. Archbishop Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh and Chancellor of the Pontifical University, opened the conference yesterday, which runs from Thursday 17 to Saturday 19 November.
The conference welcomes a variety of national and international speakers, including Archbishop Eamon Martin; Archbishop Diarmuid Martin; Archishop Jorge Carlos Patrón Wong, Secretary for Seminaries at the Congregation for Clergy, and Rev Dr Hans Zollner SJ of the Centre for Child Protection, Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Some of the themes of the conference include
Speaking ahead of the conference Rev Professor Michael Mullaney, President of Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, said, ‘The purpose of the conference is to reflect on the issue of priestly formation since Vatican II; to assess the current situation; to look at best practice from elsewhere; and, to imagine new models of priestly formation into the future. It is my hope that the speakers and participants at the conference, who include seminary leaders, bishops, congregational leaders, vocation and spiritual directors, theologians, and psychologists, will benefit from their deliberations and reflections on the current models of priestly formation as well as on the challenges facing seminarians and formators, especially in the English-speaking world.’
In his opening address at the conference, Archbishop Eamon Martin said, ‘One of Ireland’s earliest mentions of priestly formation can be found in the tenth century Rule of the Céli Dé. The document tells us that when the candidate has been taught how to pray the Liturgy of the Hours and “the correct method of administering Baptism and Communion”, the formator is entitled to a cow from the candidate’s family! In subsequent years, the formator is to be paid a calf, a pig, and four sacks of grain “together with a reasonable supply of clothing and food.” When the candidate passes his final exams his formator is entitled to “a supper, of food and beer” before the bishop, “for a party of five that night.”
‘Friends, I am confident that this International Symposium on Models of Priestly Formation will have more than enough to be getting on with if it concentrates on developments over the past fifty years! Since the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Priestly Training Optatam Totius, we’ve had the 1970 Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis; updates on this text in 1985, particularly in light of the 1983 Code of Canon Law; reflections on priestly formation at the 1990 Synod of Bishops followed by Pope Saint John Paul II’s important Post-Synodal Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis (25 March 1992) – and not a mention of a cow or a calf in any of them!
‘Now, over thirty years later, we have a new edition of the “Ratio”, promulgated on 8 December 2016, entitled, “The Gift of Priestly Vocation”. The new Ratio envisions a paradigm shift in priestly formation which calls for a considerable rethink of the structures and relationships in priestly formation. While the conciliar and post-conciliar documents on priestly formation have provided an excellent framework for bishops and seminaries, the recent Ratio Fundamentalis together with Pope Francis’ various discourses about priestly lifestyle offers a new vision, requiring new structures – new wine requiring fresh wineskins.’
Archbishop Martin continued, ‘I have often wondered, however, could any kind of priestly “training” (and I use that word “training” deliberately) have fully prepared me for what lay ahead: – the seismic shift that would occur in the early 1990s in Ireland’s relationship with Church and with priests; the horrendous and shocking child sex abuse scandals; the challenges swept in by a wave of secularisation; the digital revolution, and arrival of the internet and social media; the tendency in society towards rampant consumerism, individualism and relativism; the struggle to live a celibate life in a hyper-sexualised culture; the challenge of maintaining good physical and mental health and well-being in an increasingly rushed, stressful and pressurised environment; the decline in vocations to the priesthood and religious life bringing increased demands and a certain loss of morale for those in ministry; enhanced expectations regarding governance and accountability for the temporal goods of the Church?’
‘That is why I think any consideration of priestly formation must see formation as a lifelong process. Who knows what challenges lie ahead for today’s seminarians? How might we best prepare them for the changes that will transform the world in twenty or thirty years’ time but which cannot even be dreamt of today? To put it in business terms: how can we “future-proof” formation?’
He went on to say, ‘A good formation programme has therefore to foster in the seminarian, and in the priest, the virtue of humility and a willingness to search both for the right answers and be open to receiving the help he needs to be a faithful disciple of Christ in a changing world. This is why the spirit of humble discernment is so important. Discernment will sometimes be painful as it requires honesty, integrity, perception, sincerity and an openness to engage with every element and all areas of formation.
‘Vocational discernment also requires a relationship of trust with formators, an honest assessment of one’s own strengths and weaknesses and an honest and appropriate disclosure of these to formators; a willingness to receive and accept direction, guidance, correction; above all the capacity to live discipleship and priesthood consistently and systematically. This is a life-long work project.’
Archbishop Martin concluded, ‘Friends, I commend these thoughts to you as you begin this Symposium, grateful that you have taken the time and made the effort to be part of this conversation in which we assess the past, reflect on the present and imagine the future. I cannot promise a calf, a pig or four sacks of grain, but I trust that you will leave this Symposium emboldened and informed to continue your vitally important task of helping to form men to serve Christ and His Church. May God grant success to the work of our hands.’
Archbishop Martin’s full address can be found on www.catholicbishops.ie.