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A Program of Spiritual Formation for Candidates to the Priesthood

The Lay Monastic Community of Caryana











       In the First Year of Theology, they will learn the commands of Christ as found in the Gospel of Mark. Lessons will be based on the three readings of the Sunday masses of Year B; or, if this is too taxing for the professor, at least the Sunday Gospels of Year B. It is good to start with the Gospel of Mark because this Gospel is for beginners. Matthew is for the more mature.

       In Second Year Theology, they will learn the commands of Christ as found in the Gospel of Matthew. Lessons can be based either on the three readings that are usually connected to each other in theme; but the Sunday Gospel would be good enough. This is Year A.

       Note: We will not study the Gospels line-by-line. This is possible and better, but it would be too taxing for both professor and seminarian. They can return to this later on in a more leisurely manner during the ongoing follow-up program on spirituality for ordained priests.

       In Third Year Theology, the seminarians will study the commands of Christ as found in the Gospel of Luke. The lectures can be based either on the three readings of the Sunday Masses or merely on the Gospel reading. This is Year C.

       In Fourth Year Theology (this can be adjusted where there is no Fourth Year Theology by starting the first year program with philosophy), the seminarians will study the commands of Christ as found in St. John. Unfortunately, there is no Year D, in which case the lectures can be selective. The Apocalypse shall be included to teach the seminarians how to read the sign of the times.

Commentaries to be Used

       We shall use the Catena Aurea of St. Thomas of Aquinas. This work is simply a compilation of short, selected commentaries of the Fathers of every sentence of the New Testament. St. Thomas, in fact, never included any of his own interpretation. The Catena Aurea, not the Summa, was the most powerful, single weapon of renewal during his times. It could be the one and most powerful weapon in the renewal of our seminaries.

       But for a more thorough explanation of each sentence of the New Testament, we could go directly to the sources of St. Thomas. These are: St. John Chrysostom (the most prolific of them all), St. Theophylact (the simplest commentator), St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, St. Caesarius of Arles, and St. Maximus the Confessor. Unfortunately, most of St. Thomas' sources have not yet been translated into English. Since the Fathers and Doctors of the Church merely interpreted the commands of Christ, all of them can be used, depending on the leisure of the professors. For professors who have little time to prepare, the commentary of Blessed Theophylact will be sufficient.

       To enhance further the sharpness of mind of the seminarians, hand-in-hand with a good course in spirituality, we suggest that the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas be used for Dogmatic Theology. If this is not possible, it will diminish the sharpness of mind needed to understand the spiritual life. Knowledge of the spiritual life is INFUSED. It cannot exist with erroneous doctrines or reasoning.

       Advantage: The advantage of this curriculum is that the seminarian, if he learns well and practices in his life what he had learned, can most proficiently explain to the people the Sunday Readings of the Mass in their parishes. He will have his notes and the printed matters to take along with him after ordination. This is renewal: that what the priests have learned from the seminary trickles down to the people. And when they become Bishops, it may trickle down to their priests.

       Nexus: We have been discussing about spirituality as required for all Christians, lay, priests and bishops. We shall now discuss the added spirituality required of priests, though laymen can rise up to this level.


       During the last two years of Theology, probably Third and Fourth Year Theology, we shall add a course specializing on the spirituality of priests.

       In Third Year Theology, the seminarians will study the spirituality required of priests based on the writings of St. John Chrysostom and St. Ambrose, both entitled "On the Priesthood." This course is lengthy; it will require one whole year.

       In Fourth Year Theology, the seminarians will study the spirituality needed to perform their Pastoral Work effectively based on St. Gregory the Great's "Pastoral Care," a highly ascetico-psychological work on how to handle all kinds of souls. This course is lengthy, too, and can take one year.

       Note: Depending on the professor and the time allotted to this program, lectures on spirituality and the spirituality of priests may be held at least once a week or at most twice a week.

       Keep in mind St. Vincent de Paul's saying: "Christ's teaching will never let us down while worldly wisdom always will" (Common Rules or Constitutions of the Congregation of the Missions).


       Let us set down some pointers to remember with regard to the commands of Christ:

       1) There are many commands of Christ. We must learn them all, but just as important is how to obey them. There must be no guesswork… otherwise there is no obedience. Knowledge of the writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church will minimize, if not totally remove, guesswork.

       2) In teaching the seminarians the commands of Christ, it is important to enunciate the command clearly, interpret it clearly and demonstrate how it is to be obeyed. This is not like merely telling them to bake a cake but also showing them how to bake a cake.

       3) Note that the commands of Christ have an order that is to be observed. For instance, first you must "love God," then "your neighbor." We cannot invert the order. If we love our neighbor first before we love God, then that is lust. Another example is that we must first "Deny ourselves" before we can "take up the cross and follow Christ." We cannot follow Christ without denying ourselves and taking up our crosses. The same thing goes with poverty, chastity and obedience. We cannot become chaste unless we first have the spirit of poverty. The idea that diocesan priests are exempted from poverty makes them unable to keep chastity and, much more so, obedience.

       4) The commands of Christ are stated in general terms.

       The commands of Christ in the Gospels can be studied either in their specific forms or in their summarized form. It is good to learn both; the summarized form is easy to remember but we must learn the specific ones to fully understand the summarized form.

       Examples of summarized form that embodies all the commands of Christ:

       "Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me" (Luke 9:23).

       "Blessed are the poor in spirit," the lowest degree of holiness. The Beatitudes progress to the different higher degrees of holiness. Remember that we cannot become peacemakers unless we are first poor in spirit (Matt. 5:3).

       "Love God. And love your neighbor" (Matt. 22:37-39).

       "Learn from me - meekness and humility" (Matt. 11:29).

       "Seek first the kingdom of God… and all the rest shall be added" (Matt.6:33).

Examples of specific forms:

       "When someone strikes you on one cheek, offer the other also" (Luke 6:25).

       "If someone asks you to walk one mile, walk two miles" (Matt. 5: 41). The corporal and spiritual works of mercy would fall under this category.

       "Take no thought on what you are going to eat or drink or wherewith to be clothed… Do not be anxious what you shall eat or drink..." (Matt. 6, 25 -31). Christ repeats this same command twice in the same paragraph to show its importance. Parish priests engage too much in earning to secure their future; what they are going to eat, medicines, etc. thus inadvertently making them endure slavery of the evil one rather than serving God. They do not believe God would provide these things if they seek God's kingdom of holiness first. Of course, nobody in the world will obey this command. But it still has to be taught to and obeyed by the seminarian because it is a command of Christ.

       The above commands, being expressed in general are difficult to understand and, therefore, to execute. Just to say "go south" does not really show me where the mall is. Because the commands are stated in general terms in the Gospels, they are few… less than a hundred. The Apostles, on the other hand, because they were teaching more mature communities, broke down Christ's commands into several more specific commands for our better understanding. Then the Fathers and the Doctors of the Church went further and broke it into more specific commands. All of these are teachings of Christ of which St. John the Evangelist said: "if the teachings of Christ were put down in books, the world cannot contain it." Maybe that is an exaggeration; but it could fill up a good size library. That is how detailed the commands of Christ are. Yet many know nothing about them!

       It is like Christ gave us the knowledge of how a car engine works. The Apostles taught us how the carburetor and combustion engine work. The Fathers went inside the carburetor and taught us how the float, nozzles and gas chamber work. Now, if we put all those commands together, it could really fill up a whole library.


       Christ gave us the command: To love God and neighbor.

       St. Paul breaks it down into 13 commands and, with perfect pedagogy, presents what are the acts of love and what are not. He writes: love is patient, kind. It envies not, deals not perversely, is not puffed up, is not ambitious, seeks not its own, is not provoked to anger. It thinks of no evil, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

       Then, one of the Fathers, like St. Cyprian, Bishop and Martyr, writes a long treatise on what we must do to be patient in our work: "The Advantage of Patience" (PL. 4,621).

       The professors must show that the treatise of St Cyprian on patience is the way to practice the "patience" stated by St. Paul; which St. Paul, in turn, described as one of the elements of "Love of God and neighbor." So merely to be patient is not yet love of God because we still lack the other 12 characteristics of love mentioned by St. Paul.

       Be reminded that the commands of Christ, as detailed by the apostles and the Fathers of the Church, are Christ's teachings handed down to the apostles and Fathers through oral tradition. They merely wrote it down without adding or subtracting from it.

       Tip of the Iceberg. With this program on spiritual formation, the seminarian will learn the commands of Christ, not from the entire Gospels but only from the Sunday Readings. This is crippled knowledge. It is an advantage if the second reading, the Apostolic Epistles of Sunday Mass, be included but this again is not the entire Apostolic writings but portions only. The two readings will be explained using the Fathers but this is also a portion only. We have a portion of the Gospel, a portion of the Apostolic writings and a portion of the Fathers. That is just the tip of the iceberg. But then that is all that can be done during the seminary training. So the seminarian, upon ordination, must know that he does not know the greater bulk of the commands and teachings of Christ. So the importance of an on-going program that will continue the trend set in the seminary.

       This is the rationale behind religious orders. Their training is for life because there is so much to learn. But they, too, have stopped learning after ordination, that is, if they ever learned the commands of Christ before ordination. We really have a crisis in our hands.

       Herein are some commands of Christ as written down by the apostles in their Apostolic Epistles.

       "Do not model yourselves on the behavior of the world around you… this is the only way to discover the will of God and know what is good, what it is that God wants, what is the perfect thing to do" (Rom. 12, 1-2).

       "Accept and submit to the word which has been planted in you and can save your souls. But you must do what the word tells you and not just listen to it and deceive yourselves. Pure, unspoilt religion, in the eyes of God our Father is this: coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world" (James 1:17-18,21-22, 27).

       "If anyone thinks of himself as wise, in the ordinary sense of the word… then he must learn to be a fool before he really can be wise. Why? Because the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God… God is not convinced by the arguments of the wise. So there is nothing to boast about in anything human" (1Cor. 3:18-23).

       "Let your thought be on heavenly things, not on the things that are on the earth… that is why you must kill everything in you that belongs only to earthly life… fornication… and especially greed which is the same as worshipping a false god" (Col. 3:1-5,9-11).

       "Never have grudges against others, or lose your temper, or raise your voice to anybody, or call each other names… " (Eph. 4:30, 5:2).

       "Keep away from any of the brothers who refuse to work or to live according to the tradition we passed on to you" (2 Thes. 3:6-10, 16-18).

       "We urge you brothers, to go on making even greater progress and to make it a point of living quietly, attending to your own business and earning your living" (1 The. 4:9-11).

       For examples of commands of Christ written down by the Fathers, consult sample lesson below.

       5) The last command of Christ in the Gospel, which can only be obeyed if we have obeyed all the previous commands, is: "Love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12). We don't think anyone can claim to this degree of love. This is the aim of the spiritual life - Love of God and love of neighbor as Christ loved us - CHARITY.

       6) Our seminaries and parishes are built on sand. Those who DO NOT OBEY the commands for whatever reason (like ignorance) are like houses built on sand. Unless our seminarians learn and obey these, the commands of Christ, our seminaries will be built on sand, the seminarians' spiritual life will be built on sand and the faith of those they will serve will also be built on sand. Living in this spiritually stormy sea, all of them will have a big fall. "But everyone who hears these words (My commands) of mine and does not put them into practice (does not obey them) is like a foolish man who built his house on sand." "Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock" (Matt. 7:24-26).

       The fact of the matter is that our seminaries, like most seminaries and religious houses in the world, are built on sand, not only because they do not obey the commands of Christ (for religious, this means the rule of their founders) but more so because they never learned the commands of Christ.

       7) PROMISES that come along with obedience to the commands of Christ:

       a. Knowledge and wisdom: "I will teach you all things" (Jn. 14:26).

       b. Solutions to all personal problems, like chastity, loneliness, doubts; and having all needs: "Seek first the kingdom of God and His justice and all the rest shall be added to you" (Matt. 6:33).

       c. Peace of mind and soul: "I give you peace which the world cannot receive" (Jn. 14:27).

       d. Perfect love of God and neighbor: " ' …thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength.' This is the first commandment. And the second is like it, 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." (Mk. 12:30-31); and "If you love me, keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father and He will give you another Advocate to dwell with you forever... " (Jn. 14:15-16).


       Below is an outlined sample of a lecture on how the commands of Christ can be taught based on the Sundays Gospel and using the Fathers to interpret how to obey them.


The Gospel of the Feast of Corpus Christi 

(Luke 9: 11-17)

1. Christ heard that Herod had John the Baptist beheaded, so He leaves for a dessert place in Bethsaida.

         St. Bede the Venerable comments: Jesus did not leave for fear of His life for His time had not yet come, but to prevent Herod from committing two murders, one of John and the other would be Christ. Christ waited for the proper time of His suffering.

         St. John Chrysostom adds: Indeed Christ left to prevent someone from further sinning: but He had a superior motive and that is to perform the miracle of the multiplication of the bread.

         Command of Christ through His example: if your presence will cause someone to sin and there is nothing holy that you can do there, then leave and go somewhere else where you can do something good.

2. The behavior of the multitude delighted Christ and as a reward He taught them, performed miracles and fed them.

         St. Cyril comments: Christ was pleased with the multitude's behavior.

         St. John Chrysostom: Christ was pleased because they left their homes, the cities, and in their enthusiasm did not bring food or drink to go to the desert place. They willingly underwent great discomforts to listen to Christ because they delighted in His teachings.

         Command of Christ: If you wish to delight Christ so that He will teach you His doctrines and show you miracles in your lives and feed you, you must also be willing to undergo great discomforts to learn His teachings.

3. The Gospel says that Christ told the crowd to sit down before feeding them.

         Blessed Theophylact comments: Our Lord teaches us that when we entertain anyone, we ought to make him sit down at meal, and partake of every comfort.

         Command of Christ shown by His example: to win over our guests to God, make them sit down, feel comfortable and feed them.

4. Then Christ blessed the bread and broke it.

         St. Cyril comments: that before eating, we must bless the food with a prayer.

         Command of Christ shown by His example: say graces before meals.

5. He commanded His disciples to distribute the 5 loaves and 2 fishes to feed the multitude that made up 5 thousand men plus women and children.

         St. John Chrysostom: Christ had His disciples distribute the 5 loaves and 2 fishes that they may show obedience to Him and see the consequent result. They fed the multitude and had 12 baskets in excess.

         Command of Christ shown by His command to His disciples: even if you have little, like 5 loaves and 2 fishes, still share them with those in need and you will have an abundance in return.

       See how in a short Sunday Gospel of 17 verses we can extricate five commands of Christ!

       Needless to say, all the teachers, the Rector, spiritual director and seminary staff must be of one heart and mind with these commands, otherwise there will be many conflicts, persecution and betrayal as often happens when some obey the commands of Christ and some don't.

       Nexus: The commands of Christ will be learned from a Liturgical Setting; i.e. we will study the commands of Christ as presented in the Liturgy of the Mass. In this way the seminarians are spiritually prepared for the Sunday Liturgy.


       Teaching the commands of Christ based on the Gospel and Apostolic Epistles and interpreted by the Fathers of the Church is a course that INCLUDES: Liturgy, Scriptures, Exegesis, Apologetics, Ascetical Theology, Moral Theology and Dogma in ONE UNIFIED SUBJECT. The other subjects will be redundant but can be maintained in the meantime.

       Note: A qualified professor is one who knows the commands of Christ and has obeyed the commands of Christ. It is like saying the professor must have some degree of holiness. A good student is one who learns the commands of Christ and obeys them. A student who cannot learn and, worse, cannot obey, will never make a good priest, a good seminarian or even a good Christian. The best vocation recruiter is a good priest.

Psychological Testing vs. Seminary Life

       A seminary that lives the fullness of the spiritual life is the best screening instrument; it will bring out those qualified for the priesthood and point out those who would be a shame. It is superior and more reliable than all the psychological tests used today. Psychological tests cannot test the spiritual preparedness of a soul. These tests can only surmise what is natural and with no great certainty at that.

       "Test the Spirit" (1 Jn. 4:1). And the best test is community life. A psychological test can screen out someone spiritually qualified for the priesthood. The spiritual life can only enhance one qualified for the priesthood. The way one obeys and disobeys the commands of Christ is the best gauge of preparation for the priesthood. Psychological testing may be used for other purposes but it does not have the capability to gauge the spiritual qualification of a person. St. John Vianney and St. Joseph Cupertino would have failed a psychological test.

Adjunct Subjects


       Gregorian chant, like the Divine Office and the Mass, sanctifies those who sing it. That is the reason it is used in the liturgy. The monks, more than others, realized the great sanctifying influence of Gregorian chant and so widely used it in their Divine Services. St. Dunstan of Canterbury and St. Hildegard of Bingen used it extensively as an instrument for self-improvement for their monks and nuns. Not only can Gregorian chant help in the quest for holiness, but it can also be the gauge of a community's spirituality.

       The beauty of Gregorian music depends on the holy lives of the singers. St. Ambrose (Bk. I On Modesty) wrote that the chant must be accompanied by a life of modesty. A person who never goes beyond the due measure of speech or never makes an unbecoming sound will sing the chant well. The chief act of modesty is silence.

       The seminarians must be immersed in the Gregorian melodies so that, when they leave the seminary, they can distinguish between sacred and profane music. Most church music today, though having religious words, are based on secular or profane modes and rhythm and, therefore, not sacred. Though this could be used for the majority of lay people, especially teenagers, it is not good enough for one called to mediate between God and man.

       When the chant is sung by minds and hearts consecrated to God, then it is beautiful, uplifting, edifying… and food for the soul. (St. Augustine, On Music)


       Latin has always been considered the language of the Church. Most of the teachings of Christ can better be expressed in Latin. Though we do not propose an extensive course in Latin, we do advise that the seminarians have, at least, a working knowledge of Latin so he can understand the text of the Gregorian melodies and key phrases of Latin in their classes.

       Unlike Latin, other languages like English easily decay into rapid vulgarization, constant changes, weird and inconsistent pronunciations and weakening. On the other hand, Latin is the easiest of all foreign languages to learn because it is the most clear and logical, and many foreign words are rooted in it.

Pope John XXII in Vetera Sapientia noted that:

       It was not without the design of Divine Providence that the language, which for several centuries had brought a great number of peoples together under the authority of the Roman Empire, became the very language of the Apostolic See and passed on to posterity to form a close bond of union between the Christian nations of Europe… For the Latin language is by its very nature admirably suited to promote every form of human culture among the people of any country; it arouses no jealousy, it is equally acceptable to all nations, favors no factions, is gracious and friendly to all alike.

       While Latin is indeed crucial for preserving and mastering the tradition of the Catholic Church, that is only half the story. It is also most valuable in vouchsafing the development of that tradition. The language of the Church must not only be ancient but also unchanging.

       If the truths of the Catholic Church were consigned to some or to many of the modern changeable languages, among which none is of greater authority than the others, the result would surely be, on the one hand, that the meaning of these various versions would not be sufficiently indicated or sufficiently clear to be understood by everyone; and, on the other, that there would be no common and fixed norm by which the meaning of other versions could be determined.

       Optatam Totius explicitly requires seminarians, before undertaking theological studies, to acquire "a knowledge of Latin which will enable them to understand and make use of so many scientific resources and of the documents of the Church." The New Code of Canon Law also decreed that "the program of priestly formation is to provide that the students are not only taught their native language accurately but are also well versed in Latin." Only the Pontifical North American College in Rome and Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, seem to be following this directive on Latin.


       Nexus. It is important that practices based on the commands of Christ are observed in the seminary even before they learn the commands. Because in this matter, as St. Augustine states: obey that you may understand, i.e., the seminarians must first put into practice the commands so that when they study them it will be easier to understand them. It is like saying: do it first then we shall explain why you have to do it. Fides quaerens intellectus. Thus, slowly, seminary life takes a meaningful turn. It is useless to study the commands of Christ if we do not obey them. The place where we might obey the commands of Christ is in "community life" in the seminary. The seminary could be the only and last place the seminarians can learn and obey the commands of Christ. If they don't do it now, they won't do it later.

(updated 01-02-02)


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