B. THE "PRACTICE" PORTION OF
THE SPIRITUAL FORMATION
1. COMMUNITY LIFE
"practical" portion of this curriculum has to be accomplished in the
context of a community. Learning how to live in community will prepare the
seminarian to effectively guide Basic Christian Communities and his parish.
The commands of Christ in
imitation of His hidden life is also called the Life of Repentance.
Though Christ needed no repentance, He had to teach us how to repent; thus
He demonstrated this through His hidden life.
The Life of Repentance, which is
the beginning of the spiritual life that should eventually grow to CHARITY,
has three elements. The Fathers enumerate them as Prayer, Fasting
and Good Works. Community Life must be a blend of these three. The
saints had prescribed how much of each is needed every day and an ideal
community life must have the right blend. Too much of one over the others
will cause an unbalanced spiritual life.
In the first place, be of one
heart and one mind; this is the very essence of the unity of the
Church. Thus "com" meaning "with" and
"unitas" meaning "one". Every one must have the same
beliefs, the same goals and the same means to the goal. Renewal in the
Church had always been the establishment of a new community. This is more
obvious in the reforms of religious orders.
Every rule in the community is
geared towards the avoidance of vices, growing in virtue and preservation
of charity. It is ignorance of Christ's commands that has made many
seminaries ignorant of the rationale of old seminary rules; this has caused
them to put aside the old rules.
Family - Model for Seminaries
God-appointed perfect ambiance for obeying the commands of Christ and thus,
for growing in holiness, is the Christian family. And Christ with the Holy
Family is the perfect example. It is for this purpose, personal sanctification,
that the sacrament of holy matrimony was instituted.
Obedience to the commands of
Christ can be practiced only in the context of the family. How can you love
your neighbor if there is no neighbor? On the other hand, if one does not
love his wife or brother and sister, he cannot love someone outside the
family no matter how much he pretends he does.
But God foresaw that most
families would not live up to this model. So God made provision for a
substitute, an alternative for the family. And this is the Church, the
Christian community or monastic community wherein the governing principles
are exactly the same as a Christian family. And, consequently, the
seminaries, which are substitutes for the Christian family and patterned
after monasteries, serve the same purpose.
The training for obedience to the
commands of Christ is done best within the context of the family or, if
this is not possible due to the neglect of the parents, in the monasteries
or seminaries. In learning the commands of Christ, it is best that the
seminarians also put them into practice. For most, if not for all the
seminarians, the seminary is the first and last place where they will learn
and practice the commands of Christ.
the seminarians must do the following within the context of community life
in obedience to and in imitation of Christ:
1) They must exert conscientious effort to carry out God's will in all
circumstances and at all times. They must have a thorough knowledge of
their own likes and dislikes that usually interfere in finding out God's
will. To exercise "denying themselves", they must obey the
commands of Christ, of the Church, of the Constitutions and of their
2) When something happens to them, good or bad, they are to accept it
without fuss as from God's loving providence.
3) They must have the simplicity of a dove, avoiding double-dealing or
manipulations using deceit to get what they want.
4) They must know how to keep confidences and speak only of those things
that will give glory to God, avoiding looking at things from the worldly
point of view or from the feeble reasoning of their minds.
5) They must treat everyone in a gentle manner, never losing their temper
or exhibiting anger.
6) Upon learning the commands of Christ, they must immediately discover
whether they have obeyed them or not. If not, this would be sin; they must
be sorry for this and keep it always before their eyes; "My sins are
always before me."
7) In denying themselves, they must accept every over-ruling of their
desires, opinions and ways of doing things.
8) In obedience to Christ who commanded us to leave father, mother... they
must avoid all attachment to relatives. They must love them in a spiritual
way as Christ loved Joseph and Mary.
9) Still, as part of detachment, they must have no preference whatsoever
for assignments, persons, place, companion or any similar things. And
believe that the superior has done things well.
10) Some form of uniformity is important in community life for the sake of
good order that leads to holiness. Avoid what is out of the ordinary, for
this breeds jealousy and disagreements. This applies to food, clothing,
things in the room and what is assigned to each one for his use. The
seminary must set down what these things ought to be.
11) Charity must rule all the acts of the seminarians; this is shown in
gentlemanliness and courtesies, being humble and meek in all things. Or, as
St. Paul says, to develop the virtues of humility, patience, fortitude and perseverance.
12) Satan is more zealously going to attack those who seek God by
suggesting acts that are contrary to the commands of Christ, as he did in
Paradise. The seminarians' most powerful weapon is the knowledge of
Christ's commands, without which he has no way of detecting the suggestions
of the devil. Devilish suggestions are: to use mere human means in doing
God's work, the desire to be known by men through publicity, to impose our
opinions on others, and self-indulgence.
13) Whenever they have doubts, they must try to resolve it by a conscious
examination of conscience using the commands of Christ as their criterion
(because all the answers on what they must do in all circumstances are
there). But if their knowledge of Christ's commands is insufficient, they
must consult the spiritual director, who hopefully is well versed with the
commands of Christ. They should not discuss this with anyone else because
this worsens the problem (through wrong advise) and causes problems for
others by tempting them with the same doubts.
VOWS: Poverty, Chastity and Obedience
Chastity is built on poverty and
obedience is built on chastity. No one can remain chaste unless he
practices voluntary poverty. The wrong concept that diocesan priests do not
practice poverty, unlike religious, is a misconception with disastrous
results. Maybe diocesan priests may not observe the external observances of
poverty; but definitely they must have the spirit of poverty to eventually
be chaste and obedient. If the seminarian does not practice it now, he will
never have a chance to do so afterwards, in which case he can never be
chaste. The Curé d'Ars, patron saint of the diocesan clergy, is the
excellent example of one who practiced the three vows.
Practices to Promote the Spirit of Poverty
When the Acts of the Apostles
described the first Christian communities, the point first emphasized is
the spirit of poverty, i.e., their attitude towards worldly goods;
"they had all things in common" (Act 4:32). St Barnabas wrote:
"If you are partakers in things incorruptible, how much more of those
things which are corruptible" (c. 70-13-, E., 1.148); " …no one
saying that any of the things is his own."
1) Christ lived poorly from birth to death. In our weakness we may live a
little better, but within the bounds of the spirit of poverty. Christ's
insistence on it by His example shows that it is fundamental in building
the spiritual life. It is based on His command to "deny oneself".
Without the spirit of poverty, which should be learned in the seminary, the
diocesan priest will be overwhelmed and enslaved by the things of the
2) Like the early Christians, all belongings in the seminary must be
considered common property and must be given to each according to their
needs. No one may dispose of or lend what is given to him for his use to
another without due permission. Nor should he accept anything from another
without permission. And though allowed to receive gifts from outside, the
seminarian must present it to the superior for proper disposal or for
common use. As much as possible the seminarians must have almost the same
things; same number of clothes, cassocks, soap and toothpaste, etc. He may
possess nothing without permission.
3) He must consider everything in the seminary as sacred vessels, taking
good care of everything and not allowing these things to deteriorate or get
damaged through negligence.
4) He should never go for extraordinary or exotic things. In everything he
must be moderate and, if possible, feel the bite of poverty by choosing
things that are inferior in quality.
5) The room, cabinets and desk must not be locked because this smacks of
6) It is the spirit of poverty, too, that we do not desire for any position
of importance in the seminary or excel in any activity for the sake of
to Promote the Spirit of Chastity
1) Joseph, Mary and Jesus were all chaste. That is the model of the
Christian home and every monastery, convent or seminary. Since in the seminary,
even if he had learned the commands of Christ, the seminarian has his
fallen nature intact. He must absolutely have no contact with women until
he has developed, in some degree, the virtue of chastity (which can only
grow on the spirit of poverty). If he must, contacts must be rare and the
following safeguards must be observed. He must not speak to a woman alone;
nor must he show anything that smacks of affection. He must not speak close
2) And, since the desert Fathers state that gluttony is the mother of
unchastity, all must be moderate in their eating. Eating only food "in
season, easily available in the locality and cheap." An unchaste
reputation is most damaging to the work of God. So much so that works, even
good and holy, may be avoided if there is suspicion of unchastity.
3) Sloth has always been the workshop of the devil. And the first thoughts
that entertain a slothful seminarian are impure thoughts. So he must avoid
to Promote the Spirit of Obedience
1) Christ's life was
described thus: "He was obedient unto death." "He learned
obedience from suffering." "He was subject to them," (Luke
2:51). We must obey the Holy Father, the Bishop and those set over us like
the Rector of the seminary. Obey all superiors in all matters not obviously
against the commands of Christ. And our obedience must be prompt and
cheerful believing that, though what they command may not be the best, to
obey them is the best thing for us to do.
2) No one is to command or order another to do anything, or to correct
anyone unless asked of him by the superior or if it is already his duty to
3) If a work is to be left unfinished for any reason, the superior must be
4) No one is to interfere with anybody else's work unless asked to or there
is an immediate need.
5) In the spirit of detachment from families and relations, letter writing
must be entirely avoided if not reduced to the minimum. All letters going
in and out must pass the superior unsealed. The superior has the last word
on whether to send it or not.
6) To develop the virtue of temperance that leads to chastity, no one may
eat out of the appointed time, unless there is a need and with the
permission of the superior. Seminarians may not keep food in their rooms
for their private consumption without permission. And no one should enter
another's room. And if there is a need to do so, the door must remain open.
No one may bring anybody inside his room.
1) The sick seminarian,
because of the physical infirmity must receive utmost care from the
community. Around the sick we must be quiet, speaking in a low voice and
seeing to it that whatever we say will console and encourage the sick to
accept God's will, keeping in mind what St. Augustine said: that sickness
is a forced retreat.
2) On the par of the sick seminarian, he must realize that he is as if in a
pulpit to witness publicly to Christian virtues, especially patience and
meekness. Those taking care of him must see Christ's example in him. He must
be obedient to doctors. He must try not to make it difficult for others to
take care of him by complaints.
3) Any seminarian who feels unwell must report his condition to the
superior but must leave it to the superior what course of action to take. No
one is to take any medicine or call a doctor without the superior's
is how we must look, act and speak in a manner that would in some degree
reflect Christ so that we may attract those truly seeking God and they, on
their part may feel comfortable in listening to the words of life. Remember
that the slightest impropriety can ruin what we have built.
a) Guard your eyes from roving all about. Avoid undignified and childish behavior
or anything that smacks of affectation or the mundane.
b) Do not touch one another, even in fun or sports. Limit yourself to the
gestures of friendship or, in rare occasions, greetings (like upon seeing a
long lost friend).
c) Dress up neatly with regards to clothing but avoiding what is too
stylish or too elegant.
d) The rooms, though minimal in furnishing, must be neat and all in order
in matters of bedding, books and papers. What we ought to practice, we must
practice in the privacy of our rooms, preserving the modesty mentioned by
sleeping with proper clothing even in warm weather.
3. BEHAVING WITH CHARITY TOWARDS OTHERS WITHIN THE SEMINARY
purpose of community life is to learn how to charitably behave towards
others. If we cannot be charitable to those who are in the seminary we
cannot be charitable to those outside. St. Augustine says: "He who
does not love one does not love all."
a) The bond of holiness must unite all. Bear mutual respect for one
another. Avoid particular friendship; ostracize no one, avoid forming
factions and groups.
b) Great courtesy must be shown the superiors. Do not interrupt them while
they are speaking, or worse, contradict them. Special signs of respect must
be shown to superiors, those already ordained priest, directors and
professors. But the special respect due to the superior must be reserved to
the superior alone.
c) "Since in much talking you will not escape sin," periods of
silence must be imposed. In learning spiritual matters, solitude and
silence is essential. A talkative seminary will never do God's work well.
There must be periods and places of Grand Silence. Periods of Grand Silence
are from awakening until after Prime or morning prayers; then from Compline
or night prayers until sleeping time, which includes the whole night.
Places of Grand Silence are: church, sacristy, sleeping quarters and
refectory (during meals). During the day, talking must be minimal, only on
what is needed and must be done softly or in a low voice. Talking is
allowed only during recreation: though we must avoid rowdiness and
arguments. Though humor is good don't let it get out of control by sticking
to what is useful and agreeable.
Silence also means care in
walking, closing doors, and other physical noises.
d) Talking to those not connected with the seminary is discouraged, since
their worldliness could tempt the seminarian. St. Basil in his "Long
Rules" warns us of the world entering through such persons;
"through the visitor's parlor," quips St. Teresa of Avila. This
includes hired gardeners, cooks and workers. Charity, though, calls for a
brief passing greeting.
e) Colloquium. This is group conversation, which can be held during
recreation wherein the seminarians can edify and encourage one another while
refuting wrong concepts raised by other seminarians. During such meetings
avoid acting out vices, stubbornness, and effeminacy even for a joke.
Express your opinions humbly, avoid showing anger or bad temper or even
mere annoyance. Do not hurt anyone in word or deed or in any other way.
f) To discourage gossip, which is the mother of talkativeness, observe
confidentiality. Do not say what is not needed to be said.
g) Avoid rash judgments by slurring the reputation of anyone, especially
superiors. Do not grumble or criticize those over you or the policies of
the seminary. Unless it goes against the commands of Christ, do not take
sides in any argument.
h) It would be useless talking to discuss national and international
affairs and other political matters. "No one in God's army gets
involved in secular affairs," St. Paul wrote.
4. BEHAVING WITH OTHERS OUTSIDE THE SEMINARY
Christ gave norms on how the
apostles should behave with one another and how they should behave towards
Pharisees and Scribes and other authorities.
a) As a general rule we should not seek frequent contact with outside
people during the years of formation in the seminary unless obedience or
necessity calls for it.
b) We should not be involved in mundane affairs like other people's
lawsuits, execution of wills, business negotiations or any similar
c) Do not eat with non-confreres without the superior's permission.
d) Do not be messengers for messages, letters or anything else in either
direction between confreres or between confreres and outsiders.
e) The way of life and the written rules of the seminary must not be shown
to any outsider unless such a one is truly seeking to enter the same
seminary. This is the hidden life. Do not expose it. It is hidden not
because there is something secret about it since everything is written down
in Scriptures and the Fathers. It is hidden that one may seek God within
his heart quietly and undisturbed.
f) Do not discuss with non-confreres the state of the nation or government.
It is presumptuous and a sign of pride.
g) For those who need to go out or go places, precautions must be made.
They must go two by two. Each one must say where he is going, why and when
he is coming back. And as soon as he returns he must give an accounting to
the superior. This precaution will help the seminarian avoid dangerous
occasions of sin. If he has to sleep outside, he must do so, preferably in
a parish or a seminary or convent guesthouse.
5. SPIRITUAL PRACTICES
Christ and His disciples had
spiritual practices like going to the temple or going to secluded places.
Here are some practices of great spiritual help and must be preferred to
a) We must honor in a special way the Blessed Trinity. And this is done through
the recitation of the Divine Office, celebration of the sacrifice of the
Mass and reception of the sacraments. These liturgical functions should
receive the greatest reverence in word and in act. Gregorian Chant, instead
of profane songs must accompany the Liturgy.
If for some reason we cannot attend the Divine Office, we should pray
wherever we are the St. Francis way, substituting the Our Father for the
number of psalms.
b) Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary must be fostered by specially celebrating
her feasts, singing devoutly her hymn after Compline, and having a replica
of her true face in a prominent place. Devotion to her must be in imitating
her virtues rather than in shallow meaningless gestures.
c) There must be weekly confessions to an assigned confessor, daily mass,
communion at least on Sundays, one-day silent retreat once a month and a
week's silent retreat once a year. Seminarians with problems must not
hesitate to go on an extended retreat, like one month or one year.
Recollections, both for seminarians and for priests, can never be
overstated. St. Bernard advising Pope Eugene III wrote: "I fear, lest
in the midst of your occupation without number, you may lose hope of ever
getting through with them and allow your heart to harden. It would be very
prudent of you to withdraw from such occupations even if only for a little
while rather than let them get the better of you and little by little lead
you where you do not want to go… to indifference."
St. Bernard was writing to a Pope who was doing his spiritual duties! And
he advises him to withdraw once in a while from his work… to examine
himself. He calls the apostolate that does not come from and does not
strengthen the spiritual life "hae occupationes maledictae,"(St.
Bernard, De Consideratione, 11.2).
d) Meditation is also essential to understand the commands of Christ. How
this is done is learned in the curriculum. And time should be set aside for
this, preferably after mass in the morning and before Compline in the
evening. It must be done in community.
e) Though there must be Scriptural and Patristic readings during Divine
Offices, Masses, and refectory readings, the seminarian must still have his
own personal spiritual reading. Preferably it must be a book written by a saint
and not by a mere human author due to the danger of the author presenting
heresies without us realizing it. The seminary days are short, and there
are so many good books written by saints. Why waste time with books written
f) Examination of conscience is essential to grow in self-knowledge. Though
most seminaries do it twice a day, a penitential walk before Compline done
by all seminarians together is a good practice.
g) There must be a weekly conference with the superior to remind the
seminarians of often forgotten rules, to correct noticed faults, to
encourage the faint of heart, condemn vices and preserve charity.
h) Chapter of Faults. During Fridays, all must gather together where
each one is given the opportunity to accuse himself of a failing. The
attending superior may give corrections in the spirit of charity and
humility, and a penance. This is an excellent practice in humility. While
the superior is giving his conference, if a seminarian feels the superior
is referring to his fault, he should stand up to acknowledge the fault
until told to sit down.
i) Though penances and mortifications are worthwhile, being a beginner in
the seminary, no one will undertake any penances or mortifications outside
of the regular life without the permission of the superior.
j) There must be a fixed time in the seminary for getting up, going to bed,
prayers, divine office and meals.
k) Over and above the mentioned practices, the seminarian must not do
anything without the permission of the superior.
Adapting a program of renewal is
difficult, if not impossible, for the same reason that the program is
needed in the first place: "they no longer walked with Him". No
one wants the narrow way, no one wants the heroic self-denial that it
entails; everyone wants to do their own will rather than the will of God.
When people no longer walk with Christ, problems arise. And the only way to
solve it is to walk with Christ once more.
This is the experience
everywhere. The older seminaries had snubbed the renewal program; it is the
new seminaries and the seminaries of new movements that adapted the renewal
programs. There is, for example, the new St. Gregory the Great seminary in
the Diocese of Lincoln, Redemptoris Mater seminaries of the Neocathecumenal
movement and the new St. John Vianney Theological Seminary of the
Archdiocese of Denver. They had just begun to tread the narrow path; though
these seminaries are all agreed that spiritual formation must take
precedence in the training of seminarians, none of them have a concrete
OFFER FOR A PRACTICUM TO FACILITATE RENEWAL
that would like to adapt the renewal program will be at a total loss on how
and where to start in that nobody has ever been trained to give such as the
above course. The experts in Patrology know the writings of the Fathers
more from the literary point rather than from the ascetical aspect. In fact
from Patrology courses students only recall the title of their writings,
like City of God, but do not recall or worse never learned any of its
A One-Day Short Seminar
This Practicum will give the
participant an overview of the commands of Christ in outline form. This is
very general. It will clearly show that the commands of Christ are
different from the Ten Commandments of God and will give a hint on what are
the commands of Christ. The outline will enable the serious participant to
fit in all the commands of Christ within the given outline.
This practicum is also good as a
crash course for seminarians who will soon be ordained but who never took
the course in Spiritual Formation. It is also good for seminarians who will
not have the chance to undergo this new formation program.
This practicum is ideal also as
an ongoing program for priests. It is a good substitute for their yearly or
monthly retreat… though it will take only one day.
This practicum has already been
tried for priests, seminarians, nuns and members of mandated organizations.
From experience, priests and seminarians have learned more about
spirituality from this one-day practicum than from their years of theology,
not so much because the practicum offers much but more because they never
had any spiritual formation at all.
A Longer Practicum
A better practicum is to live
with a community that is trying to live according to the commands of
Christ. In this way, there is theory and practice. The learning will be
more thorough. Some 6 to12 months would be fine. Our dream is that all
seminaries would eventually become like such communities that they might be
breeding grounds for holiness in their respective dioceses.
It needs more than the above to
truly start a genuine renewal. We need spiritually mature people. But the
above would be a good start.
Or, as the Diocese of Lincoln did
it, start an entirely new seminary with this curriculum. Both professors
and seminarians may enroll in this seminary. It could start as a small
seminary where they will only learn spirituality while learning the rest of
the subjects in theology in their respective seminaries. Seminarians from
all over may attend this and be prepared as future teachers of spirituality
in their respective seminaries. It will be sort of a national seminary on
spirituality. The seminarians will learn and live the commands of Christ;
this is unlike schools of spirituality where they merely learn theories but
without opportunities for practice aside from being merely speculative in
their teaching of spirituality.
Four Manuals for Professors
To further facilitate
implementation of the Spiritual Formation Program, the Commission on
Seminaries will prepare four manuals for professors (as soon as this draft
is approved by the Vatican), each corresponding to each year of Theology,
where commentaries for the three readings of Sunday Masses for each
liturgical year will be presented. Though all the books are available in
the seminary Library, this manual will be of some help. This manual for
professors shall include an outline, which shall be given to the
seminarians. They may keep this and use it when they leave the seminary.
They can refer to this in preparing their Sunday homilies.
Also, a Website has been designed
and prepared for the above purpose. Both professor and seminarians can
consult this website for added information about the spiritual life. This
website shall be launched immediately to provide ready-made lesson plans
for professors while the manual is being prepared. In short, this program
can be started immediately... even this school year. (The website is
already undergoing dry runs in the Internet.)
This website will contain
just-made lectures that are not yet published in the manual. The lectures
will probably appear in this website first, while the manual is being
prepared. With this arrangement, the above Spiritual Formation Program can
be started immediately because the materials for teaching will appear on a
weekly basis. But, of course, this is only possible with seminaries with
Internet connection. For those without Internet connection, the first
lectures can be mailed through special courier (e.g., Fast Mail or DHL).
The website will contain subject
matters for the deepening of the spiritual life so the seminarians can
still grow in spirituality even after ordination. This is also ideal for
priests as part of their ongoing program. The web site will have a
question-and-answer portion wherewith anyone can ask questions or
clarification or even seek spiritual direction.
The website can be used for
private, personal retreats wherein one can choose the topics on
spirituality that interest him; this is unlike listening to speakers who
might speak on topics that do not interest him at all. Consider also the
convenience of a website--one does not have to travel anywhere to get
together for a retreat. They can do it in their own rooms. And they can do
it leisurely which is the very essence of contemplation.
And as the HEADING states, to
facilitate the renewal, the Commission on Seminaries is contemplating on
shouldering all the expenses for the above Practicum, manuals and website.