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A Program of Spiritual Formation for Candidates to the Priesthood

The Lay Monastic Community of Caryana











       The "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.

a. Holy Family - Model for Seminaries

       The 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.

b. Seminarians' Duty

       All 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 superiors.

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.

c. The 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 world.

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 ownership.

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 vanity.

Practices 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 to her.

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 being idle.

Practices 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 do so.

3) If a work is to be left unfinished for any reason, the superior must be informed.

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.

The Sick

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 permission.


       Decorum 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.


        The 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.


       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 endeavors.

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.


       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 other practices.

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 by non-saints?

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 program.


       Seminaries 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 contents.

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.

(updated 01-02-02)

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