I. WHY THIS PROGRAM MUST BE ADOPTED IMMEDIATELY
This is the only time the seminarian will have the occasion to learn and
live the Gospel in full and in an ideal atmosphere. In the world, he will
never have this luxury. Every force in the world will work to make him go
against what he had learned. If he does not acquire a strong spiritual life
now, he will never have a chance later. "Spirituality must be given in
the seminary. It will be more difficult when they are out" (Formation
in Seminaries, L 'Osservatore Romano, April 21, 1980).
Like the apostles before the Ascension, the seminarians could easily forget
everything they have learned. It has happened to the best of men. They will
find themselves using worldly-wise solutions instead. But when these fail,
as they surely will, they can always go back to their seminary days where
they have learned the real solutions. If they cannot recall this, at least,
they know where and in what books on spirituality these could be found.
Without this intense training in spirituality to look back to, they would
despair and be destroyed in the world. Thus, St. John, in the Apocalypse,
in rebuking Christian communities that had gone astray, encouraged them to
look back to their former charity wherewith they excelled.
The Success of
the Program Depends on the Kind of Soil
In spite of this program, success is not guaranteed. Judas, after all, had
the best seminary training. Much depends on the kind of soil the
seminarian's soul is. Though the very commands of Christ teach us how to
fertilize the soil, more often than not the seminarians do nothing about it
and remain stony soil or wayside soil or hard soil... in these kinds of
soil the seed of the Word of God can never grow and prosper.
LEARNING FROM THE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH
learned from the Golden Age of Europe when the Catholic Religion united
Europe into the Holy Roman Empire, the Bourbon of France, wanting to keep
France powerful and united, realized that that strength would have to come
from its Catholicism. The Church TODAY should do no less.
The problem was that though
the Catho1ic Church in the 17th century was powerful and wealthy, the
Church was nominal Catholic. And so the attempt to renew the Church was on
a Church that was anything but strong. The long spiritual decline that had
been going on had weakened the structure, and reversal of the trend could
only come with a long-term and violent spiritual renewal.
The Council of Trent in
1564 had promulgated decrees for reform, but like all councils the decrees
remained dead and unheeded. Since the structure had weakened, reform had to
begin from the bottom. Suddenly there arose in France the flowering of
mystical vitality and spiritual creativity. A small group of bishops,
priests, nobility, religious and laity adapted the formative influences of
the old Catholic Tradition. The most powerful influence is the importance
of the living testimony of Scriptures and teachings of the Church Fathers.
This was accentuated by lay monastic communities, like the Devotio
Moderna (which even today is the most powerful religious force in the
Scandinavian countries). Devotio Moderna is known to us through the
book Imitation of Christ by Thomas á Kempis.
As during that time, today,
we must get used to the idea that, as in all renewals, the battle must be
waged from bishop to bishop, diocese by diocese, seminary by seminary,
priest by priest, religious order by religious order, house by house,
street by street, person by person. There is no other way.
Like all reforms, reform
must be in the heads and in its members. It must trickle down from the
bishops to the priests and laity. As the Tridentine Reformers would say:
"A diocese is only as holy as its bishop, a parish is only as good as
its parish priest."
a reform or renewal to take place, we must be convinced that there is a
problem, that there is a need for reform and that the reform must start in
lives of seminarians, priests and bishops. And this means that these
clerics must receive a good spiritual training. According to the Tridentine
Reform Ecclesiology, the foundation of the reform must start with its
bishops and priests.
The Council of Trent
decreed the establishment of seminaries to cure the state of the priests
who were spiritually unprepared and morally deficient to perform their
pastoral duties worthily. What they lacked they could not give their
parishioners. It was the main reason why half of Europe was lost to
Protestantism; due to their ignorance of Catholicism, they were already
Protestants at heart.
Ecclesiae Renovationem," on the decree on priestly training,
reiterated that the Fathers of the Synod are just pursuing the work begun
by the Council of Trent III the renewal of the program for the formation of
The method of
"re-evangelization", a word often used today, consists in
this: if Church doctrine were presented to people in all its purity by
zealous and holy priests, the sheer force of the truth could not help but
convert anybody. But because only a handful could do this in the 17th
century, conversion was slow. The dismal state of affairs was worst in the
At that time France was
dotted with an astounding number of monasteries, abbeys, priories and
convents for men and women belonging to the old monastic orders. But almost
all had fallen away from the observance of their primitive rules. They even
opposed the renewal, unwilling to give up their new, easy and indulgent way
of life; and the reform had no effect on them. The Franciscans, however,
had a reform with the establishment of the Capuchins.
The renewal and reforms
were taken up by lay communities, not religious in the canonical sense, who
lived in communities guided by the teachings of the apostles and
interpreted by the Fathers of the Church, like the Oratorians, the
Sulpicians, the Eudist and the Lazarist that eventually evolved into the
Vincentians. Lay women came together in community life with a fervent
desire for personal holiness and the fulfilling of the Church's mission of