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A Program of Spiritual Formation for Candidates to the Priesthood

The Lay Monastic Community of Caryana






The Problem

We know there is a problem. It has existed a long time ago. Many realized it only recently but cannot seem to pinpoint it. Bishop W. Gregory, in an address (entitled "Trusting in the Spirit's Wisdom") to the 35th Annual National Convention, National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors, described it in general as a generation of Catholics who are less familiar with the Church, her traditions and with the Catholic Church as a religion. Hilaire Belloc, famed Catholic historian and apologist, in his book, Essays of a Catholic (p. 3), described the present generation of Christians as "pagans."

        The problem is not only in seminaries but a crisis in the Church, in that Catholic life is no longer based on solid tradition but on experimentation and the embracing of novelties.

        Seminaries, like monasteries, reflect the state of the spiritual life of the Church, and so the two problems are interrelated. And the Schuth's report, describing seminarians as unable to make good judgments and decisions and illogical in their thinking, could reflect the state of those already ordained.

        In a 1988 study commissioned by the Vatican, Bishop Marshall of Burlington (Adoremus Bulletin, Vol. V, No.6, Sept. 1999) decried the low number of vocations and poor seminary training. Poorly trained priests cannot produce good faithful.

        Pastores Dabo Vobis calls it a "grave crisis." And a survey by "Centro di Orientamento" described priests ordained between 1984-1990 as "in a risky situation." It adds: "They showed lack of motivation, serious dissatisfaction, closing in on themselves, refusal of help, re-thinking their vocation or at least having doubts, problems of affectivity, spiritual regression." (Centro di Orientammento per la formazione e l'animazione della communita' L' Osservatore Romano, 1996, pp 146-250.

        Cardinal Baum, Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education described the "grave situation in Catholic seminaries as caused by the rupture between Scriptures and Tradition" (Living Tradition no. 68, Jan. 1997). This is the closest to pinpointing the problem. Pope Paul VI had warned us of this in 1960 and 1970. Cardinal Ratzinger warned us of this in 1980 and 1990. But the warning had for the most part fallen on deaf ears.

        Otherwise, Schuth observed, 10 years after her first research on seminaries, that "all attempts (to reform seminaries) seem to meet serious problems."

        All documents, though disagreeing on the problem and cause of the problem, are agreed that the answer and solution is in an intense spiritual life. But no document had presented a specific methodology. P. Gianola, in the Synod, described it as "poverty of concrete methods" on how to live the spiritual life (Sfide alla formazione dei consecrati dopo il Sinodo `90 in Orientamenti Pedagogici). Everyone seems to still hold to the idea that spirituality in the seminary means morning prayers, masses, confessions, refectory readings, spiritual directions… which is missing the point.

        When Sis. Katarina Schuth first made her research of 38 out of 42 theologates, she entitled it "Reason for Hope". Ten years later on, when she made a follow-up study, 7 seminaries had closed, and she seems to be losing hope.

For both the Church and seminaries, it is to be said that in the early Church Christians knew the way and the address. Somewhere along the way, they lost their way but knew the address. But now we do not even know the address.

        All agree that, whatever is the problem, the solution is a sound program of spirituality in the formation program of seminaries that is hoped to trickle down to the faithful. We can say the same for religious houses.

The Need to Keep the Problem in Mind. To appreciate a renewal program, which is the proposed solution, we must keep the problem in mind. If we forget the problem even for a moment, we will not appreciate the solution, thus ending up executing the program haphazardly or disregarding it totally. When a patient forgets he is sick, he does not take his medicine faithfully.

        The next topic is not a criticism of seminaries. Doctors do not criticize their patients. They examine to see what's wrong. Then they prescribe the medicine. This paper is meant to do the same thing. We are examining and analyzing the facts, that we may prescribe the right spiritual medication.


(updated 01-04-02)

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