By Fr Anthony Doe
I understand that my role as spiritual director in Allen Hall Seminary is to accompany the seminarians who come to me for support and guidance in two vital movements that are initiated by the personal love that Jesus has for them as his disciples. Their lives of prayer, therefore, are not just a functional demand in the preparation for priestly ordination but a growing openness in both the heart and the spirit to the unique and profoundly personal love that Jesus has for them as individuals.
It is a love that heals, transforms and infuses them with a desire growing in their own hearts for the intimate loving friendship that Jesus is offering with all the accompanying gifts that nurture and bring alive the other areas of formation. In his central document on priestly formation, Pastores Dabo Vobis, St John Paul II highlights two very important statements from the Second Vatican Council’s decree Optatam Totius regarding spiritual formation of priests where it says, ‘Spiritual formation ….should be conducted in such a way that the students may learn to live in intimate and unceasing union with God the Father through his Son Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit.
Those who are to take on the likeness of Christ the priest by sacred ordination should form the habit of drawing close to him as friends in every detail of their lives.’ He then follows this by quoting the words of Jesus himself from St John’s Gospel in Chapter 15 when he says to the disciples ‘No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what the master is doing….but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my father I have made known to you.’ This is followed by another reference that has considerable significance when considering the spiritual preparation of future priests. The Council text then points out a second great value: the search for Jesus. “They should be taught to seek Christ.”
Both these quotations express very clearly and strongly the core of genuine spiritual formation that must be at the centre of spiritual direction. In the Ratio Fundamentalis, the document that proceeded from Pastores Dabo Vobis, and elaborates upon the four fundamental areas of formation, the essence of spiritual formation is presented very clearly where it says, ’spiritual formation is personal union with Christ, which is born of, and nourished in, a particular way by prolonged and silent prayer.’ As spiritual director my deepest desire therefore is to support this gradual movement into the prayer of contemplative silence through meditation, particularly nourished by a growing commitment to lectio divina, which can then open up the heart and mind to the movement of the Holy Spirit and a genuine love for Sacred Scripture.
It will then enable a link to grow between Jesus’ personal revelation of himself, as the Word of God, with his living presence in the Eucharist, celebrated each day in the Mass and with frequent Eucharistic Adoration that powerfully reveals the importance and the beauty of contemplative silence which has at its centre the unique personal love that Jesus has for all his followers. It will also then bring alive in a new way the Sacrament of Confession as the Sacrament of inner healing.
These themes, therefore, of personal relationship with the Lord, the opening up of the life of prayer, personal growth and development, understood taking place within these contexts, and particularly an understanding of pastoral ministry and missionary discipleship, provide the basis for spiritual conferences and regular House retreats in seminary life. On a final note, they highlight the centrality of spiritual growth, that is totally based on the living presence of Jesus coming alive in the seminarians, in priestly formation. This truly incarnational understanding of priesthood which has grown over the past few decades since the Vatican Council has enabled us to understand the role of spiritual director not in an exclusively directive sense but in terms of accompaniment and support as the mystery of Jesus’ loving presence comes alive uniquely in the lives of every individual, a message we are all called to proclaim, as priests, to the universal Church and the world – the universal call to holiness.
The aim of intellectual formation at the seminary is to expose the ordinand to the Church’s tradition and to deepen the knowledge and love of the mystery of faith.
The goal of seminary formation is to prepare priests for the work of the new evangelisation so that they can lead and collaborate with the people of God in this urgent task. They are to be formed “in the image of Christ”.
All the power we see in Christ’s Priesthood will be given in the Sacrament of Ordination. It is the task of Human Formation at Allen Hall to anticipate these graces by striving to embody these qualities in and through our God-given humanity.