Changing World; Stagnant Formation

By Matt Keppel

The times are a changing, but will our schools of formation follow suit? At this delicate juncture of the Church, it seems like our seminaries better get on board or be left behind.

I grew up during the JPII revival, which was supposed to be the revival of the seminaries. In many ways, it was. Young men joined priestly formation in numbers not seen in years. We patted ourselves on the back. However, it seems as though something had been forgotten along the way. It wasn’t enough to simply bring these guys in, but we must be sure to adequately prepare them for the work of their vocations too!

I have no illusions of the necessity of the office of priesthood. I have spent much of my own life in discernment with the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), I have family members who are priests, as well as numerous friends and classmates who bear the title “Father” — although I tend to call my friends by less proper names. What has become blindingly obvious is that a priest is so much more than the man who says prayers at the front of the Mass. Consecration and absolution are only parts of the vocation. Yet, the entirety of seminary studies focus on the philosophical and theological education of these men. Leading a parish requires much more than having a technical knowledge of the faith. Parishioners need priests who can take care of the day-to-day along with the Saturday and Sunday.

These past weeks we have been blessed with the Synod on the Family in many ways telling us what we already know: love one another. Not only does it give us an edict, the Synod via Pope Francis gives us markers to look out for in our actions:

– “Be aware of hostile inflexibility” which can get in the way of the “God of surprises.”

– Keep in mind that treating immediate problems may not address the underlying issues. Much can be done with patience and diligence

– Be careful not to compromise yourself to please those around you, yet not be unwilling to compromise in times of need.

– Understand that we are not the faith itself, but stewards and interpreters of it. We cannot ignore the needs of those in front of us based upon our own interpretations of the faith. Radical love comes before all things.

– Finally, in midst of living out our lives in Christ we cannot expect to be treated any better than the Lord, Himself.  (en.radiovaticana.va/news)

Parishes are complex organizations, and as important as apologetics are, practical skills are equally vital to a priest’s success. First, and foremost these days, the man in the collar ought to be able to manage the business side of the parish. As donations have plummeted, we need a new emphasis on financial responsibility and general business savvy. As pews become increasingly barren, parish priests ought to be more willing to be available to their sheep, which begins at the ambo (Okay… the pulpit…) with the homily. Guys, break open what can be complex and dense into something applicable and please don’t sound like a know-it-all (I could go on, but suffice to say that better homiletics need be).

Technology. Need I say more? Probably. I’m quite happy to be in a Church that is slow to change. The practice allows us to look farther and see possible repercussions to our actions. However, this should not be confused with an antebellum attitude toward the implementation of modern technology or even–*gasp*–seeking out cutting-edge ways of ministering to people. Priests need to be familiar and supportive of these endeavors in parishes, and it begins in formation. Our ordinands deserve opportunities to see what is popular as well as up-and-coming!

Finally, and most importantly, the people of God need to know that they are loved. This isn’t the hippy-dippy “free love” that is all about sunshine and rainbows emanating from the seats of our pants. No, this is the radical love outlined above. Meet the needs of those who are in front of you, be patient with those who have none, and be willing to suffer as Christ suffered.

If we are to grow with the world, change is essential. Some will scoff and say that the old ways are best, and I won’t deny the grace in knowing where we have been (hi, I have a B.A. focused on Ancient Philosophy). BUT, if we are going to be a Church content with closing parishes and schools due to mismanagement and cold hearts, then by all means, let us continue on our current course. If we don’t do something, and soon, I can tell you that people will continue to walk away from the Church as they feel alienated by the man wearing the curtain.

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