Priestly Formation and the Renewal of Catholic Life

Philadelphia, (Zenit.org) Archbishop Charles J. Chaput | 1328 hits

In every age the Church has the task of learning from and respecting the past without being captured by it.  As the world changes, so do the pastoral needs of the Catholic community.  In a city as rich in Catholic history as Philadelphia, we need to treasure the saints and achievements of previous generations.  But real faith is more than nostalgia.  We need to look ahead.  We need to carry the legacy of the Church in Philadelphia forward by thinking and building creatively for the future today.

How do we do that?  Renewing the Church takes more than fixing our financial problems and streamlining structures.  These things are vital to good stewardship, and they can’t be postponed or avoided.  But they’re not the heart of the matter.  Love for Jesus Christ and zeal for sharing the Gospel:  These are the things that count.  All genuine institutional renewal drills down to the conversion and right formation of the human heart.

In the Catholic experience, that “right formation” begins with the priest, because in pastoring his people – teaching them, encouraging them, leading them in worship, sharing their sufferings and joys – the priest makes Jesus present to the community.  As others have said before me, there’s no presence of Christ in the world without the Church.  There’s no Church without the Eucharist.  And there’s no Eucharist without the priest. 

This truth subtracts nothing from the heroic witness of religious women and men, and the immense sacrifices and apostolic service of married couples and lay singles.  God makes the call to sainthood equally to every Christian from every vocation. 

But the unique vocation of the ordained priest is to feed God’s people with the body and blood of God himself; to shepherd God’s priestly people as they seek to bring Jesus Christ to the world and the world to Jesus Christ.  So again, the renewal of the Church begins first with a recommitment to strengthening and renewing the way we form our priests.

St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, one of North America’s great centers of priestly formation, has prepared men as Catholic priests for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and dioceses throughout the country for more than 180 years. Earlier this week, St. Charles announced plans to revitalize its mission to shape servant leaders after the heart of Jesus Christ. This is very good news.

The seminary’s Board of Trustees has reaffirmed a commitment to its College Seminary as a free-standing, residential college seminary program, welcoming students from the United States and beyond.  St. Charles Borromeo College Seminary will improve and build on its tradition of academic excellence, while striking a healthy balance with human, pastoral and spiritual formation. Graduates will be readied on every level for theological studies in formation for the priesthood. 

The seminary’s goal of a dynamic, re-energized college program, tuned to the new and emerging pastoral realities of our day, requires that the historic theologate buildings be re-purposed into new, state-of-the-art facilities to house the College Seminary.  The plan also includes the renovation of existing facilities which currently house the seminary’s post-college Theology and Pre-Theology programs.  Funding for this major project of upgrading and renovation will be provided by the Heritage of Faith/Vision of Hope Campaign; the sale of select pieces of seminary artwork; the lease or sale of a portion of the current seminary property; and a new capital campaign focused solely on the seminary.  This is a significant undertaking -- but the long term benefits for the life of the Church in Greater Philadelphia are vastly more significant and life-giving than any costs.

Please pray for the success of these important efforts at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary and for the good men it will form in service to the Church.  The future depends on God, but God looks to us – to our zeal and our generosity -- to do his work in the world.