Skip to comments.Forming Those Who Form Priests: The Gift of Purity of Heart
Posted on 08/03/2009 10:24:00 AM PDT by NYer
During this Year for Priests , it is good to not only consider the qualities of the men who are priests but also the formation of those who, in turn, form future priests: seminary professors. Yes, the Church wants men of intellectual rigor; but does this mean seminary theologians ought to be the last enlightenment rationalists[i] ? Hardly. What answers the need of Gods people is a new generation of mystic thinkers men and women animated by longing for intimacy with God.
It is the purified heart that sees the divine light: wisdom (Mat 5:8). Those who teach and form men to be priests must draw their intellectual acumen from personal participation in the paschal mystery. What the seminary theologian is called to do is enter the ascetical life in hopes of yielding a purified heart. The pure heart possesses a theologian and orders his or her theological work toward its fulfillment in prayerful discourse on the truth of who Christ is for all. Benedict XVI expresses this reality as follows: Faith is an encounter with the living God . But it is also a purifying force for reason itself . Faith liberates reason to do its work more effectively and to see its proper object more clearly.[ii]
In the formation of the diocesan priest, the pure heart of his professor orders the theology he studies toward an increase in pastoral desire. This pure heart is the gift to anyone who has suffered the healing of vain thinking. Juana Raasch, OSB, reminds her readers that Scripture admonishes against vain thoughts. To avoid vain thinking is crucial if one is to remain in communion with God and eschew the danger of independence and pride. Vain thoughts lack the power of divine truth and it is important to understand their origins. Vain thoughts arise within us from places in the heart that are foreign to divine intimacy. They arise from the inordinate need to thrust the ego forward (perhaps out of fear or envy) while eschewing the rapt listening to truth that is emblematic of the theologian. Such listening or obedience for the seminary theologian is not a constraint upon his or her mind but is its very liberation. The obedient theologian is the one who listens to the Lord in love — thus his or her thoughts can be purified of vanity.[iii] From such purity arises fruitful creativity.[iv]
We see here that there is a struggle involved. It is one faced by all Catholics, but it has special significance in the lives of seminary professors because they will touch the minds of our future priests. This purification of reason, avoidance of vain thinking, and openness to truth will all grow in the theologian according to his or her commitment to live in the presence of God. Prayer guides theological study . [B]y virtue of cohabitation with the living and triune God through prayer and all that it involves and the life of virtue, the theologian increases in love, and love is the lamp of knowledge.[v] It is this commitment to live in the presence of God, becoming a lover of God through prayer, study and virtue that increases the clarity of the theologians thought around the realities of holy things. In those who are pure of heart, the mind is open to and before God. Thus, in loving this God, the mind thinks out of what it loves, profoundly influencing its humility to be led by this same object of its love into all truth. For the pure of heart, God is seen by the mind, not by the eyes — seen by and within the human capacity to receive meaning. The effect of allowing oneself to suffer the presence of God is the suppression of vain conversation. The pure person is the one who meditates upon the word of God and makes his or her way steadily toward union with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The fruit of this mediation will be teaching that offers seminarians true food and not content-lacking empty calories for their long journey ahead.
In practical terms how do we identify and rid ourselves of vain thoughts? Today, this would mean that we discipline ourselves and allow the Spirit to assist us in discerning and purifying ideological, political, partisan and superficial notions out of our theological lectures. As with all of Christian life, however, it is not sufficient to simply repudiate what is wrong; one must positively love what is correct or good. It is the loving of Christs truth articulated in doctrine, theology and in the lives of the saints that truly ignites the seminary professors mind. As Theophan the Recluse advises, the mind must be concentrated in the heart.[vi] For truth to have power, it must be spoken in love. Purity of heart enables a man to be a spiritual father and to guide others with an apt word.[vii] In a sense the seminary theologian finds his or her way to purity and humility by fasting from this passing age (Rom 12:1-2), not in the sense of being ignorant of its complex streams of thought and values, but in the sense that he or she has no communion with such things. The mind is pure and the character is humble because the theologian ultimately seeks only communion with Christs ongoing presence in the Church: his word, his sacrament and his way. To this truth we cling, we seek assistance through grace in discerning and appropriating his way so that after such we might enter communion. The theological lectures and writings we produce for seminarians are gifts given from out of this purification.
May all of God’s people during this year pray also for those who form our priests, that grace be theirs to the eternal good of us all.
Ping for our priests!
The model priest of the year of priests was the Cure D’Ars, who was anything but an intellectual. He could read men’s hearts.
Definitely a big struggle for vocations out there. But the answer is in commitment and prayer of the priest himself.
Additionally, we must all vow to pray for priests during this Year of the Priest.
Pope's Address at Audience With New Archbishops: "Carry Deeply in Your Hearts Your Priests"
No Matter What, He Always "Acts Like a Priest" [Ecumenical]
On Priestly Identity
What Can I Do For the Year of the Priest?
The Rosary for the Year of the Priest [Catholic Caucus]
[Justin] Cardinal Rigali on the Year for Priests
Church Being Given Chance to Rediscover Priesthood [Year of the Priest]
Celebrating the Year of the Priesthood
St. John Vianney's Pastoral Plan
LETTER OF HIS HOLINESS POPE BENEDICT XVI PROCLAIMING A YEAR FOR PRIESTS [Catholic Caucus]
Year of the Priest Letter (Media immediately scrutinize its contents for controversy)
Year of the Priest [Catholic Caucus]
The Year for Priests [Catholic Caucus]
Year of the Priest Begins Friday
U.S. bishops launch website for Year for Priests