Sandhurst Seminarians: Becoming an ‘alter Christus’
26th March, 2018
Every old bishop, like myself, in speaking with young seminarians, like you, remembers his own good times in the seminary. Good memories spontaneously come back. And the more one thinks about his formation years, the more one realizes how decisive those years were for his priestly ministry. That has been my experience, dear friends, and the experience of most of your older brothers in the priesthood: what a seminarian sows in those years is what he will reap in his ministry. It is hard to overstress this truth.
For this reason, I would like to encourage you to take advantage of every activity and means you have in the seminary to grow in your integral formation - in the spiritual, pastoral, academic and social fields - as an alter Christus. The priest truly acts in persona Christi. He must, therefore, think, speak, feel and act as Jesus Christ thought, spoke, felt and acted.
Twenty years ago Pope John Paul II wrote "If we take a close look at what today's men and women expect from priests, we will see that, in the end, they have but one great expectation: they are thirsting for Christ. Everything else - their economic, social and political needs - can be met by any number of other people. From the priest they ask for Christ! And from him they have the right to receive Christ, above all through the proclamation of the word"
This is why you are devoting an intense period of your lives to seeking Christ and spending time with him in preparation for your important mission in the Church.
The seminary years are devoted to formation and discernment. Formation, as you well know, has different strands which converge in the unity of the person: It includes human, spiritual and cultural dimensions. Its deepest goal is to bring the student to an intimate knowledge of the God who has revealed his face in Jesus Christ. For this, in-depth study of Sacred Scripture is needed, and also of the faith and life of the Church in which the Scripture dwells as the Word of life. This must all be linked with the questions prompted by our reason and with the broader context of modern life. Such study can at times seem arduous, but it is an indispensable part of our encounter with Christ and our vocation to proclaim him.
All this is aimed at shaping a steady and balanced personality, one capable of receiving validly, and fulfilling responsibly, the priestly mission.
The seminary years are a time of journeying, of exploration, but above all of discovering Christ. It is only when a young man has had a personal experience of Christ that he can truly understand the Lord’s will and consequently his own vocation. The better you know Jesus the more his mystery attracts you. The more you discover him, the more you are moved to seek him. This is a movement of the spirit which lasts throughout life, and which makes the seminary a time of immense promise, a true “springtime.”
To take full advantage of the years in seminary, means not only to complete a series of prerequisites and studies, but also to acquire the heart of a disciple and pastor, following after the example of Christ the Servant and Shepherd of the Flock. Your years in the seminary should also be a time of growth towards human maturity. It is important for the priest, who is called to accompany others through the journey of life up to the threshold of death, to have the right balance of heart and mind, reason and feeling, body and soul, and to be humanly integrated.
Furthermore, this means to broaden the heart of man so that he may be capable to love with the love which Christ has for his people. (Today’s Gospel illustrates the love of Christ so beautifully for us!) This also implies remaining ever vigilant with regard to the soundness of personality, of the affective and sexual maturity which is so much demanded of today’s priests. It is essential that a heart exists. When this is lacking from the interior life of a seminarian, the joy of people disappears, and other interests arise.
The elements of a sound human formation are many, and the demands may vary for different individuals. In Pastores Dabo Vobis Pope St John Paul II enumerated the most important: the balanced development of the human faculties (intelligence, will, passions, feelings); the capacity for human relationships; affective maturity and the development of a moral conscience.
The best motivation, which, as a seminarian will help you to bring about this work upon yourself, is love for Christ and for the Church. Vocational consistency is acquired, in a similar way that construction workers prepare to lay bricks. You have to combine the correct ingredients, and mix them until achieving a useful combination.
Today more than ever, we are conscious of the urgent need for personal maturity forming the life of a priest, not only in that which refers to priestly celibacy, but even more so in that which refers to the entire person of the priest, his attitudes, his availability, the way in which he communicates and serves the Christian community.
The seminary is a time when you learn with one another and from one another. In community life, which can at times be difficult, you should learn generosity and tolerance, not only bearing with, but also enriching one another, so that each of you will be able to contribute his own gifts to the whole, even as all serve the same Church, the same Lord. This school of tolerance, indeed, of mutual acceptance and mutual understanding in the unity of Christ’s Body, is an important part of your years in the seminary.
Though the context may change, the essential aspect of the priest does not change: priests of tomorrow, priests of today must resemble Christ.
Dear seminarians, with these few words I have wanted to let you know how often I think of you, especially in these difficult times, and how close I am to you in prayer. Please pray for me, that I may exercise my ministry well, as long as the Lord may wish. I entrust your journey of preparation for priesthood to the maternal protection of Mary Most Holy, whose home was where Jesus prepared for his ministry. May Almighty God bless you all, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
 Pope JPaul 1996 Gift and Mystery p85 New York Doubleday