Spiritual Formation


Human formation leads to and is completed in spiritual formation which occupies a central place in seminary life (PDV, n. 45). Spiritual formation “introduces [the student] to a deep communion with Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, and leads to a total submission of one’s life to the Spirit, in a filial attitude towards the Father and a trustful attachment to the Church” (PDV, n. 45). The spirituality inculcated in the seminary is specifically priestly (PPF, n. 109).

Communion with Jesus Christ: Spiritual formation at Kenrick aims at fostering the unfolding of baptismal grace and prepares the student, intellectually and spiritually, for the reception of the sacrament of Holy Orders.

In baptism God gives us, through grace, the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity which orient us towards union with him and bring to perfection the human person. It is also through grace that God gives to all the baptized the gifts of the Holy Spirit which sustain the moral life of the Christian and help the theological virtues to overcome lukewarmness and so attain his final end (CCC, n. 1830). The Holy Spirit conforms us to Jesus Christ (Rom 8:9); the characteristics of life in Christ are contained in the Beatitudes (Mt 5:3-12; CCC, n. 1717). In spiritual formation, the student grows in his awareness of the profound mystery of God’s presence in himself (Jn 14:23).

As is the case for all the baptized, the student is meant to grow in communion with Christ. Growth in holiness is brought about through the free gift of God’s grace; however, every human being must cooperate by disposing himself to receiving it. In this regard, the following means of spiritual growth are of particular importance for candidates for the priesthood at Kenrick:

The most important is prayer. “Those who aspire to be sent on mission as the apostles were, must first acquire the listening and learning heart of the disciples” (PPF, n. 107). God desires to be in relationship with us and ceaselessly calls each person to that mysterious encounter known as prayer. Prayer is our response to God’s initiative of love (CCC, n. 2567). It is a dialogue and personal meeting with the Father through the Son and under the action of the Spirit (PDV, n. 47). As St. Teresa of Avila says, “Prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us” (Autobiography, 8:5). Through prayer, students grow accustomed to being in the presence of Christ:

If bearing witness to Jesus Christ before men is the task of the priesthood, then it is the presupposition of this task that the priest first know Him, that the priest live and find the real center of his existence in a way of being that is in fact a being-with-Him. For the man who, as priest, attempts to speak to his fellow men of Christ, there is nothing of greater importance than this: to learn what being-with-Him, existing in His presence, and following Him means, to hear and see Him, to grasp His style of being and thinking. The actual living out of priestly existence and the attempt to prepare others for such an existence demand growth in the ability to hear Him above all the static, and to see Him through all the forms of this world. To do this is to live in His presence (Joseph Ratzinger, Priestly Ministry: A Search for its Meaning, 1971, p. 9).

Habits of daily prayer and meditation are cultivated in the student so that there is sense of increasing personal communion with Christ, on which all pastoral effectiveness ultimately depends: “Apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). Retreats and days of recollection provide privileged occasions in which the Lord, as it were, takes us aside to be alone with Him.

With a listening and learning heart, the student approaches the Word of God and is brought into contact with God himself (PDV, n. 47). He reads “the Word with a docile and prayerful heart so that it may deeply penetrate his thoughts and feelings and bring about a new outlook in him—‘the mind of Christ’” (PDV, n. 26; 1 Cor 2:16). Through the time-honored practice of lectio divina, the student personally assimilates the Word of God. St. Augustine said that we are only empty preachers of the Word if we are not first hearers of it (Sermon 179, 1; PL 8:966).

The spirituality of the priest is profoundly Eucharistic. The student learns to approach the daily celebration of the Eucharist as the “essential moment of the day” (PDV, n. 46). John Paul II describes four dispositions which the student should acquire from his devout participation in the Eucharistic celebration:

Candidates to the priesthood will be trained to share in the intimate dispositions which the Eucharist fosters: gratitude for heavenly benefits received, because the Eucharist is thanksgiving; an attitude of self-offering, which will impel them to unite the offering of themselves to the Eucharistic offering of Christ; charity nourished by a sacrament which is a sign of unity and sharing; the yearning to contemplate and bow in adoration before Christ, who is really present under the Eucharistic species (Angelus, July 1, 1990, in L’Osservatore Romano, July 2-3, 1990).

While the first task of the priest is to preach the Gospel (Presbyterorum ordinis [PO], n. 4), the Eucharist is the summit and source of his preaching where the faithful are “invited and led to offer themselves, their works, and all creation in union with Christ” (PO, n. 5).

Another vital means of spiritual growth is the Sacrament of Penance which “fosters the mature recognition of sin, continuous conversion of heart, growth in the virtues, and conformity to the mind of Christ. It is a school of compassion that teaches penitents how to live out God’s compassionate mercy in the world. The regular celebration of the Sacrament of Penance is aided by the practice of a daily examination of conscience” (PPF, n. 110). The quality of the priest’s spiritual and pastoral life depends on his frequent and conscientious practice of this sacrament (PDV, n. 29). In the authentic practice of frequent confession, the student acquires an “asceticism and interior discipline, a spirit of sacrifice and self-denial, the acceptance of hard work and of the cross” (PDV, n. 48) that will make him more docile to God’s will and available to his people (PPF, n. 110).

Another time-honored practice in the student’s growth in communion with Christ is the faithful recitation throughout the day of the Liturgy of the Hours: “The praise and thanksgiving offered in the celebration of the Eucharist is extended to the different hours of the day. They pray to God in the name of the Church for all the faithful and in fact for all the world” (PO, n. 5).

Since God chooses most often to work through people, the role of the approved spiritual director is crucial in the spiritual development of the student. Through regular meetings (at least monthly), the student is assisted in discerning God’s will, grows in the virtues (especially humility and charity), and becomes more able to make mature and free decisions (PPF, n. 110; PDV, n. 49).

The Blessed Virgin Mary, “the most excellent fruit of the redemption,” is the “mother and teacher of the spiritual life” (Paul VI, Marialis cultus, n. 24). Devotion to Mary “has a great pastoral effectiveness and constitutes a force for renewing Christian living” (n. 57). Marian devotion (the Rosary in particular) as well as devotions centered on the Eucharist or the saints, can greatly assist the student in sustaining an affective union with Christ and the Church (PPF, n. 110).

Jesus Christ, the Head, Shepherd, and Spouse of the Church: “By sacramental consecration the priest is configured to Jesus Christ as head and shepherd of the Church” (PDV, n. 21).

This consecration is for the sake of mission (PDV, n. 24). The priest is entrusted with the priestly, prophetic, and royal ministry of Jesus Christ: the ministry of the Sacraments, the Word, and the pastoral care of souls. The spirituality of the priest flows from his generous living out of his consecration and mission. As he advances to ordination, the student progressively shares in the spirituality of the ministerial priesthood and comes to see every ministerial action as providing an opportunity to grow in a loving communion with Jesus Christ, the Head and Shepherd of the Church.

“He who is the head of the people,” says St. Augustine, “must in the first place realize that he is to be the servant of many. And he should not disdain being such…because the Lord of Lords did not disdain to make himself our servant” (Sermo morin guelferbytanus, 32, 1; PL 2, 637). The student grows in his identity as a servant of the people of God. He also grows in his identification with Christ the Good Shepherd who goes in search of the lost and straying sheep, joyfully celebrates their return, gathers and protects them, knows each one and calls them by name, leads them to green pastures and still waters, spreads a table for them, feeding them with his own life (PDV, n. 22). The student is led to seek Christ in people (n. 49).

Besides being configured to Jesus Christ, the Head and Shepherd of the Church, the priest represents Jesus Christ, Spouse of the Church (n. 22). For this reason, the student comes to regard “the Church and souls [as] his first interest and with this concrete spirituality he becomes capable of loving the universal Church and that part of it entrusted to him with the deep love of a husband for his wife” (n. 23). Spousal love of the Church invites the student’s self-offering of celibate chastity and entails simplicity of life.

In choosing to take on the likeness of Jesus Christ, the Spouse of the Church, the student chooses “a greater and undivided love for Christ and his Church, as a full and joyful availability in his heart for the pastoral ministry” (n. 49). The spiritual formation of the future priest assists him in growing in his knowledge, appreciation, love, and living-out of his celibate commitment in an authentic way, i.e. for evangelical, spiritual, and pastoral motives (n. 50).

The Bible says that the Lord alone is the priest’s “portion and inheritance” (Nm 18:20). Candidates for ordination are prepared to be future witnesses to God as the supreme good. Seminary formation at Kenrick is aimed at cultivating in the student a culture of simple living; the simpler one’s lifestyle, the more one is available. The witness value of such a lifestyle at this time cannot be underestimated: “A truly poor priest is indeed a specific sign of separation from, disavowal of and nonsubmission to the tyranny of a contemporary world which puts all its trust in money and material security” (PDV, n. 30).

“‘Rabbi, where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come, and you will see.’” (Jn 1:38-39). “So inexhaustible is the mystery of the imitation of Christ and the sharing in his life,” says John Paul II, “that this ‘seeking’ will also have to continue throughout the priest’s life and ministry” (PDV, n. 46). Ongoing formation and the habit of study are important elements in pastoral effectiveness. Study is an act of hope—hope in the fact that life has meaning. Study is a matter of personal curiosity borne out of an awareness that there are great riches yet to be personally discovered, and not being indifferent to finding them. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council said, “Priests are…urged constantly to strive to attain an adequate knowledge of things divine and human. In this way they will be better equipped for dialogue with their contemporaries” (PO, n. 19).

Communion with the Church: Priestly spirituality has a distinct ecclesial dimension which the student is led to understand and appreciate. “A man possesses the Holy Spirit in the measure in which he loves the Church of Christ,” says St. Augustine (Tractatus on the Gospel of St. John, 32:8). Spiritual formation introduces the student to a “trustful attachment to the Church” (PDV, n. 45). As he grows in knowledge and trust of holy Mother Church, the student acquires the sensus Ecclesiae as well as the intellectual habit of thinking with the Church (sentire cum Ecclesia). Communion with the Church also means communion with tradition and the Church’s teaching authority: “In order that he himself may possess and give to the faithful the guarantee that he is transmitting the Gospel in its fullness, the priest is called to develop a special sensitivity, love and docility to the living tradition of the Church and to her magisterium” (n. 26). The student also comes to appreciate the necessity of the priest being in communion with the Vicar of Christ, his local bishop, or his superior. Without this communion he would find himself alone.

The priestly ministry, being the ministry of the Church itself, can be exercised only in the hierarchical union of the whole body of the Church. Hence pastoral charity urges priests to act within this communion and in obedience to dedicate their own wills to the service of God and their fellow Christians. They will accept and carry out in the spirit of faith the commands and suggestions of the Pope and of their bishops and other superiors. They will most gladly spend themselves and be spent in whatever office is entrusted to them, however lowly and poorly rewarded. By acting in this way, they preserve and strengthen the indispensable unity with their brothers in the ministry and especially with those whom the Lord has appointed the visible rulers of his church (PO, n. 46).

The priest gives witness to the fact that every Christian lives no longer for himself but for God and that to live for God means to fulfill his will in our lives. Therefore, the student strives, with the assistance of his formators, to acquire that disposition of mind by which he is ready not to do his own will but the will of the Father, following the example of Christ who “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant…and [who] became obedient unto death” (Phil 2:7-9).

In conclusion, spiritual formation at Kenrick prepares candidates for the demands which the ordained ministry will require of them:

an intense spiritual life, filled with those qualities and virtues which are typical of a person who “presides over” and “leads” a community, of an “elder” in the noblest and richest sense of the word: qualities and virtues such as faithfulness, goodness of heart, decisive firmness in essentials, freedom from overly subjective viewpoints, personal disinterestedness, patience, an enthusiasm for daily tasks, confidence in the hidden workings of grace as manifested in the simple and the poor (PDV, n. 26).

Objectives of Spiritual Formation

As a result of his engagement in the Spiritual Formation Program, each candidate will demonstrate the following (PPF, n. 280b):

  • commitment to a life of prayer and the ability to assist others in their spiritual growth;
  • abiding love for the sacramental life of the Church, especially the Holy Eucharist and Penance;
  • a loving knowledge of the Word of God and prayerful familiarity with that Word;
  • appreciation of and commitment to the Liturgy of the Hours;
  • fidelity to the liturgical and spiritual program of the seminary, including the daily celebration of the Eucharist;
  • fidelity to regular spiritual direction and regular celebration of the Sacrament of Penance;
  • a positive embrace of a lifelong commitment to chaste celibacy, obedience, and simplicity of life;
  • a love for Jesus Christ and the Church, for the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints; and
  • a spirit of self-giving charity toward others.

The Activities of the Spiritual Formation Program

The goals of the Spiritual Formation Program at Kenrick School of Theology are achieved through a variety of cognitive and affective activities.

Two required courses in the study of spirituality are offered, as well as occasional elective courses. The course, “Introduction to the Spiritual Life of the Priest,” introduces the first-year student to the subject of prayer and its practice, to the notion of the identity of the priest, and to the traditional elements of priestly spirituality, namely, the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Penance, lectio divina, examen, the Liturgy of the Hours, Marian devotion, and the importance of spiritual direction. All of this is considered under a firmly ecclesial heading, with particular attention to a spirituality of obedience, celibacy, and simplicity of life. A later course, “Spiritual Theology and Spiritual Direction,” examines the history and the principles of Catholic spiritual theology, as well as the role and function of the priest as a spiritual director and teacher of prayer.

The regular order of the day at Kenrick School of Theology features the celebration of Morning and Evening Prayer and, most importantly, the Eucharist. A communal holy hour is scheduled once a week, with Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. On the other four days of the work week, longer periods of Eucharistic Adoration are scheduled, with each student participating for at least a half-hour per week. All members of the community are encouraged to make periodic visits to the Blessed Sacrament.

Devotion to the saints, especially to the Mother of God, is fostered in the seminary. The Rosary is recited communally each day of the week for those who wish, with the entire community participating once weekly.

The daily examination of conscience and frequent use of the Sacrament of Penance are encouraged. Confession is available at regularly scheduled times at least four days a week and by appointment at other times. On a frequent basis, the theological reflection sessions of the Supervised Ministry Program encourage students to reflect on the spiritual dimension of their ministerial experiences.

Periodic conferences with follow-up group discussions are activities which facilitate the integration of all four dimensions of the seminary formation program. Days of recollection are scheduled five times during the academic year, and a five-day retreat is scheduled each January—a preached retreat for Pre-Theology, Theology I and II, and a directed retreat for Theology III and IV.

A crucial dimension of the Spiritual Formation Program is the practice of spiritual direction. Each year every student works on an individual basis with a spiritual director that he has chosen from a list of priests approved for this purpose. This work occurs in meetings that are scheduled on at least a monthly basis to review matters of personal and spiritual growth. These meetings are an invaluable forum for accountability, challenge, encouragement, and support. Spiritual direction is a confidential relationship, and spiritual directors may never speak in the external forum about current or past directees.