Pope Francis today addressed participants in the plenary assembly of the Congregation for the Clergy, telling them that a priest’s initial formation in the seminary and his ongoing formation throughout life are “two halves of one reality.”
“God does not cease to call some men to follow and serve Him in the ordained ministry,” the Pontiff assured. “However, we also must do our part, through formation, which is the response of man, of the Church, to God’s gift, that gift which God makes through vocations.
“It is about protecting vocations and having them grow, so that they bear mature fruits. They are a ‘diamond in the rough,’ to be worked with care, respect of the conscience of persons and patience, so that they shine in the midst of the People of God.”
In this light, the Pope said, formation is much more than a “unilateral act,” more than someone transmitting “theological or spiritual notions.”
“Jesus did not say to those he called ‘come, I’ll explain to you,’ ‘follow me, I will instruct you’: no! Instead, the formation offered by Christ to his disciples came through a ‘come and follow me,’ ‘do as I do;’ and this is the method that today the Church also wants to adopt for her ministers. The formation of which we speak is the experience of a disciple, who approaches Christ and allows himself to be conformed ever more to Him.
“Precisely because of this, formation cannot be a task that ends, because priests never stop being disciples of Jesus, never stop following Him. […] Initial formation and ongoing formation are different because they require different ways and times, but they are two halves of one reality, the life of the cleric-disciple, in love with his Lord and constantly following Him.”
While Pope Francis acknowledged the need for more priests, his address also included a word of caution to bishops who might be tempted to accept men to the seminary without discernment.
“This is bad for the Church!” he warned. “Please, the development of a vocation must be well studied! You must examine well if it is from the Lord.”
The Pope said that a potential priest’s health and balance must be examined, it must be seen if he is “capable of giving life, of evangelizing, if the man is capable of forming a family and of giving this up to follow Jesus.”
The Bishop of Rome said the clergy congregation’s meeting covered themes “of great importance.”
“A vocation cared for through permanent formation, in communion, becomes a powerful instrument of evangelization at the service of the People of God,” he said. “May the Lord illumine you in your reflections.”