One of the great gifts of Blessed John Paul II to the Church was his exhortation "Pastores Dabo Vobis", given twenty years ago this month. In it the Holy Father reflected on the theology of the priesthood and the priest's unique relationship to Jesus Christ and His Church. Critical to this, of course, is strong and thorough formation, and John Paul II emphasizes that this follows Christ's own example in giving the apostles time to learn and grow in friendship with Him before going out in ministry (42).
The Congregation of Holy Cross makes initial formation a top priority and central to this period are regular "formation nights" in which Old Collegians, candidates and temporarily professed religious meet together with their respective staffs to discuss a set topic. These meetings are set in the context of our religious brotherhood and so follow Mass and dinner together. The specific topic flows from the larger theme of the semester – such as the vows, particular ministries, Holy Cross history – but always treat one of the "five pillars" of initial formation: human, spiritual, intellectual, pastoral and community life. Topics progress and deepen depending on level of formation, but are consistently built on these pillars.
Often a Holy Cross priest or brother from outside the seminary will join us to present and discuss a topic from his own expertise. Recently Fr. Tom Blantz, C.S.C., joined the candidates to share thoughts on ministry in higher education. A legend at Notre Dame, Fr. Blantz brings a great wisdom and first-hand experience to this topic – allowing the candidates to get a better feel for what this ministry involves as well as learn some of Holy Cross' history at the university.
Similarly, this semester the temporarily professed have been meeting with local Holy Cross pastors to discuss how baptisms, weddings and funerals are celebrated in parishes. The formation staff, too, presents regularly and draws together in lecture and discussion those topics critical to our growth in holiness, knowledge, and discernment.
One of the most valuable aspects of formation nights is the chance for questions and answers with our presenters and formators. This gives the seminarians a forum for discussing questions they might have been personally asking, such as: "What does the vow of poverty involve as a parish pastor or university professor?" Often the discussions from these meetings lead to deeper, ongoing discussions among the men in formation.
"Pastores Dabo Vobis" goes on to say, "The Gospels present a prolonged and intimate sharing of life with Jesus as a necessary premise for the apostolic ministry" (60). In other words, before one can go into the world and preach Jesus Christ, one must sit at the feet of the Master and learn from Him! We do that in Holy Cross most directly in daily Eucharist but also in a very real way in our formation nights. From the thinking and work we do there, we are better able to grow in our understanding of God's will and love for His people.
Mr. David Halm, C.S.C., is in his first year of temporary vows and is studying theology as a seminarian at Moreau Seminary on the campus of Notre Dame. He and other seminarians at Moreau write a post each month for the Spes Unica Blog, sharing on their life and formation at Moreau. Meet our other men in formation, and learn more about seminary life in Holy Cross, and specifically about the Postulant Program at Moreau Seminary, which constitutes the first year of religious and priestly formation in Holy Cross for college graduates and Old College seniors.