I apologize for my absence in the last issue, but as our editor shared I was on my annual silent retreat. This is a nice segue to exploring the second dimension of priestly formation that a man is responsible for nurturing and developing during his time in the seminary: Spiritual.
The Spiritual Dimension of priestly formation is cultivated through building a consistent habit of silent prayer. It is so important that a man is able to be in regular conversation with the Lord and to allow the love of the Father deep into his heart and soul. This will help him to persevere during long years of priestly formation, and it will also sustain him in ministry once he is ordained. The seminary plays an important role in providing opportunity for men to pray each day. Every morning at both of our seminaries there is time for exposition of the Blessed Sacrament before the regularly scheduled morning prayers with the community. This time of silent encounter with Jesus is one of the best ways to stay connected with the Lord. But outside the structure of the seminary a man must be dedicated to renewing his relationship with God whenever it begins to wane.
Just like there are times when couples need a retreat, a weekend, a family vacation to recharge, so too a priest needs to be attentive to making sure he is taking time in silence and deep prayer to be with the Lord. The seminary can give men the tools to do this and they can mandate times in the schedule to facilitate prayer, but eventually the seminarian must be responsible for taking that time with the Lord on his own. It can be very tempting to see silent prayer time as a “waste,” even as a priest. After all, there are many different responsibilities that need tending to for all of us, and yet if a priest does not provide that good example for his people, his parishioners will likely begin to believe that prayer is optional for them as well. And if a priest does not take time to connect with the Lord who loves him and who has called him to this ministry, it can be easy to forget that he was called at all.
One way that we seek to cultivate a deep love for prayer in our seminarians is a summer experience at the “Institute for Priestly Formation.” IPF hosts 175 seminarians each summer at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. During the eight-week program, The seminarians are taught the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and go to various seminars helping them understand spiritual movements in a deeper, more relational way rooted in the truth that at baptism we are made beloved sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father in Christ. Participants also have many opportunities to pray together in a way that builds up bonds of friendship and support that can help them throughout their time in seminary and into priesthood. Some of my best friends were men who attended the IPF summer program when I was there in 2015, and I know that I can seek their support when I need to deepen my prayer life and be held accountable for my attention to the Lord in silence and prayer.
My annual retreat was filled with graces from the Lord for which I am very grateful. I encourage all of you to build in times of silent prayer each day, and I pray that our future priests will help to guide you in your own relationship as beloved sons and daughters of the Father.