Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
February 22, 2010
Many Steps on path to priesthood
Discernment remains the guiding light for men entering the priesthood
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON - "Someone will ask, 'Have you ever thought of becoming a priest?' It's very often a question that provokes men into actually thinking of the possibility and listening to God's voice in that direction," said Father Shayne Craig, rector at St. Joseph Seminary.
For young men contemplating the vocation, what often follows is a period of prayer and discernment.
"Normally when somebody is considering the possibility of being called to be a priest, the first thing he would do is approach his local priest or the vocational director of the diocese. Usually it's the parish priest that he knows and that begins the process of speaking with him and finding some sort of spiritual direction," said Craig.
Leading the formation team at the seminary is Father Stephen Hero, a former vocations director for the Edmonton Archdiocese. For anyone interested in the priestly life, for starters he recommends talking to the vocations director, Father Patrick Baska.
"The best thing is to talk to a priest who knows the life and can give a little guidance. Sometimes a good help for somebody who's trying to make that decision is to find a spiritual director," said Hero.
The candidates come from various backgrounds, perhaps straight out of high school, others after post-secondary education or years of life experience. Their individual circumstances will factor into their formation process. For example, a candidate without any university education must do some philosophical studies, whereas some men enter the seminary having already taken concentrated philosophy classes.
Deacon Dean Dowle began thinking about joining the priesthood in high school. While encouraged by Father Duncan MacDonnell, he instead went onto university, earned a degree and joined the workforce. Still, the thought of being a priest persisted.
"After having worked and had an education, there should be something more to life and there was more I wanted to experience, so it was something that came very strongly for me through the Church. I was growing closer to the Church all the time, and I decided, with the encouragement of other people all along the journey, that it was something I wanted to explore further," said Dowle.
As advised, he met with a vocational director several times and received instruction on the next steps he would need to take.
Theology studies are five years in total. This includes two years of theology classes, a pastoral internship year and then another two years of theology. Throughout these years, the future priests learn about the four dimensions of their formation: human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral.
"The primary dimension that goes on at all times is discernment. Every candidate has a spiritual director who they meet with regularly. There's a context and climate of prayer within the house, so we have weekly times of adoration, daily times of meditation, Morning and Evening Prayer, daily Eucharist, monthly recollections and longer retreats each semester," Craig told the WCR.
Dowle said, "The seminary life allows a gentleman to explore his spirituality, to really explore his relationship with God and Christ, to deepen that relationship, and see how deep it can possibly go.
"It also helps to inspire you and helps you to realize that the Church is strong, it's alive and well, and it's growing."
The human dimension is a key component in a seminarian's formation process. By living in community with other people, they strive to grow in holiness. The difference between a candidate and a theology student taking identical classes is the communal living of the seminary.
"You can't prepare for the priesthood outside of the seminary, and over 10 years take all of the required courses, because there's discernment, there's prayer and a lot of things that go into formation," said Hero.
"But somebody could certainly take a few courses in theology and see what happens, get to know some of the priests here and the seminarians. It might be a way of knowing if (the priesthood) is God's plan for him."
Growing to be more Christ-like and less self-centred, coming to a deeper knowledge of themselves, learning the motivations of their hearts, and acknowledging their own personal struggles are human questions that seminarians explore.
"The human dimension acts as a bridge. Oftentimes it isn't a lack of studies that proves a problem in the priesthood. It's the humanity that no longer serves as a bridge for people to connect to Christ," said Craig, paraphrasing Pope John Paul II.
"We try, through the program of spiritual formation, to do everything we can to make sure that our future priests are icons of Christ."
Pastoral training involves such assignments as working in areas of RCIA, school visits, teaching catechism, marriage and Baptism preparation, helping in soup kitchens, and visiting the elderly in nursing homes.
The practicum year in a parish will vary from one candidate to the next. "We have candidates from 50 different dioceses. It's a chance for them to go home to their diocese, and do that in their local culture, which is a bit different from place to place. Being up in Prince Rupert is not the same as being in urban Winnipeg," said Craig.
Through this practicum, the pastors and pastoral workers may recognize that the candidate does not have the charisms necessary to be a priest. Consequently, some candidates drop out due to specific difficulties.
"I don't think any one area is more difficult than another. They all have their challenges, but all of them also have their rewards and it's the rewards that I focus on. The challenges show my humanity and what I need to work on and what I need to develop," said Dowle.
Diaconal ordination occurs after the third year of theology and a man will get practice liturgically by serving his last year as a deacon, as Dowle is doing now at St. Theresa's and Corpus Christi parishes.
"The costs are substantial because unlike other public institutions of higher learning, we don't receive funding," said Craig.
"When you think of all the other universities and colleges out there, they get about 70 per cent of their costs covered and they still have X number of fees. So we have our fees too, but they don't go anywhere near covering our costs."
The amount each candidate would pay varies, based on how much their diocese sponsors.
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