The church, in her 2,000-year existence, has acquired a copious amount of wisdom. Part of that wisdom is found in the approach to seminary formation that the last century has brought us, especially through the work of Pope St. John Paul II. The most notable component of seminary formation that was given to the church by him is the articulation of the what are known as the “four dimensions” of priestly formation. These four dimensions are: spiritual, intellectual, pastoral, and human formation.
As men progress toward the priesthood, it is the responsibility of the seminary to constantly assess and report how they are growing in these four dimensions. An inquisitive reader will, however, notice that these four aspects of life and growth are not and should not be limited to only men in formation to be priests. All of us, as Christians, should be striving for growth always in these four dimensions, as through focusing on these we become both better Christians and better people by the very fact that they all draw us closer to God.
As the Second Vatican Council proclaimed, we all share a universal call to holiness. Focusing on our own formation and growth in the Christian life can be a great way of answering that call to allow the Lord of make us holy, like himself.
Every person, because the call is universal, is therefore called to live holiness differently, to have a unique relationship with Christ that they share with others. This means that for each person holiness is something that looks slightly different, yet strikingly similar. (For example, the Eucharist is offered to everyone as the source and summit of our faith.) The same is similar with the four dimensions of priestly formation, each person being unique will have strengths and weaknesses in each that need to be grown and worked on.
Daniel Niezer and I hope, through this monthly article, to share our own personal reflections on the four dimensions of priestly formation and so help make them more known to the great readers of Today’s Catholic. Daniel will share with you soon a little bit about himself.
I am a senior collegian studying at Bishop Simon Bruté Seminary in Indianapolis. I am in my fourth year of seminary formation. We are both from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish on the southwest side of Fort Wayne, and have been parishioners there for most of our lives. I was born and raised in Fort Wayne and have lived here my whole life. I am the youngest and only male child of my family, and have three awesome older sisters. I am also a graduate of Bishop Luers High School. Daniel and I are very excited to have the opportunity to write for this great diocesan newspaper and hope that you, the awesome readers, benefit from our reflections.
Briefly, to really enter into understanding how to apply some of the wisdom of priestly formation to your own life, an important concept must be mentioned. All formation is done within the context of community. In fact, the focus of our Christian faith is community: The Trinity is a perfect and everlasting community. For the Christian then, community life has special meaning and influence. Sometimes I look around the seminary and stand in awe thinking, “Lord, how is it that all of these men have been brought to this place?”
Everyone in our community can be so different. Does this cause tension? Sure it does. Does it cause division? Sure it does. But the seminary, just like the Christian faith in general, challenges us to move past our preferences and annoyances and truly see the other people in our communities as Christ sees them: Beloved brothers and sisters who have been chosen as adopted sons and daughters of God. This challenge is worth our time and reflection: How do we allow the communities that we find ourselves in form us into better people and draw us closer to God?
Mark Hellinger is currently discerning the priesthood at Simon Brute College seminary and Marian University in Indianapolis.
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