Priestly Formation Overview
Oftentimes, a question pops up - "How does one become a priest?" This is a very good question because, there are many misconceptions as to how one becomes a priest. So often, stereotypes arise because people do not understand what it takes to become a priest, nor do they see that there is a long process known as "Formation" that a man must undergo before he even becomes eligible to receive the Mystery of Holy Orders.
A priest, first and foremost, is required to be an expert who practices what he preaches. He is called to pray, to be an expert on prayer, and to be a living example of prayer who can teach people both within his flock and without, how to pray and how to live a proper life of Christian virtue. He is to be well versed in Sacred Scripture as well as the teachings of the Fathers of the Holy Church, integrating them into his own life, as well as showing others how to make them a part of their lives too.
A priest is also a spiritual healer. He regularly reaches out to those who are sick and suffering, offering them prayer and spiritual support. He is called to give comfort to those who are depressed, hope for the despondent, and strength and fortitude for those who are imprisoned. As both a confessor and a spiritual director, he offers spiritual counsel and direction for those who need his guidance.
Finally, a priest is also called upon to be a steward of the Holy Church. He is not just a defender of the faith, but he is also a faithful shepherd and keeper of the Church's material property. In managing the affairs of the Church and his assigned parish, he must be able to be a good and faithful servant in managing the temporal affairs of the Church, whether it be stewarding the parish's finances in conjunction with his parish council, or maintaining the property of the church, or seeing that religious education is well maintained.
With this in mind, it is clear that one does not merely wish to throw anyone into the role of priest. The formation of a man into a priest requires much effort, both on the man answering the priestly call, as well as those who are forming the priest at Seminary. Formation is the process by which a man is guided and formed so that he may properly be found worthy to be granted the Holy Order of Presbyter (Priest).
Formation is NOT indoctrination. Nor is it merely education. In the program of priestly formation, a man may expect to:
1. Live in a structured, semi-monastic environment at Seminary. This will allow him to be closely observed by the formation team and his peers as he is undergoing training and formation for the priesthood. At Seminary, he will learn the history and theological praxis of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, as well as the rubrics necessary for the celebration of the Divine Mysteries as a Deacon and as a Priest. If the man does not read Ukrainian, he will be taught how to read Ukrainian as well.
2. Receive comprehensive academic schooling in Philosophy to the level of a Bachelor's Degree in Philosophy. This allows the man to be habituated in Catholic virtue, to learn how to think critically without being unduly influenced by outside biases, and to apply reason in making decisions that will affect him, as well as his flock, as a priest.
3. Receive comprehensive academic schooling in Theology, either to the level of a Master's of Divinity (Civil Degree) or a Sacred Theology Bachelor (Ecclesiastical Degree). This gives the man a solid core foundation of Sacred Scripture, teachings of the Church Fathers, as well as education in Catholic dogma, Catholic moral teachings, and pastoral theology and practical skills (homiletics, pastoral counseling, etc.) This will enable him to master the foundations of Catholic theology necessary for the proper teaching of the Catholic faith and for effective ministry as a priest.
3. Be assigned to various social apostolic works, such as feeding the poor, giving Catechetical education, teaching disadvantaged people, etc. This will open his eyes to the practical applications of serving the faithful.
4. Be assigned to various parish assignments, so that he may see firsthand and learn the basic mechanics of ministry in a parish setting.
5. Be assigned to clinical pastoral education (CPE) in either a hospital or prison environment. This will develop his ministerial skills in pastoral counseling as well as help him understand himself as a Catholic priest in relation to a pluralistic religious environment.
Please note that what was described above is not a comprehensive listing of what to expect during priestly formation. There are a lot more areas that are laid out in detail by the USCCB's Program of Priestly Formation (PPF) that a man must undergo before even being considered for Holy Orders. In addition, there are many other facets to formation, including counseling, spiritual direction, regular participation in the Divine Mysteries, to list a few.
It needs to be remembered that the ultimate goal of priestly formation is to form the man as a competent steward of the Church and her temporal and spiritual goods, a compassionate and knowledgeable minister of the Divine Mysteries, and ultimately, a FATHER to all people who seek his care, guidance and love. One way to look at priestly formation is to compare it to the training of a medical doctor. The medical doctor (surgeon, specialist, etc.) undergoes a long period of training, starting with an undergraduate degree that can demonstrate success in the medical field (i.e., chemistry, biology, etc.) He then goes off to medical school to learn the basics of his profession. He may have additional schooling for his required specialty. He then works long hours as a resident intern under the strict supervision of senior medical doctors so that the aspiring doctor may learn the tools of his trade before being released as a competent and basically trained doctor. This process takes many years. But you would not want to trust your life and health to someone who has not been formed in a vocation where your life is at very stake, would you?
In the same way, priestly formation is similar to medical school, for the priest is a doctor of our souls. We do not want a quack or incompetent surgeon hacking away at our organs; neither do we want an incompetent priest to hack away at our souls and lead us to spiritual death! This is why priestly formation, so aptly named, is critical for us, and for our church.