Thursday, March 31, 2011

"Heart and Mind, Reason and Feeling, Body and Soul" (Balance, Integration, and Wholeness in Formation and the Priestly Life)

“A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand”. (Luke 11:17)

One of the things that has always perplexed me, both as a seminarian and later on as a priest working in seminary is how fragmented formation can sometimes be. Back when I was in seminary, every priest had his own “niche” which always seemed more important than the other “niches”. So the dean of men would constantly talk about the value of community and pastoral life, the dean of studies about academic work, the spiritual director about spirituality and prayer, and the seminary counselor about maturity and sexuality.

Now that’s quite understandable and, in a sense, inevitable. Everyone’s got an area of interest and expertise. But what I found disconcerting was how sometimes that value given to a specific “niche” or area of formation served to eclipse or downplay the importance of the rest—as if they were meant to be in competition and in conflict with each other.

There are three instances I will never forget. I was playing basketball once, when one of the philosophy professors passed by and saw us. “Wouldn’t you guys be better off spending your time in the library?” he asked. Back in Belgium, I remember poring through a pile of books on my desk once, when the pastoral director passed by. She sees me buried in the pile and says, “Too bad none of that Greek and Hebrew will matter once you get ordained”. And lastly, I remember almost having a fit when already a priest on formation staff in the seminary, one of the spiritual directors said to me: “I think we should only send seminarians to counseling when their issues can no longer be resolved in spiritual direction”.

Fortunately, I really haven’t seen that here at St. John Vianney. And that’s why I say you guys are lucky. Every single formator you have here is pretty much on the same page when it comes to seeing formation in terms of “balance”, ‘wholeness”, and “integration’. No one overemphasizes one aspect of formation while downplaying the value of another. I’ve worked in several seminaries, and I can tell you; that isn’t always the case.

You see, one area of our life isn’t more valuable than another; nor is another less important than the rest. As Pope John Paul II says in Pastores Dabo Vobis and as the bishops tell us in the Program for Priestly Formation, all areas of our life are of equal importance—every single one of them.

Never set one area of your formation in conflict with another; never highlight one area of your life as a priest by eclipsing another. You may not be able to live all the areas at the same time; but that doesn’t mean those you aren’t living are unimportant. This is true now in your lives as seminarians. It will be even more true later on when you’re ordained.

In his “Letter to Seminarians”, Pope Benedict reminds us: “It is important for the priest to have the right balance of heart and mind, reason and feeling, body and soul, and to be humanly integrated”.

“A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand”.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)