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Posted in Archbishop Chaput's column, Weekly column from Archbishop Chaput, on October 25th, 2013

Priestly formation and the renewal of Catholic life

By Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.

In every age the Church has the task of learning from and respecting the past without being captured by it. As the world changes, so do the pastoral needs of the Catholic community. In a city as rich in Catholic history as Philadelphia, we need to treasure the saints and achievements of previous generations. But real faith is more than nostalgia. We need to look ahead. We need to carry the legacy of the Church in Philadelphia forward by thinking and building creatively for the future today.

How do we do that? Renewing the Church takes more than fixing our financial problems and streamlining structures. These things are vital to good stewardship, and they can’t be postponed or avoided. But they’re not the heart of the matter. Love for Jesus Christ and zeal for sharing the Gospel: These are the things that count. All genuine institutional renewal drills down to the conversion and right formation of the human heart.

In the Catholic experience, that “right formation” begins with the priest, because in pastoring his people – teaching them, encouraging them, leading them in worship, sharing their sufferings and joys – the priest makes Jesus present to the community. As others have said before me, there’s no presence of Christ in the world without the Church. There’s no Church without the Eucharist.  And there’s no Eucharist without the priest.

This truth subtracts nothing from the heroic witness of religious women and men, and the immense sacrifices and apostolic service of married couples and lay singles. God makes the call to sainthood equally to every Christian from every vocation.

But the unique vocation of the ordained priest is to feed God’s people with the body and blood of God himself; to shepherd God’s priestly people as they seek to bring Jesus Christ to the world and the world to Jesus Christ. So again, the renewal of the Church begins first with a recommitment to strengthening and renewing the way we form our priests.

St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, one of North America’s great centers of priestly formation, has prepared men as Catholic priests for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and dioceses throughout the country for more than 180 years. Earlier this week, St. Charles announced plans to revitalize its mission to shape servant leaders after the heart of Jesus Christ. This is very good news.

The seminary’s Board of Trustees has reaffirmed a commitment to its College Seminary as a free-standing, residential college seminary program, welcoming students from the United States and beyond. St. Charles Borromeo College Seminary will improve and build on its tradition of academic excellence, while striking a healthy balance with human, pastoral and spiritual formation. Graduates will be readied on every level for theological studies in formation for the priesthood.

The seminary’s goal of a dynamic, re-energized college program, tuned to the new and emerging pastoral realities of our day, requires that the historic theologate buildings be re-purposed into new, state-of-the-art facilities to house the College Seminary. The plan also includes the renovation of existing facilities which currently house the seminary’s post-college Theology and Pre-Theology programs.

Funding for this major project of upgrading and renovation will be provided by the Heritage of Faith/Vision of Hope Campaign; the sale of select pieces of seminary artwork; the lease or sale of a portion of the current seminary property; and a new capital campaign focused solely on the seminary. This is a significant undertaking — but the long-term benefits for the life of the Church in Greater Philadelphia are vastly more significant and life-giving than any costs.

Please pray for the success of these important efforts at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary and for the good men it will form in service to the Church. The future depends on God, but God looks to us – to our zeal and our generosity — to do his work in the world.


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6 Responses

  1. Your Excellency, Thank you for your weekly column on Catholic Philly, and thank you for keeping us abreast of the recent plans and developments for the seminary and for the continued formation of priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. We, the faithful in the Philadelphia area are very, very blessed with your presence and guidance.

    The plans you have listed above in order to keep the vibrancy going in our seminary sounds like a good plan, and I will keep these endeavors in my prayers that all will go according to God’s will for our Archdiocese. Just a few thoughts on revitalization and renewal…I agree that “real faith is more than nostalgia” and that “renewing the Church takes more than fixing our financial problems and streamlining structures”. As you said, it’s more about “love for Jesus Christ and zeal for sharing the Gospel”. And our priests truly are the “shepherd of God’s priestly people”. On that note, my comment is on educating our priests not just to know the faith well, but also to be truly human with the people they interact with. By this I mean that the perception of what some people consider as a “holy priest” may be much different than the reality of who Jesus was and is and what he calls priests to be for God’s people. Pope Francis has made it a point to priests throughout the world that it’s not about being perfect, and it’s not about making a “career” out of the priesthood. We live in a culture where we can’t help but be somewhat competitive with one another, and unfortunately I believe we have all seen this even in the priesthood and religious life. Being “well-schooled” and educated in the faith is important, but teaching priests to also be empathetic, compassionate and “real” with people, I believe is true priestly formation. Yes, it is important to live a pure and chaste life, follow the laws of the Church, and maintain proper boundaries with the faithful, but sometimes in doing so priests become more like business-people and administrators just doing their jobs and somtimes out of fear will dismiss people who have questions about the faith due to time, boundaries and other factors. If evangelizing is the most important aspect of our faith, then teaching our priests to be more humble, more open to the people and less “business-like” should be a part of formation.

    On one last note, I have met so many good and holy priests over the years, however, some of the best priests I have ever met have been those life-long Parochial Vicars or teachers who were never elevated to Pastor. Many times these priests have proved themselves as real “shepherds of the people” and very compassionate toward the people. Please include more formation in how to truly show empathy and a willingness to make time and listen to God’s people who are so hungry for direction and also for acceptance. Sometimes all people need are just a smile and a feeling of acceptance by the leaders of their Churches. Thank you and God bless you, Your Excellency!

    By: Anne D. on October 25, 2013 at 11:28 am

  2. Archbishop Charles, this is wonderful news about the college seminary! Thank you for once again illuminating our priceless treasure of holy priesthood. Your words in action continue to lead the flock just as your inspired oration encouraged our present Holy Father Francis 16 years ago.

    By: Barbara Henkels on October 25, 2013 at 11:41 am

  3. These are exciting times for the Church in Philadelphia and for the Universal Church! Thank you, Archbishop, for your active leadership in this time of renewal! God give us priests, give us holy priests!

    By: Kevin M. Madison on October 25, 2013 at 1:13 pm

  4. Your Excellency,
    Compassionate Pastors are most like Jesus…He never ordained priests but taught His disciples, both men and women, His way…the one which changed the focus on old rules and judgment into building relationships of love, forgiveness, and inclusion of all who would follow Him, even to the cross.

    Is it possible to continue to exclude half of those followers from pastoring and serving as leaders in His Church? If we have learned anything in the past 2000 years, should it not be that priesthood is one of the institutions He came to change? The only priests mentioned in the New Testament or in the letters are the temple priests who validated His cures.

    The Eucharist would not have meaning without His followers, as He said,… “do this in memory of me” to all those at His Last Supper. Priesthood has been over-touted and it seems that the office has been man-made solely to validate the later concept of “transubstantiation”.

    Even I, a lowly woman student can see that.
    With all due respect, I pray for clearer understanding for the benefit of all the holy church.

    By: Alessandra on October 26, 2013 at 1:10 am

  5. Archbishop Charles,
    You have undertaken a great task ,one I believe The Great Task Master must be pleased with. Your enthusiasm for Holy Priests and a Holy People are indeed contagious.
    I pray it fans the flame in all of our hearts here in this Archdiocese. I have often said you are a great Teacher as such, you are teaching us through example. You have as our Shepard , sacrificed as you ask us to sacrifice for the the good of Holy Mother Church and to forward the Kingdom if God!
    May we all remain faithful to The Gospel !

    By: Kathleen McCarthy on October 28, 2013 at 1:01 pm

  6. Archbishop Charles J. Chaput,,

    I’d like to make an off-topic comment since I’m currently reading your book “Render unto Caesar.” In your book you talked about how it is unfair, unjust, uncharitable for the truly faithful Catholics to have the Catholics-in-name only who live a life opposed to the teachings of the Church and yet they go to Mass and Communion.

    Yet in the same book and elsewhere in your weekly columns, you talked about fairness and just treatment for the “undocumented immigrants.”

    As someone who live by the precepts of the Bible and the teachings of Jesus, I can tell what is wrong when I see it and it usually shocks me if it comes from a clergyman.

    Unfortunately, I see duplicity in the opinion of the Catholic Church in America. Those who broke any law are called “criminals,” or “illegals” meaning, they committed an unlawful act. I’m sorry, maybe I see life as Black or White. I don’t like the gray color, political correctness or lies.

    I’d like to ask you, although I don’t expect an answer, is it also fair, just, charitable for the legal immigrants to give amnesty, a path to citizenship and full citizen rights to those who broke our laws and sneaked into our country illegally (whether they stayed here generations or not, it doesn’t matter)?

    By: Paul Ben on October 31, 2013 at 3:24 am

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