Living the Present ...
Priestly Identity and Formation in Pastores Dabo Vobis and in
College General
by Michael Teng and Steven Selvaraju (with the help of our
brother seminarians).
Pastores Dabo Vobes (PDV) is a ground-breaking document on
priestly formation in the circumstances of the present day.
Other than affirming the importance of spiritual, intellectual
and pastoral formation, it also emphasizes human formation as
foundational.  Michael and Steven, in this article, draw out the
salient points of the document and describe some of the changes
that have taken place in the seminary since then.
The 1990 Synod of Bishops on The Formation of Priests in the
Circumstances of the Present Day was particularly well-informed.
(We remember answering some questions in preparation for the
Synod when I was in my Initiation year in 1989.) Most
participating Bishops (including His Grace Soter Fernandez) had
direct experience as rectors, professors or spiritual directors
in seminaries. This is clear in the Post-Synodal Apostolic
Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis (PDV). There was a need for
theological clarity about the nature of the priesthood, the
identity and ministry of the priest. Who is a priest and what
does he do? It will dictate how a candidate for the priesthood
should be educated. Is it enough to distinguish the ordained
priesthood from that of all baptized believers in the one,
unique, eternal, unrepeatable, unchangeable, indivisible,
untransferable Priesthood of Christ (which is shared by both the
laity and the clergy)? The theology of the priesthood is what a
seminary is about, where the formation program facilitates
learning from priest-formators as well as offering a sound
theological understanding of the priesthood. The necessity of
seminaries was reaffirmed - but what type? The Trent type,
existing in 'splendid isolation' from the the world is
unthinkable today. The Vatican II type is geared to the mission
of the local Church.
PDV presents a framework to encourage and properly direct change.
Let us take a closer look at the document. We will first review
what has been identified as problems, obstacles and challenges we
are up against - the context in which the document is set. We
will then focus on the theology of priesthood found in PDV and
try to relate it to formation.
The context: Present Day Realities
The first personal and social problem is rationalism as a
reductive concept of science which renders human reason
insensitive to an encounter with revelation and with divine
transcendence(n.7b). There is individualism understood as a
desperate defence of personal subjectivity leading to loneliness.
Attempts to escape may take the form of hedonism or materialism.
Although philosophical materialism has declined, there is a
practical and existential atheism which denies a spiritual and
religious dimension in life. Associated problems: are an errant
sexuality which obscures or distorts the true meaning of human
sexuality and social injustice in the form of an inhuman
capitalism which increasingly widens the gap between the rich and
the poor(n.7e).
Within the Church, one major root problem is plain ignorance of
the faith, resulting in three related problems - relativism,
extremism and subjectivism. Religious relativism hinders the
unity of the faith and ecumenical dialogue; an unavoidable
pluralism is not relativism. Extremism and one-sidedness in a
priest who must be 'all things to all people" will weaken the
effectiveness of his ministry. Subjectivism leading to a partial
or conditional membership in the Church would be intolerable in a
priest(n.18). Another serious problem in the Church is the
scarcity of priests resulting in overwork, discouragement or lack
of confidence in the priesthood itself.
The Priest As Head And Shepherd Of His People
The identity and ministry of the priest have been examined by
theologians, the magisterium, Vatican II, and the popes. It is
standard to say that the priest must be another Christ, a living
and transparent image of Christ. In a real sense, such must be
the ideal of all the People of God since by faith, baptism and
confirmation, they share in Christ's priestly, prophetic and
kingly service.
What then marks out the ordained priest in his resemblance to
Christ? In the words of PDV, "the priest is configured to Christ
as head and shepherd of his people"(n.12b). As head of the
Church, His Body, Christ exercises an authority and power of
service over her. As Shepherd of the Church, His flock, Christ
exercises compassion toward her. As both head and shepherd,
Christ expresses pastoral charity for the Church in a total gift
of self. This is best seen in the spousal love of Christ the
Bridegroom for His Bride the Church(n.22c). It is the image of
Christ the Bridegroom, then, which explains the priest's
configuration to Christ as Head and Shepherd of the Church. The
interrelation of these three images is the refined theology of
priesthood in PDV.
Compassion Of The Good Shepherd And Spousal Love Of The
This compound imagery deserves some attention. It may be easier
to understand how Christ relates to the Church as both Bridegroom
and Shepherd i.e. how the compassion of the Good Shepherd is
related to the spousal love of the Bridegroom. How does Christ
relate to the Church as both Bridegroom and Head? The Church
herself is both Christ's Body and His Bride. PDV uses patristic
imagery: just as Eve was taken from the body of Adam to become
his bride, so the Church is the bride who proceeds like a new Eve
from the open side of the Redeemer on the Cross(n.22c). And when
Christ relates to the Church as her Head, He does so with the
love of the Bridegroom.
Christ the Head's authority of service, then, merges with Christ
the Bridegroom's spousal love for the Church. Insofar as the
priest is configured to Christ, his authority and love must
coincide in the same way. From this compound bond flows the
identity and ministry of the priest that is authentic and
harmonious. The source of the priest's pastoral charity and
spousal love for the Church must be and will only be found in his
love for Christ.
This is the understanding of the priesthood presented in PDV.
What is needed in the priest to live out the implications of that
intimate bond? Briefly, the priest must develop the spousal
character  of Christ the Bridegroom, since he is called to live
out Christ's love for the Church, his bride. The priest must
develop the qualities of leadership to share in Christ's Headship
of His body the Church. The priest must develop the heart of
Christ the Good Shepherd, seeking after the lost sheep of his
flock. It would appear that priestly formation is basically
character formation - the character of Christ the Head, Shepherd
and Spouse.
Human, Spiritual, Intellectual And Pastoral Formation
PDV provides guidelines for molding the identity of candidates
for the priesthood. Priestly formation is treated under four
headings - human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral. These
can only be stated here in summary fashion. Human formation is
directed toward affective maturity in relationships and
sexuality; it includes education for responsible love,
friendship, responsible freedom and the moral conscience.
Spiritual formation deals with the importance of spirituality to
the identity and ministry of the priest. It consists in living
intimately united to Christ as well as a search for Jesus in
prayerful listening, meditation, reading of the scriptures and
silence. Intellectual formation is about the proper study of
philosophy and dedication to the truth, the human sciences, and
theology as a science of faith. Problems in this area are
addressed - the relationship between theology and the
magisterium, pastoral considerations, evangelization and
inculturation. Pastoral formation unifies and gives direction to
the whole formation process. Human, spiritual, and intellectual
formation is geared to a pastoral finality which involves
reflection, discernment and legitimate application. It should
give the candidate an experience of the Church as mystery,
communion and mission. Most importantly, the indispensable agent
of formation is the candidate himself, with the help of the Holy
Spirit, since only the human person can shape himself as a free
intelligent agent.
Attempts at implementing PDV
Slightly over a year after the promulgation of PDV (25 March,
1992), the formators and seminarians of College General got down
to the task of finding ways and means by which this post-synodal
document could be made more relevant to our lives here in the
seminary. Together with the Bishop of Penang and the President of
the Seminary Commission, Rt. Rev. Anthony Selvanayagam, we spent
a day dedicating ourselves to this important task.
Many things were said and shared on that day. But words in
themselves, however well-intentioned, are not enough. Its fruits
must be seen in the willingness of the Bishops, the formators and
the seminarians to implement what had been discussed and shared.
Indeed much has happened since that day. The up-dating of the
seminarian proforma, in which the important aspect of human
formation has been included, the introduction of a psychological
assessment both for potential candidates and for those intending
to continue their studies in theology, and the inclusion of a
thirty-day retreat after the third year of theology are some of
the more evident signs that has emerged in recent years.
More positive than these however have been the signs which are
less evident. In the past few years we have seen a greater sense
of rapport, trust and openness between formators and seminarians
and among seminarians themselves. There is a sincere desire on
the part of all to want to make things work, to want to create a
truly caring and authentic community.
Growing realization of responsible self-formation
Another encouraging sign is the growing stress and realization of
responsible self-formation. Indeed at the end of the day it is
this that really counts as far as formation to the priesthood is
concerned. No amount of guidance or supervision on the part of
the formators here would be of much help if the seminarian
himself is not willing to take the initiative to be responsible
to form himself first. Self-formation is the best form of human
formation. This is true for all of us. This means that the time
has come for us to take responsibility for our own actions and to
stop putting blame on the hierarchy, on the formators, our fellow
seminarians and on the various structures that form part and
parcel of the priestly formation for all our misgivings and
This also means that seminarians must be trusted with a certain
amount of freedom. True, it is a common complaint among many
senior priests and lay people that the seminarians of today are
given far too much freedom. The question here is not whether we
are given too much or too little. It is a matter of just how we
exercise it in our daily lives. Freedom can be misused but then
again it is freedom freely given which allows an individual space
and time to grow.
Human Formation: the basis of all priestly formation
True human formation challenges us to grow into the true human
persons whom God has created us to be. Indeed it is not just a
call for priests but for all men. But as future priests, we are
challenged to go one step further. We are called to, "cultivate a
series of human qualities, not only out of proper and due growth
and realization of self, but also with a view to the ministry".
Hence, future priests are called to become "balanced people,
strong and free, capable of bearing the weight of pastoral
responsibilities, to be educated to love truth, to be loyal, to
respect every person, to have a sense of justice, to be true to
their word, to have genuine compassion, to be men of integrity
and especially to be balanced in judgement and behaviour." (2nd.
Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Priestly Formation, Optatam
Totius 11)
Such is the demand made on all priests. In this sense, the onus
is not only on the seminarians alone.  Priests too, whether they
be formators or not, have a vital role to play in priestly
formation.  How they live out their humanness in the context of
an active and demanding ministry will go a long way in helping a
seminarian form himself. On the part of the seminarian, he has to
integrate in himself a harmonious balance of the human,
spiritual, intellectual and pastoral aspects of formation.
Unbalanced human formation may result from an over-emphasis of
any one of these. For too long the emphasis has been on the
spiritual and the intellect. PDV is an attempt to re-emphasize
the need for human formation, an aspect that has for a long time
been seen as unimportant and even "unpriestly".
The Bishops, formators and seminarians of College General are
aware of the significance of PDV. Each in his own way is
attempting to contribute towards the implementation of the many
values as advocated by this document in the seminary and in their
daily lives. It is hoped that we do not become complacent after
our initial efforts, but rather continue to strive and persevere
in assuring that the seminary produces priests who are truly and
wholly human in the image of the God-man, Jesus Christ our Lord
and Saviour.

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