Tuesday, July 14, 2009

An Important Talk

I'm currently at the country house of the Real Colegio de los Ingleses (English College) in Valladolid. Yesterday the rector gave me a copy of a speech by the Secretary of the Congregation for Education, Mgr Jean-Louis Brugues. It was addressed to seminary rectors and published by L'Osservatore Romano on June 3rd. In his speech Bishop Brugues is addressing issues concerning seminary formation in a secularised world. He makes a number of very interesting observations and, since I've got little to write about here, I thought it might be worthwhile commenting on some of them. I'll do this over a few days, quoting the Bishop's words and then adding my own reflections.

"Regardless of the form it has taken, secularisation has provoked a collapse of Christian culture in our countries. The young men who come to our seminaries know little or nothing about Catholic doctrine, about the history and customs of the Church. This generalised lack of education forces us to carry out important revisions in the practice followed until now. I will mention two of these.

First of all, it seems indispensable to me to provide these young men with a period - a year or more - of initial formation, of 'recovery', catechetical and cultural at the same time. These programs can be designed in various ways, based on the specific needs of each country. Personally, I am thinking of an entire year dedicated to assimilating the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which presents itself as a very complete compendium".

The bishop goes on to explain what he means by a collapse of Christian culture and how in some ways people within the Church contributed to it in the post-Conciliar years. Whatever its contributory factors, those of us in vocations work will certainly have experienced its effects. It's not just that we are approached by men who are married or living in an irregular relationship. Many of the young people we meet have grown up within the refectories of the 'culture of death' and have come to Christ because they found the meat it offers to be at best unsatisfying, at worst poisonous carrion. They experience faith as a trust in Christ but its features have yet to be mapped out by the teachings of the Church. They can also lack a human formation - having never acquired the discipline of virtue, they can find themselves dragged down again and again by the pull of the 'old man'. They can experience this as profoundly disheartening.
The bishop's response is to propose as 'indispensable' a year (at least) of initial formation with both catechetical and cultural dimensions. In so many ways this is what the 'propaedeutic year' at the English College in Spain provides. Other European countries have developed different models. The seminary of Madrid, for example, requires an 'introductory year' - a year in which candidates for formation continue their study or work during the week but attend a special formation programme at the seminary every weekend. Whatever model we take, the object is the same: the prepare the young men to be able to receive and benefit fully from the formation on offer once they start their time at major seminary.
The propaedeutic year in Spain, of course, offers at lot more than remedial classes for those whose assimilation of Christian faith and life may be lacking in some aspects. In addition to a complete course in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the students are introduced to the Scriptures, Church history, liturgy and the other disciplines they will later study in more depth. It begins the important work of spiritual formation outside of the potential stresses occasioned by the round of exams and assessment at seminary. It offers and introduction to community life where people of all backgrounds and experiences can learn from one another and grow in the exercise of charity.
The bishop's second 'revision' concerns the formation programmes on offer in seminaries. Since he has some important comments to make, I'll reserve these for the next post.

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