“Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity.
Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”
What is Formation?
The prolific early Christian writer Tertullian once said, “Christians are made, not born.” Although pointing out something important about becoming a Christian, he is also saying something that applies to a vocation to the Priesthood or Religious Life. No one arrives in the world as a ready-made Christian. So, too, we do not arrive at the doors of the Seminary ready for Ordination to the Priesthood.
On the day of our Baptism we are configured to Christ, and that configuration must be followed by an ever greater conformity of ourselves to the Lord in the Spirit (Rom 8:29) until we—as Saint Paul says in Ephesians—grow to our full stature (Eph 4:13). In the same way, the configuration to Christ, the Head and Shepherd of the Church, in Holy Orders requires the priest to enter into ever deeper friendship and communion with the Lord over the course of a lifetime (PDV 42). Neither the Christian life nor the Priesthood or Religious life is a vocation that we possess once and for all, but are rather gifts which must be actively and gratefully received each day anew.
Therefore the formation experience is only the beginning. It’s a “proximate” preparation that is only a beginning of a lifetime of work and development. The goal of formation is clear:
To come to love with the heart of the Church.
To come to think with the mind of the Church.
And (for Priesthood) to develop a rightly integrated core of human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral virtues that are those of Jesus Christ the Eternal High Priest.
Entering into formation means presenting oneself before the Church with a spirit of openness, recognizing that at this particular point in life God is calling you to an experience of exploration, discernment, and conversion.
The eager among us may point out that the Apostles did not go through Seminary. However, the very model for true formation is the personal relationship which was cultivated between Christ and his Apostles. He called them apart from the world to spend time with him, in order “to develop a relationship of deep communion and friendship with himself” (PDV 42). The high point of this friendship came during the discourses of the Last Supper, during which Jesus offers what we now call his “priestly prayer.” In it he says this, “Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ” (Jn 17:3).
The experience of salvation is dependent on knowing the one true God, and Jesus Christ who he sent—there is no choice—and that is formation. The disciples enjoyed this experience and felt called to draw others into that same experience. Evangelization and missionary zeal flow organically from the joy that is found in friendship and communion with Christ. Formation then is a movement deeper into the experience of knowing, loving, and serving God—it is the deepening of a relationship with the heart of Jesus.
Once accepted to the Society of Saint Edmund, the candidate begins the period known as Postulancy. Not defined extensively by Canon Law, Postulancy is a period of time spent living in an Edmundite Community working closely with the Director of Postulants who helps to guide and direct the candidate on his faith journey. This portion of the formation process allows both the candidate and the Society to assess their readiness for entering Novitiate.
Novitiate is a year long process of prayer, work, and study, whereby the candidate enters into the life of poverty, chastity, and obedience prior formally making vows. During this time the candidate grows deeper in their relationship with God, and spends time in concentrated discernment with the Director of Novices to determine if Religious Life is the vocation to which God has called him. By taking the title of "Brother," and living the life of the community, the Novice has the opportunity to get a taste of what life will be like as an Edmundite, while maintaining a spirit of retreat.
Upon the completion of the Canonical Requirements for the Novitiate Year, candidates may make written request to the Superior General to enter into temporary vows. These vows expire after a period of three years, at which time they may take perpetual vows, take temporary vows again, or take leave of the community. Brothers who intend to go on formation for Holy Orders begin their Seminary studies at this time, and after making perpetual vows become eligible for Ordination to the Diaconate, and then to the Priesthood.