The Affective Formation of Seminarians

Author: ZENIT


The Affective Formation of Seminarians

Interview with Bishop José María Yanguas

By Carmen Elena Villa 

ROME, 23 FEB. 2011 (ZENIT)
A recent course on spiritual formation in seminaries addressed issues such as physical and affective maturity of priestly candidates, and the importance and aims of spiritual direction.

ZENIT spoke with Bishop José María Yanguas of Cuenca, Spain, who presented the topic of affective fragility to participants in the Feb. 7-11 course, organized by the by the Center for Priestly Formation and held at the Pontifical University of Santa Croce. The week of study was titled "Personal Spiritual Formation in the Seminary."

In this interview, Father Yanguas speaks about the current challenge of affective immaturity that can be seen in seminarians — and also in many of the faithful — how to address this in spiritual direction, and virtues to emphasize for Christian growth.

ZENIT: What should be the pillars of spiritual formation that should be given priority at present in seminaries?

Bishop Yanguas: The purpose of this course is to prepare candidates to continue the mission in the Church of Jesus Christ, Good Shepherd, being collaborators of the bishops. Priests are, radically, Christians, called to carry out a mission that requires previous "training," priestly ordination, particular configuration with Christ, Priest and Shepherd. Hence, the first task of education in seminaries is to form good Christians, that is, to educate in human and Christian virtues, common to all disciples of Jesus.

ZENIT: And what are these virtues?

Bishop Yanguas: A candidate to the priesthood should try to acquire virtues such as sincerity and simplicity, with an instinctive rejection of a double life, of everything that is false, not genuine, artificial; the spirit of work, the sense of friendship, sincere and open, sacrificial and generous, fundamental to live the priesthood within a presbytery and in the heart of a community; the spirit of service, necessary for one who is to give himself tirelessly to all; strength of spirit and capacity to suffer, "endurance," we could say, not to give in faced to difficulties and obstacles, to be able to work without expecting easy, immediate success, and not to get depressed when faced with possible failures.

Moreover, clearly the candidate to the priesthood must have the necessary theological and moral, canonical, liturgical and pastoral formation.

He must have a lively experience of the God who reveals himself to us in Christ, which is cultivated in the vital dialogue of personal prayer, public or private; a supernatural sense that makes him judge everything in the light of God; affability and a sense of paternity that will make him treat everyone with sincerity and mature cordiality; supernatural optimism that will infuse in the faithful joy and confidence; a sense of responsibility, creativity and the spirit of leadership of one who is committed, in a thousand ways, to serve the Word of God to his brethren, to bring them to the sources of grace, which are the sacraments, to guide them on the paths of an authentically Christian life. These are not the only "virtues" of priestly formation that you ask me about, but they must not be lacking.

ZENIT: What must be the role of the spiritual director during the formation of seminarians?

Bishop Yanguas: It is certainly an essential role. On one hand he is concerned with the life and spiritual formation in the seminary, which takes place through conversations, retreats, meditations, the reading of books, among others.

On the other hand, the spiritual director is the spiritual guide of the candidates. They open their souls to him, making him share in their inner life, so that he is able to direct, illumine, correct, open horizons, clarify doubts, propose goals, at times encourage, at others moderate. Hence, it is a work that touches the most intimate and personal aspect of each one.

Therefore, it is a task that requires extreme delicacy, so that the candidates feel accepted, understood and appreciated. It calls for humility and the sense of the Church so as not to form them in one's image and likeness. It calls for respect for the peculiarities of each one in the certainty that there are no two souls that are the same and that there are no recipes of indiscriminate universal application, strength to be able to correct when it is necessary, moral wisdom and knowledge of the spiritual life, attention to what God might be asking from the different candidates, care to facilitate their sincerity, prudence to lead them on an inclined plane, and patience to support the rhythms of growth, at times so different for each one.

ZENIT: And in regard to affective fragility, of which you spoke in the academic event at the University of Santa Croce?

Bishop Yanguas: This matter is not something specific of priestly formation. Fragility, immaturity, inconsistency of spirit is something present in many of our young people and adolescents. It is manifested as a lack of harmony between the intellectual, volitional and affective spheres of the person, creating instability, frequent changes of the state of mind, behavior guided by "desire," failure to fulfill acquired commitments, disappointments after sudden enthusiasms, depressive states for no other reason than small and inevitable failures, inability to keep going or to resist faced to obstacles, difficulty in making real decisions.

Affectively fragile persons need to be the center of attention, to be recognized and esteemed. They easily confuse feeling and true love.

ZENIT: Is it just a question of feelings?

Bishop Yanguas: Of course not. This is the inadequate integration of the affective realm in the totality of the person, whereas personal maturity, instead, is the fruit of the harmonious development of one's human capacities. Affective immaturity is not just about the sphere of feelings; it certainly implies intellectual and volitional immaturity.

If the varied realm of feelings and affections, frequently confused, prevails over intelligence and will, one falls necessarily into sentimentalism, allowing the feelings to decide on truth or error and making them the only motor of our acts. Reason loses the capacity of discernment, and the will is weakened. Thus the person's life is in the power of variable, changing feelings, often superficial. Being so, they need to be directed rather by the intelligence and governed by the will.

If sentimentalism invades the life of piety, the latter will run a very grave risk as soon as the feelings, experiences and affections that support it are lacking.

ZENIT: The spiritual director must try to lead the candidate toward a mature affective life. What are the characteristics of this?

Bishop Yanguas: A mature affective life calls for a vision of man that responds to his truth without reductionisms, dualisms or partial visions. It requires knowledge of the true "ordo amoris" [order of love], of the scale of goods that merit being loved. But it also calls for strength, willpower, the capacity to be able to follow and live that ordo.

ZENIT: What are the factors that favor affective fragility?

Bishop Yanguas: It is favored by an environment that denies absolute truths, strong values, and models of conduct; a culture in which the distinction between good and evil is uncertain, where the true is confused with the useful or practical, in which "everything is the color of the glass through which one looks." This makes authentic education or formation impossible: There are no models; there is no precise idea of what it means to be a person.

The difficulty becomes worse when the efforts, commitments and sacrifices that all education demands do not enjoy a good reputation because pleasure has become the end-goal of existence. The spasmodic quest for pleasure puts us in the presence of the animal man of which St. Paul speaks, incapable of understanding the things of God, a slave of his passions.

ZENIT: Is this factor a challenge for the formation of seminarians?

Bishop Yanguas: Indeed. That is why it is necessary to propose with renewed vigor to candidates to the priesthood the model of Christ the Priest, Good Shepherd, to motivate them with this image, so that in its light the whole task of formation makes sense, forging their own personality.

The "ordo amoris" will have to be shown with clarity, the order of the goods that must be loved and realized. It will be indispensable to strengthen, to harden the will of the candidates, to exercise them in "patience," in the capacity to suffer for what one loves, which merits our effort, commitment and sacrifice.

It would be appropriate to put candidates in contact with true priestly figures who have embodied and embody the priestly ideal of love and total self-giving to God, of hope and optimism, of joyful passion for soul, and of a positive vision of faith.

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
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