In our series during this “Year of Faith” on the 16 documents of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), we turn to the first of two conciliar documents on the ordained priesthood, namely Optatam Totius, the 1965 Decree on Priestly Training. In a forthcoming post we will look at Presbyterorum Ordinis, the 1965 Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests.
Optatam Totius should not be read apart from Bl. John Paul II’s 1992 document Pastores Dabo Vobis (“I Will Give You Shepherds”) written at the conclusion of an international synod discussing the promotion of priestly vocations and the training of men for the priesthood in today’s cultural climate.
Both Optatam Totius and Pastores Dabo Vobis provide significant teaching on seminaries and the various aspects of formation provided there–human, spiritual, intellectual (philosophical and theological), and pastoral.
Paragraph 2 of Pastores Dabo Vobis drives home the priority of this topic:
“The formation of future priests, both diocesan and religious, and lifelong assiduous care for their personal sanctification in the ministry and for the constant updating of their pastoral commitment is considered by the Church one of the most demanding and important tasks for the future of the evangelization of humanity.”
Yet, I’d like to focus today on the fostering of vocations to the priesthood, which according to Optatam Totius is the work of “the whole Christian community” (no. 2). We can build the best seminaries in the world, and meticulously devise the most comprehensive formation program possible, but if young men aren’t willing to step forward in the first instance, we have a problem. A serious problem.
Now, the priesthood today is a complex topic, and any talk of a “shortage” or “crisis” must be tempered by Bl. John Paul’s exhortation that our first response must be a total act of faith in the Holy Spirit. We must be ”deeply convinced that this trusting abandonment will not disappoint if we remain faithful to the graces we have received” (Pastores Dabo Vobis, no. 1). We trust that the Lord will always provide us shepherds after His own heart (cf. Jer. 3:15; 23:4), yet we are called to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in this great work of inviting young people to “come and see” (cf. Jn. 1:39).
For that reason, I want to highlight today this quote from Vatican II: Continue reading