I have a couple of priests friends in their eighties, and one of the reasons I admire them both is because—even after decades of priesthood—they are always striving to be better priests. They humbly ask questions, constantly read books, and approach priesthood and life itself with a sense of wonder. The joy of their initial call to the priesthood has not dimmed with the passing of years but continues to radiate in them.
The Church asks her priests to pursue ongoing formation. In doing so, she reminds priests that our formation does not end the day we are ordained. We are called to become more perfectly united to Christ through continuing intellectual, human, pastoral, and spiritual formation. As the words of this Sunday’s Gospel remind us, Jesus never stops inviting us to come to him and learn from him.
Ongoing formation in the life of priests can save the priest from "settling in" and from becoming stale in his priestly ministry. It can awaken in him a deeper appreciation for how the Lord is working in his life and in the life of the Church. It can help him to serve his people better and to love his people more. It can renew in him a sense of wonder for his vocation and place him once again before Jesus so that Jesus can teach him. In a particular way, the annual retreat for the priest is an extraordinary gift to him. This privileged time of prayer is indispensable for the life of a priest.
The two friends that I mentioned above not only help themselves by being attentive to their ongoing formation, but they help me. Their pursuit of continued intellectual, human, pastoral, and spiritual formation sustains in them a youthful joy; a joy that comes only from humbly learning from Christ. These priests—and many of my older brothers in the priesthood—by their dedication to continued formation, maintain a humble and joyful example of priesthood.
As a priest who assists in forming future priests, I hope that one thing I can communicate to our seminarians is some of what my older brothers in the priesthood have communicated to me. Seminary formation should instill in every future priest an ardent desire for lifelong formation in Christ. We are always in need for formation. No matter how many years of priesthood we have under our belt, we are always standing by the Sea of Galilee ready to set out on the great adventure with Christ. Life with Christ is always new. There is always more. He renews the joy of our youth.Summer Conference for Priests