The seminary of today: “less institution, more communion”
DR. Hubertus Blaumeiser, a Consultant of the Congregation for Catholic education, considers three basic archetypes of seminary formation. This could serve us to consider especially if we base, in this third millennium, the ecclesiology of the second Vatican Council, which is predominantly an ecclesiology of communion from which, the formative principles of today could be based. Blaumeiser asks: In as much as seminaries today are the training grounds in which thousands of young people are preparing themselves to serve God, the church, and people worldwide, what should today’s seminaries look like?
He offers two or three of practical archetypes, which in reality are one and the same. I quote:
a) the family of Nazareth, the seminary of Jesus–so to speak. It is a family; a family of workers. A family that lives in the midst of the world and in the midst of other families. Yet, it is a very special family composed of persons whose lives are dedicated entirely to God. In this family, Jesus, a worker who is subject to his parents, grows in wisdom, age, and grace (cf Lk 2:51-52). Towards the end of his life at home, he spends various periods of solitude in the desert, where he also undergoes temptation. Then he begins his mission entering into public ministry.
b) the community of disciples – again if we may call it, the seminary of the apostles. At the center of this community is the person of Jesus, the master. Before being sent out into the world, they receive the call to become disciples, which means they must leave everything to follow Jesus and to live in family with him (cf. Mk 3:14). It is a family that has its intimate moments, like that of the Last Supper. At the same time it is a family that reaches out to the whole world. Most essentially, it is a life that is lived together with the master. The “desert” is also experienced by the disciple with the trial of Golgotha. However, resurrection, Pentecost, and the sending of the disciples out into the world follows.
c) There is a third “archetype”: the first Christian communities, the “seminary” certainly of the “seven deacons,” but also of the prophets, the apostles, and priests that were born and formed within the heart of these communities. The Acts of the Apostles introduce us into the vital atmosphere of these communities.
The faithful, it says, “devoted themselves to the apostles’ instruction and the communal life, to the breaking of bread and the prayers … Those who believed shared all things in common; they would sell their property and goods, dividing everything on the basis of each one’s need … They went to the temple area every day, while in their homes they broke bread. With exultant and sincere hearts they took their meals in common, praising God and winning the approval of all the people” (Acts 2:42-47).
“The community of believers were of one heart and one mind” (Acts 4:32). Once again we see a community of disciples. A community with a religious character, yet a community that also lives in the midst of the world. It is a community founded by Jesus, the risen Lord, and by coming to birth through baptism, accepts and participates in the paschal mystery. These statements alone would merit a much more lengthy study and meditation, To sum up what has been said thus far, we can cite a text formulated by the Italian bishops, from which the title of this article has taken its inspiration: “the seminary … is in some way a continuation of the apostolic community which was bound close to Jesus, attentive to his Word, en route toward the Paschal experience, in expectation of their mission” (Italian Bishops’ Conference, “Seminari e Vocazioni Sacerdotali,” October 16, 1979, n. 69).
This leads us to see the seminary to be less and less a rigid institution towards more of a community of persons. The Pastores dabo vobis states: “before being a place, a material space, the seminary represents a spiritual space, an itinerary for life” (n. 42), “a continuation in the Church of the apostolic community gathered around Jesus, listening to his Word, on the path of the experience of Easter, waiting for the gift of the Spirit for the mission” (n. 60). How? By living precisely the words of Jesus like the apostles did.
But what is the mission? To announce Christ as a Savior? Of course but Christ as Savior in this spiritual space of the church. This is beyond to the usual activity of missionaries which are: To baptize, to teach catechism, to celebrate, to guide. Yes this is true of course. But in the end, what is the mystery that we announce and celebrate? Benedict XVI gives us the answer: God Love, God communion, who through the Church wants to extend his life to the ends of the earth. It is more than to increase baptisms, marriages, communion, etc. It is rather to make the church as church to make it more relevant in the world today.
This is the great vision that the Second Vatican Council offers us: the Church as a fermenting of new, brotherly relationships, an image of the God who is one and three together, as a seed of a new humanity where everyone lives with and for each other: in unity with God first of all, and therefore united with everyone else (ref LG 1, 4, 9). “Space of the reconciled world”, Augustine called it. Saint Bonaventure is even more explicit: “Ecclesia enim mutuo se diligens est” which we could translate: “The Church is the event of reciprocal love”. As John Paul II in Novo Millennio Eneunte said: to make the church a school of communion . . . is the greatest challenge facing us in this millennium.