Sound Spiritual and Common Sense Needed in the Discernment of Candidates for the Priesthood

VATICAN CITY, AUG. 27, 2004 ( Youth are strongly influenced by the present culture, and this influence can affect vocations positively and negatively, said Bishop Julian Porteous, theology professor and auxiliary bishop of Sydney, Australia in a teleconference organized by the Congregation for the Clergy.

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Here is the text of the conference given by Bishop Porteous on the topic of vocations to priesthood.

In considering the question of the discernment of the suitability of candidates for the priesthood, the issue of contemporary culture carries greater significance in the present day than before, particularly in first world societies. Young people experience the highly individualistic and materialistic attraction of the consumer society. Coupled with an attraction to live for the moment, young people are influenced by a strong self-centered ethos. Self gratification finds particular expression in the promotion of sexual fulfillment. Personal freedom and self determination dominate the cultural landscape.

However, in the face of these very strong and constantly present forces, young people search for authentic moral and spiritual values. In fact, the prevailing culture becomes a catalyst for young people to seek something that provides true and enduring ideals. Young men attracted to the priesthood today do so in the face of many factors working against a vocation. While the traditional Catholic family is an important source for nourishing a vocation, it is often other factors that are a key to a young man responding to a call to the priesthood. It may be some form of conversion experience or a rediscovery of Catholic truth in later adolescence. Often the figure of Pope John Paul II is a significant factor. Young men come to a vocation with a deep sense of mission, often expressed in a deep love for the Church, and sometimes with not a little intolerance for divergent opinions to their own!

These are encouraging trends, yet the need for discernment is very important. The Church, in the persons of the vocation director and seminary rector, must carefully identify certain qualities as critical for a solid and sustained vocation. Two elements are of vital importance. First, there must be a strong personal faith. A priest is to become an «alter Christus». A trust in and love for Jesus Christ must be at the heart of every vocation. A priest sees Jesus Christ as «the Lord and master, the key, the center and the purpose of the whole of human history» and is an instrument for the continuation of his saving work in and through the Church. Coupled with this faith must go a solid grounding in prayer and a desire for developing a spiritual life.

Second, there must be solid human characteristics. The Holy Father noted in Pastores Dabo Vobis (On the Formation of Priests in the Present Day), 1992, that «the whole work of priestly formation would be deprived of its necessary foundation if it lacked suitable human formation.» Young men today may suffer many human deprivations that come from a lack of stable marriage and family life. They may have been exposed to periods of very secular existence with accompanying exposure to sexual and drug experiences. The question of a capacity to live a celibate life in the light of these experiences becomes an important consideration. While a candidate for the priesthood may possess certain weaknesses coming from his background, careful attention to the formation of human character both prior to and during seminary formation can alleviate them as serious threats to the young man being able to be a good priest.

A vocation is a mystery of God’s choice and the action of grace in the life of an individual. Sound spiritual discernment and the exercise of common sense are the keys to the discernment process.

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