In Pastores Dabo Vobis, Pope John Paul II strongly emphasized that the basis of all priestly formation is a sound human formation. “The priest”, wrote the Holy Father, ”should seek to reflect in himself, as far as possible, the human perfection which shines forth in the Incarnate Son of God.” (PDV, n. 43). This is called for not only by the dignity of the priestly vocation but also by the demands of priestly ministry itself which needs a humanity that will be a bridge, not an obstacle, between men and women and Christ. Therefore, the seminarian should cultivate those human qualities and virtues which are needed to be a balanced person, “strong and free, capable of bearing the weight of pastoral responsibilities.” (PDV, n. 43). The level of human maturity, behavior, attitude, outlook on life, etc., all influence, either positively or negatively, other people. The seminarian’s way of presenting himself and his views, his capacity for dialogue, his sincerity and honesty, his prudence and discretion, his willingness to sacrifice for the common good: these are keys which open or close doors to trust, to listening, to healthy relationships, and to collaborative efforts for ministry in the Church.
The elements of a sound human formation are many and the demands may vary for different individuals. Pope John Paul II enumerated the most important: the balanced development of the human faculties (intelligence, will, passions, feelings); the capacity for human relationships; affective maturity; the development of a moral conscience.
A seminarian can expect to develop these necessary human qualities through the normal day-to-day interactions with his peers and others on an informal basis. Faculty guidance, feedback from peers and self-reflection assist the seminarian to gain personal insight into growth and the areas of his personality which need further development.
The key to a happy and wholesome life is found in living a balanced life and respecting basic human needs in all areas: intellect, will, emotions, body, etc. Taking care of physical and emotional health as well as spiritual and intellectual life constitute an authentic expression of Christian self-love. For a seminarian proper self-care exhibits itself in the simplest ways: eating properly, getting enough sleep, exercising consistently, relaxing with peers, taking time off, seeing a doctor regularly, observing moderation in the use of alcohol, learning to manage time, taking time for the arts. Research indicates that celibate living is fulfilling when one’s spiritual motivation is complemented by a balanced approach in all aspects of human development.
A decisive element of human maturity is the ability to relate appropriately with men and women of all ages and backgrounds. A candidate for the priesthood is expected to develop a real capacity for communion and sharing with others. In the seminary the relationship with peers and faculty on a daily basis provide a constant opportunity for authentic growth in this area. Pope John Paul II clearly emphasized this need:
Of special importance is the capacity to relate to others. This is truly fundamental for a person who is called to be responsible for a community and to be “a man of communion. This demands that the priest not be arrogant, nor quarrelsome, but affable, hospitable, sincere in his words and heart, prudent and discreet, generous and ready to serve, capable of opening himself to clear and brotherly relationships and of encouraging the same in others, and quick to understand, forgive, and console.” (PDV, n.43)
The Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1975 spoke clearly about the central role of sexuality in the life of every person: “The human person is so profoundly affected by sexuality that it must be considered as one of the factors which give to each individual’s life the principal traits that distinguish it.” (Declaration on Sexual Ethics, n.1) The mystery of human sexuality permeates every moment of human existence. To understand and accept oneself as a sexual person and to learn to relate comfortably with others are ongoing developmental tasks which will always be present in a person’s life. A seminarian is encouraged to discuss this area of his growth honestly with his formation director and spiritual director Pope John Paul II did not underestimate the difficulty in achieving affective maturity in our contemporary society. He proposed a concrete and realistic strategy:
“Since the charism of celibacy, even when it is genuine and has proved itself, leaves man’s affectations and his instinctive impulses intact, candidates to the priesthood need an affective maturity which is prudent, able to renounce anything that is a threat to it, vigilant over body and spirit, and capable of esteem and respect in interpersonal relationships between men and women. A precious help can be given by a suitable education to true friendship, following the image of the bonds of fraternal affection which Christ himself lived on earth.” (PDV, n. 44).
Human maturity, especially in the affective dimension, is manifested and deepened through a responsible use of freedom. Respect for self and others as sacred in the eyes of God must guide decisions and conduct as private individuals and also public figures in ministry. The goal of the entire seminary formation – human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral – should be the development of a moral conscience which values the dignity of each human person and is evidenced by the moral leadership and witness the seminarian manifests to others.
The Holy Father underscores this important need for candidates of the priesthood:
“The human maturity of the priest should include especially the formation of his conscience. In order that the candidate may faithfully meet his obligations with regard to God and the Church and wisely guide the consciences of the faithful, he should become accustomed to listening to the voice of God, who speaks to him in his heart, and to adhere with love and constancy to his will.” (PDV, n. 44)
In a commentary on Pastores Dabo Vobis Cardinal Pio Laghi has stated:
“In the normal run of things, grace does not supplant nature; priestly ordination does not put in place a new humanity. In a personality which has not been molded, in a character which has not had its rough edges smoothed off, in an individual who is incapable of calm and appropriate human relationships, the grace of ordination is discredited. In a mature personality, on the other hand, it shines out in all its fullness.” .