Further reflections on the new programme for the formation of presbyters (4)

reflectionsRonald D. Witherup PSS

This final article in the series continues the analysis of the vocabulary of the revised programme of priestly (presbyteral) formation, Ratio fundamentalis institutionis sacerdotalis (hereafter, Ratio)1. It finishes the final three key words and then poses some evaluative questions to consider as national conferences of bishops wrestle with how best to implement this document. Ronald D. Witherup PSS is superior general of the Society of the Priests of Sulpice.

5) Missionary-disciples

The influence of Pope Francis, which is found throughout the Ratio, is particular evident with this fifth expression. Actually, the phrasing can be either missionary-disciples or disciple-missionaries. Either way, both dimensions are highlighted. The language, of course, comes from the Aparecida Document, the South American text on the new evangelization for which Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio - now Pope Francis - was the main drafter. Many elements from this document found its way into Pope Francis' landmark post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel, 2013). One section of the Ratio cites this exhortation at some length (119-121), and there can be no doubt that both the missionary and discipleship aspects of priestly formation are highlighted.

The impetus for this language is self-evident. Pope Francis, like his two immediate predecessors, sees the importance of an outwardly-oriented Church. The Church cannot simply be self-centred. The gospel of Jesus Christ demands that believers be missionary disciples, followers sent out on mission, willing to go to the farthest ends of the earth to proclaim the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. While the expression 'missionary-disciples' occurs only twice in the text2, the entire Ratio is impregnated with this vision. Thus, the Ratio speaks of the 'missionary spirit', 'missionary zeal' (33, 88f), the 'missionary impulse' and 'joy' (91), and the 'missionary fervor' that was characteristic of the Patristic era (113). The Ratio explicitly states that 'formation is clearly missionary in spirit'3, and formation programmes should be cultivating this spirit in seminarians. The philosophy (third) stage of formation is also called the time of formation in 'discipleship' (61), a time when one learns how to 'stay' with Jesus and adopts attitudes and practices that will last a lifetime.

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