God is an artisan, molding men in formation for the priesthood like potter’s clay, if the seminarian will allow the Lord to shape him.
This was Pope Francis’s message October 7 to a Vatican conference on priestly formation sponsored by the Congregation for the Clergy.
The participants were discussing the updated Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis, which came out last year.
The previous Ratio was published in 1970 and updated in 1985. The new version was written to take into account the changes in the Church and society over the past decades, as well as to put a “Francis stamp” on priestly formation.
“The theme of priestly formation is decisive to the mission of the Church: The renewal of faith and the future of vocations are possible only if we have well-formed priests,” the pope said.
He continued with a reminder: Priestly formation depends firstly on the action of God, and not our own activity.
“It is a work that requires the courage of letting ourselves be formed by the Lord, to transform our heart and our life,” Francis said.
The pope then turned to the biblical imagery of clay in the hand of the potter, where Jeremiah, in observing the potter at work, understands the mystery of God’s mercy in placing Israel on the potter’s wheel to form it and give it shape.
Francis said the prophet discovered that Israel is conserved in the loving hands of God, who like a patient potter, takes care of His creature, places the clay on the wheel, models it, forms it and, in that way, gives it shape.
“If He realizes that the vase has not turned out well, then the God of mercy once more puts the clay into the mass and, with the tenderness of the Father, begins to mold it again,” he said.
“This image helps us understand that formation is not resolved by cultural review or the odd sporadic local initiative. God is the patient and merciful artisan of our priestly formation and, as is written in the Ratio, this work lasts a lifetime,” Francis explained.
“We must say it firmly: If one does not allow oneself to be formed by the Lord every day, he becomes a spent priest, who drags himself through his ministry out of inertia, with neither enthusiasm for the Gospel nor passion for the people of God,” he continued.
Instead, the pope called on priests to daily entrust themselves to the “wise hands of the potter,” and welcome with joy the freshness of the Gospel, adding that the priest is called on to collaborate with the divine Potter: “We are not merely clay, but also the Potter’s helpers, collaborators in His grace.”
Francis said to be the protagonist of his own formation, the seminarian or the priest must learn to say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’
“More than the noise of human ambitions, he will prefer silence and prayer; more than trust in his own works, he will know how to surrender himself to the hand of the potter and to His provident creativity; more than by pre-established mindsets, he will let himself be guided by a healthy restlessness of the heart, so as to direct his own incompleteness towards the joy of the encounter with God and with his brothers,” – the pope said – “Rather than isolation, he will seek out the friendship of brothers in the priesthood and with his own people, knowing that his vocation is born from an encounter of love: with Jesus, and with the People of God.”
The pope also said that formators and bishops are also required in the Potter’s workshop, and if they do not collaborate with the work of God, then there will not be well-formed priests.
“It is necessary to dialogue more on the formation of priests, to overcome parochialism, to make shared decisions, initiate good formative paths together and prepare from far-away formators who are capable of such an important task,” he said.
Finally, the pontiff said the People of God are “the great wheel that forms the clay of our priesthood.
“When we go out among the People of God, we let ourselves be formed by their expectations; touching their wounds, we realize that the Lord transforms our life. If a portion of the people is entrusted to the pastor, it is also true that the priest is entrusted to the people,” Francis said.
The pope said working with his flock becomes a “true school of human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral formation” for the priest.
Francis ended his remarks by asking for some self-reflection on the part of the clergy on why they are priests.
“The question that must form within us, when we go down into the potter’s workshop, is this: What priest do I want to be? A drawing-room priest, calm and orderly, or a missionary disciple whose heart burns for the Master and for the People of God? One who grows comfortable in his own wellbeing or a disciple who walks? One who is lukewarm who prefers a quiet life, or a prophet who reawakens the desire for God in the heart of man?”