Among programs in the United States for formation of diocesan priests, the Spirituality Year Program at Saint John Vianney Theological Seminary has been successful since 1999.
“Any man who desires to come to me will hear my words and put them into practice…. He may be likened to the man who, in building a house, dug deeply and laid the foundation on a rock. When the floods came the torrents rushed in on that house but failed to shake it because of its solid foundation” (Lk 6:47-48, NAB). The purpose of the Spirituality Year is to allow each seminarian to lay such a foundation for his priestly life.
“The aim of this time is to develop a relationship of deep communion and friendship with Jesus. In this time they receive the benefit of a catechesis that is deeper than the teaching he gives to the people (cf. Mt. 13:11); also he wishes them to be witnesses of his silent prayer to the Father (cf. Jn 17:1-26; Lk. 22:39-45)” (Pastores Dabo Vobis 42).
Pillars of Spirituality Year are –
Time spent before the Blessed Sacrament is central to the year – time when each man can encounter the living presence of Jesus in profound silence. This encounter flows from and leads back to the celebration of the Holy Mass and is supported by recitation of the Divine Office, teachings on prayer from the Catechism and from great spiritual masters with a reliance on Ignatian spirituality and rules of discernment. A normal day involves 2 1/2 to 3 hours of communal and silent prayer.
The year is marked by several retreats: a three day retreat in the fall, a five day retreat in March and, as the capstone of the Spirituality Year, an Ignatian thirty day retreat beginning in May.
We have been greatly blessed with the completion of a new home for the Spirituality Year – giving the perfect setting for developing a life of Christian charity in community. The seminarians pray, study, work and recreate together – growing in self-knowledge, forming friendships, and growing in the mutual sense of being called to share in Christ’s call and mission.
Of special note is our media fast. As a sign of turning from the world and toward Christ, men in the Spirituality Year give up the use of phones, television, computers, popular media and other electronic devices. (On Saturdays they are allowed access to these – so that they may stay connected to family and friends to a reasonable degree). A new freedom is invariably experienced, as well as a stilling of one’s heart.
The type of study involved in this year is transformative. There are no tests. Each weekday two hours are spent in the classroom, where Sacred Scripture, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the great spiritual classics, the Documents of Vatican II and the Church’s teachings on the nature of priesthood are explored. Some of the very best teachers of the main seminary lead the seminarians in this “contemplative study.” The students are also given two hours each morning to read and pray. By the end of the year they will have read the entire Scriptures and Catechism (as well as many other works).
The apostolic program is also notable. It has two dimensions. For much of the year the men go out each Thursday afternoon to visit the elderly, teach young people, or minister to the sick. In January something really special happens. The seminarians are sent out “two-by-two” for a whole month – to be immersed in the lives and service to the poor. Some go to live and serve at a homeless shelter, others to an Indian reservation, others to the homes of the extremely poor. They go to bring Jesus to the poor and discover him waiting for them in the presence of the poor. They experience a unique time of grace in which they are able to practice placing themselves in the complete providential love of the Father.
Come and See
In his Decree on Priestly Training, Pope Paul VI states:
“In order that the spiritual training rest upon a more solid basis and that the students embrace their vocation with a fully deliberate choice, it will be the prerogative of the bishops to establish a fitting period of time for a more intense introduction to the spiritual life” (Optatum Totius, 12).
At Saint John Vianney Theological Seminary, we are committed to providing bishops the opportunity to give their seminarians this “more solid foundation” by dedicating an entire year to the seminarians’ development: the Spirituality Year.
One of the sentiments most often expressed at the end of the Spirituality Year is: “It’s a great year – a real gift.” The gift is that of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the opportunity to enter more deeply into His Most Sacred Heart, to listen to His voice and to respond. It is a year of building one’s house on Rock.