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Posted May 19, 2003

Seven Top Recommendations Made by Priests to Insure the Future Health and Effectiveness of the Priesthood



This is the first of the seven recommendations that will be posted daily on our website. The recommendations come from the study: Evolving Visions of the Priesthood: Changes from Vatican II to the Turn of the New Century by Dr. Dean R. Hoge and Jacqueline E. Wenger. For further information please e-mail Dr. Dean Hoge at hoge@cua.edu.

Recommendation 1: More focus on seminarians' spiritual development, emphasizing the importance of prayer.

Foremost in the minds of most priests we talked with was the need for seminarians to guide them in their spiritual development. Over and above their concerns about practical daily tasks and responsibilities was their insistence that seminaries impress upon their students the importance of prayer and spiritual development in everyday life and train them how to pray.

A 32-year-old priest emphasized the importance of this matter in these words:

"Looking back, the most important thing, without exception, is teaching the men how to pray. Teach them what it is, and I don't want to sound melodramatic, but teach them to learn how to die to themselves. I think we have to be, in the seminary, even more countercultural. Of course we have to be part of the world; that goes without saying, since we're working hand in hand on a daily basis with people that are in the world . . . .Maybe our witness is being that gentle, calming presence in the midst of chaos. And I've learned that that can only be done when you've got your own spiritual life together, when you've been given the tools to learn how to be contemplative, reflective."

A 42-year-old diocesan priest, ordained in 1999, offered a suggestion for structured prayer:

"Perhaps the one thing that I might recommend would be for more of an emphasis on prayer, not that it wasn't there, but I would think more of an emphasis. Because from what I've witnessed from priests since I've been out here is that the priests that tend to fail to burn out tend to be priests who neglect their prayer. So perhaps a recommendation would be to have Eucharistic adoration, if not once a week, more often, to set aside that kind of prayer, to sit in front of the Lord and to pray. To sit quietly with the Lord. Many, many times out here in parishes I see priests so upset and so nervous about things. And I see a lot of those priests are ones wh have forgotten their relationship with God, trying to do everything by themselves, forgetting that God has to be part of it."

A 61-year-old diocesan priest, ordained in 1965, bemoaned his lack of early training in how to pray:

"All the different forms of spirituality that I'm familiar with today, I never heard about any of those. It was just "learn to meditate." I don't think I was ever taught to meditate. It was embarrassing. After I got out of the seminary, somebody asked me to teach them to pray. Nobody ever taught me to pray. Well, they taught me how to say words. So spiritually I think there was a lot lacking in the seminary."

Another older priest, ordained in 1972:

"I think I would like to have seen, personally, more courses on spirituality and prayer. Not that we didn't have some of those, but I guess part of that is, how do you make a person realize the importance of prayer and its connection to ministry before you're really involved in ministry? That is the eternal question. Lay people want to see priests who are in love with the Lord, have a passion for God, and they want guys to share that passion for God. And you're only going to get that passion as you see the need for prayer and ministry, in my mind."