Hyingblksuitportrait-20110711-aetLast week, I participated in a round table discussion on lay ministry, had a good friend share his increasing sense of being called to the permanent diaconate, celebrated the special anniversary Mass for married couples of 25, 50 years and beyond, a couple at the Mass were celebrating 71 years of marriage! – See related story and photos, Page 16 – and I went to the Saint Francis de Sales Seminary dinner.

These experiences reminded me of the vital importance of calling, forming and sending a rich variety of vocations throughout the church.

When we examine the Gospels, we see Jesus calling the apostles to follow him; then, they experience three years of intense formation as they see him heal the sick, forgive sinners, proclaim the Good News, reveal his divine identity and power. At the end, right before the Ascension, Jesus sends them forth to proclaim the Gospel to every creature, to baptize and to heal.

That middle step of formation is crucial; if the apostles had not been prepared and formed by the Master, they would have had no idea what to do, once Jesus ascended to the Father.

“Pastores Dabo Vobis,” the papal document written by John Paul II at the end of the Synod on priestly formation, lays out four pillars for any seminary preparing future priests: Human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral.

Human formation focuses on the inculcation of virtue, leadership, communication, social skills, psycho-sexual integration and personal maturity. Spiritual formation is the development of a prayer life, participation in the sacraments, learning the rich spiritual tradition of Catholicism, developing an ever deeper relationship with the Lord. Intellectual formation is the study of theology – Scripture, sacraments, ethics, church history, spirituality. The pastoral is the practical experience, as one serves in parishes, prisons, hospitals, soup kitchens and nursing homes, all the while reflecting on and integrating all of this together!

This program of formation for priests also applies, with some adaptation, to the preparation of lay ministers, religious, permanent deacons, married couples, consecrated persons and all of the baptized. If we take our Christian discipleship seriously, we consistently need to reflect on the Lord’s call in our lives, open ourselves to deeper formation in the totality of our person and go forth to serve as we are sent.

I can’t help but think that many of the Catholics who fall away from the practice of their faith were never formed. How can one embrace the Gospel with passion, live Catholicism with conviction and aspire to holiness without formation? If we do not know the faith, we cannot live it. For many of us, Catholic formation stopped when we were confirmed at 16. Imagine applying for a computer job and telling the recruiter that your last experience of technology training occurred in 1982? You would not get the job, needless to say.

We thank our seminary, the St. Clare Center at Cardinal Stritch University, the permanent diaconate program and all those serving in the catechesis and formation of children, young people and adults throughout the archdiocese. This work is of the highest importance.

Recently, the St. Clare Center launched a new program of formation for Catholic school teachers which promises great fruit. Kudos to them! We need nothing more today in the church than leaders, men and women well-trained, able to articulate the Gospel to the complexity of our culture, able to reach the hearts of our young people, able to inspire all of us to a greater level of virtue and holiness.

Certainly not all of us will go through a rigorous program of formation, but we can all study the Bible, do other spiritual reading, subscribe and utilize Catholic periodicals, such as your Catholic Herald, go to adult formation programs at our parishes, internalize the Catechism of the Catholic Church, do some pastoral work, even in our own home.

Formation of the whole person – mind, heart, spirit and body – is where we are at today. An integrated life of holiness, happiness and generosity is the greatest tool of evangelization we have. Are you in?