Spiritual Formation Resources
The Spiritual Formation program works in co-ordination with the academic, experiential and evaluative components of the total formation program in preparing candidates for priestly service among the people of God. The program's specific purpose is to foster the human and spiritual maturity of the candidates as they grow in relationship with and imitation of the person of Jesus Christ. Students are called to see their lives as a daily, free response to the animating presence of the Spirit of the Risen Christ. This is a gradual and life-long journey of discernment, one that is encouraged and promoted in various ways during the five years of training in the Seminary Formation program. It is the Holy Spirit that calls, forms, and transforms the seminarians in our care. Nevertheless, the formation faculty has the responsibility in a human way for the training and formation of the seminarians by providing the context, climate, structures, and opportunities for them to do their part in disposing themselves and responding to God's grace through all the activities, situations, events, and persons that they encounter each day.
Introducing the Spiritual Year
In North America, and in particular Canada, a number of events and currents within both the Church and society have made the process of priestly formation increasingly complex and demanding. As a means of addressing these needs, and with a view to preparing future priests more effectively, St. Augustine's Seminary is pleased to introduce a year dedicated to the preparation of seminarians in the areas of human, spiritual, catechetical, and pastoral formation.
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St. Augustine's Seminary Spiritual Year Prospectus.
The following are the resources of the St. Augustine’s Seminary Spiritual Formation program through the year:
Spiritual Direction: Spiritual direction offers the seminarians a primary relationship with a priest-director through which he can discern his priestly vocation and reflect upon his growing relationship with the Lord Jesus and his people, and assess the various ways he is responding to the Spirit in personal prayer, communal liturgy, common living, academic progress and life experience. The seminarian is expected to meet with his spiritual director, chosen at the start of the year, at least once a month, and most are in the habit of meeting every two weeks. In any given year, there are between seven to ten priests of the Formation Council who exercise the ministry of spiritual direction for the students, as well as the Director of Spiritual Formation.
Spiritual Initiation into Seminary Life: At the beginning of each year, the first-year students arrive at the seminary nine days before the returning seminarians, and are introduced to seminary living by means of a program entitled, "Spiritual Initiation into Seminary Life." The Director of Spiritual Formation and the Seminary Liturgist lead these important introductory days. During this time, the new students have the opportunity to meet and get to know one another and the members of the faculty. The program itself is centred on a series of presentations and discussions based upon introductory themes of the spiritual life. These include the meaning of call and vocation, the person of Jesus Christ and the Paschal Mystery, Eucharistic spirituality, basic forms and methods of prayer, praying with scripture (Lectio Divina), the Awareness Examen, discernment and spiritual direction. By way of further presentations and workshops the men are introduced to the liturgical ministries of lector, server and leader of prayer, as well as to the structure and meaning of the Liturgy of the Hours. The various gatherings are scheduled through the day, while the evening is set aside for community relaxation and for the reading of pertinent articles and spiritual books.
The overall purpose during these days is to initiate men into the life of the seminary by exposing them to the basic practices and principles of the spiritual life, to help them become acclimatized to a new way of life, to encourage them to relate to their fellow students in a spirit of faith and charity, and to help them become familiar with the seminary environment, policies, and daily spiritual program. Thus, nine days later, when the large group of returning seminarians arrives, the new candidates will already have an initial sense of belonging.
Spiritual Orientation Days: The opening weekend of the seminary year in early September for all seminarians is entitled "Spiritual Orientation Days." The purpose of the weekend is to re-orient the returning students once again into seminary life after the four-month summer period, and to include the new first-year candidates. This is accomplished by a series of five spiritual/pastoral talks based on a central theme and given by several different spiritual directors. After each presentation, the seminarians engage in private reflection, which might be followed by sharing in small groups. Each year a new theme is chosen from a papal or bishops' conference document, spiritual book or article, or other area with a focus on priestly formation and spirituality to give direction to the presentations.
Wednesday Community Evening: The most important aspect of the Spiritual Formation program throughout the year is the Wednesday Community Evening each week. The Wednesday evenings begin with a more solemn celebration of the Eucharist, a supper served by seminarians, and then an evening gathering from 7:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. These gatherings involve a rotation from among three separate exercises:
- Spiritual Groups: The seminary community is divided into spiritual groups consisting of a spiritual director and approximately eight seminarians who are, for the most part, his spiritual directees. The groups arrange for themselves an evening program of discussion and sharing on spiritual themes, as well as arrange for the celebration of the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours in their groups for the following day.
- Year Groups: Approximately once per month the seminarians gather in their particular class or year, first to fourth and possibly, philosophy as well. They meet with a faculty member who facilitates participation and discussion on a scheduled topic for one hour. A half- hour gathering of the entire seminary community follows with the Rector, the Rector's Colloquium, for a presentation on a spiritual or communal theme.
- House Meeting: A guest speaker or panel from outside the seminary is invited to address the entire community on a subject of spiritual interest, or about a ministry in which they are engaged.
Days of Recollection and Retreat: During the seminary year, two Recollection Weekends are scheduled, one in the fall semester and the second in the spring. The second weekend takes place at the beginning of Lent to assist us to prepare for the Easter Triduum. Both are led by a priest-director who guides the community in prayer and reflection through conferences and meditation.
At the end of the formation year, during the last week of April, the seminary conducts its annual retreat. A retreat director is engaged to lead the philosophy, first, second and third-year seminarians in a guided retreat at the seminary (total silence, one conference a day, and daily interview with their spiritual director). The Parish Interns are expected to make their own arrangements for a directed retreat during their parish year at a retreat centre that they have contacted. The fourth-year seminarians are also asked to make their own directed retreat arrangements: in the first term, in preparation for their ordination to the diaconate, and again in the second term in preparation for their ordination to the priesthood. All of these retreats are meant to be five full days in length and are conducted in silence.
The Daily Spiritual Program: The daily spiritual program expected of all seminarians consists of the following: devout presence at the daily Eucharist; prayerful presence at the Liturgy of the Hours; a minimum of 30 minutes of private prayer based on the Scriptures of the daily Eucharist (Lectio Divina); and the practice of the Awareness (Consciousness) Examen. Beyond these daily essentials, personal devotions and the reading of spiritual books and articles is fostered privately in the life of the seminarians. Frequent reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is encouraged and regular opportunities are provided to the community.
Devotions: The following devotions are part of the seminary life and calendar, though attendance is optional. Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament takes place on Fridays throughout the year. The Way of the Cross is conducted weekly during Lent. The Rosary is prayed each evening.
Although this section describes the many aspects of the Priestly Spiritual Formation program at St. Augustine's Seminary under a variety of headings, it would be incomplete if the overall goal of integration were not emphasized. Although a seminarian may be engaged daily in a variety of spiritual, academic and communal activities, with many different people, these experiences must be seen in their interrelationships—an integrated whole animated by the Holy Spirit and by the faith response of the individual seminarian.
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