Sunday, July 26, 2015

I Have a New Job... Or Do I?

So, I have a new job! At least, theoretically, that is. I am now the official director of the “Spiritual Formation Program” (henceforward SFP), run by Madonna House since 1980 for young men considering a vocation to the priesthood but not quite ready to begin their seminary studies. The reason I am only ‘theoretically’ in charge of it yet is that God has not yet sent us anyone applying for the program for this coming year, so it is unknown at this point if we will run it or not.

I am pretty sure that I haven’t mentioned this program except in passing on this blog, but now that I am in charge of it (theoretically), I thought it was time to highlight this hidden contribution MH makes to the Church at large.

It was in 1980 that the idea came to Catherine Doherty, all in a flash, that MH could have a role to play in the formation of men for the priesthood in Canada and beyond. Her initial formulation of it, that we would be a ‘seminary’, proved beyond our means at that point (and still is), but a year of spiritual and catechetical formation was not. 

Unbeknownst to her and us, the Vatican had just around that time come out with its own recommendations for priestly formation, and was suggesting exactly that thing. So Catherine asked Fr. Jim Duffy to develop a ‘pre-seminary’ program, and from 1980 onwards we have offered this service to the Church.

I do not have statistics in front of me at all, but quite a number of men are serving as priests now who passed through the SFP, or are seminarians on their way to that happy state. Quite a number of men are now loving husbands and fathers, and a good few others are in other vocations. I don’t think I’ve heard of anyone who has done the program over these decades who has not reported, sometimes years later, that it was a formative influence in their lives that has helped them persevere in serving God.

The program runs more or less from Canadian Thanksgiving in early October to Easter Sunday. The men come, and for the most part live our MH life of work, prayer, and community life. They have, as all our long-term visitors have, a spiritual director from among the priests. They live with the other MH men guests at St. Anne’s, and in most regards their life is that of any guest to our community. Our belief, and it is a belief tried in the fires of long experience, is that it is our community life that is the principle formator of anyone who walks in the door to spend time with us.

But they have a meeting one evening a week to discuss their experience and to read together and reflect on significant texts on the priesthood or other key spiritual matters. They have a study day on Wednesday—in the morning all the MH guests have classes first on the Fundamentals of the Spiritual Life, then on the Catechism. A time of prayer or reading follows. In the afternoon the SFP men have a second class, which may be on the priesthood, the liturgy, Scripture, or Our Lady. A second time of study follows, then a holy hour.

During the year there may be special field trips—a visit to the Companions of the Cross, or to the bishop of Pembroke. Some years we get ambitious and do a pilgrimage to St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal. But meanwhile outside of these special events, there is the ‘real work’ of the program—the Nazareth life of prayer, work, and learning to love one another in community (this latter always proves to be the toughest part of it all).

The men go away, generally, at Christmas for a break, and often this is a significant point of formation, as when they come back in January they are coming back with a new level of commitment to the process. We always end at Easter (even though some years, 2016 being one of them, the early date of the feast means the second half of the program gets a bit compressed), and a long-standing feature of our Easter feast is the young men giving a short speech to reflect on what the program has meant to them and to thank the community for its support.

It’s a really good program, and it has done a lot of good for an awful lot of young men over the years, some of whom are in turn doing an awful lot of good for the Church now. So this program has been entrusted to me now, after passing through the hands of Fr. Jim Duffy, Fr. Robert Wild, Fr. Robert Sharkey, and Fr. Tom Zoeller.

So I’m mostly asking for prayers at this point—it is just a bit daunting to find myself in this position along with everything else going on in my MH life and work. I rather suspect I won’t be going out nearly as often to give missions and talks, if this program actually happens this year.

And of course I am writing this in case any young man (by which I mean, more or less, 19-35) reads this who is looking for just what I have described or something close enough. Or any vocation director of a diocese who may have a man making inquiries who would benefit from this program, or any priest of a diocese who can forward this to his vocation director, or any lay person who knows a priest who knows the vocation director… well, you get the idea. Spread it around, in other words, folks! Get the word out! Use that share-y thing-y at the bottom of the post there…

Don’t let Fr. Denis Lemieux languish in idleness and torpor – give him a program to run! That’s the spirit! And yes, do pray for me as I take up this very beautiful and awesome work MH has done for these past 35 years.

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