When I was in the seminary, one of the annual rituals of formation that we embraced was goal setting (with the help of our formation adviser and the input of our spiritual director). These goals were meant to be realistic, practical and measurable. They, of course, not only became a conversation piece on the journey of formation for that specific year, but also an opportunity for clear and measurable growth with accountability.
Even though we have left the seminary, we must never stop being formed. January is an opportune time for us as priests to establish some concrete goals for the coming year. In the absence of a formation adviser, we can turn to our spiritual director or close priest friend. Some even use life coaches. It is imperative that we seek to grow every day and, as the old commercial for the U.S. Army used to say, “Be all you can be.”
The pillars of formation described by Pope St. John Paul II serve as a fitting point of departure for goal setting. Take a moment and reflect on these four pillars (human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral) in your priestly life. Where and how is God calling you to grow in these dimensions of continuing formation?
Human formation refers to that aspect of becoming a complete man of character and integrity. This pillar of formation involves a priest growing in his person and manhood by taking care of himself. A priest who is attentive to human formation is typically a man of good health who displays an appropriate sense of boundaries and self-care. In looking at this area for goals, we might want to consider our health — physical and mental. What do we do to maintain health? What kind of exercise do we engage in? How is our diet? How are our relationships? Do we work too much or too little? Are we taking our day off?
Spiritual formation centers on one’s relationship with Jesus Christ through prayer and meditation. One of the goals of spiritual formation is intimacy with Jesus Christ. How is our prayer life? Do we meditate daily through lectio divina? What kind of spiritual reading do we engage in? Are we faithful to the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Do we have a spiritual director or a support group of priests to keep us accountable with prayer? Is God inviting us to pray in a different way?
Intellectual formation involves the study of theology. When we are true to this pillar, we are able to preach the truth with the heart of Jesus and the mind of the Church. Every day we stand on the front line of various moral issues and dilemmas. What do we do to know more about these matters and reflect the teaching of the Church? What are we reading to enhance our preaching? When was the last time we took time to attend a workshop or conference? Do we make time to read what is going on in the Church, culture and world?
Pastoral formation points to developing a compassionate sense along with a skill set for ministry that seeks to meet the needs of the faithful in their particular situation. What do we need to work on to better serve our people? Perhaps it is learning Spanish or taking sign-language classes. Maybe it is a matter of becoming more adept with social media.
Indeed, January is a great time to make goals, which can provide a new energy to our lives and our priesthood. In fact, football coach Lou Holtz once said, “If you’re bored with life, if you don’t get up every morning with a burning desire to do things, you don’t have enough goals.”
FATHER DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is a pastor of 13 years in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where he has served in numerous roles. To share your thoughts on this column or any others, follow The Priest on Twitter @PriestMagazine and like us on Facebook.