Make them true shepherds of souls

By Father James Wilcox

Director of Vocations

North Texas Catholic

4/19/2016

Men who are seeking to serve the Church in the priesthood are formed in the four pillars: human, intellectual, spiritual, pastoral.  “The whole formation imparted to candidates for the priesthood aims at preparing them to enter into communion with the charity of Christ the good shepherd” (John Paul II, Pastores Dabo Vobis, 57). 

When men recognize the actions of priests in their lives that they want to emulate, it is the priest’s pastoral ministry that attracts prospects to the priesthood. The ministry of the priest takes a variety of forms, but all is focused on the love of Jesus Christ and the salvation of souls. This is the work of good shepherds.     

In the Diocese of Fort Worth, we have many examples of priests living out the work of the Good Shepherd through their pastoral actions. You can think of your own pastor and his shepherding of the souls in your parish. This includes the visits to the hospitals to offer the sacraments to loved ones in grave illness or near their deaths. You might recall seeing him with the students preparing for the sacraments of first Communion or Confirmation. He is always ready to help parishioners reconcile their lives with God through the sacrament of Confession. Perhaps you remember when Father went with the youth to a retreat or diocesan event. Most of all, your priests celebrate the Eucharist, preach the homily, and minister to those in need.  

In whatever way you see your shepherd, his manner for providing that care was shaped in the seminary through his pastoral formation. This formation is centered on Jesus Christ and on the priest representing Christ to all of humanity. In addition to offering context to the formation in the human, intellectual, and spiritual pillars, pastoral formation unifies the formation of the man into the shepherd of souls. 

There is a beautiful piece of writing by St. Vincent Ferrer in the Second Week of Easter Office of Readings, where he offers simple exhortations on three areas of the priest’s pastoral work: preaching, hearing confessions, helping those in need. He reminds us priests to be simple in our preaching and offer vivid examples so that each “sinner in your congregation” should have the feeling that the homily is written for him or her specifically. 

As he continues, we see that St. Vincent Ferrer has a good understanding of pastoral formation, and that the preaching of the homily is not a time for lambasting souls. Rather, a more influential and effective method must be utilized to move souls from the sinful habits. “Your tone of voice should be that of a father who suffers with his sinful children, as though they were seriously ill or were lying in a huge pit; and he struggles to free them, raise them up, and cherish them like a mother, as one who is happy over their progress and the hope they have of heaven’s glory.” 

The image of a priest in ministry who has characteristics of a father and mother is not an occurrence by happenstance.  To achieve the care of parent, and more importantly of the Good Shepherd, the man in formation for priesthood must be intentional about developing these ministerial skills.

St. Vincent continues further: “When hearing confession, you should always radiate the warmest charity.”  The shepherd welcomes the injured with open arms, seeking to heal the wounds and restore life to the downtrodden soul.  

As penitents, we must all remember that we are not going into the confessional to receive chastisement, but that we are going to hear the truth about our actions and the comfort of forgiveness in our repentance. St. Vincent reminds the priest to be warm in speech as he assists the penitent with strengthening his or her conscience.  

The pillars of formation are intimately connected. This is evident by St. Vincent’s final exhortation for priests:  Before you begin any ministerial duty, “you should approach God first with all your heart.” A strong and powerful prayer life is essential for pastoral ministry to the people of God. In all things, the priest seeks to serve God through serving his people. The intimate relationship with God through diligent, constant prayer unifies his service with the heart of Jesus Christ.

Throughout this year, three seminarians have been on their Pastoral Year, working in parishes alongside the pastor to grow and be formed in pastoral ministry. In years past, a number of parishes in our diocese have served the greater Church by hosting seminarians. We all continue to thank those men and women who aid in this part of pastoral formation. The priests and the parishioners are helping the man grow into the priest of Jesus Christ. 

The Fort Worth seminarians will soon return to the diocese and begin their summer assignments, serving in parishes and in ministries such as Catholic Charities, Camp Fort Worth, and the Vocation Awareness Program (please see the ad on page 28).  Through these assignments, “they will learn to open the horizon of their mind and heart to the missionary dimension of the Church's life.”   

Please continue to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Our Lady, mother of priests, pray for us. Amen.

 

Men who are seeking to serve the Church in the priesthood are formed in the four pillars: human, intellectual, spiritual, pastoral.  “The whole formation imparted to candidates for the priesthood aims at preparing them to enter into communion with the charity of Christ the good shepherd” (John Paul II, Pastores Dabo Vobis, 57). 

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