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Formation, as the Church understands it, is not equivalent to a secular sense of
schooling or, even less, job training. Formation is first and foremost cooperation with the grace of God. In the United States Bishops’ document The Basic Plan for the Ongoing Formation of Priests, a reflection on Saint Paul’s words in 2 Cor. 3:17-18 leads to a description of formation.
"The apostle Paul marvels at the work of the Holy Spirit who transforms believers into the very image of Jesus Christ, who himself is the image of God. This grace of the new covenant embraces all who have joined themselves to Jesus Christ in faith and baptism. Indeed, it is sheer grace, all God’s doing. Moved by that grace, however, we make ourselves available to God’s work of transformation. And that making ready a place for the Lord to dwell in us and transform us we call formation."
There are four components that the seminary and its programs use to foster the formation of future priests. They are the human, the spiritual, the intellectual, and the pastoral. These four pillars of priestly formation developed in (Pope John Paul II’s Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation) Pastores Dabo Vobis (I will Give You Shepherds). These pillars of formation and their finality give specificity to formation in seminaries as well as a sense of the integrated wholeness of the different dimensions of formation
The sections which follow on human, spiritual, Intellectual, and pastoral formation are to be read in this unified and integrated sense. These are neither discrete nor layered dimensions of priestly existence, but they are nter-related aspects of a human response to God’s transforming grace.
Material on this page is adapted from the basic principles of Seminary formation outlined in the Program forf Priestly Formation, 5th ed
. (PDF format). Rooted in the documents of Vatican II, the Program for Priestly Formation offers the normative direction for all seminaries in the United States to meet the challenge of priestly formation in the third millennium.