May 5, 2009

The Spiritual Classics

This week I provided the final lecture for a class entitled the spiritual classics. This concludes a course that I have had the privilege of offering for the last ten years to men in their very first year at our seminary. We call this year "The Spirituality Year." It is a year of prayer and community which prepares men for the six years of study required for the priesthood. The courses we offer in this context, including Spiritual Classics, are all non-academic in nature. This means these courses mainly introduce seminarians to the whole idea of making personal appropriations through a prayerful reading of the texts. During the year they also study the Scriptures and the Catechism of the Catholic Church in the same way.

The purpose of Spiritual Classics is to expose seminarians to the wisdom of the saints, especially those who wrote about prayer and growth in the spiritual life. Using the Scriptures and the Catechism of the Catholic Church as reference points, this year we surveyed selected writings from St. Athanasius, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Augustine, St. Bernard, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Siena, Bl. Charles de Foucauld, St. John of the Cross, St. Therese of Lisieux, and Bl. Elisabeth of the Trinity. We concluded the course with brief reflections on Pope Benedict's Spes Salvi and Deus Caritas Est.

A theme throughout the course is the unique importance of personal prayer and the greatness of vocations dedicated to helping people grow in prayer. In particular, I always want the men to understand that pursuing the priesthood is a great and noble enterprise because there is nothing more beautiful than to lead souls into union with God and into the communion of the Body of Christ. The writings of some of the saints and mystics, particularly of the 20th Century, draw our attention to this great task. Although all of us bear responsibility to one another to this end, priests have a special mission, an irreplaceable role. During the Year of the Priest which will start in June, I will post on this idea. For now, at the end of a semester, I am very proud of these students and what they endeavor. They are great and generous men. For them, this is not an end but a beginning. Indeed, they are all about to make a month long Ignatian retreat - so keep them in your prayers.