A Pressing Need
While fostering new vocations to the priesthood is an urgent task for the twenty-first century, so too is the task of supporting those men already serving in priestly ministry. Priests need to receive, in addition to a solid seminary education, continuous nourishment to refresh, encourage and sustain them in their ministry. If they are to continue feeding the flock, shepherds must be fed as well. In the words of the Program for Priestly Formation, “The process and the journey of the ongoing formation of priests is both necessary and lifelong. Its purpose is not only the spiritual growth of the priest himself but also the continued effectiveness of his mission and ministry.”
In a faithful “yes” to this command of the Lord, priests in each generation have taken up the call to be shepherds of His people: to teach, to govern, and to sanctify… to offer their very lives for the life of the world, in union with Christ Himself and the Church He established. The gift of the Eucharist, source and summit of our faith, passes to every generation only by way of this personal “yes” uttered again and again in a chorus of loving obedience that extends throughout the ages.
In our own day, men who offer their “yes” to this call face unique challenges. While the Catholic population grows each year, the number of priests available to shepherd the faithful is decreasing. In the United States, for example, membership in the Catholic Church has risen almost 16% in the past thirty years, while the number of priests serving that membership has dropped nearly 20% in that same period. Many priests serve in more than one parish, and one in five parishes have no resident pastor. In such a situation, an already busy pastoral life can become extremely taxing for even the most energetic priest. In this context, providing priests with opportunities to be refreshed, strengthened and connected with their brothers in the priesthood is a vital need.