Institute of St. Anselm, Ciampino, 21 maggio 2022
Rm 8, 28-39 – Jn 15, 1-5.11-17
First of all, I want to thank Father Len Kofler and his collaborators for having invited me to share this moment in the presentation of the diplomas and certificates.
When I became aware that your Institute has been present for some years now in our diocese of Albano, I immediately wanted to know about it. I must say that since my first meeting with Father Len and his staff, which took place at the Episcopal Curia, I was in complete harmony with the objectives and the service that the institute has provided. In my eight years as the Rector of the Urbano College in Rome I had the joy and I would say the grace to work with the formation of our seminarians who come from churches that are still growing (Africa, Asia, Ocesania).
Beginning with our observations as a Formation Team from the Collegio Urbano, we realized that the formation of the young seminarians is often too focused on the intellectual dimension, which takes up most of the time and energy of the seminarians throughout their formation program. Speaking with the seminarians in Asia and Africa I saw that this limitation was present in many other seminaries and indeed, I would say, exasperated by excessive attention to the disciplinary aspect. Hence, together with my collaborators we began to do everything possible to strengthen a more holistic formation program which put a special light on both the human and spiritual aspects of their formation. It must be said that the difficulties of diocesan priests rarely come from the intellectual domain but rather from deep rooted human and spiritual problems.
The recent “Ratio Fundamentalis” (2016) encourages all seminarians in the world to develop an integral formation program, as already expressed by “Pastores dabo vobis” (1992). It can be said that the recent “Ratio” underscores even more strongly the need for human and spiritual formation as an indispensable basis for the gift of self in priestly life. Nevertheless, the challenge remains in seminaries and is indeed, a large one, in finding the suitable way of achieving the desires of integral formation in recent documents. It seems, in fact, that in the reality of seminaries the demands for intellectual formation continue to be like an enormous elephant that takes up the space of the entire formation program.
It is in this sense that I was immediately in perfect harmony with the work that Father Len has been doing for many decades at the Institute. To teach the formator to be a good formator, to have a holistic approach to those who are being formed is an important and urgent mission for out times and is necessary for evangelization.
The gospel of John, we have just heard, talks to us about love, or to be more precise, about “agape,” as the key experience to Chirstian life. John is an eye witness to that which is written in the gospel, John is the “who has seen”,” “the one who writes”, “the loved one” because he had an up-close and personal relationship with Jesus: he was close to him and writes a gospel that is very theologically dense. He speaks to us precisely of this experience of love that he had as a disciple of the Divine Master. Love in John’s gospel develops on three levels: above all the love that exists between Father and Son. It is the love in the Trinity that urges God to become incarnate, that urges the Father to send His Son. The second level: the love between the Son and human kind. This is the love that gives itself to the cross. It is the love in which man is no longer a servant but a friend of God, that makes us children of the Child. Finally, the third level, Saint John speaks about the true test of love which is the love between brothers. Saint John Bosco reminded his collaborators that “education is a matter of the heart”, that is, to educate and to form means above everything else to love. Jesus too makes us understand that our work in the Kingdom of God needs to be rooted and indeed I would say, needs a profound experience of our Being, that which is love. Only by being in a personal relationship with Him, with our whole Being, like all the faculties of the human person, can we truly bear Evangelical Fruit of our lives. And this, dear friends, is a truth that comes to us even through our own life experiences including those that are psychological. Only those who have experienced love are capable of loving. Those who have experienced deep and true affection in their lives can give affection to others. Before being a Christian it is necessary to experience the love of God, to feel loved, forgiven, to feel liberated and created as people before God, not as servants, says John, but as friends.
This is why Jesus invites us to “remain in His love“, that is, to place ourselves in His heart, to have our own profound experience of friendship with God. “Remain in my love” means to feel at home with God to feel the church, the community as our own home.
In chapter eight of the letter of the Romans, we may say that Paul sings a song in this sense: a song of faith, of trust, of confidence in God. Faith in God is a relational reality for Paul, it is not just about the intellect but above all else, with the whole being of the person. Faith is entrusting oneself, especially when we have experiences of our own limitations, persecutions and failures. In the area of formation we experience so much grace and joy, but we also often experience uncertainty, difficult times and failures. This is, therefore, the encouragement that comes from Paul: to trust in God even when we are unmotivated or tired.
Paul, in his own life, had many set-backs: the pain of conversion, guilt for having persecuted Christians, tribulations, prison and being offended and mistreated by his brothers. But he remained anchored to Christ, strongly attached to the branch in order to bear fruit. This is the spirituality of Paul. May this be the spirituality of this Institute because by remaining tightly and strongly inserted in the person of Christ, you continue to bear fruit for the Kingdom of God.
+ Vincenzo Viva Bishop of Albano