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Priestly Formation Today | An Interview with Deacon James Keating, Director of Theological Formation at the Institute for Priestly Formation, Creighton University | Ignatius Insight | November 23, 2011

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Deacon James Keating, Ph.D., is Director of Theological Formation at the Institute for Priestly Formation at Creighton University, Omaha. Before joining the staff of the IPF Deacon Keating taught moral and spiritual theology for thirteen years in the School of Theology at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio. He has given over 400 workshops, retreats and days of reflection on the Catholic spiritual/moral life. In the field of his professional research, the interpenetration of the spiritual and moral life, Deacon Keating has authored or edited ten books and dozens of essays for theological journals, including "Pastoral Authority and Spiritual Warfare" for the November 2011 issue of Homiletic & Pastoral Review. He was recently interviewed by Ignatius Insight about the state of priestly formation today and the ongoing challenges faced by seminarians and priests.

Ignatius Insight: How did you arrive at being a deacon and then working at the Institute for Priestly Formation as Director of Priestly Formation?

Deacon Keating: I was ordained deacon ten years ago for the diocese of Columbus, Ohio. I had been praying about it for about seven years before but it was not the time to pursue it since Marianne and I were raising babies. In about 1997, Marianne turned to me during a walk home from Sunday Mass and said, "I think it is time for you to see if God wants you to be a deacon."

Obediently following that spousal advice I began the process of application and formation. At that time professionally I was a seminary professor at the Pontifical College Josephinum and had been since 1993. During my time at the Josephinum I gave an address to the Federation of Seminary Spiritual Directors, and in the audience were the founders of IPF. They asked me to come out to Omaha and give some lectures during their seminarian summer program, which I did for a couple of years. After that they offered me a full time position in 2006.

Ignatius Insight: In general, what are some of the ways that priestly formation today differs from formation in the 1970s-'80s?

Deacon Keating: Generally speaking, I think there was a great deal of doctrinal and lifestyle experimentation during the 1970s and 1980s which was unhelpful to priestly ministry and identity. Here I am speaking about the de-emphasis upon priestly identity as sacred, and in its place the promotion ofpriests as competent professionals akin to social workers and psychologists. There was a neglect in priestly formation to educate men in the sacred character of priesthood both in spiritual formation and in theological reflection.

Along with this there had been tolerance of doctrinal dissent in some diocesan seminaries which then influenced the way priests saw their role as pastors—not as teachers, fathers, but as professorial moderators in the forum of ideas. Hence we saw much experimentation substantively and methodologically in catechesis. The publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church by Bl. John Paul II was a direct response to this doctrinal confusion. Today seminarians are no longer taught that they are the "same as everyone" or "one of the boys", but that they are called to a permanent openness to, and a deep share in, the sacrificial love of Christ. This "character" is Christ's gift to them, not an emblem of entitlement. Most diocesan seminaries now proudly teach only what is taught by the Church as true, and if there is theological speculation, it is speculation about the depth and contour of that truth, not whether there is such truth.

Ignatius Insight: What are the biggest challenges in priestly formation today? And what are the main misunderstandings or misconceptions about it held by both seminarians and lay Catholics?

Deacon Keating: I think the greatest challenge in priestly formation today is to encourage the men to receive the love of Christ as the deepest level of their formation. This receptivity is to occur in all facets of priestly formation---intellectual, spiritual, human and pastoral. We need a new generation of mystical-pastoral priests.

Other challenges are to invite the men to become fascinated with lay holiness. Priests give their lives in service of lay holiness and yet the secular mission of the laity as transformers of culture is not studied with great depth in some seminaries. The pastoral question is: How shall a priest invite the laity to make the Eucharist, the action of Christ's self sacrifice, as their guiding reality for living within culture? Unless priests love the lay life, study it, and promote its secular mission, the laity may not know how to take the Eucharist they have become beyond the Church doors on Sunday.

The experimentation of accommodating to the age, what was called "the pastoral approach", has failed. After fifty years of accommodating to the age we only have about 30% of Catholics worshipping on Sunday. There are no other markers of "success" for pastoral initiatives then this: the laity, in huge numbers, worship the Father in and through Christ's Paschal Mystery, and then out of this communion evangelize the culture in all its facets. To form priests who call the laity to worship and who call them to witness to this worship in the secular world, and to form men who know how to continually receive the love of Christ, even while ministering, these are two great challenges within priestly formation presently.







Ignatius Insight: How have the clergy sex scandals impacted and influenced the way formation is carried out today?

Deacon Keating: The scandals were a wake-up call to end any affective isolation in clerical life. Each seminarian should be formed in such a way that he knows how to relate all of his thoughts, feelings and desires directly to Christ and His mother Mary. This vulnerability and mature intimacy should also be practiced in relationship to his priest friends, family members and friends in general.

Also, there needs to be a more deeply developed sense of governance by priests. They are accountable for their own actions and also morally accountable to report illicit behavior of other priests. Priests cannot be "bystanders." We can never return to those days where pastors would see doors closing in their associates' bedrooms and simply go on about "his business." All diocesan seminaries are working very hard to see to that every man who is ordained is affectively mature, capable of making his life a self-gift.

Hopefully we are at the end of a time when a few men saw the ministry as an occasion to take for themselves rather than, what it is, a call to give. Seminary formators are zeroing in on two realities, among many others, for promoting life-long chastity in priests: watching out for the isolated seminarian and encouraging the healing peace of acknowledging before God and others the deepest of his thoughts, feelings and desires on a regular basis. A big part of seminary resources ought to go into the training of spiritual directors and directors of human formation since they are key players in forming affectively and spiritually mature men, in other words, in regenerating seminary formation.

Ignatius Insight: Over the past decade or so there has been much written about the sorry, even sordid, state of many seminaries following the Second Vatican Council. What is the situation today? What are some areas in which improvement and change is still needed?

Deacon Keating: I would not like to wade into the area of improvement but I would like to mention an area of vigilance. I think that the 1970's errors may have come upon seminary formation partially as an overreaction to a previous overreaction before Vatican II, one that made law and unquestioning obedience a norm in order to protect the common good.

Now that we have passed through the era of "rebellion and experiment", there may be a temptation to fixate on memorization of precise canonical, liturgical or magisterial formula to the neglect of actual contemplative engagement with the doctrine of the faith. So, simply, we need to resist giving into this temptation to make choices out of fear or it may set the stage for a new 1970's twenty years down the road—and the pendulum will just keep swinging back and forth. To avoid this possible scenario seminaries are invited to be vigilant about setting academic policy, liturgical practice and seminarian discipline out of a sense of love of truth, beauty and virtuous proportion, not fear. Fear only breeds fist clenching, which will turn into a culture of imposition, which will inadvertently breed the very evils (moral and liturgical laxity and priestly double lives) that such calls for precision wish to set themselves against.

Vigilantly trying to balance order with creativity seems to be the best way to form men, and all of this with a sense of humor. Very few men can set policy based upon fear and laugh at the same time. To be clear, I am not advocating a jettisoning of law and orthodoxy. Never! I am, instead, praying that we will all make decisions out of freedom, a freedom that comes, not from fear, but from communion with Christ and His New Law; the Holy Spirit!


On the whole, however, in nearly twenty years of working in seminary formation I have rarely seen men so in love with Christ and his priesthood as the current generation of seminarians. The vast majority is not afraid at all, but are courageous and look eagerly to the day when they can preach the Gospel come what may!

Ignatius Insight: There is constant chatter from some quarters about the need for ordaining women or making marriage (before ordination) an option for all Roman rite priests in order to increase the number of priests. What do you think of those arguments? What is needed in order for there to be more vocations to the priesthood?

Deacon Keating: Sr. Sarah Butler's research stands as the best answer to the question on women priests. One of Sister's reasons for a male priesthood, even if it is not her main one, centered upon the Husband-Wife symbolism. Even though some theologians hate the heterosexual symbolism of the priest being a spouse and the Church his bride, I believe this symbol takes on a great amount of significance for the men who enter the priesthood. With their spousal identity intact they now have an object for their love, the Church. A priest makes a sacrifice of one form of spousal love (wife and children) for another form of spousal love. He is married in Christ to Christ's own Bride, the Church. In the main papal document on priestly formation, Pastores Dabo Vobis (n. 23), Bl. John Paul II even calls the priest a husband, a term never used by a pope before, I believe (other popes, in speaking about priests have invoked the term spousal love, of course, but none ever used the term husband).

What is needed for there to be more vocations is what is needed for there to be more mature, courageous and self-sacrificing husbands: men who think of their beloved more then they think of the themselves. As a result of this contemplative beholding of the Beloved, a man is made capable of self gift in the service of the one he sees as beautiful. God is beauty itself: how many and what kind of men see such beauty?

In fact there are two shortages: A shortage of men who see beauty and thus see no need to sacrifice pleasure in service to it and, secondly, since there is a shortage of men who see beauty there is a husband shortage. How many marriages are in a shambles because the husband would not grow up, would not cease being an adolescent, would not invoke the courage needed to name the truth of his feelings, his desires, even his sins?

We need more mature men who see beyond their portion of entitled pleasure. From such mature men will come both priests and husbands.

Ignatius Insight: What are some of the particular approaches used at IPF and specific resources produced by IPF?

Deacon Keating: IPF has one mission: to assist the US Bishops in their duty to form men for the priesthood in such a way that these men will encounter God. We serve the Church, and its vision of priestly formation, by serving the seminarian, the seminary theologian, the seminary spiritual director and others in their desire to meet God in Christ and stay in communion with Him through prayer and ministry. From such communion will come the entire regeneration of priestly formation. If only we would stay in and guard our communion with Christ, He would, out of such communion "make all things new."

To help seminary formators stay in communion with Christ, IPF offer books and CDs through our publishing arm IPF Publications.



Related Ignatius Insight Articles and Excerpts:

• The Logos in Seminary Formation and Teaching | Dn. James Keating, Ph.D.
• The Character of Diaconal Ordination | Dn. James Keating, Ph.D.
• The Seminary as Nazareth: Formation in a School of Prayer | Dn. James Keating, Ph.D.
• Surrendering to the Healing Power of Christ's Own Chastity | Dn. James Keating, Ph.D.
• St. John Vianney's Pastoral Plan | Fr. John Cihak
The Blessed Virgin Mary's Role in the Celibate Priest's Spousal and Paternal Love | Fr. John Cihak
The Priest as Man, Husband, and Father | Fr. John Cihak
• Holy Christians Guarantee Holy Priests | Bishop Fulton J. Sheen
• Priest as Pastor, Servant and Shepherd | Fr. James McCarthy
The Religion of Jesus | Blessed Columba Marmion | From Christ, The Ideal of the Priest
• Why Preaching | Peter John Cameron, O.P.
Satan and the Saint | The Feast Day of St. John Vianney | Carl E. Olson
• The Ingredient for Priestly Vocations | Rev. Jacek Stefanski
• Becoming a Man of God | An interview with Fr. Larry Richards
• The Year for Priests and Its Patron | Sandra Miesel



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