CHAPTER IV: MISSIONARIES
No. 25 of Ad Gentes begins with a very basic statement: “The future missionary must be prepared for such an important task [i.e. missionary work] by a special spiritual and moral formation.” It does not go into an explanation of what that special spiritual and moral formation should consist of; instead, the Council Fathers contented themselves with a footnote referring to two papal documents and the Decree on the Training of Priests, Optatam Totius.
While the two papal documents, Pope Benedict XV’s Apostolic Letter Maximum Illud (1919) and Pope Pius XII’s Encyclical Evangelii Praecones, tell us principally what kind of missionary this training should produce, the Vatican II Decree on the Training of Priests gives us more detail about what this “special spiritual and moral formation” of missionaries should be. The decree, of course, is dealing with the training of diocesan priests, but the basic ideas of its instructions are valid for the training of missionary priests and, in fact, of all missionaries.
The training “should be closely associated with doctrinal and pastoral formation” (Optatam Totius, no. 8). With the help of a spiritual director it “should be conducted in such a way that the students may learn to live in intimate and unceasing union with God the Father through his Son Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit” (ibidem).
“They should be taught to seek Christ in faithful meditation on the Word of God and in active participation in the sacred mysteries of the Church, especially the Eucharist and the Divine Office, to seek him in the bishop by whom they are sent and in the people to whom they are sent” (ibidem). “With the confidence of sons they should love and reverence the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, who was given as a mother to the disciples by Jesus Christ as he was dying on the cross” (ibidem).
“The exercises of piety which are recommended by the venerable practice of the Church should be strongly encouraged,” although “care must be taken that spiritual formation does not consist in these alone, nor develop religious sentiment, merely” (ibidem).
“The students should learn to live according to the standard of the Gospel, to be firmly established in faith, hope and charity, so that the practice of these virtues may develop in them a spirit of prayer, may strengthen and protect their vocation and invigorate their other virtues, intensifying their zeal for winning all men to Christ” (ibidem).
“Students who follow the venerable tradition of priestly celibacy should be carefully trained for this state. They should be put on guard against the dangers which threaten their chastity, especially in present-day society” (ibidem, no. 10).
“The purpose of seminary training is to inculcate self-control, to promote solid maturity of personality and the formation of those other traits of character which are most useful for the ordered and fruitful activity of the Church” (ibidem, no. 11).
Next month, God willing, we’ll look at the rest of no. 25 of Ad Gentes to learn the characteristics of the missionary who has gone through this spiritual and moral formation. Mary, Seat of Wisdom, pray for us.